Tuesday, April 24, 2012


My kids LOVE ketchup. Seriously. If they eat all of their chicken or fries, they will use their fingers to lick the rest of the ketchup off the plate. Needless to say, if we run out of ketchup, it's a BIG problem. That's exactly what happened last night.

I was getting ready to feed the kids fish sticks for dinner when I remembered that the ketchup in the fridge was dangerously low. I went to the pantry where we keep the "extras" expecting to just grab another bottle. Nothing. Plenty of peanut butter and mayonnaise, but no ketchup. Most people would jump in the car and run to the store for a new bottle. But I had a child napping and there was NO WAY I was going to wake her up to go get ketchup. Besides, I like to do everything myself from scratch, and this was the perfect time to try something new.

My husband is the chef of the house. He's made homemade ketchup before, but he didn't use a recipe and he wasn't home to help me out. So I jumped online and did a quick search. I found a recipe on Allrecipes that seemed like it would work, and I had all of the ingredients on hand. (I can't link to the recipe here because to view the website you have to be a member.)

In-a-Pinch Ketchup (Submitted to Allrecipes by "outnumbered")

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
2 Tbsp white vinegar
5 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp molasses
1 Tbsp corn syrup
1 1/4 cup water

Mix together the tomato paste, white vinegar, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, allspice, salt, molasses, corn syrup, and water in a saucepan over low heat. Simmer gently until reduced to the consistency of ketchup (45 minutes - 1 hour). Taste and adjust salt if needed. You can use immediately, but it will be slightly watery.

***if you are trying to eliminate corn syrup from your diet, you could use honey instead. Also, if you do not have tomato paste, you could use a can of tomato sauce and eliminate the water from the recipe. I added a bit more onion and garlic powder because my kids said it wasn't "spicy" enough.***

I didn't simmer it quite long enough because I was in a hurry, as dinner was almost on the table. The only complaint that I got from my kids was that the ketchup was too hot. They are used to ketchup straight from the fridge, so I should have cooled it off before serving. Other than that, it was a big hit. And it was so easy, I wonder if I'll ever buy ketchup again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Let the Gardening Begin

I am so grateful for the nice weather we've been having. My plants have been loving it too. My seeds are sprouting quickly and my tomatoes and peppers already have flowers!

Last year, it snowed 3 inches the week after I planted my garden (and I waited until May to plant!). I lost most of my plants to the freeze. Cucumber? Gone. Peas? Gone. Pumpkin, squash, watermelon? Gone. Tomatoes and peppers? Froze but came back with a bang! I got TONS of tomatoes and peppers last year. I attribute my success to a few things. First, I planted my tomatoes in black pots and buried them a few inches into the ground. We had just moved in and didn't have a garden area set up yet, so I couldn't put them in the ground. (The peppers were planted in the ground near my back door in direct full sun). Second, I doused my plants with fish emulsion early on, and again right before all the flowers came out. My tomato plants were enormous! Lush and full of leaves, each branch held 5-10 tomatoes at a time. People that came to our house commented on how huge the plants were and how much fruit was on them. Seriously, these plants were all more than 6 feet tall! I have used fish emulsion already on my plants and they doubled in size in just a week! It's really stinky when you put it on, but after a few days the smell goes away. I had some trouble last year with Blossom End Rot, where the bottom of the tomato gets brown and leathery. I found out that this is due to lack of calcium, so this year I mixed in egg shells and oyster shells in my soil. I will probably make an eggshell tea (see below) later in the season just to make sure the BER doesn't happen again this year.

Eggshell Tea: Take a few eggshells and crush them into a pot of water. Boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Use "tea" to water tomatoes and then till crushed shells into soil at base of plant (future watering with help release any remaining calcium into the soil).

I didn't do well with sugar snap peas last year because they were in pots and dried out too fast. This year I made a proper bed for them and built a trellis out of bamboo and string. My kids LOVE to pick the peas and eat them straight from the garden. (I do too.....).

I planted my peas by seed, but not directly into the ground (just in case it snowed again this year). I transplanted them when they seemed sturdy enough. I learned a new way to start seeds this year. You take an empty gallon milk jug (which are easy to obtain when you have three kids) and cut around the jug just under the handle. Leave it intact at the handle. Poke some holes in the bottom and top and, ta-da....... Mini greenhouses! Fill the bottom with dirt and plant some seeds.

They are protected from snow, but still get plenty of light and water. And because they are started outside (as opposed to an indoor windowsill), they are hardier plants and transplant to the ground easier. I had such success with my peas that I planted broccoli and beet seeds in them. They have begun to sprout after just 3 days!

And here's what they look like after a week:

The other thing I had trouble with last year was zucchini. I always thought of it as the easiest garden plant.... but when it snows and freezes, it's pretty hard to bring back. That, and I planted it in a spot that was too shady. I hope I do better this year. So far, it looks pretty healthy:

This year I am planning on not using any chemical pesticides. There are so many natural remedies out there that I am excited to try. I will keep you posted if I use any of them..... and let you know if they work. I'm sure I'll have to try the snail and slug repellant this year. Supposedly, if you set a lid of a jar on the ground and fill it with beer, the snails and slugs will be drawn to it instead of the plants. They will drink the beer and then die. My grandmother swore by it. I'm going to try it this year and see what happens. This probably wouldn't work for you if you have an outside dog, though, because dogs like beer too. :-)

Thursday, April 19, 2012


The last time I made homemade playdough, my three kids sat and played for TWO HOURS!! Two hours of no fighting, no "mom, mom, mom, mom," and no complaining. It was heavenly.

