Friday, November 22, 2019

Use-What-You-Have Mittens for Phoebe

No surprise, Phoebe's sloth mittens were too small for her this fall when I dumped out the boxes of kid winter stuff and checked.  Sidenote: one of my biggest thrifty tips is thinking ahead to what you will need and then having the time to find it at a time/place/price that is good for you! So as one season is ending or a holiday is getting closer, I am taking a little time to look at my supplies and think.

So, I thought Phoebe and I would have fun picking out new fleece for mittens, but on the morning that we could run to the nearest fabric store (JoAnn's - ugh), she was dragging her feet about running errands.  I delved into my little box of fleece scraps just in case and you know what? I found enough scraps that suited Phoebe and her new winter coat! 

The purple plaid is actually a beautiful, fine merino wool from a scarf my friend gave me after her dog chewed on one end; she was hoping I could use it to make something.  I did, Stephanie!  The teal fleece is just regular polyester fleece left over from something.

From last year's experience, I put elastic in the wrists.  I made casings from red fleece bias binding - scraps from the Christmas stockings.

Phoebe likes the mittens and wears them and that, I tell you, is Something.  She has strong opinions on her clothes, and I navigate carefully to teach her dressing well and also respect her opinion. I am not the parent who lets the kids wear whatever they want.

The pictures of her on the porch in her winter coat show that she paired a red striped shirt and navy striped leggings - I suggested the denim jumper and red socks. Success!

This outfit is a combined effort: she put the short-sleeved dress and leggings together, I made sure she had a navy cardi and pink socks and bypassed the flowered sneakers.  I think the splashy roses look good together! Wonder what other combinations we will cook up together. . .

Friday, November 8, 2019

Salsa Verde Schools Me

The kids had off school due to elections, the sun was shining, and a real freeze was bearing down on us.  Clearly time to put the garden to bed.

When we were done stripping the tomato jungle that afternoon, I had a heaping dishpan full of little green tomatoes as well as a basket of bell peppers and a handful of berries.   

So I recalled a conversation with a market farmer back before life took a turn into crazy with sports; I was listing all the problems I had experienced with canning salsa and declaring that was IT, no more canned salsa, when she said simply that she'd never had a problem with tomatillo salsa, salsa verde.  Then she said she uses Marisa's recipe from Preserving by the Pint, which I already own and love. I use green tomatoes and tomatillos pretty much interchangeably - my research tells me they are cousins, and I know from experience they have a very similar flavor and texture.

Now staring down the heap of green tomatoes in my kitchen, I plunged in.  First I recruited Ben to take my Visa (no cash, wanted the points, knew the standholders and guessed they'd be ok with it) and go back to market for me to get cilantro, garlic, onions, and poblanos. Then on the way to pick up Genevieve from a friend's house, I stopped at the Latino market and got 20 limes for $2. I know that canning recipes specify bottled lime juice for the acid predictability, but I couldn't bear to drive further to a grocery store and buy plastic packaging with my lime juice. Marisa's recipe did not have cilantro in it, and I do love cilantro in salsa verde, so I grabbed a recipe online from Montana Homesteader. 
Photos with  me in them taken by Ben - good job, buddy!

I used a red poblano to make a batch of Marisa's salsa verde. Then I made the rest of the tomatoes into Montana's recipe with green poblanos, running the food processor like a crazy woman and getting Phoebe to pull some stems off tomatoes. 

I sent Ben to the basement for more wide-mouth pints; he came back with a measly one jar.  Certain he just wasn't looking, I sent Genevieve down (all the while pushing buttons and heating up leftover supper and watching the boiling water vat on the stove), and she came up totally empty-handed.  People, I used up all my wide-mouth pints! I thought I was over-supplied with jars! I finished up the canning with half-pints. 

The first canner-load had a jar bust in it, and I thought darkly of the salsa curse, but the rest of the jars sealed beautifully.

And then I snapped back to reality: I had not measured the lime juice, nor had I used bottled lime juice, and I had canned it in a water-bath.  Botulism visions danced in my head! I was so angry at myself for not doing more research, for not measuring the lime juice. I can low-acid foods in my pressure canner to negate botulism!  Why oh why didn't I find a salsa verde recipe that was pressure canned?  I decided I had to freeze my beautiful salsa verde, treat it like fresh, not canned, food.

But first, I talked to Rebecca, who listened to my woes and recriminations and seemed not all worried about it ("Are you sure it's a low-acid salsa? Green tomatoes are tart!"), but shrugged and said, why don't you pressure can it if you're worried?  The heavens opened and a light of reason shone on my head.  So I carefully broke the seal on all my salsa verde jars and pressure-canned their butts.

