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Sunday, February 7, 2016

FEBRUARY

Hello dear friends! Can you believe we are already one week into February?  How time flies! Several friends have inquired what I did this week, and to be honest, I couldn't say, but I do know that I kept busy.  For instance, today we spent an hour fiddling with trying to get the printer to work.  We were out of magenta ink and even though we wanted to print in black and white, the machine refused to do it!  Modern technology that is supposed to make your life easier  just gobbled  up an hour of  my day.  And you know what?  Never did get that stupid thing to work.  No wonder I long to go off-the-grid! Looks like it's time for a new printer, because the ink cartridges cost as much as a new printer.  All this rigmarole just for the "pleasure" of doing our taxes!   Do you ever have weeks like that?

One of the silly things I did this week was to make maple chips.
I couldn't resist photographing them in one of my Sugar Maples teacups from my Friendly Village set.  Every year about this time, I start to crave maple.  I found a recipe for maple cookies that required maple baking chips, but after a thorough search, I discovered that no such thing exists, but I did find this link on how to make some.   I didn't microwave mine, but used an old-fashioned double boiler.  And next time I won't waste my time piping them onto wax paper, but instead just spread the melted chocolate on some wax paper and break that up into little bits.  You can always buy white chocolate after the holidays when those little bunny, Santas, and hearts go on sale for half price.  Anyway, this had me thinking of all the different flavors I could make.  I think I will try coconut next.  And maybe strawberry would be good in a chocolate cookie?

THE VALUE OF MONEY

I was reading an article on-line about one of the most important steps young adults can do to prosper is to learn the value of money.  Today with electronic transactions, people often don't even think of money as money.  Just pull out the old debit or credit card.  That's why one of the ways people can learn to budget is to get actual cash, place it in an envelope for each expenditure, and when the money runs out, you're through spending for the month.  Nothing like a dwindling stack of cash to make you realize how little money you really have and how quickly it can slip from your fingers. I don't do that, but I check my checking account balance daily, and I keep lists of everything I spend money upon, even that fifty cent bottle of water when out shopping.  I make my own accounts book out of notebooks that I buy during the "back-to-school" sales.  On one page I keep my ledger and on the other page I keep columns for food, medical, utilities, clothing, etc. And I keep track of every penny.  This way, I can see where I need to do better.  Some things you just can't fight, I've discovered.  I was trying to keep my groceries at $75 for the month, but we eat almost that much in fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter. We try to eat green leafies every day.  I realized I really need to double that for a realistic budget.  Still $150 a month for three adults isn't bad.  That extra $75 dollars had to come out of one of the other categories,  in our case entertainment , gasoline and clothing.

One of the ways to help yourself from spending too much is to think of how long you have to work for each item.   Believe me, if you think that you have to  work three hours  (calculated on a wage of $20/hour minus the taxes) for that cute $45 sweater, the "cuteness'" sort of wanes!  Especially when you discover that you can buy ten just-as-cute sweaters from the thrift store for the same price.  A steak might sound tasty, but when you  discover you have to work an hour to have enough for you and your spouse, is it any better than a ten pound bag  of dry beans?  Enough beans for ten meals and ten sweaters or steak for one meal and one sweater?  It's a different way of looking at wealth, but you can be wealthy by wisely spending your money.

Not that I don't spend money foolishly from time to time!  This week we spotted a new to us thrift store on our drive home from the bulk food store  (had to stock up on flour, canning lids, and vegetable oil).  I found five skirts from the Sundance catalog at $1.50 each.  I figured I could sell them on Ebay if I didn't like them, but I do, so I'm keeping them.  I know that I have too many clothes! I also bought two pieces of fabric,  the plaid one is 3 1/2 yards that I plan to make an old-fashioned apron from and the cute one with the cherries  is slated to be made into either tote bags, potholders, or aprons for Christmas presents.


 ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT WEALTH

I'm sure you know people that seem to have everything, but never seem happy.  Conversely, I've seen some seriously poor people that delight in mundane things that most of us take for granted.  Little children in third world countries that are given  a simple rubber ball that most American children would turn up their noses at, furnishes them with many more hours of enjoyment than those expensive video games we buy or children.  Every year we select a child from a charity,  some of the things they ask for, truly humbles us;  a warm shirt, mittens, a shaving kit,  warm pajamas.We have so much in comparison.    True wealth is being content and finding joy in what you do have, not  in wanting what you don't or can't have.

PRETTY GREAT MEALS FROM THE PANTRY AND ROOT CELLAR

We've been spending most of of our grocery money on stocking up on bulk items so we've been using a lot of home-canned goods  and things we have dried or are in the root cellar.  This week we had:

Chicken Cordon Bleu  Casserole (home canned  ham and chicken, dried mushrooms, onions from the  root cellar, and Swiss cheese  from the freezer)
Vegetable Lasagna  (cheese from the freezer, home dried peppers and mushrooms, home canned  spaghetti sauce and eggplant)
Beef Stroganoff (home canned sirloin and beef broth,  served on potatoes from the root cellar)
A ham, green onion  and cream cheese spread on homemade crackers with a salad (home canned ham)
A big pot of pinto beans cooked with a smoked ham hock on cornbread. (home dried beans, celery and peppers, onions from the root cellar)
Home made pizza (cheese from the freezer, home canned spaghetti sauce, home dried mushrooms and peppers, onions from the root cellar)

We serve most of our meals with a big green salad, which is where most of our grocery money goes. Can't wait for Spring, when we'll have our own lettuce once again!  In the mean time we are stretching our lettuce by adding our sprouts to the salad. Our  main meal of the day is lunch.  We eat the leftovers for dinner or I have home-canned soups in the pantry that we can heat up.
For dessert we made banana pudding and apple cake from the King Arthur website.

We're still working our way through the bushels of apples we picked last fall. This made a huge cake so we froze half of it for later.

Which just goes to show you, being thrifty doesn't mean you have to live poorly!

CRAFTS

For this month's charity knitting  I couldn't resist making a pair of pink mitts in honor of  Valentine's Day. I had to take a photo before I was finished because I was losing the light, but they will be finished today.
The little sampler is one that I copied from Pinterest.


THRIFTY THING WE DID THIS WEEK

Found some more flagstones for our walk in the vacant lot.

