Monday, January 31, 2011

A Reminder

of what we inherited as US citizens, and what we must hold dear and protect.

The Constitution of the United States.  I'm rereading it as a reminder. 

The Preamble used to be required memorization in my high school, but I've gotten a little rusty in the years since...thought of this scene in a favorite re-run...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pot-holes Ain't Just A Mississippi Road Feature

This past week was a bumpy ride.

It's an amazing answer to prayer that I have employment now that DOES fit within our unconventional one-vehicle-sharing schedule.  This is such an timely and specific and welcome answer to prayer!

The fact that at age 44 I've embarked on something completely unfamiliar to me as far as a skill/career (don't really like the word Career) just means old dogs can hopefully sometimes learn new tricks.  Let's see.

This past week had some successes and some flops.  I am very aware of my inexperience and limitations.

The first day of work, Jack was supposed to get off his night shift at a particular time and be here at the house in plenty of time for me to use the vehicle.   He called an hour late to alert me that an emergency had occurred there and he'd be home in time, but later than expected.  An hour later, I touched base with him and he was at a repair shop because he'd had a blowout on the interstate close to our exit and had just gone straight to the repair garage to see what they could do...his donut was locked in and the tools to remove it were stolen along with the jack back when our truck was stolen a year and a half ago..we were unaware of that. 

Long story shorter, he could not get here in time, and I was down to the wire...first day at new job, arggggh!!!   There was no way I was calling them less than an hour before blastoff and telling them to find someone else and give a bunch of reasons, all of which were actual but none of which anyone cares about when you're a new employee.   STRESS  :)

So, game face firmly in place, I called a taxi.  It arrived late, got me there just in the nick of time, and thankfully the very first job assignment I had went very well.  It was a short one.  When both Jack and I were safely back at home a few hours later, we both felt like we'd run a sprint.

My second assignment, being trained for a particular client by another CNA, took the wind out of my sails.  In short, the job was more than a bit out of my comfort zone as far as my lack of experience.  It was very intimidating and left me momentarily asking myself later that night what in the world I'm doing trying to do this new job track at this point in my life, blah blah blah.  Then I told myself that Grandma Moses didn't start painting till she was in her 70s.


Then I said "if I want to ever afford paints again, I need to see this new job change through and learn it and enjoy it"

Dang it, Grandma Moses!


So I will, and this week I actually have jobs to's NICE to be employed!!!  I am SO ready for us to write out those remaining payments for debt and be DONE with it, so that is my Muse this week.  Still nervous, still got my game face on.  And ready to say No to any jobs that are truly beyond my abilities, but Yes to the ones I can handle.

Gee, I'm nervous.  I'll just grit my teeth as we bump over the pot-holes along the way.

And I'll look forward to that wonderful thing called "Paycheck Therapy"...oh yeah!

Got any stories for me of past job woes and successes?  Is there a particular one you're glad you saw through and any you are glad to never have again?

My least favorite EVER was the brief stint moonlighting on the side working for a drapery cleaner.  I was cleaning draperies in an un-airconditioned building in a Florida summer, working with a large steam press that kept breaking, endless nasty draperies filled with dust and nicotine, and sweating like I never have before.  But hey, it was a free sauna and brought in a paycheck, ha!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Little Okra Jawbreakers

Ok, the first attempt at dehydrating okra to make "okra chips" resulted in my not being sure how to achieve true okra chippy-ness.  But I did come up with some great okra jawbreakers, or mini Ninja throwing stars.  The upside is that okra truly dehydrates into great storage bits and can be added right into soups and such and will rehydrate.  Storing the dehydrated okra takes so little space it would really be worth it to do.

As far as edible snacking chips go, it looks like I need to invest some Edison lab time into further experimentation!  Maybe I'll puree it first?  Hmmm.   In the meantime, though, I'll try dehydrating other unsuspecting veggies that have prolific garden tendencies...Paulette mentioned zucchini, so I'll keep on trying things.  No veggie will be safe from the dehydrator around here for a while :)

Got any successes in this department?  I could sure learn from someone else's experience!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Next Experiment: Dehydrated Okra "Chips"

I keep getting really useful and intriguing tips from my friend in north Mississippi, the last of which was that regular okra, fresh or frozen, can be dehydrated after being sliced in the standard rounds...and makes a great, healthy snack...supposed to be delicious (even for those not usually inclined to like okra), and really nutritious!

Supposedly, just plop 'em on the dehydrator racks and get it going (okra "slime" and all) and a few hours later you take the finished product, store in airproof container, and eat it like you would chips or other snacks.  

I consulted the Google oracle to see if many people out here already are doing that, but didn't find a whole lot of mention besides a lady who seasons hers first with Tony's seasoning (creole) before dehydrating.  And guess who happens to have a random shaker of Tony's seasoning in the bursting spice shelf? Yay!

I have bags of frozen okra.  The reason this one's worth a try for me is HUGELY because the nutrition is up there in exchange for really NO down sides...there's no flour or starches added, it's a green vegetable, and its mucilagenous (sp?) qualities mean good things for joint and bone health.

Second reason?   It can grow here, and in SO many zones, like a weed (but not invasive).   Two years ago we did an experiment and simply sowed the seeds directly into fresh stable cleanings right on top of the ground, and mid-season the bermuda was thick as thieves all around it but it vanquished even the knee-high bermuda THAT's a survival plant!  

We need some okra love around here...we do like it in gumbo-ish stews and  love love love it fried, but we don't NEED to be eating it fried very much, and since frugality and health have become prime factors in this household, soup is almost always on the menu as the main event or as a side.  That said...there is only so much soup okra can go has unique characteristics. 

There are a lot of vegetarians and a lot of other cultures that already utilize okra really well, here's an example of some worth trying.  It definitely is worth some further branching-out (ha no pun intended) with recipes and some ethnic favorites...I'll try to do that this summer.   But for now...dehydrating sounds...easy!  (especially since I have bags and bags of okra languishing in the freezer, feeling neglected).

SO....finding a way to make it into delicious "chips"....yes, yes, and YES!

Let's see if it delivers on my expectations, or if I can find ways to tweak it to be a go-to treat.  If so...we can be assured of almost UNLIMITED nutritional snacking!  WOO!

So....tonight I load up the cheapo, lawnmower-decibel-level dehydrator (our only one at  present) and pretend it's "white noise" to fall asleep to...ha!   and perhaps by the morning, I'll be taste-testing.

I'll report back, hopefully with pics...couldn't seem to find any "okra chip" pics on the Net, either.

Has anyone out here ever made it??   If so, I'd love to hear! 

Any other unsuspecting dried veggies that function well as "chips" that you know of?   I have yet to try kale "chips" but they too are on the Try Soon list :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dear Person Who Invented Scrubs,


Instead of having a bad dream where you realize in the middle of everything that you've left your house in your pajamas...this is reality...

you get to wear your pajamas to work  EV-ER-Y   DAY!!!  

Sure, there may be a bad day now and then, but WHATEVER...

you're wearing your pajamas!!!

I'm so glad that you, whoever you are that invented scrubs validated pajama-wearing in the workplace by coming up with the term "scrubs" instead of "pajamas."


I mean, seriously...what other legitimate work wear featuring superheroes, cartoon characters, flowers, unicorns, candy-color solids...can be worn by qualified working adults in soft-soled shoes??  ( I'm not sure I want to know the answer to that question, actually)

Thank you thank you thank you, Person Who Invented Scrubs!!

Maybe in another ten years fuzzy pink slippers will be part of the uniform, too, woo!


