Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Happy Hopping Homesteads!

Barn Hop Link Up HERE
Hi everyone!  HAPPY HOPPING!  I hope you all had a safe weekend; and to those of you affected by Hurricane Irene, please know that you are in our prayers.  It's been very busy around the Gonzales Homestead for more than a month now.  Here's the weekly rundown of what's been going on around here.

Around the House-
My one and only son Jon will be getting married in eleven days.  I am hurrying to finish last minute decorations for the reception and I will be making a tier cake.  Nervous and excited at the same time...

Senior picture by DiRado & Sons Photography

I know I will experience that "Empty Nest" thing, so I'm planning LOTS of projects and activities for the next several months to keep busy.  

Back to School-
One of the things I will be keeping myself "busy" doing, is school.  Last week, Fall semester began.  I am a Plant Science student at the local junior college and I am almost done.  One more class and I get to walk across the stage next May.  The class I am taking is Vegetable Crop Production, and it requires a laboratory section that we perform at the school's small farm.  it might have been a good idea to take that class first, before the gardens, but I have gardened many times and they only give this class every third Fall. 

I am going to miss school when it's over.  I guess I'm going to have to get another hobby... 
or another major...  lol.

In the Garden-
Our garden has been amazing this summer.  My best ever!  I have been compiling an e-notebook about my garden that includes the name and location of every plant, my impressions about each plant's production and disease/pest problems and/or strengths.  I have also compiled my ideas about the efficacy of new techniques we tried and a few experiments ie: growing giant pumpkins off the ground, a frame trellises, cold frames, and using black plastic row covers.  

I have pulled out several plants that had lost their vigor due to age or hot temperatures.  I mulched and lightly tilled those beds for my Fall & Winter gardens and have continued planting new Fall plants.  I have also been collecting seed pods for next Spring's garden.
Scarlet Red Runner Bean pods and seeds
 In the Kitchen-
I have been trying to keep up with the garden, giving away alot more than I can, dehydrate, freeze or eat, I'm afraid.  Tonight I made my own tomato sauce for the first time using my home grown garlic, onion, tomatoes, celery, and bell pepper.  I just got it cooked down, thick enough to jar up for later.  It tastes great.  I am very excited about it.
picture from earlier when it was still pretty wet
I have also had some fun playing with my garden harvest.  I braided garlic.  I don't know whether or not there's a special way to do it, I just braided it as I would my hair, but I like it.  I think the thing I liked most was the fact that I harvested more than 50 heads and though they're not huge (because I planted them this Spring, not Last Fall so they've not had as much time to grow), they taste great and guarantee that I won't be paying the high prices in November and December that I usually pay. Yippee!

I dehydrated a small batch of zucchini, carrots, yellow squash, eggplant, apricot, and potato with mixed results.  Everything except the potato looks good, but the potato got kind of dark (after bathing in lemon juice).  I have decided that I like dehydrating because it keeps well in jars or bags in a cupboard, doesn't require electricity to store like frozen goods, and it weighs much less than canned goods.  I am going to try to learn how to dehydrate everything eventually.  It's an efficient form of storage.
I have really been enjoying making homemade yogurt too.  I use it for sour cream, cream cheese, salad dressings, and flavor it with fruits for breakfast.  Yum.  Next week, I am going to make cheese for the first time.

Odds n' Ends-
My husband and I are hopeless yard sale addicts.  Last weekend, he surprised me with a lovely homemade quilt constructed from feedsack fabric dresden plates.
It's so pretty.  

He also found me a book that I have wanted for a while now MaryJane's Outpost by MaryJane Butters of MaryJane's Farm.

Seeing is believing, and you can find so many goodies at yard sales.  If you haven't attended a yard sale, please give it a try.  We find so many practical, fun things for a fraction of their regular cost.