Knitted a pair of mittens from my yarn stash.

Bought five Sundance catalog skirts for a grand total of $7.50.

Bought bulk canning lids at 12 cents a lid (a lot less than a box of 12)

Bought fabric at the thrift store, five yards was cheaper than one at the fabric store.

Sewed a doll for a Christmas present from fabric scraps.

Foraged for pine bark to make a tincture. (It's still in the process, I'll show you next week)

Snagged a free pallet for firewood.

Made banana pudding from milk and bananas that needed using up.

Made some pretty great meals from the pantry.


So that's it for this week at the old Zempel boarding house! Hope you have a wonderful week and hope to see you here again the next!

Hugs
Jane


Sunday, January 31, 2016

MORE PANTRY TALK

Hello dear friends!   Hope you are having a wonderful weekend!   Have to admit the winter doldrums are setting in around here.  It seems that there's not much happening.   Even the deer that visit our orchard are bored.
If you look closely, you'll notice that one doesn't even bother to rise when we are near.
He's just right of center.  Even Georgie's barking doesn't stir him.   By the way,  look at how little snow we have for January! Today when we went for a walk, the walkers in front of us spotted a robin!  All in all, though, winter and routine is good,  everybody needs a rest once in a while.  The garden benefits from it's nap also.  I  have  friends and relatives that live in warmer states that garden all year round, but they never seem to get the yields that we do and I think it is because the constant usage of the land depletes the essential minerals.  It becomes just plain worn out. In Biblical days part of the covenant  was to let your let your land rest every seventh year.  While I do not rest my  plot for an entire year, I do take care to replenish the land with lots of compost and rotate the crops every year.


CANNING

I did manage to can up some mushrooms that I got for 69 cents a package.  For $2.80 , it made ten nice half-pints.  How much does a can of mushrooms cost now days?  Probably more than 28 cents.  That's why I can. 
Actually there was more than ten half-pints but that was all the jars I had.

  To can mushrooms, just clean and slice them.  Then brown in a bit of oil in a large pot.  Add water to cover by an inch and boil for 5 minutes.  Spoon  the mushrooms and broth into sterilized jars leaving a one-inch headspace, add 1/8 teaspoon of salt to each jar,  run a spatula around the edge to remove air bubbles, wipe rims, and place on lids and caps.  Process under 10 pounds of pressure (check for what amount of pressure your area requires) for 45 minutes.

Speaking of canning, people always tell me that they would like to can but are afraid to, and I guess when I started out, I probably was also.  But as my mother always scolded me when I was afraid to try something, "There's no such word as can't".   And "If you say you can't, you're probably right." . So just try it.  If you fail, then you fail, but you'll never know until you try.  I'm a firm believer that if you can read, you can learn how to do almost anything.  And now days we have the advantage of the computer, where there are many how-to videos on line.  So there's really no excuse to not do something, if you are motivated enough.

HOW TO STOCK A PANTRY

Each payday I try to find at least one deal and buy  as many as I can afford of it.  Sometimes it's mushrooms, other times I find dried beans, last month was a great one for meat.  You'd be surprised at how quickly you can stock up on things.  Even if you only buy one thing.  If you are paid biweekly that's 26 times a year or 26 items.  Twenty-six items may not seem like much, but when you are really strapped for money, that's twenty-six things that you won't have to buy. As I always say, a well-stocked pantry is better than insurance.  Some of my favorite places to look for sales are the reduced-for-quick-sale bin at the grocery store,  Big Lots (they always have something interesting), and Aldis.  Look after the holidays for sales items.   For instance, after St. Patrick's Day I always buy corned beef on sale and can it.  During the Thanksgiving holiday you can buy turkeys for cheap. And afterward cranberries go on sale. After Christmas,  Easter and Valentine's Day, I pick up plain chocolates  in holiday shapes that are usually reduced by 50% or more.  Chopped up, they make dandy chocolate chunks for baking.  The day after Easter is also a good time to find lamb  and ham prices reduced. 

A PRACTICAL PANTRY

I see a lot of articles and YouTube videos on stocking pantries, and they are so many variations.  Personally, I like to gather things that can be used for lots of different purposes, instead of say, ramen noodles, cake mixes, hot cocoa mixes, etc.. that have only one use.  I'd start with rice, dry beans and dry milk.   Dry milk is great because you can not only make it into milk, but also yogurt (once you get the first batch made you can use it to make the next as so on)  Once you have some yogurt made you can make your own cream cheese by simply putting the yogurt in a cheese cloth bundle and suspended it  over a bowl for a day to get all the whey out.  Use the whey in baking or feed it to the cat.

Next I'd store some cans of vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, peas and green beans.  Id' buy some dry onion flakes in  bulk, they add so much flavor to food.  I'd get some flax for using as an egg substitute.   I certainly would include some seasonings, especially salt.  People forget that salt is an important mineral we all need.  In the olden days, people would settle where there was a source of salt, it's that important.  These things, along with the bare bones baking pantry I wrote about last week, would be the basis of my stockpile. 

PANTRY STAPLE: POTATOES

I know that potatoes get a bad rap because they are carbs (sigh) and ever since Oprah (seriously, why is anyone looking to Oprah for diet advice?) declared carbs bad, people avoid them like the plague, but in truth they are one of the cheapest and best things you can buy when your funds are low.  Whether they are fattening or not depends upon how you cook them.  Did you know that an average potato will supply you with 45% of your daily vitamin C?  And when you eat them with the skins on they are a great source of potassium which aids in lowering your blood pressure.  And they are naturally gluten-free.  Oh! and fat-free too. And guess what?  In spite of what some people say, they are a vegetable!  Plus they are cheap, cheap, cheap. Around here you can buy a fifty pound sack for $7, which equals 14 cents  a pound.  Not much you can buy for fourteen cents these days. A baked potato with the skin on is a great way to stave off  hunger, especially when you are dieting. An average sized potato has only 110 calories.  Put just a dab of butter (less than a teaspoon) and salt and pepper and you have a wonderful filling snack, that's a lot better for you than chips. I always have potatoes in my pantry and can't tell you how many times they saved the day for me when I was down to my last pennies and had one more day to go until payday.  One of our family's favorite way to eat potatoes is to make latkes or potato pancakes.

