Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where's My Get-Up Gone?

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I am not just itching to jump in the truck and go to town to run errands. I've had several busy days in a row and I would like some down time. Not that I'm getting it!

On Saturday I went to my friend Anita's and picked a big box of Macintosh apples. And, of course, having no cold place to store them, I have to begin drying apples. This is not a bad job, but is time-consuming.

The peeler-corer-slicer looks like some torture device from a medieval dungeon, but it does a dandy job on an apple. Peels, cores and slices an apple in about ten seconds. Of course you have to secure the apple on the three-pronged apparatus without spiking yourself, which is a skill in itself. The apple needs to be even, no off-center cores, wonky shapes or blemishes. If the apple is uneven it will twist off the prongs, if it's wonky the peeler won't work properly, and any blemishes make the peeling blade scream in steely anguish.

In practical terms this means every third apple requires several minutes of peeling. But, once the peel, and the unpeeled ends are removed you cut the slices apart with a single slice down the stacked rings, pop them into a bath of Fruit-Freeze and lemon juice, shake off the excess moisture, and lay them out on the drier trays. The drier holds an average of nine apples. I have about 100 apples left to dry. I can dry two loads a day. Let's see, 18 apples a day.... I see a long week ahead.

But once dried they are lovely and absolutely scrumptious. We love them as a snack. Yes, you can just eat a fresh apple, but dried ones are totally virtuous "candy". When you are craving something really sweet these fill the bill.

The nights are getting cooler, as are the days. We went out and picked a large bowlful of tomatoes and green peppers yesterday (new picture in my title bar), and I cut the one watermelon off the vine. It is very heavy and sounds ripe, hollow when tapped. It's about the size of a soccer ball. I haven't had the courage to cut it yet. I'm just going to enjoy it for a while longer. If it's green inside well, so be it. I tried. Strangely enough I am not as crazy about watermelon as I once was. Tastes change. I don't think I'll even bother planting melons next year.

Well, off to ignore the "To-do" list crying at me from the table. Tough cookies, List. Today we pretend I'm the boss!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Five Meals From a Bag of Beans - Part Two

This is our second post on five main dishes using a one pound bag of pinto beans, with the goal of feeding a family of four, two adults, a 12-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl for $5.00 or less. And though we are vegetarians not all families are, so I've calculated the costs of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals.

Also take into account that I am cooking in Western Canada, where food prices are often more than twice those found in the USA. So, depending on where you live, these meals may be even less expensive than calculated.

Does your family like chile? This perpetual favorite can be served very economically. This is a special recipe reminiscent of the famous smoked chile sauces of Mexico. It has a deep complex flavour sure to surprise and delight your family.

We begin with 1/2 pound of ground beef. In my market a pound of plain ground beef costs $2.98. So 1/2 pound will cost us $1.50.

Dice an onion and saute it in a spoonful of oil in a large pot. Onion $0.35. Oil $0.10. Add two cloves of garlic $0.05 and cook until soft. Put these aside in a small bowl and brown your burger, pouring off the fat that collects into a tin. If you are making vegetarian chile you just skip the beef and brown the onions and garlic.

Now add your onions and garlic to the browned burger, add two tbs of chile powder (or to taste). A four ounce bulk package of chile powder costs $1.59 and two tbs is about 1/6th of the total, so we will figure it at 26 cents.

Add the beans you prepared before (recipe here), plus the tomato juice drained from the can of tomatoes used the day before. We figured in the cost of the tomatoes yesterday, and calculated the cost of the beans at $1.58.

Add 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa and a tsp of smooth peanut butter (unless someone in the family is allergic to peanuts). I'll estimate the cost of these two additions at 10 cents. Cost $3.89 with burger and $2.39 without burger.

Simmer the chile for 15 minutes. Salt to taste. Serve with corn and crackers or toast.

Frozen corn is $2.98 for a 2.2 pound bag here. Three half cup and one 1/4 cup servings (1 and 3/4 cups) should cost appx $1.75.

Not calculating the cost of the crackers/toast the chile with beef and corn costs $5.64. The vegetarian meal would be $1.50 less at $4.14. Look how much you save by becoming a vegetarian! LOL


Friday, September 18, 2009

Five Meals From a Bag of Beans - Part One

This is a tough time for many families. Their money must stretch further and do more than ever before. Last night on the news they said that one in eight children in our area now lives in a family that has an income below the poverty line.

