Eating My Yard…

As I mentioned earlier, we recently left our house for a week, and headed to my Dad’s place for Spring Break.  After we returned, it rained heavily for the next week, and come Yesterday, my yard looked like this…

It was rough; you don’t have to tell me.  I couldn’t wait to get at it with the lawn mower.  But just before I did, I decided to harvest some of my bountiful crop.

No, really.  I served it up with dinner!  I walked around and picked leaves from my dandelion plants, and then pulled a few of my wild onions.  You see, we don’t treat our yard with weed killer, as the above photo attests, and so all our plants are safe to eat, providing they are edible plants, of course.  Dandelions are edible, and of course wild onions are.  Just the same, I did some research after I picked my salad.

According to Wild Man Steve, dandelions are not only safe, but also very good for you.  I even came across a French recipe for Cream of Dandelion soup, and we all know how the French are about their food!

So here’s the dirt on dandelion picking…

Dandelion leaves are slightly bitter, like arugula, and as they age, they increase in bitterness until after the first frost.  Since it’s spring here, I don’t have to worry about that.  The leaves also taste better before they begin to flower, but are still palatable until that pesky white seed ball forms.  The only issue with harvesting from your yard, assuming you don’t use any chemicals on your grass, is the imposters.  Observe…

All the leaves shown came from my yard.  All of them came from plants that have yellow flowers, and white, puffy seed balls.  But, they are not all dandelions.  Dandelions keep their leaves close to the ground, and don’t get very tall.  Remember those knee-high weeds in my yard photo?  Not dandelions.  Dandelions also only sprout one flower per plant, at a time.  So you see that plant above with the three flower buds?  Not a dandelion.  And finally, dandelion leaves are soft, and leafy.  They aren’t hard, waxy, or spiny.  If you see a plant with a yellow flower, and the leaves prick you, then pull it out, but throw it away.  All the dandelion look-a-likes are thistles, and not the delicious kind of thistles, like artichokes.  No, you don’t want to eat these.  But the real dandelion leaves are tasty.

I turned mine into a salad, with a bit of oil, vinegar, and wild chives.  I even added some pepperoncini and shaves of parmigian for a little kick.

So the next time someone says weeds, remember, it could just be a salad, waiting to happen.

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Trash to Treasure…

Several weeks ago, we inherited an old computer monitor.  Husband and Son quickly gutted  the machine, looking at how it worked, and keeping what spare parts they thought they could use for other things.  Then, the shell sat in the kitchen for weeks.  The more I looked at it, the more I thought it looked like something other than a computer monitor shell.  So I finally took it, and got to work.

Of course, I started with a simple shell…

But when turned face down, I thought it looked like a fortress….

So I grabbed my xacto knife, and cut up some cardboard…

to make some cardboard floors.  And since there were two floors, I needed stairs.  I made some of those, too.

(forgive the photos, the flash broke.)

Son loved his knew toy, even with the make-shift floors…

But I knew the floors would never stand up to his boyish playing.  So I took them out, and using the cardboard as a template, I cut new floors from some scrap pressboard.

Over spring break, after seeing I was spending all my time cleaning dear ole Dad’s house, I asked him to take over securing the floors in place, and making some stronger steps.  He obliged, and after a while spent cutting up a blue plastic barrel, and stapling it together, he had completed my little project.

Here are the finished results…

While I’d love to add things like railing to the balconies, I know they’d never survive.  I also want this new fortress to be a toy, not a model, and so I don’t want it too perfect.  Some day, Son will tire of it, and out it will go.  We won’t save it in the attic like some of his other toys, and I’m ok with that.  I want to be ok with that.  But for now, he has a place for his Army Men, Ironman, and the rest of the Avengers to scheme in attempt to save the universe, and it didn’t cost me a thing.


Filed under DIY, Fun and Free Ideas, Save my Wallet, Save the Earth, Toys

Wash It Out…

As I mentioned, I spent my Spring Break cleaning my dad’s house.  This weeklong event included mopping, organizing, and having my Dad build a new console out of some old, junky dressers.  Well, while doing all that organizing, I came across a collection of old legos, left over from mine, and my brother’s childhoods.  Of course, these are perfect for Son to play with, but there was a problem.  It seems that years of being in uncovered storage, along with being played with on, and cleaned up from, a dirty floor had made the legos gross.