Latkes

Grate a few potatoes, add 1 tablespoon of flour and stir in 1 egg, salt and pepper to taste.  Drop into
hot oil in a frying pan (about 1/4- 1/3 inch).  Fry until golden brown, turn and fry the other side.  Traditionally, these are served with applesauce and sour cream, but my boys always preferred to eat them with cheese melted on top and with ketchup.  They never knew that I was making them because the cupboards were bare, they just thought they were a special treat.  To this day, they still request them.

Potato soup is also an inexpensive way to use potatoes. 

Potato Soup

Dice some potatoes and put them in a pot of water to boil with enough water to cover the potatoes by and inch or two.  Meanwhile, fry up a couple rashers of bacon.  Remove the bacon from the frying pan and add an equal amount of flour to the bacon grease in the pan.  Stir the flour over medium heat until it starts to brown and thickens (this is called making a roue) Add the roue to the boiling potatoes once the potatoes have cooked to fork tender.   Stir the roue in the potatoes and water to remove any lumps. Cook until the soup thickens.  Remove from heat, stir in the bacon (crumbled) and about 1/2 C. milk.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Celery salt is good sprinkled on this too, if you have some.

We grow our own potatoes and root cellar them.  I also can all the small ones and those that have been sliced by the fork when digging them.   We eat the canned ones in the spring  after the stored  ones have grown eyes.  Those we keep for planting in the late spring, thus we don't have to buy seed potatoes.  We grow an heirloom variety called German Butterball and it's a  wonderful flavorful variety.  You hardly need butter.  We also grow a French fingerling variety. We grow a couple hundred pounds a year on our small  1/2 acre plot.  Which just proves, you don't need acres and acres of land to produce a lot of food.

FOUND MONEY, LITERALLY

Yesterday we were coming  back  home from test driving our truck (it had been at the mechanics)  when we noticed something glinting in the snowpile.  Lo and behold it was a roll of scratch-off lottery tickets!   We live about a block and a half from the gas station/convenience store and debris from there often blows into our yard.  Someone there must have dropped the tickets and they blew into our yard.  So we brought them inside and dried them off.  We won $25!  

Whenever you receive found money, apply it to paying off any debt you have.  Found money includes tax refunds, birthday and holiday gift money, the dollar found on the street, rebates, etc.  Once you have  all your debts paid off, create a nest egg for future purchases that put you into debt in the first place, like car loans , for example.  You'd be surprised at how those little amounts add up quickly.  The point being, be thoughtful about how you use even those nominal amounts and soon  you will discover that money is one less thing you have to stress about.

BARE BONES PANTRY RECIPE

This is the most basic of cake recipes.  It takes little more time than it does to make one from a box mix.  And it tastes so much better!  Once you get the basics down, you can dress it up with different flavors of frosting, or add fruits or mini chocolate chips  to the batter.  Change the flavor by using a different extract than vanilla.   I make this recipe every spring with with chopped up strawberries from the garden and I use crushed berries to make the frosting.   Today I frosted it with a plain white buttercream and topped it with coconut.

Plain White Cake

1 3/4 C. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C. sugar
1 C. milk  (I use buttermilk)
1/3 C. shortening
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
In a med. bowl, beat together the shortening and sugar until light.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.
Alternately beat in the flour mixture and the milk until the batter is light and smooth.
Pour into a well-greased 8-inch baking pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

As I said, I always use buttermilk for baking.  It makes a more tender crumb plus I just like the old-fashionedness of it.  We don't drink milk anyway, so it's just as easy for us to pick up a carton of buttermilk as it is to buy plain milk.  I know that you can substitute buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to each  cup of milk, but to me, they lack that true flavor you get from  the real thing.  In our house, buttermilk is a pantry staple. We buy ours from a local dairy and it has beautiful flecks of butter in it.  It's a joy to behold.
THRIFTY THINGS WE DID THIS WEEK

Well, I'm trying not to be so long-winded this week. Ha!  It was a slow week for projects.  Besides canning mushrooms we made some beer.  My husband likes to do that about once a year.  He likes to drink a bottle of it about once a month, just to honor his German heritage.  I'm a teetotaler  on the other hand.  Can't see wasting my precious calories on  something that tastes so bad!

Well, that's about it for this week.  I hope that your February gets off to a rosy start!

Hugs
Jane










Sunday, January 24, 2016

SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY

Hello dear friends!   Are you all getting shoveled out?   You probably have more snow than we do in Michigan.   Strange weather!   Although, after the last two brutal winters, it's nice to catch a break.  I'm already looking forward to spring and hoping that my Concord grapes will have a nice harvest this year.  The last two  years we have had to prune them back severely because the cold winds had killed many of the canes.  Ditto for the blackberries.  Just think!   One more week of January, then February is a short month and although March is still winter in this neck of the woods, it starts to warm up a tad.

CANNING

This past week was a really great one for sales on meat.  I bought a ten pound sirloin roast for $2.69/lb, hamburger was $2.19/lb  (probably never see that again) and chicken breasts with the bone in was 79 cents/lb.  I cut the sirloin in strips, browned them and the roasted them in their own juice. This made  eight nice pints with about a pound of meat in each.  The gristle and scraps were boiled with some carrots, dried celery and our own tomato bouillon  (dry paste-type tomatoes then grind into a powder with an old coffee grinder).  After this set for a day day to solidify the fat, I scooped off the fat and canned up six nice pints of broth.  The chicken I cubed and cold-packed for another eight one-pounds of meat, The bones and skin were boiled to make a broth.  I didn't flavor this because I wanted the fat for soapmaking.  Once the fat was skimmed off, I seasoned it with garlic, onion, sage, rosemary and thyme for a nice broth.  Again I canned this, making eight pints.  I only bought five pounds of hamburger because I feared it was going to be greasy, but it wasn't.  With one pound  I made a meatloaf for the guys' lunch and the rest was made into Swedish meatballs that I canned.  Oh!   There was also enough meat   culled from making the broths to fill a quart bag of the chicken for the freezer and about a half-quart of the beef.  These will make a nice base for pot pies or some soup.  When I finished all that was left were the bones and skin.  I tossed the bones and threw the skins out for the stray cats.

