Final Days of Summer

This weekend marking the final day of summer and the first official day of fall.  While I’m excited to decorate with pumpkins and bust out all of my delicious fall candles, I have one final summer throwback blog to write.

We went late season camping in Nebraska and it was great!!

The Engineer and I drove down to meet his Sister and Bro in Law for a long camping weekend at Calamus State Park.  It’s about an even drive for all of us so it seemed like a good spot to try.  They spent the weekend telling me they needed good blog nicknames….but didn’t suggest any, so I’ll leave it as The Camping Pros for now!  Trying to get The Engineer to prep and pack for camping is almost useless….”If we forget it The Pros will have it so it’s not important.”

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Remember to pack enough food and supplies to provide adequate puppy lounging opportunity.

I think I’ve officially waited long enough to ensure that none of the camping participants….furry or otherwise…..caught West Nile.  The bugs down there were big and apparently impervious to any type of bug spray!  Coming home covered in bug bites was really the only downside of the weekend.  I had 18 on just my right ankle……JUST THE RIGHT ANKLE!  The Engineer and I spent days itching and scratching while trying to ignore the constant full body itching.

Besides the unrelenting mosquito blitz we picked a slightly questionable weekend to camp.  As The Engineer and I drove we watched a fairly severe thunderstorm brew up over the top of the park.  When text messages to the pros weren’t immediately returned we were sure they were hunkered down waiting out the storm.  Our suspicions of severe weather were reinforced by the gas station attendant in the small town neighboring the park.  We left with our 2 bundles of firewood and visions of hail and storm winds in our future.  Needless to say we were pleasantly surprised to find out that even though the radar system showed a huge red blob of thunderstorm death over the park, there wasn’t any rain happening at the campsite.  We actually lucked out and only got rained on early Monday morning before we packed up to head home.  All’s well that ends well I suppose!

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The trees were sadly not 10-12 feet apart, but we had hammocks to use!

 

Due to the predicted forecast of less than stellar weather I, being the only member of Casa Mishappenings who plans for things, began to stress over the fortitude of The Engineer’s bargain price tent.  Luckily, the Pros have several large, better tents, and they had one all set up for us when we got there.  Their’s held up much better to the wind and rain.  The Engineer, Puppachino, and I stayed nice and toasty dry and cozy!

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Everyone begging for dinner around here!

We also didn’t discover until we got there, but I had somehow managed to rent 4 separate campsites in a “Group Camping” area.  I had no idea!  I just rented what was listed as the only available site for the long Labor Day weekend.  It popped up site 09-12, but I just assumed that meant like site 12 inside of loop 9.  NOPE……the 4 of us had one whole half of a very large open glen area.  A large…..and somewhat odd family of rednecks took up residence on the other half, and for one night we did sublet one of our sites to a large Hispanic family.

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4 sites, but we can only have 4 occupants and 1 tent…makes sense I guess!

Mostly, we spent a pretty low key weekend just hanging in our hammocks and hanging out together.  Many naps were had and several beers were drank.  We did make a special trip out to one of the local breweries for lunch one afternoon.  If you’re ever in the middle of nowhere Nebraska I would seriously recommend the Ass Blaster Jalapeño beer from Bootleg Brewery!  Also, the sweet potato fries are bomb.com!  By this point in the weekend we had extra space in the coolers, so I actually ended up buying a whole growler of Ass Blaster!  It’s delicious….if I could buy it at a store locally I would keep it stocked in the fridge always!

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There was a slight blip of excitement when we thought we might have spotted a mountain lion.  I saw it first, The Pro Sister saw it second….in two separate viewings I’ll have you know!  I turned around from making bacon the first morning and saw something slightly redder than a deer off in the trees beyond our camping clearing.  It was moving in a way that caused the internal dialogue, “WTF was that slinking through the trees!?”  The Pro Sister saw a similar size and shape animal the next morning in about the same place.  I would like to point out that both of us are well versed in animals and their general style of movement.  I’ve never watched a deer move through a wooded area or field and thought, “Wow look at that deer slink around over there!”  The guys, and 2 park rangers, were quite sure that all we saw was a deer.  Ppppsssshhh it wasn’t a deer, but whatever I guess…..The Pro and I know what we saw!

