Monday, 31 January 2011

Saving money in the kitchen

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

The spectre of food price inflation has reared its head once again in the last few months, which can be a daunting prospect for those managing already tight budgets. Most of us do not stand completely defenceless however. The kitchen is a place where an awful lot of fat can be trimmed, so to speak. In the process of writing this post I have begun to twig the full scope of this subject and the scale of the adjustments that we have made over time to cut our food budget down to size; this is a list of starting points that each warrant a post in themselves.

Over the last few years we have begun to:

Cook from scratch - using quality, nutrient dense raw ingredients. It is much cheaper to invest in some basic ingredients than processed foods. Processed foods may look cheap gram for gram, but they certainly won’t be in terms of nutritional value.

Stock a basic pantry – impulse food purchases often stem from feeling that you have nothing in for dinner, or that you fancy something sweet and toothsome. Making sure that your pantry includes ingredients to rustle up a quick meal or baked goodies will lessen the urge to go shopping. Your pantry will probably change with the seasons, but some basics will always stand you in good stead. Draw up a list of what you have now, what you use regularly and what seem to run out of most frequently; and plan your shopping from that.
Ask ‘Could I live without that?’ - Some people are born gourmets; but novelty doesn’t always come cheap. A food budget is a lot easier to manage if you can be creative with a few versatile staple ingredients and seasonings. Rosewater, whole tamarinds, dried apricots and bottled sour cherries are just some of the things that seemed like a good idea at the time but will never grace our shelves again. That said, a willingness to try new foods is a good thing, meaning that you can capitalise on special offers and gluts. If you are willing to try new flavours and textures you will be able to make the most of the food that comes your way. Now is the time to get over any food prejudices that you may have.

Plan meals – planning helps you to use food when it is freshest. It also allows you to make the most of leftovers; the remains of a Sunday roast can stretch to several meals through the week and a big pot of soup will cover a few lunches. Knowing which days you need to soak beans on, defrost meats, prepare packed lunches or buy fresh vegetables will save a lot of time and money. This is one area where I am disappointed with our progress, as when we have managed it for a week or more we have saved a lot of time and money.

Control portions – many people don’t know what a healthy portion of pasta or cheese or vegetables looks like and may consume far more than they need, or leave it on their plates. This can turn into quite an expensive (and unhealthy) habit.

Plan our shop – my own method is to ‘stockpile’ a few months worth of basics which we buy online (where I am less likely to impulse buy); and to buy perishables from local shops as we need them. The general advice to never shop on an empty stomach, to wise up to the marketing tactics of retailers and to stick to a shopping list is all golden, too.

Eat less meat – not necessarily give it up, unless you are that way inclined, but eat it less frequently. I have friends that barely go a meal without including meat (they feel that it wouldn't actually be a meal without it); an expensive rut to be stuck in. Learning to cook with pulses, tofu, dairy and eggs will lead to many satisfying, frugal meals.

'Bulk out' meals – adding lentils, grains or extra vegetables to meat dishes such as lasagne; and pairing expensive ingredients with complementary cheaper ones will stretch your resources further.

Learn how to store food – Everyone at one time or the other has let lettuce turn to mush at the bottom of the fridge or left half open packets of grain to attract mites. You do not need expensive kilner jars and Tupperware. Old food jars, plastic milk cartons, old crockery and ice cream tubs will all work fine. 
Watch our fuel consumption – some methods of cooking and food storage are fuel intensive. Cook one-pot dishes, or several foods in one pan, as much as possible. Lids, or even dinner plates balanced on top, save a lot of energy and mean  that you can use a lower flame. If you use the oven, fill it with several dishes to optimise energy use. The more adventurous might want to consider fuel-less cooking methods such as hay boxes and solar ovens, or eschewing electric 'labour savers' or even fridges altogether. In addition, consult your appliance manuals for optimizing energy usage. My own freezer apparently works best when stuffed full, but my fridge is better left with space for air to circulate.

There are thousands of resources out there on this topic, not least many of the kitchen and budgeting posts here at the Coop. One of the best UK sites on food waste, Love Food Hate Waste gives useful information on portion sizes, using leftovers and storing foods optimally. I suspect that most of the best information however will not be on the web, but in old home economics books from more austere eras, ready to be retrieved in the nick of time as domestic budgeting becomes an important skill once again. I know that readers here will have many hints, methods and reading lists of their own to share, so please leave a comment if you have something to add.

    Sunday, 30 January 2011

    5 signs that its time to declutter

    by Eilleen
    Hello everyone,

    I hope the weekend is treating you well. Readers of my personal blog would know that I moved house last month. Someone once told me that moving house is right up there on the list of major stresses in life. And having done it recently, I think one of the causes of this stress is that its one of the few times in life when our stuff-overload blindness (SOB) is ripped off and we see how much stuff we actually have. To save you from clicking on the link, SOB is basically my ramblings on how we use stuff to project our identity but we don't actually see how much stuff we (or others) have.

    When I prepared for my move, I was very surprised at how much stuff I had accumulated in the two years since I started my new life as a sole parent. (I started my new life with only a bed, dining room table, kettle, iron and ironing board.)

    I had accumulated so much so that I ended up having to declutter again. The declutter consisted of:
    • 1 commercial van load of stuff given away
    • 1 commercial van load of stuff I sold
    • 2 full car loads of stuff sent to the op shop (charity shop)
    Those who have been to my old place (you can see my old place starting from this post) have often commented on how uncluttered my house is. Despite that, I *still* found - if not exactly clutter - then excess stuff I don't/barely use.

    So now I've realised that in order to keep to the level of "decluttered-ness" that I'm happy with, I have to regularly declutter. And I've realised that the time to declutter (for me) is now. Why?


    1. I'm realising that there are now too many instances when I can't find things that I know I have.
    2. I am spending a lot of time thinking of storage solutions (do I really need that much storage?).
    3. The kids are finding it difficult to keep track of their stuff and to keep their rooms tidy.
    4. I keep tripping over stuff.
    5. I am starting to feel overwhelmed at what I have to clean-up/tidy-up at the end of the day.

