Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Change is a funny thing. Some changes are gradual like my journey into veganism, which started so many years ago because of a picture of muscle fiber bundles in an anatomy and physiology textbook. Other changes are more abrupt and startling to those who aren't living inside your skin, esperiencing the world through your eyes. I feel like I'm on the edge of several of the second type of change. Here's a peek at why.

Try as I might, my job keeps infringing on my personal life. If I can't get this under control soon, I'm going to have to seriously consider making a change in September.

I'm feeling more and more disconnected from the affluence and the desire for affluence that is pervading the area I live in. I do not want or need a house twice the size of the modest one I already live in, which is just shy of 1800 square feet. I grew up with 4 siblings and both my parents living in a house that was about 1100 square feet. I was not emotionally crippled from sharing my space and belongings with my siblings. Although, I did envy my brother, the only boy, who eventually ended up with his own room:)

Similarly, I don't want to drive a big SUV. I acutally look forward to the day that I can trade my minivan in for a much smaller car, preferably one with a stick shift so I can pretend I'm driving a sporty car while I have my midlife crisis and getting good gas mileage. Better yet, I'm itching to abandon using the car as much as possible and rely more on public transportation, walking or biking.

Everytime I see a new shopping center or giant house pop up I cringe inwardly. Did we need another Walgreens or Bed Bath & Beyond? How many Starbucks are necessary in a 10 mile radius? Why do we need all these dollar stores filled largely with low quality products destined to wind up in our landfills after only a few uses? Why is our local grocery store giving away reusable bags but instead of filling them, they're putting them inside plastic grocery bags?

Whatever change I make will be deliberate and thought out, no matter how abrupt and startling it may seem to those around me.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Decisions, Decisions

I'm starting to yearn for summer. Its not about the weather, although NY has been seeing a great deal of snow in the last two weeks. I'm aching more for the simplicity of my summertime lifestyle. Its a lifestyle that doesn't revolve around deadlines and have-tos. There are no phone calls that will drag me into work when I already have plans. There are no snow days that cause me to struggle with what to do with the kids when I have to go to work. The list goes on and on but it essentially boils down to simplicity.

About this time every year I start planning for the summer. Its essential to have a plan, because my income drops dramatically in June and I don't work at all during the summer. We've developed many strategies over the years to avoid feeling pinched. Joining a CSA has been a big part of that. This year, we've joined a CSA that's closer to the Adirondacks so the kids and I will be doing the food pick up each Wednesday. Since we pay in advance for our CSA shares, its just one more expense that we don't have to worry about in the leaner summer months.

We've also been adding edible landscaping to our summer get away. My goal is to add one new plant each year. We started with the ill fated currants, which are now thriving at our year round home. Last year we added the blueberries, a strawberry patch and an herb garden. This year I'm looking to add lignonberries which also thrive in acidic soil and partial shade. I have to make the deicision very soon. I've also got to decide if I'm going to grow potatoes in barrels again very soon.

The girls have begun their own version of planning for the summer. Tasha begins lifeguard training next week in the hopes of working as a lifeguard this summer. Leenie has put together a very grown up sounding letter of interest which she's sent in hopes of working as a camp counselor this summer.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mom, These Are Nasty!

These are words every mother loves to hear. This past week I bought a small container of coconut almond fig rolls. It seemed like a safe bet since everyone liked the individual ingredients. One nibble from each member of the family revealed how wrong that assumption could be. Something about the texture was offensive and the taste was just a little odd. Clearly, this was something that had potential to dwell in my fridge until it had more hair than my lab mix. Yet I couldn't bear to throw it out.

I know sometimes you just have to throw things out but I'm always reluctant to do it. Sure, some things are just fowl and will taint whatever you tried to mix them into. These didn't have that quality though. The key seemed to be to make the pieces smaller and combine them with more flavorful ingredients. Not trusting my instincts completely, I bounced this idea off Tasha and she agreed this might work.

We ended up cutting them up into little pieces and substituting them along with some dried currants and crushed pecans into the scone recipe. The result was very nice and by that I mean, no one could tell that the nasty little coconut almond fig rolls were hiding in the scones.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Freebies

Instructables a how-to website where you can share your ideas This looks really neat. It has two sections that sound especially intriguing; Cheap and DIY.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Race Is On!

