Thursday, March 31, 2011

Coffee Chat - Heartaches and Housework

Come on in...I haven't a thing to offer just at the moment, but coffee...No wait, how about a piece of toast with homemade strawberry jam?  Would that do as a treat?  I just made the jam this morning.  It's a very easy recipe too, three ingredients and nothing to it.  From two pounds of berries, I got about 1 1/2 pints, not quite that. 
I really need some of Rhonda's Grandpa's Bread to go with this jam!  Too bad I've been too busy doing other things to attend to bread making.  Perhaps tomorrow...  I'll post the recipe over at

I made egg rolls this morning to go with my dinner for the day.  They were very good and tasty.  I packed some in Chance's work lunch, have about half that batch left over to go into the freezer. 

I'm in the process of making yogurt.  I'm going to experiement this time and try to make a bit of blueberry yogurt, as that is Chance's favorite flavor.  Can I sell him on homemade yogurt?  I'm going to try.  As near as I can tell, I need only stir sugar and fruit into the warm milk before I begin curing it.  So I'm doubling up on my usual recipe.  This is my milk heating in my small crockpot:

Gracious, the things we see in a photo!  I hadn't even noticed that container of metal hooks sitting there, lol!  Not part of the ingredients for the yogurt, I assure you.  Those are leftovers from a project I worked on this weekend.

Namely, this cupboard.  You see in the past this cupboard has been both eyesore and bane.  It contains my trash can and sundry other items, but without shelves, and no real support anywhere to attach shelves to.  I was beyond frustrated this weekend when I finally had enough and pulled every item from that cupboard.  Years ago I'd painted the unfinished walls white, which brightened the area by about 1000 times.  Sunday, I decided it was worth my time to look for solutions right here at home to create storage in this cabinet, not having found anything suitable in any store in the past three months.

I ended up removing some storage I'd made in my bedroom closet.  Stacked the milk crates atop one another and then drilled them to the wall to stabilize them.  Yes, I did use a power tool...Exciting, right? lol  I generally wait for Chance to wield tools but he was working and I'd no desire to present him with a project after putting in extra hours at work.  So I did it myself.  Yes, I am proud!

Those crates now allowed me vertical storage and I was able to move several items onto shelves that had previously been scattered in various places.  The bottom crate holds charcoal briquets, grill brush and lighter fluid.  The second shelf is for cat food and such.  Third shelf holds my cleaners, and the fourth shelf has my trash bags in a handy spot to reach.  I have plenty of eye hooks (that's why they are sitting on the kitchen counter) but no suitable s hooks to fit my Swiffer dusters or dust pan.  I'll buy some of those next week when I'm out and about.  I'll get enough of them to allow me to store my mop in that closet as well.

I was pretty satisfied with how it all looked, but Chance was even more so.  "Wow, when did you think of this?" he asked and then paid me the highest compliment, "You are just so smart!"

I've piddled about the house for a week now, cleaning, decluttering, re-organizing, thinking of how I'd like things to look. The guest room is looking fresh and pretty with a lighter comforter upon the bed.  Nothing yet for my room, but I shall come to that soon I am sure.  This is the time of year, I enjoy most walking about my home indoors and out with a piece of paper and pen to list all the ideas that will run through my mind.  Projects, projects and more projects!

 Monday I spent the bulk of my day working on my vintage magazine collection.  Especially the first magazines I bought were in rather poor shape.  I couldn't afford the best copies and was novice enough at eBay to be taken in by not strictly honest dealers at first.  I soon learned and began to buy from trusted dealers.  I have a few magazines that are good for nothing but scraps of things that I'll use in crafting or projects about the house, but the bulk of the magazines are in good condition, meaning they look well read.  I repaired covers, stapled a few well worn magazines to hold them together, organized them all by month.  Now I can easily access the collection by current month and I feel I can resort to careful handling instead of 'afraid to touch' use. 

I'm still working on the pantry, stocking the auxiliary pantry and occasionally making forays into the messy under counter pantry.  Truly I should be in there this afternoon setting things to rights but I've no ambition for the sort of task for today.  I'm reserving what energy I have for a few small tasks that must be accomplished in the next few hours.  Remember what I always say: work always waits upon me, I seldom have to wait upon my work.

I took an hour or so the other night to write out goals for April.  Some of them are:

Take a special day trip that Chance and I meant to do before it heats up. 

Buy and mail a birthday present to Rose.

Ship a package out to my son-in-law.

Clean off the front porch and start planning plants.  I'm thinking polka dots this season.  The tea pots I used last year will move to a plant stand under the pecan tree that is visible from the living room windows.  A nice spot, I think for pretty pots of flowers.  And I will begin to 'furnish' the front porch for the coming warm season with a few new plants in painted pots.  I'll use what I have, spray paint and round stickers to create my polka dot planters.

Thought I'd try to trim the grocery budget just a bit, hitting a little lower.  I'm just cutting back by $5 per week.  If I can do this, I'll put that money into the Christmas fund.

Make more strawberry jam.  I'll do hot water bath canning for the next batch, for long term storage.

Purchases to make in April:

Screening material to replace that on our windows and reinstall screens in our storm doors now we don't have umpteen hundred cats clawing at the door.  It will mean nice breezes on pleasant days if I can open those storm doors. 

Mulch and rock for flower beds and to go around Central unit.

Stock up on: Coffee, Tea, flour.

I'm a little disappointed in March goals.  I did very well with a few and hardly anything at all with others.  The lovely thing about it is that tomorrow, I have a chance to begin anew and try harder.  I am very mindful of my goals at the moment and plan to look them over daily in the coming month, just to keep me focused on what my targets are.

A friend and I were discussing some things that are currently going on in my family.  Heartaches, I got some.  Just like every body else, so no pity wanted or needed. Granny fell twice last week and ended up in the hospital.  She had a heart attack and it was thought she'd fractured the bone of her left hip, but no, she didn't.  She went to a nursing home today and it was recommended by the doctor that she be kept there, rather than at Assisted Living.  Fortunately she was not in any pain but there was the need to help Mama reach decisions and do so in such a diplomatic way that she felt she'd made choices all on her own.  My daughter in law is in the hospital out in California and so she and my son are heavy on my mind at all times.  And one of the other children is a concern...sigh.  Oh we worry so over our little ones, but those are nothing to the heart aches we feel for them as adults! 

I spend moments fretting, remembering I should pray over them and then working away at household tasks as I pray fiercely, lol.  Like my dear friend shared with me when I confided in her earlier this week, there is a great deal of comfort in setting to rights and organizing and creating and planning and cleaning whenever worry stands near.  I know too well that I'm substituting what I  have control over for what I have no control over at all, and that's fine.  I recognize it and I'm not avoiding the troubles but I won't waste time on them for long when there are so many other ways of being truly productive.  Besides, all that good hard work wears a body out so you can't help but fall asleep at night, which is when those things seem to crowd in closest to really worry you.

Fortunately I had a brief respite the first two months of this year, when all about us was calm and settled.  So there was my rest period to bring me into this season of cares.  Also fortunately, it is Spring when everything you could think to do suddenly is ripe for doing.  Now is the time to clean and scrub and garden and renew and all the things that occupy mind and body.

I didn't really do more than piddle about on Tuesday or Wednesday.  I ran a few errands Tuesday morning and brought back lunch at Chance's request.  He very sweetly paid for it, which I am happy he did.  It kept my grocery budget intact and it prevented me spending any money from checking.  I'd have treated us myself except I sort of spent my allowance  ahead....You see there were these books...Enough said?  So my books have eaten up my allowance the past two pay periods but I'm not sorry, no not a bit.  I keep an emergency amount tucked away but I do mean tucked away, well out of sight and seeing an empty spot there where I'd normally have pocket money is reminder enough that I've spent my personal cash already.

I stocked up on canned pineapple this week.  I've spent enough of my grocery budget for the month that I'm reluctant to shop too heavily but I will opt for the best of the loss leader sales.  8 ounce cans of pineapple, slices or crushed, were just $.50 and that was name brand stuff.  Quite a good price, so I spent $10 for pineapple and added two more rows to my little auxiliary pantry.

I'll do one more bit of spending this week: 10 pounds or so of boneless skinless chicken breasts at the unheard of price of $1.59 at a favorite small town grocery.  Nothing more, just that.  I've made sure I had room in my freezer this morning while I was digging about getting out the slaw and oriental vegetables for the egg rolls.

And while I was digging about I found blackberries and more strawberries and a bunch of apples an apple peels, and cores, all intended to be jam or jelly.  I do have some pectin on hand and some jars, so no extra cost to make those, just use what I have right here at home.  How nice it will be to tuck those jars into my pantry.  I think I might even play about a bit and make Apple Rosemary jelly...Or add lemon zest to the blackberry...Oh yes, I do love to be creative in my kitchen cookery as well as the other areas of my life.

I finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society this week and must say it was very enjoyable.  Unlike most novels co-written by two authors there was no change of voice, no moent when I felt I was reading a book written by dual personalities.  That was a real feat of accomplishment.  I finished Katherine's Yesterday by Grace Livingston Hill last night and am still working my way through Elizabeth: Captive Princess which I've found a bit tougher reading.  I have at hand Maeve Binchy's Minding Frankie and Grace Livingston Hill's Lone Point as my upcoming reading.

The sun is shining again.  It shone briefly yesterday evening, perhaps a half hour or so about the time Chance was to come home.  I admired the build up of white fluffy clouds and deep gray storm clouds and the green that is seen everywhere, on every branch and blade.  Maddie sat down near the fence and conversed with my cousin's horses and the cat sat on the plant stand under the pecan tree and washed herself most thoroughly.  A woodpecker tapped away above her head and disturbed her not at all.  I forgot my cares then too, with the sun falling across the carpet and highlighting the colors outdoors and just gave myself up to pure enjoyment in the pleasure of the moment. 

 I think I'd best end here. There's mail to fetch from the box down the drive and the pets to feed.  I'll heat the last of the soup from Monday for my supper while I sit on the porch with them.  Maddie just will not eat unless I sit down next to her while she nibbles her food.  I'll carry out one of those vintage magazines with me or perhaps one of my current books or maybe I'll just go out with nothing at all to do and just enjoy being which is awfully hard to do at times...

How to Eat Groceries: One Potato, Two Potato...

There are two convenience foods that are readily available in most kitchens: the egg, which we've discussed before and the humble potato.  Pomme de Terre, the French call them, Apple of the earth.

Did you know that the potato has as much Vitamin C and potassium as an orange?  That's right.  The potato.  Who knew?  Potatoes get a bad rap these days, much as eggs do.  Starch... Carbohydrate...Nasty words in today's diet.  Do not let these words turn you away from the potato.  Many a poor man has survived thanks to this humble vegetable.

In my childhood home, my dad was fiercely proud of his Irish heritage.  And he loved potatoes.  So much so that if we had spaghetti for dinner, potatoes were served on the side.  And if we missed a meal without the appearance of potatoes he sulked until the next meal!  He absolutely loathed rice, though the rest of the family felt it was a nice change from potatoes, lol.  However, potatoes figured large in my diet as a child and as a struggling homemaker attempting to make the budget ends meet.  Then, as with all things, potatoes fell out of favor in the dietary world and I pretty much dropped them from our menus.  Over the past year or two I've concentrated on adding them back , although I will never again eat a potato every single day as my father insisted we should do.

First let's be clear about which potato I am referring to, commonly called the white potato although the skin may be red, blue, yellow, pale brown and the flesh within may be white, golden, or purple.  These potatoes are from the Nightshade genus of plants (eggplant, tomatoes are among this genus as well) rather than the sweet potato (orange or yellow flesh that emits a syrupy sweet swap when cooked) which is from the Morning Glory family.

Potatoes are easily cultivated so they may be grown in the home garden but they are fairly inexpensive.  I've seen prices in my area as low as $.25 a pound in the past year, yet I read of still lower prices for others in the mid-west where potatoes are generally grown.  As stated, nutritionally speaking the potato is a carbohydrate, with high nutritional value in Vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium.  Unlike the sweet potato it is not sweeter when cooked, the sugar content being considerable lower, but the starches in potatoes will convert to sugar in the body, hence they are best eaten say once or twice weekly as opposed to daily.  The potato does not have the same antioxidant value as they sweet potato group either. 

Still I do like potatoes.  They lend themselves well to a variety of uses and as I said earlier they are a great convenience food.  A good sized baking potato may be cooked in the microwave in five minutes or so.  Topped with a serving of steamed broccoli and melted cheese, or a scoop of chili with beans and you have an easy and delicious and filling dinner in minutes.  Besides eggs, I can think of little that is as easily prepared from it's natural raw state to cooked!

So easily adaptable is the potato that it is not uncommon to find nearly a full section of most cookbooks devoted to it's cookery.  That alone shows the versatility of this humble 'apple of the earth' and perhaps is the reason it is called such.    It is equally at home served on it's own as French Fries, hash browns, mashed (with or without additional ingredients), boiled, baked, steamed, fried, added to other vegetables or added into casseroles, soups and used as fillers for meat dishes and may even be made into a reasonably good old fashioned candy.  It may be served mashed, chopped, sliced, diced. 

Some of the favorite uses in my own home: Mashed with butter; or with addition of shredded cheese and a bit of onion juice and garlic (excellent with BBQ'd chicken or steak); with sour cream and chives; with a spoonful of mayo and dry ranch dressing mixed in well.

Baked: with toppings suitable for a meal such as broccoli and cheese, or chili; with butter or sour cream.  Stuffed (baked and then cut in half lengthwise with the flesh scooped out and mixed with various ingredients as a side dish or including bits of ham, sausage etc to serve as an entree.

Roasted: with olive oil and herbs, alongside a roast or cooked separately.  Or in log form at higher temperature to use in lieu of french fries with burgers.

Fried: as potato sticks or fries or chips.

As an ingredient in soup or stew or made into a soup that stands well on it's own.  A creamy pot of potato soup is an inexpensive and excellent meal on it's own or with a sandwich on the side.

Boiled whole (especially tiny potatoes) and served with butter and parsley and lemon rind grated over, or tossed with sour cream.  Diced to use as potato salad or merely parboiled and used for hashbrowns.

Leftover potatoes lend themselves well to other uses.  If I cook extra while making potato salad, I do often plan to make hash browns with them.  Leftover mashed potatoes make an excellent filler for ground beef in meatloaf, top a shepherd's pie, may be made into potato pancakes or mixed with eggs and cream and baked to make a light and airy potato souffle (a fancy way to make your leftovers suitable for a company dinner).

Best loved in my home and simple is potatoes cooked with onions over medium heat.  The potatoes are sliced, salted and peppered and mixed with a generous amount of sliced onions.  A little oil in the pan helps promote browning and I often clamp a lid over the pan  after the potatoes and onions are nicely browned to let them steam cook.  This is so simple and yet it never fails to draw raves from those who are awaiting the meal...or from passing campers if you happen to be in the woods, lol.

Potatoes au gratin or scalloped potatoes are two old favorites from my children's home years.  I'd cook with slices of ham between the layers of potatoes and cheese or potatoes and cream sauce for an all in one dish meal.  Pork chops or Polska Kielbasa might also be baked atop the potato dish for other casserole options.  A simple green salad is really all that is needed to make a meal of these dishes. 

Hash brown Casserole is another favorite of my children's.  I found that adding bits of cooked crumbled sausage or finely diced ham made this a dish worthy of brunch on holiday mornings, or a hearty casserole for supper. 

Potatoes are excellent mixed with other vegetables.  I have a favorite family recipe called Armenian potatoes that is wonderful served with grilled meats.  It is made up of diced potatoes baked in casserole dish with a small diced tomato and garlic, paprika, olive oil, salt and parsley.  Kay adapted this to a Pot Roast dish and cooked it with a veal roast.  She told me that it was awesome.   In early marriage, I often boiled cubed potatoes then tossed in Brussels Sprouts towards the end of the cooking.  Drained the dish and mixed with sour cream and this was excellent served alongside fish.   Cabbage and potatoes and carrots are equally good cooked along with corned beef or Smoked Beef Sausage.  And who can think of pot roast or stew without also thinking of the Triad of vegetables that makes it so good? Potatoes, carrots and onions. 

Good nutritionally, good for the budget, and just plain all around good to eat...I think potatoes should be added once more to the roster of all star pantry foods don't you? 


Monday, March 28, 2011

Menu Monday: Pantry/ Freezer Challenge Part III

I think I've still got the Spring fever organizing/decluttering bug.  Yesterday I was knee deep in a closet dismantleing a sotrage system of milk crates so that I could build up a storage area in my broomcloset which was bereft of any storage shelves.  Now I have a lovely well organized broom closet that holds all I could want it to as well as the trash can.  Chance was astonished.  "Why didn't you think of this sooner?" was his first comment, followed by the more usual, "You are so smart!" lol

I put my closet back together with the leftovers and considered the lack of storage space there a good time to cull more of the shoes and purses I never use. 

Today I was busy organizing my cabinet where I keep my vintage magazines.  I repaired torn covers and reattached covers/backs to magazines and then put them in order of months.  Now, hopefully, I'll be able to easily get at the current month's issues.

Like everyone else I am confused by our weather.  Hot and breezy, with pollen filled air, or cool and damp, or humid and thunder-y with threatening weather.  Gracious!  I hardly know what season to prepare foods from.  I am definitely thinking that today is more a soup and cornbread sort of day, though we'd planned early last week that today would be a cook-out day.  It's a good thing that freezer and pantry continue to be full with all sorts of foods that lend themselves to all kinds of weather!

Monday:  Vegetable Beef Soup, Cornbread, Pear Salad
Just to suit the cool damp feeling in the air, I'll go right ahead and prepare soup this evening.  Even though it's frozen, thank goodness it can thaw over low heat and I do believe that soup will hit the spot.  We might even have to consider lighting the heater if the temperature drops tonight. 

