Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Am Above Self Pity

Last week I was in one of my flustered, worried phases while trying to deal with what was my mother's house (now 1/2 mine) and my own house.  Various repairs needed to be done at both.  I was driving back and forth 1/2 hour each way meeting with repairmen, realtors, etc.  You get the picture.

The Lord doesn't want us to worry.  In fact, worry is considered to be a lack of faith in His ability to only task us with what we are able to and need to handle.  My ability to worry about just about anything is a failing that I am constantly praying and working to overcome.

So last week I armed myself with my "I Am Above Self Pity" bracelet from Above Rubies; knowing that the emotional state that always follows worry is self pity.  Each time I had to make another decision (and spend another dollar) I would look at the bracelet on my arm and send up a little prayer.

Yesterday, while getting ready to entertain my brother and sis in law, I realized that my garage door was opening and closing on it's own.  Something in the neighborhood (construction equipment?) was activating the door and blocking my own controllers from working.  Another problem to add to my already busy upcoming week.

Today I have immersed myself into my mother's insurance information to try to disprove a couple of claims against the estate.  I have to tell you that our medical and insurance industries are out of control.  I addressed my feelings on unnecessary medical procedures/testing in a past post, so I won't say more today.

Well, I find myself sliding back into the self pity/worry hole.  When we are faced with this type of lack of faith it is time to be kind to ourselves and focused on the Lord.  After this post I will put the paperwork away, lock the garage door, refrain from looking at schedules, read my bible and rest.  Time for me to respect the Sabbath.

God bless,

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Frugal Kitchen: Easy Bean Soup

Here is an easy, but fulfilling soup that can be made in a flash and kept on the stove until you feel like eating.  I like to make skillet corn bread to accompany it.

A Frugal Convenience Food

Easy Bean Soup

2 cans pinto, navy or great northern beans
3/4 of a can of water
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Left over ham, bacon or 1 tablespoon ham soup base
1/2 - 1 teaspoon of salt
pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Saute the onions and pepper until softened, then add garlic for a minute.  Pour in drained beans and water.  Add vinegar, 1/2 tsp. of salt and pepper.  Stir well, then put in meat or soup base.  Simmer for at least an hour covered.  Taste for salt, add more if necessary.

This is a hearty meal that is inexpensive and simple.  It feeds four and can be doubled.  This is one of those dishes that actually tastes better when reheated for a later meal!

God bless,

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Refurbishing Old Cast Iron Cookware

There is nothing better (in my mind) than cooking in well seasoned cast iron.  It is naturally non stick, provides a strong, even heat and actually adds dietary iron to food.

After hearing warnings and reading about people losing their birds from the gases produced when heating teflon coated pans I stopped using them completely.  Anything that is toxic to small animals is toxic to people.  The only reason it doesn't kill us is because we are bigger.

Some of my cast iron was handed down from my grandmother and great grandmother.  The rest was purchased at thrift stores and was not in the best condition when I bought it.  But it is easy to refurbish cast iron so that it is almost like new.

Cast iron often has a build up of cooking grease burned on to the outside of the pan.  Sometimes it is mistaken for permanent damage, but it usually can be removed.

Grease Build Up
Take a scraper and begin gently removing the hard grease in layers.  You want to avoid scraping all the way to the bare, shiny metal.  Leaving a layer of black is good.  Don't scrape towards the hand holding the pan; one slip and you could cut yourself badly.

Work In Layers

Some people swear by burning the grease off outside in a wood fire.  The heat must become very intense and will work much like a self cleaning oven burns off cooked on grease.

After the bottom is cleaned it is time to address the inside of the pan.  Place the pan on a burner on medium heat.

Badly Scoured Pan
Pour a small amount of vegetable oil in the pan.

Wipe a thin layer all over the pan surface.

Now leave it on the heat for ten minutes and wipe off excess.  Repeat this process several times.  The pores of the cast iron are absorbing and filling with the oil to create a non stick surface.

If you had to scour the outside of the pan down to the shiny metal do the seasoning in the oven, set on 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Oil both the inside and outside of the pan.

You have just seasoned cast iron!  Isn't it pretty?  Repeat this process any time your cast iron is scoured too much.  Proper cleaning with just hot water and a plastic scrubby should avoid over scouring.  Dry your cast iron by placing it back on the hot burner.

