Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Big Three and Sometimes Four

I think of home as a production center. Home is a place where comfort, orderliness, and peace should roll off its 'assembly-line', each and every day.  While this may seem like an unattainable goal, it really isn't. It's all about making sure that some basic, but very crucial, things get accomplished so regularly that they become almost unconscious habits. You wouldn't think about leaving the house without brushing your teeth, and these home maintenance chores are at the same level.

There are three things that I do every day, with the exception of being mortally ill, and then I have them done by someone else...usually hubby.  I think of these three as being the foundation from where all other homemaking tasks begin. These three things have been proven and time-tested through my years of raising children, working outside the home, and even when I had an in-home daycare.  They aren't everything that home-making entails, but they have gotten me through tough and ridiculously-busy times.

1. I get all the dishes done by the end of the day, at the latest. This works even if you don't have a dishwasher; after years of standing over the sink, I can attest to this. I pick my time, but I make sure that they are done once a day, every day.  Garbage, if full, is taken out.

2. The bed is made. This job, in my view, is a loving gesture to yourself and your family. There is nothing better than to pull the sheets back from a neatly made bed at the end of an exhausting day.

3. I do a load of laundry. I have a pretty wicker clothes basket, and I like to finish the load, fold it, and put it in there to be put away the next day. The next day it is put away consistently, and I do the next load. Remember this is a mindset where laundry is done every day.

 4. This is optional, but this idea helps too. I try to figure out what we are having for dinner, and if I have the time I try to put it together in the morning. (Yes, I have made spaghetti sauce at 6 a.m., before I really had my eyes!)  Crock pots are your best friends here, and it's also helpful to cut up some vegetables, toss up a salad, make some jello, some various forms of preliminary food prep. If I can, I try to make up casseroles and main dishes in the morning, because I'm one of those crazy morning people.  That way, you can just pop it in the microwave or oven in the evening, and it almost feels like someone else made your meal...almost.  At least, try to have an idea of what you want for dinner. This will relieve so much stress come 5:00, and as you sail past the fast-food joints back to a home-cooked meal, you'll be glad you did.
No matter how crazy the world outside is--and we all have those crazy times-- if these three things are done for your household, your home will welcome you with open arms.  You will also have three of the most important things a home provides, clean dishes, clean clothes, and a clean place to rest. 

(Image: "Study of a Breezy Window" Colored Pencil by Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 1998)


Friday, June 19, 2015

Raggedy cookbooks

My first--and still old standby--Better Homes and Gardens, given to me as a wedding gift in 1984. It looks like it might have survived an earthquake or an attack of savage dogs, when in actuality all it had to endure was a painfully insecure teenage cook who learned through a rollercoaster ride of flops, of sawdust cakes and bread like a brick and stew where the carrots still crunched like orange rocks. My sons took their Crayolas to this book, and although I was mad at the time, now those are the pages that make me want to hold their little hands again. Half of the pages in the book have fallen out and most are bumpy with dishwater stains and all manner of mystery food splotches. The book is open to Blonde Brownies, which I have probably made at least a hundred times in my life, and I see I have marked 'Toffee Bars' as 'good', but I've made them so many times that I certainly don't need that reminder anymore. 

The book above is a 1960s version of Better Homes and Gardens, which I ordered used from Amazon. It is a treasure trove of 1970s memorabilia, since the owner, a "Mrs. David E. Hoover" who inscribed the front cover with a flourish, collected magazine recipes and meticulously added them to her cookbook. She most definitely did NOT allow her sons to color all over the 'egg' section, and her book has nary a water stain.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dishwashing ladies

Even though I grew up in the supposedly "I am woman, hear me roar" 1970s, the sight of women clustered together in tiny kitchens, washing and drying dishes, was as familiar to me as the face of my doll or my place at the dinner table. It was a sight that concentrated itself in the summer, since that was when my 'city-slicker' family would load up the Maverick and drive to one-street, bowling alley-and-bar towns in North Dakota, obscure towns that sometimes even people from the state hadn't heard of, where the rows of alfalfa fields ran ruler-straight to the blazing white sky, and where kitchens roared like infernos as steaming jars of tomatoes were brought out of enormous black canners, in a time where air-conditioning meant sitting in front of the portable fan.

