The Art of Knowing How To Pack A Car!

Finding a bargain is great, but being privy to great bargain information from the source — well there’s not too many things that make my day better than that.

Yesterday I received a text from a woman in the deli department at our local grocery store that we frequent two to four times a week.  Over the past ten or so years Hubby and I have established quite a friendship with many of the workers there and it has really worked out for us.  I share coupons with many of the women, and they in turn share “upcoming sale” information with me.  Yesterday however, the text I received was about a special in the meat department.  My friend in the deli, who’s friends with the manager in the meat department, was alerted that he had several cases of boneless, skinless thighs that had to be clearanced out immediately.  They were originally marked $3.20 per pound, marked down to $.99 per pound, and then clearanced for an additional 20% off the marked down price.  Knowing how we love chicken thighs, my friend texted me right away to share this information.

Within five minutes of receiving the text, Hubby and I were on our way to the store.  All the way there we contemplated where we would store the meat.  Our chest freezer was nearly full, the basement refrigerator freezer is full of frozen vegetables and fruit, and the upstairs refrigerator freezer is packed with a little bit of everything.  I want another chest freezer, but where we’d put it is another matter.

Hubby dropped me at the door 15 minutes after getting the text and I grabbed a cart and headed for the meat department.  Not wanting to draw attention to myself, I casually walked along the meat freezers, scanning all the prices, until I came to the chicken section.  There, right in the middle of the freezer were three shelves with family packs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs on clearance.  I quickly started to fill my cart.  In the end, I had 11 packages of thighs.  Just to give you an idea of the savings, one package was marked at $14 and some change and I got it for $3 and some change.  Not a bad savings.

On our way to the cash register we ran into our friend from the deli.  She was happy to see that we’d stocked up and told us that regular thighs and legs (with the skin and bones) were going on clearance the next day.  So guess where I went this morning?  You got it, back to the meat department.  Of course, I barely found space in the freezers yesterday for the 10 huge packages (yes it was 11 but I had to make something for dinner) of chicken we bought, but how could I possibly pass up such a deal.

This morning I picked up 8 packages of chicken thighs and 5 packages of legs for $.99 per pound less 20%, 4 packages of chicken thighs for $.99 per pound, and 4 packages of pork ribs that I found on clearance for $.99 per pound.  What a haul!  Of course I had the wonderful job of trying to squeeze all this into our already stuffed freezers when I got home, but if there is one thing my father taught me — I know how to pack a car, or in this case a freezer.

Growing up, whenever we went on our annual summer family vacation to Crystal Beach, Canada to stay with my Great Grandmother, there was a lot of luggage and other stuff to pack into our small car.  Two adults, two kids, all the luggage, any toys or entertainment us kids wanted, food for the 6 hour road trip, and sometimes anywhere from 2 to 4 dogs.  My father was in charge of packing the car and no matter how much stuff we had, he always found room for it.  Every nook and cranny was utilized, not an inch of space was wasted.

This ability to “pack a car” became my father’s “thing” that he was known for.  Whenever something needed to fit into a box, a car, a room, or even a bag, Dad was the one we’d rely on to make it fit.  Every time I moved, Dad was the one to pack the truck.  Every time the basement needed organizing and shelves needed to be put up, Dad was the one to build just the right amount of shelves and store everything perfectly.  Every time we went even on just a day trip, Dad was the one to pack the car.  His ability to make it all fit was untouchable.

For years I watched my father pack and organize.  I stood there with him as he calculated where to put each parcel, how high to stack each box, and what should go in next.  I watched and learned.  Now, after 46 years of observation, I have come into my own when it comes to “packing the car.”  The torch has been passed.

Whenever Hubby, the kids and myself head out for the day or for a week, I’m the one to pack the car.  We drove to Florida several years ago to take a cruise.  We had four large suitcases, blankets, pillows, two overnight bags, a garment bag, a cooler, the kids duffel bags, two camera bags, my bag of journals, a small television that we plugged into the lighter, and my laptop.  I managed to fit everything in the small space behind the second row of seats in our Ford Freestyle.  This gave the kids the entire two rows in the back of the car to sprawl out and enjoy the leisurely 3 day road trip to Florida.  Hubby still marvels at how I could possibly fit everything in there.

I pack our storage rooms in the basement, I pack the refrigerators, I pack the pantry, I pack our closets, and today I packed our freezers.  Yes, I was somehow able to fit every bit of the meat I bought today into “not an inch of available space” in our freezers.  I packed, unpacked, and repacked until the job was done.  What other choice did I have?  Now we should be set with chicken for a while.