That took the  better part of Friday and Saturday and I was ready to put the pressure canner away when we stopped by our local grocery store.   They were having a sale on bacon for 10 pounds for $16.90.  Well!  I couldn't pass that up!   I canned up eight one-pound jars of it.   Some of the pieces were quite fatty so I set those aside and later rendered the lard by slowly melting the fat for several hours on low heat.  Once strained, this gave me about 3/4 a quart of lard for soapmaking.  All the little bits of bacon were culled and I ended up with about a half a quart of real bacon bits.

People always ask, why I don't just freeze my meat.  First, I simply don't have a freezer big enough and I don't want to have a  separate freezer because they take too much electricity.  Secondly,  our area is notorious for it's power lines  blowing  down.  Living directly in the path of the wind coming off the Great Lakes means we have some pretty powerful winds.  Being in a less populated area means that sometimes we go for days without electricity, not being a high priority for Detroit Edison.  Too many times have a I lost produce in the freezer due to an outage.  Canned never spoils when the electricity goes out!  And lastly, canned meat is very convenient to use.  You don't have to wait for it to thaw, it doesn't get freezer burn, it lasts a lot longer than frozen and it's already cooked. 

Learning to pressure can is probably the second most important skill you can master in your steps toward becoming self-sufficient, the first being, gardening, of course.  It's really not hard.  I urge you all to learn it, if you don't know already.   There's only so much you can do with hot water bath canning; pickles and jellies and fruits in syrup.  The real meat and potatoes (literally) of food preservation is in pressure canning.  There's oodles of tutorials on YouTube and on various blogs.  And all cannners will come with very detailed instructions.  It's simply not that difficult.  And the nicest thing about canning your own, is that you control the quality.


ANOTHER THING TO PRESERVE

My stint without a computer has taught me a valuable lesson.  Keep written copies!   Sure it's convenient just to Google whatever you want but what if your computer quits, or we do get that EMP attack they are always talking about?  Or the economy goes so far south that you can't afford the internet? Or even worse yet, they start censoring the internet?  Start today making copies of any information that you think you may need or want in those situations;   basic recipes, notes on foraging, how-tos on staying warm, building shelter, and making mechanical devices, natural health tips, canning instructions, etc.   I call it my survival notebook.  You can keep a copy in a three ring binder or just staple them together.  It doesn't need to be fancy. 

BARE BONES BAKING PANTRY

When the stock market looked like it was going to take a nosedive last week, Ran and I sat down and made out a list of groceries to buy in bulk to see us through hard times.   We have the money squirreled away for the purchases just in case.  So many of the things: such as,crackers,   noodles, tortillas, bread, baked goods, etc. that we buy, can be made just as easily at home and perhaps even better.  At least they would be made of wholesome ingredients.  Some things , such as pancake mix, boggles my mind.  Why would anyone pay to have a little flour, baking powder, sugar and  hydrogenated oil mixed together for them, when they can make a far superior  pancake in the same amount of time from basic pantry ingredients? This week we made crackers and bread from common pantry items.  It took probably as much time to bake  them as it would to drive to the store, locate the items, stand in line and drive back home.  When you factor in all that plus how much it costs for these type of things, it just doesn't make sense to buy them.   Here's a list of a bare bones baking pantry:


flour (plain old white)
baking soda and baking powder
vegetable shortening
vegetable oil (we use olive)
salt
spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves
vanilla
cornstarch
sugar
molasses (you can make brown sugar by stirring 1 tablespoon into 1 cup of white sugar)
yeast
dry milk (I prefer buttermilk for all my baking needs)
cornmeal
oatmeal
cocoa
honey

With those ingredients, you can bake just about anything with the addition of eggs and milk and butter, although in a pinch you can substitute the shortening for the butter. Heck!  You can even use the chicken fat, lard and tallow if things really get rough.  I have a couple old, old recipes that call for chicken fat and bacon grease.   Simplify, simplify!   Just get down to the bare basics of groceries, then buy them in bulk.  The less time you spend in the grocery store, the less money you'll spend.

FIRST THINGS FIRST, LEARN TO BAKE A LOAF OF PLAIN WHITE BREAD

The first thing you need to learn on your way to food independence is how to bake a loaf of plain white bread.  Once you've mastered that, you can go on to other types of breads or make additions of different flours and ingredients,  but this recipe will serve you well if it is the only type of bread that you ever bake.

White Bread

Combine and scald:

1 C. milk
1/4 C. butter
1/4 C. honey
1 tsp. salt
 set aside

Combine:
1/2 C. warm water
1 pkg. yeast
1 tsp. honey or sugar
combine and set aside until the yeast begins to bubble.  This is called "proofing".

In a large bowl combine the milk mixture and 1 C. of flour.  Mix well and add an additional cup of flour.  Add the yeast mixture.  Add approximately 3 1/2 C. flour.  (This is something you learn start with a little less flour and add more if it is sticky.  There's so many variables on the amount of flour to use, such as the humidity, the type of flour, etc.)
Knead dough until it starts to fight back.  Poke your finger into it and the dough should come back.  The dough should be as smooth  and elastic as a newborn baby's behind.  ;)  Let the dough rise. Punch it down and let rise a second time.  Punch down the dough and shape into two loaves.  Place into well-greased pans.  Let rise until the dough forms a nice loaf.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is golden and when you thump on the loaf it has a nice hollow sound.  (or use one of those probe thermometer and measure the internal temperature to 185 degrees)

SPROUTING

We always try to eat some green leafy vegetables every day, but this past week we had to toss our lettuce because of the Listeria recall.  Winter can be hard on us veggie lovers!   Now I understand why the pioneers got so excited about the first spring greens!  Anyway, I started sprouting my own again.   With one batch, I made veggie egg rolls.
Just stir fry the sprouts, some shredded cabbage and carrots until tender but still crisp.  Add about 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and half a packet of one of those stir-fry seasonings mixes that can be found in the foreign food aisle.  Place on wonton wrappers and roll up.  Fry in a small amount of oil until all sides are nicely browned.  Drain on paper towels (or in our house, an old tea towel).

CHEAP BEAUTY TIP

Lately I've been concerned about my gums receding.   It's just one of the many "joys" of aging.  So I've starting oil-pulling, which is supposed to clean all the toxins and bacteria out of your mouth and clean and whiten your teeth.   It's simple enough to do.  Just take 1 tablespoon  (I use a little less because I have a major gag reflex) of organic coconut oil and put it in your mouth.  Chew it until it liquefies, then swish the oil around for 20 minutes.   Do not swallow the oil!  Spit it out into a waste basket (don't want it clogging your pipes).  That's it!   It really does make your your teeth feel clean.   That combined with flossing and brushing twice daily and rinsing with good old Listerine keeps the dentist away!

