Search This Blog

Loading...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: A WEEK OF THRIFT

Hello dear friends!  Hope you all are enjoy your evening.  The weather is slowly inching its way to spring.  On Wednesday we had snow but at least we knew it wouldn't stay and took comfort in that. 

In spite of the cold, our rhubarb is thriving.
If you are novice gardener, plant yourself some rhubarb, and you'll feel successful!  It takes very little care, is always the first thing to sprout in the spring (even under the snow) and will grow just about anywhere.  The only care it needs is a liberal dose of manure in the fall.  You can even plant it in the  back of the flowerbed.  I find the leaves just as pretty as a hosta and when if you leave it  to flower after you have harvested all that you want, it will reward you with a pretty feathery cream colored blossoms. 

I harvested enough to make some strawberry-rhubarb jam since strawberries were on sale this week. The recipe I use can be found here.  It will be so nice the winter to open a jar and taste Spring.

I often hear people remark that they don't use jam, but I think a piece of toast with jam is a wonderful snack.   Another thing I use jam for,  is to make Jam Squares,  a simple from-the-pantry treat.

Jam Squares

3/4 C. butter or margarine
1/3 C. powdered sugar
1 1/2 C. flour
1 pint of your favorite jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine the first three ingredients.  Press dough into a greased 9"X13" pan.  Spread the jam over the top.  Bake 20 minutes.  Cool in refrigerator before cutting.  You can also add nuts or coconut to the topping. 


Having the ingredients to make little things like these simple jam squares are very comforting when times are difficult.  We may not always have the funds for fancy and expensive ingredients, but our pantry always has jam!  My husband and I have a little ritual of sitting down together on cold evenings and have a cookie or sometimes cheese and a cup of tea and just talk.  I think it might be one of our secrets to a successful marriage. (We will be married 37 years this summer.)

Another tradition of ours is to clean the flowerbeds together on the first warm day of spring.  As a gaze over at Ran and Jamie working diligently in the garden, knowing that they are working so hard to please me, I always think of this Bible verse:

God is love, and who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
~ 1 John 4:16~

While we are doing yard work, we gather all the sticks and tie them in bundles.

They make wonderful fire starters, and because so many are branches from the pruning the apple trees, they smell wonderful, too!  The bundles are also great for campfire cooking. If we ever get warm enough weather for that!

This week I finally got enough ambition to sew up the little ballerina slippers that I knitted for our new granddaughter-to-be.  I don't know why but I always dislike finishing projects. It only took me two evenings to knit them, but it took me two weeks to sew them.  A few months ago I got lucky at the thrift store and found a bunch of 1940s era knitting pamphlets.  This pattern was one of them. And they use up some of the yarn stash.  Here's the pattern:

 Size 2 knitting needles.
1 oz.  baby yarn

Starting at sole, cast on 20 stitches, working in garter stitch, increase 1 stitch at the beginning of each row, 8 times.  (28 stitches)
Knit 4 rows even, then decrease by knitting the 2nd and 3rd stitches together at the beginning of each row 8 times (20 stitches)
Now cast on 8 stitches at the end of the next row (back of shoe)
Increase 1 stitch every other row at the toe until there are 34 stitches on the needle.
Bind off 20 stitches at the back of shoe.
Increase 1 stitch at toe every other row 3 times (17 stitches)
Knit 4 rows even.
Decrease 1 stitch at toe 3 times.
Cast on 20 stitches for back of shoe and decrease at toe every other row until 28 stitches remain.
Bind off.

You'll have this odd looking shape:

Pick up 48 stitches around top of shoe and work in stockinette stitch for 7 rows. Bind off.  Sew shoe top to sole.  Sew back seam.

STRAP:
Cast on 36 stitches.  Knit 2 rows.
On the 3rd row, knit 2, then work buttonhole by yarn over, knit 2 stitches together. Knit to end of row.
Knit 2 rows. Bind off.
Sew strap to back of shoe. Sew on button.  Trim with a small pompom.
                                                                    ~
On Wednesday, we left the confines of our tiny village and traveled to the big city.  While there, we stopped at the Polish butcher's for some kielbasa.  He also had some pork/veal mixture for only $2.99 a pound.  So I made up some meatloaf.   I always use this recipe, more or less.  I use less meat and add oatmeal to stretch it.  It's cheaper than lunchmeat and makes the nicest sandwiches.  Even people that say they hate meatloaf, love this recipe. And the smell of the bacon sure is wonderful when you come in from the cold!

We also stopped at the thrift store and I bought a brand- new- with -tags -on skirt form the Acacia catalog for $5.  I checked out their site and the cheapest item of clothing they have is around $80, so I was pretty pleased with that! I need some new summer clothes, I'm so hard on them.  (If we have a summer this year.)  I also bought some curtain valances with a cute retro pattern, that I plan to make into some totes.

Here's some thrifty things we did this week:

Harvest rhubarb from or garden.
Made 7 jars of strawberry-rhubarb jam.
Trimmed my own hair.
Made a large meatloaf for sandwiches.
Gathered twigs and branches for firestarters.
Sewed a headband/headcovering from scrap fabric.
Heated our house with wood (or heating bill was only $30 this month! Not bad considering the temperatures are still only in the 40s).
Ran made some wooden spoons free wood.
Made homemade bread.
Except for lettuce, kielbasa, strawberries and the meatloaf mix, ate entirely out of the pantry.

