Friday, August 28, 2009

Money Venting...

A while back, we had to make some adjustments to our lifestyle. I quit working as a public school teacher about almost three years ago. The last school year I taught was 2006-07. Despite what many people believe, teacher's make a pretty ok salary. And when I was bringing home around 45k a year, to have that gone was drastic.

I made up for it by freelancing and teaching privately, and I believe the income was comparable, until some more changes came about. I had to close an entire studio because of family changes. A torch had been passed that I feel most women bear as pillars of their family. My mom, our acting pillar was diagnosed with cancer, and thus, the torch was passed. I'm digressing.

This passed week, the last of my own private students told me they couldn't afford me anymore. While this saddened me for personal reasons, as I've grown very fond of this family, it also puts a serious clamp on our finances, as they paid me almost $500 bucks a month.

So my question is: How does one skim more off the top of an already skimmed budget?

Well, for starters, if we turned off our T.V. and land line telephone that would save us $95.33 a month. My cell phone is 75.49 a month, however we can't cut the land line and the cell phone. I've been paying 2.99 a month from Skype for long distance, and I believe I can get my old phone number transferred to Skype and remove the land line all together. We've been cheating on the not going out to eat thing just a little bit. We've been going out about once a weekend, trying to spend less then 30-40 when we do. That could potentially add up to 120 bucks savings. I already do all of my cooking from scratch at home. We don't buy processed foods for health and money reasons.

I'm spoiled being at home with my children. I love it. I answer to my heart, instead of a boss, and I know their lives are enriched because of it. Enough venting I suppose. I'm open to any ideas.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tomatoes Pt. 3!!

So, for part three as promised, I have canned tomatoes. Canning can be risky if you're not careful, and I'm not going to boast that it's this easy simple process. You have to be careful, you can't skip steps. If you don't think you can be thorough and precise, just freeze. I am not lacking in freezer space yet, but I have about 15 chickens coming from my farmer in a few weeks, so I might be tight on it soon.

Anyhow, first step in canning is sterilizing your things. The cans, and the lids need to be boiled down. You should also consider boiling down your utensils. Next, you need to peel the tomatoes. If you drop them in boiling water for about thirty seconds, then drop them in a bowl of ice water, the skin practically falls right off.

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I strongly suggest hot packing your tomatoes. Raw packing is considered safe by few, but with all the new hybrids it's hard to know if the tomatoes that your using are actually safe to raw pack. Hot packing only takes a few extra minutes, heat your tomatoes up for about 10 minutes, then slip them into their perspective cans.

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Here you see the set up in my kitchen. My husband got a shot of the large pot I use to sterilize the jars, the boiling water in the back I used to dip the tomatoes in and the bowl of icewater next to it. Then in the front is where the peeled tomatoes went.

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To insure acidity levels are safe, I put two tbsp of lemon juice in each can. I don't add salt, however you can safely add salt. I prefer to preserve these tomatoes as simply as I can because they're used for cooking, so salt can always be added later. Leave about an inch of head space, clean the tops of the jars and put the lids on. Not too tight! Air has to vent out during the water bath to create a vacuum.

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Set the cans in a pot so they aren't touching each other, with at least an inch or two of water above the cans. Process them for 45 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the cans sit in the hot water to cool for about 10 minutes before pulling them out. They may hiss when you pull them out, and there may be tomato debris in the water. That just means there was not enough space and some of the contents boiled out. It's ok. On the flip side, if too much water boiled out and if your tomatoes aren't completely covered in the jar, that's ok too. I had that happen with this batch, and I found that if the jars are processed correctly, the tomatoes not completely covered in water may darken, but will still be safe.

Hope my bit of rambling has been helpful to any potential canners out there. Happy and safe canning!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tomatoes!!! Pt. 2..... Spaghetti Sauce

So last night I burnt the crap out of my hand making those roasted tomatoes. I'm not going to post the pic, but cooking at midnight sucks. So here's what I did with the tomatoes today. I started off with the yucky tomatoes. The ones that have rotten spots, and bruises. I cut the spots off and cored them and stuck them in my food processor.

