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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.

Showing 11 posts from July 2010 for this blog.
Grind Your Own Fresh Spices
Saturday, July 31, 2010

I read it somewhere . . . that you could use a coffee grinder to grind spices. When I started  running across coffee grinders for 25 and 50 cents at garage sales, I bought an extra one for my “Spare Shelf” (See my July 17, 2010 blog). One day I ran out of cinnamon at a critical point in preparing dessert.  There was no time to run to the grocery store.  A coffee grinder from the spare shelf and some stick cinnamon from the back of the spice cabinet saved the day.

I now keep a coffee grinder dedicated to the grinding of spices.

General wisdom (or the herb and spice producers wanting to turn a bigger profit) is that all spices are stale after six months and should be thrown out! (I never do this, so don’t take it as sage—cringe!—advice.) It is true that freshly ground spices are more pungent and taste better. Freshly ground coriander and pepper are good examples.

I use my coffee/spice grinder for grinding the spices for my dry chai mix, black pepper for recipes that call for large amounts of that spice, and whenever I run short of the common baking spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Grinding is simple. Just drop the spices in and pulse until they are as finely chopped as you wish. Be sure to unplug and wipe out your grinder after each use so you don’t get any interesting combinations!

Happy grinding. Begonia


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Garage Saling: Stocking Stuffers
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I hit some great sales this past weekend. Once again, it was quality not quantity. I shop for Christmas gifts year ‘round. This week I found a bonanza of stocking stuffers. If you wait until the Christmas season and buy at retail prices—even with the great sales during the holidays—you can still end up spending a king’s ransom for the contents of the Christmas stockings!

 My husband brought the tradition of Christmas stockings to the marriage. When the kids were small, it was easy: cheap toys and Christmas candy! When they were teenagers, it changed to mostly BAGS of Christmas candy! Now they are adults, health conscious, and much more discerning in their tastes.

It’s a lot more fun shopping for them!

I still put some candy in the stockings, but I also add things like soap, stationary, books, pens, Christmas mugs, vintage bottle openers, themed tree ornaments, mittens, candles, toiletries, perfume, soap, movies, small kitchen items, craft supplies, jewelry, and other odds and ends. Unless they are vintage or books, they have to be “new.” I find them all at garage sales within 12 miles of home.

Here’s a list of what I found just this week:

  • Amy Butler (Whoever she is!) desk set—50 cents
  • Large bar of rose soap—50 cents
  • Two lilac Colonial Candles votives—25 cents for two
  • Two sage green tapers—25 cents for the pair
  • Lavender Hand Cream—50 cents
  • Set of four shower gels–$1.50 
  • Peach glycerin soap—50 cents
  • Stationary set–$1.00
  • Mandarin bath gel and lotion—50 cents for both
  • Yankee Candle Christmas Wreath Tart—25 cents


I think the reason I find these luxury items regularly at sales is because the personal tastes of the giver and receiver clashed. They didn’t like the color or the scent, or the husband can’t stand scented candles (Good, more for me!).  All this ends up in the garage or driveway at insanely low prices as a result, and they are all new, unopened, and ready for gift giving.

The next time you are passing a garage sale on fine summer morning, stop and shop with Christmas stockings in mind. Begonia


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Super Simple Yogurt Cheese
Monday, July 26, 2010

This is my favorite versatile, low-calorie spread.  I use it on baked potatoes; as a dip served with pretzels, rice crackers, or vegetables; for breakfast on bagels; and for lunch spread on Wasa crisps and topped with tomato or sprouts. I like its tangy taste and its consistency—like whipped cream cheese. I especially enjoy making it in the summer when milk prices are low and I have plenty of fresh herbs in the garden to choose from

One of the best things about this cheese is that it is very easy to make! It takes no special equipment or procedures, so you probably have the necessary items to make it in your kitchen already. All you need is a colander, a large bowl, a basket-style coffee filter, plain yogurt, and salt and herbs to taste.

  1. Put the colander in the bowl and the coffee filter in the colander.
  2. Fill the filter with plain yogurt. You can make your own yogurt (See my blog, “Slow Cooker Yogurt” 7-24-2010, or you can buy it from a store. A quart of yogurt makes about 2 cups of the finished product.)
  3. Leave the bowl with the colander and yogurt on the counter or put it into the refrigerator to drain.
  4. Pour off the whey that collects in the bottom of the bowl periodically for about 8 to 12 hours or until it stops dripping.
  5. Turn finished cheese into a smaller bowl and blend in herbs and salt with a fork.  (My favorite combination is garlic, chives, and salt!)
  6. Cover and refrigerate.


