Friday, 19 January 2018

2018: The Year of Camping - Menus from my trip to Tofino

Not quite three years ago now, I lost my husband to cancer.  Caring for him through the course of his last illness and then trying to find a way forward after he was gone affected me deeply.  A few months after his death I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which manifested in the form of depression, panic attacks, social anxiety, and agoraphobia.  It was a battle for me to get out of bed in the morning and every night, before I finally drifted off to sleep, I'd make a wish not to wake up the next day.  As time passed I began to believe I served no purpose at all and that there was, therefore, little or no reason to leave my home or to do anything at all constructive with my time.

It's been a tough go, but thanks to the patience and love of my family and friends, an excellent doctor, and some counselling, things are getting better.  I am starting to find my way forward and for the first time in a very long time I find myself wanting to see new places and experience new things.

My camping idea began when I received a "save the date" card for my eldest granddaughter's wedding.  She lives in Alberta; a solid two days of driving away from where I live.  Of course I'm going to the wedding!  My budget is very tight though. Even with saving up I'll have to really mind my pennies.  I decided that the best way to afford the trip would be to camp on the way there and back, staying only the night of the wedding in a hotel.  From there, the idea grew.  I'm going to take my time coming and going, see some national and provincial parks, explore the Kootenays, and visit with family along the way.  

As my plans for the wedding trip solidified, I became more and more excited about the idea of  my first ever all-on-my own road trip of any distance, and that opened my mind to thinking about other places I would like to see. That in its turn inspired me to plan several other trips. I decided that, for me, 2018 will be The Year of Camping.  Ta-Da-a-a-a!  Something to look forward to all year long.

Even camping can be expensive, especially if you eat in restaurants, so being able to afford my adventures will depend upon cooking all my own meals, and that will require some forward planning.  I decided I'd begin learning the process this week by making a short trip to Tofino, on Vancouver Island's west coast, about 4-1/2 hours from my home.  Storm season in Tofino is spectacularly beautiful and I hoped to take some good photos during my visit.  

Full disclosure here: Until this year, camping has not been a favourite pastime of mine - my fella used to joke that my idea of roughing it was staying in a hotel without room service - and Tofino proved an interesting choice for a first time trip. The very storms I wanted to photograph made camping a bit of a challenge, especially for a newbie like me. I was able to get an excellent deal on a hotel room so I opted to spend one night in the middle of my trip enjoying a comfortable bed and the benefit of a hot shower. Even while at the hotel though, I prepared all my own meals.

I promised my friends at Aunt B's January No-Spend Challenge group on Facebook that I'd share my menus from my trip, so here's what I ate from Sunday night until my arrival home on Wednesday afternoon.

Sunday, January 14:

Supper - Scrambled eggs and skewered tomato, zucchini, and mushrooms.

Monday, January 15:

Breakfast - Overnight oatmeal.  I prepackaged the oatmeal, some raisins and a little bit of maple syrup in pint canning jars, and poured milk over it in the evening before I went to bed.  In the morning, I gave it a good stir and ate it straight from the jar.  I had a banana too.
Lunch - An open faced tuna and tomato sandwich on brown bread.  I used canned tuna and some leftover homemade tartar sauce I brought from home.
Supper - Home canned venison and veggie stew (reheated in the hotel microwave) with a cornmeal muffin for sopping up the gravy.

Tuesday, January 16:

Breakfast - Overnight oatmeal and an orange
Lunch - An apple, some sliced cheddar, and Triscuits
Supper - Slightly Dishevelled Joseph (lentil sloppy joe filling) served over rice.  (Both were cooked at home, packaged in parchment, then foil, then newspaper, then foil, and frozen.  They'd thawed by Tuesday night but were still very cold.  I took off the outside foil and the newspaper, and then reheated both dishes on the fire. I had a couple of pieces of Rogers maple milk chocolate for dessert.  I was so proud of myself for saving them until that last evening. They'd been calling to me ever since I first packed them in the cooler. lol!

Wednesday, January 17:
No breakfast because it was crazy windy and I decided to pack up and head home.
Lunch - A large tea and cinnamon raisin bagel from Tim's (paid for with a gift card I received in November) and an apple.