Tuesday:  Swiss Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Crescent Rolls, Berries and Cream
I guess this menu has a bit of winter and a bit of spring in it, much like the weather, lol.  I will slow cook round steak pieces with tomatoes, onions, mixed bell peppers.  Rolls are those lovely crescent rolls I mixed up earlier this month and froze a portion of.  I must remember to get a photo of the baked rolls and post that recipe.  Fresh strawberries with whipped cream for dessert.

Wednesday:  Teriyaki Chicken Wings, Rice, Stir Fried Oriental Vegetables
I think if I make the chicken wings, Chance will take a few in his lunch.  If I remember, I'll try to make up some egg rolls as well.  Those reheat well in the microwave and make a tasty lunch on the go, even if they are just filled with cabbage and carrots.  I bought a package of fresh oriental vegetable mix and tossed it into the freezer when I discovered I had an abundance of fresh produce.  These should steam nicely and mixed with a bit of garlic and ginger root will taste as good as if fresh.

Thursday:  Oven Baked Corn Dogs, Coleslaw, Oven Fries
Another meal that is well suited to a work lunch.  I'm killing two birds with every meal I make so far this week, lol.  Corn Dogs and Coleslaw will go into Chance's work lunch.  I'll freezer any other leftover corn dogs. 

Friday:  Macaroni and Cheese with Cauliflower, Sliced Tomatoes, Leftover Coleslaw
I'll add some chopped cauliflower from the freezer to my macaroni and cheese mix.  I find cauliflower is fairly bland anyway and I think it will not that noticeable in the mac and cheese...why not sneak in an extra vegetable?  Let's see cauliflower, tomato, coleslaw...That's three servings in one meal!

Saturday:   Leftover Teriyaki Wings and Fried Rice, Tangelo
I'll reheat wings and stir fry the leftover rice and vegetables. It will be easy to prepare once I'm home from synagogue.

Sunday:  Roast Beef,  Italian Roasted Vegetables, Herbed pasta
I'm thinking maybe we'll be back to Spring weather by Sunday.  Roast beef will be good hot or cold.  The roasted Vegetables will go nicely over the buttered and herb seasoned pasta.

Desserts: Banana Creme Pie, Lemon Sugar Cookies 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Frugal Friday

Frugal Friday

Saturday:  Friday for supper I made pancakes.  I use mix bought on sale because I need to add only water.  Instead of adding water this time I used the whey that developed in my homemade yogurt.  I think those were the best pancakes I've made and they had a protein boost from the whey.

I didn't make my dinner for Oneg after service yesterday.  Chance offered me money to buy something at the grocery deli, but  I was up early anyway and went right to work making my food.  An old favorite recipe for Corn Moussaka called for ingredients I had on hand: ground beef, cinnamon, garlic, canned corn, cottage cheese, eggs, mozzarella.  To keep the casserole hot, I baked it just a half hour prior to leaving home.  I took it from the oven, covered it, wrapped in a thick towel, then put into an insulated bag that I use to bring home cold groceries.  This worked very well.  When I removed the casserole from the bag and unwrapped it three and a half hours later it was still plenty hot, didn't need to be warmed at all.

A red cabbage slaw went well with the casserole.  I had toasted pistachios on hand, carrots, red cabbage.  I made a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, paprika, cumin, garlic, fennel seed, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.
I had just enough casserole left over for one serving.  I made that my supper entree for the evening.
I had nothing to make sandwiches for Chance...but then remembered I had sliced roast beef in the freezer that I'd bagged up for sandwiches.  All I had to do was thaw a packet to use in sandwiches.
Sunday:  Flipped my mattress to the position for the Spring quarter.  I'd read that it wasn't necessary to flip mattresses any longer since they contained inner springs but I find the mattress does wear unevenly if left in one position.  I went back to the old advice of flipping and turning the mattress and find we sleep far better.  To help me I've used permanent marker to write the months when seasons change on either end.

I was putting away a blanket in storage and found an old top sheet.  The fitted bottom sheet ripped badly and wasn't worth repairing but the top sheet was perfectly good so I saved it.  It happens to be just the right color to go with that quilt I wanted to revamp, so I'll use a portion of the material to work on that project.

Digging about in the fridge to find an item, I found another dish in which I'd stored leftover wild rice and deli roasted chicken when Alan was here the other night.  I added half a can of cream of chicken soup, 1/2 cup of water and milk and made a chicken and wild rice soup for my dinner.  It was exactly what I wanted as I hadn't been feeling well and wasn't up to a heavy meal.
Washed a full load of clothes by combining sheets with a handful of other items.  My detergent bottle was 'empty'...I found that by swishing a bit of water inside I was able to use the last bit of detergent in the bottle.

Monday:  A small bit of spring cleaning: I took down the curtains from the bathroom mirrors (it helps cut down on noise in that large room to have softening drapes at the big mirrors over the garden tub) and washed them.  A second load of clothes was made up of towels and rugs.   Pollen is so heavy that it's impossible to dry things outdoors so I used the dyer, loading the second load of laundry right into the hot dryer after the curtains came out (they took only half an hour to dry).  I think for two loads the dryer ran about 1hour and 15 minutes.
I used online ads to pull sales items for my shopping list.  I did not purchase a Sunday paper this past week, so saved that cost. 

Where am I getting coupons without purchasing the Sunday paper?  Magazines, Mama saves coupon inserts for me, and I receive a few from mailers that come to the house.  I also pick up coupons in the stores and I use coupons within sales ads (such as Walgreen's or Publix) which may be used with a manufacturer's coupon to stack savings.

We had hoped to hear good news this day and were shocked to discover that the report was different than we'd been told.  Immediate thoughts were to panic a little but then we let calmness take hold once more.  Our situation is the same as it was the day before.  Not better and not worse.  This helped us to gain perspective that might have had us being too stringent with our money, which is a danger though it may sound unlikely.  Being too stringent in savings and denying small routine pleasures can make sticking to a budget pure drudgery and just like a diet it might mean bingeing in ways that are more harmful to the overall savings plan.  I'm glad to stopped and let sound reasoning take hold once more.
Spent a small portion of this day assembling outfits from my closet into new fresh looks.  I didn't complete the task but I did find a few  fresh takes on what I had on hand.  I'll be working on that task more as the week goes on.

Harvest night:  Last pay period we discovered that we could hold one of our bills, pay an extra half payment and reduce our debt a little more.  We checked the calendar to be doubly sure we'd be able to pull this off and indeed we had three pay periods before the next bill was due.  Then we double checked the due by date...which fell a good ten days prior to the time a late fee would be incurred and gave us that extra leeway of time.  It felt good to write out that extra amount and add to our usual payment this pay period.

Electric bill arrived this afternoon.  I was happy to see the bill had dropped $50.  We hit that lovely in-between time when we didn't need heat for more than an hour in the morning and weren't yet needing air conditioning.  Of course we have been very diligent as well about not running lights, water or other energy eaters except when necessary.

Realized that though I'd budgeted for one more propane fill-up we're not going to require it.  This allowed us another bit of savings in our month.

Tuesday:  Shopping/Errands day.  Although I'm doing a pantry/freezer challenge again this week, I had a full shopping list.  Why so much if I've challenged myself?  There were good sales on items that I felt compelled to stock up on for our pantry: toilet paper, peanut butter, canned tuna, juice etc are all good for long term storage.  I spent about my usual grocery amount but only milk, produce and bread were added to the fridge.  In fact, the milk will not be used until next week, the sell by date is April 4.  It was, however, on sale this week and a good enough buy to warrant the purchase.

Temptation hit me at the magazine aisle when I found a historical quarterly magazine about my state...I put it back though.  $6 spent on a magazine I've never even tested to see if I'd want it, or $6 to put towards say a new vintage magazine?  Well for me the contest wasn't a hard one at all.  By all means $6 towards a new to me vintage magazine.

Strawberries continue to be extremely well priced, 3/$5 in our area and that is for Florida berries.  I bought 3 more quarts.  We'll eat a few fresh but most are destined for the jam pot.

Bought a 3# sirloin tip roast and cut into three sections when I got it home.  I then cut each section into cubes.  I'll use as shish kebab meat in the warmer Spring months.

No cash for my allowance this week.  I opted to write out a check for my recent bookclub purchases instead.  While I have a wee bit of cash on hand it is truly not mine to spend, but to have for emergency needs.  I'm very serious about how much allowance I am allowed and stick hard to my own rules in this area.

Wednesday:  Wow.  It's impossible to believe how much a little yard work can do to improve the looks of the yard overall!  Maddie had lots of things that she's claimed as her own for the past few months, there were broken branches and a few stubborn weed stalks here and there.  I spent about an hour outdoors and the yard truly was much improved by that hour's worth of work.

Talked to Chance about my deep desire to make my yard pretty and bemoaned my lack of ability to do it all myself.  He reminded me that Alan has the whole summer semester off from college this year and suggested I talk to him about giving me a day of work each week in exchange for a little cash...What a great idea!  Help I can afford, know well will do a good job and whose company I shall enjoy.