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The ever elusive……BAT EARED PUPPERS

Cleaning out the Freezer and Hauling in the Veggies

Hunting season has started in states all over the country, and you know what that means?!  You need to get all the old meat out of your freezer before you start adding fresh stock!  Annoyingly, The Engineer and I didn’t draw any deer tags this year.  Frankly we should probably be hoarding our meat for the upcoming winter, but I guess if we have to go vegetarian over the winter that’s what happens.

To go along with our meat, we suddenly had a small surplus of fresh tomatoes out of the garden.  Late summer is a strange time like that.  Surpluses of fresh veggies, fruits, and herbs are all at your disposal, but you freezer might be less with just huge roasts and some less than stellar cuts of meat.  Since discovering that my Kitchenaid is more than capable of grinding up a large elk roast, we’ve become less worried about using up all our pounds of burger meat….we just make more!

I decided it was time to whip up a new recipe, and I really couldn’t have been happier with how things turned out.  It seemed like it had been weeks since I’d spent anytime in the kitchen making dinner, so I decided to really do it up this week!  Due solely to the fact that I don’t every decide to do things until late, prepping dinner actually took 2 days!  Don’t panic, it’s not hard nor does it take that long….I just didn’t have a plan going into things!

STEP 1:  Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I had probably around 2  or 2.5 pounds of large tomatoes out of the garden.  We have two heirloom varieties, Cherokee Black and Siberian Prince, and they seem to have suddenly kicked production into high gear.  I simply blanched the tomatoes whole until the skin started to split and then peel and rough chop.  I didn’t bother to deseed the tomatoes, I just tossed the rough chunks into a medium sauce pan.  If you don’t have access to fresh, garden tomatoes, start with a quart of canned tomatoes.

To my quart of tomatoes I added:

  • Half a yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons each fresh minced thyme and oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil….our basil plant had a rough go of things this summer 😦
  • Salt and Pepper

Cook on medium until just before boiling before dropping the temperature to low.  Let simmer for 20-30 minutes.  If you’re going to eat it immediately, you may want to let it simmer longer…..longer is always better!  I of course started this whole process around 9pm….so after it simmered I placed it into the fridge for use later!

STEP 2: Elk and Herb Meatballs

I didn’t have a plan for using my tomato sauce when I made it, I just didn’t want that many tomatoes to go bad before I had a chance to use them!  The next night I was sitting around thinking….and it occurred to me….we need meatballs!  After consulting a variety of cookbooks I had laying around I settled on a variation of  Anthony Bourdain’s recipe of meatball sandwich meatballs and Steven Rinella’s recipe for wild game meatballs.

Anthony recommends a blend a veal, pork, and beef….and while I’m sure that makes a delicious, more traditional Italian meatball….those aren’t the meats I have hanging out in my freezer.  Steven’s recipe calls for raw onions and milk soaked breadcrumbs in your meatballs, but Anthony says to sweat the onions and add dry crumbs…..so I sweated some onion and added crumbs and milk!

In a small pan heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat and add:

  • Half a yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons each fresh minced thyme and oregano

Sweat the onions, garlic, and herbs together until the onions to translucent and soft.  Set aside and allow to cool slightly.  You’re maybe sensing a theme here, but trust me you really can’t over do the Italian flavors!  See what I mean when I say if I had planned this out better…..just chop double once and you’ll be able to whip up meatballs and sauce together in no time flat.

In a large bowl add:

  • 1 pound ground elk
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 milk
  • Cooled onion and garlic mixture

Mix lightly until everything seemed combined and the herbs, onion, and garlic seem evenly sprinkled throughout.  Form into golfball sized balls and set on a lightly greased baking sheet.  I got 13 meatballs from the pound of meat.  Also, I know it’s probably slightly controversial…but I didn’t add any fat to my meat mixture.  I still think they turned out great, but I feel I’m making Italians grandmas the world over shudder in terror!

