Showing posts with label Frugality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frugality. Show all posts

September 21, 2023

Date Night with the Farmer's Wife

Chris and I were playing farm couple last night when we underwent our almost-yearly autumn tradition--canning applesauce!
Over the weekend, Soren and I went apple picking at a local organic orchard, so I wanted to preserve most of the half-bushel we bought rather than try to keep up with devouring dozens upon dozens of these tasty treats.  One does tire of apples after eating a few dozen, believe it or not.

And since Jude will start eating solids over the winter, I thought some organic applesauce was in order for his first tastes of the sweetness of food.

After the kids were in bed, we headed to the kitchen for a few hours of together time. Not the most romantic date, but at least we'll enjoy the fruits (pun intended) of our labor over the cold months.

I did the cooking and prepping of the jars while Chris worked his magic on the food mill.
If you've never used a food mill before, it's great for making applesauce without having to peel hundreds of apples.  You just core them, chop them, toss 'em in a pot to cook, and then run the cooked apples through the food mill.   The food mill essentially mashes the apples through a sieve and leaves all the chewy bits behind.
After about 2 1/2 hours, we had a yield of 12 jars of pink applesauce (from cooking the apples with the skins on).  And it's delicious!
We're currently taking suggestions for more conventional date nights, and of course for babysitters too!

April 17, 2023

Leftover Easter Eggs? Make Niçoise Salad!

One of my favorite springtime meals is a French Niçoise Salad since it incorporates foods that you can easily find this time of year, like hard-boiled eggs left over from Easter, spring greens, and asparagus or green beans. I make a lemony-dijon vinaigrette, which is traditional for this type of salad, and makes the dish fresh and light.

Although we mostly eat vegetarian meals, occassionally we have fish in our diet. I tend to use canned tuna in this recipe rather than searing a fresh tuna steak, because frankly, fresh tuna is expensive and to me, canned tastes just as good in this dish.

I like that this recipe uses up some of those leftover hard boiled eggs that never seem to get eaten at Easter dinner. And since eggs are inexpensive and full of nutrients, they're good for garnishing salads and adding protein to your diet. You can get more tips for using eggs in your cooking along with recipes from The American Egg Board.

Salade Niçoise
1/2 small red onion (minced) or 2 shallots (minced)
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp vinegar (I like red wine)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Black pepper to tasted
Combine above ingredients (except for olive oil) and whisk together. Drizzle in the olive oil while whisking. An alternative would be to combine all of the ingredients in a jar, screw on the top and shake. Set aside the dressing.

The Salad
Greens of your choice (I like Boston lettuce--soft and buttery)
1 lb. of cooked asparagus or green beans
2 tbsp minced shallots or chives
1/2 cup of Niçoise olives (small, purplish black olives)
6 hard boiled eggs, cut in half
6 small red potatoes (cooked and cut in half)
1 can of tuna, drained (packed in either oil or water--oil adds a little more flavor, and you can reserve the oil to use in your vinaigrette for a more distinct flavor)
10-15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Optional: Croutons (I make homemade ones by toasting stale bread in the oven @ 350 degrees for 15 minutes)
Assemble the greens on top of a flat platter or shallow salad bowl. Toss together the asparagus/green beans, shallots and half of the vinaigrette. Let marinate while arranging the ingredients on top of the salad greens. I like to lay the olives in the center, then make rings around them with the other ingredients, leaving the potatoes and eggs to the outside of the dish. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the salad, and serve. This will feed 4 hungry people.

Enjoy! I'm aiming to make one this weekend, so I'll upload some photos to this post if and when I do.

This post was written for the Parent Bloggers Network, where you can share some of your own ideas for using leftover Easter eggs. Check out their list of blog posts sharing great recipes and tips for using up thoe hard-boiled eggs. Photo is courtesy of the American Egg Board.

March 24, 2023

Homemade Pizza!

