Saturday, June 28, 2008

Off For a Week and a Half of Vacation...

See you when we return! :-)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sometimes We Just Need to Do the Next Thing...

When I am weary and drained and unmotivated, when I want to retreat within myself and hide from my duty, from what the Lord has given me to do, it's then that I need to stop trying to be spiritual, to, instead, roll my cares over onto the Lord and get up and do the next thing-- to do my work if it's the last thing I feel like doing.

Our daily work is a gift from God. Work can be a sacred waiting place for the weary of spirit. It keeps mind and body busy while the Lord works in us and takes care of all things. When we go about our work, putting energy into it whether we feel like it or not, we are less likely to be fretful, to focus negatively on our situation, to let our mental weariness overcome us. Doing the next thing is an act of faith and hope, as if we are saying, Lord I've given my cares to you. I'll leave them with you, and I'll carry on. I trust that you will take care of my needs and concerns. I'll go about the daily business you've given me to do in the knowledge that You love me and that You are faithful. I trust You to do whatever work needs to be done, both in my life and heart and mind and in the lives of those I love.

"Troubled soul, thou are not bound to feel but thou art bound to arise. God loves thee whether thou feelest or not. Thou canst not love when thou wilt, but thou art bound to fight the hatred in thee to the last. Try not to feel good when thou art not good, but cry to Him who is good. He changes not because thou changest. Nay, He has an especial tenderness of love toward thee for that thou art in the dark and hast no light, and His heart is glad when thou doest arise and say, "I will go to my Father"... Fold the arms of they faith, and wait in the quietness until light goes up in thy darkness. For the arms of thy Faith I say, but not of thy Action: bethink thee of something that thou oughtest to do, and go to do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room, or the preparing of a meal, or a visit to a friend. Heed not thy feeling: Do thy work." (George MacDonald, the old Scottish pastor)

Don't fret. Don't worry. Don't give in to weariness. Don't try to overcome with your spirituality. Simply go to the Lord. Trust Him. And carry on with your work while God carries on with His.

I like the simplicity of God's way.

I've been just slightly weary of body and spirit in the past couple of days, and I do find that when I give a hopeful, prayerful nod to God to let Him know that my trust is in Him, and then I press on to do the next thing, light comes and my spirits begin to lift. I begin to feel more rested, more hopeful, more joyful. But really it is not about feeling; it is about faith. And so we grow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Simple Woman's Daybook...

This is something that started at The Simple Woman blog, and I run across these posts occasionally at different blogs I read, including a long-time favorite, Real Learning. Reading Elizabeth's posts inspired me to do this myself today. (Anyway, I've been busy and distracted the past several days and haven't really had time to think about blogging.) I typed this out this morning, then didn't get a chance to post it. I guess I'll do that now.

I hope your days have been lovely. We love having my son home for a visit, and we're expecting company tomorrow and then going on a trip, but I guess I mentioned that in this daybook entry...

Outside my window...

It's early morning, and, the western hills are glowing pink from the rising light in the east. It's still and quiet in the countryside except for the busy birds. It's 33 degrees this morning, and there have been several frosty mornings in the past week.

I am thinking...

About many changes coming up in my life. About the value of manual labor. That I need to be a better neighbor. And I keep thinking lately about what Elizabeth Elliot always used to say to open her radio program-- "You are loved with an everlasting love, and underneath are the everlasting arms." I really feel the truth of that.

I am thankful...

That my husband is alive after his recent scare and hospitalization. That my children love each other as best friends. That my own parents and siblings are my best friends (they're the best!). Shelter, food, health, beauty, books, family, friends, grandchildren who keep me laughing.

From the kitchen...

A new and improved technique for herb-roasted potatoes (taken from Judy Rodgers book, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook). No matter how many I make, it seems that people are wishing there were more. Lots of great CSA produce-- especially greens, but also, this time, strawberries! Lately-- salmon, rhubarb crisp, garlic scape pesto, Melissa's banana muffins...

I am wearing...

Green hiking shorts. A brown hoodie. Reading glasses. A quilt wrapped around my legs for warmth.

I am reading...

Light stuff because we've had a lot going on in our home, and I can't concentrate when there is lots of activity around me. A Countrywoman's Year by Rosemary Very (small and fun to read). Unplugged Kitchen by Viana La Place (this one is a treat because the philosophy is exactly like the one I've been shifting toward for a long time-- doing more by hand/less by machine, slowing down, taking time in the kitchen, enjoying the process of preparing food). I'm at the tail end of my re-read of Father Alexander Schmemann's journals. Wonderful book!

I am hoping...

That it won't get hot today.

I am hearing...

Nothing but the refrigerator and the computer hard drive. I love early morning silence!

One of my favorite things...

I love to be outside in the early morning (the light and sounds and the quality of the air are so invigorating). I also love to be outside, here in the country, on a clear night to look at the stars. The early morning fills me with joie de vivre and the night sky fills me with awe of God and a peace that He is in control of all things and loves us very much.

A few plans for the rest of the week...

Today I'll prepare for company (
Laura A's family will arrive tomorrow evening) and for a trip/adventure around the region that we'll take with them, leaving home on Saturday and not returning for over a week. So, my plan is to enjoy myself!

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you...

I love that my grandsons know how to just sit and be. They sat themselves down on my front steps, just to sit there and look around. They didn't know I was behind them with the camera.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Simple, All-Natural Laundering of Whites and Lights...

My bedroom curtains drying in the sun this afternoon.

It's been a beautiful, sunny, breezy day-- just perfect for doing laundry! Today, I decided to wash my bedroom and master bath curtains as well as the white bedcover I use on my bed in summer. Doesn't it feel so nice to have everything clean and fresh?

Until recently, I had been somewhat frustrated with the way my light colored laundry was coming out. I'd been noticing that it was looking dingy, and since I don't want to use bleach in my home, I tried several different all-natural laundry soaps and laundry additives in an attempt to get my laundry cleaner and fresher-looking. Nothing really seemed to make much difference.

Then, awhile back, I suddenly realized that my once-dulled whites were looking much brighter, something I definitely attribute it to my current routine and products for washing whites and light colors. So I thought I'd post it here for anyone who is determined to maintain an all-natural laundry routine. Maybe this will help you, too, or maybe you'll have some additional tips for me!

Here's what I've been using and doing:

1. Mrs. Myers liquid laundry soap. I probably use barely more than half the recommended amount of soap per load. You'll need to decide what works for you. I've seen recipes for making your own all-natural laundry soaps, but everyone who posts those recipes say they haven't used them for long enough to know for sure if they'll work well long-term. I'm picky about my laundry, and I like Mrs. Myers, so I'm sticking with her for now.

2. Biokleen all-natural Oxygen Bleach Plus. I love this stuff! I just dump it right in when I put in the soap. This product works really well for treating stains, too. (Instead of this, I use Borax or washing soda to boost cleaning for my colored laundry.)

3. Distilled white vinegar, scented with lavender and lemon essential oils for a rinse. This doesn't actually scent the laundry, but it sure smells nice when I pour it in the washer, and it helps to rinse all of the soap from the clothes. Just take a gallon of distilled white vinegar, drop in 15 or so drops of both the lemon and lavender essential oils (you can use different scents, too), and shake it around. Each time you use this, give the jug a quick shake before opening the lid and pouring.

4. I hang the laundered items in the sun. The sun is a great all-natural bleach. My mom used to leave stained white items in the sun for as many days as it took to bleach away the stain, and it worked great! Sun-dried items smell so fresh and sweet, too.

5. When the laundry is dry, I iron the things that need ironing, like pillowcases and curtains, with a homemade, all-natural lavender scented ironing spray. I love the smell of this so much that it makes ironing fun!

Just like everything else, laundry and ironing can be quite pleasant to do, depending on the attitude I choose to have toward it. And I always enjoy it if I'll just relax, settle in, and find pleasure in making things nice for my home.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Another Mostly Outside Day in Pictures...

