Friday, February 26, 2010

Article on saving money that might actually help me/people save money

One of my whole reasons for starting this blog was a feeling of dissatisfaction with the "Save money! Now!" articles that kept popping up on my computer screen. They seemed to be geared towards people with money to spare who were temporarily squeezed or simply looking to be smarter with their money.

I came across this article today, though, on Yahoo. While it falls into some of the same traps, concerning ATM fees, collecting your spare change daily, and coffee-house coffee, and assuming a decent credit history/bank account, there is some information that is helpful.

"Know how you use plastic" - a sound piece of advice, because it is easy to deny your own habits. This is something about which I have had to be honest with myself. For me, if my card is getting too much of a work out, a mental reminder isn't enough. Physically removing it from my wallet/purse, and putting it someplace where it is inconvenient to access helps. Someplace like a box, tucked away in the closet, or the freezer, in a bag filled with water. Having to de-clutter a closet or defrost a card will make you think twice about using that card.

"Are you really going to pay yourself first." - I like direct deposit, and my automatically deducted retirement plan payments. Splitting your direct deposit amongst savings versus spending accounts is a great way to ensure money is getting saved. But, this pre-supposes that you have a job who will do direct deposit (which does seem to be more frequent now), and that you have a bank account. I used to think that everyone did, but have learned that grown-up does not equal bank account, for various reasons. If you live a cash-only life, I'm not sure what to tell you, other than the envelope method sounds like a good place to start.

"Have paychecks deposit paychecks into savings account" - again, presupposes a bank account... see above?

"Allow yourself only one ATM withdrawal per week" - How about avoid ATM withdrawals at all costs? I'm thinking of the fees involved. The article seems to be thinking that if you automatically get cash back off of every debit card transaction, you are not fully aware of how much cash you are spending, which is true. Taking a moment to think about your expected cash needs for a given time period, and then using only that money is a safe way to go about using cash.

"Record credit card purchases as you make them in your check register" - I like the idea behind this: keeping track of CC spending, as if it were debit card spending. Not only does it help you keep track of your spending, but it also ensures that you will have the money to pay the bill, and pay it off. So, no late or missed payments, plus, you'll be able to pay off the balance monthly (assuming you start doing this at a 0 balance, yada, yada...) It is the application where I am weary. My uneasiness stems from the fact that I live almost a cashless existence. If I have cash, I will spend it like water. So, that means I use my card a lot. So, I should be recording everything, but the simple truth is I don't. Do I need to do some serious behavior modification, probably.

"Save your spare change" - I guess these guys are trying to cover all bases by talking about ways to save with CCs and with cash. I can attest to the value of saving spare change, having helped collect over $100 in coins, mainly pennies, from my mother-in-law's house when they moved. Should you start using cash more in order to have change to save? Should you stop spending change in order to collect it up as a holiday stash? I'm inclined to say no. If you use cash, and have change, save it. If you are currently using change to buy bread and milk, keep on. So, this is a good idea, but I'm not sure that I would drastically alter my behavior in order to do so.

"Bag the savings from taking your lunch" - An interesting idea. Seems to be a lot of work if you aren't using cash to buy your lunch in the first place (at least a lot of work for your mouse, if you online bank, or for your teller, if you go in daily to transfer $5 from checking to savings). I suppose you could always just say at the end of the week "I took my lunch X number of days, so I saved Y," and transfer that. But then, I wouldn't have written out my entire thought process. And what fun would that be. So, yes, this is a good idea, but what about people who are taking their lunch because that $5 lunch excursion would have equaled no rent money? C'mon, guys, these are the kinds of things I contemplate.

"Pay yourself once you've paid off a debt" - I like this. If you don't have other debt you'd rather put the money towards, this is great. I don't think I can be reminded about this enough. I admit it, I am tempted to keep up with various different Joneses sometimes. A reminder to keep paying myself and my future is always good.

"Give yourself time to think about purchases." - my husband does this, the "it'll be here tomorrow; if not, I wasn't meant to have it." Frustrates me sometimes. But, I realize the wisdom in it. We don't usually go back for the item, or if we do, it is gone. Honestly, can't remember what it is we haven't bought.

Alright, there you have a little insight into my brain. What do you think? Did you like the article? Am I being too nit-picky, or not nit-picky enough?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Recipe Thursday

Holy Toledo, Batman! I almost forgot about Recipe Thursday!

How about some yummy hot chocolate for the cold winter's nights?

This probably won't be the most inexpensive hot chocolate, nor is it particularly good for you, but I sure do enjoy it!

I devised this recipe when I was in high school, using a large, almost stein sized mug that my dad had. The proportions here are slightly smaller, but I still use the largest mug we have to make it. This mug probably hold two cups of liquid, easy.

Set water to boil, and pull out your favorite/largest mug.

Start with 2 heaping tablespoons of cocoa. Preferably a nice dark cocoa. Whatever you have/like works.

Add 2 slightly less heaping tablespoons of sugar (more or less to taste), and stir until well mixed.

If you are so inclined, and/or remember, add a pinch of salt here, and mix.

Add a drop or two of vanilla extract.

Add a splash to a tablespoon or so of the thickest milk/cream you  have on hand. We would have heavy whipping cream during Christmas, and that is just wonderful. Half and half works well, too.

Stir it all together like the dickens. Ideally, the consistency will be paste-like, but this will differ with the type of cream/milk you use. Whipping cream = more paste-like. Half and half = more like chocolate milk.

When the water boils, fill the mug up about half way, and stir well. When well-mixed, continue to fill mug till full. Stir some more.

Try not to drink it too fast.

Do you have a favorite cold weather drink?

Expiration dates

As I said recently, I think of expiration dates as general guidelines for when I should use food, and then, how I should prepare it. My husband, on the other hand, is more likely to follow those dates.

On Monday, I linked to an article from about how, well, I was right, and that food is generally safe for consumption past those little stamped dates. I also emailed it to my husband. He responded with this article about using expired foods to save money may not be worth the cost of gastronomical distress.

