Friday, August 26, 2016

Zucchini Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

There are affiliate links in this post.  If you make a purchase through one of these links I will receive a small commission.  Thank you for supporting Townsend House!

The other day when I was shredding up zucchini for the freezer, it was a bit of a chilly day.  And when the air has any chill to it – ever – I think of baking.  With all that freshly shredded zucchini, I thought perhaps I could come up with some sort of cookie to make for us.  And I did.  Zucchini Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies – goodness that is a mouthful!

I really love oatmeal cookies, and honestly I feel pretty good about eating them, I mean all those oats?  Totally makes them healthy.  I thought, if I could also add zucchini to the mix, how could these cookies not be considered a nice healthy treat for my kids (for me...really for me)!

Following a recipe is not my strong suit.  I am definitely someone who likes to wing it in the kitchen, and I tend to look at recipes as a guideline, not to ever be followed exactly.  But, once I took a bite of these cookies, and my kids tried them, I knew that I needed to write down exactly what I did and then share it – they are that good!

These cookies definitely have more of a cake like consistency, but they are light and fluffy, not too sweet, and perfect for that 3pm sweet snack!

Zucchini Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups shredded zucchini
2 cups flour
4 cups oatmeal
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 ¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a mixer.  Add the eggs and vanilla, beat until light and fluffy again, making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl.  Mix in shredded zucchini (I did not drain my zucchini, but it was pretty dry already so you may want to drain it for 20-30 minutes before making this recipe.

In a separate bowl mix together all dry ingredients with a fork.  Then add dry ingredients to mixer.  Mix everything together. 

Once dry ingredients are combined with the wet add the chocolate chips.

Drop cookies on a cookie sheet and bake at 350° for 15-16 minutes.  Delicious warm!  This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.  The mixture is a little bit wetter than typical cookie dough, but as long as the cookies are not runny when you try to drop them on the cookie sheet, they will bake up beautifully!

I ended up throwing these into the freezer, and they make a great snack for the kids – perfect for back to school!  And a great way to use up all that extra zucchini everyone seems to have these days.

What is your favorite cookie recipe?  Leave a link below!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Easy Ways to Preserve the Harvest

This post contains affiliate links which means if you make a purchase through one of these links I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Thank you for supporting Townsend House!

Food preservation – is it something that you ever think about?  Growing up in Maine, and with a mother who had a very large garden, putting up food was something that was always done, jams and jellies were made, vegetables were put in the freezer.  Honestly, I never thought about it much though.  Knowing there was food in the freezer was a given, knowing that those strawberries we picked in June would be available in February was a given.

When Matt and I got married, I didn’t have the same feelings about food as I do now.  I wasn’t really concerned with our food supply, or where I was going to find a good deal on local, in season produce.  I was a normal American and I took the availability of food for granted.

Then, in 2006 I started to learn more about local food, and about how far my food travels to get from the farm to my plate (the average is 1500 miles – the fact that I live in Maine and most of our produce comes from California and beyond, I think that average might be a bit further for us).  It was at this point that my thinking changed, and I realized that I needed to spend more time learning about food preservation.

Since that time, I have spent a lot of time trying to learn as much as I can about putting up food for winter.  Part of it is a cost savings – having food already in my pantry and freezer in the winter helps with meal planning, and I have a lot more options as far as what I can easily make, especially during those very cold months when we are spending a lot on heating oil (a lot on heating oil).

When I saw that Heather from beauty that moves was partnering with Ben Hewitt to put on an e-course called Harvest I knew that I wanted to take it.  For a while now I have been canning tomatoes, jams and jellies, pickles, and dilly beans, and I have frozen some things as well.  But, there is so much to learn, and any time I have the opportunity to learn more about how I can provide for my family, I jump at it.

What I have gathered is that I have a lot of options as far as food preservation.  Just because you don’t have a large garden does not mean that you cannot put food up for the winter.  If you have a local farmers’ market you can visit, or a co-op, or even your regular grocery store, you have the opportunity to put food up for the winter.

I often feel defeated when I don’t grow enough food in my own garden to put up, but then I realize that I am so lucky to have other options.  I have written in the past about how I can tomatoes every year.  It is a big old hot day of canning, and I purchase those tomatoes from a local market.  100 pounds every year in addition to whatever I can grow in my own garden. 

However, I’m not sure if I will be able to get all the tomatoes I want this year, or if I want to spend that hot day canning – as we have added children it has become a little more difficult!  For my own tomatoes, I plan to wash them and throw them into the freezer.  You don’t even need to peel them, but if you prefer to do that, you certainly may, just put in boiling water for 30 seconds, and then in ice water, the skins should peel right off.  I personally do not have a problem with the skins staying on because I end up blending the tomatoes when I use them.  Plus, it saves me time, and time is incredibly precious!

