Category Archives: frugality

Remember the Energy Report?

Yes, this one. The one which said we use 94% more energy than other people in similar houses.

We just got another one of those reports! This one says we use 53% more energy than other people in similar houses. So, we’re doing 41% better than six months ago.

Still same idiotic recommendations: set your thermostat at 68*, we don’t use the thermostat; we heat almost entirely with wood.

There’s a tip. “Make an energy savings plan for the new year. Maintain momentum all year by celebrating achievements large and small.”

Hello? According to you, we used approx. 200% (93% more than others, rounded) more energy than others in May.

Now we’re using approx. 150% (43% more than others, rounded) more as of Oct. THAT means we’ve cut our usage 25% in the past 6 months.

And there is, this time, a statement: “This is based on 75 similar homes within an average distance of 2 miles.” I don’t think there are 75 other log homes within 10 miles of here, much less 2. But I don’t think our home’s construction is the real issue, although I’m sure it matters.

I think the reason we’re over is because we’re here, working and living 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And nowhere is that talked about.

This time there does seem to be a number where I can talk directly to someone about this. I wonder if I have the patience to try again? I never did get an answer to the letter I sent, this one.

Update: 11/8/18 I tried to call to talk to someone at 1:23 p.m. That’s a Thursday, right? Said they were closed for the week. Hello? Going that extra mile to impress me again, aren’t you?

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The Primal Shift

Yesterday was pepper day! I made salsa, put peppers on a ristra, made stuffed peppers for dinner and the freezer, and roasted red peppers for future batches of my version of “tomato” soup.


This morning I’ve been dealing with dried herbs. The farm has PYO herbs and they bunch them occasionally. I use a LOT of parsley, thyme, mixed basils, and rosemary. I make a winter tea from spearmint/lemon balm. Today I went through all the herbs/spices:

  • I have enough/too much thyme. I’ll offer some to friends.
  • I need more parsley.
  • I need more lemon balm/spearmint for tea.

The rest of it I left alone.

If I don’t do this at this time of year, what happens is that around Feb.  I run out of parsley and tea. I object to paying retail for parsley, (Remember this?) so….


This reminded me that I also need a “cube” of pine shavings for the root cellar crates. I’ve tried sand (too heavy) and newspaper (too messy) so this year I’ll try wood shavings. I need to sterilize the crates. They’ve been empty all summer, but weren’t sterilized, as I knew it’d be months before they were put back to use.


There’s also the annual replacing older foods to make room. The last 3C or so of my 2017 winter tea mix is in the compost bucket, for example. The current bottle of thyme will join it soon.

Part of this is having enough parsley, winter tea, thyme, tarragon, etc. Where previously I would have kept all of anything, whether it was likely I’d ever use it, or not? These days I send a email to friends & neighbors asking if they want the extras. If I get no takers, the compost heap gets another donation.

pantry storage

It’s also time to beef up the canned goods. I’m pleased to say that we used all the canned and dried meats I had set aside and the canned veggie shelf has 2 cans of butter beans (used for bean soup), a can of garbonzos (hummus) and 3 cans of chopped chilis. That’s it! Getting to where the flow of pantry items made sense was one goal I had a couple of years ago. We had things we’d stored for years and hadn’t used. We had stuff neither of us liked, because it had been cheap. After three years of work, I’m pleased to say that my pantry at the end of summer has very little in it! More pasta than anything else, and not a huge amount of that. Previously, I had so much food that it was in the attic, under the sink, etc. and wasted mostly!

Still, there is something about the process of getting ready for winter I love. Much of it I hate because I loathe the idea of winter itself. But when I know I have a little food set aside to use midwinter it’s pleasing. It appeals to the frugalista in me, but it also hits a much deeper level.

 

Insurance Company Hero!

The pharmacy auto calling was driving DH nuts, so he told me to do something already!

So, I did what I had intended to do, that is, I called our insurance company. In the process I learned a few things, at least one I will probably use the rest of my life.

  1. The price on the drug out-of-pocket was so high because we haven’t met our deductible. (I’m still not going to get it.)
  2. That there are coupons for prescription drugs available? You can get them  here or try googling the drug name.
  3. The auto caller from the pharmacy gets stopped from the pharmacy, but may not be stopped immediately, it IS automated.
  4. If I want to talk to someone with an accent I understand, call in the morning.

drugs and money

It had NEVER occurred to me that there might be coupons for prescription drugs! I use coupons and try to be frugal in almost every way I can, but this is a new one on me!

Doc & Medicine

I will not go into details, but yesterday I went to pick up a prescription and it was $152, after our insurance paid about 1/2. Really? This isn’t for a life-threatening condition.

I declined the medication. The doc had told me it was expensive, but my expensive and his are apparently a quantum leap different. I was figuring the out of pocket was at the most $80. And I would have bought it then. But $152? That’s 3 weeks’ worth of groceries.

The only reason the drug companies and drug stores can charge that much is that people will pay it. Well, most will. This lady won’t!

