A Frugal Life

Skill with money was a lesson I learned very early.  I was given an allowance for helping in the kitchen, doing chores, dusting, ironing, sweeping, weeding, picking vegetables, picking up rocks and sticks in the newly cleared field, feeding the animals, cleaning the barn and more, $2.50 each week.  We were expected to contribute to the upkeep of the household in the form of work in order to receive any money. With my allowance, I was supposed to purchase all my clothes and shoes, tickets for the movies, etc.  Saving enough for a new winter coat or a new dress for school was difficult.  Though my friends thought my allowance was a lot, their parents bought their clothes and paid for the movies.  Little did they know that I did without a lot of things I wanted because I could not pay for them.  A trip to the movies took a week’s allowance and left me with nothing to spare.

I budgeted a certain amount of cash for each type if expenses, divided into envelopes marked clothing, entertainment, school needs, tithing, miscellaneous.  Sometimes I would have to borrow from one envelope to make a payment needed in another category, clothing being a big ticket item.  Thus I became a thrift store shopper.  The only one around when I was in junior high and high school was Goodwill off Boren Avenue in Seattle.  I can remember getting dresses there from Saks Fifth Avenue.  Some of my favorites were dresses by Lanz which was popular at the time.  Many of the clothes sold there were outdated and I didn’t want them when I was in high school. They just weren’t cool, but if you really “shopped” the store you could find some wonderful treasures. Fads and fashion were what it was all about and you needed to find the most recent craze so folks didn’t know that you purchased it second hand.  Later I furnished my first apartment entirely from second had goods.

When I was in junior high, my parents devised a method so TV wouldn’t take up all our after school time.  We were not allowed to watch until evening after chores and homework were finished.  We were given an allowance each week which included a little extra for “pay TV.”  We each got an extra quarter.  Each program was 5 cents.  Most programs were a half hour. We could watch more than five programs, but the extra shows came out of our regular allowance at a nickel each.  I saved all mine and skipped most of the programs.  My sis always ate through all her allowance.  Needless to say this plan didn’t fare very well with either of us.

The consequence of my being frugal as a child is that I now am frugal as well.  Because I can stretch a penny endlessly, I don’t need a lot of money and therefore do not work as much as most people.  This has been the bane of my life.  If I had worked more, even full time, for most of my life, I would have a better, more comfortable retirement, or even a retirement.  As it is, I tell my husband that I will have to work until I die to make ends meet.  Most of my adult life I have either been self employed or worked part time.  Consequently I have not garnered the retirement most create by working full time.  Social Security is greatly decreased and my “retirement accounts” are abysmally small compared to the full timer.

But…I can still stretch that penny.  Because I make food from scratch, can and freeze a lot, because I shop at the thrift store and seldom purchase new goods, because we do not travel extensively or have expensive tastes, the minimal retirement that we do have goes a long ways, for which I am thankful.

My parents idea of teaching me to frugal as child did not necessarily work out as an adult.  I am willing to do with much less.  I save as much as I can and spend little compared to my contemporaries, I am satisfied with little, I work hard with small resources to create a happy and prosperous home environment, not a wealthy one, but one that comes from hard work and frugality.

 

 

 

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Food dislikes

Breakfast Welsh Rarebit
Poached egg on English muffin with crab cake and sharp cheddar sauce

I am an omnivore.  I eat gluten, lactose, nuts, soy, red meat, white meat etc.  You get my point.  I try almost anything.  I may not choose to eat some things a second time, not because I especially dislike them, but I choose to fill myself with foods that I enjoy.  If I am going to take in calories, they are going to be delicious calories.

When I lived in China, we had a policy of eat and don’t ask.  In all the time I lived there, there were only a couple of dishes that I would not order again.  If my students ordered them, I politely took the first bite as is required of the honored guest, but because there were so many dishes on the table, no one noticed if I didn’t help myself to more later on.

One of the dishes was duck feet in mustard oil.  I don’t mind duck or chicken feet at all and have had some truly wonderful dishes prepared with them.  The problem with this dish was the mustard oil.  I understand now how mustard gas can kill.  The oil was truly nasty stuff.

The honored guest always gets the eyes of the fish when steamed Li with scallions and ginger is served.  I eat these, but they are not a favorite.  They have little flavor, it is just the eye-dia.