I haven’t been freezing as much produce recently.  Partly because I don’t have a chest freezer, so freezer space is definitely limited, but with all the recalls recently on frozen produce, I have decided to look for some staples for us – peppers and green beans – which are both incredibly easy to freeze. 

For peppers all you need to do is cut them up, put them in a freezer bag, and stick them in the freezer.  I always freeze our jalapeños whole, because it is easiest.  For your green beans, you just need to trim and cut them, and then blanch for 90 seconds in boiling water, then put them in ice water, drain and throw in the freezer.  Super easy!

I am looking forward to working on my preservation schedule for the rest of this year.  I didn’t get to the Pick Your Own strawberry farm a second time, so I was unable to get enough strawberries for jam, but we still have apples in the fall, which I will most likely turn into a lot of jelly.  But, I was able to get about 5 gallons of strawberries into the freezer which will give us strawberries for smoothies for quite a while.

I also plan to talk to my co-op about bulk buying.  I want to purchase 20-30 pounds of sweet bell peppers to chop and put in the freezer.  We use them for almost every meal in the winter, soups, chili, stir-fry; having those peppers ready to go is a huge time saver.

I mentioned in Monday’s Garden Tour that I was also going to shred some zucchini for the freezer – this is another super easy way to put the bounty of summer away for the cold and dormant months.  I ran a bunch of zucchini through the shredding attachment on my kitchen aid mixer, put in sandwich sized plastic bags (which conveniently fit just about 2 cups of shredded zucchini) and then put in a gallon freezer bag and into the freezer they went.

Do you try to put some food up for the winter?  It is something you would consider trying?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

When is your Child Ready for a Cell Phone?

I am a member of the U. S. Cellular Blogger Brigade, and this is a sponsored post.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

Start the conversation on appropriate cell phone usage with this free parent – child agreementUse it to discuss what you deem acceptable while using a cell phone.

A couple months ago I mentioned that Emma came home from Vacation Bible School requesting the Snapchat app – OK it was totally my fault for showing her the different lenses, so when her friends mentioned that they used Snapchat (what, you are 8?!), she immediately thought she should use it as well. 

Luckily that train of thought changed a bit.  However, now she is requesting a cell phone daily.  Not just a cell phone, but an iPhone 6s like what I have.  Did I mention she is 8?

I feel a little better when I see research from a new U.S. Cellular poll that says the average age of children receiving cell phones is 11 – but just five years ago the age was 14.  I’m under the impression that soon all 8 year olds will be walking around with a smart phone!

Although, I know that I will have to make some adjustments to my data plan if that is the case.  I can just picture all the data that my daughter will end up using – especially considering her prime reasons for wanting a cell phone are text messages and FaceTime.  She wants the opportunity to FaceTime with her friends when she can’t get together with them for play dates.  It is kind of ingenious, and something I used to do when I was growing up.  I would go home and immediately get on the phone with my best friend, and we would sit and watch TV together…on the phone.  Weird, I know.  This was pre-internet by the way.

I’m happy that U.S. Cellular has such amazing coverage and awesome data plans, it makes finding the right plan for my family easy.

If your child is getting their first phone for going back to school this year, there are some tips that can help the transition go smoothly.  Making sure your child knows that having a cell phone is not just a fun thing, it is a privilege, and with that privilege come responsibilities. 

72% of parents surveyed say that they have rules about cell phone usage.

Make sure that everyone knows the rules and guidelines.  While it is an amazing tool that can help kids by using educational apps, keeping in touch with parents, as well as talking to their friends, having the rules in place before they start using the cell phone will be a help to everyone involved.  You can use the parent-child agreement I mentioned above to really flesh out what you expect as a parent, and what the child can expect if they want to use the cell phone.

If you have teens that will be driving and using a cell phone (hopefully not at the same time!), U.S. Cellular offers an amazing Vehicle Monitoring System that can be installed in your teen’s car and monitored by an app on your 4G LTE iPhone 6.  You can track the location of the vehicle as well as decipher engine codes and any mechanical issues.

My husband and I are still on the fence about what to do with our old iPhones.  But, I can definitely see that my kids are wearing us down as the months go on.  I am happy to know that I have options as far as the data plans go, and unlimited calling at least makes me feel a little better about allowing my kids to have a cell phone.  Now, if I could guarantee they wouldn’t lose it…

When did you first get a cell phone?  What age do you think is appropriate for your child to first get one?

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Garden Tour - Week Twelve

I think that this may be my last weekly garden tour of the season!  Of course I still plan to share my garden with you all, but we have come to the point when there really is only garden cleanup, tomatoes, and potatoes left.  Not that tomatoes and potatoes aren’t extremely important, they absolutely are, but obviously there are only so many pictures of tomatoes and potatoes that one may want to look at.

Instead, this week I am going to talk a bit about how we are starting to clean up the garden.

