Monday, 11 January 2010

Making making do doable

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

The homemaker has a heavy load to carry these days in tough economic times. When many people reminisce about the Great Depression, a common thread is that they don't remember really going hungry. I am sure though that times were very tight. My family on both sides were farmers, so food was ample and other things were in short supply.

But I suspect that the person who was running the kitchen had many tricks up her sleeve to make foods stretch and maybe added a little whimsical touch now and then to lighten things up. There are many good posts on this blog and many others about cutting back on various things, but I want to go the other way and throw out some ideas about what to do with what you have, when you feel you can't cut back anymore.

Scratch cooking takes some planning and a well stocked pantry, but even the homemaker who doesn't work needs to save a little time now and then. I have found if I have components of meals made ahead it frees me up for some creative thinking at meal preparation time. Like pennies, little things add up.

This year for our Christmas meal, I wanted to concentrate on using up what we had in the pantry instead of splurging on meal items. A quick look at the freezer inventory revealed a pork tenderloin that needed using. It seemed to be a perfect fit, and my daughter wanted to try a recipe that she had seen on a blog. So we made Pioneer Woman's pork tenderloin with cranberry sauce. It was fun to break tradition a little, be more creative with the holiday fare, and make do with what we had on hand. We saved money and had a great time doing it.

Even though I am a SAHM now, I work at home, most days outside, so I still don't have the time to leisurely work on meals. Habits I started while I still worked full time off farm stand me in good stead these days too. Hash browned potatoes are daily breakfast fare, so I try to keep boiled potatoes on hand. That way they are ready - jackets and all - they will cook as fast as the eggs, and a farm breakfast from scratch is ready in minutes!

And while the rules here state that lunch is a fend for yourself kind of deal - the person behind the apron still has to make sure the lunch supplies are available. I keep cooked beets on the ready too. I know beets aren't usually considered a snack food, but in the winter months, when the roots are at their best, a quick beet salad tossed with olive oil, orange juice and seasoned to taste is a delight. A small treat of citrus with my peasant fare beets. Yum, I don't feel like I am going without at all, and with the beets already cooked it is just minutes to mealtime. Slow food, fast.

And, I find even though I get a little down, from the weather or just the realization of my work load, if I make others around me happy, it is contagious and I am happy too. It doesn't take much to bring a smile to someones face - yesterday I made sourdough muffins, and when no one was paying attention I used a star cookie cutter to cut out a few muffins. The stars and I had a secret. The little stars looked like they were making snow angels in the corn meal, and shrouded under a dish cloth to raise, no one was the wiser.

When I started to cook the muffins, I placed a star in the middle of the array and waited for a response. I knew the smell of fresh muffins would bring the troops close to the kitchen, and the reaction I hoped for followed. Muffin munchers were delighted and it really didn't cost me anything to just add a little touch of whimsy to brighten our day.

These are just a few things that came to mind today from my kitchen. But other things we do for each other can really make bleak times seem a little brighter. My daughter did my afternoon chores for me yesterday without being asked, and it was a blessing as my errands in town took longer than expected. I have a friend whose husband saddles her horse for her before they ride out, all small gestures but so meaningful.

Please share your tips and tricks with us, thriving while being thrifty never goes out of style!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Making Candied Kumquats

Posted by Thomas from A Growing Tradition

candied kumquats
I've always been curious about Kumquats, and can still recall the first time I laid eyes on one. I was probably six or seven years old, the place was Long Wood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I remember "liberating" a kumquat from a small tree inside one of their massive conservatories. (Some children steal toys, I stole curious foods.) After trying unsuccessfully to peel it, I ended up popping the entire thing into my mouth. Since then, I've been hooked.

candied kumquats 2
I actually really enjoy the sweet sharp tang of the kumquat peel and so I don't mind munching on them raw. However, I've heard they were excellent candied so this was my project for this particular batch from the grocery store. Hopefully one day I'll be able to pick fresh kumquats straight from my very own dwarf tree. I plan on purchasing one from Four Winds Growers sometime soon.

candied kumquats 3
I started off by slicing about 4 cups of kumquats crosswise into quarter inch pieces. Then came the tedious task of removing all of the seeds with a toothpick. In a small pot, I heated 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt for a few minutes until the sugar was dissolved. Then I added the kumquats and simmered the mixture uncovered on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, I placed the cooked kumquats to a bowl and boiled the liquid on medium-high heat for another 10 minutes until it reduced to a more syrupy consistency. (Don't over do it. The syrup will thicken as it cools.) Finally, I added the kumquats back in.

candied kumquats 4
As the jars cool, the candied kumquats will plump-up as they absorb the sweet and slightly-tart syrup. I like a bit of bite to them so I didn't simmer the kumquats for too long. For those who particularly love the citrus rind in marmalade, these candied kumquats are definitely worth trying. I already love them spooned over vanilla or coffee ice cream. I will also have to try them on french toast.

Friday, 8 January 2010

A New Year

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I love a fresh new year. It starts with the clean-up as we prepare for the festive season. We finish up our homeschooling and tidy out everyone’s desks and school books, taking stock of what’s required in six weeks’ time, after our summer holidays.

