Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Backyard Visitors

I love our backyard. It's such a quiet place and you never know what you might see.......
This afternoon as I was sitting out on the patio, I noticed a couple of green Anole lizards hanging out on my wind chime. I watched them for a few minutes before going in to get the camera, hoping to get a few good pictures of these guys.
We have quite a few of these lizards, including a number of juveniles, and I like having them around because they keep the insect population down and here in Alabama we have more than our fair share of bugs!
  The males have the pinkish-red dewlap, or throat fan. 
Not sure what to think of me and my camera.
I think they're gorgeous!
This is the first time I've seen them on the wind chimes. I had to laugh because one of them kept going in and out of one of the pipes before it decided to perch on top for a bit. Usually I see these lizards on the side of the house or around the windows so I'm not sure what drew them to my wind chimes, although they seemed pretty content where they were at, don't you think?   :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Our Son.......The Future Chef!

Last night our 14 year old son and aspiring chef, RJ, made dinner.......General Tso's Chicken, and it was delicious!
Ever since he was a little boy, RJ has always wanted to be a chef, saying he wanted to be just like Emeril Lagasse, who he watched faithfully on Food Network. As he's gotten older, Emeril is still a favorite, but RJ has a list of chefs he likes, including one I loved as a child growing up "The Galloping Gourmet", Graham Kerr. RJ's always had an interest in cooking and isn't afraid to experiment with food or want to try a recipe that's caught his eye, and he takes direction well which will help him later on when he goes to cooking school!
We went to the store to pick up a few items we didn't have on hand, and once we got home and the chicken was thawing, RJ got started on the marinade. Once the chicken thawed and he got it cut into small pieces he added it to the marinade, covered the bowl and put it in the fridge, then made the sauce to go over the chicken.
A few hours later my husband, Bill, got the oil heating up, and RJ got the eggs beaten and the breading ready for the chicken. Once the oil was ready, our 12 year old daughter, Megan, started breading the chicken for RJ. I cooked some of the chicken to get things going and showed him how long to cook it, then let him do the rest, reminding him to be very careful around that hot oil. Never hurts to repeat that.
Busy cooks!
Chicken cooking away!
The sauce.......
Happy smiles! Nice job guys!
Our dinner!

We're so proud of RJ, and Megan for jumping right in to help him out. It's nice to see brothers and sisters working together and helping each other, but then they've always gotten along really well. Makes a proud mom smile!
I know RJ will make a great chef and maybe, just maybe.......we'll see him on the Food Network one day!

This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature over at Down To Earth.

Baking Bread

Working towards a more simple and self-sufficient life is one of those things you do one step at a time, and another small step in that direction was that I started baking bread again. One less thing on my grocery list!
I used to bake quite a bit, but when we moved last spring and life got hectic, it was awfully easy to just grab a couple loaves of bread at the store and come home, saving time and energy for other things. So yesterday I got out my bread pans, set up the mixer and laughed at the fact that my husband and my kids COULD NOT wait for the bread to get done!
The recipe I used, Country White Bread, comes from Gina at Home Joys and if you've never visited her blog, you really need to. Not only does she have a lot of great recipes and tutorials, but her blog is such a warm and inviting place as she talks about her life and devotion to God, her husband and their beautiful children. Truly.......a MUST read!
This recipe will give you three nice loaves of bread, which worked out great because I have the larger loaf pans for this, although it's just as easy to divide the dough between smaller pans if that's all you have.

Country White Bread

2 Tbsp. yeast
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup honey or sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil or soft butter
6 1/2 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

I mixed mine a little different than Gina did in her recipe, (I used my Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook) but as in her directions, you can mix this in a large bowl. If you have a bread machine, you can use it to knead the dough as well. Whichever is easiest for you. Just a quick note.......if you do try this recipe please make sure you give Gina credit for it and link it back to her, and make sure you drop her a note on her blog and tell her how wonderful it is.
In a measuring cup, add 2 cups lukewarm water and the sugar or honey. Stir until dissolved, then add the yeast. Set aside and allow to yeast to activate and get bubbly, about 10-15 minutes.
While waiting on the yeast,  put the salt, eggs, oil, and 3 cups of flour into the mixer bowl. Turn on low speed and add the yeast. Once the flour has mostly been incorporated into the wet ingredients, turn up to medium speed, stopping once in a while to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula. 
Now is the time to start adding the remaining flour, a little at a time until you have a soft dough. Of the 7 cups of flour I started out with, I think I had about a cup or so left but that's ok. You may not need it all.
Put the dough into a bowl with a bit of vegetable oil making sure the dough is evenly coated, cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch dough down and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll the dough out, then roll up like a jelly roll, pinch ends and tuck under placing loaves in the pans seam side down. 
Let dough rise until doubled, bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes (mine was done in 20 minutes). Remove pans from oven and allow to cool.
If making multiple loaves just slice each loaf, put in bags and store in the freezer. Make sure you write the date on the bag and what kind of bread it is.
 Finished bread!
First loaf sliced and ready for the freezer.......

