Monday, April 30, 2012

Fresh, fresh eggs

Very fresh eggs are a simple pleasure.  I do not raise chickens--um, my condo association would side eye that.  However, I know several people who do raise them, and they are very generous with the eggs they get.

I bought some local eggs several years ago and I was thrilled to find that a good seven out of the dozen were double-yolkers.  Those were delicious.  I think I invited my folks over for breakfast after I got them.

There are places near me and a bit far away that sell eggs from chickens they raise themselves.  One of those places, about an hour away, sells eggs from Chilean chickens.  Those eggs are varying shades of blue and green (though the insides are just the same as any other egg).  Hard boil those and have a beautiful snack later.

These eggs pictured came from my friend Dina.  When I'm over at her place, we'll visit the chickens.  These were such a luxury.  The yolks were creamy.  Since I don't always have a chance to buy or get local eggs, when I do get them I pretty much eat them for breakfast--fry them in a little olive oil or poach them.  I want to enjoy those yolks.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Stocking up when you don't have a lot of space or money

OK, so you have decided that you'd like to stock up but you don't have a lot of space and you don't have the money to go and buy the store out.  I'll tell you how I did it over time.  Please do not beat yourself up if your circumstances are different.  I know that some people have marginal housing and/or very little resources or space for storage (or freezer space)--other circumstances can also make this a hassle or not very doable.  If you've managed to get around those obstacles, I'd love to hear about it because honestly, I don't know what I would do.  (Unlike some PF bloggers, I'm not good at the "you should just" advice.  I'm good at the "this is what I did/what worked for you?" thing.)

First, I didn't fill my pantry shelves overnight, or even over the course of a month or two.  It took a while.  So please don't think that you need a lot of extra cash to do this and that it has to be done ASAP.  You don't and it doesn't, double-pinky swear.

Basically, I watch the sales.  If things that I like to eat and that I use go on sale, I buy as many as I can (within reason--if I can afford a hundred of them, I won't get that many.  First, it's rude to the other customers and second, even though I have a couple of pantry areas I just don't have that kind of room).  I don't aim to get everything I need, just the things that go on sale or that are at a very good price.  So, for example, a few months ago the store near me had 28-oz. cans of tomatoes (diced, crushed, whole, you name it) on sale for 44 cents.  I have never seen the prices that low--they are often on sale for 10 for $10.  So I got about 30 of various kinds.  If cheese goes on sale or I find a very good price, I'll buy it.  If it's a block of cheese, I'll shred it at home, put it in a freezer bag, and freeze it.  It's ready to use whenever I need it for cooking.  (If I keep blocks of sharp cheddar in the fridge, they don't last the day so I tend to shred and freeze what I buy and use it for things like chili or tacos or omelettes or other things.  Eventually, my pantry and freezer are fully stocked.

Another thing I do is use up everything I have and turn it into something else.  If I make a roast chicken, I take the bones and make stock and either can it or freeze it.  I make vegetable stock from the ends and peelings of fresh vegetables and herbs I have.  I'll freeze my leftovers or turn them into something else to eat later and freeze it (soup, casserole, sauce, etc.).  Stretch your supplies and you don't need to replenish them.

I don't go hog wild--with the exception of the 45 cent cans of tomatoes, I usually get enough to last me until the next sale.

I have a second bedroom and no roommates, so I have a set of metal wire shelves set up in my second bedroom for my pantry/canning supplies area.  I also have a pantry cabinet in my kitchen.  I keep a deep freeze in my second bedroom as well.  If I had a roommate, I'd re-purpose the linen closets as a pantry--you can keep towels and sheets in storage boxes under the bed.  Look for space that is not used and that is reasonably accessible (if it's a pain to get to, you'll never use the stuff).

As I said, I don't go overbard, jokes my friends make about my being ready for the apocalypse not withstanding. (I'm not ready for the apocalypse.  I'm ready for last-minute dinner parties and the odd nor'easter.)  I eat what I stock up on (don't hoard--even canned goods will go off and not taste that good if you keep them for too long) and I stock up gradually when things go on sale or when I get a bunch of things from the CSA, from my garden (ha! right) or a friend or relative's garden.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Be prepared

This does not make for a positive shopping experience.
I'm not a survivalist, or a prepper.  I'll start off with that at first--not that I think there's anything wrong with it, it's just that I'm pretty sure that there are so many scenarios where things could go badly quickly that you can't possibly prepare for all of them.  Also, I simply do not have the resources to buy a compound out in the country and have a second location, etc.  And I should not be allowed anywhere near firearms. I might not survive my efforts to stay alive.

