Friday, 22 February 2019

Why You Need This Stuff In Your Kitchen (and a simple method for using it): Home Canned Meat, Poultry, and Fish

Okay, I know this post isn't for everyone.  If you eat a plant based diet you're going to scroll right on by. If you do eat animal proteins but aren't a fan of canned foods, your first impulse will be to give this a miss as well but I'd really like you to give this post a chance.  I have good reasons for sharing it.

Although my budget compels me to eat far less meat than I used to, I am an omnivore.  I enjoy meat, poultry, and fish and I like to keep a certain amount of it on hand.  I learned to can animal proteins as part of maintaining that supply.

My first venture into canning animal proteins came early in my marriage, when my husband and I were given 25 sockeye salmon by a fisherman friend. I didn't have a freezer other than the one in my fridge at the time and it certainly wasn't big enough to accommodate so much food.  I did, however, own a pressure canner, purchased so I could safely put by vegetables from my garden.  I bought some half pint jars, consulted my canning book, and embarked on a food processing path that has continued to this day.

I use canning as a means of stretching my budget.  When there's a good sale, I buy enough meat, poultry, or fish to put by.  Canning works best with meats that have little fat.  Since those tend to be the less expensive cuts, I save even more. 

I reduce food waste by canning.  Had I not canned that first gift of salmon, most of the fish would have gone to waste before I could use it.  Canning enables me to purchase larger cuts of meat - like a whole leg of pork,a large beef roast, or several whole chickens - and break them down into quantities I can use up within a reasonable amount of time.  

Canning jars can be reused. They're kinder to both my budget and the environment than single use plastics. They do require an investment up front but with care they can last for decades. When you amortize the cost of the jars over the time they're of use to you, they're a very good bargain indeed.  If you do break a canning jar, it can be fully recycled, as can your used canning jar lids.

Canned goods are easy to store.  Full canning jars should not be stacked on top of each other so some effort must be made to provide suitable shelving, but once it's in place it can be used over and over again. Once they're stored on shelves away from direct light, home canned goods require no other attention. There's no risk of spoilage during power outages and they travel well, making them excellent provisions for road trips and camping holidays.

Home canned proteins are a healthier choice than most commercially packaged foods. You control the quality of the food that goes into the jars and also the amount of salt you add to it.  

Finally, - and perhaps most importantly to some - home canned foods have the great advantage of convenience. They take longer to process at the outset than frozen foods do but once canned they're fully cooked; perfect for putting a meal together in minutes at the end of a busy day.  Using home canned meat, poultry, or fish, it's possible to cook a hearty stew or soup, a pasta sauce, or even a cottage pie in less time than it can take to get a pizza delivered.

Here are some basic tips on canning animal proteins to help get you started:

  • Invest in a good canning manual from an acknowledged authority and read the instructions carefully before beginning work. I can't emphasize this enough. Safe practices are essential.
  • Clear and clean your work surface. Processing any kind of canning takes a lot of space. You'll enjoy canning a whole lot more if you've moved the stuff you don't need out of the way.
  • Prepare more jars than you think you'll need. It can be a challenge to estimate in advance exactly how many jars you'll fill and you must also allow for the possibility of breakage.
  • Make sure your tools are all laid out ready to hand, and that your knives are sharp. Dull knives cause far more injuries than sharp knives do and they can slow your work considerably.
  • Test the seals on the jars once they've cooled to room temperature by tapping on the center of each lid with the edge of a spoon. Sealed jars will make a clear tone, unsealed jars a dull thud.  You'll recognize the difference as soon as you hear it. Put any unsealed jars in the fridge and use the contents within 4 days.
  • Label your jar lids clearly with the contents and the date on which they were processed. This will help you ensure that you use your canning in rotation, earliest to latest.

Once you have a stock of home canned meats, poultry, and fish on hand you can use them in  a great many dishes.  Here's one of my favourite quick meals:


You'll need:

  • chopped onion
  • assorted root vegetables, cut in a large dice (whatever you have on hand, in whatever amount looks good to you)
  • enough stock to barely cover the vegetables in the pan
  • seasoning (I use Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and a little allspice with beef or game meat, bay leaf, sage, and thyme with poultry, but you can use whatever suits your fancy)
  • home canned vegetables if you wish to use them instead or in addition to fresh
  • home canned meat or poultry pieces
  • cornstarch

Put the chopped onion and diced veggies in a pan and add enough stock to the pan to just cover them. Stir in whatever seasonings you've chosen to use. Put a lid on the pan, bring the veggies to a boil, and cook them until they're almost done.

