Friday, May 27, 2011

Frugal Food #3: Cook!!

This seems like it is an obvious way to save money on your food bill.  At least, to me, it seems so simple that I didn't put it as my first frugal food post.  But, then, after overhearing several conversations, reading a few more online, and talking with other moms in the high school concession stand at Monday's softball, baseball, and girls' soccer games, I thought that perhaps it isn't so obvious.

To me, if I want to eat, I have to cook.  Apparently my way of thinking is not the way the majority of today's Americans think.  From what I hear around me, eating seems to be dependent on what establishment you are driving to for your next meal. 

Drive?  Are houses not still equipped with kitchens?  Do you know that the $20 you spent on a takeout meal can actually feed your family for at least two meals if the same money is spent on food to cook at home.  (For years, I've fed my family of 6, now 5 since the eldest left home, on a budget of $15 per day.  That's breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for everyone every day).

I'm amazed at the number of people who say they "can't cook".  Can't cook?  What do you mean, you can't cook?!?  Take food, apply heat.  Ta da.  You have now cooked.  I'll even allow you to call nuking something in the microwave cooking.

I do realize that there is a vast difference between food that has been cooked well (or with skill) and food that has merely been heated (or, overheated, LOL).  Cooking is kind of like riding a bike; it is a skill that evolves with practice.  But once you've got it, you never lose it.

First, you scorch a few things (the skinned knees and elbows from your first tries at riding a bike).  Maybe then you undercook something (the time you thought you were going to crash the bike and jumped off before that could happen).  But, after a while, you find that you can actually make an edible meal, or two, or three (the bike whizzing down the road, going where you want it to, breeze blowing through your hair and a smile on your face). 

From there, you get adventurous and try a new recipe (or jumping the bike over a curb or ditch).  With time and confidence, perhaps you even try to create your own recipe (riding the bike with no hands).  One day, you find that you can whip up a meal with barely any thought or conscious effort (riding the bike fast, with no hands!).  It's natural now.

If you've never cooked before, don't be afraid.  That's what those boxes and cans in the grocery store are for.  The directions are on the package; just open, read, heat, and eat!  You might need to add some milk or water, or maybe even some browned meat.  But it will be simple, usually three steps or less. 

When you're ready to go beyond boxes and cans (and start saving even more money), check out a cookbook.  There are tons of them out there, and they vary from expanding on boxes and cans to producing really fancy gourmet type meals right in your own kitchen.  My most well-worn cookbook is an early '90s Betty Crocker one.  Almost all of my best recipes came from Betty.  She's my gal. We're buds. She taught me to make bread, make cake, roast a chicken (and a turkey), make deviled eggs, make salad dressings and dips, make toffee and peanut brittle and fudge, even make stuffed lamb chops the one year Mother-in-Law raised and butchered a lamb (excellent eating, but unfortunately expensive from the store, so it's been over a decade since I've eaten lamb).

Cooking is learning a few techniques that can be applied to many foods: fry, simmer, steam, bake, saute, boil.  Remember, like that bike, it's intimidating to try the first time, but once you've got it, you've got it!

Making dessert is my favorite way to introduce my kids to cooking, because it's such a reward to eat what you've worked hard to make.  Here's a quick and easy from scratch brownie recipe to get you started:

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup veggie oil
5 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter/grease a 9" x 13" x 2" baking dish.  Put all ingredients into a medium size bowl, and stir until blended.  Pour into baking dish.  Put in hot oven and cook for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of brownies comes out clean.  Let cool before cutting (or, if you're impatient, cool just enough you can stand to hold your hand on them, then scoop into a bowl and top with vanilla ice cream!).

Cooking is an adventure!  Cooking is fun!  Cooking is rewarding!  Cooking is frugal!  Let's get cooking!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

And More Rain. . .

That's what we're getting today.  And forecasted for all day tomorrow, plus Friday morning.

I'm glad I was able to get some time in the garden yesterday.  Parts of it were still pretty wet, but I did at least get my peas planted finally and get the tomato seedlings into the ground. 

Now, with another inch or more of rain predicted for today, things will probably be too soggy once again.  I sure hope what's out there doesn't drown, especially in the areas that were still wet yesterday.  My potatoes have yet to make an appearance above ground.

