Friday, August 29, 2014

The Last County 4-H Fair

So, I can't decide just want I want to post in regards to my brother's last year in 4-H and the fair in general.  I think, you really have to be a part of county 4-H to really get it.  So trying to explain it in writing just isn't going to happen.  But as a big part of the patchwork that makes up my family, I feel I have to include it somewhere in this blog.  It seems my sister's and I always dated/married guys who weren't in 4-H at all, or very minimally, and they never could quite understand how we could spend a whole week at the fairgrounds.  But, it's just what we did.  We didn't go on vacations often when I was growing up because we didn't want to leave all the animals for very long.  So this was the one week where my parents took off work and we all spent a significant amount of time together.  And we always had plenty to do.  Eating delicious fair food, preparing all our animals for show, seeing lots of friends and extended family, and keeping an eye on all our exhibits.

Between the five kids, my siblings and I took a myriad of projects that we would prepare early in the summer (or at least by judging day).  Over the years, these included:  alfalfa, aquatic science, arts & crafts, cake decorating, child development, consumer clothing, electric, entomology, fashion revue, floriculture, foods, forestry, genealogy, geology, health, home environment, junior leaders, personality, photography, reading, sewing, soil & water conservation, weather, and wildlife (I think I got them all).  From this list it shouldn't be that surprising that three of us walked away with the tenure award (based on your record for projects completed).

Over the years we also exhibited seven different "species" of animals: always beef, most of the years pigs and rabbits, and some years goat, sheep, and starter calves/veal.  We even had a year or two with chickens.  Most of the time we bought our show animals, but over the years we bred and raised beautiful baby pigs, rabbits, calves, and even had a goat kid. 

In true fair form, I had planned to share some recipes, but my diet's been keeping me away from baking for awhile so I do not have photos to go with them yet.  Eventually, I'd like to share the champion recipes I remember:  my chocolate chip biscuits, the salsa my Aunt Denise helped me prepare, Megan's champion apple pie, Erin's champion baklava (Brian even helped her look to cook this one), and one of Matthew's many champions from food preservation.  Hopefully I'll get these up eventually!

But, as my family wraps up our 23 years in a rural, Indiana 4-H program, we're about to begin Theodore in a very different, suburban, Virginia 4-H program.  He is old enough for Cloverbuds (mini-4-H for you Hoosiers) this year!!  But, considering his father managed to take two projects I never enrolled in (vet science and dog), I have no idea what areas Theodore is going to pick to study for 4-H.  I'm afraid I'm going to have to really release my grip on his life when he signs up, so he can make 4-H meaningful for himself.  But, I'm sure I'll be adding a post or two about this next summer.

Show Arena:  2003, the last year I showed

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thowback Thursday (Eli Edition): Giraffes at Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

And, here's Eli's edition. :)
3 months before he was born
9 months old
23 months old

Thowback Thursday (Theo Edition): Eggs at Fort Wayne Children's Zoo

We got in another visit to the Ft. Wayne Children's Zoo last time we were in Indiana, and I thought it was time for this photo strip, showing how quickly my little man has grown! We love this zoo!

Theo age 1
Theo age 2

Theo age 3, Eli age 7 months

Theo age 4, Eli almost 2.

Monday, August 25, 2014

When Should You Pick Your Tomatillos? (and other information about shy tomatoes)

This was a question I wouldn't have ever imagined having to google a few years ago.  We picked up four tiny tomatillo plant seedlings at the market this spring and are completely amazed at the size of these plants.  We let them get a little out of hand, and we now have tomatillos everywhere! 

They are even climbing up the sunflowers that are towering over the garden.

So, to answer my question above, when harvesting them you wait until the husk starts to separate, and turn brown.  It's pretty easy to tell, and they'll snap right off the vine almost as easily as a tomato. Brian actually started plucking them right away when the husk split and they were still green, but they ripened up in the fridge over a couple weeks before I came home.

This one's ready to go.

We learned even more about tomatillos this year when one of our plant's tomatillos had a definite purple look to them, and we had to google that too.  Apparently one of our four plants was of the purple variety.  Most of them were really only purple on the outside (maybe not all the way ripe), but several were purple all the way through like this one.

And I remembered that the great thing about tomatillos compared to tomatoes is that you do NOT have to skin or seed them, as you might tomatoes.  We used the recipe from the Ball Blue Book cookbook (rather than my old recipe here, which isn't a proven canning recipe), and actually canned our first months worth of fruit, almost 8 pounds worth.  I haven't canned in a good decade or so, since my bad jelly incident in 2003, and found it time consuming but worthwhile.