    Now I know that my current state of clutter is partly due to the fact that I still have stuff from my old (and bigger) place which don't really fit into my new (and smaller) place. But really, to determine what else has to go its time I take heed of the signs and start decluttering.

    So for the month of February, I hope to get rid of a whole heap of stuff. Wish me luck!

    My living room in my new house (and yes, I have put the Christmas tree away for now)

    Friday, 28 January 2011

    Storing Fresh Greens

    by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
    I've read that families, on average, throw out one-third of the food they buy. That's like going grocery shopping with $100, and just tossing $30 into the wind before you enter the store! Most of what is thrown out is because of poor planning or improper storage of produce and leftovers; things go bad before we can eat them. Besides being a waste of your money, it's also a waste of the resources needed to grow, package, and transport that food.

    I grow quite a bit of our fresh produce. Stretching the fresh-eating time for various produce is sort of a hobby for me - I like experimenting (which is why I still have a couple of eggplants and a zucchini, grown last summer, in January). Plus, I have to admit - I'm a bit lazy when it comes to putting up food. I like it when I find ways to preserve food that doesn't involve heating up the kitchen with boiling water in the heat of summer, or fill up the little freezer compartment of our refrigerator. So I'm always interested when I read about low-energy storage methods, or hear a bit of folklore about bygone ways of keeping foods fresh.

    A thrift-store find was my key for finding the best way to keep fresh greens like lettuce and spinach. Whenever I'm in a thrift store, I gravitate to the linens department. I have a special weakness for old hand-embroidered cotton tea towels and pillowcases, linen napkins and tablecloths. Years ago, I found a strange little x-shaped piece of cotton lawn, its scalloped edge finished with buttonhole stitch. The decorative embroidery gave me a clue as to its intended use. "Lettuce," it said, and I realized it was just the right size and shape to wrap up a head of lettuce.

    I'd always seen lettuce and other greens in the stores sold wrapped in plastic. So I'd always thought that was the way to store greens in the refrigerator, even though it didn't work very well. Parts left of whole heads would turn brown and wilt, cut greens would get slimy. My embroidered lettuce wrapper is way too pretty to use in the refrigerator. Pressed with a bit of spray starch, I use it in my kitchen as a decorative cover for my little coffee maker. But it did give me the idea for a better way to store fresh greens.

    I started experimenting using some old ripped or stained, but clean, cotton tea towels. Greens wrapped in cloth alone, and stored in the veggie crisper drawer of my refrigerator, still wilted. But greens wrapped in a thin towel and then in plastic, kept nicely.

    So now, that's what I do. Fresh-cut greens, right out of my garden in the summer, keep best. Besides obviously being fresher than anything from the store, I think organically grown produce, in general, keeps better (I'm not going to try growing things laden with chemicals to test this hypothesis, however). But this method works quite well with wintertime purchased greens too.

    A couple of years ago, I bought an 8-pack of green plastic produce storage bags. I've reused those same bags hundreds of times. I take care not to puncture them, closing them only by twisting or tucking the open end underneath, hand-wash and air-dry after each use. I like the convenience of having salad and sandwich greens ready to use throughout the week. So, in summer, I'll cut a big bunch of greens, wash them in a sink filled with cold water, and country-spin them dry (which means scooping the clean, wet greens out of the sink, loading them into a wire basket, and then taking that outside to "spin" the water off by windmilling it up and around overhead; stop, fluff the greens mashed into the bottom of the basket by the centrifugal force, and then give it another vigorous go-round with the other arm). Wrapped in a clean tea towel (be forewarned, the towels can suffer some green staining on occasion - best to keep some just for veggies, others reserved for drying dishes or decoration), then in a bag and refrigerated, the greens stay crisp and green, and are easy to take out as needed. In winter, I store greens purchased during my monthly grocery shopping trip the same way.

    Want to stop wasting food and money? This website has recipes and more tips to make the most of the food you buy.

    Monday, 24 January 2011

    Houseplants for Clean Air

    by Chiot's Run

    Many of us spend a lot of time indoors, particularly this time of year here in the northern climates. We can't open windows and the air inside can get a little stale. You've probably hear that the air in our homes can often be more polluted than the air outside, due to cleaning products, chemicals released into the air by furniture and building materials. Formaldehyde is found in just about all indoor areas. It is used in just about everything now, especially pressed wood and particle board but also comes from things like: carpet, clothing, fire retardants, etc. Other sources come from our heating systems and cigarette smoke. This formaldehyde can cause eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, as well as headaches, dermatitis and allergy problems. It is also linked to a rare type of lung cancer. The scary thing is that formaldehyde is only one type of indoor pollution we also have to worry about: benzene, xylene and toluene and I'm sure more we don't know about yet.
    My Indoor Garden
    Of course you could get a pricey air cleaner that uses electric and that's most likely made out of plastic, which ironically will probably offgas chemicals into your home while it cleans the air. Houseplants do a much better job and do it for free (after purchase of course, but you can get them free often if you know someone that has a few, most are quite easy to propagate). One potted plant will clean roughly a 100 square foot space in the average home or office. I live in a 1000 sq foot home and I have a plant in each room, 15 in the living room, 7 in the kitchen/dining and about 15 in the basement to help clean the air down there.
    Houseplants and Clean Air
    Certain plants work better than other things at cleaning the air in our homes. Different plants help clean different chemicals out of the air, so it's beneficial to have a variety of plants. You can even have plants that are edible so you get food as they clean the air.
    Houseplant and Clean Air
    Here's a list of a few plants and the chemicals they each clean out of the air.

    Boston fern, golden pothos, philodendron, and spider plants reduce levels of formaldehyde.

    Areca palm, moth orchid, and the dwarf date palm can remove xylene and toluene.

    Gerbera daisy, chrysanthemum, spider plants and peace lily can remove benzene.

