Thursday, December 12, 2013

8 Ways to Save Bread

A Canadian Grocer article caught my attention.  It’s about two film makers’ experiences with dumpster diving and food waste.  What an eye-opening read.  One shocking statistic, I thought, was the amount of wasted bread.  That 13% includes waste from bakeries – not just food from households – but that amount of baked goods thrown away is still alarmingly high.

Our own kitchen was once an example of why.  When our children left home, we couldn't get through a loaf of bread before it dried out or went mouldy.  Week after week, we would waste another partial loaf.  After a few months of that, I was looking for better ways to store bread.

The solution was simple and is still in use.  We freeze fresh, sliced loaves of our favourite breads and remove slices, only as needed.  It takes some forethought as the bread requires about half an hour to thaw, but then it’s as soft and tender as it would normally be -- although, thawing should be done in a sealed container to prevent drying.  We haven’t wasted a loaf since!

Here are seven more ways to reduce bread waste (crusts work well for a few of these):

1)      Stuffing:  use day old or dry bread – absorbs flavours without loosing body.
2)      Melba Toast:  use dry bread from uncut loaves; cut into thinnest possible slices; remove crusts; bake in a 250 degree until crisp and golden and all moisture is withdrawn; store in cool, dry, place.
3)      Panade (soup thickener):  fresh or dry bread; blend into soups or stews to thicken; combines well with leek, celery, sorrel, watercress, spinach and cabbage soups.
4)      Bread sauce:  dry, finely-ground bread crumbs are substituted for flour in pan sauces; best served with wild bird or roasted meats.
5)      Bread pudding:  use dry bread or stale cake.
6)      Bread crumbs:  use dry bread – if not dry enough, bake in a 200 degree oven until crisp; grind and then store in a cool, dry place in a container not too tightly lidded (to prevent moulding.)  A rotary hand grater works well when only a small amount of crumbs are needed.  Cookie crumbs can be made similarly and are a tasty addition to some desserts. 
7)      Croutons:  dice fresh or dry bread, sprinkle with your favourite cooking oil, herbs and spices and bake in a 375 degree oven until crisp and golden.

With the holidays coming, I’ll be employing a few of these uses.  My “crust collection” from various breads will stuff the turkey, and I have plans to make Melba toast from the heel of one of the Pumpernickel loaves I’m baking.  It’s time to refill our bread crumbs, too, for topping the turkey casserole, so I might just grab a loaf from the clearance rack at our local bakery – we rarely have enough dry bread at home anymore.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cleaning Up

Fall cleaning is the absolute worst.  Something about having windows and doors open through the summer
adds an extra-stubborn layer of desert dust and sagebrush pollen to the house.  This year, I’m experimenting, using home-made cleaners, exclusively.  Along with old standbys like this glass cleaner and these furniture polishes I've added a few new cleaners.  The results, so far, are astonishing!

Though this blog deals with thrift, the monetary savings, of using homemade rather than my usual store-bought cleaners, are not huge.  The cost of homemade cleaners varies based on cost of individual ingredients and the quantities used of each.  Regardless the formulation, though, all the homemade products I’m using cost less, per use, than their store-bought alternative – which I (once) bought in bulk for maximum economy.  Despite modest savings, that’s not what prompted the switch.  This year, I was interested in using milder ingredients which might prove gentler on sensitive skin and the environment (both indoors and out.)

The problem is, I’m a bit of a clean freak and if these homemade products didn't work, I’d likely break down and buy some environmentally friendly commercial product which would.  It turns out, I don’t have to make that choice.  The cleaners and polishes work as good as or better than all the old products I previously used.

For example, our bathroom had accumulated calcium/mineral deposits dating back prior to our arrival.  I've been working at them, scrubbing furiously, trying to remove that dull coating.  Nothing I used touched it, though.  Then, a few weeks ago, I tried this tub & tile cleaner and, with far less hard work, our tub is actually glossy.  Short of a tub replacement, I thought that was impossible.  Not only is this cleaner a snap to make it makes cleaning a snap!