Rabbi came to dinner and brought the meal with him.  Bless him he'd had so many leftovers from the BBQ chicken he purchased from KFC for synagogue that he'd taken it home and vac packed for us and other members and froze them.  He brought the packages set aside for us, buns and chips to dinner.  I provided drinks. 
I put leftover chicken in to the fridge for sandwiches.

I did light housework only after my stint in the yard.  The day truly was more leisure and less work which suited my husband just fine since he needed the rest.  Supper was an easy omelet.  I'd meant to make it a Western Omelet but found a few items in the fridge that I thought were better to use up right away.  Lovely thing about omelets:  They'll take just about any filling you want to put into them.

Thursday:   Chance treated me to breakfast this morning.  Lovely breakfast of pancakes and sausage with warm maple syrup.  I love to eat out for breakfast.  The restaurants are less crowded on weekday mornings, the prices are usually more reasonable than for lunch menus and I seldom get a break from cooking breakfast unlike dinner or supper when family and friends are more likely to invite me out. 

Knowing we'd be on the road for a good while this morning, I packed bottles of water and granola bars.  Good thing, too, as the morning wound right into afternoon.

Chance and I have a secret shopping source...the pawn shop.  You'd be surprised what you can find in a good pawn shop.  Jewelry, music equipment, movies, televisions, guns, power tools, bedding sets and more.  Not all the items in a pawn shop are used.  Many pawn shops also buy out stores that are going out of business.   Yesterday's purchase was a new item at a price that seemed good.  We researched it online and we discovered we'd  $100 over the cost of the same item from a popular supplier. We bought two items and were given a 10% discount over the shop's price as well.   You just can't beat the Pawn Shop for bargains!

Late home and Chance wanted a meal right away.   I made up chicken salad from canned chicken meat and prepared salad plates using what we had on hand.  It was so refreshing and nice after the warm Spring day outdoors.  I mixed walnuts and craisins and mayo and lemon juice with the chicken for the salad and served on lettuce lined plates with apple wedges and crackers on the sides. 

That leftover BBQ chicken came in handy last night when Alan stopped by.  He waited until Chance was home from practice and the two of them ate a late supper together.  He also agreed to be my landscape help for the summer semester.  We discussed money and were both satisfied with our agreement.   It helps to have a son willing to accept a meal as part of his wages, lol.

Alan was complaining of stiff back muscles.  I shared with him a hint the doctor had given Chance about his occasional backaches: use Midol.  There is a muscle relaxant in this medication used for PMS or menstrual cycles that is especially good at loosening sore muscles.  And just because it's marketed for women doesn't mean a man can't use it.  I offered him one of my pills to take. 
Friday: Used what I had on hand to make a nice dinner: Thyme (bought fresh herbs on sale last pay period) and lemon chicken breasts, Zucchini au gratin (fresh produce bought this pay period) and Strawberry Cobbler (using some of the fresh berries).  I made only enough cobbler for two servings.

That cobbler was so delicious.  Hot cooked strawberries are not typically the way we eat these sweet berries but baking into a cobbler (or muffins) really brings out the flavor.  To further enhance flavor I used a little almond extract in my cobbler batter.  Gracious but that was a good cobbler!

Topped and froze the rest of the berries.

Bought two bags of lemons this week at the local store where they were on sale.  I will juice them and freeze the juice in ice cube trays.  I can then remove as much as I need for recipes or lemonade.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Coffee Chat - Oh the Difference a Day Makes

Good afternoon! 
No coffee this afternoon...It's warm enough to warrant lemonade and I have fresh lemons aplenty on hand...

This past weekend, I didn't feel well.  Not a real illness, but more that I felt I was fighting off something.  I gave in and rested and woke feeling terrific on Monday morning.  True, I gave up two full days to doing little more than resting, but gracious, I've learned a few things in these accumulated years of mine: rest when the body demands it is for a purpose.  Ignore the warning and pay the price with an illness that knocks you off your feet for a couple of weeks and who, in Springtime especially, has a couple of weeks to spare?!

Saturday I did go to synagogue and stay for the meal afterwards.  I prepared a simple meal of Corn Moussaka and Red Cabbage Salad with fresh Tangelos for dessert.  It was a lovely day and a special celebration, Purim, but I wasn't up to staying for the whole long day of it.  I regretted leaving early, as it was truly such a fun celebration last year, but I headed home and napped. 

Sunday I passed on visiting Granny.  At her age, she has no need of viruses and bugs and such.  I stayed right here at home and didn't stray very far from my chair for long stretches.  A very bare minimum of housework was done.  I didn't feel like reading (see how ill I was? lol) or eating or tackling big projects.  I just wanted to stay in my chair and rest.

Monday, however...Well Monday I was up early and off and running and felt just dandy.  Sunday had been a little cloudy for the most part.  Monday, the grass had grown four or five inches overnight, the trees that had bloomed or were blooming had leaves and I spied more iris blooming in the yard.

Before noon I'd stripped the heavy curtains from the bathroom which had begun to seem suffocating to me and had thrown them in the wash, cleaned the house top to bottom, made out a shopping list and was working on the new 'How to Eat Groceries' post.  I spent a portion of the morning organizing my recipe notebook, dating the newly pulled recipes from magazines (those 'sounds good, hope to make someday' recipes) in the past two months.  I date them so I can toss them next year if I haven't tried them. 

I pulled some things from my closet to try to work up new outfits for Spring, but realized after about three outfits that I was too tired to bother with that. 

The mail carrier (we call her "The Mail Lady") brought mail to the door Monday. There are two women who run our mail route and we get them on alternate days.  Hence we simply refer to them as The Mail Lady and don't bother with names.  I like both the 'girls' as Granny used to call them equally well.  The courtesy of bringing a package up to the house is one of their sweetest traits.  The former mail person used to just lay the package atop the two mail boxes in the bottom where it sat all day long, come what weather there was.  We weren't very fond of the last mail carrier to be honest.

When I hear the horn blow in the backyard and know that a package is being delivered I feel excited.  I also like the opportunity to chat a moment with The Mail Lady who always asks after Granny.  Monday I had a piece of Mrs. Harris' poundcake on the counter.  She'd sent home three pieces the last weekend we had Sunday dinner and I put them in the freezer.  That day I'd removed them from the freezer to thaw and put one in Chance's work lunch and had one for my afternoon snack.  I carried the last piece out to The Mail Lady.  She was pretty happy to have that something extra for her afternoon snack.

I don't think there is a thing lovelier than seeing a package as mail, do you?  So you'll understand perfectly when I share how extreme my disappointment was!  It wasn't the book I'd ordered at all, but another entirely, one that wasn't of the least interest to me.  I was so sad!  Not the cookbook I'd been looking forward to for ten days at all.  I wrote the one who'd sent it to me and they wrote back stating they'd refunded my money and was sorry about the mix-up.  The book I'd wanted wasn't really in stock after all and somehow they'd shipped out the wrong book.  "Don't bother to return it," the email said, but I'd already done that by the time I got their email.  Most puzzling to me was the statement that they didn't really have my book in stock.  Since this was my second attempt at ordering the same book through two different merchants it was a huge disappointment to me.

That was my second disappointment that day, the first one having been of a greater proportion of disappointment, I was a little compelled to begin to think gloomily of Monday as a 'bad day' but I knew that sort of thinking is dangerous to the peaceful heart, so I decided I needed a quiet place to get a new perspective.

I decided to go sit in the craftroom.  I recently moved that rocker of mine to that room.  It keeps getting shoved from room to room, but I think it's finally found a home.  Chance doesn't want it outdoors on the porch or deck, not put in storage, but no one ever uses the chair.  However, it now sits right next to the window in the craft/guest room and it's a peaceful spot to sit and rock and contemplate life.  I changed the heavy comforter out for lighter Spring comforter and colors this week.  There's still work to be done in that room. I figured out a new arrangement for furniture that might make the room seem larger.  I made over the room in my mind the little while I sat in there.  Do you do that?  Start planning a makeover of a spot that is a work in progress as you sit quietly?

I rocked and contemplated the view (and spied more iris blooming under the Sweet Gum tree) and thought about all the things that had occurred in the week just past that were blessings, beautiful happy events and planned my room makeover and dreamed of the garden I one day long to have and before you know it, I felt much better and there was no more bad day.

Tuesday I was out shopping.  I hadn't planned to do such a big shop but I felt very strongly the urge/need to stock up on staples like tuna and toilet paper and paper towel and peanut butter.  I don't know why I'm deepening the pantry so hard of late, but I'll give in to the urge and do it.  I made a number of stops.  I went into three grocery, two drugstores, Walmart, Best Buy and the post office before the day was done.  Then home to unload and put away things and for all my busy day I was home before 2:30pm.  I seemed to be in super mode just as I had been on Monday.

