Category Archives: frugality

Extreme Food Planning: Part 1

Most Americans spend < 10% of their income on food. However, unlike mortgage interest, credit card minimum payments, utility costs, etc. it is one expense we all control.

Some of this is certainly dictated by location and available income. You can’t afford to buy $50 worth of bulk soap if you need to feed 3 people for $60 a week and you have a hard time doing that.

That said? I’m fortunate enough to be in the pool of people that can afford to use food planning to reduce our expenditures, at least for now.

So, along that line, I decided to do a category food plan. I’m not doing menu planning. When I did detailed menu planning, I hated cooking, it became a chore I had to get through, like scrubbing a toilet, just another chore. My idea here is to make a loose framework, not a menu plan.

There are two or three things going into this:
  1. I have to empty the freezer by the end of this month to be ready for the summer flood of veggies.
  2. I want to save every nickel I can.
  3. I want to use the above two items as a goad to both finally organize my cooking information and eliminate excess stuff.

What to do?

Convertible meals. One meal that becomes 2 or 3. Right now I have 2 lbs of cooked chicken and consommé in the fridge. That is easily 2 meals. I also have some cooked rice. Okay. Chicken and rice soup is one meal.

The others? The meat pulled off the bone can be made into chicken salad for lunch or dinner or lemon chicken. I have lemons and we’ve both been fighting colds for more than a month. I could add the chicken to the end of the salsa and we could have tacos, which would use up some of the tortillas, or….

Getting 3 meals from 2 lbs of chicken isn’t hard. I think I have 1 more lb of chicken, divided, in the freezer.

I also have a small pork roast, and some bacon. (I wanted pork while I still trusted it.)

I guess that’s another thing I can add to my learn-to-do-this list: learn to make a sausage substitute from chicken and grains…. it’s my observation that self-regulation never works. There are historical reasons why food regulations are so cumbersome. Go back and look at an old cookbook which talks about testing for chalk in flour, etc. before you buy it. I have those books, I have no desire to go back to arsenic in eye drops, chalk in flour, etc.

In my opinion? People are going to die and/or get very sick and then things will start the other way again. That’s a few years in the future yet… in the meantime, I can stop buying so much processed food and do more diy. I also sent a question to my local organic food organization asking about organic pork processing and how it differs from conventional?

Categories.
  • Egg. One egg meal per week. Quiche or omelette or just breakfast. Eggs, unless they get too warm are hard to adulterate and usually cheap protein.
  • Soup/Salad/Veg. Salad or soup or just a veggie plate night, maybe with hummus or other dip. Use up those bits & pieces!
  • Double Meals. One or more double meal nights or converted food nights. Any large piece of meat, large veg, casserole, etc.
  • Sandwich. Self-explanatory.
M -Veg enough for 2 meals
Tu -Soup or salad, using the uneaten and no plan for it bits and pieces
W – LO veg
Th – Egg
F – Meat meal enough for 2 meals
Sa – Sandwich
Su – LO meat

That should work. It’s broad enough that I probably won’t get bored. It also doesn’t give us meat 7 days a week, has a built-in left over day, and uses eggs to drastically lower food costs, as eggs are, after dried beans, almost the cheapest high protein source available. I’m not cooking complicated meals on the weekends, when DH and I tend to do home improvements.

More Getting Ready for Retirement: Food & Home Improvement

There are things I definitely agree with in Aslett’s book, Make Your House Do the Housework. And things I don’t.

One of the main things I do agree with him is that the easiest way to make something easy to clean/not require cleaning at all, is to change the overall system/design of something to that end. He has some favorites:

  • Vinyl (which we won’t use because I’m allergic or sensitive to many kinds of plastics and petroleum products). I don’t disagree with him about the stuff being easy to clean but I don’t want easy to clean and makes me sick at the same time!
  • Medium tones in colors, as very light or very dark show stains and spots more easily.
  • Built-ins. Built-ins take away areas to clean (or should) as they frequently go from floor to ceiling. Last week I found someone making a “built-in” from Ikea bookcases and they left a 4-6″ gap at the top, so you have a weird looking top and an impossible to clean horizontal surface? I don’t know what’s up with that? Built-ins are just that, built in. And if they go up over my head, they’re going to go to the ceiling, not almost!
  • Suspended Furniture. Wall mounted tables, chairs mounted to the front of a counter, etc. All make the single biggest horizontal surface in a home, the floor, easier to clean.
  • Water filtration removing things like iron which cause staining.
  • Reduction of surfaces, like using mirrored glass doors instead of louvers.