My next step might also be slightly controversial…..but just stick with me.  We weren’t going to eat the meatballs that night because once again in was much later than one should be making meatballs.  Third day simply had to be the charm for enjoying this meal so I decided I would toss the meatballs and sauce in the slow cooker so everything would be ready to enjoy right after work.  Sounds fine, but I was suddenly overcome with fear that my glorious, raw meatballs would dissolve in the crockpot and leave me with a delicious meat sauce.  Meat sauce after I had ‘slaved away’ making meatballs wasn’t something I was willing to risk…..so I broiled my meatballs!

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IT WORKED GREAT!

Simply turn your broiler on Low and give your meatballs 8-10 minutes for form a nice crust.  Turn them every couple minutes to prevent burning and provide an even caramelization.

I put a thin layer of sauce down in the bottom of my crockpot, layered in my meatballs, and then tossed the whole thing back in the fridge.  The next morning I topped them with the remaining sauce and set them to cook on low while I went to work.  8 hours later I came home to delicious smells and a crockpot full of happy meatballs and a sauce that had slow cooked to thick, robust perfection.

Serve with your favorite noodles, or in my case spaghetti squash from the garden, and enjoy.  I added cheese, a hefty slice of garlic bread, and a class of wine.  Perfect easy dinner to come home to, and I promise it won’t take you 3 days to get there!

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Expanding Small Spaces

The Engineer and I have been on a bit of a home improvement kick.  Fitting two people’s stuff and design tastes into a single home isn’t always easy.  In an effort to make keep the house somewhat organized, and preserve my own sanity, we’ve really had to try and maximize all the storage opportunities in the house.  I’ve been meaning to write this blog for awhile, but it seemed like we just kept doing projects so I kept thinking I’d wait.  I think we finally wrapped up all the little projects, and several of the big projects are well on their way!

Our biggest summer project was expanding the patio!  The slab that was poured for my patio is only 6ft x 8ft.  Some of the units in my HOA have big, expansive patios….I guess that just wasn’t in the cards for my specific unit.  It was fine when it was just Scout and I at home, but even for just us it had always been small and crowded.  Then The Engineer came, and then we bought an umbrella, and then we got a big grill….and pretty soon we were sitting on top of each other trying just trying to spend time outside on the patio.

 

Lucky for our bank accounts, The Engineer can occasionally snag sample concrete mix color and finish pavers from his employer!  Plenty of precast buildings are grey, so we decided to extend the patio slab out with two rows of 1ft x 1ft pavers on each side.

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Such style he’s got that man of mine!

Honestly, the hardest part of the whole project was getting the landscaping rock out of the area.  In my brain I would just be able to scoop it right up with a shovel and move it to other areas of our landscaping that were a bit light on rock.  I’m not sure if you know this…..but rock doesn’t really shovel.  It turned out one of the sides was severely lacking in dirt, but a layer of pea gravel below the paver base brought it back up to grade.

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Actually placing the pavers was pretty easy.  Pour out and smooth a think layer of paving base and smash it down firmly.  They make a tool for this…..or just use your feet in heavy construction boots…..that’s the method we used!  After its smooshed down evenly, use a garden trowel to sprinkle down another thin layer of paver base.  Set your pavers down into the base and press or stand on them to settle them down into the base.  You might have to trial and error adding some base or maybe removing some to get everything level.  I think we did quite well for having never laid pavers before.  Everything seems level and graded to drain correctly….time will tell though, they may settle over the winter and we might have to adjust them in the Spring.

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So much space for activities….and a lurking pupper in the doorway!

Inside projects have been centered around keeping spaces organized, and keeping things from exploding out into the living room and dining room.  Single me was a chronic “toss wet laundry out onto stair railing and chair back to dry”.  It was always annoying to me, but somethings just don’t belong in the dryer so I just ignored the fact that I was annoying myself.  Cut to my laundry, The Engineer’s laundry, my hats, The Engineer’s hats and a shared closet and I was slowly loosing my mind at the general disheveled state.

Step one was a closet clean out!  Nothing will help you get rid of unwanted clothes faster than the feeling of not giving someone their fair share of the closest storage.  I still feel bad about this…..my crap still takes up way more than half of the closet space.  He tells me it’s fine, but I feel bad in spite of that. So, every month or so I go in and try and purge a few more items.  To further assist we build some strategic storage….a hat rack for the closet, and two drying racks for the laundry room.