I had such a lot of pain in my knees and ankles and hips yesterday.  Thinking it over I realized that I had nothing or anyone except myself to blame for my aches and pains.  You see for the past year I've followed a regime of vitamin and minerals and anti-inflammatory medicine that has worked beautifully at keeping pain at bay.  The trouble was I'd been feeling so good of late that I slipped up and stopped taking the vitamins and anti-inflammatories routinely.  It isn't as if it's such a hard thing to do.  I take 1000mg of Vitamin C, 1000mg of Calcium, 500mg of Magnesium, and 1 Motrin every 12 hours.  In the mornings I also take a Vitamin E and Vitamin D.  Just twice a day.  On days when I'm on my feet for long hours such as yesterday, I might take a Motrin or Tylenol midway through the day.  But Mrs. FeelGood decided she no longer needed to do this simple little thing and skipped several mornings and a couple or three nights and wham!  Joint pain is back to where it was two years ago before we fell upon this easy to follow preventative routine.  Needless to say I was back on that routine this morning and will be taking them tonight as well.  And every day from now on.

This morning I figured I already hurt anyway, so I might as well go on out in the yard and do some work.  At least I couldn't complain that the yard did me in, lol.  Chance will be mowing this week and the yard does need it.  I picked up Maddie's 'stuff'.  Maddie's stuff was mostly in two main areas that we refer to as "Maddie's playpens".

These two spots are not small areas such as a playpen normally would be, but in proportion to our yard they are smaller areas where she tends to group her stuff.  Maddie's stuff includes a couple of real toys, aluminum cans borrowed from who knows where, tree branches, rugs and towels filched from the porches and dog shelters and claimed as hers, deer verterbra and jaw bones, rocks from my flower bed (big chunks of rock, I don't know how she manages to carry them!), plastic bags, dishes that were being used as pet pans by some neighbor or other, etc.  Quite the mess. 

I got my wagon out of the shed and carried along the garden clippers thinking I might as well cut down the most unsightly of the old weed stalks around the flower beds and the branches that weren't quite broken through on the lower levels of the trees.  I worked away for well over an hour then picked up all the bones and stuff that Maddie had.  Maddie didn't much care to have me pick up her things, but she gave in with a deep sigh when I fussed at her for trying to snatch one of her rugs.  She is a very philosophical dog.  If I wasn't interested in playing snatch away with her, then she'd chase bumble bees away from me instead.  I can't say I was sorry that she chose that activity. 

There were all sorts of bees about outdoors and they were all curious as could be about this lumbering giant outdoors in their world.  They were continually flying up to look closely at me and buzzing about my head.  They didn't make me nervous but they were so in your face that I was a bit put out with them.  Maddie would see one buzzing about me and she'd leap up and snap at it.  Then it truly seemed as if the bees would recognize that she was having fun and they'd lead her all over the yard, with her following right along, leaping and snapping when they'd dive a bit closer to her. 

I was just about hot and tired enough to start feeling snippy when Chance came out on the deck and warned me he'd just invited Rabbi to come out to the house.  I like having Rabbi come by, but I'm not terribly happy over any company when I'm sweating and need to shower and am breathless with exertion (all that unaccustomed outdoor work, whew!).  "Oh he's not going to be here right away...He said it would be at least fifteen minutes."  Gee thanks!  It's a tremendous help to know I have fifteen minutes to get myself company ready!

I shall not complain hard here.  Rabbi brought lunch with him, a lovely lunch of KFC BBQ chicken, buns, chips and dip.  All I had to do was heat the chicken and direct the guys where to find drinks, or which jars to open from the fridge.  That was a true blessing to have such a good meal without having to prepare it!

You know, I seldom plug a product but I will say this about the KFC BBQ chicken: it was really good.  I was very surprised by how good it was.  Being Southern, I thought the only way to eat shredded BBQ was pork and since we no longer eat pork, I pretty much discarded the idea of BBQ sandwiches.  So to discover that this BBQ chicken was so tasty is like having a special treat.

We all sat about and chatted after dinner, touching on many subjects over the next couple of hours.  I can't say I'm sorry for the interruption to the day.  Chance needed the quiet day to rest after his work week and the impetus to drive to town to run errands, the idea of mowing grass today, all just slipped away.  He'll surely run errands tomorrow and probably mow the lawn as well, but for today he's resting and doing nothing much and that's what he needs.

Hmmmm...he and two dogs and a cat might all think they need food about now as well.  Guess I'd better end our chat and feed them all.  I'll have to see what Chance and I have on hand but I'm leaning towards a nice Western omelet and toast for us.

Currently reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Currently listening to: the tap of computer keys on two laptops and an instrumental titled "Prayer' by Raphael on the New Age channel on tv.

What I see outside my window: Sunshine, waving tree branches from all the high winds we've had today, grass that looks to be more than ankle high (and is!)

And here's my husband asking "What's for dinner or am I on my own?"  Guess I'd better get moving!

Monday, March 21, 2011

How To Eat Groceries - Doing the Can Can

We're working our way through the groceries we learned to purchase earlier this year.  Now let's talk about the wonderful world of canned foods and how very versatile these are for our menus, okay? 

While I do love fresh produce there's a whole world of inexpensive, nutritious goods out there that go on sale routinely: canned goods.  The bonuses to purchasing canned foods?   Long shelf life, which means you can look to deepening the pantry with these items.   Nutrition, because the same vitamins and minerals are there and as much as I hate to admit it, unless you're gardening, you're likely going to get MORE from the canned items than from fresh.   Convenience, mostly open, heat and eat and some items are ready for consumption right away.   Variety, for nearly every thing imaginable may be bought canned.  And lastly, ease of storage.  Canned goods don't require a vast freezer or produce bin.  You can store them where ever you have space to spare, whether it's a pantry or a closet or garage.  You'll never have to worry about pests getting into those cans and jars, either!  Which is a sort of bonus of bonuses in my opinion.

So let's look at canned foods.

Based upon my walk through at my favorite grocery we'll start with coffee.  Vacuum pack bags are nice, it's true.  But many manufacturers also offer up canned coffees.  Maxwell House is in a sort of foil lined cardboard can that is pretty well impervious to moisture but some store brand cans of ground coffee are actually tin.  This coffee has a longer shelf life than freshly ground beans, often up to 11 months or more.  If you're interested in deepening your pantry then look here for the coffee to store.  As well, note that very often this is the least expensive option.  Typically Maxwell House brand coffee in the can goes on sale for $2.50 for 13 ounces (that used to be a pound but hey, we all know about the incredible shrinking items, don't we?) Okay just went to check my pantry and that would an 11 ounce can for Maxwell House...Some store brands are sold for just over $3 and the cans hold 12 ounces. 

We love coffee in our house but sometimes we have leftovers.  Let me encourage you to save that coffee!  You can make iced coffee at home and it is even more delicious if you freeze leftover coffee in ice cube trays.  This prevents watering down of your iced coffee as the cubes melt.  Leftover coffee may also be added to chili or a pot roast for deep brown rich color, or used in a chocolate or white cake mix in place of the water called for.  My favorite cookbook, The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook, suggests using leftover coffee to make coffee muffins (1 1/4 cups in place of milk) or to make Coffee Cream Pie or custard, subbing half the milk called for with cold brewed coffee.     Let me also encourage you to experiment however, until you can make just the right amount of coffee for your household.  It took some learning on  my part but I now know pretty much I need to make to satisfy Chance and I at any given time of day with nearly nothing left.

Canned syrup.  This may be a little difficult to find in some markets but indeed you can buy canned tins of molasses or cane syrup.  Growing up, we only ever had the canned cane syrup in the house because we used so much syrup that Mama and Granny and Grandmama just filled syrup pitchers to put on the table and when they were empty they refilled them.  You may also find Maple Syrup that is in cans as well.  I recall seeing one brand that is shaped as a little log cabin.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with bottled mind you, but I'm discussing cans today, remember? lol

Canned steel cut oats.  Not to be confused with rolled oats.  These oats are meant to be soaked overnight and cooked long and slow.  I'm told they are quite delicious and taste nothing akin to the rolled oats I grew up with.  Check expiration date and buy them if you are sure you'll use them.  I'm going to stick to my old fashioned packed in cardboard canister rolled oats.

Canned milk.  There are many varieties of milk available canned both cow and goat, sweet and unsweetened, whole or low fat.  The label generally reads as evaporated or condensed.  I've not tried goat's milk but I do know children who were raised upon it due to allergies.    I keep a few cans of evaporated cow's milk in my pantry at all times.  Once upon a time, powdered milk was an inexpensive alternative to dairy purchased milks.  Price wise these days, unless you're getting powdered for free, canned evaporated milk is a nice alternative. 

In Depression and WWII women's magazines, menus often were written out for the bare bones, thrifty and economical budgets.  Evaporated canned milk, diluted with water in a 1:1 ratio was often substituted for fresh milk to fit the nutritional needs of the lowest budgets. 