Or parts of another day, at least, and pictures, too, of the few things that are growing around the house. This is for Mike and Aimee and Aaron and all of the friends and family who say they want me to put up more pictures of home. And for anyone else, too!

Recently, we've had very pleasant, sunny days. Wildflowers are growing all along the road. Coyotes have been howling close by every night (we love that sound). Owls hoot constantly. And did you see that big, gorgeous solstice full moon low in the sky a few nights ago? It was breathtaking.

Michelle and the boys came over yesterday, towing a riding lawn mower in a trailer behind their Four Runner. (Our lawn mower is having problems, and Michelle's mother-in-law very nicely offered the use of hers.) Michelle drove around, mowing the lawn, while Melissa and I played with the boys. And I did more work in that mess of an herb garden. But now the fenced garden area is mostly cleaned up, with just one more small, jungle-like section to attack. Melissa went to work in the morning and spent the afternoon at home.
Michelle having fun on the mower.

Wild Things Around the House...

We have a little barn swallow colony being built on the side of the house, with four or five mud nests attached artfully together. Whenever I go past that part of the house, birds start flying all around, just above me, chitting at me and making threats.
(Added later: Laura called the bird a cliff swallow in a note to me, and since she is much more a birder than I am, I will henceforth call this bird a cliff swallow.)
Mexican Gold Poppies grow wild all along our mile-long dirt road. This plant is right beside our driveway. The flowers open only in bright sunlight, closing right back up if it gets cloudy or shadowy.

The first thing that has bloomed in our actual (admittedly empty) garden areas this year-- a blanket flower that reseeded itself in one of the herb boxes. I've decided to further revamp how I do the non-edible portions of the gardens, so, because I'm still reading and thinking, nothing new has been planted this year. Hence, there will be an unusual amount of blank space where there are usually flowers.

Roman and Rosie in the herb garden.

Also in the Herb Garden...

I have not planted one new thing this year, and I really wondered if I'd ever get this garden cleaned up. Finally, I'm making progress, and a few herbs have survived and even thrived.



Oregano. Beside Roman.

One really dumb thing I did last year was to plant lemon balm in the regular planter boxes. Then it went to seed, and it planted itself over all of the pathways of the herb garden, so I've spent a lot of time pulling that up. It's so fragrant, though! I handed a sprig to Roman, gave it a rub, and asked him to tell me what it smelled like. I thought he would say, "lemon," but instead, he paused, thought for a moment, and said animatedly, "Oh! It smells like a little bit of garden!"

In the House (not many photos this time)...

Jayden, who thought it was really funny to look at Rosie from this point of view.

Melissa, in a glow of light, because she is an angel. Don't you like those sandals?

Melissa's dinner, partially eaten. Salmon and roasted
asparagus with lemon-garlic vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts.

I'm swallowing my culinary pride to show this photo. (I'm kidding.) See that white beady stuff on the salmon? That can mean a couple of things. First, that the salmon was overcooked. Well, when I roast my salmon in the oven, I do it on high heat for about ten minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon. This fillet happened to be thin, and I didn't check on its progress til the ten minutes were up. White beads! But the salmon was nice and moist and delicious, so we'll blame the whiteness on the other possible reason for it (or so I hear)-- if the salmon is especially cold when it's cooked, the white beads will form easily. I think that's got to be it!

Our dinner was truly delicious. My meat market had just gotten in some fresh wild salmon, so I picked up some for dinner. We chose to make this recipe from Diane Morgan's wonderful book, Salmon. Every single thing we make from that book is mouth-wateringly good. If you eat a lot of salmon, like we do, I very highly recommend getting it.

After dinner clean-up, I talked on the phone with some of my favorite people in the world (my kids), did some before-bed tidying, went through the evening animal-care routine, and read for a while before going to sleep.

Idle Parenting?

"Action is the refuge of people who have nothing whatsoever to do."
~Oscar Wilde

A few years back, I was ambling around the internet in search of something in particular, and I ran across something I wasn't searching for at all-- The Idler. In fact, I'd never heard of it before, but I browsed the site for a while, reading and thinking and laughing. One article struck me particularly well because it argues for something I think is very important-- leaving children alone in raising them.

For someone like me, whose own child once said happily that his unschoolish type education was akin to being a free range chicken; whose gardening style leans strongly toward natural, native plants, xeriscaping, leaving a garden alone to do its thing, and working with nature rather than constantly battling it to bring it to submission and beauty; whose days are happiest and most productive when full of meaningful work, but work that is done in an unhurried, unpressured sort of way; to whom leisure means rest and relaxation and freedom of mind rather than violently running about to "recreate" myself, I really get the meaning of this article.

For some reason, today, The Idler and the article on raising children came to mind again, so I went over to the website and had a look. There's occasional content there that might be offensive to some (many?), so I'm not particularly recommending it to everyone, but I do think this humorous, yet serious, article is worth reading and considering.

Hopefully, by now you know that I'm not a believer in unparenting, but I am also not a believer in overparenting, and I think the latter is all too common nowadays. As Christians, we are meant to "train up" our children, but maybe there's a better way to do this than to follow our modern tendency to manage every minute aspect of their lives. It's gotten to the point that, even if we are aiming for freedom and letting a child alone, we manage to manage that because we have outcomes in mind. We do our best to shape the child's free time in such a way that our desired goals for him (and the use of his free time) will be met on our desired timetable. We have a very hard time truly letting go.

From The Idler article by Tom Hodgkinson (hopefully to be enjoyed as well as to be thought about!):

"...before moving on to my tips for responsible parenting, which to me is synonymous with idle parenting, I would like to explain the intellectual philosophy that I’ve based the tips on. It comes from the following lines from an essay called “Education of the People”, written in 1918 by DH Lawrence, and published today in the anthology Phoenix.

"How to begin to educate a child. First rule, leave him alone. Second rule, leave him alone. Third rule, leave him alone. That is the whole beginning...

"DH Lawrence is absolutely right. There is far too much inteference in the lives of children. This interefence is usually carried out under the excuse of “health and safety”. Oh Health and Safety! How many crimes to humanity have been committed in thy name? I understand, for example, that in nursery schools around the country, which are now known by the unappealing term “pre-schools”, running around is not allowed. Running around not allowed! For children of three and four? Surely they should be doing nothing but running around! But no. We have decided somewhere along the line that three-year olds should be prepared for the discipline of school in pre-schools, where their natural urges will begin to be tamed. Apparently pre-schools have an educational remit. Why? They should be free to run wild. The best pre-school would be a large room with garden attached, twenty kids and two adults at one end ignoring them.

"Now Lawrence was not of course recommending slothful neglect. We don’t let our children eat nails. What he meant was that we should allow them space, physical and mental. “It is this in respect that we repeat, leave him alone. Leave his sensibilities, his emotions, his spirit, and his mind severely alone.”

"The “leave them alone” philosophy, or “benign neglect” as it is sometimes called, seems in direct oposition to everything that we have decided to believe. You are supposed to play with children, give them attention, give them “special time”, “mummy time”., “quality time”. You are asked to make “play dates”. Thus it is that childcare becomes a burdensome task rather than a pleasure. We are taught by TV supernannies how to look after our children. Now supernanny has lots of good tips, but she can end up making us feel like bad parents because we’re extremely unlikely to be able to live up to the high standards she exhibits. Well, if you don’t feel like it, don’t do it. It’s surely worse to play a game with your kid under suffrance, resenting every second, than to ignore them and read the paper while they find something to do. “Bill, play with Fred,” I heard a mother command her husband. “I thought play was supposed to be a spontaneous thing,” came the lugubrious reply. Now of course, we all do play with our kids, but to do it on command and at pre-appointed times defeats the object."

