We’ve been in the 1880s house for a little over a year now, and have gotten to know her creaks and groans. We lost a housecleaner who felt a ghostly presence in the upstairs bedroom. I’ve found hundreds of pennies in the dirt and grounds, mementos perhaps of the previous owner, Penny, who passed away just as we were taking possession of the house. We have been visited by neighbors who have rejoiced at the resurrection of this old house, from its decrepitude to its new life as our home. And we have lived through a year in real seasons, with snow, heat, power outage, wildfire, and autumn colors. We love life in the mountains. Living *in* history has been well worth the loving effort of renovation.
not ready for prime time
Working on my challenges this week has kept me busy. Want the deets? Read on…
2) We are coasting toward payday and I’m sticking to my no-shopping-til-payday mini-challenge, because we had so much leftover holiday foodstuffs that I couldn’t see the back of the fridge. I’ve spent a few days actively eating down the extra and preserving, freezing, feeding to the chickens, etc. Today, for example, I emptied the cookie jar into a gallon ziplock bag and rolling-pinned it to make cookie crumbs. These will make a sweet pie crust for an ice cream or pudding pie, can be used to make a parfait or trifle, or merely sprinkled over ice cream or yogurt. A tablespoon of mixed up cookie crumbs is better than munching my way through a mountain of Christmas cookies. Far fewer calories, no waste. No leftovers. (I know, whoever heard of a leftover cookie?)
3) My ever-over-achieving friend Max at My Roman Apartment is doing a 52-kinds-of-jam-in-52-weeks, and I guess that means one per week. Well, rock on, Max, my dear, I can’t go along for the ride. But I did make marmalade out of a bunch of citrus fruit that was going south. A couple of hardening pink grapefruits, a lime that was turning into a golf ball, some sliced lemons that we had with seafood, a handful of orange peels, plus 5 homegrown oranges that were not exactly Sunkist quality…are now about 7 jars of beautiful sweet citrus marmalade. It’s very orangey, but you can taste the lemon and the grapefruit notes. It’s just divine. (hold out spoon) Taste it! I reused several jam jars for sealing, and a couple of other jars for the fridge that have lids but couldn’t be sealed. I will play Marmalade Fairy later in the week and deliver jars to some local friends who asked. I think I’m getting some Meyer lemons and yellow grapefruit in return — yummy!
4) Simplify, pare down, declutter — we got all the Christmas stuff off the walls, tree, front porch and floor, into boxes, and finally up into the attic. As we did so, we started rearranging the living room, and now it’s a spacious, wide-open modern-looking place to sit. I would take a photo of it, but my batteries died, and then I exploded them trying to reload, and…anyway, I’ll get a photo in a day or so and post. Also noticed that we need a dust mop of some sort. Something to grab dust bunnies better than a broom, which just seems to chase them away.
5) The savings and couponing are all going well — nothing to report, since I haven’t been shopping this week, but I did some work toward taxes, I’m sniffing out coupons and savings every day, and have pretty much decided it’s foolish to pay full price for anything if you can find a discount or a barter for it. We’re working on getting a new computer for The Boy, for example, for his room. A friend of ours is assembling a Frankenstein model out of lots of leftover parts. He — our friend — does this for a living, and naturally, his living room is full to the brim with extra computer bits. We’ll be getting a super fast up to date computer with sound system, fully loaded, made outta leftovers saved from oblivion or landfill, when all is said and done. This is a lot for a 13-y.o.’s birthday gift, but we decided a) it’s an investment for his middle and high school years that can be upgraded easily, since our buddy is creating the computer, and b) it’s actually a safer deal to let him have his own computer for homework and such, so that he won’t monopolize and crash the house computer (with financial records on it). If we went through Best Buy or wherever, we wouldn’t be getting this good of equipment for anyone — not even the house.
6) The Handmade Challenge/MIY continues as well. We needed jam, I made marmalade. We needed salad dressing, I whipped some up. I need my shoes polished; I’m doing it tomorrow. As we continue through the living room and into the next few rooms, there will be a lot of making it myself. Curtains, pillows, painting furniture…and back into the kitchen, where I’ll throw some stuff in the bread maker tomorrow and see what pops out. I’ve got to find that half-made Scrappy Sweater I was knitting last winter (out of scrap yarn, of course) and get back to work on it.