This means it's vitally important to know how to adequately feed yourself and growing children a nutritious diet without spending a lot of money. The sad fact is that $1.00 buys 1200 calories in the form of nutritionally inadequate potato chips but less than 200 calories of vegetables and less than 100 calories of fresh fruit. Those who point to the impoverished, who are overweight despite having little money to spend on food, have no idea what it is like to raise children on an inadequate income.

So how do you feed a child adequately on $20.00 a week? It's not easy, but it's possible. Here are some ideas that might help.

I bought a one pound bag of dried pinto beans at the store. Cost $2.39. I picked through them, removed any blemished, shriveled or broken beans, washed them and set them to soaking overnight. In the morning I cut up an onion and browned half of it in a spoonful of oil in a large pot. Onion $0.35. Oil $0.10.

I drained the beans, rinsed them again and added them to the onions in the pot. I covered them with cold water, and stirred in one tsp of meat tenderizer ($0.10). I turned on the heat under the pan. Cook uncovered for ten minutes on high, lower heat and cover. (If you are using a crockpot, cover and set to high) Do not add salt to the beans before they are cooked. Salt keeps them from softening. After 10 minutes lower the heat, add two bay leaves, and cook on low heat from five-six hours, or until the beans are easily mooshed with a fork. With a crockpot you can leave the temperature set to high.

Once the beans are tender drain a 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes. (cost $1.49 here), or add a chopped ripe tomato (from the garden $0.00). (If you use canned tomatoes save the juice, you can use it other recipes.) Mince two cloves of garlic ($0.05) and add. Also add the rest of the onion chopped earlier in the day. Cook a further hour. Remove one cup of beans from pot, mash them with fork or potato masher, return to pot and stir in. This thickens the liquid.

Now, for $4.48 we have the backbone of several meals. I was able to make five meals with one pound of dried beans. This equals 10 adult-sized servings or 20 child-sized ones, depending on the age of the child. So we calculate 45 cents for an adult sized serving and 23 cents for a child's one.

First meal: Beans, just as prepared, with pan-fried potato and coleslaw or carrot sticks and milk.

I cook an entire large pot of scrubbed Russet potatoes at one time. Once cooled they go into the fridge to be used as needed. For pan-fried I dice half an onion, cook it in a spoonful of oil in my non-stick skillet, and add the sliced potatoes. Let them cook without stirring until the potatoes on the bottom have developed a nice brown color, then stir and continue to brown for several minutes.

Beans and potatoes, with the addition of some carrot sticks or coleslaw and milk, is a nutritious and healthy meal. Potatoes vary in price, at the moment they are cheap like dirt. The market has a special of 10 pounds for $2.00. But if you pay the more usual price (here) of $4.98 for 10 pounds, a couple of large potatoes will cost about 50 cents. The half onion say 15 cents, the oil 10 cents. Three adult-sized servings for 19 cents each, a child's serving 10 cents.

Shredded cabbage slaw can be bought here, bagged, year round for $1.49 a package. This package makes 10 servings of plain slaw, with a dressing of a tbs of mayo, a tsp of vinegar and a tsp of sugar for four servings. Say 15 cents a serving for the slaw and 10 cents for the ingredients for the dressing = 70 cents for four servings of slaw. Alternately a large carrot will make a dozen sticks. Two pounds of carrots are $1.98, and hold about a dozen carrots. 16 cents a carrot. 32 cents for four adult-sized servings.

Let's say this meal needs to serve two adults and two children. Calculated at two servings for the adults and one and a half servings for two children, a 12 year-old boy with a good appetite and a six year old girl, who eats about half of what he eats.

Total cost of the meal:
$1.58 for the beans
$ 0.67 for the potatoes
$ 0.70 for the slaw or alternately $0.32 for carrot sticks
$ 0.75 - a glass of milk for each person
$3.70 cents for the entire meal for four!

So, what do you do with the rest of the beans? Watch for the next post. And what do you do for a frugal meal? Can you prepare a meal for a family of four for $5.00 or under? If so tell us about it!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Funny What Gets You Thinking...

Funny what thoughts come from a shopping trip. We went to the local grocery today, because they are having a case sale. I'm in the middle of stockpiling for the winter, when locally grown organic food is abundant and cheap. I bought two cases of canned milk, a case of corn, three litres of olive oil, a box of pears, and numerous other items for my stockpile. I sat down and figured it out and I saved $70.00 over what these items would cost if I bought them off-sale, so that feels good. I'd really rather not buy canned goods because of all the energy that is sunk into the cans and transporting them, but with the threat of H1N1 looming, I figure it's best to have supplies of necessary food on hand in case I get sick and can't shop, or in case there's a lot of flu in town and we want to stay home.