We’re talking turn your fingers icky kind of gross.  Sure, Son didn’t seem to notice, but I certianly did, and even Husband, who spent the week sandblasting, among other dirty things, noticed.  Something had to be done.

I decided to give the washing machine a shot.  I figured this could be dangerous, but I’d keep a close eye on it just to see how it did.  I put all the legos into a large laundry bag, gave them a good shake, and dropped them into the washer full of hot water and a bit of soap.

Yes, this was noisy, and I’m sure it would’ve gone a lot smoother if I had one of those washing machine without the center spindle.  Just the same, it worked!

After the cycle was over, I took the legos outside to drip dry.  I started by just hanging the bag, but after an afternoon of hanging out, most of the pieces were still wet.  If I had had one of those mesh sweater racks, I would’ve spread them all out in a thin layer to dry, but I didn’t.  Dad doesn’t wear sweaters, and even if he did, he’d never lay them flat to dry.  Instead, I had to leave the legos outdoors for a few days, remembering to stir them around every now and then.  I would reccomend a good quality bag, though.  Legos can get sharp, and you don’t want holes letting the legos escape.

Still, the legos are now clean, and I’m not so averse to playing with them; Son will be happy to hear that.


Filed under DIY, Home Making, Organization, Toys

A Week of Work…

Last week was Spring Break, and Husband and I took Son for a weeklong stay at my Dad’s place.  Husband had big plans to work on our 1967 Chevy Truck, which he inherited when his father passed, and since I didn’t want to dive into that mess, I decided to finally accept my Dad’s pleas to clean and organize his house.  In addition to this, I took down two books, and a secret sewing project.  I figured I could clean and organize Dad’s kitchen, guest bath, playroom, begin to pack up my brother’s room so it can be the grandkids’ bedroom, since he’s finally skipping the nest, and electing to stay in his college town over the summer, and then relax with my books and stitching.  Plus, Husband and I scheduled a surprise zoo visit for Son.  Boy did I underestimate my time.

First, let me say that my father is single, and works two jobs.  He is typically only home between mid-night and 6 a.m., and then has Saturdays off.  That leaves just one day to get anything done, and the things he prefers to tackle are the outdoorsy sort of things, like planting a garden, digging up his septic system, or fixing a car.  Add to that the fact that my brother, up until very recently, lived at the house only on weekends, along with at least 2 of his closest male friends, and other party guests.  Dad’s house was more like a frat house than anything I would call home, but since it wasn’t the house I grew up in, I wasn’t really bothered by this.  That is until I had to live there for a week.

I started my clean sweep with the bathroom.  The guest bathroom is obviously used by all guests, and to occasionally wash the dog, but most of the guests were male, and drunk, and well, if their aim is poor sober, just imagine how it is when they’ve had a few too many.  And then there’s always what happens after they’ve had even more than too many.  Yep, the bathroom was gross.  It took me a while to muster up the courage to get my hands wet, but once I started there was no turning back.  I scrubbed the fixtures, the walls, the mirror, and the floor.  I washed the shower curtains — Dad has two, the rug, and the towels.  Luckily, washing the curtains was a simch since I discovered I could wash them in the washing machine.  Still, it took me most of the day to get it all done.

The next day, I began tackling the playroom.  Dad’s playroom isn’t really what you imagine when you think playroom.  It’s really a room with a TV, two computers on separate desks, although only one computer works, and various old board games and toys from days gone by.  It needed both a good scrubbing, and some serious organizing.  I figured it would take me a full day to get this room under control, but I was off by a few days.  Yes, it took me days!  Three days, to be exact!

I started by boxing up all the VHS tapes.  Some were movies that I wish I could play for Son, but we don’t have a working VCR, and others, well, I don’t think you can get anymore, like the original release of Star Wars.  So if you’re wondering why I didn’t pitch them, well, they weren’t mine, for one, and they are sort of sentimental.  Besides, they’re only taking up three boxes worth of space in the shop out back.  More importantly, though, boxing up the tapes meant freeing up five drawers of space in these dressers Dad has in the playroom.

Originally, the dressers flanked the TV in the background, but I had a better idea.  I though Dad could use a console table, since he doesn’t have, and doesn’t want, a coffee table.  The console would be a place for people to put drinks, and I figured with a bit of creativity, I could create more storage.