Of course, while I was filling my shopping cart with chicken this morning, the meat manager happened to stop by to say hello.  He said he was glad that I’d gotten the word about the specials and that in the next couple of days several more things were going to be going on clearance.  Great!  Just what we need.  At least I have a few days to do a little cooking and possibly make some room so I can replenish and refill when the next great bargain comes along, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Midweek Harvest — Carrots and Beets

This morning I decided to harvest all the beets I didn’t replant so I could clean out that section of the garden for my beet seedlings.  If the weather holds, tomorrow the seedlings that have sprouted will be transplanted.  The beets that I picked today are going to be pickled and canned in the next day or so.

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While I was at it, I decided to harvest the carrots that were ready for picking.  I picked 28 carrots.  That’s pretty good for the first harvest.  There are about 20 more in the ground that are still fairly small.  These will be picked in the next week or so.  With the carrots I picked today, I think I might make some carrot cake or carrot muffins.

It is so exciting harvesting fresh vegetables from the garden.  The cucumbers on the a-frame are coming in steadily, I harvested most of the kale under the a-frame yesterday, the peppers are nearly ready for another harvest, the tomatoes are starting to turn yellowish orange, the scallions are almost ready to be picked, and the sweet potatoes look beautiful — what they’re doing under ground I don’t know, but they sure are pretty to look at.

Oh, I almost forgot — the plum tree is about ready for harvest!

By the end of the next week I should have plums for canning.  I have no idea what I’m going to do with them, as I still have so much canned plum goodies from last years super-crop of 110 pounds of plums.  No matter, I’m sure I will find something to do with them.  I am just happy that the tree is healthy and productive, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

 

Michigan Blueberries

The harsh Michigan winter certainly took its toll on the fruit crops this summer.  Cherries were first, now blueberries, and next peaches.  All these crops were or are sparse at best.  Thankfully, produce from all over the state is offered at most grocery stores during the summer months and I was able to buy Michigan blueberries for $1.30 a pint or about $1.68 a pound.

So far I’ve bought around 50 pints, stocking the pantry and freezer the best I can.  One of my favorite new recipes for blueberries came from Caitlin at The Babbling Botanist for Blueberry Lime Jam.  She was so right when she said that the addition of lime really made the blueberry POP!  What a difference.  I don’t think I’ll ever make plain blueberry jam again.

Caitlin’s recipe was based on the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  Being that I wanted to use Clear Jel, I changed up the recipe just a bit.  I think the results were very good, but if you don’t have Clear Jel, you should really check out Caitlin’s post: The Babbling Botanist – Blueberry Lime Jam.

Blueberry Lime Jam

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  • 4 Pints Blueberries
  • 1 Lime, zest and juice
  • 4 Cups Sugar
  • 5 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved in 1/3 cup water

Wash and stem blueberries.  Put in large stock pot.

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Zest and juice lime.  Add to stock pot with sugar.

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Over medium heat bring pot contents to low boil.  When berries start to crack and breakdown, use a stick blender/immersion blender to puree.

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I like to leave some of the blueberries intact, so I use short pulses to breakdown most of the berries, but not all.

Cook jam for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add Clear Jel slurry, increase heat and bring to boil.  Boil 1 minute.

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Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.  Ladle hot jam into jars, seal, and process 10 minutes in water bath.

This is definitely a recipe worth trying.  I’m so glad I did.

Once the jam was processing, I decided to take some blueberries and dehydrate them.  On the internet there are countless sites claiming to have the best way to accomplish dehydrating blueberries.  Not knowing which one would work, I decided to try two of them and see which one worked better.

The first called for the berries to be blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds or more (until the berries crack) and then spreading them on the dehydrator trays.

Blanched Berries

Blanched Berries

The second was easier in that all I had to do was rinse the berries and then spread them out on the dehydrator trays.

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Putting the trays in the dehydrator at 135 overnight, here is what they looked like in the morning.

Unblanched Berries

Unblanched berries.

Blanched Berries

Blanched Berries

Both berries were crunchier than I wanted.  I must have dehydrated too long. The blanched berries were less crunchy, but both tasted about the same.

Since I had the dehydrator running anyway, I decided to try some blueberry fruit leather.  Unlike other fruits, blueberry needs a few more ingredients to make it smooth.

Blueberry Fruit Leather

  • 1 Pint Blueberries
  • 1 Tbsp. Water
  • 1/4 Cup Honey
  • 1 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
  • 2 tsp. Lemon Juice

Heat blueberries and water in saucepan until berries start to breakdown.

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Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients.  With immersion blender puree mixture until smooth.

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Pour blueberry mixture on lined dehydrator tray and dehydrate at 135 for 8 to 10 hours.

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This turned out really good.  As you can see, the kids couldn’t even wait for me to cut it.