Last night a friend came by with 40 pounds of beautiful organically grown potatoes, 35 pounds of Russets and five pounds of red "new" potatoes. I'll be picking apples with my friend Anita this week, and will dry some and keep some to eat fresh. I've got large quantities of dried fruit and veggies now, and once I add a couple of large sacks of dried pinto and black beans we should be able to "shop the stockpile" pretty well this winter,

When I was a girl in Oklahoma every homemaker spent the summer in the garden and kitchen. The big black canning pot was rarely off the stove once vegetables began to come out of the garden.

We lived in this lovely little house in Duncan Oklahoma, a small town about 90 miles south of Oklahoma City. In those days it was a working class neighborhood. The homes were simple but very well kept and the yards were full of flowers, trees and meticulous lawns that the fathers or older brothers mowed on Saturday afternoon. We had an enormous garden, a clothesline and a chicken coop in the back yard. The chickens supplied us with eggs and (alas for my tender heart) fried chicken dinners.

Our lot was bordered by a creek with a deep channel which flowed full in March, and often flooded the yard, and even the house occasionally. By summer the water trickled past in the bottom of the ditch and my friend Tommy and I would fish for crawdads by dangling a piece of string in the water. For a hook we used a safety pin, baited with a piece of raw bacon. The crawdads wouldn't bite the hook, they grabbed the bacon with their claws and were too stubborn to let go. We'd catch them, and put them in a bucket to keep as "pets". At nightfall our Dads would sneak them back into the creek and tell us they'd crawled away.

Mother would can jar after jar of tomatoes and corn and peas and green beans, beets and pickles and all kinds of tree fruit. She knew where the wild berries and plums grew, where to find pecans and hickory nuts, and where you could pick the rusty orange persimmons that puckered your mouth until after a hard freeze. She didn't bake much "light bread", but every meal was accompanied by either baking powder bisquits or cornbread, always hot from the oven. Milk came in bottles, or from a relative when the cow was fresh. I churned a lot of butter by shaking cream in a jar until my little arms were about to fall off.

There were ventilated drawers in the kitchen cupboards for root vegetables like potatoes, onions and carrots. Flour came in cotton sacks printed with floral patterns, which ended up as aprons, school dresses, skirts, underwear and pillowcases. When clothes grew too ragged or stained to pass on to someone else in the family the buttons were cut off and saved, the zippers removed, and the "good" bits were carefully cut out, to be recycled into quilt tops. For years I could look at the quilt on my bed and see in my mind's eye every shirt, skirt and dress the fabric had come from. Nothing was wasted.

The most prized skill in a homemaker in the 40s and 50s was the ability to make do. Manufactured goods were still in short supply, and there was little money to buy what there was anyway.

I remember hearing Mother comment that she'd seen a living room in a magazine that she thought was so beautiful she wanted to decorate our living room to look the same. She began pricing items she'd need to buy but when she hit the $80.00 mark she was so scandalized by the decorator's shameless waste of money she abandoned the idea altogether.

Our living room had a polished wood floor, a printed lino "rug", and two patterns of wallpaper, a wide white and tan stripe on three walls and a chocolate brown "William Morris" style paper which had white lilies and green flowing leaves and stems on the fourth wall. I thought it was beautiful and I could lie and look at it for hours, tracing all those tendrils in my mind. The sofa and two arm chairs were brown velvet with crocheted pineapple doilies made by my grandmother pinned along the top.

There was a lovely small piano on one wall, reflecting my mother's hopes that I might be "musical" (I wasn't). It was extravagantly expensive, $600! I have no idea of how she ever came up with the money for that piano. My father probably didn't make $200 a month, yet somehow she scraped together $600 for a piano and several years worth of piano lessons. About all I got out of that investment was a love of classical music.

There were several large windows covered with sheer white organza curtains with ruffles. According to the fashion of the time these curtains criss-crossed the windows and were held back with ruffled ties. There was a floor lamp with a silk shade and a big low table the whole family, including my two brothers and their wives, could gather around. We laid out jigsaw puzzles on that table, and there was lots of room for snacks.

At Christmas there was the tree, the glass German bird ornaments, the bubble lights and tinsel. Hard candy. Huge family meals. And *a* gift. A doll, one year a dollhouse. One year my brother made me some stilts which I got quite good at walking on. One year my Dad and brothers made me a cradle for my dolls. My sister-in-law June made me a sock monkey, a toy we called a "Bimbo". I lost him for years and then found him again and I have that beloved monkey to this day.

