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“Sun-Dried” Tomatoes

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Thanks to some accidental overplanting and really good weather, I’m overflowing with tomatoes this year! Since they are trickling into my kitchen in small batches and my paste tomatoes didn’t survive, I don’t always have the right mix to make sauce or go through the trouble of canning them.

Enter the “sun-dried” tomato via the dehydrator. They are delicious, easy, and definitely not as messy as I thought they’d be.

There are more detailed instructions below, but basically it’s slice, season, dehydrate. Easy…very, very easy. The best part is that they taste even better than store-bought sun-dried tomatoes!

Method

Slice your tomatoes evenly. If you have large tomatoes, slices of about 1/4-inch work well. If you have cherry tomatoes, slice in halves or thirds. Any size will work but thicker slices will take longer to dehydrate.

This batch was a mix of cherry and full-size tomatoes.

This batch was a mix of cherry and full-size tomatoes.

Season the tomatoes with any dry herb you like. I prefer basil, but oregano, garlic, or parsley might also be yummy. Stir the tomatoes to ensure relatively even distribution of the seasoning.

Spread the tomatoes onto your dehydrator’s trays in a single layer. If foods have a habit of sticking to your trays, you can lightly spray the trays with oil before laying the tomatoes down.

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Dry at 145-155 until they are still flexible but leathery and no longer seem juicy. The length of time depends on the thickness of your slices. My large tomatoes typically dry in 6-8 hours, but my cherry tomatoes tend to take 10-14.

When they are dry, remove from the trays, let cool, and store in airtight bags or containers. I store them in the fridge or freezer because I don’t like to chance a batch going bad from some excess moisture.

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Use them in salads, sauces, pasta salads, on sandwiches…wherever you like a bit of extra punch. Or, throw a baggie in your lunchbox for a yummy snack.

A taste of the Sunflower State at the Kansas Sampler Festival

Ever wanted to know a little more about all the places there are to visit in Kansas and all the Kansas-made products available? No?! Well, even if it doesn’t sound that exciting to you, check out the Kansas Sampler Festival! It really is a blast! This year, it was held at Wamego’s The park, which features an adorable kid’s train. And a railroad historical society brought a pump car to try out! The festival is a full day (or maybe two!) of fun. There are tents featuring every region of Kansas as well as tents featuring Kansas made products.

Add in some historical reenactment, musical performers, kids activities and even a few critters, and you have a sample of all the spiffy stuff Kansas has to offer. The festival is held annually, so if you can’t make it this year try it again next year in Winfield.

Frugal, Fun Play Table–No construction skills needed!

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Eli prefers playing with toys when they are at waist level. (I guess most adults prefer doing their tasks at waist level, too.) Trains and cars are much more fun for him when they are on a waist-high table such as a table designed for child’s play.

But those tables are pricey! No way am I going to spend $100 or more on a table he will either destroy or outgrow–or both. Fortunately, IKEA offers a great alternative, although I’m not sure they know about it.

If you’re looking for a way to make a table for your kiddo’s play without construction skills or much expense, here it is: buy four end tables from IKEA, attach the legs, and set the tables together in a square. That’s it!

The entire table cost about $20, plus the $5 I spent on the train track rug at a garage sale. And it took less than 15 minutes to put together.

And he loves it! He plays on it constantly. Trains, trucks, planes…everything is more fun on this table!

By the way, you can skip the expensive under-table storage devices, too. IKEA also sells square, clear plastic tubs with wheels on them and optional lids. They are the perfect size to fit under each end table that makes up the train table.

We did not attach the end tables to each other, which does make the table a bit likely to separate when a certain little boy plows into it. But it also means that it is easy to separate and stack for storage.

Baking Pumpkins

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Wanna know what happens around here when you wait until the day before Halloween to buy your carving pumpkin? You don’t get one!

This year we waited too long (oops) and didn’t grow our own, so we ended up with this pumpkin as our Halloween display:

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Yep, that’s a pie pumpkin that the kiddo painted since we didn’t have a good carving pumpkin.

Well, what should I do with a pie pumpkin when it’s time to decorate for Christmas and the jack-o-lantern is getting a little bit soft? Make pumpkin puree!

