Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Garden Needs a Little More Life...

I am the proud adoptive parent of two tadpoles, Skipper and Gilligan. I thought they'd be a fun addition to the kitchen in the 10-gallon tank we already had. What I failed to realize was that their scummy pond water would really stink, especially when I treated them to some boiled lettuce (which they love).

Since adopting my little guys I have found out that as they are bullfrogs (and non-native to southern California) we will never be able to release them into the wild west of the Rockies. That means we will have big croaking bullfrogs for the next 10 or so years. Hmmmm.

When I was a girl we had a bullfrog that visited our home every summer. He hung out by our drippy hose out front. My dad named him Benjamin B. Bullfrog and we heralded the advent of summer with his arrival. Apparently he survived somewhere the rest of the year; we had him from June through August.

Therefore I'm thinking that Skipper and Gilligan might enjoy their own "pad" outside. Since we have the tiny patio out back, hubby and put our heads together and decided to incorporate the tank into our landscaping until the guys turn into frogs. At that time we'll build some sort of little pond for them full of stagnant leaves and dirt. Ick.

We've been tossing around the idea of a backyard pet for a few months. We used to have a rabbit, but he chewed up all my plants, tunneled under the fence and met the neighbor's dog. It wasn't pretty, but it was quick. I was hoping for some hens (homemade eggs!) but I don't think they're legal in my neighborhood. Bullfrogs it is. Fortunately my bedroom is on the other side of the house so I won't hear their chatter while trying to sleep...


Monday, March 23, 2009

Gadgets Galore!

Everywhere I look there are gadgets, gadgets, gadgets! Gadgets to help us do everything more efficiently: hang up our clothing, wash our floors, open our cans, pay our bills... the list is endless and it's all available right now if you call this toll-free number! My children are attracted to the commercials and I am too -- to a point. Most of them seem like a lot of money to spend to save just a little more time.

Well. I'm not saying those things aren't useful in their place. And I'm not saying that I'm operating off the grid here with my hand-cranked hair dryer. I just think that there's a place for gadgets and a place for doing some things by hand -- it brings us closer to the job and gives us an investment in it.

My first example: Bread Machines. I received mine free from a friend who was cleaning out her mother's house (after her mother had found a Greater Home). Homemade bread is good. Free is great, so I happily took my new gadget home.

Hmmm... where to store this unwieldy thing? We have a small kitchen... Storage solved, but it was always a pain to haul it out when I wanted to use it. The machine worked great, but pouring a bunch of ingredients in a chamber then forgetting about it wasn't enough for me. I used the machine for a few years, then passed it on to a friend. Now I knead my own bread (takes about 10 minutes) and it makes me feel good. The friend who has my new gadget is in heaven as she has about 10 minutes a day to prepare all the food for her family, so the gadget gives her the feeling of "homemade" while she attends to something else. We both win.

My second example: Crock Pots. Now this is a basic necessity for any home. It's not a gadget, it's an appliance, an appliance you need. With that said, I realized that having two of them was one too many. The new-to-me one (given to me by a friend who never used hers) was a beautiful stainless steel with a removable crock. However it cooked really hot, unlike my "real" crockpot, the one my mother used my whole life. It's beige with little mushrooms all around it and is stained from years of potlucks. The lid isn't original because it got mixed up with another crock pot at a church function. It's familiar, I like it, it works great, and that's what counts. I gave the stainless steel crockpot to my friend with the bread machine. Now she can make a complete meal for her family without even being home! She's dancing all around the house.

My third example: Mixer. Some of you have the deluxe stand-up mixers that do everything but pour the batter into the pan. I'm on my second or third hand-held beater, which works great (until the vent holes underneath fill up too full with cookie dough). I think we're all in agreement that a mixer is a good and useful gadget, especially when we're trying to beat egg whites into a stiff peak (something I do once every two years or so at Easter). Licking the beaters is much easier on those little hand-held mixers, too.

