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Monday, November 24, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: Thanksgiving Week

It's Thanksgiving week, so I'm trying to make dinners that won't leave much in the way of leftovers. I'll post an entire Thanksgiving post separately, but here are our dinner plans for this week. We try to have a big brunch on Thanksgiving, with muffins and scones, strata, fruit and other good things, then eat the big dinner at, you know, dinner time, rather than having roast turkey for breakfast.

The chaplain and his family are bringing a roast duck, the godparents are bringing the cranberry-horseradish relish. I'm trying to decide whether or not to make a succotash. It would add more vegetables, but also more starch which, as you can see, we already have plenty of. Alexander wants to make gingerbread, so we'll see if he does it. If we have enough of the quince left, I will make a quince pie as well.
If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tales from the Kitchen Classic: English Muffin Bread for the Bread Machine

Originally posted October 5, 2006 to Tales from the Kitchen

After much fiddling around with the recipe I was given, this is what seems to work the best.

3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons yeast
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Run on large/normal cycle.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Finished Object Friday: November 21

Today is my brother in law's birthday. We are hoping to accomplish the phone call from all the children to their uncle Doug. They will sing off-key and out of time with each other. It is our little tradition, though.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Frugality (Part IV): Soup

This week's entry is not going to be as long as my others have been. I'm stepping away from general practices and principles to a specific area. I'm going to expand on the whole stock pot theme from last week. Soup is a great way to avoid waste and to stretch a food budget. It is quite tasty, too.

Eating soup for dinner at least once a week is not only good for you, but it will cut your food budget by quite a bit. You tend to use a small amount of each ingredient, as the broth or stock or even water, draws the flavor out of the food. If you make your own stock, use the little bits of meat, vegetable, grain, etc. that you have languishing in your fridge, freezer or pantry, you will save even more money and avoid waste. Even if you start from new ingredients, you can use cheaper cuts of meat that take longer to tenderize and longer cooking vegetables, which also tend to be inexpensive.

There is so much nutrition in stocks and broths made from bones, so I highly advocate making and freezing them to use for soup (as well as sauces and cooking liquid for other foods). Much of the marrow and gelatin gets drawn out into stocks which makes it especially good for you, greatly magnifies the flavor and gets some much needed protein released into a dish without using a lot of meat.

This is not to discount vegetarian soups, we eat those quite a bit, too. We also eat meat soups that use other liquids, it is not as if those are not good for you. I would serve soup more than once a week if Rich liked soup more. He grew up eating a lot of soup and is a little tired of it. Still. I tend to make my soups thicker or heartier or creamier or with lots of melted cheese on top (like the French onion soup I'm making this week) to compensate for his soup issues. He likes soups better when they include any or all of those elements I listed.

Another benefit of soup is that, for the most part, they are relatively simple to put together, don't require a lot of stove time from you, and are a complete meal with some sort of bread type item or sandwich and/or a salad. So, healthful, frugal, flavorful and simple? Works for me!

Since it is almost Thanksgiving, I will share my After Thanksgiving Soup recipe with you.

This is highly dependent on what you eat at Thanksgiving, so it is a loose recipe. If you wanted to add anything like brussels sprouts, I'd add them in the last 15 minutes of cooking.

Defatted stock from turkey carcass, reserve fat to cook vegetables or use olive oil or butter if you are squeamish
A cup or two of leftover wild rice dressing (or some other starchy thing you want to put in - my onion comes from this, if you use something without onion in it, dice up an onion to saute with the other aromatics)
The small leftover turkey bits (save the bigger pieces for another dish)
4-6 stalks celery, diced
4 carrots, scraped and diced
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves, for garnish, stems reserved
4 sprigs fresh sage
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper
Juice & zest of one lemon (you can leave the zest in larger pieces and remove them once the soup is cooked, or omit it or just use lemon pepper)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt to taste

Heat fat in soup pot over medium heat. Add celery, carrots, garlic and onion, if you are using it. Cook until vegetables soften a bit. Add everything else. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partly covered for 45 minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings. Serve with a sprinkle of parsley and your leftover rolls.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not

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Mister Linky?

Is anyone else having trouble with Mr. Linky? I cannot connect with either Firefox or Safari. I haven't checked to see if I need software updates, though.