Read the entire article if you'd like:

Leave Them Alone!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ten Cookbooks I Use Often for Vegetables...

Jerry Traunfeld is one of my favorite cooks. A few years back, the New York Times traveled the country, looking for the best restaurant meal in America. Traunfeld's restaurant won that honor. This book is a wonderful reference for everything you need to know about growing, harvesting, using, and storing herbs, but it's also a book full of delicious recipes. I look to this one often when cooking vegetables or anything else. Traunfeld's book, The Herbal Kitchen, is a collection of delicious, easy to make recipes. I love that one, too.

This is a great book. It's a collection of recipes from gardener-cooks all over America, but it's no ho-hum collection. The editor of this book is a well-known cook and food writer, and she is very picky about the recipes she chooses. Many chefs and well-known food people (Alice Waters and Lindsey Shere, to name two) contributed to this book. There are lots of great ideas here!

I am a Patricia Wells fan. She keeps things simple, but her foods are really delicious. The thing that draws me again and again to this book is the fact that the recipes have just a handful of ingredients. Everything is simple and delicious. I got the recipe for one of my favorite summer salads from this book (Cherry Tomato and Black Olive Salad-- it's really pretty and the flavors are wonderful! We add fresh, raw corn to it.).

Fresh Every Day

I really like Sara Foster's flavors, so I use this book often. The recipes are not ever heavy or too rich for me. I've made many of her salads and vegetable recipes, and we often cook a really delicious white fish with roasted cherry tomatoes and butternut squash recipe from this book that calls for marjoram and has a nice citrusy sauce. It's just delicious! I could eat it constantly in the fall.

The Cook and the Gardener

I really enjoyed reading this. Amanda Hess writes very nicely (some call her the successor to MFK Fischer), and she's a cook who was trained at Ann Willan's famous school in France. In fact, the book is set there, as Amanda became the cook for the chateau after her training. In this book, she writes of her relationship with the eccentric gardener for the place. There are lots of good recipes here. I have Amanda's other book, Cooking for Mr. Latte. I read it on our recent flight to Washington DC. It was light, fun reading, and the recipes she includes have been delicious. I keep making the beet-apple salad with citrus vinaigrette-- light and fresh and clean-tasting.

Entertaining for a Veggie Planet

This one is really fun to read! I have Didi's other book, but I use this one the most. I love her Mango Slaw, and her version of Potato Salad Nicoise is my favorite. She has a killer peanut butter-hot fudge recipe in this book.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

I think everyone should have this cookbook. It's a great vegetable and herb reference book, and there are lots and lots of recipes and ideas for cooking them. I use this book a lot. I also really like Madison's The Savory Way. And I check her Local Harvest when I'm looking for a good recipe for a particular vegetable.

I recently bought this book used, and I've been reading bits of it every day since! The philosophy of the author toward cooking and kitchen life is exactly along the lines of how I've been thinking and changing lately. I will definitely share some of her thoughts about an "unplugged" kitchen later. The recipes are quite Italian or Mediterranean, and I like what she does with them. She keeps things very simple, focusing on bringing out the best in an ingredient without overshadowing it with other ingredients. There aren't a ton of recipes in this book, but it gives a nice overall look at cooking simply.

My Raw Food Books

I posted a raw cookbook list here. Some of my favorite salads have come from my raw foods books. Melissa's favorite salad dressing (and I love it, too) comes from Renee Loux's book, Living Cuisine. I suppose I may as well end this with a recipe, so here's a slightly adapted version of the dressing that Melissa likes. Renee created it for her New Waldorf Salad (basically the salad is made with greens, apple, celery, grated carrots, raisins, and walnuts), but we use it in lots of ways. We like steamed broccoli tossed in this. Suddenly, it seems like I've posted this before, but I suppose it's worth posting again if I have:

Whizz all of the ingredients in a blender, or shake them vigorously in a jar with a tightly closed lid. If this gets overly thick, just add some water:

3 T. raw sesame tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 T. raw honey or maple syrup
2 t. dill (optional)
1-2 t. sea salt, or to taste

Thursday, June 19, 2008

List of 10 Food-Related Splurges...

I was ambivalent about posting this. As I thought about it, it seemed kind of self-focused and shallow, but the reality is that I do splurge on these things... I'm 50 (wow!), and I've only been able to regularly enjoy many of these items in the past few years, but I've sure had fun doing it! I think everyone needs to do something fun and special with food, at least occasionally. It's nice to go out to eat a wonderful meal in a top-notch restaurant, even if it's only once or twice a year. Or, something that is easier to afford on a regular basis, to sit down to enjoy a small piece of really good chocolate.

I'd be really interested to know if you have something food-related that you like to splurge on occasionally, and what is it? If a particular brand of a thing is important, what is it?

Chocolate. For eating, always 70% dark chocolate. Green & Black's. Dagoba. Chocolove (how can one resist a delicious chocolate bar with a love poem inside the wrapper?!). Scharffenberger. Valrhona. El Rey.

2. Good cheeses. I was never a cheese lover. I never liked gooey, cheesy things all that much, so I didn't care much about the quality of my cheese. Over time, I gradually began to appreciate the huge difference a good cheese makes in cooking (and eating). And my grocery budget grew, so I began to splurge (because it can cost a lot). I use very, very little cheese, so it lasts a long time. If I could afford just one cheese splurge, it would definitely be Parmigiano-Reggiano (the real parmesan). And if I couldn't afford it, then so be it. We have to live within our budgets! A tiny bit of good cheese goes a long way, though. I also buy Oregonzola or Crater Lake Blue from
Rogue Creamery-- the small-town Oregon artisanal cheese company that beat all of the European blue cheeses in the world cheese competition two or three years ago. I also have their raw cheddar in my fridge right now. And I keep a smoked gouda made by another small artisanal company in Oregon. I don't know how authentic it is, but it sure tastes great as a snack with apple slices.

3. Decent oils and vinegars. I'm not even going to begin to go into brands and all the ins and outs of this, mostly because I don't know what I'm talking about! But also because pretty much every cook-writer out there has a different favorite and a different opinion on this. And there is a huge range of tastes in olive oils, kind of like wine. I get this a little bit, but it's mostly beyond my knowledge (and currently, my desire to know) to have a clue about always picking out the right olive oil for the job. It makes my head spin, and this can get outlandishly expensive. Look at the price of real basalmic vinegar (way over $100 for a little bit). I'm not about to do that, so I use Lucini, which is still expensive enough for the regular, everyday cook. Basalmic vinegar is way overused, I think.
Deborah Madison, for one, writes about this, and suggests using just a bit of basalmic vinegar and finishing the recipe with red wine vinegar. That's what I do, so my basalmic lasts a long time. My cupboards are not filled with fine oils and vinegars, but they are also not filled with the cheapest supermarket store shelf stuff. I just read occasionally about oils and vinegars, and I do the best I can, within reason, because there really is a taste difference, especially for someone like me who likes clean, bright, pure tastes (the oils and vinegars are not hidden in lots of ingredients).

European butter. High fat and very yellow.

5. Salt. I've splurged on Fleur de Sel and have used it very sparingly. I buy routinely buy Celtic sea salt, kosher salt, and regular sea salt.

6. Raw goat and cow's milk and eggs
from a friend's farm.
Real milk. The eggs are not a "splurge" because they're free range, organic, and cost $2 a dozen. Not bad. The milk costs more than store milk, but it's fresh and raw with cream on top. I use the cream quite happily. I make fresh cheese with the goat milk. I make kefir and other things with the cow's milk.

Organic produce from the store, the farmers' market, or my CSA. It costs more, yes. But maybe it's an investment that will be repaid many times over in good health. It certainly tastes better! Paying for this is a priority, I can currently afford it, and it's worth the cost.

