Look What I Did!

For the past few days I have been working on completing a garden project that I am very excited about. I built a fence around my garden.

I know, this might not be the most exciting news in the world, but boy am I excited about it. Not only does it look so much nicer than the sagging, flimsy chicken wire I staked around the garden last year, but I made it all by myself!

What do you think?

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It’s made from PVC pipe and connectors, the same flimsy chicken wire that was around the garden last year, and a ton of zip ties. And, wait for it, I even made a gate for it! Never underestimate the power of a woman who wants a nice looking fence around her garden!

This was really a cinch to build. It took more time that it should have only because of the exhausting heat I’ve had to contend with for the past week. Actually, if the weather had been more cooperative, I probably could have finished it in a day or two. As it was, it took a bit longer.

Plus, it cost only about $50. I swear the chicken wire alone for my 16′ x 32′ garden would probably be half that, but I got mine at a garage sale and from a little neighborly garbage picking.

If you’d like to read how I made this, check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardener for Building A Garden Fence With PVC Pipe. Maybe next I’ll make a new A-frame for the cucumbers and then a smaller one for the zucchini. The possibilities are endless.

Finally, something in the garden going right, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Can You Remove Maple Flavor From Bacon?

That was my question this afternoon when it came time to make dinner and I found I’d bought maple bacon instead of smoked.

Well, the good news is you can remove the maple flavor, check out my post at Simply Grateful Cooking How To Get The Maple Flavor Out Of Bacon. What a relief. Being that it was 86 degrees, sunny, and humid today I was not in the mood to head back out to the store in my car with no air conditioning during rush-hour traffic.

Have you ever bought the wrong “type” of product when grocery shopping? I swear having so many options is more of a hinderance than a blessing. I suppose I’m more of a “You can have any color car you want, as long as it’s black” kinda girl than one that revels in multiple choices for every product on the market. Sure sometimes it’s nice to have a few choices here and there, but really, how many different types of vanilla ice cream, baked beans, vinegar, salad dressing, or cereal do we really need? And that’s just naming a few of the items where there are more options than I have time to peruse.

At least today I was able to fix my mistake and learned something new in the process, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The Gardening Gods Have Blessed Me With — Clouds!

Clouds. Think of the cooling shadows of summer which benevolent Nature spreads over her darling forests and gardens – summer shadows of wonderful depth and brilliancy like the wings of a mother bird over her young.

~ John Muir

Clouds! Yes there are finally clouds in the sky and judging from horizon there are many more are on the way.

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Free! Free I say. I can finally step outside and breathe in the hot, fresh air of an early taste of summer. Let no more the confines of these four walls hold me captive.

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Reprieve! My garden was given a reprieve from the scorching rays of the sun, granting my plants a fighting chance at surviving the elements in what can be a hard, cold world (hard, hot world in this case).

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I will never again take for granted the luxury of a shadow stretching across the afternoon sky or the cool breeze that always seems to follow.

Thank you dear Gardening Gods, I am grateful for your gift, and as always — Simply Grateful.

Oh Crap! Another Beautiful Day!

Well, it’s another not-a-cloud-in-the-sky day here in Michigan with temps hovering in the mid-80’s. This is not what I need, or rather not what the garden needs. Where or where is the rain that was predicted? Where are the mostly cloudy skies? Where is a little reprieve for my struggling seedlings I planted too soon outside?

I guess it’s just going to be one of those years. I checked the weather forecast again this morning and now they say there isn’t really any rain expected until Saturday. A full three days away. Well by that time my plants will either be acclimated to their new environment or dead. I wish it would just happen already and be over with. At least if they all died I could take things from there. As it is I’m stuck here in limbo wondering if the plants will survive this wonderful weather and embrace what should be the best thing to happen to them since being planted.

The one good thing about the weather being so warm and sunny is that I’m stuck inside. As I get older I just can’t take being in the sun for more than a few minutes with a hat on, sunglasses shading my eyes, and clothing covering every inch of my too sensitive skin. Gee it’s fun getting old.