Millipedes

I had one of those perfect homeschooling moments today. These are rare. Although we all enjoy homeschooling and prefer it to our other options here, it's not like everyday goes smoothly with our angelic children getting their work done before I assign it and beaming at me about how blessed they are to have me as their mother and their teacher. There are rough days. There are days that I call Rich from the bedroom and tell him to forget all that I told him our children being so bright and needing someone to help draw out their abilities. Last Monday, I told Rich that he'd better be home on time after work, because I was going out whether or not he showed up. I told him that I wanted to run away, he said that was fine, but I had to come back. I called another homeschooling mom friend of mine and we played hooky from our families that night visiting a bookstore and getting dinner and wine at a nice pizza place near our homes. I also forgot my wallet, so she had to buy my dinner. Which meant I drove there with no license.

Anyway. I was talking about a positive moment.

So, yesterday, after we did some history reading and talked about Roman numerals and Arabic numerals, the older boys wrote out the Roman numerals through 10, then 50, 100, 500 and 1000. Without my prodding at all, they decided to practice their Latin at the same time and wrote the Latin names of the numbers above the Roman numerals. They decided to work on their penmanship and write out the number names in English on the other side of their cards with the Arabic numerals. After Alexander finished, he showed me his work and told me how he'd figured out that mille was the root of millipede. And that it must mean thousand feet.

I was so thrilled. This is why we homeschool. This is what we were looking for when we chose the method of homeschooling we did. We want them to be able to learn, to deduce, to integrate information and knowledge. Now, I know fully that it is lots of little steps like this, and it won't be smooth sailing every moment of every day from here on out, it was a little encouragement to keep plugging at it.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nourishing & Festive

I'm hoping to get in under the wire for this one. Kimi is hosting a Nourishing Holiday Food Carnival. I was thinking of the things we normally have at Thanksgiving and Christmas time, but I didn't want to type up the recipes to everything we cook. So, here are a few examples. One note, in any recipe I share, here or in other posts, the butter is unsalted unless I specifically state otherwise.

Pumpkin/Sweet Potato Rolls

I got this recipe from a newsgroup, then modified it to run on the dough cycle of our bread machine and fiddled with the ingredients a bit. I've made it with both pumpkin and sweet potatoes. I will be making it with sweet potatoes this year (the orange kind that gets called yams at the grocery store, even though they are just sweet potatoes of a different color).

1/4 cup warm water
2/3 cup milk
1 cup cooked and mashed pumpkin or sweet potato
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon dry yeast
melted butter to brush rolls

Put all ingredients in bread machine, and run on dough cycle.

When dough cycle is complete. Turn out dough and punch down, shape into approximately 25-30 rolls. I roll each piece into a log, then tie it into a knot.

Cover on baking sheets, let rise again, 30-45 minutes. Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes, brush with melted butter after removing from oven.

I make a triple batch of this, usually, sometimes quadruple. They are quite tasty and go really fast.

*I just found out from experimenting that you can make these all the way through shaping and freeze them on a pan, then store them in a bag and pull out on a pan to thaw and rise and bake fresh. This means you can make the dough and shape them well ahead of time and thaw them while preparing the rest of your meal and bake them when the meat is taken out to rest or make gravy.


Shredded Brussels Sprouts

This is so good, I usually double it. My priest's wife gave me this recipe some time ago, I've tweaked it a bit, and it has been a staple on our Thanksgiving table since then.

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups halved and thinly sliced brussels sprouts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted

Melt butter in large skillet over med-high heat. Add onion and garlic, saute 4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Stir in brussels sprouts, cooking 2 minutes. Add broth and sugar. Cook 5 minutes, or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring frequently. Stir in salt, season with pepper, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Sprinkle with pecans.

This is even good the next day, heated up, though the pecans aren't as crisp.

One year, Rich made up a casserole with the leftovers from this, the turkey, the wild rice dressing and the remains of the gravy to bind it together and baked the whole thing up. It was delicious.


Wild Rice Dressing

Rich doesn't care for bread stuffing, so after a few years of doing both, I just dropped the bread stuffing in favor of this, since he liked it much better. This year, for the first time in a while, I'll be making a bread based dressing, though not stuffed in the birds. Anyway, this is easy to make, can be made ahead of time and kept warm, it is great stuffed in the turkey as well.

4 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 3 teaspoons dried
1 1/2 cups wild rice
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
4 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 1/2 cups pine nuts

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute until they start to turn transparent, add garlic and saute some more. Add both rices, and stir until they start to smell a bit toasty, not browned. Stir in thyme, salt and pepper.

Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes. Check at this point to see if the wild rice is sufficiently cooked.

In another dry pan, toast pine nuts over medium-high heat, stirring until they just begin to brown. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir into rice mixture just before serving.

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More Photographic Records



I don't think I ever posted this. We took the children to get their pumpkins about a week before Halloween, a real estate place in town always gives them away and has cider and cocoa and coffee and candy and what not. We also picked up a bunch of extra pumpkins for the chickens.

