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Archive for December, 2009

I love a savory breakfast.  I’m not one for sugary items in the morning even though I do have one heck of a sweet tooth.  That’s why quiches are great for the morning and I often make one or two a week to last us (not to mention that David at 6’5 has quite a hefty appetite).  For years, I thought quiche had to be made with egg yolks and heavy cream and while those made with said ingredients are quite decadent, you can still make one with whole eggs (or egg whites even) and plain milk (skim does the trick too).  You load up with any veggies and/or meat that you have on hand, throw into a pie crust and voila.

Sure, you can use a store-bought pie crust or go without (making it more of a frittata), but I prefer to use my mom’s pie crust which I think tastes the best and really is easy to make:

Lisa’s Foolproof Pie Crust Recipe (makes three 9″-inch pie crusts):

  • 4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 c. shortening
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. vinegar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. water

Mix first four ingredients with a fork or pastry blender.  In a separate bowl mix wet ingredients; add to dry ingredients and mix in well.  Dough will be a bit crumbly but holds together well if you use your hands to blend and mold into 3 balls.  Save one for the quiche you’re using and throw the other two in the freezer for later use (only needs a couple hours on your countertop or overnight in your fridge to thaw out).

Roll out one of the dough balls onto your 9″ pie plate and shape accordingly.  Put in fridge for a good 30 minutes so sides of crust don’t slump down when being cooked.

Easy-Peasy Quiche:

  • 1 pie-crust
  • 2 c. total of any veggie and/or meat mix of your choice
  • 1 c. milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 to 2 c. shredded cheese (per your preference)
  • pinches of salt, pepper and dried mustard

Take pie crust that you’ve rolled out onto 9″ pie plate from the refrigerator and pre-bake in an oven for 15 minutes at 425 degrees (to prevent the crust from puffing up, pour dried beans onto foil placed on top of crust to hold it down, or use pie weights).  Once pre-baked, pour 1/2 the cheese along the bottom of the crust, top with your veggie/meat combo.  Mix the eggs and milk and top the veggies with the mix.  Finally add remaining cheese, bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes to ensure eggs have set.  Enjoy!

This recipe is SO versatile.  I use different cheeses, veggies and meat – often depending what’s on sale or what I have hanging around in my fridge, but my favorite standby is broccoli/spinach/turkey bacon with whatever cheese I have on hand.  This also works as a lunch or dinner as well!  As its name implies, this recipe is easy peasy.

I’ll be visiting with family over the next couple weeks, so posts might be light.  Bear with me and have a great holiday/New Years meantime!  :)

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Day in the life…of dogs

Our crazy “kids”…

Sierra, our big girl, will sometimes excercise incredible willpower when it comes to yummy treats, including this marrow-filled meat bone.  She “stood” guard over it for about 2 hours so I snapped a couple pics:

"Mmm, looks good but I think I'll wait"

"Maybe if I stare at it a little longer, it'll double in size!"

"Not sure how much longer I can hold off"

Zoe asks, "What the heck are you waiting for? I'll take it if you don't want!"

Peanut: "Zzzzzzz"

 

:)

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Today is a lazy day.  David was feeling under the weather the past week and when I woke up this morning, I felt this “bug” was trying to find a new host so while David slept, I joined him in bed and have been enjoying reading, researching and watching TV in between hanging loads of laundry.  And though it’s only about 30 degrees (which is quite balmy to the negative temps we had all last week, like the -6 it was prior to 10pm on Tuesday night not including the wind chill!), its sunny and downright windy which is a good day for drying clothes on the line – they’re done in about an hour!   Now, mind you, my fingers are usually numb by the time I get inside but the smell of fresh air on your sheets is Mmmm…

One of my favorite things that David and I have engaged in over the past year and a half is utilizing our local library.  We visit about twice a week and not to browse the shelves but to pick up the numerous books we’ve requested.  Our local library is actually the high school library, so we are limited on the hours we can use it (not before 3pm and not before Fridays) but its all good because we plan our trips “in-town” around it.  Our library is a county, not town/city specific one with over a dozen other libraries in the same system, so most of the books come from other libraries in the system and usually arrive within days of requesting.  If our county’s library system doesn’t carry a book, it suggests using a link called “prospector” which is akin to the ILL (Inter-Library Loan system) and often times I get books from Boulder which would otherwise be an hour and a half drive.

