Monday, August 31, 2015

Budget? The Truth is Critical

Creating and living by a budget is nothing more than using an efficient system of running your household. It may not be easy to see the forest for the trees at first, but with practice you can see where your money should be going and where it should not be going.

The key to any budget, whether it's for a household, a business or a government (listen up, Washington!) is sometimes painful honesty about what you really need and then let the things that you don't need take a back seat for awhile.

What do you need? Food, clothing, shelter, medical attention at times, insurance, taxes... make your list (you'll need different categories and more of them) and then look back over your last few months and see where you spent what. Did it fit into your categories? Why not?

Write it all down and keep working at it until you can make sense of it. That's the hard part. We have a tendency to fool ourselves. That new shirt might have been a necessity, but it might very well have been an indulgence. Be honest with yourself, as much as you can.

Yes, honesty can be brutal. It can hurt, but you can't really control your money until you understand what you're really doing with it.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Five Ways to Save on Food This Fall

Sometimes I feel like I sound like a broken record, but food prices are just ridiculous right now and they're not going down any time soon.

What's a frugal person to do? We still have to eat! Luckily, right now is a good time to find some local bargains on food and if you can do it, stock up for the winter.

If you're in farming country, ask a farmer if you can buy produce (anything from beans to lettuce) straight from him without going through the retail merry go round. Some will let you; some won't, but it won't hurt to try. Concentrate on produce that keeps well.

Gleaning is another way to get your hands on cheap food, in this instance it can be free except for gas and some time.

If you have a garden, of course, you have a good source of inexpensive food. If you don't have a garden, let your gardening friends know that you will accept whatever they don't want.

If you have a local farmer's market, go there near the end of the day, when they're almost ready to leave. Don't be afraid to bargain with them. Quite often, they'd rather sell leftover produce for a much reduced price than haul it home again.

Gather wild food and put it up just like you would garden produce. Some people think it's not worth the effort, but it is. It's mostly healthier and it's free. If you're not familiar with wild food, read up on it. Just don't eat anything you're not sure of.

Now is the time to start gathering up food before winter hits, just like our ancestors did. We may have different ways to do that, but the wisdom of it still stands, especially with the grocery store prices still going up!

Related posts:
Why We Will Experience a Food Shortage
Stock Up On Free Food 

Saving your garden.

Maybe. The weather has been unusual for much of the United States and part of the world. If you're trying to garden, it can be disheartening to watch the rain drown your plants or the hail strip the leaves or the sun burn it up. With all of that comes pests and lots of them. Insects and slugs tend to attack plants that are not as healthy as they could be, so plants that have been stressed by the weather seem to attract all kinds.

First on the defense (or offense, if yours hasn't been attacked yet), is a spray made of dish soap and water. Use from one to several teaspoons of dish soap to a gallon of water and spray the plants thoroughly, under the leaves, too. Start with one teaspoon and if that doesn't seem to work, use two and then three or more.

If that isn't working, go to a hot spray made from a couple of cloves of garlic, a small onion and a tablespoon of hot pepper flakes or liquid pepper. Use the hottest you can find. Pulverize or blend the onion and garlic, then add the pepper and mix well. Put it all in a gallon of water and spray the dickens out of your plants.

If it isn't raining where you are (or won't be likely to in the next 48 hours or so, use diatomaceous earth. DE is the skeletal remains of diatoms, with sharp edges. It's so tiny that it looks and feels like powder, but it will kill bugs, slugs and snails. Animals won't be affected by it. Use a dust mask when you apply it, to keep from breathing it in because it could abrade the lining of your lungs or bronchial tubes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ways to Put Up Fruit for the Winter

Our ancestors got it right when they learned to preserve the wonderful abundance of summer and fall fruits for the long days of winter. Think toast or biscuits with your own home made jelly and jam, pies or cobblers for cold evening treats, or a bowl of crispy apples for afternoon snacks.

You don't have to spend time canning over a hot stove to have the best of summer and autumn produce on your table all winter. While your family might enjoy traditional jams and jellies, don't stop there. Dry some plums, freeze some peaches, store apples in the cellar (or basement or closet)!

Jellies, Jams and Butters

Making fruit into spreads is the way most people become acquainted with preserving fruit. It's a fairly simple and straight forward approach to keeping fruit and takes little extra equipment. Use fruit that's not in the best condition for butters, jellies and jams, but never use fruit that is old, moldy or dry for anything. You can cut away bruises and other damage.

Sweetened fruit can generally be canned in a water bath canner, or any pot large enough to cover your jars with water for a couple of inches. You will need to find recipes or instructions specific to the fruit you want to can. Don't assume that because one fruit takes a certain amount of time or is prepared a certain way that all fruits can be done that way. Jellies, jams and preserves are not canned as such, but heat sealed. Find and follow instructions for the specific fruit you have.

Freezing Fruits

To freeze, use ripe but not overripe fruit and wash thoroughly. When you're preparing it to freeze, you will find that cut or peeled pieces darken in the air. Put them into a bath made of a tablespoon of vinegar to about a quart of water. You can also use small amounts of flat (or not) citrus based soft drinks, or unsweetened lemonade in the water to keep fruits from turning colors. You can buy a product to keep fruit from turning but why buy it if you don't have to?

