Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Just wondering.....

I realized at some point that most of my 'comfort food' recipes so far have been from my paternal grandmothers collection.  Trying to analyze the possible reasoning and make sure I don't shortchange the Grandma who is still alive - she was always a good cook, as is my mother whom I haven't mentioned much either.  This lead to one of those trips down memory lane that people of a certain age are so prone to! (how embarrassing!)  I have memories of very early in my childhood and my mother has confirmed that these events occurred, although she says I always tell them from my point of view.  I do tease her that it really is the only one I can know for sure! 

I come from a very close family and spent a lot of time with both sets of grandparents and my grandparents got along well with each other so I have photos of the family and both sets of grandparents in various places.  My grandfathers were storybook grandfathers - they were laughing, funny, devoted Christian farmers and they both loved me.  (they loved my brother and the other cousins as well but that was not as important to me)  I loved them both dearly and spent many happy hours with them.  My grandmothers were also storybook grandmas - in wonderfully different ways.

My mom's mom is Grandma Nellie, and I remember taking walks in the timber, making crafts at vacation bible school, eating tomatoes right in the garden, her quilts, the beautiful clothes she made us without a pattern, to this day I don't think there is anything she couldn't do in her prime if she set her mind to it, she worked like a man and created beautiful things from 'stuff'.  When  I was putting together a memory book for my parents 50th anniversary I collected stories about the wedding and events leading up to it from old friends and family. Mom and Grandma had looked at bridal gowns and when Mom found the one she wanted Grandma looked at it real close and said OK and then made it for her - I asked about the hoop skirt - how on earth - what did you use to keep it stiff?  Grandma's response was typical of her - "oh I think it was just something laying around on the farm, might of been baling wire"!!  She really was frugal!  Grandma was a good cook, she made the best sweet pickles and her corn flake candy was awesome!  At 100 (101 in September God willing) she says she never didn't eat something because someone told her it was bad for her.  Right before her 100th birthday party she got on her exercise bicycle and I have a picture of her riding her exercise bike and eating a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup candy bar - I told her they'd probably pay her to do that in an ad!  She never said a mean word about anyone and she always loved us and never judged us even during our 'dumb years' and we all had them!
Grandma Nellie and my 2 oldest. 

My mom worked like a man as a young girl as well, Grandad didn't have any sons so his daughters had to fill the bill. Mom liked to be outside and liked the animals and she was the oldest so she worked outside - one of the other two sisters did most of the cooking.  So when Mom got married she really didn't know how to cook much at all.  When she and Daddy told these stories later on in their lives they made them sound funny, but I know that there were some hurt feelings and it took some real perseverance on Mom's part, she had married a man whose mother was an excellent cook and he was kind of spoiled!

Grandma Lottie and my oldest - now 30!

That would be my other grandma, Grandma Lottie.  She had two boys and their wives both thought she spoiled them a little.  (or a lot depending on when you asked!)  This grandma had gotten her first job working for a Swedish family in their kitchen, learning from the cook.  She was the oldest of several children and had learned to cook and keep house and take care of the others early in her life.  She was the quintessential 'homemaker'.  She and Grandad farmed most of their married life, he was a punctual organized German, he ate breakfast at 6am, went out and worked in the fields, came in for dinner at 12 noon and supper at 6pm!  Grandma always had a huge garden without a single weed!  Don't ask me how she did it - we used to say that the weeds were scared to live in her garden!  (dirt felt the same way in her house!)  She figured that if Listerine would kill germs in your mouth it would work on cuts and scrapes too.  (let me tell you that stuff stings) She turned out a farm sized breakfast every morning and as soon as the dishes were done she had started prepping for dinner and supper was planned.  She baked pies for church and visited the sick, she helped with vacation bible school, she was a 4-H leader for cooking and was the only one of her siblings to take care of her father.  But she spent the most time with us granddaughters in the kitchen, and as she taught us to cook she also told us stories -about our dads getting in trouble, about her mom telling stories of the wolves in Russia, about her childhood.  She always sent us home with food even during the years we just lived up the road.  When Grandad had a heart attack and the doctors told him what he should eat - she determined to take care of him by feeding him properly, she adapted recipes and fed him heart healthy, she didn't do too bad he - lived  20 more years after that!

Grandma Lottie taught my mom to cook and she taught me and my cousins as well.  Mom is an excellent cook and my kids have 'grandma favorites' like her roast for Sunday dinner, or her biscuits and gravy breakfasts, oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies.  As good a cook as she is I would never say that my mom loves to cook - she doesn't, and I don't think Grandma Nellie does either, they both cooked to eat.  Grandma Lottie loved to cook and cooked to love!

