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Friday, December 31, 2010

My Little Veggie Hanger

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
After seeing yesterday's post from my co-writer Amy, I now have serious pot rack envy. I could really use the cupboard space freed up by hanging a few pots and pans, for food storage instead. The ceilings in our house are so low, though. Even a pot rack with a very low profile might be more in the way than useful; maybe look too cluttered. I think I'll tape up some paper cutouts first, to see if a permanent installation is what I really want.

I thought I'd share photos of a hanging rack I do have installed in my kitchen, though - one I designed and hubby built. My husband had taken out a piece of the wall between kitchen and living room, opening up our small space and allowing for better airflow inside (with no central HVAC system, open circulation is important for both our summer cooling and winter heating). I thought the wall cutout would make a perfect space to hang foods to dry: chiles, corn, beans, garlic, items from southwestern cuisine that grow well in my high-desert climate.

The rack is a two-foot piece of one-inch wooden dowel. Aries made a couple of end brackets, then stained everything to match our existing woodwork. Brass "S" hooks were threaded onto the dowel before installation, the open ends facing my kitchen for easy hanging access (the hooks slide easily, but can't be removed). Attached to the top of the cutout, it's attractive, decorative, and useful - perfect!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My big, homemade pot rack

This pot rack is roughly 4 feet by 2 feet and made of galvanized piping.
by Amy of My Suburban Homestead

My dear husband made me this big pot rack for Christmas this year. 






Our house was built in the 70′s and has very low ceilings. I’ve attempted to put up a potrack before, but the pots hung way too low and had to take it down. And our house is very small–only 1,100 square feet, and hardly has any storage space, so we’ve had to be pretty creative with our storage.
A decent potrack is so expensive, and a few days ago my husband decided that he could make a big potrack out of galvanized piping from Home Depot. In all, he told me he spent around $100.
For the hooks, we’re using a couple different types of shower curtain rings, also available at Home Depot.Here is a link to his blog, which lists more about his construction and a list of the materials he used.  I think its a keeper, what do you think?
He purchased the pre-threaded pipe, but said you can cut the pipe to any size you want and have it threaded at Home Depot.
If  you have a small  house, what ways have you found to save space? 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Frugal guilt

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

With the new year about to begin, the yearly urge to purge is coming on. Always with good intentions I bolt out the gate in January and fizzle out in a month or two. I want to be organized and finish all my projects, and sail through the year. This year will be that year, I hope... .


Another thing that comes with the year end is the self-assessment we all do. Did I live up to my goals and ideals? Or can I do better? I always think I can do better. But one of the worst areas I struggle with is frugal guilt. Growing up with older parents, who were adults during the Great Depression, I grapple with being frugal enough. As you can see, I am cutting the buttons off one of my husband's work shirts. Handmade, with whimsical pocket flaps and buttons I had already recycled, I am now cutting off the buttons, again, for the button jar. My husband has done his job, he has worn this shirt until it is so frayed, it won't do too much duty in the rag bag. In this case, I'm doing pretty good.

Other areas of the fabric nature, not so good. See, I grew up in the material culture of making all my clothes because it was much cheaper than buying store-bought clothing. I started sewing at age 8 or 9 and haven't stopped. I admit I was a very frustrated seamstress, but once I started quilting I was off to the races. Patchwork freed my mind, and a funny thing happened during that time, sewing became much more expensive, and clothing at the store came to be inexpensive. I would look at a dress on the rack, and do a mental tally: pattern - $5.00, fabric - $10.00+ per yard, notions - $5.00-$10.00, and none of that included the day at least that it would take to make the dress, making the rack purchase cost less. Now I know it doesn't really "cost" less due to all the issues surrounding the present day garment industry. I haven't came up with a cure for that, but I do dress differently too - work jeans, and sweatshirts from the Goodwill are the norm for me these days.

I'm not saying quilting is cheap either. Especially if you're a collector. I never could afford antique quilts, but I could sure afford antique quilt tops which took up much less space, and in some cases were as crisp as a newly minted dollar bill. But many were made from scraps, and some were made of soft, well-worn pieces of fabric. My favorite has some tiny pieces put together just to make a piece large enough to fashion a tiny one inch triangle. Now that is frugal! How easy I have had it, I grew up in a time where it is normal to buy large pieces of yardage and cut them into small pieces only to sew them back into a large piece of fabric! I dad-gum-goll-guarantee you that my quilting antecedents would ban me from a quilting bee these days.


But in my defense I would have to say this is where the generational guilt that we all carry comes in. My experiences are different than my forebears. I have to deal with the cards I have been dealt. I don't know for sure, but suspect that they carried guilt pertaining to their times too. I have never had to make a blanket out of patched together pieces of old clothing, but if I had to, I could now. So with that in mind, I sorted through the snippets and scraps I have been saving for years and I whittled the pile down to strips and pieces I thought I might use (quilt bucket list) someday...and I sent everything else to the Goodwill, where someone may find the scrap bag and give those pieces of my past sewing some life.

I guess what I am trying to do is justify my wasteful ways, many times we don't rise to the "occasion" if there has not been an "occasion" in our lives, yet. Life is a series of baby steps, taken one day and one project or learning curve at a time.