What did I learn?  

I learned that milk packed in a mason jar will end up all over the cooler if you cross thread the jar lid.  lol!  

I also learned that at this time of year a hot breakfast would be much better than a cold one.  

Most important of all, I learned that I can manage camping on my own quite well, even without a hotel room in the middle of my stay.  I'm looking forward to another small adventure very soon.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Tightening My Belt: The January No-Spend Challenge

I'm not of a fan of New Year's resolutions as a rule - I think we tend to be too ambitious in our plans and, as a consequence, set ourselves up to fail - but I do have one January practice that I follow almost every year:  January is a no-spend month for me.

Over the years, my January challenge has taken different forms.  Some years, it has simply been a resolve to avoid the temptation of January sales by staying away from malls, clothing stores, home improvement stores, etc.  Other years it's meant cutting back almost entirely on buying anything at all.

A month without spending serves several purposes for me.  It resets my thinking away from the "shopping as recreation" mindset I tend to fall into over the holidays, it gives my savings plan for the year a good start, and, if I choose not to buy groceries, it affords an opportunity to take good stock of what I have on hand in the pantry and freezer; to use up those items that might otherwise expire.  

Since challenges like this are often useful to other people too, and because they're often best accomplished by having a supportive group of other participants around us, I thought it would be fun to ask you to join in on this no-spend month too.

If you take up this challenge along with me, you'll set your own goals, be that skipping your take out coffee in the mornings this month. going full on and cutting back on everything, or choosing something in between.

I've formed a January No-Spend Challenge Group on my Facebook page. I'll be posting my goals there and sharing some helpful links on budgeting, re-purposing, and frugal living. Join in the conversation by posting you challenge goals and sharing any questions or tips you may have.  I'll look forward to seeing you there!

Friday, 4 August 2017

My All -Purpose Use-What-You-Have Muffin and Tea Cake Recipe

We classify what we eat, those who cook what we eat, and the way our food is prepared in so many different ways: Fruitatarian, Vegan, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Locavore, Omnivore, Wholesome Food, Organic Food, Health Food, Peasant Food, Local Food, Junk Food,  Plain Cook, Bush Cook, Home Cook, Traditional Cook, Professional Cook, Chef, Regional Cuisine, Peasant Cuisine, Nouvelle Cuisine, and Haute Cuisine. to name but a few! 

Here's another way to classify cooks that perhaps occurs to us less often:  Those who choose a recipe they like, shop for the ingredients, then prepare the dish, and those who look at the ingredients they have on hand, figure out what they can make with them, then cook a meal.  

If you're on a tight food budget, I'm willing to wager that you find yourself in the use-what-you-have group most of the time, and that's a good thing.  Using what you have on hand promotes creativity and it reduces food waste: it's kinder to both your budget and the planet.

This simple recipe is a great way to treat yourself to a little something sweet while making use of what you have on hand.  I came across it when I was a college student - so far back in the mists of time that I can't remember where I found it  ;) - and over time I've adapted it to best suit my baking habits.  

To make this recipe, you'll need:

  • 1-1/2 cups flour  (If you want to, you can substitute up to 1/2 cup of finely ground nuts for an equivalent amount of the flour )
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (If you're using citrus juice or tea for you liquid in this recipe, use 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda instead)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • spices if you want them
  • up to 1 cup of other stuff:  Fresh or dried fruit, chopped nuts, coconut, or seeds (optional)
  • 1/3 cup oil or melted butter or melted margarine (You can substitute applesauce or other fruit puree here but doing so will your finished product a little less tender.)
  • 1/2 cup liquid (Milk, almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, buttermilk, fruit juice, coffee, or tea will work. Use the baking powder/baking soda amounts listed in parentheses above when using buttermilk, fruit juice or tea.)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup. (You can substitute up to 1/4 cup of sugar with mild molasses but, if you do, be sure to use the baking powder/baking soda amounts listed in parentheses above.)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (optional)
  • Grated citrus zest (optional)

