Monday, March 29, 2010

Making Do

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

I heard this saying recently, and was shocked that I hadn't heard it earlier, since I have lived my entire life this way. Making do, especially, is not only how we get is how my family thrives.
Here are some of the miscellaneous ways we run our thrifty household. This will probably be a review for some of you ultra-hip housewives, but hopefully, you might have some tightwad tips of your own to share.

1. We enjoy a great "Hamburger Helper" around here by simply browning some ground beef, adding cooked macaroni, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and chili powder. Frozen corn is also great in this dish.

2. I make my own brown sugar, mixing 1 tablespoon of dark molasses into a cup of granulated sugar, then mashing and stirring it with a fork. I also make my own pancake syrup, using brown sugar, water, and vanilla. It's superb!

3. I don't use buttermilk in recipes. Instead I use a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar for each cup of milk. This sours the milk, creating a very worthwhile substitute.

4. I use powdered milk for any recipe that calls for milk, either in cooking or baking. Hubby hates the taste of powdered milk straight, so we drink acidolphilus milk if we want something in a glass. It's a bit more expensive, but I figure the health benefits are worth it. We also drink a heck of a lot of water, straight from the tap. We seldom, if ever, buy soda.

5. I buy potatoes in large bags, and am always doing KP duty, peeling spuds. Potatoes are high in vitamin C, and they are perfect for rounding out meals. We also like to make impromptu skillet dishes with fried potatoes, tossing in any kind of leftover vegetables or meats we might have on hand.

6. We don't eat boxed cereals because it's just too painful on the wallet. Instead, I make oatmeal, scramble eggs, or pop toast in the toaster. Once in a great while, I get indulgent and make my own granola.

7. Making your own pudding is almost as fast as making the "instant" variety.

8. We buy vegetables when in season, but also rely a great deal on those that are frozen.

9. I buy a great deal of apples and cabbage, because they keep for a long time and are great in so many dishes.

10. I freeze leftovers while they're still good, if I know that we won't eat them before they spoil. They make excellent mini-lunches for me. I also like to search the refrigerator, looking for leftover noodles/rice, vegetables, and meat. Combine them with a cream soup, and often you've got a unique, yummy casserole.

Well, that's ten that I can think of right now. I'm sure there will be more to come.

(Image: "OakTree Beauty" Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2000.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A sewing needle may have won a war

We've all known since we were bitty kids that Betsey Ross sewed our first American flag. But how many of us know about the contributions of Martha Washington--and how she played a crucial role in establishing America? I must admit that my impressions of her when I was a kid was a glimpse of a rather dowdy old lady in a lace cap. The more I read, the more I know that this couldn't be further from the truth.

It's 1777, Morristown, New Jersey. You know the 'freak' snowstorms that blanketed the East Coast this past year? Well, contrary to the global warming theorists, they were happening back in the 1770's. Snow on the ground was two feet deep, New York harbor froze for the first time in recorded history, Baltimore's harbor was frozen, and it was possible to cross the iced-over Hudson on horseback. I've lived back east, and the cold cuts you to the quick. The snow is unbelievably heavy--that's why houses in the region have steep peaked roofs because the snow can literally cave them in. I have also been frost-bitten before (long story), and it isn't a cold burns and burns. Simply put, it's agonizing. I cannot imagine these colonial men going without shoes, shirts, pants, some of them virtually naked in that biting cold.

Here's a paragraph that really gives us a picture of how really bad our American soldiers had it, taken from "The General and Mrs. Washington" by Bruce Chadwick:
"Men began to sneak out of camp to steal food, kitchen utensils, clothing, and anything they could find from area farmers. Washington ordered a halt to this behavior, writing that his men were 'becoming a band of robbers [rather] than disciplined troops.' But he looked the other way and let them do it. They had to keep themselves alive because the army could not. Finally, on January 3, the commander was told by Nathaniel Greene that there was no more money left to purchase supplies and that the army had run out of food. The money for clothing had been depleted, too. Then, in the first week of January, a double blizzard hit New Jersey, dumping over four feet of snow on the ground. Accompanying winds created TEN-foot high drifts. "

Enter Martha Washington. She is not only the wife of Washington--she is his dearest friend and support system. The General has chosen well in his life partner. She is incredibly strong and capable, a woman able to smile and embrace the joys in life, despite a life haunted by tragedy. In a span of less than a year, she has lost her former husband, three of her siblings, and two of her children. She is, by all accounts, the kind of woman, who asks you how you are doing, rather than sharing her troubles. She makes everyone feel special. She's rather plain, struggles with her weight, and likes understated clothes, but she has lovely white teeth, and her smile lights up her face. She has suffered recent economic privation, despite her wealthy background, and now that she has found love again in George Washington, he has been torn away from her for years of war and public service.

Washington has sent for her, as he often does during the war. He needs her beyond words. One could easily argue that Congress is as ineffective and apathetic as it is today, and he cannot convince them of the dire need for supplies. And besides, the fledgling government is as broke and desperate as he is. He is completely worn out, both physically and mentally.

First of all, she nurses the General back to health. He quite literally is on his deathbed when she arrives. He had been shoveling for days along with his men, and has contracted another devastating sore throat, a condition that plagued him his entire life, and eventually did kill him. Bed-ridden and weak from his physician's constant attempts to bleed him, his troops hold out little hope. When Martha gets there, she treats him with wifely TLC and certainly her molasses and onion tonic, and Washington survives. She immediately sets to work establishing sewing circles with the officer's wives. She orders all of her seamstress slaves at Mount Vernon to sew for the war effort, and coordinates circles of paid female laborers. She organizes get-togethers for the officer's families and generally raises the morale of every soldier there.