    Other beneficial houseplants include: bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, English ivy, indoor dracaena species and the snake plant (also known as mother-in-law's tongue).
    Houseplants and Clean Air
    I have always had houseplants (probably because I grew up in a jungle of houseplants). The pothos in the first photo was on the stage at our wedding, and it's been cleaning the air in our various homes for the past 13 years. I also have a dwarf citrus, a few other pothos that I've propagated from this mother plant, baby tears, mother-in-law's tongue, dumb cane, a few ivy plants, aloe, a few succulents, and a collection of herbs including: lemon thyme, seasoning celery, parsley, rosemary, lemongrass, lemon geranium, lemon verbena, and a few more. We have houseplants not just to clean the air, they also provide some much needed green in the our home during the dark snowy winters in Ohio which is good for the soul!

    Do you have houseplants? Are they for cleaning the air or for enjoyment?

    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.

    Blending Old and New Traditions

    by Throwback at Trapper Creek

    Times change and people pass away, and many times celebrations and family traditions are lost to the progression of time. I grew up in a family with several birthdays and anniversaries that were around the Christmas and New Year holidays. I noticed as a child that special efforts were made by my mother to differentiate those special days from the hub-bub that surrounds that time of year.

    When you start a family you don't think of such things much, or at least I didn't. And then my daughter was born on my deceased mother's birthday - 3 weeks late. So now I had the task of making my daughters birthday her special day, and not go on and on about a grandmother she would never know. We also didn't want to go the route that many of our friends were taking with elaborate birthday parties and over the top gifts, we wanted to keep the day simple and special.

    At our house the person whose birthday it is gets to pick the meal, (I usually pick someone else cooking it!) And sometimes we go out for a lunch combined with a shopping trip to a store of the celebrant's choice. Over the years for our daughter's birthday we have went antique shopping, to a reenactors fair, used book store and this year we went to a leather store for some tack supplies.

    Establishing new traditions was important but keeping some old traditions going too was significant. My brother was born during WWII on Christmas Eve, times were tough and goods hard to come by. To differentiate my brother's birthday from the usual dinner and gift giving, my aunt and uncle gave him a very large candle for his first birthday. December 24th was also my aunt and uncle's wedding anniversary. A special night. The big birthday candle was always the centerpiece and was lit before dinner. We never thought about the candle, except to dig it out and light it for dinner and put it out later and pack it away again for the next year. The candle would flicker, and melt and get shorter and shorter. We always joked and speculated about how long would that candle last anyway? Sometimes the candle would burn until the wee hours of the morning, it seemed like it would last forever. Sometimes forever is not very long. My brother was diagnosed with cancer, and we started fretting about burning that candle on Christmas Eve - we didn't light it until we sat down to eat, and we quickly put it out as soon as presents were opened. No one had a plan, we just did it. We quit joking about the candle lasting. Somehow we thought if we didn't use it up, my brother would not be used up either. Secretly we all wished we hadn't let that candle flicker for hours on end in years past. But, it didn't turn out that way - my brother passed away 21 years ago, and the candle is still here.

    We burned my brother's candle on his birthday until my mom died, and then I stopped using it. But, I really liked the tradition of the gigantic birthday candle, and the memories that surrounded it. In keeping with old and new, we bought our daughter a huge candle for her first birthday. May it burn for many years keeping a simple birthday tradition alive.

    Please share traditions you have kept or shed in your family celebrations.

    Saturday, 22 January 2011

    Eleven Ways To Reduce Waste In 2011

    By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

    This year I'm fine tuning a few of my routines, beginning new challenges and trying to be purposeful about reducing waste. Here are the top 11 ways I'm reducing waste in 2011!

    1. I've begun vermicomposting in my urban apartment! I have a box full of red worms which eat all my kitchen scraps! I was a tad nervous in the beginning, but it has been exceptionally easy! As I don't have a garden to compost this is the perfect solution!

    2. I use re-usable batteries and charge them up as needed!

    3. I take my own bags to the grocery shop

    4. I have stopped buying plastic wrapped fruit & veg as much as possible, taking my own bags to place produce in. When I do have to buy something pre-wrapped, I re-use the wrapping

    5. If I'm going out for coffee or tea {rare!} I try to remember to bring my own thermos or re-usable cup

    6. I use reusable toilet paper {and after a few months it seems 100% normal now, so much so I'll talk about it in conversation and not remember 99.9% of people have no clue what I mean!!}

    7. I use reusable feminine products!

    8. I don't use any paper towels for cleaning or kitchen messes

    9. Before I throw something away I check that I can't donate it

    10. I try not to buy anything that can't be recycled or composted!

    11. I've gone paperless with all my bills and statements!

    I'm amazed that 11 simple steps have basically brought me to a place of not having garbage, or at the very least a very small amount of rubish each week. On top of that I save a huge amount of money by making these small changes in my life!

    How do you cut down on waste? Do you find the measures you take save you money too?

    Friday, 21 January 2011

    Managing the Wardrobes of Growing Children

    Posted by Bel
    From Spiral Garden

    I recently tidied the boys’ wardrobes and found that Bryce had outgrown most of his clothes, some hardly worn! So onto eBay this week to buy some bulk lots of clothes for him… Each year, I have bought bundles of up to 20 items for under $50, a lot of them quality brand names, all clean, as-new and perfect for a growing child!

    I normally have a small notebook in my handbag. I record in it items of clothing the children need, or will need next season. Each child (I have six) has a page, and on their page I'll have notes like "size 2 gumboots", "size 10 tshirts" etc. This way, when I spot a sale or I'm at an op shop, I can check if items are on the list and double-check sizes.

    We are blessed to have several family friends with children older than ours. They send big bags of hand-me-downs our way and we go through them and pass some on to other families. Within our homeschooling network in particular, there are often bags of clothes being passed back and forth. At some of our homeschooling Mum's meetings we have a swap table where everyone dumps some clothing, books or other items which are free for others to take and keep. Because we live on a farm, it's great to have pre-worn clothes for the kids to wear outside in the mud - no fuss or bother about dirty or ripped clothing.

    The quality of clothing on eBay, in op shops and hand-me-down bags is so high that you'd never know it isn't new. Our children are clean, neat and tidy, reasonably fashionable and happy with their eclectically-sourced wardrobes.