I remember those formica counters being full of dirty dishes brought in from picnic tables or dining tables. Piles of exotic dishes that now line antique store shelves, dishes like dainty relish and pickle plates made of pale pink bubbly Depression glass that held watermelon pickles and tomato jam, served with tiny forks, so at odds with a farmer's calloused dirt-encrusted fingers. Sugar bowls with gilded handles and cream pitchers shaped like cows. Thick, yet slightly translucent white coffee cups with sweet little crimson roses blooming on their sides. China, always china, devoid of its cupboard chilliness because it was actually used...worn into ordinary by being put on a table three times a day and holding countless scoops of potatoes and gravy. Paper plates were anathema, alien, or even worst of the worst, trashy.  Paper plates were not part of those kitchens, and only mysteriously appeared on the 4th of July when you came back smelling like the local swimming pool and scratched at your mosquito bites while eating fried chicken in the grass.

I remember Grandma's thermometer over her kitchen sink reading 110 plus. I remember sweat mixing with lemon-scented steam on her forehead as her hands plunged and scrubbed in a mound of suds. I remember women wearing lipstick the color of the pink and red petunias outside, and nylons and their church shoes, with their 'fancy' chiffon aprons tied over their good Sunday dresses. But what I remember most is their chatter and their conversation.

Here was where I heard terms like 'stitch in the ditch' (a quilting phrase) and I learned that the secret to making a fluffy omelet was to add just a little bit of milk. I saw recipe cards filled out, with Victorian lady penmenship--'oooh, just what DID you do to that jello salad---and learned the heartbreak of a whole batch of jelly not setting--'just use it as pancake syrup'-- or that crocheting was so much easier than knitting. I heard how my mom's waist was so 'oh so tiny' in her lacy hooped wedding dress and how her cheeks were so pink that she didn't wear even a drop of makeup. How that July day when she married my Dad was SO hot...the women chattered back and forth, reminiscing and exaggerating...opening cupboards and vigorously drying--completely oblivious to the fact that they were currently in a room that smelled like a scorching iron. They would cackle, truly like hens, over old jokes, and snap wet towels at each other and giggle and then complain about their health problems, or their friends' health problems, poor soul.  Memories and methods tumbling out in some sort of matronly tidal wave, from rolling out the perfect pie-crust (using lots of cold water), to the best vinegar rinse for the hair, to, well, the prime stuff, when things would get hushed and conspiratorial and the eventual tongue-clucking family scandals would be revealed or rehashed, where, despite my best efforts to be invisible, I would catch someone's eye and be sent out to play.

These women were too busy to be interested much in Betty Friedan's 'problem that had no name.' There were eggs to get and cows to milk. The men were outside, sitting in the shade of sparse windbreak trees, looking faintly bored and uncomfortable with conversation. The women would not only not have dreamed of joining their company, they wouldn't have wanted to. This was their 'old girls club', and it was a place in which I hoped to be initiated into. Unfortunately, it was not to the 'old girls' eventually faded into the nursing homes, and I came of age in a dreary empty world where women's gatherings in the kitchen revolved around multiple glasses of wine, complaints about child support and daycare and how much they hated their bosses.

So, I guess if there is anything specific this blog is about, it is about women washing dishes, the way they used to, when washing dishes was about so much more than doing dishes.  It is about sharing the tips they would have shared, back when being home wasn't a political football, or a really took care of people and it really, really mattered. It WAS their job, and believe it or not, they loved and they lived for it.    
(Image "Encounter with the June Cleaver Fairies" pastel on paper, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2000.)  

Tile Therapy

Additions I've been making to put in my garden. I am currently working on floral tiles that will correspond with the Victorian language of flowers.

More can be found here:
Loud Colors Studio--Tiles 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Hints and tips from a Mom

Advice I would want my children to remember I gave them:

1. Always dress up when you are going to do something that you are a bit anxious about, like taking a test, and of course, a job interview should be a foregone conclusion. Knowing that you look your best will make you feel more confident and focused.

2. Your home speaks volumes about you. Keep it neat and tidy, and don't make it just a place to in which to eat and to crash out. Home can be your place of total replenishment, if you let it be.

3. Read a book. And not just some cheap best-seller either. Read something non-fiction, where you actually learn something.

4. Say 'thank you' often and write thank you notes.  Have a 'thank you' attitude towards life in general.

5. One of the most frugal things a household can do is to keep their refrigerator clean and eat as many leftovers as possible. 

6. When you get paid, immediately write out a budget and 'spend' every dollar. In other words, every bit of your money should be designated, for bills, groceries, savings, etc.  Even 'fun' money should go into its own fund.