Yes I am, as of today...Yayyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you, God !!!! And thank you for those who prayed in our behalf !!!

CHOP CHOP CHOP, and the debt goes tim-bberrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.......woo!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Care Packages ROCK

What's more exciting than getting a box in the mail...chock full of awesome treats?  One of my long-distance soul sisters totally blew me out of the water by filling one of those pre-paid US mailing boxes full of things designed to make my heart sing and help gently nurture my body back into prime health.  There were several different packets of different dried sea vegetables (seaweeds/kelps and such of different kinds), none of which I've ever eaten and ALL of which I'm jonesing to try!  There was a jar of tahini, some wonderful teas, a smoked salmon filet (!!!!), and small marble mortar and pestle (!!!), a big container of xylitol (I can't seem to find any here) and a small squeeze bottle of agave nectar. A box of Indian spice.  And a wonderful personalized postcard with her picture (it's been years since we've seen each other) on it. 

Did I mention I LOVE SURPRISE PACKAGES??  woooo!!!

I love my friends even more than care packages, too.  THANK YOU, MJ, for the wonderful goodies, but even more for your friendship over the words can express it adequately.  And to those of you friends here, who have come to mean so much to me, THANK YOU.  If you've prayed for Jack and me and for my recent bronchitis slump to get better...I'm feeling better by the much better than even a few days ago.  I have met very few friends from here online yet, but I appreciate you all.  I am so grateful!

MJ, I did try that seaweed in some soup...the wakame...and it is wonderful!

Here's to brown paper packages tied up with string.

And here's to friendship!

Now...which tea should I drink tonight?? :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Do-It-Yourself Supplements: Saving Big Bucks By Filling Caplets

Disclaimer disclaimer disclaimer blah blah blah...check with your doctor first before ANYTHING, etc etc.   If you're taking a SAFE herb, know what dosages are SAFE (disclaimer disclaimer blah blah blah) might be frugal to make some of your own supplements.

FOOD, fresh and straight from the garden to the plate is the best of everything.  There is just no substitute for garden fresh nutrition.  That's always the first goal.

As a backup, there are things I want that I do not yet grow or process.   For example, we grow moringa for its leaves and enjoy them most of the year, except the colder months.  I would like to enjoy the health benefits of some of the dried moringa leaf powder so I've been experimenting with a more affordable form than what I found available to me at first search in the stores (nada) and the internet (bingo!).   A single bottle containing 120 capsules of the straight-up pure moringa lead (dried, powdered), with shipping is going to run me about $30.    That's for about 3 dried ounces of product total weight.   In my world, that is going to add up too quickly.

Finding the Stuff I Need:   So I priced the moringa powder all by itself.  This was more affordable.  I found a source I liked where I could purchase 16 dry ounces (1lb) of the powder for about $25.00 inclusive of shipping and handling.  Since moringa is the backbone of a self-designed little health regimen I'm currently trying, for me it was affordable in comparison with some other options.   So I bought the pound of powdered leaf.  It's as fine as cornstarch.  1/2 a teaspoon can be made into tea and so on.  In any concentrated form, it has a very strong flavor, and I was wanting to take not only teas but also higher concentrations of the leaf powder.

How To Make A Pill?:   So I ventured to the health food store to see if they carried any empty "veg-caps" (gelcaps not made of gelatin) with which to make my own moringa capsules to take with my other supplements by mouth.  Yeesh...a tiny box of 100 "0" size caps was about 8 bucks!!!

So After I Pawned An Arm And A Leg:   I ponied up for one box till I could find a better alternative since I wanted to begin taking them sooner than later.   I went home, poured out a little of the powder into a bowl, and in about 20 minutes' time I had filled all 100 caplets with moringa leaf powder and stored them in one of the brown glass bottles I save from other supplements as we use them up.   Now I have a bottle of 100 caplets for a lot less than what I could get them online.  A bottle of 120 (3 oz) costs about $30, remember?

But I can do better than that...and I have a LOT of moringa powder left (it barely looks like I've used any so far)

O Google My Google:   So I found an online source for "veg" gelcaps...1,000 for $ we're talking!

I Failed Math But Let's Try This Anyway:

...if I fill 120 caps with @ 3 oz of powder, let's see if I can guesstimate the math...

$25 = 16 oz powder breaks down to..... @ $ 1.57/oz.....3 oz of powder = $ 4.71
$ 11.00 = 1,000 gelcaps breaks down to... @  $ .011 per caplet.....120 caplets = $ 1.32

GRAND TOTAL =  $ 6.03 homemade  120 caplets of powder
                                  $ 30.00 storebought moringa caplets

A SAVINGS OF $ 23.97 per bottle (which is hypothetical because I'd never have paid that much anyway.  It simply means I CAN purchase it now, whereas before, I couldnt)

Conclusion of the DIY Caplet-Filling Caper:   This works well for anything as far as a safe natural herb that would normally be taken in caplet form.


Soon, I'll be making tinctures.   It's as easy as 100 proof alchohol plus a certain proportion of medicinal/nutritive (SAFE ONES ONLY) herbs and such, plus time, and then bottling it up.  Those savings, too, are astronomical in comparison with retail for those tiny dropper bottles of tinctures/extracts that can run anywhere from 6 bucks a bottle on up to 18 dollars or more...for a tiny bottle.

Anyway, more on that when I assemble my ingredients.

I just had to share about the savings on the caplets.  People not needing to use the vegetarian (non-gelatin) caplets can find the gelcaps at an even better bargain.  We go for the vegetarian sort because of wanting to avoid pork-derived products.

And of course, if you grow your OWN herb, moringa, whatever....that cuts the cost after growing, drying, and powdering it to next to nothing :)

Anyone out here doing this one?   I'd love to hear about what supplements you "fill" yourself!

I should have started doing this a lot sooner.  I did it years ago and then slacked off.  Why oh why??  (head-smack moment!)   :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Slow Road

For someone as naturally impatient as I am by nature, perhaps it's a great cosmic joke that the one lesson I seem to be repeating is...learning patience.  I trust God with the results...isn't it funny that Practicing Patience is one lesson where I'd most like to be a fast learner??  ha!

We're all a work in progress.  Because in many ways Jack and I still have one foot in the "standard American Way-o-Doin' Things" (meaning  not yet out of debt, long commute blah blah blah) and the other foot squarely on our ideal path, progress has been slow and steady.  I'd much prefer it to be fast and permanent!

Chronic health problems seem to dog me.  I've made a lot of "gentle changes" and others that were more abrupt, have had setbacks, have had victories.  Looking back on the past couple years, we've made significant changes to nearly every area of our lives, Jack and I.  We're eating much more consciously, sensibly, healthfully. 

Still, I have constant allergies/sinus problems, ear infections, and occasionally bronchitis and walking pneumonia.  One bout of pneumonia as a teenager nearly took my life, and ever since then have had a somewhat wimpy bounce-back response internally.  I've been to the specialists, and I know there's a time and place for pharmaceuticals and antibiotics...and I also know the cost of having been so reliant on them over the longterm.  I'm TRYING to embrace a more sustainable answer for both Jack and myself...he's on board.  The difficulty is in the Phasing-Out process while improvements are underway but not fully achieved yet.

There are areas in which we still have to make a lot of headway...or rather, regain a LOT of lost ground.  We didn't get "here" took years to learn that we NEEDED to undo and change things, or else.  We're in that middleground of progress that takes ever-more-diligent efforts and goal-setting to keep the momentum and see improvements through till they're fully achieved.