I often will substitute canned milk for half and half in my coffee (used full strength or mixed 1:1 with 2% milk for a sort of homemade half and half).  Mixed 1:1 with water it may be used over hot or cold cereals or as a substitute for milk in cooking.  A can of thoroughly chilled evaporated milk may be beaten to soft peaks just like whipped cream and is a very tasty substitute for the  more expensive cream.  And I find it versatile for making creamed soups at home from scratch, especially potato soup.  It may be used straight from the can as cream for coffee or hot cooked cereals.  Growing up we often ate a little canned milk over any cobbler or pie that came to the table (Granny would ask, "Would you like that with cream?") and yes, even over a bowl of jello or over fresh sliced peaches or berries.  So you see, to me this truly is a kitchen staple. 

I stock up on canned milk during holiday baking sales, when it is most likely to be offered at $.50 a 12 ounce can.  I often get it for free or very nearly with doubled coupons in my local stores.  I literally can't beat the price of canned evaporated milk.  It does not have as long a shelf life as some canned goods so take note of the expiration date before stocking up too heavily and be sure to rotate when you are stocking up.  And plan to use it.  Canned evaporated milk does not sour but it does get darker, due to the natural starches in the milk.  I've used evaporated milk without any problems three or four months beyond expiration but I don't recommend you do that for liability reasons.

Sweetened condensed milk is also available in whole and low fat varieties.  Sweetened condensed milk is a nice staple to have on hand in moderation.  It's very good in coffee, chai or Thai teas.  It is most often used a base to make pudding, custard, pie, homemade ice cream, or confections with and if you're a baker you'd certainly be likely to have a can or two on hand, but it is not something I personally stock up heavily upon.

During holidays you may also find canned egg nog is to be had.  Bought on sale at end of season sales, this is a wonderful pantry item to use to make bread puddings, pancakes, muffins, doughnuts, cakes and pudding or custard.  A friend of mine seeks out the sales and stocks up with dozens of cans because her son absolutely loves it but abhors milk.  She feels she is giving him the calcium he needs with a small cup of this after school each day.  And she has her doctor's best wishes as her son was a little underweight until she stumbled upon this idea. 

And as we turn the aisle, we come to the fruits and juices.  I keep a good dozen or more cans of canned peaches on hand because my husband loves them so much and just as many cans of pineapple  (in chunks, rings and crushed) because I love that fruit so.  I prefer the fruit packed in pear juice.  Typically canned fruits go on sale (store brand) about three or four times each year and run around $.69 a can.  I usually buy pears, peaches, pineapple and a few of fruit cocktail.  You may also buy apples, plums, cherries and other berries canned in their own juices, but seldom are these priced reasonably.  However, if freezer space is limited and you are a baker of pies, you might well see the sense of keeping on hand several varieties of these items.

I like to use canned fruit as base for upside down cakes, fruit pies and cobblers.  However, I also use pineapple, pears, and peaches to make side salads for our meals.  These salads are simple to prepare, beautiful to behold and very tasty.  Typically, I'll place fruit half or ring on a plate lined with leaf lettuce, top the center cavity with cottage cheese and a cherry or nut half, or with a mixture of cream cheese and toasted nuts mixed with just enough mayonnaise to moisten, or just a dollop of mayonnaise and a spoonful of finely grated cheddar cheese.  You really wouldn't believe how delicious this is if you've never tried it!  I read a hint several years ago that to make a really good fruit salad or 'hash' to always use some canned and some fresh varieties of fruit together.  One of my children's favorites was a fruit salad made with canned fruit cocktail, a fresh apple and/or orange and banana, mixed with mini marshmallows and whipped cream or sour cream.  Even those of my children voted 'least likely to touch anything other than meat and potatoes' would eat up this fruit 'hash'!  And of course, you may eat the fruit straight from the can, chilled or not and if you've bought the juice packed variety of fruit, drink up the juice as well.  It's all vitamins and minerals!

Canned juices are not as popular as they were once upon a time.  I am not very fond of orange juice from a can but I do like canned pineapple juice and it has every bit as much vitamin C as orange juice, as well as being a great natural item to partake of when you have a nasty chest cold or sinus infection.  Pineapple is part of the bromeliad family which promotes respiratory health.  Isn't that a good fact to know?  Pineapple juice is good on it's own but may be used as basis for many fruit punch recipes and if you've no party to prepare for then by all means try these two refreshing summer coolers:  to one half glass of pineapple juice over ice, fill the remaining portion of the glass with chilled lemon/lime soda or ginger ale.  And if you're not a teetotaler you might try adding an ounce of vodka to the glass.     I find pineapple juice on it's own is a great pick me up on a hot summer's day when I've been working hard.  The natural sugars in the juice combined with the icy cold glass just are so restorative to energy.

You'll also find tomato and vegetable juices in this section.  I like canned tomato juice or vegetable juice occasionally.  Both as a drink (as a substitute for fruit juice at breakfast or as a refresher in the afternoon) as well as for cooking.  Canned tomato or vegetable juice may be used in meatloaf, soup, or stew and add a great deal of flavor to these dishes.

Next aisle and we find ourselves facing the canned vegetables.  I won't go into every variety of canned vegetable you can buy, for they are too too numerous to count.  Tomatoes alone are canned in sauce, paste, crushed, whole, diced, seasoned and unseasoned, spaghetti sauces, marinara sauce, etc.  I keep a variety of tomato products on my pantry shelf including cans of spaghetti sauce.  I prefer the canned over the jars in this instance for the extended life and the flavor.  I use canned spaghetti sauce as a substitute for pizza sauce very often. I freezer leftovers in a zippered freezer bag and lay flat to freeze solid then stack in my freezer.  Mark it for goodness sake, or do as I do and forget what it is, lol.   Do not hesitate to buy the larger cans of tomato paste, by the way.    They are often the better priced item for the amount you get.  I flash freeze dollops on a cookie sheet then bag or put into plastic containers and freeze.  I then need remove only one or two as I measure the dollops by the tablespoonful when I'm preparing to freeze the paste.  It takes only moments to thaw a dollop in a pot of bubbling sauce.

Canned vegetables have the bonus of being ready cooked, so it's essentially open, heat and eat. I love that when green beans, corn and such are not in season, I can have a taste very similar to fresh for pennies on the dollar of fresh out of season produce.  I usually stock up on several different canned vegetable varieties when the grocery has store brand  on sale for as little as $.40 a can.  Potatoes, carrots, peas, green beans, a variety of dried beans, beets, corn...I buy a dozen or more cans of each at a time.  One of our favorite soups is 'Can of' soup where I toss a single can each of several vegetables into the soup pot, add beef broth or bits of roast beef saved for just this purpose and simmer for a few hours.  It makes an awesome pot of vegetable soup for a cold and chilly day.

In my grocery, this same aisle also contains canned meats: tuna, salmon, other varieties of shell fish, sardines, and then the Spam (specially processed American meat) type products, potted meat, sausages, chicken, bacon, etc.  Depending upon where you shop and how prevalent campers are in your area will depend on whether you find a wide selection or just a few.  However, these meats are a bonus to the deepening of the pantry, handy to have on hand for all emergencies. I personally purchase the turkey Spam and find it quite tasty but I've always been fond of Spam since my youth, so there you go.  It's not for everyone.  Note that the sardines are high in omega fatty 3 acids which are good for promoting heart health. I'm not so keen on sardines. 

In the refrigerated section you'll find canned hams.  I realize we haven't yet left the canned vegetable/meat aisle but I feel these should be included here while discussing canned meats.  These are boned, fat removed and pressure canned hams that are very good value for the money.  Averaging about $4 a pound they are still a homemaker's bonus.  Most are best kept in the refrigerator if you've room to spare, but they have a long long shelf life (often two years or more) and as I said well worth it.  Once opened it may be served cold and sliced or heated and glazed.  I used to keep one of these on hand at all times for it was a homemaker's friend when unexpected guests stopped in.  I find the shelf variety (not refrigerated) hams are entirely too salty for my tastes.  Of course, these days, since we eat no pork, I don't keep these on hand but I do recall what a bonus they were!  Most canned meats may be used in any recipe at all that calls for cooked meat.  So feel free to use canned chicken in place of chunks of cooked chicken in your pot pie recipe or canned seasfood in your seafood casserole recipe.

Around the next corner we have canned potato sticks, onion rings and nuts.  The nuts are the only item you're likely to find in my home simply because they make a great snack and are easily made portable in snack sized portions.  Most nuts contain some protein and some fat and are considered good for those on a low glycemic diet. I find an ounce or so of nuts will keep my blood sugar from dropping when we're on the road and while I am not a diabetic I do occasionally have blood sugar drops.  It is far wiser to keep an ounce of nuts on hand than to end up a whining complaining 2, uhrmmm, 52 year old in the car!

There are without doubt a great many canned goods I left off this basics list.  I chose to dwell on those items I normally stock up on myself rather than the full realm of goods.  However, for a basic pantry these items would all be considered to deserve a place on the shelf if for no reason other than value and convenience. That many have a long shelf life and because they are impervious to most pests are wonderful for deepening a pantry for long term storage.   I purposely did not focus on jars in this section merely because of the price point difference, as well as the possibility that changing temperatures sometimes causes a jar to lose it's seal, which means spoiled goods... but a great many of the items mentioned may be found in glass or plastic jars.  Glass jars have the added value of netting a reuseable container so do take that into consideration as well if you are not merely focused on the lowest net price for an item.