Try making this simple cheese today! Begonia


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Slow Cooker Yogurt
Saturday, July 24, 2010

I love slow cookers. I own six of them in various sizes. All were purchased at less than bargain basement prices at various garage sales, with one exception. The slow cooker pictured was given to me as a college graduation present by my Mom and Dad—let us just say, “Long Ago.” I’m never happier than when I find a new (to me at least) use for a slow cooker!

I’ve been using a slow cooker to make yogurt lately. In the summer, we use quite a bit of yogurt in smoothies when fruit is cheap and plentiful. Those little containers of yogurt are pricey, but for the price of one single-serving container of plain yogurt, two quarts of milk (I use 1% milk), and the small amount of electricity a slow cooker uses, you can make 2 quarts of plain yogurt. Here’s how you do it!

First, pick out a two-quart or slightly larger slow cooker because that is how much milk you will be using (less milk smaller size cooker, more milk larger size cooker).

Second, pour two quarts of milk into it and put the lid on.  Cook on low for the next three hours.

Third, when the three hours have passed, unplug or turn off the crock pot (leave the lid on) allow the milk to cool for two to two and a half hours or until the milk reaches 90-113°F. (I use a yogurt thermometer from one of my electric yogurt makers.) Then whisk a single-serving container of plain yogurt (about 6-8 ounces) into the warm milk.

There are live cultures in all yogurt, but plain is best because there are no coloring or flavorings that make it harder for these cultures to grow.  If you use a soft yogurt like Yoplait, you will have a soft end-product; if you use a firm yogurt like Dannon, you will get a firmer end-product.

Fourth, put the lid back on the slow cooker and wrap it in a couple of big towels. Let stand at least 8 hours or overnight.

I’ve been pretty pleased with the results. I use one quart to make a very simple yogurt cheese and most of the other for smoothies, with the last 6-8 ounces reserved to start the next batch. Try this method out for yourself—I’d love to hear how it works for you! Begonia


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Chives by the Kitchen Door
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My grandmother always had chives growing outside her kitchen door. She would often step outside while preparing a meal, cut some chives, and step back into the kitchen. When I was a small child, my grandmother was already a widow living alone with a temperamental old cat named Deedeepuss (You had to be careful to pet only her head or she would nip you!) By this time, she had downsized her garden to one bed by her back stoop under the windows of her screened porch. There was an old water pump that gave rusty tasting water in it as well. (All us kids must have stood on the back step and pumped that screechy stiff handle until the water dribbled out.) The chives were located at the base of this pump, so she never had to even leave the steps and could be back in the house before anything could burn.

I think that everyone’s life would be richer if they had some chives growing within easy reach. I grow most of my herbs and vegetables in my front yard because that is where the sun shines the most. I guess lots of people are doing this sort of thing now—it’s hip. I’ve done it for years out of necessity.  I just have to have fresh tomatoes and herbs in the summer.

I started with a semicircle of whiskey half barrels and then expanded into a wider arc of zinc tubs. A flower and herb buffer with a 12-inch wire fence next to the sidewalk followed after I noticed dog walkers allowing their beasts to come 4 or 5 feet into my yard to “water” my kale! The rest of the lawn was gradually converted into beds via sheet composting. (They call it lasagna gardening now!)

 I have parsley, basil, chives, oregano, sage, dill, rosemary, bay, borage, and thyme growing in pots and beds in the “front 40” (feet). When I cook, it is all there for picking as needed. Since the vegetable gardens have started to produce, I find myself in the front yard a lot!

As you can see, it doesn’t take much space to grow as many herbs as you or your family needs. One or two sage plants can supply enough for Thanksgiving and the rest of the year. I grow my bay and rosemary in pots and bring them in every autumn. We have free fresh herbs all winter.  Herbs are some of the hardiest plants you can grow—they’re basically weeds! (Ask anyone who has had chives seed into their rose bushes!)

If you have a small sunny spot on your balcony, patio, or front yard, try growing some herbs. Begonia


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Garage Sailing: My "Spare" Shelf
Saturday, July 17, 2010

I’ve been to five garage sales this week. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it is quality rather than quantity that counts, although I’ll take both when I can!