CRAFTS

Every winter I get the desire to make a quilt.  The only problem with that is that I'm not a very good quilter and I hate the actual quilting part.  I love picking out the fabrics from the scrapbag and I don't even mind the piecing, but the quilting?  Ugh!   So I made this little doll quilt to satisfy my yearning.
Now all you quilters out there, don't laugh!  This tiny quilt took me an entire week to make!   I did it the old fashioned way, just like my grandmother; making templates and tracing them, hand cutting, hand stitching and hand quilting.  I'm always in awe of you ladies that can make a full sized quilt in a weekend.  I salute you!

Speaking of scraps.  My husband keeps busy  during the winter making these wooden utensils.
Any time he spots and interesting grain pattern in the wood while he splits it, he sets it aside for carving.  Along with some  handknit dishcloths, a handsewn apron or potholders, they make a nice shower present or hostess gift. 

I'm also knitting a Tasha Tudor style shawl.  It's a simple pattern:

Cast on 3 stitches
Knit 1 row
The next row and every row after: Knit 2, yarnover, knit to the end of the row

Continue on in this manner until the shawl is as wide as you like.  Cast off.

The size needles depends upon the yarn you use and your patience.  Eventually you'll need to switch to circular needles, but I always find knitting with them awkward, so I start  out on regular straight needles until the stitches get too crowded. I'm using size 6 and some merino wool that my friend Mary gave me.  It will take several hundred yards of wool I suspect, so  I wouldn't use expensive wool.  I think it would be pretty in a tweedy type. I'll show you a picture next week.  It got too dark too soon for me today.

BTW, a yarnover for you beginning knitters is simply bringing the yarn to the front then over the needle to the back, thus creating an extra stitch.

THRIFTY THINGS WE DID THIS WEEK

Wondering when I was going to wind it up, were you?

Made a doll quilt from fabric scraps.
Started knitting a shawl from gifted yarn.
Baked crackers and bread.
Sprouted my own "greens".
Sewed a Christmas present (yeah, I start this early)
"Fixed" my computer.
Mended a vest.
Watched a TV series every evening from a DVD that I bought at the Tractor Supply Company for $3.  (Cheap entertainment)
Canned a boatload of meat.
Bought a few things at the thrift store's 50% of sale. (Waiting for the 95% off sale)
Ran did some plumbing rather than call in Jake the Plumber.
Filled up the gas tank for $1.49/ gallon.  (Can you believe how cheap gas is?)
Hand washed a wool skirt in cold water rather than having it dry cleaned.
And all the usual things like heating with wood, using the wringer, line drying our clothes, etc.

Well I hope you all have a safe a cozy week.  Remember that the easiest way to avoid  most winter accidents is to STAY IN THE HOUSE! 

Hugs
Jane






















  




Friday, January 22, 2016

CAN A COMPUTER HAVE A COMA?

Hello dear friends!  I've always said technology acts peculiar around me and my computer is proof.  When it "died" on Sunday we contacted the tech support.  They had us do all sorts of  techniques to get it up and running but to no avail.  They had to admit that it was as dead as a doornail.  The next day I tried to start it, no luck.   So we just left it be while we waited for FedEx to deliver the postage-paid box to send it in to get fixed.  But being the obsessive-compulsive type that I am, it really bothered me that all my passwords would be out there in the open for the people fixing it to read, in spite of their assurance that everything is safe with them.   So before I put it in the box, I gave it one more college try.  And it started right up!   As a matter of fact, it works faster than ever.  I sure hope this doesn't count as a miracle, for I would hate to have one wasted on my cheap little computer!   All in all, living without a computer wasn't so bad, except that I missed reading your blogs and commenting.  Also missed not being able to do my banking., I hardly step into my bank these days. But I did get a lot accomplished without the distraction of YouTube and Sudoku! Anyway, this is a long way of saying I'm back and will be posting on Sunday night as usual.  Hope to see you then!

Hugs
Jane

Sunday, January 17, 2016

ANNOUNCEMENT

Due to a computer problem, I'll be unable to post anything  for a while.  Only had this computer for one month and ten days before it broke.  I'm getting more efficient  at breaking them! Ha!  So anyway,   I have to wait until HP sends me a box, then I send in my computer and they fix it (good luck with that!) and then send it back.  How long that will take, heaven only knows.  So here's an extra big bear hug to last until then!  Remember whatever happens concerning the economy or anything else, will just make us stronger if we keep our heads.  
Jane

PS:  I guess I'll get to experience my dream of living off-grid for a while.  Be careful what you wish for! :)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

CHRISTMAS IS OVER, IT'S TIME TO GET BACK TO THRIFT!

Hello dear friends!  Hope you had a wonderful first week of the new year!   Today we are having lake-effects snow, fine hard stinging snow that blows at a slant across the miles and miles of lake.  When we retired, people always asked us if we were going to move to someplace warmer, but I wouldn't want to live anyplace that doesn't have a winter.  In our little village our population shrinks from around seven-hundred to just two-hundred hearty souls from November through April.  There's a certain comradeship that comes with those that remain,  we look out for each other. There's no better way to build a sense of community than to "suffer" together.   As we go for our daily walks, we have the sense that we are alone in the world, the only sign of life being the church bells ringing out the hour.  There is so much loveliness in winter, my eyes can hardly behold it all; the rosy tips of the maples silhouetted against the dove gray sky, the rosehips frosted with snow, the way the snow sparkles like diamond dust  in the sunlight.  To me, no exotic landscape can hold a candle to winter's quiet beauty.