With this time in the house though I was able to make a few blog posts. Actually this really made my day. I long for the days when I could make a blog post nearly daily and still get everything done. Now everything seems so much bigger in my life that finding time for half of what I want to get done doesn’t even come close to happening.

Today I shared some pictures of my Pea Garden 2016 (one of the few successes thus far in the garden this year) and another post with a recipe for Thai Peanut Chicken (a new addition to my recipe arsenal). Check them out if you get a chance.

For the rest of the day I’ll be moving all my plants that remain in the greenhouse out to the patio once the sun shifts, moving them back into the greenhouses before going to bed, and reading some cookbooks. Dinner is in the oven, making the house hotter than it already was (I really should have rethought making a roast for dinner on the hottest day of the year so far) so relaxing is the only way to go, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Gardening Mistake #327 – Sun Scald on Pepper and Tomato Seedlings

Okay, so 327 mistakes might be an exaggeration, but boy I have really been screwing up this year and I have no one to blame but myself. I got cocky. I forgot that just a few short years ago my gardening skills were so bad Hubby wouldn’t even let me water the grass.

This year has been horrible thus far in the garden, which explains my lack of posts on Simply Grateful Gardener. I did however post this afternoon about my latest mishap and how I’m trying to fix it. If you’d like to see how I am treating my pepper and tomato plants for sun scald, check out:

Saving Plants That Have Suffered Sun Scald

at Simply Grateful Gardener.

I’m hopeful that my upcycling of milk cartons will be my salvation, but after the spring I’ve had, I’m having a hard time believing it will.

For now, I’m going to sit and relax on the patio, with a cold glass of water, praying for clouds and no wind to be in the forecast for the next four or five days. There is rain in the forecast for the weekend, so that’s something, and for that I am — Simply Grateful.

Addiction

I have a problem.

There, I’ve said it. Now, isn’t that supposed to be the first step, half the battle, or count for something anyway?

Yes, I have a problem, an addiction really, and I didn’t realize it until just recently. I had an idea that perhaps there might be a small issue, but actually, now that I have faced the facts, I realize this is far more serious than I ever allowed myself to believe.

Sure I put up a good front, not letting on that lurking just below the surface, behind closed doors, heck even under the mattress that there was a secret I couldn’t bear to reveal to anyone. Not even myself.

Most of the time I keep it in check. Out of necessity really. I mean, addictions can be very expensive. Yet, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and somehow I find a way more often than I should.

Now, I’m not discounting that there are many addictions out there far more worthy of attention than mine. This is by no means meant to poke fun at such a thing. But in a way I think everyone has an addiction of some sort be it to sugar, television, smart phones, working out, or even gardening or say cooking (yeah, I’m definitely borderline when it comes to those last two).

My addiction isn’t serious in the sense that I could hurt myself or others, unless of course I find myself somehow trapped under the fruits of my addiction or Hubby finds out and tries to perhaps “help” me, in which case, YES, he could get hurt. For the most part though, the only consequences of my weakness are a lighter checkbook and the continuing shrinkage of space available to enable me. Although I don’t think there could ever not be enough room for just one more…

So, here it goes…without further procrastination…there’s no time like the present to fess up…it’s time to be brave and acknowledge one of my many shortcomings in life…

I am addicted to…of course to many of you out there this will probably come as no great surprise and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this and many of you share this same affliction…

Where was I?

Oh yeah, I am addicted to —

COOKBOOKS!

I know, I know. This isn’t the end of the world. Things could be worse. But if you only knew how many cookbooks I really have and how I never think I have too many. Sure I have those few gems proudly displayed on my baker’s rack in the kitchen, and a few sparsely placed about the house for show, but if you were to sneak a peek into the cabinets in my dining room or open any of the many binders hidden among the books on every bookshelf in the house, you’d find cookbook after cookbook after cookbook after personally compiled cookbook. And this is after I vowed to scale down and get rid of my collection.