I'm sure there are many other things, but it's late as I write this, and my thinking cap isn't working very well!  So until next time,  see you later, aligator!
















Monday, April 20, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: PREPARATIONS

Hello dear friends! Hope you all are doing well, this April morning! We've had "hang the clothes outside" weather at last!  For us, that's a celebratory day.
We have hot water!   After a long week without it, can't tell you how thrilling it is to turn the knob and have hot water come out of the tap.  We were hit by a power surge, even though we had a surge protector on our furnace and it was designed to shut down if there was a power surge. Fried all the wires.  Just goes to show you that there are no guarantees in plumbing or in life.  At least this week provided us with some valuable lessons on preparedness.

What We Learned From A Week Without Hot Water

Well, the first and very obvious thing you learn is that hot water is pretty important!  When you have to boil your water for every dish you wash and are washing your face and hands with ice cold water you can learn to conserve on it quite a bit.  Now, as much as I abhor paper plates, I will keep a supply in my pantry for emergencies.  You'll want to keep some one-pot meals, such as soups and those meals prepared with boiling water in your pantry.  Believe me,  boiling water doesn't stay hot for very long, so you want to be able to wash up dishes quickly.  Therefore, dirty as few as you can.  So this year, as I can, I will also be thinking about canning up more meals-in-a-jar type meals.

Sponge baths are OK, but there is nothing compared to a nice long shower or a soak in a tub.  So this garage sailing  season,  I'll look for a tub that's big enough to sit in, for bathing.  You know, the kind you wash your dog in?   Imagine if there was a solar flare of EMP that they all are predicting.  How long would you want to go with out a bath?  Now I know, my limit is about one week, before I really start to feel itchy.  You can always resort to the old "dry shampoo" method of washing your hair in between baths if you have oily hair.  My girlfriends and I used to do this when we didn't have time to wash and dry our long 70s hair before a big date.  Just sprinkle some baby or talcum powder on your the top of your head, in the areas where it is oily.  Then comb  out the powder, using a comb with a piece of terry cloth (cut from an old washcloth or towel) fitted over the teeth of the comb.

Clothes can be washed in cold water.  I don't think it does as nice of a job, but when pinch comes to a shove it works.  Try to conserve on dirtying your clothes.  There's a reason why everyone wore aprons and pinafores in the olden days.  It's a lot easier to wash an apron, then an entire set of clothes.

OTHER THOUGHTS ON PREPPING

I think it is a good idea for families to every once in a while, turn off all the electrical devices, shut down the furnace or air conditioner and experience a weekend without any modern conveniences.  Just a weekend will show you areas you need to work on.  Do you have a way to prepare food and keep it?  How  can you keep warm or cool?  Do you have enough food?  Can you get water?  What are you going to do to amuse yourselves?  Fortunately for us, we live in an area where high winds take out our electricity periodically, so we have had some good  "tests", like the week in the middle of winter when we were without after an ice storm.  I've learned that while it's nice to have a fridge stocked with sandwich makings, that will not last long without electricity.  You need longer storage food.  And that food better be things you like.  Although it's possible to live on beans and rice, would you want to?   I think it's better to choose a few meals that your family likes and stock up on those ingredients, such as; tuna casserole, spaghetti, bean burritos, pancakes, etc.  Just buy what you can afford, stocking up when there's a sale or you have a few extra pennies. 

GARDENING

Gardening is another  thrifty way to stock up.  We started our garden this week, planting our lettuce, beets, peas, spinach and onions.  People often tell us that they would love to have a garden, but don't know where to start.  I always tell them to start small.  Find a sunny spot in you yard.  Remove the grass from a 3 foot by 2 foot area.  Dig down a foot or two and turn the soil.  If the soil looks sandy, buy a bag of peat and dig that in.  If you have a lot of clay, buy some sand and dig that in.  Now rake over your little plot and get it all nice a smooth.  Buy a package of lettuce seeds and plant them in a row.  Buy some tomato plants and stick them on both ends. Maybe an herb plant or two, also  Make sure you monitor your plants and water them when the soil is dry, which you can tell by sticking your finger in the soil.  Every couple of days, check to see if any weeds are coming up and pull them.  By the end of summer you should have a nice salad garden.  Once you've had success with this little garden, add on a couple of more feet to your plot. And so on.  Eventually you can become an urban homesteader.  Really gardening is not rocket science!

A SOW"S EAR OUT OF A SILK PURSE

Above is a picture of an apron I made this weekend out of a jean skirt.  I had just purchased the skirt this weekend from our local thrift shop and I adored it.  It fit perfectly, was comfy and had these nice big pockets.  Unfortunately, I only had it for a few hours, when I decided to make a very unladylike maneuver.  Well, I zigged by my skirt zagged and it tore right up the center seam!  It struck in my craw that I hadn't gotten my two dollar's worth, then I spotted an article in the latest Cappers magazine while perusing the magazines at the Tractor Supply Store about making an apron from old jeans.  So that's what I did.  Not the loveliest, but it is nice and sturdy  And those big pockets will be just the thing for holding seed packets when gardening.  So that is how I made a sow's ear out of a silk purse!