This isn't the best photo, two of them aren't looking at the camera, Alexander has a funny look on his face, but we only took two and this one was better than the other. Since this blog is essentially our baby book for all the children (I long ago gave up on keeping up with the baby books - Alexander has a partially filled one, Dominic has a couple entries, Elijah has an empty one and nobody else has one), I thought I'd record this moment here.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Frittata

This is a long time coming, I was asked about a more detailed description last week.

Basic Frittata:

Eggs
Milk
Herbs
Salt & Pepper
Fat of some sort (butter, olive oil, bacon fat, whatever you have/like)
Vegetables, whatever you have
Meat (like bacon, ham, chicken), optional
Cheese

I made a potato, onion and pepper frittata with feta cheese last week. I used 16 eggs, about a cup of milk, some thyme and a little salt and pepper. Whisked it all up. In the pan, I heated up some olive oil and cooked the potatoes, then added a chopped onion, and some pepper strips and cooked them until they were soft. I poured in the egg mixture, crumbled some feta all over the pan, pulled the edges of egg down as it cooked a little, then let it sit on med-low until the egg set up a little. I put the pan under the broiler for about 10 minutes to finish cooking and to brown the top. Then I grated a bunch of parmesan over the top. Cut into wedges, serve with salad. Yummy!

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Menu Plan Monday: November 17

We're getting ready for Thanksgiving here. It is very exciting and we are looking forward to sharing it with our friends and family again. We've been hosting Thanksgiving since we were first married, so it's pretty easy for me to plan now. Most of what we make each year is the same, because we like those foods, but we'll probably have one or two new things this time around.
If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Finished Object Friday: I Cannot Recall

I have no idea what I have finished this week. I have no idea what I have done this week. I have largely been pretending I wasn't sick, homeschooling and taking care of my snaggle toothed boy. So, to distract you from my lack of finished items and lack of memory, here are some pictures of Jerome with Kyrie, his girlfriend, at church, and Yasmina photos for those of you who have been complaining about the dearth of baby pictures. You know who you are, you nagging whiners you. If you want to see her grow up, you ought to live closer to us, that's all there is to it. Or visit more.


Here is a picture in which you can see both of them in their nice church clothes, so you can see Kyrie's pretty dress. When Jerome saw her, he exclaimed "Another dress!" because his sisters were dressed in pretty fancy duds this past Sunday, for the bishop's visit. He was so excited to see her. They flirt all through church. Unfortunately, she's not too particular, as she flirts with all his brothers, the older boys at church and, I hate to say something so shocking about a girl we know, the married men as well.


This is a better picture of the two of them, though their clothes are all kerfuffle. I love their smiles, though. See if you can spot Jerome's chipped teeth.


I took this picture while Rich was giving Yasmina her bath. Please ignore the dirty dishes on the counter behind her. She was pretty good at eluding the camera with her smile, but I caught this one.


I got this shot of her laughing shortly after.


This is Yasmina last Wednesday night after Rich and I got home from going to a business hoo-haw deal with a reception and cheesy music, then going to dinner at The Matador (we had four hors-d'oeuvres for dinner and came home with quite a bit) afterward. We still had about $35 on a gift card from a couple years ago, so we ended up spending about $16 including the tip. We left around 5:00 and were still home by 9:30. It was nice to have a night to ourselves, though. Even with babysitting, it wasn't too expensive, so not a bad night all told.

So, it looks like what I finished this week was taking pictures and posting them here. There, finished.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Frugality (Part III): Waste Not, Want Not

Evidently, there was a posting error last night, so this was never posted. Here it is, sorry for the delay.

Rich thought I ought to tell you that this way of frugality that I am describing takes way more time to type than to do. I do not spend a whole lot of my time each day or week on this, it is just part of how I think and plan and work. I make my grocery lists and menu plans based on this line of thinking, and put my errands together, near each other, combine trips, things like that. It ends up saving me time in the long run, though it looks really complicated when I write about it. The fact that I have an organized list means I rarely make extra trips to the store, my once a week grocery trip covers everything, and I plan to be at the butcher shop twice a month, though sometimes I only need to go once, or just pick up a little something (like this week) that is quick, things like that. A lot of this is just automatic pilot for me, but I'm trying to put in as much detail as I can, in case it helps someone else.

I mentioned our Fred Meyer credit card last week. Well, since then we received our rewards rebate this week. Our groceries this week at Fred Meyer (including some splurges, like a $50 iTunes card, which isn't technically groceries, but it was part of the bill, and some Henry Weinhardt's root beer) rang up at $140.29, I used a shortcuts coupon for $0.50, a store machine coupon for $0.75, a store ad coupon on cheese (for two blocks) for $2.00 each, a store coupon that came with our rewards for $5.00 off of produce, $0.20 off for using reusable grocery bags (all of which we have gotten for free, and which I should have mentioned before, as many stores give a small discount for using them). After we redeemed our rebates, our total bill was $19.34. I love free grocery week.