I've had a long bout of illness the last couple months and have been very determined not to use my normal fallback of "doc visit and antibiotics/get better/relapse/doc visit and more antibiotics" namely for the reason that over the course of many years the result has been nearly NO immune system left to wallop infections with.  

For a period of time last year, I focused on eating raw foods.  I then continued incorporating them into our daily eating on a lesser scale than originally attempted.   My conclusion at this point is that ideally, Jack and I NEED raw and cooked organic greens and vegetables, nuts, fruits/berries of every kind as the bulk of our more processed foods and chemicals, and fewer heavy foods and meats. 

The smackdown of reality is that until we are growing our own (and right now we're returning the yard back to Curb Appeal Minus Garden in order to sell our house), we can't afford much in the way of REAL FOOD.  So yes, we do have green smoothies and I try for half our dinner plate to be raw food or very dark braised/stirfried greens, etc.  I hate to think what our health would be like if we were still heavily bogged down in the Standard American Diet any longer.  In fact, in eating better, I can almost not tolerate storebought meats now...I literally can taste the nastiness...bleach or poop or something, but the taste is unmistakeable after a while.  Not that we don't eat meat, just significanly less till we can raise our own clean meat or barter for quality in some way.

But I digress...

I need to get better, lose a lot of weight, keep on keeping on, not lose momentum.  I feel terrible overall right now.  If I can stick to much tighter goals, especially in the area of weight loss and exercise this year, (and Jack, too, we're a team) MANY of these health issues will reverse and disappear.  Ever tried to exercise when you have a double ear infection and it hurts to breathe?   I know...wahhhh wahhhh....Robbyn needs to go all Nike and Just Do It.  (true!)  Robbyn is also used to popping a Z pak and Bam! being somewhat functional in less than five days...and this time I'm TRYING to be more natural.   Tick tock, tick tock...I'm learning patience...

No Antibiotics = Very Slow Recovery for me right now. 

,,...and more patience.   (I must say, convalescing and reading good spy novels are mutually compatible...though it doesn't exactly get the dishes magically done)

Now for the good news...they say Necessity is the Mother of Invention.   )  Well, in learning more about some supportive herbs, of course Moringa came up (since we are experimenting with growing it).   Ours will be dormant till the late spring, and we weren't sure of how to harvest it except for the fresh leaves.  We've eaten up our reserves of frozen moringa, so I ordered some moringa powder made of the dried, ground up leaves.  With the tremendous nutritional support and immune-boosting qualities and actual nutrients, I wanted to begin experimenting with the ground up moringa powder as a tea and in things like soups.

It's potent stuff!

So far, I've used it in tea, and so far it's most enjoyable in hot tea rather than cold, since the powder does not stir in well in cold liquids unless you beat it in well (think a fine powder like corn starch).  In soups, I use my stick blender.

With moringa, a little goes a long has a very green somewhat peppery taste with a ginger-type warming sensation.  Soon, I'll purchase empty caplets to make my own capsules so I can take some of it with my other supplements on the occasions I want a larger dose than my tastebuds decide they can handle in a tea or soup.

Tonight's meal was simple toasted black bean "patties" with a dab of plain yogurt and some salsa, and a bowl of  red lentil/moringa/chicken broth/garlic soup.

I'm having to learn a different time frame of healing minus the quickie pharmaceuticals I've used over the years.  There's a lot my body will have to clean out.  I'm not new to herbs and supplements but the slowing down...the reprogramming my mind from a "pop the pill and hurry and get well" a "build a strong core immune system over time" is something that doesn't come easily to me.  Because it requires....PATIENCE...arrrggghhhhh!! 


And perhaps this is how mellow, gracious, naturally-paced living is embraced??  (I embrace, I embrace!)

I hope I learn my lesson.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Does Anyone Else Have This Problem??

I spend time seriously de-cluttering, which is easy when it comes to most of the areas of my house...if I haven't used it in a long time and so on, off it goes to a better home.

But what do you do in the kitchen? I need counterspace and I don't particularly like clutter. My modest pantry is full of some bulk and overflow...but as much as I try to keep unnecessary gadgets from even making it into our house (and believe it or not, I'm NOT a kitchen gadget junkie) I can't seem to find a place to put the things that keep ending up on my kitchen counters.

Does anyone else have this problem? I have a cabinet full of spices, but I keep the ones I use the most right at hand, because if I don't I simply forget to use them. And we use the toaster oven as a substitute for heating the entire oven, quite stays out. And the juicer, was just given to us as a gift and it will be put to use ASAP. The potatoes and onions...aren't languishing in the pantry because there is no room!

Same with meds and supplements...Jack has a few, I have mine, we've tried finding a way to put them where they're logical to take at the right time...and not hidden too well, or we'll neglect them. But who wants to look at them? Not I...and yet...

I corrall "like" things together...spices overflow to this area where I have some different dried beans and seeds, etc. This is as high as they'll stack without falling over or being hard to reach...

...and more spices...

...and yet more stash...

I've even gone through each of these to see what could go...and plenty did...but still, I have a veritable Rubix Cube stack of herb teas that I do use.

...the back of the stove isn't even safe...

For space-challenged kitchens...what do YOU do?? The rest of my cabinets are at capacity with the basics, and all drawer contents have been consolidated and organized.

Whaddaya do with these sorts of things?

We're thinking down the road to an even smaller (much!) house and wonder what in the world we should do about foodstuffs, spices, tools...etc, especially when it comes to counter space.! :) Any suggestions are welcome!

Some John Kohler Fun

Videos featuring John Kohler from the GrowingYourGreens site...Enjoy!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

So Much For Bedtime Stories

Little fact about Jack...he knows no bedtime stories.  No fairy tales, fables, myths, Winnie the Pooh or swashbuckles.  He does know OF some of the more famous ones, but don't drill him on the finer points of the story of the Little Red Hen or the Gingerbread Man.  But he does have a great imagination.
His night shift means that on his days/nights off, a lot of times he's not sleepy during normal nighttime hours...when I do sleep.  That was the case last night, so he queued up Star Wars DVDs and settled in for a mini-marathon.  I was sleepy and kind of hinted it would be nice to snuggle up for a while till I fell asleep...then he'd have all night to himself with The Force.

He came in to snuggle up, having paused one of the DVDs mid-scene.  (That meant I'd better not take too much time falling asleep? ha)   Turned the lights out and held me close.

Me, to Jack:  Hey, do you know any bedtime stories?     I remember you saying you don't remember many, but tell me a story, even if you have to make one up, k?

Jack:  Sure. 

Me:   Ok, shoot...

Jack:   (thinking)
          There was a girl who was sleepy.
          So she fell asleep. 
          THE END.

Me:    Hey, no way, that's not for real, tell me a for real bedtime story. 
          Like the kind that starts with "once upon a time."  Just make up something!

Jack:  Once upon a time there was a little girl who got sleepy and fell asleep THE END. 
          (not even a breath between words.)

Me:    JACK.  You're cheating!
         There need to be details. 
         As in details about the girl and some storyline between the Onceuponatime and the THEEND.

Jack:  (again)
         Once upon a time there was a GIRL NAMED ROBBYN who was sleepy and then she
         fell  asleep THE END.

(Now I can't stop laughing...)

Me:   NO WAY are you getting off that easy! 
        There needs to be action, use your creativity...put in some stuff about swashbuckling or overcoming  
         incredible odds or castles and moats or throw in some mythical creatures that fly or something...

Jack:  This is the last time.

          Once upon a time...