DON'T BUY IT, MAKE IT  - RECIPE FROM THE PANTRY

It is a tradition in our house to have a formal sit-down meal complete with dessert on Sundays.  The rest of the week, we might have a fly-by the- seat-of-our -pants meal, where the silverware gets place anywhere within reach and the food is scooped out of the pot and onto the dishes, but on Sunday, we take care in setting the table properly, use our fancy serving dishes, and take time to converse.   Even when times are hard, we find a way to make something for dessert.  Old-fashioned chocolate cornstarch pudding is thrifty and wholesome and if you serve it in fancy glasses it can look rather elegant.

Chocolate Cornstarch Pudding

In a medium sized heavy saucepan, combine:

2/3 C. sugar
1/4 C. cornstarch
3 tbsp. cocoa
pinch of salt

Gradually stir in 3 cups milk.  Over  medium heat, bring to a boil.  Stirring constantly for about 1 minute or until pudding starts to thicken.  Take from heat.

Stir in 2 tbsp. butter and 1 tsp. vanilla.  Refrigerate.

THRIFTY THINGS WE DID THIS WEEK

Aside from the usual things of eating from the pantry and hanging our laundry outside, we:

Started our garden.

Made a pair of booties from some thrifted yarn.

Turned our heat completely off for the summer.

Made an apron from a recycled skirt.

Repaired our lawnmower ourselves.

Cut our electricity usage by unplugging all our electricals in the evening.

Well that's it for this week!  Hope to see you here next week, God willing and the creek don't rise!

Jane

Monday, April 13, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: THE BIG BANG THEORY

Hello dear friends!   Hope you all are doing well!  Finally!  We had some warm weather.  It was so nice to go outside with just a sweater.   I tell you one thing, if you live in the North, you better be wise in your choice of winter coats, because you will be tired of them by the time April rolls around.  The rising temperatures couldn't come at a better time either, because on Saturday we awoke to discover that our furnace wasn't working.  The plumber discovered that the motor had malfunctioned.  We had a top of the line all-American," from a good company", furnace installed three and half years ago, but I guess there are no guarantees in life.   Well at least it can be fixed.  Also, on the same day our credit card company called to tell us that there was suspicious activity on our card.  So they stopped all transactions.  Turns out the suspicious activity was that we had used it.   We rarely do.   When it rains it pours! Some days I'm ready to go back to the horse and buggy days, or maybe become a hermit.  Anyway, just spending a few days heating our home with wood and boiling our water for washing up, makes me realize that I will always be grateful to whomever invented furnaces and indoor plumbing.  So this month is yet another month of lean, as now our food budget is nil so we can pay for the plumber.  I'm always so glad that we have a well-stocked pantry, even though I take a lot of teasing from friends about my prepping.  You know the old saying, "Those that fail to prepare, prepare to fail."

SCHMIERKASE
While we are using the wood stove to heat our house, I took advantage of the radiant heat from the stove top to make Schmierkase, which is a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe for a soft cheese.  It's really the easiest cheese you can make and taste like a cross between cottage and cream cheese.   You simply combine 1 pint of whole milk with 1/2 pint cream and put it in a warm place (like you would for yogurt) until it thickens.  Once it thickens, drain the cheese curd in a cheesecloth over top of a fine mesh strainer.  Put this over a bowl.  You can use the liquids for baking.  Once the liquid is drained add enough cream to make it a creamy consistency.  Stir in a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar.  There you have it, your own cheese.  I used 2% milk  and half-and-half, because that is what I had on hand and it worked out fine.  Schmierkase with a warm scone and a dab of maple pear butter is a fine thing, indeed.
PANTRY RECIPE

As always, I try to use recipes that use basic pantry items.  These Oatmeal Cinnamon Scones fill the bill.

Oatmeal Cinnamon Scones

1 1/2 C. flour
1/2 C. oatmeal
1/3 C. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine these ingredients in a large bowl and stir in :

1/3 C. melted butter
1 egg
1/3 C. buttermilk

Stir together and pat dough into a 8 inch circle about 1/2 inch thick.  Score the dough into eighths.  Sprinkle top with additional sugar.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.

There you have it, a nice simple and easy scone.  Perhaps it doesn't look as grand as a fancy one from Starbucks, but it serves its purpose.  Which leads me to:

THE BIG BANG THEORY OF HOME ECONOMICS

First to all that have never heard of the phrase "bang for the buck" it means getting the most value out your money.  Every time you purchase something, you should ask yourself,. is it worth it?  If it isn't, leave it on the shelf.  Every person is different, so I cannot tell you what those things will be for you, but here's some things that I don't find it is worth spending my money on: store made bake goods,  fancy restaurants, the latest fashions, expensive jewelry, the latest technology, cable TV, a big house, expensive hotels (or travel for that matter), and the list goes on and on.  Conversely, there are some things I think it is well worth spending money on, such as; quality cookware, my All American pressure canner, my husband's guitars, good quality tools, walking shoes (we walk 3-6 miles a day), wool rugs, non-gmo seeds.  You and your family have to decide what's on your list but you'd be amazed at how much you can save just by asking yourself this question.  Sometimes I will go to the store fully intending upon purchasing a food item just for its convenience (like a frozen pizza), then I look at the price and what I get for the money and leave it on the shelf, it's just as easy and convenient to fry up some eggs or make a quick vegetable soup.