Another dish which was offered to me at numerous festive dinners where I was the guest of honor was coagulated duck blood.  This is about the consistency of soft jello, difficult to pick up with chopsticks as it is jiggly and very soft, the cubes breaking easily.  Nothing worse that staining the front of you blouse with duck blood.  I ate it everytime it was offered, but I opted out of it on following turns of the lazy susan in the middle of the table.  No one noticed as there was so much food.  Duck blood is not cheap as it is hard to keep fresh.  My students, wanting to impress me, would order it as a special dish.

There is a somewhat humorous story about duck blood that happened to my husband when his students took him out for an end of term celebratory dinner.  I quote it from my manuscript below.

“….Bob tasted this one dish, coagulated duck blood, which was one he didn’t especially care for and had had before.  He went on to the next dish after surreptitiously rinsing his mouth with beer.  As continued eating, one of the other students took a taste of the duck blood.  The student made a terrible spitting noise and hacked the mass onto the floor, stood up and started yelling.  The duck blood was spoiled.  When Bob came home he said, “If I die tonight, I want you to know I ate spoiled coagulated duck blood.” The students were most apologetic.  I guess it might be a good idea to have a guinea pig to do your tasting for you, but that is not the Chinese way, the honored guest is the guinea pig, going first and dies first, if it is bad.  Bob didn’t even get sick.”

Now we mostly prepare our own Chinese dishes and we choose only the most delicious to eat.  When we can find ingredients, we prepare them at home for ourselves and we omit the mustard gas (oh, I mean oil), the eyeballs of animals including fish and coagulated duck blood.

There are two foods that I WILL NOT EAT, never.  There are only two.  One I don’t run across but occasionally.  Parsnips are on my HATE list.  I will refuse them if you offer them to me. There is not being polite here.  I even hate the ones that come in those chip bags of mixed vegetables. It isn’t the texture or the appearance, but the taste that you sense in the back of your nose.  When I was a young girl, I had several surgeries.  These entailed putting you to sleep by putting a cone over you face and drizzling ether onto the cone.  Parsnips taste like that smell.  Ether made me throw up and parsnips make me gag.

The other food I dislike and will not eat is runny eggs.  I do run across this often. If we eat breakfast out, I almost always order scrambled eggs as they will usually be completely cooked.  I would eat a runny white, but a runny yolk tastes like….well….coagulated duck blood.  It tastes like blood. I love eggs Benedict.  Do you think I can convince the cook of the meaning of petrified?  Never.  I always have to send them back while my table mates eat their meals before they get cold.  Once at the local café, I sent them back twice and they were still soft.  I kept the fruit bowl and told them to cancel the eggs Benedict. What don’t they understand about petrified?

Now when I go to that local café, the cook gives me the stink eye and hopes that I don’t order anything with poached eggs.  I would rather green yolks than soft orange ones.  It’s too bad, because this is a dish that I would not make at home as my husband is not partial to it and it is too much work just for me unless I am making crab cakes eggs Benedict, in which case my husband will eat those with me.

I am an omnivore.  I will eat almost anything and I am willing to try anything at least once.  Try it, you might like it.

 

A Treat in Winter

IMG_4503It has been a while since I wrote, but winter can be a busy time.  The wind blows and the branches fall and cleanup has to happen.  The critters in the woods come out and attack the chickens and measures need to be taken to make the chickens more secure.  I lost two of my hens to a Cooper’s hawk.

It snowed twice this past week here in the maritime Northwest, an almost unheard of event for late March. It wasn’t traffic-stopping snow, but snow none the less.

The woodshed was almost empty as the weather has been colder than usual with more fuel needed for the woodstove, so I have been working on a new batch of wood, splitting and hauling.  But we ARE keeping warm.

It is also time to do all the tax stuff since the two of us have businesses that require complicated tax forms.

Gee isn’t winter fun?  Well it is, and I am just giving excuses for not writing. We do have a new customer for our card business and we have been preparing a new line of cards as well.  I had three dog portrait commissions in recent weeks too. That is always exciting.

Right now the wind is blowing like mad outside (22 mph) and the temp is in the low 40s.  I just started the stove and will put on breakfast shortly.  Winter is also the time for comfort food and last night I made one of our favorites, ravioli.

We have always made our own pasta and, in more recent times, even have a hand-crank machine to roll and cut the dough.  I made large sheets and cut out round ravioli with the device I mentioned an earlier blog.