One of the best things I've purchased in the last year is a breadmaker, which was a great buy at $35 from Circuit City. I've saved quite a bit of money by making my own bread and also my own pizza dough. It's not cheap to buy a pizza every week, even frozen ones, so I know I've definitely gotten my money's worth from this bread machine. Granted, it's not a top-of-the-line model, but it has enough features to make a variety of items like quick breads, jam, and bread dough. Which brings me to the pizza.
I make this usually every week, and it's so easy! It requires time in that the dough needs kneading and rising, but the machine takes care of that part. You just need to assemble the ingredients, and once the dough is ready, stretch it in the pan and add the toppings. I make a mean spinach and tomato pizza, the leftovers from lunch below are packed away for dinner tonight.
In summer, I can definitely see putting basil from my herb garden on this, and if we had a grill, I'd even cook this on there. You could also turn the dough into foccaccia or a calzone.

Crusty/Herby Pizza Dough Recipe for a Bread Machine
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1. Combine the water and olive oil in the bread machine pan. Add the dry ingredients (except for the yeast) on top. I like to rub the herbs between my palms (not for magic) so that you release the oils before adding them to the mix.
2. Make a little well in the dry ingredients, and put the yeast in there.
3. Turn the bread machine on to the "dough" setting (which is an hour and a half on mine)
4. Wait until the dough is ready. It would be a good time to put away your ingredients, get your pizza pans ready, have some coffee, watch one of those judge/courtroom shows that dominate the TV channels during the day.
5. After about an hour and 15 minutes, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
6. Lightly oil your pan(s) and sprinkle with cornmeal.
7. When the dough is ready, stretch it out onto the pan. I can usually make two pizzas from this batch of dough.
8. Add the sauce and toppings, including the cheese.
9. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and brown.


January 11, 2024

Stuffing Away the Holiday Leftovers

Driving to the grocery store last night, I was pleasantly surprised to see Christmas trees still glowing in the windows. Those lights are such a mesmerizing sight, and I'm a little sad that I took down the tree and put the decorations away on New Year's Day. However I like starting the new year off by packing up the old and organizing (as I've written about in many posts last week), and this year was no exception.

One thing that helps me organize my ornaments and decorations is to save those heavy vinyl bags that sheets and curtains come in, and use it to hold ornaments. When we moved into our house a few years back, I had to buy curtains for nearly every room, since we have 84" windows.
I kept all of the clear bags to use for something, and that Christmas, I found a purpose for them. It's nice that they're durable, and often have zippers on them. It makes it really easy to see the ornaments inside too. I used a large bag that contained a bedspread to store my wreaths. I just cut a piece of cardboard to fit inside it to give the wreaths some support.

I also use hangers to store my garlands in the attic. Rather than de-garland-ize them, I just hang them over the inside of the hanger (where you would put a pair of pants) and drape a garbage bag over it to prevent dust. Then I hang the hanger on a nail from the rafters. It saves me from having to untangle it every Christmas.

If you're interested in other homekeeping tips, the new SC Johnson website--Right@Home--is the place to go to learn something new. And check out The Parent Bloggers Network for a chance to win a $250 Visa gift card, just for blogging about your post-holiday organizational tips.

October 19, 2023

Canning Applesauce

Yesterday I posted about my apple picking trip, so today I'm sharing the fruits (pun intended) of my labors from tree to applesauce. Chris took SoJo to his parents' house so I had a few hours to myself to get some canning done. And the good news is that so far, all 12 jars seem to have sealed. I just love hearing that "pop" that tells me one more jar has set. To top it off, the house smells wonderfully of apples, which is much better than any Yankee Candle.

I'll take you through my date with pots, jars and apples...
First I sterilized the jars in my big stock pot,

While that was heating up, I started chopping up the apples.
I didn't bother peeling them, since I honestly didn't have 5 hours to devote to this. Because these apples are organic, I figured that it was pretty safe to eat the skins, and in addition, the skins contain nutrients and added fiber. I intended to strain the sauce through a sieve, but when the time came, the skins were pretty soft. I ended up just using my immersion blender to chop up the skins, making a really smooth sauce that hopefully baby SoJo will like.

