Friday, May 30, 2008

canning beans

Well, I canned my first jar of green beans yesterday, and I have to say I am pleased. I had such a "huge" amount (1 pint) that I almost didn't bother with it. But I knew that I would be canning them in small batches this summer since I really don't have a whole lot planted.

It was amazingly satisfying to to fill that jar. I am doing something good for my family. I am saving money. And I am having fun doing it. Granted, it seems like a lot of work just for 1 jar of beans, but that jar represents a little bit of freedom to me. Freedom from the need to have a store close by. Freedom from the need for a 9-to-5 stress machine where you slowly convert your life to stuff. Freedom to

Now that little jar wasn't the only thing I canned yesterday. I had made a big pot of pinto beans the night before, knowing that we could not possibly eat that many. So I also canned 5 pints of pinto beans. But since the pintos had ham broth in them, I had to pressure them separately from the jar of green beans. The green beans were processed for 20 minutes but the pintos had to cook for an hour and a half.

It is almost an ache with me to can food this year. I will be hitting up the farmer's markets and roadside stands for everything I can find. For some odd reason, I want purple hull peas. Lots of them. I can already see myself shelling a bushel of peas while I watch TV and then spending the rest of the afternoon canning them. Every time a lid pops, it makes me smile. It is strange, but it just makes me happy.

When I told my mother that I was going to start canning, she was just sort of shocked. She thought that with as much as I complained about having to do it as a kid, that I would never, ever want to look at another canning jar again. But I guess that is just the nature of kids. If you HAVE to do it, it sucks. If you want to do it, it is a joy. I guess age does have it's advantages. You can look back at everything you learned despite yourself and say,"Wow, I am glad I had those experiences."

I think teaching my kids these things will be a waste of time though. Times have changed too much for it to interest them at all. And I guess I have started a little late in their lives for it to be anything but a novelty. They really don't understand about a 30 minute drive just to get to town. Stores and groceries are just a couple of blocks for them. My daughter did get me a pressure canner for Christmas, but that was only because she knew I wanted one. I don't think she actually expected me to want to use it enough to wear it out. My son doesn't care about where food comes from as long as there is something to eat whenever he happens to be hungry, which is just about all the time.

All I can hope is that, at some point in their lives, they realize that Mom wasn't crazy and that growing and canning food is a good thing. A way to touch the family roots, so to speak. A family tradition that goes back to the dawn of time. And that store-bought doesn't always mean better.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Grandma's house volumn 2

There are a lot of things that you can do to save money and energy that really don't take a lot of skill, time or effort. I try to think about how things were done 60 or 70 years ago. Clotheslines, wood heat, open windows, growing our own food...all of these things are not only "greener" but they will cut your bills dramatically.

I think of my Grandma's house for inspiration. She had AC but she almost never used it. She used cross ventilation with the open windows and occasionally she would use a box fan by the screen door in the kitchen when it got really hot.

She had a big garden where she grew most of the food for the year. Almost every meal had brown beans, potatoes, and biscuits. Breakfast was biscuits, bacon, eggs, and gravy. Sometimes as a treat for us kids, she would make chocolate gravy. Spooned over buttered biscuits, it was about the best thing we ever ate.

White bread wasn't something they ate very much. It was always biscuits. I remember she had this big flour bin beside the stove. She would put about 20 pounds of flour in there at a time and just dip out what she needed. There was also a salt cellar and a grease can on the stove. There was always a gallon jar of sweet tea in the fridge right beside the carton of buttermilk.

I don't think my grandma ever bought a box of hamburger helper or a TV dinner. There was a lot of chicken and pork, but not much beef. She sure could make a mean pot of chicken 'n dumplins.

There was a clothesline that was used just about every day. It had to be pouring down rain for her to not hang out clothes. Granted, she had a dryer, it just wasn't used much. She also had a dishwasher that she kept out on the stoop. The only time it was ever used was when the whole family was there. The rest of the time, they were done in the sink. She didn't have a garbage disposal because she took everything either to the pigs or chickens. She finally did break down and buy an electric percolator coffee pot. But she complained about it just not tasting right for the rest of the year.

I really miss my grandmother. She taught me how to peel a potato, make biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplings, how to sew and quilt, and she taught me the value of the old ways. I still remember the time I mouthed off about how a rub board didn't look so hard. Then I got to wash a week's worth of my Pawpaw's work clothes on the board with lye soap. Then I got to do them again because they were not clean. I learned very quickly how to do it and that I didn't want to do it again.