David and I are converted book snobs – we used to frequent the book stores every weekend, where we would spend our afternoons, as well as gobs of money on several books each.  Now, going to a bookstore/coffee shop is my favorite pastime and while we still do it once in a while when we are “down the hill” (gosh, the smell of books and coffee mixed together is such a draw for me…I know, I’m weird), we now scope out books we like and then look them up on the library’s website once we get home.  We are suckers for coffee shops (built in the bookstores) though and will still usually treat ourselves to a coffee when we’re out (which still beats our once daily Starbucks habit).

It’s not uncommon for us to go to the library to pick up 1/2 dozen books or more in one shot; oftentimes we’ll flip through the book and realize it’s not what we wanted and we’ll simply return it back in a couple days; other times we’ve found treasures that we’ve renewed more than once to suck every last ounce of info.  David has gained incredible knowledge on investing money and building our retirement; me…I like the homesteading and self-reliant I-dream-of-one-day-having-a-hobby-farm-but-really-have-no-clue sorts.  Actually, it depends on my mood, but the self-sufficiency DIY books are definitely a top interest of mine.  Today I requested 14 books; 12 of those have holds on them as all the available books in the system are checked out which tells me that a lot of others are yearning for a more simple, back to nature and old traditions type of lifestyle.  This warms my heart.

What I often do when trying to determine what books to look for is start with Amazon.com and look under subjects I’m interested in or look at a book that I’ve enjoyed; then I look for the “books you might like” or “people who purchased this book also bought…” sections.  This often will link me up to other books I haven’t heard of before, I read the reviews and if it sounds interesting and others have liked, I check for it in my library system. 

I know this is all very elementary and stuff you all probably know, but it was something I didn’t really delve into until the last year and a half.  Oh the money I could have saved!!!  I’ve learned so much from all that I’ve checked out, as has David so I *highly* encourage you to check out your library online to see what they have to offer and what systems they’re connected to!

On a sidenote, I found a local goat farm that I’m interested in volunteering at.  I’m looking to give them free manual labor for one day a week in exchange for knowledge and experience.  Let’s hope they also know a thing or two about vegetable gardening too because we all know I could sure use some help in that arena!  Fingers crossed that they’ll allow me to “apprentice” – I’m just a sucker for goats and want to see if raising a couple is a feasible idea for us down the road.

Hope you all have a nice and relaxing weekend!

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And that’s not because I’m no longer working, but rather because my family and friends have made a pact for the past several years to not buy anything for each other for the holidays.  I say “buy” because sometimes we’ll make something, like a homemade gift, ornament or sweet recipe, but it’s not expected and there’s no pressure around it.  Even David, who was reluctant in the past agreed that we didn’t need to exchange gifts with each other this year because then there’s pressure to spend money on things we’re not even sure the other will like (and most certainly don’t need!).  I remember that my parents were always this way, stating “if we need something, we buy it” and that was meant in the most frugal sense as my parents plan and save; impulse buys are not a part of their repetoire. 

I used to think that this was unromantic, but now that David and I are going on 10 years of being together, I’ve really come to appreciate that practical decisions make more sense for us now and frankly, being debt-free and being able to be home and spend so much time engaging with David is way more romantic in my book!  Not to mention that we’ve decided to donate a chunk of change to a local non-profit to host a family.  That brings us much greater joy.