My fourth example: Blender. I have a Cuisinart new in the box that I've never used because my blender is so convenient and easy to clean. I'm on my second or third one of these, too. We make smoothies many mornings, which is a great way to start the day with some fruit (and maybe a secret veggie or two that I slide in and hide from the kids). I puree my blended soups, whip up milkshakes and chop away using my ordinary $12 blender from Target. Love it.

And my last example: Hubby's Gadgets. We all know that most of the fun toys in the kitchen are purchased by and for our men, right? Hubby loves his coffee grinder, individual cup coffee maker, and wide-slice toaster. I can be as "pioneer" as I want, but I can't turn out evenly browned toast over a fire, nor do I want to. His little coffee maker is ideal for the one cup he desires in the morning and it's easy for him to maintain himself (always a plus).

I'm eyeing a wheat grinder, but have realized that I would then feel obligated to grind my own wheat. I'm not there, yet. I enjoy baking from scratch, but I really enjoy having my flour come in a big bag from Costco that I can dip into quickly. A waffle maker would be fun, but I'm the only one who really likes them. And why get a George Foreman grill when we have a BBQ right out back?

As for the "as seen on TV" gadgets, they are very entertaining to watch on TV, but even my kids notice the deceptive practices they use to advertise some of them. My younger son remarked, "Have you noticed that every time that lady sweeps up the mess it goes out of the range of the camera?" Yep, I have noticed. I've noticed it with the mop, too.

We blend our appliances with our desire for simple living. So I will continue using my old-fashioned mop (or rag) to wash the floor. My son will use the Swiffer to clean the laminate. I will knead my dough by hand. The kids will use a chain saw to cut up our firewood. And we will all enjoy our clean home, fresh food and warm hearth, the part-time pioneer way!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Using What You Have

Part of the life of the pioneers was using what they had available in order to make dinner. If they had flour, they made biscuits. If they were out of butter, meat drippings would do. They used what they had and they shared with the folks traveling with them.

Today was a pioneer day for me. A friend of mine has a friend who works for a grocery store. She's allowed to take the bread that didn't sell and pass it along. I acquired a very nice flat loaf of what I would call a foccacia-style bread. Very gourmet!

Upon arriving home, I split it in two down the broad flat side, then made pizzas out of it. One I made in a traditional way: cheese, black olives and pepperoni for the boys. For hubby I created a base of pizza cheese, then sprinkled on feta cheese, black olives, chopped roasted chicken (leftover in the fridge) and three or four chopped artichoke hearts. He LOVED it! The boys loved their pizza, too.

It was an ordinary kind of meal jumped up to the next notch. The best part was that it was "free". Yes, I'd purchased the ingredients in the past, but they're things I buy in quantity and keep on hand. The bread was a bonus -- I would have made my own pizza dough without it. It would have been good, but I doubt I would have thought to jazz it up with the artichokes and feta cheese.

So... I was a part-time pioneer today. I foraged and found the bread (rather, it found me), and used what I had to make a nice dinner for my family. After dinner we munched on homemade snickerdoodles and watched a DVD we got from Netflix (one of my favorite sources of entertainment).

So, pioneers -- what's in YOUR fridge? What ingredients do you have that you can combine in a fresh new way to excite your family? Or even just present the same old thing a new way? My son always laughs when we go to Mexican restaurants because they have the same six ingredients with several different names: tortilla, beans, cheese, peppers, chicken and rice become tostadas, burritos, enchiladas, nachos, etc. Muy bien!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Life in the Fast Lane (Surely Makes You Lose Your Mind)

Ahhh... the dining habits of a two-year-old. One day nothing but wheat bread with peanut butter (crusts off) and the next day three full-course meals with snacks, desserts, appetizers... whatever he can get his hands on.

What is it with toddlers and their ability to fast for days at a time yet put on weight? It sounds like something from my most horrible nightmares about dieting. Jack will begin to cut a tooth (a one-to-two month process) and will immediately begin rejecting food, sometimes just out of habit. I suspect him of really being able to eat but fasting to annoy me when he wakes up in the night reciting the names of various foods: "S'getti, cookie, cackers..." All the starchy, carb-filled foods.