I had a similar experience with the all-purpose cleaner.  Without any soap, this solution cleans grime with a swipe.  Stubborn gunk, stuck on the window frames – another rental inheritance which also seemed hopeless – scrubbed off this time.  Amazing!  My old cleaners didn't touch the build-up, yet this mild solution was a true performer.  Best of all, after a full day, with bare hands in and out of several batches of this all-purpose cleaning solution, my hands remained soft and suffered no burning sensation.

By far, the most stunning discovery was the distinct lack of allergy symptoms.  I had always assumed the reactions both hubby and I endured were due to all the flying dust, dirt, and pollen while spring- and fall-cleaning.  Imagine our surprise when, after using none of the usual cleaners, after using only home-made cleaning solutions, we've suffered  none of our usual symptoms.  This has never happened before!  Then, it occurred to us:  the lingering odours, so prevalent when using store-bought cleaners, were absent and yet the airborne detritus had been more plentiful than ever.

The chores aren't over yet.  Fall cleaning is still ongoing.  I’m not as swift at it as I once was.  Aching muscles need a day or two to recover before tackling the next room or project.  Good thing I have an arsenal of cleaners that make the workload just that little bit lighter.  Without burning skin and thundering sinus headaches, the process should move along much more quickly, too.  For us, these are reasons enough to switch!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I’m No Starving Artist

As you might imagine, I spend time talking about “thrifty” things with family and friends.  Many tell me they “don’t have time for such stuff” (*Edited version*)  Perhaps they envision me a lady of leisure, given I’m a stay-at-home writer.  They don’t realize, this writing life is enabled because of our thrifty lifestyle.  Despite the stereo-type about artists, we eat well and live comfortably.

My contributions to our home are, in part, the savings and benefits we realize by my baking, cooking, concocting, building, crafting, or repairing.  And, these savings and benefits are considerable.  Every project either costs us less, lasts longer, tastes better, is healthier, or fits (body, home or purpose) more specifically and to better effect.  These nurturing practices, products and foods enrich our quality of life beyond most standard measures of wealth.

There are savings in dollars and cents, like those gained with the nightgown I sewed, eight years ago, for about $12.  It just went to the rag bag, finally threadbare. The next nightgown will cost even less, as I always include the cost of new patterns in the first garment made from them. So, subsequent clothing costs only the required fabric and notions.  For those, I take advantage of sale pricing and club memberships, buy in larger quantities, and thus attain supplies (for any project) while prices are lowest.  New clothing is only one way sewing saves us.  Repairs and mending, while not fashionable, give garments and linens second life for "messier duties" like gardening, household cleaning, painting, etc.   I don’t spend all my time sewing, either.  By allotting a half hour, a few times a week, slowly, over a few weeks, I complete another garment.  Then, its greater durability trickles down further savings.

Oddly, the “hardest sell” is home-made and garden-fresh foods.  With the reduction and, in certain cases, elimination of processed foods from our kitchen, the cooking and baking processes are longer.  We also don’t use a microwave, so conventional cooking techniques add some time to cooking duties, although, not as much as people might suppose.  Besides, some of the most succulent meals come from five minutes of prep work and six hours in a slow cooker.  I don’t argue there is a heavy time-cost for cooking and baking from scratch, and quality ingredients either cost money in-store or time in the garden or kitchen.  It all comes down to how much we value the heavenly flavours, heightened nutrition, less waste and significant health benefits.  We believe better health is an asset of incalculably high worth.

I've actually heard groans when I tell people about some new thing I'm making.  I understand, too. Time is crunching everyone these days. The thing is, now that we've experienced the many benefits, these home-made items have become an integral and indispensable part of our lives, and hubby and I are eager to share the results.  By far, their greatest value is the many positive effects on our health and vitality.