Last week I shared with you that I picked all of our pumpkins.  It was early, but this has been an odd hot and dry summer in Maine, and they were ready.  In fact, I used one last week to make pumpkin soup – I know, it is still summer, but I had roasted a chicken earlier in the week so I had a lot of chicken stock, and thought, easy dinner, pumpkin soup (it was delicious by the way – served over brown rice).  But, I needed to pull the actual plant.

radish flowers

This week I also went to check my zucchini and there were a lot of zucchini.  I am happy to say that my experiment with the radishes planted around the squash plants seemed to work.  The zucchini (and pumpkins) had enough time to establish themselves in the ground and grow before the pests started to come, so while the pests were there, they didn’t do the same amount of damage to the plant.  Will this work again next year?  I’m not sure.  I planted cucurbits in three of my nine garden beds, which means that I can’t plant them there next year, and the other beds in the garden are not nearly as sunny, so I don’t exactly know how that will go.  However, I am planning on also trying out row covers next year to help combat the pests.  We shall see!

The tomatoes are still going strong, which is good.  The kale is growing, and I am still planning on leaving that until it is good and dead I believe.  I am still up in the air as to whether I will clean that bed out or not.  I need to pull the green beans out, but I think I might let the kale flower and re-seed itself again.  If there is some way that kale will miraculously show up in this garden bed again next year, I will be extremely pleased!

I have no idea what is going on with the potatoes.  I can’t actually see the plants with all the weeds growing…but I know that they are there under the ground – at least I think they are.  I have been waiting for flowers to appear on the potato plants, to signify they are getting ready to be dug up, but nope, nothing, so I am still waiting to see.  Maybe in another week I will start digging up the potatoes, I really don’t know.  The last time I grew potatoes there were flowers on the plants, and then once the plants fell over, that was how I knew to dig up the potatoes.  This year, none of those things are happening, and my friend Google, as well as my handy dandy Reader’s Digest Gardening book (thanks mom!) doesn’t mention anything about the non-flowering varieties of potatoes!

I need to change that pile of zucchini into something to put away for the winter.  I love to make zucchini bread and zucchini muffins, but to make all of those things I wouldn’t have any room in my freezer for anything else.  Instead, I will be shredding up the zucchini, putting it in 2 cup increments in Ziploc freezer bags, and sticking it in the freezer.  It is super easy to do, and then anytime I want to make zucchini bread, all I need to do is take out a baggie and let it defrost.  This also gives me a few more options as far as using the zucchini.  I can throw it in soup, put it in chili, spaghetti sauce.  The options are really endless, and with it shredded it incorporates really well into most recipes I make in the winter without bothering anyone with a change in texture.

Do you preserve any food in the summer for the winter?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Back to the Books $250 Cash Giveaway!

  Back to Books

Back to school time!  I know that most people are starting their back to school shopping now.  It seems like every year the lists get longer and longer.  Because of that, I have decided to partner with some wonderful authors and bloggers in order to help out one of you with your back to school shopping!

Even though we started school a couple weeks ago, I am still on a mission to find some great deals for clothes, school supplies, and most importantly (in my opinion!), more books.  With the number of items that are always on our "to buy" list, a little extra cash is always helpful.  

We have also decided this year to purchase some extra school supplies to donate to our local elementary school.  I know that so many teachers put so much of their own money into supplies for the children they teach every day.  I think anyway we, as a community, can give a little extra, it is appreciated.

Without further ado, here is the giveaway for this month!  I hope that one of my readers wins!  Please make sure you come back and let me know if you do win.

What would you use the prize for?

Back to the Books $250 Cash Giveaway August 17th to September 7th 

An Awesome Group of Authors & Bloggers have joined with me to bring you 1 fabulous prize!! We’re giving away $250 in Paypal Cash! Or alternately you can choose a $250 Gift Code! 

Sponsor List

Giveaway Details $250 in Paypal Cash (alternately the winner can choose a $250 Gift Code) Ends 9/7/16 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use money sent via Paypal. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the authors, bloggers and publishers on the sponsor list. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Our First Week of Homeschool and a Vlog

We officially have our first week of homeschool down in the books.  It is something I am always anxious about and not quite knowing how it will go, but it always turns out in the end, which is good for me!

The week started off strong, the kids were ready to start school.  Monday morning we started off with circle time – in order to include Lucy in part of our schooling.  It is an easy way to start the day.  We lay out a blanket, I pray over our day, we read a Bible story together (the kids decided we should alternate days), we sing a song or two (think itsy-bitsy spider and row row row your boat), and then check the weather outside.  By the end of the week, Lucy had created a song to alert everyone that it is circle time “circle, circle, circle, circle” while she spreads the blanket out on the floor…all day.  It was very cute though!

After circle time we do our most difficult tasks first.  For Jack it is reading, and for Emma it is math.  Jack can read just fine for his level, but he prefers to read Transformer Rescue Bots books over the readers that I give him. 