Peanut butter cake was always on the table when we came over. With a cold glass of milk, that was about the best way to end a meal we could think of.

They never seemed to be stressed about anything, not even money. They were both living on a next to nothing Social Security check. Yet there was never a lack of anything. Once or twice a month they would drive the 20 miles into town. The grocery store was always the last stop. The only things she would buy were sugar, coffee, flour, maybe some meat if it was on sale, tea, salt and pepper, and maybe some butter or margarine. They just didn't need anything else. Very rarely, they would walk down to the corner market and buy lunch meat for sandwiches, but never more than a pound.

If I think back, life was much simpler when all you had to worry about was whether or not it would rain when you needed to pick beans or hang out clothes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Summer Garden

Well, the holiday weekend is over and it it time to really start thinking about summer. We came home from a weekend at the lake and I had to pick peas. Granted, I only got about a pint, but it was still at least enough for a meal. My green beens should be ready for their first picking either today or tomorrow. I actually expect good things from the green beans this year. They are just covered with bloom and baby beans. If I can keep the bugs and the birds out of them, I should have a really good crop.

I am really going to start looking at farmer's markets now. I have great hopes that we will be able to find a lot of our winter supplies there this year. We should be able to find peaches and apples since we didn't get the killing frost they predicted for us this year. I did put up some asparagus in the freezer while it was still in season and I have gotten some corn put up that I got at the grocery store on sale, but I am still looking for more.

My dad isn't really going to have a very good garden this year. The weather here has just been horrible. His garden has flooded out 3 times so far this year and because of that, he has only managed to save a couple of squash plants, a few tomatoes and a pepper plant. All of his beans, melons, and cucumbers are gone and have to be replanted, and I think he said that he was going to put out tomatoes again if he can find some plants. So it doesn't look like I will be mooching off of Dad this year.

I did find a recipe online for hominy that doesn't use lye to swell the corn. So I asked Dad if any of his neighbors have corn in this year. His best bud's house has corn planted beside it this year so I asked Dad to glean me a bushel or so this fall. I will try it and see if it works.

Since my beans are starting to put out, I think I am going to make a trade deal with a local guy who has dairy goats for some milk. Haven't tried goats milk before, but as long as it isn't "goaty" tasting, I don't see anything wrong with it. If nothing else, I can use it to make cheese.

I am hoping to find enough local produce to heavily supplement our winter's food supply. If I can get enough fresh foods put away, I may only have to go the grocery store for things like flour, sugar, cereals, coffee, and unless I can find a milk cow and some chickens, milk and eggs.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Preserving foods

There is more than one way to preserve the fruits and veggies of summer. You can either can, freeze or dehydrate just about any kind of produce to save it for later in the year. I use all three different methods not only to save money, but also to control the quality of the food my family eats.

The dehydrator is a wonderful appliance for drying fruits and veggies for later use. It allows me to buy fresh food when it is on sale and use it later. I have dried onions, bell peppers, corn, strawberries, cantaloupe, fruit leathers, potatoes, whatever I have that will spoil before I can use it all. Just the onions alone save me a lot of money over buying the dried onion flakes. The strawberries are great in breakfast cereal, and the kids just love the dried fruit and the fruit leathers as a snack. I can store the fresh foods in the pantry instead of in the refrigerator so it take a lot less space and I know that they are eating something healthy instead of junk food.

The freezer, for us at least, is a must. I store everything from fresh veggies and meat to bread and grains in my freezer. Most foods can be frozen without loss of nutrition and it is extremely easy to do. And you do not need any special equipment to do it. All it takes are some good quality freezer bags. Just look in the frozen food section of your local grocery store to see the wide range of fruits and vegetables that can be frozen.

Canning is more time intensive and requires an investment in equipment and supplies. But once the initial investment is over, you can save loads of money on food by growing your own. We have such a tiny yard that we only grow high yield foods like beans and peas, but we do get a larger selection by going to farmer's markets and roadside stands. We also hit up relatives who garden for their extra produce. It is cost effective and delicious.

Some foods can be processed into jars without the use of a pressure cooker. Things like fruits generally do not have to be canned with pressure. Jellies,jams, pickles, and most tomatoes do not have to be pressure canned.

