Make Perfect Bacon in the Oven

Perfect bacon in the oven: BrownThumbMama.com

We love to have breakfast for dinner (B4D). Pancakes and oatmeal-cinnamon waffles are frugal and easy to make, and the kids get a kick out of “eating backwards.”

Bacon is a critical component of B4D, but I don’t like to cook it on the stove with the kids around. The grease pops and splatters, and you have to watch it like a hawk to be sure it doesn’t burn.

Since I’m emphatically unwilling to give up bacon until the kids are 18, I set about to find a different way to cook it. The oven is perfect for this! It sounds weird to say you’re “baking your bacon” but it works great.

You will need:
A rimmed cookie sheet (I have this one)
A wire rack that fits in the cookie sheet (like this one)
Bacon!

Turn your oven to 400F. Place the wire rack on top of the cookie sheet and lay the bacon out with a little space between each slice. That will allow the warm air in the oven to circulate and cook the bacon evenly.

Perfect bacon in the oven: BrownThumbMama.com

Place the cookie sheet in the oven on the top rack and set the timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, take the bacon out and check it. You can turn it over if you like (I always do, although with the wire rack it’s not strictly necessary). Here’s how mine looked–definitely making progress but nowhere near done.

Perfect bacon in the oven: BrownThumbMama.com

Put the bacon back in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. After that, the bacon will either be underdone (back in the oven and check every 3 minutes) or ready to serve. My bacon cooked for a total of 30 minutes…we like crispy bacon ’round these parts.

Perfect bacon in the oven: BrownThumbMama.com

The slices lift off the rack easily and are ready to serve. Pour the bacon fat into a jar for later–nothing’s better than fried chicken cooked in bacon fat!

Start A Vegetable Garden for $25

Veggie garden for $25: BrownThumbMama.com

I hear this a lot: “I want to start a vegetable garden, but it costs too much money! The raised bed kits in the catalogs are $70. And that’s just for the bed, not the soil or plants!”

You don’t need to spend all that money for a few pieces of wood. For $25, you can build a raised bed vegetable garden WITH plants and grow enough food to make your money back in no time.

Here’s what you need for the raised bed. (Prices accurate as of 4/9/14 at Home Depot. Your mileage may vary.) If you already have fence boards, stakes, or nails, invest in a few more bags of steer manure to enrich your soil.

3, 6-foot cedar fence boards $1.50 each: $4.50
2 in. x 2 in. x 24 in. grade stake (6-pack): $5.47
1 box of 35, 2” nails: $1.30
2 bags of steer manure @ $1.37 each: $2.74
Subtotal: $14.01

Why cedar? Other fence boards are cheaper, but cedar stands up to weather and will last you for a couple of years at least. If you get cheaper fence boards you’ll need to replace them more often. Have the folks at the home store cut one board in half to make the ends of the raised bed.

You’ll need a friend to help with the assembly. Put the pieces together on a flat surface so the garden box sits flat when you’re done. (Ask me how I know.) Hold the fence boards together with the stake sticking up. Nail the corner securely with the stake for extra support. Lather, rinse, and repeat until all four corners are done.

Take the assembled box out to your perfect, sunny spot. Dig up the soil and mix in the steer manure. Sink the stakes into the ground and smooth out the soil. Now you’re ready to plant!

This is the fun part. Pick out seeds (or plants) to fill up your garden bed. Here are a bunch of  ideas that will keep your budget at $25.

Colorful vegetable garden

Vegetable garden for $25: BrownThumbMama.com

Tricolor bush beans: $2.79

Rainbow chard: $2.79

Easter egg radish: $2.79

Tricolor zucchini mix: $2.99

Salsa garden

4” tomato plant: $2.25 (it’s too late in the year to start from seed)

Tomato cage: $2.95

4” jalapeno pepper plant: $2.25

Cilantro: $3.79

Kids garden

Vegetable garden for $25: BrownThumbMama.com

6-pack strawberries: $3.50

Three flavor melons: $2.99

Circus circus tricolor carrots: $2.99

Green smoothie garden

Catalina baby spinach: $2.79

Lacinato heirloom kale: $2.79

Jericho romaine lettuce: $3.79

If you want more plants but need to stay under budget, ask your gardening friends or family for extra seeds or plants. Most of us get carried away at seed-starting time and end up with more plants than space!

