Photo: Great grandparents at their farm in Blandinsville, IL, with five of their six children .. my grandpa was yet a twinkle in grandma's eye. Stable boy and governess also pictured. Hodges farm, circa 1903-4

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Do Not Say There's Nothing To Eat

... is a phrase I often tell my kids.  You need to learn how to make a meal from flour and water if need be.  Yes, there may not be anything ready to grab out of the fridge or ready made sitting on the pantry shelf ... but as long as you have a little flour and water ... you will eat.

Ann, my twenty year old college student (living at home), got out a spiral notebook this morning.  She said she wants to know how to do certain skills before she moves out.  Maybe she hasn't taken the time to be very observant ... or maybe I've always just done too much .. whatever, I was so tickled that she wanted me to teach her how to make things before she leaves the nest.  Here's a sample of what's on her list:
  • make good salad dressing (ranch & vinaigrette)
  • make a good pot of soup
  • make stock 
  • make stew
  • learn how to package food for the freezer
  • learn to make cleaning supplies
  • learn to read labels on foods
  • BBQ tips
  • only wash full loads of laundry
  • make beef jerky
  • homemade hamburger patties
  • homemade cheesy biscuits
  • homemade pancakes/waffles
She's already gotten the run down about debt for the past few years and will enter the world with no student loans or credit card debt ... or a car payment; she seems to have relaxed a bit (just a bit) about taking ownership of my old soccer mom van that is hers if she pays insurance, gas and registration.  It's not pretty ... but gets her from home to school to work and home again.  Today she made the buttermilk dressing and discovered that it's more cost effective to do full loads of laundry ... the sting of paying higher utility bills is hitting home for this daughter of mine ... finally!   (So what did we make with flour and water ... Parmesan-herb bread sticks to dip in the yummy ranch dressing ... Thursday is grocery shopping day ... we're at the bottom of the barrel.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Everything Soup

The past two weeks I've made some pretty good soup with already made chicken stock I have in the freezer as the base.  Then to be super thrifty I add leftover rice or pasta along with some carrots and whatever leftover little bit of veggies we have in the fridge.  Add some dehydrated onion/garlic ... and herbs.  Last week I added frozen garden zucchini and a little bit of cooked pinto beans ... with some Mexican seasonings ... the kids just raved about the soup and didn't mind that they were eating up the leftovers ... Of course I told them about the leftovers AFTER they started raving about the soup;)  Watch out Campbell's Soups... Mrs. MacFrugal is cutting out a bit of your profits ... and feeding her family food without JUNK preservatives and loads of salt.  Do you have a way of incorporating leftovers into a 'new' and exciting meal for your family?

Image from here

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mr. Mac(Frugal)'s Thoughts

... about a financial diet:  What started the whole topic of becoming debt free in approximately twenty-one months ... there's a possibility that his job will be absorbed by a larger city entity (in 2012) and he'd have to be retrained as a police officer all over again.  His current gig is just a filler job since his official retirement from another dept. two years ago after a twenty-plus year career.  Our original goal was to be mortgage free in four years and he'd retire once again with another small pension.  But this is probably not going to happen.  We have a monthly pension ... plus his 'gravy' job.  Now at the age of fifty-nine, he's just not going to go through anymore field or physical training to be 'absorbed' in a bigger city's PD.  With that said ... a financial diet will be in order.  We can live comfortably on his pension ... even with a mortgage payment ... but how much the better would it be to be financially free.  Scrimp and save for the next year and a half ... to be rid of any debt.  Now with that said and 'out there' ... he and I will be working out a strategy to remain financially sound AND debt free.  He actually brought up the subject of a budget when he got home from work last night.  Here are a few steps we will make this week:

  • pray about our situation
  • discuss what expenses will be 'cut out' with our adult kids
  • write out a monthly budget (clean start each month)
  • use cash or debit card for purchases
  • use our old envelope system for cash purchases
  • review what household expenses will be axed
Stay tuned for a monthly progress report.  


