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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sweet Briar Cottage Journal: Strictly Thrifty

Hello dear friends!   Hope all is well in your corner of the world!  Have to say, this is one of the coolest summers ever, but boy! does it ever produce some beautiful big blooms.


In the garden we harvested cauliflower, kale, beets and strawberries.  We dried the beets and kale and ground them into our stealth health powder.  We used some in guacamole and no one even noticed the added nutrition. :)  I also canned the strawberries.
A simple way to can any type of fruit is to wash and remove the stems, cores (or pits) and skins if needed and slice into small pieces..  In a large non-metallic pot add 1/2 C. sugar for every quart of fruit.  Let stand covered until juice starts to collect in the bottom of the pan, about 2-4 hours.  Heat the fruit until the sugar dissolves and the liquid begins to boil.  Pack into clean sterilized  pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe the rims and place your lids and caps on.  Process in a water bath for 25 minutes. 

We mainly eat fruit desserts, so we use a lot of canned fruits in the winter and early spring.  Here's a simply crumble recipe that works with any of your canned fruit or fresh:

1 quart of fruit (berries, apples, peaches, pears, etc) cleaned, pitted, peeled and sliced
1/2 C. sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch (add an additional tablespoon if the fruit is really juicy)

Combine and place in a greased 8 inch pan.

For the topping:

1 C. oatmeal
3 tbsp.  brown sugar
cut in 1/4 C. cold butter.  Sprinkle over the fruit and bake at 350 degrees for  30 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling. 
That's the basic recipe.  You can add spices or nuts.  Wherever you imagination wants to take you.

We also made faux Alfredo sauce with the cauliflower, by whirling some boiled cauliflower and about 1/2 C. of the cooking water   in a food processor until it was smooth.  Added some sauteed onions and lots of garlic.  I played with it a bit and added fresh oregano and basil (you could use dried also).  We topped ours with a bit of Parmesan cheese but if you're vegan it's not necessary.  I don't think it fooled anyone into thinking it was the real McCoy, but it certainly was a thrifty meal, direct from the garden.  And a lot less fattening!


I made these cute little sun bonnets from this free pattern for our new granddaughter, Violet. The little flower sprigged one is made from a piece of vintage fabric that has violets on it.  The fancier embroidered one is made from some old linens that had holes and stains that I strategically cut around.  And the pink chambray one was made from a  shirt that I bought  when the thrift store was having a sale.  I think they make wonderful inexpensive baby gifts.  Don't you?  And the instructions were very easy to follow.    One dressmaker's secret is to make the lining a hair smaller than the outer garment.  This pulls the outer fabric inward and gives your sewing a professional look. Here's a picture of  little Violet (and I do mean little, just barely six  pounds) modeling one. She's so tiny that the newborn size is too big for her.
BTW, I didn't know I was going to be in the picture or I would have combed my hair and maybe put on some lipstick!  I hate getting my picture taken!

Isn't the internet amazing?  You can find so many free instructions on line.  I'll never buy a cookbook or a knitting pattern again.


I love to bring the green inside during the summer, but more  and more of my garden has been taken over by vegetables  so I no longer have a cutting garden and I can't bear to cut the flowers in the borders.  Besides I have  very limited table space for bouquets and the guys are likely to throw their hats or something else on them.  So I get my green "fix" by tying  bundles of herbs together and suspending them from twine in my windows.

I love the old-fashioned rustic look of them.  Plus they smell wonderful.


 Instead of lettuce, which is bolting and becoming bitter, we've been using purslane in our sandwiches.  We also gathered  and dried it.  We also picked a bunch of woad and dried it to use for dying.  I have a solution going right now.  More on that next week.


On June 30th around 9 p.m. Eastern standard time, you can see the star of Bethlehem, which hasn't been seen in our skies for two thousand years. I'll be watching, only it doesn't get dark here until around 10:30.  Hopefully, it will still be visible then.   Stargazing is one of our family's favorite (and cheapest) amusements.


Speaking of amusements, I've noticed that when you send  children out to play  now days, they just stand around because they don't know what to do with themselves, so I thought every once in a while, I'd give some instructions on common schoolyard games we used to play in the "olden" days, when TV only had two channels  and phones were attached to the wall by a wire. 

Frisbee Golf

Pick an object  in the yard to be your goal.  Also choose something to be your "hazard"   like a hedge or  tree branch.  Each person takes turns throwing the Frisbees  toward the goal and going through the hazard.   The person that takes the fewest throws to reach the goal wins.