IMG_4505Last night, however, the ravioli was a real surprise, even for me who can usually anticipate how it will taste.  I took a bite and was truly amazed at the wonderful flavor.  I made homemade ricotta to which I added homemade marinated sundried tomatoes, pesto, toasted almond meal and porcini mushroom powder plus a whole egg.  Wrapped this up in the pasta.  For the sauce, I opened a can of homemade marinara that I made last fall and added homemade cubed lonzino (a Portuguese version of prosciutto).  Sprinkled it all with parm. Served it with a Whidbey Island Winery Sangiovese. The first bite’s flavor just burst in my mouth. I was totally surprised.  I made this last time without the almonds and porcini, but they made all the difference.  Luckily I made enough so we will have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  What luxury.

I know it sounds like a long complicated process, but having made the lonzino, marinara, pesto, marinated sundried tomatoes last summer at different times, I had all these items on hand.  The ricotta only takes about ten minutes to make and is half the price of the store bought (I use the whey for bread making or soup stock).  There are benefits to planning ahead.

I took a couple of photos, one of the ravioli airing before boiling and one of them finished in the bowl, but, oops, I had eaten a lot before I remembered to take the photo.  It was soooooo good!

IMG_4504

The Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner

The year sure went fast and now we are in the year of the dog.  Being a dog lover, this is a good year.  Ours is getting old, but it is his year.

Anyway, we have been eating Chinese food now for a week and loving it.  We hadn’t had a big dinner, with many dishes, for a while so we decided to invite friends and serve a bunch of dishes.

Recently on KNKX in Seattle there was a discussion on their “Food for Thought” page that was debunking the fact that you can’t make decent Chinese dishes at home.  I agree, you can make wonderful dishes at home.  I find the only drawback with making them at home in the US of A is getting the raw materials.  There is a wonderful grocery on the mainland where I can occasionally shop, but I am seldom likely to get on the ferry at $14 to go there just for groceries. Still, they don’t have everything that I used to get down the street when I lived in Beijing.

But it IS possible to make good Chinese dishes at home. Here is the menu from our 4715 year of the dog new year’s eve celebration.  Typically you should serve at least two dishes for each of the number of people attending.

Snow peas fried until crispy

BBQ pork with hot mustard (red pork)

Pork Jiaozi (dumpling with sweet and spicy sauce)

Porcupine balls

Char Sui Baozi (steam buns)

ShuMai ( two kinds: crab and also shrimp)

Steamed pork bones with hot peppers and fermented black bean

Eggplant with peppers and potatoes

Lacquered chicken with ginger/scallion oil

Cucumber salad with black vinegar and cilantro

Coconut gelee with red almond happiness character

Walnut cookie

It was a lot and we did have leftovers.  It was a great meal and very reminiscent of our meals in China, maybe not the banquets, but adequate enough for us to feel very good about it.

If you are hesitant to try making Chinese food at home, I would suggest you start with one dish plus rice.  This way you won’t be overcome trying to do quick, stir-fried cooking all at the last minute.  When we chose our menu, we only had a couple of items that had to be made just before serving.  Many of the items were in the steamer cooking so didn’t require a “dance” to bring it all off.  The eggplant dish could sit for a few moments without harm.  We were not rushed.

One website I like to refer to is The Woks of Life for recipes.  They show step by step photos of the processes for each dish with clear instructions.  Sometimes they have ingredients that are unavailable to me, but I can generally find something to substitute.  That is the beauty of this type of cooking. Another site that I have just found, due to the information on KNKX, is Chinese Cooking Demystified at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC54SLBnD5k5U3Q6N__UjbAw.  Check those out and take on the challenge of Cooking Chinese dishes.

 

New Year, New Things

Crust

When I was in eighth grade, I took my first home ec. class.  I had been cooking and baking since I was six years old, but I had never made a pie crust. Our unit’s job was to make a chocolate cream pie.  The four girls in my unit worked on the crust and made the filling.  We whipped the cream and we were ready to make our presentation.  Unfortunately, you could lift the entire pie out of the pan by the crust.  It was like cement.  Tough.  It was more like the dish for a chocolate pudding, rather like stoneware.

