Home and Family, Organization, Uncategorized

One evening of work is worth it!

In the past week, there have been a number of reminders to me of why I do some of what I do-such as:

We had apple pie with our Sunday dinner that took me a matter of minutes to put together. How? Bottled apple pie filling. Our family spent one evening last autumn working and have enough pie filling for the entire year ready to go! We use it for pies, crisps, empanadas, etc. So yummy!

Last evening we took an hour and a half and bottled hamburger and beef chunks (I found a great sale and stocked up on each). I now have around three dozen bottles waiting for upcoming meals. Gravies, tacos, enchilladas, spaghetti sauce, soups and chilis, all kinds of things. Quick. Tasty. No sweat.

I realized I was out of carrots for the chicken stock I was making (from the carcasses from Sunday dinner), so I threw in a handful of dried carrots we have in our storage. Easy. No worries.

Our grandson needed a geography assignment for the day. Not all the planning for March was done, so we grabbed a reproducible book of maps and orienteering off the shelf and made a quick copy. Done.

As crazy as my life is, it would be so much more complicated if I didn’t have food storage, a library, and other tools to keep life moving and melt-downs to a minimum. Next…!

Cooking, Home and Family, Homemaking

Confessions of a reluctant cook

Thanksgiving is this week, and I am beginning to shudder when I step into my kitchen.  We have close to twenty guests this year, and the cooking begins today. Don’t get me wrong.  I love Thanksgiving.  And I really enjoy the traditional foods for the holiday; I just don’t necessarily love cooking.  When I find a way to simplify things, I do.  So how do I cook for twenty in bite-sized chunks (pun intended)?

  • If I can make it ahead of time, I will.  The next few days will include grinding flours for rolls and pie crusts, making refrigerator roll dough and pie dough (kept in the fridge until Thursday morning), peeling potatoes (and leaving them in water so they don’t brown), par-baking and slicing yams, and anything else I can think of getting done.
  • Pull it from storage.  I bottle, dehydrate, freeze, and cook in large batches-not because I love to do it, but because one day busy in the kitchen helps save me time the rest of the year.  Our apple pie filling will be from the batch of 25 quarts we bottled a few weeks ago.  The apple butter is from a batch of 36 pints we put up in a couple of hours.  The corn is from my garden via the freezer.  Ditto on the peas.  Wassail will also come from the juice in 2 quart bottles downstairs.
  • Assign some things to others who are coming, or enlist the help of those who are at the house.  Working together helps the meal come together more quickly, and is definitely more fun!  (I claim the titles of Mother, Keeper of the Hearth, and a few others, but I am not a serving girl, servant, or hired help.  The Little Red Hen is one of my favorite stories after all!)
  • Smile.  Enjoy the wonderful smells in the house.  Anticipate the meal, and the yummy creations to follow in the next few days.  Enjoy the spirit of the season!

While I may not love cooking, the time with family and friends is precious.  The peace that comes with a grateful heart is needed and cherished.  And food feeds not just our bodies; it also feeds our souls!

Cooking, Finances, Gardening, Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization, Parenting

Learning life’s grammar

(Just a note- this post is awfully close to a rant.)

I looked up the word “grammar” in the dictionary recently, and one of the definitions is the “basic or beginning principles of a subject.”  It is generally paired with language, but everything in life has a grammar to learn.  With that definition in mind, I started thinking about the following:

  • Life is based on eternal, unchanging rules. We will be happier when we serve, smile, and learn to love people.  There are absolutes.  Dishonesty is wrong.  End of story.  Giving of yourself brings blessings to you ten-fold.  Family is the basic unit of society and deserves the best we can give it.  God is good.  Talk to Him.  He will help!
  • Parenting is a challenge.  Your children are NOT simply blank slates to write on at your will. Take time and read about how children grow, and what is reasonable to expect.  Personalities differ.  Learn about them.  Everyone has their own set of gifts and challenges.  Go to those who seem to know what they are doing, and learn from them.  Being a parent is so much more fun when you aren’t trying to “reinvent the wheel” and you can relax a bit!
  • Learn how to get organized.  Read books.  Search online.  Talk with people.  Chaos is unnecessary and makes everything harder.  Things don’t have to be in cute, designer, matching containers where everything color-co-ordinates!  Just learn how to put things together, and have a system that makes sense to you.  When you learn the basics of how to organize your space, time, and resources, you can move through life more smoothly.
  • Everyone needs to learn how to cook.  Not just how to read a recipe (although that is a good thing too), but why what happens in the kitchen happens.  Most whole grains cook up similarly.  Which are exchangeable?  A white sauce, gravies, and many other pan sauces start with a roux. What about a “skeleton recipe” for muffins, bread, soups, or casseroles?  When you know the basics of what is involved, you can mix-and-match what you have to make something new.  Which foods can you freeze and want to eat again when they are thawed?  We won’t all be gourmet chefs but we can all learn how to feed ourselves and our families without poisoning someone, or depending on pre-made, processed food.
  • Cleaning can be much simpler and cheaper if you understand which cleaners can be used for multiple applications, and which cannot.  We use an all-purpose organic cleaner, vinegar, citrus, shampoo, baking/washing soda, and peppermint oil to clean.  Just a few things will leave my house looking great and smelling fresh.
  • You get one body in this life.  What are the basic rules of health and nutrition to keep it running smoothly?  How much sleep does your body need?  How are your eating habits?  Is exercise a foreign concept?  Health challenges come to everyone but we can choose to make the best of whatever comes our way.
  • Keep a budget.  Know the basic rules of finances and make them your friends.  We have to learn to live with them.  Remember: $3 income – $2 expenses= happiness; $5 income -$6 expenses= misery.
  • Growing your own food is a boon to your health and your budget…unless you buy all the newest gadgets, pay for premium seed in the tiny packets, and haven’t learned when, where, and how to put things in the ground.  You can grow your own starts but if you plant them outside too soon, you’ll need to grow your own starts twice.  Some plants don’t handle the cold well.  Others need to go in before the threat of frost is past.  Peas and spinach prefer cool weather, and will bolt or die off in the heat.  You don’t need the latest and greatest of everything to begin; just borrow a couple of books from the library, find out how things work best in your area, and start digging!
  • Don’t try to teach your children advanced skills without building a foundation.  If they don’t know their times tables, algebra will be frustrating!  In that same light, they need to learn how to compromise and problem-solve before you send them out into the workplace to get a job, or go to college.

There is so much “grammar” we never learned at school.  Today is a great day to start!

Cooking, Finances, Homemaking

What’s for dinner?

One of the hardest tasks in any given week for me is meal planning.  Most of our meals require scratch cooking and so thought is required.  This would be easier if cost were no object.  Steak, salmon, etc. are quick, simple, and yummy, but the budget calls for more time thinking and a bit more creativity.  So we plan.

What’s for dinner tonight?  Pinto beans cooked in ham stock (home-bottled), rice (with a bit of the same stock), corn bread, apple slices, veggie strips, and, if I can locate it in the freezer, a bit of ham.  Cost?  Pennies.  But it is one of our families favorite meals.

What else is on tap in the coming days?

Leftover turkey (the freezer again) with homemade gravy, mashed potatoes (an easy way to use up the final bit of last autumn’s harvest),  garden corn and peas (love that freezer!), and some kind of bread with apple butter (home bottled).

Homemade fish sticks for fish tacos.  Served with tortillas, shredded lettuce and cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, taco sauce, sour cream, and just a bit of grated cheese.

Baked ziti (using home bottled tomatoes), salad, and bread.  Another favorite!

Sandwiches with crock-pot beef (save the broth when the meat is done, add a bit of soup base, and you have au jus for dipping), and fresh veg.

One night will be a “fend for yourself” dinner.  That’s the night we pull all the leftovers out of the fridge, and each assemble a plate from whatever is there.  Sometime lots of one or two things; sometimes just bits of this and that.  This meal often happens the night before I do the big monthly shop.  It is a great way to use up some left-overs, make room in the refrigerator, and it reminds me what I need to use creatively in the next day or so.

We generally plan our meals a week-ish in advance.  Planning any further ahead doesn’t seem to work at our house.  Food is something that connects with our emotions as well as feeds our bodies, so often we adjust to accommodate what we “feel like eating.”  I work off of the Pantry Principle, so the cupboards are stocked with most of what I need at any given time.  I shop for sales and mark-downs in order to replenish what we use.  (My favorite books for learning about the Pantry Principle are Beating the High Cost of Eating by Barbara Salsbury, and The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn.)

Other favorite meals include spaghetti and meatballs (with homemade sauce), enchilladas, salads, grilled cheese or quesadillas with fruit (and soup if it is cold), tuna casserole, chili, bbq chicken sandwiches, alfredo pasta with chicken, sloppy joes, meatloaf, and meal-in-ones (bread dough rolled as if for cinnamon rolls and filled with meat and a bunch of cheese.  YUM!).  Whatever meal we are serving includes lots of fruit and/or vegetables-sometimes fresh, sometimes bottled- so that out entire family develops the habit of eating more than just a protein and a starch.