So, it’s a little embarrassing to admit but, I do NOT spend a lot of time on most of the products I make; my life has its own schedules and time constraints.  Although, just how much time would you spend to be free of troublesome health issues?  As an unexpected and startling bonus result, since hubby and I began using homemade personal and household care products our libidos are once again active, yet were once headed for early retirement.  Coincidence?  Not when considering the number of hormone disrupting agents contained in many of the products we've replaced with healthier alternatives.

People are still suspicious, though.  “How much do all these things cost, anyway?”  As you can see (pictured below), I have only a small collection of natural ingredients -- some from the kitchen, such as baking soda and vinegar.  From these few basics, I make a wide variety of personal and household care products, at minimal cost, with very little effort, and the results are exceptional.
My Apothe-Curio

These are a few examples of everyday items I make, their costs and benefits:

Deodorant:  takes about 30 minutes, including clean up; uses about $2 of ingredients; produces two deodorant bars which last us about three months; works effectively without harsh chemical ingredients.  I once suffered glandular swelling and pain under my arms.  I stopped using commercial deodorants in January 2010 and that problem became a distant memory.  Since then, I found and now make a bar- style deodorant which Hubby prefers – both its subtle, herbaceous aroma and its effectiveness.
Shampoo:  takes about 30 minutes (or less) to prepare, costs about $1 a batch; lasts two of us, about 2-3 weeks depending on usage.  Now that I've perfected a formulation that suits our dry hair, both of us enjoy greater manageability and clean, invigorated scalps, all without harsh chemicals of any kind.  By tweaking a simple shampoo recipe I found online and substituting a tisane made with fresh rosemary from our garden, I've created a shampoo which has, literally, eliminated hubby's dandruff problem.
Perfumed oil:  takes 5 minutes to mix; costs about 50 cents per ounce, which has lasted me three months already and is not yet half-used.  I'm guessing this batch will last about 8-10 months. Since I began using this perfumed oil, the rash I experienced with store-bought fragrances is no longer an issue.
Tooth-powder:  5 minutes or less to mix; costs less than a dime for a three-four week supply.  My sensitive teeth are no longer sensitive, plus the tooth-powder has natural and gentle whitening properties.  I now add a few drops of peppermint essential oil, and the flavour is quite pleasant.
Body Cream:  takes the longest – about an hour, including clean-up; once every four-to-six months, depending on usage (and, usage is declining because this cream works so well for us.) One batch (I make 1/3-recipe) costs approximately $2-3 dollars.  To buy similar products cost, on average, five to twenty-five times more, were less effective, and contained chemical ingredients too harsh for my skin.
Window & Glass cleaner:  2 minutes to prepare; one quart costs less than a dollar (usually pennies, but this depends on the cost of dish soap and vinegar used);  though mild, this solution cleans extremely well without leaving streaks.

Whatever I make, the process inevitably serves double-duty.  Rather than interfere with writing, these pursuits add significantly to my process.  When I need to ponder a story scene or work out an article point, I immerse myself in another unrelated but creative endeavour and suddenly the Muse pops by for a visit – I get some of my best ideas while up to my elbows in dish water or pizza dough!  So, for me, any time invested produces many pearls of potential.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to Keep Lettuce Fresh

Last year while visiting Mom on her birthday, we were gabbing a thousand miles an hour -- as usual during our brief and infrequent visits – when Mom imparted a little gem about how to keep lettuce fresh.  We’d both been complaining that lettuce wilted or turned mushy with any of the other methods we had tried.  It was a month or so after I'd returned home that I recalled the conversation and tried it.  The results are so spectacular, I wanted to share the method here...especially now that’s it’s finally salad season!

The method is simple, if a little bit space consuming.  The reason is, the lettuce is kept, inverted, in a bowl of fresh water and, when covered with a bag, stored on a taller shelf in the fridge.  Place the head of lettuce in the container, root end up, with the bag extending over it and the outside of the bowl and then tied loosely at its base.  The water (filtered, preferably) should be kept shallow, only the tips of the leaves immersed, and then changed at least every two to three days.  The greengrocer who advised my mother on this method said it works best for leaf but not head lettuces.