DO IT YOURSELF

This week reupholstered one of our living room chairs.
Reupholstering is one of those skills that has saved us a lot of money over the years.  You might not want to start out with a curvy chair like this, but certainly anyone who has ever wrapped a Christmas present can tackle their dining room chairs.  Gradually work your way up to bigger and bigger projects.  We have no choice but to reupholster our furniture, since furniture makers now days do not make chairs that are the right scale for a tiny house.  I found this chair for $5 at a garage sale eons ago and after searching far and wide for some linen-y type fabric, I found these dropcloths at the Harbor Freight store.  So it only costs me $14 to redo this chair!  A long time ago we went to a garage sale at an upholstery shop and bought an entire bin of gimp for $5.  Some of the best money we ever spent.  Certainly got our "bang" for those bucks! Oh!  BTW, that cabinet that is in the background is one my husband made from scrap lumber and a piece of old barnwood.

THRIFTY THINGS WE DID THIS WEEK

Heated our home with wood (of course)
Made a cabinet for our guest/storage cottage from scrap lumber and found objects.
Reupholstered our living room chair.
Knitted a pair of baby booties from some thrifted yarn (more on this next week).
Harvested our Glass Gem corn seeds for planting this spring.
Packed away our heavy winter clothes, which really helped change the mood of the place.
Dried our laundry by the fire.
Gave several bagfuls of things to charity.
Made all our meals from pantry items.









Monday, April 6, 2015

SWEET BRIAR JOURNAL: THE LITTLE THINGS

Hello dear friends!  Hope you had a wonderful Easter!   Ours started out stormy and gray and rather gloomy, but by noon the sun came out and the birds rejoiced.  I think there was an Easter message in the weather.  Because there were travel advisories, we stayed home and listened to several very good sermons on the TV.  So the silver lining is that I might have missed those messages if the weather would have been cooperative.  At last the ice has melted from the lake.  Today as I was driving along the  shoreline (on the way to the dentist. Yuk!) it was the prettiest turquoise color and the gentlest of waves, and if I wasn't wearing a winter coat, it might have felt like the nicest of Spring days.  Soon the Spring-y weather will be here! 

In the meantime, we are amusing ourselves by Spring cleaning the house.  A sparkling clean house is one of the nicest luxuries.  And the only cost is for soap!  We finally had a warm enough day to wash our windows.  Oh my!  What a difference that made to our outlook, both figuratively and literally!  Taking care of our home is such a privilege,  something we do cheerfully because we know how blessed we are to have a home.  It is a very humble little place.  Less than 1000 square feet and it is furnished in used and handmade furniture, but to us, no castle can compare.  We love to find thrifty ways to make it our own.  One thing we did this week is to hang an old ladder from the ceiling in our dining room  and hang my collection of antique baskets.
We also decorated it with  trimmings from our grape vines.  The old ladder is the top half of an old orchard ladder that we bought for $1 at an estate sale.  Might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for us, it brings  great pleasure.  That's the thing, when decorating, just do what your family likes and don't worry about what others think.  The more you love your home, the more likely that you will stay home, ergo spend less time out spending money!

Another free fun thing is stargazing.  We watched the lunar eclipse this week.


There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.
~Albert Schweitzer~

On the practical side,  we are trying to cut back on our utilities costs.  We have managed to get our heating bill down quite a bit by using our wood stove and many other things that I wrote about here, but our electricity bill has been going up. Mainly because the cost per wattage is going up, so we are taking more steps to cut our usage.  This week we bought a power strip with a switch for the TV, cable box, and stereo area.  At night we turn it off.  We also unplug our computers at night.  We are trying to do all of our baking on one day a week (we have and electric oven)  rather than heating it several times a week.  We are also using candles and oil lamps in the evening.  That's more for just setting a serene mood than for any actual savings.  During garage sales season, I always buy candles, which you can get for 10-25 cents, remelt them and pour into pretty teacups that I also buy at the garage sales.  You can buy pre-made wicks from the craft stores.  These candles also make nice little extra gifts. 

We are always endeavoring to bring our grocery bill down.  One thing we did this week was to make a ham and egg pie from Easter dinner leftovers and the sales-priced  eggs.

Ham and Egg Pie

1 1/2 C. diced ham
1 C. onions
1 small head broccoli  (separated into small heads and parboiled)
1 1/2 C. cubed potatoes (parboiled or use leftover ones)
1 - 1 1/2 C. cubed cheese
1 tbsp. mustard
6 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
pie crust for a two crust pie

Fit the crust into the bottom of a pie pan.  Combine the ham, onions, broccoli, potatoes, cheese and mustard and put into the pie shell.  Make  6 small wells in the filling and crack an egg into each of the wells.  Gently fit the top crust on so not to break the eggs, making sure to cut vents into it before placing on top.  At this point I like to spread some soften butter on my top crust and sprinkle it with some herbs but that is optional.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. 

I always make a large batch of pie crusts and freeze them.  Then I just have to defrost the crust when I want to bake a pie.  My recipe for large batch pie crust can be found here. With any leftover I make  mini pizza pies that I keep in the freezer for son Jamie to snack on. My mother would always bake up the scraps and make little  pies for me to enjoy with tea for my dolls.  A little thing, but a wonderful memory!

So you see, not everything has to be a large thing.  Saving a penny here, a penny there, adds up too.  The main thing is to just start.  Challenge yourself to see what ways you can cut costs this week.