At first I was afraid to make playdough at home. I was worried that it would be messy, take too long, not turn out right, or ruin my pans. I was totally wrong. It's about the easiest thing there is to do. I tried a few recipes and found one that I love, and that's what I make every few months when our old dough gets mixed up, dried up, or just plain boring.

I let each kid pick their own color and help me make "their" dough. That way there's no fighting about who gets to help and which dough belongs to whom. Then I give it too them while it's still warm, which is especially wonderful on those cold winter days when you are stuck inside. At Valentine's Day, they tend to pick pink, red, and purples, and at St. Patrick's Day, they chose varying shades of greens and blues. It takes less than 5 minutes to put together, and is very easy to clean up. I HIGHLY recommend it if you have kids. Or even if you don't have kids. I find kneading dough to be very therapeutic.

Here is my favorite playdough recipe:

Mix the following ingredients in a saucepan:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
(add glitter to dry ingredients if desired)

In a separate bowl, mix the following ingredients:
2 Tbsp vegetable (I use just under 2 Tbsp so the dough is not too oily)
1 cup hot water
food coloring

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients (in saucepan) and stir. Heat over med/high **stirring constantly**. When it begins to form a ball, remove from heat, turn out onto floured surface, and knead until smooth. (You might need to wait a few minutes after putting in onto floured surface because it will be HOT). If the dough is too oily, you can just continue to knead in flour until it is the consistency you like.

I've been searching around to find things for my daughter's birthday party goodie bags. I found a few things at the local dollar store, but I really didn't want to buy a bunch of cheap toys that break and clutter up your car and house (we all have WAY too many of those already, I'm sure). So I decided to put in bubbles, a few pieces of candy, and homemade playdough. Not just ANY playdough, though. Playdough that represents two of my daughter's favorite things: Pink and Glitter.

For this batch, I made a triple recipe and added two vials of glitter from the dollar store (pink and purple). For food color I added about 10 drops of red and 3 drops of blue.

After it cooled, I cut it into quarters. Then I rolled each quarter into a log about 2-3 inches thick and 6 inches long. I then cut each log into thirds so that I would have a dozen chunks for the party guests.

I will put each chunk in a ziplock bag (though I wish I had some cuter containers for it) and add them to the rest of the goodies. I'm sure the kids will love them. My daughter is already begging me to play with it RIGHT NOW! I guess I should have made extra.....

Monday, April 16, 2012


It's time for the summer garden. Yay! It's one of my favorite things to do. I love to get my hands dirty. I love the smell of the dirt. And I LOVE picking the veggies that grow. My kids have a blast helping me, and they absolutely LOVE eating peas straight from the vine. (all but my 3 year old who doesn't eat anything but chicken nuggets and noodles......).

Every year I think, "Gee, it would be nice to have some homemade compost to put in with my plants." And every year it gets put off until later. At first we were waiting to be settled into a permanent house. Then, we were waiting to build our own compost boxes. I've saved scraps from the kitchen for OTHER people who had compost bins. And for the last few months I've saved scraps for us. I thought maybe it would force us to really get our compost pile going this time. I picked a spot in the yard and just made a pile of stuff, adding to it every few days. I guess it worked. Yesterday, my husband came home with this:

Isn't it pretty? Well, not really, but it definitely looks better than a pile of food scraps on the ground.

Now, it isn't the DIY version of a compost box/pile that I had envisioned us having. But I'm not complaining. FINALLY I will be able to turn my pile of scraps into something useable. (And it's much easier to mix up than a box/pile that you have to turn by hand with a pitchfork).

Here's a little side note about this compost bin. It took FOREVER to put together. It comes in a million pieces with wordless instructions that use vague drawings to tell you what to do. Now, my husband is one of those "I don't need to read the instructions" kid of guys. He's very  handy with tools and is very good at figuring things out. Me? I'm the complete opposite. I'm handy with tools, but I ALWAYS follow the directions. Word for word. (Or in this case, picture for picture). He got going right away, jumping ahead as usual. We started butting heads about what to do next. He probably could have gotten it together without the directions, but there would have been a lot of colorful language and possible breakage of tools and/or parts. (Ha ha). After a TON of home improvement projects together, we have figured out a way to work together that makes us both feel useful. So I offer this bit of advice, in case you have a similar differences of personality with your spouse.......... I read the directions a step ahead and get all the parts, hardware, and tools  needed. Then I tell him where they go and he puts it together. I get to read the directions and know that all the pieces are used in the right places, and he gets to NOT read the direction and do the actual putting together. It works for us.

Now it's time to watch my instructional video on "How to Compost" that came with the unit. I kinda already know what to do. But you know me. I've got to read (watch) the directions anyway. Who knows? Maybe I'll learn something new. Now LET'S GET COMPOSTING!

Here is a list of what to compost. There are people out there who add other things to their piles (like cooked pasta, milk products, and urine). I've done a little research about what the "ingredients" do to the compost and have decided NOT to use certain items. So this is MY list of what I will be adding to my bin.


I'm sure that I forgot a few things, but this covers most of the things that I use daily that can be added to the bin.