I understand it’s difficult with kids and I have two nieces who are the closest thing to having children in my life.  I can’t fathom not giving them something but I always try to be creative.  In their early years (they are now 2 months shy of 15 and 18), I was put off by their insatiable craving for more, more, MORE at Christmas.  They’d unabashedly shred open their presents and then before the last shred of paper was pulled, they’d move onto the next gift until there were none and they were left disappointed, though nowhere near as much as I.  This is not a unique situation; its commonplace for kids to act like this in our consumer-driven society.  So one year, when I was still living in CT and the kids were young, instead of toys, we gave them gifts of experience.  We drew out a play-date for each month of the year on construction paper so they knew what each month’s plan would be.  One month was sleepover/movie/popcorn night; one month was a full-day at the kid’s museum; one month was a trip to a local ski resort for snow tubing, etc.  The kids really looked forward to this and so did we.  I think that was probably the most memorable christmas gift we ever gave them.  To date, I have never laughed so hard or so much in my life then on the day we spent snow tubing with the kids.  It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.

I remember some sage wisdom in one of the simplicity books I loaned out from the library.  It said, “spend money on experiences not things” as the experience will likely create memories far outlasting that attached to any item.  Since moving away from the East Coast, it’s been easy to fall back on gift cards, but then my tune quickly turned around when, while helping redecorate one of my niece’s bedrooms, I found dozens of gift cards carelessly strewn about her room, totalling over $400 in unused dollars.  It made me sick to see how little she regarded these when people spent their hard-earned money to gift them to her with hopes she’d use up for items of her choosing.  At that moment, I decided not to make that mistake again!  So now I have to be creative…

For those of you trapped in the must-buy-a-million-people-on-my-list-a-gift-only-to-be-completely-stressed-out-and-in-debt-until-April, I encourage you to be brave enough to bring up the idea of a gift-free holiday (or money that’s collectively spent to support a non-profit or to host a needy family).  You’ll be surprised how many people will be relieved to be let off the hook like you.  And you’ll all enjoy your holidays that much more.

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Even better, it’s a great day for trying new bread recipes.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…I LOVE Allrecipes.com (www.allrecipes.com)!  Not only can you browse recipes, but one of my favorite features is an ingredient search where you can list what you have on hand and it will search files for those ingredients. 

For example, you can list “celery” and “chicken” to search for recipes that utilize those 2 ingredients if you need to use up those ingredients or have extras of that on hand.  I use this a lot when I have something getting ready to turn and don’t want to waste it but want to be able to use it up in some recipe (like those cranberry oat bars I made last week using leftover cranberry chutney from Thanksgiving).  They also allow you to search by ingredients you don’t want which I found particularly helpful when I was vegetarian.  Even if you don’t want to use up the dish you make right away, you can always  freeze it up for those days when you just don’t feel like cooking (and yes, I had plenty of those days when I was working full-time and traveling).  Frankly, I didn’t cook all that much this past year so I love being able to catch up now because cooking and baking feels like a creative process/outlet for me. 

So…I’ve always been curious about the process of making bagels.  I grew up in New England, lived in New York City for a couple years and have acquired an appreciation for a great bagel.  Finding one west of the Mississippi?  Eh, not so much.  It’s not that I’m one of those bagel-every-morning type of people, but once in a while I’ll crave a crisp-outside-chewy-inside-kind-of-bagel that just can’t be satisfied by way of 6 month old bagels sitting inside a plastic sleeve in the bread aisle.  So I decided to take the leap and try my hand at it.  Here’s where allrecipes.com comes in (a site I visit daily).  I researched, sorted by reader reviews and read an article on the site regarding the best techniques to utilize and their recommended recipe.  The process seemed a bit intimidating when I first read through the recipe but the article/tutorial cleared up a lot of questions and this was seriously easy to make.

Here are some pics from the process:

Bagels after the kneading/rising process and awaiting the hot plunge

Bagels in the boiling water prior to baking; this gives them the crispy yet chewy outer crust

Cooling off after a visit to a very hot 500 degree oven (we like "everything" bagels so I fashioned a mix and saved one for a cheesy topping)

Okay, these really came out great, if I do say so myself (and David gave a resounding double thumbs up with cheeks stuffed).  I don’t think I’ll ever buy another bag in the grocery store again!  This recipe yields a dozen so I froze 1/2 of them (in their dough ring state) for later.  I really encourage you to try…your friends and family will be impressed!