Of course, one of the things that makes winter tolerable is that we have a nice wood stove to keep us toasty.  This week we had to buy a two more cords of wood.
We burn wood for heat from mid-October until mid-May, so you can imagine we go through several cords, even with our very efficient stove.  We do use our furnace at night to keep the pipes from freezing; the other day we awoke to 4 degrees Fahrenheit.  It's also nice to have a back-up on days we are away from home.  Plus once every four or five days we must clean the ashes out.  But a furnace just doesn't compare to the coziness of a wood fire.  We buy our wood from the village at $45 a cord.  They deliver it right to the door.  A few years back ash borers killed all the ash trees in the area, so the village was left with quite a bit of trees to cut down.   The proceeds from the sales goes toward village beautification and fireworks.  Each July 4th we have a dandy fireworks display, people come from miles around to watch.   So for about $135 a year for wood and and an additional $8 in natural gas a month, we heat our home.  Plus we supplement some of the wood with free pallet wood. Not bad for living up here close to the half-way point between the north pole and the equator!  As they say, wood heat warms you twice; once in the burning  and once in the cutting. 
But Ran likes to add a third time, once in the splitting  and stacking!

THRIFTY MEAL FROM THE PANTRY (ALMOST)

After the excitement of the holidays wanes, we enjoy eating more exotic foods just to keep us from being too bored.  An added plus that most middle-eastern and eastern food use very little or no meat and are easy on the food budget so we can keep our resolution to spend less.  Here's a soup we made today:
Thai Spicy Peanut Soup

1 large onion, diced
2 carrots diced (about 2 cups)
1/2 red pepper diced
1 clove garlic, minced fine
half a head of broccoli, minced fine
1 can vegetable broth
1 can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted would be nice)
2 tbsp. sweet chili sauce
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder (optional, I don't think it added much to the flavor)
1 C. peanut butter
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions, peppers, and garlic in oil until onions are tender.  Add broth, seasonings and vegetables.  Cook until vegetables are tender.  Stir in the peanut butter and heat through.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For me, this was a meal from the pantry because we had our own dehydrated peppers and broccoli on the shelves, the carrots  and onions came from our root cellar and the broth is home-canned as were the tomatoes.  Even the chili powder is our own; having dried and ground our own peppers.  The only thing we needed to purchase was peanut butter, which is a pantry staple in our house and the sweet chili sauce.  We keep this on hand for dipping homemade egg rolls, so we had this on hand too.  I bought the Chinese five-spice powder at Big Lots a while ago for making egg rolls, but I don't care for the flavor that much so I use it sparingly  and often just leave it out.   I also had some home canned salsa leftover in the fridge so I added that, about 1/4 cup.

All my recipes are just guidelines, basically, except for the baking ones.  Don't be afraid to experiment.  If you don't like an ingredient leave it out, if you think of something to add, add it.  If you have something sitting in the fridge that needs to be used up, use it.  Cooking should be a source of creativity,  especially something like a soup.  There's no right way or wrong way to make a soup.  Just keep tasting and adding ingredients until you come up with something that satisfies your taste buds.  We had some of the soup leftover, so one of the days this week, I'm going to make up some Thai noodles and serve it over them with some toasted coconut. 

BAKING FROM THE PANTRY

Oh my!   While I was busy doing other things, Ran made a batch of these peanut butter cinnamon rolls  from this recipe.   There goes the diet!
I'd say about one adds up to my total calorie intake for the day!

DON'T BUY IT, MAKE IT

Speaking of exotic spices, as many of you have read, I highly recommend taking turmeric as a supplement.   You should take it with black pepper for it to do the most good.  Recently I read that ginger is becoming the newest miracle spice.  Well anyway, with all three of us plus the dog taking turmeric, it can become expensive, so we made our own "tablets".   At the bulk food store we can buy turmeric for around five dollars a pound.  (You really need to check into bulk food stores, if you haven't already)  Also foreign food markets have great prices on it.  To make the tablets, we combined about 1/2cup of turmeric with a tablespoon of ginger and  1 tsp pepper  with just enough honey to make a consistency of  play dough or clay.  Then using about 1/4 tsp at a time, we rolled them into little balls and set them out on waxed paper to dry.  They are a rather bitter pill to swallow, so once they were dry, we dusted them with some confectioners' sugar, but that isn't necessary if you
don't mind the bitterness,  Georgie does.

He's one spoiled pup!

Oh yes!  Another great spice is cinnamon.  It helps regulate your blood sugar.  Every day I have a nice bowl of oatmeal with chia seeds, topped with a teaspoon of brown sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon for breakfast.   Plus it keeps you filled up until lunch!

CHARITY ON A BUDGET

Last year due to all the misfortunes of all things mechanical, I wasn't able to give as much to charity as I would have liked, so this year I'm remedying the situation be doing some knitting for our local Girl Scout's mitten tree.  My goal is to knit at least one pair of mittens each month, hopefully more.  It's a win-win situation as the charity gets some nice warm mittens and I get to use up some of my yarn stash.  I do hate wasting things, especially nice wool yarn.  Here's my first pair:

The wool is Jiffy by Lion Brand Yarns and the colourway is Denim Spray.  I'm trying to knit mainly for boys because I've found that when it comes to charity, they always get the short end of the stick.  Guess it's more fun to buy and make for little girls.  Besides, being the mother of all sons, I have a soft spot for little boys. I'm hoping that by posting a picture of each month's mittens, I'll keep myself accountable!  So you all nag me if you haven't see any each month. Ha!

ALWAYS MEASURE THE COST

Ran and I have been debating whether or not to sell our home and move to a more rural locale and went so far as to start searching for land.  We worry about how inflation will affect our already high water bill.  By the way, the last two months we conserved one-thousand gallons of water, but because most of the bill is fixed, we only saved ten dollars!  We always thought it would be fun to be completely self-sufficient and raise our own meat as well as vegetables, and have a nice wood lot and a sugar bush, but then we started to really take stock.   While it would be nice to have our own meat, at the moment we are doing well bartering labor for it.  Plus animals aren't free, they have to be housed and fed, whether they are producing or not.  Hopefully one day our village will allow us to keep a few chickens, it would be fun, but in all considerations we only use about a half dozen  eggs a month, so it wouldn't be very cost effective anyway. 

None of us like the taste of goat milk or cheese, so it would just be another expense to keep them.  I know that I would never be able to eat any sheep that I raised, and to raise enough for wool, would make for some very expensive yarn.  Probably why hand spun yarn cost so much. 