Here's our thrift accomplishments for this week:

 I made old fashioned fudge from pantry staples rather than buy Easter candy.
We trimmed our grape vines and used the trimmings to make wreaths for the doors.
Made a ham and egg pie with Easter leftovers and cheap eggs, which were the lost leaders this week.
Combined a sale, a discounted item and a coupon to buy a pair of muck boots for 1/2 the price.
Made a cupboard from some old headboards, wood scraps, and salvaged materials for our guest/storage cottage.
As usual, heated the house with wood, dried our laundry on racks, ate out of the pantry, etc.

Monday, March 30, 2015

SWEET BRIAR JOURNAL: LESSONS FROM MY GRANDPARENTS

Hello dear friends!   Hope you all are enjoying your day, wherever you are!   On Friday, I awoke to this:
Arghhh!   But it isn't unusual for our area to have snow at the end of March, so it isn't to be unexpected.  It's just that I have so many southern blogging friends that tease me with pictures of apple blossoms and daffodils.  This is Spring in northern Michigan.  I have plenty of pictures from childhood of us girls dressed in our Easter outfits, standing in the snow.   But in spite of having six months of snow (it started snowing here in October), I still find it pretty. 
And I know come next winter, I will be anticipating it's return.  So I won't complain anymore. Winter is on its way out.  I can tell because the ice is beginning to break up on the lake.
BTW, that  blue is the true color of the ice.  There's been talk about the blue ice phenomenon. Scientist say it is caused by the frigid cold combined with the extreme wind.  Something about it quick freezing.   I don't know.   I don't remember "blue ice" when I was a kid.  But then maybe I just wasn't paying attention back then.

My grandparents have been on my mind lately.  They all had important lesson about thrift to be learned from them.

My Grandmother, Alice W. :  Find a way to make it special

I never met my maternal grandmother, Alice W., she died in childbirth when she was thirty-two, but my great aunts have told me several stories, so I do know some things about her.  The one thing I have heard from them all is that she loved to laugh and that she always managed to bring a carmel-frosted  date cake to any celebration even during the deepest depression when everyone was struggling to put food on the table.  By sacrificing a little bit here, putting more water in the soup, skipping a meal here or there,  serving smaller portions, she managed to eke out of her tiny food budget enough to make those cakes, knowing full well that would often be the only thing to mark a special occasion.  But more importantly, I  learned that you can't let life defeat you, even when life seems one burden after another, there is always something to rejoice in, even if it only that you are here to see another day. Celebrate!

My Grandmother Hazel A.:  Surround yourself with beauty

My grandmother, Hazel A, was an artist.  She was always sewing, painting, arranging flowers, or doing some other artistic endeavor.  When my grandparents built their stone house, she handpicked all of the stones for the facade.   When they gardened, she would plant every third row with zinnias. Even though it was the depression, she used her talents to make her home a pretty sanctuary.  One of the thing she did was to make quilts from scraps of fabric.   She made many beautiful ones, but the ones I remember best are her woolen scrap quilts.  I wrote recently that I bought a lot of woolen goods at the 85% and 95% sale at our local Thumb Industries Thrift Store in Bad Axe (somebody wanted to know where they had such sales), here's the quilt I made from them:
Here's a closer look:
 How to make a woolen scrap quilt:

1.  Prepare your fabric by cutting away all seams, interfacing, buttons, etc. from your scraps. Press the wool, using the highest setting on your iron and a pressing cloth.  Hint:  you'll get much more fabric from a skirt or pair of pants.

2.  Cut the fabric into squares.  I used a three inch square for mine, but my grandmother used a 4 1/2 inch square for hers.  I used the traditional template method of making my squares but you can use a rotary cutter and mat if that's your style.

3.  Using a 1/4 inch seam allowance sew your patches into strips.  Mine was 15 patches wide by 21 strips long, but you can make yours any size you please. Press the seams open.

4.  Sew the strips together, matching the seams to the desired length.  Press the seams open.

5.  Sandwich a layer of batting between your quilt top and backing with the right sides facing out.

6.  With  a double strand of yarn, tie the layers together centering the knot in the middle of the squares.  (None of which I did because I was making this quilt as a duvet cover for a down throw).

7.  Finish by sewing quilt binding around the edges.

There you have it, really an easy- peasy  basic sort of quilt.  A good beginner one.  Not the most lovely, but certainly a very fine utility type, to keep you warm during the winter.  This quilt cost me about $4 because I used a down throw I already had for the batting and an old gray linen shower curtain for the backing.


Now back to the grandparents:

My Grandfather William A.:  The Most Important Lesson, Charity

One of my earliest memories was of attending my grandfather William A.'s funeral.  The church was packed to overflowing and there were people standing out on the steps and the lawn, paying their last tribute to him.  For years after, people would come up to me and tell me stories about his charity.  I often heard them say that he had the biggest heart in all of Montmerency County.  Although the Depression hit him just as hard as the next person, he had the advantage of owning a farm that became a refuge for family and friends.  He just planted a bigger garden, raised an extra hog or two, hunted a little harder and kept those people fed.  Oh!  And did I mention that he did all this while on crutches, having been crippled by shrapnel in World War I?  So whenever I want to give up, I think of my grandpa, and how hard-working he was and the legacy of love he left behind.