Need extra help starting your garden? My favorite book for beginning gardeners is Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

Are you ready to garden? What are you going to grow this year? Tell us in the comments!

Some plant photos courtesy of Renee’s Garden.
This article was shared on Clever Chicks, Frugally Sustainable, Fabulously Frugal Thursday, Unprocessed Fridays, Fat Tuesday, and Wildcrafting Wednesday.

Amazing Soft Pretzels

Amazing Soft Pretzels: BrownThumbMama.com

Have you noticed that the fast-food places are jumping on the pretzel bandwagon? You can get pretzel-bun hot dogs and pretzel-bun hamburgers, and there’s a pretzel stand at every sports event and every mall. And they charge $2 or more for a pretzel–crazy!

You can make your own delicious soft pretzels for less than $2 a batch. The kids will love rolling out the dough and making shapes. Pretzel piggies, anyone?!?

Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons barley malt syrup
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup warm water
pretzel salt (optional but yummy)

In a separate bowl, combine:
4 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon barley malt syrup
2 teaspoons baking soda

In a bread machine or mixer, combine the flour, barley malt syrup, butter, salt, yeast, and water. Knead until thoroughly combined, then cover and let the dough rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, preheat your oven to 400F. Turn the dough out on your counter and divide it into eight pieces. Roll each piece into whatever shape you desire. Dip the pretzels into the water, barley malt syrup, and baking soda mixture and place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.

Sprinkle with pretzel salt and bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Try to let them cool a bit before you dig in!

Natural Earache Remedies

Natural Earache Remedies: BrownThumbMama.com

When I was little, I got earaches all the time. My mom says I had my first one when I was just a few months old! The pediatrician’s automatic answer was “ear infection” and the prescription was liquid penicillin. It was thick and pink and gloppy, and tasted absolutely horrible.

Now we know that most earaches aren’t infections at all, and antibiotics aren’t the answer. The pain is probably because of a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum, so the solution isn’t antibiotics–there aren’t any germs there to kill! You want to encourage the fluid to drain, and that’s easy to do naturally.

Reminder: I’m not a doctor, and this information should not be considered medical advice. Do your own research and use good judgement!

How do you know if it’s an earache?

I use an otoscope, similar to the ones in the doctor’s office. It’s not as precise as the doctor’s, but will help you determine if it’s an earache or not. Take a look in the kids’ ears before they get sick so you have something to compare to. An earache will usually cause the ear canal to turn red and swollen.

Treatment options

I’m still susceptible to earaches today, so I use these treatments myself and with the kids. They’re safe to use on toddlers and older–if you suspect ear pain in a baby, I recommend calling the doctor.

Note: If there is any fluid draining from the ear, or if your child has tubes in their ears, do NOT put anything in the ear.

  • Lay down, with the sore ear facing up,  and place a warm washcloth or warm rice bag on the ear. The warmth encourages blood flow, which promotes healing, and it also helps thin the fluid to help it drain.
  • Put a few drops of willow-garlic ear oil (willow bark relieves pain and garlic is antiseptic) in the ear. Gently warm the oil bottle in water for a few minutes before using it. You can make garlic ear oil at home, but I prefer to buy it to avoid the chance of contamination.
  • Massage the lymph system with diluted lavender essential oil. This video tutorial on lymphatic drainage for the ears is easy and gentle.

Much better than gloppy pink penicillin, right? What other earache remedies does your family use? Share with us in the comments.

This article was shared on Simple Lives Thursday, Frugally Sustainable, Fabulously Frugal Thursday, Unprocessed Fridays, Fat Tuesday, and Wildcrafting Wednesday.