Okay, I mostly agree with him. I’d love a whole-house vac, but there’s no way thats possible in our solid-wall log home, forget it. That means at least 2 pieces of clutter/tools, vacuums. Of course, being us, we have 3. [We had 5 — I’m doing better, don’t get on me about this!]

DH has one for the workshop. I have a small portable I can and do carry around. Finally, I have an upright for the large rugs. We use all of them, every week. The workshop one DH has can be connected to tools to clean as he goes. MUCH better than before, I’ll put up with the extra piece to store! Not to mention that it’s much stronger than the other 2 vacs, so if I have something really filthy I borrow it . . . . And he made it a place to be put away, so it isn’t part of the floating clutter. That’s 2 of the 3. The upright doesn’t really have a put away place, and it needs one. It IS a part of the floating clutter. . .

I need a list! (I’ll add to this as I come up with other items.)

FLOATING CLUTTER (Cull, find a place to put it away, and/or use them)

  • Upright vac
  • All 3 rakes
  • Empty kindling bins

Proud of myself! Just figured out a spring/summer use for these: taking leaves to the dump! I have been reluctant to bag up leaves, because I couldn’t figure a way to do it without getting my face right in it.

My neat-nick neighbors put their leaves down a slope on the edge of their yard or put them in a trash barrel and haul them to the dump. They have trucks. We don’t. Putting leaves in barrels isn’t a solution here!

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Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

I’ve had a cold for a month now. The idea of using the kindling bins for hauling the leaves to the dump means that 1) they now have an out of season use which is much better than storing them empty 2) I won’t need to use bags to haul leaves to the dump, which means we won’t need to buy them and 3) I can get leaves prepped to go to the dump without getting my face near them.

WIN!!!

Fruit & Herb Lists

I made up those as well, this morning rather than yesterday. One of my issues with doing things like this is that I tend to make melanges, stews, goulashes, etc. of whatever is to hand, rather than to a recipe. That means that I don’t save many pieces of specific recipes, I want things I can then mangle or change to suit us.

There are “zipper” songs where you include wording to suit whatever you’d like. These are sort of zipper recipes: I can go in many directions with them.

berries

smoothie/Rodale p 267

melons

berry-melon ice/Rodale 271

peaches

cobbler/Rodale 284

Here’s the herb/spice list

anise seeds

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

basil, fresh

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

bay leaves

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

chervil, fresh

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

chives, fresh

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

cumin seeds

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

dill, fresh

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

dill

Dill-Scallion Butter/Rodale p104

dill

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

dill

Dill Cabbage Soup/Rodale 74

fennel seeds

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

garlic

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

garlic

Dill-Scallion Butter/Rodale p104

marjoram

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

parsley, fresh

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

oregano

Herb Boullion Cubes/Rodale p79

paprika

Dill-Scallion Butter/Rodale p104

rosemary

Dill-Scallion Butter/Rodale p104

sage

Dill-Scallion Butter/Rodale p104

scallions

Dill-Scallion Butter/Rodale p104

thyme

Dill-Scallion Butter/Rodale p104

And I’ll add my normal recipes, like: HM garlic salt, onion salt, salt substitute and chive butter. Some of which I have recipes for, some I don’t.

 

It Occurred to Me

This morning, again, that I need to have the freezer EMPTY by Memorial Day.

To that end, I looked at what remained: a shelf of stew/soup veg mixes, a shelf of fruits, a shelf of asst. veggies.

I have ONE container of salsa verde left, a large one, and it’s not full. I have ONE container left of stewed tomatoes.


Conclusions?

  • We eat a lot of stewed tomatoes and salsa during the winter.
  • We do not eat home froze veggies for soups or stews without a specific recipe attached otherwise.
  • Same with the fruit.
  • Obviously, I need to do less generic, unplanned food storage and more prep so that I  waste as little as possible!

I made up a really basic chart, or it’s a start anyway.

Vegetable

Recipe/Used In

Asparagus

Fresh, Pickled Asparagus/ WP p 115-9

Beans, green

Fresh, Frozen? Pickled?

Chilis

Fresh, Dried, Froz: Mex Lasagna Rodale Home Freezing p 183, HM chili sauce

Corn

Fresh, Frozen Corn Casserole/Home Ckbk

Garlic

Fresh, Pantry Dried ristra

Onion

Fresh, Pantry Dried. Any way to buy with leaves for a HM braid?