Do you have struggle with frugal guilt pangs too?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

One Hundred Ways To Save Money in 2011 Part I

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















Happy Holidays to you & yours! As the Holiday Season closes and the New Year approaches, I've been thinking a lot about the frugal life in 2011. Saving money can feel like a long hard road and while it certainly takes determination, sacrifice and motivation to get out of debt and save, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways we can live more frugally! Here are my own 100 suggestions for ways to cut back spending in 2011.

1. Join the library, go visit, order some books and pledge not to buy a book this year!
2. Cut your magazine subscriptions or ask for them for gifts or even share one between friends.
3. Stop buying cleaning products and instead purchase baking soda and vinegar. Great cleaning solutions and ideas can be found here
4. Stop buying paper towels and instead designate certain tea towels for cleaning the floors, counters etc.
5. Use reusable toilet paper.
6. Buy or make reusable feminine products.
7. Use reusable nappies.
8. Use reusable baby wipes
9. Hang your laundry out to dry.
10. Do not wash things just because you have warn them once except for undergarments!
11. Turn your heat down a few degrees and wear socks and a sweater instead!
12. Turn your air con down a few degrees and wear thin clothes that don't reflect the sun
13. Always either make cards or stock up on packs of cards. You can make or find packages of eight cards for the same cost of 1 card in some shops!
14. Keep a gift drawer in your house and stock it with reasonable items
15. Make homemade gifts
16. Keep cookies, squares and soups in the freezer to give as gifts!
17. Swap names for the holidays instead of buying for everyone.
18. Give charity gifts - a donation to charity and gift in one!
19. Ditch the gym membership.
20. Take up walking, hiking or running.
21. Find free hobbies like joining a choir or book group
22. Nominate two days a week as vegetarian days then build to three
23. Nominate two days a week as no spending days, aim to get used to it (maybe for a month or so) and then increase it to three days a week.
24. Nominate one evening a week as soup night. Soup + veggies + a roll (or crackers) is a very frugal family meal
25. Box up leftovers before sitting down to dinner so that you don't pick at them or have second helpings.
26. Pack a lunch for work each day
27. Always keep water and snacks on hand.
28. Pay cash for your groceries and only take that amount with you to the store.
29. Always shop with a list and a menu planner.
30. Plan your meals, even if you simply plan which meals you'll have over the course of the week.
31. Nominate one day a month as freezer cooking & baking day.
32. Join a food co-op.
33. Grow your own fruits and veg, if you don't have a garden look at a community plot or growing herbs indoors.
34. Make a list of local activities that are free.
35. Nominate one weekend a month as a no-spending weekend.
36. Set yourself no driving days.
37. Combine shopping trips to limit the petrol you use
38. Walk to shops, friends, school, work as much as possible
39. Ride your bike
40. Shop at second hand stores
41. Join freecycle
42. Have a rule that if something comes into your home, something must leave it.
43. Get a slow cooker and nominate one day a week as slow cooker day
44. Repair items that are torn or broken
45. If you are going to purchase something make yourself wait 48 hours
46. Ask yourself if something is a need or a want and calculate how many hours work you would have to do to pay for it.
47. As much as possible drink water
48. Give up soda.
49. Give up candy
50. Set yourself a mad money limit each month which you can spend on what you want, $20 can let you splurge on some new music or some treats or a trip to the movies. But when it is gone, it is gone! :)

Part II will follow on my next posting day!

What are your money saving tips for 2011?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Waxing Cheese

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

As I make many different cheeses, and post video tutorials about how to make them, I thought that in this post that I would show everyone how to wax a cheese.

The cheese wax is a special formulation and is not the same as paraffin or candle wax.  That type of wax is too brittle to be used to coat cheese, as the cheese needs a solid yet flexible covering to keep the air and bacteria out of it and to keep the remaining moisture locked in to help with the maturation process.  I received a kilogram of red cheese wax with my kit and it is about AUD$15 per kilo.  It lasts for quite a while, because you can reuse the wax again after you have eaten your cheese.  I have even used some wax that Ben 10 collected off of his baby bell cheeses!  He was very happy to contribute.

So firstly, I set up a double boiler a small pan with about 5 cm of water.

Cheese Wax 001

On top of the pan use a stainless steel or glass container that you can reuse specifically for cheese making.  Once you melt the wax in the container, it is very difficult to get it back out again.  Once the water has boiled, keep it at a simmer.  This temperature will be sufficient to melt all of the wax.

Cheese Wax 002

Don’t try and put the entire block of wax in like this because you will be there for a month of Sundays!

Cheese Wax 004
 
Cut the block up into smaller pieces and it will melt much quicker.


Cheese Wax 005

After about 15 minutes, this is what you end up with.  A nice smooth consistency, just ready to dip the wheel into.

Cheese Wax 007

So here is the cheese before, nice a dry with no visible liquid.  I turned it about three times a day so that the remaining whey would drain out evenly.

Cheese Wax 003

Now the tricky part, and unfortunately no photos, because I had my own safety to consider and the wax was very hot!

Firstly, place the wheel in the freezer for 5 minutes to cool it down.  This way the cheese wax cools very quickly on contact and it is an easier way to finish the job without too much fuss.

Grab the wheel firmly and dip it into the wax so that it is half coated.  Without dropping it, let it dry for about 1 minute, rotate 180 degrees, then holding by the waxed side, dip it again.  Hold for another minute and allow to dry.  You will find a very thin layer of wax over the entire wheel.  Repeat the process about 3 to 4 more times, ensuring that you don’t hold it in the wax too long, as you don’t want the cheese to melt.  Check for an even coating, and if you are satisfied that it is dry enough, rest the wheel on some baking paper and place in the normal fridge to harden and mature.  This is what it should look like.