The cost of drilling a well, would probably be more expensive than a lifetime of even our high-priced water.  As I watched Ran split wood the other day, I was reminded that while it is nice exercise for him at sixty, I seriously cannot see him lumbering, hauling, splitting and stacking wood when he's eighty.  As Ran points out that all I have to do to fulfill my dream of living off the grid is to flip the master switch on the electrical box.  As it is now, we only use about thirty dollars of electricity a month, but I have to admit I do like my computer and it is nice to come  home to a warm house that doesn't have to have the fire stoked.  Not to mention, indoor plumbing is a luxury I'm not willing to live without! Ha!

All in all, we love where we live; our orchard is finally producing lots of fruit (we even had some hazelnuts this year - 4!), we raise enough vegetables and fruits to see us through the year, our neighbors are friendly and then there's the intangibles such as like-minded citizens and a county sheriff that believes in the Constitution (he recently took the Federal government to task for flying drones over our county seat).

Mainly the downside is that we feel that we are not homesteaders because we do not live on  acres of land and have animals.  I read lots of homesteading blogs and watch many homesteading YouTube videos, and that seems to be the factor that determines if you are a homesteader or not.  However, most of those people are working jobs outside of their homes to support their lifestyle.  Tractors, barns, horse feed, and the taxes on a large chunk of land is expensive. Even then, most do not raise their own grains, or live completely off the land.  Truly I believe that total self-sufficiency cannot be attained  these days. Land is just too valuable.  Machinery is too expensive.   Plus now days we have so many regulations and zoning laws,  the dream of living completely independently is just that, a dream.  Long gone are the days when you could  buy yourself a piece of land, lumber and mill the wood, erect a house, hunt when you need meat, and be completely self-sufficient without breaking or at least skirting  some laws.  But there are steps to living as cheaply and  as economically as possible:

1) Grow a garden
2) Learn to can and preserve
3) Learn to bake your own bread
4) Use elecetricity, water, and natural gas as miserly as you can.
5) Keep a small footprint.  How big of a house do you really need?
6) Live within your means and don't borrow money
7) Learn pioneer crafts, such as sewing, knitting, making soap etc.
8) Learn to barter
9) Keep records of how much you spend and why
11) Take care of your health
12) And most importantly,  ignore what society is telling you that you "should" be doing.  If we had a dollar for all the jokes and snide comments that we have received over the years about our thrifty ways, we would have enough money to buy a large tract of land and pay the taxes on it.  We've  been "urban homesteading" for almost forty years, long before the term became trendy.


THRIFTY THINGS WE DID THIS WEEK

There!  I'm glad I talked that out.  Hope I didn't bore you too much.  Sometimes I find it helps to write out all the nice sensible reasons why a plan isn't feasible so that I'm not led by my heart.

Anyway, on to the thrifty things:

Made our own turmeric tablets
Sold 10 more things on Ebay.
Started to make a small patchwork quilt from  the scrapbag.
Knitted mittens from the yarn stash for charity.
Made candles from the bits left in those jar candles and old teacups.
Bought a couple of shirts for Jamie from the 50% of sale at the thrift store.
Bought, split and stacked wood for heating.
Got our utilities bills, we were down 66% from last year's natural gas, 25% for electricity and saved 1000 gallons of water from last month.
Ate from the pantry.
Heated with wood.
Saved 50% of our paycheck.
Got paid for doing a couple of odd jobs.
Continued to use the old wringer washing machine and hang our laundry on racks to dry.
Watched old movies on YouTube.
Learned how to use a rocket stove to heat a water tank.
Walked and walked and walked.
Used some of our many candles for lighting in the evening.

So that's it for this week.  Hope you all have a nice cozy week ahead of you!

Hugs
Jane






















Sunday, January 3, 2016

NEW YEAR, NEW GOALS

Happy New Year dear friends!   How's the resolutions coming?   Brrrr!  We finally are getting our winter.   The old thermometer hasn't crept over the twenty degree mark for a couple of days   but the sky is a beautiful pale blue sash above the snow.  Putting up with the cold is a small price to pay for such beauty!  Besides, we are toasty inside thanks to the wood stove.   And a pot of beans simmering on the top is pretty much as close to bliss as a person can get here on earth.  Life is good!

SETTING GOALS

The clean slate of a new year is the perfect time to set new goals.   This year besides the usual of losing weight and saving more money, the one main goal for myself is to set aside some time each day to be creative.  I thrive on creativity and if I don't have a project going, I feel antsy.  Some would say after looking at some of my attire, that I am "too" creative.  Ha!  I believe that every day is dress-up day.  Guess I never got over the fun of playing dress-up from childhood, so one day you may see me dressed as a Jane Austen heroine with my hair done up and wearing a cameo, other times I'm Annie Oakley, and yet other times I don a fur hat and pretend I'm Zhivago's Lara.  Life is short have fun with it!   Here's a picture of the penny rug I made during the  first week of my creative year:
I call it Winter Skies.


Anyway, back to setting goals, you know the old adage that those that fail to plan, plan to fail?   Well, a truer statement has never been said.  If you just "wing it" you probably won't have much success.

THRIFTY DIETING

Some might laugh at me giving dieting advice, Audrey Hepburn I'm not. Having hypothyroidism, I have the metabolism of a sloth.  I must keep my calorie count between 1200 to 1500 and walk at least three miles a day just to maintain my weight, which many would say is a diet, so in a way, I guess I do know a thing or two about dieting.  Really all one needs to do to lose weight is to keep their calories between that range (unless you are me, I need to keep my to around 900 to lose weight) and exercise.   Now days the nutrition information is printed on everything, so it's not hard to keep track.  Plus you can find the numbers on the internet.  For homemade meals, you just add up all the calories in the ingredients and then divide it by the number of servings.  All you really need is a little notebook to diet.  Just write everything down that you eat and keep track of the calories.   When you reach your calorie intake for the day, stop eating.  Really it's that simple  Technically, you could eat three candy bars a day, if that is all that you ate, and still lose weight, but you wouldn't feel very well and would soon be sick.  So here's some tips that I've discovered over the years:

1.  Keep a notebook of everything you eat and be truthful.  Even that taste out of the pot counts. Plus the very fact that I must write it down, keeps me from putting things in my mouth.
2.  Go for the bang for the buck.   For instance bread isn't all that nutritious and it really doesn't add much to the flavor, so why use it?  You can eat a sandwich or a hamburger in a lettuce wrap or just the meat on the side.  I never eat the rice when having Chinese food.  Rice doesn't do a thing for me. Don't waste your calories on things that aren't either nutritious or delicious. This reminds me of way back when, my boys loved Pop Tarts and I toast up one  myself from time to time, then one day I noticed the calorie information on the side of the box.  Around 400 calories!   They certainly didn't give me 400 calories of satisfaction.   Never touched them from that day forward. Pop (or soda) is another thing.  At almost 300 calories a glass, it just isn't worth it to me.
3.  Delay.   If there's something I'm really craving but is loaded with calories, I delay eating it for a while.  Sometimes I forget all about it.
4.  Take a little taste.  If you just have to have a slice of that cake or whatever it is that is driving you crazy, take just a small bite.  Just enough to satisfy your taste buds.   You don't have to eat an entire cake slice or an entire candy bar.  Just take a taste.
5.  Don't eat after six PM. It's OK to go to bed with a growling stomach.  Just imagine it's a little animal inside you eating up all your fat cells.
6.  Take up a hobby.  I love potato chips, something about the crunch and salt just drives me crazy.  I won't even bring them into the house because I know if I eat one, I'm going to eat half the bag. So I sew or knit, etc. and other things that require me to have clean grease-free hands.  Can't do them and eat chips at the same time.
7.  Eat at the table.   Set a proper table to have your meals.  It slows you down and you become mindful of what you are eating.  I know that when I'm eating on the run, the food just gets scarfed down and I never feel full or satisfied.
8. Chart your progress.  I make a graph of my weight loss.  It's very satisfying to see the downward movement.
 9.  Take your measurements.  I hit a plateau that lasted for two years, that no matter what I tried to do I couldn't lose even a pound.  I even tried not eating at all but nothing happened.  You know those people that say they had the flu for a week and lost twenty pounds?  Yeah, that's not me.  But the one thing that kept me from chucking the whole diet thing was that I could see by looking at my measurements (and baggy clothes) that I was getting smaller, regardless of what the scale said.
10.  Find exercise that is fun.  If it isn't fun, you'll find yourself making excuses for not doing it.  So find something you enjoy,  it doesn't have to be something traditional.  Maybe you like hula dancing or climbing trees.  Just start moving.
 11.  Drink lot of pure fresh water.   Sometimes our bodies are telling us that we're hungry when in truth we are just thirsty.  Plus water fills you up.  Have a big glassful before eating. 
12.  Learn what true hunger feels like.   You might have to go without food  for a couple of days to discover this.  It's not the stomach growling hunger, but you'll actually feel a pain in your stomach when you are truly hungry.  If we would only eat when we are truly hungry, we wouldn't have any weight problems.
13.  Learn what triggers your eating.   Many of us our emotional eaters.  I know that when I am anxious, I start to look for something to stuff in my mouth.  For others it may be boredom or sadness.  Figure out what makes you tick and you'll save a lot of calories.
14.  And finally, stop the self-defeating attitude.  I know that weight loss for myself is near impossible.  My doctor has even told me as much, but every day I get up and think that this is the day the scale is going to register a little less and I'm going to do something to make it possible.  I'll probably never be 110 pounds again, but even if I only lose two pounds a year, I know in five years I'll weigh ten pounds less.

SAVING MONEY

Again a little notebook is your best friend.  Write down every penny you spend for a month.  Every little thing from a postage stamp to the quarter you drop in the charity boxes that are set up near every register (the pet shelter ones are the ones that get me). Once you've gathered all the data, you'll know where you're money goes.  I was surprised to learn that we spend around $20 a month on postage.  So now I budget for that.

After you figured out what you spend your money on, the next step is making a budget.  Many prices are fixed, such as mortgages, rent, car payments, etc, so write them down first.   Now with the remaining money, set an amount for the rest; food, heating, electricity, etc. and don't forget the non-monthly bills such as car insurance and property taxes.   For those items divide the amount by 12 and immediately put that money into your savings account.  I would say that if you are easily tempted to spend that money, you should start a separate savings account just for earmarked expenditures.  On items such as food and clothing, take the money from you checking account and put them in envelopes.  That way, you can physically see how much you have to spend.  Seeing you only have $20  bill in your pocket and ten days until the end of the month, certainly keeps you from spending it on donuts. On the other hand, if you can get by on less, it's nice to carry it over to the next month, or better yet, put into your savings.  Also, make sure that you set up an emergency fund.   Things break.  Last year we spent over 1/3 of our income on repairs to our cars and the furnace.  While that's an anomaly,  you should always have at least 5-10% of your income set aside for such emergencies depending upon your income..   New tires aren't going to magically appear you know.  I wrote about how to pay off your credit cards here.  And don't forget to budget for clothing even if you buy everything at thrift stores or think there is nothing you need.  You need new underwear and socks from time to time.  Once in a while something gets stained or torn. It doesn't have to be much but you have to be realistic. And always put some money into savings.   It might only be ten dollars, just as long as you are moving forward, that's the important thing. Forego things like dining out and movies to meet that goal.  I'd say get rid of the cable too.   Sell something or do an odd job  to meet the goal.  Sit in the dark so your electricity bill is lower.   Whenever you find yourself becoming too comfortable, readjust your lifestyle a little lower.

THRIFTY THING I DID THIS WEEK

I won a beautiful scarf from the The Foothills of The Great Smoky Mountains blog.  Thank you Toni!  It was beautiful!

Sold five things on Ebay with their no fee offer (BTW the scarf sold for $138)

Made a penny rug from wool pieces given to me from my friend Mary.

Harvested parsley from our garden (yes, it was still alive under the snow)

Bought 3 one pound bags of kidney beans on sale for 89 cents a bag from Aldis.

Made a batch of baked beans on top of the woodstove. Free heat!

Started a sampler with supplies I had.

Turned the heat down even lower at night to save on heating costs.  Our heating cost for December was $25.

Rearranged the furniture to take better advantage of the sun's warmth.

Bottled up some homemade cider vinegar.  It was supposed to be apple brandy (made from windfalls) but we forgot about it and it turned to vinegar.  It's very good vinegar .

By now I'm sure you are tired of reading about the wood heat, clothes drying, eating from the pantry etc..  So let's just say those all are givens.   Well I hope you have a lovely and safe week ahead!

Hugs
Jane