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It’s sad that Michigan blueberry picking in my area isn’t possible this year, but it is wonderful that our local grocers are able to get Michigan berries for us, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

 

A Taste of Fall in Michigan

Yesterday the temperature was right around 85 and sunny until about 5:00.  Then storm clouds blew in and the temperatures dropped.

This morning the temps were in the upper 50’s and never got higher than 63.  It was a beautiful fall day here in Michigan.  Perfect to harvest some kale and make a pot of hot soup for dinner.

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The kale picked fresh from the garden this morning.

One of our favorite soups during the cool fall and cold winter months is a spicy Italian sausage soup based on the Tuscan Soup served at the chain restaurant Olive Garden.  Mine is different in that it is more of a chowder than a soup, hearty enough for a meal.  I’ve missed making soup early in the morning and letting it simmer all day, filling the house with comfort.  I’m glad that today we had a reprieve from the blistering hot summer and a sneak peek at the cooler days to come very soon.

Spicy Italian Sausage Soup (similar to Olive Garden’s Tuscan Soup)

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  • 1 Pound Spicy or Mild Italian Sausage
  • 1/2 – 1 Pound Polish Sausage
  • 4 Large Russet Potatoes
  • 3 Cups Chopped Kale
  • 8 – 12 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 1/2 Cups Half & Half

Fry or grill sausage until brown.

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Slice sausage into bite-size pieces.

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Wash potatoes and cut, leaving skins on, into bite size pieces.

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Wash kale – mine came right from the garden this morning, and remove thick portion of stem.

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Chop kale.

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In a large stock pot, combine sausage, potato, kale, and chicken broth.

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Bring to boil and simmer on stove all day.  About a half hour before serving, add half and half.

This soup is so hearty that it is enough of a meal without any accompaniment.  Sometimes I’ll make bread, but today I made a pie for dessert instead.

Canning all the pie filling for the past couple months made me anxious to use some.  The weather being what it was, perfect for running the oven without the threat of heat stroke, I decided to pop open a few jars and whip up a pie.  Blueberry, cherry, and rhubarb made a wonderfully tart finish to our spicy soup dinner.

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I love summer for all it has to offer in the way of fruits and vegetables, but this little taste of fall has me counting the days until everyday is a sweater day and comforter night.  Tonight the windows will be open, a thick comforter will be on my bed,  and a cool breeze will lull us to sleep, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Jalapeno Jelly

When I planted the two jalapeno pepper plants on the side of the house this past spring, I figured I’d can them for fresh salsa this coming winter.  Never did I imagine that they would flourish the way they have and give us as many peppers as it has.  Seeing all the flowers still blooming and all the tiny peppers yet to reach full-grown, I decided with the first peppers I harvested, I’d try something a little different.

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For a couple of years now I have heard about hot pepper jelly and been intrigued, but leery.  What would it taste like?  How would I use it?  Would anyone like it?  Finally, with the promise of a bounty of peppers to come and peppers to spare, today was the day to give this recipe a shot.

Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

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  • 2/3 Cup Jalapeno Peppers, chopped in food processor
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper
  • 1 1/2 Cups White Vinegar
  • 6 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Packs Liquid Certo Pectin
  • Green Food Coloring
  1. Chop peppers in food processor with vinegar.
  2. Put peppers, vinegar, and sugar into large stock pot.
  3. Bring mixture to boil and boil hard for 1 minute.
  4. Remove from heat and strain.
  5. Return liquid to pot and boil for 5 minutes.
  6. Add pectin and food coloring and boil for 1 minute more.
  7. Remove from heat and ladle into hot jars.  Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.

This is the first time this summer that I haven’t used Clear Jel as my setting agent for jams or jellies.  I figured since I have no idea what this is supposed to taste like or how I am going to use it, it would be best to follow the directions as closely as possible.  I did find a recipe for thumbprint cheddar cookies that use the pepper jelly that I plan on trying very soon.

Grace stuck her finger in the jelly to give it a taste test and her eyes watered.  Very hot!  She said it was good and thought spreading it over cream cheese on crackers would be a good way to use this or even dipping tortilla chips into it like salsa.

Trying new things is always fun, but a little scary.  I’m glad I finally took the plunge and gave this recipe a shot.  Now I have two things I can use the jalapeno peppers from my garden for, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Relish The Thought

Once the pickles were pickling, I decided to finish up the cucumbers I’d harvested by making a little more relish.  Earlier in the week I made a batch of Dill Pickle Relish using the recipe from Old World Garden Farms.  This relish turned out very good.  In fact, Grace and I had to make hot dogs that night as a snack just so we could open a jar and do an official taste test.  The only change I made to the recipe was to use 1/2 white vinegar and 1/2 white wine vinegar.  The only reason I did this was because I didn’t have the full amount of white wine vinegar.  It still turned out very good.  Definitely check out their recipe, I plan on making at least one more batch before the season is out.