I have also been reading and enjoying the great links on the many homestead, homekeeping, and farmgirl hops when I have had free time.  I get so much inspiration from these generous communities.  I have learned so many new skills since stumbling upon my first homestead blog.  My thanks go out to all of you bloggers that share your skills and hobbies with the rest of us.  Have a great week.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Strolling through the pumpkin patch...

The members of the blog community "Primitive and Folk Artists" (PAFA) and their PAFA Etsy team are having a Fall celebration they call "Strolling Through the Pumpkin Patch".  These are some very talented crafters.  Below is a link to the event to browse their crafts for sale.  Hurry!  It only runs from August 28th thru September 17th.

Oh, and don't forget to go to their BLOG to enter their GIVEAWAY!

Have a great week!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mama's not cooking tonight...

It has been a busy week.  School started up again, for me.  Wedding planning and preparation is in full swing for my son's wedding in two weeks.  I am exhausted.  

To rejuvenate after a busy week, I like to take an evening for myself to relax, eat comfort food, and watch chick flicks.  Tonight is THAT night.  I am going to watch an old favorite- Fried Green Tomatoes, put my feet up, and enjoy.  

It's very HOT and humid so I am not going to cook dinner.  Instead, I am grilling up a few slivers of zucchini (okay, that's technically "cooking").  

I am going to chop them up and fold them into sliced cucumber, tomato, onion and leek.

To that mixture I am adding some of my homemade unflavored yogurt (tastes like sour cream), a pinch of garlic salt, basil, and a balsamic vinaigrette.  Dinner!  Fast and easy too.

What do YOU do to unwind and "LIVE WELL?"  Please join this LINK UP with your ideas at Common Sense Homesteading

Update on my school situation...

Okay, the long drive back home (an hour drive) after being told I will not be enrolled in that very important class was a somber occasion.  I tried to put my best face on, and figure it happened for a good reason...

Late last night, I got an email from the school advising me that they changed their mind and will allow a total of 5 waitlist students to be enrolled on Monday.  Then, I woke up today to find an e-mail which states that I have been enrolled already.  I Just paid the fees.  They are stuck with me on this one now.

Whew.  Relief for me, but what about the other 70+ plant science students that will have to wait 3 more years until this class is offered again?


Friday, August 26, 2011

Today's Harvest...

Zucchini, romas, yellow squash, pickling and slicing cucumbers, leeks, and fava beans.  

If you look real hard, you may notice those strange looking bean pods located to the right of the yellow squash.  Those are the favas.  If you are like me and you have never prepared fava beans before, I found a nice site for you and attached links to each of the video titles below.  Click on a title to go to the video.


The Chef John videos are very helpful and short.  He also has more yummy looking fava bean recipes.  Check them out.

I noticed that there is a small carrot in the top left corner of the picture, he was a mini bonus, he came up with one of the leeks...

Have a great weekend.

Gotta VENT...

Sorry.  Please ignore me.  SCREAM.

I just got back from a HOT day at my college and need to vent some frustration.  I am waitlisted for an important class that I must have to graduate, and is only offered in Fall once every three years.  Mind you, I attend a junior college (2 year).  I only need this class and another to graduate, but somehow, they only offered 24 seats, and those filled up before my priority registration date came up.  So, I wait...

My favorite professor told me today that he was informed by the Dean they will NOT be allowing any of the  waitlist students in.  The strangest thing is that this class is held in a class that can accommodate at least 40 people (the class is usually offered to more people too), and there are more than 100 plant biology majors that NEED this class.

Since California is broke, the schools are being hit hard financially, and I understand that, what I don't understand is how they justify holding half empty classes or worse, and complain they need more money.  Last year, I attended a class that should house 120 students, but the Dean forced the teacher to cut the class to 30, so it was almost empty, a HUGE room wasted.  The teacher is getting the same salary whether there are two or 100 students in a lecture.

