Repurposing a silverware tray

I have taken a little hiatus from my blog, garden and greenhouse as I have been spending every spare moment planning for my upcoming fundraiser.  Come Sunday I will be back at it in full force.

But as we were going through things at my Mother-in-laws house, we came across a very nice silverware tray that I knew I could put to good use. What for, I didn't know but I brought it home anyway.  My husband suggested making a spice rack for it and within no time, up on the wall it went.  I needed something to organize my overabundance of spices as they would fall out of the cupboard every time I opened the door. 

So give a hand to the hubs for this great idea!


I would like to begin this blog by mentioning that my oldest started 6th grade this year.  I can't believe that my little man is officially beginning his 1/2 way mark year of school.  How is it that our children grow so fast?

Anyway, I ordered from Seed Savers Exchange several types of heirloom seeds.  Some of which is a variety of radishes.  The instructions indicated that for seed saving, the varieties must be a 1/2 mile apart to preserve purity.  Um, my rows are 12" apart and my yard is a far cry from being a 1/2 mile long.  Only in my dreams.

I can't wait to try the radishes and experience the flavor of each.  I am thinking that I will allow only one variety to go to seed each year.  Just rotate to prevent crossing.

I have also read that the radishes can be wintered in the ground, similar to carrots.  Does anyone have experience with this?

Busy busy weekend

I haven't stepped one foot into my garden this weekend.  I have been too busy preparing for the fund raiser garage sale this upcoming weekend.  At the previous moment, 1/2 of my living room is being swallowed by garage sale items.  I also have a covered trailer full and 1/2 of a garage stall.  Through a collection of things that friends and family have donated, and what local business have donated, I think I will reach my goal, of reaching $1,000.  That and sleeping more than 4-5 hours in a night. Here is the website with an update on the fundraiser.

I have managed to peek into my garden and noticed that several days of not paying attention to the garden has resulted in a huge amount of ready to pick tomatoes just waiting to be plucked from the vine.  They are going to have to wait until tomorrow.  I think I may try to dry them.  Never tried this before so if anyone has tips, I would love to hear them.

I also noticed that my giant pumpkin has decided not to grow any more. I don't know what the deal is but my giant pumpkins have not cooperated at all this year.  I need to to some serious reading for next year as I was really looking forward to a 120 lb pumpkin. 

So I have a question for all of you parents.  This question involves toilet training so if you prefer to skip this section, now is the time.  We have had our daughter #1 trained for probably a year but #2 is a another issue.  She was going for awhile and decided she would rather not.  We have tried everything, bribing, reward system, stickers, being stern, making her sit on the toilet for 10-15 minutes of which she will hold it.  She will go into her room and put on one of her night time pull ups to go instead of going on the toilet.   Recently we have told her that if she goes, she will be able to pick out her favorite dog.  Her response was, "I don't want a dog now."  That stinker.  So all of you experienced parents, do you have any tips or tricks that may work to help my little independent girl along?  We are running out of ideas. 

Even though I wasn't able to get into the garden this weekend, I did enjoy something that us Iowans look forward to every year.  Fresh from the field, to roadside stand, sweet corn.  Topped with some of my homemade butter, I was in heaven.  Fresh sweet corn is such a treat. 

On to the work week, I hope my garden forgives me for my neglect. 

How to make Homemade Butter

I have been having design issues with my blog so please bare with me as I fix the coding.

But until then grab the following things and lets make some butter.

1 quart of Pasteurized or Raw Cream (do not use ultra-pasteurized)
1/3 teaspoon salt, optional

A Large Bowl
A Spatula
A hand mixer or stand mixer.

I picked up some semi-local, fresh from the dairy cream for my butter.  It cost $4 a quart.  Totally worth it in my opinion.

Pour the cream into a large bowl, cover and let it sit on the counter for 1 hour.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, start mixing.

As you continue to mix the cream will start to bubble.

Then become thicker.

Then the butter will start to separate.