When he does eat, nothing can touch. It's actually okay for carrots and macaroni and cheese to intermingle, but forget casseroles, lasagna, quiche or any other food that is a mixture. After all, Mommy may have put something healthy in there. He wants his food out where he can get a good look at it.

My friend has a little angel who innocently requests a type of food only to reject it when it's served in favor of something else. Tears, tantrums and fasting ensue if she doesn't get her way. Her mother is kept busy running a one-woman diner. "Of course," we all think to ourselves, "she's ridiculous. She should have a little discipline." Oh right. The child wants food! And just maybe this is the day she'll actually eat it.

Another friend has a child who has watched way too many Oreo commercials. One day, while we were on the phone, she kept interrupting our conversation to say over her shoulder, "No, you are not done. Pick them all up. NOW!" Her three-year-old had split apart an entire bag of Oreos licked the cream filling out -- discarding the unwanted cookie part on the kitchen floor. If that were at our house, Jack would be trailing after him eating the cookies right off the flloor. They're convenient, already split apart, and illicit.

A couple of women I know try to avoid the lack of nutrition that comes with selective eating and fasting by subsituting sugarless cookies and healthy snacks. I guess that works out okay for the kids, but what about the poor parents who have to eat up the leftovers when the child is finished? I think we're all in agreement that we'd rather have a leftover bowl of Honeycomb than a slimy cold bowl of oatmeal. Even Goldilocks wouldn't eat it.

That takes us to the logical conclusion of toddler fasting: parental obesity. Well we're not going to just throw all that perfectly good food away, are we? One mother doesn't bother fixing herself lunch anymore; she just eats her child's leftovers. I go the other route: 27 little tiny containers in the refrigerator each containing three beans or a spoonful of mac and cheese. Then every couple of weeks or so I throw it all out because it's green and leafy in a manner more suited for a laboratory than a stomach. But see, it wasn't wasted. I did save it.

I've got a lot longer to go in the fast lane. Ideally Jack will begin to eat regularly in a few years around the time he gives up the pacifier, the bottle, gets potty-trained, and starts school. But those are other stories.

(Editor's Note: This article was written nearly 14 years ago for a mom's club newsletter. Jack is now 15.5 and eating everything in the house. His younger brother still resides in the fast lane on occasion.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

DIY Liqueur

Who said "home ec" only consisted of sewing potholders or baking cupcakes? You can have fun in the kitchen making an exotic liqueur -- best of all, it's work that is done in stages, so you have plenty of time to relax and build up a big thirst.

This recipe for limoncello comes from the OC Register's November 27, 2008 edition. I found the recipe and immediately saw the possibilities for an excellent and unusual homemade Christmas gift for my husband. I enlisted the help of my 11-year-old son for the zesting of the lemons, which was a huge help. For a modest fee he may consider helping you, too.



14 lemons
4 cups grain alcohol (I used a modest-priced vodka like Smirnoff's instead)
3 cups simple syrup (recipe following)

Cook's Notes: really cheap alcohol can give this drink a gasoline-like flavor.

  1. Wash, dry and peel lemons, trimming away any white pith. Put peels in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid (I used a Rubbermaid container, which was fine). You won't use the rest of the lemon in this recipe, so make Chicken Picatta for dinner or some lemonade.
  2. Add alcohol and seal. (I duct-taped the top just to make sure it didn't pop off.) Place in a cool, dry spot away from sunlight. Let sit for two weeks.
  3. Add simple syrup; stir and reseal. Return to its spot and let sit two more weeks.
  4. Strain liqueur through a double layer of cheesecloth into a pitcher or other easy-pouring vessel. Strain again through the cloth into individual jars or bottles. I used a dishcloth and strained it into a bowl. Then I used a measuring cup and poured straight into bottles using a funnel. No problem.
The fish bottle I bought is from World Market and cost less than $10. I doubled the recipe and ended up with enough for the whole bottle plus was able to almost fill the original vodka bottle. It makes A LOT and a little goes a long, long way. In fact, it's almost too sweet for hubby (and he loves sweet liqueur), so mixing it with some club soda and serving it over ice might be the way to go.