    Sometimes I also alter the children's last-season winter clothes so they fit for one more year. With fleecy clothes and flannel pyjamas, I sew a band of contrasting fleece onto each sleeve, and the bottom hem of the top, and either onto the knee section, or the bottom hems of the pants. Skirts can also have a contrasting band sewn onto their hems, for extra length. This is great for clothing which will only be worn at home, and for toddlers who don't mind!

    I very rarely need to buy new items of clothing for our children - some underwear, swimwear, something nice for a special occasion and sports shoes are the items I buy new (hopefully at the end-of-season sales, at heavily discounted prices). Shopping like this for kids' clothes is great for the budget, and the environment!

    Do (or did) you have children to clothe? What are your tips? What about school and sport uniforms for growing bodies?

    Monday, 17 January 2011

    Pickled Eggs and Be Prepared Challenge

    by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

    What do you do when you have so many eggs, that you can't give them away.  Well you pickle them of course! The first batch I ever made is long gone now, but you can see them top right in this photo.

    When I have a glut of eggs and they are a few weeks old, this is how I preserve them so they last a bit longer.  They taste absolutely divine with a bread and butter cucumbers and a sharp cheddar cheese.
    Here is how I make them.  I found the recipe in a very old pickling book from the library a couple of years ago (sorry, can’t remember the title of the book).
    Pickled Eggs

    12 hard boiled eggs, shelled and cooled
    2.5 cups white wine vinegar
    1 tablespoon pickling spice
    small piece of orange rind, about 5cm long
    3 cloves garlic, peeled

    Prepare the eggs.  Place the vinegar, pickling spice, orange rind and garlic in a saucepan.  Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and leave until mixture is completely cold.
    Meanwhile, put eggs in clean, sterilised jars with a screw lid.  When the vinegar is cold, strain it over the eggs, making sure they are completely covered with liquid.  Screw the lids on tightly and store for at least 6 weeks to allow the flavour of the pickled eggs to develop. 

    Enjoy on their own or with cheese and pickled cucumber for an authentic Ploughman's lunch.
    I hope you get a chance to whip up a batch.  I really like them.

    Oh, and while I am here, don't forget to pop on over and have a look at the 'Be Prepared Challenge' over at my blog that I am conducting in conjunction with another blogger friend dixiebelle for the next 4 weeks.  This challenge is in response to requests for more information about emergency preparedness, and to help raise awareness that we can all be a little bit more prepared for the worst in these troubled times.


    SGF International Seed Catalog List

    by Francesca

    Thank you very much for all your input and help in compiling an SGF International Seed Catalog List with links to the sites. Below is a list of catalogs by country, in no particular order, based on your recommendations. Some of these catalogs don't ship abroad because of customs restrictions on importing seeds, but the aim of this list is to become a useful reference tool for gardeners around the world, primarily to find good and reliable seed supplies in their own area.

    If you have more suggestions, please leave them in the comment section, and I'll include them soon.


    ABSeeds (large selection of chilli seeds)
    The Real Seed Catalogue


    Seed Savers Exchange
    Sustainable Seed Co (large selection of organic and heirloom seeds)
    Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
    Burpee Gardening
    Seeds from Italy
    Territorial Seed Company
    Eden Organic Nursery (seeds from around the world)
    Seeds of Change
    Fedco Seeds
    Abundant Life Seeds
    Peaceful Valley Farm
    Horizon Herbs
    High Mowing Organic Seeds
    Pinetree Garden Seeds
    Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
    Victory Seeds
    Wood Prairie Farm
    Johnny's Selected Seeds


    Heritage Harvest Seeds
    Salt Spring Seeds


    Green Harvest
    Cornucopia Seeds & Plants
    Eden Seeds


    Fratelli Ingegnoli
    Arcoiris sementi biologiche e biodinamiche

    Sunday, 16 January 2011

    Starting a new garden, slowly

    By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

    I have started a few gardens in my time. My first was a borage patch in a plastic pot on my windowsill. Then I started a chili pepper garden in our old studio flat. When we finally upgraded to a house with a patio, I expanded to a few tomato plants, some salad leaves, herbs and a potato plant. As you can tell, I am quite the expert gardener. Quite.

    Delusions of green-fingered prowess aside, I am all too aware that I am a novice. I have managed to keep plants alive and I have even harvested a few edible morsels from my modest container gardens over the years. But container gardening a small space has frustrations of its own, the supreme one being that the scope for experimentation and skill development is quite low. Having now acquired a 75m square allotment plot, I am well aware that I will have to cast aside my vision of having an intensively productive, beautiful and ecological plot within the space of a year.

    One golden rule I have come across time and time again in permaculture books is 'to observe' - which sounds quite dull when you are shut up inside, longing for a time when you can take action. Now much of what we had planned for the plot has actually been abandoned as we spend time on it. We have a blank canvas in effect; but our plot has limitations, dictated by the soil and climate and by the rules of our tenancy agreement. Instead of our planned quick fixes, a longer term approach to planning our plot is now taking shape.

    In recent weeks, with food price inflation and threatened fuel blockades on the horizon, the desire to produce calories as efficiently and cheaply as possible has subsumed other considerations. After quiet reflection, I realise that a small plot is not going to be much defence against these issues; and a plot born of a love of organic tasty ingredients rather than a fear of hunger has once again begun to take shape.

    As well as being organic and productive, we would like to experiment with lower-yield but unusual varieties. We would like the plot to be an educational space for our son where he can explore greenery and creepy crawlies and learn to garden. We would like to be as self sufficient in water, compost, nutrients and plants as possible. A sociable space with room for a few fold up chairs and a picnic rug would also be welcome at the end of a hard day.  All of this needs far more forethought than knocking together a few raised beds and planting high yield crops with abandon.

    It it also means that we can relax a little. There is no rush and there is no need to get everything right the first time (although not breaking the spade in the first week would have made for a more productive start). We can experiment and make mistakes and when we have observed how the sun moves across the sky and the wildlife and the elements ruin our best efforts over the next year, we will be in a position to make some more permanent decisions.

