Saturday, January 30, 2016

Be Back Soon

This cold of mine seems to have settled in and made itself at home.  As a result, I am taking a few days to be a layabout.  Lots of liquids, mostly of the tea and juice variety, chicken soup and rest.  There is nothing life threatening going on here - just a bugger of a bad cold.  Which leaves my body tired and my brain foggy.  If it doesn't start to clear up in a few days I will drag myself to my local pill-pusher's office.  I have never understood why a person who is too sick to function normally should have to sit in a waiting room full of people who are too sick to function normally.  If doctors still made house calls, I would likely be more apt to see one when ill.

I'll be back when the aches subside and the fog lifts.  Until then, visit those folks on the side bar.  They have lots of good things to say.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Charlie Was a Good Old Dog

Last evening I received a phone call that I knew was coming but did not want to hear.  My youngest son called to tell me that the time had come when the quality of life of their family dog, Charlie, had deteriorated to the point where the only option left was for their vet to help Charlie pass peacefully on to his reward.

Charlie came into their lives over 15 years ago.  He was the cutest little bit of fur who endeared himself right off the bat by chewing up some of the woodwork in their rented house while they were at work.  Thankfully he outgrew that habit.

Charlie was there to welcome each of the three children born to my son and his wife.  He was so good with the kids and they loved him dearly.

I often thought his name should have been "Hoover" for he was like a mini vacuum cleaner, cruising the kitchen whenever there was a remote possibility that some stray piece of food would hit the floor.  This earned him jail time when meals were served.  I always felt sorry for him, so I would sneak him a treat whenever I could.  I don't think I was the only one.  Those eyes would get me every time.

I babysat Charlie more than once when my son and his family were going out of town for a few days.  On one occasion, my son brought the large wire kennel for Charlie to use while I was at work.  Well, that didn't go over too big with Charlie.  I could hear him barking and howling all my way down the stairs and out to the street.  I was working at a dog grooming shop next door at the time, so I caved and brought him to work with me.  He was in his glory, meeting and greeting all those people and dogs who came to the shop that day.

After a while my son wouldn't let me babysit Charlie any more.  He claimed that whenever Charlie stayed with me he gained 5 pounds.  I said it wasn't my fault that Charlie loved french fries.

It doesn't seem fair that a dog's life span should be so short.  They give us so much more happiness than we can possibly give them.  They love us no matter what.  That's something we can't say about most people.

Charlie, you were a good old dog.  You will be missed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Another Fading Memory Surprise

I have a cold.  Nothing serious.  Just mildly irritating.  Caused me to sleep most of the day away.  Which causes me to be bright-eyed at 2 AM.  Good thing I am retired and don't have to explain my odd sleep patterns to a boss.  Or to anyone else, for that matter.  I have found that 2 AM is a good time for writing another blog post.

I am maybe one of the few who actually likes being my advanced age.  Take for example this fading memory.  The other day I had finally dug my way to the back of my Fibber McGee's closet.  I had dragged out a tub full of fabric.  If you are one who sews, or more particularly, one who quilts, you have a stash of fabric.  And you never, ever throw any of it away, not even the scraps.  Because you might need it.....someday.  And if the fabric shop has a really good sale on cotton quilt fabric, you buy more.  Because you might need it.....someday.

Anyway, about halfway through sorting and folding, I found these. fading memory handed me 30 quilt blocks that I had completely forgotten about.  Once I saw them, it came back to me how I had cut the squares from a set of fat quarters that I bought a long time ago for a project long forgotten.  I had sewn the squares into simple blocks and then got busy with something else and had put them away.  So as soon as my nose unstuffs and I stop sneezing, I will sew the blocks together into a quilt top.  I'm sure I have fabric for the back, but I will need to make a run to the fabric store for quilt batting.  These blocks will make a nice sized quilt - just right for snuggling under on a cold winter evening.