When the veggies are almost done, add in the canned goods. (Drain any canned veggies you're using, add in the liquid from jars of meat or poultry.) Cook until the stew returns to a boil.

Using about 1 Tablespoon cornstarch for every cup of liquid in the pan, make a slurry by stirring the cornstarch into a small amount of cold stock or water.  Stir the cornstarch slurry through the ingredients in the pan, and continue cooking until the gravy thickens. Serve immediately.

Doesn't get much easier than that, does it?  Enjoy.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Raspberry Valentine Cookies

Have you ever encountered a recipe that when you first read it you thought would be of little use to you, and yet somehow it turned out to be a staple, used year after year?  This cookie began with one of those recipes.

I was given some Rycraft cookie stamps for Christmas one year.  They were beautifully made, with intricate designs cast into fired red clay and a smooth glaze on the handles and tops.  Turned out, though, that I rarely used them. They failed to make the cut when I was packing up to move house a couple of years later but the recipe sheet that came with the cookie stamps stayed with me through the move, tucked into the back of my well-thumbed Fanny Farmer Baking book.  I still refer to it several times each year.

Cookie stamps and molds require cookie dough that doesn't rise or spread a lot - that holds the relief patterns without a lot of distortion - and the recipe sheet included several of them, mostly versions of cookies I already knew how to make.  There was just one that I hadn't encountered before: Fruit Jello Cookies.

Fruit Jello Cookies are basically a sugar cookie coloured and flavoured with Jello. Because they hold their shape very well, the dough is excellent for rolling out and cutting with cookie cutters, and that's how this particular cookie came to be.  

The first couple of years I just cut out simple heart shapes for my Valentine's Day cookies, then I decided to make them into sandwich cookies filled with butter cream icing.  A couple of years after that I cut a window in the center of half of the cookies, and added seedless raspberry jam to the sandwich cookie filling. That version stuck.  I've made my Valentine's Day sandwich cookies with buttercream icing and seedless raspberry jam ever since. They're so good!

To make Raspberry Valentine Cookies, you'll need:

3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 x 4-serving-size package of raspberry flavoured Jello
2 eggs, beaten
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

You'll also need some vanilla-flavoured buttercream frosting and some seedless raspberry jam.  

I don't have a recipe for the frosting - I just soften some butter, add in icing sugar a bit at a time until it reaches the taste and consistency I'm looking for, and mix in some vanilla.  If the frosting gets too thick while I'm mixing it up, I add a little bit of milk.  If you're not a by-guess-and-by-golly cook and prefer a recipe, there are lots of excellent buttercream frosting recipes out there. Almost every old-school general purpose cookbook has at least one.

Anyway...Once you have all the ingredients on hand:

Begin by creaming the butter, sugar, and fruit jello together until well combined.  Add in the beaten eggs and mix again until they're completely incorporated.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then mix them into the batter.

Divide the dough into two halves and, working with one half at a time, roll the dough out between two sheets of waxed paper, to a thickness of between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.  

Transfer the dough, still between the sheets of waxed paper, to a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer.  Leave it there for at least an hour.

Remove the frozen dough from the freezer, then line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.  As soon as the dough is soft enough to get a cookie cutter through it (this takes just a couple of minutes), cut out an even number of heart shapes and transfer them to the parchment lined pan. Use a smaller heart-shaped cutter to cut a window into every second cut out cookie.

Gather the left-over dough into a ball, roll it out between sheets of waxed paper, and return it to the freezer.  Use it to make another batch of cookies later.

Bake the cut-out cookies in a 400F oven for 6 to 8 minutes, then cool them on the pan, on a wire rack, to room temperature.

Spread the back of each of the not-window cookies with a layer of buttercream frosting.  Top the frosting with some seedless raspberry jam, but don't spread the jam right to the edges.  It'll spread out a bit when you put the lids on.  