It didn't help that I stopped by the computer lab to take a quick look at open classes on my way out and was seated by a young woman that could not speak English and did not know how to use the computer.  She was being "helped" by a Records employee and her own personal Spanish language translator (who did her typing and communicated w/records staff for her) and I overheard the following. "You are now registered for the following two classes... now you need to go take your placement tests... Oh, you've never been here before and don't know where that building is, here's a map... Once you complete your tests, go over to the "X" building for your aid payments.  They'll start right away, on about the 5th.  You'll be paid as long as you remain enrolled full time...."  REALLY!!!  

I cannot PAY these people for a class I NEED, but this lady that doesn't speak English, know how to use a computer, and has not even been tested, yet is enrolled and being PAYED to attend.  FURIOUS at this point.  I feel like the world is being pulled down around me sometimes...  This would be one of those times.


Have a good weekend folks.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sorry for the Eye Graffiti

I can't help it.  I just started an HTML web design class at school this week, so expect MORE eye trauma this semester.  I am truly sorry.  I know that some of these screen colors are blinding.  I am working on darkening some of the colors soon.  On the bright side, I hope to soon be able to write the prettiest blog and web pages around,. for everyone to enjoy.

Have a great weekend!!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Check out my NEW buttons...

Here are my new buttons. 

Thanks for sharing my blog!

Purple Button Code

Cut n' Paste here:
<a border="0" href="http://mysimplecountryliving.blogspot.com/" target="_blank"><img src="http://i1130.photobucket.com/albums/m540/mysimplecountryliving/003150x200-1-1.jpg"/></a>

Green Button Code

Cut n' Paste here:
<a border="0" href="http://mysimplecountryliving.blogspot.com/" target="_blank"><img src="http://i1130.photobucket.com/albums/m540/mysimplecountryliving/053200x150-1.jpg"/></a>

Yellow Button Code

Cut n' Paste here:
<a border="0" href="http://mysimplecountryliving.blogspot.com/" target="_blank"><img src="http://i1130.photobucket.com/albums/m540/mysimplecountryliving/007150x200-1.gif"/></a>

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Raw Honey Giveaway- Blog- Invited to the King's Table

Photo from: Invited to the Kings Table Blog
There are so many fantastic homesteading and homekeeping blogs on the internet, and each of them are special. A few blogs share great ideas for organic gardening and living, some offer a wealth of recipes or food preservation ideas, and others detail unique pursuits like beekeeping, livestock, or sewing techniques.  I enjoy them all.  Today, I am writing to share a very special blog called Invited To The Kings Table.  

Photo from: Invited to the Kings Table Blog
Resident Blogger "Lynnie" has written a post about fall maintenance for her beehive and contained within  this post are instructions for how YOU can enter to win a jar of her raw honey.  Last week, she shared her most recent episode of honey collection and extraction.  She includes great photos too. Please go check out her blog.

Penny Pincher's Pantry: Love Green Tomatoes? Try This

Penny Pincher's Pantry: Love Green Tomatoes? Try This: I love the tang of Fried Green Tomatoes . . . but since I’m still trying to lose weight, I’ve done some experimenting and have learned...

Penny Pincher's Pantry: Homemade Fruit Pectin

Penny Pincher's Pantry: Homemade Fruit Pectin: You can make pectin for canning from firm green apples picked early in the season. For best results, use slightly under ripe apple...

Penny Pincher's Pantry: Canned Spaghetti Sauce, Chili & More

Penny Pincher's Pantry: Canned Spaghetti Sauce, Chili & More: For some reason I am driven to can and preserve . . . it’s more than just being self-sufficient, though I certainly do love and appreciat...

Penny Pincher's Pantry: Get Rid of Ants for Mere Pennies!

Penny Pincher's Pantry: Get Rid of Ants for Mere Pennies!: Those pesky ants! UGH! Well, here is the cheapest and most effective solution I have found: In the microwave, melt a generous tablespoon...