I thought that I should share it with you, as well. You know, present the other side of the argument and all. It's true, though. I wouldn't want to risk my health to save a few bucks, because in the long run, illness would end up costing more.

I do want to highlight a small portion of the article he sent me:

Sniff tests, as well as checking for any color changes, are usually good indicators of a food's safeness.

Many expiration dates are not symbolic of when the food actually expires, but simply a date that indicates how long before the food's characteristics change. They are also used as a suggestion of "best when used by" dates, or "sell by" dates for grocery stores. -Ashley Holstrom

Felt nice to see that in print. I am a big fan of the sniff test. A caution, though, sniff and sight tests are not fool-proof, and if you are uneasy about eating something, don't.

Here's an interesting site that will tell you how safe something is to consume after the stated expiration date.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Food Expiration Dates Poll

Have something to say about food expiration dates that haven't been addressed in my posts or poll? Care to share?

Did my poll not adequately cover your feelings on food expiration dates?

I want to know.

Have fun!

Spring is in the... somewhere

It is, really. I can almost feel it in the air sometimes. I find myself dreaming of garden plots that I've never had, on land I don't have either.

Gardening is one of those skills that I could have learned from my mom, had I been paying attention as a kid, instead of running around, climbing trees, sneaking TV, and reading. Certainly those are not bad childhood pursuits, but they left little time for learning of more practical fun skills, like jamming, knitting, or gardening.

I look forward to one day having some semblance of a garden, and harvesting things like tomatoes, cucumbers, and maybe even strawberries from it. I think about what I could use this bounty for, and learning how to can and even pickle to preserve the extra.

I am probably a good ways away from all of that though. I don't have a garden, or even a potted plant. I also don't know how to pressure can, or have a pressure cooker. I've got one heck of a learning curve ahead of me, and I'm sure that it will be full of hard work, mistakes, and inadvertently murdered plants.

I've heard that tomatoes are hardy plants, that seem to grow, despite gardener neglect, so am thinking of starting with these. As well as some herbs that are supposed to do well in pots.

And then there are things like this that seem like they were designed for people like me. People who want to grow things, but have neither the skill, experience, or space to do so. (Yes, I had a shopping channel on as background noise as I was reading one night. I must say, this product intrigued me, but I did not buy one.)

Do you have a backyard, deck, or community garden plot? How long have you been at it? And, any tips for a  (very) novice gardener, looking to get started?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Poll 3 Results: Thermostats beware!

Thanks for taking part in the Thermostat poll, and feeding my general curiosity about the subject. The majority of you are keeping your home in the 70 (21.11C) to 75 (23.89C) range. There are also those of you that adjust the temperature based on whether or not you are home, which is a great way to go about it. There are even those of you who have opted to turn off your heat, completely. To you, I say, "Brr; kudos!" Doing that will definitely reduce your heating bill, and help conserve resources. I will go ahead and say that if you choose to go this route, take to follow the instructions of your landlord/home/plumbing system to ensure that your pipes don't freeze, as that could create an even bigger and more costly mess in the long run.

Really, though, I'm shivering just thinking about the heat being completely off.

Despite Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow on February 2nd, I have felt a slight lessening of the cold here. This could also be due to the fact that I just spent several days farther south, were it is warmer. I can almost end of winter, which means that we'll be able to lay off of our HVAC system for a bit, and take advantage of natural light for more hours of the day. Exciting!

But, I just turned to my office window, and noticed that there is a very light snow coming down. I guess throwing open the windows for light and a breeze will have to wait.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Food Wast Reduction Challenge, Week 3

So... wasn't the best week for me. I wasn't home for the majority of the week, and was instead on the road for that business trip. I even ate in a college cafeteria once, and was reminded how much food can get wasted there. I opted for a stir-fry, and while I could choose the veggies and such that went into it, I couldn't do much to control the amount, so that plus the fact that I didn't get a chance to eat till after the presentation and Q&A session... I think about a quarter of the rice was left, plus about a quarter of the brownie, and a quarter cup of baby corn + beets. I just looked at it, deciding between letting it be thrown away or trying to force-feed myself before a six-hour drive. I didn't eat it.

 A week or so ago, we had both bought eggs on the way home, independent of each other. It takes us a while to use eggs (unless I'm on a baking spree), so that coupled with the fact that I was gone for 4 days meant that many eggs ended up in the trash, as they had passed their expiration dates

It looks like we are also holding on to about a quarter of a gallon of milk that has not only passed the expiration date, but also my smell and taste test.

I don't know if anything else was tossed while I was away, but it doesn't look like it.

Regarding expiration dates, I'm of  the "they are just a suggestion" camp. Thinking that they tend to be "best by" dates, I am generally ok with eating things a few days or so past the stated expiration date. I may not cook an expired egg over easy with a yummy runny yoke, opting instead to hard boil it or fry it until the yoke is hard. My husband is more likely to go by the expiration date, and throw stuff out.

If you are interested, and haven't seen it already, here's an article from about expiration dates. (you may need to sign in to view it)

I have a couple of questions for you now. One: how are you doing with the Food Waste Reduction Challenge? and Two: how do you feel about expiration dates on food?

Friday, February 19, 2010

We've been jammin'

I have memories of my mom making blueberry jam every summer from Michigan blueberries, bought while we were up at her family's cabin in the northern Lower Peninsula. [By cabin, I mean 4 room, plus pseudo-indoor bathroom, NON-winterized, former hunting cabin. It had been the first man-made structure on the lake, with few updates...]

I never helped. I never had the inclination to help or learn. Boy, am I kicking myself now!

Last winter, the desire to can or preserve produce started to really knock around my head. I researched a bit about it, but was overwhelmed with what needed to be done, and initial supply investment. Then, the husband and I visited some of his extended family in northeastern Tennessee. One morning for breakfast, he was insistent that I try his great aunt's strawberry freezer jam.