The instructor commended our filling and gave us an A on that.  Unfortunately, the crust got a failure.  For years after that incident, I would not make pies because I was afraid of tough crusts. If I did need to make one I would purchase premade pie crust at the grocery.  It was easy that way and there were no failures.  Betty Crocker to the rescue.  You could purchase sticks that could be rolled out and no one was the wiser.  If you purchase the already rolled crusts in the pie pan, the crimping around the edge was the dead give-away.  They looked too perfect.

When I was about thirty-five, a friend gave me a recipe for a crust that has been my stand-by for forty years.  It uses an egg and vinegar to keep it from getting tough.  I was the pie lady at the farmer’s market for years and this was my crust for all my pies.  Everyone loved them.  The current pie lady at the market got this recipe from me and she has used it since.

Now we are in a New Year, 2018, and our neighbors invited us for New Year’s Eve celebrations.  They made empanadas as part of the snacks we had before the bewitching hour.  The crust was extraordinary.  Boiling water crust.  Boiling water!!! I thought everything had to be freezing cold.  I have even found recipes where they freeze the butter or shortening and grate it into the mix to try to keep it really cold.  Boiling water?

On the second of January, I was inspired to make pasties (pronounced past-ees), a Cornish pastry filled with meat, potatoes, onions, apples.  The crust was magnificent.  On the sixth of January, I made a crust again and blind baked it (for a cream pie, blind baking is baking without filling).  We had the most fabulous banana cream pie with the flakiest crust I think I have ever made.

Next I will try a pie that has the filling baked in the crust to see if this boiling water crust can withstand that process, maybe pecan pie.

Boiling water?  Breaking all the rules.  Maybe breaking rules is what it is all about.  Maybe experimenting in ways that are very different we come up with new and wonderful things.  Boiling water crust is now my favorite.  I may never make my old stand-by with the egg and vinegar again.

 

Here is the recipe.

 

Boiling water crust

1/4 cup boiling water

Poured over 1/2 cup of shortening

And beaten until they coalesce.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour with

1/2 teaspoon salt and

1/2 teaspoon baking powder.

Pour the dry ingredients into the liquid.  Do not overmix.

Roll between two sheets of plastic wrap and use for pie, pastry, pasties, etc.

Bake as you would any pie crust.

 

Note when eating, see how flaky it is.  It is wonderful.

Enjoy.

 

 

The Season of Pickled Herring

The Season of Pickled HerringIMG_4416

I am Swedish by birth, only partly, but some.  The Christmas holidays, these days, is Pickled Herring season.  We didn’t eat it when I was a kid, and I don’t know when I developed at taste for it.  Probably this happened during the years when I lived in the neighborhood of Ballard in Seattle in my young adult life, eons ago.  Since then, the Christmas holidays always included pickled herring.  There was a wonderful bakery/deli name Johnson’s and later Olson’s, I believe, where it was readily available.  I used to go there and buy almond paste and air smoked and hardened lamb and pickled herring that they made in fifty gallon drums.  Theirs was the best. They also carried about twenty-five brands of cod liver oil.  I asked who bought this stuff.  It seems that folks who grew up with it needed to be supplied consistently in their adulthood.  Can you imagine drinking this stuff voluntarily?

Now that place is gone and we travel to Ballard to the Scandinavian Specialties shop on 15th Northwest.  Theirs isn’t the best, but it is the best substitute we can find. My husband went two days ago and bought a couple of quart tubs of herring, a pint of lingonberries and some currant spread.  We now make our own potato sausage so we don’t purchase that any longer.  They do not have the air dried lamb.  Times change and folks no longer eat these specialties.  I guess I am old fashioned even though they are not from my youth.

I can remember as a kid trying to talk my mom into buying gjetost from the grocery during the holidays.  Every year I would think I loved this.  You can read about this brown, caramelized cheese that is considered Scandinavian Fudge on the internet at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunost.  Each year I would take a few bites and it would languish until tossed to the chickens about April.  My mom would give me a scowl and put the small package in the cart, but she knew it would not get eaten.  My dad would eat a few bites too, but it was so cloying that it clenched the muscles in your jaws to rigor mortis.

Anyway, I found myself with pickled herring, the kind in sugared vinegar, not sour cream, my favorite.  I also had on hand several other ingredients and wanted to make a Latvian salad I had had a few years ago that had really impressed me. It is also eaten in Finland, Estonia and Norway to name a few places.  I made it last night for dinner with warm rolls and felt like the holidays had truly arrived. The recipe is below.