You will be done mixing when the buttermilk completely separates from the butter.  Drain the buttermilk into a separate bowl. 

***my picture didn't turn out for this process.  Use either a mesh colander or cheese cloth to squeeze the as much butter milk as you can out of the butter.

Buttermilk.  Pancakes anyone?

Next using very cold water, pour the water over the butter and work the butter with a spatula to remove all of the remaining butter milk.  The water will turn milky in color.

Drain and repeat until the water is clear. 

Drain off the water and if you would like, mix in the salt at this point.

Place butter in plastic container in the fridge or freeze.  The butter will not last as long as store bought so what I usually do is only put a small amount in the fridge and thaw out more when I need it.

Now for saving the buttermilk.  You can freeze that as well if you're not going to use it right away.

A time saving trick may be to freeze it into ice cube trays.  By filling very full, you can fit 2 cups of buttermilk into the trays.  So that means 7 cubes makes 1 cup.  Makes it easier when measuring for recipes. 

The buttermilk will pick up flavors around it so be sure to cover it tightly.

Homemade butter is incredible.  Enjoy!

Concerned Sister-in-law

In response to my post of Random Thoughts, my sister-in-law became so concerned with my addiction that she promptly sent me this on Facebook:

What would I do without my family?  They watch out for me so well.

Greenhouse update, destruction

The weather has cooled which has allowed us to work on the greenhouse again. When I say us, I mean my husband.  We are converting a garage stall to a greenhouse and patio and if you have been following the progress of the greenhouse you will know that three sides are almost complete.

In order to move on to the last side, we had to tear down the rest of the garage.  We will be leaving the frame up to act as a pergola.  You can see, even in this small picture how dilapidated the garage looks.  Through the door you can see the back wall of the green house.  Now what appears to be a deck in front of the garage really is.  It is a deck that we salvaged off of my in-laws house when they replaced it with a new and improved one.  This deck will be moved, cut, sized to fit the area in front of the green house to level the floor of the patio area out.  The flooring in this portion of the garage is concrete, however it's not level.  It slopes toward the  garden which would make it difficult to sit in patio chairs.  So the deck will take care of that problem.

My husband was hard at work last night removing the remaining portion of the garage.  This is what it looked like this morning.  Before sunlight.

Wide open space.

The roof leaked, can you tell?  We have a sunroof now.  Eventually this will be covered with either an awning or lattice to provide extra shade.  I think this picture is a good before and after picture as you can see the freshly painted greenhouse portion to the left and the nasty dirty rafters that have been untouched.  Looks like I need to pick out more paint.

The north side opens up to the garden.  My plans are to have a path starting at the edge of the greenhouse to my garden and to create another green bean arbor over the path.  So many plans. 

If the weather continues to cooperate, we should have the 4th wall complete in a couple weeks. 

My messy home garden

A couple days ago meemsnyc asked if I had any pictures of my garden.  Reluctantly, I am posting one today.  Please keep in mind that it is towards the end of August so the garden is starting to show it's fall nastiness.  Second, right before I took this picture, we were hammered by 3 very nasty thunderstorms.  If you watch the news, I'm sure you have seen pictures or heard stories of the massive flooding in Iowa, well there you go.  Anyway, being that it is this time of year, I haven't spent to much time making my garden look all that pretty.

Oh and one more thing to keep in mind is that I thought I had the PERFECT layout for my garden this year.  A responsible, wonderfully planned, garden.  However, my garden had other plans.  It gave me about 30-40 volunteer tomatoes, all of which I kept (and they are producing well) and volunteer mystery squash that turned out to be pumpkins.  My plans went down the drain as I strategically found places for all of my volunteers.  Some are even coming up in the brick work around my compost pile.  Those I just left.

Anyway, if you would like to see a close up of my nasty, beginning of fall, hammered by thunderstorm garden, here it is.  For a larger view, please click on the picture.