Me:   Good, it's good so far...

Jack:  ...there was...

Me:   (...don't say there was a little girl...)

Jack:  ...there was a little girl


Jack:   ...wait!  wait for it...

          there was a little girl named

          (still pausing)

          ... Little Red Robbyn Hood.  

Me:   who??

Jack:   Little Red Robbyn Hood.

Me:   Do you mean Little Red Riding Hood... or Robin Hood?

Jack:  I mean Little Red Robbyn Hood.

Me:  There IS no Little Red Robbyn Hood.

Jack:   Yes there is.  It's MY bedtime story.

Me:  Well your heroine has a split personality.  What does she do...steal from the rich to give to...Grandma?

Jack:  No.  No, you have to let me tell the story.

Me:  Ok ... so what happens next?

Jack:    (silent)



Me:   ...hello?

Jack:   So Little Red Robbyn Hood

Me:    yes?


Me:   (Silence)

Jack:    What?

Me:   I'm so grateful
        I don't know what I'd have done without that story.  

Jack:  You're welcome!

Me:  (laughing my head off...)
         Now GO...GO to her!!

Jack:  Her who?

Me:  Your dream girl

Jack:   baby you're my dream gir...

Me:  No! I'm on to you now.  GO to Princess Leia!

Jack:  Huh?  I don't even like Princess Leia

Me:  It's all about the braids. Princess Leia has mondo braids in weird intergalactic configurations all over her head.  My hair won't braid long enough to wrap all around  my head.  I know you're secretly fascinated with her weird braids and can't wait to see what side of her head they're on in the next scene.  Go!   And  may the force be with you!

And he laughed until he had a coughing fit and yes he did, he did go and finish the Star Wars marathon.

And I turned on the lamp and picked up a good spy novel to read...

Till I felt sleepy and fell asleep THE END.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Couple of Books -- Survivors

One thing in this house is a constant...somewhere there'll be a stack of books. 

I can definitely say I get my tax dollars' worth from my local library.   I reserve them from the online site quite often, to be delivered to my local branch, and for books not in the wider system, there is an easy way to request books free through inter-library loans (which have brought books to me from faraway states).

I'm not sure how I chose these two, but I recently enjoyed reading The Phantom Warrior, by Forrest Bryant Johnson

and Devil At My Heels by Louis Zamperini.  

(No, I don't get anything for endorsing the books...)

Both books are true stories about two very different men from quite different backgrounds who survived great challenges during World War 2 (and in one of the cases, survived being a prisoner of war and being stranded for weeks in the middle of the ocean on a life raft without food and water). 

The common denominator between the two books is the fact that they both are about men who overcame very real perils and who maintained a "can-do" attitude despite real discouragement, some struggles, and the unexpected.  They're a good read for a reality check, or just a little backbone,  when feeling discouraged about our economics or when we might be tempted to get into a slump when faced with repeated challenges.

One of the men was an Olympic athlete, the other never finished school beyond 3rd grade.  One was raised in the city, the other in the country.  One was determined to not give up, the other did his duty and found himself an unlikely hero.  Both were survivors, and their stories are the sort I  never tire of, and wish I could listen to told by our older generations as my own grandparents used to share memories with us kids at night, sitting out on the back porch and listening to the night sounds.  These books are real war stories...and I love hearing these men's voices telling their histories.   Because history has a way of repeating itself in different ways.

Good reads...and worth checking out, even if you're not normally a nonfiction war book junkie :)

What books have helped give you gumption when you needed it?

Ah...the sun's about down for the night, and the weekend commences.   Shabbat shalom to all, and a restful weekend :)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Take Back Our Power

These are hard times  for a lot of people, and the future looks challenging as well.  

After reading a comment elsewhere that made me go Hmmm, I think we need to get bullish on taking back our power.   And by that I don't mean perpetrating hate crimes (just had to say that...)

Jack and I have decided there IS a "best" life out there for us, and we keep working towards it.  Work is not always fun.   But we touched base again last night about our greatest fears and worst case scenario...what if we lose it all?  

So we continue to re-adapt our plans.  And I told him...and I mean this...I would be happy to be debt free and living with him in a garden shed.  I want a patch of earth that is ours enough to grow a basic garden.  And a room big enough for a bed, a couple chairs and a hot plate or woodburning stove.  I think we'll actually come out with a bit different scenario in real life, but that's how simply it boils down to things with me...I want self-sufficiency no matter how stripped down it comes, because I don't like feeling powerless.

And you know what?  When it's our own choice, it's empowering, even if it doesn't look like the more modern version of the American dream.

Have you ever had that talk...the What If talk? 

If we can get past the fear, we get empowered to refashion our possibilities.  My grandparents grew up without air conditioning, health insurance, a 401k, and a second vehicle (actually they started with a mule).  Progress is great...but when it boils right down to it, if we give up our POWER to be as self-determining as possible in exchange for things we come to think of as necessities, we lose some kind of grit that can see us through.

So I say, let's take it back, even if it looks different than today's norm. 

What's are the ways in which you've taken back your choices and your "power" that have worked for you, and what hasn't worked?  A lot of you are my heroes for doing just that!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Edible Leaf Crops

This is a subject I just won't shut up about already, I know :)

Like last year, one of our resolutions for this year ahead is to eat more greens...more and more we're realizing just how important they are in our daily eating and in our planning for the longterm in  how we intend to feed ourselves with the highest level of nutrition.

Well, we have NO crops going at the moment, except for some cuttings that are rooting in vials of water on my kitchen counter and a few things under wraps at the moment outdoors (we could be growing plenty of things right now outdoors, but are just going with our existing perennials, most of which got toasted in the freezes).

I found this link about leaf crops, and since we really enjoyed our experiments this past summer with the moringa leaves and chaya leaves, I thought it would be worth a look to see what other leaves are overlooked, highly nutritious edibles...take a peek at the link, since it covers different growing zones.

I can list some right offhand, most of which we have yet to try on a larger scale and some which we've sampled...think of them as unlikely foods that oftentimes are a second crop from plants that bear more familiar foods:

1.  Cowpea (black eyed peas and that family) young leaves
2.  Okra young leaves
3.  Sweet Potato leaves (cooked, not of the true yam family)
4.  Pumpkin and squash  young leaves
5.  Moringa
6.  Chaya/Pig Chaya leaves ( cooked only, never raw)
7.  Clover leaves
8.  Dollarweed leaves
9.  Amaranth leaves

Doing the odd internet search during down time has reaped some interesting finds as far as dual-purpose plants.  Let me know what leaves you find that we never knew were edible...there are areas of the world outside the US in which these optimal foods are eaten regularly and the memory of their use is still contemporary...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Food Budgeting Part Five: Breakfast Cereals

This one will have to be short, but I did want to mention it. 

I came from a family that ate cold cereals for breakfast.  We were never allowed "sugar cereals" such as the obvious Froot Loops and Cap'n Crunch (not that we didn't try asking!)  The selection was either Cheerios, bran flakes, or Wheat Chex, or something along those lines, with lowfat milk.

These days, I still occasionally crave a crunchy bowl of Wheat Chex, but cereal buying is one small area I've changed completely from my former practices.  In the past couple years, I've been carefully reading labels due in part to blood sugar issues and also in wanting to be aware of what foods have preservatives and high fructose corn syrup.

It was an eyeopener that a lot of cold cereals touted as "healthy" have a lot of sugar in them...a lot.