When I brought my love of pickled herring into the relationship with my husband, he turned up his nose and pooh hood the dastardly stuff.  Said he wouldn’t get caught eating such weird ethnic stuff.  Was this a slur on my heritage?  Of course not, he loved me and yes he would try a piece, but only one piece.

I went off to work the next day and when I returned, he was making dinner.  I decided to have a couple of pieces of herring as an appetizer before he served dinner.  I rummaged through the refer to find the quart container I had purchased at Johnson’s.  I couldn’t find it.  We had eaten about a half cup the night before, but the remaining three quarters or so of the quart eluded my search.  He had eaten it all for lunch.  Boy, was he taken with pickled herring.  I am glad, as I love it, but I was sorely disappointed to not have more than a few bites of that quart.

So for the Latvian version of Herring and Potato Salad, here it is.  I noticed that my husband ate half of the salad today while I was it work.  Luckily there was enough for a photo. Enjoy.

Estonia: Herring and Potato Salad

Estonian Herring and Potato Salad

For the salad:

  • Pickled herring to taste, we use lots
  • 2 red-skinned potatoes, boiled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 canned beets, cut into 1/2-inch dice ( I cooked fresh from the garden)
  • 1/3 cup minced onions
  • 1 large tart apple, cored and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/2 cup diced dill pickles
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

For the dressing and garnish:

  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard (I used brown mustard seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard plus I used some sweet and hot prepared too
  • 1/2 cup prepared mayonaise
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, for garnish

Cut the herring into half inch square pieces. Place in a large bowl and combine with the potatoes, onion, beets, apple, chopped eggs, pickles.

In a small bowl, whisk the mustards with the mayo until smooth. Stir in the remaining dressing ingredients (through the salt and pepper) and blend well.

Add the dressing to the salad: toss. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve garnished with sliced egg.

Serves 6.

 

 

The Use-By Date

Do you ever read those things on a can of beans? On the package of butter or noodles you just bought?  Have you purchased an item at the grocery only to discover when you got home that it was past its “use by date?”  My sister-in-law use to clean out my mother-in-laws refer and cupboards of all the past the use by date goods and she had little left in the pantry.  Do we get sick if we consume something past its use by date? Even if it hasn’t been opened?

What about people?  I think I am past my use by date.  This is the date where the parts start to fall apart.  Up to a certain point we have damage, just like the damaged goods canned food with big dents in them.  But after the use by date does the product begin to deteriorate?  Well people begin to deteriorate at some point in their lives.  All those hinges begin to wear and the body begins to fall apart.  This is the point in my life.  I try tai chi and digging in the garden and touching my toes, but it takes me a while to recuperate, but at least I still recuperate.

I was just reading a book by Daniel Everett called Don’t Sleep—There are Snakes. Though it is primarily a book about language and language development, it is also a study of a group of native people in a far off tributary of the Amazon.  Their use by date comes well before ours.  They live to be thirty-eight or thirty-nine years old and then they are worn out. They do not build houses but sleep on the ground outdoors.  They hunt when they are hungry, but not unless they are hungry. They have no record of the past and no concept of the future, no written language, no counting system or names for colors.  They found it most interesting that the foreigners lived to be so old and were so concerned about life’s comforts.

When I worked at Boeing, I rode to work in a carpool.  There were five of us, I being the youngest and Earl being the oldest.  Earl was counting the days to his retirement when he could go to the thrift and junk store seeking antiques on a daily basis.  He was going to make a second occupation of this after working a lifetime at Boeing.  Earl died within a year of retirement.  Back then the average life expectancy was about sixty-seven for men.  The average life expectancy for a Boeing retiree at that point in history was a year and a half after retirement. The use by date being considerably shorter than today.

No wonder many of us didn’t bother to worry earlier about end of life care insurance and help in our old age.  We only had a couple of years after we retired to make ends meet and then our use by date was up.  Now we can live another forty years or so.  My dad retired at fifty-three and lived almost that long again after he retired. Our bodies give out, but we continue on in a more limited fashion.

Next week I have my annual physical.  I am sure that I am fine, but the doc requires it to get his bit of Medicare payment for the “wellness exam.” I wouldn’t go, but he will no long renew my prescription if I don’t come in.  After surviving cancer twice, it is a good thing to see how much wellness I have left or if I am approaching my use by date. I think it is still a ways off yet.