Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Positively Committed

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

For just shy of the last three weeks, I've been volunteering with children in orphanages some of whom are special needs and others are in hospice care. It was, hands down, the most amazing experience of my life. There was intense sadness and grief and yet incredible joy and peace. I learned so much about simple happiness and joy from those special special souls. And I came away with an incredible determination about how important the simple life is.

While I was away a friend emailed me the saying "living simply, so others can simply live" that phrase had made her commit to sponsoring another child bringing the grand total to 3 and making the commitment to build a school in Africa next year instead of taking a holiday. Like me, these decisions will mean what most would think of as major sacrifices. Personally, apart from buying 1 new pair of leggings pre-trip, I couldn't tell you the last time I bought clothing, or books or mindlessly spent. I don't have a lot of money but I love what my money is spent on since I left the rat race behind and began to embrace the true joy found in simple living.

This trip provided much needed affirmation about just how much I love that I no longer need expensive girly weekends away taking money from my budget, when I can use the money in other ways or simply work less. I no longer need to meet friends on a Saturday and shop for things I don't need, when I can hike, volunteer at my local animal shelter, bake or sit around with a wonderful group of women discussing books and knitting.

On my trip, I had four outfits, limited choice of food, a tiny tiny room to call my own. I was with the children 10 hours + a day and yet everything about it was simple, through the whole trip there was no need to go anywhere or stress and nothing to distract me from my calling. It was simple, it was joyous.

Since I arrived home, I've been thinking about just how amazing a reminder of why we are on this path is, just how necessary and important. I had mine over the last three weeks, I'd love to hear yours?

What reminds you that making these simple, small changes is important? What helps you keep focused on the goal of living how you want to live and what your success is vs. what society thinks success is about?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

A Little Cash on Hand

by Chiot's Run

There are so many types of emergencies that we need to be prepared for big ones, small ones, short ones and long ones. Chances are, most of us will never experience a big major emergency, but it's wise to be prepared. Your preparation efforts for these large scale emergencies can be built over a period of time (stocking the pantry, water filters, generator, emergency heater, etc). The small emergencies are the ones we really need to be ready for right now, they can happen to any of us at any time. What kinds of things do we need to be prepared for a small emergency, especially those you might encounter while away from home? Here are a few things you should carry in your vehicles or in your purse so you're prepared for those small emergencies that may arise while you're out and about.

In our cashless society it's easy to never have to carry any cash, but there are times when it's necessary. You may think you can run to the ATM for some cash if you need it, but if a storm comes through and the electric is out that might not be the case. Several years ago we had the remnants of a hurricane roll through and we were without power for 4 days. Not only were we without power, but so was the surrounding area. The bank didn't have power at first and the ATM was not working, the local gas station didn't have power to run their credit card machines and they were only accepting cash. Fortunately we had some cash to cover what we needed at the time. Maybe you won't experience a loss of power and the ATM being closed, but it could be something much more simple. Like being somewhere and needing $10 in cash and realizing you don't have any in your wallet, perhaps your husband grabbed it or one of your kids needed it for school. Or maybe you stop for gas and realize they don't take credit (there are still stations around here like that). It's always wise to have a little cash stashed in the car just in case. You can determine what amount makes you comfortable, or what you think with comfortably cover any "emergency" you many have, perhaps enough to cover a tank of gas is a good rule of thumb. Keeping some cash around the house is also a good idea, keep whatever amount you think will comfortably cover a few emergency needs.

Make sure you have supplies in your vehicles for minor medical emergencies. Keep a first aid kit in your vehicle at all times and make sure it's stocked. We have a kit in each of our cars and each year I get it out and make sure it's stocked with fresh supplies, swap out aspirin/meds and check to make sure the bandaids are still sticky. You don't want to be stuck needing them and not having them or having them be out of date. You don't have to buy a special one, but they are handy if you don't have the time to make one yourself (here's one that's only $9). Although making a few with your children would be a good way to teach them the value of being prepared.

Keep a few flashlights in your car and even in your purse and a small pocket knife or multi-tool. You never know when a flashlight might come in handy, drop your keys in the ditch, the lights go out in the store, your trunk light goes out. They sell all different sizes of flashlights to fit every need you have, from tiny keychain lights that only cost $5-$10 to big maglites that can take a beating rolling around in your trunk. We have a few of the large ones and I have 5-6 of these Mini Maglites placed all over the house. Of course you need to make sure you have some extra batteries and maybe a spare bulb or two as well. We keep candles in the house, but those aren't really convenient to keep in the car.

Having some water and snacks on hand is also a great idea when you're away from home. It's a great habit to get into, not only will you save money but you'll have some in case you need it. I have a bag that sits by the back door with some homecanned applesauce and bottles of water. Before we head out the door I'll throw in some nuts and dried fruit and a few other snacks. Not only does this allow me to have some healthy snacks in case I'm out longer than expected (which happens often when you're running errands, especially when the closest store is 30 min away), but I also save money because I don't end up buying water or food while I'm out. There area few other other things you might want to consider carrying in your car as well: some string, scissors, jumper cables, blankets in winter, an extra coat, etc.

How do you prepare for those little emergencies? Do you have any great tips for things to carry in the car "Just in Case"?