I just love this kind of surprise!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Canning Apple Juice

I like fruit juice.  So when a good brand of apple juice went on sale I bought 10 of the larger frozen cans.  I stored them in the fridge for a couple of days to thaw.  Then I made up all ten cans at once in my stock pot, heated the juice to the simmering point, ladled it into hot pint jars and processed them in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes, according to the instructions on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.  (That website has lots of good information for canning, freezing and dehydrating foods.)  I got 36  pints of canned apple juice.

Now some would wonder why I don't just put the juice cans in the freezer and mix the juice up one can at a time like normal people do.   Here's why.

Each frozen can makes 48 ounces of juice.  That's just too much for me to use up.  A pint jar of juice is just right for one person.

Should I lose electricity for any length of time in the warmer months, I would have to do something with the frozen juice when it thaws or lose it.

If the electricity is out, that means the pumps that bring water to my apartment are not working either.  I need water not only to make up the juice, but to fill the water bath canner as well.  As an apartment dweller, I have limited space for water storage.  I store enough to keep me in drinking water for a long time, but not if I have to use some of it to can juice.

And fruit juice is a liquid, which means that if I have several kinds of juice canned and on my shelves, they will serve to keep me hydrated in an emergency and save some on my water storage while giving me a flavorful change from drinking plain water.

As frozen juice goes on sale, I will buy other flavors and can them as well.  Even if I never need to use them in an emergency situation, they are still a good addition to my food storage.  I keep a couple of jars of juice in the fridge all the time and sometimes it is nice to open one for breakfast or for a bit of a treat.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Minnesota Shuffle

One morning before this latest cold snap, I went out for a walk.  The sun was shining and the temperature was only a little bit below the freezing mark.  Tolerable for a Minnesota winter day.  When I got back to my building, I sat on the front steps, enjoying the sunshine.

Here we often see the "Minnesota Shuffle."  It is a way of walking in the wintertime that is sort of a cross between a shuffle and an upright duck walk.  It is practiced mostly by us old folks, who are convinced if we slip and fall on the ice, we will break a hip.  And we know that if we break a hip, the kids will be checking out the dreaded nursing homes within 24 hours.  So we walk very, very carefully on the icy sidewalks.

As I sat basking in the sunshine, I noticed an old lady headed my way, doing the Minnesota Shuffle.  As she got closer, I saw she was talking to herself.  I thought maybe she was just a garden variety crazy, but changed my mind when she got close enough for me to hear what she was saying.

"Florida," she said.  "Why didn't I move to Florida.  Arizona is warm.  Should have gone there.  Or maybe Texas..."  And on she shuffled, eyes downcast, watching the sidewalk, skirting around the patches of ice.

I can relate.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Waste Not, Want Not

I guess I will never get the hang of cooking for one person.  When you spend several years cooking meals to feed four hungry kids it is not easy to scale back, even when the kids have been out of the house and on their own for a goodly number of years.

I have had three meals of the turkey vegetable soup I made on Sunday.  That's pretty much my limit of how many meals of leftovers I can handle.  So I dumped the remaining soup into the crock pot this morning and added another quart of turkey broth.  I thought maybe some peas and corn would taste good in the soup, so I tossed in a pint of each, too.  Let it heat on the Low setting the better part of the day.

This afternoon after I had put my grocery order away and had the salad fixings in the dehydrators, I heated some pint jars and filled them with soup.  They went into the pressure canner and were processed at 10 lbs. pressure for 75 minutes.  I got 7 pints of soup to add to my canning shelves.  That might not seem like much, but I just hate to waste perfectly good food.  Those 7 pints equal a weeks worth of lunches.  I may be a bit tired of it now, but it will look pretty good to me after a while.

Remember when TV dinners first appeared in the stores?  I think every family on the block owned a set of TV trays and we would take our TV dinners and put them in front of us on the TV trays in the living room and eat supper watching the Ed Sullivan Show.

Mothers everywhere loved TV dinners because they could serve their family a meat and potato meal just by popping the frozen dinner in the oven.  My parents, being frugal, bought just enough TV dinners to collect maybe a dozen or so of the aluminum trays.  They washed them well and then filled them with leftovers, covered them with aluminum foil and stacked them in the freezer.  I have to say that the TV dinners made with home cooked food tasted way better than the store bought variety.