    Friday, 14 January 2011

    The Confetti Bean Jar

    by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
    My favorite market has a bulk foods section. Buying my dry beans and grains there saves me money, especially when compared to buying beans by the can, couscous by the little cardboard box, or oatmeal in individual packets (less packaging waste too!). Once home, I store most things in a variety of glass jars. It's easy to find and use things, plus I can see when I'm getting low on something. Besides, having everything in sight, as opposed to stuffed into a dark cupboard, makes it that much more likely I'll use it.

    I like the way it looks too - so homey - decorative, and colorful too. Dry beans, especially, come in such a variety of colors - lined up in glass jars they can almost look like art. Around here, we usually have a "legume of the week." Each weekend, I cook up a big pot of a different bean soup, and then refrigerate the leftovers. Last week, it was black-eyed peas (for New Year's); this week, black beans; next week, maybe split pea, or navy bean, or orange lentil, or ??? Legumes come in such variety, we can go for weeks without repeating. My husband heats up a bowlful each morning for breakfast on work days. Quick, warm and filling, the fiber in beans keeps his blood sugars level until lunchtime. I'll add a half sandwich for an easy lunch, or it's nice to have something readily available for dinner on days when I don't feel like cooking.

    Over time, I've developed a pretty good eye when it comes to buying in bulk. I'm pretty good at eye-balling how much will fit in the jar when I get it home. When I have a bit too many beans though, or a last little bit left in a jar before buying more, they go into the confetti bean jar. When I have at least four cups in there, I make confetti soup.

    My Confetti Soup recipe originally came as a gift in a jar. I've since adapted it to put together my own gift baskets. I layer scant cups of black, red kidney, green split peas, white great northern, and brown pinto beans in a quart jar (or just fill with all of them mixed together), and then add a seasoning packet, pint jar of home-canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, and a recipe card.

    Confetti Soup (12 first course, or 6 entree servings)

    4 cups mixed dry beans (best if some of them are split peas)
    16 oz. stewed tomatoes

    3 teaspoons beef bouillon powder
    3 tablespoons dried chopped chives
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon dried savory
    1/2 teaspoon cumin
    1/2 teaspoon pepper
    1 bay leaf

    Sort through beans and remove any stones or shriveled beans. Rinse in cold water. Soak overnight in 9 cups water (or quick-soak: heat to boiling over high heat, boil 5 minutes, remove from heat, cover, and let stand one hour). Drain soaked beans, rinse, drain again.

    To drained beans, add 8 cups water and seasoning. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 1-2 hours or until beans are tender.

    Add tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf, and serve.

    Wednesday, 12 January 2011

    Seed ordering advice

    This post is written by Amy of My Suburban Homestead, where she writes about animals, growing food and homesteading. Recently I started taking the Master Gardener course through Oregon State and am blogging about the notes that I am taking in relation to growing food. You can check that out here.

    Australia, I am thinking of you. I have seen the videos of flash floods throughout the country and hope that you all are ok.

    Advice on ordering garden seeds 

    Seed catalogs have been streaming into my mailbox and whetting my appetite for spring. If there was a 12 step meeting for vegetable seeds, I surely would be a candidate---I find the descriptions irresistible and want to plant everything I see. However, I've learned over the years that carefully selecting which seeds to grow in the garden will greatly enhance my success. Here are some thoughts for you to consider. 

    Length of Growing Season 

    Probably the most important aspect for you to consider when purchasing seed varieties is the length of your growing season. For example, there are many wonderful heirloom varieties that I would like to grow, but some of them require a very long period of warm weather to mature and I might be better off choosing a different variety. Conversely, there are some cool weather crops, such as peas and lettuce that require a period of relatively moderate temperatures to grow well. 

    So, when deciding whether or not to purchase a particular vegetable seed, you first must ask yourself this question: Is my season long enough for this particular vegetable to grow? Answering this question can be a bit complicated. Finding out which zone you live in can help you determine your period of frost-free weather for planting frost-sensitive vegetables. But there are other temperature related variables that are important as well, such as considering just how hot your daytime temperatures are likely to get, amount of rainfall (which will affect your soil temperature) or if your nights cool off significantly due to your proximity to the ocean, etc. 

    With time, the answers to these questions will come to you easily. But if you are a beginning gardener, calling the seed supplier and providing details as to your growing conditions will help them answer this question. You can also ask other gardeners, such as neighbors or gardeners on forums such as the Kitchen Gardeners forum

    Saving Money 

    I used to have a habit of buying tons of those little seed packs, which can rack up a sizable bill rather quickly. One trick I've learned is that once I've found a vegetable seed I like is to buy seed packages in larger sizes through the mail order/website suppliers. The purchase price for seeds goes down considerably when you purchase larger quantities. For example, consider the prices on this Carson Bean seed through Territorial. A one ounce package ofseed costs $2.20, but if I were to purchase a 1/2 pound package for $6.95, the price of the seeds would go down to 86 cents per pound. This could be especially advantageous if one were to go in on purchases with friends and family on seed purchases. 

    On caveat: a few seed species, such as corn and onions, do not last long. Their seed is listed to remain viable for only a year. Make sure to check the catalog. 

    Recommendations from other gardeners

    On many gardening websites, such as the Kitchen Gardener's International website, people discuss their success or failure with particular varieties. I find reviews of particular seeds to be quite helpful. The only drawback is that the gardener reviewing the seed could life in an entirely different zone and seeds may behave differently than where you intend to plant them. I have a page on my website, in which I've collected articles and reviews of particular seeds. 

    Seed Lingo

    Certain vegetables have many terms attached to them that are rarely defined and can be confusing to the uninitiated. I've written some helpful articles on my blog (listed below) to help shed light on the issue. Check out the links listed below: 
    Corn: hybrid sweet corn varieties and differences between grain types 

    Seed sources 

    A list of my favorite seed sources and descriptions of what they sell are located here.

    Happy gardening!

