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It’s been a couple of weeks since I announced I was going to try to only spend $10 a week on food for the month of February, so I figured it was high time to check in and give a report.  I was fully prepared to give a play-by-play account on the frugal grocery action of the past couple of weeks, but sitting down to the computer tonight I noticed something.  The desk is clean.  I mean, spotlessly, uncharacteristically clean.  Seems that my wonderful and well-meaning husband did some tidying and, since he lacks the ability to read my mind (although I’m working on that), threw away my grocery receipts.  It’s entirely my fault – I tend to sully this desk like a sailor on leave and while he knows not to throw out scribbled things that may be recipes, receipts are fair game.  Got to work on that mind reading thing.

Anyway, even without a detailed account  I have a couple thoughts on what I have been learning from this experiment.

1.  $10 a week is not enough.  I originally settled on that amount because I wanted to really focus on my stored food and learn where I need to improve, and $10 only allows me to buy our milk, eggs and one other discounted item a week.    What this has actually translated to is me blowing the budget every week when I find a hole in my storage for something I actually need.  This has certainly given me pause to stop and think about what it would be like if I couldn’t just go over budget and I really only had $10 in my pocket.  There are a great many people out there for whom this is a reality, and I am finding this aspect of the challenge a humbling one to say the very least.

2.  Convenience foods are awesome.  That may seem completely contradictory, but let me explain.  Last week I developed a lovely sinus/ear thing, and after a full day of work with a low grade fever (yeah, I’m one of those people – thank me when you get sick) I really, really don’t want to cook a meal from scratch.  And I’ll admit – I broke down and bought a frozen lasagna.  It was horrible and a waste, but so easy.  And in the spirit of full disclosure Kraft Dinner has also made an appearance, but we like Kraft Dinner so that was ok. 🙂  What I need to do is prepare more heat and go meals ahead of time and store them accordingly.  I already do this, but not consistently and not enough.

3.  I need to work on some skills.  Yeah, I bake my own bread, but have really only dabbled in sourdough.  I made bagels this weekend and they pretty much destroyed what was left of my yeast stash, so I am hoping I have enough bread in the freezer to get us to the end of the month.  Pressure canning would definitely help with the whole convenience food thing, but I’ve been chicken about learning how to do it.  And I need to expand my cooking repertoire a little – while digging for some hamburger in the freezer, what I thought was a burger cache ended up being a bunch of stewing beef and a big ol’ beef tongue.  The stew beef I can work with, but the tongue?  That’s going to take some reasearch.

So that’s where I stand as of now, kids.  I’ll try to be more diligent about hiding my receipts and posting for the rest of the month.  And if you have any suggestions or awesome easy recipes, pile them on!  I’d be happy to hear them.

 

 

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As I write this,  it’s raining outside and melting the snow we got earlier this week.  Raining.  In February.  I don’t know what’s worse, the gloomy slop outside or the people in my Facebook feed who cheer every time it does actually snow.   And while I know there are those out there who do a little jig at the thought of pristine white landscapes and inches of fresh powder, especially given we have had so little of it this year,  do you know what I think?  Blaaah.  I’m so over it, kids.  Give me a hot rock to lay on like a lizard and I’ll leave winter to all the rest of the self-respecting Canadians out there who won’t wait for a warmer day.  Last I heard they’re all over in Crazy Town, ice fishing, and commenting on how brisk the horizontal snow is.

Actually, I am being a little dramatic.  This winter has been a remarkably mild one, and I suppose I should be thankful, but as you can tell you might as well stick a fork in me ’cause, baby I’m done.  I am not a fan of winter, and as always happens at this time of year I am stuck smack in the middle of the winter blahs.  It’s a predictable cycle which probably has to do with lack of sunshine and green growing things, and I know that sometime during February my last nerve is going to start humming like an over-taught piano wire and it’s time to take a break.  Last week I spent wallowing in the comforts of home, and I needed it.  I baked.  I napped.  I baked, took stuff to friends, then napped.  I flipped though seed catalogues and old pictures, hatched new plans and came out the other side feeling like something resembling a human being.

Part of my sloth-like wallows and plan-hatching involved some serious consideration about when and how I can get my butt back to Germany.  As some of my regular readers know, my very best bestie Frau Sperrmüllmöbelstück (seriously?  You realize what happens if I short form that, right? :)) lives there, along with her husband Heppy and daughter Rosebud.  Rosebud also happens to be my god-daughter, and in my completely objective and unbiased opinion is the smartest baby in the history of baby-making and will be Prime Minister of the world some day.  Just so you know.