I don't know if those were actually simpler times, but there were fewer distractions then. No TV, no running off to practices of all kinds, though I did belong to Brownies for two years. Church, school and Mother in the kitchen. Those were the constants I grew up with. I didn't know at the time how fortunate I was.

I am so pleased and happy to see the value of knowing how to "make do" being recognized once again. More women realize that practicing economy and creativity while staying home with their children is a positive contribution, one that takes resourcefulness and is as much a challenge as rushing to a job each day.

Not every mother can stay home (or wants to). To maintain a job and a family home is a huge challenge. I'm glad to say I was able to have a taste of both, working and being a stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed both, but I really preferred to be home with my children. I had a lovely childhood. I have lived a fortunate and blessed life. I wish everyone could have such happy memories.

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's About to Fall!

Since I haven't posted in ages (for me) this is a bit of a marathon catch-up post.

The temperature has taken a nose dive in the last couple of weeks. It's now in the low 20s (C), low 70s (F) most days and the nights are downright chilly.

In the garden we have raised a fine crop of the most enormous orb spiders you could ever wish to see. The one hanging out between the 4 x 4 and the planters in back has a body almost as big as the end of my thumb. She is humongous!

Tomato production has slowed way down, lots of green tomatoes yet, but we're down from two or three cupfuls of small tomatoes every day to a cupful every three days. Would you believe these tomatoes are the two inch runts I was too embarrassed to give away? They are four feet tall and would have taken over the 4 x 4 except I pulled runners out and put up a section of fence to hold them back.

The bok choi and kale I planted mid-August are growing well. What I can't understand is why seeds which did not come up in the spring when I planted them have come up four months later when I don't want them? There are young squash and melon plants just going nuts back there, from seeds which didn't come up in spring, or all summer. And as much as it hurts I will have to cut them off if I'm going to get any kale.

The Brandywine and Purple Prince tomatoes have produced a bushel of tomatoes. Several tennis-ball-sized Purple Princes and Brandywines are turning red, and hopefully will be ready in a few days, but unless we get some warmer weather a lot of these last tomatoes will be pulled green. I'm thinking fried green tomatoes, which is never a bad thing.

I have primarily been busy drying more food. I got through that 20 pounds of plums, dried a large spaghetti squash, and did 15 more red, yellow and green bell peppers. Peppers are so easy to dry, simply wash them well, cut into pieces about an inch wide and an inch or so long and put them in the dryer. They look like jewels when they are dried.

Late yesterday I dried four trays of Russet potatoes, one tray grated, one tray diced in 1/4" cubes, and the rest sliced into quarter moon slices about 1/4" thick. I scrubbed the potatoes, sliced them into four pieces and cooked them about 3/4's done. After they'd cooled I grated, diced and sliced. I treated each bowlful with about three tbs of water with a tsp of Fruit Fresh dissolved in it, and I sprinkled a bit more on the tatties after I had them on the drier trays. They dried really fast and did not discolour at all, despite looking yellow in the picture. It was taken under the kitchen light, so the light balance isn't right.

I have never dried potatoes before so I am using some in a recipe to see if it's worth doing more. They are a lot more work intensive than most of the fruit and veggies I have dried so far, though slicing them is the least work, and if these are okay I would slice any more that I dry, and forget about the cubes and grated ones.

I tried my new toaster oven out by baking some chili cheese cornbread to accompany the pinto beans and yams I cooked for dinner a couple of nights ago. There are two meals fit for a King. Pinto beans and potatoes and pinto beans and cornbread. Two wonderful recipes follow. Cornbread was a staple in our house when I was growing up. This chile cheese cornbread is incredibly delicious!

Chile Cheese Cornbread

• 1 cup cornmeal
• 1/3 cup all-purpose non-gluten flour
• 2 tbs sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup shredded cheddar or jack cheese
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 1 can chopped green chilies


Combine dry ingredients, including grated cheese; add beaten egg, buttermilk and the chiles, mixing well. Pour into greased, heated 8-inch or 9-inch baking dish. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

And this is the one I'm trying my dried potato slices in. We love these, they are soooo delicious.

Potato and Pinto Bean Enchiladas


* 1 lb diced or sliced potatoes
* Olive oil
* 1/2 pkg Taco spices
* 1 medium onion, minced
* 1 15 oz can (drained and rinsed) or 2 c. cooked pinto beans
* 1 dozen corn tortillas
* 1 cup salsa
* 1/2 c grated cheddar or jack cheese
* pitted black olives

Guacamole Topping

* 1 avocado
* juice from 1/2 lemon
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* salt to taste
* Louisiana hot sauce to taste


Dice the potatoes and put them in a pan with boiling water. Simmer for 5 minutes and drain. Put the oil in a large skillet and heat. Add the onion. Cook onion until it's transparent and add the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes have browned. Add the pinto beans and cook for 10 minutes. Mixture should be fairly dry. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Fry each corn tortilla in a tsp of oil and as soon as it cools, place a spoonful of the bean and potato mix inside and roll it up. Place side by side in a baking dish.