The first of my two favorite buys was a trendy top for my daughter. (The tags were still on it—$25. I paid $1! Pam in California if you are reading this, I hope you’re impressed.) My other favorite find was a Belgium waffle iron in mint condition that I picked up for $1.

I have to confess that I already own two waffle irons: one Belgium and one regular. I prefer Belgium-style waffles, but the family doesn’t like to warm them in the toaster because they have to be turned as they toast or they burn. They prefer the regular square waffle iron for waffles that can be taken from the freezer and reheated in the toaster without needing a chaperone.  

What does a person do with waffle iron No. 3? Stash it on your Spares Shelf! My spare shelf holds only things that are hard to find in the model I prefer or that I would buy immediately if they lost the victory in the “off season. “ (That would be roughly mid-November through Late April here in Wisconsin.)  I could go to a thrift store during that period and buy, say a coffee maker—but I am just too cheap. Plus I find nicer ones at garage sales.

My Spare shelf began with a $70 toaster that grandma never used because it had just too darn many buttons!  I found it at a church rummage sale for a couple dollars. (I love church sales—the prices are great and the stuff is sanctified!) We use a particular type of toaster because of my husband’s love of bagels, which are too fat for your run-of-the-mill  two-slot unit. I also favor a particular two-beater bread machine that is no longer made (but I can still get parts). To replace it with a new machine by the only remaining maker of two-paddle models, would cost over $200. When I ran across one of the discontinued models for $10, I snapped it up.  After a short tour of duty with one of my children, it now resides on the Spare Shelf.

If you have some room in an out-of-the- way closet or storage area, you should consider setting up your own Spare Shelf—it could save you a bundle. Begonia


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Seating Areas in the Garden
Thursday, July 15, 2010

I have six areas to sit in on My Little Farm in Town. When my daughter was too young to play outside alone, I spent a lot of time standing around (when I wasn’t gardening on my hands and knees). I soon became tired of standing or sitting in damp or prickly grass. Gradually, I began to add benches and chairs to the various parts of the yard in which we spent most of our time.

As the years and garage sale seasons passed, I added small tables to these areas and then wood chips and patio brick (with the help of my husband). As my daughter got older, I added outdoor fireplaces (chimineas) to at least half of these areas.  A couple seating areas have lovely views of farmland (we live near the edge of town), others face flower borders or my rocky shade garden, and I have potted flower gardens that border others.

Almost all of the chairs and tables came from the curbside or garage sales. I found enough patio bricks for two areas for 15 cents a block. It took me two or three trips to get them all home in the back of my trusty old Toyota Tercel (I loved that car), and about 10 years before we figured out what we were going to do with them! (I always know what things will come in handy—I just don’t always know when! It drives my poor husband insane.) The wood chips mostly came free from the town composting site or a passing tree service truck! I put cardboard that I collected from the local appliance dealer or scavenged from other sources right down on the sod and covered it with four to six inches of wood chips—instant seating area!

It doesn’t take much time or money to create a seating area for relaxing and enjoying Your Little Farm in Town! Begonia


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My "New to Me" Arbor
Monday, July 12, 2010

A friend of mine called a few weeks back and offered me a wooden arbor that she needed to get rid of because her husband didn’t like it. (She will be replacing it with a new metal one.) The arch of the arbor needed to be re-glued and a few spots needed some reinforcement;  otherwise,  it was in good condition.  I’d been thinking about getting an arbor for the south side entrance to the back 40. It was definitely on the “Some Day and We Will Probably Have to Cobble It “ list.

Since bare wood doesn’t last long outside, I painted the arbor with some mistint ($5 from Home Depot) deck finish I’ve used on several other outdoor projects. It is probably going to take another five or ten years to use up this gallon. At least everything in the yard will be a consistent color! This type of a painting project is pretty picky because the lattice has so many nooks and crannies, but eventually I finished. It was a perfect day to paint. I had to two painting projects going at once. I also painted the doors and pulls of the bathroom cabinets of our ongoing bathroom remodel.

A tip for any painting project: Don’t throw away that disposable brush until the project is “finished”. You usually find that you have missed a few spots. In my case, I missed an entire side! I was glad I had that brush in a zip top plastic bag.