Actually I’ve down scaled my collection twice thus far in my lifetime. The first time was after Hubby and I were married. I’d collected hundreds of cookbooks prior to our marriage with the good intentions of using each and every one of them until my fingers bled. Throw in a new house, two kids, home schooling, part-time jobs, and life in general, and cookbooks became the least of my concern. So at a garage sale I sold off more than 3/4 of my collection, keeping only those I truly used or just couldn’t part with.

Then, as the kids got older I began volunteering at our local library for their used book sales. What a little piece of heaven that was. Not only did this enable my cookbook addiction like never before, but I also acquired a passion for children’s books (here I managed to collect more than 5,000 children’s books), mysteries (who knew there were so many mystery series that included recipes), and Christmas books (everything from decorating ideas to cooking to traditions from around the world). In all, over the course of ten or so years I managed to fill our house and every bookshelf in it with more than 8,000 books.

When the kids graduated from home schooling and began schools outside the home, I began downsizing my children’s book collection. I donated more than 1/2 of them to an elementary school and then sold the rest to a book dealer for practically nothing. The Christmas books too have nearly completely been donated back to the library. I have only two bookshelves of children’s books and one of Christmas books in the basement. All of the mystery novels have been donated to local charities, except for a few that have recipes in them I don’t want to just copy and stick in a binder.

The cookbooks…well, this is another matter. While I did go through and scan recipes out of nearly 1/3 of them and then donate them to St. Vincent last year, there are still lots of cookbooks I just can’t seem to part with. And to make matters worse, a good friend of mine introduced me to America’s Test Kitchen and now I am addicted to their cookbooks, their website, and even on occasion their shows. (Thanks Suzanne!) So far I have bought five of their books off Amazon, found two at the library book sale, and have three or four in my cart on Amazon for whenever I get the money to buy them.

For me a cookbook is not just a collection of recipes. I read them like books and because of this, I prefer cookbooks that share the history behind the recipe, the theory that makes the recipe work, or any personal insight an author is willing to share. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to read where a recipe originated, what ingredients were tried and then changed because they just didn’t work well, or how someone’s great-great-grandmother brought the recipe over from England when she came here with her husband seeking a better life. Danielle Steele, James Patterson, and J. K. Rowling have nothing on Mark Bittman, Julia Child, and Christopher Kimball.

Addiction, obsession, or quirky hobby — whatever you want to call it, for me cookbooks are it. There have been many other addictions through the years, but none have held on so long or so strong and I do believe this is one that is going to stay. It does go in spurts. Especially if someone happens to entice me with say watching an episode or two of America’s Test Kitchen (which opened up a whole can of worms — America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country, Cook’s Illustrated) or perhaps sharing a movie with me (Julie & Julia – which led to a near obsession with Julia Child!), then all bets are off. (Again, thanks Suzanne!)

Anyway, I just had to get this off my chest. I’m really in a hurry now because I just got a delivery from the mailman. He has a box of three brand new cookbooks I got on sale and the evening is young, I’ve got a hot cup of caffeinated coffee, and Hubby is working in the office — and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Tulip Time in Michigan

For the first time in our 23 years of marriage, Hubby and I took a day trip — just the two of us! Yep, beieve it or not, we actually left the kids home — on purpose.  They wanted to come, but we didn’t want them to.  We finally decided it was time to cut the apron strings/purse strings and spread our wings to once again enjoy a little time alone as a couple.

Honestly the thought of spending an entire day alone with Hubby seemed a bit scary. Sure we have spent more time together in the past two months since his “retirement” than we have probably spent together in all the years we’ve known each other, but a day trip without the kids, without interruption, without any distractions…this was something totally new to us both since before we had kids.