1. Compact living. (Continuing my fourth year…) That’s the pledge of not-buying-new and not using up as many resources as possible, a la most Americans. Conserving electricity, water, recycling, thrifting, gleaning, getting rid of stuff and living more simply, eating locally, less waste in food and avoiding excess packaging, making do or doing without, debt reduction and cash living…all that kind of thing. Just more of it. Interested? We’re a dedicated bunch — more than 10K of us yak regularly at The Compact. Join us.
2. Savings Challenge: This is the year of saving $25,000. That is, we will be $25,000 richer a year from now. Doesn’t mean a pile of gold, my friends, but it does mean we will pay down bills, and thus save in interest payments. We’ll add to our 401K and get the company match, which is free money. We’ll make donations, save pennies, and avoid avoidable fees, and in the end, by Dec. 31, 2011, we will be $25K better off, somehow. I will tell you that this is already going well. As of Jan. 1, I made a few adjustments to bills that put us close to the $1,000 mark already — by paying off a bill with a high interest rate and making a donation and changing our insurance coverage. Look for occasional posts on this topic, not as bragging, but more as crampons on the icy slope toward financial freedom. And believe you me, if we can do it — with 5 kids, two divorces and years of struggling single-parenthood, assorted debts, college loans, and just one income — anyone can. By the way, I made a spreadsheet for this.
3. Fat Ass Challenge. OK, as I type this I am eating holiday M&Ms. So how badly do I need this challenge? I would like to shed 20 lbs but I can’t seem to get off my fat ass, so this will be an ongoing battle. It used to be easy for me to blink and lose 10 lbs. But I had a year of disability during which I moped, and did not exercise, and the blub has settled. I gotta move my ass. That’s all there is to it. And stop eating candy, fer crap’s sake. Willpower, my ass. Literally.
4. Garden Production. I have a garden and some chickens. So what? I’d like to know how much my little farm is producing and what that is worth to me in the food budget. So I made a spreadsheet for that, too. I stole the idea from the Dervaes family of Little House in the Suburbs — they are some fine folks and I recommend you check in on them once in a while to see how you could make your suburban plot of land completely arable and productive. They chart their progress and I shall, too.
This ends up in the plus column, because if I am getting eggs at the rate of 3 a day, then I am saving $10 a week by not buying 2 dozen organic brown eggs. My eggs and veggies are worth something, and not just their own intrinsic value. They are worth barter or trade value as well. If I trade eggs for something instead of cash, so much the better.
5. Meal Planning. I was given a month-by-month desk calendar that no one else wanted and it seemed perfect as a meal-planning calendar. I have been planning meals a week at a time for a while but this helps me keep track of what we eat all month, and I can look back to see what we ate last month, etc. This is not just about budgeting and keeping our health on track. I am also trying to eliminate food waste in the house, and using leftovers or using up what we have is easier if there’s a plan for it, and you know what you’re doing day to day. I know how my brain works, and if I don’t know by noon what is for dinner, then it is not happening. I get slower and slower and lazier and more lethargic — maybe just more tired — as they day ebbs, and I will end up ordering a pizza ($10-$20) or Chinese ($35) or sushi ($50) if I don’t plan and stick to it. So how often can I blow my budget with sushi? Not much, if I intend to get us $25K this year. It’s all part of a Master Plan.
This week’s menu includes finishing up the holiday ham. We didn’t eat much of it when The Vegan was here, but she went back to NY so we’re eating meat again. We had mac-n-cheese-n-ham bits on Monday. I made a ham-yellow pepper-cheese frittata in the oven in my cast iron skillet tonight, and tomorrow will be white bean soup with the last of the ham. The beans are doing a passive soak overnight.