Wow. Let me tell you - it was like summer sunshine on a biscuit. I was amazed, and immediately asked her how she made it. She was adamant that it was easy, and gave me the run down.

Turns out, freezer jam is wonderful, tasty, and easy. It pretty much takes: fruit, sugar, water, and pectin. Since my husband's (great) aunt uses the yellow Sure-Jell pectin, that is what I have used. I'm not sure that there are differences in brands of pectin; I just wasn't about to try a recipe for the first time and wildly vary the ingredients.

Once you have the ingredients, you simply follow the directions that come with the box, taking care that you follow the Freezer Jam directions.

What takes the most time is preparing your fruit, and letting the jam set in the jars overnight. Here are a couple of things about the recipe I've learned:
- the first time I tried it, I mashed the fruit and had fruit pieces left. That batch did not set up well, and was not like his (great) aunt's at all. The taste was fine, but the texture wasn't quite there. The second time (and third, and all subsequent ones), I did run the strawberries through the blender, and got what was pretty much a puree. It set up beautifully. So... I recommend running the fruit through a blender or food processor. At least strawberries; at least for freezer jam.
- the recipe to which I linked says to use plastic containers. You can, but you can also use the regular glass canning jars.

I loved that I learned how to make this. Now, I can have that summer taste anytime, knowing that I made it. Plus, it is a great way to use fruit that is about to turn. Once, when I was in the grocery store, I noticed a big bag of strawberries and a smaller one of blackberries on sale (serious sale) because they were about to turn. I looked it over, saw that there was some unusable fruit, but that there'd be enough for a batch of jam, so I bought both bags. If I had not had a way to use or preserve that fruit immediately, I would not have been able to take advantage of the price reduction. I remember feeling a little thrill. And it lead to the strawberry-blackberry freezer jam experiment.

I made freezer jam several times last spring, and ended up giving away quite a few jars just before we moved from NC to IN. Aside from the strawberry-blackberry jar currently open in our fridge, I only have one jar of strawberry left in my freezer. I cannot wait for spring harvests! What about you?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Chicken Soup

Soup is wonderful on a cold winter's day. So warm and comforting.

Here's my first try at chicken soup:
Last weekend, after I made the chicken stock, and was dividing it all up for storage, I had some stock leftover that didn't fit in the containers. It was about a cup or two of stock. I set that back on the burner, and added about 2 cups of water.

Then, I chopped up 1 carrot and half an onion and added it to the pot. I used about a cup of chicken, and roughly chopped it up, adding it to the pot.

This is a good point to add spices, if you like. I used salt, pepper, and a bit of garlic powder. A bay leaf would have been nice, too, but it slipped my mind. This is also the time to add any extra liquid, if it doesn't look like there is enough.

I brought everything to a boil for a few minutes, then reduced the heat to a simmer. I didn't set a timer or anything, so just checked on it regularly. When the veggies were soft, I knew it was ready. It yielded a bit over 4 bowls of soup.

I was excited, because this time, the stock wasn't as bland as I've made it before. The soup was yummy, too, and here's a picture of it. I took it to work for lunch; it was wonderful with some of my biscuits. In the picture, you may notice that the tell tale signs of some fat in the stock. You can always regulate the amount of fat in your stock and soup by skimming more or less off as it simmers. Personally, I do think that a little bit of fat is a good thing, necessary even. Moderation, in everything, being key. Now, if only I could moderate my chocolate and ice cream intake...

How about you; do you enjoy a steaming bowl of soup when it is snowing outside? Do you have any tried and true recipes that you enjoy?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Poll 2 Results, and a Big Thank You!

So, for my second poll, I asked a "What would you do?" about business trips. After a few rounds of questions, I updated my original poll, with additional options. A small majority were in favor of renting a car, with driving your own, and other each receiving votes.

Honestly, when planning the trip, I didn't consider flying because to me a 3-6 hour car trip isn't all that long. I think that after driving to the airport, going through security, and paying for the ticket and parking/or getting to the airport, trips via airplanes within that radius are about as long and more expensive than just going by car.

The bus option was also one that I had not considered. I know that interstate bus lines do run in the US, but they've never really been among the first things that come to mind when I'm planning a trip. Thanks for the reminder, guys.

Also, I shared my concern about healthy, yet inexpensive eating options while traveling, and you all gave me some good feedback. Remembering back to high school, after the first overnight speech team trip, I started taking a small cooler of veggies to snack on. Why? Because, thanks to my parents, I was used to a healthy and varied diet, and on the first overnight trip, our only food options were fast food, and I felt sick. Don't know why I didn't consider this. Thank you for the reminder!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Food Waste Reduction Challenge Week 2

How are you doing with the challenge?

I think that I am doing reasonably well. Most things have been eaten in a timely manner, or been put up in the freezer to keep.

- a cup of coffee that was not drunk
- chips and salsa not consumed at a restaurant (still have some leftovers in the fridge, that I meant to take in for lunch...)
- piece of sausage that fell on the floor when my husband was making dinner

I'm sure I'm forgetting sometimes. I'll probably wake up in the middle of the night, remembering horrendous amounts of food waste that I forgot to mention, and be racked with guilt as a  result. Please don't hold it against me!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Belated < 3 Day!

Valentine's Day was on Sunday. Here, it was snowy and cold, but I doubt that put a damper on too many plans.

We went out for a nice dinner on Friday, partly to avoid the onslaught of couples that would descend on restaurants on Sunday. We had a good time, and it suit us well. Saturday was more togetherness, and fit well with the themed-weekend. As for the actual holiday itself? He did some of the laundry and bought be a coffee grinder. And an amazing card that was funny, but ended up making me tear up. He got a game card.

I know - we are incredibly romantic.

I was - still am - thrilled about the coffee grinder, and have already hunkered down with the manual, pulling all the pieces apart (that are supposed to come apart), and figuring out how it works.