The first rule my life seems to be, when time is short, something will happen to make it even shorter. Yesterday was no exception, I got stuck at work until 4:00pm. Once home, I put my cooking plan into action. In truth, I was pooped and it wasn't much of a plan but it got the job done.

Dinner was the first order of business. I decided I needed to make enough to cover lunches the next day, so that's why the proportions seem huge.

I put some tvp in the oven to bake. I've taken Russell's tvp recipe and whittled it down to this:
6 cups tvp
6 cups water
1 Tbs oregano
1 Tbs basil
4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup tamari

This fits nicely on my largest cookie sheet. In fact, I grease the cookie sheet and then combine all the ingredients on it. Less dirty dishes are always a good thing! I bake it at 425 degrees until browned. I like to get it in the oven first to maximize browning time.

Next, I put up a pot of water to boil for the pasta. I chopped some onions and some carrots and tossed them into a pot with a little olive oil. Once they began to soften, I added some garlic. I sliced some collards into thin ribbons and tossed them in as well. I let the collards wilt and finally, I added a large can of tomato sauce plus a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. I let this simmer while the pasta finished cooking.

Dinner made it to the table with a little time to spare, although I had to eat standing up. I dashed out the door to knitting and made it there on time. Score one for me.

I did drive past Stewarts on the way home, but I couldn't bear the thought of buying bread knowing I already had lunches covered. Breakfast was the final challenge and I was too tired to do anything about it last night. Time for plan B.

This morning I set the griddle to heat while I mixed up a batch of pancake batter, with currants and sunflower seeds for better holding power and nutrition. At this point, I can make pancake batter with very little thought or effort. In about fifteen minutes I had the first round of breakfast done. I made a double batch so we'll have tomorrow morning covered as well.

I've put the last two kids on the bus and now I'm just taking a moment to catch my breath. If I make enough of tonight's dinner to cover lunches tomorrow, I'm in the clear. Whew!

I'm definitely getting some bulk cooking done this weekend!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

There's Nothing Left!

It had to happen sooner or later and it finally did. I've run out of food from my bulk cooking sessions. The last of the red lentil loaf, this time served topped with tomato sauce, is heading out of the house in today's lunches. The last of the homemade granola was packed into Jim's cooler as a midmorning snack. I even used the last slices of Barbara's bread to make toast for the first round of people heading out of the house at 7:00am this morning (Jim, Tasha and Leenie).

I need to get some cooking done to get me through to Saturday. At the very least I need something for quick breakfasts and bread for sandwiches. I don't need to shop, my pantry is well stocked and I have plenty of frozen bananas, so banana bread is an easy choice for breakfasts. My real problem is that I'm working from 8:30 until 3:30 and I have my knitting class from 7:00 to 9:00 tonight. That leaves me a very small window of time to get a lot done, including making dinner and helping with homework!

Deep breaths, visualize success and, if all else fails, stop at Stewarts on the way home from knitting to get a loaf of bread:)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Feeding the Family Frugally on the Road

We took the long way home from the Adirondacks yesterday. We detoured through Lake George to see the ice sculptures, one of which was a slide for the kids. They sat on little pads while sliding but they all had cold tushies afterwards!

We then meandered down to our favorite thrift store in Glens Falls. We had a nice visit with the staff there, who all know the kids by name. My thrift store coups were a 1 liter thermos with carrying case for 99 cents (Now I can answer my afternoon coffee craving at work without spending a penny!) and a cast iron frying pan for $2.99!

When we were finally ready to hit the road, we were all starving. We stopped at the Hannaford down the road from the thrift store and got:

2 containers of hummus $8.98
2 packages large whole wheat tortillas $7.98 (I won't buy tortillas if they have hydrogenated oil or aren't whole wheat and this definitely jacks the price up. ALso its hard to comparison shop with hungry kids clamoring around you.)
1 six pack of bottled water $1.67
large container of salad from the salad bar $7.98

Riding in the passenger's seat, I assembled the feast. Take one tortilla, plop 1/6 of a container of hummus onto it. Fold the tortilla in half to spread the hummus. Open tortilla and place a handful of salad into the center. Fold the bottom of the tortilla in and then fold the sides in. Voila, 2 wraps each for 6 people for $25.52. Delicious and fun to eat.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Best Things in Life are Free

We've spent this past weekend in the very snowy Adirondacks. There's at least 3 feet of snow on the ground! I know that's nothing compared to other places but it sure seems like a lot to me.

