Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Tale of Two Tapiocas

I wanted to make a dessert to bring on a visit yesterday but its hard to cook when your entire living room is in your kitchen. I needed fast and easy with ingredients that I could actually get to.

At first I thought a pudding pie, but then there's always a risk that the pudding won't set enough. You wind up with a tasty but unappealing looking mess. Individual custard cups with crust on the bottom and pudding on top would have been nice but they wouldn't transport very well.

Finally it clicked, make pudding and a crumbly crust that could be sprinkled on top of the pudding at serving time! I could even reach the tapioca that I wanted to use!

I used the recipe on the back of the box adjusting it to make it vegan. I made two batches, one vanilla and one chocolate. I subbed soymilk for milk, 1 Tbs ground flax seed for egg and 3 Tbs cocoa powder plus 3 Tbs canola oil for the 3 squares of baker's chocolate (that was not to make it vegan, it was because I didn't have baker's chocolate in the house).

Ground flaxseed may not be the best choice esthetically because it does show in the vanilla, however, it looks a lot like shredded vanilla bean. No one complained about it and I would used it again.

Now for the crumbly crust. I took my inspiration from an apple crisp recipe and the crust in Company Pudding recipe in The More With Less Cookbook. It's a combination of oatmeal, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and canola oil. I had to make it twice though, since I burned the first batch to cinders. (I got distracted when the rug installers finally arrived and didn't hear the oven timer going off.)

Would you believe I even started to burn the second batch? There was just too much going on as we tried to move furniture back into place and rehang pictures on the wall. (If you're wondering why the pictures had to be rehung, the installers asked me to take them down so they didn't knock them off the wall when they used the kicker to stretch the rug into place.) Fortunately, I caught it in time to rescue most of it.

As fate would have it, the vanilla version was a bit watery so I was pleased with my decision. Topped with the crumbly topping, it was hardly noticeable and it tasted very good. The chocolate set up beautifully. Personally, I thought the topping tasted better on the vanilla than the chocolate but people enjoyed it on both.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Here's What's New Today

I should be emptying furniture out of the living room but I've snuck away to write a quick post.

I finally started cuttting some of the jeans into squares, rectangles actually, for my latest quilt. I opted for rectangles because I had quite a few pairs of Jim's jeans that had completely worn out front of the legs while the back was pristine. This allowed me to cut larger pieces hence the rectangles. I'll salvage squares from the fronts of the legs. The finished quilt will be a mix of the squares and rectangles. I'll post pictures as it begins to come together. Right now its just a pile of fabric.

I've got two knitting projects going right now. One is a scarf which seems goofy in light of the warmer temperatures. The other is a log cabin blanket. I need to finish the scarf because I want to use the leftovers in the log cabin blanket. I also need to set aside some money to buy Mason-Dixon Knitting because I can only renew it one more time!!

We're still living off food from this weekend. Lunch today was sliced baked seitan with guacamole on homemade bread. YUM! Later today I'll be making some desserty thing and a breakfasty thing, although I'm not sure what. I need to see what dried fruit I still have before deciding. I can't wait until we get a little further into the growing season.

Speaking of the growing season, check out this brief article at Mother Earth News on perennial salad greens. How great is that? Salad greens that just appear in early spring year after year.

Now I'm off to empty that living room!

Monday, April 28, 2008

I Need a Weekend to Recover From My Weekend!

Spring has officially sprung in the Hudson Valley. Just step outside and you'll hear the whir of lawnmowers, weed trimmers and the like. Signs for garage sales are springing up like early daffodils along the roadways.

This weekend we found ourselves dealing with our spring fever in an odd ADD sort of a way. We jumped from one project to the next in a way that not only defied logic but should also have prevented success. Instead, we thrived and managed to get a huge amount done.

Here's a peek at how the weekend went. We'll jump back to Thursday evening to start things, since that's when the lower element in the oven caught fire. That's when we learned that you could cook pizza on a cast iron griddle if you use a cookie sheet as a lid. Cast iron pans with the lines on the bottom work really well when covered too. Creativity is clearly born out of necessity around here. BTW, if you've hung around this blog long enough you'll know that this was my second fire in the oven experience.