Yup, I'm excited about clean laundry and a coffee grinder. ;) Now, I get to buy whole bean coffee.

Did you celebrate Valentine's Day? Do you have a favorite memory of the holiday? Or, any fun, yet frugal tricks for celebrating V-day?

Thermostat Poll Post

Did I miss the range of your thermostat in the options I gave? Feel like telling me why you have your thermostat set to  a certain temperature? I'd love to hear all about it!

To be fair, our thermostat is set at around 65F (18.33C), which means that it is reading about 60F (15.56C). When my husband was sick, we had it set as high as 70F (21.11C). But then we got our electric bill, and decided that putting on socks and an extra sweater were better ideas.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Poll Results! Plus, The Repercussions of Going Out of Town

My first poll was asking you, my illustrious readers, about what you would like to learn/have me prattle on. The winner was: Cooking! As a result, I will try to orient more posts towards cooking and various kitchen tips.

You may have noticed that this week's posts have been dominated by that theme. That occurred by a happy accident that left me with a relatively free weekend, desire to cook, and poll results that matched!

I still have a lot to learn about cooking, and about cooking frugally. Up to now, mainly what I've been doing is slightly more complex than the open container, dump, and heat method. I like having something ready quickly, but I don't like eating too many of these convenience foods. Plus, there is something more fulfilling, to me, about actually making something. From scratch. I really like making those biscuits for that reason, and I've been getting better each time! Last night, they were almost tender and flaky. I've started formulating a plan of attack for making them even flakier. I'm excited to see if it will work.

As you may have guessed by my current poll, I am going out of town shortly, on a business trip. While I'm not overly concerned with the cost of this trip, I am concerned with what the traveling will do to eating habits.
1 - why am I not concerned with the cost? Because I will get reimbursed for all costs associated with it. And, I am travelling on the cheap anyway. Since I am going places with which I am familiar, I have free lodging for most of th nights.
2 - eating habits? Yes. I'll be on the road, or speaking to groups of college kids for the majority of about 3 or 4 days. Short of packing up my own sandwiches and such, I know that my options will be limited by time and proximity. When I've been away, I find myself missing a kitchen or fridge or just the ability to go and make something simple, like a PB&J sandwich, to tide myself over till the next meal.

While I'm away, I know that I'll try to make the best choices I can, but do you have any tips for eating well and frugally on the road?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Biscuits

It’s Recipe Thursday again! That means that it is almost Friday and the weekend. Today, I’m going to share the biscuit recipe I’ve been using to accompany my soups for the past few weeks.
The recipe I followed, from my Joy of Cooking, also found online.

As you may recall, as much as I love the precision of baking and following recipes, they inevitably end up as a guide for me. So, naturally, I did alter the steps and execution a bit. But only for the rolling out and cutting of biscuits.

Instead of a rolling pin, I used my hands to flatten the dough after kneading. This was for a few reasons: (1) it felt better to do so and (2) I have a French style rolling pin that I got in Novgorod in 2003. My rolling pin is very light-weight, and doesn’t really, well, roll things out very well. It sure is pretty, though!

Instead of a biscuit cutter or glass to cut out biscuits, I used one of my pastry knives/bowl scrapers to cut the dough into strips, then into rectangles. **An aside: what they are calling “bowl scrapers” I grew up calling “pastry knives.” I also used these to cut the butter into the flour mixture.**

Here is where I was confronted with a bit of a conundrum. I had lopsided rectangles and squares, not circles.  I figured that I could simply shape them into ‘biscuit-shapes,’ like one does with the inevitable remnant dough. To do so, I ended up folding each dough-quadrangle over onto itself several times, until I ended up with a rough circular, or at least oval-esque, shape. A more realistic yield is 8-10 biscuits.

I also omitted the “brush the tops with milk or butter” step. I almost always do. Partly due to laziness. Partly out of a desire to have fewer dishes to wash up.

I was not exactly expecting miracles or anything when I pulled them out of the oven, 12-15 minutes later. But what I found was pleasantly surprising. Layers! Holy Toledo, Batman, I made layered biscuits that sort of pull apart! (You can also see some homemade freezer jam in the picture, scrumptious!)

As far as flavor, they are basic biscuits. If you tend towards the 6 tablespoons of butter, as opposed to 4, they will be a bit more flavorful. They aren’t exactly flaky, nor are they as tender as the frozen Grands, but pretty darn good for a novice biscuit maker!

Why didn’t I just buy a bag of the frozen Grands? Because at $3.60 for a bag of 12 biscuits at my local Marsh (last time I checked), homemade biscuits are a heck of a lot cheaper. Especially since I did have everything on hand. Are you interested in a price-breakdown for biscuits? I’d be happy to attempt one.

Do you have a stand-by biscuit recipe that you love? 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Business Trip Poll

Please comment here if you selected other for the Business Trip Poll, or if you have any questions.

Thank you!

Taking Stock, part deux

I hope you enjoy the titles of my posts as much as I do. They are chosen because they make me smirk; really hope you get a smile or two out of this blog.

On to the chicken carcass that was chillin' in my fridge on Saturday.

There are actual stock recipes. If you google stock, or check out your favorite how-to cookbook (mine being my old Joy of Cooking), you are bound to find several. They usually call for vegetable scraps or fresh veggies or a bouquet garni of some sort to help flavor the stock. They'll call for a specific amount of bone/carcass to water/veggies. The first time I attempted stock, I found this very helpful. But here's the thing, people have been drawing nutrients for stock for a long time, and did so without recipes.

Basically, what I've taken from the recipes is :
- older chickens tend to have more flavor
- the carcass needs to be completely covered (with usually an inch or so to spare) with water
- veggies can be used to flavor
- you do need to bring it to a boil
- you need to simmer for at least an hour or two
- lid should be set on the pot, slightly ajar, for majority of simmering time
- and skimming the scum is very helpful.