So there you have it.  My overgrown garden.  I thought about drawing you layout of what it should have been but I'm sorry but I don't have time.  Just imagine if you will what it would look like without 30 tomato plants and without the majority of the pumpkins.  Pretty huh.  There is always next year.  Bummer :).

A Memorial Scholarship Fund

In my random thoughts yesterday, I made mention that I am preparing for a fundraiser garage sale.  I am because the fundraiser is a memorial scholarship fund that began a year after my brother-in-law was killed in a single car accident.  Nothing prepares a person for something like this.  To lose someone is tragic enough, however there are no words to describe what happens when you lose someone suddenly and without warning.

His was a fantastic person, charismatic, driven, dedicated.  He believed that everyone around him had potential and in the power of education.  Because of this, the fund was started in his name by his former employer.  Each year, two recipients, employees, children or grandchildren of employees, are awarded scholarships to further their education.  One for a 4 year college or university and the second to a 2 year technical school. 

To raise money, his employer hosts a golf tournament each year right around his birthday.  The scholarship recipients are announced and awarded after the tournament is completed.  It is a fun but emotional time and quite frankly a huge honor to our family. 

So to prepare for this tournament, I am trying my darnedest to raise $1,000.  I had an impromptu garage sale last month that raised $87.  So I am doing everything I can to gather enough items to sell at the sale.  I'm cleaning out closets, gathering things from my friends, and going through boxes hoping to find enough.  I have to keep reminding myself that the payoff is worth much more than my hard work. 

Anyway, if you would like more information about the fund and my brother-in-law, I have dedicated a website to him

I return to the garden.

Giant Pumpkin growth, 1.5 days

Some of you have asked me how large I suspect the giant pumpkin to become. This is the first year that I have grown this variety so at this point it is a guess game.  But a guessing game that is fun to watch. 

I posted the below picture 2 days ago.  It was taken Sunday evening at dusk. You will notice a red outline on the pumpkin.  This is the outline of the basket ball to help with comparison. Yes, I could have photoshopped the edge that was cut off to create a perfect circle. Time is of the essence here.

So right about the same size.  Now the below picture was taken this morning (Tuesday) at dawn, 6:57 to be exact. Notice the red line?!?

I can't believe how fast these pumpkins grow!!!  From what I am told, the pumpkins can gain around 5 lbs a day with proper watering.  I make sure I water the plant well and not just at the base but all along the vine.  We had to move it as it was taking over our yard and we found that the vine creates a root system its entire length.  Learn something new every day.

So if you are ever thinking about growing a giant pumpkin, be sure you have enough room in your yard to work around this:

Random thoughts, things, and an addiction

The month of August has been one of the busiest on record. Well my record and at this point, I am beginning to feel a little overwhelmed. At least at this moment.  My mind is racing to one thing to the next as I create a check list on my mental "to-do" list.  As a result, I am having difficulty collecting my thoughts which leaves me no choice but to create a list of the things that are on my mind.

1.  I harvested my first carrots of the year today. Just 3. I didn't put too much of an emphasis on carrots this spring due to lack of room.  They will go into my fall garden for early spring harvest.  Had I known how my daughter would react, I would have made space.  I showed her the carrots, her eyes got big and she exclaimed, CARROTS!  My sons reaction was minimal in comparison. An "Oh" was about all I got from him.  Tweens, I tell you.  Anyway, after I washed, peeled and cut the three into sticks, my daughter happily devoured all three.  She loved them. Who knew?  I didn't.

2.  A couple days ago, I had removed the potatoes from one of my plots at home.  I canned the potatoes which resulted in 6 quarts and 1 pint of winter goodness.  You may notice that the jars on the left have a slightly darker brine.  That is because I canned those in corned beef stock that I had saved (frozen) from a couple months ago. I absolutely LOVE corned beef and cabbage with a side of potatoes.  A little part of me is having difficulty not popping one of these suckers open to enjoy the goodness. 