I mentioned in my previous post that Ran and I were experimenting to see how low we could get our natural gas and electric bill down to, by doing things like switching  off the hot water heater every other day and turning off and unplugging all the electrical appliances.  Well, we just got our natural gas bill and we only used $10 of gas for the past month.  The actual bill was $19 because the tack on so many taxes and fees, but we're happy with it.  Now we are experimenting with our water bill.  It isn't the water that is so expensive, it's the sewer fees, which is based on how much water you use.  So we are using "grey" water, such as the cold dishwater, and the water when I'm finished canning to flush the commode and to water our plants.  For me, this is fun, trying to see how far I can stretch a dollar. 


I love the scent of lemons, so I made this simple recipe for a solid perfume.  If you're a soap maker, like I am, you'll probably have all the ingredients.   Love that it's all natural and  it's  very portable.  I would use less beeswax next time, though, it is rather hard.


Baked dill  bread from our own dill. (my husband made that knife, BTW.)
Harvested beets, cauliflower, strawberries, kale,woad, purslane, and a few onions and garlic.

Made three baby bonnets from material I already had.

Dehydrated beets, kale, woad and purslane.

Canned seven pints of strawberries.

Bought chicken thighs for 99 cents/ lb.  that I'll cook and freeze for casseroles.

Made several meals completely from the garden.

Bought several plants (sedums and lamb's ear) from a garage sale for $1 each.

Found the cutest antique pie stand for $3 at a garage sale.  I love prims!

For amusements we went for walks and visited with neighbors.

It's been so cool this year, we haven't had to use fans or air conditioners.

Salvaged some lace from old stained linens.

Hung the laundry on the line.

Generally, just stayed home and didn't  spend money!

Well, that's it for this week!  Hope  you have a lovely week!


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sweet Briar Cottage Journal: In The Valley Of Love and Delight

Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
~Simple Gifts - Traditional Shaker Hymn~

 Hello dear friends!   Happy first day of summer!  Guess what I'm doing right now?  Waiting for my  granddaughter Violet to be born.  Our daughter-in-law is at the hospital tonight.  One of the greatest joys of my life is seeing what amazing fathers my sons have become.  I was very young when I had my first, just twenty, and I know I made a lot of mistakes along the way in rearing them, but I must have done something right to make them such caring and loving fathers
Another thing I am inordinately proud of is my beautiful foxglove growing in the herb garden!   Usually my foxgloves are puny and anemic looking but  this one I started from seeds I gathered on a walk is so robust, almost as tall as I am! 
We made a discovery this year.  In our attempts to keep the groundhogs from eating our Cheddar cauliflower, Ran made a little enclosure for them out of old storm windows and chicken wire for the top.  Well!  That made a nice little hothouse for them and we harvested a nice big head today.
Look at that beauty!    The other cauliflowers that we planted in the garden haven't even formed a head yet. Now my mind is turning.  Maybe next year we can get a jump start on tomatoes.  What if I found enough old windows in the trash to line the entire inside of my garden fence?  Could I plant and harvest earlier?  Maybe I could use the idea to protect my finicky roses?  Who knows where this will end up. 
We also harvested some strawberries.  Tomorrow we will have some buttermilk pancakes with diced strawberries instead of our usual  blueberries. Yum! Store bought strawberries can not compete with  homegrown ones picked and eaten in the garden still warm from the sun.  If I have enough, I will probably can some in a light syrup.  I've sliced and dried them before.  The reconstitute nicely.  

Stealth Health

Speaking of drying food, we dried a bunch of spinach and kale this week. Once they are dry we grind them in an old coffee grinder and it makes a nice powder.  You can use the powder in soups, smoothies and stews,  but another way to use it, is to add it to meatloaf and meatballs.  This is what we call "stealth health"  because you may not like the taste of these veggies, but you never notice it in meatloaf and such.  Anything to add more nutrition!

A Fun Day

On Saturday we held a garage sale.   The weather was perfect and we had so much fun!  It seems that people just want to talk and talk.  I  think we all are becoming more isolated as a society.  People don't go outside and talk to their neighbors anymore, they sit inside and watch TV.  I really feel that TV has been one of the reasons for the downfall of society.  So, when people have a chance to have a conversation and a willing ear, well, they talk!  Everyone was so pleasant, except for one man who grumbled about the skimpy offerings (it was late and we had sold everything) and called our dog fat!   To go about with such a sour disposition all the time.  Well all you can do is laugh!  Every day you have the option of "taking joy"  or being unhappy.  Being unhappy and miserable won't change your circumstances but being joyful can!