The town of Linz am Rhein. We stopped here for coffee and cake. Best Monday ever.

All this Germanic day dreaming got me in the mood for some good German food, and what does a cooped-up Canadian gal on a (really) tight budget do?  Why, she makes spätzle, of course.  Spätzle is one of those things that, if you’re into it, people tend to have some very definite opinions about.  When I was looking around for some video for this post I came across post after post of people arguing about every teeny tiny aspect of the stuff.  How to make the spätzle.  How to eat the spätzle.  How to pronounce “the spätzle” with accompanying indignant videos.  I don’t know why anyone would get so uptight about a bunch of egg noodles, but it was pretty funny all the same.  And, no, I am not going to tell you how to pronounce it.  The last thing I need is a bunch of angry spätzlemeisters flaming me.

Anyway, take away all the mystique around it and spätzle is just a type of egg noodle, nothing more.  I thought it deserved a mention here on the blog for a number of reasons:

1.  It’s fairly economical to make, with simple, handy ingredients.  It is just a basic noodle that, as long as you have the eggs, can make a big meal out of very little.

2.  It’s really simple to make if you ignore all the hype.  Like I said, it’s just a basic egg noodle, but one you don’t have to roll out and all that jazz.  Spätzle is made with more of a batter than a dough and as such is a little more goof-proof and a lot less work.  I personally find making spätzle to be a lot faster and a lot less annoying than anything I have to roll out.

3.  It changes things up.  I don’t know about you, but I get food fatigue fairly easily.  I can only imagine what mid February would be like if we were living solely off our stores like Great Grandma did.  One can only eat so many potatoes after all.

So here is my spätzle recipe, given to me by Herr Heppy himself.  Forgive me if I’m giving out the secret family recipe here, Heppy, but the world needs more of this stuff.

Basic Spätzle

500 g flour (about 3 1/3 cups)

pinch of salt

4 – 5 eggs (depending on size, I use 4 large)

1/8 – 1/4 L water or milk (1/2 – 1 cup)

a bit of oil (couple of tablespoons, tops)

Mix all of the above ingredients in a bowl and beat with a hand mixer.  Make sure the batter is a bit runny so that it will pass though the holes of the spätzle maker smoothly.

Don’t have a spätzle maker?  Never fear, people have been making spätzle for hundreds of years and you don’t need specialized equipment.  Remember, you’re just making noodles not rocket boosters for deep space flight, so don’t sweat it.  All you need is something with holes in it to smoosh the batter through, so a grater with large holes will work or even a ricer would do.  Or you could do it the traditional way using only a board with a knife.  Check out this video showing how, it’s pretty cool.  Anyway, back to the recipe.

Fill a big pot full of water and bring it to a boil.  Fill the spätzle maker basket with the batter (mine in the picture is a bit lumpy), and holding it over the water pull the basket back and forth so the batter falls through the holes and into the boiling water. (Or smash it through your grater, or use your board – whatever works for you.)

The spätzle noodles are finished when they rise to the surface – it only takes a few seconds.  Fish them out and set them aside in a bowl while you finish up with the rest of the batter.

That’s it!  Now you’ve got yourself a big bowl of hot, homemade egg noodles for next to nothing.  Use them the same as you would for any other egg noodle.  Fry them in a pan with some butter and eat ’em just like that.  Add a whole bunch of cheese and some onion and make käsespätzle. Add them to your stew. I personally like them fried with lots of onion, bacon, mushrooms and a slug of sour cream.  Oh, heaven.

So there you have it, kids, easy-peasy spätzle deliciousness.  Give it a shot and see what you think.  And if you make spätzle, tell me about it!  Strangely, I like hearing spätzle stories – they usually end up being more about Grandmas and memories, and I like that sort of thing.

Oh, and Frau Sperrmüllmöbelstück?  Better tell the spätzlemeister to get his game face on – I’ve been looking at flights. 🙂

So, over at Just Another Day On The Farm the ever-resourceful Farmgal has thrown down the gauntlet and issued a challenge to her readers to eat from their storage for the month of February and only spend $10 a week on food.  Well, it actually wasn’t quite like that. There was very little gauntlet-throwing and she may have mentioned that anyone who wanted to join in with her could do so, but I thought the latter sounded much more dramatic.  Anyway, the challenge is to rely primarily on one’s food storage for the month while spending a set maximum amount each week at the grocery store.  The set amount of spending money is flexible depending on your needs, but it should be as low as you can go so the focus remains primarily on your stored food.  I signed myself up for $10 a week because a) I may have temporarily lost my mind since I have to buy all of my animal products and b) I likes me a good challenge.