Tomatillo salsa has a definite sweetness to it that you don't get from tomato salsa.  

In other garden related news, we brought back some of my grandma's cucumbers from her beautiful, meticulous garden, and made some fridge pickles based on this recipe here from the food in jars website.  I have never made homemade pickles before, but I normally go through at least a jar of dill pickles every week so these have been fun to have on hand.
Our other main harvest from our garden have been tomatoes.  Brian brought a tomato plant home from work one day (a freebie someone was getting rid of), and we transplanted it into one of my patio pots, thinking it would be a small balcony plant.  But after it was damaged in the first storm that came by, I replaced it thinking it wouldn't survive.  We put it down in the garden just in case it did, and it sure surpassed all our expectations by doing well.  We let it get as large as it could within the garden, and have already taken 5 pounds of edible fruit from it.  It definitely taught me some lessons in patience and expectations.  We made about 3.5 jars worth of spaghetti sauce out of our tomatoes so far, and expect to get a few more jars worth.

And our tiny little plot of garden is not done yet!  I'm hoping to harvest the sunflowers, and after Brian harvested all the corn a couple of pepper plants that we had given up on long ago surfaced and are maturing everyday!  Plus we've had lots of beautiful flowers all season.  I think our first year having a back-yard and garden was a success.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Blueberry Muffins with Crumb Topping for the Birthday Boy

I am very lucky to have a husband who is okay with me doing things like taking off for a month's vacation without him.  He missed his boys and I a great deal, but he barely even complained while gone and even scanned Eli's favorite book before we left so he could read it to him on skype.  I don't praise him a lot, but he is really due a lot of recognition.  And since today is his birthday, I'm going to give him some:  Brian is really great with his boys (bedtime is all him, everyday, and he changes lots of diapers without any complaining); he keeps our yard, cars, and garden in good shape; and he will fix just about anything I ask him to.  He's a great cook, artistic, and always handles the trash for me.  And he works hard at his job and faithfully raises our boys to be Christ-like. 

So today, in honor of his birthday, I'm passing on one of his favorite recipes to you.

These.  Are.  Amazing.

Brian starting making this recipe a few years ago, and I finally started making them for him on his birthday last year.  I'm not sure where he found this recipe, but I'm sure the crumb topping is what attracted him to it.  I think he'd put crumb topping on just about anything he could if I let him.  He loves the stuff.

These are almost too good to share, but I will.  This recipe makes 8 muffins.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease muffin cups or use liners.
  • Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tsps baking powder. 
  • Place 1/3 cup vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. 
  • Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in 1 cup blueberries. 
  • Fill muffin cups right to the top, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.  
  • To make crumb topping: Mix together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 1/2 tsps cinnamon. Mix with fork, and sprinkle over muffins before baking.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes in the oven, or until done.

*I think you only need about HALF of the crumb topping mixture, but it's up to you.* 
They go in looking like this...
 and voila.

They warm up really well in the oven if you make them the night before.  As does bacon.  A great pairing for a quick birthday breakfast.  And for my husband, with coffee, of course.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

We're baaaaaack!!!

It's been about a month since my last post, and what a crazy month it has been.  The boys and I recently abandoned Brian and took off on a month long visit to Indiana.  We originally went for the fair, but then stayed through my Alaska sister's visit and waited there for Brian to finish a conference.  We then joined him up in New England for a couple days road trip/vacation.  It was a great month where I really got to fill up my soul with great visits and adventures, but now I'm glad to be back in my own home and own kitchen.  A month is really a long time to be gone, and I came home with a bit of a cold that turned into a full blown cold (with fever) and I was down and out the first few days back.

After being away so long, my house looked so foreign to me when I walked in.  Seeing it with fresh eyes definitely makes me want to clean out/declutter, reorganize the furniture, and finally paint some of the rooms.  I may be posting some of these projects in the future... other things I hope to post about include:

-Our crazy garden plants & my grandma's beautiful garden (with links for tomato sauce, pickles, and tomatillo salsa)
-Our family's last fair, including some prize winning recipes from over the last 23 years.
-Lots of cousin photos, since we saw all of them within the span of a week!!
-Impressions of Vermont and Travel Tips for New Hampshire

And the great thing is we still have a couple weeks before school starts!  Maybe I'll be caught up on my blog by then.  I still watch the job postings every day (there are still openings in the district we live in)-but I'm planning to be staying home again this year to soak up Theo's last year before going to school full-time and really working with my late bloomer Eli to start talking more and detach from me a little bit.  I'm excited for all the one-on-one time I'll get with him this year while Theo's at school (which will not correspond with nap-time this year).