I'll be picking up some chicken feed (two week's worth), pork shoulder at the butcher shop for the tamal (I thought we had some already) and I'll be picking up some specialty ingredients at the Mexican market in Tacoma (El Compadre on 41st and McKinley if anyone wants to get great deals on nixtamal, banana leaf, meat and fish, REAL Coca Cola, made with sugar, in glass bottles, fresh lard, dried chiles, vegetables, etc), we've already paid for the milk for the month, but will pick up this week's when we do our errands. This should bring our weekly expenditure to roughly $60, including the chicken feed for two weeks. That is just over the cost of the iTunes card! I will be getting gas tomorrow, and I will tell you all how much our $0.15 a gallon discount made the price.

So, on to this week's topic: Kitchen management. Make sure you have a use for the food in your fridge and pantry. Try to use the same thing for multiple uses. Have a purpose for the leftovers or scraps. We even reuse the few plastic and paper bags we do get at stores for garbage sacks. Plastic containers get washed and used to send people home with leftovers or to freeze things. We use scratch paper and have a burn pile. Just about everything has a use here, even outside of the kitchen.

When I shop, I focus on staples and things that can be stored in our freezer or pantry. The things I need that are outside of that, I plan based on what is in season and on sale as well as what will work with the things we already have at home. So, when I sit down to plan our meals for the week, I try to keep in mind the meats, grains, frozen and canned items we already have, and check the sale flyers (which can be found online for almost every store) for specials and loss leaders. I stick to my list pretty well, with a few exceptions of checking the mark downs in the organics, cleaning supplies, dairy, deli and day old breads or pastries which take me a long time to make, or are fussy and fiddly so I don't do them often. I don't count on those extras, and I still generally make most of those things in the packages because it is usually so much more expensive when they aren't marked down, and because I prefer knowing what ingredients went into things. This means that when I shop, the foods are things that are either going to be used immediately, or are things that we use regularly and need to have on hand, or will be used in the future for something I have planned, but will be storing for the present because I was able to get such a good price on it. The things we buy which don't necessarily have a plan are things like fruit, which we can eat as we like, when we like and with other meals.

Something that seems really obvious, and I don't mean to be condescending, is that it isn't a good deal if you never eat it. It isn't a good deal, even if it's 50% off, if it is something you don't need, wouldn't have spent the money on otherwise, or won't use. I almost bought a higher end product last week because it was in the mark downs for 50% off, and we would have used it, but I had already knocked off my list the lower end version for being too expensive and it really worked out to be about a third the price of the mark down. I was just so excited to see this product marked down, that I almost grabbed it. To me, it is not worth three times the price of the basic kind, even when that is a better deal than its original price. As we often say in this house, better is not good. And sometimes even when something is a good price for that product it is still not a price I want to pay. This is part of my lack of coupons deal. Most of the coupons are on things I wouldn't buy anyway, so even if I save a dollar on it, it's still an addition to my budget.

Basically, if you want to make sure you have a use for the things you buy, plan, plan, plan. I don't mean spend hours, I mean make a list, plan your meals (loosely, you don't have to be rigid and never change things when something comes up or you're tired or sick or an amazing deal or wonderful opportunity arises). Know what is in your house already, so you aren't buying things over and over when you don't need to do so. I haven't done an inventory of our freezers and pantry recently. I need to do that, I try to keep a list of what's in there on the doors, so I can erase it when I take it out or add it when I put something in. Know what a decent price for whatever it is that you use all the time is. We have a "gotta buy it" price for certain things. If the price hits a certain level or below, we pick up as much as we can use or afford and store.

As for having multiple uses for something, and making use of leftovers and scraps, there are many ways to approach this. I know some people who make a large roast on Sunday, use the leftovers in various ways through the week and make stock with the bones, fat and scraps. We don't often have leftovers from roasts. Even when I make large ones, we can usually only get one or two meals from that, but I do make stock. In fact, I'm ready for stock all the time. It is great to cook grains in, to add to sauces or to make soup quickly. Stock is your friend.

When I make apple sauce or fruit butters, I use the peels and scraps, or cook the fruit in such a way, that I get juice for jelly from the same batch of fruit. Most of you probably do not do your own preserving, but if you do, this is a great way to get two products from one food. I try to remember to zest lemons that I am juicing to freeze the zest, even if I don't have an immediate need for it. If you think in advance and want them and don't have chickens who love them, you can use watermelon rinds to make pickles.

