And I’m back in the game

Thank you thank you thank you Beth! Beth gave me her old sewing machine and I got it up and running this weekend. I went to JoAnn Fabrics on Friday morning to get my startup tools; I got everything I needed plus 7 patterns for only $30! Thank goodness for sales (50% off everything, 99 cent patterns) and a 20% off coupon. My first project - napkins! I've been wanting cloth napkins for a while; who wants to keep buying napkins every month? I found a nice tan fabric (Mom, what kind was it again?) that doesn't wrinkle, doesn't have a front or back side, and is great for everyday napkins. I ended up getting 6 napkins out of a yard (three 18" and three 15"). The first few lines ended up a little wiggly (haha) but sewing definitely came back to me quickly. Guess it's like riding a bike. I'm really excited about all the different projects I can do now.

One of the first will be more napkins, and hopefully a table runner. I found this deep red/maroon fabric on clearance at JoAnn fabrics for $2/yard, and it also doesn't wrinkle or have a front/back. This will be our first holiday table linens, and Brian even likes the colors and fabrics!
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Fresh Lettuce!

For our salad for Thanksgiving dinner, I cut some lettuce from the garden. I even found some caterpillars on it (yes, I washed them off)! Now I know what was eating holes in it. Guess I need to find an organic bug killer, unless someone knows how to get rid of caterpillars.
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Onions and Garlic

Yesterday I decided to pull out an onion and a garlic bulb to see how they were doing. They aren't ready yet! The garlic has formed a bulb but it is tiny, and the onions haven't even started to swell yet. Looks like I won't have any before it gets cold. We are going to eat some lettuce from the garden today, though! And the rosemary in the water glass died. I will just have to buy a plant in the spring and get a big pot to put it in so that it doesn't take over the garden. HEB has rosemary shaped like a Christmas tree; I might get that one. It's so cute!
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Creamy Chicken Skillet with Stuffing

Five times a year I get a free magazine from Kraft that has simple recipes and fun cooking ideas. They tend to be super easy and inexpensive, both of which are very important for us right now. We made Creamy Chicken Skillet with Stuffing a few days ago, and overall it was good, but the chicken still seemed plain. I was wondering if anyone has easy ideas on how to jazz it up a bit (spices maybe?). We used peas and green beans for the vegetables (which were free after coupons), and Brian wants to switch the cream of broccoli soup for cream of mushroom soup (I didn't realize the extent of his dislike of broccoli!), but other than that, I'm not sure what to do. And on a side note, I found an archive of all of the magazines for the last 6 years (Spring '08 has the cupcakes I made for book club a while back). I'm sure somewhere on the page is a way to sign up to get them in the mail if you are interested.

I have tomatoes!!!

The flowers on the tomato plants have fallen off and left little tomatoes! Yay! I wonder how long until they grow and are ripe....

The onions and garlic look great! I think I planted the onions too close to each other, but they seem to be doing alright anyway. The garlic looks like it will be ready in a few weeks.

Although the lettuce I planted indoors died, some that I planted into the garden is growing. It looks like I have 4 plants, and one of those just popped up this week, so maybe I'll have even more. Looks like we might be able to have our own lettuce for a salad on Thanksgiving after all!

The bell pepper plants are getting close to having peppers too! This one had the first flower, and now the flower has fallen off and has left a tiny pepper (I guess, it's really small!). The stalks of the plants are getting much thicker and stronger. I'm not sure if they will grow fast enough before it gets too cold, though.

Hearty Beef and Potato Stew

I got a day off from tutoring today, so I decided to work from home so that I could make some yummy beef stew that I made last winter and Brian has been asking for for a while now. It takes over three hours, but it is definitely worth it! I use our cast iron dutch oven that my Aunt Emily and Uncle Rodney got us for our wedding. (Thanks, Rachel, for writing down who got me what!) Anyway, here's the recipe.