Cheese Wax 006

It has no holes in the wax, and is about 3mm thick all over.  After about 20 minutes place it back in the cheese fridge for the designated maturation period.

Here is the finished cheese after the maturation time of 3 months.  This is a Wensleydale with sage. 


It was absolutely one of the best cheeses I have ever made and tasted.  There is nothing quite like home made cheese.  If you would like to learn how to make Wensleydale, have a look at this post on my blog titled "Wensleydale Cheese Making Tutorial"

Enjoy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pruning Saw


by Francesca
FuoriBorgo


Are you in need of a last-minute present idea for a gardener? Or are you a gardener with limited storage space and room for only the essential tools? In either case, a pruning saw might be the tool for you!

pruning saw


I fall into the second category: I'm a gardener who's limited by a serious space shortage, which means I can only keep a handful of essential hand tools. About a month ago, a friend of mine saw me struggling to prune some laurel trees with a regular cross-cut saw. He whipped a pruning saw out of his pocket, and cut back the laurels quickly and effortlessly. The day after, I bought my own pruning saw for a very modest price, and have found it to be right up there with my sickle in terms of usefulness and efficiency.


pruning saw 2

My pruning saw has a straight blade and offset teeth, and it folds in half like a pocket knife. It's perfect for cutting medium-sized branches which are too large for gardening shears, and slices easily through hardwood branches as thick as a couple of inches in diameter. I've used it already in a variety of projects: to make our Christmas elves, to remove dead limbs from a cherry tree, and to saw a branch off of a plum tree that was invading the area where we keep our compost. It's amazing how much you can accomplish with the right tool!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My new best friend

By Aurora from Island Dreaming


I have always had a thing for brand new stationery; indeed I was delighted, aged four, when I came down on Christmas morning to find an executive desk and chair set with all the (admittedly plastic and cartoon animal themed) accessories, filing drawers, blank papers and new pens a 4 year old could possibly want. I loved filing, I loved writing notes and memos, I loved taking telephone messages and writing to-do lists. I have retained my early love for stationery; but none of the organisational drive that keeps piles of paper and deadlines in check.

If my friends were to describe me I guarantee the first words out of their mouths would not be ‘punctual’, ‘organised’, ‘remembers birthdays’ or ‘excellent project management skills’. Whilst these are not the qualities I would necessarily want to be most remembered for; my ambivalence to planning and time management have probably slowed my progress towards to my simple living goals over the past few years. Last year, the garden had a separate journal all to itself which now sits on a shelf gathering dust.  At the same time I had a tiny pocket diary for appointments that spent most of its time at the back of a drawer; and a fistful of scrap paper with important dates and reminders stuffed at the bottom of my handbag and coat pockets.

The ability to survey your immediate and distant future and decide what you want from it is a useful skill in any walk of life. Being able to plan the steps to get there is half the battle of completing them. I am starting small; and more importantly immediately, as delaying until new years resolution time rolls around means I have lost a fortnight of planning time and will probably give up too easily. My approach in 2011 is going to be low tech - a week-to-view diary and a biro, carried everywhere I go. In addition I am carrying a pad of sticky notes for adding to do lists, shopping lists and other temporary reminders. This year, I am filling in my gardening plans before 2011 begins; and sowing dates will sit scrawled next to crafting deadlines, meal plans, financial goal deadlines, birthdays and appointments, all of which will be overlaid with shopping lists and important notes. 

This sounds chaotic, but as I need prompting to remember to do the most basic tasks (like putting the recycling out on the right day), a very crowded diary for a few months is a price I am willing to pay for a smoother running life. Gradually, as I prompt myself and these actions become habits, I hope the pages will be freed up for more interesting scribblings. A single 'bible' of all the information I need to go about my day is a simple enough system that I hope even I can keep on top of.

Do you struggle to organise your time and projects or does it come naturally? Do you plan your time carefully, or does an unscheduled life suit you best?










Saturday, December 18, 2010

Seasonal Fun for Families - Summer

By Bel
from Spiral Garden

Sunshine and holidays inspire activity and new beginnings.

Family traditions help build beautiful childhood memories and nourish us in times of uncertainty. We honour the seasons through our awareness of the cyclic changes in nature. Taking a cue from our environment, we can alter our diet, our routines and our wardrobe to suit the weather and the days’ activities. Thrill your senses this summer…


Taste – Summer fare is light and bountiful. Wonderful fruits are in season and their lusciousness brings joy to our tastebuds. Simple salads and barbecues replace the slow-cooked meals of the colder months. Picnic and finger foods are ideal for busy days spent outdoors.

Touch – Bare feet allow us to experience the fresh green grass and grainy sand of summer days. The sun warms our skin. Sea shells, water, flowers and pebbles are all delights for little hands.

Smell – Flowers are blooming and fruit is ripening. Sun showers bring steamy, earthy scents to revive us. Barbeques waft on the breeze in the late afternoon. The salty aroma of sea air refreshes our mind during this busy season.

Sight – On sunshine-filled days nature walks provide treasures to behold. Seashells become doors on sandcastles. Smooth pebbles line a fairy path through the flower bed. Children know that nature has put on her finest and fullest display for their benefit. They relish in the abundance.

