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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sometimes you just have to have a weekend to play....

When life gets busy, sometimes you need to reward yourself with some relaxing and fun. Last weekend we did just that. My family on my dad's side had planned to go on a camping trip to a lake a little over an hour away. It's always fun to spend some time on the boat, camp, with family, and cook over the campfire.

Here is Northwest Indiana, we had gotten several inches of rain close to the camping trip. What better time to go for us, as it was basically treading mud while working in the garden. 10 inches of rain in a few days is a lot. We didn't have tons of produce yet, so we decided to line up the CSA deliveries/pick ups and skip the market for that Saturday. The kids went over with my parents Friday, I set out to head over Saturday morning, and my farmer joined in the afternoon after he got off work.

What a fun weekend we had at Bass Lake. A lot of time in the water and on the boat. They have a shallow beach area that extends well into the lake. They kids loved it!

It stormed Saturday evening, but we still managed to get some s'more making done after the rain was over.

Breakfast is my favorite campfire meal to eat. Everyone pitched in and we had a wide array of choices to eat Sunday morning. Does anyone else make their toast over the fire? What about pudgy pies, what are your favorites?

A great weekend away. Sometimes you have to step away for a little R&R. It is always well received! There are a few state parks and campgrounds somewhat nearby and we will be camping hopefully a lot more this summer.

I thought I would share a few photos from our mini camping trip.

Two of our kids, my dad, and myself swimming in the lake

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Gardening with Kids

For those that have followed my blog, you know that we grow produce, have a small CSA program, and are vendors at our local farmers market.

With this comes many hours in the garden! My farmer also works an outside job, so we gather up any available time during the summer months and spend time working in the garden. We have things growing in three different locations. Pumpkins, sweet corn, squash, are over one place. Most of our vegetables are another place, and a mix of things are grown at our house. The kids and I spend many hours of the day being outside, they play and I weed. The kids will go back and forth from playing to help weed for a while, then go back to play.

When we started growing produce in 2006, we started with just a few acres. We have added more every year to where we are now. We have a small greenhouse where we do our seeding to grow the vegetables plants to transplant. We also have a coldframe. We are not large by any means but manageable for what we can handle right now, just the two of us. We grow roughly 4 acres of pumpkins and 6 of produce with hopes to build that up over time.

The kids come with us everywhere and are very much involved with what we do. They are in the gardens with us and attend the farmers market with us. I love how they are seeing the full rotation of the term "Farm to Fork."

The kids help us plant seeds, and transplants

They help weed and maintain the garden

They help pick the produce, clean and package it for CSA, and get ready for the farmers market

They go with us to the farmers market and visit with the customers

They enjoy eating what we have grown.

I love that we are teaching them to grown their own food. I love that they are seeing the complete turn around from planting a seed or plant, to picking the produce when ready, to possibly helping prepare the meal, and then eating it. Even selling the produce we have grown to others for them to eat.

Gardening with your kids is a wonderful summer project. Something for them to get excited about and look forward to. It is always fun for them to check on the garden and see how the plants are growing and if they are producing yet, how produce is growing, and if it is ready to harvest.

Try growing some of these easy vegetables with your kids
-Green Onions
-Green Beans

Tips for Gardening with Kids

-Let your kids pick out the seeds they want to grow. When you go to the store or garden shop, show your kids the wide variety of seeds they can pick from. Let them help pick some out. Even if it may seem harder to grow, give it a shot. They will be more excited about the plants growing knowing they helped pick them out. Its a great way to get them to try new things as well.

-Let them be a part of the planting and watering process. This is a great time to explain to them how things grow from a tiny seed. Explain to your kids how the seeds need water and sun to grow. They will see how they are helping as the plants grow and start producing. It's always fun to get wet too on those hot days while watering :).

-Let them help harvest the vegetables. This answers that question to "where does our food come from" moment for them. They are able to see that their potatoes come out of the ground and you have to dig to get to them. Or that you wait until the tomato turns red to pick it off the plant. Or that the peppers need to be a little bit bigger. They will feel the sense of accomplishment knowing they helped with the whole process.

-Let them eat the veggies raw and help prepare them for meals. Some kids may not like cooked carrots or cooked peas, but snacking on them from the garden raw they might enjoy them. Let them help you use those fresh veggies they just harvested from the garden and show how you are using them in your meals.

