Sunday, January 31, 2010

Food Waste Reduction Challenge 2010

Funny how life works out, huh? I just finish a post on the differences between jelly and jam, and then I read on Crunchy Chicken about the Food Waste Reduction Challenge of 2010.

I'm going to try.

What about you?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jams and Jellies and Marmalade, Oh My!

For most of my [relatively short] life, I've bandied about terms like jam and jelly without discretion. But, thanks to a very informative program on a local access channel [go university town cable!], I have now learned that there are definite differences to these products. And, since I fully plan on tackling various preservation methods, I thought it would be handy to define them!

A few notes to start:
- Things like pectin or a gelling agent of some kind (in more modern methods), and heat-canning tend to be common threads between the actual production of these foods. The differences come into play based on what is actually in the jar.

- As I understand it, the term "preserves" is an over-arching term that includes products like jelly, jam, and conserves.

And now, for the differences:

Jelly - is made from fruit (or vegetable) juice.

Jam - contains crushed or cut up pieces of the fruit (or vegetable), as well as juice.

Marmalade - includes bits of the fruit peel, and is generally used only in reference to preserves made from citrus fruits

Conserves - are whole fruits, stewed in sugar. They can also contain things like nuts.

For a quick breakdown of the different kind of fruit and vegetable preserves, you can always check out the Wikipedia article. If I ever stumble across that local access show again, I will be sure to note the names of the people involved.

Poking around a bit online, I did find this USDA site that seems to be chock full of information (so much so, you may not need me, my Joy of Cooking, relatives, or experiments!).

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of preservation methods for fruits and vegetables, it is a run down of what most people in the US will encounter in their pantry or grocery stores. It may be a while before I actually tackle the heat-canning methods, but for now at least, I know the differences between jelly and jam.

Have you ever canned anything, or have memories of a family member doing it? Care to share?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Honey do!

I have been carefully and slowly experimenting with and transitioning to more natural products. Instead of buying up the natural aisle of the grocery store and going for broke, I am simply replacing one or two products at a time with more natural alternatives. Sometimes, they work nicely; other times, I find myself on a journey.

For me, this has meant steering away from sulfates in hair care products, as well as silicone derivatives. It also means avoiding bleached flour and high fructose corn syrup in bread. Baby steps. Additionally, I try to find natural replacements for products I use on a daily basis, and multiple uses for things.

Things like honey.

I like honey. I used to make PB & honey sandwiches to take to school for lunch, loving the part of the bread where the honey pooled and started to crystallize. Honey on toast or biscuits is divine. Honey in tea is delicious and soothing for sore throatsDrambuie, whiskey with honey and spices, is a very nice way to cap an evening. Innumerable bodyskin, and hair products are made with honey as a main or active ingredient.

Basically, honey is amazing, anti-bacterial, and generally pretty good for all sorts of applications. In fact, the protagonist of a book series I'm reading uses honey as an anti-bacterial agent to seal and protect wounds in pre-Revolution America. While I have never personally used honey on an open wound, this is not nearly as far fetched as it might sound.

So, can we agree that honey is awesome? Good. Now I have something else for you. Last night and this morning, I washed my face with honey. I did a modicum of research into this, first, but when it came time to wash my face, I stared at my usual cleanser, and thought... "Why not?" and took the plunge.

I padded into the kitchen, unscrewed the honey we had purchased at a farmer's market months ago, and dipped about a tablespoon or two out into a clean bowl. Rinsed my hands with warm water, and then stuck them into the honey, which had started to sugar, so I got bonus exfoliation!

Last night, I did this just before taking a shower, so rinsed it off there, and was pleasantly surprised by the ease with which it rinsed completely off. I followed up with my customary spot treatment of tea tree oil, but deviated from more traditional moisturizer.

I have a small bottle of Jojoba oil on hand, and used several drops to moisturize. It went on evenly, and my skin did not feel stretched and dried out, or overly laden with heavy moisturizers. When I woke up, it still felt good - normal. So, I followed the same steps again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Full Disclosure

In the interest of not falling into the same trap that frugal newspaper articles seem to, I'm going to outline what I have working for me and against me here. So you know where I am coming from, and can take my musings with a grain of salt if needed. That being said, let me know if I start to slip!

I have a Master's degree, and a husband. Two things which help contribute to our income. I work, actually using said-Master's degree [*whew!], at a state university, in administration. So, while my salary isn't huge, I do have some really nice benefits, including health insurance, and a uni-funded retirement plan, in addition to a self-funded one. I also have a large extended family, who love to host a visiting niece and nephew, including at least one aunt who loves to spoil said niece and nephew. Things could certainly be worse.

Point is, I know that my belt has some slack in it, too. However, it doesn't often feel that way, because we are aggressively paying down debt.

Yeah, nasty credit card buggers. Credit cards, in of themselves, are not bad and inherently evil. At least, the idea isn't. We just enjoyed life while I was a lowly grad student, not pulling in much income, and buying expensive books. We've had several half-way-across-the-country moves. And at least one snapped timing belt.

Credit cards + student loans + car payments = disposable income. Outside, looking in, we may appear to be livin' high on the hog. Inside looking out, reality smacks us around from time to time.

So, now you know a bit more about me. What about you?

What am I doing? And why...

Some of you out there already know me, and already know what prompted this blog. For those who don't, here goes:

Being on the slightly more strapped side of the economic spectrum, I avidly read all the money saving articles I can. Always, I start off excited by a headline, and hopeful that I'll learn some new advice, something that I can use. Inevitably, I feel let down and discouraged.

I already know that stopping for coffee house coffee, especially anything more than a regular old brewed cup, is more expensive then brewing at home. I already know that selling books, DVDs, and clothes can make you extra cash. However, I also know that if you're running late, buying coffee is sometimes the only option to keep you on time, employed, and functional. And, that selling these things will only make you money if you have the time to troll around, and find places whose commission and fees won't completely eat away whatever profit you may have.

Basically, I feel that a lot of these articles were written hastily, re-hashing the same advice over and over, and that they are geared towards comfortable middle class and higher households who do have several notches on their belt to spare. But what about the people who have already eliminated Starbucks runs, or have already peddled out their book and media troves? What about the people who are stamping new notches into their belts, sucking it in like Scarlett O'Hara putting on a corset?

My ramblings will be geared more towards those such people. With a twist. I will also keep an eye towards self-sufficiency and sustainability. By this, I mean, re-learning age-old crafts like sewing and preserving food.

Welcome all, and I hope it is a fun ride!