We then finish our seatwork which consists of math, reading, writing, and spelling (for Emma).  At this point we need a break, so we turn to my favorite way to break up the day – Cosmic Kids Yoga.  Even Lucy is getting in on it now, very cute.

Next is all the read alouds – history, science, and whichever book we are reading. 

My hope was to be able to complete all of this work before lunch time.  That is how it worked last year.  But, I underestimated how much time I would need to work individually with Emma and Jack.  I am used to mainly working with Emma, and then a little bit of work with Jack.  But, having them both need help every day this week…we were not finishing school until 2! 

Of course, by the end of the week, I knew that I had already planned too much work for us, and I will know better for next week.  And I was pleased to accomplish all that we did.  The kids slept well all week, I think because I was working them to the bone! 

The evenings were spent at the football field running around in the sprinkler, and mainly getting rid of all the extra energy. 

I am definitely going to take some time to consider how much I expect everyone to accomplish throughout the day.  I’m happy I have the opportunity to re-work our schedule and to lighten the load a bit – a huge benefit of homeschooling.

I am actually quite excited about the year.  The kids did “first day of school” interviews, and I expected that I would have to help them, they did them completely on their own, wrote out their own answers and everything.  I was very impressed.  My favorite part was when they read their interviews to me. 

“What is one thing you want to do this year?”

Emma: “I want to read 19 books!”
Jack: “Math.”

Sounds like the start of a very good homeschool year to me!

Are your kids getting ready to go back to school?  Or have they started already?  What are they most excited about in the new school year?

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Garden Tour - Week Eleven

Here we are in week 11 of the garden tours, and I am officially calling the pumpkins done for the year.  I have been looking at my very sorry pie pumpkin plant for about a week and a half, and seeing all the powdery mildew made me realize that it was in a losing battle.  Fortunately, the pumpkins themselves seem to be ripe enough to pick.  So I am going to pick them and then figure out how I am supposed to cure them out of the direct sunlight.  We shall see how it goes!

In fact, I think that I am going to start pulling a lot of the plants now.  The cucumbers are still producing a little, but for the most part haven’t been doing that great.  I am assuming that is because of the squash bugs.  I am also going to pull the green beans, as they are just about finished producing for me as well.

The tomatoes still have a ways to go, and I am holding onto hope that there will be no mishaps with the tomatoes at any point between now and when they are nice and red and ready to pick.

Last week I did find the unmistakable droppings of a tomato hornworm on my cherry tomato plant, but for the life of me I could not find the actual tomato hornworm.  I’m not sure if you have seen these suckers before, but they are disgusting, and big, and very good at hiding.  Often when I have found them in the past, I have been looking and looking, getting closer and closer to the plant, to finally see it right in front of my nose.  Not a pleasant experience.  However, this time, I think that a bird quite possibly got the sucker, because I haven’t seen any actual damage to my tomato plants.  Of course, now that I just wrote that, I fully expect to see some sort of damage when I go out this morning to do my little walk around.

The zucchini plant is still producing.  I am shocked.  Every day I seem to pick a few more, and I am ecstatic about it.  It makes a delicious meal for me, just sauté up with some onion and pepper, garlic and red pepper flakes – delicious!

I have to hand it to Lisa, when she suggested planting radishes around the base of the squash plants, I wasn’t sure how it would work, but I was ready to try anything at this point.  It worked really well!  I don’t have the advantage of being able to use row covers with much success because my garden is so small, meaning that when the pests overwinter (as squash bugs do), I don’t have much chance of missing them when I replant and use a row cover, they just come up from the ground.  I’m not entirely sure how it will go next year.  Probably the fact that I took last year off from planting squash helped as well, but I am going to use the same radish trick next year and cross my fingers it will work again!

I also pulled several of the heads of cabbage that were not heading well.  I’m not sure the ones that I left in the garden bed are going to get big enough for us to actually pick and eat, but I am leaving them a bit longer to see if there is any change.

I’m pretty sure my kale is going to continue growing until the winter.  What a powerhouse of a plant for me.  I don’t really want to pull it at all, since I have had such good luck with it re-seeding itself the past couple of years.  I think that I am going to try and pick some to put in the freezer.  I thought that I would have to blanch it before I put it in the freezer, but based on a recent e-course I took (Harvest) I realized I did not need to blanch it first – that makes it a whole heck of a lot easier if all I need to do is chop and put it in the freezer!

Overall, things are still growing well.  The garden clean-up is starting a little earlier than I expected.  It has been a very hot and dry summer, not the norm for my little garden, but I am still extremely pleased with how well everything has done.  Now I need to start thinking about what I want to make with my first pie pumpkin!

Are you ready for fall and pumpkin flavored everything?  What is your favorite way to eat pumpkin?