What this means is that my process for stock making is generally:
- place carcass in stock and cover with water
- set to boil
- let boil for a while, check on it
- reduce heat to simmer
- set lid on pot, slightly ajar
- check on it
- go away, read a book, watch some tv
- check on it
- skim the stock
- repeat
When the liquid has reduced (and if I don't feel like adding more), and has gained a color resembling stock, I remove it from the stove. Then, I take out the bones (and anything that was added, like onion or bouquet garni), and divide the stock amongst my storage containers. Washed pasta sauce jars work very nicely. Let it all cool on the counter, and then stick in your fridge. Be sure to rotate any stock still in your fridge to the "top," or where ever you will be able to use it before the new stock.

Because I generally don't add veggies to my stock as it simmers (because I don't often have them on hand), in all honesty, my stock is rather bland. I can see the fat in it, though, and it is more flavorful than plain water.

In case you are curious at all, here are some photos of my freezer:
1. See the tower of stock containers, a bag of frozen veggies, and to the right, the larger containers of soup
2. The plastic bag is wrapped around an old pasta sauce jar of new stock, as a precaution, in reality, this is sitting in front of the tower of stock. The lime sherbert container is actually soup. You can also see my ice trays and DIY ice bucket.

Making your own stock is a relatively easy process that requires very little attention on your part, once the pot is simmering. Have you made your own stock before? Do you do it on a regular basis? If so, do you follow a recipe or add flavoring to it? If not, feel like giving it a go?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Taking stock (and giblets, necks, and carcasses)

So that chicken whose giblets I decided I didn't like, what did I do with it?

Here's the run down. Bought the whole chicken on Friday, and baked it that night. (350 degrees Fahrenheit, for 20 minutes a pound, uncovered, on a wire rack in a shallow baking pan. Or until a meat thermometer stuck in the thigh reads 180.)

**Here's an aside about the chicken. I could have bought one of those pre-roasted chickens from the store, and saved myself some time, while still having a bunch of meat and the carcass to use. Why didn't I? Because those are about 2 pound birds, and I paid 56 cents less for a bird that was roughly 4.7 pound. Plus, I got the giblets and neck in addition to the meat and carcass. The pre-roasted chickens aren't a bad deal overall, but if you have the time to spare, cooking a whole chicken yourself is usually more cost-effective.**

As the chicken was in the oven, that is when I started the failed giblet recipe and also set the neck to boiling.

Did you just do a double take? Yeah, well, I took my medium sized sauce pan, filled about half way with water, plunked the neck into it, plus the last quarter of an onion I had laying around. Brought it all to a boil, then reduced to a simmer, and let it alone. I did poke my head over every so often to skim off the scum/fat/foam that forms. I don't remember how long I ended up letting it simmer, but it was probably at least 1.5 to 2 hours. At this point, I discarded the onion and neck, and poured the liquid into a jar.

Yes, a jar. I am running out of inherited and re-purposed plastic storage containers (they are all in my freezer!). I've used the jars to make freezer jam, so they hold up in the freezer, and contain a known quantity (now, if only I could remember what that was). You can see the jar of neck stock here, sort of, along with a beef chuck roast that my aunt gave us, some nuts, and other random stuff on my freezer door.

After the chicken cooled, I carved it up, as best I could. This is not a skill at which I excel. I tried to slice the breasts thin enough for sandwiches, and disjointed the legs and wings. I was quite pleased with the result, because the chicken was tender, sliding right off of the thigh bone. Aside from the bone-in wings and legs, and the sliced breast, everything else was just sort of peeled and pulled off, and stored together.

I put the carcass in my big soup pot, covered it, and stuck it in the fridge. This was all done Friday after I got home from work, mind you. It was getting late, and I wanted to read, spend time with my husband, and oh yeah, sleep! The carcass would keep for a day.

So will the actual stock-taking.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Food Waste Challenge, Week 1

I didn't officially sign up for Crunchy Chicken's Food Waste Reduction Challenge, but have decided to participate, unofficially. Because, participating unofficially might mean I won't feel so bad when I end up throwing away food.

So, from my spotty memory, my tally is as follows:
- one baked chicken skin
- one failed recipe involving said chicken's giblets in a gravy (1.5 tbsp of butter, 1-2 cups of water, a quarter of an onion and about 2.5 tbsp of flour)
- total of about half an onion boiled for various stocks, then tossed

I'm sure that there had to be more, but that is what I can remember. And it was all from this weekend.

Speaking of giblets in gravy: this was my first attempt at it, and I was following a recipe from my Joy of Cooking. Usually, I find these recipes to be fool-proof, and good guides. As always, I didn't quite follow it, though, because I didn't have everything the recipe wanted. What I did was:

- Bring water to a boil, add diced giblets, reduce to a simmer for an hour, or until tender. I added a quarter of left over onion I had.
- After an hour, remove/drain giblets (and onion). Reserve giblets (not the onion).
- Make gravy with about 1 cup of reserved stock, about 2 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of flour.
- At this point, I proceeded like one does when making sausage gravy - whisking out lumps and such. 
- Add giblets (and the veggies it called for in the real recipe).
- Serve on toast.

I tried it straight from a spoon. Added salt and pepper to taste. Tried it on a leftover biscuit. Decided that I had added too much flour, and that the gravy was dangerously close to glue. That and I didn't think that either husband and I would eat it. Especially not with fresh chicken, and other, better leftovers ready to be consumed.

I decided against saving it to be doctored up at a later date because, as close as it was to glue then, I was sure that it would become a solid after any amount of time in the fridge. So... Bye-bye, giblets.

In case you are curious, here's a fuzzy picture of a diced giblet in gravy. If you step back and squint, that'll probably help.

Next time, I think I'll stick with simply making my own stock from the giblets.

What have you done with chicken or turkey giblets? Or necks?