6. Coupon Saving. Yes. I’m one of the crazy coupon ladies. But I’m a clever crazy one. I don’t buy sh*t that we don’t eat. I don’t buy cleaning supplies and Airwick candles. I don’t buy Pampers. There are TONS of coupons out there for that kind of crap. However, with judicious use of coupons for real food (plain cereal, cheese, milk, yogurt, veggies, cat food, health foods), and combining with store sales and rebates, I saved easily 40% on my grocery bills the second half of 2010. Our Christmas was one of the “richest” ever, despite spending less, because of coupons, sales, rebates and deals. So…I started a spreadsheet to track my savings. What I don’t blow on paying full price at the store will go into the savings column on my Master Plan spreadsheet. If I save 40% every week, that’s a significant amount of money not wasted at the store, and that we can spend on debt reduction, investing elsewhere, and so on. It’s a Master Plan, I tell you. (cue evil laughter)
7. Homemade Throwdown. Damn that Max Wong. She challenged us on The Compact to an ALL HOMEMADE year. Make it or fake it til you make it. No buying gifts, etc. Make it all. EEE-gads. Well, OK. I guess I can do that. So watch for this goofy little challenge to rear its ugly head somewhere in the future, probably when I’m drooling to buy something that I could make but am feeling lazy. Like pizza. Or some cute vintage red Italian pumps.
Are seven challenges enough? Yes. But wait…there’s one more.
playing with my food
|Garden gone wild!|
I’ve been experimenting with cucumbers and zucchini all day, trying to figure out how to preserve the bounty of these tasty veggies — well, they’re really fruit — in different ways. Why? Because we eat only seasonal, locally grown produce. So when there are no cucumbers in my backyard and none at the farmers’ market, there are none on the table. So that means at least six months a year without cucumbers.
I love cucumbers. Cool, neither sweet nor sour, they are one of the most refreshing things I can think of to eat raw, out of hand like an apple, in a salad, with dip. Love them with rice wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sesame oil. Just a sprinkle of lemon-pepper is lovely. Or chile-lemon salt (look in the Mexican section at the grocery store — tasty stuff). Sour cream and dill make a creamy little cukey salad (learned that one from my mom). Or I can lay a few slices on my eyelids for a mini-spa treatment. One of my favorite salad dressings is cucumber dressing — no longer made commercially, but I used to buy it all the time and used it on everything from sandwiches to fish, as well as salads. Cucumbers rock da house. But (and this is a big but) — the fam doesn’t really like pickles. Only so many jars of pickles can I make. We still have last year’s stock, unfinished. And probably some from the year before. Disheartening, to say the least.
Zucchini I also enjoy, though with less enthusiasm than the crackin’ cuke. I have discovered how to freeze zucchini in many forms and thus it is not as big a challenge for me. Zucchini and other summer squashes are pretty easy to chop, blanch and freeze — grated, for baking, or sliced, for dinner veggies. And yet…what else can I do with these things?
Onward: I made pickles last week and started wondering how the cucumbers would taste if there were no spices in the mix — that is, dill pickles without the dill? Wouldn’t they just be vinegar pickles? Cucumbers with a little vinegar taste? Could I use those in a salad? Especially if I’m just going to put salad dressing on them anyway? I don’t know. Maybe. So I gave it a whirl today — sliced up a batch of cucumbers and poured plain brine over them — no spices except for the salt. I made just one jar because a bunch of the cucumbers turned out to be spoiled — argh! The refrigerator got too cold and froze everything, then warmed up. Love the crappy old refrigerator that came with the rental…So the extra cukes for my experiments turned into chicken food, all mushy on the inside. Oh well.
Exhibit A. Here are one jar of “preserved cucumbers” and a partial jar of dehydrated cucumber flakes. I’d like to show you the zucchini chips but there are none left. Somebody Ate Them All Up.
and now, pickles
While we were out…the cukes and zukes went crazy. I knew they would. The tomatoes are conspiring to be right behind. But I’ve counted all my jars and it looks like time to pickle. Today: “Sandwich stackers,” they call them at Vlasic. Gonna slice those cucumbers lengthwise and fill two 1/2 gallon jars with refrigerator pickles. I would attempt to seal these jars for shelf-life, but I don’t have a pot large enough for a full water bath. Actually, I do — that’s a fib — but I’m scared to use it. It’s called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and it’s my ginormous pressure cooker [shudders].
|Empty jars. Well, obviously.|
|Pickles! [cue angel choir]|
And then there were pickles.
Next on the agenda? Pickled peppers. We have hot peppers (mine) and mild peppers (farmers’ market), and The Boy likes them on sandwiches. So here we go with my Five Little Peppers mix (the mild ones are just sandwichy, but the hottest ones are Anaheim = jalapeno-hot or hotter).