Peppers

Fresh, Roasted Froz: HM roasted pepper soup base

Potatoes

Fresh, Pantry Dried

Radishes

Fresh, Pickled, HM Radishes from Hell

Tomatoes

Fresh, Froz: HM stewed

Tomatillos

Fresh, Froz: HM salsa verde

Zucchini

Fresh, Puree Froz/Rodale Home Freezing p233

 

I’m not likely to do all of this, we get about 1 bunch of asparagus a year and it gets gobbled up right away. I make my spring risotto with sausage or ham, the asparagus, onion, etc. I don’t have a recipe for this, I’ve been doing it so long I long ago lost it. When I went to make it a few weeks ago, I had to do an internet search to remind myself how much rice to how much broth. After that I just used what I had, like always.

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Photo by Julian Hanslmaier on Unsplash


Three containers of mixed veggies are in the composter. There’s 4 more waiting to go.

I think I need to make a cobbler or fruit pudding or something with some of the fruit. I have peaches, rhubarb and apples to use up. I have a rhubarb cobbler we like I use it for, so that’s easy. The apples I don’t have anything for. I’m not fond of cooked apples, I’m not sure why I put them aside, except it was an unexpected bonanza of cheap apples. The  peaches will probably be used in a peach-blueberry cobbler I make too.

So the apples need to go. I think there’s 4 or 5 packages of apples. There were 3 large containers of apples. I forgot the persimmons when I made the list too. I don’t know where the recipe is, but I know I have one. Persimmons are used for persimmon pudding here.


Assuming I get rid of the obvious above, that’s about a dozen packages of food going in the composter. That’s great, but it’s still only about 1/2 the problem!

Sigh.

Two More Down

I realized a little while ago that my bucket list is almost entirely foods to make rather than places or events. I’m weird, no surprise!

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Photo by Sarah Boyle on Unsplash

Yesterday I made noodles and a cheese rind broth. Both have been on my to do list for a long time. Both will work, both will be repeated. The noodles were cooked in the broth, making an almost Parmesan sauce. Interesting.

 

Getting Ready for Retirement: Food & Fuel

We have been, slowly, trying to change our eating habits and others, preparatory to DH’s retirement, at some unknown future date. We don’t want him to retire particularly, but it will happen, and because he works on contract 1 or contract 2, if the company loses the contracts, he’s likely to lose the job he has supporting them, then. It’s entirely out of our control.

To that end, I’ve been for years slowly but surely moving us along a pathway towards lower monthly expenses as much as possible, and of course the easiest, first way to do that is almost always food.

You can’t really control what the bank charges for a mortgage. You can’t control what the oil man wants for heating oil or propane. You can control the cost of the food you buy, so that’s almost always the first place people start to cut down, including us. The only problem with this is that for many people, food is only 10% of their total expenditures, so even cutting the cost in 1/2 isn’t a significant saving overall. Of course it counts, but don’t kid yourself you’ll suddenly be awash in available funds if you cut your food bill in 1/2.

For us, this is complicated by the fact that we’re food snobs, and like it that way. There are traditional cheap foods we could use.

  • MAC & CHEESE: I don’t like mac and cheese, even homemade. I’m fairly certain they gave it to me, with orange soda (which I also abhor) one time I had stomach flu. DH likes it. I like cheese on pasta, but not baked and BROWNED, and not cheese food.
  • BEETS: DH hates them on principle. They are an economical food to grow because you eat all of the plant: roots and leaves. I can take them or leave them. Yellow beets I can sneak into stews sometimes. The greens I can add to soups & stews, sometimes.
  • HAMBURGERS: Unfortunately, I grew up eating prime beef. I like beef that tastes like beef. Much of the “beef” out there doesn’t taste like anything! Form without substance. (Also see ground beef, below.)
  • STEAK: See above comment about prime beef. My reaction to the insane price of beef these days is to buy very small hunks of steak, when I can find them on sale at the co-op and freeze them. I only buy and keep one. Steaks this size aren’t very efficient foodstuffs, it’s an expensive piece o’ protein and usually only one meal. I try to use it as a condiment rather than as a plate filler when I serve it.
  • BREAD: We bake our own. When a decent loaf of bread is as much as about 2/3- 1 lb of beef? I’ll bake it. I also buy enough flour between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 to last until about April. Why? Staples are cheapest between the holiday sales, prethanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. Because of that, the prices go up the MOST they do all year after New Year’s and during February. They level off by the end of March. Staples, like flour, go on sale again for Easter.
  • OTHER PROTEIN/FISH: I stopped eating fish long ago, because I heard something which indicated to me that we were overfishing. As someone who grew up on the Pacific Coast and dearly loves fish, this wasn’t easy. And, yes, I admit, I slip about once or twice a year. DH isn’t fond of fish, which helps.
  • OTHER PROTEIN/CHICKEN: We use bulk pack chicken thighs from the co-op, approx. $2.50 a lb. I buy a 5 lb bag and divvy it up into 3 piece portions, approx. 1 lb each. That’s 2 meals worth, a dinner and lunch the next day. This works for us. I no longer buy whole chickens, chicken breast in any form, etc. Chicken thighs are mostly white meat, some bone and for our household each piece is about 1 portion. It works and it’s cheap.
  • OTHER PROTEIN/GROUND BEEF: I’ve been known to buy meat from a friend who raises cattle, but mostly I buy a pound or two at the local natural food market. The stuff tastes great (see hamburgers, above) but it’s expensive. I get 2 meals from a pound of meat. We have friends who add black beans to ground beef and although this was yummy, I never remember that when it might be useful!
  • OTHER PROTEIN/VEGETABLE: I’ve been known to make lentil burgers. They weren’t bad, but not the success I’d hoped for. Let’s say this is a work in progress. My long-term notion for these is to combine lentils, black beans and ground beef, but it is, as I said, not finished. . . .