Two of my loaves didn't raise quite as much as the third one did, and that might be because when I divided the dough they weren't exactly equal, but I wasn't disappointed at all with how they came out.
The bread wasn't heavy or dense, but perfectly light and it sliced wonderfully without tearing or falling apart. 
It really made me feel good to make this bread for my family, and it gave me a great sense of accomplishment, too.
Thanks, Gina, for a wonderful recipe. My family says it's AWESOME bread! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Family & Traditions

So often I find myself thinking about the women in my family, my ancestors, and wondered what they were like. I know they were wives and mothers, keepers of their homes, they worked hard, and they passed honored traditions and skills down to their daughters and granddaughters. But as I get older, I think of these women more often and my connection to them, though we've never met, grows stronger and stronger.
I have in me, a strong sense of family, and I suppose that in a lot of ways I'm old-fashioned by today's standards. I never really wanted to go to college or have a career, mostly because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do at the time and going just to say, "I'm going to college", seems rather silly and a waste of time and money.
What I am is really all I ever wanted to be, a wife and mother. To make a home for my family and be the best at both to my abilities. But not having a job outside the home doesn't mean I don't work and sometimes I think stay-at-home moms are looked at with a crossed eye. I'm many things! A cook, a counselor, a nurse, a taxi driver, a teacher, an artist, a housekeeper, an accountant, and so much more. I know there have been times when I may not do these things as well as I should, and yes, there have been times when I've felt unappreciated and have been taken advantage of, but the love of my family and their praise overshadows anything else.
I hope in some way, that I've made my grandmothers proud, and continue passing their traditions and sense of home and family on to my children, and they to their's. 
Yes, I'm drawn to the old ways, and stand tall with the women who have gone before me.
I'm a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a homemaker.
There is a quote by Earl Hamner, Jr. (creator of the TV show, The Waltons) that I have always loved and want to share with you. The words speak so much to me....... 

"I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers.
Back in time to where the first one trod.
And stopped, saw sky, felt wind, bent to touch Mother Earth and called this home.
This mountain, this pine and hemlock, oak and poplar, laurel wild and rhododendron.
Home and mountain.
Father, mother, grow to the sons and daughters to walk the old paths.
To look back in pride in honoured heritage.
To hear its laughter and its song.
To grow to stand and be themselves one day remembered.
I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers.
I saw yesterday and now look to tomorrow."

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you, as I think in your hearts you feel the same way about being wives and mothers. It is truly a proud thing to be! 

 This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature over at Down To Earth

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Straw Bale Gardening.......More Planning!

As much as I love gardening I was really disappointed that I wasn't able to do as much as I wanted this year, especially now that I have a back yard and plenty of room. Although I was able to plant a few rose bushes, basil and tomatoes, my knee was bothering me a lot so getting down on the ground and back up again was a little painful and I worried about injuring my knee even more so I didn't press my luck.
I happened to come across an article about using straw bales as a type of raised garden and I was intrigued. This isn't anything new and while I never gave it much thought, this is the perfect solution for a gal with a bum knee!
Anyhow, I continued reading through a few different articles gathering information so I'd be ready next spring. If you haven't ever grown anything like this before there is a bit of preparation with the bales before you can actually start planting, so here's what I've learned so far.......