There’s lots of cleaning out the fridge and pantry with all of the extra cooking and food with Summer, Christmas and New Years’ entertaining.

For most of January we have no commitments – none of the children’s classes or activities are running, no school work to do – a month of freedom! I love this time! I generally do some de-cluttering around the house, organise financial matters, write up my new year diary and calendar, plan for the coming year of home education, shop for resources, deep clean rooms I’ve neglected, catch up on mending, take stock of the freezer and pantry, etc. As homeschoolers, we don’t have to take the same holidays as schools, but I do enjoy having the month of January to catch up! In between all of these tasks we picnic, swim, walk, watch movies and relax together.

It’s also a time for me to take stock on the year that was, and goals for the New Year. I’m not huge on New Year’s Resolutions, but I have a group of friends who pick a word for each year. I haven’t joined them before, but am inspired by their choices – mindfulness, patience, me, dare, acceptance, trust, shine, enterprising… My word for 2010 is Be. It's all about me doing too much, and not taking time to just Be. Be available. Be Mum. Be still. Be calm. Be me.

Are you excited by a new calendar year? Do you make resolutions or turn over a new leaf in some way? I’d love to hear about what the New Year means to you.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Where Do You Want To Go This Year?

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

In many ways this is an incredibly exciting time of year, people make plans and resolutions galore and are determined that this new year will be their best yet! There is nothing wrong with hoping and planning, but I recently read that the vast majority of people fall off the bandwagon within 6 weeks and feel overwhelmed with grief and frustration. Looking at previous years, I can now pinpoint just where I went wrong, I was determined to do too much. I looked at where I wanted to be and was determined that if I lived according to a big list/plan and stuck to my never ending lists of must do's, I would get there. Needless to say, my good plans came crashing down within a matter of weeks. I soon realized that in my determination to simplify I was actually complicating my life, I was giving myself more things to do without reducing the other things that got in the way. I was magically trying to find another 10-15 hours in my week, well no amount of fairy dust would magically give me that amount of time without making cutbacks elsewhere. The reality was, I wasn't realistic, I wasn't simplifying, I was complicating.

Maybe you are struggling with energy and eating right. Perhaps you'd love to shed 10 or 15 pounds, or grow your own and live off the earth. But at this place in your life can you actually grow your own? Many of us can't yet, but we can certainly start with the determination to eat breakfast each morning and shop locally. We can read a book about food, become interested in the slow food movement, try growing herbs in pots or put our name down for allotments. All small, practical and relatively easy changes to make.

My personal dream is to have a small holding. I would like rescue animals, my own hens for eggs and a place of peace and tranquility. There are times where this dream seems impossible, where it feels like it is slipping farther and farther away. And yet the biggest barrier is getting over the fact I want my dream to be a reality now, that I'm letting a sense of entitlement slip in. So what do I do instead? I keep my blog real and document thoughts I have on the future, I spend time in the great outdoors, I learn about keeping hens, I spend less so that I can save more.

My hope for 2010 is that people do not feel yet another year has slipped by without being able to achieve the changes they'd like. My hope for 2010 is that we view the year as a part of a long journey, a journey of further discovery of self, a journey of education and a journey of hope. My hope is that we learn to simplify, reduce and see that small steps really do make you stay the course.

Hopefully, your goals this year can be SMART so you will see 11 months from now just how far you've come.

S - specific
M - measurable
A - achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
R - realistic
T - time-based, tangible

May all our Co-op readers have a SMART year! And if you find that pixie dust which magically gives you another 15 hours a week, do share ;)

What are your plans or resolutions for this year? Are they SMART? Do you feel they are realistic?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Meat Safety

I'd love to say that I only eat free range, organic, antibiotic free, small farm etc etc meat but the reality is that we usually buy our meat at the grocery store. I realize I'm effectively supporting practices that I don't believe in but my current alternatives are limited. I tried to convince my husband to become a vegetarian and he told me in no uncertain terms that wasn't going to happen. So our compromise is to buy less meat and the meat we do eat is organic and antibiotic free but it's "big box" organic so I wonder how good is it really?

What I never thought about was the safety of meat in schools, perhaps because we don't have kids? But when reading the paper a couple weeks ago I learned that in the United States many schools receive meat that doesn't meet fast food standards! Seriously, they serve our kids chicken that not even Hardees will sell for a $1. Fast food chains (while not the vanguards of healthy eating) are far more rigorous in testing for bacteria and pathogens then the national standards. They, in fact, test ground beef 5-10 times more often then the US Department of Agriculture tests beef produced for the nation's school system. If you think that's scary then consider the fact that fast food chains set limits for bacteria in burgers that are ten times more stringent then the national standard for schools. Compound this with the fact that school children are more susceptible to food borne illness and the fact that the meat may not be cooked long enough to kill the pathogens before it is served.

And the silver lining is that as low as these standards are they are stricter then the standards for meat sold in the grocery store. Perhaps it is to time to reevaluate my options...

What about you? Do you eat meat? Where do you get it from? Are you concerned about meat safety?