I should look on the bright side: I don't have to worry about watering the garden.  And there's no chance the well will go dry any time soon.   ;0)

 DD2 sporting the kind of fashionable footwear currently needed at this little place here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Quilt blocks

Answers to the May 4th Name that Quilt Block post.



Flower Garden Path

Autumn Trails

Northern Lights

Nine Patch

Fourth of July
Chimneys and Cornerstones


Monday, May 23, 2011

Patience. . .

In my mind, I can hear Axl Rose singing "All we need is just a little patience. . .just a little patience, yeah, yeah. . ." (What can I say?  I was a teenager in the '80s; the MTV generation.  And yes, I can still whistle along with the band in the appropriate parts, thank you!).

But really, patience is the name of the game in life.  This deep thought came to me last week as I was adding yeast to the dandelion wine I am making.  The wine I started making two days before adding the yeast; as the flower petals have to steep for two days before boiling and adding the rest of the ingredients.  Now it has to ferment for several weeks (or possibly months) until clear, then be racked into bottles, and allowed to age for a minimum of six months in the bottle.  Not a have-it-now beverage.  Wine making definitely requires patience.

Totally unappetizing looking beginnings of dandelion wine. 
The cloudiness must go away before bottling.

Gardening requires patience too.  Last fall I planted garlic, so that this summer I can harvest it, and then in the coming winter I can eat it. Two weeks ago I planted onions so that in August I can harvest them, and hopefully have 100 pounds or more to store and also make onion powder out of.  I also planted potatoes, with the same patient hope:  months from now, being able to taste the results of my effort.

Last week, I didn't get to plant anything; a deluge of rain made the (tilled) garden ankle-deep in mud, so it is off-limits until it dries out.  I am waiting not-so-patiently for that to happen.  I still have several hundred tomato and pepper seedlings to plant, not to mention corn, peas (that are very very late now), beans, etc, etc.  Patience is tough right now.

Meanwhile, I am chugging through the graduation preparation list for DS2: invites have been sent out, chairs and tables reserved, menu finalized, checked on the pig (the main dish) who is enjoying life at Mother-in-Law's and is projected to be about 200 pounds by the beginning of June. . .

Since the flowerbeds are higher and drier than the garden, I've also been working in them.  They are looking pretty good.  I divided a few perennials.  Aha!  That's another patience item: from time to time I buy a few small, ie. cheap, perennials, then after a few years when they have grown quite a bit, I divide them and fill in yet another empty spot in the flower beds.  Or occasionally I am offered the 'extras' from someone else's perennials--I acquired four chrysanthemums and a queen of the prairie that way earlier this month.  I have probably 1000 iris now from a couple hundred 'free' rhizomes dug about five years ago from the new house of a friend.

But I really, really want to be working in the garden.  It worries me that it's late May and I haven't even gotten the peas planted yet.  They don't like hot weather.  We like peas. We had eaten all of last year's crop by March; therefore I had planned to double the amount of peas grown this year. The peas need to get planted!!  So I've been working on being patient.

And I've watched my dandelion wine change color as it ferments.

Dandelion wine day 5 of fermentation.
Looks slightly less gross!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Going on an Explore.

(this was originally posted a week ago, but it disappeared over the weekend.  So, I'll stick it back up again and hope it stays this time!)

Think back, for a moment, to those long, lazy, warm days of your childhood.  When you had hours with nothing to do but ramble around.  Do you remember going for walks and just exploring things?  Just seeing the wonders that are this world, that occur without any help from people?  Or, maybe, occur despite people.

Earlier this week, I decided to go back in the woods and hunt for morels.  It's about the right time, temperature, and wetness. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have any.  At least, two morel hunts in three years haven't turned up any.  Lots of other mushrooms that I took pictures of, hoping to be able to identify them and see if any of them might be safe for my dinner table, but no morels.  I'm wondering where I can get ahold of some spores to 'sow' my own patch of morels for future Mays.

Possibly dryad's saddle, which are edible when young and tender.
Still researching this one before making a definite ID.

Apparently these are called turkey tail mushrooms, and are not edible.  They are pretty, though.

Some unidentified 'little brown mushrooms'  research says probably best to not push your luck in eating.
More unidentified 'little brown mushrooms'.

While my morel hunting was a bust, I did, briefly, remember what it is like to just go on an explore and be in a place solely for the sake of discovering what it holds. 