7. Don't call people or disturb them during the hours between 5:00 and 7:00. I know it's become acceptable, but I believe the world would be a better place if we could unplug and actually sit down to dinner with our families on a regular basis.

8. A man cannot serve two masters, and debt is a second master, which keeps you from living your best life.

9. Don't follow what everyone else does. If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?

I'm sure there will be more to I love to give advice...whether wanted or not. :)  

(Image: "Armchair Lady" pastel on paper, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2000.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Garden update with snow outside

Marigolds on the far left, phlox, I believe, on the far right...tomatoes in the middle. The seed packets will be planted directly outdoors. We had a sudden storm last night which is not unusual in the spring here, and although we are all eager for sunshine, we do need the moisture. I'm chasing away the winter blahs with some old K.C. and the Sunshine Band. You know a person is desperate for some sort of cheer when they're pulling out 1970s disco!

Crepes, by accident!

People ask me often how we can possibly have a grocery budget of between $20 and $30 a week for the two of us. I have a few tricks I've learned that I will explain more fully in later posts, but probably one of my main ones is that I always focus on using what I have. I have freezer cooking days once a week, where I survey what is currently in my fridge and freezer and see how I can 'transform' leftovers. This time, I had a loaf of bread that did not rise correctly in the bread machine--I still don't know what happened, because the next loaf came out fine--and so I decided to use the flop for French toast. Which turned out not too badly, I must say.  After frying up the French toast, I realized that I still had a considerable amount of egg batter left, and really didn't want to just pour it down the sink. So...I went to my trusty computer and discovered that if I just added a bit more flour to it, to make it a runny form of pancake batter...that it would make crepes. These came out so perfectly, I had a giddy Julia Child moment!!  Whether I can do it that's the test.

Oh, and by the way, this is one of my Grandma Ellen's tablecloths. I figure it's about 50 - 70 years old. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sweetpeas and China Birds

Dang, this was fun. I am working on trompe l'oeil, a French form of painting meaning to 'fool the eye'. This kind of painting focuses on creating artificial still-lifes and scenes that could be plausible on a wall or other surface. This one will go into my kitchen and near my kitchen sink, where I have always wanted knick-knack shelves.

(Image: "SweetPeas and Yellow Birds" Acrylic on Canvas, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2015)

Beginnings of a box garden

Itsy bitsy basil sprouts...
The birth of flowers and vegetables...tomato sprouts, marigolds and phlox. I really get a sense of the power of God, when a tiny seed comes to life. After all, I could put a seed into the best soil, do everything right when it comes to watering, light, temperature...but when it comes down to it, something divine and beyond my power happens when a bright green sprout pops its head into the world. I can't wait until these boxes are showing far less dirt and far more color, keeping my fingers crossed.

Everything but the gobble

This was last week's freezer cooking session. I try to use everything I possibly can when I cook. It was high time to use the turkey bones from last Thanksgiving, which had kind of been forgotten about at the bottom of the freezer...oops!
Here is the delicious stock I made from nothing but those bones and some water. (It almost looks like soup already!)  I filled the stock pot up until the bones were nearly submerged, and then just let it simmer for a couple of hours. The amount of water really depends on how rich you want your stock and how much you want to make.No hard and fast rules here...just let the poultry carcass boil for awhile, until you start to see some colorful, flavorful liquid. The longer, the better.  It's amazing how much can be gotten from just a few bones!  The only drawback is that your house will smell so delicious, you might be like me and crave mashed potatoes and chicken gravy for the rest of the afternoon.
And voila, my stocks are ready for the freezer once more. I will use this stock to make gravies, and also as the base for homemade 'condensed' soups (such as cream of mushroom, cream of chicken (of course!) and even cream of celery. It will also make a great chicken soup base either with noodles or rice.  Stock adds a real restaurant-level quality of flavor to seasoned rice side dishes. 
Two things I've learned in just the last few years of my radical frugality:  1.) it's amazing how much just one bird will yield for food...and 2.) how rich and 'gourmet-like' poultry dishes taste when you use genuine stock. Having stock in my kitchen makes me feel like a genuine chef! 
Oh, and one more thing, I don't worry about the fat in the rises to the top of the containers, hardens and is easily removed when the stock is used.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Freezer baking day

Today is freezer baking day. On the far left is cornbread to go with our soup tonight, made with applesauce that I canned earlier in the month. (I substitute applesauce for oil or butter in many of my recipes and cannot believe the moistness and flavor difference...yum!) The middle container holds pumpkin muffins for Hubby's lunches.  The loaf behind is also pumpkin bread.  Farthest away is a pan of toffee bars...and as you can see, it is the cook's prerogative to sneak the first piece!  Since it's just the two of us, this should hold us for a couple of weeks. I do a great deal of baking, since, except for a weekly burger-dive splurge, we primarily eat all our meals at home and from scratch.