8. Coffee beans. I used to buy an organic fresh-roasted bean locally, but that's no longer available. I buy my beans at Starbucks because their particular
Sumatra blend is my all-time favorite. But I'm looking into other roasters-- smaller, organic, fair trade...

9. Organic, free-range chickens for broth. This is expensive broth! But it's sooooo good. I made broth all winter. Melissa had some health issues (strange and strong allergic reactions), and while she was recovering, she didn't want to eat much. She craved chicken broth, so I made it constantly, using the really good method from Judy Rodgers'
Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Sometimes Melissa drank straight broth, and sometimes I made light vegetable soups with it. Later, she was craving soup, and we had no broth left in the house, so we picked up a can of Progresso in the store. Ewww. It tastes so salty and murky and scary. So I will continue to splurge on good chickens to make good broth.

10. Cookbooks.
I have way over 100 of them, which stymies some people. This is an investment I have loved making. I read the books over and over, and I refer to them every single day. It's my culinary education. :-) When I have an ingredient I want to use in a new way, I might consult 20 of my cookbooks, looking at how each one uses this ingredient. I may follow an exact recipe, or based on what I've just read, come up with my own. For instance, what to do with the mache that came in this week's CSA? I know a basic thing to do, but what have others done? I have a look. Not much there! But there are a few ideas to get me going.

Since it's food and list-making week, maybe tomorrow I'll post a list of my Top 10 cookbooks for finding things to do with vegetables. :-)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Formal Hall, a Lovely Tradition...

From Saveur magazine, May 2008: "One of the most venerated traditions in the day-to-day life of a student at the University of Cambridge, the eight-centuries-old collegiate institution in Cambridge, England, is Formal Hall, a candlelit evening meal for students and faculty that's held every night during term in the great wood-paneled dining room of College Hall."

Those who choose to attend Formal Hall are required to dress nicely. We could learn much about the importance of mealtimes, rituals, and traditions from the idea of Formal Hall. It's so nice to see that even an institution can value the importance of creating lovely mealtimes. And it's sad that so many families don't. But we do, don't we?

10 Ways to Make Cooking More Enjoyable...

"Although I have lived in France for more than fifteen years, I still marvel at the way my French friends put a meal on the table. It always looks so effortless, even though I know better. I have come to believe that it looks so easy because French people do not consider cooking to be work. They cook because they want to eat well, they want their families and their friends to eat well, and they simply love the process."

"...Behind the 'effortlessness' is a 'connaissance instinctive,' or knowing, which translates as supreme confidence and an innate understanding about ingredients and cooking... Most French, male or female, have grown up around someone who cooked all the time, in a society where good, often lavish, meals are daily fare. They heard their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters talking about recipes and techniques, and their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and brothers exclaiming over flavor and finesse... Knowledge of food and cooking is simply part of the ambient information that swirls around the French home.

"Not only do most French people still grow up in this atmosphere of culinary ease, but they also spend time in the kitchen learning at their mother's, grandmother's, sometimes father's and grandfather's elbows... I'm convinced that the reason French families are tightly knit, that generations do not merely tolerate but actually enjoy each other, that French children have an awareness of and gusto about food, and that the French tend not to be as overweight as their contemporaries in the United States, has to do with this ease about food. They have a sense of security from eating together so frequently and taking the time to eat well."

~Susan Hermann Loomis in Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin

At risk of seeming entirely obsessed with food, here is another list of ten things-- this time ten things that help to make cooking more enjoyable. This frequent writing about food, cooking, and the kitchen might seem especially obsessive because I am so pointedly focusing on it at length on this blog, but, in reality, over time, kitchen time becomes a natural, instinctive, pleasant part of daily life.

I really believe that mealtime is extremely important-- a time to fuel our bodies, enjoy God's blessings, and to connect with one another in a meaningful way. And how will my family remember our mealtimes? As stressful, hurried affairs that seem to be considered more of a nuisance than anything else? Or as pleasant, relaxing family times where simple, lovingly prepared, good food is enjoyed?

I know too many people who hate to cook, and there have been times in my own life when I didn't enjoy it so much, either, so I understand. There have been times (and periods of time) when I didn't feel like cooking, and I was always rushing, dreading, and being drained by kitchen work. Here are some things that helped to make kitchen time enjoyable for me:

1. Purposely establish a positive outlook. This means having a vision for the importance of mealtime. Choosing to slow down, to learn to enjoy the process, to cook with good cheer and gratitude. There's a bit of discipline involved in this, but soon the attitude is real and lasting.

2. Make a nice atmosphere in the kitchen. I like to cook in a clean kitchen. Put on an apron, turn on the music (or enjoy the quiet), and settle in. Learn to enjoy yourself whether you choose to cook long, complex meals or you're simply reheating a pot of soup.

3. Plan a simple menu. Making mealtime nice doesn't mean you have to serve multiple items on the plate (unless you want to). Serve enough, and focus on bringing out the best in the foods you prepare. Simple food, carefully prepared will make a wonderful meal.

4. Mise en Place. In The Provence Cookbook, Patricia Wells writes: "I've long noticed that when people get flustered in the kitchen, it's due to lack of organization. Cluttered counters, sinks overflowing with dirty dishes, refrigerator stuffed to the gills: a sure invitation to disaster. The French have a system of organization called mise en place, meaning quite simply 'everything at hand.'" I'm sure this is obvious to all, but it really does help to be prepared and organized, to have all ingredients chopped and prepared and ready to go before you start cooking.

5. Cook with family, for family. Children love to help in the kitchen, but even before my children could help, I tried to keep them happy in the kitchen. They could stand on a chair and play with the bubbles in the water in the sink. Or, depending what I was doing, I'd let them stand on a chair or sit on the counter beside me to watch. We'd visit. I wanted my children to feel at home in the kitchen and to enjoy mealtimes, but this doesn't mean I always had a pleasant way about me (to my shame!). In those hurried times when I'd feel tired and almost resentful about having to cook and clean the mess, I'd shoo the kids away or drawn an imaginary line and tell them not to cross it while I was cooking! :-) Over the years, these times dwindled away, thank goodness, and I do think they were rare. There was a lot more warmth and joy in the kitchen than not, and I think the kids have mostly positive, happy memories of food and mealtimes.

6. Clean as you go. Oh, it helps tremendously not to face an absolute disaster in the kitchen when mealtime ends! Cleaning as you go is really pretty simple and quick, and keeping order in the kitchen makes cooking much more fun.

7. Set a pleasant table. It can be as elegant or as simple as you want, but make it pleasant. Put some effort into it. It makes people want to settle in more, to linger longer at the table, to get a nice feeling of togetherness and of the love that went into meal preparation. Put candles on the table in winter and simple flowers, if you have them, even when you aren't having a fancy meal.

8. Don't rush the meal. Eat slowly. Savor the flavors God made. Enjoy the company. Talk. Relax. It's definitely more rewarding and fun to cook when the food is appreciated and when mealtime is not over in less than five minutes. Who wants to lovingly prepare food for individuals who fly into the kitchen, dish up a plate of food, carry it off to the TV or computer, and eventually dump their dirty dishes on the counter, usually not saying a word beyond possibly muttering a quick thanks? We are creating meals when we cook, and when they are rushed through, we wonder if the time and trouble it takes to prepare food and table is worth it. If our children grow up learning to enjoy time together at the table, you will help your children develop a healthy family spirit, an appreciation for good food and the hands that prepared it, and an ability to slow down and relax.

9. Make special favorites. I try to do this often, and I don't hesitate to mention it. "I made this just for you, Aaron, because I know how much you like it." Or, "I cooked this with you in mind, Monty." Or, "This one was made in honor of Lissy." I do try to think of particular ones in the family and what they like, and I make a point to fix those things for them.