And the cores even went into our compost bucket, waiting to be thrown in the compost tumbler.

Once the apples were chopped, I cooked them on the stove with a cup of water and a little bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. I added a pinch of salt too to bring out the flavor of the fruit.
Check out my really cool Lazy Spoon, from Jonathan's Wild Cherry Spoons, that sits on the side of the pot. {Tune in this week for a chance to win one!}. It made tending the apples super-simple. No sticky sauce on the stove and I always knew where my spoon was.

The pot of applesauce, mid-way during the jar filling stage.
And a jar in the process of being filled. The wide mouth funnel was really handy.
Yes, the sauce kind of looks like crushed tomatoes or Thousand Islands salad dressing, but it is just the apple skins, which colored the sauce pink, even before I blended up the skins. And also, as I've said before, my ancient camera SUCKS, so the applesauce looks much more appetizing in real life.

The first jars fresh out of the canning pot.
And finally, the results. Lots of apple-goodness for the rest of the year, and hopefully beyond.
There were even some leftover apples and 2 cups of applesauce left over that I didn't can. We'll eat the sauce and apples over the next week or so. I just hope my baby likes it, otherwise Chris and I will be eating lots of applesauce. Or they will be given as gifts this Christmas.

I'm exhausted, so forgive me if I'm lax at answering emails or responding to comments this evening. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

October 18, 2023

Apple Picking at the Rodale Institute

Today was a perfect fall day for apple picking--clear sky, chill in the air, warm sun. I wanted to make some applesauce for SoJo rather than buy jars of baby food (being cheap here, not picky) so I thought apple picking and canning would be an old-world way to spend a Saturday.

We have a wonderful resource for certified organic apples nearby, The Rodale Institute. You've probably heard the name Rodale before, as in Rodale Press, especially if you subscribe to Prevention, Organic Gardening, and Women's Health. The Rodale Institute, an experimental farm which focuses on organic gardening, is supported by Rodale Press.

The Rodale Institute hosts lots of different events and workshops dedicated to sharing their research in organic gardening. They offer tours, talks, and even a shop (pictured in the old school house building in the photo) that sells books and organic produce.
In the fall, they open their apple orchards to the public for picking, which is what I did this afternoon. For $13, you can pick a half bushel of apples ($22 per bushel), which is a great bargain for 100% organic apples. When I was a little girl, my dad had a big vegetable garden and 4 apple trees (which were there when we moved in). Although my brothers and I hated those trees, because it was hard to play under them with all of those fallen apples and gross gypsy moth worms falling on us, I really miss them now. We didn't know what "organic" was back then, but those apples were organic as far as I know, since we never sprayed or used synthetic fertilizers.

My dad used to take the apples to be pressed for cider in the fall at Krum's Orchards, and sometimes I'd get to watch the big machine in the back barn pressing the apples. There would be flies in the barn, slurping any stray juices, and the whole place smelled like sweet apples and fermenting alcohol (not that I knew what that was back then). We'd keep the cider jugs in our chest freezer in the basement, which was also our playroom, and whenever I would get thirsty, I'd sneak some icy cider from the freezer. My dad would always wonder why the jugs weren't full, but I think he must have known one of us was tapping his supply.

Enough of my reverie, and back to the Rodale Institute....
The Orchard

So I set off for a nice afternoon out by myself while Chris was with SoJo, and headed up to the orchard with my half-bushel basket, borrowed from the Rodale Institute.
Here's a close up of one of the trees. This late in the season, I was surprised to get some good apples. Most of the trees had been picked through already, but since I was just planning to make applesauce, I didn't mind the blemishes or holes. I felt bad for those unwanted apples anyway! Kind of like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
Here's my basket, half-full in the midst of picking.