  • Use tightly strung straw or rice bales, not hay, as they contain seeds you don't want growing in your garden. Know where you want to put the bales because you won't be moving them.
  • A good suggestion if you have moles or other such critters, is to put some hardware cloth or chicken wire down on the ground under the bales to keep them from digging underneath.
  • Wet the bales for the first three days---it was suggested once in the morning and in the evening.
  • On the fourth through seventh days, do nothing. The bales will begin to heat up as they decompose.
  • After the seventh day and the bales have cooled off, add a good inch or inch and a half of a good weed-free compost/potting soil mix on top of the bales.
  • Push aside enough of the soil to set your plants; or plants seeds as usual and mist in gently.
  • Since straw doesn't hold water as well as if you planted in the ground, you need to water your garden at least once a day during the heat of summer.
  • Use a good organic fertilizer to supplement your soil at first, then maybe once a month or so after the first couple weeks of growth.
Another great thing about using bales to grow in, is that in autumn after your last harvest you can add them to your compost pile and start out with new bales in the spring.
As far as how much you can plant in each bale, I read that four tomato plants or four pepper plants will grow nicely in one bale. Maybe with something like squash, I'm guessing one plant since they do spread out and can get rather large. If you're using the bales in a square, you could grow carrots, parsnips, or other root vegetables in the center, truly maximizing the growing space available.
I really wished I read about this earlier this spring, but this will give me time to find out where I can buy the bales locally, plan where I want to put them, and what I want to grow, so there's plenty to look forward to until next spring rolls around.
My goal with my garden is to grow more and buy less, maybe even having enough to put in the freezer to have throughout the winter. It's just one more little step towards becoming more self-sufficient and putting healthy, homegrown food on our table.
I'm really excited about this and please, if you have any tips or hints to share about straw bale gardening, I'd love to hear from you!

Remembering 9/11.........

Remembering the loss and destruction.........

September 11, 2001......a date which will live in infamy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

When my husband, Bill, and I were sitting out on the patio yesterday enjoying the quiet of the morning, the air was crisp and smelled of wet earth and leaves.......full of that typical autumn scent you can't seem to get enough of. I love being out in the back yard because it's so peaceful. I can sit there and watch the birds and listen to them sing all day, laugh at the hummingbirds chasing each other around the feeder, and sometimes in the evening we can hear the barred owls hooting back and forth to one another. It's just a nice place to be, and what better way to end the day than a big simmering pot of chicken noodle soup.
I really don't know how I came up with this recipe. I think it was just something I put together one day and it's been a family favorite ever since. I always laughed when the kids would come home from school because the minute they walked through the door, they KNEW what we were having for dinner and there were smiles all around!
This is another easy recipe, one you can fix as is, or maybe add some carrots, parsnips, or other root vegetables. It freezes well and that's a good thing because this makes a lot of soup!

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

1 large, or 2 small whole chickens
5 stalks of celery, diced
2 large cans of cream of chicken soup
1 large bag of extra wide egg noodles
garlic, powder or freshly minced
poultry seasoning
salt and pepper
dried parsley flakes

Remove the gizzards from inside the chicken (these you can freeze and save to use in making your own chicken stock later), rinse the chicken well. Place in a large stock pot and fill about 2/3 with water. Add a couple tablespoons each, garlic powder and poultry seasoning. Turn burner on high and bring to a boil, then turn down to medium/medium low and let simmer about 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the meat begins to fall off the bones.
Remove the chicken from the pot to a platter to cool, making sure you get any small bones still left in the pot.
Add both cans of cream of chicken soup to the pot and whisk until no lumps remain, then add the diced celery.
Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, pull the meat apart, then put it back into the pot. Add a couple more tablespoons of both garlic powder and poultry seasoning, 2 tablespoons of the dried parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
Allow this to simmer until the celery is not quite soft, then add your egg noodles. Taste the soup every so often to adjust the seasonings. Once the noodles are done, turn off the burner and it's ready to serve!
I like saltine crackers with this, but you could just as easily make some corn bread or a have a nice loaf of crusty artisan bread on the side to pull apart and dip into the soup.
Give this a try because I promise that when it's windy and cold outside and you're chilled, this will definitely warm you up and life just can't get any better.

This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature over at Down To Earth

Stormy Weekend

The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee brought quite a bit of rain and strong winds through here this weekend and apart from a few fallen branches and some standing water in the back yard, we managed to escape the flooding and wind damage other parts of the state suffered. We went from a month of temperatures just shy of 100, to mid 60s and torrential rain.........
  Our temporary pond.......

When I was outside taking these pictures the wind was really blowing the trees back and forth, although looking at this you couldn't really tell. But I have decided that these kinds of storms must be normal for Alabama because since we moved here in March this is usually what we get, and I'm just thankful that the trees are still standing and nothing worse happened! Mother Nature can be a fierce lady and you never know what any storm might bring.
Looks like no more rain until this coming weekend, the sun is actually peeking through the clouds this morning, and I'm really enjoying the cooler weather.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Catching Up

I've been a bit behind on here, but to be honest I just haven't been in the mood to write. I've been working around the house trying to get a bunch of cleaning and organizing done and I'm worn out. I've let too many things pile up and now I just want to get things accomplished so I can finally relax and not feel guilty about doing things that I want writing on my blog.   :)
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend and I'll get back into the swing of things next week.
Take care!