At the simplest level, I do things like freezing dead coffee from the pot in ice cube trays to have coffee cubes (which I then store in freezer bags) to use in iced coffee and chocolate milk. I use the extra oatmeal from breakfast to add to breads or pancakes. I save the fat from bacon to use to fry potatoes or eggs. We just pour it off into a jar and store it in the fridge. As far as I can tell, it will last until Armageddon in the fridge. That last little bit of mustard stuck to the walls of the jar? I pour in some vinegar or lemon juice, a little crushed garlic, thyme, oil, salt and pepper, maybe a touch of honey occasionally and shake it all up for salad dressing. That's how mustard vinaigrettes were invented, a housewife needed to use up everything she had.

When we make a ham or a roast, I do usually make a hash out of it, or scalloped potatoes with the meat diced in it. Shepherd's pie, Cottage pie, pot pies, all of those can be made from meat from leftover roasts. That's how they were originally made anyway. Ham salad for sandwiches, turkey or chicken salad, these are great ways to use leftovers. Roast chicken doesn't last a long time here, I roast two, and we usually have enough left for one chicken salad lunch. I do use the bones and scraps to make stock, and that is so useful to us. Rich makes these great sandwiches with leftover lamb by frying some onions and slicing the lamb thinly and simmering with the onions in any pan juice or reduction we've made then putting it all on toasted bread with feta or chevre with some tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers whatever veggies we have around. Recipes for turkey enchiladas, chicken a la king and whatnot abound. If you don't feel up to that, you can just make sure to eat those leftovers for lunch, or freeze them if you won't eat them soon enough and have a meal ready for a night you aren't up to making dinner.

Things like french toast and bread pudding and croutons were all invented to use stale, old bread. Do that. It's inexpensive, tasty and you don't end up with mold experiments in your house. My people make a bread salad with the leftover pita bread, the Italians do so with their bread. The French make bread soup. You can soak it in milk and add it to meatballs or meatloaf. Make it into breadcrumbs to top your macaroni and cheese or gratins, dice it up and fry it with your potatoes and/or eggs for breakfast. There is no excuse for bread going bad. If you aren't going to eat it and don't have the time or inclination for any of these things, wrap it well and put it in the freezer. Bread keeps very well in the freezer. It goes stale faster in the fridge.

We have chickens and a vegetable garden, so pretty much nothing goes to waste here. What we cannot eat goes to a bag I keep in my freezer for making stock (leek tops, onion skins, carrot ends, celery trimmings, parsley stems, etc). I've heard that the rinds off of parmesan (and, presumably romano) make a great addition to soups (simmered with the stock), but Rich takes those and puts them in the microwave for 30 seconds and eats the bubbly, crisp mess on toast, so we have yet to try that out. I cannot say enough about the stock bag. Save up all those bones and veggies and simmer them for a while (or dump in your crock pot on low overnight), strain and freeze in cubes, in freezer bags or those yogurt/sour cream containers with the contents and date marked. The things that cannot go to the stock pot (too strongly flavored, too small to be useful there - like carrot scrapings, not the right flavors), we give to the chickens. They turn our garbage into eggs. There are some things we don't or can't give to the chickens. We don't give things like onions and garlic to them, because it can flavor the eggs and we don't want onion flavored lemon cake or chocolate pudding and they don't mark which eggs are flavored with those things, because they aren't as efficient as we are. We cannot give them avocado or chocolate or raw potato. It would kill them. I don't know if banana peels are bad for them, but I cannot imagine them eating them, unlike the melon rinds and squash that they eat right to the skin and leave paper thin. The things that can't go to the stock bag or to the chickens go to our compost. Which we use to grow more veggies and herbs. It's a great system.

Even without the chickens (or other farm animals), you can use scraps and trimmings for stock and compost (and dry egg shells can go in compost as well). If you live in a place where you have no room for compost at all and no garden, then you've at least reduced your trash by a little if you keep a stock bag going in the freezer, and that means less money spent on canned and boxed broths.

I'll write more about using stock and soup later, as well as buying in bulk, which I thought I should touch on a little outside of the general grocery shopping post. Stay tuned!

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: November 10

We had so many changes to our menu last week. We had illness, we had elections, we had guests, we had a surprise party. We enjoyed the Turkish chicken thighs, of course I messed with it, used paprika and Aleppo pepper along with the fresh mint. The roasted potatoes, though were the real hit, I just dressed them with olive oil, cumin, coriander and salt and roasted them. The Moroccan glazed Carrots were okay, but not quite there. I pan fried the carrots to cook them, and made the glaze with honey and lemon, adding, cumin, coriander, Aleppo pepper, salt and garlic. So, basically, I didn't follow her recipe at all. They tasted like Chex Mix.