Simple Syrup


2.5 cups water
3 cups sugar

  1. Combine water and sugar in medium saucepan. Stirring occasionally, bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat a bit and keep mixture at low boil for the next five minutes.
  2. Set aside to cool in pan. Store in clean glass jar in refrigerator for up to one month if you're not planning to use it right away.
Fun note about zesting all those lemons... hubby found my 28 nude lemons in the garage fridge (remember, I'd doubled the recipe). He was curious... I told him that the kids and I had zested them all so he could use them in his Jack LaLanne juicer and he was so happy! He was probably happier about that than the eventual gift of the liqueur. He is very easy to please :o)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lemon Tree, Very Pretty...

For Christmas this year, hubby and I decided to give each other homemade presents. He gave me a beautiful picture he created (see his work at and I gave him homemade limoncello liqueur.


A friend graciously allowed me to harvest the lemons I needed from her tree -- 14 in all. I thought it was very generous of her, and said so, but she said, "They'd probably just fall to the ground and rot if you hadn't picked them."

Hmmmm... How many other people have full trees that are going to waste?

Enter Tom Sumpter of Sacramento. The entire transcript of his radio interview can be found here: but in essence he had a similar "aha moment" and decided to do something about it.

Sumpter organized teams of local folks who went picking. They found local homeowners with laden trees who were glad to donate their fruit in return for a clean backyard. The fruit went to an area food bank, hundreds of pounds in all.

It's a win-win situation for everyone. According to an article in a recent OC Register, food banks are giving out leftover holiday food and other mismatched types of items simply to be able to give out a bag of food. Fresh fruit would be a huge blessing for many people -- and yet it sits on trees in the backyards of people who may not have the time or energy to pick it. Having a group of people come to collect the fresh fruit and donate it for you seems like the best of all worlds.

It's food for thought.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


One of the favorite pieces of advice I hear from people who are trying to save money is "Buy your clothes at thrift stores." This is excellent advice if you A. Have an easy-to-fit body and B. Live near a thrift store that has quality clothing.

My size 14-"petite" (short and dumpy) body doesn't fit a whole lot at most thrift stores. Even if I'm lucky enough to find a pair of pants that I can button at the waist, they're generally dragging at the feet. Yes, I can take up a hem, but sometimes I'm just lazy.

There are a couple of good thrift stores in my neighborhood and I swing by once in awhile. They were great for the kids when they were young, but used boys' clothes in sizes that fit my pre-teen and teenager are usually pretty thrashed. We don't find much for them.

My usual stores have been pretty picked over lately; I guess everyone is in the same boat of trying to save money where they can. I decided to venture out of area to see what a new venue might provide. While up in Lake Arrowhead last weekend I stopped by a thrift store in Blue Jay and nosed around. I was delighted to find two pairs of jean capris that fit me perfectly. They're good labels, too, something that makes my vain little heart very happy. I don't mind used, but I do mind CHEAP used.

Even better, they had a sale on children's books, and I was able to pick up a huge bagful for only 15 cents each. These are being shipped off to an acquaintance of mine who is on the mission field in Indonesia. A flood came through last month and spoiled all her young son's books.

I love that I was able to get a couple of pairs of pants inexpensively ($5/each!) which will vastly improve my wardrobe. I'm also happy that I can help out someone else -- that my own financial issues aren't preventing me from assisting another family. Sometimes it's hard to remember that other people are hurting far more than I am. We've taken a financial hit this year, but at least we're still in our home, eating at each meal and able to buy a few new-to-us things to keep life going. The people I'm helping don't care what anything costs -- they're delighted to have it. I'm trying to keep that type of positive outlook, too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

With Many Thanks :o)

The Part-Time Pioneer gratefully acknowledges The Creative Soul ( for the help received in getting pictures on this site. The Part-Time Pioneer is still existing in the 90's when it comes to technology and is delighted to have friends with more advanced knowledge.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Leftovers Are My Favorite Food Group

My husband said the other day, "Boy, even though we're on a tight budget you sure make a lot of different meals." It was said approvingly and I basked in the glow. The truth is that almost everything we eat has something leftover in it. God bless my big freezer in the garage! I've got everything packed in there just waiting to emerge in a new month, in a new meal. Delicious.