My husband installed the arbor and we think it looks pretty nice. The planting boxes really aren’t designed to have dirt put directly into them (they would rot quickly even though I painted them inside and out) so I set pots of impatiens in them. I’m glad my friend thought of me rather than throwing it away. Begonia


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Book Report: Instant Bargains
Friday, July 09, 2010

I don’t remember what string of research led me to this book and the website. I read a lot of self-sufficiency magazines, books, and blogs. One thing leads to another. . . .

 The full title is Instant Bargains: 600+ Ways to Shrink Your Grocery Bills and Eat Well for Less (got to love those subtitles) by Kimberly Danger. This little book is crammed with tips on shopping strategies; stocking your kitchen and pantry; storing, cooking, and using food efficiently; and even feeding babies affordably and economical cooking for people who “don’t cook.”

I especially enjoyed the section on making your own mixes and other products like yogurt. I tried the instructions for making yogurt in a slow cooker. (We use a lot of yogurt making smoothies in the summer when fruit is cheap and abundant.) It turned out pretty well. Good enough for smoothies and making yogurt cheese.

The “Eat Healthy for Less” chapter was also very good. This can be a real challenge when you are watching your pennies. The section on stocking your pantry was also excellent.

Even if you have been in the frugal business for years, you will learn something from this book. If you don’t get any new ideas from reading it, you should be blogging and sharing with the rest of us mere mortals!  ;-) Begonia


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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

One of the luxuries of living the way we do on our Little Farm in Town are raspberries. Most summer mornings find my husband in the berry patch picking a bowlful berries for our morning cereal. He can’t explain to me why it makes him so happy. He just says it feels luxurious.

When we bought our little Ponderosa on a lot and a half, it came with a neglected raspberry patch in the northeast corner of the backyard. I created some mighty brush piles trimming the trees in that corner of the yard and cleaning up the berry patch. I don’t know what varieties they are, only that the canes are thornless and bear fruit in the summer and again in the autumn until frost.

Each winter I throw chicken house hay bedding and the spent straw from the yard onto the berry patch. Each spring I remove dead canes and cut the tips back to new buds. Every summer and fall we pick gallons of berries.

The retired farmer and his wife who built the house and landscaped the yard are gone from this earth. They left behind a nicely established berry patch. Not a bad legacy. Begonia



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Upside-down Tomatoes on the Cheap
Friday, July 02, 2010

My parents and many of my friends are trying those upside-down tomato thingys made of Mylar and wire.  There is hole in the bottom that you stick the tomato through so its top hangs downward and then you fill it with a soil-less mix and water it. The top has an opening so that you can water it without removing the cap. You hang it from something sturdy and watch it grow.

I wanted to try my hand at growing tomatoes upside down but didn’t like the price tag. I knew that some people have been using this method since the 1970s with five-gallon buckets, so I thought I’d try making my own out of what I had around the place.

No shortage of five-gallon pails around here. (I got my last stack from a local microbrewery for free.) I drew a three-inch circle in the center of the bottom of each container (Next time, I would make the opening a little smaller.) My husband cut the holes with a jigsaw.  I cut a slit in a section of newspaper and laid it in the bottom of each pail. I nipped off the side branches of my tomato leaving only a few branches around the growing tip and slid the tomato’s root ball and bare stem through the hole (from the outside of the pail) and up through the slit in the newspaper in the bottom of the pail. (Once surrounded by soil inside the bucket, this bare stem will produce lots of roots!) The paper formed a collar around the stem to prevent muddy dirt from falling out when I water. 

Next, I added potting soil that I had made: one part top soil, one part peat moss, one-half part perlite, and two parts rough compost (about the texture of peat moss). It is a good idea to get another person to help you when you fill the container. It is a bit awkward to hold the root ball while balancing the container on the edge of something and filling in around the plant with potting mixture.

I put lids on my containers and hung them up before watering.  You could do without lids, but I didn’t want birds building nests in the top of the pails! I also wired the bales of the buckets to the supports we hung them from so they wouldn’t swing off during a thunderstorm or high wind.

The tomatoes I chose to grow upside-down are indeterminate (not patio or husky container-type hybrids) end-of-the-season bargains. One is a cherry and the other is a mystery plant that had lost its tag. (At 64 cents, I was willing to be surprised.)

I’m watching them grow now. We’ve been having perfect tomato growing weather. Hot and humid 80°F plus days and nights in the 60°F range. I’ll keep you updated. Begonia


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