The surprise party was so much fun. The best surprise was that Mary's son, who is in the military in TX, came home to be there. So, we did the whole shout surprise thing, and she was so thrilled, but then after she settled in, Paul walked in. It was a great thing to see. Our children had a fabulous time dancing and singing and jumping around. There was karaoke, which was enjoyed by all. We decided, though, that we will never let Alexander have soda again. He was so crazy. It was Jerome, though, who had the wildest night. He was chasing one of Mary's daughter (the 19 year old!), and tripped while on the concrete floor of the carport, landed flat on his face and chipped his two top front teeth. There was much crying, and Beth felt so bad. His nose, lips and chin were unscathed, no blood anywhere, but he's a snaggle tooth until he loses those baby teeth. His teeth are still a little tender, but otherwise he is fine. I'm just glad his face wasn't broken and that it was only his baby teeth. I'll post pictures of our children soon, and you might be able to see the bigger chip (one is obvious, the other I didn't even notice until the next morning).
If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Finished Object Friday: Saturday

I have been trying to get this posted for some time. I finished some apple jelly and canned it for our family. Perhaps I can get a photo of the pretty jars for your viewing pleasure sometime soon. This has been a busy week. Between family illness, the election, our bishop and his wife, deacon who is soon to be our priest, another priest without his wife visiting (Deacon Michael is moving this weekend), and all the church events (plus something tonight that I won't post about yet) that go along with that, we have barely had time to catch our breath this week. So watch this space for pretty red jars of jelly.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Frugality (Part II): Grocery Shopping

Last week, I talked about making things at home. This week, I will talk specifically about grocery shopping.

First, I will make a confession. I don't use coupons. Well, that's not entirely true. I use them for things like diapers, wipes, toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, things like that. Occasionally, I can get coupons for organic chicken, vegetables and the like, and our grocery store has coupons for things like canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, frozen veggies fairly regularly, but mostly I use coupons for non-food. The major exception is organic food companies like Organic Valley (we like their butter) and Organic Prairie, which we can print out when there is a good sale at our store to make our money go farther. So, I get the register tape coupons, some that come in the mail from the diaper companies, store coupons and the coupon machine ones sticking out in the grocery aisles. What I mean is that I don't clip lots of coupons and try to keep track of them. It's not part of my shopping routine. This is mostly because coupons tend to be for packaged and prepared foods or cookies or other junk we don't need. It isn't much of a savings if I am buying things we don't need and didn't plan for anyway.

I have recently discovered Shortcuts.com which is kind of coupons for people who don't do coupons. They tie your loyalty card to coupons that are automatically deducted when you shop using your card. There are only some partner stores (Kroger, Kroger Marketplace, Ralph's, Gerbes, QFC, Hilander, Smith's, Smith's Marketplace, Baker's, King Soopers, City Market, Pay Less, JayC, Dillon's, Owen's, Fry's, Fry's Marketplace), but since Kroger bought out Fred Meyer (and other stores?), they act as an umbrella for Fred Meyer for us. I still only find a few coupons that work for our family, but while we are still buying newborn sized diapers (which are not available in our store brand, which are a third the cost of the name brand ones), I've been reducing our Huggies bill, along with getting some good deals on organic meat (I get them marked down, use the shortcuts coupon and either use immediately or freeze) and vegetables. I have diapers and canned tomatoes on there now. These coupons work along with any paper coupons or store coupons you have, so if you have those, you can really reduce your bill.

The major things I do to save money on groceries are to buy on sale, buy in season and buy in only a few places. We have five major grocery stores in our town (one of them has two locations). Fred Meyer is one where we find the best overall deals, so rather than shopping the sales at all of these places, I primarily shop at this store. I know in other areas there are Wincos, HEB, Aldis, and other places where the prices are consistently lower, if that is what you have, shop there. There is a local store that isn't a chain, which focuses on foods (they don't have cleaning supplies, paper products, batteries, or other things like that), and carries as much local produce, meat, dairy and canned/jarred goods as they can. We shop there for the quality, just watching sales and specials. Their meat is better quality, raised local to our region with no additives or antibiotics, so for the times when I can't get to the butcher shop or if they have a great sale, I buy there. They also have great, local, seafood for good prices, items I can't find elsewhere, and surprisingly fair prices on locally raised and organic produce. They also give us the greens they trim off to feed our chickens, if we come in at the right time. This is the place I got 15 pounds of organic bananas marked down to $4.00 for the whole lot. They can do this because it is their own store, it is not a chain, so they can change the prices however and whenever they like. If you are interested in the name of the store, leave a way for me to contact you.