Really though, I like the idea of challenging myself.  I think I am probably a little too comfortable with the system I have going on here (I have been known to use the phrase “bring it” when talking about zombies….you heard me say I have to buy all of my animal products, right?), and I think February is the perfect time to put that system to the test.  Nothing is growing right now.  I don’t have a back yard full of food.  Heck, I can’t even go pick dandelions.  It’s just us and what we’ve squirreled away, sort of what I picture it must have been like for Great Grandma, back in the day.  Not being able to rely on bopping to the store when I want or need something is going to show me where the weaknesses are in my system and in my resourcefulness.

Now with that being said, I do have a couple amendments for myself:

1.  I’m giving us a pass for Valentine’s Day.  It’s our once a year fancy dinner, put on by a chef Mr. S knows.  It’s great food, reasonably priced and I get to dress up like a girl and hang out across a candle-lit table from the good-looking dude that happens to be my husband.  We could always light some candles and sit at the kitchen table gazing into each others’ eyes, but I imagine we will be doing enough of that if the shiz ever hits the fan and we won’t smell near as good.  So, yeah, we’re going out.

2.  I’m going to allow myself some leeway for really awesome sales.  There are certain things like coffee and cheese I only buy when they are dirt cheap, and then I buy a ton of them.  This saves me a lot of money in the long run and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to stock up.

So how did I do this week?  Cue the drumroll, if you’re into that.

$26.51

Ooops.

Actually, I knew I was going to be over this week.  Last Sunday I realised I was almost out of both all-purpose and bread flour so those needed to be purchased.  I would have even skipped the bread flour and experimented making bread in different ways, but I promised a neighbour I would make her some of the buns she likes, and I don’t want to feed her any experiments.  I also bought some lemon juice, which is out of the ordinary, because I am off work this week and am going to make some jam.  So, yeah, some oddities this week, but that’s how it goes.

Here’s what I bought:

Bread flour, 2.5 kg:  $6.29

All-purpose flour, 10 kg: $7.99 (you see why I want to figure out a good bread recipe with this stuff?)

Milk, 2L:  $3.85 (I usually buy 4L, but we have a backlog going on right now)

Eggs, 1 doz:  $2.65 (I can get eggs from a friend for $2, but her chickens aren’t laying)

Mushrooms, 2 packs: $1.76

Distilled water, 8L:  $1.98 (for the coffee maker – our water has a lot of minerals in it)

Lemon juice: $1.99 (for the jam)

It will be interesting to see how the week goes and how our habits will change knowing that we can’t just pick up something if we run out.  I’ve already noticed I am keeping a close eye on the milk – this afternoon I had an internal debate about whether scalloped potatoes with dinner would be worth the milk used, and wondering why Mr. S chose now to start eating the Raisin Bran that’s been sitting on the fridge for months.

Wish me luck, kids.  I’ll do a post next weekend to let y’all know how it goes.  I’m really not expecting any problems, but then again, I don’t know how Mr. S will feel if we are suddenly mysteriously out of cereal.

A Hill Of Beans

I realized the other day I have been talking so much about our beans this year around the interwebs and in everyday life, I really should do a post on them and possibly get it out of my system.

2011’s garden experiment was to plant dry kidney and romano beans from the grocery store, just to see if it would work and what would happen.  I simply bought a couple of small bags of beans right off the shelf and planted them (although I did do a test germination run on the kidney beans.  The romanos I just winged it.  Yeah, I like to live dangerously).  To say the experiment was a resounding success would be an understatement, since I ended up with enough for a small bean-loving army to happily make its way across Siberia with.  Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration.  It’s probably more like what a band of hippies would use to get through a winter in Bancroft, but it still amounted to pounds of the things and more than I know what to do with.  All from around $0.50 worth of seed and an approximate 10′ x 20′ plot of garden space.  Not too shabby at all.  I wish I would have got a definitive yield tally, but we have been steadily using them and, well, I’m still sorting the dang things.  Let me explain.

