Category Archives: workarounds

That Little Girl

I was who was so traumatized has caused me a lot of problems, because I don’t know what she decided or thought in many cases until there’s an issue. It’s my flashback to be swamped with pain, fear, or panic and possibly no apparent reason for the reaction.

For a long, long time, shame held me back, but I didn’t realize it until one day in therapy I blurted out, “I don’t deserve to heal; I killed my mother.”

I remembered feeling that way as a small child, but I thought it was survivor guilt, and I thought I’d dealt with it. I hadn’t. I did after that.

That same little girl has me trapped in the street car dealing with whatever it is related to cleaning or knitting.

train image from target

One of the most difficult things is at 60+ is to “get” that what’s going on with my body/mind has not much if anything to do with who I am now and figure out how to undo whatever it is. In many ways, it’s rather like trying to talk to an alien.

That said? She also did me a really, really good turn by her lack of understanding in one critical area. A few years back, I started to slide into clinical depression. I thought I was going insane, finally. My therapist and I talked about how I felt, and what was happening to me and she diagnosed it as clinical depression.

A while later, I put it together. What I had always been afraid of was losing control — “going insane.” That was what I’d fought internally for decades. It was keeping myself out of that. But it wasn’t insanity; it was clinical depression.

It meant that when I started to slide down that path in my 50s-60s, a remote part of me — at a distance — noticed and said, “What are you doing?”

My internal response was, “I don’t know. I don’t care.”

But that monitor said. “Hm. Maybe we’ll read this piece, it usually makes us feel better.”

“Nothing will make it better.”

“Let’s try.”

“If you insist.”

I did two or three other things: read the pieces which make me feel better, walked to the place which makes me feel good, etc. with no hope they would work. But eventually, they did.

So, yes, I’ve been depressed. And I’ve been close to succumbing to clinical depression.

But that plucky little girl wasn’t going to “go insane” no matter what! She kept finding ways to avoid it.

This puts me at a loss with people who ARE depressed, because my magic, most effective tool against depression’s devastation is that I made it absolutely illegal and forbidden for myself, when I was 3.

depression

 

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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!

“Almost Instant” Chili from Fresh Ingredients

I dream about “bowls of red,” that is, slow simmered, meaty chili made with abundant quantities of traditional tomatoes. I grew up in So. Cal., so chili has always been part of what I eat by preference.

Except. I cannot eat red tomatoes in quantity any more. It isn’t worth the 3 in the morning gut ache, even when I make it myself. The result of this is that I make many “chilis” using salsa verde as the base, which I like. But it’s not the same.

Today was farm day and I was fairly conservative about the different items I got, in most cases I got more than 1 item. (You’re allowed so many items a week, this season, it has been 8 all year.) They had quantities of non-red, greenhouse tomatoes, so I got 4 lbs of tomatoes, or 2 items worth.

This was also the first PYO for peppers — jalpenos, so I got some of those too.

I put this together from what I had acquired today or already had on hand.

Take 4 large non-red greenhouse tomatoes, wash them and cut off any hard core or other not so great spots. Put the tomatoes into a sauce pan with a little oil and smash them down with a potato smasher. Simmer.

Stem, seed and then slice a med-lg jalapeno, add that to the tomatoes and keep cooking. In a small frypan, put in a little oil again, and cut up a fresh bulb onion in largish pieces. Saute the onion, add chili powder. Cook til almost cooked through but not quite. Add the onions to the still simmering tomatoes. Put 1/2 lb ground beef in the fry pan, add about 1T cumin and cook to crumbles (cooked not crusty). Add the leaves of about 1/2 bunch cilantro. Cook until well wilted. Add the meat/cilantro to the tomato mixture.

Pull some of the liquid from the pan, put it in another bowl and add about 1T flour, stir til smooth, return it to the tomatoes. Taste. Add beef demiglace to add richness, about 2t.

Serve with generaous amounts of grated cheddar cheese.

This is acceptable  chili, but not an outstanding one. It would have been better for adding the meat and letting the entire thing simmer for an hour or so, but that didn’t happen. It’s closer to a “bowl of red” than I’ve had in more than a year, so I’ll take it! (The left overs, the next day, were better because the flavors had blended.)

NOTE: This is seasoned as it is because: I love cumin and my husband loves cilantro. I also like more salt than he does. He likes a lot more pepper than I do, so we add salt and pepper ourselves and I don’t cook with it.

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.

 

Self-Cleaning: Charts

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

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used  Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Onion, basket Y+1
Onion 1/2 Scraps/T+1 scrap dish W +1 Y +2 (partial onion, scrap dish) Y +1
Knife W+1 Y+1
Counter Cutting Board W+1
Butter 1/2 Y+1
Butter Dish Y+1
Pan W+1 Y+1
Spoon W+1 Y+1
Stove W+1
Totals T 1, W 6 8 1

Above, ingredients are plain text, tools italic, areas bold, and storage containers underlined.

Total items requiring washing after cooking this two ingredient dish: 6, while there’s 7 items to put away, 1 item went to the trash, and a container added to storage. Grand total? 16 items!

