Monday, January 30, 2017

How I Grocery Shop

I'll start by saying we drive a gas-hog SUV because that's what we could pay cash for last summer (it's a 2004) and haul our family with some extras.  Fortunately, we seldom drive our car because we live in walking distance of most of what we need and my husband's firm pays his travel expenses.  But when I realized that my local grocery store would give $.10 off per gallon of gas per $50 spent, I started making some changes to how I shop.

I aim to get as close to $50 dollar increments as possible.  This usually means I shop twice or three times a month, $50 each time.  I also shop at the farmers' market twice a week on the walk to school and about every other month, do a large bulk-food shop at Amish stores out in the country.

For the grocery store, I keep a running list and start planning a shopping trip when I think I can hit $50 and can do it without kids.

I never take my kids grocery shopping.  Never.

Even though I look at the store circular and my coupons before I go to the store, I still have to concentrate and make decisions on the spot, and kids would distract me.

I only take my kids on short errands when I have a short list and know exactly what I need so I don't have to make decisions with kids milling around me.  That is probably my biggest thrifty tip for shopping! (And I realize not everyone can work their schedule that way, but I'm sure they have their tricks for making the shopping work with kids).

I also look at my calendar before I go shopping to see what events are coming up so I know if there's anything I should stock now or seek on sale.  I'm grateful to have a large pantry and freezer space so that I can take advantage of good sales.

I carry my grocery list and coupons clipped on a little clipboard I made out of cardboard and a binder clip; I used to get so annoyed with trying to use my hand as a hard surface under my list to cross items off my list.

Also, since I am trying to get just over $50, I keep a running total on my list as I put items in the cart, so I'm writing on my list frequently. The clipboard is a wonderful help. Sometimes, I have to put some items back when I get close to $50 because there are some necessary items on my list yet and those other things will just have to wait until next time.

I also try to go shopping when I have the energy and time to not only go through the store and checkout, but also to deal with all the putting-away at home.  On a good day, I even get the cloth bags back out to the car trunk.

I would love to hear how you grocery shop!  I'm sure we can pick up tips from each other.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Hat for Me

The color I love to wear currently is navy.  I made myself a navy hat, and just to keep it quirky, I added a stripe of some colorful, lumpy yarn in my stash.  I used this pattern, and it was not too hard, although the top got lumpier than I expected.  

When I cast on, I was worried that the hat would not be big enough and so get stretched out a lot when I put it on my head and let the cold and wind get in.  It's big enough, yes, but now I wished it hugged my ears more firmly!  

I started this hat at a worship leaders' retreat a few hours away.  There were some other knitters sprinkled through the audience; one of them was in front of me at the beginning of the weekend, also a few inches into a hat on her circular needles.  The next evening, I saw that very hat on her friend's head, complete with trees and beaver knitted in different colors on its crown!  I had only managed to add another inch of ribbing to my hat.  I was amazed at her speed and my slowness - I bet she was a continental knitter (I use the English technique - yarn in right hand).  

Another knitter, when I marveled at her speedy continental knitting, told me she manage to switch to continental from English in about a week of concentrated effort.  One of my main gripes with knitting is its slowness.  So maybe I should switch.

Also, in the outerwear line, I re-did the fabric scraps and stitching on my black mittens; I used blues and red perle cotton in geometric shapes to ditch the ragamuffin look I had done a few years ago. Navy is edging out the black in my wardrobe, and I love that.

All photos courtesy of Genevieve!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bright Silver

We have an odd collection of little toddler forks and spoons for Phoebe.  I really can't recall where they all came from.  Some of them are stainless steel and some of them, the ones in this photo, are real sterling silver.  And look:  the tarnish wore off from everyday use, and they are bright and shiny!  No silver polish or rubbing needed, just use.

Perhaps if I ever get some ancestral silver, I will use it every day to enjoy its luster without the effort of polishing.  I love the life lesson here:  beauty and usefulness hand-in-hand.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Now a Blue-Grey Vest

Here are lots of action shots of Phoebe in her vest.  I finished it just before Christmas and kept trying to get Phoebe to model it for the camera.  Silly me.

It's the same pattern as the red vest.