If you're preparing several packages of the same fruit, cut, peel or slice enough into the bath for one package at a time. You can use the same bath over and over and even freeze it for later use, so don't drain it away, but lift the fruit from it with a slotted spoon or strainer. Cover the prepared fruit with sugar syrup made to your taste. If you don't use sweetener, cover with plain water, then get to the freezer quickly.

Whole fruits can be frozen without water. Put them on a tray or cookie sheet to freeze, then store in an airtight container.

Dehydrating Fruits

Whether you use the sun, your oven or an electric dehydrator, wash fruit, peel if necessary, and pretreat in a bath as explained above to keep it from discoloring. Place fruit on racks, keeping individual pieces from touching, and dry at 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Different fruits will have different qualities when they are dry. Some types will be brittle, others will be leathery. If you are going to keep dehydrated fruit for several months, pasteurize it before storing by putting it in a 175 degree oven for 10 minutes. Don't overdo it or it will turn to charcoal!

Don't wait much longer or the abundance of summer fruit will be gone!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Psst... Wanna get out of debt?

For real?

Here's the key: Decide you're going to.

It doesn't matter if you have 27 cents left over after you pay the bills and buy groceries. It doesn't matter if you're only working part time and it doesn't matter if you've been in debt for the last hundred years. Once you decide you're going to do it, you can. And you will.

And that's the only secret there is.

Of course, there are methods and advice and ideas and some are better than others. A post at The Penny Hoarder called "The Ultimate Guide to Getting Out of Debt: A Step-by-Step Plan" spells it out in black and white.

Is it easy? Well, no. It takes some discipline and some planning, but that doesn't mean you can't do it. You can start as small or as big as you need to but the most important thing is to just decide to do it.

You can, you know.


Friday, August 14, 2015

How to freeze purslane for later

The garden isn't doing so well this year, but I have a bumper crop of purslane! I mean, a bumper crop! I've been eating a lot of it but after awhile, even purslane gets tiresome. I have tried to freeze it by blanching first without much luck; tried dehydrating it and it lost its flavor. I tried pickling it and that's okay, but how much pickled purslane can one eat in a year?

Finally, though! I finally came up with an idea that works. I had made a big pan of it sauteed in butter when I had company last weekend. There was a little left and I started to put it in the refrigerator for later when I happened to think that maybe I could freeze it.

Today I took it out, let it thaw and warmed it up and it was just like I'd freshly cooked it. Here's exactly how I did it:

Wash, look and chop purslane into one to two inch pieces while heating a skillet to medium heat. Melt enough butter to cook the purslane. Cook quickly, stirring often, just until it cooks down. It should still be somewhat firm. Let it cool, then package for the freezer. How easy is that?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Stretching a Chicken

I know... visions of a chicken being stretched from its neck to its feet, right? I mean stretching a roasted chicken. If you roast a chicken whole, you can usually get one good meal from it, then a few dishes from the leftovers. The more careful you are, the more meals you can get from it.

You don't have to eat them one right after another, but if you freeze the chicken in portions, you will have it on hand for these simple and quick meal ideas: 

You can make simple chicken noodle soup by adding packaged egg noodles and frozen mixed vegetables. Add a little chicken bouillon if more flavor is needed.

Chicken and rice soup is really good on a cold day. Cook together a cup of rice, one large carrot and a couple of stalks of celery in four or five cups of water. Watch the water because it will boil away. When it's all done, add chopped chicken and enough bouillon to bring out the flavor.

A very Americanized version of fried rice with chicken goes like this: Heat a heavy skillet to medium hot, add peanut or sesame seed oil and scramble an egg in it. Add frozen vegetables of your choice, stirring until they are thawed and nearly done, then add cold rice, diced leftover chicken and a little soy sauce.

When you've used your chicken down to almost the end and don't have enough for another meal, put whatever you can get from it into a food processor or blender. Add mayonnaise or salad dressing, coarsely chopped pickles, onions and salt if it's needed. Blend it thoroughly and you will have enough for a few delicious sandwiches.

If you want to get the most from it, though, once you've stripped all the meat that you can, boil the carcass for a couple of hours then strain the bones out of it, saving the liquid. This liquid is the pricey chicken broth that you find canned at the store. You can freeze it in portions to start the soups above, adding a little salt and omitting the bouillon needed, lowering your costs even more.

Let the bones cool for a little bit, then pick through them and get all the little bits of meat out. Put it in a container for soup, stirfry, sandwiches or casserole. If you're going to freeze the meat, pour a little of the broth over it to keep it from drying out.

With the price of food any more, why not get the most from it?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Changing Seasons: Getting Ready for Fall

I know it's still the middle of summer, but with kids going back to school and schedules changing, I keep thinking of fall. Cooler temperatures, colorful leaves, pumpkins and the whole bit.

"It used to be" that when we got ready for fall and winter right after, we would become earnest in putting up the garden produce, finding fruit for jellies and butters and otherwise stocking up for the winter.

Days were filled with canning jars and dehydrating trays. All the extra summer rich cream went to making butter for the freezer and then we started gathering wood for the stoves. Cutting and stacking took days of good, wholesome family work and the first fire of the year was our reward.

I still can and dehydrate and gather in what is available to put up for the winter. Not only is it more frugal to do it myself, the quality is better than I can buy. Besides that, I enjoy it.

Everyone has their own ways of getting ready for fall and winter, but frugal folks tend to make a deliberate effort toward it.

Do you? What do you do to get ready for the seasons changing?

If you have a blog, feel free to answer that question there and leave a link to it in the comment section.