However, I do try to take reasonable precautions.  When Hurricane Irene was heading up to New England, I had a GOOD bag (Get Out Of Dodge bag) ready in case I had to evacuate somewhere (those bags are for evacuation, not for long-term survival).  I also had enough of food and so didn't need to run to the store only to be left with batteries and stale Pop-Tarts as an option.  I used to have a Coleman stove because I enjoyed making nabe, a Japanese communal hot pot dish, and it was useful when the power went out (we have electric stoves in my complex).  However, fire regulations meant I had to get rid of the Coleman stove because it required canisters of gas under pressure, and you aren't supposed to have those above the first floor here.

I do not have a stocked pantry because I'm convinced the world is going to end--I have a stocked pantry because I stock up when things are on sale, and save money over the long run.  And, in the case of my CSA (and hopefully my garden this year), I get a lot of vegetables and would rather they not go to waste, so I can or freeze what I'm not able to eat right away.  I also despise shopping--the first time I had to set foot in a grocery store this year after eight months of a CSA, my head almost exploded.  It was so irritating--grocery stores, why do you put displays out in the walkways?  Why do you never have enough registers open?  Why are your shift managers so bloody rude?  It was quite a culture shock to properly shop in the grocery store after all that time when before, I only ventured in for a quick trip to replenish pasta, rice, oatmeal, sugar, or tea supplies.

It's easier when you're making meals--just look at what you've got and go from there.  I've made the decision to eat what's in my pantry before doing another shopping run, so these days I take a look and have been coming up with old favorites and new, creative dishes.  Sometimes I'll make zucchini soup but since I don't have the potatoes it calls for, I use white beans that I canned.  Sometimes I'll make butternut squash (or winter squash) and apple soup.  Or I'll make a quiche with spinach and mushrooms and red peppers (the spinach and peppers being taken from my freezer and heated up).

So, my advice (completely un-chirpy advice, by the way) is for people to have more than three days' worth of food stocked up.  You don't want to get in the middle of a run on the grocery stores if a hurricane or a blizzard or a nor'easter is coming.  And frankly, if you can stock up on things as they go on sale, you'll save money.  And if you want to stock up for just-in-case-the-power-goes-out scenarios, keep some staples on hand--bread, peanut butter (lots of protein, filling, tasty), energy bars and/or granola, etc.  During Hurricane Irene, the power went out in my place for most of the day.  My freezer was fine--it was filled to the brim with food and containers of frozen water, so everything stayed frozen.  I wasn't hungry or worried, I was irritated and bored because the power was out and when I tried to use the flashlight to read, the cat kept trying to pounce on the beam (note to self: GET A HURRICANE LAMP).  I had candles, but they weren't great for reading.  I ended up entertaining the cat by having her chase the flashlight beam.

Most of the time, the lights stay on but you cannot get to the store.  It's kind of nice to be snowed in with chili simmering in the slow cooker.

What's not nice, however, is trying to brave the stores in the event of nasty weather, or in the event of "OH MY GOD I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO EAT AND I HAVE TO GO TO THE STORE NOW."  You're at the mercy of ridiculous prices.

Also.  If you're looking for actual prepper advice, I'm not the one to give it to you.  Any prepper worth their salt would look at where I live and my (comparatively pathetic) stores and cringe for me.  I stock up enough for the next sale, not for the apocalypse.  I also don't live in a house, so in the event of a really bad situation, I'd be evacuating.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pressure cooker semi-fail--risotto

OK, first of all, I did have a win with risotto the traditional way.  However, I wanted to use the pressure cooker I got at a yard sale.  It's a jiggle-top variety, cost me $5 (plus the cost of a new gasket).  I'd heard it's very easy to make risotto in the pressure cooker, and I thought it would be useful for making things like stocks and beans and other things when I didn't have all night to cook or simmer things.

This pressure cooker was a bust.

First, it never got up to pressure.  I have a pressure canner and I know what coming up to pressure should look and sound like when you've got a jiggle top.  This never happened.  So the rice got done--albeit a bit over done in a way--and the bottom got burned.  It was a big old fail.

Now, I've heard second generation pressure cookers are fantastic, and they may well be, but they are also ridiculously expensive.  Unless I have gift cards to the store that is selling them, I'm not sure it's something I'm going to invest in right now.  I was toying with it, but the least expensive second generation pressure cooker I could find was $60.  (I do have gift cards that would have covered almost all of the cost of a really nice Fagor pressure cooker at one high-end store, but they were pushing me to buy and electric pressure cooker.  That was kind of a turnoff.)

The risotto itself tasted fine, though it was too gluey.  I used dried mushrooms, chicken stock, and a little white wine for flavoring.  The flavors were very nice, the texture could have been better.