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Bagels-II/Detail.aspx

Here’s the article/tutorial that I recommend following once you’ve started the recipe and are ready to start shaping the bagels:

http://allrecipes.com/HowTo/Forming-and-Baking-Bagels/Detail.aspx

By the way, if you do try the recipe, know that the bread is a bit tough/dry at first.  The recipe says to knead for 12-15 minutes to soften which in my estimation would require the arms of popeye…luckily I just kept  it in my kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook for 10 minutes.  That thing is an expensive kitchen gadget that is more than worth every penny!  I use mine just about every day!

Yep, they look AND taste like an authentic New York bagel!

So, while I was in a baking mood and the kitchen was already wrecked (what the heck does it matter at that point, right?) :) I decided to try another bread recipe for sandwich bread.  I’ve listed my tried and true recipe for artisan bread before (click on recipes to the right) and it’s a WONDERFUL recipe when you want a hunk of hearty, lets-break-bread together…well, bread (and I mean that in the literal not biblical sense).  However, sandwich bread (in the traditional sense) it is not.  It just comes out way too dense and sometimes you just want a light piece of bread for a simple sandwich or grilled cheese.  I came across this recipe today, gave it a try and I’m officially addicted!  This will now be our “everyday bread” recipe. 

Getting ready for the oven

Mmm, fresh bread out of the oven with a quick brushing of melted butter

The best thing since sliced bread...oh but wait it is! ;) Sorry, couldn't resist!

I just love being more self-sufficient and being able to make the things I would normally buy at the store.  I’m thinking I’m going to try my hand at condiments soon: homemade ketchup or mayo anyone?  Nothing like fresh(er) ingredients and cooking from scratch.  Now if only I could get my darn garden going next year so I can can some goodies to use for baking/cooking next year!  Then our grocery bill will really go down!  (In all reality, I’ll probably volunteer/participate with a CSA next year, that’s a much surer bet than my mountain-esque-is-tasty-to-deers-and-bears garden plan!).

Happy baking everyone!

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My oh my…it’s been a while since I’ve blogged!  Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  My apologies for my absence, I was swept away with preparing for my parents visit the week of Thanksgiving and we don’t have guests over often.  The good news is that just about every drawer, cabinet, closet has been raided, we’ve donated about $600 worth of items to Goodwill and now I have a clean slate to start from.  I’m one of those crazy people who can’t focus unless my physical environment is tidy and uncluttered.  Particularly hard to do as a crafter working with recycled materials!

Anywho, wanted to share what I’ve been working on the past few weeks:

Cooking!  Yes, I made a ton of food for my parents during their visit as my mom is an excellent home cook who prides herself on home cooked meals everyday.  The menu consisted of orange-cranberry muffins and quiche, lots of dips for veggies and homemade crostinis, pulled beef sandwiches, prime rib (thanks mom for the meal and teaching me how to make), and of course…lots of turkey!  Turkey dinner with all the fixins’, turkey soup, turkey pot-pie.  David and I finished all the leftovers, made a 2nd pot-pie and even used the leftover cranberry apple chutney and turned them into chewy oat bars.  I’m really making an effort not to waste any food and finding a way to utilize any soon-to-be-trashed foods into other recipes.  If we don’t use it now, we can always freeze it for later.  Wasting food is like throwing dollars into the trash can.

My dad and David put up a clotheslines, something I’ve wanted to do for a while - as an environmental and frugal choice.  I grew up with clothes on the line, that wonderful smell of crisp air on the clothes and I knew that it would be also result in less utility costs which equals money saved and a more environmental choice from less energy used.  I’ll let you know over the next couple of months any difference in our electric bill.  And just in case you were wondering, I’m NOT hanging undies on the line – sparing my neighbors of that and instead choosing to use our indoor clothesrack for those as well as socks and dishrags.  Since most of my wearable wardrobe as of now consists of PJs (yay!)  I could care less if there are any wrinkles in them, but for David’s work clothes and for our towels, I throw into the dryer for 5 minutes after I take them off the line to soften them up a bit and take out any wrinkles (although I must admit, my PJ’s are still plenty soft now that we use vinegar in our washer as a fabric softener).