-Let them have fun and enjoy. Let them get dirty :) Get some kid's garden tools and garden gloves. Make DIY garden markers place by the plants in the garden.

Now back out to the garden we go.

This 'Gardening with Kids' series to be continued.......

This post is sponsored by Indiana's Family of Farmers but all opinions, photos, and ideas are mine. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake with Drop Biscuits

Strawberry shortcake is an absolute favorite summertime dessert of mine. Strawberry season is in full bloom, so what better time to enjoy one of the well known desserts of summer. There are so many versions of strawberry shortcake I'm sure, but this is mine and what we enjoy in our home. I always look forward to having a bowl of chilled crushed strawberries served over a warm, fresh out of the oven biscuit and topped with a little dab of cool whip. Doesn't it just sound mouth watering!? Yum!

I make the same biscuits as my mom did growing up, she still makes them, that I look so forward to. I just add a little twist to them. They are so simple.

Here's the recipe.

Drop Biscuits for Strawberry Shortcake
2 1/4 cups Bisquick
2/3 cup milk
4 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Into a large bowl,
Combine all ingredients together and mix well. Place 6-8 large spoonfuls on greased baking pan. Bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Yields 6-8 biscuits depending on the size you make them.

While your biscuits are baking, prepare your strawberries by cutting the caps off, washing, and cutting into 4 pieces or so. Place them all in a bowl and mash. Mix in a little sugar to sweeten for your liking.

When your biscuits are done, let them cool slightly, then enjoy the mashed berries over the biscuit. Be sure to add a dollop of of cool whip on the top. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Easy Homemade Strawberry Freezer Jam

With strawberry season, comes time to make strawberry freezer jam. I fell in love with this jam as a kid and always remember my mom making it. I like to make a batch or two every year when strawberries are in season to stock up my freezer. I have a small strawberry patch that we enjoy fresh strawberries from, so I have a strawberry picking day to pick a good amount to use for my jam. You can find a strawberry farm or purchase some at your local farmers market. Jam can also be made from strawberries from the grocery store as well, although I think the best flavors will come from fully ripened berries that you may not always find at the grocery store.

This is what you will need to make your Sure Jell Strawberry Jam. One quart of strawberries makes roughly 6 - 8 oz. jars of strawberry freezer jam.

-One box of Sure Jell Pectin
-2 cups strawberries, crushed and slightly pureed
-4 cups sugar
-containers (either Rubbermaid plastic containers or Ball Jelly Jars are great - I use both).

I have made strawberry freezer jam for quite a few years and this is the recipe I always use. Inside the box of Sure Jell, there is the recipe to use. There is also a list of several other fruit jellies and jams you can make. It's pretty simple to make your own homemade strawberry freezer jam, so let's get started.

First thing first, you need to wash your jars or plastic containers that you will be putting your jam in. Run them through the dishwasher or hand wash in the sink. You do not need to sterilize your containers/jars as they are not going to be stored at room temperature, like green beans for example.

Once your containers are clean and dry, you'll need to clean your strawberries. I just fill my sink with cold water and pour my strawberries in. Give them a good swoosh around in the water to get any dirt off. Have a colander ready and as you pull each strawberry out of the sink, hull them by cutting the tops off and cut into 4 pieces or so. It's handy to have your colander in the other side of your sink for the berries to drain more.

Once all your strawberries are cleaned, hull and cut up, I simply go off the recipe on the list provided in the Sure Jell pectin box.

Next you will prepare your strawberries. I first use my masher to crush them up. Then I use my hand blender and pulse the berries so they are somewhat pureed but not completely. I like to have a little bit of small chunks in my jam.

Measure out 2 cups of prepared strawberries in your liquid measuring cup. Then measure out 4 cups of sugar and place in a bowl. It is really important that you measure exactly when canning and freezing. Using a measuring cup for solids and level with a knife is helpful. Then mix the strawberries and the sugar together. It will be grainy.

The next step is with the Sure Jell pectin. Place the contents of the package and 3/4 cup of water in to a sauce pan and bring to a boil on the stove. This will happen fast. Let boil for 1 minute and continuously stir. Then remove from heat and pour immediately into strawberry/sugar mixture. Stir until well blended. 

Fill your containers or jars. Be sure to leave 1/2 inch space at the top to allow for expansion during freezing. Then go ahead and cover.