To make the batter:
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda (if you're using it), salt, and spices (if you're using them) and stir them together with a fork until well combined.
  • If you're adding fresh or dried fruit, chopped nuts, coconut, or seeds, add them to the flour mixture and stir to distribute them evenly. 
  • In a separate bowl, combine the liquid, sugar, beaten egg, and grated zest (if you're using it) and whisk them together until well combined.
  • Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.  Stir the two together until just combined.  Everything should be moistened, but lumpy batter is okay.
  • Portion the batter into greased muffin cups, 2 small loaf pans, or a bundt pan.
  • For muffins, bake at 375F for about 25 minutes or until the center of one of the muffins in the middle of the pan springs back lightly when touched.
  • If baking loaves or using a bundt pan, bake at 350F until a skewer inserted in the centre of the loaf or cake comes out clean.* 

The muffins pictured above were made with a combination of fresh blueberries, frozen cranberries, the zest and juice of one orange and enough milk added to the orange juice to make up the quantity of liquid required.  Today I'm baking loaves with grapefruit zest and juice, brown sugar, and poppy seeds.

Have fun with this recipe and be creative.  I've made countless versions of it over the years and they've turned out well every time.

*Because of the sugar in the batter and longer baking times required, loaves and bundt cakes may get quite brown on the outside.  If they're getting darker than you'd like them to be, you can cover the pans loosely with aluminum foil for the last part of the bake or - if they're nearly done - turn the oven off and let them finish in the residual heat.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Pterodactyl Legs

I eat a lot differently now that I live alone.  There are many reasons for the change but I'd have to say that the top two are that I have considerably less money to spend on food now, and that it takes one person a long time to make their way through a full recipe of anything.  Both of those things have, of course, also affected how I shop for food.  

These days, before anything goes in my grocery cart, I ask myself can I afford it, and can the leftovers be frozen, canned, or re-purposed into a new dish.  Since I dislike eating the same dish over and over again for days in order to use it up, that second question is every bit as important as the first.

One way I get more bang for my meat-shopping buck is to head for the grocery store early in the morning.  Meat and poultry that are getting near to the "best by" date marked on their packaging are marked down by the department manager, usually by a factor of about thirty percent.  Provided it's used, frozen, or canned on the day it's purchased, the contents of those discounted packages are perfectly safe to eat, and the price reduction can make a significant difference to my budget.  

I found a package of discounted turkey drumsticks on an early morning foray to the store this weekend.  I like turkey but a whole bird is really a lot of meat for me to get through and, unfortunately, turkey parts are usually a lot more pricey pound-for-pound than a whole, frozen bird.  These drumsticks were a case in point:  although not subject to the same kind of mark-up as turkey breast meat, they are regularly priced at about $3.25/lb compared with the $0.95/lb price of a seasonally priced whole turkey.  The package of two drumsticks I was looking at was regularly priced at $6.77 and marked down by 30%.  That's still not as inexpensive as a whole frozen turkey but, with the reduced price falling below $5.00 for the package, it fell within my budget.  First criterion met.

Turkey's infinitely adaptable. I knew I'd have no problem finding a way to cook it so that it could be frozen and/or re-purposed so I bought it.

The drumsticks were huge (they made me think of peterodactyl legs, which made me grin) so I decided to cook them in my slow cooker, remove the meat from the bones, freeze some of it, and use some of it for my main meal the next day.  The question then became what flavours to use with them.  I decided to go for a taste of fall and pulled together the following ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup onion, cut in a 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 pint jar (approximately 2 cups) applesauce.*  
  • 2 large turkey drumsticks
  • poultry seasoning
  • salt
  • pepper

I seasoned the drumsticks all over with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning, then put them in the slow cooker, sprinkled the diced onion over them, and poured the applesauce evenly over the top.  After putting the lid on the cooker, I left them to cook on the high heat setting for about 4-1/2 hours.  When they were cooked through and falling-apart tender, I removed the drumsticks from the pot to a platter and let them cool to room temperature.

I removed the sauce from the slow cooker too, transferring it to a glass bowl and letting it cool to room temperature as well.

When everything was cooled, I put a lid on the bowl of sauce and put it in the fridge, then pulled the meat off of the drumsticks. (I found my fingers worked best for breaking up the turkey. I was able to more easily find all the cartilage pieces and remove them.) I divided the meat into a sufficient quantity for my meal the next night and two packages for the freezer. I stored it in the fridge overnight.