    Tuesday, 11 January 2011

    My Winter Garden

    by Chiot's Run

    After reading Eliot Coleman's books Four-Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook I was enthralled with the idea of being able to harvest things form my garden throughout the winter in my cold northern climate. It is difficult to find fresh local vegetables between November and May here in my area of the country.
    First Spinach Harvest

    I started my first foray into winter gardening 3 years ago and successfully harvested some spinach and kale from my garden in February. The next year I was able to grow a nice crop of carrots. This year I was a bit more ambitious and planted a few rows of leeks, an entire 4x10 bed of spinach, some onions, arugula, celery, kale, and cabbages. I made mini hoop houses for a few of my raised beds and covered them with greenhouse plastic when the cold winter hit (much earlier than normal).

    My Winter Garden in Late December

    Since I have limited garden space, winter gardening is proving to be quite a challenge. Many of the fall/winter harvested vegetables are planted in mid-summer. I have to carefully work around my spring/summer planting dates and make sure they're harvested and the ground is ready to plant again. As I expand my garden space I'll be able to grow and more winter items since I can focus on growing early spring crops or just cover crops before fall planting in the areas I want to plant fall crops. There is a benefit though to starting small and working my way up, I'm able to learn while I grow small amounts. It's simple and easy when you're only growing a raised bed or two rather than an entire garden full of things.

    My Winter Garden in Late December

    Four season gardening does have a learning curve, it's great to spend a few years observing what your fall weather and looking at how the plants respond it. The great thing is that even if I lose an entire crop of broccoli, like I did this year since the cold fall weather came a month ahead of time this year, I'm not out more than a few pennies and some time. It's also great to grow a few varieties of each crop to determine which one does best in your particular winter climate. I've got 3 varieties of spinach that I'm testing this year.

    My Winter Garden in Late December

    My carrots and beets have both done very will this year, I could have planted the carrots a bit earlier, but they were not too small, very respectable. Besides learning the proper planting times, the biggest problems I'm having to learn to deal with are the voles. They ate almost my entire beet crop and starting moving on the carrots. I was able to get the carrots harvested before they ate too many of those though. I'll be attempting to use castor beans in the summer garden and mole plants as well to see if these help with this problem.

    Harvesting Winter Carrots Winter Gardening

    I'm really enjoying learning about this aspect of edible gardening. It hasn't been easy or without failure, I'm learning a lot. I've lost entire crops of brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, carrots, beets, and other things, but since I'm growing from seed it doesn't cost that much and the knowledge gained is invaluable. When you get it right, there's nothing more satisfying than harvesting a salad in mid January or 40 pounds of carrots mid-winter.

    Winter Gardening

    My neighbors probably think I'm crazy when they see me out working in the garden all bundled up. But I'm happy to be eating a roast with my fresh carrots on the side or enjoying a handful of freshly harvested spinach thrown into the soup pot. learning to grow a little more of what I eat each year is the reason I garden and winter gardening saves me time canning/preserving in the summer!

    Have you made an attempt at winter or four season gardening? Any great tips you can share? What have you had most success with?

    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, 10 January 2011

    Gluten Freedom - Not Quite

    by Throwback at Trapper Creek

    With winter full-on in our location, comfort food and warm fires come to mind. However, a few years ago my husband's life long digestive problems required a more in-depth look. He was diagnosed with many food allergies, and foods he liked started dropping off the menu like flies. The items that gave him the worst fits were potatoes and corn or dishes with those vegetables added. Low on the allergy tests were things like yeast, sugar and egg whites. All pretty easy to avoid, unless you really, really like baked goods like breads and desserts. As foods dropped away and he was still having occasional bouts of digestive problems, his doctor suggested maybe a gluten intolerance could be still bothering him.

    Everywhere you look there are gluten free recipes for everything. For us though, that approach didn't really fit. Too many additives and things we didn't want to buy or eat just to have that brownie or bread. We - he the eater, and me the cook- decided that just cutting back would be a better approach. Since he wasn't really that gluten sensitive, maybe going back to a simpler time when desserts were actually a treat, not everyday fare, would be the way to go. Besides, cutting out sugar and refined carbs would benefit all of us.

    Expanding on the treat idea, we decided we would just have one or two items a week that contained gluten. Maybe pizza, or pie. And I pretty much quit making two crust pies, whether savory or sweet. We found we didn't miss the extra crust, and in small amounts the weekly gluten or a little yeast in a pizza crust did not cause any digestive upsets. I think if I was trying the gluten free recipes for everything we would still be eating too much sugar and other things like high calorie nut flours we don't really need and are very expensive.

    We all feel better, and realized that we were all a little sluggish with the baked goods and cereals in our diet. I realize that this won't help if you have a serious problem with gluten like celiac disease, but just a few changes in our kitchen yielded great results.

    Have you made similar changes in your cooking and eating in regards to food sensitivities and allergies?

    Sunday, 9 January 2011

    One Hundred Ways To Save Money in 2011 Part II

    By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

    Part one of this series can be found here! Hopefully people found some helpful suggestions in the previous post, today I'll be looking at another 50 suggestions!