Yes, there are frozen chopped onions. You’d have a container to return to the freezer or trash, depending on whether you used it all, or not. This would eliminate the onion basket, the knife, the scrap bowl, and the cutting board, their clean up of 4 items, still leaving 10 items. Not enough of a savings to me to make it worth taking up my (already inadequate) freezer space. If you use dried chopped onions? Add a bowl and water to the mix, you’ve only eliminated 2 items, so that doesn’t help much. I got 1/2 way through an edit here and realized I had to rewrite it. That’s why this makes no sense! It made sense before I mucked with it, honest!!!

I messed up. the problem with this is that it’s REALLY easy to do. I think I’ve covered it, and covered it accurately — and the next time I look at it, I realize I’ve forgotten x or y or z! Sorry.

Revision: Yes, there are frozen chopped onions. You’d have a container to return to the freezer or trash, depending on if you used it all, or not. This eliminates these pieces: onion basket, knife, scrap bowl, and cutting board. -4 And this clean up: knife, scrap bowl -2. You do still have to return the frozen onions to the freezer, if you don’t use them all, but you may or may not need a new package for them. If you take 6 items from the 16 above, that leaves 10, a fairly large savings. That said? I’m in the same boat I was before. I have no available freezer space. [Because of the insane power our old, big freezer uses, we’re eliminating it this year, so I have only a side by side fridge’s freezer.]

If you use dried chopped onions? Add a bowl and water to the mix, or 12 items total.

My solution has been the same for some time: I chop a lot of onions at once, add a stick of butter and then put the resulting quart of sauteed onions in the fridge in a quart jar.

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Onion, basket Y+1
Onions Y Scraps T+1 +2 (new jar, lid)
Knife W+1 Y+1
Counter Cutting Board W+1
Butter Y Wrapper T +1
Butter Dish N
Pan W+1 Y+1
Spoon W+1 Y+1
Stove W+1
Totals T 2, W 5 4 2

There’s 13 items there. I’ve eliminated 3 things to clean or put away by using all the onion and butter and eliminating the scrap dish.

sauteed onion

(image via google images)

The real self-cleaning part of this is that then I use 1 spoon to get sauteed onions for about two weeks’ worth of cooking. And THAT certainly makes it worth doing!

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Sautéed onions Part Y+1
Spoon W+1 Y+1
Totals W 1 2

I wonder what else I can cook in bulk, part way, so that I can do it ONCE for many meals?

The first thing I thought of was preparing lettuce, but that really won’t work, because cleaned lettuces turn brown and rot faster. (How many years did I work in a cafeteria? Too many!)

More thought required . . . .


One last chart, what’s probably the baseline.

Using part of an ingredient creates more clean up and steps than using all of an ingredient, not too surprising! I don’t think that I’d add a stick of butter to a recipe asking for 1 tablespoon because of this, but I might add a little more?

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Cooking Tool or Utensil W+1 Y+1
Cooking Area W+1
Ingredient  100% Possible T+1
Ingredient pkg? 100% Possible R or T +1
Ingredient Part Possible T+1 Y+1 possible +1

The items which consistently make the most work are the cooking tools & utensils, which both need to be washed and put away. Cooking areas just have to be cleaned after use. Food I’ve dealt with above. So I suppose the next step is to figure out how I can use fewer tools: reuse more tools or eliminate them? That will take more thinking too.


I haven’t gotten into serving tools, etc. because my goal is to eliminate most of the prep clean up after a meal, not necessarily the serving or eating dishes.

 

Self-Cleaning Cooking. Is It Possible?

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’m beginning to think this is a pipe dream.

Even something as basic as sauteeing 1/2 an onion gets involved:

  1. Storage it came from +1 locale
  2. Cutting board +1 thing to wash
  3. Knife + 1 thing to wash
  4. Storage for remaining onion +1 locale
  5. Pan  +1 to wash
  6. Cooking tool +1 to wash
  7. Butter storage +1 locale
  8. Butter knife +1 to wash
  9. Stove to cook it on +1 locale

Potentially there 4 areas (onion storage, unused onion storage, butter storage, stove) which could need to be cleaned, 2 food remainders to deal with (the other 1/2 the onion and the rest of the butter which also might need additional packaging), and 5 items to clean (cutting board, knife, pan, cooking tool, butter knife).

From a TWO INGREDIENT cooking task, there’s potentially 11 items or locations to deal with! No wonder the kitchen is always trashed after cooking a meal!!!

My only “hope” is that if I do my 5:1 item swap, this would involve cleaning or putting away 20 items.

Honestly? I wouldn’t have expected this kind of ratio, that it takes about 5 areas or cooking tools to deal with a single ingredient.

I’m sure this doesn’t hold true through a complex recipe, (You would use the same knife to chop things, for example.)

I tried to do a count like this for the simple recipe I made for dinner last night, 8 ingredients. It kept getting longer, more complicated and then I’d see something I’d missed, and it got longer and more complex. After 3 drafts, I decided to do the simplest recipe I could think of. This one.

There are variables:

  • Was the tool already in use and re-used without washing? Certainly this could be true for the stove, cutting board,  & knife, if not the bread board, butter dish and butter knife.
  • Is the potential cleaning something done as a part of the kitchen’s clean up, rather than because of this recipe? Possibly so for the onion’s original storage locale or the storage for the 1/2 an onion, although maybe not for the storage it is put into?

I am working on a way to chart this stuff so it’s easier. In the meantime, I have relaxed. I am overwhelmed for a good reason, this is confusing as all get out and much more complicated than I ever would have figured!

stack of dirty pots & pans