Pretty And Ready For Cornbread
God bless,

Monday, July 25, 2011

Shattered Canning Jar

Yesterday I experienced a first:  I removed a canning jar of beans from the freezer and placed it on the kitchen counter to defrost.  To the best of my knowledge it was completely intact.  When I came back to use the beans I noticed that the jar was shattered into a million sharp shards of glass.

The jar and the beans looked completely intact from a distance, but when I got closer I saw that it was leaking from the bottom and then I noticed the break lines.  My husband and I completely wrapped the jar in paper towels, then, carefully, lowered it into a doubled plastic bag.

It is so important to be careful with canning jars.  I had ensured that their was enough expansion space within the jar before I placed the beans in the freezer.  There were no signs of damage to the jar before I filled it.  Jars can break in a canner or freezer if this is not done.

But I have never had a canning jar break while defrosting at room temperature.  I can guess that there was a micro crack in the jar and the change of temperature caused it to shatter.  

When storing canned goods, home canned and store bought, it is imperative that you examine the jars and cans on a regular basis.  Jars do break and can do rupture.  Getting them out of the storage area quickly prevents damage to your other food products and minimizes the mess you will have to clean up.

I would love to hear from anyone that has had a similar experience.  

God bless,

Friday, July 22, 2011

Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

While searching for "green" cleaning ideas for my home I came upon some very positive reviews of microfiber cleaning cloths.  I had always used cotton cloths made from old T-shirts because they could be washed and reused.  I asked myself what could be the difference between microfiber and cotton cloths?

I found a pack of three microfiber cloths for less than $3 at my local Publix.  Strangely enough they weren't in the cleaning supplies sections, but were located with auto supplies.  For that price I could afford to try them out.

All of the rave reviews were true!  These things are amazing.  There is something about the fiber that makes it a very efficient cleaner.  They remind me of the Mr. Clean sponges in their ability to remove grime, but the cloths wash up nicely in the washing machine.

If you or someone in your family can't tolerate chemical cleaners, you need these cloths.  With just water they will clean everything.  The real test for me was when I was able to clean and shine my bathroom mirror with just a dampened cloth.  No streaks!

They come in many different versions.  I have a knobby one for dusting, but the plain ones work for every type of cleaning.  I have difficulty leaning over to clean my tub because of my arthritis, so I spray a little cleaner, step into the tub and use my feet to scrub with a microfiber cloth.  Since they require little pressure to work this odd method of cleaning the tub works well.

Different Textures Are Available

I think you would be happy with these cleaning cloths.  They are inexpensive, washable and should reduce the amount of cleaner needed to clean your house.  Very frugal!

God bless,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Making Soap Step 3: Unmolding, Aging and Enjoying

You may have begun to feel like your soap would never get hard enough to unmold.  It can take 2-7 days of saponification before soap can be ready to unmold.  All vegetable oil soaps tend to take longer.

After about five days my soap was firm enough to release easily from the mold.  I had used a flexible plastic container which made it easy.  The soap just slipped out into my hand.  Then I broke it along the cut lines I had made on the day after making the soap.

If you use a rigid mold, loosen the soap with a dinner knife and try to remove the soap the same way you would serve cake.  Just like a cake it is easier once the first piece is removed.

New Bar Of Soap
After six weeks of aging this soap will be ready to use.  I stack the soap bars on a rack in an out of way place.

If the rough edges bother you they can be trimmed with a sharp knife or vegetable peeler.  Just so you know most soap that is sold at farmers markets and looks so pretty usually is put through a second process called rebatching.  Rebatching involves melting the soap in a small amount of water, adding fragrance and other additives, then remolding.  Then the soap maker trims and polishes the soap.

For my personal use I don't take these extra steps, but for gift giving it may be worth the extra effort.  Soap making is a fun creative process, but it is also science and an art.  Once you have used your own soap you may become like me and prefer it to store bought.

God bless,

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Canning Sweet Pickle Relish

Some things are worth the hard work involved and I love good pickles, so today I decided to can up a batch of sweet pickle relish.  I will give my disclaimer here and tell you that I don't give specific instructions on how to can.  It is well worth it for you to have a couple of basic "how to" canning books on your shelves.

Sweet Pickle Relish

6 cups seeded, finely chopped pickling cucumbers (about six medium)
2 cups finely chopped onions (four medium)
2 cups finely chopped red, sweet peppers (2 large)
1/4 cup pickling salt
3 cups white sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
1 Tbs. mustard seeds
2 tsps. celery seeds
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

Kirby cucumbers are the type of cucumber described as a pickling cucumber, but any young cucumber can be used.  The ones I had were about 4-5 inches long.