    51. Keep 15% to 20% of your weekly grocery budget for stocking up on items when they are on sale.
    52. See what you can produce/make {hats, scarves, gloves, soap, jams etc} and organize a swap with someone else whose items you need, such as someone who keeps chickens/hens and has eggs to give away.
    53. Search for local farms and see what they sell in bulk, friends of mine buy gallons of wheat & honey for 20% of the cost the shops by purchasing it in very large quantities.
    54. Can produce in the summer.
    55. Buy bulk produce from farms in the summer and make pies, tomato sauce, crumbles, apple sauce, pear sauce. One year I made 18 apple pies,18 apple crisps and 12 peach pies and froze them!
    56. Get your pets from rescue centres, my local centre charges $50 and that includes all the vaccines needed as well as neutering/spaying and micro chipping!
    57. Keep a large stock of pet food, if you happened on lean times it is one less worry!
    58. Consider getting pet insurance!
    59. Learn to knit
    60. Learn to sew
    61. Learn to make your own shampoo & conditioner
    62. Learn to make your own soap
    63. Keep a list in your purse of household needs and always pop into second hand shops and/or garage sales to see if any of your items are available at a reasonable cost, but be strict with yourself no purchasing of anything that isn't on the list!
    64. Ask your friends if they'd be willing to sell you the clothing their child has outgrown.
    65. Organize a clothing swap with friends
    66. Attend mom to mom sales and twin sales
    67. Start a baby-sitting coop
    68. Search for any shops the specialize in second hand furniture - I bought a wonderful couch and a fabulous retro chair for less than $100 {and they both look new!} at a wonderful charity shop that specializes in furnishings!
    69. If you are buying new, always arrange to purchase items during the sales.
    70. Do your research on prices pre sale {so you know if you are getting a good deal!}
    71. Don't be afraid to ask for discounts on large purchases.
    72. Consider buying the store model - I did this today as I needed a table, the table was $199 on sale but the sales person gave it to me for $50! $50 for a beautiful new table that was the store model {and it was right at the back of the store with very little traffic so is in great condition!}
    73. If you don't have a good rapport with a sales person, go find another one or go back another day!
    74. Ask the shops if they have any sales coming up!
    75. Buy yourself gift cards, I purchase a couple of cards and put a balance of about $20 on them, this means on the rare occasion I choose to purchase a coffee {usually because I'm meeting a group of friends at a coffee shop} it doesn't cost me anything.
    76. Ask for gift cards for Christmas gifts.
    77. Get your DVD's from the library
    78. Join a wool co-op if you knit
    79. Keep lights turned off
    80. In the evenings light candles
    81. Keep your TV & computer off when not in use {and ensure the power is fully off and they aren't on standby}
    82. Turn the tap off as you brush your teeth
    83. Take quick showers
    84. If you go to the gym or swimming shower there
    85. Learn to love simple meals, like a baked potato with salad.
    86. If you eat meat, make it an accompaniment to a meal not the main part of the meal!
    87. Use nuts, seeds and beans to get protein
    88. Shop around for medication, prices vary greatly
    89. Ditch the make-up {or at least use bare bones!}
    90. Ditch the perfume {or keep it only for special occasions}
    91. Hang clothes up after you've worn them, this helps keep them looking nice & reduces the amount of washing you have to do
    92. Find a cobbler and see if your shoes can be repaired rather than thrown out
    93. Buy plants instead of flowers, they last for years!
    94. Keep a tally book in your purse/handbag with average costs of items, this helps you know when something is worth stocking up on
    95. Only allow yourself to go to the shops once a week at most
    96. Suggest pot luck meals when getting together with friends and family
    97. Volunteer - a great social activity at no cost!
    98. Do your taxes - you never know when you'll get a refund!
    99. Pay yourself each pay day - put a set amount of money into a long term account that you don't touch!
    100. Get rid of your sense of entitlement - just because you work hard it doesn't mean you have a "right" to buy what you want. I ran a series about how damaging a sense of entitlement can be, part one is here, part two here and part three here.

    In thinking about it, I think the greatest way to save money is to: enjoy life, find joy, search for beauty, commit to reducing your carbon impact, live purposefully and be thankful! The simple, green & frugal life is a beautiful life!

    What are your tips for saving money?

    Friday, 7 January 2011

    Use It Up

    By Bel
    from Spiral Garden

    I menu plan every week, without fail. When writing my plan I always consider what's in the garden, the fridge, the freezer, the pantry and try to use what we have at hand first. But some weeks we just seem to have accumulated a lot of excess food. For those weeks, I plan what I call a Use It Up week. More than ever I plan the meals around the leftovers, the produce gluts and the tired things in the freezer and pantry, which really need to be eaten soon!

    On Use It Up weeks I try not to buy groceries at all. We are blessed with some homegrown fruit and veg, and fresh milk from our house cow. I always have bulk flour to make bread, and other pantry staples are stored in bulk too (like rice and lentils).

    Use It Up weeks occasionally run into a couple of weeks and not only do they encourage inventive recipes, very local eating habits and a good clean out of my kitchen, but they save us hundreds of dollars on groceries for our family of eight. I normally use this money saved for a bulk shop to replenish the stockpile of anything which is low.

    These past two weeks were Use It Up weeks. We had a lot of family staying for Christmas, and they left behind bits and pieces of food to be used up. First we tackled the fresh food because we didn't want it to spoil, and then we moved on to the more obscure ingredients. But we ate so well!

    Some of the meals we enjoyed were crustless quiches, pasta sauces and curries (with all sorts of vegetables hidden inside), jacket potatoes, salads and all sorts of 'peasant food'!

    The crustless quiche has to be my favourite as we almost always have an abundance of eggs from our chickens. This week I made three shallow quiches one night when we had nine to feed in the evening, and some slices were enjoyed cold for lunches the next day.

    One contained defrosted shredded ham, mozzarella and some herbs. Not many of us eat ham, but our visitor and those who do, thought it was delicious! The second one contained some very finely chopped mushrooms, cubed various cheeses and more fresh herbs - it was my favourite! And the third was a basic mixed vegetable quiche, with some mozzarella and herbs for flavour.

    To make these crustless quiches, I rub pie dishes with butter and pour in the vegetables etc mixed together with herbs and cheese if I'm using it. Then I whisk together a lot of eggs (about 5 per pie), some yoghurt or cream, some stock powder or paste, any herbs or spices not yet added, a dash of milk, some plain flour (I use wheat or spelt, wholemeal or unbleached) and a pinch of baking powder. This mixture is only slightly more runny than pancake batter. I pour it over the vegetables etc waiting in the dishes, and top with sliced tomato if I have some.

    The quiches are baked at 180 degrees C for about 35 minutes or until golden brown and firm throughout. How long they take depends on the size and depth of your pie plate. I prefer shallow, small plates so they cook faster and I can make more than one variety at a time.

    We serve the quiche slices with a big green salad and homemade dressing.

    Do you have a favourite Use It Up recipe? If so, please share!

    Thursday, 6 January 2011

    New year, new seeds: help!

    by Francesca

    salads 1

    New Year, new seeds: that's is my motto for 2011. As I look forward to a brand new season in my garden, waiting for that magic moment to start working out there, I've started to plan what I want to grow this season. I've decided to have a go at growing some new crops, including a few that are a little unusual.