We had talked about taking an actual vacation, but every time we do, we include the kids. We are not at a point yet where we feel comfortable leaving them home. Comfortable is probably the wrong word here because we really like vacationing with Zeb. Grace on the other hand is a whole nother matter. She doesn’t want to vacation with us anymore. Being nearly 20, she thinks she has out-grown us. It will take her some time, but a few years down the road I’m sure she’ll see the error of her ways, but for now, she has made it clear she is not interested in traveling with “the parents.”

I’m not that disappointed in the fact Grace doesn’t want to vacation with us, but Hubby and I are not comfortable with leaving her home alone. Yes!!!! We are THOSE parents! Those over-protective, double standard, backward, living-in-the-past, over-bearing parents that don’t believe in leaving a 19/20-year-old girl home alone. (Nevermind the fact that I moved out on my own at 18 –this is MY daughter we’re talking about, not my mother’s daughter!)

Anyways, Hubby and I have therefore decided that we are going to enjoy some alone time by taking things a day at a time, rather than weeks. And to begin this transition into being “a couple” rather than “a family” we chose to begin our adventures with a day trip to Holland, Michigan for the 2016 Annual Tulip Time Festival.

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Holland, Michigan is only a three-hour drive (not to be confused with a three-hour tour as Gilligan experienced) from our home.  I have lived here in Michigan all my life and believe it or not, I have never ventured more than an hour or two from home in our beautiful state. Hubby and I are going to work on remedying this.

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The Holland Tulip Time Festival is always at the beginning of May and runs for an entire week. This year they are celebrating their 87th year of offering fabulous entertainment, events celebrating their Dutch heritage, and hundreds of thousands of — yes, you guessed it — Tulips! Actually they boast to have over 5 million tulips planted throughout the 7-mile radius of town and after visiting just a few of the attractions, I’d have to say it must be closer to 6 million!

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Hubby and I didn’t want to begin our trip tired or stressed, so we opted to leave at 7 a.m. with an ETA of 10 a.m. Even with us hitting some morning rush-hour traffic, we managed to arrive in Holland a few minutes after 10 and headed right to one of the hubs of excitement, the Trolley Tour Booth. This hour-long tour was supposed to be one of the highlights of the festival. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the ticket booth we were told that the tickets were already sold out for the day. Apparently they sell out nearly as soon as the booth opens at 8:30 a.m. and there are no pre-ticket sales on the internet or anywhere else for that matter.

Although disappointed, a friendly woman dressed in Dutch clothing quickly presented me with a Tulip Time brochure which highlighted all the days events and she suggested that we visit Windmill Island as an alternative. She assured me we would not be disappointed. Grateful for the brochure and advise, Hubby and I drove the 5-minutes to Windmill Island and parked our car.

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Windmill Island Gardens was everything we hoped for and more. It was truly an authentic Dutch experience complete with windmill tour, hand-painted carousel, Amsterdam street organ, tons and tons of beautiful tulip gardens, a tropical conservatory, Dutch shops, and of course food. It was $9 per person to enter the grounds and then we were able to wander around all the attractions for free. Food and souvenirs were extra, but otherwise it was a better deal in my opinion than the trolley ride we were not able to take. The trolley was $20 per person and only an hour-long. We spent two and a half hours at the gardens and enjoyed every minute.

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Before leaving the gardens we stopped by the food tent to see what “authentic Dutch” food was. I was disappointed to find that basically the main food seemed to be Pigs in a Blanket. This was not something we’d driven 188 miles to eat. Instead we opted to eat at a local restaurant. By that time we were so hungry we were not in the mood to search for other options of authentic Dutch food. Perhaps next year.

After lunch we headed to 8th Street which seemed to be the “Main Street” of the Tulip Festival. There we watched hundreds of children and adults in Dutch clothing perform the Street Scrubbing and then the Crown Motors Volksparade which featured every local schools marching band in the area as well as tons of floats.