Here are my take-away thoughts:
find a salsa verde recipe before next fall  that uses cilantro and the pressure canner and not lots of lime juice to keep botulism fears away. Roast or grill the poblanos for a hit of smoky flavor.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Our Family Trip to Seattle and ONP

Back in June, we went on a family trip that we had been anticipating for a long time.  My husband and I had been saving money for years, funneling money into a savings account whenever we could, sometimes only $50 a month, sometimes nothing for a while. We wanted to take this trip before Genevieve started a job (that could happen very soon, friends! she just turned 14!) and after Phoebe was independent of diapers and naps and strollers and such. This summer was that perfect window.  Let's look at our trip through the thrift lens.

We chose Olympic National Park just west of Seattle because it looked like "Acadia of the west" according to my husband, and last summer, we had a super-successful family trip to Acadia in Maine. Our family does well with a location that allows slowing down and deep playing and gets us out in nature, so we lean towards national and state parks for vacations right now.

The kids adored flying on a big airplane to get to Seattle (my husband and I tried not to dwell on the environmental cost of the flying).  We booked our flights months ahead of time on Spirit Airlines - we only paid for two checked bags.  We did not pick our seats or take carry-ons.  Instead, we each had a personal item - a backpack filled with snacks and entertainment - and I chose all Air BnB houses in Washington that had washing machines so we could take limited clothing and shoes in our two checked bags. We flew out on a Tuesday, and home on a Wednesday, the cheapest days to fly, and the Wednesday happened to be July Fourth, so we got a free, beautiful fireworks show when our plane took off from Seattle at 10pm. It was perhaps not the smartest choice to fly a red-eye flight against the time change from West to East Coast, but we suffered through the first day back with coffee and early bedtimes, and then we were fine.

Because my husband travels a lot for work, he had saved up his rental car points.  We were able to rent a car in Seattle for 10 days for a little over a hundred bucks. Before we rented the car, we got around Seattle by bus and by Uber, which thrilled the kids.

We chose our activities in Seattle and Olympic National Park carefully, considering what really sounded fun and interesting to us. Some of the activities cost a lot of money, but that's what the savings were for!  We went on the Great Wheel of Seattle and on an under-the-streets walking tour; we explored the Klondike Gold Rush Museum (a national park - free!), and watched boats and migrating salmon at the Ballard Locks (also free!). We stayed with dear friends in Seattle, such a treat. We had to take a ferry to continue our drive to ONP and thoroughly enjoyed the wind, the wake, the novelty of the ferry from top to bottom. We loved the Forks Timber Museum and Makah Museum, but eschewed the (expensive) hot springs at Sol Duc for looking like a regular old swimming pool. We hiked and hiked and hiked - stopping to play in the water, pose in the trees, and just generally luxuriate in the crisp air and gorgeous sky and mountain views.

I had done some brainstorming ahead of time for meals that I could easily source from any grocery store that would be nourishing, cheap, and relatively easy to make, especially with the unknown kitchens in the AirBnBs I had booked.

This is what I did:
Breakfast 1: eggs, toast with butter/honey, fried mushrooms or oranges, coffee, milk
Breakfast 2: peanut butter/honey toast, bananas, coffee, milk
(We rotated between these two breakfasts)
Lunches: all eaten on the go from our backpacks around Seattle or ONP: bread, cheese, sardines (sometimes), pickles, granola bars, apples, seltzer
Dinner 1: jarred spaghetti sauce, spaghetti, steamed fresh broccoli
Dinner 2: grilled salmon with lemon, baked potatoes + butter, lettuce + croutons + olive oil & balsamic
Dinner 3: grilled kielbasa, pierogies sauteed with onion, (frozen) peas
Dinner 4: pasta + canned white beans + frozen spinach + garlic, roasted fresh cauliflower
Dinner 5: grocery store fried chicken, mashed fresh potatoes, sauteed fresh (local!) spinach with lemon + butter

We did eat four meals out when it was otherwise not possible to cook (travel days) or there was a really cool local place we wanted to try, and we also had some ice cream snacks and espresso and such along the way.
Fun with pipe-cleaners while we wait for food; the backpacks eased the tedium at other times, not just the flights

We ate every last scrap except a half-jar of peanut butter before we boarded the plane, and the security people threw our peanut butter away because it was classified as a liquid and thus illegal to take on the plane. Peanut butter as a liquid!
My plane buddy after the red-eye flight, 3:30am in our bodies when the plane landed.

Overall, this trip was a huge success. We did not actually use all of our vacation savings, and we have immediately started building it up again.  I was worried that Phoebe was still too little to benefit much from the trip, but oh my goodness, if you ask her, she will still tell you about the Great Wheel over the ocean and about nurse logs in the Hoh Rainforest and when she rode in the canoe with Mommy and Daddy while Genevieve and Ben had a kayak.  She was perfectly behaved and occupied on the 6-hour flights (another worry of mine), and occasionally she and I stayed at the AirBnB in the afternoon so she could catch up on her naps and mama could, whew, do her introverted thing. Now that I've actually sorted through my photos, I'm going to make a photo book to go with the travel journal we kept - using a coupon for a free book, of course!