There are lots of resources online to find recipes for canning. Or you can buy a Ball Blue Book of Preserving. It will tell you how to preserve just about everything by several different methods. You can get one on Ebay for a couple of dollars or on Amazon for anywhere between $5-25 dollars. They are an extremely valuable resource for anyone who wants to preserve their own food.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Saving Money with Common Sense

A couple of my friends have asked that I make a list of the things I do to save time and money around the house. I actually thought that they were just a little bit crazy until I really thought about it. The things I do are really not that difficult or even that unusual, but I guess if you are used to every modern convenience and having a store close at hand, it is a little bit different.

So, I will try to list the things I do to save money, and hopefully it will be in some useful order.

1) DON"T USE CREDIT CARDS! I am not sure some people actually realize just how much they depend on them for everyday spending. From gas cards and department store cards all the way to your Visa Platinum Plus card, they are all evil. Every time you think you have found an awesome deal on something and you buy it on credit, you need to figure in the interest rate and the number of months it takes to pay it off into the purchase price. That great deal on the 37" plasma TV will wind up costing you a lot more than the sticker price. And do you really need it anyway?

2) Learn to cook. Every time you eat out, you are spending the money you could be using on something else to pay a salary, insurance, electricity, manager bonuses, etc., in addition to the actual cost of the food you eat. Why not just make your burgers or steaks at home and enjoy a little family time in the process. Not only will you be saving a bundle every month, but you will know exactly what you are eating, without all of the preservatives and added fat and salt.

3) CFLs. We have changed most of the light bulbs in the house out to CFLs and it has made a difference in our electric bill. Yes, they cost a little more up front, but they do use less electricity to run and they last a lot longer. With the price going down on them, they are actually getting to be a reasonable option.

4) Clothesline. I was astounded at the money we have saved using a clothesline instead of the dryer. I know that a lot of people don't want to have to mess with it, or it is too much work, or "what would the neighbors think?" or whatever, but if you are serious about saving money, put up a clothesline. It takes me about 10 minutes to hang up a load of clothes. Usually by the time the next wash load is finished, the ones on the line are dry, or are at least close to it. In the hot summer months, they will dry in about 30 minutes. I can wash an entire week's worth of clothes for my family of 4 in 1 day without adding any heat to the house from the dryer. So the AC doesn't have to work any harder either. Which brings me to the next point...

5) Open the windows. Homes have window screens for a reason. Just because you have an Air Conditioner doesn't mean you have to use it all of the time. If you have windows on opposite sides of the house, open them and prop open any doors between the windows. It will create a flow of air through the house that will cool off the inside even when it is 80+ degrees outside. Ceiling fans will help even more. Any time you have air circulating through the house, even if the actual temperature us higher than you are used to, it will feel cooler. If your windows are covered by a porch or awning, even better. The outside air will cool off before it ever hits the window. Another option is to put a box fan blowing out on one side of the house. This will suck the warmer air out of the house while pulling cooler air in. This is especially good for kitchen windows when you are doing a lot of cooking or baking.

6) Make an investment in food storage options. This could be a freezer, a pressure canner, a dehydrator, a new pantry, whatever. Just do it. With grocery prices climbing upward, it just makes sense. When fresh produce is in season, buy a lot and preserve it for later use. When non-perishables are on sale, buy a lot.

7) Buy in bulk. You might be surprised at just how much toilet paper you actually use every month. If you can find it on sale, buy as much as you have room to store. That will be just one more thing that you will not have to run to the store for (saving gas too) every week. All paper items can be purchased in bulk and just stored until you need them. This works with soaps, shampoos, canned goods, even things like socks. Look at prices at dollar stores and retail closeout sites. If it is cheaper to buy them there, do it. You may have a case of socks stashed in the back of your closet, but you won't have to buy socks again for a really long time. As long as you have a spot to store it, go ahead and buy it.

8)Just because it is on sale doesn't mean you have to buy it. This one was kinda hard for us. We had gotten into the habit of scanning the shelves for closeouts and super sale prices. We wound up with a couple of cans of gooseberry pie filling( that we hated), scone mix (that sat on the shelf for months), some weird chipoltle pepper paste (that we still haven't used), about 20 boxes of Hamburger Helper( they were on sale for $1 a box and we had coupons) and some rice mixes. If it isn't something you will actually use, don't buy it. You will just be wasting money. Even the best sale isn't worth the shelf space if you don't use it. Only buy the things you know that you will use in a reasonable amount of time. No point in tempting the ants and other critters into getting in your cabinets.

