Thursday, July 30, 2020

Potsy Garden 7-30-2020 & an Update

Potsy Garden Update 7-30-2020
Keeping Busy 

During the last few weeks of this crazy summer, I've been trying to stay busy.  For inspiration, I've been reading lots of blog posts and PINNING LOL.  Usually they inspire me with menu ideas, recipes, gardening knowledge.  I may or may not have also pinned about 10,000 ideas for rebuilding our house.  But... Doug isn't pinning and seems to be not very inspired about even making a plan for the new house.  Ah well.  What can ya say?  We are comfortable and there is no rush.  Plus, building supplies seem to be at a premium right now - so for now we will wait a little longer on that house rebuild thing.

One of the blogs I have recently been enjoying is Hickery Holler Farm Blog.  The Canned Quilter puts us all to shame as she works hard staying busy with lots of cooking, canning, baking, sewing, and gardening.  Her family is surely blessed!  I love to just scroll through the many glimpses of her life that she has shared.  I never fail to take away some knowledge or inspiration.  Please check out her blog!  It will be your new favorite, I'm sure!

My potsy garden is doing great!  Its growing like gangbusters and I'm getting a few things out of it.  

  • Early Girl tomatoes - I'm not a huge fan of these tomatoes but I'm getting several each day.  They just don't have a lot of taste.  Probably won't plant this kind next year.  Tomatoes should be juicy, red, and flavorful.  Ah well.  You learn something every time you do it.
  • Grape yellow tomatoes - These are doing great!  Slow to mature but I'm seeing more every day.
  • Beets - I planted a baby tomato plant in with  my beets and it seems to have stunted the beets.  Next year, they get their very own pot all summer!  I wanted to pickle beets and make Rasberry Beet Jelly.  Planting more for fall so I may be in the business yet this year!
  • Cucumbers - Not sure what kind I planted. They are good but are small and only have been getting a few a week.  Need more for Sweet Pickle Relish or dills.  We love pickles and I love the relish.  Sooo good on a BBQ hotdog!  
  • Yellow Squash - My squash plants are doing great!  I planted two in a small raised flower bed that I filled with homemade compost.  The squash are coming in fast now and I'm loving them!  I grew up eating so much yellow squash. See this mammoth? 

  • Watermelon - I have three babies!  I've never grown them before and planted them in the small, raised flower bed.  Vines are crawling everywhere!  Bring it on!  I'm ready for sweet watermelon any day now!
  • Cantaloupe - I have one nice big baby cantaloupe.  Awaiting it to ripen so I can try it out.  First time for me for growing this.
  • Pole Beans (greenbeans) - Lots of vines growing like crazy but blooms or beans yet.  
  • Carrots - I planted flowers in the pot with the carrots.  Oops.  They need their own pot.  I tore out the leggy flowers and planted more carrots.  We shall see about them later on this summer.
  • Zinnas - These do great in pots and make such nice cut flowers.  The more you cut them, the more they grow.  Who needs expensive garden center flowers when you can save your own seeds and plant more zinnias.  (The chamomile in this picture came from the overgrown field behind our yard.)

  • Dill - Did great in pots.  Will plant more next year.  I love the smell!  Nothing like it and I can use it for dips and pickles.

Fall Planting

I've got to get more things coming in and think I still have some time.  Since I have room after pulling some leggy flowers and some space in my tilled garden area, I planted more:
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow Squash
  • Pumpkins (for pie)
  • Cabbage (I have dreams of making sauerkraut... fingers crossed!)

Hickery Holler has also inspired me to get my freezers loaded for the winter.  Who knows what will happen with this virus.  I'm getting ready in case stuff gets serious around here.

  • Banana Bread - I used my Crockpot Tin Can Banana Bread recipe but baked in the oven in loaf pans until a knife came out clean when inserted into the middles.  I doubled my recipe and used six overripe bananas I had in the freezer.  I am eating one loaf for breakfasts and froze the other loaf.

Notice I discovered a muffin tin makes a 
great place to cool bread loaves.  :)

  • Zucchini Bread - No picture but I used Hickery Holler's recipe.  It made a large loaf and some muffins.  Good stuff!
  • Croutons - On grocery pickup day, I snipped all the stale bread and buns into croutons and baked until dry in the oven.  Doug will throw everything out if I don't get it done first.  I don't even use any oil or seasonings.  They are excellent plain and I can store it in the freezer and eat with soup or on salads.  Homemade Tomato Soup and Homemade Alphabet Soup are both great to store in the freezer. I can also use them for Homemade Stovetop Stuffing.  

