Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pork Chopsh & Appleshaucsh

You Brady Bunch Fans will get the title, no one else probably will!

Today was a snow day here at Casa de Peaceable Kingdom. It snowed about 5 inches or so, then turned to freezing rain, of which we were blessed with about 1 1/2 inches of that and now it's raining buckets. It's really never good to get rain in January in New Hampshire. One, because all it does is ice over and make the world a skating rink, and another reason is because we have a pesky leak in our basement that tends to grace us when the water coming in is about 32 degrees even. No fun, so we'll see what happens tomorrow...

Anyways, on to today's big adventure. You can see from the photo that today was applesauce day. When the boys are both home all day, it sometimes takes some ingenuity on my part to keep it from falling into a big ol' bickerfest. So, our local orchard starts to run a sale on apples this time of year. They want to sell off what they've got in storage before it rots. That works out great for me since I get to have 1 peck bags for a bargain. If you buy 3 pecks, you get 1 peck free. A peck bag will usually net us about 3 quarts of applesauce. So, today, we processed 2 pecks. It's a lot of work, but I will tell you, once you try the homemade stuff, you just can't go back to the watery stuff in the jars at the store. The boys LOVE my homemade applesauce (which I have knicknamed "Two Brother's Applesauce" since they enjoy it so much).

This process starts with the boys getting to stand on chairs at the sink, up to their eyeballs in apples floating in the water. They take a cloth and wash each apple, then place them on a cookie tray to drain. This is a LOT of apples, 4 pecks, and so this kept them busy for almost an hour. I spent that time sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying a cup of Nutcracker Sweet tea and browsing my High Mowing Seed catalog. Ahhh, I take my moments where I get them, and they had a fun time washing all those apples. Little Red quit a bit before Maestro in this process, but they did manage to wash all 4 pecks by hand.

After cleaning up the HUGE water mess at the sink, I took the squeeky clean apples and started to peel them. I do have one of those apple peelie machines, but they take off so much of the apple meat that I stopped using it. Bummed me out, too, because it's a nifty little machine and would save me some time. Plus, it makes the apples in one long curly strip and that's just plain fun. The boys would love to help with that if it didn't waste so much of the actual apple! After peeling by hand with the dullest knife in the world (I liken it to peeling and dicing all these apples with a butter knife), I diced them and got them cooking in the big pot. I liked to use Golden Delicious along with MacIntosh and Cortland apples mixed. The GD's add such a nice touch of sweetness that I don't need to add additional sugar. Dump in a bit of nutmeg, a bit of cinnamon, some water and simmer away until the apple pieces fall apart. I don't make any of that mamby pamby silky smooth stuff. My men like some chunks in their sauce, and so I only cook them down enough to make it part smooth but quite lumpy. Truly so yummy!

After cooking it down and boiling the quart jars to sterilize, I hot pack (which means put it in the jars straight from the pot, guaranteed to burn at least one layer of your finger's skin off), then dunk them into a big pot full of boiling water. Let them do their thing for 20 minutes, then take them out. Then they are placed on the cooling rack. At this point in the process, you get the best reward.

I will busy myself cleaning up the mess that's invariably left over and wait for that sound all canners smile over. That soft "POP" that let's you know that your work did in fact seal. If you don't hear the pop, you have to reprocess the ones that don't. The pop happens, then you check the cover for that flat, unyeilding cover. So great. And an even better reward then that is watching the boys in my house (and this includes Music Man, this is the only kind of applesauce he'll eat) enjoying the fruits of my hard labor. It goes back to nourishing my family with my own hands and toil. I really do get a great sense of satisfaction to be able to grab a jar off the shelves and pop it open and scoop it on french toast, or add it to pancake batter, or scoop it in a dish, heat it up and put some vanilla ice cream on top. When you taste all these wonderful dishes with your own handmade applesauce, it gives the flavor of apples a whole new meaning. Here's my favorite way to enjoy a fast dessert of apples. You can use either chunky applesauce or just apples cut in chunks, microwaved for about 2 minutes with a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg added. Oh, try it, you won't be disappointed!!

Take applesauce and heat in microwave until warmed (but not too hot), crumble 1/2 cinnamon sugar topped graham cracker into pieces (not too fine, you want to taste the chunks), top with whipped cream and enjoy. My boys ask for this treat often, so we needed a new batch of applesauce. So worth the effort it takes to make it.