There are also two containers of unfrosted yellow cupcakes, which later will be frosted and set out for a family reunion this summer. It might sound like I'm a bit hasty to make cupcakes for a summer function this early, but at our house, and I bet at yours too, time always seems to be in short supply. Hubby is currently in chaplaincy ministry and ordaining to become an Anglican priest, and already our calendar for summer is rapidly filling up.

In the back bay window, you might be able to make out my the long gray pot, which I filled with marigold seeds yesterday. I've also got some tomatoes started, as well as some zucchinis. 

Rise and Shine

These delightful dishtowels were embroidered and sent to me by a dear friend. They are far too pretty to use but are perfect accents in my quaint little kitchen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Canning pears

Today it's pears...still have half a crate to do.  Funny how many pears actually go into one quart jar.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Canning applesauce

Today, I'm making applesauce, and later jelly, distilled from the cores and peel scraps. An odd time of year for doing such things, I know, as the snow flies outside my window, but we buy fruit to support a local 4H fundraiser and I figure it's a win-win.  Canning is downright fun when you aren't doing it in the oppressive August heat.  I use applesauce in the majority of my baked goods, in place of butter or oil, so these will probably not be featured by themselves as dessert.  I have a box of pears to do tomorrow, and they are gorgeous! 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ivory soap slivers

"The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost...Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use may be..." 
The American Frugal Housewife
Lydia Marie Child, 1833

I cannot believe how much a bar of soap can stretch, just by doing this simple thing. I take the slivers left behind in the soap dish, break them into even smaller pieces, and force them into an old liquid hand soap dispenser bottle that I have kept for just this purpose. I then add some water, put the top back on, shake a bit and I have lovely liquid hand soap. It is not uncommon to make an entire full bottle just from those bits and pieces.

Now, I will qualify the above statement by saying that I always buy Ivory soap in bars. I believe my thrifty tip would work for other soaps as well, but I adore everything about Ivory soap--its creamy texture, its scent--which to me is what angels must smell like on wash day--and its 'almost pure' ingredients. Heck, I even like seeing it neatly and virtuously stacked in my bathroom cupboard, and since Ivory soap is 130 years old or thereabouts, I'm sure I'm not the only housewife that has gotten a little rush of satisfaction from surveying a stockpile of those snowy sweet bars. Unwrapping a new one, with the beautifully embossed lettering on its smooth sides, is like unwrapping a present.To say I am biased (and only a little quirky) is perhaps an understatement, but I do think that this product foams up well into liquid, and it delights my senses. (And no, this is not a paid endorsement.)

I also have used this liquid soap as a spot remover, and it works quite admirably for blood and grease stains.

Grandma's Apricot Filled Cookies

Since it would be unheard of to visit Grandma Ellen and not be offered these scrumptious cookies, I'm going to try to do the next best thing. Here is the recipe copied word for word as she wrote it for my mother.  (Notice how intuitive the instructions are. Just how much flour? She definitely is an experienced baker assuming she is talking to another experienced baker, who knows what this dough should look like by sight and feel.)
I don't believe my mother ever made these cookies, and I know I haven't. It is probably the highest compliment a cook can give another cook when, even after receiving a coveted recipe, the recipient doesn't replicate it, because of a nagging uncertainty as to whether it will be made as well.  I'm going to try someday, but I indeed wonder if I can come close to that 'special something' that is the signature of every cook's 'best dish'.
The clearest way I can describe these delectables is to say: imagine a shallow pie made out of flaky shortbread, with a spoonful of apricot jam in the center. These are similar to a thumbprint cookie, but because they are made with two cookies pressed together, they have a feeling of biting into a really dainty pie.  (The cookie jar above is very similar to the one I remember on her yellow formica table.)

Apricot Filled Cookies from Ellen Olson

1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour or sweet cream, or half of each
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. lemon zest
Flour to make not too soft dough. Roll out and bake at 350 degree oven, about 15 minutes.