Sure, the dressers are just cheapy, particle board and paper things that I think Dad was given for free, but I knew I could work with them.  Besides, I didn’t really have a budget to shopping.  Instead, I set them where I wanted them, and then asked Dad to cut a top and shelves out of some furniture grade plywood he happened to have on hand.  After he measured, cut, and fitted all the parts, Dad attached the pieces to the dressers with a pneumatic stapler.

The dressers were now a console table, with added storage, and not just some throw-away furniture.

Now, I know the new console could use some paint, and a bit of dressing up, but my job was to clean and organize; I’ll leave the decorating up to the owner.  Really, I think with a coat of high gloss white, and new hardware, you’d never know it was pieced together from trash.  What do you think?  At the very least, I think it’s encouragement to keep your mind open.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another cleaning tip.  I know, it’s revitting blogging at its best.

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Filed under DIY, Fun and Free Ideas, Home Design, Organization, Save my Wallet, Save the Earth

It’s Spring Break!!!

Which means I may or may not post this week.  Rest assured that I will be back for sure come next week.  In the mean time, I’ll do my best to get a few things posted, but no garuntees.  You see, I’ll be out in the boonies, where they still have dial-up!  Hey, at least they have the internet.

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Flat Out Perfect…

I make flat bread all the time.  I’ve shared with you my Pita Bread, but for some reason, I have  never posted my tortilla recipe.  This is pretty hard for me to believe, since I never buy flour tortillas, and I apologize for letting you all down.

Why don’t I buy flour tortillas?  When I was in sixth grade, a woman, who was watching us over the summer, made some flour tortillas for her family, and her daughter and I snuck one out of the kitchen.  I have been haunted by that disk of perfection ever sense.  It was warm, fluffy, butter, and amazing.  Once I had a house of my own, I looked for a tortilla recipe, but found only corn tortillas.  I ask various Mexican friends for a recipe, but none of them came through.  Then, my luck change.  My mother sent my a book entirely about native flat breads, titled Flatbreads and Flavors.  Towards the back of the book was a recipe for Wheat Flour Tortillas.  I tried it as soon as I could.  The recipe used corn oil, flour, and salt.  After the first taste, I knew it wasn’t quite right.  The tortillas were tough, and bland.  Since it was the only recipe I had seen for flour tortillas, I tried to work with it.  I doubled the salt, and that helped a lot, but they still weren’t quite right.  A minor breakthrough happened about two years ago.

My step-brother was getting married to a delightful, and thankfully understanding, Mexican woman.  With her as translator, I spoke with her grandmother about my flour tortilla dilemma.  Her grandmother shook her head when I mentioned the recipe called for corn oil, and said, “No!”  Then she describe what was either lard, or Crisco.  My new sister-inlaw wasn’t quite sure.  So I switched to lard, since to me, that seemed more authentic.  It helped dramatically, and I used the substitution happily.  But something was still missing.  My tortillas weren’t as buttery as I remember my stolen treat from sixth grade.  I decided to try something on my own.

I switched the lard out with actual butter.  The first attempt wasn’t exactly a success, but it wasn’t a failure either.  With an exact substitution, the tortillas came out crispy.  They tasted just like I wanted, but you couldn’t fold them in have, which I would say is a must for flour tortillas.  Then I decided to whip up a batch of tortillas for lunch one day, and didn’t get out my recipe.  I thought I’d wing it.  I added butter until I thought the flour looked right.  Perfection!

So here’s my own, personal recipe, developed the only way one can…. through trial and error.

You start with 2 cups flour…

Add 1 tsp of salt…

Then add 4 TBS of butter.

Work the butter into the flour with a fork, until it resembles coarse meal.

Once the butter has mixed in thoroughly, add 1/2-3/4 cup of warm water, and when I say warm, I mean colder than your shower, but hotter than room temperature.  It is also important that you add the water a bit at a time because it is very easy to add too much water.

Once a sticky dough has come together, begin mixing, and kneading, with your hands, while adding the rest of the needed water.  What you are aiming for is a dough that is sticky enough to stick to your fingers, and to a surface, but not so sticky that it pulls apart when it does stick.  You want the dough to stick to itself more than it sticks to other stuff.  I know this isn’t a great explanation, but it’s a feel thing, and Al Gore didn’t add feel-o-vision when he invented the internet.