Task 1 for the weekend: Find out where to purchase the oven element, buy it and replace it.

Then there was the problem of Mel, our leaky little bichon. He's 9 1/2 and he leaks. You could walk him to the moon and back but he still leaks. He wears doggy diapers in the house but he leaks through them with alarming regularity. He's already ruined the living room rug. In fact, it was so bad we ripped it up to get rid of the smell. But since you can't just have a plywood floor in your living room, a new one was already on its way (an eco friendly corn based product but more on that another time). The carpet store called Thursday to let us know that the carpet we ordered had come in and they were coming to install it Tuesday.

Task 2 for the weekend: Solve the Melly leaks problem without killing or rehoming the dog.

My parents had an outdoor dog pen that they weren't using. A quick phone call later and we had an outdoor pen lined up for Mel. In the nice weather, he can spend his days outside. The pen is even big enough for Biscuit to hang out with him. (Don't ask me about winter or bad weather, I haven't gotten that far yet.) He can spend his nights in his crate inside, which is where he likes to be anyhow.

Task 2 amended: Pick up pen at my parent's house.

We were having friends over Friday evening and Friday had been a busy day so Jim ran to the store while I waited for Rob to finish swim team. Last minute trips to the store are rarely frugal and this one was no exception. It happens. While our friends were over they told us about an appliance parts store in the area.

Task 1 amended: Go to appliance store and purchase oven element.

It sounded like things were getting easier but actually this is when things got screwy. Since it had been a hellish week, we slept in Saturday morning. This was obviously a huge mistake. When Jim called the appliance parts store, we discovered they had the part but they closed in 45 minutes and they were a 25-30 minute ride away. Jim ran out of the house without finishing his coffee but he got there before the store closed. Within two hours of the phone call, the oven was in working order again.

Thge rest of the tings we hoped to accomplished seemed pretty manageable. Mow the lawn, have the girls really clean out their closet, empty the living room in anticipation of the rug coming Tuesday and see if we couldn't clean out the garage a bit.

Then we discovered we would be entertaining on Sunday afternoon. Skip taking the living room apart. Plan a snack menu as well as a dinner menu, just in case. Another trip to the grocery store was required since our bulk food order wasn't coming until Wednesday.

The Jim tried to adjust the flood lights outside our garage door and the metal fixture broke off in his hand. I wish I had a picture of the look on his face but I was too busy saying something like, "I can solve this problem" to snap it. The perk of decluttering is you never know what you'll find along the way and sometimes, it's pretty useful stuff. I was pretty sure I had come across a motion detector floodlight fixture that we'd bought about nine years ago but never installed. Forty five minutes later, we once again had a working light fixture outside the garage doors and it was a motion detector too!

In between this madness, I started attacking the areas of the garage that are largely my domain, namely kids stuff. We had 5 pairs of cleats that fit none of my kids, 2 sets of training wheels that are gathering dust...the list grew everytime I turned my head. So I embarked on a freecycling and garbage removing frenzy while Jim worked on the light.

I won't bore you with the details of the rest of the day but it went on and on like that. So did Sunday morning. Sunday's snacks were prepared or purchased with the idea that they would easily become lunch snacks or part of dinner. For example, the veggie platter became part of the Jerk Seitan that we had for dinner last night, nuts were divided into containers to take with lunches. You get the idea.

As it turned out, our guest had to leave before dinner so the barbequed lentils that I had cooking in the slow cooker will be tonight's dinner. Since our guests left earlier than we'd expected we ran over to my parent's house, got the dog pen and set it up here before dinner.

Not the way I'd planned it, but everything got done and we had a lot of laughs along the way.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Few Quick Notes

The almond milk yogurt is officially a no go. It doesn't firm up. No matter, it will be used in baking. I'll stick to making soymilk based yogurt, which firms up with amazing regularity.

The rag balls I mentioned yesterday take a longer to make than I thought so I'm still working on them. That also means I never got to cut any quilt squares.

Finally, the sparring gear pickup was a bust. The person did show but her school of karate uses a different type of sparring gear. Bummer!