Top each iced cookie with a lid - a cookie with a smaller heart shaped window cut out of it - and fill the window up with a little more jam.

Let the filled cookies sit for a while before serving so that the frosting and jam have a chance to set up.  

I like to enjoy Raspberry Valentine Cookies with a hot cup of tea.

Hint:  Put the small heart cut-outs onto a separate, parchment-lined cookie sheet, putting the sheet back into the freezer until you've made up a whole pan full of them. When you're ready to bake the little cookies, brush the tops of the small hearts with a little milk and sprinkle them generously with sugar.  Bake the small cookies just as you did the big cookies, and store them in an airtight container. They freeze well and make a fun garnish for a bowl of ice cream.

Monday, 15 October 2018

The Crafting Tool Dilemma: Do I Really Need That Thing?

For my birthday this year I decided to treat myself to some beginner's quilting classes.  

Because pieced quilts are an excellent way to use up small scraps of fabric, I've already done some basic quilting. If I'm honest, I have to say I didn't love it. A.D.D. makes engaging in repetitive processes like patchwork a real trial for me. I was hoping classes might provide me some tips and tricks to make piecing quilt tops an easier and more enjoyable process.  

Before registering I went to the store hosting the classes, to check out the project we'd be working on.  It was pretty straightforward: A 36-inch-square crib quilt composed of square patches of various sizes, edged in a simple binding.  After looking at it I expected my materials list for the class to be composed of three different quilting cottons - two printed, one plain, - some quilt batting, and thread.  When I got the class supplies list from the store it also included a walking foot and a 1/4 inch wide presser foot for my sewing machine, a cutting mat of a different size than the two I already own, two quilting rulers of different sizes from the one I already own, spray adhesive, and some specialty quilting pins.  All told, these additional items would have cost me in excess of $200.  

I'm not at all sure I'm going to come to like quilting enough to continue on with it and I don't want to spend money on a bunch of stuff I might never use again. I withdrew from the course.

I understand that quilting shops make a bigger profit on specialty tools than they do on most other items in the store.  The same may be said of scrap-booking, woodwork, jewellery making, and almost every other artisinal craft.  That doesn't mean that we always need to buy specialist tools in order to achieve a successful outcome.

My granny made quilts for her household with no more equipment than a treadle sewing machine, a wooden yard stick, some scissors, straight pins, an embroidery hoop, needles, thread, and sometimes yarn for tufting.  Even at the beginning stages of quilting I own more than that: an electric sewing machine, two large cutting mats, scissors, a rotary cutting tool, fabric marking pencils and pens, Shashiko embroidery needles (chosen because they're extra long), safety pins specially shaped for multiple layers of fabric, straight pins, embroidery hoops of various sizes, a 6 inch by 24 inch quilting ruler, a 10.5 inch square template, and a huge assortment of thread, embroidery cotton, yarn, and ribbon.  

I purchased my sewing tools because they're useful for making many different things, not just quilts.  I use all of them over and over again, in many different projects.

I learned my lesson about specialty tools the hard way, having some years ago belonged to a scrap-booking group. Joined by subscription, it included a number of classes and each class required the purchase of supplies. Some of the tools I purchased in those classes I use again and again in the process of card-making, others I haven't touched even once since completing the project for which they were purchased.  Those untouched tools occupy an entire drawer in my work space and they cost me hundreds of dollars that I could well have used for materials I actually do use.

So what's a crafter to do?  

My suggestion is that you purchase the bare minimum of tools to get underway.  Don't spend extra money on specialty tools until you have enough experience with a craft to know that (a) you enjoy it enough to continue on doing it and (b) that you'll use the tools over and over again.

A large table-sized cutting mat may be expensive but it's multipurpose. I use mine both when sewing and when doing paper crafts.  Before I bought them, though, I made many projects on a work surface protected by a large piece of corrugated cardboard salvaged from a cardboard box.  It worked just fine.

A good Xacto knife will cut all sorts of paper and cardboard.  It may be more labour-intensive to use than a die-cutting machine would be, but it's also far less costly.