In the past couple weeks I made a recipe for and tried out several times a DIY recipe for dishwasher detergent…and it failed miserably!  We found the recipe online that promised great results but fell quite short.  It doesn’t help that we have extremely hard water so even the all-natural products on the shelves don’t even cut it…we have to, regrettably, stick with Cascade for now, but I’ll keep trying!

Sewing!  I knew my sister had a sewing machine and suspected that she didn’t use anymore.  I didn’t want to buy a brand new one and asked my sister if I could buy off her and she offered to give it to me for free, so I asked my parents to bring it with them on their way out here so that my mother would also have time to teach me how to sew using a machine.  Through trial and error we got the thing working, and my father, a former machinist (who can fix ANYTHING and helped me to learn to try to fix something before tossing and buying new) was able to fix the few glitches.  And…through a quick google search, I was able to find the original owners manual to help me with trouble-shooting any issues.  I have thoroughly enjoyed playing with my sewing machine and took a try at making mittens.  You’ll see by the pictures below that I was successful with the first one, but the 2nd mitten I forgot the whole “sew-from-inside-out” rule and now have to take it apart…it oughta make you laugh!

On our way back from dropping my parents off at the airport, we decided to stop at the thrift store to buy some sweaters and tops to use as “fabric” for my sewing projects and scored big when we happened across a 50% off sale, so wool and cashmere sweaters that were already at a low price of $4 were now only $2.  Once we got home, I deconstructed the sweaters into panels and sleeves, washed them and now I have a basket full of fabric to make recycled/upcycled coffee cozies and mittens.  I even found a queen size fleece blanket in great shape for $5 that I plan to use to line the wool mittens and I can probably get 50 pairs of liners just in the $5 spent!  A couple weeks ago when I was in Boulder, I stopped at the Artist co-op and found upcycled mittens being sold for $30-$50 dollars – insane!  I can make them and sell them for much, much less!

I’ve also been making more paper bows but have found a new template so that they look just like the bows you buy in the store.  Magazine and packaging paper are perfect for these and coffee bags and chip bags make perfect silver/metallic bows.

And finally, I’ve been researching frugal and environmental ideas to help me find new uses for the things I have in my house.  Every time I get an urge to buy something new, I try to think how I can do it cheaper or for free by using materials already in my house in a new way.  Why pay for things, tax the earth for valuable resources and add to the toxic load to the earth from items being shipped over from Guam, for example, when you can fashion something at home to do the same thing?  Using my crafts as an example, my paper bow template required using a brass brad (basically those fasteners you find on the backside of manilla envelopes; since I didn’t have any, I decided to hand sew my bows using materials I already had on hand and it took me no more time to do!  When I couldn’t find my bone folder (a tool I bought years ago to craft with), I resisted the urge to buy another one and instead used an old and empty gift card for scoring/folding, etc. 

I know it sounds ridiculous to spare a couple dollars here and there, but doing so has allowed us to transition to and live comfortably on one income as well as tread a bit lighter on the earth.  One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my parents is saving money on the unimportant, trivial things (cost-comparisons, shopping sales, using coupons, not buying material things you don’t really need) allows us to save the money to splurge on the things we do find valuable: vacations, fun items (once in a while), eating out at nice restaurants here and there, making several trips out to the East Coast to visit family (we’re planning quarterly visits which isn’t cheap) – but sparing on those unnecessary things frees up the cash for these important, valuable things.

I do want to leave you with this final picture, one that I took from my couch while I blogged this to you all during this frigid 3 degree day.  This is what simplicity is all about…having time and taking the time to appreciate the view. 

Okay, enough for today; I’ll be sure to provide more regular updates now that things have settled.  Thanks for sticking with me! :)

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