    Sunday, March 28, 2010

    Credit Card Debt ... A Nation of Debtors

    I have no accumulated credit card or car payment debt.  The past decade or so Mr. Mac and I have always used cards sparingly and ALWAYS paid them off each month.  With that said, I have played along with the 'use' of credit to get bonus points or monetary refunds at the end of the year.  Today, I'm going to talk with Mr. Mac about cutting up the cards and going back to using only cash or our Visa Debit(Credit) ATM cards.  It will be a good cathartic effort towards being completely debt free in just a few years when our mortgage is paid off.  Gone will be my bonus mileage points that seem to disappear before I'm ready to use them ... or figure out HOW to use them.  Gone will be my Costco/American Express card that lures me into the giant arena to buy a pathetic box of organic butter or bananas each week.  It's time to examine exactly where the grocery savings is going now that we have cut that expense by 1/3 to 1/2 each month.  Too many gimmicks.   Too many games.  I want to live as though each dollar hubby brings home is well divided:  Giving/Savings/Spending.  And all the extra will go to getting rid of the last of our mortgage debt ... and continue teaching our grown kids about being/becoming financially fit to weather the hard economic times that are still ahead.  I'll report back on Mr. Mac's thoughts;)

    Graphic credit here

    Friday, March 26, 2010

    A Good Economic Foundation ... from The Frugal Housewife

    The following excerpt is from about 1830 but still has some 'life' in it that is valuable for instruction.

    In light of the current world wide financial crisis, a lot of which stemmed from over borrowing and living beyond one's means, let us reexamine the past so we can learn and go forward teaching our children how to save for a rainy day, thus saving them from repeating the mistakes of the current generation.

    To associate with influential and genteel people with an appearance of equality, unquestionably has its advantages; particularly where there is a family of sons and daughters just coming upon the theatre of life; but like all other external advantages, these have their proper price, and may be bought too dearly. They who never reserve a cent of their income, with which to meet any unforeseen calamity, 'pay too dear for their whistle,' whatever temporary benefits they may derive from society. Self-denial, in proportion to the narrowness of your income, will eventually be the happiest and most respectable course for you and yours. If you are prosperous, perseverance and industry will not fail to place you in such a situation as your ambition covets; and if you are not prosperous, it will be well for your children that they have not been educated to higher hopes than they will ever realize.  The Frugal Housewife

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    All Things Buttermilk

    When you have a continual supply of cultured buttermilk at your disposal ... and you want to keep it fresh by recharging a new batch each week ... it's good to have a few recipes to make use of it.  We often include buttermilk in fresh/frozen fruit smoothies ... and it's a great addition to homemade bread dough.  Today I'll post my recipe for buttermilk pancakes.

    Best Buttermilk Pancakes

    1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
    1 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon aluminum free baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon sea salt
    1 tablespoon organic cane sugar
    1 large egg
    1-1/2 cups buttermilk
    2 tablespoons melted butter

    In a large bowl combine dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl mix the buttermilk and egg ... slowly whisk in the melted butter.

    Cook on a lightly oiled hot griddle (med-high heat- use a little butter or 1/2 tsp bacon drippings if you make bacon).  Test the griddle with a drop or two of water ... it should sizzle/dance.  Using a 1/2 cup ladle, spoon the batter in rounds on the griddle.  Cook until they just start to bubble and are a tiny bit dry around the  edge.  Flip and cook on other side.  Keep warm in preheated oven until all pancakes have been cooked.  Serve with maple syrup. Makes about 8-9 6-inch pancakes.

    Photo credit:  Carl Larsson 

    How to make cultured buttermilk

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Yard Clean-Up Day

    Sometimes I think it would be nice to have more property ... but after a long workday such as hubby and I had today ... our 1.9 acres is plenty.  Most of the landscape is natural.  Our homestead is carved out of a nice little forest spot.  Being natural .. does not mean less work.  We had to clear brush (noxious weeds) today along the driveway.  Our neighbor has the start of a big burn pile .. so we heaped some of the debris on his pile.  Last year he said it was fine with him ... so we just added to his heap this year.  The rest of the weeds piled up will get burned Tues. and Wed. if the nice weather holds out.  It's grueling work  ... but now the property is starting to look spruced up.  Tomorrow we'll be at it again cleaning up another section.  I gave our front flower beds a good once over trimming dead growth from last season.  Soon the lawn will need to be aerated and de-thatched; for this job, I'll hire someone with the right equipment.  Our sprinkler system will be recharged at the end of the month. 

    The veggie gardens are 3/4 finished with all of the prep work.  Hubby shoveled a third truckload of compost yesterday.  This should be enough to give some good balance to our otherwise clay soil.  The topsoil was removed in this particular area when our lot was graded prior to building our home. 