The other concern is what we get for our money....Packaging, and very little else.  If you lift the inner bag from the eye-catching cereal box, you basically get a small amount of actual cereal slumped forlornly in the lower half of the bag, and if you read the "serving size" it may vary from 1/2 cup portion to maybe 1 cup portion size.  And though we all need to watch our portion sizes, you just don't get a LOT of cereal usually for the money spent.  

I seldom see any cereal on the shelf in a family-sized box for less than 4 or 5 dollars.   For a single grocery item, in our house, that's off my chart...and I'm feeling cheaper by the minute!   I see a lot of young families cruising the cereal aisle ( and it's an entire aisle, yes) at the store and the children being asked what they want for the breakfast cereal. 

Well, I'll cut to the chase.   Except for the rare occasion, we just don't buy cold cereals any more.  We either eat hot cereals or we make our own granola, or granola spin-off.  We also just don't buy dairy much any more, either.

We use regular oatmeal...any kind that's on sale without any fillers and preservatives, for a lot of things.  Instead of those little flavored packets that have nothing but a few tablespoons of oatmeal and a lot of artificial flavorings, we just make a quick bowl of real oatmeal and stir in real spices, sweetners, nuts, fruits, whatever suits.  For days when we do want cold cereal with milk (those days are fewer and farther between),  oatmeal is the base ingredient in granola I've made and kept in jars...and can be as simple as just the oatmeal and dried fruit or as complex as multiple grains/nuts/sweeteners/fruits/spices.   There are limitless easy granola recipes online, and they are fast and easy.

Oatmeal is one of the ingredients it usually does pay to purchase in the generic label or in larger quantities if you eat cereal a lot.  I have yet to do a comparison ounce to ounce with cold cereals cost-wise, but I KNOW it comes out to pennies for a serving of oatmeal, and a WHOLE lot more for boxed cold cereal. 

There are plenty of other seed and grain options out there besides oatmeal too, especially for hot cooked cereals.

A sprinkling of dried cranberries or a drizzle of real maple syrup is so much more satisfying and healthy a flavoring than chemical flavor counterfeits that come in boxed cereals.  I make up individual portion packets of oatmeal and dried fruits, with a pinch of brown sugar and cinnamon, for Jack to take to work for a warm cereal on those cold night shifts.  Just open a sandwish bag, add boiling water, stir for a few seconds and let it soften about a minute...a better tasting hot oatmeal than any flavor packet.   Add a handful of chopped nuts for added protein for those who like some crunch.

Anyway, avoiding the cold cereal aisle has trimmed our budget dramatically, but we don't have to go without REAL cereal...a few simply steps take hardly any additional preparation time, and are really worth the money saved.

Plus..there are a lot of other foods to have for breakfast...!

Any thoughts?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Food Budgeting Part Four: Quantity and Bulk

This one seems the most obvious, right?  Yet for the tighter budgets, bulk and quantity purchases have to be planned for carefully.

Quantity and bulk buying...we eased into this in the past few years.  I felt as rich as a queen when I had that additional margin, no matter how small, in the food budget!  I'd love to hear your own  tips (and am enjoying the ones already shared in comments!) about your own bulk and quantity buying.  Here are a few things we think along these lines at this point:

1.  It's always best from a garden first.  Our own garden, preferably!  It's not always guaranteed, however.  Crop failures are just a part of the vagaries of each new year, so the garden that dealt out copious zucchini and tomato bumper crops might not happen the following year.  Or, like us, changes in circumstances might mean the LACK of a garden some years.  Having preserved the surplus from past times of plenty always is a big help.  Those seeds get a much better return for the money as far as quantity than a buck at the store does, usually, and you know what has gone into your food...and what hasn't.  That said, it IS possible to have the $42 tomato plant if not keeping garden inputs to low-or-no-cost, except for sweat and elbow grease.

2.  Farmer's markets, especially at the end of the day or when they're overrun with a particular crop...can be a real deal, and you get to know your local small farmers!  Unfortunately, we have rarely had the chance around these parts to do exactly that.  Our farmers market is on Saturdays, which is the day we don't buy or sell (Jewish sabbath) and we miss out on that particular opportunity in our particular town.  But there are also produce stands we DO frequent.  A couple notes on that...not all produce advertised as "field grown" or "local" always is.   We've noticed that some folks here claiming "local" are really re-selling imported or trucked-in goods from other states, or pretty far reaches of our own state.  And those field-grown tomatoes?  Hmmm.  I know sunripened when I taste it, and usually when I see it.  But anyway, there ARE times you can get phenomenal surplus and in-season fruits and veggies in quantity at these stands and markets, and many ARE what they say they are :)    You'll need to ask if they're sprayed...etc.   Unless they say they're not, assume they are.

3. Ugly But Good Produce.  I've heard it said local grocers will sometimes sell a person produce that is slightly bruised, etc...their produce that doesnt look "pretty" or has been pulled not for spoilage but for aesthetics.   My own supermarkets adamantly do NOT do this.  But it's still worth a try, for those who haven't asked your own grocer out there.  Most buyers who have never gardened don't realize "pretty" doesn't always mean that much when it comes to edibility.

4.  What You Don't Need Health-wise.  When buying in quantity or bulk, we've had to learn what NOT to buy, especially if we've tailored a diet to exclude certain foods for health reasons.   We are trying to stay away from white flour and some other dietary specifics, so for us it makes no sense to buy a 20# bag of all-purpose flour unless we're having a big baking extravaganza for gift-giving.  For a person who is trying to feed a family gluten-free, buying wheat in bulk would make no sense. 

5.  Storage Considerations:  Will we use it before it spoils, and can we prepare it further to prevent spoilage?  Dried pinto beans will keep a longggg time.  A lot of people further prepare their dried beans by canning them for easier use, to cut down on preparation time at mealtime.  A 20# bag of potatoes will have a different storage need and time capacity.  Different foods will require different types of further home-processing to keep them for the longer term...canning, freezing, dehydrating, pickling, cold storage, cellaring, etc.  What works for our household, because of our needs and how we're set up isn't the same thing that will work for everyone else...we can push the envelope on some things, but we'll never have the same needs and capacity as, for instance, someone in a cold weather setting and much different climate.  There are a lot of great resources out there to learn about stretching storage options, different types of containers and ways of storing, and so on.

6.  Do we like it enough to eat it up?  If you hate eating Great Northern Beans, have tried them in different ways and simply KNOW you'll never want to have them on the menu regularly, there is no deal so great to justify spending the money and taking up the storage space...unless you're out of food and other choices.  When it comes to real hunger, honestly, you'll be happy to have them.   But in any less dire scenario, have on hand bulk items you know you'll use or can and will easily barter for items you'll truly use.  We learned that the hard way, too.

And along these same lines...

7.  Will we really use it in time?   Ooops!  We purchase nearly a freezer-full of turkeys on sale...two years ago.  I'm not sure how much turkey we THOUGHT we'd eat, but it didn't end up being nearly as much as was in the freezer.  We are not yet set up to can with a pressure canner (that day will come, but hasn't's on the wish list), so a lot of perfectly good turkey went overly long in the freezer and food.  That in itself isn't a waste, but was not our first intention.  Will you be able to use/further process/optimally store your bulk purchases before they go bad?  Just another consideration.