I have no idea how long lettuce might possibly keep using this process, but I can attest that it lasts several weeks in our old (read:  not "climate-controlled") fridge, remaining crisp and delicious until the very last leaf is consumed.  Now, instead of avoiding the purchase of lettuce, we always have some on hand.  Ultimately, this one small change has had a significant -- and healthy -- impact on our diet.

If you doubt the “crisp” descriptive, then check out the following video – I bought the lettuce on June 2, 2013, (the receipt appears at right.)  Hubby’s been on the road, and I’ve frequently been eating alone, so this head of “green leaf lettuce” – is there any other colour? – is only half-consumed.  Yet listen to that snap and crunch!

Clearly, I’m never too old to learn something new from my mother, my original inspiration on how to ‘Thrive On Thrift.’  Thanks Mom!  J

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Pressing Matter

When I first moved out on my own, my kitchen needed everything from a simple toaster to mixing bowls.  Over the years, though, I’ve gathered all the equipment and small appliances we need:  a waffle iron, a slow cooker, and a stand-mixer, among other things.  The problem now is the glut of small appliances and where to find counter, cupboard, or storage space for things like the yogurt maker, ice cream machine, food processor, grain grinder, coffee grinder, hand-mixer…the list goes on.  When hubby and I began checking out panini presses, thoughts of our already groaning kitchen stopped us.

Thing is, hubby and I love pressed sandwiches.  But, this is just the type of conundrum my frugal mind loves to resolve.  Neither of us wanted yet another “specialty” appliance on our crowded countertops but missed being able to make hot, pressed sandwiches.   Our favourite -- aged cheddar with thin-sliced onion -- must be cooked “just so” for the onion to cook to sweet perfection, the cheddar to melt ooey-gooey, and the crust to come out crispy brown.  Oh, it can be a thing of beauty!  But, they’re nearly impossible to cook properly without a press.

So, I improvised.  I’d read (online) about people using bricks, covered in aluminum foil, but I don’t happen to have a brick kicking around, nor do I like to use aluminum foil in direct contact with cooking food.  Besides, the covered brick would end up being another extra something to store.  No, I prefer common kitchen items.
   Et Voila!
Sandwich Press -- Make-Do model

This sandwich press, as you can see, is very uncomplicated, requiring items in most kitchens, and cleanup is a snap.  I use our kettle (but a small pan would do), filled to desired press weight (I use about 3 pounds), one small heat-resistant plate, a fry pan, a spatula and an oven mitt are all that’s needed. 

It’s important to preheat the fry pan, before placing the sandwich in its centre.  Then, place the plate, upside-down, on top of the sandwich and gently (so the water won’t slosh) place the kettle on top of the plate.  Use the oven mitt and spatula to lift the heated plate off to flip the sandwich.  Then, replace the plate and kettle and cook the other side until done.  The sandwich we like is made like any traditional grilled cheese – the outside of the sandwich lightly buttered before cooking – and we find this to be enough butter to prevent the sandwich sticking to the (preheated) 18-10 stainless steel fry pan we use.  A cast-iron skillet also works well, but use a lower temperature to prevent the exterior burning before the interior (onion slice, ham, etc.) is cooked.  Even with the stainless steel fry pan, we use a medium-low heat, for the same reason.  Once cooled a little, the plate can present the meal, helping to retain the sandwich's heat AND save on dishes.

I remember George Carlin once joked about the “stuff” we buy, like “…a left nostril, nose inhaler with [our] State motto on it.”  But, when I take inventory of our home, this copious “stuff” is no joking matter.  So, adding another specialty appliance seemed crazy – particularly as it`s would be used so seldom.  Happily, all it took was  a little ingenuity for us to enjoy an occasional treat.

Have you created any make-do kitchen gadgets?  I’d love to hear about them.  Please, leave a note and help ease over-burdened countertops everywhere!  J

Now, I’m off to eat, while my sandwich is still warm…

Thursday, February 14, 2013

No Splitting Hairs

There’s no denying it.  Once I began replacing household and personal care products with simple, homemade substitutes, an irresistible energy took hold of me.  Now, no product is safe from experimentation.  The latest in my repertoire of homemade fabrications is shampoo.

