Monday, February 28, 2011

Dinner in a Can

We love spending time with our friends Mark & Wendy.  They, like us, love discovering the latest gadgets and gizmos.  This weekend, they introduced us to the concept of "milk can cooking."  Apparently, back in the day, farm hands used to use the old-fashioned milk cans (used to store milk during the trip to market) to cook a nice, hot dinner for themselves while they were working.  The new-fangled cans look almost exactly like the old milk cans except for the fact the new cans have latches instead of screw-tops like the old ones.  You put all of your food items in the can, latch down the lid, and then put it on your stove burner.  Mark & Wendy used potatoes, corn on the cob, cabbage, cauliflower, onion, carrots, mushrooms, chicken drumsticks, venison marinated in garlic, beer, and half a bottle of Italian dressing.  It took about 50 minutes for the meal to cook in the can.  In retrospect, I feel the Italian dressing may have been a bit too much--the result was that the carrots & cauliflower were too tangy for my taste.  If I attempt this recipe on my own, I'll substitute beef or chicken bouillon in place of the dressing.  I'd also leave out the cabbage and cut up the potatoes so they can truly absorb the flavors of the cooking liquids.  I'd also add some fresh rosemary sprigs to "kick it up a notch."  I'm thinking I can duplicate this meal in my turkey fryer--it too has a rack to hold the food off the bottom of the pot and it has a steam hole like the milk can cooker.  I will probably just have to weight the top down with something heavy to keep up the pressure.

What the can looks like...

Adding the beer 'n' butter!

The finished product!

Day in D.C.

Recently, Hubs and I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in our favorite city, Washington, D.C.  We had to bring Hubs' flag down to the Capitol building to have his VT state representative, Rep. Peter Welch's office fly Hubs' retirement flag over the Capitol.  We were lucky enough to have Rep. Welch's congressional staff give us a tour of his office and give us a brief history on the setup of the congressional offices. 

Afterward, we decided to stroll around the Capitol building and take some photos.  We were surprised to find that there is a U.S. National Botanic garden located right behind the Capitol building. 

Turns out, we were very lucky to find the garden as it suddenly began pouring down rain and neither of us had an umbrella.  We couldn't believe such a small place could be so pretty.  I've attached some photos of our time there that day.

The seal of the great state of Vermont

Rear of the Capitol building

A cacao tree--the kind that produces beans which become chocolate!

Mushrooms & moss

This giant tin garden in the botanical garden showcases the aromas of the different spices around the world.

View of the mall from the steps of the Capitol building.

I haven't seen bananas growing on a tree like this since we lived in Puerto Rico.

Overview of the main garden of the botanic garden.

This was a photo that was part of an exhibition on Scottish gardens.  I just loved the lighting.  Must come from being married to a photographer for almost 20 years.

Main atrium of the botanic garden.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's Amazing!

It's amazing how much the Hubs and I have learned over the past 20 years!  Twenty years ago, if something broke in the house, we would have called my dad to come over and help us to fix it or we would have been calling his dad or his step-dad Bill for advice.  These days, we are able to figure it out ourselves--can I say, that is a real feeling of accomplishment!  This would not have been possible, however;  if our 3 "dads" hadn't coached/coaxed us along the way.  The first problem:  the disposal locked up tighter than Fort Knox.  We tried using the disposal-sized Allen wrench to unlock it and had no luck.

Turns out, a metal piece from Toddy's jerky gun was stuck between the two layers of the disposal and there was no way to work it out.  So, we bought a new disposal from Lowe's (thank you, 10% military discount!) and while we were there, we saw that the prices for new kitchen faucets weren't as high as we thought, so we went ahead and bought a new kitchen faucet (ours was leaking--thanks crappy gasket).  An hour, and a little bit of salty language later, we found ourselves smiling like idiots as we realized we had knocked out more than a few problems in our crappy kitchen.  Maybe our night wasn't wasn't as tranquil as we thought it would be, but we ended up with a non-leaky sink and a workable disposal.  AND...we were able to score a sweet, only 2-year old dishwasher for the low-low price of $80 on Craigslist.  The kitchen may be the last room in the house to get the "deluxe" treatment, but it's all coming together fairly quickly.  Stand-by for photos of our new kitchen!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Saw a pretty neat movie this afternoon, "I am Number Four."  I knew it was about aliens but I didn't expect it to be such an interesting plot.  Then we spent 2 hours at the commissary.  I know it seems excessive, but in order to save money, it's a necessity.  In this case, I saved $25 in coupons--all for stuff I needed already and stuff that's good for you.  I find it's cheaper to shop "around the edges" of the grocery store--basically, 90% of my food comes from the meat, produce, dairy, deli and bakery.  I usually try to limit myself to items found in the middle of the store--that's where all the processed aka pricier stuff is.  If I find staples on sale such as canned beans or soups, I'll buy a couple to keep in the pantry. 

