June 27, 2008

Staycations: Saving Money, Having Fun, Making Memories

(Part One of a Five-Part Series this Week)

It was great timing! Meredith, a reporter with the Portland newspapers called to ask about some ways to save money and still have fun with a stay-at-home vacation, or what the media has now dubbed, "Staycations." It was perfect timing because it was the last full day of this year's Gram and Gramp Camp, a week when we, with Baxter, 10, and Katie, 7, have made a lot of wonderful memories without spending a whole lot of money.

Many of the things we do at Gram and Gramp Camp are perfect for a family at-home vacation, especially if the weather is damp and chilly as its been this past week. Games are often by-passed during the busy school year and long work weeks, so you may need to re-connect with some of them. Playing card, board and outdoor games are wonderful family-focused activities
that cost little yet often lead to much laughter and many memories. And kids so love to feel that they could just possibly beat the adults in their lives!

There are so many wonderful board games, old favorites such as chess, parchessi, Clue and , and new ones whose names I can't even pronounce! Then there are card games such as rummy, Rummikubs (actually played with tiles) , and new to us this year, Five Crowns, another level of rummy-like play. There are the perennial favorites such as Skip-bo, Uno, cribbage, and our family's latest game addiction, Quiddler ($12.95, beautiful cards!). If you haven't played this word game, and you like Scrabble but wish it didn't take soooooo long to play, Quiddler is THE game for you! You start with three cards and move through eight hands increasing one card each hand until the last is ten cards. The cards have letters or letter combinations and each has a point value. I'm not going to tell you anymore except to say that Quiddler, like every game that this company puts out, is top quality...nice designs, ease of learning to play, challenging and, oh, no! educational!

Maybe you want to have some kind of tournament, set outrageous end scores (I once played 36 hours of rummy with a 25,000 point score-goal...phew!), or even invent your own game. When we were kids, my siblings and I designed our own Monopoly games complete with custom boards, etc. Of course, now you can buy Monopoly games based on everything from your home state to your favorite sports team. I guess we were just ahead of our time!

Let's not overlook the outdoors games perfect for a summer's evening. Capture the flag, hide-and-seek, my goal 1-2-3, and kick-the-can never, ever grow old! Of course, there's always dodgeball (as long as no one gets too murderous!), kickball, badmitton, tetherball, croquet, four-square...oh, SO many possibilities! Half gallon milk jugs filled with water and a softball, and you've got your lawn bowling covered!

If all this sounds slightly silly to you, then you most definitely need to do it!

Tomorrow we'll look at treasure hunts from the very simple to letterboxing, geocaching, orienteering, and even scavenger hunts. You know, this summer's stay-at-home vacation may just be one of your best ever!


June 19, 2008

Garden THIS Summer?

It's NOT too Late!

Even if it's just a salad garden of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, it is NOT at all too late to do some planting. Peas, carrots, green beans, always radishes of course, and much else can still be started in the ground or in containers. In many places, even a short-season variety of corn is still possible.

Although potatoes may seem a particularly unlikely choice to grow in a small home garden, there is nothing like new potatoes, especially with tender young green beans from you own backyard. This year we're experimenting with a lot of bucket-growing, and I can tell you, it's been a huge success so far. In the photo above you can see that the potatoes are thriving, while in the blue buckets, some green peppers are coming along nicely too.

So think about it... One bush green bean plant in a five-gallon pail, one potato plant in another, parsley and basil plants tucked into a third, and of course, lettuce, tomatoes and cukes can all be container grown if your space is seriously limited.

Where to get the buckets? Well, first off, ALWAYS ask for the buckets, NEVER just help yourself. While a construction site is the obvious first choice for those 5 gallon buckets that joint compound comes is, you might also ask about pickle buckets from a local restaurant or deli. I'm sure there are other places to find buckets too, but these come right to mind.

What kind of soil to fill the buckets? Well, I've often found that just regular old dirt really compacts in a container situation, so mix that plain soil with compost, a little peat, or even some commercial blends. I hate to even suggest that last option as I don't want you to spend money to save money. (Hmmmm ... good idea for a future posting ...)

The really nice part about container gardening is that you can move the containers to catch more rays of daily sun, especially important toward the end of the growing season. Yes, the buckets are likely to be heavy but for any (few) plants that really need extra sun, a wheeled plant thingie such as you'd put under an indoor plant, a child's wagon, a mechanic's creeper, an unused dolley ... anything along this line will be helpful.