And there it is - the reason so much of my comfort food comes from my paternal grandma.  The comfort of being loved has always been mine and I know that I am more fortunate than many to have had that comfort from all the people in my family!

I feel better now - it is always good to trace these things back - you know to make sure I'm not getting too batty yet!! 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Am I Frugal?

I sort of think we are living a frugal life, and yet I would see these frugal suggestion challenges on blogs I read and follow,“how do you save money”, and I couldn't think of anything! Hubby says – can't spend what we don't have! OK that's true, but we used to spend a lot more (we had more) what is it we have cut out, I don't feel at all deprived! So I started thinking about this and trying to pay attention to what I was doing with an eye to what I used to do.

The first thing I realized is that we hardly eat any processed foods any more, this was less of a frugal decision than a health decision, but the end result has been to save money. The decision to try and cut down on processed food came after hubby and I both had health issues and needed to take control of our diets. Processed foods for the most part went by the wayside - he still eats vienna sausages now and then (ugh!) and I occasionally need a Krusteaz blueberry pancake! (I can't explain it) In the main though we are pretty good with buying ingredients and fixing at home. It is mostly cheaper to make it yourself from ingredients you buy in bulk, but you have to be vigilant, some things are cheaper ready made. One of they ways I am more frugal is that I take the time to shop and compare to get the best deal.

We found that you could set up an online account at our local library and look up to see if they have a movie and if they do you can put in a request for it, just like books. Some of the newer movies take awhile to get since you are not the only one there but you can't beat the price! FREE! I know some libraries have a deposit of a dollar or two, it is worth checking out. This is a good way to see those HBO and Showtime series that we won't subscribe to! (currently 'Game of Thrones' for us!)  Hubby loves to watch movies and I love to read so the library does save us money – he used to belong to blockbuster and I have book ownership issues. (I own many, many books.) If I find a book I think I need to own I go to the used book store, where I have an account and use credits and small amounts of cash. Thrift stores are another source of cheap book finds.

I am not a big fan of coupons as they are usually for processed foods we no longer eat, here and there is a good deal on something I would buy anyway (razors, toilet paper etc.) or will stick in the emergency kit in the car. (granola bars, wipes) However as much as I am irritated by tracking done by stores using their 'rewards' cards, I do belong to certain ones. Joann’s is one of my favorite fabric and supply stores and I am on the mailing list and e-mail list, I do not use all the offers but every 2 or three months they have a '50% off your entire order' coupon and that is worth the effort! Last summer when I was doing all of the new curtains I had one of these and $100 worth of fabric and thread became $50 plus tax – how cool is that? Same thing when I was doing handmade Christmas gifts – yarn and fabric at 40% off – yippee! I also try to keep at least one of their coupons in my purse all the time even if it is a little one just in case I have a zipper, thread etc, emergency - I never pay full price!

Multi-purposing the stuff we have, I refinished the dining room table using the stain I had bought for the floors last year. The left over white paint from the walls is still good and is doing touch ups this summer. I went through my old clothes boxes and cut up things that I would not wear again and have not bought any quilting fabric for two years, just doing scrappy quilts stretches my imagination, is fun to work with, and the fabric all has memories!

We are fortunate that Hubby has skills – he can look at things and figure out how they work – then he can fix them! DIY is a big part of our lifestyle and that is not new. We are in the process of cutting down trees that need to be removed, we hired the guys to do the one that was just too big and we are doing the ones we think we can handle. I am hoping to lay new bathroom flooring this week, we do our own painting.

I review our insurance for the home and the cars every year, I have kept my insurance license current and even though I no longer actively work in the business I know what I need and I know how the system works, I watch for increases that are computer added and in our current economic times are just not based in actual values. I watch for changes to coverages and make sure we are getting a good deal and I do my homework on which companies pay claims in a timely manner and do not mess with the fly by night cheap guys but go with quality and value, some things are too important to cheap out on, and lots of companies have good rates if you are a good driver and have not had a homeowners claim.

We haunt the thrift stores with our lists of things we would like to eventually have but don't need immediately, we check store ads to see what's on sale that we need, we garden and can and freeze.

OK I am feeling better. I think maybe our lifestyle has become so 'normal' to us it no longer seems frugal!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

One of the things we are trying to remember to plan is little getaways. We live in beautiful country and fun things are fairly close to us, we are semi retired, we have time, we need to do fun things away from home now and then. This all makes perfect sense and everyone would agree with it, so how do we manage to forget? So the other evening we watched a DVD that our friends loaned us on Idaho and we saw Bruneau Dunes State Park and I said to Hubby “we still need to go there.” He got on the internet and reserved one of the camping cabins at the state park and we were off. It wasn't too long a drive and we picked a perfect day to go, it was not too hot and the impossible blue skies the Rocky Mountain West is famous for had a few fluffy white clouds . People think of Idaho they usually think of mountains and trees, but the southern part of the state is very much endless prairie country! We went for 2 days and one night and just had a great time.