10. Everyone cleans up! When the kids were young, we had chore lists posted on the fridge, and it was automatic after meals that everyone would get up, help clear the table, and then do the after-meal task that was assigned to them. When you've already cleaned as you cooked, and then after the meal everyone pitches in clean things up, it's quick and easy. When I was young, my mom had pinned right over the sink a little ditty about gratitude. It was hard to do the dishes with a complaining attitude with this staring us right in the face:

Thank God for dirty dishes
They have a tale to tell.
While other folks are starving
We've been eating very well.

Sure dirty dishes mean some work
But why make all the fuss?
They're just a stack of evidence
That God's been good to us.

Truly, we are blessed to have food to eat. And as long as we do, it's wrong to have anything but a cheerful attitude about preparing and enjoying God's gifts. He has provided. We should be thankful, both in our hearts and in our actions, all through the process, as we purchase food, prepare it, eat it, and even as we clean the mess.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Using Up the Radishes...

Here are the braised red radishes
we had for last night's dinner.
The humble radish never tasted so good!

Since this week is apparently food week at my blog...

I mentioned in the list below (#10, I think) the importance of not wasting food, of using what we have-- all of it. Well, last night, I had 2 bunches of radishes left from last week's CSA pickup. I don't particularly love radishes, and I don't much care for them in salads, so I'd put off using them. But I was determined they wouldn't go to waste! So, what to do? How many raw radishes would I really want to eat? I'd initially intended to use them in fish salad tacos, but I didn't want to buy the shrimp. So, I looked in some of my cookbooks for creative radish ideas, and I found "Braised Red Radishes" in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It didn't sound particularly wonderful, but because it's Deborah Madison, and it's hard to go wrong with her recipes, I decided to try it. So we braised the radishes according to directions, reduced the sauce and poured it over the top, and tasted. Yum! What a surprise! Both Melissa and I really liked them, and I'll definitely make the recipe again with this week's radishes.

Braised Red Radishes

20 plump radishes
1 to 2 T. butter
1 shallot, diced
1 t. chopped fresh thyme or several pinches dried*
salt and freshly milled pepper

Trim the leaves from the radishes, leaving a bit of the green stems, and scrub them. If the leavs are tender and in good condition, wash them and set aside. Leave smaller radishes whole and halve or quarter larger ones.

Melt 2 to 3 teaspoons butter in a small saute pan. (The radishes should cover most of the bottom of the pan.) Add the shallot and thyme and cook for 1 minute over medium heat. Add the radishes, a little salt and pepper, and water just to cover. Simmer til radishes are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the leaves if using and cook until they're wilted and tender, 1 minute more. Remove the radishes to a serving dish. Boil the liquid, adding a teaspoon or two more butter if you like, until only about 1/4 c. remains. Pour it over the radishes and serve.

*Something I like about Deborah Madison is that she doesn't hesitate to use dried herbs when she needs to or to encourage home cooks in other practical, easy, and frugal ways.

Eating Well For as Little Money as Possible...

(Be sure to read comments in the posts below. There are some really good ones. And there are one or two who have posted their own thoughts and lists at their blogs. If you do this, be sure to let us know!)

This is a difficult list to write. It's just my list, reflecting my values and priorities and is not at all intended to be some kind of food doctrine for everyone or anyone. We all try to live within the bounds of what we think is important. And what I consider important for eating well is not always inexpensive. Real food, fresh food, delicious food is not always easy to find in this modern food culture where things are processed, refined, and altered to a degree that many people have no idea what honest, good food tastes like anymore.

To give just one example, cream, which sours fairly quickly (a week), is commercially altered (ultrapasteurized) to the point it can have a shelf life of months. The healthy bacteria has been destroyed so that the cream will not spoil. Real, raw, fresh cream is yellowy and sweet. Processed cream is shockingly white and waxy in comparison. Everything living, which is much of what is good, has been removed from many foods in order to increase its "lifespan" (an ironic choice of words).

Produce that has been picked, often before it is ripe, and is then refrigerated and shipped long distances, has lost much of its freshness, taste, and nutritional value long before it reaches the grocery store shelves and then your table. Anyone who has had a juicy tomato or peach that was picked when perfectly ripe and ready to eat, knows how truly wonderful fresh food can taste. Produce that has been harvested within a day or two of eating (and always very best if it can be picked from a garden just beforehand) tastes infinitely superior to anything that can be bought in a supermarket. Nutritional value wanes considerably, too, with early picking and long transport. Not much flavor in your food? Then there's probably little nutritional value.

I guess the thing basic thing I would recommend is to pay what you need to pay (or can pay) for as much real, high-quality food you can afford, and try to do this in a way that saves you the most money.

This will require an investment of time, but it is time well spent. We are so used to running to the store, grabbing what we need from the shelves, stocking our fridge and cupboards, and cooking at dinner time. It's fast. It's easy. And it's not the optimum way to eat! We think of our grandparents, who put a lot of time into food growth, gathering, preparation, and storage, and we're so often thankful that it doesn't have to take that much time anymore. But I think, in many ways, we've exchanged ease for things that are of more value.

We can really only do our best. We have to buy what we can afford, and sometimes that means we won't be able to do some of the things that matter to us. Buying organic food is generally more expensive. Eating whole, real, unprocessed food is usually more expensive, too. We cut corners where we can, stretch where we can, and offer our family the most delicious and most nutritious foods possible.

So, the following list is not always about saving money in comparison to what can be bought in a supermarket. It's about eating well for as little as possible. Do what you want with this. Do what you can for your family's sake. And many people will not agree that any of this is necessary. I don't at all mean to argue with them. I'm writing this for people to whom this matters, so here is a list of some things that I try to do. You'll have your own way, and you're welcome to share any thoughts or ideas of your own:

1. Keep it simple. When I cook, I like to make simple foods. I don't like to cook recipes with long lists of ingredients or complicated, time-consuming cooking techniques, so I flip through my cookbooks looking for very simple ideas for my food. If you have good ingredients, you don't need to do much at all to them to make them delicious. A fresh, ripe tomato is good all by itself or with a little shake of salt or sprinkle basalmic dressing. Take it as far as you want from there, with the addition of some slivered basil and maybe some mozzarella, but the tomato can be left alone and will still be delicious. Fresh greens taste delicious and need only to be lightly rubbed with an easy vinaigrette, or wilted in a little bit of garlicky oil and sprinkled with lemon juice. You don't need long, elaborate recipes (unless you want them) when you have really great ingredients. Buy the best ingredients you can find. You will save a lot of money and reduce waste.

2. Eat foods in their natural seasons. In-season eating is something I've been working toward for a while. I wait for berry season to enjoy fresh berries (or I eat them frozen-- and it's much better if I've frozen my own). The incomparably sweet and delicious Oregon strawberry has a shelf life of only about one day, so the berries need to go almost directly from the field to jam-making or the freezer, but make sure to enjoy at least one dessert with those fresh berries-- a shortcake or strawberry-topped cheesecake or something-- or just eat them fresh! The early-picked, well-traveled strawberry that sits on supermarket shelves tastes like cotton candy after having eaten a truly fresh and delicious berry. Other than buying cherry tomatoes occasionally in the off-season (they're often fine to use), I buy organic canned tomatoes (Muir Glen brand is good) until fresh tomatoes are in season and delicious again. I wait for them. I look forward to them. And corn comes along then, too, so I make corn and tomato salads with basil, kalamata, lemon juice, and fresh goat cheese (my favorite). And when tomato and corn season is over, I sigh and wait until the next year to enjoy them again. But then we're moving into fall and winter, and we'll have apples and nuts, citrus fruits, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, parsnips and turnips, and cold weather greens. Eating these in season brings out their optimum flavor, and there are many ways to prepare these foods to keep one busy in the kitchen all winter long. When we eat in season, it's fun to look forward to our favorite foods of the coming seasons. Restraint increases pleasure. :-)

The nice thing about eating truly fresh and ripe produce is that not much needs to be done to it to make it wonderful. Scrape out of season corn off the cob and it tastes starchy and bland. Scrape fresh-picked, in-season corn from the cob and it is sweet and tender and delicious even without cooking. A bland, out of season or grocery store-bought peach needs special doctoring, and can really only be made into something like a cobbler or a crisp, but a fresh, ripe, juicy peach has a sweetness and heavenly taste that wants to be left alone or barely enhanced. Finding perfect produce takes more time and effort than taking it from grocery store shelves, and it might cost more, but it's more nutritious and requires fewer ingredients to make it enjoyable, in that case, saving both calories and money. (I have to add that I will occasionally find tasty fruit and other produce in the grocery store, but it still doesn't compare to what is fresher and more local.)