And, how are you doing with the Food Waste Reduction Challenge at your house?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Iron: 1 Emily: 0.5 A Minor Medical Follow Up

You may remember that I burned my hand on my iron recently. After a day or two of not paying the attention to it that I should I have, I finally realized my... stupidity, slathered it in vitamin E oil, and covered the cleaned and treated wound with a bandaid.

I've kept up the routine of thoroughly washing my hands and the wound every morning, and night, then applying the vitamin E oil, and covering with a bandaid. Of course, I wash my hands as needed throughout the day, but I don't replace the oil and bandaid every time.

Now, the burn looks like this. You can see that a blister had formed. Since I see it every day, I can tell that the redness has subsided, and that the visibly affected area has reduced. Really, it used to look angry, like, "Why didn't you treat me right away?!"

Again, I stress the importance of seeking professional medical care for serious injuries. Also, one should always take a burn seriously, and not essentially ignore it as I did initially.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Honey do Two: The Results

Last Thursday, I started using honey to wash my face. This grand experiment was born out of a rapidly diminishing Neutrogena bar, research about using honey this way (see previously linked post), and well, reluctance to spend more money on beauty products. Plus, I am trying to replace bad-for-me and bad-for-the-earth products with good-for-me-and-the-earth ones as I can. (To see how the products you use rate on a good-for-you/earth scale, check out the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. The face wash I was using is here. Here's honey.)

If this honey thing worked out, it seemed like a good way to reduce my beauty product purchasing (and the plastic that they come in), and help steer my usage towards the good-for-earth.

Since then, I've only used honey to wash my face, following it up with tea tree oil once a day, and using jojoba oil or vitamin E oil as a moisturizer. (I'll talk about those oils as moisturizers later.) I am pleased to report that my skin feels better, and not dried out after washing, and that the acne I had appears to be clearing up.

I cannot be 100% certain that this improvement in texture and acne is due to the honey or the moisturizers, since I switched both at the same time. I do know, however, that it was not the tea tree oil that single handedly defended my face from encroaching pimples, as I had been using that for a few weeks. It was helping when I was using it in conjunction with more conventional products.

So, I am quite happy with the results so far. My husband thinks it is a little odd, and only protested because of how tasty the honey is. I plan on continuing to use honey as a face-wash, and look forward to seeing how it works long-term.

Did my experience convince you to try honey to wash your face? If so, tell me about it. Or does it just prove to you that I'm touched in the head? Feel free to tell me that, too. Do the reports of bee and honey shortages impact your opinion on this at all?

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Game of Grocery Store Pick-Up

Recently, I had to make a quick run to the grocery store on my way home from work. I wanted to try a soup recipe for dinner that night (more on that later), and needed an onion. The recipe also called for smoked ham and a ham hock, which I didn’t have and didn’t want because neither of us are big fans, so… I ixnayed the ham and the hock.

Pondering the recipe further, because this is how I spend my down time, I considered replacing the flavor and fat the ixnayed ingredients would have lend the soup with bacon.

I also needed to get some vitamin E oil, to treat my poor, burned hand.

And, then, I also figured I would need to pick up some drinks for my husband. That is simply a part of most grocery runs for our little family. (Yes, I know that these are not the most economical or ecological choice, but we buy what he will drink.)

So, my list was, roughly in order of priority: onion, vitamin E oil, drinks, and bacon. I also knew that I had to keep the cost under ten dollars. This is not an impossible task, and if not for the vitamin E oil, probably could have been done for closer to five dollars. But, alas, I put the health of our skin high on the list of things that are important.

Into the Marsh I went. Why Marsh, because it is literally on the way home. No turning onto a side street, no minor detour, nothing. It is on Third Street, as I drive home. In general, I’ve noticed that Marsh and Kroger tend to have similar sale prices. The advantages Kroger has over Marsh are: larger store (by me), more store- brand items (more items at lower cost), a bulk section, and a massive wine/liquor section (gotta love Indiana). Advantages of Marsh over Kroger: literally on the way home, $20 meat variety packs, and occasionally, they have better sale prices.

I made a bee-line for the pharmacy section, to case the joint for vitamin E oil. I saw two brands of capsules and one bottle of straight oil. All of the choices, no matter the quantity, were pretty much going to blow my chances of buying the vitamin E and onion. I was crushed.

Deciding that the onion was more important this trip, I left the pharmacy section, questioning my choice of store. I made my way to the produce section, by way of the breakfast meats. A quick survey of the bacons told me that if I wanted something that wasn’t completely chemical-laden, I was going to be paying at least $2.50 for a package. Not a bad price over all, but bacon was last on my list, so the first thing to get cut. I made a mental note, and went on to the onions.

It was about $1.30 per pound for loose onions (I know!), while the three pound bags were about $2.50. The loose onions were larger than the bagged onions, but at $1.30 per pound, they were more expensive per unit than the bagged onions. Also, larger wasn’t necessarily better for me. I can always cut up two onions instead of one. Leftover onion, unfortunately, tends to go bad before it is used or frozen. (This is something that I am working to remedy.)

Bagged onions it was. Now, I had about $7 to spend on the rest of my list. I went back to the pharmacy section, to peruse my choices once more. (All of this back and forth/shopping the store is why I don’t like shopping with my husband, and why he is exasperated by shopping with me.) 

And that’s when I saw it. A display of a supplement brand that had not been on the shelves where I was looking before. They were on sale. I got a bottle of capsules (40, I believe) for about $3.50. Score!

At this point, I rethought the bacon entirely. The previous night, I did have the foresight to pull some ground beef down from the freezer, so I knew that I did have some meat to add to the soup, and that I could count on some fat from there for flavor. Considering my list and my budget, I decided that bacon was not necessary.

Resolved to my choices, I had about $3.50 to spend on drinks. Well, less than that, considering taxes. And ever since I left Kentucky, I’ve never been sure of the food tax rate. I think North Carolina had a weird, graduated system that depended on the type of food, and level of preparedness. As a result, I try to leave a substantial cushion for “The Attack of the Tax!”