Bruneau Dunes boasts the largest single structure sand dune in North America!

The Oregon trail is the 2000 mile corridor that brought settlers from the east to the west in the United States- namely Oregon and California. It begins in Missouri and ends at the Pacific Ocean. Most of the westward trails of the 1800s started at independence MO, they started branching off from there – The California, Mormon and Oregon trails followed the same general route to Wyoming where the Mormon trail goes south, the California trail heads south at Fort Hall Idaho and the Oregon trail splits at old Fort Boise and goes north or almost directly west. If you ever get a chance to go to the Great River Road Archway in Kearney Nebraska – do it! It's a very well done interpretive center one of the best I've ever seen. So many people moved along this route that the ruts were dug in the trail very deep and folks could follow the trail by the ruts. In many places along the trail west there are still ruts left from that time, most are being preserved and kept from being destroyed by time or progress. People who are interested in the trail and who learn about the history and go to see the ruts wherever they can are called 'rut nuts'!

I am something of a 'rut nut', (could you tell?) So imagine my delight when I looked at the map of where we would be and discovered that we could come home a different way and follow the Oregon trail southern alternate route on the south side of the Snake river!
So we went camping, climbed dunes, and I got a dose of Oregon trail history that I had not seen before. I love historical markers and Hubby is only slightly less interested, he never actually says he loves historical markers – but he does love museums and we found one in Murphy Idaho that was all about the silver and gold mining days that was very well done. What an awesome trip! 

The cabins at the state parks are rustic (no bathroom or running water but very clean and comfy) and $50 per night, we took all our food and so our fun outing only cost gas and the cabin. A great time was had for about $80!

The best part is that I now have only about 200 miles of the Oregon trail that I have not been on! That I have kept track of this probably says something about me I may have wanted to keep to myself! I do love history!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

As promised - Kraut!!

I like sauerkraut. It could be my German genes but I just like it, I wanted to make homemade kraut but have been intimidated by the list of requirements - mainly the crock. So there I was telling my Mom on the phone about my kraut desire and she reminisced about her family eating a lot of kraut when she was small and I asked her how Grandma did it as I didn't remember her doing the 'crock' thing (that was the other Grandma). Grandma was apparently sitting on the couch nearby and Mom yelled (Grandma doesn't hear well anymore, she's 100 yrs old) and asked her how she did it – and she said “oh I just put it in the jars and put em in the cellar.” Mom and I thought that sounded too easy, so the next day I got out the old 1940's Kerr canning book and sure enough there it was, making kraut in jars! OK, but we've learned a few things about canning since then, so I decided to double check the internet – there it was, even found agricultural extension booklets with instructions. Not only did I find that this is common practice but that this is extremely healthy. I will now share with you the things I learned that I did not know.

The basic premise behind these traditional fermented foods is this: lacto-bacillus bacteria cultures take over the food, producing lactic acid. This not only increases the nutritional value of the food (often increasing some vitamin content like B-12 and C by 300-600%!), but it also preserves the food for months or even years while producing a pleasantly sour taste. In modern, industrialized food production we fear the inconsistency of such traditional natural ferments, so we mimic that sour taste with vinegar while killing off all bacteria using hot water bath or high-pressure canning methods. While this gives us food that tastes almost like the traditional good stuff (or at least it tastes sour), it also gives us dead food devoid of the extra nutrients and healthy beneficial probiotic cultures found in a living, naturally-fermented food.
--Above from foodrenegade.com

Who Knew!? I just thought it was a good way to keep stuff through the winter (it is), and tasted good (it does) I suspect probiotics is something Grandma really didn't care about!  So, armed with official sanctions I decided to try it.

Apparently fermenting does not actually require boiling sterilization of jars, but I did anyway because of all those years of 4-H coupled with the microbiology classes in college. (I have some issues) Armed with clean jars, knife, large bowl, kosher/canning salt and of course cabbage (clean, washed, outer leaves removed) I began. The ratio of salt to cabbage is roughly one pound cabbage to a scant tablespoon or a rounded half tablespoon of canning/kosher salt. Do not cut back on the salt, this is your preservative here. (there are those who add a teaspoon of sugar or caraway seeds as well - I did not as I am wanting to do the 1940's – grandma recipe) I do not have a scale the right size for this so I estimated the size of my small cabbage heads and used a tablespoon of salt per head.