DON'T BUY IT,  MAKE IT

Began my Spring cleaning, so stains are on my mind.  Here's how to make your own oxy-type stain remover from items you probably have on hand.

Homemade Oxy-Cleaner

2 tbsp baking soda
1 tbsp.  dish soap
3-4 tbsp. peroxide

Combine and scrub into the stains using an old toothbrush.  Wash clothes as usual.

HERE ARE SOME THRIFTY THINGS WE DID THIS WEEK

Shelled the heartnuts that we foraged last Autumn,
We ended up with about 4 1/2 pounds, which we vacuum sealed and froze.
 I went to the thrift store to look for more canning jars.  Unfortunately they were charging 99 cents for them so I didn't buy any (new ones cost about the same) but while there, my husband found two pairs of Wrangler jeans in his size new with the tags still on for $4 each. Plus I found a cute vintage Ralph Lauren skirt.

As the temperatures warm up into the upper 20s, we've been heating our home with wood.

Unraveled a sweater that I bought from the thrift sale for 17 cents for yarn to knit a pair of mittens for a present.

Our credit union gives you a refund on your credit card at the end of the year.  With the credit I bought 10 pounds of non-GMO cornmeal and hemp hearts (which I have read are even better for you than chia seeds)

Although being sick is never a saving, we paid cash at the doctor's office and received  a 5% discount off the bill.  (Our dentist offers the same discount)

Re-upped our Magic Jack subscription. At 5 years for $99 that slightly less than $20 a year for phone service. 

So that's it for this week.  I hope that you all will have a blessed and peaceful Easter!







 




Monday, March 23, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: PANTRY PRINCIPLES

Hello dear friends!  Hope you are enjoying a lovely Spring wherever you are!  Even though it's still cold here, the snow is slowly ebbing away and the earth is waking from it's slumber.  We started our seeds this week.  Hard to believe that in eight weeks we'll be planting our garden.  Someone asked us if gardening pays.  Well, for around thirty dollars (we save most of our seeds, but have too short of a growing season to collect some) we canned over five hundred jars of food, stored several hundred pounds of potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, and pumpkins.  Ate for several months from the garden, starting in April with asparagus and ending in October.  We also dehydrated bushels of tomatoes, beans,  peppers, garlic,herbs, onions, etc.  So does gardening pay?  You bet! What can you buy for thirty dollars?

Every time I wash up one of my canning jars, I think to myself, "Well that's a dollar I didn't have to spend.".  Preserving the harvest, is one of the basic principles of thrift that people throughout history have lived by.  Only in the last one-hundred years have people had the luxury to go to a grocery store and buy whatever strikes their fancy.  Notice I said "luxury" because that is what it is. And luxuries are always expensive.  Always on a quest to learn new frugal skills, I read many blogs and watch many YouTube videos on frugality.  Something that strikes me as odd, is that many of the most popular thrift blogs talk about going to the store and buying things.  Which leads me to the very first principle of the pantry mindset:

NEVER BUY WHAT YOU CAN MAKE FOR YOURSELVES

Recently I was reading a blog where the woman was bragging about the great price she got on cocoa mix.  The whole time I was reading it, I was thinking to myself, "Well she could have made it better and healthier (no preservatives) from basic items every pantry should have, after all cocoa is just sugar, cocoa, and milk."  As I walk about the grocery store, I notice all the convenience  foods such as; cheese cut into cracker-sized squares,  hamburger helper,  packages of some seasoned breadcrumbs and a few tablespoonfuls of cheese called meal starters,  an entire aisle of frozen pre-packaged  dinners.  Why would anyone buy these things?  They are often loaded with sodium and preservatives and in truth how convenient are they?  How long does it take to cut your own cheese, or to season some breadcrumbs with your own herbs?   You still have to boil the noodles and fry the hamburger for hamburger helper, so what are you really saving in time to buy it pre-packaged?

This past week, we made our own English muffins, yogurt, granola (cereal), bread, noodles, mini-pizzas for the freezer, cookies, hand soap, pie crusts and chicken bullion. Did it take time? Sure.  But I didn't have to spend any time in the grocery store hunting for great bargains either.  I didn't spend any time clipping coupons and driving around to get the best deal.  Thrift is my hobby vocation and I would rather spend my time  doing for myself than other things I could be doing  such as watching TV, talking on the phone, texting, reading novels, etc.  Besides, while I'm waiting for the bread to bake, I can knit or sew and listen to podcasts about subjects I like, such as eschatology, history, and economics. BTW, when you study those three things, you will understand the importance of thrift and preparing for the worst case scenarios.  Just saying!

BUY LESS ITEMS BUT BETTER QUALITY

Because we buy fewer things, we can focus on buying better quality, like non-GMO cornmeal, organic cane sugar, non-bromiated  unbleached flour, fresh organic vegetables.

The other day, I was in the grocery store buying a twenty pound bag of flour.  We buy a locally milled, unbleached non-bromiated flour.  The cashier asked me what did I do with it!  At first, I was confused, "What do I do with flour?"!  But then I realized she didn't recognize flour as flour unless it had the Gold Medal or King Arthur logo on the package.  So I started to say well, I bake bread  and cookies and yesterday I made noodles.  Which lead to me explaining how to make noodles.  "Are they cheaper?" she asked.  About twenty-five cents for as many as you get in this two dollar bag, so you tell me!  This is becoming a common thing with me, evangelizing the virtues of thrift.  I always wanted to be of some service to God, and maybe this is the way He is using me.