I’ve always avoided making homemade pumpkin puree because it seems so messy and time-consuming. I really didn’t want to spend all day peeling and scooping for a few dollars worth of pumpkin puree…sorry, I’m just that kind of lazy, I suppose!

So, when I saw a post on one of my favorite blogs, Heavenly Homemaker, that said pumpkins can be roasted whole, I wanted to try.

Start by placing the pumpkin in a baking dish, no oiling or water required. Bake at 350 degrees for about 75 minutes. (It might not be a good idea to bake paint, I suppose, but it’s the pumpkin I had so…whatever.)

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Our pumpkin looked a little darker and crusty when he was done baking. The skin was easily pierced with a fork or fingernail.

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Our pumpkin flesh cooked down inside the skin formed by the shell. The skin separated easily from the flesh. After it cooled, it was time to peel and mash!

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The skin was so soft and broken down that the skin and seeds separated easily from the flesh. The flesh was also so soft that it easily mashed into a puree-like texture with just a fork.

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I probably could have put the mash into a blender at this point to make a very smooth puree, much like homemade baby food. But, it was smooth enough for my purposes, which will probably include pumpkin scones and other baked goods.

Bagged and tagged and in the freezer… in about 15 minutes total work time!

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(Yes, that is Anna, Elsa and Olaf on our plastic bags…don’t judge 🙂

Easy Homemade Sauerkraut

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Sauerkraut is amazingly easy to make at home. No canning, crocks or maintenance required!

Ingredients
Cabbage (one head makes about three quart jars of kraut)
Pickling salt (sometimes called canning salt)

Method

Chop the cabbage very thinly. If you have a mandolin, you may find it useful for this step.

Pack the kraut tightly into clean quart-sized canning jars. Wide-mouth jars make this easier but are not essential. As you can see from the picture above, I ran out of cabbage as I was finishing the jar on the right and, thus, it did not get packed tightly enough.

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Pour 1 tsp. pickling salt into each jar. Fill each jar with enough water to cover the cabbage.

Screw the two-piece lids onto each jar and tighten. Place the jars on a pie plate or pan with a bit of a lip in case they ooze as they ferment. Cover the jars with a dishtowel to let them ferment in the dark.

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Let the jars sit for three weeks and enjoy! We like ours cooked down on the stovetop with a bit of Bavarian seasoning added.

Once the kraut is ready at the three-week point, unused jars can be stored in the fridge for a few months.

Going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…

A life-sized and realistic elephant statue is a great way for kids to get an up-close look at the big animals.

A life-sized and realistic elephant statue is a great way for kids to get an up-close look at the big animals.

…How about you, you, you?

Anyone else remember that old song? There was quite a chorus of it in our car this morning as we made our way to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs.

I have to be honest up front: this is not a frugal activity! Adult ticket prices are about $17 each and some of the zoo activities cost extra, such as a few dollars for food to feed the giraffes. But, it’s really not a bad price for a full day of family fun.

If you go, here are a few tips:

  • Check into the membership prices if you have a large family or you think you’ll visit more than a few times in a year. They can save you money, especially if you have several kiddos.
  • Bring your own lunch, drinks and snacks. There are plenty of picnic tables and benches that make it easy to munch on your own goodies, avoiding the more expensive restaurant options.
  • Plan a full day or at least a full afternoon. After all, you’re paying the same admission price no matter how much time you spend there. There are certainly enough activities going on to fill a whole day! And, if the kids get bored, there’s always another critter to see…or see again. I recommend starting early in the day since the chance for rain increases significantly in the afternoons.
  • Wear good walking shoes, comfy clothes, hats and sunscreen. This outdoor zoo is literally perched on the side of Cheyenne Mountain. It’s hilly and surprisingly warm on many days. Be prepared to walk a lot (up and down the hillside) and protect yourself from the sun.

And definitely don’t miss the giraffe feeding!

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Spring is coming!

We’ve had a few warm days here and, even with some snow in between, signs of spring are starting to show!

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This rhubarb is powering through last year’s remnants, already showing promise. (Anyone know if you’re supposed to cut rhubarb back in the fall?)

I have my garden mostly composted and a load of seeds ready for planting. Bring on the warm weather!