The next item, drinks, is where I regret my choice of Marsh over Kroger. My location doesn’t have store brand soda. Unless Faygo is store brand. I just can’t stand spending $1.25 on a 2-liter of soda. Especially when that is the sale price. Curses.

I sped-walked past the sodas, and headed towards the bottles of Lipton Green Tea (Yes, I know that there are tons of additives and such in these, but this is for my husband, not me. He likes it. And, well, it is preferable to tons of soda.) In my speediness, though, I almost sped right past an actual sale on the 2-liters. 68 cents for a 2-liter of Faygo. I almost did a happy dance in the middle of the aisle. I got the lemon-lime. No caffeine.

All in all, I ended up spending about eight and a half dollars. Not my best shopping trip, but not my worst, either. The soup may have been tastier with bacon, but it was still yummy. The Faygo was happily drunk. And I’ve been able to use one capsule of vitamin E oil multiple times.  Plus, I have onions ready for when I need them.

How do you think I did? Would you have made different choices? Do you have any particularly gratifying grocery store stories?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Recipe Thursday: Quick Cabbage

Alright, from here on out, every Thursday, I'll post some sort of recipe that meets most, if not all, the following criteria: simple, good for you, and inexpensive.

Something you should know about my recipes: they are either extremely precise, or very general ideas of what to do. This Quick Cabbage, an adaption of a recipe from my trusty Joy of Cooking, is the latter, and meets all three criteria!

This recipe yields yummy, slightly sweet cabbage that is tender, and a nice accompaniment to any main dish.

Fill a pot with enough water to cover the cabbage, and set it to boil. *Note: at this time, the cabbage isn't in the pot.

Wash your head of cabbage, and cut off how much you want. A quarter of a head is usually good as a small side for the husband and I. Half a head will leave us with seconds, and possibly left overs.

Cut the cabbage into desired shape and size. I like roughly one inch strips

By now, the water should be rapidly boiling. Plunk your cabbage into the boiling water, and poke at it to ensure every bit gets submerged.

Boil until the color sharpens. Green cabbage will become more vibrant. I've only done this once with red cabbage, and it did take a bit longer than did the green.

Watch the cabbage carefully! This does not take long. I continue to poke at it, to keep things moving and submerged.

When the color has been reached, and the cabbage is firm, yet tender, drain off the water. Toss in about half to a whole tablespoon of butter, and salt and pepper to taste. I often omit the salt and pepper.


And if you try it, let me know what you think!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Iron: 1 Emily: 0 A Minor Medical Post

**I am not a doctor, nor do I have any medical training at all. Please use common sense, and do not hesitate to seek medical treatment.**

I have long hated ironing. It always felt like...well, such a chore. My solution? Quite simple: avoid. I don't iron.

Never took an iron to college. Didn't register for one for my wedding. May have inherited an abandoned one from a roommate, but that quickly got shoved to the back of a closet, and eventually made it either to the dumpster (for shame, Emily!) or Goodwill (that's more like it).

To keep from sending either myself or my husband out of the house looking like a wrinkled mess, I was simply vigilant about removing clothes from the dryer promptly (a good thing to do when working with laundromats), and carefully shaking out/folding any should-be-ironed clothes. The seams of pant legs got quickly matched up, and smoothly folded, while button-down shirts were pulled from the pile before the crush of t-shirts and jeans could cause permanent wrinkles. After carefully hanging these clothes, I simply let gravity, and the weight of the rest of the closet take care of the rest.

For our clothes, this has been working well enough. But, it won't do for quilting.

As you may know, I've recently started my first full quilt. This requires a lot of measuring, cutting and piecing together of fabric, and in order to do this correctly, so that everything will match up in the end, the cloth needs to be washed, dried, and ironed before a single measure is taken or line drawn.

I needed an iron. *sigh... I tried to avoid this, but broke down, and got one. Also got a small, table-top ironing board, that is perfect for craft-ironing, but not for "real" ironing. I found this out the hard way.

In an attempt to iron my first shirt in years (promise that I know how to do it), I managed to maneuver the iron and myself so that I grazed the iron with my hand. There was a small flash of pain, just enough for me to realize what was happening, but not much. So, because of the apparent lack of searing, lingering pain or any visible damage, I simply continued on. Probably should not have done that.

I did wash my hands, and try jojoba oil on the burn, followed by my normal oatmeal-lotion. I used jojoba oil because that is what I had, but should have used vitamin E oil. I use an oatmeal-based lotion, like Aveeno, because I inherited dry skin from my mom.

So, here's the burn. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is probably a second degree burn, because of the lone, solitary blister. Also according to them, I should have immediately cooled the burn by running it under or immersing it in cool water, instead of continuing to iron. Next, I should have covered it with a sterile, lint-free bandage, such as gauze, instead of leaving it completely exposed. The Mayo Clinic site also lists some things not to do, like use butter. 

The Mayo Clinic did not specifically say to put on any creams or antibiotic ointments, but they do make burn ointment for a reason. A previously listed link includes vitamin E oil as an option for soothing minor burns and helping skin heal.

So, why vitamin E oil over a burn ointment? Well, because vitamin E oil is multi-purpose. It can be used as a body and face moisturizer alone, or even in conjunction with other lotions. It can be used to help reduce the appearance of scars and wrinkles. It can even be used in hair-care products. Since vitamin E oil has many purposes, using it means that you can reduce the number of other products you buy. 

It should be noted that the burn I sustained was minor. It was no more than an inch long, and scarcely a quarter of an inch wide. Regardless of the severity, my attitude toward the burn was really quite negligent, and I do stress that if you burn yourself, you should take it seriously, and determine that it is indeed a minor burn before you attempt to care for it yourself. It may be less expensive to slather on vitamin E oil or burn ointment, but in the long run, if the burn is serious, you will save yourself money, pain, and possibly more if you seek immediate medical attention.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

But Baby, it's cold... inside

I live in southern Indiana. I grew up in Kentucky, and then spent years in Tennessee and Texas. My husband grew up mainly in Georgia, and went with me to Texas. His resistance to cold winters has always been low. Any that I had dissipated when we moved into an apartment in Austin in August.