    However, I'm in a bit of a bind, because I can't find these unusual seeds in local stores. Even the seeds for some crops that once were common in my area, are now impossible to find. Such as chickpeas, which are still very popular in the local cuisine (and with our family!), but which no one grows anymore around here.

    So I started looking at gardening and seed catalogs, in Italy, Europe and beyond. I want to compile a list of best international gardening and seed catalogs, which I'll make available through this blog. It should be a useful resource to many gardeners who are trying to locate specific, lesser-known seeds, or to find the best sellers or prices.

    And here I'd like to ask you readers for your help. Are you a gardener, anywhere in the world? Where do you buy your seeds? Please tell me! Just leave a link to your favorite seed catalog in the comment section below, or send me an email (fuoriborgo at gmail dot com).

    Thank you!

    Tuesday, 4 January 2011

    Home Made Spaghetti

    by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

    I am a difficult person to buy a Christmas gift, that I will admit.  For those who keep tabs on me on my personal blog, you will know I am not into consumerism, and only buy practical, long lasting items that will help us on our sustainable journey.  It must be either organic, fair trade, ethical, second hand or renewable or just damn useful.  So it makes it really hard for others to buy for me.

    Well I am happy to say that my wife, Kim's present ticked the boxes this year (as always).  She bought me a pasta machine which is a great addition to our kitchen.  I love fresh pasta, and if made with local ingredients even better.  I dare say quite a few readers already know how to make pasta, but consider me as a late comer to this wonderful dish.  Here is my story that I posted about a week ago.  I had such a response that I had to share it here.

    A week ago, we made spaghetti!  Here is me and my father with the pasta machine testing it out.

    The recipe was extremely simple.  Place 250gms of white flour and 250gm wholemeal flour in a bowl, make a well and crack in 5 eggs (home grown).  Mix with a fork until most of the moisture is absorbed them kneed with your hands.  The dough should not stick to your hands, and should be even in consistency.  This took about 5 minutes.

    Once the dough was nice a firm, I cut off a small piece and ran it through the machine as per the instructions to clean off any excess oil, which I threw away.

    Then we cut off a third of the dough, and ran it thought the machine on no. 1.  We ran it though at this setting 5 times, adding a little flour each time, then folding the pasta in half,  and back through again.  It becomes very pliable.

    Then we ran it thought once on no. 2 setting, then once on no. 3 setting.  It was about 3mm thick and about 90 cm long.  Just right for lasagne, but we didn't rest on our laurels. 

    The manual suggested that we cut the sheets into 25cm lengths, but from trial and error we chose to make them about 45cm or about 15 inches.  Then we swapped the handle over to the spaghetti cutter and run a sheet through it.

    It took two of us to make it work.  We got better at it as we progressed, and ended up with some very nice spaghetti.  We found the first run of 25cm too short.

    Kim sat at the kitchen table, pulling the strands apart and laying them on a tea towel to dry.  However, this is where we came unstuck.  We put too much on top each other and only the top dried sufficiently to be used in dinner.

    The spaghetti that did dry cooked to perfection.  I bought about 6 litres of salted water to the boil, threw in the pasta for 3 minutes, and it was done.  I served it with a home made Bolognase sauce which has the following home grown ingredients in it, onions, garlic, basil, oregano, and zucchini.

    Everyone said that it was the best  and freshest pasta they had ever tasted, and I commented that it was a true family affair.  What other food do you know that could bring everyone into the kitchen to help out?

    Since we made the initial batch, I sourced two old broom handles out of the shed, sanded them down and then finished them with olive oil.  I now use them as a drying rack between two chairs and hang the fresh pasta over the pole.  It dries evenly and is just right.  I have even made ravioli, which turned out perfect, but that is another story!

    What a great present!  Thanks honey.

    Sunday, 2 January 2011

    The return of the sun

    By Aurora, Island Dreaming

    Whilst all seasons have their charms and downsides, I think that most people have times of year that they prefer. My perennially pale complexion marks summer as my natural enemy and my feeble circulatory system sees winter as its foe, hence I thrive in spring and autumn. Winter here this year  has been dreary - one day of pristine, crunchy snow followed by weeks of slush, freezing temperatures, greyness and treacherous ice. The rest of the country descended into snowy chaos as we turned into Sweden for a few weeks, though without any of that nation's preparedness. This is one winter I will be particularly glad to see the end of.

    I feel the transition from winter is very much a 'countryside' season that can fall flat in the city, with its evergreen shrub beds, annual planting schemes and general lack of wildlife. Nevertheless, now the solstice is past; the first signs of new growth will begin to appear, just as the harshest part of winter descends upon us.The days lengthen by a few minutes everyday, the sun rises a little higher in the sky, warmer days will eventually come. Whilst now is still a time to be hunkering down against the elements in temperate northern climates, it is also a good time to begin planning for the approaching season (if for no other reason than all this dark and cold is getting a little old for my liking).

    For gardeners the tasks for the coming months are obvious - tidying, planning, seed selecting and starting. But I am also starting to look at how our menu will change, what produce will be coming into season and what wines and preserves I can make early on in the year. Open-farm 'lambing' days begin at the end of this month and continue through to spring, a great opportunity to get acquainted with local food producers. As we now have an allotment, we might visit a 'Potato day' to pick up some unusual tubers to plant. Most importantly, I would like to bring the season alive for our toddler son  - buds unfurling and baby birds chirping, the wonder of planting a seed and watching it grow - and need to plan as many outings and activities as possible to that effect, both in and out of the city.

    The temptation, in the depths of winter, is to try and preempt Spring. Last New Year, in my eagerness to see something grow, I sowed tomatoes and aubergines on my shady windowsill - far too early, far too prolifically. By the time the initially weedy growth matured and got too big for the windowsill, we were still in the midst of frosts and biting winter winds. This year, despite my itching to get on and do something, anything, that affirms that greenery and abundance will once again be returning to my patio, I have not yet succumbed.  Instead I am quietly observing what is going on around me, waiting for the first signs of spring and tidying up a few stray ends in the garden, ready to pounce when the right day comes.

    Wherever you are, in the midst of whatever season, I wish you a very happy and prosperous 2011.