We don't have a Costco card. We used to, but we have a Cash and Carry right near our church along with a Grocery Outlet, and between the two, we were able to get the same kind of deals or better without paying for the membership, dealing with the crowds, the lines or buying a gross of everything (even our family doesn't need 10,000 rolls of toilet paper), not to mention that we never quite made it out of there without buying things we didn't need. I've heard that there is a place called the Grocery Depot, which has great deals on organic foods and I think in some places there are stores with names like Canned Food Outlet or Rainbow Outlet, if you don't have a Grocery Outlet near you.

I also shop at Trader Joe's about once a month. I know that sounds like it would cost a lot of money, but the reality is that if you only shop for ingredients there, you can save quite a bit. Their packaged foods seem to be of a higher quality than other packaged foods, but they are still not as good as if you made them yourself, and cost much more. We buy things like olive oil, parmesan cheese, organic evaporated cane juice (they only carry the organic powdered sugar at this time of year, so stock up!), frozen vegetables and fruit (the pineapple is about the same price as in the can, but much, much better), dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips and such there. I buy quite a bit at a time when I go there (enough to last the month or more), so I can minimize the number of trips I make there, as it is a little out of the way.

I do not shop at any other grocery stores anymore, with very rare exception. I don't spend my time and gas going from store to store. We get our milk from a local farmer, our meat from a local butcher, our seafood primarily from local fishermen. All of those pickups I do on the same day while I am in the same area, to minimize time and gas expenditure. Also, we have been able to get the best price on the best locally available chicken feed by buying it from the farm where we buy our milk. So, twice a month, I pick up feed there when we pick up our milk. This works out to about $11 a week in chicken feed, which for 120-180 brown, white, pink, green, blue, speckled and cream eggs a week, from ranging, cage-less chickens and ducks is not so bad. Our eggs are larger than the large eggs in the store, have much richer yolks and because they eat grass and weeds, bugs and such, are much higher in all those omega fats we are supposed to eat. You cannot get eggs like this at the store for between $0.75-1.00 a dozen. We also give them scraps from our table and the clippings from the greens at our local market. Sometimes, Rich is able to pick up bread from a bakery or sandwich shop to give them, which is more like candy and snacks for them, but a nice treat every now and then. There is a local real estate company that gives away pumpkins each year, and we collect their extras to give to the chickens for added nutrition, we just break them up and they eat them down to a paper thin skin. We've even had people from church bring us their failed baked goods to give to our chickens so at least someone could eat it!

I've mentioned that our main grocery store is Fred Meyer. They have a rewards card that gives you store rebates and gas discounts. We got their rewards credit card and pay for everything on it. We have a huge credit card bill every month, but it is almost all of our expenses, including utilities, phone, insurance, everything, and we just pay it all off once a month. This gives us double the return on our rewards, and since we do most of our grocery shopping there, this works out to at least one free week of groceries each quarter, plus the credit card usage gives us a $0.15 discount per gallon on their gas, which is the least expensive in our area. I paid $2.24 a gallon for gas last week! And this is in the state with the highest gas tax of the entire USA! I'll talk about gas and travel in another post. If you live near a grocery store that offers this, and you are able to pay your entire credit card bill off each month, I highly recommend applying and using it as your primary or only credit card.

So, limiting where I shop to the nearest and least expensive is the first step in lowering our grocery bill. Although there are five grocery stores where I shop, only two do I go to weekly, two others about twice a month and another once a month. Going on a single grocery trip a week has saved us money, both in gas and groceries, because I have had to discipline myself to keeping a good list and sticking to it for the most part. I buy diapers each week, even if we have some left, for instance, so we can stay ahead of the game. This may sound obvious to some of you, but evidently after six children who have all worn diapers at some point in their lives, I have finally figured out that, yes, we will need diapers next week, too. I also buy things in twos or more, so that when I am down to one of something that we keep on hand (maple syrup, dish detergent, whatever), I buy another two to put in the pantry, cupboard or what have you. This means, we do not run out. I'll talk about storage methods in another post.

My free iPod Touch has helped me tremendously in this regard, so if you have any notebook capabilities on your cell phone or on an iPod type device, I'd advise using it. I keep a running list, add to it as needed, it is organized by store and department in each store, and I just pull that one thing out while I shop. I even note if there are store coupons for anything on the list. I don't recommend buying one just for this purpose, though. If you already have one or if you can get it for free, go for it. Otherwise, you can use my old method of writing your list on the back of an envelope, stuffing it in your purse and losing it a thousand times, only to find it six years later and wonder why you've held on to so many grocery lists.