For suppers, we are still eating "in".  I've not cooked so much since my girls were little and we were counting every penny.  LOL.  Some of our favorite meals lately were:

  • Quick Pizza Crust - I made a double batch of dough and made one pizza with mozzarella and pepperoni; the other with pepper jack / sharp cheddar cheese and triangles of lunchmeat ham.  Very good.  Caseys and Pizza Hut having got nothing on my homemade pizza!  If you can run a sink of hot dishwater, you can make this crust.

  • BBQ Burger Patties - We get pre-patted beef burgers from the local meat/butcher shop.  We love them leftover for lunches as well as for supper.
  • Italian Marinated Chicken w/ mashed potatoes, corn, and hoecake biscuit.  (Recipe coming soon for the chicken because we love it!)
  • Southern Stewed Squash & Onions - This is a huge family favorite!  Of course, Doug wouldn't eat it if his life depended on it.  I'll post the recipe soon.  Yes, mine has seeds.  I don't mind the seeds and even somewhat overgrown squash turned out fine in this dish.  I make a huge batch once a week and eat on it all week w/ different main dish items.  Squash is the one thing my family ate in Florida all.the.time.  We rarely had canned vegetables.  Mostly it was stewed squash, fried squash, fried okra, stewed tomatoes, sliced tomatoes, rice, big limas.  Stuff like that. 

  • Tacos w/ Spanish Rice - I just add 1/2 cup of salsa to my long grain rice (parboiled  cooking instructions on the bag.  It makes perfect Spanish Rice.  I'll eat it leftover until it's completely gone.

  • Spaghetti Sundays! One Sunday, both of my girls and I were all three making Spaghetti Sunday.  We each make homemade sauce, tweaked our own way using ground beef usually.  Sometimes meatballs, sometimes not, but always yummy and after a day of swimming makes the whole house smell good!

For snacks and desserts, I've made lots of cookies and a few other things like:

  • Super Simple Vanilla Ice Cream - I made for Doug's birthday.  good stuff and I used my little Cuisinart tabletop ice cream maker.  Rachel gave us hers and it's such a treat.

  • Frozen Bananas - Great for cold treats that prolong your snacking enjoyment.  I use overripe bananas, freeze on a plate, and store in a large baggy.

  • Homemade Chocolate Pudding - I had mine ladled over a hoecake biscuit.  Cause, who has hot, chocolate pudding without serving it as "Puddin' & Biscuits"?

I am extremely blessed during this crazy time to be enjoying warm summer days filled with time on the patio sharing talks, laughs, and a few tears with my sweetie, time in the garden babying my plants, caring for a wild kitty who is letting us win him over, and preparing delicious food from my stocked pantry.

Take care y'all!


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Canning Strawberry Jam: Step-by-Step Instructions

RECIPES AT THE TOP:  CHIT-CHAT AT THE BOTTOM. (But read the step-by-step instructions completely if you are a canning beginner. Surejell requires a certain order to things for it to work.)


  • 5 cups mashed (stems removed) fresh strawberries (approximately 3 pounds whole strawberries made 5 cups for me; measure them mashed)
  • 7 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon butter/margarine (optional) (helps a little with foaming)
  • 1 box powdered original Surejell pectin 
  • 10 (8 oz) canning jars w/ lids & rings (new lids/rings)

*Step-by-Step instructions listed in the chit-chat below - WITH LOTS OF PICTURES!

Place mashed strawberries in a large pot (like for cooking chili).  Sprinkle w/ powdered pectin (only Surejell works for me.)  Stir to blend.  

Measure 7 cups granulated sugar into a separate container (bowl) and have ready to go.  Don't add it yet to the strawberries in the pot!

Heat strawberry/pectin mixture to boiling, stirring super often.  Once boiling at a "full rolling boil" that doesn't stop, time 1 minute.  

Dump all sugar in at once.  Stir well.  Heat to boiling stirring nearly continuously.  Watch for a hard boil.  Time 1 minute after "full rolling boil" is in action.

After this 1 minute is up, remove the pot from the burner to stop the cooking process.

Ladle into sterilized jars.  Clean jar rims with a clean, wet cloth & add lids/rings - hand tightened.  Not super duper tight.

Hot water bath in a canner (water over the upright jars by 1-2 inches) 10 minutes.


Back in the DAY, my girls used to help me do canning projects all the time. Well, now they are grown.  One of my girls recently wanted to try canning jam on her own.  She lives a few hours away and with this dang virus raging, I can't be there with her to boss her through this process.  Blogging to the rescue!