Sound – In summer we can hear children playing on the grass at sunset. Neighbours dining al fresco. The waves thundering onto the shore. Insects buzzing in the night. Sounds of celebration. In summer we connect with our community.

Feelings – Summer is time to breathe out. Holidays and more sunlight hours give us freedom. Children grow in summer – they reach for the sky, run, swim, laugh and roll about. Take an afternoon nap. Summer is a hive of relaxed activity – a perfect balance.

Activities - The Summer Solstice is on the 22nd of December 2010, with a full moon on the 21st. Make lovely Christmas or Solstice gifts from driftwood and seashells. Summer is quite often the time when families are able to take time away from regular commitments. Fly a kite! If you have a seasonal tableau, find a fresh cloth and decorate this area with the treasures of the season. Get outside and be messy with paint– then wash it all away. Enjoy paddling in a wading pool, and take the water to your favourite plants thirsting on these long, hot days. Decorate lovely wide-brimmed hats to wear through the season. Paper fans and windmills are cool and calming crafts to enjoy. Observe the insects caught in flapping washing or munching on the vegetable garden’s bounty. Go to the markets, the park, the pool - take a picnic. Connect with nature and each other.

* I know a lot of our readers are in the Northern Hemisphere, but thought I'd post this anyway, to warm your hearts and share a little of how it is for our holiday season down under!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Meringue Cookies, Easy Blender Hollandaise Sauce

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
At Christmas time, my grandma used to make these melt-in-your-mouth meringue cookies. She'd make hers all chocolate chip, tinting half the batch red (more like pink) and the other half green. I loved them so much, I just had to get her recipe. I then adapted it to make two flavors from one batch of cookie batter. I leave the chocolate chip half of the batch white, to look like little mounds of snow, and then color the peppermint ones with a bit of red food coloring (bonus: the peppermint ones are fat-free).

Meringue Cookies (makes about 60)
3 egg whites (best if room temperature)
1½ teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
18 oz. chocolate chips OR
3 smashed candy canes OR
12 oz chocolate chips + 2 smashed candy canes
food coloring (optional)

Beat egg whites, vanilla, and salt until stiff, but not dry. Beat sugar in gradually until stiff and satiny. If you want to make two different kinds or colors of cookies, divide in half and tint with food coloring if desired. Fold in chips or candy (for the peppermint cookies, stir the candy cane bits in first, add a couple drops of red food coloring, and just make a couple of cuts through the mixture to get a red and white striped effect). Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 250ยบ 30 minutes. The cookies should be dry, but not browned. Cool on racks. Best if stored in an air-tight tin, and eaten within a week (both kinds are in the center of the cookie platter above; super-easy fudge recipe here; I'll try to get my "no-refrigerator" sugar cookie recipe onto my own blog one of these days).

Another reason I like making these cookies is it gives me an excuse to make a batch of blender hollandaise sauce to use up the egg yolks. This version is so easy to make - no worries about it breaking like the stovetop versions sometimes do. It solidifies when refrigerated, and then melts into a sauce when smeared onto hot food, so it's a great condiment to have on hand to dress up almost any meal. I especially like it on steamed broccoli, or dabbed atop a piece of grilled salmon, or topping a seafood omelette, or as a bagel topping. Ok, I admit it - I have to restrain myself from just eating this out of the bowl with a spoon.

Easy Blender Hollandaise Sauce (makes about 1 cup)
½ cup (1 stick) butter
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon dry mustard (optional)
⅛ teaspoon paprika (optional)

Melt butter, in microwave or stovetop. Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients in blender container, and blend briefly. With the blender running, slowly pour in the melted butter until sauce thickens. Serve immediately, or pour into small glass bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Solidified sauce will keep approximately a week to 10 days in refrigerator. No need to reheat to use, just smear atop hot food as desired.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Homemade Nutella (hazelnut-chocolate spread)

by My Suburban Homestead 

Today I discovered by accident that it is easy to make Nutalla from scratch. Here's what happened:

My husband saw a jar of leftover hazelnuts that I had from making hazelnut mashed potatoes and he said: "Hey, why don't you make some hazelnut butter? That sounds good." So I proceeded to make some hazelnut butter.

If you've never made your own nut butters before, the process is extremely simple. Place some nuts (toasted for best flavor) in the bowl of your food processor or blender, and blend for several minutes. Scrape the sides down several times and blend until the oil is glistening and the butter is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Add some salt to taste. Viola--homemade nut butter! The process is the same for peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, etc.

After I made this and was pouring it into a mason jar, I saw some dark chocolate leftover from my homemade peppermint bark project and thought: "Hey, I could make my own Nutella!" I poured off some hazelnut butter, and left about a 1/2 cup in the bowl of the food processor. Then I added about a cup of dark chocolate chips.

This was the result: smooth, yummy, hazelnut-chocolate butter. Spread it on toast, pancakes, waffles, fruit...

Now, I don't know much about the storage life, or if it would stay spreadable if you place the spread in the refrigerator. But chances are, it won't sit around that long! This would be an excellent addition to your holiday breakfast. Enjoy! 

These Little Piggies Came Home Stinky

by Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

There's no way to sweeten the ideal, we are pig farmers and have three rough and tumble kids under 7. That means I do a LOT of laundry and deal with a lot of really bad smells. Those of you with kids and or pigs probably know that the majority of these smells come from the kids!