Phoebe is very interested in dressing and undressing these days.  Sometimes she tugs on the vest, trying to get it off and on, and it has stretched out a bit because of that.  Thank goodness it wasn't a terribly complicated pattern with fancy yarn!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cornflakes are Mennonite Panko

Long before panko hit American grocery stores, we were using crushed cornflakes to give our casseroles and breaded things crunch.  I intend to keep panko on hand, but I just never get around to it; I have cornflakes, I have breadcrumbs, I have other stuff like cornmeal and soda crackers.  Are you a panko keeper?

I made a new baked chicken recipe recently because I wanted to have something to go with greens and mac-and-cheese.  I needed that Southern menu ever since my sister told me that's what her friend's mom cooked on New Year's Day.  

I usually make mac-and-cheese in the slow cooker as a main dish for a vegetarian meal, but this time I used the stovetop version that Genevieve loves to make. It was an intensely satisfying, comforting menu.  I highly recommend it.

Buttermilk Baked Chicken, from Mennonite Country-Style, tweaked a bit by me

Melt 1/4 cup butter in 9x13 baking dish.

Cut up approximately 3-lb. chicken into 4 serving pieces (I save the neck, back, and wings for stock). Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt and some pepper.

Dip in 3/4-1 cup buttermilk or kefir or yogurt thinned with milk.
Roll the drippy pieces in 1 cup crushed cornflakes. (To crush cornflakes, I do it the way my mom taught me:  put cornflakes in a long-ish bag, pinch the end of the bag between your waist and the countertop edge, and roll the cornflakes to crumbs with a rolling pin.  How do you do it?)
Place pieces in melted butter. Sprinkle with herbs of your choice and some paprika if you like. 

Cover loosely, either with foil or a baking sheet turned skew.  

Bake at 350F for 1 hour, remove covering, flip pieces of chicken, and bake uncovered 20 minutes longer or until chicken tests done when poked with a fork or an instant-read thermometer. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Clean Room and Bed Pouches

The major project over Christmas vacation was a deep-clean of the children's bedroom.  It was not fun. I could not bear to take any "before" photos.  It started with my husband banning everyone from the room while he boxed up all the junk and washed and vacuumed and dusted.

Then, Ben and Genevieve and I sorted through the contents of the boxes, keeping the good stuff, throwing junk away, and sending other things to the thrift store.  It was not fun.  There were sharp words, tears, and worse (tantrums!).

It was not fun.

 It required all my adult skill to focus on the end goal:  a reasonably clean room that we were not embarrassed to have children or visiting aunties see, and a reasonably tidy room that allowed Genevieve and Ben to work on projects, find their supplies, see their books, and sleep happily.

I will say it again:  it was not fun.

But now!  Now it's a pleasure to walk into their room and it's not hard for me to say, hey, the clutter is building up, take a few minutes to put things back where they belong.

When my husband roared into that room in December, I protested feebly that I try to teach the kids how to clean instead of doing it for them; he retorted that you don't teach drowning kids how to swim, you save the kids and then later teach them how to swim.  Yes.  So wise!  So he saved them, and now we're working again on teaching them how to clean.

One of the little problems I solved was a place for the in-bed reading books.  Usually, we cuddle on the living room sofas to read a book aloud at bedtime (currently, The King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, one of my childhood favorites).

But then Genevieve and Ben like to read in a bed a little, too.  They had nowhere to put their books or their book lights.  I whipped up two little pouches.  Ben's is made from an old sturdy workshirt of my husband's; it tucks under his mattress.   Genevieve's is made from some fabric left from her baby nursery curtains, a Waverly print whose colors I adore.  I added ribbon ties to the back so it could be tied on the top rail of her bunk; I sewed some extra lines along the top to lend it sturdiness.

Any comments or wisdom on children and messy bedrooms?  I'm always eager to hear how other people manage this.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

More Authentic Kimchi

I've made kimchi before and we did really like it, but I kept on buying the commercial kind at the Asian store because it tasted better.  For reasons this fall that I cannot now remember, I got really determined to make more authentic kimchi. Linda Ly's recipe convinced me that I did really need to buy the Korean pepper, gochugaru (but what I actually got was gochujang, the paste, because that's what my Asian store and the herb shop had). I resist buying specialty ingredients that I only use in one recipe, but this one is totally worth it.