The skins on the potatoes were not tough enough for cellar storage so I scrubbed them very well and tried to make them relatively uniform in size by cutting them.  Placed the potatoes in boiling water for 2 minutes, hot packed them into hot jars, added hot water with a little salt or filled them with hot stock, leaving an inch head room.  Sealed and pressure cooked for 40 minutes. 

3.  I think the mosquitoes that have made their home in my garden are becoming obese due to all of the good eats they have had off of my arms.

4.  I am holding a garage sale for a fundraiser at the end of the month. I really do not know what possessed me to schedule it right in the middle of canning season.  It is for a good cause which I will go into in a future post.

5.  I have taught my children to eat properly with utensils.  My 3 year old habitually places a napkin on her lap for goodness sake.  But what was her utensil of choice for dinner?  See below.  I don't know what possessed her to find this the perfect tool to consume her food, but needless to say, she ate very well.  Besides, she ate 3 carrots so I didn't have to pester her about eating her veggies, how could I pester her about the utensil of choice. This also involves a relatively good amount of eye hand coordination.    Good practice for a 3 year old without video games.

6.  Now on to my addiction. If you're hoping that I will reveal something sad and desperate about myself, you may be disappointed.  Regardless, I see a 12 step program in my future, that or the removal of all electronic devices.  That in itself would be devastating.  I'm a wired individual.  My addiction has nothing to do with gardening, nothing to do with food.  It isn't purchased on a street corner or at a bar stool.  I'm Frugal Gardener and I'm an addict.  I'm addicted to Bejeweled Blitz.  You weren't expecting that were you!  For those of you who do not know what Bejeweled Blitz is, it is a 1 minute, fast paced game where you must match shapes to eliminate them and gain more.  The main reason that I am addicted is because I am competitive by nature and being this game is a socially integrated, I have the opportunity to compete against my friends for the highest score.  All in all, to a competitive person, this game is addicting and I have fallen victim to it.  Sad and desperate, maybe.  A fun break away from the busyness, absolutely. 

Ok so there you have it.  My random thoughts for the day.  Good night...after laundry.

Garden Update, vertical potato box, pumpkin, tomatoes

What a beautiful weekend! After weeks of stifling humidity and heat advisories, I was incredibly shocked when I went out the door this morning and almost turned around to grab a sweatshirt.  The humidity and the incredible heat was gone and in its place was absolutely beautiful weather.  I barely left my garden.

Because of the time that I spent in the garden, I have a lot of updates to share. 

This was my harvest the past two days.  21.83 lbs of tomatoes, 3.63 lbs of green beans, 4 zucchini, lots of hot peppers, 5 cucumbers, yellow squash, spaghetti squash, miniature cantaloupe by mistake, an acorn squash and 9.63 lbs of potatoes that are not pictured. 

This is supposed to be a Black Krim.  I think they greenhouse marked it incorrectly.  This is one of 4 that have ripened on the vine and none have darkened.  I am slightly disappointed, yet a little perplexed as to what I have on my hands.

The giant pumpkins is doing well and has grown noticeably over the past week. 

The soil in this area must be killer. Those my friends are some of my tomato plants. A mixture of cherry and beef master.  The privacy fence is 6 feet tall.  I think part if it has to do with my support system, as in this particular area, I built a frame of sorts that is attached to the fence and the plant is supported with twine.  These make my friends go ohhh and awe.

I had to provide an update on my vertical potato box.  I had filled my box with compost, old barn hay and browned grass clippings.  A couple weeks ago, the box was full to the top but with the massive amounts of rain, the mixtures has compacted down significantly.  As you can see from the picture, the potato plants are doing extremely well.  I will find something to fill it one more time before harvest.  My neighbor Wilson mentioned that he is becoming excited to see how his experiment turns out.  I will be sure to either take a video or pictures of the results.


Canning Tomatoes, Italian Diced and Tomato Juice

My tomatoes have finally decided to turn.  With 74 plants, I know I will be overwhelmed with preserving them. Hopefully, they will continue their pattern of providing me with manageable amount at a time. 