Try a little homemade goodness of your own, it's really pretty easy and a great way to pass a snow day with your children.

Popping lids for you, ~Peacemom

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Proud Momma Moment

Okay, proud mommy alert!

This is a picture of artwork that Maestro did to participate in the 2008-2009 National PTA art competition called Reflections. The theme that they needed to create work for was "WOW!". Maestro's artist statement is a little long, but it says that when he wakes up early in the morning and it snowed the night before, it makes him say WOW! when he looks out the window. As you can see, he even drew himself in the window looking out. He put a lot of work into this and we thought he did a great job, even included a shooting star. What's not great about that? We thought for a then 5 year old (he had to do this back in October), he did pretty well.

He also won an "excellence" award and placed in the top 3 in his school. He competed (oops, not allowed to call it that any more, hhhmmmm, let's see, participated? Would that work?) with 132 other children in his school and only the top 3 get to move on to the statewide competition (or whatever they are calling it). Apparently, it's now taboo for kids to compete in art. Okay, I guess it's subjective, artwork is and all that, but I think some amount of competition is healthy. They are touted when they are star athletes, why can't they be touted when they are star artists? Now, as you can see, he's no Picasso or anything like that, but he worked really hard on this project and I think that it's okay to let him know that his hard work paid off for him this time. So many times, especially in boy circles in life, it's only the sports that matter. Well, me having an artist's soul and a very artistically talented husband, we're okay with the fact that perhaps we won't have a star athlete, but he's got some other talents that matter just as much. Like his amazing musical abilities (along with Little Red, they both are something else on the drums!). And the fact that his artwork is important to him, he's always drawing something, he loves to draw. A lot.
There were over 500 children's artwork on exhibition last weekend from area schools. I helped to organize the showing and have put in a lot of hours in my first ever chairing of a PTA activity (boy, I bit off a lot for my first try, I'll tell ya!). But it was all worth it for Maestro, who seemed to really get it at the show that his picture was cool, and he really enjoyed seeing what the older children came up with. And one of the highlights was also seeing his name in big letters up on the big screen. That was exciting for him. I personally think that someday, we're gonna see him up on a stage, whether it's in a band or theater. He's so incredibly dramatic about everything, not to mention completely outgoing, I think he'll enjoy those moments. I was in drama at school in my youth (Grease was my most fun), and I would like to think he'd enjoy that too. Except, shhhh, don't tell him, he's a little tone deaf, so we'll have to work on the singing part of that!
Just wanted to share with you a proud momma moment. Kinda WOW! for me, too.
Wishing you your own proud moments, ~Peacemom

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh Beautiful For Spacious Skies....

Hello my fellow citizens!

It's a happy, happy day here at Peaceable Kingdom. Today, we crown a new king so to speak, and I for one will be tuned in to see it happening. My heart is feeling full of hope and promise for our new leader.

I don't want to get into a whole political thing here. I think enemies can be made discussing politics with people who are otherwise rational and sane. But, I just want to say that I'm hopeful that this new administration will do great things. We've got to get it back, that American pride. To feel hopeful and able again. Our wonderful country has been crippled by the recent past and it's time to find our way again.

So, I say, honest and best wishes Barack, Michelle and all the people that they are bringing along with them on this journey. I will choose (and isn't it great in America that this is our RIGHT) to judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Just as I would want done for me. It's destined to be a wild and crazy ride. It's beyond time for change.

...God shed his grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea...

Finding hope again, ~Peacemom

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Baby it's cold outside!

Hello all you frozen folks!

Okay, I know, it's completely obvious that it's dang cold out there, right? I woke up this morning at 6:45 remembering with a start that I forgot to fill the bird feeder last night. Now those of us who are dedicated nature lovers know that this is very taboo in this kind of cold. These little birds that have grown to depend on us for their survival, need to have the feeder filled at all times. Especially when after scrapping 1/4 inch of frost off the INSIDE of the window, I peek out and see -12 degrees staring back at me from the thermometer. Yikes, STRIPES! as my good friend likes to say. That's just absurd! Where am I? The tundra? I mean a serious reality check is needed for those kinds of temperatures. And, as I understand it, my hometown up there in the frozen northern part of NH was at -32 degrees this morning. Are we kidding here? It hurts to breathe in this stuff.