Last year we found ourselves snow tubing for free at the local recreation center. This year we snow tubed in an unlikely place that was a 2 minute walk from our house, the local beach. Someone mentioned doing this over the summer and we were all intrigued. There's a sloped, curving path down to the beach that made a great snow tubing run. The kids had a blast. We were even able to bring our lab mix, Biscuit, who very much enjoyed tunneling around in the deep snow and chasing the kids on snow tubes.

Since we were tubing so close to the house, we were able to do it several times over the weekend. We were even able to include people who weren't able to make it up in time for our original planned day of tubing. Perhaps the best part was the kids were just as happy, possibly more so, as if we had gone someplace more extravagant.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Not Gummi Bears, Gummy Squares!

In the grand vernacular of children, Gummi Bears are king. I think they're disgusting and loaded with artificial colors, flavors and often times, hydrogentated oils. I'm not planning on buying them for my kids anytime soon. How do you please the kids without compromising your principles and their health?

We came up with a creative solution to this parental dilemma quite by accident. This past month I bought unsweetened papaya spears from our food cooperative and they were a little chewier than the last time. This resulted in several children refusing to eat them. I tried making them more palatable by cutting them into smaller pieces. It worked like a charm and the gummy square was born!

The boys thought this was the coolest thing and they loved saying, "They're not Gummi Bears, they're Gummy Squares!" Robert especially loved that he could eat these during snack time which is limited to fruits or vegetables in his classroom.

Happy Valentine's Day to all. Its snowing, sleeting, freezing raining in the Hudson Valley and the whole family is home.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Odds & Ends

It looks like the Hudson Valley is going to get its first real snow storm tonight. I'm actually rather psyched about it. The only catch is it has to be enough to shut everything down otherwise it will just be a big pain in my behind.

I did another bulk cooking on Sunday, although this one wasn't as much fun as the others since I mostly worked alone. I'm really enjoying the way bulk cooking has taken pressure off of weeknight cooking. This time I made:
several batches of apple muffins
a quadruple batch of Isa's seitan
2 Red Lentil Loaves plus one batch cooked in muffin tins to try in the lunchbox
a large batch of kidney beans
6 loaves of Barbara's bread

The rest of the family was spread throughout the house working on other projects like laundry and vacuuming.

Jim was installing towel bars in the bathroom to replace the hooks that had seemed like such a good idea but never let the towels dry. In the process of taking down the hooks, Jim discovered that he hadn't painted behind them. When he went to get the can of pain to touch things up he made another discovery. I had used that paint when I mixed up leftover paints to paint the boys room. Fortunately, we had more of the darker green paint that we'd used on the cabinets and we were able to use that on the walls. Since the ceiling is white, it really doesn't make the room look small. Ultimately, I may sponge over it with some white to brighten it up.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Few Pictures & Why The Skinny Quilt is Not Worth Adding To

I'll link these up to the posts they belong with later on.

Ruthie wondered if it would be possible to add fabric to the skinny quilt to make it wider. Its a great suggestion but I don't think its worth the effort in this case. The quilts are a bit uneven and lumpy/bumpy because I didn't realize that the edges of storebought quilts usually have the batting rolled. Amy Dacyzyn describes this in detail in the Complete Tightwad Gazette.

This rolling creates a thicker edge or, in the case of a quilt that's been cut down the middle, three thick edges and one skinny one. I suspect adding on to it would make the skinny edge look even skinnier while making the fatter edge look even fatter. I guess what I'm really saying is, it would look shabby and while I'm into frugal, I'm not into looking low quality. This project was clearly a freshman effort at frugality.

Part of what I love about living a frugal life is being able to wow people with my creative solutions. When I made the kitchen towel rack out of an old barbeque grill grate, I was tickled because the finish product looks nothing like the raw materials.

I like Jacq's idea of using them as curtain panels. The skinnier edges could match up in the center making them look more deliberate. Plus I still have the matching pillow cases which could become tie backs. Part of being frugal is looking at old things in new ways.

Here's a peek at the dreaded skinny quilt


Here's a peek at one of the the blankets I crocheted for the boys last year.


Here's a peek at the denim quilt, no peeking at the mess on the floor around the quilt!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Beware the Skinny Quilt!