I know that #7 and #8 seem to contradict each other, but actually, they really don't. Things that you will use, buy. Socks wear out fairly quickly so it just makes sense to get enough to last a while if you can get them at a truly good price. And most adults will not outgrow them so they will still be useful to you even years later. But you shouldn't buy a case of socks just to be buying a case of socks. If you don't have a place to store 50 pounds of beans you shouldn't buy them, even if that is the cheapest way to purchase them. Or if you have a place to store, say 20 pounds but not 50, split them with a few friends. That is true of just about everything. Just make sure that everyone will use what you are buying. Don't get 50 pounds of beans just to find out that you buddies don't want them.

The thing to keep in mind when you are trying to save money is to use common sense. Look around your home. Is there anything you can do to change your buying habits?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Farmer's Markets, Freezing corn

Growing your own food isn't the only way to save money on groceries. If you don't have enough space, or if you just don't have the patience or knowledge to grow your own veggies, find a farmer's market or produce stand. Not only will you get the freshest possible food, you will be helping local growers as well.

There are some things that I just suck at growing. Like tomatoes. If, for some reason the bugs don't get them, some other critter will. So I have given up on them. My dad always plants way more than he needs and gives me some. Last year, he gave me 2 5 gallon buckets full. That was something like 35-40 pounds of tomatoes. So I made salsa and spaghetti sauce.

I don't have the space to grow bush beans or corn, both of which my family eats a lot of. So I will be finding farmer's markets and folks selling from the back of a truck to purchase these things this year.

1 ear of corn will equal about 1 can of store bought. If I can find sweet corn on the back of a truck for 2 dollars a dozen, that is the equivalent of about 16 cents a can. And I can control the amount of salt in it. Personally I don't use salt in my corn. And it is very easy to put up.

All you need is a cookie sheet, quart freezer bags, and a very sharp knife. Shuck and silk the corn. Hold the corn by the small end and cut the corn kernels off of the corn cob. You want to cut the kernels about half way to the cob, maybe a little bigger. Any closer than that you will start to cut cob. The edges on the cookie sheet should keep the corn from flying all over everywhere. Turn the cob after every cut so you get all of the corn off. Don't throw the cob away yet, you will need it in a little bit.

When you get all of the corn cut, or your cookie sheet gets full, fill the freezer bags. I generally don't fill them packed tight, but a little over 3/4 full is good. I will explain in a bit.

When all of your corn is cut from the cob, now you use them to make cream corn. Hold the cob the same way, but turn your knife around so that the flat side is against the cob. You are not going to be cutting this time, you will be scraping. Firmly slide the back of the knife down the cob. This is getting the germ, liquid, and any remaining pulp from the cob. Be VERY careful with the sharp edge of the knife. After all of the cobs are scraped you can throw them away. You should now have a pile of very juice corn pulp. This is your cream corn. You can either put it in a bag just like it is, or if you have a partial bag of cut corn, you can add it to that. Either way, it is exceptionally good.

The reason you don't want to fill the bags all the way full is because if the corn is looser in the bag, it is easier to just take out what you need for each meal. You don't have to cook an entire quart every time make corn. If I am making vegetable soup, I may only need a handful. If I am making dinner for my family of 4, I might use half a bag. If I have company, I will probably use the entire bag. But if it is packed tight into the bags, the kernels will freeze together and make it hard to just get a little out at a time. You just have to make sure that you get as much air out of the bag as possible before you put it in (or back in) the freezer. You can do this by shaking the corn to the bottom of the bag, then rolling the bag up before you reseal it. Freezer burn is caused by air drying in the freezer. Less air, less freezer burn. This goes for everything you put in the freezer.

I would also suggest you use good quality bags. The generics are fine for short term freezer storage, but for long term, use the good bags. They will keep out more air and not be as likely to get torn or pop open in the freezer. That is important because it is a real pain to clean corn kernels out of the bottom of a chest freezer.