And here it is filled up. I munched an apple on the way home, although I wasn't certain of the variety, since I got a lot of different kinds to make the sauce. The one I did taste was so sweet and really had an apple-y taste, unlike some of the mealy ones you get in the supermarket. I like to think the cool nights help to sweeten up the apples.

These are photos of some of the gardens that you can tour, which I didn't do.
The photos don't show how beautiful the plants and flowers looked, even this late in the season. I am amazed at how lush things were. That's what organic compost can do, I suppose.

Back at home, I got to work on canning preparation. I washed all of the apples, since I believe they spray them with watery white clay as a natural pesticide. I didn't ask the nice woman at the desk about this, but I recall from last year that someone had told me that.

I also washed all of my canning jars and will boil them tomorrow as I'm cooking the apples. I'll take some more photos then and show you the results. Could someone please volunteer to babysit for me?

September 4, 2023

Thrifty Green Thursday: Homemade Baby Wipes

Now I can check one more thing off of the 100 Things You Can do to Save the Earth post I wrote last month. I started using reusable baby wipes to go along with the cloth diapers.

A Google search on homemade baby wipes will return lots of results and lots of recipes, so take your pick. Mine is 2 cups of distilled water (I used distilled because we have water with a lot of mineral deposits which might clog the spray bottle), 2 tablespoons of Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid castile soap, a few drops of lavender essential oil, a few drops of tea tree oil, and a punctured vitamin E capsule. Shaken, not stirred.
This goes into a spray bottle which is used to moisten the cloth before wiping. Mind you, this spray bottle is a bit of an overkill but it was one we had around the house for gardening (but hadn't actually fertilizers in it!).

For the wipes part, I used a few flannel receiving blankets, cut into smaller pieces of course. Since most mothers are often drowning in receiving blankets after their baby showers, this is a great way to reuse them. They're always too small anyway for swaddling, and what the heck else do you do with them?

I got 16 wipes out of one blanket. To get them pretty even, just keep folding the blanket in half and then cutting. It makes the wipes rectangle sized, just like the disposable ones. The flannel is nice because the edges don't unravel like other fabrics when washed. And do you think I'd actually be here seaming the edges of 48 baby wipes? Well, my friends who read my blog know that I probably would be doing Martha of me...but alas, my sewing machine is stuffed in the back of one of our closets behind baby stuff.

I keep a stack of folded ones next to the changing table. If you're cloth-diapering, just launder them with the diapers. If not, store the used wipes in a little trash can with a lid and wash them once a week or so. You can find cloth diaper laundering instructions here.

Check out Green Baby Guide for more Thrifty Green Thursday tips.

September 3, 2023

Kitchen Table Crafts: Metal Juice Lid Ornament

I love recycling nearly as much as crafting (kinda sad, huh?) so when I was making limeade for some unexpected guests the other weekend, I had an "aha!" moment. I keep a few of those frozen concentrated mixes on hand in the freezer for when I'm in a pinch and want to offer visitors something more than the customary water and iced tea we drink around here. As I was opening the can, I remembered a craft my mom used to do with us when I was little.
She would save the metal lids throughout the year (we had tons, since I have 4 brothers who were sugar addicts) and around Christmas we'd make ornaments for our tree and as tags for presents for teachers, grandparents, and others. These lids are perfect because they don't have sharp edges like ones you get from steel cans.

This craft requires a hammer, so you may want to do it with more mature kids. It doesn't require heavy pounding, just a few little taps so you could try it with younger kids. I remember loving the chance to use a hammer as a child. I felt so grown up, and hey, who doesn't like to pound things every once in a while.

What You'll Need:
  • juice can lid(s)
  • hammer
  • long nail or awl (if you're fancy!)
  • stack of newspaper (for padding)
  • pretty ribbon
  • tape
  • paper
  • pencil/pen
  • Optional: Shoe polish or brown acrylic paint and a paper towel and a clothespin for helping hold the nail

What You'll Do:
1. Trace the lid from the can so you have a circle to draw your design in. You could draw it right on the metal lid if you wish, but then you have to wipe it off in the end.