So, I put on my boots, slog on out to the shed where the bird food is kept and fill up the two cans resting in the metal bin. One of these cans has a paper label, and one does not. I grab the one with the paper label first, fill 'er up and no sweat. Then, I grab the one without and guess what? Within about 3 seconds my fingers started to burn. It brought back memories of a tongue stuck to a certain pole and an utterance of "Flick? Flick who?". Those of you who are Christmas movie lovers will get the inference. Anyways, let's just suffice it to say that can was seriously COLD. So, I also plucked up a new block of suet and crunch-squeeked my way out to the back yard. I dumped a 1/2 can of seed on the ground. I don't normally encourage the pain in the butt rodent squirrels to come invade the bird's space, but honestly, I feel for even them on a day like this. Even added a few bread heels to the mix for them. I'm a softy at heart, you all know it's true.

When I grabbed the heavy metal cover for the feeder, I got an instant nerve jolt sent to my brain that it was time to let go of it, pronto. But, I persevered and got the tube filled up. Meanwhile an entire chorus of chirps and twits and peeps was serenading me. The birds had been waiting for me to come do my responsibility and I like to think they were thanking me for finally getting out of my nice warm, cozy home to come and feed them already. Filling the suet was another matter because 1. it's kinda gross and 2. the screen mesh door was frozen shut. I used my super sonic atomically hot breath on it for about 30 seconds and it popped right open. Ahhh, the wonders of a body temperature of 98.6 and opposible thumbs! I was filling the suet and a chickadee flew in on the feeder and grabbed a sunflower seed and flew off. It was literally no more then 8 inches from me, he just couldn't wait another moment and had to chose between certain death (freezing to death with an empty stomach and nothing to feed his revving metabolism) or possible death from the "giver of food". He chose the possible death option and I got to have a special treat and thank you for my discomfort. Which was only oh so momentary compared to the hard lives they are living.

As I'm sitting here in my warm house, drinking my hot tea listening to my warm Little Red chatting with his daddy in our toasty bed, my mind goes to the countless people who are homeless today. This is not the kind of cold you can be homeless in and hope to live very long. I know there are more people without homes in our country then there has been in a long time (think Okies, ya'll, did you read the Grapes of Wrath?), it's staggering to me to know that so many are facing these hardships. No place warm to go, no hot meal and certainly no feeder to worry about the little birds who are equally as cold. Home takes on a whole new meaning when you think about just the basics of survival. The neighbors don't seem as completely annoying, that old bathroom sink looks a lot more charming when I'm sitting inside a 62 degrees house drinking a hot cup of tea. I'm feeling very grateful for the blessings in my life that offer me the chance to have such a warm and safe place to be right now in this moment. And, my heart and prayers go out to those who've faced this cold snap without a home, heat or a hot meal.

I'm going to drop those outgrown snowpants and coat off at the coat collection box our local realtor company is collecting. Doing it today. We are lucky to not see many homeless people in our community, but I know they are there. I think I'll throw a couple older blankets that still have life left in them in there as well. Someone needs them more then my closet shelf does today.

Thankful to be warm and safe, ~Peacemom

Monday, January 5, 2009

Feel The Burn! No, REALLY!

Hello Everyone!

Today, Maestro gets to go back to school. This is good for many reasons, but he's only had 2 days of school in the three weeks due to the ice storm and winter break, so he's more then ready. I know that Little Red will miss him terribly, but I also think that it will make him happy to see his friends and his teachers, whom he adores. He and Little Red have been fighting a bit more then usual these last 4-5 days and I think they need a little breather from each other.

We had a fun and very busy long weekend. My parents were down from Maine and we spent a lovely day with them, it was great to see them. I brought my mom to the local natural food store and she really enjoyed seeing some of the things that aren't offered in her neck of the woods. She's also a natural food nut like me, so it's nice to have someone get as equally excited as I do about things like soap nuts for your washer and organic veggie juice that tastes NOTHING like V-8 (thank the lord for that!).

Then we also had our family get together for Christmas. My I haven't seen my niece and nephew in a long time as they are stationed in North Carolina, so it was great to see them. Funny and cute as ever. We're sad to learn that they are going to be stationed in California in a few months for a few years, and I don't know when we'll get to see them again, but it was great to be in that moment with them for some wonderful memories to hold us over.