This corn should keep up to a year as long as it doesn't freezer burn.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Do it your self food

The other day, I saw a report on a national new program about a guy in Pasadena, CA that has turned his entire yard into an edible project. The front yard is landscaped into little odd shaped designs and filled with edible flowers and herbs. The back yard is entirely covered with raised growing beds with gravel walkways between them. There were a couple of chickens and a goat pictured in the feature as well. Apparently, he is growing everything his climate will allow. There were a couple of fruit trees in the front yard, and the space is filled with all manner of green leafies and flowering stuff.

I have gotten a pretty good idea of what I would like in the way of a garden. The raised beds would be perfect for me since it is hard for me to get up and down. I read an article once about how much easier it is to garden in the raised beds because the weeds have a harder time getting into them. I have one raised bed that I grow pole beans in that has done just fantastic for the last couple of years. We made it out of the leftover bricks from the flower bed(we bought way too many bricks) and filled it with purchased compost. So I now have a 6ft circle that is about 9 or 10 inches deep. Since these are pole beans I got creative. I saw in a seed catalog a handy little devise designed just for pole beans. It was a pole with several wires or strings or something hanging from the top and attached to a 6 foot or so metal ring. Put it down, plant your beans around the ring and they will grow up the wires. They wanted like $40 for it. So I cheated. I planted a wooden flag pole in the middle of my 6 ft bed. It had an eye ring in the top that we had tied the flag to, so I ran 8 pieces of waxed 12 cord through the eye. That gave me 16 strings. I then tied a galvanized nail to the end of each string and stuck it in the ground at the edges of my bed. I then planted 2 beans to each string.

My husband and my father were both telling me that it wouldn't work, that the strings wouldn't stay in the ground. But I persisted. And I was right. They didn't take gravity into account when they were poo-pooing my idea. I knew that as the beans began to climb, the weight of the pull from the beans would keep the strings tight and since there were beans on the opposite side of the bed pulling on each string, they would be pulling against each other. It was brilliant if I do say so my self. And the best part is that I can plant 32 bean plants in approximately 6 feet of space, much much less than in a conventional garden. And because it is circular, I can easily get all the way around it to harvest. My only problem is that my beans want to grow higher than the pole and I am not tall enough to get a taller pole and still be able to pick them. So it looks a little hairy at the top, but hey, I get loads of beans.

I would be willing to bet that this concept would work great for just about any vegetable. Anyone with at least 6 feet of space can put in a raised bed. Tomatoes, beans, peas, squash and I would guess, melons (you can tie the vines up to the strings with old panty hose or socks and support the fruit in a net) could be done the same way. Root vegetables like carrots, radishes, turnips, and potatoes would do great in raised bed. And if you use a compost or compost and sand mix, they would be very easy to harvest.

Our house has to be sell-able or I would put in the entire yard in garden beds. We spent a bunch of money buying sod for the back yard so I don't want to mess that up. If and when we get our place in the country, you can bet there will be garden beds all over the place. And an added bonus to the raised bed concept is that you can tailor the soil in each bed for what you are growing. Tomatoes and berries like acid soil, beans like it more neutral, root crops like a loose soil, where bushy veggies need a little more compact soil to support them.

I can already picture my onion and garlic beds, blueberry bushes, asparagus beds, strawberry beds, 3 or 4 different kinds of beans and peas, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, and corn.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Freezer Jam

I am going to start a series of posts on preserving food. It is a great time and money saver and it is a lot healthier that buying canned goods.

Since it is getting to be strawberry season, we will start with freezer jams. They are very easy, not very time consuming, and inexpensive to make. One of the best things about freezer jam is, since the fruit isn't cooked, it taste more like fresh fruit than store bought jams. You can use it just like fresh fruit.

To make 5 cups (more or less) of home made freezer jam, you will need:

3 or 4 pint jars or 5 or 6 half pint jars, well washed or sterilized in the dishwasher
Lids and rings to fit the jars
4 cups (more or less) of ripe fruit, washed and crushed
4 cups of sugar (or the equivalent amount of Splenda, I guess) and
1 box of Sure-Jell or other boxed pectin

Since I have never made the non-sugar versions, you might want to look up the directions for the sugar free versions of the jam. Every box of the Sure-Jell has the recipes inside and I think they tell how to make the sugar free versions, I just haven't looked them up.