After years of preferring to have working AC over working heat (a friend of ours did go through at least one winter in Austin without working heat), I find myself on the other side of that coin, with thinner blood. Now, we confront the question of how to stay warm in the winter, and not break the bank.

One way not to break the bank is to embrace the chill, and do things like participate in the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. (Can you tell I like this woman's blog?) Even the point of that, though, is to reduce your energy consumption, but not actually freeze off any of your buns.

So, how can you stay warm without a ridiculously high energy bill? Some tips I've heard of are:

- relocate within your home. Instead of heating all the rooms, move into the one or two or three that get the most use, and seal off the rest, thereby reducing the square footage you heat. (Haven't done)

- already baking? When you're finished with the oven, leave the door open, and let the residual heat out into your kitchen. If you are thinking about trying this, be very careful. As Cam pointed out, this is dangerous. The thought here is to let any heat escape after turning off the oven, as extra heat. I wouldn't do this for long, on a regular basis, or if I had little ones anywhere in the house. Being chilly and alive in one piece is far better than being toasty and well... toasted. (I have enjoyed the warmth when baking.)

- wear layers. You can put on extra socks, or a sweater to keep yourself warm. Great, until you shower! (Have done, and still do. I have warm, fuzzy socks that are I wear at home to keep the feet warm, as well as an around-the-house sweater.)

- layers on the bed. Multiple bed coverings will help keep you warm at night so you don't have to turn up the thermostat.  (Yup, plus, I love having that extra weight of the covers on me, too.)

- even more layers. When you are sitting down to read, watch TV, or do any sedentary activity, throw a blanket over your legs, or wrap an extra sweater around your shoulders. This will help to keep you warm when you aren't moving around. The Snuggie/Slanket concept is, well, not a bad idea. (I don't have either of those, just around the house blankets and sweaters that I snuggle into on the couch.)

- cover the floors. Unless you have heated floors or your ducts underneath the floors, hardwood floors and tiles tend to be on the cooler side. Carpets and area rugs help to insulate the floors, and keep your feel warm. (I love hardwood floors, but understand the value of an area rug! All of my apartments have been carpeted, and I have noticed a chill when walking from the carpeted living room to the tiled kitchen)

- cover the windows/walls. One thing I've learned since moving north of the Ohio River is that you can put plastic over your windows for insulation; it's called shrink wrapping your windows. At work, they had people come up and do that. Heavy drapes on the windows will help block drafts and prevent heat from escaping. And why do you think that people used to hang tapestries on castle walls? Sure, they were pretty, but they also helped reduce echoes, and hold in heat. (We haven't even hung our pictures in our apartment yet, so I haven't done this at home.)

- filling in the gaps. Of course, if you have gaps around window or door seals, then cold air will come in, and warm air will escape. You have a couple of options here. If it is just that air comes in and out under your door, you can buy or make a draft stopper. If there are gaps in the door and window seals, and you rent, let the management company know, and they will do what they do to fix it. If you own, you may need to look into replacing them all together. As a renter, I am not sure how to do that, or what all is involved. Sorry. A temporary fix could be to wrap your windows in plastic, as mentioned above. (We have some draft stoppers that are used sporadically.)

These are just a few things that can be done quickly and at a relatively low cost to you. If you are so inclined, and own your home, you can always look into using solar energy, geothermal energy, wood stoves [but not fireplaces!], radiant heat or other alternate fuels/heating sources to heat your home.

How do these sound to you; anything worth trying? Do you have any tips that I have overlooked? 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.

That line is taken from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which I have not read. One of the many things on my to-do list.

But on to why I chose that as the title of this post. While of the 70% of the earth's surface is covered with water, and only something like 1% is potable.

I'm not even talking about that right now. I'm talking about hot water.

Now, I live in an apartment, with a small water-heater tucked under my kitchen sink. That's a far cry from the large one my parents had, or the behemoth the dorms in college must have had. It also means that running out of hot water happens more often than I care to think.

Last weekend, due to some maintenance that had been done on our sink, we were out of hot water. No showers, no dishes... It was not fun. (Turns out that the maintenance people had simply forgotten to turn something back on.) When the water came back on, I needed a shower, but waited for the tank to fill and heat.

Even after waiting, I was worried that I'd be shocked cold during my final rinse. While a cold water rinse might be good for hair and skin, a surprise like that would not be good for my mood! So, I squeezed soap onto my loofah, and put conditioner in my hair, and turned off the water. Braided the conditioner in, lathered up, and then turned the water back on, all the while thinking about how this would not only save the hot water, but conserve water in general.

Conserving water in general also means that our water bill will be lower.

So, a simple adjustment to my routine, turning off the water when I'm not actually using it will benefit me threefold: 1) ensure that I have enough hot water to meet my needs, (2) cut down my overall water usage, and therefore water bill and (3) help conserve the potable water supplies.

Last night, the unthinkable happened. I ran out of hot water in the middle of my shower. I had not been following my own advice about turning off the water, so I was standing there, conditioner braided and loosely bunned in my hair, and, well, ready to rinse off, with no hot water. So, I turned off the shower.

I tried. I really tried to rinse with cold water, but it was icy, and the ambient temperature of our apartment is around 65 degrees. Not cold, but not all that warm, either, not when you are already chilled.

I rinsed what I could in the cold (like the loofah), and waited.

After a few minutes, I tried the hot water again. Hallelujah! It wasn't as warm as I usually like, but it was warm enough, and I rinsed everything out quick!

During this whole ordeal, I remembered my revelation from the previous weekend, and kicked myself a bit for not listening to myself. But, with an eye ever-forward, I realized that I couldn't change what I had  done, but could change what I will do.

So, I'm going to try to employ this water on/water off method more regularly. Will you?