I was able to completely salvage it.  At first, I tried to just form a pancake and fry the risotto, but that didn't work out too well, and I realized I needed a crispy coating.  So then I rolled the cold leftover risotto in balls, flattened them out, and and dredged them in bread crumbs, and fried them in a little olive oil.  These were very tasty, and the extra gloopy texture served the pancake well.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

It's like the sorcerer's apprentice, sort of

Or like roller skating down a hill.  I cannot stop!!

Okay, only joking.  Sort of.  But I'm still on a cleaning binge.  Good lord.

Also (re)trying my hand at knitting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Your Money or Your Life

I got Your Money or Your Life about eight years ago; there has since been a revised edition.  I'm going to base my review on the original edition that I have (Vicki Robin has since updated the book), since the guidelines are pretty much the same.

Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin wrote this book to show people how they could become financially independent.  The thing is, you have to really adjust your views on what your needs are.  Not that anyone expects you to live on beans and gruel for the rest of your life, but one things I've credited this book with is really helping me to overcome, once and for all, the obsession I had with getting things that I was sure would make my life easier or make me happier.  Not that I was hoarding or anything, and I was (usually) good about not running up credit card debt, but I felt awful and resentful about not being able to have, say, the fancy stemware that I had my eye on (because really, if you're going to drink red wine, you should do so out of proper goblets and not run-of-the-mill wine glasses from Crate and Barrel, amirite??).

Your Money Or Your Life talks about how we see money, jobs, and ourselves.  It presents a concrete plan of nine steps you take to become financially independent, and can be very helpful in changing your mindset around money.

I could go through all of the nine steps, but you can read about them on the website.   (Yes, Vicki Robin created a website for the book and the program, and it's very helpful.) The book basically shows you how to be mindful about money, how to retrain your thinking, and how to become financially independent.  I don't want to go over the specifics because they already do that very well on the website, and because it's good to read the book and let it sink in, rather than skim a blogger's interpretation of the book and try to jerryrig your plan based on that.

The thing the book did that changed my thinking forever was the real hourly wage calculation.  If you do nothing else, figure this out.  Your salary doesn't just get reduced thanks to taxes and health insurance and things like that.  The clothes you have to buy for work, the cost of transportation to work, the cost of classes or materials you may need to pay for to help keep yourself competitive in your field, the lunches you buy because you're too busy to make them, the things you do to relax or unwind from the stresses of your job--those costs are all to be counted as deductions from your salary.  Also, you're working more than the hours allotted at your job--the time commuting over, the time spent in those classes or seminars to keep yourself sharp, the time spent to unwind from the stress of your job, the time you spend networking, etc.--any time you're spending doing something that is somehow related to your job (even if it's not officially part of your job) is time tacked on to your hours worked.  You're spending more hours than your allotted work time on work, and you're getting less money (thanks to the expenses around work).

Figuring out what your real hourly wage is allows you to do a few things: first, you can decide if another job is the best thing for you (it might not be if the commute is very long, even if the money is decent).  Second, if your "real" hourly wage is say, $5 an hour, then that awesome new whachamacallit in the Flash Stores R Us that "only" cost $50 means it will cost you 10 hours of your life to get it.  You will realistically have to work 10 hours to get the $50 net salary to get that thing.  That thing that you will also have to maintain and get repaired or professionally cleaned or serviced (more expenses).  Suddenly that thing you had to have stops looking so appealing.

You also keep track of every cent you spend, on a daily basis and then on a monthly basis--and show your progress on a wall chart you create.  As you spend less (and most people who start out learn they've been spending more than they earned), your savings builds up.  As you invest the money and start making interest, your income goes up.  As your income goes up and your spending goes down, you'll come to a cross over point.  That's pretty exciting.

Overall I found the concept pretty strong.  Although I wasn't enthused about their insistence that you should invest your money in treasuries in the first edition (they're making nothing these days), nicoleandmaggie informs me that the second edition does expand their investing advice, which is a good thing.  The overall concept of the book is quite sensible.  The way the book gets you to think about money, your time and your energy (and how it's intertwined with money) and to critically look at every new purchase is invaluable.  It's a quick read, and it is really helpful.  I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cleaning like a madwoman

This past week was ridiculously busy with stuff.  I spent the better part of the week scrubbing my place down, and spent Friday night and Saturday afternoon decluttering.

And when I say scrub my place down, I'm not exaggerating.  I went from top to bottom, left to right, getting the cobwebs, dusting the ceiling fans and the blinds, washing windows, wiping and dusting surfaces, sweeping and mopping--you name it.  I moved furniture to sweep and mop and vacuum under it.  I took stuff off of shelves and wiped them down.  I felt like June Cleaver.  Except I was not in a shirtwaist dress and heels and pearls, I was in sweats and my hair was a mess and I was sweating like a feral hog.  (Sit with that awhile.  That's a nice visual, I know.  For the life of me, I will never understand these stupid ads where the woman--because it's always a woman--cleans a disaster area kitchen with a smile.  Are you people serious? What drugs are you on, exactly?)