But there is a catch, everyone in our house is allergic to commercial chemicals, deoderizers, and fragrances and it is a range of reactions, from severe skin blistering to headaches to sinus irritation. It is easy enough to switch to hyper allergenic clothes washing, pure soaps, and natural cleaners but what about getting smells out of unconventional places and what about pleasant scents?

My first step is always to clean, but that's not always enough.

To start with, white vinager is a great deoderizer. Works the same way that Febreeze does, it pickles the stink and kills the bacteria. I used to demonstrate Febreeze and had to study the product before hand. Basically the same idea. I add a little peppermint oil to the bottle so when it dries it smells minty fresh! My oldest daughter calls this Peppermint Pickle spray. I works as a first aid spray too (all be it a painful one) and a quick hand sanitizer. I use a mix of this as a rinse in my clothes washer too.

Then to make the house fragrant if company is coming I collect the orange/clementine peels and mostly eaten apples that are abundant this time of year at my house. Through the day the girls add them to a stove pot, I cover with water and add a cinnamon stick or two and simmer; add water as needed. Ta da! It adds humidity we need right now and smells amazing with no allergic reactions. I have also done this with just mint, but it is not as strong. Since I am making this with waste that would normally go out to the chickens (except for the cinnamon stick), it costs me almost nothing.

How do you combat stink at your house?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

by Chiot's Run

I'm always game to save money in any way I can. Gift wrapping can be very expensive, even if you buy it on sale after the holidays, and buying something that you're just going to recycle and throw away seems a little crazy. One inexpensive way to wrap gifts is by using brown kraft paper. You can buy it in big rolls very inexpensively at home improvement stores, but I find that if I save the stuff that comes in packaging throughout the year, I never have to buy any, in fact I always have a pretty good sized stash on hand. Not to mention I'm able to reuse something before it goes into the garden (we always compost kraft paper products instead of recycling).

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

The paper is usually crumpled, so I crumple it even more to give it some texture (and to make it look intentional). I love using kraft paper because it goes with just about any kind of decor and it's not gender, age or holiday specific. You can adorn any way you like if you want to add some pizazz. I have a box of saved ribbon in the basement that I occasionally use, especially if wrapping a birthday gift. I find that garden twine works well and looks lovely, especially if you include a little natural element like a pine cone or pine sprig. All those little scraps of yarn work as well, you could also use scraps of fabric, paper or just decorate with markers.

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

You can also save those brown paper bags that you get throughout the year to use as wrapping. I have a stash of all shapes and sizes from very tiny to fairly large. These are fabulous because they're quick and easy! I usually punch holes in the top and use a twig or a piece of ribbon to close it. I think a stick of peppermint would nice as well or maybe a pencil or something useful.

Brown Paper Packages Tied up with String

This is a great frugal way to save on wrapping expenses and to keep extra things from being produced and purchased simply to throw away or recycle. I find that when I gift a gift wrapped this way, people tend to stop and take notice. Perhaps it will make them consider doing the same the next time they have to wrap a gift.

What kind of wrapping do you use in your household? Any great ideas for saving money in this area or for creative wrapping options?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Homemade Jerky

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I have a few hard to buy for omnivores on my Christmas list and the other day the idea of homemade jerky popped into my head. Making jerky was a hit-or-miss affair at my house, and I never really liked the end result or the ingredients in the recipes. And then one day I happened upon a fine blog and an even finer jerky recipe (among all his other fine recipes.) It was like a fairy tale, the meat princess finds her true love...a jerky recipe with all natural ingredients and actually ingredients I have on hand all the time.

Getting this recipe has allowed me to look at all those meat cuts I ordered with good intentions, but never got around to just yet. You know the ones, when your next order of beef comes in and you still have the odd things here and there. This recipe has also been a god-send to our beef customers too. Who wants to take carefully raised grassfed beef and dump Liquid Smoke on it? Not me and certainly not my customers.

I have tweaked this a little since the first batch, and Kevin has too, so I will post the recipe as it was when I started making it and will put my changes in bold. It's a great recipe that lends itself to monkeying with and the batches may turn out different but all are good, and be forewarned once you start making it, you better hide it or resign yourself to the fact that you will be making jerky often enough to become proficient.

In Kevin's words: "I’ve made a fair whack of jerky, both in the oven and over wood fire, sweet-glazed versions, plain versions, smoked and unsmoked. I’ve recently come across a recipe that’s worth sharing. Not only is it dang tasty, it avoids the onion/garlic powder route which even ‘Charcuterie’ suggests [a rare shortcoming of the book]:

per pound of meat [in this case, very tough 09 moose]:

1 tbsp kosher salt (Redmond Realsalt or Celtic Sea Salt)

1 tbsp soy sauce (Tamari wheat-free soy sauce)

2 tsp dark brown sugar (Rapidura)

2 cloves garlic, minced (I microplaned my garlic for more flavor)

1 tsp dried chili [optional] (Chili powder)

1 tsp cracked black pepper [optional] (not optional)

Slice meat thin and most importantly – evenly – while still partially frozen. Mix with marinade ingredients above, and refrigerate for a day or three. Dry via your method of choice. Note that jerky pieces never finish all at the same time, so you have to pull them off as they get to a texture you like."

I have had good luck drying my jerky in our wood cookstove oven, with the oven door open and a medium fire, it's a day long process to dry it and it does need going through to check for finished pieces. Smoking and any method you have at hand would work just as well.