Weird Ways to Save $, Mostly in the Garden

I’m always looking for ways to implement my 3 basic ideas to save $ (use less, find a cheaper subsititute, or do without), here’s a few.

  • Manila Envelopes: Seem to fail most often on the T-shaped clasp. Use one side at a time instead of both. When one fails/breaks off, use the other.
  • Lawn:  1) Deliberately let a part of the lawn go to moss, if it wants to do that. Will you win a house beautiful contest? No, but moss usually stays green without fertilizer and doesn’t need to be mowed. 2) Fill in bare spots with a no-mow grass seed mix. 3) Deliberately let the edges of the lawn (or a patch) go to seed and collect the seed to use on any bare spots. 4) Change part of the lawn to something else, a patio or path, using stone, pavers, mulch, etc.
  • Plants: Get more plants by getting out of the way and letting them do what they want! For something like forsythia, put a rock on the middle of an outer branch and it will grow roots where the branch hits the ground. Two bushes for the price of one! (It’s called layering.) Divide bulbs and plant both bulbs slightly farther apart. Works with day lillies, daffs, etc. Or, let the plant go to seed. We have an edge of “cup of gold” day lilies lining part of our drive. Most of these were grown from seed, obtained from the one plant I bought or other landscaping. We have a layer of bracken (ferns) along the top of a stone retaining wall. Cost? Nothing. I layer leaves of the bracken where I want the ferns to be the next year and there they grow!
  • Fertilizer/Mulch: 1) Compost your grass clippings and use the compost. 2) Make use of your community’s leaf pile/shrubbery pile for compost or as a source for items to compost. 3) Find a farm who will sell you soiled straw or composted manure. Not so easy in the city, but pretty easy where we live. I have found chicken farms who would let you haul off their soiled straw for free, folks who raise beefalo who would deliver it in small area, etc. 4) Use your coffee grounds or spent tea.
  • Trellising: Find ways to reuse what you have. At one point, the bean trellis here was made from 2 paperback spinners, a TV antenna, and various card rack bits, because it was what we had to hand.

I hope there’s at least one thing in there you haven’t thought of yet!

Self-Cleaning Cooking — Put It To Use (or Try)

Also available on the self-cleaning cooking page, see the menu, above, for a link to the page, all of these posts are there!

  1. Use up ingredients! This generates less clean up: you don’t have to deal with storing what’s left. (It generates less waste and happily is frugal too.)
  2. Use the smallest quantity of cooking utensils & tools as practical (and safe)! Each tool or utensil generates two clean up tasks — it has to be washed and put away.
  3. Limit cooking areas! Each cooking area generates one clean up task: cleaning the area after it’s used.
  4. Make your own prefab or partial ingredients! Partially prepared foods may be the best way to cook from scratch, with fresh foods, and limit clean up tasks.
  5. Try using commercial prefab ingredients! These can also save many clean up tasks, but you sacrifice knowing exactly what’s in the food and how it was prepared.

So! Given those, what can I do?


  • Use up ingredients!

For us, that means that I will try and do more bulk cooking. I do this with meats already, that is, when I open a package of 1 lb of chicken thighs, these days I always cook all of it. However, I don’t do this with vegetables say. Items which will store well, I do: cooked rice as an example. But what to do with fresh veggies to handle/store them as little as possible is the challenge here, and I don’t have an answer.

  • Use the smallest quantity of cooking utensils & tools as practical (and safe)!

I think with measuring tools, I already do this. I’ll measure dry ingredients before wet. I’ll use the smallest spoon measure and use a graduated cup measure for items.

Cooking tools? Hm, not so much.

Pans: if items need to be dry roasted (like dry roasted cumin, in a soup recipe I use a lot) and then another ingredient needs to be sauted, wiping the pan out with a paper towel (or not, depending on the ingredient) between makes sense. Using the pan you roasted meat in to make gravy might make sense, but it would usually generate another dish to hold the food taken from the roasting pan.

I have two sets of divided pans: small, almost triangular pans made to fit inside a bigger one and be cooked that way. I wonder if using those more often could help? It might not lessen the quantity of items to be cleaned, but it certainly would lessen the square inches of surfaces needing to be cleaned. There’s only two of us and often I’m only using the bottom inch of a pan . Hmm…..

Cooking utensils: I automatically just reach for tool x or y or z as I’m cooking. I think I need to become more aware of what I’m doing and see if I can just not use the wooden spatula I’ve used for years to saute items, and then need a spoon instead. Why couldn’t I saute foods with the spoon? No reason; I’m just used to doing things a certain way. As I said, this one will require some work on my part!

  • Limit cooking areas! 

This is the same as cooking cools/utensils: I automatically use this cutting board, that knife, the peeler, etc. I will have to *think* before I cook to find ways to lessen cooking areas. (The horror!)

  • Make your own prefab or partial ingredients! 

As I said, I often make a quart jar of sauted onions.