Penny Pincher's Pantry: Save $ with Homemade Laundry Detergent

This is an amazing blog.  Please follow the link below and check it out.  All sorts of great recipes and ideas.  Penny Pincher's Pantry: Save $ with Homemade Laundry Detergent: The above photos are a few I took earlier today as I was whipping up a batch of Homemade Laundry Detergent . . . I will share the recipe ...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Michelle's Disappearing Zucchini Bread...

Tonight my BFF Michelle showed up at my door with a warm loaf of glazed bread.  It should be called CAKE because it tastes just like a yummy, lemon glazed cake.  

Here's a picture of the loaf after I cut my piece off...

and here is my plate of c-a-k-e-

These pictures do NOT do it justice.  

Wow! Thanks Michelle.  Now, maybe she will post this recipe to her blog.  I certainly hope so.  It's so good, it has to be shared.  Here's a link to Michelle's blog.  She has a page dedicated to her recipes.

All gone...

Homemade Yogurt

I got a Yogurt Maker from My Husband recently and have been experimenting.  I have made plain yogurt with reduced fat milk, plain yogurt with homogenized milk, and strawberry flavored yogurt with homogenized milk.  I can tell you today that I prefer making any plain yogurt recipe best and adding my fresh fruit afterwards because in order to add fruit to the recipe before the yogurt cultures requires cooking down the fruit which makes it ugly, gray, and unrecognizable.  So, for today's recipe I am making plain yogurt with reduced fat milk.

Candy Thermometer
Measuring Cup
Glass Bowl or Pitcher
4-6 qt. Saucepan (that can be used in the oven if you heat your yogurt in oven to culture)
Funnel (optional)
Yogurt Maker or Oven that can be set for 110-116 degrees F.

2% milk fat milk (pasteurized)
Plain yogurt from grocery store that states that it includes "active yogurt cultures" My favorites are Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Lactobacillus Bifidobacterium which are both included in those fancy brands at the store advertised to help improve digestive health.
1/2 cup powdered fat free milk (to make thick yogurt)

1. Measure 42 ounces of 2% milk (homogenized would also be just fine) pour into saucepan.
2. Measure 1/2 cup powdered milk and pour into saucepan and stir in well with wisk.
3. Clamp candy thermometer to inside of saucepan and turn on heat to medium setting.

4. Stir regularly and watch.  You are going to "cook" this milk up to 180 degrees F and then quickly remove from heat to cool.  You'll know when it's getting close because the milk will froth a bit and climb the sides of the saucepan like so.

5. I place mine into a sink of cool water and stir to help it cool quickly to 110 degrees F.

6. While the milk is cooling, I measure approximately 7 ounces of the store bought plain yogurt that contains active and live cultures in my measuring cup or pitcher.

7. When I am sure the milk has cooled to between 100 and 110 degrees F, I add about 16 ounces of it to the yogurt and mix well, then I pour the rest of the milk into this mixture and stir until well mixed.

8.  Now, I pour the mixture carefully into the glass jars for my yogurt maker (cleaning jars as I go) and set the timer for 7 hours.

I have watched quite a few Youtube videos demonstrating people successfully culturing their yogurt in saucepans in the oven (this only works if your oven can maintain an inside temperature between 90 and 116 degrees Fahrenheit, perhaps on the "warm" setting.  Mine won't go below 200 degrees F.)  If your oven DOES maintain a warming temperature between 90 and 116 degrees F, then you can pour your yogurt mixture into your saucepan and set your timer for 7-10 hours (depending on how firm you like your yogurt).  The longer you culture it, the firmer it will set, up to about 12 hours, maximum.  Refrigerate immediately.  My yogurt recipe book says it keeps for up to a week in the fridge (no chemical preservatives added) and you can use 7 ounces of this yogurt (plain) to culture your next batch!

9. Add fresh fruit, honey, or flavor extracts after its been refrigerated for at least three hours for best results.

The picture at the top of the post is the finished yogurt from this batch.  I added my homemade strawberry jam and fresh whole strawberries.  It tastes amazing!