I have found that Kevin's instructions for a day or three of marinating is best if you can hold out for the three days, the flavor is so much better, and forgiving on the thicker pieces.

If you use meat that has been languishing awhile in your freezer, trim off all fat and silver skin, or you will have old tasting jerky.

I plan about 5 days out for finished jerky. 1 day to thaw and quickly do a partial refreeze on cookie sheets for uniform slicing, then 3 days to marinate, and 1 day to dry. I tried slicing my meat when it was partially thawed to save time and I ended up with some too soft, and some too frozen, or in the case of a roast, I could not cut it while in its original shape. And the end result looked like Lizzie Borden had been hacking away at it. I decided to do the extra day.

Besides a being a homemade gift item, we have put a small jar in the vehicle emergency kit too. It's a good high protein snack to have on hand, and keeps indefinitely.

For me this has been a good way to use up so-so meat cuts that I have neglected, and the recipe is simple enough to change ingredients to suit what I may or may not have on hand - I can't wait to try Kevin's onion suggestion next!

Do you have any jerky making tips to share?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Preparing For The New Year - A Simple, Green & Frugal 2011

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Slowly but surely I find my confidence growing. I've blogged before about a little internal battle I faced, feeling like I wasn't ever going to succeed at the green or frugal life because I couldn't knit or sew and didn't have a homestead for my own chickens, bees and garden. In 2010 I finally understood the truth, there isn't one prescription for a simple, green and frugal life, in fact I imagine if there were it wouldn't be so simple!

Looking back 2010 was the year I accomplish many changes in my life that were simple, green & frugal. 2010 was the year I semi learned to knit, I canned fresh produce (under expert instruction), I volunteered overseas, I learned how to make my own shampoo & conditioner and I began using re-useable toilet paper. It is only through recognition of the little changes I made in 2010 that I'm able to think about realistic yet optimistic goals for 2011.

One of my main goals for 2011 is to drastically change how I eat. The plan is to have a whole foods year, nothing pre-packaged, everything ethically sourced and made from scratch. I hope 2011 is my vegan year, or at the very least 95% vegan with a bit of ethically sourced feta cheese from a local farmer. Yes, my name is Frugal Trenches and I have a slight addiction to feta cheese! ;-)

My simple, green and frugal goals for 2011 are:
1. Begin using a worm composter
2. Volunteer to clean up a community garden or park
3. Make my own soap
4. Follow a 100 mile diet
5. Veganism {or as near as possible!}
6. Foster dogs or cats for the local animal shelter
7. Take sewing classes
8. Give up caffeine

All are realistic and represent changes I feel I'm now ready for and looking forward to!

Some may think it is a bit early to discuss goals and plans for the new year, but one thing I've learned on this journey is that I need a "settling in period", a time to adjust to change and get my head to follow my heart. So for the month of December I'm eating vegan 5-6 days a week and reducing my caffeine. On top of that I just found a sewing class which starts in January and while I'm not taking the path of insisting from January 1 I've made all these changes in full, I'm slowly getting there one simple, green and frugal step at a time.

What are your plans for 2011? Do you set yourself & your family goals for the New Year that will help you in your simple, green and frugal journey?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Saving Time and Energy with a Pressure Cooker


by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

On Sunday night, I cooked our dinner in my pressure cooker.  Since this piece of cookware was given to me two years ago, I have used it at least twice a month and the results have always been outstanding,  just as I remember from my childhood.  My mother had a pressure cooker and preapared lots of the family meals in it.  Quick, simple and you can use very cheap cuts of meat that transform into a gourmet meal. 

Anyway, the meat was so tender, the tastes amazing, and it only took 30 minutes (once the pressure built up) to cook the meal! 

Before I cooked the first meal, I had to season the cooker by boiling 2 litres of milk and 3 litres of water. Apparently, because it is aluminium, this boiling of milk/water seals it and stops the stains from forming.


I started out simple and made a Beef Stew, with seasonal vegetables. Here is the recipe from memory, as I whipped it up on the fly when I cooked it.
Gavin's Beef Stew

500gm Stewing Steak or any cheap cut of red meat, 2 cm cubes
3 large potatoes, diced 2 cm cubes
1 stick of celery, chopped coarsely
1 large onion, slices
3 large carrots, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
100gm mushrooms, sliced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 litre beef stock, low sodium
3 tablespoons cornflour
3 tablespoons gravy powder
1 half cup water
2 tablespoons oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil, add onion, garlic, rosemary and celery to soften. Add beef and brown. Add remaining vegetables and stock, seal pressure cooker, and cook for 30 minutes from when the control valve starts to jiggle, reduce heat so valve just moves. After 30 minutes, turn off heat, reduce pressure as per cooker instructions and remove lid. Make a paste out of water, cornflour, gravy powder and thicken stew. Bring to boil with lid off, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes and crusty bread. Serves 6 with sufficient seconds!

A fantastically simple meal, and it was very hearty on a cold Sunday evening after working in the garden all day. I could not believe how tender the meat was, especially after only cooking for 30 minutes. Kim was very impressed, because she is normally put off by beef because of its chewiness. Normally that type of steak would take at least 90 minutes to get to that stage in the oven. The vegetables all kept their natural favour and were really distinct in the mouth, with the potato breaking down just enough to help thicken the stew.