The woods are greening up now, everything that light lime green color of mid-spring.

I rediscovered the old dead hollow tree.  I had found it once before, about four years ago.  At that time it growled when you got close to it; a coon had a litter of kits in it.  This spring it seems to be vacant, and I was able to take a few pictures of it without fear of a very protective coon mama launching itself into my face if I peered inside. 

It stands probably about 8 foot tall, and at least 2 foot in diameter.

What I see of the old hollow tree at eye level.

Standing on my tiptoes, looking down into the old hollow tree. 

There were also several trees with woodpecker holes in them.  I see woodpeckers all the time, three or four varieties of them, when I am deer hunting in the fall.

I also discovered some wildlife in the woods.  When I got to the wetter end of the woods, where there is often a small 'pond' (overgrown mud puddle), I sat for a while on a fallen tree near the edge of the water. 

 My intent was to be still enough that perhaps I might see some frogs or tadpoles.  I did.

Mama (or Daddy) Frog


But not only did I see adult and in-development frogs, I also discovered that in my temporary and makeshift aquatic world, I have snails. . .

. . .and crayfish (little, itty bitty crayfish, but still crayfish)!

This one may have been all of an inch long.

I also have a barn cat who thinks she's a dog and likes to go on walks with me.  This walk was longer than she would have preferred, judging by how she flopped down in the shade when I stopped to look for tadpoles.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

On Monday evening, DH and I went to purchase a 6' back blade for our tractor.  He'd heard about it from a guy at work; it's in practically brand new shape, great price, and a foot longer than the one we currently own.  Great price being, practically as much as we can now put our much older, shorter one, up for sale at.

So we drove 45 minutes to go pick it up from an older gentleman.  Who helped DH load it, so I wouldn't have to.  Nice that there are still some chivalrous men in the world.  :o)

While we were there, DH commented on the abundance of this man's asparagus bed.  Ours is slow, and stunted, compared to what we saw growing in the older gentleman's garden.

Immediately, the man offered us all the asparagus we could pick!  We took home about two meals worth, not wanting to be greedy. 

Just as we were going to get into the truck and head home, the nice stranger asked if I'd like some fresh chives to take home also.  He then proceeded to pull two large handfuls from the herb bed.

For dinner last night, we had pot roast (aka "Zeke", formerly a Holstein steer), with steamed asparagus, and boiled potatoes topped with sour cream and chives.  Thanks to a stranger, it was an awesome meal.

Monday, May 16, 2011


What better thing to serve homemade maple syrup on than homemade pancakes!  (And if you have home raised bacon to serve on the side, you're very privileged indeed!)

If you don't all ready make pancakes from scratch, you should.  They are super simple, super cheap, and super delicious!  Most likely you have all the necessary ingredients in your cupboards right now.

Pancake mix is pretty much flour, baking powder, a bit of sugar and salt.  The rest (the 'liquid' ingredients) you add anyway, so why pay for a premixed box of dry ingredients when it only takes a very few minutes to measure out flour, etc from your own stash?

 Here's all you need for a small batch of pancakes, enough for 2-3 people:

1 egg, beaten
1 cup flour (all purpose, whole wheat, buckwheat, whatever your pleasure)
1 Tbsp sugar
3/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp veggie oil
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Put all ingredients into a medium size bowl, and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Over stirring will result in runny, thin pancakes.  Then pour by serving spoonfuls (or approx. 1/4 cup) onto a hot griddle (400 degrees).  Flip when tops show large bubbles.  Cook until bottoms are light golden brown.  Serve with lots of butter and maple syrup. 


The recipe is easily double, tripled, quadrupled for however many people you will be serving.  When all four kids were still at home, I usually tripled the recipe, and had just a few pancakes leftover.  Leftover pancakes can be wrapped in foil and put into the freezer for quick microwavable breakfasts on school days.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spare Guts

LOL.  "Spare guts" is what my Dad always used to call asparagus when I was a kid.  No wonder I always thought it was gross and kept in on my 'will not eat' list. 

Until DH came along, and, after many years of marriage, asked why I never made asparagus.  He insisted that it was good.  By then, I had figured out that lot of things I did not like to eat as a kid were pretty good if cooked properly.  Fresh was usually better than from a can.