What we had for dinner:  Sausage, Peppers, & Penne Pasta

1 box whole wheat penne
1 pkg Italian sausage links
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
1 of each:  red, yellow, and orange peppers, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
a handful of fresh basil OR 1 TBSP dried basil
1 tsp oregano

Boil water for the pasta, when boiling, throw in the pasta.  Fry the sausages until browned.  Slice into 1/2" slices.  Brown the onions & garlic, then add the sliced peppers.  Cook for about 10 minutes, then add spaghetti sauce and sausages and simmer for 10 minutes.  Drain pasta and top with sausage/pepper mixture.  Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Meal costs about $6 and served 5 people with 2+ servings left over for lunch tomorrow!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How I Met The Hubs

So, me and the old man have been together for 20 years and will be married 20 years later this year--the official anniversary is October 26, 2011--20 years of marriage to the Toddster.  Some of our friends have asked us how did we meet in the first place and when did we know our relationship was "it."  Well, it's kinda a funny story...we first met, January 16, 1988 at the Navy Enlistment Club at Little Creek--it was called the "Helm Club."  We met because our close friends were trying to set us up on a blind date, but we weren't actually impressed by each other--I thought he was too "geeky" and he thought I talked too much.  So, time went by until we re-met through Toddy's roommate Troy back in 1990 when the three of us decided to attend Harborfest in Norfolk, Va.  A week later, Troy went home on leave, and Todd asked me to go to see a movie with him, "Total Recall" and that was the catalyst which drove us into our relationship.  I thought he was a cool photographer and he thought I was a cute chick--these two coincidences brought us even closer together  and propelled us onto the path of true love.

The Joys of Raising Boys

I saw my dear friend Lisa's post on her Facebook page this morning--the post was about how her toddler son Brendan had gotten into the toilet and was using it as his own personal hand-washing center.  I had to laugh as our son Jeremy was quite the naughty pet during his toddler years.  I thought I'd relate some of his escapades to prove that you CAN survive raising a boy without losing your sanity! 

When Jeremy was a baby, he was the most sweet and innocent thing--he was loving and cute and never gave us a lick of trouble...well, that is except for the colic that drove us crazy.  Luckily, Daddy solved that problem by cutting a large X in the nipple of Jeremy's bottle and thickening up the formula with some rice cereal.  After that, things were golden.  Well...until Jeremy turned 18 months...

Once Jeremy became an official "Toddler," he was hell on wheels!  We couldn't leave him unattended for a single second.  Once, while Toddy was deployed, I slowly, but certainly, became desperate for a shower as watching after the kiddo was a 24/7 job and there was just no time for maternal hygiene.  One day, he was happily absorbed in playing with his Legos in the living room so I thought I could dash in for a quick shower.  I dashed in & out of the hot water and came out of the bathroom to complete and utter silence in the house.  Wrapping my bath towel tighter around me, I quickly began a re-con of the house to find my wayward son.  I finally heard his toddler giggles out on the screened-in porch and walked out there to see what was going on.  What to my wondering eyes should appear but my son, buck-naked, with the lid of my purple nail polish in hand.  I gasped, and he trilled out, "Hi Mommy!  Look at my pretty purple pee-pee!"  I quickly whisked him into the bathtub and used some baby wipes dipped in nail polish remover to clean off the "pretty purple pee-pee."  Of course, I thought that was the height of my naughty toddler's escapades but I was so wrong!