Now I'm off to make some more rag balls and get to those quilt squares!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Things That Take Up Space & Serve No Purpose

There are things in life that serve very little purpose but take up a huge amount of space. The sparring gear that's been sitting on the top shelf of my sons' closet since last May is a great example of this.

The boys lost interest in karate when they discovered swim team this past September. I held onto the karate gear because there is nothing that pisses this frugal momma off more than having to repurchase something she's just gotten rid of. So I waited and waited and waited.

I finally asked the boys if they planned to return to karate last week. They said no. I ask if they would mind if I got rid of their sparring gear. They said no. I wanted to be really sure so I waited until yesterday and asked them again. They said, "NO!"

So, I listed the almost brand new sparring gear on a local tag sale website. Happily, someone is supposed to pick it up later today. The closet is emptier and my wallet will be fuller. (Unless of course, the person is a no show. Chile, I'm thinking of you!)

I was pondering the idea of a project log again. I had planned to make a summer weight denim quilt for our bed last year but promptly forgot about it when the cold weather arrived. As I lay melting under the heavy quilt last night, I had a eureka moment and remembered my original plan. Would a project log have helped?

At least now I have a plan for the massive amount of worn out jeans that I've saved. I have other clothes that I'm planning to cut into strips and wind into rag balls for future projects, like that nifty rug in Mason-Dixon Knitting.

A google search on winding fabric into rag balls, revealed the dumbest thing I've ever heard of, how to make decorative rag balls. Actually, a lot of sites had similar projects. I swear this is proof that civilization is crumbling! Then I remembered that Ruthie had found this rag rug tutorial which revealed how to cut the fabric into strips and wind them into balls. I also like her joining technique (knot the ends together).

So here's the decluttering plan for today. Cut fabric and wind into balls, making sure not to use fabric that's been set aside for the boxer short project. I'd also like to get some squares cut for the queen size denim quilt. Maybe I'll even write down a few plans for future projects.

I've got a batch of alomond milk only yogurt brewing. I was super careful with the temperature so this batch should tell all.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

No-gurt & Gardening Plans

I did it! I cleaned all the crap out of the cutlery drawer. I also showed the newly cleaned drawer to anyone who walked in the kitchen, although most didn't care as much as I did.

I've been making yogurt regularly and using a bit from the last batch to start the next with great success, until this past week. I had it in my head to try making the yogurt from almond milk instead of soy, in the interest of variety and just to see what that would be like. For my first batch I decided to mix half soymilk and half almond milk. The mixture bubbled and fermented a bit but didn't make yogurt.

Never one to give up, I reheated the mixture, let it cool and added fresh starter. Still, some bubbles and a fermented smell but no yogurt. I'm left wondering if I messed something up in the preparation or if almond milk isn't a good base for yogurt.

I'll be trying again Sunday night. This time I'll do one thermos batch of soymilk and one of almond milk. I'll also be sure to pay very close attention to my thermometer. I confess, I often put the giant measuring cup with the heated soymilk and thermometer in it next to me on the coffee table to cool. I glance at it while I'm knitting or enjoying an old movie with Jim. Usually I catch it just in time but sometimes I lose track and it gets too cold. That might have been the problem with this batch.

BTW, a batch of yogurt that doesn't quite set works wonderfully in place of clabbered milk in biscuit recipes. If your yogurt does set, the whey that you drain off to thicken the yogurt works really well in biscuit recipes too.

The beautiful weather yesterday distracted me from my inside tasks and lured me outside so I haven't really decluttered much more. I've got the itch for summer. Fortunately, we're heading upstate this weekend. A quick call to town hall in our little Adirondack town yesterday revealed that there is still some snow on the ground up there. No planting this weekend but I'll hopefully be able to plan the new home for the currants since there are blueberry bushes in their original place.

My worms have been given strict orders to work overtime so I can adequately fertilize these thrice transplanted bushes!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Is Your Stash Worth Storing?

I confess, my kids are off from school this week and blogging is not a big priority for me. I have ventured into the garage for a bit of decluttering but just a bit. Here's some good decluttering news from the garage though. I was able to sell one of the guinea pig cages that we no longer use. (Decluttering for fun and profit?!)