The beginning is almost too simple – slice the cabbage thin saving a couple of clean outer leaves, thin slicing is an issue for me be it noodles, cabbage or even cheese, so mine is not the requisite 1/16 inch in the recipe (who are these people measuring this sort of thing?) Next step is up to you, some recipes say to put the salt and cabbage in a bowl or pot and rub or squeeze until it starts to produce liquid, the recipe I am following just said to layer salt and cabbage as it is cut into a container and then mix with your hands like tossing a salad.

                                                                         Now when it is all mixed start filling jars, I used the wooden pusher tool that came with my meat grinder to pack it tightly down in the jars. I filled the jars almost to the neck. I then filled with (bottled, filtered, well or boiled) water. Don't know what chlorine and fluoride would add to the mix, I have well water so just ran from the tap into the jars! Seriously! Remember the clean outer leaves I saved – now I took these - folded them up and put in the top like a cover then lightly screwed on the caps with rings. Why lightly? When I called Grandma the next day to tell her she was right (she says that happens to her once in awhile) she said “well don't forget to put em on a tray, they'll ooze" – WHAT! The Kerr canning book never said ooze – not once! She said they quit oozing when the kraut is 'made' or fermentation is done (in 3-4 days) and it's ready to eat in 4 to 6 weeks. While the process is going, if the kraut oozes out too much liquid, you can add brine (tablespoon of salt to quart of water) to keep it covered. At this point it can be canned like kraut from a crock (water bath 15 minutes) but it will last a winter season (4-6 months) with no further processing if kept fairly cool. The downside of additional processing, remember, is the loss of most of the probiotic benefits to the heat.

Took pictures today of my latest 'cabbage into jars' project.

And the ones I did last week that have finished fermentation.  Note the slight change in color.

I unscrewed the rings on these about 3 times a day for 4 days and then they stopped oozing, so today I rinsed the jars off, rinsed the salt brine off the rings, tasted the kraut and then screwed down the rings fairly tightly. So far so good. The overflow liquid smelled right and today when I tasted it it tasted right. When I tasted it I was so jazzed, it really was sauerkraut!!! It really was that easy!!!! 

Be careful unscrewing lids, this stuff really produces some gas!  I spent some time cleaning up the spurt! I also put the exact date on my lids so I would know which was which, which was close to done and which to eat first.

There is a wealth of information on this process on the web and it is easy to find, just google 'making sauerkraut in jars'. Good luck to you on your efforts and let me know how it works out for you!

Monday, July 15, 2013


The real test of the garden is not the pictures, although I have documented in pixels the progress of the 'crops'. No - the real test is production!!!! We kept our expectations low, this was our first real season of gardening here, and we had only done the one raised bed, and.....we just didn't expect much. We have been very pleasantly surprised.

This was the first morning I had to take a basket out to get it all in (and yes I did miss that monster zucchini several days running, it was standing upright!) think the cucumbers are about every 3 days now for picking, same for the squash, we should have our first crooknecks in a couple of days as well. The real excitement for me was the cabbage. I did not know what to expect and they looked so small from the top that I was prepared for 'nothing much'. They are perfect, They are very heavy with tightly packed leaves and the flavor is very good, next post we do kraut! We are definitely thinking we will plant cabbage in the fall garden as well.  
I resolved to add more recipes to the blog and so here is the first of my new pledge!

This is summer comfort food for me! This works with store bought veggies but is so much more satisfying with fresh!!

Gomen Salat (Cucumber salad)

Half and Half (straight cream or a combo of sweet and sour cream)
Cucumbers sliced thin – peel especially if they are bitter
3 or 4 hard boiled eggs – chopped
Sliced green onion (½ to whole medium onion)
Salt to taste - Pepper if you like
Let sit refrigerated for flavors to mix

My 'German from Russia' grandmother made this and her recipe is in the parenthesis, my recipe is how I like it. I like it a little less rich and even use 2% milk these days. I like pepper in it (Grandma never put pepper in anything white - said it looked like fly specks!) and an overnight set in the fridge to let the flavors mingle is good. This salad is a taste that takes me right back to grandmas kitchen as a kid! I am sure the genesis of this recipe is frugality - everything in it was produced on the farm, grandma had a huge garden, chickens and they milked for many years.

I will post this here today as my tribute to the 250th anniversary year of Catherine the Great inviting the Germans (her people) to come to Russia for free land!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Time in a bottle

I have been thinking about time a lot lately. Specifically how nice it is to have time. (I say this knowing that tomorrow is promised to no man, and God is in control, and my 'having time' could be an illusion!)