So, when we moved to this little place here and I was thinking of long term food growing, I put in a small asparagus bed.  The next spring, I discovered that yes, asparagus is good.  In fact, harvested from the garden, put right into the steamer, and served within about 1/2 hr of harvest, it isn't just good, it's awesome!

How awesome is it?  It's so awesome that my kids act like it's the best treat in the world!  They gobble it up.  Even when, late in the season, some of it starts to get a bit woody, they will slice it open and suck out the soft centers of the cooked stalks.

So awesome that last year I expanded my asparagus bed by 50 more crowns.  Hopefully in another year I will have so much asparagus that I can pickle some.  DH loves pickled asparagus.

Each year, we wait anxiously for the asparagus to peek out of the ground again.  I've been checking weekly for about a month (even though I know April is too early here).  Since May started, I've been checking every 3-4 days. 

Guess what I found yesterday?  :0D 

Spare Guts!

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Annual Roller Coaster Ride

Nope, I haven't been to any amusement parks lately.  I simply turned the calendar to May.  And with that simple act, I was belted into a runaway car on the wild roller coaster that is my month of May each year.

Winding down the school year should be easy, anticlimactic, right?  But it's not.  May is more like everything that didn't get done in school so far, must absolutely be crammed into the last few weeks.  Projects, reports, field trips, field days, school plays, recognition nights. . . not to mention track and softball seasons and hounding the teens to get out there and turn in job applications for summer employment!

With three kids still at home, I'm often triple-booked four days out of seven each week.  Add to that the fact that May is start the garden time in Michigan. . .and that I try to grow as much of our yearly vegetable supply as possible.  Before anything can be planted, there is composted manure to haul and till into the soil. And that depends on the weather; so far the garden has been too wet to even think about driving the tractor into.  Until now.  This weekend looks like it just might be dry enough.

May is a work from sun up to sun down, then crash into bed and sleep like a log, to get up and do it all over again the next day month.

Add to the annual craziness of May:
  •  DD2 getting confirmed on the first day of the month,
  •  DD1 & DD2 needing costume creation/alterations for their schools' plays (apparently sewing skills are lacking in mothers these days--I have become locally famous for my rudimentary abilities and am hemming and mending for high school as well as coming up with a 'princesslike' dress out of two very non-princess like pieces for DD2.  And creating a Rapunzel braid, out of yarn, that is about 2 foot longer than DD2 is tall)
  • DD2 graduating 8th grade, which means she leaves our church's school and needs to be enrolled in the local high school for the coming school year.  And choosing her classes for 9th grade and submitting that to the high school so she can be placed with all of her new classmates.
  • DS2 graduating high school, so I must get his announcements/open house invitations printed and in the mail this month
  • plans/reservations for DS2's open house need to be made and supplies purchased
  • our homemade hog roaster hauled out of it's storage spot beside the barn, looked over, any needed repairs done and made ready for the roasting of the pig (currently living at Mother-in-Law's house) that will be the main dish at DS2's party
  • keeping in contact with DS1 who has requested leave to come home for his brother's graduation and party, but so far has not gotten word back on if it has been granted
  • DS2's grade point  makes him a likely candidate for valedictorian or salutatorian, meaning a ride in the local Memorial Day parade, but we won't know for sure until his last day of school which is the Friday before
  • having 150 more bales of hay in the loft than I need, so hauling some to auction each non-rainy Saturday this month in an attempt to empty the barn before this year's first cutting comes in
PHEW!!  I'm exhausted just reading that list.  So if I go MIA for a few days, just know that I'm swamped right then, but I'll be back ASAP with stories to tell!  :0)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday Breakfast

A typical weekday breakfast at this little place here in the spring is fried eggs.  Eggs are abundant in the spring, so we eat a lot of them.  In the fall and winter, breakfast is usually less egg-intensive, like pancakes or muffins (1 egg for a whole batch rather than 1-2 eggs per person).  Normally I'm a one egg, one piece of toast person, whereas DH prefers two of each for his morning meal.

This morning, however, I was feeling a little more hungry than one egg.  When I opened the fridge to retrieve the egg carton, debating one egg or two for myself today, my eyes fell upon the carton of turkey eggs--wide open, because it's a chicken egg-sized carton, and turkey eggs are almost twice as big, so the lid won't close.