Before investing in brush tip felt pens, coloured pencils, and watercolours in tubes, begin with a basic set of extra-fine felt-tip pens and some watercolour pencils.  They can be adapted for many purposes.

Instead of buying expensive alcohol inks, try making small marks with sharpies and then using drops of rubbing alcohol from an eye-dropper to make the ink spread.

Before buying coloured or printed specialty papers, consider using book pages, magazine pictures, scraps of wrapping paper and fabric, and completed pages from colouring books instead.  Items already on hand add no extra expense and can often provide more visual interest than purchased, pre-printed materials.

You get the idea, I'm sure: Save yourself some money and lots of clutter by considering carefully before buying specialist tools.  Can you make do with what you have?  Is so, do so.

Monday, 17 September 2018

How I Make Applesauce

I eat applesauce almost every single day.  I'm not even kidding.  I really do.  I love it.  Most of the time, applesauce is part of my breakfast but I also incorporate it into baked goods and use it as a sauce in which to braise pork chops or poultry. 

At an average of a cup a day - sometimes more - I go through a lot of applesauce in the course of a year.  I don't care for store bought applesauce and I can't afford to buy out-of-season fruit so, whether I love the process or not (and if I'm honest, I really don't), I need to can a lot of applesauce when the orchard-run apples hit the stores in fall. 

This year, I made 120 pounds of apples into applesauce; enough to get me through about 2/3 of the year.  I'd can more but I can't store more.  It'll have to do and, when I factor in the other fruit I canned this summer - peaches, plums, and pear butter - I probably won't have to buy fruit until next summer's peaches are in season.

Before I start telling you how I process my apples, I should tell you that several people have told me that what I make isn't really applesauce.  I cook it down a lot and they say that makes it apple butter, not applesauce.  For me it's a matter of a rose by any other name:  It's made of apples and I use it in the same way other people use applesauce, so that's what I call it.  If you prefer to call it apple butter, it's all good with me.  I'm not a member of the label police.  😉

I can process about 25 pounds of apples into applesauce each day.  I have two 15-quart stainless steel stock pots and that's how many apples they'll hold.  If you prefer to make smaller batches, this method will still work just fine.

Begin by putting about an inch of water in the bottom of your pot.  This will help to keep the apples from sticking to the bottom until they've cooked enough to release their own juice.  You want just enough water to serve that function,  The more water you add, the longer your sauce will have to cook down later.

Wash your apples, core them, and cut them in quarters.  There's no need to peel them.  Fill the pot as full as you can, put on the lid, and cook the apples over medium-low heat until they've softened and released their juice.  At this point, they will have cooked down to about half their original volume. The apples will be tender but the skins still mostly intact.  You'll need to puree them to break down the skins but it's worth the extra effort.  The skins add valuable dietary fibre and are nutrient-rich.  

Working in small quantities at a time, ladle the apples into a blender or food processor (I prefer a blender for this) and puree them until smooth.  Remember not to fill the carafe or bowl of your machine more than half full and to cover the lid with a kitchen towel.  Hot liquids expand while being pureed so put your hand on top of the kitchen towel and hold the lid firmly in place while your machine is running.

 As I puree the contents of the first pot of apples, I empty the puree from the blender into a large bowl.  When the pot is empty I wash and dry it, and transfer the puree from the bowl back into the pot.  As I puree the second pot full of apples, I add the puree to the contents of the first pot.  

When the apples are pureed, cook them on low heat - just above a simmer- with the lid off, stirring now and then to keep the sauce at the bottom of the pot from scorching.  Let the sauce cook for a long time: at least long enough to reduce in volume equivalent to the water you added at the beginning, and more if you prefer. The applesauce will have darkened in colour quite a bit by this time.  Don't worry, it's all good: it's just that the natural sugars in the apples have caramelized. 

I usually let my puree reduce in volume by about a quarter. When the sauce has reduced to the consistency you prefer, you're ready to can it.

The canning book I use says to ladle the hot applesauce into sterilized jars, cap the jars with prepared two-piece sealer lids, and then -if canning in pint jars - to process it in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes (25 minutes for quart jars).  Your canning book may say something different.  Please check before you process your applesauce and follow the instructions in your reference book carefully.  Food safety is essential!