The following day I skimmed the fat layer from the top of the sauce bowl and discarded it.  I then put the turkey I'd portioned for my supper that day into an oven proof dish and covered it generously with sauce.  I reheated it in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes, until heated through and bubbly.  It was delicious!

I added some sauce to the freezer packages, labeled them, froze them, and - because I had some left over - also froze a jar of sauce by itself.  

I can think of several ways to use my frozen portions of turkey and sauce:  I could make an open faced sandwich, mix the meat and sauce with rice and veggies to make a casserole, or use the meat and sauce together with some cubed, roasted root vegetables as the filling in a meat pie.

All in all, the drumsticks and the ingredients I cooked them with turned out to be a good value. I'll get at least two more tasty meals from that package of turkey; a fine thing for both my meal planning and my budget.  :)

*I make my applesauce with unpeeled apples and cook it down for a long time, until it's quite thick and dark.  If your applesauce is thinner or you're using a commercial product, you may want to opt for apple butter instead.

Monday, 11 July 2016

What's for Supper: July 11 - 15

Every Monday my Facebook friend Meal Planning Maven invites people to share their meal plans for the week on her page.  I've been participating in this conversation for a long time both because I love her page and the recipes she shares and because I find great inspiration from the other folks who post there.  This post was written with that conversation in mind.  I hope you'll share your plans and recipes on her page too.

Here's what I've planned for supper this week:

Monday, July 11 - Yesterday I made palak paratha (an Indian flatbread) using plantain instead of spinach.  I have some left over so tonight I'm going to use one to make a wee pizza with diced fresh tomato, finely diced red onion, diced zucchini, and shredded mozzarella and edam cheese as my toppings.

The recipe I used for the palak paratha came from Veg Recipes of India.  You can find it here.

If you'd like to learn more about plantain, check out this excellent post from Prairieland Herbs.

Tuesday, July 12 - Breaded, oven roasted chicken thighs, new potatoes boiled with a little fresh mint (both the potatoes and the mint were a gift from my friend Donna's garden), steamed carrots and sugar snap peas.

Wednesday, July 13 - A slice of cheddar, broccoli, and tomato quiche (from the freezer), brown rice cooked in vegetable stock, and a salad of romaine, chickweed, cooked sugar snap peas (leftover from Tuesday), diced pickled beet, and calendula petals, dressed with blushing beet salad dressing.

Thursday, July 14 - A chicken, rice, and vegetable salad.  Look for the recipe later this week.

Friday, July 15 - A portabella burger, and some carrot sticks, celery, and sliced cucumber.

Friday, 24 June 2016

How Living on a Limited Income Helped Me Go Green(ish)

When my husband died my household income declined sharply. Although I did receive the survivor's benefits from his Canada Pension Plan and superannuation, that amount was 50 percent of what he had been receiving. His full pension amounts were low enough that he had been entitled to an Old Age Security benefit but, being under the age of 65, I wasn't entitled to receive that top up. The harsh financial reality is that the total amount of pension coming into this household was reduced by about sixty percent.

Anyone who has lived alone can tell you that a household of one is not sixty percent less expensive to run than a household of two. My mortgage payment and condo fees remained the same, my home insurance went up, my car insurance and car maintenance costs were largely unchanged, and - because I'm not eligible for the senior's home owner grant - my property taxes more than doubled.  

I'd left work to care for my husband during the last months of his life and did receive a small unemployment insurance cheque for a while. but that ended four months after he died.  I found a new job but because of some on-going health issues of my own I chose to leave it, stay at home, and try to get by on solely on pension income. 

Tight does not begin to describe my budget.  

Just to be clear, I'm not complaining here. I'm doing okay. I have all of life's essentials, I'm surrounded by loving friends and family, and I'm gradually making a new life alone.  I did experience some big changes though, and I learned some good things along the way. 

These days I'm very clear about want versus need. I don't ignore every want - life is no fun without a few little treats - but I consider very carefully before I spend my money and I economize where I can. This is where the green(ish) part comes in.  It turns out that much of what I do to keep my budget in check is also good for the environment.