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I'm ahead of myself though as always. In this pan, there is one green pepper, two small onions, and two cloves of garlic. I drizzled some olive oil on them, and cooked them on a low temp. Mostly because you don't want your olive oil to smoke, then it's rancid. Low temps here!!! Now, while that is simmering on a low temp, let's go back to the tomatoes.

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Depending on how chunky you want your spaghetti sauce depends on how long you blend them. If you don't have one of these a blender would work, or just mushing them up. I did keep the seeds and the skins on this batch. I hate to waste, and there are healthy nutrients in there!!

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So once I was finished with all of those tomatoes, I poured them in the pot, and cooked it uncovered for two hours. The last hour I kept a close eye on it. Waited for it to thicken. I added salt and pepper to it at this time, along with oregano, basil, two bay leaves (which I removed before storing), and a pinch of baking soda.

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The next shot is an hour and a half later, just before it really started to thicken up. The whole family was complaining they were hungry because I was torturing them with spaghetti sauce.

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To store them, you can water bathe them and keep them canned up, however I am uncomfortable with that. If you do choose to go that route, add 2 tbsp of lemon juice and boil the cans for at least 45 minutes. My safer route shown here, was to put them in cans with plastic lids. The head space is different in the two cans shown. The one with those most air space on top is destined for the freezer. The other will be tomorrow's dinner. I keep an eye on my cans when I'm freezing them. They go through a two step process. They go in the kitchen freezer first, and I check on them regularly. These cans can and do shatter, so I keep a close eye, making sure they don't expand so much the glass breaks. Once they've frozen solid, I take them in the basement to my big freezer, which will keep them at a lower temp.

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Anyway, I hope this helps anyone not sure what to do with tomatoes. Be safe if your considering canning, know what you're doing. Part three will be canning!!

Tomatoes!!! Pt. 1

It's August, and in Virginia tomato season is in full swing. I've been snacking on my little pear yellows for a couple weeks now, and my beefsteaks are finally ripening enough to bring them in. This week however my farmer gave me a huge box of what she's been growing. We had some weird mix up with someone picking up my CSA share this week, leaving me with a half share instead of a full. She made it up to me by giving me this huge box of tomatoes.

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She had suggested I try roasting some of them. Just to have some different twists on things. So that's what I ended up doing first. I googled some recipes, but none seemed accurate, so I'll share with you what I learned. First of all, I sifted through the box, and dug out all the Roma tomatoes. They are little skinny tomatoes, that are typically used for spaghetti sauces, pastes, etc. I'm not italian in the least, so forgive me for my Virginia girl rendition of what to do with tomatoes.

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If you take a close look at these pictures, not all these tomatoes are perfect. That's ok!! Cut out any yucky spots and cook them anyway. I used two pans. One cookie sheet which really did the best job, and then an oven safe frying pan took the leftover tomatoes. I rubbed both down with olive oil, then lined the tomatoes on their backs, pulp/seeds up. Some websites mentioned flipping them, I did not and they turned out fine. I then sprinkled dried herbs on them. Rosemary, Basil, and Thyme. My favorite ended up being the ones with only rosemary on them. I bet if I had fresh rosemary that would have been great too. I also put sea salt and freshly ground pepper on them. Go easy on the salt. These tomatoes really pack a huge flavor when they're done, so they don't need much help.

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After 7 hours at 225, I end up with what you see in the jar, and yes, that's all of the tomatoes. I also added garlic in there, and note, I did not skin the garlic. I just set them next to the tomatoes and roasted them. I haven't tried them yet, but from what I've read, they will be to die for. I'm a horrible photographer, so I took them outside in some natural light so you can see exactly how yummy they look. You want them to end up crispy, and not juicy. They can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week or two, and they can be frozen beautifully. I will be freezing about half of them. Next post will be about making spaghetti sauce. I feel almost silly posting that, but I have a huge box of tomatoes to go through! This was barely a dent.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's official

Today, I turned in my letter of intent to homeschool my son. It's a big, and nervous step for me. It's a researched and calculated step though. I've started a new blog to document the year for myself. Please feel free to check it out. I've already been working with him a little this summer, and I'm just going to pick up where we are in the blog. Good chance I'll be posting again some point today when we sit down and work on his things.

Wish me luck!!


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