Eating foods in their natural seasons saves money because it is usually this very food that is on sale in the stores. There is much of it, so the price goes down. You both save money and benefit from much greater nutrition when you eat in season.

3. The freshest food is going to be local food, but eating entirely locally has its real difficulties and challenges. I eat as much local produce as I can, but I live in the high desert where the growing season is short, where nights are cool, even in summer, and where we would need to learn some serious foraging secrets to survive a winter (the native Americans did it, so it can be done, but we don't eat that way anymore). In the desert, there is a limited number of things that grow well, so I extend my "local" range to reach into the warm valleys of Oregon where berries and fruits, and all kinds of wonderful varieties of produce grow in abundance. To eat entirely locally, means I will not have citrus or many of the fragrant spices I use in cooking. I don't intend to pursue local eating to the point that I will do without my beloved lemons and spices, but I do try to buy as much local food as I can. It's fresher and better. So, I join my CSA or visit the farmers' market. And in the summer, I like to cross the mountains to the strawberry and blueberry fields to pick enough berries to load my freezer for winter.

Other things I buy locally-- raw goat and cow's milk, eggs from a pastured hen, honey (raw honey from a local seller is full of good enzymes and costs considerably less than the jarred honey in the store), meat (if I can), and more. If you can find a small grower or producer of these items (or a friend who has chickens), you'll pay considerably less for them than if you were to buy them in a natural foods store. Sometimes even farmers' markets charge a lot for these items.

4. Go to farms and fields to pick your own produce whenever you can. Take the kids! Or grow a garden yourself. Again, fresh-picked food is the most delicious and most nutritious, so if you visit u-pick farms, you can stock your freezer, make preserves, or do some canning with food that is at its absolute, most flavorful and nutritious peak. You can also go out into nature and forage for food-- berries, mushrooms, wild greens, etc. (I haven't done much of this, but it's getting more common.) All winter long, you will be so thankful you canned and stocked your freezer! You can freeze just about anything, so get your hands on large amounts of good produce when it is in season, and you'll have wonderful food to draw from in the leaner seasons. And the cost of picking your own berries, or other foods, in the fields and then freezing them is significantly less than buying frozen berries in the store.

5. Eat less (or no) meat.
I probably don't need to elaborate, and I'm certainly not going to make this a discussion of the virtues of eating or not eating meat! Meat is expensive. If you do serve meat, it helps cut costs significantly to stretch it. In Asia, meat is incorporated into stir-fries and rice dishes. In other places, it is made into curries or stews. It's not uncommon in America to find a big slab of meat taking up a large portion of the plate. To save money, avoid this. Don't make meat the center of the meal. Or cut it out altogether. Vegetarian meals are delicious and filling, and I think it's good for everyone, no matter how much they like to eat meat, to go meatless at least occasionally.

6. Eat less food period. Americans overeat. We eat and eat and eat. But of course a growing boy needs his food... :-) We need to provide enough good food, enough filling food, enough nutritious food, to take good care of our families. But I think we can cut back significantly on the sheer amount of food we eat. Eat more slowly. Eat together. Eat high-quality food, take your time, and really enjoy that food and the company that shares your table. Low fat diets have made us hungrier, and it's pretty accepted now that it's not specifically low fat that we need for good health. Fats are filling and are needed for good health. Eating more good fat makes one feel fuller and satisfied for longer. It provides needed calories, too, so we can eat less and not lose unnecessary weight.

7. Plan. This can be specific or general. It helps some people to plan very specifically, in detail. Meals plans are made for the week, and a grocery list is created. Sticking to this list (and buying nothing else) really can help save a lot of money. I did this for years, and it worked wonderfully well for us. But you must stick to the plan, or food and money can be wasted. The tighter the budget, though, the less likely it is we'll drop something from the meal plan-- there's just nothing else to eat! :-) Currently, my planning takes place around my CSA pickup. I'll see the list of foods we'll be getting, and I'll decide how we'll be eating that food. This is fun and it makes planning easy. Same thing if you have a garden or visit a farmers' market. You pick or buy what's ripe and plan your eating around that.

8. Buy in bulk. Compare the price per pound (or is it ounce?) of spices in the little bottles that are lined up on grocery store shelves and the spices in bulk. You will be shocked at the difference! The same goes for many other things. Find a store that has a busy, quick-moving bulk section (for best freshness), and save a lot of money.

9. Garden if you can (even if it's just a few herbs in pots in your window). Keep the gardening simple. Start things from seed. You can save some money by growing your own food thoughtfully, and you will definitely benefit from a sense of accomplishment, the beauty of your garden, and the fresh, nutritious food you'll harvest. Growing your own herbs is nice and reduces waste. In an herb garden, you just go out and snip what you need. If you buy herbs at the store, it's easy to waste part of what you get. Plus the freshness and aroma of snipping your own herbs is so nice!

10. Stretch your food. Use it up. Combine expensive more expensive foods and ingredients with those that are less expensive. Try to never waste (I still occasionally waste an uncomfortable amount of food). Plan around what's left in the refrigerator. Be disciplined. Throwing out food is throwing out money.

Monday, June 16, 2008

10 Basic Ways I Save Money...

First, I'll admit there are two big areas of practical daily life that are important to me, so I'll happily tighten the budget in other areas to make room to enjoy these. Books and food.

Mike used to tease me by quoting those famous words of Erasmus: "When I get a little money, I buy books, and if any is left, I buy food and clothes." Then he'd add that Susan's quote is: "When I get a little money, I buy books, and if any is left, I buy more books." :-)

Whether or not that is true, it is true that I learned to cut a lot of corners in the budget to make room for the things that matter most to me. What's surprising, though, is that cutting those corners didn't create any kind of hardship. I think all of the ways I learned to save money were positive for many reasons.

Saving money so that we can buy good food is not all about living an epicurean life! It's about eating nutritionally and well-- enjoying food in the state, and of the quality, that God meant for us to eat it. It's knowing that food is a gift from God-- a blessing, and one to be enjoyed. In being frugal or saving money, some important motives are to pay our bills, to take care of our families, to bless others, and, very importantly, to give to those who are in need. It's not to live selfishly. Enjoying good food, within limits, should not be considered irresponsible or excessive.

I hope I didn't set the bar of expectations high for what I'm going to say about food on a budget because the things I have to share might surprise you with their simplicity. You may think, "Well that was obvious!" I'm simply going to share a few basic thoughts and ideas from my own real life-- nothing earth-shattering or novel, really, because I am not Amy D. (the Tightwad Gazette woman whose last name I am not going to try to spell by heart!). If you want to learn to be heroically frugal and thrifty, you can check her books out of the library or read one of many blogs that could help cut a zillion little corners, cutting pennies and dollars here and there (they make my head spin just reading about them, even though I think they can be of great benefit).