I'm planning an attack on the cutlery drawer later today. Do I need a fish boning knife? (I'm vegan so probably not.) How many skinny rubber scrapers does one family need? (I hate skinny ones, they do a lousy job.) Is it time to get rid of the knives with the handles that have half come apart from broken rivets? (Probably yes, they were a wedding gift back in 1990. I think we've gotten enough use out of them.) What other mystery crap is taking up space in that drawer??

Meals have been pretty basic. I've relied heavily on my 14 day menu for inspiration. That's not so shocking since that's what it's there for. I guess what's shocking to me is how well it's working.

We've begun the great closet change up, where winter clothing is trucked up to the attic and summer clothing is brought down. This is a great opportunity to go through clothes and weed out the too worn items. Several of Jim's shirts are too worn at the collar and cuffs to be repaired but they'll make great material for the upcoming little boy boxer short project. Other shirts are being saved for rug making projects. The trick is to keep the useful, store it well and still get rid of crap along the way. This is the real challenge.

I save all sorts of things if I think they'll be useful down the road. For example, oversized envelopes with just my son's name on them get sent home from school several times a year. I save them and use them for shipping out my own stuff. I also save padded envelopes. You just put an address label over whatever was written on the envelope the first time. (In fact, I think Ruthie and Sarah have been the recipients of these preused envelopes.) These are useful and easy to store.

Unfortunately, not everything is so clear cut. Only you can look at your stuff and decide what is worth storing and how best to store it (without buying more crap to store it in!!) I'm wondering if a project log would be useful. It could be a place to catalog what you've saved for what project and maybe even to write down a goal finish date. Like the meal plan, would it help you get started on your next project and avoid the abandoned project piles of the past? Could you use it to help you clear future clutter? (If I don't start by this date, I'm never starting this project and these materials should be donated?)

What do you think?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Baby It's A Bib

The bib for my nephew's birthday sparked a lot of lively conversation among the party guests. It turns out people aren't as different as they may initially seem. There were a lot of closet crafters in the group. There was even a closet crafter who outed herself in a big way when she recreated her sons favorite baby toy for her grandson! I didn't know my mother had it in her!

There was also an almost universal feeling among the parents in the group that gift giving for children had gotten out of control. Most agreed that useful, handmade gifts were a welcome change. There was even talk of beginning mitten projects for holiday gift giving. It was really inspiring.

That's not to say I didn't raise a few eyebrows when I mentioned my penchant for unraveling thrift store sweaters as a source of yarn for my projects but Rome wasn't built in a day.

Just for the record, I love the simplicity of the bib pattern from Mason-Dixon Knitting. I just need to work on my button hole technique. I think I created a new stitch while trying to make the button hole.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pants as Packaging?

Today, I'm packing these boxes of clutter into my car and dropping them off at the thrift store after work. Another larger item that's been in my way for a long time is being donated to our swim team tonight. It feels good to declutter with Chile!

As for the birthday gift for my nephew, I'm about 1/2 way through the bib pattern from Mason-Dixon Knitting. I'm using yarn from a sweater I unraveled a while back. I like the almost denim look the yarn has.

Speaking of kids, my son is learning to play recorder in school this year. He already had a decent recorder but he wanted to buy a new one so he'd have a case like everyone else. (Naturally, the case his came with has been missing for several years now.) I offered him this challenge. He could spend $5.00 of his own money and buy a new recorder or he could design a cover and I would make it for the existing recorder. He really struggled with this decision. For an 8 year old, its a pretty big one. In the end he decided to use the recorder we had. That meant I had to make a case for it.

Here's the pattern he drew. Notice the excrutiating detail he has included. He's very specific. I thought I really might be in deep trouble with this one.

I headed to the drawer of pants in need of a project and found the perfect pair of cotton black pants to use.

I did a lot of measuring as I tried to convert his desired pattern into a real one. Here's a hint for anyone embarking on a task like this, keep the object you are making the case for close by. This allows you to continually check to see if the size is still ok.

Anyone could make this or something like it. In fact, I think its a great project for practicing your sewing skills. Even the embroidery is just a very basic backstitch. Remember this: You can do great things with some basic skills!

Here's the finished product.

