Wednesday, June 8, 2022

More Frugal Things for June

 More Frugal Things We Did This Month

In these current anxious times, it helps me to remember my 1970s childhood. It was a time of cars lining up for miles to fill their tanks, American hostages being held in Iran, the Vietnam War, and inflation mentioned every day, in every household. We responded the same way that many are today. People gardened, they canned, and we kids went to school in jeans with patches on the knees. (They even became somewhat of a fashion statement.) And although it was not a time as catastrophic as the 1930s Great Depression, it was a time where many mothers got creative in using every bit in the jar, every scrap and every leftover. It was the glorious age of the casserole, and for very good reason.

Here are some of the things we did recently that stand out in my mind.

1.) I had some failed plum jam in the freezer. Not only did this particular canning jar not seal, but I overcooked the jam, turning it into something resembling purple glue. It was safe to eat because it had been kept in the freezer, but was just not appealing. I warmed up the jar slightly, dumped out its contents into a saucepan and added leftover cocktail sauce to taste. The jam melted into a liquid consistency and combined with the cocktail sauce was very, very good. I’m sure the sauce could have been doctored up more, but I wanted to keep it simple. It turned into a lovely base for homemade meatballs over rice, reminiscent of the duck sauce served in Chinese restaurants, or the cranberry meatballs sometimes served at Christmas parties. I sprinkled it with green onions and voila.  The sauce made enough for several meals, with a couple of containers going back into the freezer for another day. I’d also like to add that these plums came from a neighbor’s tree and were free for the picking. They wound up making about 24 small holiday jars of plum sauce and three larger jars of jam. Plums are chock-full of anti-oxidants, a very healthy food, indeed.


2.) My fitted sheets are easily fifteen to twenty years old, and with all the weekly washing, really have become nothing but holes. They have worn out so much faster than our accompanying flat top sheets. During Covid, I splurged and bought two duvet covers for our main comforter, because I no longer felt comfortable taking this bulky thing to the laundromat. The duvet covers encase the comforter, and are meant to be taken off and washed frequently, serving the function of a sheet. Sheets are meant to protect blankets, rather like an apron is meant to protect clothing. For many folks, duvets replace the need for a top sheet. So, I simply took our top sheets, tucked them under the mattress as firmly as possible to make a ‘fitted sheet’. And the duvet encased comforter goes on top. Comfortable sleeping, and I now know that I won’t have to buy sheets until I truly wear the complete set out.


3.)  Yesterday, I saw that some of my romaine lettuce was beginning to rust, even though I had it in an airtight plastic container. I whipped up a frittata, which to my mind is just a fancy name for a flat, unfolded omelette. I took three eggs, poured them into a pan with melted butter, added chopped tomato, grated cheese, chopped ham (leftover) and the greens on top. I cooked gently on medium low for a few minutes, then put the lid on the skillet to steam the greens. Wait until eggs are set and cooked, cheese is melty, and the greens are wilted. Delicious!


4.)  I have a new shopping system that so far I have not seen anywhere else online. With each paycheck, I am taking our grocery money and focusing as much as possible on a prime area. One pay period’s grocery money is devoted to putting staples into the pantry, such as canned goods, condiments and the like. The next is focused on the freezers (the free-standing and the refrigerator).  The next is used to put extra in our bulk storage of flour, rice, sugar, etc. Of course this is tricky, because we still need produce, eggs, milk, kitty supplies and other miscellaneous things each pay period, but this approach is keeping me on the path of essentials, rather than extras, and so far I am staying within budget.  (We spend $250 a month.)


5.)  And lastly, I mended a torn seam in a pillowcase. (I know, I know, it seems like a complete overhaul of our bedding is in our future, but hopefully, we can postpone that future just a little bit.)  I like to hand sew, in front of the computer so I have a full excuse to youtube out for a bit without a wisp of guilty conscience. And besides that, youtube has many a tutorial on how to hand sew and I find it far easier in my tiny house, than lugging out a machine. Try it sometime…it is rather soothing.


I guess if there’s a theme here, it’s that little things add up, much like pennies in a jar. One of my most primary home-making principles is that I always look at what I can do, with what I already have. This saves me time, evokes gratitude and creativity, and almost always saves me a great deal of money.


So what do you have, that you can mend or stretch? What do you have that you can make see yet another day or another year until you have to replace it?






Thursday, August 19, 2021

There Should Always Be Cake

I apologize for being away so long. Covid hit us hard back in October with both hubby and I down for a month. A hospital stay this spring, resulting from my pesky weakness for developing pneumonia, did not help matters. It’s been a period of reflection, frustration, and grabbing the good as fiercely if your life depends on it…and perhaps it very well does.