8.  Is is really a better deal?  Paying attention to the per pound or per ounce cost (which can be found on the shelf stickers, usually, for customer convenience at most stores) is important.  Purchasing 18 eggs isn't a better deal if you can buy 2 containers of a dozen eggs at the same price for both of the same type egg.  At a store where I shop, individual limes were selling for 16 cents apiece.  Mentally, it's quick to tally the fact that ten of those would be $1.60.  A bag of 8 limes cost $4.00....same type limes.  We go through a lot of  limes, and I could get 10 for the lesser's a deal.  But since I use them fresh and limes go bad within about a week's time, I buy what we need for a specific timeframe...a week.  If I had my act together better, I could buy a slew of them, juice them, and freeze the juice in portions.  But I'm out of freezer space at the moment, so that would be a waste of good limes.  When sweet potatoes, which usually sell here for 99cents/lb went down to 25cents/lb during the holidays, I knew I could store them in cool closet space for longer storage, so I stocked up...and we still have plenty handy.   Check the REAL price...the cost per pound or ounce, and do some simple math before deciding if that huge bag is really a better deal than several of the smaller bags of something.

9.  Some discount stores selling big quantities will allow even further discounts for larger purchases.  This is the case with Sam's Club, the only big discount store in our area.  A case of chicken costs less than buying the same number of the two-hen packages would...same product, but by the case has a different price.  It only makes sense if you can truly utilize and store that much chicken...but is a better deal if you can.   This is the case for freezer purchases at butchers sometimes, too.  Know what you're getting.   If it's terrible chicken or beef, you're stuck with a lot of it, but if not, freezer specials can beat out other types of buying sometimes.

10.  Doublecheck ingredients.  We buy foods with no preservatives.  I keep dried black beans on hand always, but like to have some backups of canned black beans handy (till I get my pressure canner!).   HOWEVER, not all cans of black beans are created equal...I have to scrutinize the label.  Only ONE brand (thankfully, the cheapest) lists the ingredients of beans, salt, and water.  All the others have loads of preservatives.  We have to be very careful to read ingredient lists.  We do this anyway, as Jews, and it's been a real education seeing how much lard is in baked goods and other little surprises we find as we read the ingredients lists.   Read labels (and try for real foods that require no labels)...the longer the laundry list of ingredients, the less it is really real food.

11.  Shoot for the stars, settle for the best you can get.   Ultimately, we want to eat foods that are completely non-genetically-modified, not chemically treated, are organically raised (that doesnt mean it has to have the "official" label, totally local, and most of all...from our own garden or pasture.  In every new push, we try to take another step in that direction.  But we're not there yet, and we recognize our limitations.  Go for the purest, cleanest, simplest, most useful, most healthful. less "filler" and more "substantial," totally unprocessed and non chemical you can get for what your abilities are (I speak to myself here).  I no longer accept guilt trips, inflicted on myself  BY myself after seeing how far I still am from the mark.  EVERY good step is progress.  I remind myself that there will be NO new steps if we do not wisely use our pennies, and get out of the rest of our debt.  The truth of that will not go away if I overspend or overreach my abilities.  Doing my best FOR the the best I can do right now.    I can be a discriminating shopper on my way to even better choices down the road...I use wisely what I am given within the realm I can operate.  So trips to the store...are no longer guilt trips.

12.  Co-ops:  got one?   I don't, and I need one!   If you can share the cost with others through a bulk-buying co-op,  and it makes sense in your own budget, do!   My friends elsewhere love the ones they're a part of...see what's in your neck of the woods!

13.  Cowshares/goatshares/buying on the hoof....when looking for quantities of creamy delicious real milk, especially for  your "pets," find a local farmer with healthy animals, clean site, and fall in love with food right where it comes from, even if you don't have your own animals yet.  Purchasing a cowshare/goatshare guarantees you a good supply of the best milk, if this fits your budget.  Also, co-raising a beef steer or other deals of "meat-on-the-hoof" and sharing the slaughter expenses (etc etc get creative) are options closer to the pasture for those who want larger quantities of beef, lamb, and goat meat.   And if you're up to learning how to slaughter poultry, you might find a local farmer with some roosters that don't need to make it to maturity.

OK, so much for this ramble...I'm sure I've missed something somewhere...and I'm loving the feedback in comments!   So...for quantity and bulk buying, whatcha got?  What works, what's a disaster?  I love learning from your expertise!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

To Be Continued

after I get through hacking up a lung.  Am recovering from bronchitis, with the help of my wonderful husband.  My ex-Marine came through with the most timely of provisions and backup.  Next post will come when this troop is back in action, soon...

Semper fi !

Monday, January 3, 2011

Food Budgeting Part Three: Piggyback Meals

Ha, funny post title for a family that eats no pork?     ;-)

Here's something I'm still learning, but that cooks like my grandmothers and most of the women today I know who have years of frugality under their belts are well-honed in...the art of making a few items into multiple delicious dishes.  Or in our house, what's known as "using every part of the chicken but the cluck."

It starts with some goals such as utilizing those QUALITY foods that are really good for us, but that often we need to stretch into more than one meal for the sake of frugality or lack of waste.   It means taking a few basic ingredients and using them as the basis for several very different dishes, some to be frozen, others to be assembled a day or two later.

We're not eating meat as often as we did last year, but even so, I'll give the example roast beef.  I found that I got the best price per pound at Sam's Club for bottom round roast...a boneless cut of meat that I could get in a pretty good size for $2.68/lb.   We do not have a good source for cleaner more organic meat...this was what we did as a second option.  I decided to try reducing our portion sizes of the beef, but Jack still wanted some beef because of the physicality of his job and amount of time spent walking during his work shifts, about 5 or so miles of walking per 8 hour shift.  Without some occasional beef, he ran out of steam a lot quicker.

My shopping corresponded with the weekend, so on Sunday, I filled up a big roasting pan with the roast seasoned with sea salt, garlic powder, and pepper and added around it whatever root veggies/tubers/squashes, etc, I wanted to roast along with varied each time, but I really filled that roasting pan up and then sealed it off tightly with foil.  As long as there were plenty of potatoes, onions, carrots, whatever else, in there along with the roast, it isn't necessary to add any liquids.   I'd slow roast/bake it at 350F for several hours, since I'm usually home at that time, or while we ran errands if we'd be back a bit later.  Instead of baking it till the roast was pull-apart tender, I'd take it out just before that stage, while it was still firm and slicing it would hold its shape.

Roast/Meal One...that night, was roast beef and some of whatever veggies we'd roasted alongside.  Always can add a salad and/or fresh fruit to round things out.

Well, that was a big roast.  I'd let everything cool in the pan.  When cool, I'd take the veggies and bag them in  a gallon ziplock bag or put them in a separate container of some sort and put them in the fridge.  The roast got cut into 4 or 5 big chunks and bagged/contained separately, and refrigerated.  The pan juices, when completely cool, got poured, scraped, into another container and also refrigerated.  After a few hours of cooling, it will separate into a jellylike aspic and a layer of hard white fat.

What meals had I planned for the week?   For meals involving meat, I already had it cooked, portioned, and ready to be put into use...just slice, dice, cube, or chop.  

Meals Two through...a lot more:  What meals can piggyback roast beef?  

Shepherd's pie, roast beef sandwiches (hot or cold), BBQ, sliced beef w/sauteed mushrooms and gravy, curries, vegetable beef soup, chili, tacos, enchiladas, stroganoff, casseroles, beef in wine sauce, tostadas, beef and potato hash (breakfast), beef and beans (especially black beans, yum), stir fries, sloppy joes, spaghetti or other sauces, beef stew...and so on.

I'm sure you have your own beef favorites.  The point is, the portions were already determined and the meat was already cooked...and it was very quick to arrange other meals from it.  Or to freeze some of the portions to be used later in the week. 