Hearty Beef and Potato Stew (Cooking Light, month/year unknown)

Cooking spray
16 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups chopped onion
3 pounds boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes, divided
1 cup dry red wine
1.5 cups chopped carrot
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1.75 teaspoons salt
.5 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
1.25 cups water, divided
1 cup less-sodium beef broth
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2.5 pounds peeled baking potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon flour
Chopped parsley (optional)
2 (8-ounce) baguettes, each cut into 6 equal portions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add garlic; saute 1 minute or until garlic just begins to brown. Remove garlic from pan with a slotted spoon; place in a large bowl. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion; saute 3 minutes or until tender. Add onion to garlic. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add half of beef to pan; saute 5 minutes or until browned on all sides. Add beef and any accumulated juices to onion mixture. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add remaining beef to pan; saute 5 minutes or until browned on all sides. Add beef and any accumulated juices to onion mixture.
Add wine to pan; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add beef mixture. Stir in carrot, rosemary, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Add 1 cup water, broth, and tomatoes; stir to combine. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; cover and bake at 300 degrees for 1.5 hours. Remove from oven; uncover and stir in potatoes. Combine remaining .25 cup water and flour; stir with a whisk until smooth. Stir flour mixture into stew. Cover and bake an additional 1.5 hours or until beef is tender. Discard bay leaves. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired. Serve with bread. Yield: 12 servings (about 1 cup stew and 1 portion bread).

Rose Bushes

I've been wondering for a while what is going on with my rose bushes out front. The last owner of the house planted them just before putting the house on the market, so they are only about 4 months old. The one on right right side of the garage is nice and full, and the flowers are beautiful!

The one on the left side, however, not so much. Some of the leaves are turning brown near the bottom of the plant, and it just hasn't had much growth at all. I noticed when it poured a week or so ago that it bloomed again, so I have been watering it every day to see if that helps, and it has a bit of new growth but it is still slow. I wondered if being inbetween sidewalk, a driveway, and the house meant that it wasn't getting enough water. I have also fertilized with some Miracle-Gro pellets that time-release fertlizer for up to three months, and some of the pellets are still there. But then, when it bloomed again, I noticed something - it's a different variety of rose all together!

These are the blooms on the right side - round and different colors of pink.

On the left, the petals are much more pointed. I haven't done my research yet, but maybe this variety doesn't do as well in Texas weather and/or soil. If so, maybe I should swap it out with one of the other kind so that it can catch up in size. Anyone have any ideas?
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So that’s why the lettuce died!

I read some in a book that Brian got for me from the Round Rock Library, "Rodale's Vegetable Garden Problem Solver" (which by the way, is an awesome book), about planting seeds. It warned against planting seeds in potting soil, which has a lot of nutrients. Since the seed itself contains all of the nutrients it needs, the extra nutrients from the soil may overwhelm it, cause the inital sprout to shoot up high, and then it may fall over. Sounds like my lettuce! It recommends using a "sterile germination mix especially designed for seed-starting." Guess I'll have to do that for the spring!

Weeds and Bugs!

With all of the rain this week, a million weeds have sprung up in the garden. There were more than enough before the rain, but now its pretty unbelievable. Does anyone know of a good way to get rid of them? Is my only option to hand-pick every single one? I've already been pulling the weeds, but every time the dirt gets wet, they spring up all over again. I found out that there is something called pre-emergence weed killer that I didn't use in the garden, and will definitely do for the spring. Unless there is a better way, it looks like I'm going to start pulling weeds tomorrow.

Some of the bell pepper plants have holes in the leaves! This one looks like it is being eaten by a bug. Looks like I need to spray it with an organic bug killer.

These two look less like a bug and more like a disease. I need to do some research to see what is going on here.

But there is some good news - both of the tomato plants have flowers that have started to open! Woohoo! If anyone has suggestions on the weeds and bugs, please let me know!

Seed Packets

I want to be able to keep seeds from vegetables from the grocery store, but I have just been keeping them in bowls in the kitchen, which takes up a lot of room after a while. I decided to copy the the seed packet from the lettuce that I bought from Walmart and make my own. I made a Word document that has the outline of where to fold, so now I just have to change the picture and label, print, throw on a little glue, and I have my own seed packet! I plan on saving seeds for what I want to grow in the spring so that I don't have to buy any. I know that I run the risk of buying a vegetable that has seed that won't produce fruit, but I'm going to try anyway and see how many end up like that. If anyone wants a copy of the pattern, just let me know it's here!.
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