Disclaimer:  I am not a pro at home canning.  You should always consult your local extension or USDA sites for official canning safety guidelines.  I try to practice all official safety measures, but wanted to link here for any beginners.  Please read about canning fruit jam to get the basics before trying any recipes.  Here is the link to making jam using pectin found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  

Timing is everything with cooking in general so I wanted to document my process here in case there are any other beginners who, after reading the above link, want to see how I can jam AT HOME MY WAY.

First thing out of the gate is that I ONLY use Surejell powdered canning pectin.  I am not being paid to say that.  I have used other pectin products and had bad results.  Canning jam is too much work to have it not set up.  I have used the low sugar Surejell and while it did use less sugar, it wasn't the taste I was after.  It is more like dense fruit and just didn't taste like jam to me.

Strawberries have been a great price for me right now (July).  I've seen strawberries at around $1.00 per pound.  I decided to splurge and bought organic strawberries at $2.00 per pound (at my local Walmart).

My below post will include a ka-zillion pics -but when newbies want to do canning without their mentors, they will want to have something to see.  No one wants all of that work and then to end up with strawberry juice. 

Here we go!

Canning:  Strawberry Jam

What you need:

Three packages of 1-lb strawberries = 3 lbs fresh (not frozen) strawberries

One box SureJell Original Fruit Pectin (powder)

You need lots of sugar (7 cups) to make jam - 
so get a new bag.

Equipment needed:

You need at least 10 jars w/ lids & rings to be safe.  
(Don't want to run out of jars and have jam left so make sure you have 10 jars ready to go.)

Canning Pot (21.5 Quart) w/ rack

Canning Tongs (absolute - must have item)

Canning Funnel (absolute - must have item)

Things you need but probably have at home:

  • Cooking Pot (like you might make  pot of chili in)
  • Potato Masher (for mashing the berries or a blender)
  • Long spoon for stirring (I use a wooden one.)
  • Ladle - for dipping jam into jars.
  • Large Towel, dishcloths, potholders
  • Dishwasher for sterilizing jars - or can boil them w/ lids in the canner


  • OPEN the Surejell box and READ the instructions.    Surejell requires you follow the instructions to a T or it will not work.  If you add sugar in the wrong order, it will not work.  READ THE INSTRUCTIONS AGAIN.  (I know this BECAUSE?  :) yea.... )

  • Sterilize jars, lids, and rings in the dishwasher.
    • I place a colander on my dishwasher's top rack to hold the lids and rings to run in the dishwasher.  Looks like this:

  • WHILE the dishwasher is running, I wash my berries, and remove the stems/slice.  If they have been refrigerated, let them come to room temp.  They will mash easier at room temp.

  • AFTER the dishwasher is done. Keep the door shut to keep the jars hot.  Don't start the jam until the dishwasher cycle is complete and the jars are ready.

  • MASH the berries some more.  Try to mash the heck out of them.

  • MEASURE the berries into the cooking pot.  
  • You need 5 cups of MASHED berries.  Don't measure until they are mashed well.  (Burner is off at this point.)

  • SPRINKLE the mashed/measured berries in the pot with the Surejell powder.  Add 1/2 teaspoon butter/margarine.  This helps with foaming.  Not a biggy if you don't have any butter/margarine.  POT IS OFF STILL AT THIS POINT.

  • MEASURE the sugar in a SEPARATE BOWL.  (NOT in the pot with the berries.)  Carefully count the cups.  You need exactly 7 cups of granulated sugar IN A SEPARATE BOWL.

  • Turn your burner on.  Stir OFTEN.  You want the pot to heat to a full rolling boil.  That means when you stir the berries at boiling, the boiling continues and doesn't stop.  You should see lots of bubbles from the boiling.  Stir often because these precious berries will stick.

  • START timing:  Time 1 minute exactly at boiling.

  • AFTER 1 MINUTE:  DUMP in the sugar all at once.  STIR right away because sticking is a possibility.

  • KEEP COOKING and BRING TO FULL ROLLING BOIL again.  You want the sugar, fruit & pectin to resume to boiling.  STIR OFTEN.  

  • START TIMING 1 MINUTE AT A FULL ROLLING BOIL that doesn't stop when stirred.  

  • The jam should start to look shiny and start to get a little foam on it after this 1 minute cooking time.  

  • SHUT HER DOWN and REMOVE THE POT from the hot burner to a surface safe for a hot pot.  I use my off back burner.  Stir some more to make sure nothing is sticking.  This stuff is hot so be careful!

  • REMOVE hot jars, lids and rings carefully from the dishwasher onto some newspaper or a towel.  Dry the lids and rings with a clean towel.