I sometimes think my parents were the King and Queen of Waste Not, Want Not!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Outside the Box

So today was my grocery order day.   I had gone through the weekly store ad and my list was ready.   Before the guy who takes my order called, I looked the ad over again to see if I missed anything.  I  had.

The store had those 1 lb. bags of shredded salad fixings on sale for cheaper than buying the ingredients and making them myself.  I usually don't get pre-packaged food, but I thought I could make good use of these.

I ordered 4 lbs. of what they call salad greens.  This is just shredded leaf lettuce.  I will dehydrate all of it and store it in a canning jar.   A small amount added to ham salad, egg salad or chicken salad for sandwiches will be good, or sprinkled on top of a pasta salad or a potato salad for flavor.

I also ordered 6 lbs. of shredded coleslaw mix, which is a combination of green cabbage, red cabbage and carrots.  When dried, a handful in any homemade meat and vegetable soup adds extra flavor.  And that combination is good in any number of casseroles.

The experts tell us to store beans and rice, and I do have those items in my food storage.  But mostly I store ingredients to make the meals I like.  Beans and rice are good to have for they provide nutrition necessary for survival.  But a steady diet of them would get old in a hurry.  I like to have as much variety as possible.  Sometimes it is good to think outside the box a bit, like dehydrating salad and coleslaw mix, especially when it is on sale for cheap.

Even a small thing like dried salad mixes to flavor a meal, or a variety of herbs and spices to use for the same reason, can make life during hard times just a little bit easier to take.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mind Numbing Cold

Minus 15 degrees this morning.  Even though I am indoors where it is warm, the drop in temperature seems to kick this old, arthritic backside.   I'm not going to complain.  Our local news reports that two people so far have died due to exposure to the cold.  Sure am glad I bought a back-up propane space heater, just in case.

Hot cup of coffee.
Green fuzzy blanket.
Favorite recliner.
Good book.
Turkey vegetable soup in the crock pot.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Friday, January 15, 2016

It Was With Dismay...

that I read the last post from Frank and Fern.

I have been reading their blog, Thoughts From Frank and Fern, for quite some time now.  They have been a source of valuable information for homesteaders and for those of us who understand that the future in America is tenuous at best.   They have been an inspiration to me as well as to many, many others.  I will never be able to thank them enough for all they have done to encourage those of us who are on a similar path.  Even though many wish to pretend that all is well, we have only to read the headlines to know their warnings are true.

I completely understand their decision to spend their time in preparation rather than in blogging.  Very few have earned the kind of respect I have for them, even though we have met only through blog comments.  I wish only the best for them.

But oh, how I will miss them.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Frugal Cooking

After my last post about pancakes and sausage, I got to thinking about meals when I was growing up.  They were plain meals but even so, we never went hungry.  I think the way we ate had to do with two things.

First, we didn't have a lot of money.  If we were poor, I didn't know it, but now I do know that much of my Dad's income went for medical bills.  My mother suffered with rheumatoid arthritis nearly all of her life, and that disease took its toll, both in the horrible crippling of her body and in the cost of hospital stays, medicines, doctor visits, etc.

The second factor was that both my parents grew up during the Great Depression.  Even though both my grandfathers were among the more fortunate who had jobs at that time - one as a railroad depot agent in a small town and the other as a farmer and logger, it was still tough to feed their families of seven and nine children, respectively.  My parents quickly learned that waste was not to be tolerated.  They lived by the saying, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."  Both brought their frugal upbringing to their marriage and to raising their family of three children.

As a child, I remember that Sunday was my favorite day of the week as far as dinner went.  Sunday was the day my mother would put a roast or a chicken in the oven before we went to church.  When we came home, she would make potatoes and gravy, a vegetable and maybe a dessert, usually consisting of fruit we had canned in the summer or if we were really lucky, a cake or a pie.