Spoon salsa over top of enchiladas, sprinkle cheese on top. Scatter black olives on top. Put in microwave for five minutes or in hot oven long enough to melt cheese.


In the meantime, open the avocado, remove the pit, and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Add the garlic, lemon juice, salt, and hot sauce. Mash together until well mixed.

To serve, place a spoonful of Guacamole and a dollop of sour cream side by side on top of each enchilada.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Some Days Are...

Wonderful. The rain is peppering down, but since Ian installed a gutter when he was here this past week none of it is flowing off the roof onto the stairs or deck. It's cool, but an old sweatshirt I'd be embarrassed to wear in public is keeping me cozy. My "good" sweatshirt is in the laundry basket, but alas I cannot do laundry until my drier full of plums has finished.

The first 10 lbs worth of plums are dried and squirreled away in a quart Mason jar. I cleaned and cut up the second 10 lb batch of plums about 5:00 pm yesterday and got them in the drier. At some point during the night Sal must have bumped the drier because the top was ajar by about an inch this morning, and the plums were a long way from dry. So now the drier hums away on the kitchen counter and it smells like exotic flowers in here.

The campground, so crowded even last weekend, has one lone tent this weekend. I thought this would be a busy weekend but I guess the forecasted rain and the fact that school has started or will start on Tuesday has kept our tenters at home. From now on the visitors will be in motor homes, trailers and 5th wheels, and will mostly be retirees heading south for the winter.

I was up for an hour between 3:00 and 4:00 am, and heard the resident owls hunting in the field next to the park. But I also heard something I've never heard here before and I had to do some research. The question; Do we have wild turkeys in the South Okanagan? And the answer is yes. The wild turkey was introduced as a game bird in the 1970s near Penticton and by the 1980s there were over 130 birds in the area. The introduction has not been entirely successful, and the birds are uncommon, but apparently that unmistakable call I heard quite clearly just before dawn was indeed a wild turkey.

And so, on this rainy September afternoon there's a pervading sense of calm, deceptive probably, but I am feeling particularly contented. We spent the week going through the kitchen, organizing, weeding out, relocating. The third storage cupboard has made it possible to move baking dishes, pans, and other kitchen equipment I don't use on a daily basis out of the stuffed cupboards and into a much more accessible area.

And of course the work of putting food away and stockpiling while seasonal foods are plentiful has continued. As soon as the plums are done I'll start on the squashes. Once they are done I'll do more bell peppers and then a bunch of potatoes. This kind of work always makes me feel the way a broody chicken must feel, happy to sit in her little spot and cackle happily under her breath. So with a cackle I am away.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Our September Investment

One reason to live simply is that it allows you to share your resources with others. One way to do this is to lend money to people who have a small business and need some capital to expand, or to get established.

Tony and I decided last month that we will make a monthly loan through KIVA. This month we loaned $25.00 USD to Sabina Anyango Otieno who lives in Narok, Kenya. Sabina is a single woman who owns an open-air shop where she sells second-hand clothes. She has been running her business for the past 11 years.

Sabina's business is at the side of the road in the Buruburu area, enabling her to attract customers who are just passing by as well as neighbors. She wants to use her loan to buy more stock. Her "store" is basically a rough homemade frame covered with discarded plastic. With increased stock she hopes to increase her profits and hopes to be able to buy a stand to use as a temporary shop and, eventually, to get a more permanent location.

Micro-finance loans are a way to directly help individuals who are unable to qualify for loans from a bank due to the conditions of poverty in their area. The people who apply for the loans are hard-working and self-supporting. They are expected to pay back the loan, just as you and I are when we borrow money from a bank. When the loan is repaid the money will come back to us, to be reinvested in another business or withdrawn, whichever we decide.

We are able to look at the repayment schedule and also get reports of how the businessperson is doing. The loans are not interest-free but the interest on the loans is primarily used to fund business education for borrowers. They may learn how to keep books, how to keep track of stock and figure profit margins so they may make better decisions about what to carry, or what to produce or grow.

We are all connected. When Sabina's business and life improve, our lives improve. What an opportunity!