Crushing the fruit isn't as hard as it sounds. As you wash your berries, or other fruit of choice, remember to crush a little bit at a time. This will make it a lot easier to make sure that they are all crushed. You can use the back of a fork or if you have one, use a pastry fork. A pastry fork is what I use. If you have never seen one, it looks like a D shaped piece of metal with a grip on the flat side and 3 or 4 rounded cutting edges on the curved side. It is used to blend butter or shortening into flour. Get one, it is very useful.

After your fruit is crushed and it is very juicy in the bottom of your bowl, mix in the 4 cups of sugar. This has the added bonus of drawing even more juice out of the fruit and will make a much better jam. Let it set for about 10 minutes.

While you are letting your fruit set, get out a small sauce pan. Mix 3/4 cup of water and your powdered pectin over a medium low heat to dissolve. You have to keep stirring it or it will stick to the bottom of the pan but it will dissolve fairly quickly. Keep stirring until you get a good rolling boil. Then start timing it. The pectin needs to boil for at least a full minute but not more than 2.

Pour all of the pectin into the bowl of fruit. Stir all of this together for at least 3 minutes. You want to make sure that everything is very well mixed. You will notice that the liquid in the fruit is getting clearer and thicker. This is a good thing. The more juice in the jam, the better it will taste and the easier it will spread.

Now you are ready to fill your jars. Ideally, you would use a ladle and a filling ring( a funnel with a really big whole in the middle). If you don't have those things, you can just use a big spoon, but you have to be careful not to get jam all over the jars. Fill the jars to within an inch of the top. That is about at the point on the jars where the threads start or if you are using standard mouth jars, where the curve of the jar meets the thread. Using a damp rag, wipe off the top of the jar so that there isn't any food on the top. Put on a lid and tighten a ring around it. It needs to be secure but it don't have to be so tight it takes a pipe wrench to get it off.

Now you let your jam sit at room temperature until it jells up. You can tell by tilting the jar a little to see if it is still runny. If it is, let it set some more, up to 24 hours. If it isn't, put it in the freezer. It will last up to a year(if you don't eat it before then) in the freezer or 3 weeks open in the fridge.

Freezer Jam is a lot more than just something to make PB & J or to spread on toast in the morning. I have used it to spoon over angel food cake, ice cream, and even roasting meat. I used some raspberry jam to put between layers of a chocolate cake. That was really awesome.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Get a Freezer, Meat Loaf, Meat balls

I have said it before and I will say it again. If you want to save money on your grocery bills, get a freezer. It doesn't have to be a big one, but get one. Either an upright or a chest freezer will do, just get one. They are only a couple of hundred dollars and the upfront costs are nothing compared to how much you will save. The freezer on the refrigerator just isn't big enough.

Any time your local grocery store runs a sale on something you use a lot of, like hamburger or frozen veggies, buy in bulk. You will save a bundle over the course of a year. It is also very useful for storing things like rice and sugar to keep out bugs until you need them. We even freeze bread we get from the thrift store.

I have mentioned this in previous posts, but you can make up meals and store them in the freezer until you get ready to use them. I make up meat loaf, meat balls, boiled chicken, and smoked pork and put them down into meal sized bags and take them out as needed. It makes it a lot easier on those nights when I either don't feel like cooking a big meal or we are in a hurry because of the kid's schedules.

Meat balls are by far the easiest to do. When your local grocery has hamburger on sale, buy a lot. I generally make up about 3 pounds at a time. Here is my recipe.

3 or so pounds of ground beef
1 1/2 cups of bread crumbs or 1/2 cup per pound of meat
1/2 cup of dried onion or 1 cup of finely chopped fresh onion
1 tablespoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper or to taste

Mix everything together very well. I use a stand mixer but you can do it by hand. Make balls of meat about the size of a walnut or about 1 inch balls. Place them on a cookie sheet with the sides just barely touching. When your cookie sheet is full, put them in the freezer overnight. The next day, you have solid little balls that you put in a gallon sized freezer bag.

These are great for a quick meal. Just take out what you need. They don't even have to be defrosted. You can either fry them or bake them and add your favorite pasta sauce, or you can use a brown gravy with onions. We like them both ways. Brown gravy with onions over rice or egg noodles is probably our favorite.