For the already cooked veggies, they became "fast" foods...the cooked cold potatoes easily are cubed or sliced for crisping in a skillet as hash browns to serve with eggs (fast!), to dice into curries, to cube and add to soups, to slice and reheat in a skillet and serve as a side with some melted cheese, etc.  The cooked onions are pureed and added to soups or pan gravies...delicious!

The pan drippings, after being refrigerated, had separated into a hard layer of white fat (beef tallow) and a congealed aspic that is dark brown and very concentrated with all the seasonings and flavors.  This is brown is beef bouillon times ten!   I break off the fat, wiping all the bits of the brown gel back into the container, and throw away the fat (but if I were saving it for soapmaking, I'd probably at this point freeze it.)  The cup or so of remaining pan drippings is THE seasoning I use as a soup starter, seasoning for a pot of beans,  flavoring for some curries, and anything else you want to add a very concentrated beef flavor to.

I can get a week's worth of meals off that one roast, and I didn't have to slave at anything.  The other good thing is that it's flexible...I have some basics already ready and can add the fresh veggies and fruits around it a-plenty, tailoring the rest of the week's meals more around seasonal things than being locked into this dish or that.  After all...almost anything can become soup :)

I used the example of beef.  The same goes for chicken, and depending on the cut or type of chicken (roaster, fryer, stewing hen, leg/thigh pieces, etc) it can further be used by boiling it or boiling the carcass and bones with some sea salt and optional veggies for an incredible chicken stock...which again can be used in most anything.  It's amazing how much meat can be gotten off a single chicken and refrigerated and portioned for further meals, and the stock is lovely in so many things even without the addition of the meat.

The same goes for other meats and types of foods except those that spoil quickly, like fish.  I hardboil eggs in quantity sometimes when I find a really good sale, to keep in the fridge for adding to cold meat salads, tossed salads, garnishing greens, dicing into soups, etc.

Baking or chopping up and leaving raw and then storing in the fridge quantities of veggies, or roasting large portions of winter squashes and pumpkins or sweet potatoes are also sometimes good for later use.  I reheat baked sweet potatoes without the skins for use in curries and stews (pureed),  as a side item (whipped with a tad of cream, maple syrup, toasted nuts), sliced and heated as a non-gluten base to serve chili or black beans over, or jazzed up a bit and used instead of pumpkin in my favorite pumpkin pie recipe, sans crust, for a sweet dessert.'s preference paired with necessity, but instead of a once-a-month monster quantity cookery (which I never mastered and have no space for) it's more of a weekly piggybacking of spinoff meals originating with a couple of quantity ingredients.

Yes, and I'm SURE most everybody but me has already been doing this!   But it sure did simplify things for me, since I do like to cook most of the time but am not so enamored with it that I feel supercharged spending more of my free time there.  I LIKE being able to reach into the fridge on a given week and knowing that I have ready portions to turn into a meal in about 20 minutes...and can then utilize my fresh greens and veggies and fruits around them and vary things a lot.

Now we're getting more away from using meats, but evenso, when I cook them, this way has now become a habit that seems to work for me pretty well.

What meals do you enjoy "piggybacking" and stretching to the Nth degree?  Got any favorite spinoffs that have become your family's favorites?   If we ever get a grill, THAT will become another "quantity" cooking type I'll enjoy serving "reruns" from  :)

Food Budgeting Part Two: One For the Cart

Thank you for sharing your grocery budget ideas and challenges!   We all have similar needs that overlap, despite differences in our situations.

Donna, I need to learn from're already doing these things and I'm not sure anything here will be very groundbreaking as far as  a new approach!   Everyone who sends in their tips ads to the collective wisdom here...thank you!

One For The Cart

Remember the practice of coffeemaking where a certain amount goes in per serving and then lastly another scoop gets added "for the pot"?   When it comes to groceries, we can adopt a "one for the cart" practice which, for a lot of us,  is something that can slowly add up if we apply it to our weekly (or whatever increment) food gathering, especially if you shop at the store.  If you're fortunate enough to not have to shop at the store for most of your food needs...I want to be you!  (and hopefully am working my way there)  But for now, my world includes storebought items.

My former mother-in-law always grew a huge garden and was a study in cooking the best homemade meals ever for her husband and six ravenous boys.  She canned, froze, preserved, pickled, baked, knew her local butcher by name, and could sniff out a sale better than most.  Years ago, I'd look at wonder at her fully-stocked  shelves located not only in her  kitchen but also overflowing into storage areas such as the basement.   While being really frugal, she and her husband had the money to buy extra quantities of staple goods and storage foods, a lot of times at Big Box stores or through mail order, or to stock up when there were really good sales at local shopping centers.  She recycled her glass jars to hold a lot of the overflow, and she had quantities of nearly everything from dried beans/lentils, rice, flour/grains, every sort of home-canned good, canned goods from the store, spices, herbs, liquors (mostly for making tinctures for her herbs, teas, freezer items, personal care and hygiene products, etc.   She leaned hard in the direction of keeping all those things natural and organic as possible.

But in those  years, for my own family of three with one car and a slim income, our budget was so to-the-bone that I shopped weekly for THAT week alone, it was difficult to buy ANYTHING in extra quantities for building up a reserve, and most small reserves quickly became depleted of necessity when we'd have company over or cook foods for celebrations and holidays.   Plus, I was purchasing a lot more processed foods back then...things like canned soups, breaded meats, boxed cereals, flavored individual packets of oatmeal...etc etc.   That's changed today.

I was always so frustrated not to have some good reserves at hand to select from then...a surplus to serve as backup and also  inspiration for putting together meals not requiring a lengthy list of ingredients from the supermarket.   Think of it...if every time you wanted to make biscuits or a baked item you had to make a separate trip to the store for EACH of the ingredients...over and over again...who would bake?   There are some items most of us keep on hand so we don't have to...flour, baking soda/powder, salt/pepper/some spices, and so on.   I needed to do that on a bigger scale than for biscuits, I could make full meals from what we had on hand.   This was VERY difficult for me to learn when the budget was so cut to the bone.

But thankfully, that's gotten better, mostly because we've cut out nearly all processed foods. This is really important as a first step for being able to purchase any reserve foods.  I say nearly all processed foods because there are a few things I still fall back on for convenience or out of habit (one example, evaporated milk).   WHAT I want to have in reserves has changed, it's things that can make a meal without a laundry list of ingredients.

So what's One For The Cart?  It's the one or two extras (cheap!) I make myself get when I have even as much as one or two dollars of wiggle room during a shopping trip to the store, namely my weekly trip for groceries.  When I shop, since we're mostly getting fruits and vegetables that are fresh or frozen, I'll slip in long-storage items, a spice or two, or an on-sale "luxury" item (like a jar of olives, pimientos, honey, etc) to the tune of three or four dollars' worth to have as my back up.  Or during the holidays, maybe that bag of chocolate chips that is marked way down the day before Thanksgiving, or the generic box of raisins and generic oatmeal.   Voila...cookies ingredients for giftgiving during the year end holiday season...and so on.

(I know nearly everyone out here already does's not rocket science.  But it took me a long time to get the hang of it since we bought processed foods...the already-made cookies...for so long)

Certain places have better deals than others.  This is where ethnic markets, discount stores and dollar stores, and sales items really count.  Ethnic markets usually have spices and dried beans/lentils at MUCH lower prices than the regular grocery store, plus they have spice mixes.  I'll write more on that later.  Stores like Big Lots sell certain items at a huge discount in their food aisles, because in the middle of those boxes of processed foods there are things like garlic powder, Wasa wafers (that don't go stale!), imported chocolate bars, etc that are top dollar at the supermarket but are CHEAP there. 

