Category Archives: old fashioned housewifery

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.

 

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Convertible Tomatoes

My job today is to pick up food, specifically non-red tomatoes (seconds) at the farm so I can make a large batch of stewed tomatoes to freeze. (I really need to learn to can some day!)

Why stewed tomatoes? What I make the most with tomatoes is marinara or chili. I have other favorites: a tomato-potato-cheese casserole and a tomato-potato soup. (The casserole is from the Vegetarian Epicure #2; the soup from Joy of Cooking.)

I was trying to find a common base to freeze, rather than making separate batches, like last year. It seemed that what I was describing was old-fashioned stewed tomatoes.  If I freeze cooked tomatoes with onion, bell pepper, a little basil, and parsley, I can add pesto, garlic, etc. for marinara or add chilis or salsa verde for chili or other Mexican food.  I  can use the mix for marinara, chili, or the tomato-potato dishes. Win!

So rather than making 4 different recipes this year, I intend to make one. (Last year I froze batches of marinara and chili base with both red and non-red tomatoes: 2 recipes, 2 different ways.) With my much smaller freezer area, I don’t have room! I ran out of non-red tomatoes sometime in Januray.

I needed a different solution and this is it! A dozen quarts of stewed tomatoes in the pantry would greatly help, but as I said, I don’t can . . . .

stewed tomatoes

As usual the image isn’t mine. Genius Kitchen via images.google.com .

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!

Rainy Day “Almost Instant” Chicken Soup

It was pouring earlier today. Not a day I want to drive to a farm or go pick my own at the farm either, — so no farm today.

That’s a  problem only because I was planning dinner from the farm, as I usually do the days I go. Digging through the freezer, I found a package of chicken bones, $4.33 worth at $2.75 a pound. That’s approx 1.57 lbs of bones and meat. There were 3 backs in the package.

So I started a pot of water boiling and plop in the brick of frozen chicken. Skim the worst of it off in a few minutes. Separate the pieces when I can. Keep simmering. After an hour, I’m pretty sure the meat is cooked, I pull the first back from the pot. Cut off the tail, fat and skin and then scrape the remaining  meat off.

I use a tool for this I’ve never seen/heard anyone else talk about for this purpose. I use a pickle fork, like this one:

pickle forkj

The little barbs on the end make shredding the small bits of meat as I scrape it from the bone really easy. That means I don’t have to CHOP the meat. Most of it is so small I’d have to do that minimally anyway, but the pickle fork pretty much guarantees that I don’t need to.

I’ve done two of the backs (the 3rd is cooling while I write this) and I have a cereal bowl of chicken shreds, ready to go back into the soup with carrots, celery, onion, potato, and more seasoning. Pretty much just before I serve it, I’ll add some chopped red pepper and peas. (I put some rosemary and peppercorns in the water with the chicken.)

I expect I’ll need to add some better than bullion (demiglace) to actually have flavorful stock, I don’t have time to simmer this down, skim it, chill it, remove the fat, season it and then make soup. If I was making rich stock, I should have at least put the bones back in! I’m not for two reasons: I skimmed the marrow out earlier and I don’t have time to chill it to remove excess fat. I did skim off most of the excess fat too.

This isn’t really instant soup. It will have cooked 3- 3.5 hours by the time we eat dinner. However, compared to traditional from scratch, home-made stock with fresh veggies added? Yep, it qualifies as “almost instant”!

Yield: 10C broth (NOT stock!) and 2C meat shreds, about .36 a cup (10 c broth + 2c meat = 12C, $4.33/12 = approx .36 a cup. Does not include fuel, other veggies, herbs, water, demiglace, Our typical serving is 1.5C (the size of our soup crocks). If you figure everything else costs 3x the amount of the broth/chicken, then it’s .36  + .18 +1.62. Or, it’s $2.16 a serving. Certainly cheaper than any organic broth, meat, veggie combination you can buy!)

More About Self-Cleaning Cooking

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

I have been working on this, it’s complicated!

There are these considerations:

  • Food storage: put away, recycled, or washed afterwards

There’s not much to be done about food storage. Food comes in whatever packaging or storage it does. You can repackage carrots say to share storage with parsnips, but that doesn’t change the requirement to take the food from storage and manipulate it for your recipe and return the unused portion or clean the storage item or deal with it somehow. Eliminating ingredients doesn’t change this requirement. Buying prefab possibly can, buying Bisquick instead of making pancake batter from scratch can reduce the packaging used: one box of Bisquick, instead of three: baking powder, salt, and flour.

  • Cooking tools used: washed afterwards

Eliminating or cutting down cooking tools is easier. You can decide to not use a peeler and use the knife you’ve already used to top/tail the carrots, as an example.