Pickling Cucumber
Place the chopped vegetables into a glass or plastic bowl (metal will affect the taste), add salt, stir gently and cover with cold water.  Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature for two hours.  Take a nap.

Use Pickling Salt

It is important to use a canning/pickling salt when making pickles.  Canning salt is finer and doesn't contain iodides that can cause cloudy looking pickling liquid.  Your measurements won't be correct if you use another type of salt.

Use Glass or Plastic Bowl

Prepare your canning supplies following the instructions in your canning book.  This recipes uses the water bath method and makes 7 one half pint jars.

Organize Your Canning Area

Drain the vegetables in a colander and rinse with cold water.  Drain again.

In a non-aluminum pot mix sugar, vinegar and spices.  Heat to boiling, then add vegetables.  Bring back to the boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Simmer In Pickling Liquid

Ladle the hot relish into hot, sterilized canning jars.  Leave 1/2 inch of headspace.  Wipe the jar rims, place on hot lid and hand tighten the screw top.

Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Start timing when water returns to the boil.  Remove the cans from the canner and leave alone to cool.  Disturbing the jars or readjusting the lids can cause seal failure.

So Pretty!  The White Film From Hard Water Will Be Wiped Off After They Are Cool.
You could add some hot peppers to this recipe if you like a hot relish or more onions; it depends on your family's individual tastes.

Buying relish on sale with coupons is probably cheaper than making pickles with purchased vegetables, but remember my philosophy of being able to make things for yourself.  Plus, if you are a gardener you will need to put up your vegetables or they will go to waste.  Pickling is a tried and true way of preserving the harvest.  Plus, your family will love that you made these for them.

God bless,

Friday, July 15, 2011

Publix Policies Continued

I think I was slow on the uptake with this policy.  When I shop BOGO's I usually buy two and use two coupons, so I wasn't aware that Publix had changed their BOGO policy.

Today I decided, due to lack of freezer space, to only buy one ice cream that was offered as a BOGO.  In the past Publix would charge 1/2 price for one item offered as a BOGO, but the cashier told me that I would have to pay full price if I only bought one.

So, I was forced (ha ha) to bring home two ice creams, which are now barely wedged into the freezer.

They also had Dial hand soap 10 for a $10.  These were only a dollar apiece when I bought two.  The cashier explained that if it is a (number) for (price) sale they do break down the price for each item.

This is getting complicated.

God Bless,

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Making Soap Step 2: Measuring and Mixing

At around noon today I decided that I was ready to make my batch of soap.  My safety gear was checked and in place.  My ingredients and tools were out and ready.

Here is the recipe that I used:

3 lbs. solid vegetable shortening
12 oz. soft water, cold
6 oz. lye

This recipe calls for an 8"x 8" mold so I used a plastic container that I have.  Liberally grease your container with petroleum jelly.

Grease Mold With Inexpensive Petroleum Jelly

Begin melting the vegetable shortening in an enamel or stainless steel pot.

Melting Shortening

I love my digital scale, but any kitchen scale will work for measuring your ingredients.  Measure out the 12 oz. of water.  I used a local bottled water (more on this later).  It must be cold.

Now it is time to safety gear up.  Put on your safety glasses, apron and rubber gloves.  Make sure there is water nearby in case of splashes.

Measure out your lye into another glass or heat resistant container.

Measure Lye Carefully Into Dry Container

At this point I put my water container in my sink, then slowly stir the lye into the cold water using my wooden spoon.  NEVER POUR THE WATER INTO THE LYE!  Stir slowly until the lye solution is clear.

The Sink Is A Safe, Contained Place For Mixing Lye and Water

You lye solution will be hot and your shortening should be melted by now.  Keep the lye safely in the sink and remove the pot with the melted shortening off of the heat.

Now you can take off your gear and rest a bit.  Every few minutes touch the side of the lye container and the pot to see how hot they are.  When they are warm, not hot, it is time to gear up again.

With your wooden spoon, slowly stir the lye solution into the warm shortening.  Continue to stir.  You will see it begin to thicken.  Don't rush this step.

Slow, No Splashing

After twenty minutes of stirring my soap had not thickened enough.  It was obvious that there was not enough lye present.  I believe that this was caused by my using local bottled water that had too many minerals in it.  Hard water minerals take up the lye and make it less effective.

So, I mixed up a small batch of 4 oz. cold water and 2 oz. lye.  I slowly added this to the pot, stirring, and the soap began to thicken properly.  This is a tricky thing to do as you don't want to add too much lye either.  Next time I will use distilled water with this recipe.