Yesterday, I canned Italian diced tomatoes and tomato juice. 

I begin by cutting the bad parts off of the tomatoes first. I know most canning sites say to remove the bad spots after you remove the skin but there is a purpose to my madness.

To remove the skins, place the tomatoes in boiling water for 15-30 seconds.  You will notice on some of the tomatoes in the picture below, the skins are already starting to peal off.

Remove the tomatoes and place them in a large bowl of ice water.  This will cool them so you can handle them.  Once cooled, remove the skin and the seeds. 

*Remove the skins and the seeds over a bowl to capture all of the juice.  You can use this later.

After you have the skins and seeds removed, dice the tomatoes until you have about 12 cups, saving the drippings, including the juice from the cutting board along the way. 

Here is the recipe. (I have never made this recipe however I can attest that it smelled terrific).

12 cups of diced tomatoes
6 Tbsp lemon juice

Place into a large pot and boil for 5 minutes.

In the mean time, prepare the spice mix:

2 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
1-1/4 tsp oregano
3/4 tsp rosemary
3/4 tsp sage
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes

Add the spice mix into the tomatoes and stir.

Prepare the jars.  Make sure they are hot.  Ladle into jars leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Add 1/4 tsp salt (optional.  I did not add salt.) If your jar is short of the 1/2 mark, fill with some of the juice from your seed and skin bowl.  Remove any air pockets.  Process in as boiling water bath for 35 minutes.  (I used a pressure cooker at 10-11 lbs for 35 minutes)

Now removing the seeds and skins of the tomatoes can be tedious and time consuming.  That is if you are spending the time to ensure you save as much of the meaty parts as possible.  I don't spend too much time on this.  All of the parts that would typically be discarded goes into a bowl, so if some meaty parts happen to drop in, so be it.  I will put it to use. 

As mentioned above, I removed the bad parts of the tomato prior to the boiling process.  I am an impatient person so there may be times that I will not wait until the tomato completely cools.  Removing the bad spots prior to the boiling process, allows me to handle them quickly when they are hot.   


Above is the bowl of the "waste".  There is too much goodness to throw that down the drain/garbage/compost.  I have a a hand cranked food mill that I will use to separate the skins and seeds and to turn the larger meatier portions into juice.

I crank until the skins almost become pasty and nothing more drips from the mill.

When all is said and done, you will be left with some beautiful tomato juice that can be used throughout the year.  I also pressure cook the juice for 35 minutes at 10-11 lbs pressure at 1000 feet.

There you have it folks.  Enjoy!

What I learned about broccoli

I am probably the last one to know this. I routinely am the last one on the information time line. This year, the second year of growing broccoli, I found out that broccoli grows back.  Complete shocker to me, especially after I systematically ripped each broccoli plant from its nutrient rich soil last year.  Wish I would have known I could have enjoyed it a little longer.

Here is a sample of what I mean, just in case there may be one or two of you still left out there that didn't know this cool broccoli fact.

I cut this about 2 weeks ago.  You can see the removal point, right in the center.  See it? It's brown and kind of crusty. 

But do you see the five florets growing around it! I am in broccoli heaven.  I don't think the rest of my family will carry themselves to that level but I know they will enjoy it.  Maybe. If I cover it with cheese.

Wordless Wednesday - not so wordless

I get stuck in a rut when I cook dinner, usually making the same favorites over and over until we are sick of them. Because of this, I have been trying to experiment a little more using the items from my garden.

Below is what I came up with for dinner.  It was completely consumed by my 11 year old which I can attest is a junk foodaholic.  He almost licked the plate.

Here is the meal run down. Fresh picked green beans, a caprese pinwheel, and a grilled veggie sandwich. The sandwich was a layered with fresh made pesto, roasted eggplant and zucchini, cherokee purple tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella cheese. All on a whole grain french bread loaf. I drizzled a little balsamic vinegar on mine and left that as an option to the rest of the fam. My husband said the sandwich was better then next day as the flavors had time to meld together.