This type of cooking is not only energy efficient (I cooked on the medium gas ring on the lowest setting), but you can utilise the cheapest cuts of meat, and they will be tender in no time. I reckon that even game, such as kangaroo and emu would become very tender in a short time. Every time I have attempted to cook roo it has been tough as old boots! I might give it another go now.


I also found heaps of recipes on the net.  The model I have is a SILAMPOS Classic aluminium 10 litre which is made in Portugal.  It was simple to figure out how it worked and the instruction manual was easy to understand. I would recommend this cookware to anyone who wants to lock in nutrition, and to cook meals quicker without resorting to processed fast food.

Since I bought this energy saving cooking pot, I have used it to make  many  great meals that have warmed the cockles of my family's heart.



Do you know any simple pressure cooker recipes that you would like to share?

Monday, December 6, 2010

(modified) Pretzels

by Francesca
FuoriBorgo


pretzels 1


When I wrote about Batch Baking, I mentioned making pretzels, and a few of you asked how I make them. I make soft pretzels, which are traditionally made from a simple dough of flour, yeast, water and (usually) some butter, which is cut and rolled into strips that are looped in the distinctive pretzel shape, then boiled, sprinkled with salt, and baked. They are very easy to make, but a little time-consuming, because there are several steps involved. Pretzels make tasty snacks, and when stored in an air-tight container, they keep well for several days.



There are a number of excellent pretzel recipes online. I particularly like this traditional Bavarian Pretzel recipe, which has measurements both in metrics and cups, and also explains how you can have pretzels with a tall beer and white sausage slathered with sweet mustard as a mid-morning breakfast - I must remember to try that tomorrow morning!



However, I've made some changes to the original Bavarian Pretzel recipe. The flour I use is a mix of ⅔ whole wheat and ⅓ all-purpose flour, and I use a little extra-virgin olive oil to make the dough more elastic (though most pretzel recipes call for butter, this particular one has no butter or fat at all). Also, in line with our family's effort to reduce salt consumption, I don't sprinkle them with pure salt, but include sea salt, sesame seeds and fresh thyme in an egg glaze, and I spoon it over the pretzels before baking.



So, here's the recipe for my modified Bavarian Pretzels:


pretzel 2


INGREDIENTS

Pretzel dough:


150 grams all purpose flour
350 grams whole wheat flour (total flour approx 4½ cups)
1 ½ cups warm water (approx)
1 package active dry yeast
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp brown sugar
½ tsp sea salt



For boiling:


saucepan half-full of water
baking soda (2 tbs per 1 cup of water)



Egg glaze:


4 tbs sesame seeds
½ tsp fresh thyme
4 tbs coarse sea salt
1 egg white



Stir the brown sugar and yeast into the warm water, letting the yeast dissolve. Add the all-purpose and whole wheat flours and the oil, and knead until the dough feels smooth. It should be firm and elastic, but not sticky. Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a dish-cloth, let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.



Line 2 or 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Add baking soda to water, bring the water to a boil. Pre-heat oven to 220C/450F.



Make the egg glaze: in a small electric mixer, combine seeds, thyme and salt, pulse a couple of times, add to the egg white, and beat well with a fork. (NOTE: the thyme may turn intense green during baking, probably as a reaction to the traces of baking soda on the pretzel's surface).



Divide the dough into 8 parts, roll out with your hands or on a work surface, and shape as a pretzel. To do this, you make a U shape, then take the ends, cross them over each other, and press them on the bottom of the U.



Place the pretzels in the boiling water one at a time, and leave for about 30 seconds each. They will puff up nicely as they boil. Scoop out each pretzel and place on a cookie sheet.



Spoon the egg glaze over the pretzels. Bake until golden brown (about 10 minutes).



PS Because in my family we are preparing to celebrate Christmas, I also modified the traditional looped pretzel shape slightly, to make a batch of holiday-shaped pretzels (here)!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Introducing myself

Aurora, at Island Dreaming.

This is my first post here; so I will take this opportunity to introduce myself. I am battling a bug at the moment, I apologise that this is short and photo-light.

I have always been interested in environmental issues. My university education was focused upon the technical aspects of solving various environmental problems - waste management, contaminated land and water resource management. Throughout my degree I had begun to feel unease at a huge disconnect between the science and sustainability of the ever more complex solutions being promoted. It was during this period that I began to read about peak oil, resource depletion and climate change. Several books I read at this time were focused on how societies as a whole choose to sink or swim - and that those that add more and more layers of complexity to solve their spiralling problems tend to sink. All of this made sense to me, but offered me little direction for making a positive difference with my life.

The arrival of our son in 2008 spurred us to action. The last two years we have focused mainly upon our finances and a push to pay off our debts and start saving for the future. At the same time we have begun to learn and relearn old skills. Sometimes these save us money - cooking with wholefoods, brewing beer and wine making. We have begun to declutter the house and streamline our activities so that we can make the most of our time together. In the year ahead I would like to focus more on the garden, energy usage and our wider environmental impact. I now know that the only way forward is if every household and individual takes responsibility for their own consumption habits and recognises when enough is enough.

In the time since I graduated, the world has spun into financial chaos, oil and food prices have seen increasing volatility and austerity budgets are sweeping the western world. Inspite of all of this, I sometimes wonder if I have made the right decision. Sometimes I wonder if I am too frugal, if we are depriving our son by ploughing all of our resources into debt repayments and savings; and if we just maybe wouldn't be better off blowing a credit card on a family holiday to Disneyland. These moments pass, as 24 hour rolling news confirms my suspisions that we as a species are coming to some kind of crossroads that it would be wise to be prepared for.