You never know where you're going to meet a fellow thrift store shopper. Last night at knitting class, the teacher confessed in conversation that she found the sweater she was wearing at the local Salvation Army thrift store. It was hand knit and had really lovely detail. I wouldn't have pegged her as the thrift store type. It just shows you can never tell.

The skinny quilts were one of my early frugal projects. I took an older queen size quilt, cut it in half and then covered the two halves in matching sheets that I no longer used. The result was matching quilts for my sons that were the perfect size for their bunkbeds. That was about 4 years ago and they've worked wonderfully up until now. As the boys have gotten bigger the narrowness of these quilts which was such an asset in the beginning has become a source of aggravation since everytime they roll over, they uncover part of their body.

Although the boys deny that there's any problem and insist they love their current quilts, it looks like I'll be making two heavy quilts in the very near future. To avoid this pitfall, make sure you have at least a 12 inch overhang on both sides when making a quilt. Thankfully I did this with the denim quilts

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lovely Lentils!

I tried a new lentil soup recipe yesterday and it was unbelievably good. I found it at The Vegetarian Group. The recipe is called Lentil Soup with Spinach, although I used collards since I didn't have any spinach on hand. We served it last night with Ruthie's cornbread recipe which is the simpliest cornbread recipe with the most consistently delicious results that I've ever encountered.

We've done more sprouting with excellent results. The whole family is getting a bit addicted to watching the sprouts sprout. Although my family assures me that they will eat them in Cold Thai Noodles forevermore, I need to find some more main dish recipes to use them in.

Tonight I'm heading out to a knitting class offered through the continuing ed department of a local school district. I really enjoyed last week, we learned the knit stitch (I'm not sure if I'm saying that right). Tonight we learn to cast on and then the fun really begins!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Taxing Time of Year?

Today we take a brief detour from all this talk of food...

Its already February, no doubt your W-2's have already made their way to you. So dive in and get things going. Jim and I are huge fans of Turbo Tax. We've used it for years without problems. It helps that our finances are fairly straight forward and uncomplicated. However, the program seems to have the capability to take on far more complex tax returns with its easy interview style and copious help screens.

If you've begun to twitch at the notion of doing your taxes period, consider this very simple way to make future tax times infinitely easier. Start by setting up a file folder to put tax info that you recieve during the year. If you make a charitable donation, put the reciept into the folder. If you do an energy improving home repair, it might net a tax deduction, put the receipts into the folder. Medical bills that might be necessary at tax time go in the folder as well.

Having everything in one place at tax time helps ensure you get all the deductions you are entitled to. It also makes sitting down to do the taxes a much less daunting task. Besides, even if you chicken out and decide to take your taxes to an accountant, he'll be grateful for your organization.

As for actually submitting your tax return, we think filing online is the way to go. Its quick, its convenient, its reliable and, even though there is a charge for it, it gets you your refund significantly faster.

One final note, in our opinion it ain't frugal to fudge! Take the deductions you're entitled to this year, make changes to your payroll deductions if you wound up owing but don't take deductions you aren't entitled to! For me, the stress/guilt of knowing I fudged would far outweigh any extra money recieved. Besides, those penalties really add up quickly.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Split Pea Soup

By request, here's my spli pea soup recipe. In the early days of our vegetarianism, I would add things like seasoned tofu or bac'un bits to take the place of the ham. Now I really find we don't need to. The recipe I use is based on the one in Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook circa 1990. You can easily halve this recipe if you're not cooking for a crowd but if I were you, I'd make it and freeze half.

Split Pea Soup
4 cups dried split peas, rinsed
16 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp dried marjoram or thyme (I use whichever I have)
2 bay leaves
4-6 carrots, diced
4-6 stalks of celery, chopped (I frequently substitute collard or kale stems. I've even used celeriac in place of the celery.)
2 large onions, chopped

Place everything in a large pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the peas are tender. Remove the bay leaves. I usually take a potato masher and mash everything before serving but if you don't mind a chunky soup you can skip this step.

My whole family loves this soup. We've tried other variations that use basil or oregano but we always come back to this one.

I haven't forgotten about the white beans that are going to become a sandwich spread. Its just that the original batch got used in a soup.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Freebies

These are to help those of you with kids get ready for Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day coloring pages

Valentines for the kids to make