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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.


Showing 8 posts from February 2011 for this blog.
Death by Chocolate Again: The Countless Lives of Chocoholics
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I participated in the 6th Annual Death by Chocolate event at my local public library this past weekend. (See my Feb. 21, 2010 blog, “Death by Chocolate.") Again guests were met at the door by a tuxedo clad volunteer. Live music played in the background as tasters sampled chocolate in all its forms—cakes, tortes, cheese cakes, brownies, cookies, candy, and even trifle. All this was made sweeter because this is a FREE event for the tasters!  A generous supply of bottled water (stacked on a book cart!) was available to cleanse palates.

Each guest was asked to pick a category and taste the entire selection of that table before casting a vote. There were nine other entries in my category which included anything chocolate that wasn’t cake, cookies, cheese cake, or brownies.

I had tried a new combination of truffle flavors (my usuals are almond, pecan, lemon, orange, rum, and peppermint) at Christmas time because I ran out of chocolate chips the day I was making candy to donate to the Friends of the Library Cookie Walk. I had picked up a number of packages of Nestles peanut butter and milk chocolate chips at my favorite surplus grocery store (at under a dollar per package), and  I had some honey roasted peanuts in the house as well. So I used what I had on hand to create this new (to me) truffle flavor combo and called them Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Cup Truffles!

These truffles have the winning combination of salty and sweet PLUS chocolate and peanut butter! People seemed to like them, which resulted in my winning the People’s Choice Award in my category. Here is the recipe if you would like to make them at home. These truffles are easy to make and only require a few ingredients and a microwave.

Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Cup Truffles

8 ounces Nestles peanut butter and milk chocolate morsels (use a small food scale to weigh your chocolate)

¼ cup butter (I used unsalted butter.)

¼ cup heavy whipping cream

¼ teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup chopped honey roasted peanuts

Whole peanuts for garnish

1.       Place 24 candy cups in minimuffin tins

2.       Spoon ½ teaspoon chopped peanuts into the bottom of each candy cup.

3.       In a 2-quart microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate and butter. Microwave at 50% power for 1 ½ to 2 minutes or until melted.

4.       Add cream and vanilla extract and beat with an electric handmixer until glossy and slightly thickened. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally.

5.       Immediately ladle into paper candy cups.

6.       Garnish with whole honey roasted peanuts and refrigerate until set up.

 

I like this recipe because I don’t have the mess of forming and dipping the truffles.  I made (and washed dishes after)  5 or 6 batches of candy in the time it took for my VHS copies of Monolith Monsters and When Worlds Collide to play through from trailers to catastrophic conclusions. I broke even on materials because I won $15, which covered the $5 entry fee and the minimal expense of a few extra bags of chips and peanuts. My husband and I had a nice evening tasting great chocolate desserts and catching up with neighbors we hadn’t seen since the snow fell—and then we went out for a romantic dinner of salad! Begonia

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Free Books and Sheet Music Online
Monday, February 21, 2011

I moderate a teen book discussion group for our local homeschool group once a month. This month we are discussing G.K. Chesterton and mysteries as a genre. We have an excellent public library system with over 30 linked libraries, but it is surprisingly thin on G. K. Chesterton!

We are reading the Best of Father Brown, a series of short mysteries starring the unassuming man of the cloth sleuth. (Don’t you love that word “sleuth”?) When one of the families that are participating let me know that they weren’t able to get the book from the library, I started poking around online looking for sites that might have a readable or downloadable version of the stories. I found a “fan” site that specialized in all of G. K. Chesterton’s works and e-mailed the URL to that family so they could have their reading and research done by the group would meet (http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/index.html ).

In the process of searching for this information, I found some sites that I thought might be of interest to anyone who has web access by doesn’t have to a big library system or who might live in a state that requires fees for library use. If you are a homeschooler, you have probably sacrificed an income to be at home with your children and these sites could enrich your homeschool hugely.

If you are a homesteader or have embraced “voluntary” or “involuntary” simplicity, a lot of these older, public domain books (published before 1923 with unrenewed copyrights) may help you to learn basic living skills affordably. Here is a short list:

·         http://librivox.org/  Librivox: Acoustical Liberation of Books in the Public Domain

·         http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/find-public-domain-books.html  List of public domain sites with nice descriptions of how the materials can be used.