    I'm checking into making a small-medium sized adobe type oven for the backyard.  Always something to investigate ... but the idea of having an outside oven for bread baking is stirring in my brain;)

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    Fresh Horseradish

    ... is so delish!  Last week I made a trade with a neighbor for some horseradish root.  The root I received was beautiful ... if a dirt encrusted root could be pretty.  The specimen was quite a nice size and had enough to snap off a good sized root with plenty to spare and get replanted.  As a young child my grandparents served the pungent beauty with most Sunday meals ... no one ever 'made' me try it ... I just decided one day to eat some and have never regretted doing so. 

    After cleaning the root, I peeled it with a veggie peeler and soaked it in ice water until I figured out what to do with it. It was then grated on a micro-plane grater and a I added a 1/2 tsp. rice vinegar and 1/2 tsp water, a tiny pinch of sugar and salt.  I CAN'T WAIT for tonight's BBQ'd steaks. 

    How to prepare horseradish

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Double Digging

    ... the garden by hand.  It's a lot of work .. but I hope it will pay off with a bumper crop of food this year.  Helpful hubby huffed and hoisted a cubic yard of composted manure by the wheel barrel full as I hand dug.  He tilled and raked afterward.  One more truckload should suffice and it will be done.  Sonny Boy sliced two more dozen garden log stepping stones from a downed tree.  Pictures to follow as soon as I find my camera's charger. 

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Sandwich Loaf

    Here is the standard 100% white whole wheat bread for bread machines recipe from Bob's Red Mill flour:

    Makes a small loaf:

    1 cup water
    2-1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
    1-1/4 Tbsp dry milk powder
    1 tsp salt
    1-1/2 Tbsp Canola oil
    1-1/4 Tbs sugar
    1 Tbsp gluten
    2 tsp molasses
    2 tsp active dry yeast

    Add all ingredients in the order suggested by your bread machine manual and process on the bread cycle according to the manufacturer's directions.

    Mrs. Mac's adaptation of same recipe:

    1 cup buttermilk (or water or beer or combination)
    3 cups whole wheat white flour or whole wheat flour
    1/3 cup leftover cooked oatmeal ... or 1 small potato drained/diced/cooked/mashed (you could use the potato water in place of buttermilk)
    1 tsp sea salt
    2 Tbsp butter .. cut into pieces
    1 Tbsp molasses or honey
    2 Tbsp wheat gluten
    2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
    1 Tbsp dried onion flakes
    1 tsp dried dill weed
    1-1/2 tsp caraway or dill seeds
    2 Tbsp shelled pumpkin or sunflower seeds

    Add the liquid and oatmeal or potato to bread machine bowl.  Add remainder of ingredients.  Use the dough setting.  Watch the machine for a bit to be sure there is a good balance of liquid and dry ingredients.  If too sticky ... and a tablespoon of flour ... or if too dry ... and a tiny bit of liquid.  Once the dough has a good consistency, you're free to leave the room for the remainder of the dough setting.  Once finished, remove the dough and place on a lightly floured board.  Knead into a round shape and place on a greased baking sheet, cover and let rise in a warm place (cold oven with the light turned on) for about 30 minutes ... or until double in size.  Bake in a preheated 350F oven on a  middle rack for about 30-35 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack for several hours until cool.  Store overnight in a plastic bag and slice the following day.  You can slice the same day ... but I find bread slices more evenly if left to rest overnight.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    Grain Mills - Cooking - Garden Work

    I'm starting to research grain/flour mills for home use.  If you have a flour mill at home and are pleased with it, please let me know what type you have and the best/worst features about it.  In the near future, I'll probably start sprouting some of the grain and semi drying it before grinding.  Not all mills can handle this type of process, that's why I need some input.

    Wendy asked yesterday just what type of meals I could make with my weekly list of groceries posted on Monday.  First off, our pantry and freezers are stocked with items such as beef, chicken, pork and frozen fresh water Alaskan salmon .. as well as frozen and canned veggies and berries.  We have dry beans/legumes, short grain brown rice, dry oatmeal, healthy oils such as olive and coconut, dried garden herbs, tea, coffee, dried fruits, etc.    I keep these supplies stockpiled and restock anything that starts to hit the bottom of the barrel.  Cooked beans are frozen and bread is baked about every third day.  This makes it easy to put together almost any meal with very little weekly shopping.

    Once a week I make a big meal on either Monday or Tuesday.  Extra food is prepared to have enough to make use of the following day in either some type of hash or fried rice dish.  I cook one big pot of rice to last for three or four meals during the week.  Last night we had a pork loin roast, brown rice with mushrooms and herbs, seasoned cooked green cabbage.  Tonight I'll chop up the pork and cook it with some onions, bok choy, carrots and the left over cabbage and rice for a stir fry dish.  I don't plan meals too far in advance ... however, I do plan our dinner in the morning so I have plenty of time to thaw out any frozen meat .. or soak beans the day prior to cooking.  Buttermilk is made every other day and used for veggie dips, and as a main ingredient in frozen berry smoothies for breakfast or a snack. I doctor up recipes to suit what is on hand.