I write about our everyday lives, experiments, failures and any passing thoughts I may have on these topics. I look forward to participating in the community here and sharing ideas for a more sustainable world.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reusable Present Wrappings

I started a new job today, and just remembered it's my turn to write here. My brain is a bit overloaded at the moment, so I hope you don't mind if I just re-post one of mine from a couple of years ago - the information is still timely and useful:

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I'm not talking about re-using wrapping paper, although it can be done. Young mothers-to-be used to carefully undo the wrapping on their baby shower gifts so as to reuse the pretty paper as drawer liners in the nursery. Creases could be removed from ribbons by running them around a hot lightbulb, but that won't work with the cool swirled tubes that are now in my lamp fixtures (although a quick pass with a warm iron would still work). I'm also not talking about the advice you'll see in just about every home magazine to "make the wrapping part of the gift." However, that is a good idea, especially if you're sending presents off to somewhere else.

What I'm talking about is starting some kind of tradition within your own home. My in-laws had a couple of brightly-printed Disney garment boxes that would end up under the tree every year. I have them now. They fold down flat for storage along with the rest of the Christmas stuff, and are the perfect size to hold a book or new shirt - no wrapping required. Gift bags, too, get used year after year.

You probably have your own traditional gift wrappers already - the kids' stockings you hang up every year as part of your decor. So now, just expand that idea a little farther. I know Julie, one of my co-writers here, wrote about sewing re-usable fabric gift bags not too long ago. Of course, she might have to tie some good knots into the ribbons closing them up to keep the kids from peeking, but it's a really good idea. If you're not a sewer, you might be able to do the same thing next year with Christmas pillowcases found on the January clearance sale tables. Canning jars are also great re-usable packaging - whether giving home-canned preserves or gifts in a jar. Maybe your recipient will reuse them, or let them know they can always return the empties to you. We often come home to find empty jars, ale bottles, and egg cartons left by our front door.

We have one more option here at our house. Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of Christmas tins. Some are used year round - the red one holds buttons, a tall popcorn tin holds toys for when friends with young children stop by to visit. During the rest of the year, some of them make crush- and dust-proof storage containers for my lights and Christmas linens; others all nest, one inside the other like Russian dolls, for storage. But at Christmas time, they all end up under the tree - so many that I purposely leave the bottom tier of branches in the box to have enough room (that's Aries' first bicycle, down out of the garage rafters, completing the display). Some will periodically end up on my kitchen counter through the season, holding home-baked goodies until I put together little gifts for the neighbors. But others we use to hold our gifts to each other. Of course, we're adults here, operating (I hope) on the honor system. If you pick up a tin to use, and there's something already in it, it goes back under the tree until Christmas. No peeking!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Homemade Dog and Cat Food


Over the last year or two, I have periodically made a few batches of homemade dog and cat food, but my husband and I have fallen back into our old habit of commercially prepared pet food. But since the year is coming to an end, I'm trying to decide what my New Year's resolution will be. Committing myself to preparing more homemade dog and cat food is one of the largest contenders.

I suppose I've been thinking so much about this lately because of my strange little kitten. A few weeks ago I had roasted up some winter squash that I grew, and my kitten went bonkers, begging for bites of it. And then, the other day I roasted up some sweet potatoes and was curious to find out if the cat likes sweet potatoes. Once again, the cat went nuts for it. He devoured it like it was a slab of juicy turkey (which I also fed him on Thanksgiving).

Anyway, this cat's strange food habits got me thinking once again about pet food and whether or not I should try to make more of an effort. There's many reasons that I think it is a good a idea, but here is a few thoughts for you to ponder:

Expense: Have you stopped to consider the price of dog and cat food recently? Sheesh! Bagged dog and cat food averages around $1.00/pound. And canned pet food is similarly priced, but the price includes the cost of watery gravy.

Waste: if your cat or dog eats mainly wet food, you know how quickly those cans pile up! 

Ingredients: In her book Food Pets Die For, Ann Martin exposes what the ingredients truly are in pet food. I'm not sure I want to go in detail here, but I will tell you that what she uncovered was pretty disgusting. You are welcome to check out my book review for more information. 

Preparing homemade pet food seems so daunting and obscure. But its really not that difficult. There's tons of recipes all over the internet, but I'm not much of a recipe follower.

According to the above-mentioned book, dog recipes should consist of roughly 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbohydrates (rice, oats, bread, beans, etc.), 1/3 fruits and vegetables (finely chopped or ground), and a tablespoon or so of oil each day. For cats, she says the general guide is 2/3 meat and 1/3 grain, vegetables, or fruit. She adds vitamin E and C, which you can purchase in pet supply stores and follow directions on the label (or consult her book). She grinds her food up so that the cats and dogs don't pick out the good parts and leave the rest. She also has many recipes in her book.

She did mention that some dogs do have allergies to eggs. I have read elsewhere that salmon is also allergenic to some dogs. 

This is a great time for me to prepare some homemade dog and cat food, as I have so many leftovers still from Thanksgiving. I'm just going to freeze extra portions to use for later dates.

So what do you think? Have you ever prepared your own pet food? Do you follow any strict recipes or do you just wing it?

By the way, I am giving away a copy of Michael Pollan's Food Rules on my blog. Stop by and leave me a comment for a chance to win a copy.