Because my applesauce is very thick, I process my jars for an extra 10 minutes.  I figure better safe than sorry, and applesauce has a consistency that isn't isn't going to be affected by the extra cooking time.  My canner holds 14 pint jars so I process two batches a day.  If there's a pint of two of applesauce left over at the end, I put it in the fridge and add it to the next day's batch.

Before I begin the next day's batch of applesauce, I check the seals on the previous day's jars and then remove the sealer lid rings, wash the jars in warm, soapy water, rinse them, towel them dry, label them, and move them into the pantry.  If there are any unsealed jars, I either store them in the fridge and use them within three or four days, or empty the jars into the next batch of applesauce and then process as usual.

So that's it.  It's really very simple, isn't it?  The key to applesauce is patience.  Let it cook low and slow, process it carefully, and enjoy your bounty through the winter months.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Peach and Glazed Doughnut Bread Pudding With Bourbon and Maple Syrup Whipped Cream

I so rarely cook for others these days that when I do I almost always buy too much food.  A lot too much food. A ridiculous excess of food.  Perhaps it stems from some deep seated fear of having a guest go hungry.  I don't know.  

Whatever the reasons for my over-buying, a lunch visit with friends last week was no exception. When we finished eating there was still a lot of food left on the table. The good news is that I chose my purchases with my over-buying habit in mind.  The items I chose could be used in quite a variety of other dishes so I've been eating very well in the days since our visit. 

Some leftovers are more challenging than others though. I found myself with 5 glazed doughnuts  I certainly couldn't eat them all before they went stale, and doughnuts don't freeze well. When you thaw them, the glaze liquifies and they get all sticky and soggy.  Yuck.

I took inventory of what I had on hand  Thanks to a manager's mark down at the nearest grocery store, there was a litre of heavy (whipping) cream in the fridge. I also had some peaches that needed using up. Together with the doughnuts, these ingredients suggested bread pudding to me, and I knew from past experience that extra portions of bread pudding can reside in the freezer quite happily.

The pudding was delicious. I'll probably buy extra doughnuts on purpose from time to time now, just to make it.  Here's the recipe:

  • 4 or 5 glazed doughnuts; enough to make about 5 cups when cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 or 5 fresh peaches - enough to make an approximately equal quantity to the doughnuts - cut into pieces about the same size as the doughnut pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream*
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
*You can substitute 1 cup of milk for 1 cup of heavy cream if you prefer your pudding less rich.  It will take longer to set though.  You may want to add an extra egg if you do this.

I usually bake this quantity of bread pudding in a 10-inch-square pan but mine was filled with other food so I used a 9 x 13 pan instead.  It made a thinner layer of pudding but I'm glad I did it that way.  It cooked more quickly and evenly.  I'll leave it up to you which pan you choose.

Spread the doughnut and peach pieces evenly in the pan and sprinkle the cinnamon and nutmeg over them.  Toss them with your fingers until the spice is spread evenly throughout, then even out the layer to a roughly equal thickness over the area of the pan.

Put the eggs and cream in a medium sized bowl and whisk them until they're combined.  Add in the dark brown sugar and salt and continue mixing until the sugar's dissolved.  Pour this mixture over the doughnuts and peaches.

Bake in a 350F oven until a knife stuck in the center of the pudding comes out clean.  Mine, in the 9 x 13 inch pan, took about 40 minutes.  If you bake it in a 10-inch square pan, it'll take 10 or 15 minutes longer.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon bourbon*
  • 2 Tablespoons of maple syrup
Beat the cream until soft peaks form then add in the bourbon and maple syrup.  Continue whipping the cream until it reaches a firm enough consistency to dollop on top of the pudding with a spoon. 

*I use Jack Daniels in place of vanilla in many baked goods.  Do feel free to use a good vanilla extract if bourbon is not to your taste.

If you're serving more than 2 or 3 people, you'll probably want to make a double batch of whipped cream.

Serve the pudding straight from the oven, topped with the whipped cream.  

If you have leftovers, you can portion them and freeze them.  After extensive testing for quality control purposes 😉 I can tell you that it's best reheated in the oven, straight from frozen.  Reheating it in the microwave makes it a little bit too chewy.

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!