FYI- At 90 degrees F yogurt cultures are not active, at 116 degrees F or higher- they die.

That's all there is to it!  Enjoy.


Yes, you read that right, my best friend in the world Michelle, IS amazing.  She went out and consigned a custom made garden decoration for my birthday.  We picked him up today.  Do you recognize him? I think he looks like Thumper from the Disney Classic Bambi.

He's absolutely adorable, but way too cute to put outside in the garden, where he'd soak up all that high altitude sunshine and daily watering, really.  Instead, we posted him as a watchman at the front door.  This way, he is protected from sun, rain, snow, and the occasional sneakthief...

My BFF is the most generous person I know, and she is the most amazing gift giver, but sometimes she makes it hard to accept a gift.  This is just way too nice.  I love you Michelle, and Thanks a million, but how is My Hubby going to top this b-day gift?  lol.

*I should also point out that this amazing bunny is made completely out of wood and is carved by a Southern California chainsaw carving artist named Kent Holmgren.  He is incredibly gifted and his artwork can be found all over our town including all of the carvings at Brite Lake.  Please check them out too.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Homemade Pumpkin Puree, The Pioneer Woman Way...

This week I decided to take the plunge and bake, puree, and freeze bags of pumpkin puree for winter pies and cakes.  To do this, I followed the wonderful instructions of The Pioneer Woman, aka "Ree Drummond".  It was so much fun and was really easy to do.  Which is good because I have more pumpkins to puree.  Please click on the link above for her recipe and website, but here are a few of my pictures.

Also- on a side note, I cleaned the pumpkin seeds and soaked them in a 5% salt water brine for 24 hours, drained them, salted and placed them on a baking sheet at 375 degrees until they were crunchy and light golden brown (it took about 55 minutes because of the brine soak).  Yum!

Busy Little Bee... Buzz Buzz

It's been very busy around here this last several days.  I used a pressure canner for the first time without blowing anything up, a good thing.  I have been soaking up all kinds of neat, new things from the many blog link ups to the Homestead Barn Hop. Farmgirl Friday, and Homestead Revival Preparedness Challenge.  A few posts even inspired me to do something new, like lactic-fermentation pickles and homemade vinegar.

I am spending a lot of time pampering the garden because of the heat lately.  I am finally getting a few red tomatoes and a few weird looking Black Krik heirlooms too, they are a strange color...  See!
celebrity on left, Black Krik on right, front one ripe, back unripe.
I followed The Pioneer Woman's recipe for making pumpkin puree and ended up with 16 cups (individually frozen) and ready to go for the holidays, so far, and I still have several pumpkins left on the vines...

I have also been making my own homemade yogurt for about a week.  I think it tastes better than store bought and I know what's going into it, no surprises or chemicals.  It's been very bust lately, and the garden is in peak production mode.  I have already begun removing spent plants, amending soil, and fall plantings.  I am looking forward to the first winter full of my own home grown and processed vegetables.  I am also working on plans to extend my harvest and plant life using those cold frames My Hubby made me and maybe even raising the greenhouse up onto cinder block raised garden beds for a few tomato plants through winter.  (Tomatoes are perennials that are grown as annuals because it's cheaper to let them die in winter rather than keep them warm.)  Oh, I almost forgot to add that I am drying herbs and garlic now too.  Have a great week.


Okay, some of you may remember the post I did a week ago, in which I chronicled my first attempt at making lacto-fermented pickles in my "new to me" crock.  Here's the link to the article and instructions.  I am happy to report today, that they are finished and that my son Jon loves them.  Personally, I would like to let them sour a bit longer, to get a bit saltier, more fragrant, but if the kid loves em' that's what counts.

All I did was cut them into slices, pack them in clean canning jars with some of the brine from the crock and refrigerate them.  Yummy!  Just in time for another batch to come off of the vines...

Have a GREAT weekend.