Sometime around mid to late September the beans were looking good, I was letting them dry on the plants and the pods were coming along nicely although the beans themselves had a bit more to go.  We were getting the occasional rainy day, and although it wasn’t the ideal hot dry weather one would hope for, the beans were holding up and doing ok.  We then got a spat of rainy over cast days, and combined with the cooler night temperatures I began to get concerned.  A quick check and sure enough the beans were beginning to either mould or sprout in the pods.  A couple of hours later Mr. S and I had several laundry hampers full of damp, slightly mouldy bean pods that we couldn’t leave piled up lest we end up with several laundry hampers of wet, rotten bean pods.  We spread them out on pretty much every available flat surface we had, but found that they were still giving off enough moisture to form condensation wherever they lay, even with diligent rotating and fluffing.  It seemed all would be lost until Mr. S got the great idea to set up the ironing board with a window screen on it.

The whole system worked great, with plenty of air circulation it allowed us to dump and dry a whole hamper at a time and even sit to shell them to boot.  The beans themselves still needed a lot of drying before I could store them, but they were out of the pods and away from the dreaded mould risk.  Handy guy saves the day!

To dry the beans further, I ended up spreading them out in a multitude of rimmed cookies trays, lasagna pans and just about anything else I could find that would hold them, and sticking them anywhere that Ginger (the kitty in the photo) could not get to them.  I had to do this because, frankly, Ginger has problems.  I love her dearly, but she has problems.  Ginger likes new and interesting things, mostly because she likes to pee on new and interesting things.  I’m sure there’s a certain amount of curiosity involved, but I think it’s also a matter of calculating  trajectory, delivery and duration.  The very first pan of kidney beans I ever grew got Gingerized when I foolishly left them exposed and went to work, but, really, I can’t blame her.  In a kitty’s eyes they probably looked like the latest in litter box technology.  But I digress.

The pans of beans have been kicking around since October, quietly drying and doing their thing, and I have been slowly working through them and sorting out the bad ones whenever I sit down to watch a movie. I’ve been keeping an eye out for ones that began to sprout or mildew before we got them dry, or for weird shrivelled up ones that I can only assume were immature.  It’s mindless tedious work, but perfect winter movie-watching work.   And watching the jars of good beans fill up has been really gratifying.   Perfect storage food, grown in our own back yard for next to nothing.  I’m happy to say I am finally on the last pan, though.  Its been a little nerve-wracking watching Ginger’s eyes light up every time I bring a new one down.

This past Sunday I was doing a little baking, attempting to use up some of the excess stuff I have kicking around left over from Christmas (someone remind me why I bought 1 kg of marshmallows??).  Normally I don’t read the labels on processed stuff like this because I know they are full of garbage, but this one caught my eye.  I decided not to blur out the brand name because, hey, they put this crap in there, not me.

Do you see the words “sodium metabisulphite”?  That’s what did it.  Not to go into too much detail about my personal life, but I work in a lab and we use sodium metabisulphite to dechlorinate municipal water.  And we wear gloves when using it.  A little googling later I also found out it is used as a sanitizer, an ingredient in film development solution and an industrial bleaching agent in addition to the food industry’s use of it for keeping dried fruit from oxidizing (browning).  Oh, and it is also apparently really handy in removing pesky tree stumps.  And kids, as an additive goes, this isn’t even one of the bad ones.

I’ve been mulling it over the past couple of days and I’ve decided that, in general, the human race is pretty much insane.  But then again, I have been pretty grumpy lately.

I’m not even going to look at the marshmallows.

Liebster Love

 

Hey kids, I’m a Liebster!

Farmgal from Just Another Day On The Farm has given me the Liebster Blog award!  Me!  I am really quite touched to have been included in her list, Farmgal is a constant source of inspiration for me and to be included among her “dearest” (liebster) is quite an honour (if you want to know why, click the link to her blog – she rocks).  Plus, I totally *heart* anything Deutsch. 🙂

So what is a Liebster blog award?  It is given to showcase up and coming blogs with less than 200 followers that are favourites of the person giving the award.  Upon accepting the award, the recipient must pass on the love and choose five Liebster blogs of their own.  Here are the rules:

1- Choose FIVE up and coming blogs to award the Liebster to. Blogs must have less than 200 followers.

2- Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.

3- Post the award on your blog. List the bloggers you gave the award to with links to their sites.

 

I’ve had a very hard time coming up with five Liebster blogs of my own, for a number of reasons.  Many of the blogs I follow either don’t meet the criteria, I have no idea if they meet the criteria (as in I have no idea how many followers they have) or have already been covered by other Liebster recipients.  I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and just post what I love and that, to the best of my knowledge, follow the rules.  My apologies if they do not, and I figured no one would mind getting mentioned twice. 😉

1.  Outtakes On The Outskirts – cats, chickens and country life all with a wicked sense of humour.  Got to love anyone who would describe a mouse as a “freaking fuzzy ninja”.