And if all else fails, I hope you've had a chance to check out farmers' markets, farmstands, and pick-your-own operations near you. After all, it's time to get out and start picking strawberries!


June 12, 2008

Lost and Found: One

Bumbleberry Pie Recipe

I have no idea where this originally came from other than that it is an old newspaper clipping. I guess that's the way with recipes, really; they get passed down, handed on, changed a bit and discovered all over again!

Bumbleberry Pie Recipe

Your usual pie crust for a 9" double-crust pie. Line bottom of pie pan with one crust, set other one aside


1 1/4 c sugar (add more sweetening to taste as tartness of the other ingredients may vary)
1/3 c flour
2 c cored, peeled, sliced apples
1 c raspberries
1 c blackberries
1 c blueberries
1 cup fresh rhubarb cut into small pieces

Combine all ingredients above and pour into pie crust, dot with butter, cover with second crust and seal crusts together. Be sure to cut vents in the crust. Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes. If you don't have some of the berries, you can just increase the amount of other berries. BUT, the balance of these proportions is really the secret to the terrific taste of this unusual pie. As with most pies, this is even more delectable with ice cream.


June 10, 2008

Rhubarb - Delicious Alone or

with Lots
Besides Strawberries!

A nice comment from Cindy on a recent Frugal Family blog posting mentioned how much she likes to make blubarb jam, a combination that I know first hand is absolutely delicious. While the traditional combination of rhubarb and strawberries is yummy, there's much more that you can do with rhubarb by itself or in combination with other fruits.

In the current edition of The Frugal Family Kitchen Book, there are three recipes using rhubarb, all very tasty, but the rhubarb cheesecake pie is extra special. The other two recipes are for a rhubarb coffeecake and scalloped rhubarb, a very simple recipe that uses stale bread, goes together quickly, has a crisp crust on top and is soft and sweet underneath. Good as a breakfast dish, or for dessert.

Scalloped Rhubarb

3 c stale bread, cubed
1 c sugar
1/2 c melted butter
2 c fresh rhubarb, diced

Combine ingredients and put in an ungreased 8 or 9" square baking pan. Add 1 TBSP water in each corner of the pan, bake at 325, about 35-45 minutes.

Last spring I came across a recipe for a Bumbleberry Pie, and although I can't lay hands on the recipe right this minute, I do remember that it had blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and rhubarb in it, all of which I luckily had in the freezer. And that pie got rave reviews! So while I think about where that recipe could be, let's look at some other combos.

Grace Additon was a food columnist for the Maine Sunday Telegram for years, and her 1983 Pantry Shelf Sampler Cookbook remains one of my favorite recipe collections to this day. She has a recipe for Rhubarb Pudding Cake that I've never tried, but I will before the next week is out, promise! I love pudding cakes which bake up with a cake layer on top and a wonderful sauce underneath, and I can't wait to try this one. A similar recipe in an old , National Grange Rural America Cookbook., is called Rhubarb Float.

Of course about the simplest thing you can do with rhubarb is just stew it, but be creative with your liquid. Apple cider, pineapple juice, a soft white or mellow red wine, even Hawaiian Punch!
I've seen recipes for rhubarb sherbet and rhubarb cream, both simple and refreshing while bananas and rhubarb make a nice baked combination.

Baked Banana Rhubarb Pudding Layer stewed, sweetened rhubarb in a baking pan, cover with sliced bananas, sprinkle with a bit of brown sugar, then mix 1TBSP lemon juice, 1 TBSP orange juice and 2 TBSP water and sprinkle over the top. Bake at 350 until top is nicely browned.

I'm sure rhubarb would be good with choclate too, but the only way to combine them that I've figured out - so far at least - is to have a rhubarb or orange-rhubarb sauce over chocolate ice cream or pudding. I'll bet apricots, almonds, and coconut would work well with rhubarb too.

Hmmm... I hope I've gotten you thinking as fresh local rhubarb is available now both in your local grocery store and at nearby farmer's markets and farmstands. Enjoy! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go look some more for that Bumbleberry Pie recipe.