The easiest for me to eliminate is the tablespoon measure, it’s 3 teaspoons and I have no problem figuring that out. I sometimes look at the recipe and determine the measures required, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon. say.  Then I use, deliberately, only the smallest measure for all of them.

I will use one graduated cup measure throughout the recipe instead of using a cup measure, a 1/4 cup measure, etc. Or, I’ll use the 1/4C measure, like above. If it’s sane, I’ll measure the dry ingredients first, then the wet ones. (It’s easy to undo whatever item savings you may have doing this, because you need places to store the chopped onions, etc. for later!)

There’s a point at which this is totally counterproductive and I try and take that into consideration too!

  • Areas messed: washed afterwards

This isn’t as easy to do something about. Even when you reuse an area, a chopping board say, you still should clean it between uses. And, of course, it will need to be cleaned afterwards. You can limit the number of areas used by reusing them, but the quantity of cleaning required is harder, if not impossible, to reduce.

  • Serving tools/utensils used: washed afterwards

There are some obvious ideas, you can use dinner plates, etc. and serve everything together, instead of serving everything in separate dishes. Again, there are limits.


Trying to find ways to do this, I found this article at Bon Appetit. Here’s my comments about the article:

  • Her first idea is to use oven to table pots, instead of using pots & serving dishes.

My take is: Instead of serving items in the pot you cook it, how about plating food in the kitchen? Then the pot doesn’t need to be oven to table ready. If you have a big family or do lots of complicated cooking, this probably won’t work, but there’s two of us. I rarely use “serving” dishes. I sold all my platters because of this. I just don’t do that kind of cooking. When I take food to neighbors, etc. I use baskets, jars, etc. — no serving dishes.

  • Her second idea is to stop using multiple knives for everything, but to use one good knife instead.

My problem with this is that you increase the amount of dish washing mid-recipe, between cutting chicken and onions, say. That said? I set up a loaf pan with soapy water and put used utensils in it as I go. I try and wash them before the meal is served, to save the knives’ wood handles.

  • Number 3 is to get your timing down so as to make the best use of it.

Absolutely!

  • The fourth item on that list is an addition to 3, that is, clean whatever you can in the short down times between steps.

Again, I agree! You’d be surprised how many dishes you can wash while the micro is reheating your coffee for 1 minute!

  • Don’t use two items when one will do is her fifth idea.

I’ve worked at this for a while now. [I fixed the typo; I’m an editor, right?]

  • Item #6: Rinse and reuse prep tools rather than using new ones.

Also part of #5. In most cases, I’d probably WASH rather than just rinse. It depends on what I’d used it for, when. Rinsing the spoon you used to add the last of the spices to a cooked dish is fine. Only rinsing a spoon used for the initial mixing a dish with raw chicken? Nope.

  • Her last idea is to buy a scale and never use measuring spoons, etc. again.

That’s fine, if all your recipes have weight as well as volume measurements provided. But, many of my recipes don’t.  I’m not really interested in converting 1,000s of recipes so that I know a 1/2 tsp of salt weighs whatever it does. Might be interesting to do for some things. But even the salt won’t work, because you won’t eliminate anything: you need a container to put the salt into, to measure it. If you’re making a curry dish where all the spices are added individually, yeah, sure, use and reuse the same small bowl, but for a beef roast’s gravy?

Even if you use a scale instead of a volume measure, you still haven’t eliminated an item to wash, so like all of these suggestions, I’d take it “with a grain of salt.” [Couldn’t resist that!]


I’m not sure what conclusions this exercise gave me?

stack of dirty pots & pans

( Image isn’t mine, as usual, via images.google.com )

The four areas of mess making (food storage, cooking tools, cooking areas, and serving/eating tools)  was a moment of clarity I hadn’t had before. Unfortunately, the nature of acquiring/storing food, manipulating it for use, and serving it has only so many ways it can be simplified.

More thought required!

Two Types of Flashbacks

The last time I was cleaning 5 days a week (my goal) except for dishes/food clean up was last month. On the 15th, I wrote this blog saying, “I’m doing it!” and started waking up in full panic: heart pounding, palms sweating, shaking, the whole thing. When I have a full, emotional flashback, it’s a two-week readjustment, but not a cleaning flashback. Those take longer, about 4 weeks.

What I’ve done successfully, is to make the routines, at least a minimum of them just habit. So, for the past 4 weeks, I’ve done some laundry, but haven’t put it away consistently. Done some dishes every day, but rarely are all of them done, etc. There aren’t 4 weeks of accumulated laundry and dishes to do. I haven’t gotten much sleep and my stress levels are up, but I’ve dealt with it.