I don't buy stuff I don't need (or at least not very much of it), and it's amazing how many tchotchkes, shoes, clothing items, and dishes I don't  need.  If I don't buy it, I don't need to pay to maintain it, or store it, and I end up throwing far less away.

I source most of my craft materials and the fabric for my sewing projects from thrift stores.  It's far more affordable than shopping retail and it extends the useful life of items others have discarded.

I walk for most of my errands around town, only taking my car out if I'm going to be carrying something very large or heavy.  I'm not such a purist that I don't drive at all, but walking when I can reduces my fuel bills and car maintenance costs. It also reduces my carbon footprint.  

I buy plain, unprocessed food because it's less expensive.  It also usually comes with less packaging.  I do end up with some plastic, cardboard and tin to recycle, but much less than I used to.

Being vigilant about waste is the most important thing I do for both my budget and my impact on the environment. I can't afford to buy things and then not use them up. 

Unless I'm putting it by for future use, I don't buy more food than I can eat.  I try to use every edible bit of the food I do buy, including peels, cores, tops, leaves, skin, bones, shells, and fish heads.  It saves me money, makes respectful use of the energy required to grow/catch, transport, and package what I eat, and it produces some wonderfully flavourful stocks and sauces.

Whenever I can, I use rags made from worn out flannel sheets instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper, and glass jars and covered bowls instead of plastic wrap.  Freezer bags do have a place in my kitchen but I reuse them as many times as I can.  I also reuse the heavy zip closure bags that dry fruit and frozen goods come packaged in, and the liners from cereal boxes (awesome sandwich wrap!).

I use envelopes and any blank paper that comes in the mail for drawing, art projects, and making lists.  I cover both sides of the paper before I send it to recycling.  

I don't buy clothes unless I absolutely need them and when I do buy them, I usually buy second hand.  I mend my clothing and wear it until it's worn out, then use the salvageable fabric, buttons, and zippers to make new things.

All of these things are kind to the environment.

My new, very simple life works well for me. I can take quiet days, and rest when I need to.  I spend time outdoors every day.  I know exactly what I can afford and what I can't, and I can plan for that. My stress levels are greatly reduced.

Isn't it nice that many of those changes benefit the environment too? That's a win/win.

Do you have any frugal green living tips you'd like to share? Please feel free to comment here, on my Facebook page, or on Google+.  I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, 10 June 2016

How to Get Rid of Unpleasant Odours in Your Dishwasher

This is my dishwasher.  It's nice and shiny but it's old. The springs on the door are broken so I have to prop the open door up with a footstool to keep it from opening so far that the hinges break.  If I use it every day for three or four days in a row, it arbitrarily stops working and won't start again until I've given it a week's rest.  It's not worth fixing and I can't afford to replace it.

Now that I'm on my own, I don't have as many dirty dishes as I used to so I mostly wash them by hand but, despite its many faults, my dishwasher is still of use to me.   I use it once a week to sanitize my cutting boards and wash whatever dishes happen to need cleaning on that day.  I also use it when I have company, and extra dishes to wash.

Perhaps because I use it less often than I used to, I recently began to notice an unpleasant, garbage-y odour coming from my dishwasher.  It was pretty awful and, if I left the door propped open, it pervaded my entire apartment.  I had to do something about it.  

Pinterest is my go-to place for all things housekeeping, so I did a search to see if I could find a tip for de-stinking the dishwasher.  I came across a post by that suggested using vinegar and baking soda.  I use baking soda for cleaning my stainless steel sink, and vinegar and baking soda to keep my sink drains clear, so it seemed to be something worth trying.

I put a cup full of vinegar, upright, in the top rack of the dishwasher, poured an approximately equal amount of baking soda onto the bottom deck of the machine and then ran the dishwasher for a half cycle on the "sanitize" setting.

It worked really well.  My dishwasher is sparkling clean inside and smells nice and fresh.  

Cleaning my dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda cost me a lot less than it would have cost to buy a commercially made dishwasher cleaning detergent, and it was kinder to the environment too.  That's a win/win in my books.   

Do you have any housecleaning tips you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them.