To make a meat loaf, use the same recipe but add about a 1/2 cup of chopped bell peppers to the mix. After everything is mixed together, line a loaf pan with waxed paper and fill it with the meat mix. Freeze it over night then remove it to a freezer bag. You now have a couple of no mess meat loafs for those days you are in a hurry. And since you formed them to fit your pan, you don't even have to thaw them out before sticking them in the oven. It does take a little longer to cook, just use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. A little work up front for a big payoff in the end.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Disasters all around us

We only have another year before my daughter graduates and leaves for college. My son will be starting high school in the fall, but I am thinking that we will be very lucky to last out 1 year here, much less 4 more, so he will probably just be screwed. I hate it, but there it is.

We have been spending the last 6 months preparing for the worst. I have been gathering canning and preserving knowledge, learning to make butter, bread, and smoked, cured meats. I have been cutting our grocery and utility bills, and getting all of us used to making due on less money. Granted, there are still ways that I can cut us back even tighter, but there is no point to doing that until it becomes necessary.

I figured it up back in January that we have to have about $1300 a month to live where we are right this minute. That is with the kids still at home and in school. That pays the house payment, utilities, both phone bills, and a few groceries. Provided gas and groceries don't go up too much. That does not include my medical bills or medicine. I will just have to suck it up. My husband does not want that. That is his big stresser about the whole thing.

Fortunately, both vehicles are paid off, we do not have any credit card bills (paid those off a couple of years ago and cut them up) and we have some of the lowest utility rates in the state thanks to our city owned utility company.

Unfortunately, we live on a postage stamp lot that doesn't have room for a garden big enough to feed us. And with the work situation being what it is, I didn't want to plant everything that I can just for us to have to move before I can harvest any of it. The weather has not been cooperative this year either. It has been very very wet(the local river has been 1.5 feet over cresting 3 times this spring) and we have had 3 or 4 bad tornadoes tearing up the region so far. We have been very lucky in that all of the storms have missed us, but many others have not been so lucky. Just about the entire state is considered a disaster area. The farmers have either not been able to plant or their seeds have rotted in the field.

All in all, a rather bad year.

I am doing everything that I can to protect us in case the worst happens, but I just don't know if it will be enough.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Saving money is fun!

There are times when I wonder just exactly why people will spend so much money on things that they don't really need or even want. We will spent $20 a plate on a steak dinner when you can grill your own for less than half of that. We will spent $30,000+ on a vehicle that uses $80 worth of gas a week when you can spend $8,000 on a very good used car that gets much better gas mileage. We feel the need to have our climate controlled homes set at the perfect temperature at all times regardless of the fact that the outside air is near the same temperature. All of our appliances have to have a digital clock on them so we know how much time we don't have before the minor event in our lives.

When my husband was concerned about getting laid off in January, we went thru everything in the house looking for ways to save money. My daughter only have 1 more year of high school before she goes off to college and we didn't want to have to move her away for her senior year. We looked at every expense we have, from house payments and utilities to where we spend our money.

It became a game with me to see where I can save money in the house.

We have a clothesline so we do not have to run the clothes dryer so much. That does a couple of things. 1) you are not using the electricity to run the dryer, and 2)you are not heating up the house with the dryer and making the AC have to work harder to cool off the house. Granted there are some things I still use the dryer for, like towels. They just get too stiff out on the line. But I can dry them on the line, then run them for about 15 minutes in the dryer with a damp hand towel to soften them up. Much better than the hour-hour and a half it takes to actually dry them completely in the dryer.

We have also been changing out lightbulbs to CFLs as they burn out. I think we have gotten about 90% of them changed now. Another thing is to turn off the lights is you don't need them. Every morning I go thru the house and turn off all of the lights except the lamp that I use behind the couch. Even though the lights all have CFLs in them, I have enough sun light coming thru the windows during the day to see. I don't need any extra lights.

I don't use the furnace or the AC unless the weather outside is extreme. We have had the windows open for about 2 months now here in Arkansas and it has been just fine. The pollen had us all sneezing for a couple of weeks but the worst of that is past now. We have been having 70+ degree days and low 60s at night so it has been just great. A couple of ceiling fans and open windows on opposite sides of the house keeps a very nice airflow going. I will probably be running the air this summer because it just gets so stinking hot here, but I will have it set on 78 or so.

On the grocery side of things, I have just been getting creative.