This is a new favorite in our house for sure.

Giant Pumpkin hope

I thought I had lost all hope of growing a giant pumpkin. The first giant pumpkin became dormant and then started to rot. I attributed it to the weird weather we have been having and started to loose hope that we would have giant pumpkins by October. 

Then the vine started to show signs of life again.  Something was growing.  Another pumpkin!!!  It is now the size of a basketball.  With all of the rain that we have been getting, things are looking good for October.

Weekend update, softball and tomatoes

This past weekend was another busy one.  Every minute seemed jam packed full of things to do and places to be.  Summers seem to be so busy yet I can't get past the childhood grade school feeling that summers are supposed to be lazy, simple, a vacation.  Those days have long since past and I find myself wishing for the school year again so things can settle down.

Saturday was filled with softball and shopping.  It was a tax free weekend that I took full advantage of.  Love the automatic 6% discount and couple that with a coupon and 70% off sale, I am guaranteed to fill the trunk.

In between my shopping spree, I stopped in to the State Softball games.  The hubs team happened to be playing...all day.  That is because they took second!!! So proud of the guys.  Anyway, I have to admit that I don't watch much of the games.  I'm a people watcher by habit and people watch I did. 

But the two people that I watched the most were these two. 

She needed daddy time between the games and he was happy to oblige.  

Sunday I went to a u-pick and picked blueberries, harvested and canned some of the garden goodness.  We haven't been able to get much done with the greenhouse due to the busy schedule but it is on the to-do list.

This is my harvest from Sunday.

Approximately 26 lbs of tomatoes.  The largest of which was 1.44 lbs.

That will go a long way!  A storm hit last night that snapped up some of the smaller tomatoes in its wind and threw them down the street.  I tried to save as many as possible but I could barely stand straight with some of the gusts.  I have 74 plants so I'm sure the 15+ that I lost will not be much. 

Zucchini Relish, canning recipe

I made around 60 jars of this super power filled zucchini relish last year, only to be wiped out in June.  Besides being our favorite condiment, we gave a lot away.  Now that my zucchini is coming in, the jars are being filled again.

We eat the relish on just about everything you can imagine.  It is extremely delicious so enjoy!

Begin by shredding twelve cups of zucchini.  (Update-I would suggest using your food processer to finely chop instead of shred for a much more enjoyable texture.)

Coarsely grind 5 medium onions, 1 red pepper and 1 green pepper and add to zucchini.

Add 5 tablespoons of salt to the mixture, cover and let sit for at least 3 hours.  I usually allow the mixture to sit in the refrigerator overnight just to split up the process. 

After the 3 hours or more is up, drain and rinse well.  I try to squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the mixture by using a mesh colander. 

Next mix the syrup.  Sugar, vinegar, cornstarch, mustard seed, turmeric, celery seeds. 

Boil until sugar dissolves and mixture has thickened. Add to vegetables and cook for 20 minutes.

Ladle into hot canning jars, adjust seals. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes at 1000 feet.

I made a double batch which made 9 pints.  You may want to consider starting with 1/2 pints, especially if you plan on giving some away.

Here is the complete recipe.  Enjoy!!!

Zucchini Relish

12 cups coarsely ground zucchini, unpeeled
5 medium onions
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
5 tablespoons salt
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons celery seeds

Coarsely chop the onions and peppers. Stir in zucchini and salt. Cover and allow to sit for 3 hours. Drain and rinse well. (I usually do this the night before and finish the rest of the recipe the next day. Also I really Squeeze all of the juice out of the zucchini before moving to the next step.)

Combine the remaining ingredients to make a syrup, boiling until sugar dissolves and mixture has thickened. Add to vegetables and cook for 20 minutes.

Ladle into hot canning jars, adjust seals. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes at 1000 feet.

UPDATE - Many readers have asked about a reduced sugar recipe.  Please see my review here