The rest of the week, suppers consisted of dishes that weren't expensive to make, like macaroni and cheese, chili with rice, chicken ala king made with the leftover Sunday chicken and served over biscuits, or beef stew made with the leftover beef roast.  We ate pasta dishes like spaghetti or goulash as well as a variety of pasta or rice based casseroles.  Here in Minnesota, they are called "Hot Dish."

Mother was the Queen of Creamed Anything over Toast.  She would make a standard white sauce using flour, margarine (butter was a special treat as it was expensive, even then) and milk.  To the white sauce she would add salt and pepper and whatever vegetables were ready for picking in the garden.  This was usually peas or a combination of peas and carrots.  My favorite was when the asparagus bed started producing in the spring and she would make creamed asparagus on toast.  Once in a while Dad would splurge and bring home a jar of dried beef and we had creamed chipped beef on toast, better known as s**t on a shingle.

I think we had so many of the creamed vegetables over toast because bread was the one food that was plentiful.  Mother baked loaves of bread, buns and cinnamon rolls.  She taught me the art of bread baking when I was about 10 years old, knowing that it wouldn't be long before the pain from the arthritis would make it impossible for her to do this task.  Dad would buy flour in 50 lb. bags and yeast in bulk.  Bread baking was a weekly happening, usually on Saturdays when I was home from school.  I still like homemade bread better than store bought.

We often ate breakfast for supper.  My parents bought eggs and milk from a local farmer so eggs were plentiful and cheap.  My Dad would make a stack of pancakes and fry up eggs to go with them.  Most times he would heat a jar of homemade jelly until it became a liquid and that was used as syrup.  Sometimes on Monday evenings supper would consist of hash made from Sunday's leftover potatoes and roast beef, heated and topped with an egg for each person.   Other times it might be scrambled eggs with a little grated cheese on top along with thick slices of toast and homemade jam.

When I got to thinking about these meals I ate as a child, I wondered if the Depression Era my parents lived through had anything to do with the way they cooked.  So when I Googled "depression era coooking" I found that many of the meals my parents made were either similar or the same as those they ate when they were children.  I believe they ate better than most during that period of time, for their fathers were able to provide the basics for their families, when many were standing in lines in the cities, waiting for a meal at the soup kitchens that were common then.  My grandparents had large gardens as did my Dad, which was a major factor in feeding their families.  And my Dad's parents on the farm were able to raise animals for meat as well as for eggs, milk, cream and butter.

My Dad found a solution to satisfying his sweet tooth.  He would tear a slice of bread into small pieces and put them in a large water glass.  He would pour hot coffee over the bread and then sprinkle on a bit of sugar.  I asked him once where he learned to make what he called "poor man's pie."  He told me that during both the Depression and during the years of WWII, sugar was either very expensive or it was rationed.  His mother was careful with the amount of sugar she used, so cakes, cookies and pies were a rare treat.  But she would sometimes let her kids make poor man's pie because it took only a small amount of sugar and she knew that sometimes the hard life of farm work could be made a bit easier with a small, sweet treat.

The time is not all that far off when we may experience changes in the way we live.  Grocery stores may not be able to keep their shelves stocked as they do now.  It might do us well to study how the people during that depressed time were able to feed their families, especially those who lived in towns where growing their own meat and vegetables would be a problem.

We could stand to learn the more frugal ways of our parents and grandparents.  We may have to.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pancakes and Sausage

One of my old stand-by meals has been pancakes and sausage.  In times when I was really broke, it was just the pancakes.  There was a time when I ate more pancakes than anything else.  After a while I could hardly stand the sight of them.  Thank God, that has changed and now I can fix a pancake meal and enjoy it.

A while back my local grocery had pancake mix on sale for a ridiculously low price - the kind of mix that requires the addition of just water.  I bought several boxes.  Because I sometimes have a lazy streak when it comes to cooking for myself, I decided to spend an afternoon making pancake and sausage meals ahead for those lazy times - or for times when I needed to eat but was busy with other things.  Sort of my own version of convenience food meals.

I mixed up a large amount of pancake batter and fried up the pancakes.  As each was done, I put them on parchment paper lined cookie sheets to cool.