We all are down here in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars
~Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan~

Most things were sold for a quarter, but we still managed to make a nice profit and at the end of the day all we had left were two small boxes of books and a bag of clothes for the Salvation Army drop box.   And people went away happy with getting a deal.  One lady said she looks forward to coming to our sale every year!  Oh dear!  I may have started a tradition.
A Thrifty Experiment

Well, I've prattled on and haven't really given you any thrifty tips. This one is way out there, and I don't think many of you will do it, but here it goes, anyway.  When we had our boiler problems, we noticed that our water stayed hot for three days, so we started thinking, what if we turned off the electrical switch to the boiler every other day? So that's what we did.  It's causing us to rethink how we use water.  I've retrained myself to turn the cold tap rather than the hot, when running water  to fill pots and for baking.  Also by being deliberately conscious of the amount of hot water we are using,  we broke the bad habits of letting the water run on full throttle when brushing our teeth and washing up.  Time will tell if we save on the electric and water bill.  But it proves that you can teach an old dog a new trick!

Natural Health

I just received an e-mail from our congresswoman that she is working on a bill to ban microbeads in facial scrubs.  The small "beads"  are just that, plastic beads, and they are too small to be filter out of our water system.  But they sure cause a lot of trouble with our eco-system. Who would have thunk it?!  So I'm experimenting with some natural scrubs that are biodegradeable.  Once I get one I like, I'll let you know.

Thrifty Things We Did This Week
We didn't do much this week because the garage sale  took up most of our time, but we did manage to harvest lettuce, beet greens, spinach, kale, strawberries and cauliflower from the garden.
Dry some herbs and kale.
Foraged purslane.
Baked bread
Watch some free movies on Xfinity's free weekend.

And as usual, hang the laundry and eat from the garden and pantry.

Sorry if there wasn't much information this week, garage sales are exhausting!  Hope everyone has a lovely week  and hope to see you the next!


Sunday, June 14, 2015


Hello dear friends!  Hope you are enjoying your day!  It's been foggy here, but pleasant. Have to say, this cool weather is not bothering the garden any. The fruit trees are just loaded  and everything looks so lush.  Looks like it will be a bumper crop year!

With a Little Help From My Friends

We finally finished decorating our little guest shed.
This is a salvaged window that we bought at an auction.  I love old windows!   This entire project has been done as frugally as possible and we are thrilled with the results.  We  had a lot of help from friends.  The manager at the Farmer's Co-op helped us minimize costs and even lent us tools to shingle the roof.  A complete stranger lent us scaffolding for the roofing.  Ran's friends and former co-workers  at Rustoleum gave us all the paint and primer for the exterior.  And  a gentleman at an estate sale gave us free lumber that we used for the countertop  in the potting area.
We wanted to have a cozy cabin like feel and were wondering what to do with the walls, when we came up with the idea to use luan  that is used for underlayment on wood floors.  Ran cut strips of leftover wood to give it a board and batten look.  We used salvaged paint from the Habitat for Humanity re-use it center and leftover paint for the walls.  We had fun decorating it from attic treasures and thrifted finds.
Even the pretty quilt was a thrift store find.  The bed is built loft-style and there's room under there for lots of bins.   All in all, it was cheaper to build than one of the pre-fab jobbies. 
We are having fun spending time there.  Whenever we want to go on a vacation, we just have to go to our backyard.   Such a sweet serene little spot!


This week we are foraging.  The field next to us is resplendent with red clover.  We use it for skin salves and only use it externally.   Others make a tea with it, but you have to be cautious because it mimics estrogen  (which is why I gave up on soy products) and is also a blood thinner.  But this is a good thing to know, in case the pudding does hit the fan, as many are predicting.  It's always good to  have a working knowledge of herbal remedies.

The other thing we are foraging is purslane.
Purslane has more omega-3 than fish.  And it's free!  You can use it in salads or make a pesto with it.  Or just eat it by itself.  It has a nice pleasant taste.