The menus change with the seasons.  Spring is the time for strawberry shortcake, and clearing the cellar to make room for the up-coming growing season’s harvest.  In a few months, we’ll eat more things utilizing fresh garden produce and less meat.  In the middle of winter, we eat more meat and/or homemade soups with less fresh veg.  It is the most economical way to feed the family, and ensures that we are eating things when they are at the peak of the season for the best flavor.  The best of both worlds!

What’s for dinner at your house?



Finances, Home and Family, Organization

Look at things differently!

“The true economy of housekeeping is gathering up the fragments so nothing is lost.”  Mrs. Lydia Childs  The American Frugal Housewife

One of the challenges of the 21st century is the seeming need for two incomes and the ever-increasing need for there to be a full-time parent in the home. This challenge can be met; it just requires some careful budgeting and a willingness to look at things a bit differently.

One strategy we used to stretch what we had was to live by the adage:

Use it up. Wear it out.
Make it do or do without.

There are so many items we regularly toss into the garbage/recycling which could meet some of our needs if we look more closely at them.  Consider the following:

  • Cereal bag liners are made from restaurant grade wax paper.  Anything you would use wax paper (or sometimes plastic wrap) is free in your cereal box.
  • The bottom 2 inches of a milk jug makes a handy plunger saucer.  When it needs replacing, you can easily find another one!
  • Old calendars often have artwork that can be framed (second-hand frames, of course) and mounted in your home.
  • Shoe boxes make great storage for pictures, and your children’s treasures.
  • Old cotton t-shirts make some of the best cleaning rags you will ever find.
  • You can make magazine holders from cereal boxes.
  • Yard sale season is almost upon us.  Start your list, pray about it, and off you go!
  • Second hand sweaters can be unraveled for yarn if you knit.
  • Save a nice pair of jeans or two and a couple shirts for each child to wear in public.  They don’t need a closet full of new clothes.  Just a few to look presentable in as you are out and about.  They can wear their favorite, old, possibly holey clothes at home.. Change out of public wear when you get back from errands, etc.
  • Cheap shampoo makes some of the best bathroom cleaner.  It is made to cut through the oil in our hair, so bathtub rings, tacky sinks, and even ring-around-the-collar is no match!  Add baking or washing soda if you want something a tad more abrasive.
  • Want to redecorate?  Remove everything from a room or two.  Reintroduce things to new places.  Group like items as you decorate to make focal points.  You can get a new room or two without spending a dime.
  • Open-ended toys are often the best.  Wooden blocks (look for a shop or cabinet maker locally.  They make have scraps you can use to create your own set).  Legos.  Dolls (make your own clothes, furniture, etc.).  Balls and other sports equipment.  Child-friendly cleaning and cooking tools.
  • Apple and orange boxes from your local grocery make great storage boxed for your children clothes that are too small (and waiting for the next child), or too big (and waiting for them to grow).
  • Go to the park, or local nature walk area for lunch.  Take a picnic you all helped create.  Have a great day as a family without entrance fees, or expensive souvenirs.  Take lots of pictures!
  • Visit a second-hand store to purchase board games and puzzles.  Use them for fun family nights.  Pop some popcorn, make a batch of cookies, or some hot chocolate, and enjoy time with each other.  Invite your children’s friends, and get to know them as well.  No electronics needed!
  • Books are great things to find second-hand.  Great information, stories, and craft ideas for pennies on the dollar.  Cook books for your scratch cooking adventures.  Enjoy!
  • Gather perennials starts from friends to landscape your yard.  If you offer to help with yard work, you can often glean great plants for free.
  • Use cardboard egg cartons for planting your tender vegetable starts.  Each cup hold one of two seeds.  By the time they are big enough to plant outside, the egg carton cups come apart easily.
  • Plant those things which give back.  Fruit trees, berry bushes, grape vines, etc. are fun to use for landscaping, change with each season, and feed your family.  Win!
  • Reuse old headboards, ladders, and such for decorative trellising.  They are sturdy, add visual interest, and it keeps them out of the landfill.
  • Keep things clean.  Order and organization helps you make better use of what you have, and can make staying home a more pleasant alternative to shopping.  If your kitchen is clean, you are more likely to be able to cook in it.  If your family room is orderly, it invites people to use it.  This is a co-operative effort for the entire family.
  • Learning about interior decorating, the up-coming fashions, make-up and hair, and other creative outlets gives you the ability to save money without feeling as though you are decades behind everyone else.  Find what you love, and use it!