Old World Garden Farms Dill Pickle Relish

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Before I’d found the recipe from Old World Garden Farms, I had printed off several other dill pickle relish recipes from the internet that I wanted to try.  Combining several of them, I came up with this version:

Dill Pickle Relish

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  • 7 Cups Chopped Cucumbers
  • 1 Cup Chopped Red Bell Pepper
  • 2 3/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Dill Seed
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. Pickling Salt

Trim ends off cucumbers and run through a food processor.  Trim and clean red pepper and run through food processor. Combine cucumber and red pepper and set aside.

In large stock pot stir together vinegar, dill seed, garlic, and salt.  Heat until salt dissolves.

Add vegetables and bring to boil.  Simmer 10 minutes.

Ladle hot relish into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Process in water bath canner 15 minutes.

This relish was different from the first in that the texture was crunchier and had a more natural flavor.  I liked the Old World Garden Farms recipe because it was very similar to the relish I’ve bought from the stores.  The second one is different and will give my pantry some variety.  Both recipes are keepers.

All the harvested cucumbers are now canned and the rain has hit us hard — thankfully.  No watering the garden tonight.  Next week we are supposed to have several wonderfully sunny days, perfect for my cucumber vines on the a-frame, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

In A Pickle

This morning I made two batches of pickles using tried-and-true recipes from last summer.  These recipes were the two out of four that I made in 2013 that we liked so I knew making these for the pantry would not be a waste of time or space.

The first was using the Ball Kosher Dill Pickle Mix that they sell in the stores.  I know this is sort of like cheating, but last year was my first time making pickles and I wanted to ease myself into it.

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The second batch I made came from a recipe I found on the internet from The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving for Fast Favorite Garlic Dill Pickles.  The only change I made to them was to add the Ball Pickle Crisp granules.  Although the pickles were very tasty, they were a bit soggy.  I’m hoping that the crisping agent will firm them up a bit.

Fast Favorite Garlic Dill Pickles

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  • 12-16 Pickling Cucumbers
  • 2 Cups White Vinegar
  • 2 Cups Water
  • 2 Tbsp. Pickling Salt
  • 4 Heads Fresh Dill
  • 4 Small Cloves Garlic
  • Ball Pickle Crisp Granules

Trim ends of cucumbers. Cut into quarters.

Combine vinegar, water, and salt in saucepan and bring to boil.

Remove hot jars from canner.  Place 1 head fresh dill and 1 clove garlic into each jar.  Pack cucumbers tightly into jars.  Top cucumbers with heaping 1/4 tsp. Crisping Granules.  Pour boiling vinegar mixture over cucumbers to 1/2 inch of rim.  Process 10 minutes per pint.

This recipe makes 4 pint size jars.  I have several other pickle recipes I want to try, but if I don’t find one that I like better than these two, I will probably make another batch of each.

These two recipes used about 2/3 of the cucumbers I picked the other day.  The a-frame is still full of flowers and baby cucumbers so next week there will definitely be more for the picking and more for the pickling, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Pickled Beets

The other day after I harvested some of the bigger beets from the garden, I had just enough to can three pints of pickled beets.  This was the second time I canned pickled beets, the first having used store-bought beets from the produce department.  The recipe I used for the first batch turned out a bit tart for my taste.  This time I altered the ratio of sugar, water, and vinegar and came up with a recipe that we like much better.

Pickled Beets

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  • 1/2 Cup White Vinegar
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Pickling Salt
  • Fresh Beets, cooked and peeled
  • Onion, sliced

Cut tops off beets, leaving two inches of stem.  Boil until tender.  Immediately immerse in ice water and skins should slip right off.

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Slice beets and onions to 1/4″ thickness.

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Combine vinegar, water, sugar and salt in pan.  Bring to boil.  Add beets and onions and bring back to boil for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  With slotted spoon, fill pint jars to 1/2″ from top with beets and onions.  Ladle brine over beets to cover.  Process in water bath for 30 minutes.

Obviously the amount of brine you would need will depend on how many beets you had to work with.

I am so happy I was able to salvage some of the beets from my garden.  With three jars of pickled beets in the pantry, we are on our way to a stocked pantry for the winter and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

What’s Up Bells?

Tonight Grace and I decided to pull out a carrot and see how they were doing.  No sooner did we have it out of the ground and Bell grabbed it and ran.

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Settling into the grass, she proceeded to chew it up, savoring every morsel.

We might not have been able to sample this particular carrot, but if the smell was any indication, it was definitely a good one.

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The carrots are still a little small.  A few more weeks and we should be able to harvest, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.