·         http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/free-sheet-music.html  Public domain sheet music!

(Public Domain Sherpa also gives important information on copyright and how the materials can be used.)

The sun goes down early at this time of year. Settle down somewhere comfortable with a hot drink and enjoy a good FREE read! Begonia

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Pictures: A Winter Walk in Wisconsin
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We are having our annual February thaw here on My Little Farm in Town! That is just southern Wisconsin in the winter—a little false spring and then back to winter again for a couple of months!

We took the opportunity last weekend to do some snowshoeing in Donald County Park before the snow melted too much.  (We will probably have some more snow, but it won’t be of the same quality as the early winter snow cover.) I remembered to bring my camera with this time and thought I would share some of the pictures I took of the landscape, including Donald Rock and Big Springs with you today. (See my Jan. 9 blog, Snowshoeing in Donald Park.) Begonia

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Frugal Family Fun: Volunteering at the Wisconsin Garden Expo
Monday, February 14, 2011

We volunteered as a family at the Wisconsin Garden Expo (http://www.wigardenexpo.com/) yesterday. It was a nice change. There were crowds of people, plants, fountains, seeds, and all manner of garden ornaments! We served with another couple in the Donald Park information booth, answering questions about the park and what it has to offer. Many people had never heard of the park and wanted directions and information about what they could do when they got there.  

Together we shared information and met a lot of people. My daughter invited people in answered questions, and talked about things you could do in the park—so much for homeschoolers being socially backward!  My husband gave a lot of directions as to how to get to the park. 

We’ve been volunteering at Donald County Park individually and as a family for the past 8 years in various capacities as trail stewards, blue bird house trail recorders, poetry trail maintenance people, prairie seed collectors, Tuesday work crew workers, and helpers on various archaeology projects.

We’ve had some very good times and stored up some very pleasant collective memories as a family over the years. One of the wonderful parts of volunteering for events is that you get a free pass and usually free parking. When you are not volunteering, you get to explore the whole event.

My daughter used the volunteer opportunity to earn another point toward her 4-H Silver achievement award. My husband got ideas for outdoor projects.  The high point for me was finding open-pollinated peony seeds (for only $2 per packet) and instructions for how to propagate them from seed. I also found enough free information to plan new Frugal Family activities for the rest of the year! Begonia

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Chicken Treats: Suet Cage O' Greens
Thursday, February 10, 2011

Feeling “all cooped up” is literally true for many chickens at this time of year. With all these snow storms and cold snaps, my girls have been confined to their coop more this year than any other in their short chicken lives. It has got to be pretty boring.

I like to give my hens greens from time to time throughout the winter. Whenever I make a salad, I save the outer leaves and core for my little girls. That is where the suet cage comes in.

I bought a large NEW square suet cage from my local wild bird seed supplier. (It is important that the cage be new and not used because wild birds carry all kinds of bird diseases.) I suspend the cage on a chain that I hang from a nail in a rafter of the coop. I use chain to make it easier to change the height of the hanging cage. As the amount of bedding in the coop rises and falls over the course of the winter, I can easily adjust the length of the chain to suit.

 I hang the cage of treats just high enough that the hens have to stretch a little to reach it. I use a double-ended snap to attach the cage to the chain. It also makes detaching and attaching the cage to the chain easy. When not in use, I hang the cage itself on the same nail in the rafter that supports the chain.

As the birds peck at the greens in the cage, it swings around wildly, requiring the hens to judge the swing of the cage to get their next bite. It keeps their pea brains stimulated and their naughty beaks busy. It’s the chicken equivalent of tether ball! Begonia

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Frugal Family Fun: Snowshoeing
Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Snowshoeing is an activity that even the youngest member of the family can do well from the minute they strap the snowshoes on their feet. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. There is almost no learning curve.  You can start enjoying yourselves and the great outdoors immediately!

Snowshoes have metal crampons in their bottoms so you can climb icy and snow covered slopes. Steep declines are like skiing on pillows. If you fall down, it isn’t hard to get up.