I confess, I originally thought this would be a short series, but I've a half dozen or so topics to focus upon yet, so I hope you are enjoying this series!

Menu Monday: Pantry Freezer Challenge Part II

Another week has flown by but oh how things have changed!  Outside my window nearly all the trees have new leaves and some are quite full.  The grass grew overnight until it's impossible to deny the need to mow any longer.  Bees, butterflies, birds are everywhere and Maddie is nearly mad with joy at so many things to chase, pounce and ponder in the grasses.  I don't know who told her that she was a bird dog because she's NOT, but it doesn't matter in the least to her.  She's off in a heartbeat after anything with wings!

The weather has warmed up a good deal, too.  The Air Conditioner is on most afternoons from 3:30pm onwards.  I haven't been able to open windows since late last week, there's just too much pollen floating about out there.  The car and porches area ll pale yellow...which reminds me some little town in our area has a Yellow Pollen Street festival about this time this month, lol.  I suppose when others have claimed Strawberry, Forsythia, Dogwood, Peach, and other pretty things, you just lay claim to what you have in abundance and name your festival after it!

Warm weather menus from the fridge/freezer and pantry this week are as follows:

Monday:  Three Cheese Tortellini with Creamy Tomato Sauce, Tossed Salad, Crescent Roll
An entree from my freezer.  I admit I thought it was single serve, but realized after taking it out to thaw that this is most definitely two servings.  I'll save half for another day's dinner when Chance is working later this week.  Crescent rolls from the freezer.  This salad is the last little bit of anything green other than cabbage in the produce bin.  Good thing tomorrow is shopping day.

Tuesday:  Pepperoni, potato and cheese  Pizza, Crudite, Ranch Dressing
I found a single loaf's worth of sourdough bread dough in the freezer.  I am thawing it now but it's not really making an effort to rise...I'll just flatten and use for pizza dough,  will pre-bake the crust today (Monday).  The potatoes are leftover from this past Friday.  I'd forgotten Chance would be home so made a special dinner for him that day.  Fresh vegetables from today's grocery shopping will make a vegetable plate.  I have homemade Ranch dressing to serve with it.

Wednesday:  Burgers and Dogs on the Grill, Corn on Cob, Vegetarian Baked Beans, Condiments Platter
Ha...I saw charcoal on sale this past week and bought it.  Then Chance commented over the weekend that he wanted to grill out this week.  I plan to buy sirloin tip and have it ground.  It's on sale locally.  That's one item I have none of in my freezer, ground beef.  I'll remedy that with this good sale.  I'll make my own buns using Rhonda's Grandpa's bread recipe.  Corn on the cob from Florida is fresh in our local markets, so I'll buy a package of that.  Chance does love corn on the cob!  Hmmm...I think I have navy beans on hand.  If I do, I'll start them soaking and make my own baked beans right here at home.  Now I've got that new pressure cooker, I could can a couple of jars of leftovers.

Thursday:  BBQ'd Chicken Breasts, Rice, Steamed Broccoli with Cheese, Corn Muffins
I'll make my own BBQ sauce using apple cider as part of the liquid.  I shared half a gallon with Alan, but there's still more than enough cider left to warrant figuring out ways to use it up.  We'll see what prices on broccoli looks like...I may have asparagus with this menu if that's the better price.  And if neither of those  suit me in price, I noted that squash, zucchini and green beans from Florida are very well priced. 

Friday:  Tuna Macaroni Salad, Saltines, Apple Pie
One of Chance's long time favorites.  With the weather heating up into the low '80's and his plans to cut grass this week, it seems right to bring out an old Tried and True recipe for warmer weather.  It's so economical, too. I'll add in whatever fresh vegetables we have on hand, serve on a pretty lettuce lined plate.  I could do fancy crackers but saltines is what Chance's mom served with this and that's the way he likes it.  Gracious, saltines are an inexpensive kitchen staple, so why should I complain?  We've plenty of apples on hand, so I'll make a small apple pie for our dessert.

Saturday:  Catch Can Dinner: Leftovers
We should have plenty of food leftover by week's end.  I'm willing to bet there will be pizza, tuna salad, burgers and hot dogs...And if there's nothing leftover?  Well we'll probably have Omelets and Salads and more of those good crescent rolls! And home fries if we're terribly hungry.

Sunday:  Chicken and Dressing, Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Peach Salad, Peas with Mushrooms
I should have a few corn muffins left from early in the week and added to the cornbread in the freezer, that will make just enough cornbread crumbs for dressing.  Cranberry sauce is in the freezer and so are the peas.  I've planned to buy baby bella mushrooms on sale this week with my produce purchase so that will be the only 'bought' item needed to complete this menu.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How to Eat Groceries - Grains, Rice, Pasta, Cereal

This food group contains several different elements.  Grains: Couscous, wheat germ and other such items.  Rice : white, long and short grained, wild, jasmine, basmati among others.  Pasta comes in so many shapes that the imagination is literally the limit.  And Cereal: which includes the traditional dry cereals such as corn, bran and wheat flakes as well as puffed rice, and oatmeal, barley, cream of wheat, grits, etc.

I think this food group is a whole bonus group as most ingredients may be eaten alone or used as a component in other dishes.

Instant Couscous is truly a quick fix dish and has grown in popularity over the past ten years.  It is a wheat based product that is great to use as a salad ingredient or as a base for a flavorful stew. 
One thing I find interesting about couscous is that it contains some protein and is well suited to diabetic diets.
It is pretty much flavorless on its own but that is also what makes it such a terrific base ingredient.  It is especially good with Middle Eastern or African cuisines.  A chickpea stew, vegetable or lamb stew served atop this grain is delicious.  You might also mix it with herbs, olive oil and lemon juice, diced tomatoes to make a side salad.

 Barley is good in beef based soups.  If you think you've never eaten barley you might not know that it's in Campbell's Alphabet soup that we all grew up eating as children.  I used to add both alphabet pasta and a little barley in my homemade soup for my children. Traditionally barley is used ground in breads or as an added ingredient in soups and stews.

Oatmeal and wheat germ may be used as filler in ground meat dishes as well as in breads or eaten on their own.  Granola is a popular treat that might be made from these two ingredients.  It is a viable option for both health and finances to replace the sometimes pricier dry cereals that are traditionally eaten at breakfast.  Oatmeal also is good as a topping for fruit crisps or baked apples.  Today on the FoodNetwork program "Chopped" oatmeal was cooked as a sort of risotto type dish by the contestant chefs, which I thought an interesting take on a very versatile cereal.  

I find that oatmeal is good to add to breads, pancakes, muffins, etc in both the dry form or as a leftover cooked cereal.  In winter months we eat oatmeal often, because it is both hearty and feeling and in my opinion it makes both a great breakfast and a nice light supper for me when I'm alone.  Sometimes I reheat the oatmeal in the microwave if we've got leftovers in the fridge and I don't care to make bread or muffins or pancakes with it.  When I reheat I usually add milk to the cold cereal and stir every minute or so.  I am impartial as to whether I use quick or old fashioned oats, but do generally buy rolled oats which are quicker cooking than steel cut whole oats.

I love rice.  It is another ingredient that lends itself well to many things.  You can make all kinds of flavored rices to go with a meal, from Spanish to pilafs. Plain white rice is always good as a base for chili, or stew and is just as tasty with a pat of butter or ladle of gravy over it, served as a side dish at a meal.  Rice is a great addition to soups. Or may be made as an entree by serving it as risotto though the traditional risotto is a rice shaped pasta.   

Leftover cooked rice can be a wonderful bonus ingredient.   It may be used in muffins or pancakes or waffles, used as the base for fried rice (a very economical dish for the strained budget),  or to make rice pudding.  I've shared before that my children loved to have hot rice for breakfast and Alan told me that it was frequently his breakfast this past winter. 

Rice is also a good base for many casserole dishes or as filler in meat dishes such as stuffed papers or cabbage leaves.  I consider rice as one of the prime stretchers for a tight budget because it does add bulk and heft to a meal that might be a little lean on meat.

Pasta is probably the most versatile main dish item on this list of ingredients.  Whether it's topped with a meat sauce or tossed with vegetables or herbs and cheese, pasta is a satisfying main dish for most everyone.  Kay loves to make an Asisan noodle dish when she feels in need of comfort food. I sometimes substitute leftover pasta for rice and call it Lo Mein when serving oriental dishes.  Leftover pasta makes an excellent salad or may be tossed into a beaten egg mixture and served as a frittata. 

With all the various shapes available, pasta is without a doubt the most fun food of this group.  Macaroni and cheese is a well loved dish but don't limit yourself to elbow macaroni.  My grandmother always made spaghetti and cheese and this was a treat in my childhood that I recently revived and brought to our table when we had leftover spaghetti. 