And here's the happy kid with the finished product.

Rob couldn't wait to show his music teacher his new case. There's an added bonus. He'll alway know which recorder case is his.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Decluttering, Knitting & a Challenge

I'm still decluttering along with Chile but I jumped ahead a little and began tackling some majorly cluttered corners of my kitchen cabinets. (Forgive me Chile, I had to, otherwise the boxes I'm using to declutter might have become part of the clutter!)

We've weeded out all of the plastic cups, as well as an insane number of coffee mugs and an odd assortment of champagne flutes. How many of any of these things do I really need?? We've packed them in boxes to be donated on Thursday. We're not done yet, the pile of boxes is still growing.

Using Chile's 10 minute technique as a jumping off point, we've been cruising through rooms, cabinets and drawers. Obvious clutter is removed and packed away to donate or just tossed if not donate worthy. Going through the house this way is a lot like pretreating a stain. I'm making the first pass now to make the final round go that much easier.

In knitting news, I just took Mason-Dixon Knitting out of the library. What a fun book. There are patterns in there for things I'd never considered, like a curtain or a hand towel or a rug or a super absorbent bath mat. I'm inspired! I did have to go online and look up what the devil yarn forward and yarn back meant, even though its totally obvious. I can't help it, I had to make sure it meant what I thought it meant!!!

Today's agenda includes washing tons of laundry, making a batch of chili for dinner and making bread. All the while I'll be peeking around for clutter to dispose of while making sure new clutter doesn't enter the house.

I've also got a birthday present to plan for my nephew who's turning 1 this weekend. Hmmm...maybe that bib pattern I saw in Mason-Dixon Knitting...I certainly have the yarn to do it. Actually I thought this post was over but the thought of my nephews birthday reminded me of something that's been on my mind for a long time.

What is the deal with gift giving for kids anymore? I'm especially talking about little kids. We give them more stuff than they could possibly use. Giant plastic toys, noisy toys, toys with gazillions of little parts that always are missing. I can't be the only parent who noticed that most of it just sits around once the party ends. This is the very genesis of some of the clutter parents are dealing with right now.

Trends start somewhere. If everyone who reads this blog vows to never buy another present for a child, just to buy a present and instead gives something useful and handmade, image the impact we could have over time. Maybe there are others in each of our circles who are dying to do the same. Our simple act might empower them to give more thoughtful and less consumption based giving a try. Not comfortable making things? What about a savings bond or a donation to a college fund? What about the gift of time? Can you spend a day doing something with the gift recipient that makes a memory rather than more clutter?

Come on people, we can do this!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Cutting the Crap with Chile

I've joined Chile's decluttering challenge, although I'm already running a day behind. No matter, in the spirit of casting off the bonds of winter, I shall dive into my paper piles

and basket of magazines/catalogs.

I'll tackle my file cabinet tomorrow, when I'm feeling braver!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What Kicked You Into Frugal High Gear?

I meet all kinds of people while sitting on the bleachers at your sons' swim team practice. No joke, some have trouble paying their bills and others are wearing sunglasses indoors while recovering from having the skin around their eyes lifted. You never know where the conversations may lead. One woman stands out in my mind.

She's a single mom with three kids. She's having trouble meeting her bills. She's even got pretty severe medical/emotional issues with her preschooler. She's got issues with medical coverage too. Her plate is clearly full, overflowing in fact.

In talking to her I discovered that her kids are a bit on the finicky side. They only eat the "expensive macaroni and cheese" and a particular kind of chicken nugget, as well as a laundry list of other things. Then there are the non-food things. She feels trapped. She doesn't want to deprive her kids but she can't afford to go on this way. On and on it goes.

The details are unimportant but the overall tone is. Why have we become so obsessed with keeping up appearances that we sabotage ourselves? Why are we unable to be honest with our kids when we can't afford something? Why do we give in to our kids demands? Why is it shameful to live within our means? Perhaps the biggest question, how do you effectively let people know there are other options when they aren't ready to hear about them? How do you bridge the gap between frugal and spendthrift?

What prompted you to become more frugal? Share your story so we can all learn and maybe help more effectively the next time we encounter a situation like the one I described.