When I shop, I save the last dollar or two for an extra bag of those frozen veggies that are special or a bag or two of dried black beans, or the real vanilla extract that's on sale because it's the holidays....and so on.  Are you good on frozen or fresh or canned produce, but always get short handed when it comes to spices?  Make those your One For The Cart items the next few shopping trips and make a side trip to the ethnic markets and dollar stores to see how low you can go.  The only way that's fun for me is if I hold onto a few of my dollars and make a fun sidetrip of it when out already running errands, not doing it when I'm flustered and in a hurry.

Most people probably already do it's not so much a groundbreaking concept.  It's just that I never really did it before.   But buying those two extra bags of frozen limas and that couple cans of black beans here and there, and those little sacks of dried beans and split peas add up to MANY suppers of Veggies-and-cornbread, or soups, or hummus, or sides to a plate of fresh veg SO many times.

If you're organized, you can round out a really good collection of spices this way, a stash of dried beans/lentils, baking needs, soup ingredients, personal care items, paper goods, special celebration ingredients, brown bag lunch items, supplements/medicines, and so on...and can eyeball the stash to see which ones need to be re-stocked eventually.

Anyway, the One for the Cart is something I realized I now do instinctually, and was worth at least a mention.  It's a way of having things on hand like that jar of roasted red peppers, some parmesan cheese, some olives, and so on that otherwise I'd be spending three times as much for (or in my case not using at all) to make a regular meal a little more savory, or to make sure there are backup provisions in case we're short one week...or on those  night I accidentally scorch the soup!

I'd love to hear how you increase your reserve supplies without big outlays of cash, and what some of your favorite cart items are when you do  :)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Food Budgeting Part One: Think Real Food

Happy New Year to all!!!

This can be our best year ever...yes, a lot of us in this country and elsewhere are having to be creative about how to make lemonade of lemons, but the nice news is that with some practice it's not only possible, but around here we love lemonade :)

I've decided to break this post into segments instead of my usual monster post, and this week will be putting my mental notes here in black and white, beginning with the subject of some things that ARE working for me as we've already been (of necessity) cutting things way back from our former food budget and eating habits that dovetail with that budget. 

I'll start with something near to my heart:  Nutrition.
It's near to my heart not because I've mastered good eating habits, nor am I a svelte 120 pounds,  nor can I  fit into my jeans from 25 years ago.  I've lost some weight the past year, yet have a lot of pounds to continue losing and am on medications for health problems I still need to solve.

But here's the deal...despair and relinquishment are not the same thing as acceptance of current limitations, and they leave no room for some very simple steps that can, and will, continue to return both me and my husband to good health.

And that is  not only our goal, it is our continued Resolution...every month of the year.

So, what, if anything, have we done right the past couple years in that category, seeing that we still have so far to go?

Well...a LOT...we've changed a lot of habits and spending to nurture it, and have seen results.  And no, we're not perfect and don't have our act all together.   But we love to learn and I wanted to share a little of that changed perspective so that others staring down the barrell of a very short budget don't feel powerless to rise to the challenge...I've felt overwhelmed in the past and have been so encouraged seeing how others solve some of the particulars for their families.  Just sharing a bit of what seems to be working for ours...

First, we keep one particular goal in mind:   Cost.

A lot of people rationalize spending money they don't have because they're told (all the time) some version of the phrases "your health is worth any price" or "this (supplement/procedure/membership fee/etc) is worth it because of the health problems it will save you from later that would be much more expensive to address." 

There are a lot of holistic supplements and treatments Jack and I would glady participate in, that probably WOULD hasten some of our goals more quickly, if not for the cost.

But here's the COSTLY lesson we've learned, and thankfully adopted in the past couple years:  If you don't have the money, DON'T  think the only door to eating and living healthfully is closed...there are many doors.  Just because the money is not there does not mean we're out of options.  This goes for successful lifestyle changes, treatments of medical problems, prevention, and selecting good nutritious foods on a very tight budget.

I had to preface all the other post for this week on this subject by emphasizing that.  GOOD NUTRITION DOES NOT HAVE TO BREAK THE BUDGET.

I'm not a guru on this...we've learned slowly and are still learning. 

We've had to slaughter some sacred cows because of this, as well.  We've had to relax any purist mentality in some areas that are still important to us, but that have to be revised at this moment IN ORDER to facilitate our financial ability until we can reach our goal of EVENTUALLY being more self-sufficient and closer to some of these goals....such as

1.  Eating foods grown locally by small farmers and individuals rather than from the Big Box stores...near to our hearts, this one.
2.  Eating 100% organic, non-pesticide foods
3.  Eating mostly foods grown by us
4.  Eating according to the seasons...seasonal produce, etc.

Here are the goals that supercede those, for the time being:

1.  Being consistent about good eating changes
2.  Stockpiling or otherwise storing extra foods that keep easily for long term storage and are nutritious
3.  Staying away from all or most processed foods
4.  Making it myself in my own kitchen
5.  Coming up with ways to make my own "fast" foods so not everything in the kitchen is time-intensive
6.  Making the nutritious meals taste good...otherwise we won't get used to them and continue eating them
7.  Varying the basics enough that meals with similar ingredients are still appealing even though we eat them a lot
8.  Thinking of survival, simplicity, and self-sufficiency even with every store purchase:  training ourselves to do with very basic ingredients that we could grow if we wanted to or had to
9.  Eliminate preservatives.   If something we buy has a label, choosing the food with no preservatives, additives, food coloring, etc.
10.  Eat for the Cure.   Learning what foods will best support our own particular genetic weaknesses (mine are tendencies for upper respiratory problems and blood sugar issues, Jack's would include high blood pressure) and making them standard fare instead of "bite the nail and swallow the bitter pill" types of cures.
11.  EDUCATE ourselves and DO IT OURSELVES. 

I was in a grocery store the other day and saw a girl in her twenties walking down the aisle, and had a flashback to my young (broke!) days.  In her cart were a variety of boxes and flavors of Ramen Noodles, a lot of pasta, and processed food that price-wise was inexpensive.   I ate like that when I was in college, and it wrecked my health for years.  Not that I'm immune to an annual blackslide into a box or two of Kraft Mac and Cheese, but my mindset is very very different now, of necessity.

I'll go into this further in my next post, but I just wanted to state that the MINDSET before even budgeting on a very minimal amount of money for food NEEDS to be THE HIGHEST FORM OF NUTRITIOUS FOOD FOR THE MONEY.  And THOSE things, thankfully, are the most basic foods...fresh vegetables and fruits, dried beans/peas/lentils, tubers, longterm storage vegetables like winter squashes, quality seeds/nuts/ and some grains.  Preservative-free sweeteners.  

A lot of people have this down pat.  Others, like me, have had to come a long way, baby. 

So....making nutritional goals is first before a single dollar gets spent. 

BUY REAL FOOD.   Food that remembers where it came from, preferably the straight up raw ingredients.   That's the goal.  Anything else, truly, is not exactly FOOD, really, because the more processed those ingredients become before reaching the kitchen, the more they are a substance.

The  most basic elements of our meals are akin to the most basic elements of our budget...sticking to what is essential, not loading up with non-essentials.

That's part one...mindset, before spending a single cent.   More ramble tomorrow...I have no idea how many point there'll be, but at least I'm breaking them up a bit :)

Got food budgeting advice?   We're all ears!