Have any of you seen the movie,‘Under the Tuscan Sun’?  It’s in my top ten list, so deeply a favorite in fact, that the wedding in the film inspired aspects of our own. The movie is about a successful writer (played by Diane Lane) who, while at a reception for her newest book, is served divorce papers. The movie does not go into the dynamics of the relationship, and the husband is never really seen, but the story delves into the gut-punch of her shock and depression and then really takes off when she is offered a ticket to Italy by her best friend.

In the ticket scene, they are having dinner together, at a luxurious, five star restaurant. At the end of their meal, an aproned waiter brings out a chocolate confection swirling with fudge frosting. “Cake!” the friend exclaims, “a marriage begins with a cake and it should end with one too!”  It is an intriguing idea to think that even in the pits of life something might be worth celebrating, even it’s just a harsh lesson well learned. Perhaps celebrating might not always be about the here and now, but daring the future to be better. Perhaps celebrating is a way to summon hope and inner strength, and perhaps, indeed, the ultimate way to do that is to throw caution and calories to the wind with a luscious cake. 

I thought of this scene a great deal during last year's riots and pandemic ruminations. Our anniversary is in August, and I felt the need for something bigger than just a romantic dinner out. Besides, wearing a mask across a candlelit table didn't sound very appealing, anyway. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, to do something more over the top, and yet at the same time, inexpensive and at home?

As you probably have seen on this blog, I ADORE changing up the d├ęcor in my house monthly. Every month has a flavor, an aspect to focus on and enjoy. I decided that instead of just an anniversary day, I would decorate for an anniversary month, using our wedding colors of salmon, orange, peach and silver. It's like we are having a party here everyday, and it never fails to make me smile. I did it quite inexpensively, mostly using objects around the house. In the picture below, the wedding invitation I designed myself is framed and the tray rests on part of the tulle from my wedding dress.

In the front hall entryway, I simply used a scarf I had, complemented with a piece from Hobby Lobby. Except for the sign art, and a couple of dollars worth of silk flowers, I really didn't buy anything else. The little white accent daisies in the front were clips I wore in my hair at our reception. 


Downstairs, I kept it simple, but special none the less. Just a touch of the bright saffron orange I carried in my bouquet. The figurine at right has a special meaning; it symbolizes how hubby and I resolve conflicts. For the past 17 years, whenever we get into a heated argument, we force ourselves to sit facing each other. We hold hands, and look deeply into each others' eyes. It has an amazing effect, reminding us that we are sitting across from our best friend, and de-escalates the selfishness of the conflict.

The ribbons were from the hand-fasting that was part of our wedding ceremony. This is a Celtic tradition, where the couple’s hands are wrapped and tied together. The ribbons are removed at the end of the ceremony, and knotted firmly. The knot is a symbol of the marital union.

I decided that it would be fun to summon memories by serving up an elegant, but simple, Italian dinner, reminiscent of the one we had enjoyed at our wedding reception in 2004. The menu included a chicken parmesan casserole that was easily assembled ahead and a caprese salad (tomatoes and fresh mozzarella garnished with a light dressing) served on chilled heirloom plates.  We set up our card table with touches of our wedding colors and dined ‘al fresco.’ 

And of course, now we come to the pinnacle of the meal. The anniversary cake was made from scratch, but really was not a lot of fuss. I baked the layers weeks ahead of time and froze them, wrapped in plastic wrap. Even professional bakers do this because it keeps the cake moist and frosting spreads on a frozen cake almost magically with no trace of crumbs. I also mixed up my homemade frostings ahead of time as well, and then assembled, frosted, and decorated the cake the day before our event. This one was made up of two layers of yellow cake, with a center of chocolate. The middle layer's frosting was a rich browned butter, with a thin accent of raspberry jam to cut the sweetness. The outside was covered in vanilla buttercream, also homemade. I have to admit that it was such a hit, my mother-in-law requested the same one for their 50th anniversary party, and it received many compliments.

There is much to wring our hands over these days. But all the worry in the world won't get the dishes done, and it certainly won't set a pretty table. Turn off the raging TV apocalypse, and with it, those frantic thoughts that are doing nothing but racing around and tormenting your mind. There are so many better things to ponder and so many more effective ways to shape and glorify the day. Grab the good with all you have and hold on. Find something to celebrate.

 Life is still sweet, and yes, there should always be cake.