My nieces (10 and 11, these are different nieces, we don't marry them off that young in our family!) have American Girl type dolls and wanted some new clothes. I made them each two dresses and a nightgown. That was the most fun gift for me to watch them open because I put a lot of hours into those dresses and it was fun to see their faces when they opened them up. But the best part of the time was just all of us being together. We don't get a chance to do that all that often and it was nice to have that chance to reconnect with everyone. Okay, that and a nice, relaxing hour or so with all the grown up girls in the hot tub! Fun to chat and get muscle relaxation at the same time.

So, over the weekend, I also found a source for local, raw, organic milk and organic eggs. My egg lady's supply has dried up so to speak as it does in the winter because the hens go on a winter strike with the reduced sunlight. I really wanted to find a local source for milk, and though I do need to drive a ways to get to them, I was thrilled with the condition of the animals and farm. Stalls were open and airy, happy, clean animals, lots of pasture to roam. The boys had a great time checking out the animals and I loved that we all got to scratch the nose of the cow that the milk is coming from. Her name is Brownie, by the way. The chickens had a huge coop with lots of air and natural light. They are raised organically and they also sell chicken by the pound, which we may try as well. It's hard to find local sources for these things that are taking on new buyers. So, it was a really fun experience for all of us and we look forward to returning once a week to fill up our 4 one quart mason jars and collecting our dozen organic eggs.

Finding Brownie's milk was especially exciting for me because for over year now, I've been itching to make some cheese. This is something I've never tried in all the cooking I do and I've really wanted to. Reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle really set me on the path to all of this local stuff and in this book is a recipe for 30 minute mozzarella. I thought, could it really be this easy to make my own mozzarrella?? Guess what? It is. And the best part about it is I get to pick what goes in it. Want some italian herbs in there? Throw them in, a little garlic? Add that too! I also get to decide how much salt goes into it, which is very helpful for me in my quest get healthier. All in all a truly fun experience. As you can see from the picture above, it's a little brain-like in appearance, but I'm pretty proud of that lump of cheese. I do have one piece of advice before you undertake this challenge for yourselves...use the rubber gloves recommended in the recipe. This stuff gets seriously hot and pulling it is painful without them. I'm gonna invest in a pair for the next time I make this. You can find this recipe at Barbara's website,

I can't tell you enough how great it is to be able to provide these things for myself and my family. The more self sufficient you can become, the better off you make the planet as a whole. That first pinch of cheese and the slow savoring of the flavor was a very big reward for me, and to see the boys do the same and give me big smiles and tell me that's the best cheese they've ever tasted was the best possible reward I could have been given. I'm nourishing my family with my resources and my own hands. It really doesn't get any better then that.

Wishing you homemade cheese of your own making, ~Peacemom

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Holy Cow! Hold on to your seats!

Happy New Year's to you all!!

I have just been going over my finances for 2008. A revealing and sometimes scary prospect for all of us, was it not? I h0pe for a better financial year in 2009. For all of us, so many in our country are struggling to get their feet back on the level ground.

Well, I've told you in an earlier post that I'm a total coupon NUT. I just wanted to take a moment and share with you how much I've saved in 2008 alone. I started this just after the new year last year and have been doing quite well with it since then. So far this year, using coupons, shopping in conjunction with sales, stockpiling quantities, etc., I've been able to save...are you sitting down, because you might need to, I know I did...

$7,523.13. Yes, that's what I said. I had to add it 3 times to make sure I wasn't halucinating the total. I figured that out to be $144 per week average. This now takes me about 3 hours a week to accomplish, so I'm making about $48.00 per hour at my "part time job". Not bad for a stay at home mom. And this is not even counting what I saved by just not buying what we don't absolutely need.

Just thought you'd all enjoy that and perhaps it will inspire someone to give it a try. It's a great moment when I sit back and think about how that's money I kept in our family's pocket, how it's really helped us make it this year. How I'm so greatful that I was shown the way to do this and am able to show others as well.

So, blessings to you in this new year. 2009 is shaping up to be a challenging, but filled with promise year.

Please, go clip a coupon or two, ~Peacemom