One of the most unique aspects of Holland would have to be the wooden shoes that so many of the people wear. I asked one of the locals if these were worn any other time other than during the festival and he told me that I’d be surprised how many times throughout the year they are worn because of all the activities that center around their Dutch heritage. One of the marching bands even wore them throughout the parade. In talking with one of the City Councilmen, he confessed that the shoes are not comfortable in the least.  In fact, he had on four pair of socks and his feet still hurt. Such dedication! And they aren’t cheap either. For a pair in one of the gift shops it was $60. I guess if you take into consideration that they would probably last a VERY long time, that’s not too bad, but I think I’ll stick with my Sketchers.

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It was a fun-filled hour of music, conversing with the locals, and enjoying a perfect afternoon.  By 3 p.m. however Hubby and I were ready to head home. With a three-hour drive ahead of us and having spent several hours walking around in the hot afternoon sun, we were looking forward to getting home and taking a nap.

It would be entirely possible to make a weekend or more of this festival, as we did not see all the attractions that were around or see much of the city itself, but for us, escaping for a few hours from the demands of home was enough. We arrived home by 6 p.m., took a nap, and then headed to the gym to unwind a bit. The gym was Hubby’s idea, definitely not my first choice, but it was still just the two of us, so a nice ending to our first day trip and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Cheese! Homemade Cheese!

Yes, I’ve made several different homemade cheeses in the past, but for some reason I never quite considered them REAL cheeses. Cream cheese, ricotta, and paneer might be in the cheese family, but I would consider them more on the soft side. Today I made a hard or firm cheese and am totally thrilled with the results.

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Mozzarella cheese is probably the easiest firm-cheese to make and takes only about an hour. Yes I have tons of cheese making experience, so this being the only firm-cheese I’ve ever made and seeing as it was easy, it’s got to be the easiest — right?  Well let’s just say of all the cheeses I’ve ever made, hard or soft, this one was definitely the most fun and yes, easiest.

Some websites claim if you allow the cheese to cure longer at the various stages it will improve the quality and/or flavor of the cheese, but for my first effort, I am quite happy with the results. Sure it didn’t have much flavor, but honestly now, does mozzarella from the stores have much taste either. I’m sure that the fresh mozzarella from specialty markets that have been cured in brines or marinades for long periods of time are very flavorful (I’ve definitely got these methods on my list of things to do with my mozzarella), but for using on homemade pizza, chicken parmesan, or pasta dishes, this version was ideal. Best of all though — IT’S HOMEMADE! Can anything beat that!

Hubby questioned whether it was really worth the effort and told me that I’m trying too hard, but with this taking right around an hour of my time and the “kitchen high” I experienced as the soft curds became stretchy and pliable, I think I’ll be making lots of this in the future. There’s a lot to be said for those kitchen endorphins you know. So would it be fair to call them kitch-phins rather than endor-phins because they are produced in the kitchen rather than the body (endogenue)? Either way, the euphoria as I stretched the cheese into itself and formed it into a flat ball was more fun than I’ve had in the kitchen in a long time — and something I really needed.

The past couple of weeks I have suffered more gardening mishaps than any one person should have in an entire season, my kitchen time has been short and tainted with several epic failures, and having Hubby home all the time is proving to be more of a challenge for the kids than myself which I think is actually more stressful than if I were the one having an issue with him. I needed some fun and excitement to pull me out of the rut I was burying myself in and cheese making definitely did the job.

Although there are lots of websites with recipes for making mozzarella out there, I will eventually put the method I used on Simply Grateful Cooking, along with a few recipes of how I used the cheese. For now, I’m content just sharing my joy. And hey, if anyone has some advice on how to make the mozzarella more flavorful or have any recipes for brines or marinades they’d like to share, feel free. I’ve got another gallon of milk in the fridge in the basement calling out to me — “Make cheese with me! Make cheese with me!” so I’m sure I’ll be in the market for lots of suggestions.

Homemade anything is always a good thing — but homemade cheese, well that really takes things to a whole new level, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.