I'm sure you have read this advice many times, but I will repeat it. Buy in season and buy on sale. This will cut your grocery bills. I plan our meals based on what we have, what is on sale and what is in season. When it is on sale or just a lower price because it is in season (or on a seasonal special like now for the holidays coming up), buy as much as you can afford and safely and easily store. ETA: This time of year is a great time to get turkeys, hams, roast beef, as well as flour and baking supplies. Buying extra and storing the rest means you can have them during other parts of the year as well. Learn how to safely store your food for longer storage, including airtight containers, freezing, canning, drying or those vacuum sealer things. This means that when those berries are out of season and outrageously expensive, you can pull some out of the freezer and mix up some pie or make muffins or whatever you want. You don't have to go without, you just have to plan ahead a little.

If you don't know what is in season at what times of year in your neck of the woods, find out. Search online for a county extension office, or in more general terms for your region, ask a nursery or garden shop. We can get asparagus for $0.99 a pound in April and May, because it is grown in our state and comes in plentifully. Needless to say, we don't spend the $4.99 a pound in November. Something we've talked about, but haven't gotten around to doing yet, is going in with another family on a whole steer and a whole hog. We've bought an entire lamb for our family, and we actually could probably buy two of them if we wanted it to last the whole year. Our family size is such that we might actually be able to buy a whole steer and a whole pig ourselves and eat on them for the year. This would leave poultry and seafood for us to buy through the rest of the year. If you know of a family (or two, depending on your family size), who might be interested in doing such a thing with you, it can save a lot of money, and you get a much higher quality of meat to boot. (Kristine, I don't know how close you are, but there is a pig farmer in VT I know of who might be able to sell you some nice meat at a decent price.)

Because of our seasonal purchasing and our storage of foods from one season to the next, even with our sad numbers in preserving this year, we have enough food in our house to last us any natural disaster, any nuclear holocaust, any terrorist attack, any hostile governmental coup or whatever else gets thrown at us. We could easily eat and drink for a year without shopping again. So, you know, if the excrement hits the fan, head on over to our place with your food, water, toilet paper and any tools/skills you have to hunt, make or do. We'd run out of milk, we wouldn't necessarily have exciting meals, but we'd eat well and enough. We get, windstorms, earthquakes and volcanic activity where we live, mudslides and floods often come with them or on their own. I don't know what kind of natural disasters you have in your area, but it is wise to be prepared for them before they happen. I'm getting rather antsy about our candle shortages right now. We don't have enough to last us a week without power (which we've had to do before), and I want to rectify that. Emergency preparedness is another issue I should talk about later.

I corrected my first post in this series to show that we've been spending more like $600 a month on all our groceries. This is partly because of how I shop and store and partly because of us growing and raising more of our own food. Generally speaking, we don't eat tomatoes, unless they are canned, outside of summer and early fall. When we have a better crop, we can store the plants upside down in our basement and get ripe tomatoes through the spring sometimes, but this is not always the case. We buy oranges in winter, not in summer. We buy peaches in August. We eat more seasonally this way, we save money this way, we even tend to buy more locally this way (though, of course, we still have to buy from afar when we get citrus, avocados, coffee and things like that).

Another major way we save money is buying in bulk. Almost everything we can buy in bulk we can get for a considerable savings. We have invested in these rolling storage carts, made by IRIS, which are intended as pet food storage, but they hold 50 pounds of flour perfectly. I use them for bread flour, oat flour, semolina, sugar, all sorts of things. They seal very well, they hold a lot, and they have casters and wheels so you don't have to try to lift them. We have all sorts of rubbermaid and other types of containers in various sizes for other things that we buy in quantity. Even if you don't buy large quantities, but just reuse your old oatmeal container to fill it with rolled oats you buy in bulk, you will save. Likewise with steel cut oats, cornmeal, or anything else you can get.

I hope this has been useful information, if you have any questions, please ask me. Next week I will talk about reducing waste in your kitchen. This is a huge way to save on your budget.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: November 3

So, I'm pretty late posting this. We've had some amazingly hectic weeks lately. I'm trying to get back on top of things at home, but it has seemed like a losing battle. We're starting to work our way back to normal. Since I totally spaced what we were doing for Halloween last week, our dinner plan that day was changed, and then my Saturday morning was thrown off so we ate leftovers for dinner then.

I also didn't realize until this week that I had not posted our dinner plan for Sunday. It was eating at a Day of the Dead party with friends. Which was loads of fun. The food was wonderful and the company was great. Our children all had a nice time playing with everyone else's children.If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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