While cleaning out the freezer of my refrigerator, I came across several 1 lb. rolls of breakfast sausage.  I had bought them on sale, stuck them in the freezer and promptly forgot about them.  One of the things about getting old and having your memory fade at times is that your life is just chock full of little surprises like finding rolls of sausage in the back of your freezer!  I defrosted a couple of the sausage rolls, sliced them up into patties, spread them in a single layer in cake pans and baked them until they were cooked through and nicely browned.  I set the pans on my kitchen table to cool the meat to room temperature.

When it came time to assemble the meals, I tore off squares of aluminum foil and smaller squares of waxed paper.  A waxed paper square went in the center of an aluminum foil square, topped with one pancake, topped with another waxed paper square, topped with a second pancake and another waxed paper square.  Then I added two sausage patties and folded up the aluminum foil, sealing it tightly and into the freezer the packets went.

So now if I want a quick breakfast or supper, all I have to do is remove the waxed paper and heat the pancakes and sausage in the oven or toaster oven.  I suppose I could lay the food on a plate and microwave it, but I haven't tried that as yet.  I like the idea of having a quick and easy meal on my lazy or busy days.  I'm thinking about trying this with a slice or two of ham or maybe some pre-fried bacon slices.  And if I'm really hungry I can always fry up an egg or two to go with it.  The frugal side of me likes that I got 12 meals for not much more than two similar meals from a fast food place.  Convenience food homemade.  I like it.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Old Wood Stove

My youngest son left a couple of comments on my last post.  One was teasing me about going for a snowmobile ride or sledding, knowing how I detest the winter cold.  The other reminded me of an old pot-bellied type stove that was the main source of heat in an old house where we lived in northern Minnesota, many years ago.

There is a gas furnace that provides heat for my building.  It does a good job of keeping my apartment warm, even though my landlord regulates the temperature settings.  The windows keep out drafts and the floors stay warm.  But it just isn't the same as using a wood burning stove.

The air in northern Minnesota seems to get very dry in the winter.  Most folks run a humidifier to keep the dryness at bay, but at that time I couldn't afford to buy one, so I kept a pot of water on top of the stove to add moisture inside the house.  This worked pretty well.

My kitchen stove was electric, and to keep the bills down in winter, I would often use the stove as a crock pot.  We ate a lot of venison then, for the price of beef was mostly outside my budget and deer were plentiful.  A venison roast in a dutch oven, surrounded by potatoes, carrots and onions, slow cooking all day, makes a meal fit for a king.  Having raised chickens, I would cook one for a meal the same way.  I don't know what the difference is, but those meals tasted better than anything I roast in my oven.

I would make soup the same way, putting a pot of meat, broth and vegetables on top of that wood stove early in the morning, right after my kids got on the school bus.  By the time they got home, the soup was done and all I needed to do was slice a loaf of homemade bread for supper.

During the time we lived there, I was gifted a knitting machine.  The closest larger town had a woolen mill with a store of sorts attached to it.  There I could buy wool fabric remnants and bulk yarn.  The yarn came in hanks that had to be wound into a ball or a cone, using a small hand cranked yarn winder.  I didn't mind doing this, for the prices of the yarn was so much less than the skeins sold in the stores.  I took a class to learn how to use the knitting machine, bought some yarn and got busy.

My kitchen table was in the same room as the wood stove.   Many hours were spent with my knitting machine on my kitchen table, making knit caps, scarves and mittens for my family, the stove keeping me toasty warm as the winter winds howled outside.  At that time, a style of ski cap was popular with the school kids.  It had the name of the town on one side and the name of the kid on the other, the letters embroidered on when the hat was completed.   My kids were really good walking advertisements, wearing their caps, and I soon had more orders than I knew what to do with.  I set a comfortable rocking chair next to the wood stove and there, in the middle of all that warmth, I sewed the knitted garments together and embroidered names like mad.

I wouldn't mind getting another knitting machine.  The ones they sell now are computerized and can do all sorts of fancy stitches and patterns, but I really liked the no frills machine I had then.  If I wanted a pattern on a garment, I just embroidered it on.  I'm wondering if it might not be worth having something like that machine, for it didn't need electricity to work.  And I could make sweaters and afghans with it as well as the caps and mittens.  I might have to check into finding another machine like it.