There are sweet noodle puddings that might be made for dessert if you choose, as well.

Pasta may also be added to soups. 

You might think boxed breakfast cereals are pretty much a one trick pony but think again.  Crushed flaked cereal may be used as breading for oven fried chicken or meat croquettes.  I have a broiled frosting recipe that includes cornflakes, brown sugar and melted butter with nuts and coconut.  It's a nice topping for a plain cake.  Most cereals may be crushed to use as filler to stretch ground meats or may be included in a struesel topping on fruit crisps or muffins or coffee cakes.  Or you might make a cereal crust for an ice cream pie. 

Heartier cereals such as grapenuts (or other bran based cereals) and shredded wheat  may even be served as a hot cereal for breakfast simply by heating milk and pouring over the top.  So you see this group may be easily as versatile as the others listed here.

Grits are a Southern favorite and are corn based.  They do not taste like cornmeal or hominy however.  Grits are a favorite hot breakfast cereal but I think it is a dish that is underused.  You may use water, broth or milk to cook grits and each one has it's merits for flavor.  Plain buttered grits are on most Southern breakfast menus.

Grits (I prefer white grits but yellow grits are similar to polenta) may be served as a side dish for a fried fish dinner and is a great base for seafood stews. You could easily serve grits in place of polenta if you don't have the coarse meal on hand to make polenta from scratch.   Leftover cold grits may be reheated in the same way that I do oatmeal but they may be packed into a loaf pan or square dish and then sliced and fried much as cornmeal mush. You could serve with syrup or tomato sauce depending upon which meal you choose to serve it. 

As I said earlier, I think this food group is probably the most versatile and definitely the one group that has the most potential for stretching a budget.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Frugal Friday/Living Well

Frugal Friday

This might well be called Frustrated Friday at the moment, but only for the moment.  I'd worked three hours typing away at Frugal Friday and just as I got ready to start the Living Well  section, I put down my laptop to do something for Chance.  My finger brushed one of the keys, the keypad locked up and when I unlocked the keypad the whole post disappeared. 
One of the things I've loved about blogger is that posts save automatically...And so mine did...Right after the page went blank.


Foiled by technology yet again!

I'd written the post in my current favorite format, breaking down savings day by day, but as I stood at the kitchen sink this evening, I decided to write this repeat post more as a conversational  piece.  Why?  Because as I've said before, being frugal isn't about the huge savings very often.  It is more common to build savings by repetition.  I love sharing various things I did in a day that netted me a larger savings, but the truth is I save more by being consistent in those areas where I save a penny or two or three each time I repeat actions.  Like turning off lights in rooms we're not using, washing a full load of clothes or dishes, hanging clothes to dry, washing and reusing zippered baggies, mending clothing to extend the life of it, measuring portions for the pets instead of eyeballing the amount of food I put out...And it goes on and on and on.

So how did I save this week, in the bigger ways?  And how did I save in smaller ways?  Let me share what I can remember of the week...

I've been saving $1bills for vacation for weeks now.  This last pay period I deposited a $20bill from my personal cash for deposit and replaced it with $20 ones.  Dealers prefer small bills as payment at yard sales and Peaches to Beaches dealers are the same.  I promised myself I'd steer clear of pretty china that I'd not use but just 'own', and would look for useful items I could really enjoy handling daily.  In my home that category includes books of course, but not just any book.  It has to be a book about a current interest or study area, or by a well loved author. 

I followed my own rules.  I bought three items, all useful to me.

Chance worked an extra shift on Sunday.  This extra work has meant we have been able to put money in savings, pay a little extra on our car, and worry a bit less about how to squeeze ever increasing prices into the same old budget.  I do not count overtime as permanent wages...I count it as a windfall.  It's important to not take it for granted but to put it to use while we have it, with the viewpoint that we might not have it the next pay period.

Kay and I had dinner with our friend Mrs. Harris.  We went in separate cars, as Kay headed back home following the meal.  I went by the grocery to pick up dog food, milk, eggs, and a Sunday paper.  The Sunday paper was bundled as two papers, billed as 'Double the coupons'.  Why pay for two papers if the coupons are mediocre?  I checked first and indeed found the two flyers barely contained enough coupons to pay for one paper.  I separated the bundle with manager's permission and bought one paper.

I realized as I stood in line at the grocery that I was thirsty.  There was a drink case within reach but why pay $1.49 for a drink when I had bottle of water in the car.  Yes, it was a little warm, but it was just as wet as the cold water, was bound to relieve my thirst just as well.

Monday and Tuesday Chance and I didn't leave the house at all.  With gas prices spiraling upwards that was most definitely a good thing. 

I was taking meat from the freezer to thaw for dinner and the next day, I inventoried the freezer contents.  I was surprised by how much meat I had once I'd reorganized it all into the proper places.  Organization also netted me extra room in the freezer.

We had unexpected lunch about dinnertime.  And I'd been so busy doing different chores that I'd failed to note the time (ooooh that time change! it's totally thrown me off this week) or the fact that my meat was nowhere near thawed.  I didn't panic.  I have a pantry and in my pantry I had tuna.  Well tuna fish salad on a warm Spring day sounded good to me.  My guest needn't know it was a Plan B menu, right? 
I was out of pickle relish.  I might have chopped pickles to use, but I decided to see what I had in the fridge that would be good: hard boiled egg, apple, celery and a tiny bit of onion.  We love apple in our tuna salad, it makes the tuna taste milder.  Three cans of tuna (5 ounces each), well drained netted us six large whole grain bread sandwiches.  I served with Sun Chips and cupcakes to round out the meal. 

Mama stopped by just before our company left with a deli rotisserie chicken, 1 dozen Danish and two large bottles of OTC pain relievers she'd bought at Sam's Club while out with my sister in law.  I thanked for the all the items.  The Danish went into the freezer so we could avoid temptation.  I put the whole chicken I'd gotten out to thaw for dinner (which was still solidly frozen), right back in the freezer.  When Mama said she'd be out the next day for Chance to work on her taxes, I invited her to stay to dinner, with the chicken she'd brought us as the entree.

I spent the afternoon going over my budget sheets, household and monthly goal lists.  I haven't done very well so far this month where my goals are concerned.  Or my grocery budget either.  It seems I am always just that little bit over.  I contemplated changing my budgeted amount to a slightly higher amount but decided to think it over carefully before giving in.  I so hate to lose in a budget fight...

I'm glad I didn't give in.  I realized later in the week that the Big Shop is really to blame.  Too often I miss really good sales in the between pay period weeks because I have nothing left to shop with.  As well, during the Big Shop if we're out of something I must buy it at the current price, no matter how good a price a sale might bring.  I looked back at past budget sheets and saw that when I was trying to shop weekly, I spent LESS.  Obviously the best option isn't to budget more but to shop more often.  I've been wanting to break away from Big Shop for a long time. 

I planned shopping very carefully this week.  I checked sales ads and determined which items were needed, which were good buys for stocking up.  I was very careful to set a LOWER grocery budget, based upon a government chart.  I stayed very well within that new budget this week.  It meant scratching off an item or two when I found myself nearing my budget limit but that's fine. 

Mama and I went shopping one day as well.  I'd planned to buy new pieces for Spring/Summer wear.  Last year's pieces were two years old and really needed to be replaced.  I set a budget limit and am proud to say I stuck to it hard, going over by just $1.  When I returned home, I removed older pieces from the closet and put them in the house drawer for wear here at home.  Then I hung the new pieces.  I won't start wearing them right away either.  It's still cool enough I can get by with the winter pieces just a wee bit longer.

I shared last night my 'new' piece of furniture, a reworked piece that better suits our new tv.  I love that the piece matches my other items and that we saved ourselves $120 for the piece we priced two months ago while shopping with Alan.

We washed only full loads of dishes and clothes this week.  Once or twice that's meant when we did laundry we did what we call 'mutt load' which is just whatever is in the laundry basket regardless of type.  We don't sort our laundry by color/whites but by type: bed, bath/kitchen, clothes. 

Living Well

This morning, I slipped out on the porch as the sun was coming up.  The view from the kitchen window had lured me outdoors.  I grabbed up my camera and headed outdoors.  Maddie came to greet me, the cat bowed slightly in my direction, the birds sang sweet songs of happy housekeeping tasks.  I was reminded yet again of my late father-in-law's wisdom, that nothing is so bad that it doesn't look a good deal better in the morning light. 

I hadn't had anything so terrible happen this week.  It was just the usual week of work, play, laughter and worry, thanksgiving and prayer.  Not unusual at all, but surely a morning as beautiful as this March morning boded well for the day.  And without a doubt it did, because we had a lovely day, quiet and easy going.

Sort of like the week just past.  I spent time with friends and family, laughing over silly stuff and discussing deeper things, worked away at tasks that netted me a deal of satisfaction after a bit of hard work. 

In light of world events I see no need to complain of inconsequential things, but to be eternally grateful for one more week of normal.