At the end of the summer last year, I made up something which also worked: I made up bags of tomatoes, onion, green pepper, all chopped and ready to go, for marinara for me (no red tomatoes) or my husband (with red tomatoes). I also made up bags of salsa verde for me (no red tomatoes again) or regular salsa for my husband.

I’ve discussed this earlier, I think to limit the number of recipes: I’ll make a red tomato stewed tomato recipe and a nonred tomato stewed tomato recipe. I’ll probably also make salsa verde. Tomatillos, which I love and can eat, are readily available at the farm late summer. A jar of salsa verde is about $3 (or more)! I love Mexican food and use a lot of salsa.

stack of dirty pots & pans

  • Try using commercial prefab ingredients!

Of course, I have done this and do. But I have limited storage and money. In the summer I toss a huge amount of the farm food unnecessarily. Especially since I’m losing my big freezer this summer, finding new ways to use the farm food, rather than buying more prefab food is my mandate.

 

Making Dinner, Meal Planning, Clean as you Go Cooking,Cookbooks & Other Fantasies

I haven’t been “Mrs. Domestic” for the past few weeks, yes? When I am, I know what dinner will be by around noon most days. Today? At 5:00 I asked DH if he was getting hungry? His answer was “Yes.” so I had to figure something out.

My friend Linda came by to loan me a book earlier today, Yes, that Linda, the one who reads and comments here a lot. We had tea, but my kitchen was a disaster.

DH & I were working on other things last night, our regular Monday routine’s been blown, and I just didn’t feel like doing anything after I put the food away yesterday.

I washed a load of dishes when I got up this morning, but there was still a backlog which needed to be dealt with.

Into this chaos comes Linda. Do I think she thought less of me? No. But long-run, I had an experience I rarely have, I was embarrassed after she left. Three loads of dishes later, I had to make dinner.

So, at 5:00 p.m., I’m thinking: Hm. Nothing planned. Nothing thawed. No prefab food. What will I make?

Ended up thawing 1 lb of chicken thighs, oven fried them, same way I do to make lemon fried chicken, without the lemon sauce. Cooked sweet potatoes with onion, ginger, and dried, sweet cranberries. Added chopped pecans and bacon bits (from the freezer) just before we ate. DH made peas. It was yummy! We’ll have the left overs tomorrow for lunch or dinner.

Tell me again why I need menu planning?

Was this frugal? Probably not. Maybe I need menu planning  so I can cook frugally?

At this point, the only reason I’d really consider taking the time and effort would be if menu planning meant I could finish dinner and have little or no mess to deal with from the prep. The only way I know to do that consistently is to use prefab foods, and I won’t.

Menu planning is pushed as a way to plan your grocery shopping. I have certain items I stock my kitchen/pantry with and cook from what I have. I rarely use recipes, except as guide lines. [I looked at the oven fried chicken recipe for how much oil it specified and used less. I looked up a Morrocan recipe for sweet potato salad for how many raisins, sweet potatoes, onion, and ginger they used. Used the same amount of sweet potatoes and dried cranberries, the quantity of water to soak the berries in and how long. Otherwise? Nope.]

I suppose cooking (or trying to) since about 1967 when I took Home Ec, that the meals I’ve made good and bad have given me a certain expertise. I’m not a pro by any stretch, but after 50 years I guess I can wing it successfully (sometimes).

So, if someone has a book where the meal planning = a nearly clean kitchen when the food is served? Please let me know! I would sure love to have it! I bought a Irma Rombauer book thinking that’s what it was. This one:

Streamlined Cooking, published in 1939. I went to a lot of trouble to acquire a copy. I thought my troubles were over! But neither the listing where I’d first found out about it nor the book dealer who sold it to me used the full title:

Streamlined Cooking: new and delightful recipes for canned, packaged and frosted foods and rapid recipes for fresh foods 

I’m not a fan of many prefab foods, canned, packaged, or frosted. The rapid recipes are all right and I use the book for that. And to remind myself that all the years in the book business do not guarantee that I know wtf I’m doing when I get a used book!

There is another “streamlined cooking” book I may buy at some point, authored by a woman who wrote a book I own, about using a freezer efficiently.

That book has actual techniques in it to help save you time and effort, but it’s also obvious that the book was solicited by the manufacturers of various and sundry kitchen gadgets, or her column (if she had one?) was subsidized by them, as the book has unabashedly about 10 pages of reviewed kitchen gadgets, most of which you can’t find now.  And the book recommends products I’d love to find, but can’t. She recommends a farm which mail ordered bulk frozen sugared fruit, but they don’t exist now. She recommends various packaging materials I can’t find.

I also can’t find a copy of her hints/tips cookbook to look at, first. After the Rombauer experience, I’m loathe to buy this one sight unseen.

The best I’ve found is MegaCooking by Jill Bond, it’s a book for cooking in bulk for the freezer. Wonderful book, has lots of useful ideas about how to save time, energy and money in the kitchen, but not self-cleaning cooking — and that’s what I’m after.

I’ve always loved a good fantasy!

images

The image isn’t mine, but it made me laugh out loud. I got it via Google Images.