It is funny how a simple comment can bring back memories like those of my old wood burning stove.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Snow and Cold

About 4 AM I looked out my front window to discover that snow had fallen.  It wasn't much - maybe an inch or two.  A fresh snowfall can make even a city street beautiful, especially when the street lights look like those old fashioned lights that required a lamplighter.    The street was quiet.  No tracks yet in the snow.   Made me wonder if this was how my town looked in the late 1800's when this building was built.

I have seen pictures of a couple buildings in this block, taken back in the late 1800's.  They don't look much different than they do today.  My landlord has plans to take the stucco off the outside of this building and get it back to the original brick.  He wants it to look like it did when it was new.  I like that idea.

Later in the day the snow started falling again.  Huge flakes.  Took a break in my rocking chair with a cup of coffee and watched the snow fall for a while.  The town is quiet today.  It was so peaceful just sitting there.  Why can't our world be like this all the time.

The snow won't last long.  The outside temperature is 35 degrees today.  Change is coming over the weekend, though.  Last night Son was teasing me that if I went out over the weekend, I would likely freeze my knickers.  The temps will be  dropping down to single digits with overnight temps in the below zero range.  I told him that my knickers weren't in any danger, for I plan to sit them down in front of my sewing machine.  Indoors.  Where it is warm and cozy.

Winter can be beautiful.  But it is also cold.  When I was young the cold didn't bother me.  I went sledding and ice skating and built snow forts and had snowball fights with friends.  Later when I was a bit older, I rode snowmobiles on trails through the woods and across frozen lakes.  But these days I will view the beauty of winter from my rocker.  I have become a coward when it comes to cold.  And I'm all right with that.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Blog Post Slacker

Yep.....that's me.  I've been busy and have spent little time at my computer lately.  That's my excuse and I'm going with it.

My TV stand got emptied and moved to Son's apartment.  He is making good use of it.  It took a day to find a home for everything I had stored in it and another day to recover from the lifting and moving and sorting.  I don't bounce back as well as I once did.  There is still a stack of stuff to go into a closet as soon as I finish cleaning the closet out.  A couple of trash bags full went out to the dumpster and that helped.  If anyone is old enough to remember "Fibber Mcgee's Closet," they will understand why mine is taking time to sort through.  I didn't have anything falling on my head when I opened the door, but it was close.

Son helped me move my desk and I put two of the leaves in to give me a large work area for sewing.  I like it.  I especially like the part where I can keep my sewing machine set up as opposed to having to move it from my kitchen table so often.  This arrangement will work well.

The cleaning of the chest freezer is proceeding at a slow rate.  So far I have unearthed a stray pork chop, hidden beneath bags of cranberries, that made a good supper.  And a couple bags of frozen vegetables I had forgotten about.  Hope springs eternal that there are at least a couple of chickens under there somewhere.   Turning cranberries into juice to can is time consuming, so I expect to be at it for a while.

This week onions were on sale, so I ordered 12 lbs.  Tomorrow I will peel and chop them and get them to drying in the dehydrators. Drying them seems to be the best way for me to keep onions.  I will hold out a couple to use fresh, but I like having the dried onions on hand and I mostly use them in that form.

I have noticed something about the grocery store lately.  The sale ads run from Sunday to Saturday.  Used to be that whatever the store had on sale, there was plenty to last the length of the sale.  More often than not these days I get a phone call from the person who does my shopping, telling me the store is out of at least one sale item from my order.  This week they were out of fresh chicken breast.  No substitutions or rain checks.  And this was only Wednesday.  I have to wonder if this is a sign of things to come.

Time to get busy again.  Son called earlier wanting to know if I needed anything from the store.  I said I didn't, but would he like a BLT and homemade french fries for supper.  He allowed as to thinking he probably could choke them down!  :)   

Sometimes a person just has to go for the taste good thing.  I love fries.