Oh man, this kimchi is good! Pungent, garlicky, gingery, spicy but not too. . . we eat it straight out of the jar.   I wish I could remember to get it out and serve it as a kind of relish or salad at meals. Do you eat kimchi?  With what?

I also wish I could say kimchi kept our household entirely healthy while everyone else fell to the dreaded stomach bug over Christmas, but no, that is not the case.  But I'm not really eating it to stay healthy - it's just intensely more-ish and the kimchi breath is totally worth it.  I think we're on our third batch since November.

Kimchi (modified just slightly from Linda Ly's recipe, linked above)

Place in large bowl:
2 lbs. Napa cabbage, sliced fine
1/4 cup non-iodized salt

Stir and massage well.  Cover with water.  Stir occasionally for 2 hours.  Volume should be reduced by half and cabbage should be limp.

Strain salt-water off cabbage. Rinse and strain again.

Add to cabbage in bowl:
1/2 lb. daikon radish, julienned
1/2 lb. carrots, julienned
6 green onions, cut in 1" pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1" piece ginger, minced

In a blender, puree:
1 Asian pear, cored and chunked
1 small yellow onion, chunked
1 cup dechlorinated water
1/2 cup Korean chile powder (gochugaru)
2 Tbsp. fish sauce

Stir puree into vegetables.  Stir well (can use your hands if you wear gloves).  Pack into jars or a crock to ferment, leaving at least 2" headspace.  Weight the vegetables down under the liquid, pressing firmly.  Ly recommends pressing down firmly every day and fermenting for 3-7 days.  I don't always press daily, and I usually ferment a little longer.  Store kimchi in fridge when it's done fermenting.

1. I did use a Bartlett pear once and didn't notice any difference.
2. I halve the water since I'm using the chile paste instead of the powder; well, once I forgot, but I just had more delicious liquid so it seemed fine.
3. Use organic ingredients when possible for fermentation because they are more likely to have happy bacteria on/in them already, which assists fermentation.
4. On my previous kimchi post, I explain the methods of fermentation much more fully (but used cayenne! wouldn't do that now).  But if you're still confused, please ask.  I think fermentation is a strange process until you've done it a few times and know what to expect.
5. Kimchi is not like baking chemistry, so you can probably add or subtract ingredients up and down the line.  We love the flavor of this recipe because it's similar to what I used to buy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Little Striped Socks

Now Phoebe has little socks from the same yarn as Genevieve's.

They were adorably fun to knit, they fit her, and she likes to wear them (it's hard to hit all three of those things, yes?).  I used this pattern on Ravelry. 

Next for the sock needles are knee socks for me, which will probably feel like an eternity after these wee little socks.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Home-sewn Christmas Gifts

I typically only squeeze out one sewn Christmas gift, but this year, I managed a bit more.

I like to get my children an ornament every year and then I put their initials and the year on it.  My mother-in-law did that for her children, and we have a lovely set of ornaments from my husband's childhood.  For the first time, I made the ornaments!  It was fun, relatively quick, and the children were charmed to find these in their stockings.

I also made a busy book for Phoebe, which is never something I thought I would mess with.  However, my nephew has a busy book made out of felt and it was so simple, I really wanted to copy it for Phoebe.

A few weeks before Christmas, Phoebe began unzipping any zipper she could find and also trying to undo my belt buckle during diaper changes.  She would unsnap her dollie's sleeper and beg to have it snapped up again so she could unsnap it.  Over and over and over again.

I was thrilled to give her the busy book on Christmas morning and yes, it has gotten a real work out.  In fact, one of the grommets is gone, and a zipper seam is loosening; I dearly hope this book can stand up to Phoebe's enthusiasm.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

"Happy To You!"

We've eaten our good-luck sauerkraut with friends and family and have the half-empty crock and pile of dishes to prove it.  And now Genevieve is stirring up a batch of molasses cookies as her way of relaxing.  Ben is going to the park with a neighbor pal, and my husband is wheeling down his bike for a ride.  I'm off to the sofa to puzzle over a new knitting project.  If Phoebe was not napping, she would offer her all-purpose holiday greeting:  "happy to you!"  Indeed.