While Toddy was deployed, Jeremy got naughtier and naughtier.  I guess he missed Daddy and felt that he should make his feelings known by acting out at home.  One morning, I was jarred awake by the sound of the Bee Gees at 6 a.m.  I raced out to the living room to find out why the stereo was on, only to trip over the web of dental floss our son had woven through the furniture, making me feel like Gulliver in my own home.  Once I was able to pull myself up, I saw the culprit passed out on the couch with an open box of popsicles laying across his stomach.  I then saw several melted cherry (RED) popsicles lying all over my beautiful Turkish rug.  I had to hold my breath and count to 10 before I picked the miscreant up and put him back in his crib.

I thought things would improve as my naughty son got older--boy, I was SO wrong.  The worst was yet to come!  Once we moved to Puerto Rico, things got crazier.  Jeremy had so many crazy escapades, we came up with a new nickname for him:  the "E.R. Cowboy."  This is because we had to take him to the ER soooo many times.  When we were living in temporary housing before we were assigned a house, my hubs decided to invite his new co-workers over for Christmas dinner.  The apartment we lived in was open-air and you could hear a pin drop in the next room.  Jeremy had gotten in the habit (at 3 1/2 years of age) of eating string of all things, and we ended up having to "pull out" the consequences.

Well, this holiday, our guests had the opportunity to listen to Jeremy's latest exploits.  Imagine if you can, a beautiful holiday dinner where Toddy is getting ready to carve the Christmas turkey.  Then, imagine hearing a tiny toddler voice call out from the bathroom, "Daddy!  I have a string hanging out of my butt!"  Then, you see Dad throw down his napkin and carving knife, push back chair, sigh loudly, then stomp off into the house.  In the distance, you hear, "Daddy, the string feels like it's hanging, like I'm a bell."  Then you hear Daddy say, "You're not gonna eat string anymore, are you?"  Then Jeremy says, "Wheeee--Daddy!  You pulled that string right out!"  I looked at all of our dinner guests and not one of them could finish their dinners.  Gotta love toddlers!

The next excitement from our dear toddler came when he and his friends Tyler & Lane decided they wanted to play "tag" in the house at our friends' house while we were watching the Superbowl.  Someone decided to throw water on the floor and the next thing you know, Jeremy decided to slip and fall and go headfirst into our friends' coffee table.  Daddy took Jeremy to the ER and he ended up having to have his eyebrow glued shut so he didn't have to have stitches. 

But, the fun didn't stop there!  When Jeremy turned 4, he decided that he wanted to taste everything around him.  This included anything he could find around the house.  I was hosting some of the base's Chief Petty Officer wives so we could create the centerpieces for that year's Khaki Ball.  We were using some small fishbowls, sand, candles, and those wide, flat, glass florist marbles for some color.  We were coming to the end of our decorating when our son announced to me, "Those marbles are yummy!"  I looked him right in the eye and said, "What do you mean by that?"  He looked at me and said, "The glass was yummy."  I finally figured out that he had eaten a marble (maybe more) so I called the Chief I knew at the base hospital to find out what I should do.  I got in touch with the Chief, only to find out that my own husband was there in his office.  I was told that I should take 2 chopsticks and "dig" through the boy's "bm's" for the next 3 days to make sure it passed.  When I called the Chief after 4 days to let him know I hadn't found anything, he remarked that the glass marble would probably turn into a diamond...  When I asked Jeremy why in the world he had eaten the marble in the first place, the only explanation he could come up with was, "Sorry Mommy, it was just so shiny!"  Grrrrr...

This reminds me of the time Jeremy swallowed a quarter--of course I was concerned, but when I called the hospital, they patched me through to our Chief friend again--once again, Hubs was in the office when I called.  The Chief told me what to do to help the quarter pass and of course, Hubs had his own witty retort to the predicament.  When I wailed about how our son swallowed a quarter, Hubs had to come back with, "Well, I'd only be concerned if he shit out two dimes and a nickel!"  Yeah, that's my man...

Still, things really got wacky once Jeremy got to kindergarten.  Apparently, his friends were able to reallllly influence him--to his own detriment.  We both got a call from the school nurse one day in which she informed us that one of Jeremy's friends had dared him to drink the blue juice in his cold packs from his lunch box.  Turns out, the stuff is pretty tame but it makes your poop/pee turn bright green so we had a few interesting days...