2.  Providence Acres Farm – from Barrie, ON.  I lost this one for a while when *someone* reset our computer back to the factory settings and I lost all of my bookmarks.  Lots of great information and the wine!  Oh, the wine.

3.  Rural Dreams – farming and self-sufficiency in Saskatchewan.

4.  Backyard Farms – from Toronto, ON.  I like to read about how city gals do it too.

5.  The Cult of Otis – no farming or homesteading here, but I am completely smitten with these kittens.  Ok, cats. Mighty, majestic cats.  I wouldn’t want to disrespect the Leader or the Brothers.

 

There you have it, my five Liebsters.  Thanks again Farmgal, and happy reading kids!

Christmas and Catching Up

Merry Christmas, kids!  I know I’m a little late, but just like Bob Cratchit I’ve been making rather merry and am behind my time. 🙂

This Christmas, as usual, was a whirlwind of activity that had me feeling like I was nearing the end of a marathon, and I guess in a way I was.  Over the past few years as I add more and more to my repertoire, my “busy season” seems to begin sometime in April when the garden goes in and finishes off with  the last of the Christmas baking and visiting.  This Christmas eve found me leaving work early and sliding into home with what felt like a big dust trail behind me, but with a big smile because, officially, the festivities could begin.  I spent that evening delivering cookies to the neighbours and visiting, something that is my own personal tradition and one that I treasure.  I am surrounded by some really amazing people and all too often we fail to take the time to stop and catch up with each other.  At Christmas there’s no excuse, it simply must be done.  

My neighbour, H, always warrants a special visit.  H will be 98 in two months, and by any and all measure is a remarkable woman.  I marvel at the things she has seen and done and always come away from our visits with a bit of awe.  H still lives in the house she was born in, on the farm she always worked, and keeps a sharp eye on the barn where her son and grandson still milk the cows.  This visit I got caught up on the goings on around their place (it’s a fact that I have serious cow envy and will literally listen until…wait for it…the cows come home), and the problems they have been having with their breeder.  Picture two women, a generation apart, sitting at a kitchen table talking about bull semen on Christmas eve.  I really do love where I live. 🙂

Leaving H’s it was off to S’s.  S is very special to me and more like family than anything else.  Some of my earliest memories involve her, since when she was a girl whenever she would get bored she would end up at our place and babysit me for fun.  S was my own personal elf this year, helping me with the sneaky Christmas sneakiness by bringing my hubby’s present home from town for me ( a tool chest – no way it was fitting in my dinky car) and hiding it in her milk house.  She even offered to wrap and deliver it for me on Christmas day!  I declined her amazing offer, so after the initial visiting was through off we went to the barn to wrap.  Picture two middle-age-ish women, standing in an old milk house, giggling because one of their husbands will have to put pants on to get his present.  Have I mentioned that I love it here?  🙂

Then, finally, home to my patient husband for a quiet night of old movies on the couch and red-hot poo-poo’s (otherwise known as finger foods).  Christmas day was spent at home at my request, and for the first time Mr. S and I cooked the dinner for my family.  It was a hit, even though we missed Grandma’s stuffing and I botched the sauce for the pudding.  Oh well.  Boxing day found us on the road and off to Mr. S’s family, who had patiently waited for us to begin the family merriment, although the visit was too short as I had to return to work the next day.

As usual, I wish that I had taken more pictures.  I always seem to forget.  And since I won’t post pictures with people in them, consider this fair warning – the following is kitty-heavy. 🙂

I had meant to do a post about Grandma’s springerle, but as you can see that didn’t happen.  Guess there’s always next year.
 
 
 
This is what happens when I try to wrap.
 
 
Christmas morning kitty, pretty Lyla Jane.
 
 
Our other Christmas kitty Ginger, just hangin’ out.
 
 
 
My new kraut cutter!!  Yeah!  No more borrowing one!  Shout out to the folks at Berry Hill.  We are so amazingly impressed with their customer service.  Mr. S ordered this for me, and when it looked as though it wouldn’t make it here in time a guy from Berry Hill drove to Michigan to pick it up.  Unbelievable and greatly appreciated.
 
 
I got some blog-related books too.  Of course, this is what happens when I try to take a picture.
 
And this.
 
 
And finally this.  *sigh*  I’ll let you know what I think of the books once I read them.
 
How was your Christmas?  Hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season, and all the best to you and yours in 2012!