There are thousands of ways to reuse things, or find them at a discount so that you don’t need to go purchase new at high prices.  Second-hand shopping and yard sales can provide great finds for cheap.  Google thrift, tightwad, reuse, or cheap for a lifetime of ideas of ways to save money, and still provide what your family needs.  Make saving money a family adventure rather than feeling deprived because of your budget.  Attitude and creativity make all the difference!

Some of my favorite books on this subject are:

The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn

Living More With Less by Doris Longacre

Money Secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker

A Simple Choice by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Beating the High Cost of Eating by Barbara Salsbury

How to Survive Without a Salary by Charles Long

Cooking, Finances, Homemaking

Cookbook list

Last evening I was in the kitchen making waffles and gravy, sausage, and eggs for our Sunday family dinner, and my five-year-old grandson came into the kitchen, climbed onto a stool by the island, took one look at my cookbook, and exclaimed, “Grandma, this must be an old cookbook!”  I wonder if the brown pages, the duct tape on the spine, or the fact that some pages are no longer attached to the binding brought him to that conclusion….

It did get me thinking, though, about my love affair with cookbooks.  It is something approaching an addiction.  (I read them like novels.  There is so much to learn, and anything that involves food is a good thing in my book!)  As I gazed at the 70+ volumes on the cookbook shelves, I began to reflect on my favorites.  Which ones do I really love?  Here are some of I turn to again and again:

America’s Test Kitchen’s “Healthy Family Cookbook”, and their “Family Baking Book” are great general information books.  Actually, just about anything that comes with America’s Test Kitchen or Cook’s Illustrated on the label is an automatic winner!  (I just use a bit less vinegar, fresh herbs, or bittersweet chocolate than they do.  Wimpy palate, I guess.)  I also love the books by Debbie G. Harman for general ideas.  Her “Family Dinner Cookbook” is looking worn and well-loved.

“The Cooking Chameleon” by Rhonda Hair is great for skeleton recipes, and understanding how things interact when you cook.  Other books that teach about the process of cooking are “Brilliant” by David Joachim, and one of the latest from Cook’s Illustrated, “The Science of Good Cooking.”  I would rather create something from the basic rules of cooking than from a recipe.

“Set for Life” by Jane P. Merrill and Karen M. Sunderland has great recipes for whole-grain, lower-fat cooking.  Their “feather rolls” are yummy!  And my great-grandmother’s “Community Cookbook” is a fascinating read for scratch cooking at the beginning of the last century.

And then there are the books that focus on thrift in the kitchen.  “Dining on a Dime” by Tawra Kellem, and the set “Make Your Own Groceries” and “More Make Your Own Groceries” by Daphne Metaxas Hartwig have inexpensive, do-it-yourself ideas.

Because we cook so much from scratch- for both health and financial benefits- there are a myriad of books focused on food preservation and storage.  Some of the best-loved are “Ball Blue Book” by Altrista Consumer Products and “Putting Food By” by Greene, Hertzberg, and Vaughn.  “The Dehydrator Bible” by MacKenzie, Nutt, and Mercer was an unexpected delight!  My Excaliber dehydrator gets a workout now.  And books like “I Can’t Believe It’s Food Storage” by Crystal Godfrey helps me use so much of what I have stored for tasty meals and treats.

And then there are the books that are just delightful to read through.  Goose Berry Patch has a whole line of cookbooks that are fun to read, and are sprinkled with memories and ideas for making your house more of a home.  And then there is one of my absolute favorites-“Betty Groff’s Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook”.  My father’s family line comes through the Pennsylvania Dutch (his grandmother was a Groff) and I grew up eating shoofly pie, chicken pot pie, pepper cabbage, and real sauerkraut.  Reading it takes me back.

What about the cookbook that started this walk through the books on the shelf?  It is “Let’s Start to Cook” by Nell B. Nichols.  Each of my four children have learned to cook from its pages, and it is still the one I reach for if I want the recipe for apple crisp, or whipping cream.  It not only have easy, basic, scrumptious food, but it is annotated with information regarding foods, equipments, and methods of cooking complete with illustrations that are straight out of the ’60s.  I love this book!I received it for my 12th birthday from my mom and dad, and have just loved it to pieces- literally!  I wonder if my mother had any inkling what she was starting as she wrapped it?