Other ideas:

Switch to wood heat, almost entirely. Why? Because we live on just under an acre of land. I can grow some of our fuel. Not enough to keep us warm all winter, but some of it. I can’t grow propane, fuel oil or pellets.

Along this line, we have registers to install between rooms to distribute the wood heat more evenly. We also will maybe buy an ecofan or other fans to help distribute the heat. We have one big fan on our staircase that in summer is used to pull the hot air up to the ceiling and in the winter to push down the hot air.

We’ve been concentrating on things we can do to stay warm and fed. That base layer of Maslow’s, right?

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Photo by Anna Popović on Unsplash

Pantry Soups & Other Ideas

This was started in February, just so you know!

Twice now I’ve made what I call “Yellow Hand Soup.” The first time it was mostly carrots with a butternut squash and 1/2 a sweet onion. This time it was mostly sweet potatoes with a butternut squash and 1/2 a sweet onion, no carrots at all.

The first time we had it with grated cheese. This time we had it with carmelized pecans.

Both times I cooked the squash in the micro then scooped the cooked flesh into the pot with stock, the onion and other vegetables.

The first time I had a new bag of carrots from the CSA to deal with and a bag full in the fridge. This time, I’m in the same boat, but with sweet potatoes, which we use much less often. Both times, the idea was to use what we have the most of, before it goes bad.

As a part of the food planning for this spring, I’ve also been researching how long various veggies last. The idea is that I’ll arrange menus to use up the most fragile foods first. I don’t have anything really fragile still in stock, but I will next spring!

There’s a buzzfeed list of how to store your foods, and how long. You can find it here. I don’t agree with all their times, but if you get your food from a market in a city, they’re probably right. I don’t, I get much of our food fresh from the farms where they’re raised, so no time is spent in warehouses, on market loading docks, or in walk-ins.

YMMV!

It’s another way to cut down that 40% we all supposedly waste, right? Use the foods which will go bad the fastest before the others.

Other Stored Food Meal Ideas:

Things we eat regularly from canned foods:

  • corn cheese soup (creamed corn, some onion, cheddar cheese, s & p)
  • bean soup. (rinsed beans, onion, mush with food processor or fork, add seasoning, onion, bacon or sausage if you have it)
  • fried rice: rice, LO meat, onion, other fresh or frozen veggies, as available.

From fresh foods:

  • ____soup (some veggie, appropriate stock, onion, celery. Can be curried, creamed, or just veggie or you can add meat and make beef vegetable soup, etc.) Or, you can make it stew by adding cream sauce, or making gravy instead of stock.
  • ____ stir fry (usually baby spinach, onion, maybe LO meat
  • meatloaf (ground beef, onion, seasoning) or meat balls (same) or hamburgers. If meatballs, can be with pasta or served in Albondigas soup.
  • chicken ______ , recently I’ve made creamed chicken with dumplings, curried chicken, fried chicken, lemon chicken with rice, chicken salad.

From frozen foods:

  • Sausage soup (frozen sausage, onion, frozen greens).

I rarely use recipes. Do you have standards you make with whatever you have to hand? I’d be interested to know what food you make! Because I don’t follow recipes, the quality does vary, it’s almost never horrible, but sometimes it isn’t as good as it could be.