BUY IN BULK WHEN YOU GET A GOOD DEAL

We had been searching for peanut butter without hydrogenated oil in it.  After reading many labels we found some at a good price, at Big Lots no less!  So we bought enough to last us an entire year.  Now we do not have to shop for peanut butter anymore this year.  BTW, when it comes to peanut butter, read the labels carefully, a lot of "natural" ones still contain hydrogenated oil.

This past year we have purchased twenty pounds bags of orgainic cane sugar at a very low price, which saw us through half of the year.  Making jam takes a lot of sugar!

I even buy my hearing aid batteries in bulk from Amazon.

PLAN AHEAD

Living out of the pantry, does take time and forethought.  While I'm working on my meals for the day, I'm thinking about the meal for the next day.  Do I need to defrost something?  What's in the fridge that I need to use up?  What can I substitute for an ingredient that I don't have?

Our meals are based upon what we have on hand, not what we desire to eat.  You know the old saying, "Eat to live not live to eat".  We have TV networks and blogs devoted to food, it seems  our country is obsessed with food.  Really a pot of homemade soup can be just as nutritional (maybe more so) than some expensive gourmet extravaganza.

WASTE NOT WANT NOT

I often cringe when I see someone toss a half eaten apple that their child took a bite out of and then decided not to eat.  Or a bowl of soup that they ate a spoonful of soup of before rejecting it.  I so want to tell them to refrigerate that apple and then they can grate it into some meatballs or dice it and bake it with some cinnamon and sugar.  That they can throw the soup back into the pot.  When you reheat it, it will kill the germs anyway.  Make it a goal to reduce your food waste.  Don't buy things and then don't use them.

GO WITH THE FLOW

I know many economists insist that making a menu and sticking with it is the best way to save money, but I beg to differ.  What if you get the grocery store and find an unadvertised special?  What if the soup you made lasts for two days instead of one?  Menus are fine as a general rule, but you need to be flexible.  Improvising is one of the foundations of thrift.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE THRIFTY THINGS WE DID THIS WEEK

Made our own English muffins (really easy)

Made peanut butter granola

Bought six woolen garments for my quilt for the thrift store for $1.50 (95% off)

Knitted a sweater for my grandson for a present from yarn I unraveled from a 50 cent thrifted  sweater

Made a large batch of pie crusts and froze them for future use

Heated our house with wood since the temperatures have reached above freezing

Started our seeds from saved seeds (peppers, tomatoes, onions and perennial flowers) we don't       buy plants

Learned how to make a heat exchange system for our guest house from a YouTube video

Canned 12 lbs. of corned beef  which was purchased after St. Pat's Day for $2.50/lb.

Made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies from some chocolates that I bought at the after Christmas sale at 75% off (about $1/lb.). Froze half for future snacking.

Made chicken boullion

Made homemade Greek-style yogurt.  Here's how:

Greek-Style Yogurt  (1 quart)

1 quart  milk (we use 2%)
1/2 C. non-fat dry milk
1 1/2 Tbsp. plain yogurt

1.  Combine milk and non-fat dry milk in pot.  Heat slowly to 180 degrees.

2.  Remove from heat and let cool to 110 degrees.

3.  Add yogurt.  Pour into pint containers.

4.  Store yogurt at 110 degrees for 5 hours.  Our dehydrator has a setting for this.  When we were younger and poorer we used to wrap the yogurt in pile of woolen blankets and set it near a heat source (such as a radiator).  There's also yogurt makers available if you are interested.

5. Refrigerate.








Monday, March 16, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: SAVING OF THE GREEN EDITION

Hello dear friends!   Happy St. Patrick's Day, a day early!  I was trying to get my projects done to post this on time, when I realized it was the 16th and not the 17th.  Hope you are all enjoying Spring weather! We took a trip to visit our sons and their families and it was 70 degrees in Chicago.  Of course, as usual, I was dressed completely wrong for the weather, when we left it was 30 degrees, so we carted around coats and heavy sweaters for nothing.  This is one of the many reasons I don't like to travel.  Even inland it can be 20 degrees warmer than it is at the shoreline.  Such are the trials of living in the sticks!

Anyway, here's what we ate for our "early" St. Patrick's Day meal:

Corned beef hash, made completely from home-canned foods (except the eggs).  I was hoping that the grocers would have a good sale on corned beef so that I could can some more, but unfortunately, it is not to be.  Maybe after the 17th it will go on sale.  The recipe can be found here if you are interested.  Boy have prices gone up since 2011!  Anyway, one of the strangest comments I hear often when people learn that I can, is  "I used to can , but we don't eat those kinds of foods anymore."  What?  You don't eat carrots, peas, corn, potatoes, meat, green beans, etc. or make a piece a toast and jam, or drink any fruit juice?   I guess I'm old fashioned and when I go to the store I see why people consider me so.  Almost every cart I see is filled with frozen or boxed meals, cereal, lots of snacks and lots of soda pop.  I rarely see any fresh vegetables in the carts and even rarer to see fresh fruits. 