The reason I chose this product is, in part, due to the local water, which is extremely hard, high in minerals like calcium and lime.  These minerals form crusts on everything water touches, and my scalp was no exemption.   It itched constantly – unusual for me – and felt hardened and scaly.  The shampoos I tried, which were only a few familiar brands, rather than remove or prevent the buildup, seemed to add to it.  It was time to try something different.

Researching other methods of hair care, throughout time, I discovered many of the wealthy used light oils, made from seeds or nuts, for hair care.  The oils were believed to cleanse hair without stripping its natural luster.   For the poorer folk, the closest thing to shampoo was an herbal rinse.  Many of those natural ingredients and herbs are still used today in commercial formulations.

With this in mind, I went shopping for shampoo recipes.  I found several web-sites, offering a wide variety of recipes, ingredients, and processes, some of which were easily found and made.  Others, not so much.  My choices boiled down to availability of ingredients, ease of preparation, and the purported effects.  For instance, I’ve recently let my grey grow out.  Though I’m happy to have finally out-lasted the lengthy growing-out period, and am delighted with the results, I do have some areas still stubbornly tan.  It dulls the grey, making it look muddy, so I chose a formula for its abilities to enhance shine and, with the addition of lemon, lighten locks.

The first formula I made is called “Shine” and the results, so far, are interesting.  I like the feel and control-ability of my hair.  At first, it didn’t lather well, but I found that, by shaking the liquid in its bottle until completely foamy (no liquid still sloshing about,) it lathers nicely.   Its fragrance is subtle, but I added this “according to preference.”  The formulation leaves my wet hair feeling silky smooth, if a tad oily.  Yet, when dry, my hair has no oily feeling at all.  But then, my naturally dry hair appreciates a light oil treatment to help keep it soft.  I tried using homemade rinse agents and conditioners, but found I really didn’t need them with this new shampoo.  Single-handedly, it leaves my hair perfectly manageable.  Better, in fact, than any shampoo+conditioner+styling product combination I’ve ever used, and also resulting in fewer split ends.  As someone who suffers from bed-head – OH the horror! – manageability is of prime importance.  Now, I’m not claiming that “the bed-head is dead” but, since I began using “Shine,” my hair is so much tamer morning brush-outs actually SUCCEED!  I don’t need to saturate my hair each day just to restore some semblance of order.  Amazing!

What impresses me is that the first mixture is still in use.  I made a half recipe, back on December 23rd, thinking it would provide a good “sampling” and then I’d try another formula for comparison.  As you can see (in the photo on the left,) that first mixture is still in use after providing… least 16-20 applications, with yet a couple more to go!  Quite literally, it has cost pennies per use.

Perhaps the most unexpected result has been a reduction of allergy symptoms.  True, unusually damp weather is no doubt affecting the situation but a recent hair cut revealed another contributing factor.  As usual, the stylist washed, conditioned, and styled my hair with various products, all of which, I haven’t used in nearly two months.  Within a couple hours, I had developed a persistent headache but thought it was stressed induced – being in the midst of resolving computer “issues.”  However, the headache stayed for days.  From experience, I know an allergy headache, and treated myself with a few neti-pot rinses.  But each day I’d suffer that same pounding headache.  Then, I shampooed with the homemade formulation and my headache went away…until I slept again.  It occurred to me that the pillow case still smelled like the hair products and decided to wash them, too.  Presto!  That was the end of the headaches.  I still get the occasional sinus problem, when weather conditions are right, but this salon experience made me realize some products and scents cause me significant irritation and discomfort.

I’ll definitely try other formulations.  I’ve already got the “Soothe” formula concocted and waiting.  While I like the first shampoo, I’m interested in trying this one for its lightening properties...for those still stubborn browns.  ; }