You'll need to leave your containers/jars set at room temperature for 24 hours. You should see that they are setting up right away. After the 24 hours, place them in your freezer and that's it. :) They should last up to a year in your freezer. When you're ready to enjoy them, simply place in your refrigerator, where they can store for 3-4 weeks. If your family is like mine, we go through them pretty fast!


It's as simple as that! Continue through the process until you have all the strawberry freezer jam you want in your fridge. I usually plan to do 15-20 containers a summer. It is so delicious and refreshing on toast in the morning. The kids love it for peanut butter and jelly! It's great on top of ice cream and also in smoothies and milkshakes. Enjoy!!

**You can also prepare your berries all at once and mix with the sugar if you're making a large batch. Simply figure out the measurements needed. 2 cups of prepared berries, per 4 cups of sugar, with 1 package of Sure Jell pectin. **

This post is part of The Backroad Life Freezing & Canning series I will be doing. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Strawberry Picking Tips

Strawberries are in season here in Indiana! We are for sure a strawberry loving family!! There is nothing like fresh strawberries from the field.  We have a small patch that we enjoy fresh strawberries from. I love to mash them, add a teaspoon of sugar and pour a little heavy whipping cream over them.

Each year I make strawberry freezer jam and like a large amount to do the jam all at once. Last week we went to a strawberry farm  about an hour away and picked. My farmer's grandma (she was planning to make jam also),Laner, and myself enjoyed beautiful weather while we picked berries for our freezer jam.

Strawberry picking is a great summer activity to enjoy with your kids, especially when the weather is nice! It's a great way to create fun summer memories!

Strawberry season usually starts mid-June and lasts around 3 weeks depending on the weather and how many people come to pick. U-pick farms around here began their season last week. We had just used the last of our freezer jam I put up last year, so I was anxious to get some more done.

Some tips for your strawberry picking day:

Plan before...
-Call the berry farm before you make your trip to find out hours. Some farms like to cut off entry to the strawberry fields an hour or two before closing and you want to make sure you have enough time.
-Ask their prices. Finding out their prices is nice to know. The patch we went to had a special that if you picked 6 buckets, you only paid for 5.
-Ask if the fields are plentiful. Sometimes with so many pickers, it may take longer for you to pick the quantity you'd like
-Ask if they supply containers. You'd hate to get there and they don't supply containers.

Things to bring...
-Wear sunscreen. Strawberry fields are wide open space, you will be in full sun. You might also wear a hat.
-Don't wear nice clothes and shoes. Usually their is straw between the rows, but depending on how much rain there has been the ground may be moist. If you crawl among the berry plants as your picking, you might get berry juice on your pants. With kids, most likely they will get juice on their clothes, especially if they sample some berries. Your hands will also likely get stained after picking.
-Bring water. In June-July it can get rather hot and with the sun beating down on you, you need to stay hydrated, especially if picking for a while.
-Bring your lunch. You may decide to make a day of it or a fun trip with the kids. Bring a sack lunch and enjoy at the strawberry farm.

While picking...
-Pick red berries. Pick the berries that are completely red. Strawberries ripen on the plant and won't ripen after picked. Leave the berries with some white spots for someone else to pick later.
-Look underneath. Be sure to look underneath the strawberry leaves. This is where you will find most of the strawberries.
-Be a gentle picker. Leaving the caps on helps them last longer. You also don't want to squish or bruise any berries.

When you get home...
-Wait to wash your strawberries. Wash them when you are ready to eat them. This will help them last longer as washing them makes them prone to spoiling.
-Enjoy. Make up your favorite recipes with your strawberries. Strawberry pie, jam, strawberry salads, eat them fresh, the list goes on.
-Best to use strawberries within 3-4 days from picking.
-Freeze them. Wash and hull them (take the green part off). Let them dry and put in plastic bags in the freezer. Strawberries will last for several months in the freezer.
-Freeze for later. For example, I had strawberry puree in my freezer that I was waiting until I had more to do jam all at once. When you're ready to do jam, thaw what you already have prepared and mix with new berries.

To find a local strawberry farm near you check out Local Harvest. You can choose U-pick in the drop down menu and enter strawberries and your location and find a farm close to you. Take your kids and enjoy the time picking strawberries or if time is not available, usually strawberry farms offer them pre-picked as well at a slightly higher cost.

Be sure to enjoy a few while you're there :)

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