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, 28 June 2010

A simple garden recipe

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

The long days of summer are full of activities, and I find I have less time to cook, even though fresh ingredients are abundant this time of year. Here is a simple recipe I gleaned from a local CSA newsletter. I use this frequently and mix and match greens depending on what is available in the garden. This week it is Bok Choy, Silverbeet, Spinach and garlic scapes. I don't have pine nuts or golden raisins on hand either, but have found that hazelnuts, or pumpkins seeds provide a good stand-in for pine nuts, and dried Italian prunes, cherries or cranberries can offer as much flavor as golden raisins. Just use what ever you have in your garden and pantry and experiment, that is half the fun of cooking!

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Adapted from Food to Live By, by Myra Goodman

1 bunch Swiss chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons garlic scapes, minced
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup raisins (golden raisins have a nice flavor, but any kind will do)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the chard and cut the ribs off the leaves. Cut the ribs into 1/2 inch dice and set aside. Stack the leaves and cut them into 1/2 inch strips. Set the leaves aside separately. Heat olive oil over medium heat in large, heavy pot or large, deep skillet with a tight fitting lid. Add the garlic scapes and chard ribs and cook, uncovered, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons water, most of the lemon zest, and the raisins. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard is tender and the water has almost evaporated, 4 to 8 minutes. If the water evaporates before the chard is tender, add an additional splash of water. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the pine nuts, and season the chard with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately garnished with remaining lemon zest.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A Simple Party

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

We have just hosted a party for over 100 people. We had live bands, dancing, a buffet meal, cake and coffee. And it wasn’t expensive or a lot of work.

Initially, I began with a huge 2-column to-do list. First I booked the hall – a country hall with well-equipped kitchen, huge stage, dance floor, all tables and chairs, crockery and cutlery. There isn't enough room or facilities at our place for such a large event.

I figured out a menu including vegetarian options and got a few guests and LETS friends to make some of the hot dishes. I bought the meat and fish frozen in bulk in the weeks preceding the party and arranged for two BBQs to cook with on the night – my husband’s wonderful friend cooked the BBQ for us again. I ordered all of the bread, rolls and a cake from a local bakery. I took some of the condiments etc from home, and bought the rest with the salad ingredients on the morning of the party.

Decorations were simple balloons and “40” printed from the computer in Joker font a few dozen times, and cut into squares of about 10cm a side. Our children stuck these all along the stage, the bar, in the entrance, and other places, along with a lot of balloons. Tables were covered with lengths of blank newspaper roll I bought for $5 from the newsagents.

I asked guests to bring their own drinks, and either some pre-dinner snacks (chips, dip, crackers, cheese, etc) or a sweet. Several guests stepped in to help set up tables, cut up salad, clean the BBQ, wash dishes and other tasks. This cut down on the work and expense for us considerably!

All of the entertainment was provided by our family and friends as we are blessed to have a lot of musicians in our lives.

Overall, it was a fantastic night and another example of good preparation and keeping things simple working out very well for our family! How do you keep things affordable when entertaining? Any good tips to share? And what about all of these leftovers! Wow!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Make Your Own Takeout: Hot and Sour Soup!

By Abby of Love Made The Radish Grow

I have had a hot and sour soup recipe in queue to try for awhile. This one is soooo fast, soooo easy and soooo good. It was a great, fast lunch today, and will be on a regular rotation now at our house. I started with a recipe I had found at The Kitchn, but modified it quite a bit to make sure it fit what I had on hand, and to make things a bit more local. Even my toddler ate a big bowl! This makes quite a bit-enough for a meal, and is far better than what you can get with normal takeout, saving time and money and using up some of those eggs that, I don't know about you, but my gals are laying like crazy!

Hot and Sour Soup

6 button mushrooms (dried shitake or straw mushrooms would work well here, too, but you need to soak them in boiling water for at least an hour before making this. Really, any fresh mushroom will work, just slice them in and put them in the soup, no soaking needed)
1 pound ground pork or breakfast style pork sausage
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1 quart chicken stock, fresh or canned
soy sauce
1/2 t ground pepper
3 tbsp vinegar
3 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 4 TBSP. cold water
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sesame seed oil
1 scallion, finely chopped
****edited to add fresh grated ginger, about 1/2 T to 1T. Add when you add the other seasoning (before the egg)

In a large stockpot, brown and crumble the pork. Once it is mostly cooked, add the onion, and saute a bit, until it starts to soften. Add the mushrooms and chicken stock. I added another 2-4 cups of water to this, in order to make enough soup for the whole family as a main dish. At this point you will add the seasoning base, then start tasting until you get the flavor just right. This really varies from person to person, so you NEED to TASTE the soup as it heats through, otherwise it will turn out too bland or salty. So...
Start with 3 T soy sauce and 3 T vinegar, plus the pepper. If the salt tastes fine, you don't need anymore soy sauce. If you like your soup spicy, add a little cayenne or hot pepper flakes, but let it cook a minute or two before you taste again or add more. It takes a minute for the flavors of those items to develop. The vinegar is what makes this soup sour, so don't skimp. I start with the three T, but ended up adding quite a bit more. You just never want to start with a large amount-you can undo too little, but undoing too much is far trickier. This last time around I used a red wine vinegar, but about any will work. Once you have the flavor right (salty, sour, slightly spicy is what you're shooting for) mix up the cornstarch. This, once again, is a personal preference. If you like your soup really thick, mix up more cornstarch, if not, then the original amount should be plenty. Once you've got that added, beat your egg and add it, a little at a time, and mix it in so you have strands of egg throughout the soup. Then you can serve it!

Addition ideas:
bamboo shoots
water chestnuts or jicama
cabbage or carrot shreds
other meats, in pieces