Not Thickening Correctly
Much Better!

I stirred for about ten minutes after adding the additional lye until the soap began to trace.  Tracing is when you can drizzle soap off of your spoon and it will leave a trail.  Unfortunately my camera isn't that great or I'm not a good photographer, but here is a photo of tracing.

Once it begins to trace you can add some essential oil to the soap.  I added about twenty drops of sandalwood oil for a mild scent that the whole family will enjoy.  Some people will add an ounce or two for a strong fragrance.  Stir this in well.

Pour your soap into the greased mold.  Cleaning up should be done using your rubber gloves.  This raw soap is very harsh.  If there is a lot of soap stuck in your pot you can add a little water and heat it until the soap has dissolved.  This makes a liquid soap good for cleaning.

Soap In Mold

Wrap your mold in an old towel, then place in a safe place to cure.  I am using the back of my stove, but when dear daughter was younger I used the top of my dryer in the garage.

Wrap In Old Towel
Tomorrow check your soap.  You are looking for it to be hard enough to hold a cut line, but soft enough to cut easily.  Let it cure until it is hard enough to easily unmold.  If you see any liquid in the mold it is time to put on the safety gear and unmold it in the sink.  The liquid is probably unabsorbed lye.  Rinse this off carefully.

Place your bars of soap on a rack and place in an out of the way place to continue curing.  I use a shelf in my linen closet.  I let my soap cure for at least six weeks.  The more you cure soap the milder it will be.  I leave mine unwrapped to continue to dry out as it seems to last longer this way, but you can wrap it in wax or parchment paper to store also.

Some warnings.  If your soap doesn't turn out please dispose of it in a container outside and let the trash men take it away.  Don't pour it down the drain.  I heard a story of a woman that did this and when that soap hit her cold pipes it hardened solid.  Her plumber had to take the pipes apart all the way down to the basement.  Keep your soap that is curing in the mold away from animals.  I don't know why, but animals seem to love the taste of curing soap.

From start to finish, even with my mishap, I was in the kitchen for 1 1/2 hours, but not continuously.  You may prefer to buy your soap, but try it at least once.  You should be able to do these basic home keeping tasks in case you are ever in a situation where soap is unavailable.  Or you may become like me and just find that your home made soap is more to your liking.

God bless,

Monday, July 11, 2011

Making Soap Step 1: Gather Ingredients

I promised to demonstrate basic soapmaking several months ago and I have finally gotten around to it.  This is going to be a simple soap using commonly found ingredients.  The only thing that may be tricky is buying the lye.  Red Devil Lye used to be commonly used by soap makers, but was taken off the market when the manufacturer discovered that it was being purchased by meth labs to make drugs.

One available product is at Ace Hardware and is their brand of drain cleaner.  You need to make sure that you are purchasing pure lye (sodium hydroxide), not lye with fillers.  I mail ordered mine from Essential Depot.  They sell lye to soap makers and people that make bio-diesel.

The other supplies for this batch of soap will be 3 lbs. of solid vegetable shortening, soft water, an enamel or stainless steel pan (no aluminum), a wooden spoon dedicated to soap making and measuring cups dedicated to soap making.  Also, a plastic, glass or wood form to pour the soap into for hardening and petroleum jelly for coating the form.  I use a pyrex casserole or old food containers.

Label Your Soap Making Tools

You never want to work with lye around small or extremely curious older children.  Lye can burn badly and you don't want to take any chances.  You should have cold water nearby should you get splashed, rubber gloves and safety glasses.  Wear old clothing.

I like to use a recipe that uses weight instead of cup measures.  Different lyes have different textures and density.  You will have better results weighing your ingredients.

Soap made commercially has the glycerin formed by the soap making process removed.  The glycerine is then packaged and sold separately.  You homemade soap will still have the glycerine in it, so it will be very good for your skin.  Homemade soap is not harsh as many people believe.

God bless,

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Baking Bread Without A Recipe

Today I wanted to make simple Italian baguettes to go with a supper of marinara and pasta.  Once you have been baking for a while and have become familiar with the different steps of bread baking, it is easy to bake bread without a recipe.

My two favorite tools are a good bread flour and my mixer with a bread hook.  I used to stick up my nose at using machines to bake bread, but with age and arthritis I have come to be appreciative of them.  My only regret is that I wish I had gotten a larger capacity mixer.