NEEDLE CRAFTS
I also am almost finished with my Irish style throw I've been knitting the last three month.
I have to finish putting the fringe on.  (that brown "thing" on the right hand corner is Georgie's hind quarters. He has to get in every picture!).  Anyway it's a very simple pattern that I found in an old circa 1940s magazine.  I used 6 skeins of  Red Heart Super Saver yarn in Buff Fleck.  Here's the pattern:

Cast on 233 stitches using 36" size 7  circular needles. 

ROW 1: (right side)

  Knit 5 place marker
         LATTICE SECTION:
   Slip 1, Knit 1, slip slipped stitch over knit 1
            (Yarn over
            slip 1, knit 2, slip slipped stitch over the 2 knit stitches)Repeat twice more
           Yarn over
           slip 1, knit 1, slip slipped stitch over knit 1
           place marker,

         CABLE SECTION:
         knit 8, place marker.


Repeat   lattice and cable section 9 more times, placing a marker between each section.
Repeat lattice section once more, place marker. 
Knit 5

ROW 2: (wrong side)

Knit 5
Lattice section:
Purl 2 together, yarn over,
(purl 1 purl 2 together, yarn over) repeat twice more
purl 2 together
Slip  marker

Cable section:
Purl 8. Slip marker.
Repeat lattice and cable section 9 more times.  Repeat lattice section once more. Knit 5.

Repeat rows 1 and 2 for 8 rows.

Row 9: (right side)
 Is the same as row 1 except at the cable section slip 1st 4 stitches to a cable needle and hold in back.  Knit the next 4 stitches, then knit the 4 stitches on the cable needle.

Rows 10- 12:

Repeat rows 2 and 1.

Repeat these 12 rows until your work measures 49 inches.  Bind off.  Add fringe if desired.

By placing the markers between each section, it makes it easy to keep track of your knitting.   It really is an easy mindless sort of pattern.

Speaking of yarn, here's a great site for finding substitutions for yarns: yarnsub.  Sometimes companies discontinue yarns or they are just outrageously expensive.  I was once smitten with a pattern for a pair of socks, but when I looked into the yarn featured in the pattern, I found out that it would cost over $40!   For a pair of socks?!  I'd be afraid to wear them. Sometimes I wonder what these knitting designers are thinking of.  Probably  they get the yarn for free and never take into consideration the costs.  So anyway, it's a nice site to explore cheaper options.

QUESTIONS

One of the questions  I get asked the most is how do you learn to be thrifty.  I was always fascinated by thrift, even from a young age.  When all my friends were dreaming about living in castles, I was studying the pictures of Hansel and Gretel's cottage in my picture books.  My favorite book when I was in elementary school was The Moffats by Eleanore Estes, about a poor family that lived on love.  Anyway, so how do you learn to be thrifty?  By listening to the old-timers talk about the depression, by reading history books and biographies about the days gone-by. By observing thrifty people and seeing what they do.  By reading blogs about thrift.  By going on YouTube and watching preppers and homesteaders.   Then taking that information and applying it to your life.  You must want to become thrifty to be successful at it.  You have to look at it as a fun challenge and not like it is deprivation.   I'm always reminded of this quote:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.”
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

  And that pretty much sums it up doesn't it?  (Sorry for some reason after I pasted this quote the font changed) We can learn to live within our means or go around hiding from the debt collectors.  I know what I'd rather do.

RECIPE

One of the things I read over and over again in stories about the Depression and Appalachia, is that they ate a lot of cornbread.   They'd wrap it up and carry it with them.  Sometimes it was all they had.  Cornmeal is the easiest grain to grow and process, so perhaps that is why it was so popular.    Here's one of our favorite recipes for it:

Molasses Pumpkin Cornbread Muffins

1/2 C. butter, melted
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. pumpkin
1/4 C. molasses
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C. flour
3/4 C. cornmeal
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 C. buttermilk 

1. Combine dry ingredients.
2. Beat together eggs, butter, molasses and buttermilk.  Combine with dry ingredients until just blended
3. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

BTW, did you know that you can substitute buttermilk by adding 1 tbsp, vinegar to a 1 cup measure than adding the milk to make 1 cup.  But we use buttermilk all the time, so we always have some on hand.  You can also add plain milk to about 1/4 C. of buttermilk and make more buttermilk.  

These muffins are good for breakfast too.  When we were kids, people use to add cornbread to some warm milk to make a sort of cornmeal mush.  Very tasty with a bit of maple syrup or honey on it.  An old-fashioned French Canadian dish that people in our area used to eat was called Por-Doo, which was cornbread crumbled up and added to sauteed onions, celery, or whatever you had on hand.  Sometimes a bit of leftover sausage or meat. Add some broth or milk to thin it down,  heated up, sort of like a very thick pea  soup.

MAKE IT, DON'T BUY IT

One of the things we've been doing this winter, while we are eating a lot of citrus fruits is to make our own orange cleaner.  You simply stuff as many orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime peels (any citrus peels will do) into a mason jar and pour enough vinegar over them to cover the peels.  Let it set for a few weeks and add more peels as they become available.  After  about a month strain it and there you have it, your own orange cleaner for sinks and tubs.  Works great at getting the soap scum off.


So I leave you with an Irish toast this St. Patrick's Day Eve


May your mornings bring joy
and your evenings bring peace...
May your troubles grow less
as your blessings increase!