$2 a day for the kids to eat school lunches every day was just too much, so they have been taking their lunch every day since January. Lunch meat is expensive so I have been making ham out of pork loin, salami ( see previous posting on the how) and roast beef out of , duh, a beef roast for their sandwiches. Every now and then, they will get a PB & J just to change things up. I have been buying big bags of chips from the Dollar Store and putting it in baggies for them. I can get about 6 lunches out of a $1 bag of chips for them. I will make a pan of brownies and individually wrap them in plastic wrap then freeze them. That way I can take them out one at a time for lunch or snacks. A reused plastic bottle will hold juice or water or tea, add a piece of fruit and they are good to go.

I also looked at the grocery items that we used the most. Liquid coffee creamer was way up toward the top of the list. My husband and I would go thru about 2 quarts a week. And at $3.00 a bottle, that was just too much. So I did a web search and found that it is very quick and easy to make at home. Healthier too since I can actually pronounce all of the ingredients. Powdered milk, brown sugar, and either vanilla or cocoa powder.Wow! What a difference it makes. And I already had all of that stuff in the kitchen anyway.

I have already starting canning food for the summer. Strawberries are coming in season here so I have been making jam. Yesterday, I went to the local National Chain grocery store to get marked down produce. I got 22 ears of corn for $3.75 and 4 bags of apples for half price. 3 cantaloupes for $.99 each and 6 lemons for 89 cents. I also got 4 heads of lettuce for 59 cents each. Your local grocery store can tell you when their produce trucks run. You can usually get a really good deal on the produce they mark down or pull to rotate stock. Buy in bulk and can or freeze it. You can eat healthier for a lot less.

It is really fun to find creative ways to save money. Just go thru your house and look at the way you live. Are there options to the way you do things? Living well on less money is not really that hard. It just takes a little effort to find the right way for you.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Toadally fun weekend

We had friends down this weekend and we had a great time. This last weekend was our hometown festival "Toad Suck Daze" with street vendors, live music, and all of the roasted corn and "Gator on a stick" you care to purchase.

Us women bought a couple of 1/2 flats of strawberries from the back of a truck up on the highway and made jam before we left for the festivities. 14 jars of some of the best freezer jam you will ever put in your mouth out of $14 of berries. You just can't buy that kind of good in any store. Especially for a dollar a jar.

My husband kept the men occupied with genealogy. One of the men now has his pedigree back to William of Normandy(a couple of different ways actually) and the first king of Sweden. He spent the rest of the weekend trying to get us to bow to his royal highness.

The other family is stuck in North Carolina. He had participated in a genetic testing study to link families thru DNA. He found out that he was indeed related to George and Rachel, but William wasn't George's Daddy. Now he is stuck again. He was kind of green about the royalty in the house, but it was a good time.

My daughter didn't get to be here this weekend because of an orchestra trip to Dallas. She left early Friday morning and didn't get back until about 3pm Sunday afternoon. Everyone was still here so she at least got to visit for an hour or so before everyone left. She was sad that she missed Toad Suck Daze and the ShawBlades concert Saturday night, but she had a good time in Dallas too.

Feeding 13 people is always interesting. Stew and biscuits Friday night, waffles and bacon Saturday morning, ham(that I smoked on Friday afternoon) sandwiches for lunch, grilled burgers for dinner before the concert. Sunday I made a big breakfast of bacon( 2 lbs), sausage(1 lb), and ham(about a pound), scrambled eggs(19), toast(26), fried potatoes(3-4 pounds), gravy( almost a 1/2 gallon), and the rest of the biscuits from Friday night and jam(of course). We didn't really eat lunch since we had breakfast at noon but I fried chicken and made some frozen veggies for dinner.

The last of the guests were gone by 7:30 pm and the rest was just down time for us.

All in all, a very enjoyable weekend.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Born too late

I think I am the only person I know who would do just fine without modern technology. I love my clothesline. I enjoy growing my own food, canning, sewing, crocheting, and cooking. We have been living with the windows open for the last 2 months so no heat or air going. I like making bread. I can pluck a chicken and butcher a hog. I can make butter and, sort of, cheese.

I cook with bacon grease and plain flour. My pie crusts are home made. I make my own soap and laundry detergent. My skirts are down to my ankles and my necklines to my collar bone.

I believe in punishing the kids if they smart off to me or someone else, and giving them hugs and telling them how proud I am of them often.

I was just born too late I guess. I should have been living in the hills back during the Depression or something. I don't need a bunch of Madison Avenue execs telling me that I can't be happy without...whatever they are trying to sell. I am perfectly happy with the things I have. I don't need anything else.

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