Patience Is A Virtue When It Comes To Gardening

I love lots of flowers, but let's face it, the prices at nurseries are getting outrageous, so I always start some perennials from seed each year. 
This is a tangle of yellow columbine (Ran says the look like fairy wings), poppies and foxglove that I started last year in my "trying out" garden located at the end  of the herb garden.  If I notice a pretty specimen while out for our daily walk, I   return to collect some of its seeds when  they form seedheads.  We have the prettiest hollyhocks that we collected at  a house down the lane.  I even have a yucca that we started this way.  It doesn't cost anything or harm the plants, so why not give it a try?

Another inexpensive way I furnish my garden is to buy plants from mail order sources.  Not the big-name companies but the little known ones that offer you really cheap small plants.  It might take an extra season for them to develop and bloom, but it's worth it to me in savings.

Don't Buy It Make It

This week we dried garlic and ground it into garlic powder.  I suggest that if you want to do this, it is best to do it outside, unless you really love the smell of garlic.  Also on schedule to be dried this week is spinach and kale, which can be dried in the car.  I wrote a very detailed post about drying vegetables  here.  Once the kale and spinach are dried, we grind them in an old coffee grinder that we keep for this purpose.    The powder is great to add to soups and stews, meatloaf mixtures, or to make smoothies.  Anything to add more nutrition.

Quote Of The Week

Better to be neat and tidy than tight and needy.
~common proverb~

By The Way 

With the recent news about the spread of bird flu and many birds being destroyed, it's a good thing to know all the  ways you can substitute other ingredients for eggs.  I keep a bag of flax seeds in the freezer for this purpose.

Pantry Recipe

The other day we bought a cupcake from a little girl running a cupcake/lemonade stand.  We usually eat fruit based desserts  from fruits from our garden, but it was so good, that I had to go home and bake a cake.   This is my go-to cake recipe.  Just the right size for our little family.  And too big, so we don't feel too  guilty.

Small Chocolate Cake

6 tbsp.  cocoa
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 C. hot water
1 C. flour
1 C. sugar
1/2 tsp.  baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 C. shortening
1/4 C. milk or buttermilk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg

Combine the cocoa, oil and hot water until well blended.

Beat together sugar and shortening until fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Beat in chocolate mixture.

Beat in dry ingredients, adding milk alternately.  Pour batter into a well greased 8 inch square pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes  or until a cake tester comes out clean.
As always, sorry for the poor picture quality.  I am not a food stylist, that's for sure!  BTW, cocoa is a nice  pantry staple,  here's a post I wrote on the subject.

Thrifty Things We Did This Week

Harvested and ate lettuce, spinach, kale and beet greens from our garden.

Foraged red clover and purslane.

Dried garlic and made into garlic powder.

Dried kale and spinach.

Bought some t-shirts for wearing while gardening from a garage sale for 25 cents.

Canned more strawberry nectarine jam.

"Vacationed" at our little shed.

Cleaned out the attic in preparation for holding a garage sale.

Hung the laundry out on the line.

Ate from the garden and pantry.

Well that's it for this week!   Hope to hear from you soon!


Monday, June 8, 2015


Hello dear friends!  Hope you are enjoying your June days!  I'm always astounded that the flowers know to bloom, even if the weather isn't very June-like.  We are enjoying lupines, columbine, the last of the lilacs and irises.
Can you believe that all of these irises came from dividing a clump that was about 2 1/2 feet square?  They were really packed in there!  Dividing plants is a thrifty way to landscape your yard.  On the shady side of our house we have filled in the yard with hosta lilies , ferns and lily of the valley that all have come from just a few plants.  It's a very peaceful area, unfortunately  with my lack of photography skills, I have never been able to capture it's true beauty. 

In the vegetable garden, we are harvesting lettuce, spinach, mustard greens and herbs. 
This is the making for a Spanakopita; spinach, chives, oregano and wild leeks.  By the way, I discovered that puff pastry dough is easier to work with than layering phyllo dough.  Still gives you a nice flaky crust.  Our little store didn't have frozen phyllo dough but it did have puff pastry dough.  Go figure!

Also canned stewed rhubarb.
Had to make sure it was well labeled as it looks a lot like asparagus.  It will be good for breakfast with a piece of toast  this winter.  I got the recipe from a state extension website.  **sigh**  The instructions are so silly!   They instructions are so detailed, they even instruct you on how to wash your hands!   Really!   If you don't know to wash your hands before preparing food, perhaps you shouldn't be doing it!

We've been living simply for almost forty years, long before it was fashionable.  As a matter of fact people thought we were quite odd with our canning- wash on the line- gardening lifestyle in the conspicuous consumption era of the eighties.  One friend told us she liked coming to our house because it was like going to a living museum!  One of the questions we have heard time and again is how do you feed all those boys so cheaply?