This work continues tirelessly into the infamous camping at Valley Forge. After returning to Mount Vernon, to take care of affairs there, she again rejoins her husband on the battlefield. Contrary to popular belief, the winter was not nearly as harsh as it had been in Morristown. The men were still woefully lacking in basic necessities, including shelter. Martha resumes her punishing days of sewing, everything from shirts to knitted stockings. She visits the sick daily, and probably was the first USO, as she constantly organizes dinner parties, choral singings, prayer services, and plays. She also understands that if she takes care of her man, she is taking care of the troops, and she makes sure that her husband rests, and takes moments out for leisure. Her sacrifices, among them being away from her surviving children and risking her life in a war zone, are inspiring, starting a chain reaction and galvanizing the women in the country. In fact, women from around the country raise $300,000 (imagine, how much that was in those times) to give to Martha, not to the General, for the sewing of soldier clothing. Hundreds of women huddle over their needles sewing and sending clothes. In fact, many of them embroider their names along a seam, so the soldier will know their hearts are with the man wearing it. Keep in mind, clothing was such an imperative in those days, because it wasn't like one could go the local store and buy a bolt of cloth. The colonies had been boycotting all ready-made fabric for some time, so all of these pieces of clothing were completely constructed from "scratch", so to speak. The cloth was hand-woven on a loom, and the item was hand-stitched.

Martha balanced the operations of an enormous plantation with handling the needs of an army, and this showed women all over the nation what they could be capable of. Most of these women were tending their own farms while their men were away, and working far into the night to support the war.  As Bruce Chadwick puts it:

"From Anne Terel, the wife of an American a letter published in 'The Virginia Gazette', 'Women [are] part of another branch of American politics which comes immediately under our province, namely, in frugality and industry. [Women] raise their crops, make clothing, run their husbands' farms and stores, and secure the home front so that their husbands could continue to fight in the fields."

I wish that I had learned more of this in my history classes. In an age where textbooks are so sensitive about providing role models for women, it's so sad that the backbone, elegance, and grit of our new nation's women is so completely overlooked. Heroes do come out of kitchens, and yes, they can wear an apron.

Monday, March 8, 2010

As Easy as Pie

Recipe from Taste of Home, October/November 1996 "Perfect Apple Pie"

I don't know where the saying, "As Easy as Pie" came from. Probably from some smug pastry chef of long-ago that could sift flour in his sleep... I love to make pies, but I make them because in all my years in the kitchen they never get any easier. They are to me the Mount Everest of baking--and what's better than scaling the heights with hardly any oxygen and danger of tumbling off a ledge or getting frostbite at any moment? It's thrilling stuff, let me tell you.

Our first step is to add 3/4 of a cup of shortening to a mixture of 2 cups of flour, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Then it's time to "cut" the shortening into the flour until the mixture begins to look crumbly. Some recipes suggest mixing the shortening into the flour, by using two table knives. I definitely prefer my pie cutter gadget, as I cannot hope to have such coordination in my lifetime...:) Add 4 to 5 tablespoons of ice cold water and mix. I often add a couple of tablespoons of water if it's still dry, but don't go overboard. It's important that the water be very cold, as this, along with a generous amount of shortening, makes your pie crust tender. I just keep balling up the mixture in the bowl with my hands until it sticks together in a ball.

After this, it's time to get out the rolling pin. I take out half of the dough, and gently roll it, while also pressing it to the table with my hands. My pie crusts tend to be very flaky and so this is the touchy part.

I am always amazed at the bakers on TV that roll out such pliable pie crusts that they breezily lay into the pie pan. With mine--and I can't tell you how many countless recipes I've tried-- I invariably wind up usually molding it to my pie pan, after fixing places where the pie crust has torn. It's kind of like my form of dessert "sculpture". Oh, and by the way, that metal spatula works like a charm to slide beneath the crust on the table and loosen it, once I'm done rolling.

Now it's time to get the apples peeled--I like Granny Smiths for pies. I peel and slice about 7-8 cups and toss them with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. I combine 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg in a separate bowl. This sugar mixture gets stirred into the bowl of apples and tossed. I love the touch of nutmeg in this pie.

Here is the pie without it's top. Now we roll out the top crust and gently put it on top of the sugary apples.

Voila! ready for the oven! Beat an egg yolk, and brush onto crust. And remember to cut a slit into the center, something I obviously forgot to do. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce heat to 350 and for 40-45 minutes until golden brown and the filling is bubbly. (And the bigger mess you make, the better it tastes!)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Well Worth Reading

Sorry that I haven't been in better touch. What is it about the onset of spring that brings out the flu bugs? Probably the warmer weather...but suffice it to say, I've been ill, and now I'm on the mend.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know about a book that I haven't been able to put down in the last few days. It's called "Just a Housewife: The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America" by Glenna Matthews. Ms. Matthews realized that in all the feminist arguments, the actual history of the housewife has been pretty much unexamined and ignored--which I find ironic, considering all of the speeches about the poor, oppressed wife coming from the podiums of so many radical feminists.

No matter where you stand on the feminist issue, this book will be enlightening. One of the things I've been learning is that there is a spectrum regarding feminism. There are feminists, such as myself, who want women to simply have equal opportunity under the law (known as equity feminists) and there are fanatical (gender) feminists who want to transform everything about the female experience...from our history (or as they term it--'herstory') to our family and social structure. This book is fascinating because it deals with the details of a woman's domestic life over two centuries, and how changes in politics, commercialism, and academia, all have molded how today's women clean, cook, and mother their children. It also shows how, in the so-called name of 'progress', we have lost something very precious in our society--the safety and sacredness of a well-run home, and the respect for those who keep it that way.