2. Cut it out and draw your design. I chose "S" for my son's name. You could also print letters or images from the computer or take a design from a coloring book. The simpler the image, the better it will turn out.
4. Tape the paper to the metal lid. You don't have to use red electrical tape like I did! It was the closest thing available.

5. Here's the fun part. Take your hammer and nail and begin tapping holes in the tin, following the lines of your design. It may be easier to pinch the nail with a clothespin that has some tape on the inside (to hold the nail in place better). This would prevent little fingers from being smacked. Do this on top of a stack of newspaper so that you don't puncture your table.
6. If you peek under the paper, it will start to look like this:
7. When you're done, your design will be seen as a series of tiny dots. Be sure to poke a bigger hole at the top for threading the ribbon into. Caregivers might want to do this step.
8. Here's the finished result with a pretty ribbon for hanging.

9. OPTIONAL: If you'd like to "antique" your ornament, put a dot of brown paint or brown shoe polish on a paper towel and rub it into the dots. It'll make your image "pop" a little bit. Do this on top of the newspaper because it might bleed through the back. Rub off any excess paint. And of course, do this before you put the ribbon on so you don't get paint on it.

10. There you have it! I've chosen to hang mine on a doorknob, as I think it looks quite charming.
If I find some more time, I'll finish all the letters of my son's name and string them together to make a little banner for over his window.

Enjoy and happy crafting!

September 2, 2023

Homemade Veggie Burgers

Due to staying at home to mother rather than working outside the house, I've been trying to minimize spending while maximizing our savings. So when it comes to buying pre-made foods or making my own, you can guess what I try to do.

Yesterday for our picnic lunch (held in the kitchen due to little Mr. Disagreeable) I cooked up some homemade veggie burgers. I didn't exactly have a recipe, and had no eggs to use as a binder, but that didn't stop me.

One of my proudest skills as a cook is my ability to be resourceful in the kitchen. I can take a seemingly empty pantry and whip up a really good vegetarian meal. Case in point: last week's Miso Noodle soup with dried shitakes, kelp and carrots. The key is to keep your pantry and freezer stocked, but all of you cooks probably know that already.

Some of my always-on-hand pantry items:
canned tomatoes
dried mushrooms
sun dried tomatoes
jars of roasted red peppers
steel-cut oats
couscous (great for a quick meal)
cans and cans of beans (black, red, butter, garbanzo, etc.)
lentils and split peas

fridge and freezer items:
miso paste (found in Asian markets)
carrots (they last a while)
variety of vinegars (rice, balsamic, cider)
soy sauce (don't scrimp on this. San-J organic is my fave)
frozen peas, carrots, spinach
frozen won-ton wrappers (for raviolis and dumplings)

Those are just a few of the items. What do you keep in your pantry at all times?

Here is my veggie burger recipe, if I can remember the plethora of things that I tossed into it.
1 cup TVP (textured vegetable protein...found in health food stores)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 can of butter beans, mashed
1/4 cup crumbled dried shitake mushrooms
1/4 cup mashed potato flakes
1 shredded carrot
1 small finely diced red pepper
1 finely diced small onion
some leftover corn
oregano, thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 beaten egg (I didn't have this yesterday)
olive oil for frying
boiling water (enough to wet the ingredients but not make them too soggy. Consistency should be of stiff oatmeal, so you can form patties out of it).

I mix everything together in a bowl and incorporate the egg well. Without the egg, the burgers will just want to fall apart, even though you can get away without it and call it a vegan burger. Add the hot water a little at a time, making sure not to get the mix too wet and runny. Form into patties (about 1/2 inch thick) and fry in olive oil in a pan. Once the first side is crisp, carefully flip the burgers over to fry the other side. A good crust will help prevent them from crumbling apart. Eat it on a bun, homemade bread (like we did) or plain with your favorite toppings. Enjoy!

After frying, I bake them in the oven for 20 minutes or so at 350 degrees.
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