How To Feed Teenage Boys Without Breaking The Bank

1. Carbohydrates are good!  I know that today, carbs are taboo, but growing active boys need a lot of calories.  They also need  something that sticks to the bones.  Oatmeal is probably one of the thriftiest breakfasts that you can make.  You'd break the bank, buying enough meat to satisfy a growing boy, but you can fill them up with lots of rice, noodles and potatoes.  We grow our own potatoes, but around here, you can buy a 50 pound bag of potatoes for $8 in the fall.  How far does $8 get you in the meat department?

2.  Speaking of carbohydrates, we've found that eating it in the whole grain form is more filling than the refined forms.  So go for brown rice, whole wheat bread and noodles.

3.  A protein is a protein, is a protein.  Meat doesn't have to be the only source of protein.  Beans are cheaper.  Most boys love Mexican food, which can easily be made with beans.  To get a complete protein you need to combine beans with a whole grain.  Which shouldn't be a problem, if you are filling them up with carbs!

4.  Turkey is not just for Thanksgiving.  We bought a turkey almost every month.  It was the cheapest meat around.  Plus we got gallons of broth from the carcasses.  We even skimmed the fat off the top of and made brownies with them.  There was nothing left of those birds except the quack.  Because of the bird flu outbreak, I've read that turkey prices will be rising, so while the are still cheap, I'd buy a few if I had a freezer.  But there's always some form of meat that is on sale.  Lately, I've seen hams selling quite inexpensively.  Large pork roasts are often inexpensive, you can substitute it for beef in stews and soups. Those boxes of bacon ends an pieces are wonderful!  Just a little bacon can add so much flavor to baked beans and soups. 

5.  Check out unusual food sources.  I know that some of the foreign food marts have much cheaper prices on spices and grains.  We used to visit the bakery outlets quite often, back then.  Stores like Big Lots often have some great buys.  Shop with an open mind.  We recently bought some unknown brand coffee at Big Lots for $2.50 a pound!  It was good!  So we went back and bought six months worth and froze it.  BTW, we have very limited freezer spaces, so we reserve the space for deals on butter, coffee, cheese and berries from our garden.  Everything else either gets canned or dehydrated.

6.  Limit milk.  A lot of friends bemoan that their teenage sons can drink a gallon of milk a day. You can limit milk it to just meals.  We kept a jug of ice water in the fridge for quenching thirsts.

7.  Keep the cookie jar filled!  In hard times, it is always good to have comfort foods to help you feel less deprived.  Cookies don't have to be expensive  things with nuts and chocolates.  Many old-fashioned recipe can be made with basic pantry staples, like  sugar cookies, gingersnaps and oatmeal cookies.

8.  Keep the fridge stocked with inexpensive snacks.  I make up pasta salads, cut up celery sticks and carrots, and homemade yogurt.  They make nicer, healthier, and cheaper snacks than bags of potato and tortilla chips.

9.  Popcorn makes an inexpensive snack.  If you pop it yourself (not the microwave type) popcorn is cheap, filling and a good source of fiber.  We experiment with different seasonings to give us variety.

10.  Mainly remember food is just food.  It's purpose is to nourish you.  Try to get as much nutrients out of meals as you can.  Grate carrots and celery into hamburger.  Instead of meat, add more beans to soups and casseroles.  Buy food in it's most natural form.  Don't fuss with unusual ingredients.  Find recipes that use basic pantry staples.  Buy fruits and vegetables in season, or better yet, grow your own.  If you find a deal, find a way to preserve it. 

Thrifty Things We Did This Week

Harvested spinach, lettuce, herbs, asparagus, rhubarb and beets from the garden

Planted 24 Chinese cabbages from seeds that we received as a free sample.

Son Jamie, bought a video game at a garage sale for $1 that he knew was a rare one.  He traded it at a game store for $80 store credit.

Painted a bench with leftover trim paint from the shed.

Re-used the screen door hardware  from an old screen door on a new screen door.

Bought mushrooms at the reduced-for-quick-sale rack and dried them in a pan in the car. Used no energy.

Also car-dried herbs form our garden.

Used the rinse water and water from the canner to water plants.

Harvested and canned rhubarb.

And as always, ate from the garden, hung laundry on the line, ate from the pantry, etc.

Well, that's it for this week!  Hope you all a lovely week ahead of you!