Instead of being specifically practical, like how to best use coupons, or other little tricks and tips, I'm making a list that is geared more to overall lifestyle choices. I am easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by too many ideas, so the ideas I pursue need to be basic and simple. Common sense. So, this week, I'm going to make five lists of 10 things-- saving money in general, saving money on good food, making cooking more enjoyable or appealing, foods I splurge on, and some specific food/eating ideas or thoughts. I'll post one list each day. That way, this will be quick and easy, and I can post other things, too, because I do have a life outside the kitchen! :-)

So, here are ten things I've done. Some of this might be undesirable to you. You'll have to figure out where it makes sense for you to simplify or scale back. And I hope you'll feel free to make comments to add your own ideas and thoughts. That could be extremely beneficial to all of us.

1. I make my own all-natural cleaning supplies. This saves a ton of money! In Karen Logan's humorous and helpful book, Clean House, Clean Planet, she does price comparisons between her homemade cleaning recipes and an average priced store-bought version of that item. Many times, the homemade recipe costs mere pennies to make, while the store-bought version might cost around $3. Add this up over time, and the savings is significant. Plus, making your own cleaners is good for personal health and the environment!

2. I keep a basic, simple wardrobe. Very. I do need to spruce up my wardrobe-- I don't think I can be accused of being a clothes horse! My daughter, Melissa, is an amazing shopper. She plans ahead, knows what she needs, knows how to shop sales, avoids extreme trendiness, and has great patience and self-restraint. She can tell me ahead of time which things will probably go on clearance and for how much. She buys very nice things from Anthropologie and other stores, never for anything close to full price. Melissa doesn't have a loaded closet. She has a basic wardrobe made up of some really cute, quality things, and she's bought them for very little money.

3. I plan ahead and consolidate trips to town. If I know I need to go to town on Tuesday, I do all of my errands on that day. When my CSA pickup got scheduled on Tuesdays, I also scheduled my raw milk pickup for that day. And I go to the bank, shop, visit the library, drop by to see my grandsons (and daughter!), etc. I stay home a lot. Fewer times in the store translates to less spending.

4. When I'm in town, I never buy coffee drinks (or any other kind of drink) or treats. I used to stop by a coffee shop occasionally and buy a mocha or cappuccino, but I started thinking about how much it costs, and how it adds up over the course of a month or year. The cost can be significant, depending on how often you buy a coffee drink, and I decided that I'd much rather spend my money on something else. I have morning coffee most days anyway. And I buy coffee in shops when we're on vacation. That's enough.

5. We don't eat out. No fast food, no matter how harried we feel at the end of our time in town! We plan our restaurant visits, and it's a very rare thing. When we do eat at a restaurant, we want it to be of stellar quality-- a special place-- so we eat out just a few times a year, mostly when we're on trips. And we do our research to find some of the best places to eat in a particular area.

6. I don't go shopping for fun. Or I should say that I very rarely do. I avoid malls. I avoid stores that tempt me to buy things I don't need. I try really hard to check my impulses when I'm tempted to buy something. I need to think about it, so I try to put some time and space between that item and me. That gives me time to come to my senses and realize that I probably don't need, or even want, it! Exceptions to this are a once a week stop at Goodwill, and occasionally I'll want to visit an antique store or a new or used bookstore. There are reasons for the exceptions, and I'll probably get to that in a post down the road sometime... maybe. :-)

7. I try to buy mostly used books. If I know I want a book, I'll often keep looking at used sellers online until I can find a really inexpensive version of the book in like-new condition or new with a remainder mark. I cannot tell you how many $35 books (in impeccable condition) I've bought for well under $10 doing this. When the kids were young, I bought almost all of our books used because it was the only way we could afford to buy them. We visited used bookstores and library book sales all the time. And we had fun! Now I'm buying more new books at Amazon, Alibris, or in bookstores, but I still try to find good, inexpensive copies first. And, increasingly, I'm trying to give more thought to whether or not I really want to buy a certain book. (Remember, books are one of my top priorities-- you may not have an issue with this.)

8. I no longer buy paper towels (except in some rare cases, and when I do, they last a long time), saran wrap, ziplock bags, napkins, etc. When my children were young, I never bought these things, either, because they were easy to drop off the grocery list (saved loads of money over time), and I found ways to do without them. In recent years, I added them to the grocery list because I could afford them, but not long ago I began to look into doing without them again. This time the reasons weren't budgetary, but it will definitely save me money. I simply wanted to avoid plastic and to reduce waste. So I started buying the old flat-lidded pyrex containers for refrigerator storage (I find them at Goodwill for $1 or $2). My daughter made me some cloth napkins for Christmas (really cute, fun, colorful ones). I use cloth rags for everything. I use unbleached parchment paper to wrap cheeses for refrigeration and to wrap sandwiches and other food items when we want to keep them for a while. I just bought some unbleached waxed paper bags, too, that were made to replace baggies. A nice side-benefit of doing all of this is that the aesthetics of it is much more pleasing!

9. We've always kept entertainment and activities simple. What's important for children? Do they really need to take that class or activity? Would it be better to spend time in unstructured play? Could they have friends over or get together somewhere for play? A friend and I used to meet, with our kids, at the beach or a lake or park or somewhere free (including our own homes). We'd visit, the kids would play, and we'd eat a simple lunch we'd brought from home. Families can also go to the beach or lake together, play games, have a special movie night, go to Grandma's or to a friend's for a visit, camp out in the yard, go exploring, stargaze on a blanket in the back yard. The free stuff is the fun stuff, and it makes the best memories.

10. I live a pretty low-tech life, and I think this saves quite a lot of money. I keep electronics to a minimum, so there are no big entertainment centers here with the latest state of the art stuff. We don't watch TV (no cable or hookup here, but we do have a TV we use for a DVD monitor on rare occasions). I don't buy any gadgets at all. I think, compared to most people, I could be called a real minimalist when it comes to technology. Even my alarm clock is an old-fashioned thing that's not digital! I do have a computer, obviously and a simple Bose radio/CD player, but I rarely buy a CD. Most of the time, it's silent in our house (as far as noise that comes from technology), and I like that. :-)

Okay, that was long! Did I say this was going to be "quick"?! What about you? Any thoughts or tips or lifestyle things you've done that have saved you money?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Afternoon Coffee Hour...

"In Sweden, three o'clock in the afternoon is coffee hour, and every traditional household has a jar of homemade cookies in the pantry, ready to serve with steaming cups of freshly brewed coffee." ~Marcus Samuelsson in Aquavit

It's a beautiful day with blue sky and warm air and grandchildren and a cute little puppy playing in and out of the house. After work, Melissa picked Michelle up and brought her out for the day. We did some work and played with the boys and visited, and at 2:00 (instead of 3:00 like they do in Sweden), we stopped and had coffee. It's a good idea, and I stole it long ago. We used to have teatime (made in a Brown Betty pot) every afternoon, but now the kids are grown and gone, and I might have coffee, tea, or even a smoothie when I take my break.

That's our afternoon coffee in the photo above. It's custom made for each person! :-) Michelle and Melissa wanted whipped cream and grated chocolate on their coffee, and I had mine black. I even pulled out a secret stash of cookies to go with it.

Notice the mugs? I found them all at Goodwill on one of my weekly stops. I love the aqua one, and I had my coffee in that (it's more aqua than it looks in the photo). I really like those cute, shorter mugs with the designs, too-- they're from the early 1960's. Melissa and I have our Mexican coffee in them every morning. It's hard to beat the price of 49 cents for a mug I really like.

I'm about to leave to take Michelle and the boys back to their home, to mail some packages to Aimee, and to pick up something I bought at Goodwill yesterday. But first I have to mention something Roman said that made me laugh. He was sitting in the car with a little red bucket full of cotton balls. I asked him what they were, and he said, "They are rain balls!" Huh? Then Michelle told me that's what Roman calls hailstones. :-)

By the way, I'll do the post about "eating well on a budget" tomorrow or Monday. I hope your day has been as nice as ours.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Eating Well on a Budget?

After promoting CSAs, farmers' markets, local, organic and responsibly produced foods, I think it's only fair to address the fact that many large families have a very difficult time affording this. Joining a CSA would break the budget.