My challenge is to either 1)Try and add to what I can do in the “bad times.” or 2)Lengthen the period when I can clean. The problem with either and this challenge is that if I notice what I’m doing — the panic starts.

I’m really sick of fighting this stuff! I’m in my 60s — I am honestly, truly tired of being affected by things which happened in my childhood. But they gave me PTSD and all of it, the mess to hide in and the other events or adaptations I made to protect myself, are all wrapped together as my flashback. Push on any piece too hard and there I go down the flashback rabbit hole.

The only difference is that when I’m pushed emotionally, I have a successful route I forged back. From something like the movie thing, it takes a day or two. If someone attacks me? It takes two full weeks.

I don’t have such a mechanism for the panic attacks/cleaning flashbacks. What I originally did with the emotional ones was to recreate my growth, one step at a time away from the painful place I used to live. I haven’t managed anything except the very first steps away from the panic/stress.

  1. I understand the root of the panic.
  2. I also understand that the reason it was and is so hard to fight is that when it occurs, I’m in full fight/flight panic mode.
  3. I have realized that the only way I know which might work is to habitualize the cleaning.

That’s worked to some extent or the other.

What hasn’t worked? Finding a way to notice that I’m cleaning and not go into a full-blown panic attack/flashback.


There’s hope. Until I typed what’s above and remembered what I’d done for the emotional attacks, I’d forgotten that I ritualized the steps away from the bad old days. I did that for years until my therapist said, “Do you really have to recreate each step, one after the other these days? Next time, see if you can’t condense some of it.” And I could!

So, hope exists. But it took me 20 years or so to heal enough that I could conceive of  recreating the healing route. Twenty months longer on the cleaning/panic is about 18 months more than I want to spend….

But, of course, the being dictating the rate I can go isn’t my conscious, adult brain, but that wounded little girl, whose body remembers all the trauma. She and the body run the roadways and determine how much I can do and how fast. train image from target

My adult self just has to sit back, be patient, and wait. It sometimes feels as if I’m a passenger on an electric train. I got on, the doors closed and locked. All I can do is patiently wait until it stops!

trolley

 

Philosophy of Clean

It seems to me that there are “truisms” about cleaning. Some of these I’ve discussed:

  1. Clutter is usually made of “stuff.”
  2. “Stuff” is frequently made up of pieces you can pick up with your hand.
  3. Hard surfaces are easier to clean than soft ones.
  4. The only way to get an area clean and keep it that way is to keep cleaning.

My new one is related to #4. That people who manage to get and keep areas clean don’t see cluttered or untidy as acceptable.

For someone in their 60s who’s trying to learn to live differently, that last piece is not easy. Even when I clean regularly, I just don’t have that muscle. I’m so used to mess and clutter that I often just don’t see it.

This creates an all-too familiar situation for me: that I clean/cull an area and within a week or so, it’s a mess again.

I noticed this because of yard work. I’ve been working on raking out the beds, specifically, the bulb bed. For weeks I’ve had piles of leaves in the yard. I’ve been pulling them up and taking them to the dump, when I can get to the dump, at a rate of about 8 bags a trip. The piles aren’t there forever, and I finally have one more trip and that’s it to finish picking up those leaves. (It will be 4 trips when I finish.)

I’ve restricted myself. I’ve been slowly, but surely cleaning out the leaves in the other areas, and piling the leaves into neat piles. If I keep it up, it will still be another month or so before I manage to clean up most of the yard. This is an acre and I’ve never done this before; we’ve lived here 20+ years. Lots of dried leaves!

My neighbor’s yard always looks neat. Both of them work on it, instead of one person. And, whatever yard work they do is entirely cleaned up, before they quit. It occurred to me that there are some reasons for this: they have more storage than I do (a garage and a basement) also, they ALWAYS clean up and put away whatever accumulated mess and tools before they quit.

Also, in this neighborhood, we almost all have wood piles. There’s a neighbor who has a wood-fired, exterior furnace, with large wood sheds, as you might imagine. His wood piles, even when it’s a grapple load, are rarely messy. The wood is almost always cut to size and stacked in the sheds. The neighbors with a garage and basement have a small pile of wood for power outages, it’s tidy. Us? We have the end of two cords in a pile in front of the porch — which just looks messy.

The difference is that the large pile and the mess is something we live with, and the others won’t, for whatever reason.

I’ve been pecking away at that pile, a log or two here or there. I’m very aware of my weakened elbow and the potential for permanent injury if I’m not careful. Otherwise, I would have tackled it long since . . . .

But my observations are what got me to item #5.

5.  Keeping an area clean requires the attitude that a hodge podge isn’t visually acceptable.

J