When the kids were little we struggled to have time to get anything done! The demands of a kindergarten student and 2 preschoolers 15 months apart were amazing. Hubby would come home from work and say what did you do today and I would be so upset because I could not point to one thing and say – that - but I was running non stop all day, I was doing something?! When they all got to school I went back to work, and now I was running to school, to work and then to their activities, now we were trying to get everything done! Of course during this period of time I had a whole list of things I had done and don't get me wrong I adored all the years, I loved the preschool years, I loved elementary and up. I cried happy tears at graduation and fearful/proud tears at enlistment, happy tears at the weddings and sad tears when we moved to a different state than the kids. They were some of the best years of my life.

Those years were so full of activities that there was very little time for 'taking the time', the garden was some tomatoes in containers, reading was a treat, sewing was limited to mending, 'scratch' cooking was a weekend treat (if there was no band competition, drumline competition, church activities or family outings) Somehow grandma's noodles never seemed to come out quite right for me, I went to the store and looked at things that I liked and said “oh I can't spend money on that because I can make that myself”, knowing in my heart I wouldn't do it, I just didn't have time. When we got ready to move from our home of 27 years I was mildly shocked and somewhat saddened by the boxes of kits, and patterns that I had purchased and not used!

Neither Hubby nor I ever thought we would retire this young, we thought we would work at least till our 60's because we wouldn't have enough money to do otherwise. The layoff was not unexpected, the permanence of it this time was, it became obvious the jobs weren't coming back. The economy crashed, the jobs were ended, the house was worth what we owed, the 401K was getting smaller! We were so fortunate! God truly is in control and we tend to forget that in the good times, he had a plan for us and this was what it took to get us into place.

So here we were, a small but adequate pension, enough left in the 401k to buy the fixer upper outright (with more property than we thought we could afford), the layoff came after enough years that our medical insurance is paid by the company (can you say incredible blessing?), and we just have to be frugal to survive!

Now I have time!

The noodles come out right when you take the two days to make and dry them properly, the garden is much bigger and will supply much of our produce for the summer and some canning for the winter months, those patterns are still good and the projects are things that we need and want around the house. The furniture we brought with us was the antiques, the recent purchases came from the thrift store and have all needed some work (cushions, legs, sanding etc), some of the work is done but the list is long! My sewing skills are better when I'm not in a hurry, cooking is more fun when it is not on the run! Our home is comfortable now, it is filling up with the things we like to do and have always wanted to do.

There is time for the Lord. Sometimes it seemed that Bible study and reading were luxuries. It is hard to read the Bible when there are constant interruptions and then late at night when the 'interruptions' were in bed I was so tired I could hardly concentrate. We took the kids to church and volunteered in AWANA, sang in the choir, volunteered for bake sales and went to retreats – in a rush. Today I did my devotion on the back porch, read in my Bible listening to the birds, and thought about how much I enjoy my time these days. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 3, “To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” This then, for me, is the time to take my time, do it right, do it well and maybe pass some of it along. This is my season to enjoy a simpler existence, to reconnect with the Hubby.

Thank you Lord for this season!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

Independence has so many meanings, for so many different people whether or not they live in the USA.

One of my favorite blogs to read is the "Frugal Queen", a lady in the UK who is working and practicing financial independence and helping her readers live frugally.  I read "Rural Revolution" by a lady and her family who are living a lifestyle that leaves them independent in many ways.  I also love the "down to earth blog" about the freedom of living simply, written by a woman in Australia. (They are listed on the sidebar) Most of the blogs listed on my sidebar are about these topics. Each of these is a wonderful aspect of freedom.

My thoughts today turn to the real freedom that I have as a Christian, while I need to follow the laws and try to do the right thing, I am free from hell.  I will go to heaven when I die.  I am saved!  I think of Paul writing in prison about his freedom and privilege.  So I will celebrate the Independence Day of my country the same as usual, I will continue working with others to try and preserve our freedoms and to keep our constitution intact.  But I know deep in my heart it may not work and we may lose our country as we know it.  I am still free.  My salvation does not depend on the government, the UN, the President, the leadership of the world, the Middle East situation, Putin in Russia or the new guy in Egypt.  My salvation and my freedom come from the one who knows what will happen tomorrow and he holds me in his hand.

So I will celebrate the first nation that gave its citizens true religious freedom, I will be grateful for my life and the lifestyle my country allows me to have, I will pray for the future - but I will not worry about it.  No matter what comes - I AM FREE!