Bread Flour And Kitchen-aide

Start with a sponge appropriate the the amount of bread you wish to bake.  I mixed together 2 1/2 tsp. yeast, 1 cup warm water, a couple of squirts of honey, then mixed in enough flour to make a loose sponge (like unset plaster of paris).  Cover with a damp cloth for about 15 minutes.  It should be bubbly at the end of that time.

Sponge Before

Sponge After Fifteen Minutes

Now add 1/2 - 1 tsp. salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and slowly add flour with the mixer on low.  When the dough begins to pull away from the sides, increase the speed to medium for a couple of minutes.

Dough Pulls Away From Sides Of Bowl

Place in a well oiled bowl.

Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place.  I like to sit mine on the dryer in my garage.  A friend of mine used to raise dough in her car parked in the sun.  In Florida cars can get so hot in the summer that it can kill your yeast, but it worked for her in the winter.

Once it has doubled in size turn it out onto a generously floured surface.  Now is the time to get dear daughter involved in kneading the dough until it has absorbed enough flour that it is not sticky.

Get The Kids Involved
Divide the dough and roll into log shaped loaves.  Lay on a pan that is lightly greased and sprinkled with cornmeal.  Cover as before and let rise until doubled in size.  Once that is done slit the tops with a sharp knife or razor blade, brush with melted butter, then sprinkle with garlic salt.

I baked this batch in a 375-400 degree oven for 13 minutes.  You can see that a 1/2 sheet pan fit right onto the oven shelf supports which works well to allow good heat circulation.  When they are golden brown and sound hollow when thumped they are done.

Right Out Of The Oven
Place the loaves on a wire rack to cool, otherwise the steam they give off may make the bread soggy in places.

Ready For Supper
Once you get used to bread baking you should be able to make simple loaves for your family without a lot of fuss and bother.  I made this bread while doing other tasks at home.  Not using a recipe allows me to compensate for the humidity and other environmental factors that can make bread fail.

Give it a try.  Your hungry family will thank you.  Few foods are as good and appreciated as home baked bread.

God bless,

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Coupon Shopping At Walgreens

This post should be titled:  "I Love Walgreens", but I do need to show some restraint.  Living in Florida it is hard to equal the savings seen on Extreme Couponing because our stores do not double coupons.  The one exception are the savings available at Walgreens each week.

Walgreens does not double coupons, but they do have such great sales in conjunction with coupon releases and Register Rewards that I am frequently able to get products for free.

Some of these sales are not always listed in their ads so it is important to go to sites such as True Couponing or Southern Savers to find the hidden deals.  Also read the ad carefully, because these coupon sites do not always catch all of the deals available.  Once you've compared the two make your list and start cutting coupons.

I make sure I count how many products I will be buying compared to the number of coupons I will use for my purchase.  If I have more coupons than products I will need to buy filler items.  There are usually candy sticks and other items for 25 cents near the register.  Just make sure the number of items and coupons matches.

So how does it work out:  Today I bought 4 Oral B toothbrushes, 1 Starburst, 1 six pack paper towels, 1 24 pack drinking water, 1 2L Pepsi, and 4 Ajax cleansers for 82 cents.  The toothbrushes and cleanser were free.  I wouldn't have paid anything if I hadn't have gotten the Starburst for dear daughter.

The Bottom Line
This is why I love Walgreens and these types of savings are available every week on a few items.  By stocking up when things are on sale, I never have to run to the store to pay full price.  I just shop from my home storage supply.

God  bless,

The "Free" Car

In the process of probating my mother's estate our attorney told me that it would be easier to have the probate court transfer the car to me, then for me to sell it for the estate.

Okie dokie, sounds good.  So off I go to the Florida DMV with the old title, proof of insurance and the court order in hand.  Everything was going smoothly until the nice DMV lady told me what the estate owed for the transfer of title and reregistering the car.  $404.00 !!!  You have got to be kidding me?

Now I know that government has to recoup their expenses, but I find it hard to believe that typing info into a computer, printing a paper title and a prison made license plate, plus ten minutes of an employee's time justifies that expense.  There has to be a limit on how much expenses are going up.  Governments can not keep supporting themselves on fees.

We are talking about a weeks salary for the average person.  A weeks salary just to transfer a title and register a car.  People can't afford that.  Think of a single parent, raising their kids on one salary and needing to buy a used car to get to work.  Outrageous!

Can you tell I am venting here?  I am not a libertarian, but I sure can understand what motivates them.

God bless,