    Hubby set up my garden sink today.  More work is needed .. and then I'll post a few pictures.  Mrs. H, from Subsistence Pattern stopped by for a friendly chat ... and exchange of goods:)  She got home made soaps, a packet of watermelon seeds and a knit dishcloth.  I got from her some garden plants (a secret delight was the horseradish roots:) ...a regular old time neighborly swap meet.

    Monday, March 08, 2010

    Grocery Challenge Update

    This is more of a personal challenge (instead of a group effort) to cut down on our grocery bill.  But ... it is rather a good exercise of frugality using up our current food supply ... doing without everything we think is necessary ... and adapting recipes to fit what we have on hand.  Our loot this week includes:
    • One gallon of whole un-homogenized milk
    • Two pounds of butter*
    • One rutabaga*
    • A large onion*
    • (1) avocado*
    • A dozen eggs* (from my neighborhood egg man that lives down the street not in my HOA;)
    • Wedge of smoked natural cheddar cheese (a splurge;)
    • Colombian coffee*
    • garlic*
    • bananas
    • apples*
    • lettuce*
    • cucumber*
    • tangerines
    • corned beef**
    • brick of raw milk natural cheddar*
    • package of sliced provolone cheese*
    • one bottle Kombucha (fermented beverage)*
    • ginger brew*  (alcohol free I think;)
    • pumpkin seeds*
    • wheat gluten*
    • caraway seed*s (for my special recipe bread that I will share one of these days)
    • two bags kettle chips**
    • a gallon of Kirkland liquid dish soap
    • two pounds of Yukon gold potatoes*
    * = organic product
    **= purchased  by darling daughter with my money at Sprawlmart

    Shopping this way sure could start hurting Sprawlmart's business.  From what I've been seeing on a lot of blogs, people are eating more whole foods and cutting out processed junk.  Sorry big ag-business .. but your day to shine is OVER!  Families are taking back their health by cutting out the junk that has been peddled by the Pied Piper under the guise of subsidized corn and soy growers. OK, I'm off my soapbox.  [Total cost = $92, leaving $8 to last the remainder of the week]

    This Week At Home

    It's a drizzly day in the North Woods.  Mr. Mac and I have a day without the responsibility of children at home ... a day to go to town ... to purchase a sink to set up outside near the garden with a little weatherproof counter space to handle the dirty work of cleaning garden produce.

    I have a gift card from last Mother's Day (my kids know me well) that I hope to use on a new clothesline to put up behind the garage.  It should be a more presentable way to hang laundry ... last year we had a rag-tag line poorly strung up ... not too neat or tidy ... a bit reminiscent of tent camping.  Without a fenced yard .. it was a bit hillbillyish;)

    One more comment about laundry:  About a year ago we stopped using liquid fabric softener and dryer fabric sheets ... and bleach for whites.  Half of the year we used two tablespoons of concentrated powder laundry soap (from Costco) ... the other half we used a homemade liquid or powder soap.  Both Costco and the homemade soaps performed about the same.  The laundry seemed a bit dingy until we recently began adding 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the washing machine's fabric softener dispenser.  I must admit ... the whites are now as white as when we used bleach ... and after nearly a year without the addition of commercial softeners, our clothes have no residue making them come out of the wash much cleaner than imagined.  Another bonus is how clean the washing machine appears inside ... not all greasy-gray from the Downey softener.  More money in the bank! (For soap recipes ... check the sidebar)
    Mr. Mac asked recently what I wanted for my birthday.  I think the requested gift cost a whole $5 ... but the effort he made blessed my heart.  Having a keen fondness for saving zip lock plastic bags for reuse, my counter often has bags drying upside down over various objects.  I present to you my new-fangled heart shaped bag drying rack.  Ta-dah! 

    Sunday, March 07, 2010

    You, Me ... and the Kitchen Sink

    Today I was surprised to find my blog featured at Down To Earth. Rhonda has a simple living blog from Australia; I can't tell you how she has inspired us to live in the moment ... purposeful ... creating a nurturing environment for our family.  My husband and I have always scrimped and saved ... paying down on the mortgage ... saving for cars ... mending .. re-purposing items ... so when it came time to build our home, we had enough equity in our old home to build the new one with just a tiny mortgage.  It is our hope to be debt free in less than four years.  Our builder helped us stretch our dollars as well.