And then I finally did my car, which was kind of a disaster from getting mulch to my garden plot.  Some spills out, no matter how careful I am.  And you just had general wear and tear and a lot of stuff that accumulates--I'm usually good about not leaving stuff in there but over the past five months or so, I've been embarrassingly slack.  So this weekend, I ran my car through the car wash, and vacuumed out the inside.  I had to keep feeding money into the vacuum machine, it was horrific how much sand and dirt and stuff was in the carpet and the floor mats.  Shaking those things out didn't help much at all, it took a serious vacuuming to get (most of) it all.  I also wiped the inside of it down with cleaner and protectant and washed the inside of the windows.

I feel a lot better when my place is clean, though.  What I find annoying is all of the paper I have had to sort through--I often just shred whatever it is that I'm not going to need, but somehow I either get lax or I think that I will need something and then I end up with a pile of stuff that I don't need and that I have to shred.  Yes, you can take your paper to a place like Office Max or Staples or a community shred day to get it taken care of for under 80 cents a pound or for free (in the case of community shred days) but just shredding a few bank statements as they come in is a lot easier than gathering the paper together and lugging it to a shredding service.  Also, it's less expensive, let's face it.

I have a few more odds and ends to do, but they're managable.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mexican Lasagna

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine came over for dinner and I made this.  There are all sorts of recipes for Mexican lasagna on the internet.  Some call for flour tortillas, some call for corn tortillas, some actually call for lasagna noodles.  Think of it as a layered casserole.

I used flour tortillas; ground beef that I'd cooked and canned cooked in crushed tomatoes seasoned with garlic, onions, chili powder, cayenne pepper, chopped jalapenos, and cumin.  I lightly sprayed the bottom of a baking pan, laid down three tortillas, and spread some of the beef and tomato mixture on it.  I sprinkled some shredded cheese on top of that, added another tortilla layer, and repeated the process.  I put cheese and salsa on the top layer of tortillas, and baked them at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  After taking them out, I garnished them with cilantro.

I had gone a little light on the spice, but I think I could have kicked it up a notch.  Probably next time I'll add a couple of teaspoons of chili and cayenne pepper.

You could replace the beef with beans or refried beans (or TVP if that's your thing).

The leftovers made for a tasty lunch the next day.

Friday, April 6, 2012

My cup overfloweth

Linda over at Practical Parsimony gave me the Liebster Blog Award.  (As you may remember, Bryallen had given me this in December; I'm really happy about this because now I can name other blogs that I love but could not include then.)

She is so cool to do this--thank you, Linda, and my apologies for my late reply (it's been really busy in my world).  You should check out Linda's blog to see what kind of beautiful, old things she's found and used and to read about her adventures in raising chickens.  Linda takes thrift to a whole new place.

The Liebster Blog Award is a great way to get traffic to blogs you like but that aren't widely known.  The rules are simple:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them.
  • List your top five picks (who have less than 200 followers) and link to them, telling a bit about each one.  Leave a comment on their blogs to let them know you've nominated them.
  • Copy and paste the award on your blog.
  • Have faith that your followers will do the same to other bloggers.
  • Have fun!

OK, so here goes.   I am keeping the list to blogs that have recently updated.

Grumpy rumblings of the untenured.  Nicoleandmaggie professors, and snark mavens who write about saving money, work, culture, and a smattering of politics.

Cash Only Living.  She's living life on her own terms--and in her previous life, had a high-paying job and a ton of debt.  She's doing well, and on a new adventure without all of the debt, and doing the the things she's always wanted to do, including travel more.

Katie at the Kitchen Door.  She cooks gorgeous food, and takes pictures that will make you hungry.

CT on a Budget.  A fellow New Englander who writes about food, crafts, and thrift.

Digging out of Debt, one spoonful at a time chronicles the efforts of two sisters to get out from under.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Slow cooker apple crisp

I have made this recipe a couple of times (including the time friends came over for cassoulet).  It's delicious and it's easy.

All you have to do is peel, core, and slice 6-8 apples, toss them with one teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg (or to taste).  Place this apple mixture in a 4-quart slow cooker that's been lightly oiled or greased.  Add the topping.

The topping is also quite easy--mix two cups of granola with two tablespoons of melted butter and 1/4 cup of honey.  Put this mixture on top of the apples.  Cook on low for about six hours or until the apples are soft.  Serve it with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or yogurt, or just eat it plain (my preference).

And don't forget--those apple peels will also be quite useful for making your place smell nice.