June 6, 2008

The Cat, the Snake, and the Newspaper Reporter:

The Saga of Sara Jean

How innocent ... coffee with a friend on a Friday morning. Nothing unusual there. Until ... Paula asked if I could help her rescue some kittens, really young ones she'd seen living under the shrubs at the front of the Coldwell Banker office where Paula worked. Well, my goodness! Kittens? In need of help? I'm there!

It was just a year ago, we were down to one cat, and I'd been pining for a new kitty. Bert was not excited about that great idea. So off Paula and I went to see if we could save those homeless little waifs. Now, the office was located in an old house, busy streets on two sides and a wrap-around driveway on the other two sides. There were a few shrubs out front before a retaining wall dropped off sharply. Paula had been glanced out a basement window and seen the two little fluffballs we were aiming to rescue.

A mother cat? Yes, Paula'd seen one, but not in several days, and if these kitties started to wander they could be in b-i-g danger. Well, it was no small feat, but we were able to trap and pick up the kittens, a threesome, not the two we were expecting. Oh, no, Paula didn't want a kitten, but a woman in the office took the little gray one, and I headed home with a tiny calico and a tinier tiger kitty mewing piteously in the wastebasket where I had them corralled. Luckily, Bert accepted them with good grace.

MomCat returned and was of course upset that her babies were gone, but a local no-kill shelter live-trapped her, and we re-united the family. Mom seemed satisfied that her kids were doing okay in their new homes, and that was certainly part of the happy ending. MomCat was spayed and, I'm happy to say, found a loving new home thanks to H.A.R.T., the Homeless Animal Rescue Team, a truly wonderful organization.

Soon the tiger became Caleb and the calico was named Sara Jean. Sara Jean, most definitely one smart kitty, quickly had Bert calling her Sara Jean, The Loving Machine. (He's also been known to call this fickle little feline "Slut Kitty".) Then a few months later as Sara Jean ventured outside, we started calling her Sara Jean, The Killing Machine. She liked bringing her trophies in to show me which, while certainly thoughtful of her, was not properly appreciated on my part.

Fast forward to a few days ago ... Caleb and Sara Jean have been with us just one year and are adolescents in every sense. They love to tease Sam our 15-year-old cat, they like to sashay past Harley Dog flicking him on the nose with their tails, and they like to sit on my desk when I'm working at the computer. When it's nice weather out, I leave the mudroom door to the deck open a bit so they can come and go to the back yard.

So there I was doing a phone interview with a local reporter on all things thrifty, when I glanced over and there was Sara Jean with a SNAKE. In our mudroom. A big snake. Alive. Moving. YIKES!

A very hurried goodbye, a gloved hand, a slithery catch, and a trip to the edge of nearby woods for release. A furious Sara Jean.

AND a stern word of warning to a little kitty who just didn't seem half as cute I used to think she was!


P.S. Yes, photos of the terrible twosome to follow.

June 2, 2008

It's Rhubarb and Asparagus Season

Usually locally grown rhubarb and asparagus are two of the earliest foods available, not counting fiddleheads and parsnips of course. While rhubarb recipes often call for copious amounts of sugar, plain steamed asparagus is a delight. And of course there are much fancier dishes to try with asparagus. Asparagus is a pretty decent source of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as having no fat or sodium. And a serving is only a half dozen spears.

I've been using some of our fresh asparagus in frittatas, a fancy name for a dish that's essentially baked scrambled eggs, at least the way I make it. I'm not going to give you an exact-amounts recipe because... well, I don't think I could!

Oven-Baked Asparagus Frittata Heat a very small amount of olive oil in a large frypan and saute a mixture of asparagus that's been cut into small pieces, some chopped onion, a bit of fresh garlic, mushrooms if you want or any other chopped or shredded veggie you want to try. Saute a few minutes or until veggies are softened. Spread in a 9x9" baking pan (I use glass) and then pour over that a mixture of 6 beaten eggs mixed with a tad of melted butter (or use olive oil), about a 1/4 cup milk, 1/2 c grated cheese of whatever type you have on hand or better still a mix, some basil, thyme, and a sprinkle of parsley. Bake at 350 are 20 minutes or until eggs are set. I used some fresh-grated parmesan cheese on this with a bit of fontina and that was really delicious.

Farmer's markets and roadside stands are open for the season and local produce is your best buy. Don't forget to pick up a little extra to put in the freezer or can for next winter.