We have been snowshoeing county parks (free!) as a family now that we all have snowshoes again. This Sunday we chose to explore Stewart County Park in Dane County, Wisconsin for our weekly family outing. This is the oldest park in Dane County and is in the process of being rejuvenated. We chose a new trial in the lower part of the park that crossed and recrossed a stream filled with watercress that eventually rejoined an older trail that took us up into one of the parks' prairie areas.

I just bought my daughter a new pair of snowshoes after Christmas for under $100 on clearance from Sierrtradingpost.com. You can spend a lot of money or very little, but generally, the cash outlay to get started snowshoeing is small compared to other winter sports like skiing or hockey. Many manufacturers sell starter kits that include snowshoes, poles, gaiters, and a carrying bag for a reasonable price.

There used to be two basic types of snowshoes: Bear Paws (round snowshoes) and Alaskans (long ovals with tails). Both were made of wood and leather, and the bindings were sold separately. Now there are many types for a variety of forms of snowshoeing from mountaineering to trail running and day hiking http://www.sierratradingpost.com/lp2/snowshoes.html . The bindings are now part of the snowshoe, and the snowshoes are made of light, strong, space age materials. You can learn enough to make an educated buying decision by visiting just a few manufacturers’ sites (Tubbs, Atlas, Redfeather to name a few).

Snowshoeing is quiet and allows you to get into areas of parks that you might never see in the summer, AND THERE ARE NO BUGS! You don’t even need a trail to snowshoe. (If you are sharing a trail with cross country skiers, however, be considerate and stay out of their tracks.) Snowshoeing is also great exercise.

No special clothing is necessary. (People who enjoy off-trail snowshoeing sometimes wear gaiters to keep snow from falling in the top of their boots.) In most cases, getting chilled is not a problem unless it is an extremely cold day. Layer your clothing so that you can shed garments as you warm up. If you are snowshoeing with young children:

  • Pick shorter routes and stick to trails until you know your children’s limits.
  • Warm boots that keep snow out are important.
  • Snow pants and a winter coat keep little ones dry.
  • Pack an extra pair of dry mittens and socks to replace wet ones.
  • Check small hands and feet periodically to be sure they are warm enough.
  • Bring a snack and some water if you are going to be hiking far.

All that is required is a snow cover of 6 or 8 inches. You do sink into drifts, but the snowshoes spread your weight enough that you can climb out of them. I like to use poles when I break a trail or tackle really deep snow. I use cross country ski poles, although they do make special snowshoeing poles.

There is nothing like winter in the woods. One of the best ways to enjoy it and your family is by snowshoeing together. Begonia

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Digging Out
Sunday, February 06, 2011

We are all pretty much dug out of our snowdrifts now! The city crews are still moving snow in other parts of town, but they cleared most of the snow from our street and curb last Friday. Homeowners are responsible for digging out their driveways, walks, and the sidewalk and any fire hydrants in front of their houses.

It was pretty amazing to watch them haul away dump truck after dump truck of snow. They use one of the biggest snow blowers I’ve ever seen. For those of you who live in sunnier climes, I thought a few pictures of the cleanup might be interesting.

By the way, this snow blower can fill a dump truck in about 45 seconds! Begonia

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Blizzard!
Wednesday, February 02, 2011

We’ve gotten over 16-20 inches of snow since Monday. It really blew last night with winds gusting up to 45 and 50 miles per hour. I found little snow drifts in the corners of the chicken coop this morning. My husband had to shovel through a waist-deep drift to free the furnace exhaust and intake pipes on the south side of the house, while being careful not to fall into window wells.

Road crews were working all night. We heard them working on the streets at 2:00 a.m., and the streets were plowed when we woke at 6:30--which is really quite amazing considering. Of course, there are still the 3 to 4-foot piles of snow between the sidewalk and plowed street to contend with. Good thing we don’t have anywhere to go today!

We put on our snowshoes this morning to check on elderly neighbors. I was concerned that their furnace pipes might be covered with snow drifts like ours were. They were fine. They had other worries. One had a dog that needed to go out, but her side door was drifted shut. Another just wanted to be able to open her front door. Even though she had nowhere to go, I think it made her feel less trapped. When these things happen, it is good to remember that you have neighbors, and they are all still there. It is easy to feel isolated otherwise. Count your blessings! Begonia

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begonia (Contact)
Wisconsin USA
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