Hubby came from a family of seven kids; the term "leftover" wasn't heard in his home. In fact, some of the kids had fork marks on the backs of their hands where other siblings inadvertently stabbed them while they all reached for the last of something. I came from a home where the green part of the cheese was carefully shaved off so we could eat the rest. We ate everything until it was gone, period. Waste nothing!

When Hubby and I were first married I cooked up a lovely casserole one night. He ate it with relish. The next night he eyed it, but ate it without complaint. The third night he rebelled. I honestly had no idea what the problem was -- food was available, so let's eat. We have since learned to compromise... I cook a meal and we eat it that night. Anything leftover goes into the freezer where it will wait, poised for its debut in a subsequent month.

The other night I pulled out some cooked pot roast chunks that had been frozen late last year. Perfect; Hubby would have forgotten all about it. Photobucket I chopped them up into small chunks, then fished around in the overflow pantry, also in the garage. I found canned tomato chunks, pinto beans and some jalapeno peppers. Excellent.


I drained and rinsed the beans, then tossed everything else in the pan together. I added in some chopped onion and a little crushed garlic (two of my kitchen staples) and let it all bubble together until some of the water evaporated. Photobucket

It was really good served in flour tortillas. Photobucket

I mixed up a little Tapatia sauce with some sour cream to give it a jazzier presentation and taste -- a little squirt of lime would have been good, too, but I didn't have any. Next time!

The pot roast was chewier than I would have liked. I think this would be a great way to prepare leftover chicken or steak, but encourage you to use what you have. Usually I put leftover pot roast into a stew or something with gravy.

Keeping leftovers and re-serving them as a brand-new dish keeps peace in my family as well as $$$ in my pocket. It encourages me to be creative with what I have, which I enjoy. I've discovered that pretty much anything tastes great wrapped in a tortilla topped with some melted shredded cheese.

Here's a great site to help you with some ideas for repurposing your leftovers: Another suggestion is to create a "freezer soup" bag. I use a Hefty freezer bag (gallons size) and put bits of food in it as I have them, chopping as I go. When the bag is filled with that cup or two of leftover rice, the end of a veggie platter and some bits of chicken, it's time to make soup. I put it all as-is into my crockpot with about 6 cups of homemade chicken stock and let it simmer all day. Instant dinner!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pyros R Us

Living in the urban sprawl, there are no convenient ways to acquire the tender and kindling needed to start fires (in the fireplace, of course). The beautifully manicured regional park across the street is so well maintained that there are never any stray twigs. We used to use the pine cones we'd find in the complex until our chimney sweep strongly warned us against this little practice. Apparently we'd made a huge candle of pine resin on the inside of our chimney, just ripe for instant firestorm. I'm sure the fact that the kids had added spray glitter to the pine cones before tossing them in the fire didn't help (though they made such lovely shiny sparks).

Firestarters are easy and fun to make, especially for kids. You need just a few materials: a cardboard egg carton, dryer lint, Photobucket

broken crayons, Photobucket and an old pot you don't ever plan to ever use for food again.

Melt the crayons in the pot. Photobucket

It will only take a minute or two, so keep the flame low! Stuff the egg carton cups with the dryer lint. Dryer lint is extremely flammable, especially mine, which is full of cat hair. Drizzle the melted crayons over the whole mess using an old spoon. I use plastic spoons, which melt each time. I like to add the crayon paper to the cups too -- waste nothing. Let the firestarters dry, then cut the egg cups apart.

We use one at a time in the fireplace. It's smart to set them in a pie pan or other inflammable dish so that you don't get melted crayon all over the bottom of your fireplace. We've found that the the firestarters burn completely, though, and have never had that problem ourselves. Our chimney sweep approves!


The best part? We're using up some materials that would otherwise have been thrown out. They do a nice sustained burn that ignites the kindling (or crumbled newspaper) and prevents us from having to relight the fire every 10 minutes.