    I decided to feature a few more pics of our kitchen sink ... and a little more of our home.

    In the planning stages, I knew I wanted a double basin ... deep kitchen sink.  We have two other laundry tubs for soaking extra large items ... but this sink actually holds my largest canning pot ... a large turkey, and a boat load of dishes.  I prefer two basins so I can wash in one ... and have one free for rinsing.  The foyer is nice and roomy.  Having such an open area, I didn't want people to see into the kitchen from the front door (just in case the kitchen was a MESS;)

    We didn't need a formal dining room so opted to have a large eating room open to the kitchen.

    I made sure that most of our furniture would fit in the new home.  The only things we purchased were the sofas in the great room and the kitchen bar stools.  I am a gatherer of vintage, junkyard, thrift store, garage sale furniture/finds.

    The most recent change to our kitchen was replacing the microwave/hood above the kitchen stove.  It just couldn't handle the heat from canning; the electrical panel warped and quit working.  We replaced it with a much more efficient heavy duty exhaust fan.

    The openness of the great room/kitchen/eating room makes this the heart of our home ... for cozy family gatherings.

    Believe it or not ... this critter ... a rather large moose is a frequent visitor ... along with his family.  Imagine eating breakfast and seeing this guy 25 feet from the dining room window.  That's enough excitement for one day ;)

    Friday, March 05, 2010

    Life In The Slow Lane

    I don't get out much.  There is enough living to do at home each day to be content.  On my kitchen counter sits a 'running' grocery list that I take with me once a week to supplement our pantry and freezer supplies.  With spring and summer on the horizon, it's time to make use of some of the 'slow cooking' cuts of beef in the freezer.  Yesterday I used up the last of our stew meat to make a lovely Burgundy beef stew.  Hopefully I can time running out of beef just as we receive our next purchase in August.

    Today was nice enough to get out and turn over the soil in another garden area, as well as clean up some of the untouched forest ground on our property; this will take another year or two to complete.  Some of the fallen logs were sliced into discs with the chain saw to use as stepping 'stones' in the veggie gardens.  Other wood was stacked for the bon fire pit .. and a pile was made for hubby to run through the wood chipper to make wood chips for some walking trails. 

    The buttermilk (experiment) turned out so good we're on our third batch already.  It's very easy to make.  I like to add it to fruit smoothies ... wowzer on the tang!

    Wednesday, March 03, 2010

    The Garden Chronicled - March 2, 2010

    Yesterday was an unusual snow/frost free winter day in our neck of the woods ... so it proved to be the perfect opportunity to work outside in the oh-so-bleak gardens.  The ground is just ready to explode with abundant green life after the winter rest.  I'm sure this process will begin slowly as it's still winter ... and we could even get hit by a snow shower or two ... but for now, time to get the soil prepped.  the top three pics are of the same garden plot.  The bottom pic is located nearby.  Both gardens are carved out of sunny clearings in our backyard forest and are surrounded with wire fencing to discourage the deer and moose from dining on the produce.  Not the prettiest fence ... but it works (so far;) and is sturdy enough to use as support for climbing plants. 

    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    So Far This ....


    • Started a batch of home cultured buttermilk.   It was easy to make from a good starter product I purchased ... tucked away in the fridge ... won't have to buy buttermilk again if I keep making a little batch each week.
    • Got a jar of sour dough starter waiting to ferment with natural air born yeast.
    • Purchased a one gallon glass tea jug (at a thrift store) with lid and spigot to separate non-homogenized  milk ... now we have cream (should I make butter?)
    • Made a large pot of porridge (first soaking the rolled oats ... then slow cooking for 1 hour). So far it has provided breakfast, an addition to a loaf of bread and was added to pancake batter two mornings.  It's one way to get picky eaters to eat their oatmeal. (Make a large batch and keep in the fridge for a few days of effortless mornings.)
    • sandwich/salad sprouts are growing in the pantry.
    • from a few pieces of home made bread ... I made a delish salad topping of croutons and roasted pumpkin seeds.  Nothing goes to waste in a thrifty home:)
    I was thinking yesterday:  If something should happen to me ... and my kids have to clean out the fridge or pantry ... they might have no idea what all the little fermentations are so I'm posting it on  my blog to alleviate confusion.  It'd be a waste of good starter to have them just toss the stuff in the trash:)