Perfect!  It would still be a one-egg day for me, just a rather bit bigger egg.

Turkey egg on the left, large chicken egg on right.

I admit, the first time I ate a turkey egg (late last fall, the first time we had turkeys old enough to lay eggs!), I was a bit afraid.  Would I die?  Would it taste awful? Would it have a yucky feel in my mouth?  It was weird, right?  Eating a turkey egg.  Who does that?

I do!  They are delicious!  I don't notice any taste difference between the turkey eggs and the chicken eggs.  Maybe because they eat the same diet. 

They look the same while cooking:

They look the same on my plate, if maybe a bit larger, like as large as my slice of toast  ;0)  :

They have the same feel in my mouth (not yucky at all), although I like to think the turkey egg yolk is maybe just a wee bit creamier than a chicken yolk.  The jury is still out on that one, since I have not yet convinced the kids and DH to eat a fried turkey egg, only giant deviled eggs made with them.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Mom Moment

On Sunday, my youngest daughter was confirmed.  For any readers who are not Lutheran, that means she completed two years of studying the Bible and the doctrines of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church, and is now a communicant member. 

An adult as far as the congregation is concerned; she can assist in teaching Sunday school  or Vacation Bible School. Or maybe even teach a class herself--DD1 is the 3rd/4th grade Sunday School teacher currently and has been called to teach at VBS this summer. She can be a member of the choir, the Ladies' Fellowship, or the Altar Guild.  She can do anything in the church that I can do.  The 25 year age difference between us makes no difference in her ability to serve.  At church, she is my equal.  Next Sunday we will kneel side-by-side at the communion rail.  My baby and me.

Confirmation is a very big deal.

Of course, the last few weeks, I have been rather overwhelmed in preparations for her confirmation.  There was the dress to buy, the shoes to get, the robe to rent, the leather-bound Study Bible with her name embossed on front to order (the traditional Confirmation gift in my German Lutheran family), the party to plan, the invitations to send out to family and close friends, the meal to prepare for her party, and the church service itself.  It is easy, when you are enmeshed in all that, to forget how truly special it is to have your child confirmed.

Today, however, all that is behind me, and I can now feel the joy in my heart that the Lord has given not just myself and my husband, but all four of our children the gift of faith, and eternal life.  Today, I am emotional; humbled that lowly me has been so blessed.  Overjoyed to know that my children know their Savior and are assured that no matter what this world throws at them, everything will work out for their good in the end.

Training up four children in the way they should go has not been easy.  At times, it was downright embarrassing to take them to church, and out of church when they were too loud or rowdy, correct them, take them in again, take them out again, correct them again. . . To wake them all up on dark winter Sunday mornings to get them fed, dressed, and into the van to be to Sunday School on time.  To find churches to go to while on vacation, and convince summertime campers to wake up, dress up, and go to an unfamiliar church. To do devotions with them.  To teach them to say grace before meals, to pray with them, to teach them to be content and not covetous, to teach them to be givers and not takers.  To review their memory work with them.  To drag petulant middle schoolers out of bed and to church when they didn't want to go because their friends didn't have to. . . To review more memory work with them. To teach them to listen for God's voice when making decisions, when faced with temptation.  To stand up to ridicule for their beliefs.

What is right, is never easy.  But it is right.  And it is worth it.  And I am in awe that God has used me, just little sinful me,  to bring four more speakers of the Word to this world.

Homemade Sloppy Joes

Several years ago I was given a recipe for some absolutely delicious sloppy joes.  They take a bit longer to make than just browning meat and adding a can of sauce (or a can of tomato sauce and a seasoning packet), but all of us at this little place here agree they are worth the work.  Plus, using home raised meat from the deep freeze and veggies from the garden, they are practically no cost at all.  Definitely not as much as the stuff in the can.  And way better.  Way, way better.

Start with 1 pound of your favorite ground meat.  We use beef or venison, but I would imagine turkey or unseasoned pork would work too.  Brown the meat in a 10" skillet, then drain off the grease (if any).

Sprinkle 2 Tbsp flour over the browned, drained meat.

Then add:
1 cup ketchup
1 cup water
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp prepared mustard (not dry mustard)
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
2 Tbsp vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Stir this all together, bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower heat and simmer, uncovered, at least an hour or until desired consistency.  Serve on buns.