Once you have your dough, separate it into 8 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball, and then flatten with your hands.  Cover these, and allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Once the dough has finished its nap, heat a cast iron skillet, or griddle, on the stove to medium high heat.  Flour your surface, and your rolling pin, and roll each ball out to form a disk.  It is important in tortilla making that you don’t get the dough too thin.  This will make the tortillas crispy, like a cracker.  It is also important that you not make them too thick.  This also seems to mess up the texture, although I have no explanation as to why.  You want them to look something like this…

And no, they will not be perfect little circles like the store bought ones.  They will, however taste soo much better.  I will aslo warn against a tortilla press.  I have one, and it does not work on flour tortillas.  They are meant for corn tortillas.  Son uses mine for play dough, now.

After the tortilla is rolled, gently place it onto your hot, dry griddle.

While it cooks, you should have just enough time to roll out another tortilla.  The tortilla on the heat should begin to bubble a bit, and this is when you should flip.  However, if you check, and see the tortilla still hasn’t browned in spots, then don’t flip it yet.  Also, tortillas can be like pancakes and crepes; the first one may need to be tossed.  And if you happen to have your heat too high, take too long rolling out another tortilla, or become engrossed in a cat fight on one of those housewives show, and your tortilla burns in spots on one side, don’t worry.  In most cases, you can simply remove the burn spots, and everything is fine.  Just flip the ugly side down, and no one will know.

And one last tip.  You will need to keep your tortillas warm.  Sure, you can wrap the stack in a couple of towels, but a tortilla box really does work wonders.

They are ugly as sin, but they really do work.  Maybe I should design a line of attractive tortilla boxes.  I bet Target would buy ’em.  Of course, that will have to wait, because now I want tortillas.

Flour Tortillas

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1/2 – 3/4 Cups warm water
Put flour into bowl, and add salt.  Stir to combine.
Add Butter, and mash with fork until it resembles coarse meal.
Add water slowly, mixing with hands to ensure the proper mixture.  Do Not Add Too Much Water.
Divide dough into 8 balls, and flatten with hands.
Cover, and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Heat cast iron skillet or griddle to medium-high heat.
Flour counter and rolling pin liberally.  Roll dough balls into 1/4-1/8 inch flats.
Place one tortilla on griddle.  Cook until browned in spots, and flip over.
Cook until lightly browned.
Repeat for all dough.
To keep warm, place in foil wrapped with towels – or a tortilla box.

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Get Yer Gun…

While I was out in the garage, working on my home made picture frame project, Son decided he had to build something too.  As a parent, and a teacher, I am a huge advocate for teaching your children at home by allowing them to teach themselves.  By this I mean, you give them the tools, and minimal guidance, to figure things out on their own.  This day was no different.

Son came up with all sorts of ideas of what he wanted to build.  Seriously, a house?!  Come on kid, I’m glad you’re thinking big, but we just don’t have that amount of wood in the scrap bin.  I decided to send him for his sketchbook and a pencil, and have him draw up what he wanted to build.  I told him that this was called a Plan, and that everything that gets built starts with a plan.  So off he ran…

When he was through, he had drawn a gun.  He’s a boy, after all, so I just smiled.  And then I helped Son get the wood.

We laid out our pieces much like a puzzle, until we had the rough shape of a riffle.  Hey, I’m Texan, I’m OK with guns, but I’m no gangster, so I try to limit our arsenal to shot guns.  Even though I understand that my logic is flawed, I figure you can hunt with a riffle, not hold up a liquor store.  Yes.  I know it is completely illogical.  You may shake your head at me.  But back to the story.  We made our shape…

Then, I traced the butt of our BB gun to get the right shape.

Since two of the boards needed curved cuts, I did the sawing with our band saw.

But the barrel of the gun was a simple straight cut, and even though I helped, I left most of the work up to Son.

We used simple nails and a hammer to put the pieces together.  I helped Son line the boards up in the vice, and then helped him hammer in the nails.

And yes, he was beyond excited that his ears are finally big enough to hold a pencil.  It’s the little things!

Once the gun was fully assembled, I handed Son a sander, and told him to get busy.  After a few minutes, though, he got bored, and gave up.  Even in it’s rough shape, he still loves it.

Even better, will be the pictures I can get when he wears his coonskin cap.  Son likes Davy Crockett, and I can only imagine how awesome having a riffle to hunt bears, and maybe wabbits, will be… even if it’s not properly sanded….


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Filed under DIY, Fun and Free Ideas, Parenting, Toys