My own family has had our ups and downs-- times when we had very little money to spend on food, and times when we've had more. Once, when the kids were young, it got so bad that we were actually robbing piggy banks and looking under couch cushions for enough money to buy milk. :-) I know what it means to pray for our daily bread.

We had a family of six healthy eaters, with three petite girls who seemed to eat like hard working men! Our one boy was always hungry. And, for a while, we were on a really tight grocery budget. This wasn't easy for me. I loved to cook, and I wanted to cook really great food, but I didn't have the know-how to pull it off on a tight budget, so I had to put that aside.

It meant eating too many casseroles made with awful canned creamed soups. We ate far too many loaves of cheap, tasteless, $1 whole wheat bread. It was unthinkable to pay the lavish price for butter, so I resorted to margarine (something I would now find a way around). Our vegetables were often frozen. We rationed fruit (and most foods) to make it last as long as we could. We certainly didn't go hungry, and we made cookies and brownies and other treats, but we didn't eat nearly as well as I think we could have.

When my husband began to grow a vegetable and berry garden (organic), it was a big help, and we were in heaven. I loved sending the kids out to the garden to pick salad ingredients, or other vegetables, for dinner. Mike grew the best strawberries I can ever remember eating. And blueberries, too. We had plenty of produce (not a huge variety), and it was delicious. Mike grew everything from seed (in already great soil), so gardening was really a budget saver. (Read The $64 Tomato for a different, humorous, spin on gardening!)

Gradually, I've been able to spend more money on food. I've also become more educated as to nutrition and eating well, and I know I could do a much better job on that tight budget today than I did when my children were young. It would still be difficult, and compromises would have to be made, but it would be nice to have been armed with more know-how back then.

Stacy brought up something in comments that I think is an unusual way of thinking nowadays. She said that she's trying to figure out where to cut costs so that she can increase her grocery budget. Most people are doing the opposite. They're going to great lengths to increasingly cut back their food budget. I've seen blogs where women have discussed frugal tips for eating, and while I think that spending money wisely is important, I sometimes think they are making unnecessary, unhealthy, even unwise choices. Maybe the emphasis is in the wrong place. Honestly, I like Stacy's attitude more.

I read that in France, more than 1/3 of a family's income is spent on food. It's that important to them. They don't consider cutting their food budget. It's a priority, and its unthinkable to compromise in this important area. Obviously, when a family spends 1/3 of their income on food, less is being spent elsewhere. Maybe that's how we should think of approaching food, too.

Eating good food is so important. It's an investment in family life and health. Food is a gift from God, but sometimes what we eat has been so refined, processed, added to, and tampered with, that it can't even be called food! I think, whatever it takes, we need to get away from this and go back to real food. It's worth making good food a priority.

Cooking is a creative art. It can be simple. Pure. Artful. Appreciate good food more. Maybe, in many cases, it's just a matter of priorities.

And I will accept that sometimes it isn't. Sometimes, we really do have to make many, many compromises to get by. In this case, too, we should eat joyfully and with gratitude. A meal, no matter how humble, when made with love, is delicious!

I think I'd like to try writing a post that discusses ways to eat on a budget without compromising quality (or at least making as few compromises as possible). I don't consider myself an expert in the kitchen, and I certainly don't consider myself a particularly wonderful frugal tipster, but I might have a few thoughts or ideas that could help. So, that will be coming right away. (And maybe some of you will have some ideas to add to mine.)

Happy eating!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Lovely Painting by a Friend...

Laura is a real life friend. We were online penpals for years and years before we met, and now our families have visited back and forth between New York City and Oregon. We've had lots of fun talking about children and learning, books, ideas, homemaking, cooking, art and music, nature, and many, many things.

And Laura is an artist. I won't say more. I'll just post this link and let you see what she's recently done. You might enjoy looking around her blog. It's fun to read of her life in NYC, what she's been cooking, what she's been reading, and lots more.

An image, with time lapses

The painting is beautiful, and this is just a chance to introduce Laura A to those of you who don't know her. :-)

Supporting Local Growers...

"Today, the average food item travels more than a thousand miles before it lands on our tables. We have become distant from our food, and not just in terms of geography. Who grows our food? What are their lives like? How is the soil tilled, cultivated, and prepared for the next year? ...What are the growing conditions of the fruits, vegetables, and grains we eat? How does their production affect the land and the people who raise them? Does any of this really matter if we have plenty of food on our table? It matters a great deal." ~from the preface to Simply In Season

Here we are in the middle of June, and it was 22 degrees this morning, the ground white with frost. Yikes. But that's the way it is in the high desert-- we occasionally have these extra cold nights, even in June, July, or August, but there are some summers with no below-freezing nights at all. You never know.

Today's extra cold, frosty morning makes me thankful that this year, for the first time in 13 years, I have been a slacker and have not yet planted a single new flower or herb in my beds. Because that would mean that last night, after checking the weather forecast, I would have had to cover every single bed snugly with large sheets of plastic to protect the new plants from frost (carefully wielding those plastic covers is not all that easy). Actually, I would have done this every single day for the past week or two because that's how many below-freezing nights we've had this early summer.

Gardening in our region can be trying. Snow can fall any time into June (or July), or it can be 98 degrees. The last frost of winter comes late, and the first frost of fall comes early around here. That's why I'm thankful for my CSA farmer!

Yesterday was the first
CSA pickup of the year. I like knowing I'm helping a local small farming couple establish themselves so that they can do what they love doing most. I like eating seasonally. It's wonderful knowing my produce was harvested, fully ripe, the day I picked it up. I appreciate very much that it was farmed organically. I'm willing to invest in this and take the risk that the crop will fail. Chances are, though, we'll get plenty for our money. We always have.

I carried my market bags into the CSA pickup place yesterday to fill them with a small, but nice, amount of produce. We'd gotten an email earlier in the day telling us what to expect-- salad mix (2 bags), spinach (2 bags), arugula (1 bag), dill, radishes, and rhubarb. Considering the long winter and the recent cold nights that have made growing difficult this year, I was quite pleased with this. And in the email, we were given hope for more abundant weeks with a report of what we can expect soon, over the course of the summer, and into fall-- lots of good stuff! Strawberries are almost here. Can't wait for corn and tomatoes! I've ordered an extra share of greens this year. And I bought a share of flowers, too, so when everything is in bloom, I'll pick up a nice bouquet every week along with my produce.

As soon as I knew what I'd be picking up yesterday, I started planning what to do with it. I don't want to waste a thing, and I intend to put everything to very good use. If I'm going to have rhubarb, I'm going to make something really wonderful with it. So I pulled out the great Lindsey Shere's
Chez Panisse Desserts book and found a nice rhubarb crisp recipe to make (I may as well use a recipe by one of the best). And what to do with the arugula? Beet salad with blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette, of course. And the spinach? Crunchy white beans with garlic and greens. Heavenly, especially with greens as nice as this. With the rest of those greens? Delicious salads every day. Green lemonade. We eat a lot of greens around here. I have a big collection of great cookbooks, and I'm already happily flipping through them (especially the vegetable-oriented ones), making notes of which old favorites I want to make and what new things I want to try.

I realize that the little bit of produce I picked up yesterday could make you scratch your head and wonder what's the big deal. Maybe you have your own garden and are currently harvesting all of this and much more. Lucky you! Maybe you prefer to run down to the local farmers' market where there is a larger abundance of produce, and it's fun to walk around amongst a crowd of locals on a sunny Saturday morning anyway. I'll be doing this, too. Or maybe you just don't get it at all and prefer to shop in your local supermarket! :-)

However you put food on the table, growing your own produce, visiting local farmers' markets, or joining a CSA are all ways to eat deliciously, healthfully, seasonally, and locally.
And it's fun!

Is this something that matters to you, too?