I had previously bought one of those back of the door hat hangers….it was garbage.  The hats fell off all the time.  Matters were made worse by the fact that it made opening the closet door impossible.  The hats took up so much space behind the door, plus I already have scarf storage behind the door.  The whole thing was just a mess.  Some on sale hooks and a stained 1×4 later and we have easy, out of the way hat storage!  The rack we installed matches two very small hanging racks that were installed in the closet before I moved on.  No more falling down hats and no more me throwing tantrums cuz the hats are always all over the closet floor!!

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The closet isn’t well lit….but you get the idea.  A lot of things happening in a small space!

The hanging racks on the laundry room have honestly made a huge difference!  I can hang things, I can lay things on the rods, hook smaller items on the ends….it’s just such a space saver!  I did add a small dowel inside the hanging bar to help it hold up against the weight of all the wet clothes, but depending on the length you decide to use that might not be needed.

There is a large hanging bar installed under a large shelf on the opposite wall of the laundry.  I used to use that for all our shirts that needed to be hung to dry, however The Engineer’s gun safe has taken up a home under the hanging bar……so that sort of ruined that hanging spot.  There is still a bit of room above the safe….so all my bras get hung on hangers above the safe!  I’m sure it was always his goal to have a mid-sized collection of bras perpetually hanging above his gun safe!  🙂

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More stained 1×4 and just some cheap curtain rods…HANG ALL THE THINGS!

The garage is a whole different world of organizational nightmare.  There was a period of time when my 2 car…..very small for 2 cars but still technically can fit 2…..garage barely had room for my GMC Terrain.  There was just a giant horseshoe shaped ring of stuff around the edge and a section in the center that I could park in.  IT DROVE ME BATTY!  I’m a bit crazy about feeling organized I know, and I know that my weirdness about the issue drives The Engineer nuts sometimes.  I can be perfectly fine living in disorder and chaos….until one day when I’m not.  The house can be filthy for weeks and then one day I will just snap and start power cleaning like a wild Tasmanian devil…..

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Get outta my way I have shit to clean!

So…..we built a shelf….a really big 6ft x 3ft hanging shelf in the garage .  It made me feel better to get stuff up and off the ground.  We will have more shelves to put up and some reorganizing to do…..I would like if all my Christmas decor could be in one spot instead of scattered around on different shelving.  But, getting this stuff up and organized has made a huge difference.  I think that’s how you know you’re becoming old and lame…..when cleaning and organizing a garage becomes a major source of calm and happiness in your life.  Ughs

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JUST LOOK AT IT….IT’S AMAZING!

It’s so much stuff up and organized!  Do you even know whats up there?!  Well let me give you the run down…..

  • 24 duck decoys in bags….if you don’t hunt you might not know….but these are full sized ducks….24 DUCKS!
  • 2 tents
  • 2 sleeping bags
  • air mattress
  • 2 storage totes of our hunting clothes and camping supplies
  • 4 hunting bags and backpacks
  • other small hunting and camping accessories

Now imagine all of that strewn out all over a garage floor…total garbage!  It’s so pretty and organized…..AND I LOVE IT!  And would you look at that….more stained 1×4 with hooks!  We added easy storage for our hunting boots and his waders.  We also have hooks we can use for things when we use them more frequently.  For example, now that hunting seasons are kicking back into gear, the backpacks will get moved down onto the hooks so that we can access them without a step stool whenever we’d like to head out to the field.

I’m totally sitting here nerding out about how excited I am to have gotten all this organized.  Look at it this way….I’m so excited about getting organized that I felt the need to tell you all about it!!  It’s not like anything we’ve done to try and keep the house organized is crazy or a brand new idea.  Maybe it will show you that you don’t need to hire a professional organizer or spend a ton of time and money on supplies to get started organizing a space that’s a source of frustration for you.  Just pick an area you’d like to improve, break it into small pieces if need be, and then just go for it.  In our case it was just making the decision to get started and then making a trip to Menards for the supplies.  Just create a place for things to have a “home” in….hooks, shelves, cubbies….whatever fits your style or needs.  And don’t forget your new mantra…..ain’t nothing a 1×4 and some stain can’t remedy!