  • Get your canning funnel out and move closer to your pot.  Right now I'm living in a tiny house and don't have a canning funnel.  It was tough canning without my normal equipment.  Using a canning funnel helps you get the jam ladled into the jars without making a huge mess.  

  • LADLE hot jam into hot jars just up to the bottom threads on jar.  Wipe the tops of the jars with a wet cloth and add lids and rings.  Not super tight.  Just hand tighten.

  • Place rack in canner and place the sealed jars of jam in the pot/rack.  The jars should be almost touching - not falling over. Must be upright.  (In this tiny house, I do not have a canner so used a tall pot with a thick towel in the bottom of my pot. Jars that sit right on the bottom touching a hot burner are likely to burst.  ASK me how I know this?  I really recommend using official canning equipment, however, especially for newbies.

  • WATER BATH:  Add some tap hot water to the canning pot of jars and place the pot on a burner.  About half full.

  • ADD remaining water needed to cover the jars by at least an inch or two.  I use a pitcher to do this.

  • Cover the canning pot with the lid and heat the water to boiling.TIME the FULL BOIL 10 minutes.  (Don't start timing at the first bubble.  Let it come to a good boil first.  Water may splash out on your stove.  It's ok. This helps clean off the sticky jam mess and I know you made one!)

  • TURN OFF the pot after 10 minutes of boiling.  

  • AFTER boiling stops, using the canning tongs, REMOVE the jars to a thick towel to cool, sitting upright.  Let them sit a few hours.  You should hear some pings as the jars seal over the next few hours.  
Note in this picture, the jar with plastic lid is not water bath canned. I always fill my last jar for my own refrigerator.  I put as much jam as I have left after filling my jars (which might not fill another jar completely or if I have run out of sterilized jars) into this jar for my own use.  I don't water bath this jar of jam.  I literally let it cool and keep it in the fridge.  

YOU DID IT!  You canned strawberry jam!  Write what they are and the date w/ a permanent marker on the lids. Now take some pics and start sharing these jewels on Facebook.  No - don't because you might have to share.  DO at least text some pics to your mom.


Gina/ Mom 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Start Where you Are! Saving Money on Meals - BREAKFAST

Recently I saw a post on Facebook where a young mom asked for tips on saving money on meals.  At first, I resisted to comment, knowing that some posts are intended for an inner circle of friends and not from old moms of childhood friends LOL.

Later, I changed my mind.  I am passionate about saving money on meals.  I have walked this path myself when my own children were young and I am a blogger - so have lots of resources all in one place.

I asked this young mom to let me know if she was interested in some frugal blog links. I told her that for me, the places to start were cooking once to eat twice and cooking from scratch.  Those two things make a huge difference rather than buying prepackaged/shortcut meals which really drain the bank account fast.  My young friend told me she works on trying to cook more scratch meals.  It occurred to me that she may think I mean she should make "from scratch" things like baking bread, rolling noodles, or canning garden produce.  But that is NOT AT ALL what I meant.  We all need more time at home with our families and when I had young kids at home, I did not spend time baking bread and canning unless it was something I could do with my kids once they were older and if it was something they wanted to try.  I have posts about things like that but let's save those for another day.  I worked away from home and was gone from home to work 55 hours each week so I know all about being busy.  I had little time but the things I made took little time and worked well for my family.

Today, we are going to focus on GETTING STARTED and HOMEMADE BREAKFAST OPTIONS.


#1 - You are not alone is this game.

When I first started this journey, times were tough.  I needed more money AND more time.  I sought out frugal, homemaking blogs using key words like "frugal food", "cheapskate meals", etc.  I didn't even have Pinterest back then and using Pinterest will be a great platform to use in your search.

Some of my favorite resources are still these blogs:
  • Hillbilly Housewife - specifically this post w/ a bunch of frugal recipes.  If I need a basic recipe like making homemade chocolate syrup (easy and saves $$$ and tastes exactly the same as Hershey's), chocolate pudding, basic muffins - this is where I start.
  • Lynn's Kitchen Adventures - Lynn got me started with making Baked Oatmeal and Homemade Granola - two meal options that I use weekly to this day.  Lynn also posts weekly menu plans, has recipe links for the meals, and even gluten free meal plans and recipes.  She is a complete wealth of information.
  • The Prudent Homemaker - Brandy has nine kids.  She homeschools and her husband is a real estate broker.  She relies on stocking up her pantry when times are good and then eating from that pantry when real estate sales are down.  Brandy has beautiful pics, stages meals very elegantly and eats every single meal at home.  In addition to her weekly posts, the comments below each post provide lots of inspiration for ways to squeeze out an extra penny.  To Brandy, every penny adds up!  If I get discouraged, I can get lots of inspiration w/ The Prudent Homemaker.
  • - I used this website to get me organized.  It helped so much!  Even if you only use a few of these tips, just go there and take a look.  It's free and I still use many of them today to keep me organized. Love the launch pad, and small cleaning goals!