Then came the heart-stopping phone call I received from the school nurse when she asked me, in a halting, Spanish-tinged accent, if I would come down to the school and tell her "what Jeremy nose look like normally."  Of course, I flew to the school, heart in hand, only to find out that my day-dreaming son had been holding the hand of the girl he liked while he was in line, and was so enamored of her, that he ended up walking face-first into the latch of a metal gate and broke his nose.  I still can hear the crunch when the ER doctor had to re-set the boy's nose at the hospital. 

We were lucky to not have any catastrophes for about 3 years until we moved back to the States.  Then, the bad luck bug seemed to strike again.  We had to take Jeremy to the ER again when he decided to use a box cutter (without our knowledge) to open a plastic package and instead, opened his finger.  Then, imagine our horror when we had to take him to Patient First last year when he had a horrible cough and fever, only to find out that he had been diagnosed with the H1N1 variation of the flu and that he had actually developed pneumonia.  Talk about scaring the pants off of the parental units!!  Luckily, this year seems to be accident/sickness/trouble free as far as the boy is concerned...
These are what the Kitazawa seed packets look like.  I put a quarter in the pic for sizing purposes.  The packets are so pretty I think I might frame them to hang in my kitchen.
A little hard to see but the whole yard on this side is completely tilled!

Toddy's greenhouse

This is where the magic happens!

Beekeeping & Chickens!

I signed Toddy up for a Beekeeping class at Harford Community College.  The class only costs $35 for 6 weeks and during the last class, Toddy gets to go to an actual bee farm and get "hands on" experience.  He goes through so much honey (he uses it as a sweetener) so we decided we wanted to make our own.  Everyone keeps telling me if I take a teaspoon of local honey every day that it will help to keep my allergy symptoms down so why not go totally local and get it from my own backyard?

We've also been interested in keeping chickens.  Did you know that up until the end of World War II, most American families kept a couple of chickens in the backyard to provide eggs for their diets?  Once the country began "suburbanizing" everything, bye bye chickens.  The Mill (a local garden center) is hosting a "Chicks Night Out" on 4/7 at their Whiteford location.  They are going to have poultry experts there and will be talking about basic care, breed characteristics, and more.  I think we are going to definitely check it out.

Our Mission

Over the past few years, Toddy and I have been moving in a new direction.  Fed up with the high cost of everything from food to fuel and beyond, we decided we wanted to simplify things here at home.  So, we've been slowly converting our high-paced, high stress life into something a bit more rewarding. 

Guess what?  It's working!  We've already slashed our grocery budget in half, we're eating healthier, and it has really brought us together as a family.  I'd love to share with my family and friends how we do it and share our adventures with you.

Today, we started prepping for Spring by renting a rototiller for only $65 for 4 hours from Harford Rental on rt. 1 in Bel Air.  We picked it up at noon and Toddy just finished hosing it off about a half hour ago.  I highly recommend picking up a can of orange or neon spray paint to paint where the borders of your gardens should be.  Luckily, Harford Rental had the cans of orange paint that the utility workers use when they are working.  In hindsight, we probably should have gotten the utilities to come out and spray in the front yard for wires for us as we realized that we wanted to rototill the strip of land between the street and sidewalk but didn't dare do it for fear of hitting the electric lines.  But, at only $65, I think we will probably rent another time and take care of it.

Tomorrow, we will be setting up the rows in the gardens (yes, gardens!) in the backyard.  Today, we were able to till all of the gardens and mix compost in at the same time.  It's amazing what an 8 HP machine can do!  I can't wait to get my hands dirty.

Another highlight of the week was receiving our order of Asian seeds from the Kitazawa Seed Company.

Our friend Tracey recommended it to us.  She was our neighbor in Japan and is an awesome cook.  The seeds that the company sells are not just Asian plants but American plants as well.  The carrots that we had in Japan were the circumference of at least a silver dollar and that means you don't have to spend a long time slicing them.  Toddy, of course, had to get his bok choi and collard green seeds, so now he is a happy boy.

Well, we have to go return the rototiller and figure out what we're having for dinner.  I completely forgot about getting anything out of the freezer due to all the excitement in the backyard so a trip to the grocery store will be in our future!

Becky a.k.a. The Homesteader's Wife