#2 - Write down things your family currently likes for BREAKFAST, for LUNCH, SUPPER, and SNACKS/DESSERTS and then try to find some simple, recipes that could replace those things, if they are processed/prepackaged.  Make them while you are making supper or on weekends, and fill that freezer or breakfast table with some easy homemade options.  Sometimes, I just got dry ingredients together for muffins in a mixing bowl and the pan for baking, plus the cooking spray- the night before so that I only had to add liquids, and mix together before my shower. 


For my family, the girls ate breakfasts most often of cold cereal w/ milk; poptarts; or granola bars. Basically, they ate sugar covered carbs.  Let's be real here!  LOL.

I replaced cold cereal with homemade granola (as cold cereal with both Perfect Granola and Chocolate Granola), simple muffins for poptarts, homemade biscuits, or just cinnamon toast, peanut butter toast, or cheese toast.  Good stuff, I promise!

#3 - Start small!  Find a few things you will no longer buy but make from scratch.  Like start with those poptarts. Those things are so loaded in sugar and I'm hungry the minute I throw my wrapper away.  You can bake muffins and keep in the freezer for thawing in the micro almost as easy as toasting poptarts.  Muffins make great poptart replacements.

Let's get started with links to what worked for me.  Below are some options that my family loves for breakfast rather than processed sugar loaded carbs.  Here we go!  Ditch the Box!  


  • Simple/basic muffins - I add-in chocolate chips, blueberries, a grated apple and some cinnamon to a simple plain muffin recipe.  These muffins are also good plain w/ butter or jam.  You can also substitute one cup of flour with oats.  I make these so often I no longer need the recipe.
  • Other muffin recipes found HERE on my blog, like pumpkin chocolate chip, chocolate zucchini muffins, banana oatmeal muffins (no eggs), cornbread muffins (like jiffy)  Sometimes, I add hot dog slices for "corndog muffins" and store them baked in the freezer for lunch), and I also make two recipes for surprise muffins (jelly inside).
  • Bake any pancake mix or homemade (Perfect Pancakes) in sprayed or lined muffin tins.  I prefer sprayed with no liners so they can be easily popped out and dipped in syrup or eaten on the run.  You could add some slices of sausage link to put these over the top.  For a shortcut, use "Self Rising Flour" and add 1.5 cups of self rising flour to 1.25 cups milk + 1 Tablespoon oil + 1 egg.  Tada!  Pancake batter!
*Remember, all muffins are great baked and stored in a big ziploc bag in your freezer for lots of options for everyone.  They reheat in about 10-20 seconds in the microwave or in lunchboxes by noon.  Muffins also make great snacks!

 Baked Oatmeal
  • I learned about Baked Oatmeal from Lynn @ Lynn's Kitchen Adventures.  Baked Oatmeal is not your mom's gray, runny bowl of oats.  It's baked and oats replace the flour so has the consistence of muffins or coffee cake.  Even my non oatmeal eaters love baked oatmeal.  This was a huge hit at my house and saves los of $$$.
  • Our favorites are:
  • There are lots of recipes at Lynn's site for Peanut Butter Baked Oatmeal, Strawberries and Cream Baked Oatmeal.  You name it - its there!  
Freezer French Toast - I take the bread about to get moldy in my pantry and make it all up in french toast.  I place the french toast on a cookie sheet and freeze, then bag it up for reheating in the toaster.  Yummy stuff.  I love that it is crisp and not soggy like normal french toast.

Freezer Breakfast Burritos - Make a big batch for breakfast on the weekend and freeze the leftovers for later.  Let the kids help like an assembly line. Good stuff and you can tailor them to your family's favorite way to eat them.

Homemade Yogurt Parfaits - I love these!  I use my own homemade yogurt and homemade granola, but feel free to buy a quart of vanilla yogurt and some granola and put them together.  Great on the go and so good for you!  They will always be cheaper and better for you than fast food yogurt parfaits.

Bacon - I could not be married to a midwest man without knowing how to be makin' bacon! - Bacon keeps great after cooking in the fridge! Bacon sandwich anyone?

There are literally tons of ideas out there.  

Hope this has made the first step just a wee bit easier.