Monthly Archives: February 2009

Amish oatmeal

Oatmeal is a great food, nutritious and inexpensive.  But most parents don’t consider serving oatmeal to their kids for breakfast -they insist their kids wouldn’t touch  it.  I’ve given my kids cooked oatmeal on a regular basis for breakfast for years, but there are many ways to use oats that can be more appealing for kids than as a simple cooked cereal. 

I have a page of recipes in  my notebook of breakfast ideas that use oats as the main ingredients, and rotate through them regularly.  When I see something new that looks good, I add it to the list.  Because I want to encourage moms to use inexpensive ingredients, I’ve already posted several recipes using oats, and here’s another one that we enjoyed for the first time a couple of mornings ago. 

Amish Oatmeal 

  • 1 1/2 c. quick oats
  • 1/2 c. sucanat
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 1 t. vanilla

Mix the dry ingredients, mix the butter and egg, and then add the creamed butter and egg to the dry ingredients.  Spread in a greased 9 x 13 pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes.  Spoon into bowls, and serve warm with milk. 

If you want to soak the oats the night before, what I do is use kefir or buttermilk as the acidic medium, counting whatever I use as part of the milk called for, mix it up with the oats, and soak them overnight.  Then when I mix it up the next morning, I add the milk so it adds up to the total amount called for.   (I hope this makes sense – I realize that if someone hasn’t read what I’ve written about soaking oats in the past, this is probably confusing.)



Cutting your paper good expenses

Here we go, another way to chop down your monthly costs, going where few dare to go!  Seriously, paper goods add up quickly, and most people don’t stop to figure just how much they are adding to their monthly costs.  Paper goods can be convenient, but the convenience comes at a cost.

We use very, very few paper goods, with disposable diapers being the biggest exception (in the winter, not the summer).  I don’t consider this part of our food budget – it’s budgeted as part of our miscellaneous needs each month, but the amounts aren’t very significant at all.  I think it’s a good idea for people to separate their miscellaneous expenses from their food costs, even if they’re purchased at the same store, so that they have a clear idea of what they’re really spending in each area.  I’ll start at the beginning, and if I forget something, then ask me, okay? 

Disposable dishes and cutlery – we hardly use these at all, except maybe on the second day of a three day yom tov if we have guests and I’m not feeling like washing any more dishes by that point.  At one point I realized that I never had enough silverware, and that the pieces from our service of 12 had slowly gotten lost.  (I think pieces sometimes get thrown away by younger children when they clear their plates.)  So as much as I like good quality silverware, I decided to head to Walmart and buy a bunch of cheapie stuff – they were five pieces for $1.  I got thirty each of soup spoons, small spoons, forks, and 18 knives ($21 total).  That gives me enough for the average Shabbos to get through without having to wash them.  (I don’t generally mind washing dishes, but on Shabbos I really dislike it.)  I recently stopped in and got a bunch more of that pattern, since I noticed the attrition rate was beginning to affect my supply.:)

Dishes – we use regular dishes all week, including Shabbos and holidays.  For Pesach, my inlaws’ contribution for several years has been a stack of disposable dishes – one year they asked how they could help (since they come for the seder, etc.), and that’s what my dh suggested, since particularly on Pesach, it seems that cooking and cleaning up from meals is nonstop.  Years ago, we also used paper plates for a couple of weeks after I gave birth, but that was when my kids were younger and I was doing all the dishes.  Now they’re well trained and wash the dishes, so after birth is the same as any other time. 

We also used to buy disposable plastic cups for Shabbos (we had enough to patch together from different styles during the week), because our glasses were always breaking, and it didn’t take long for a complete set to become uncomplete.  Then after I don’t know how many sets of glassware, I tried buying the rigid plastic cups, that are clear and look like glass.  They cracked after being dropped a few times.  Then I tried the unbreakable plastic (well, unbreakable to any other family, but we managed to break even some of those!), but most of them disappeared over time.   Kind of like the silverware dilemma I shared above.  (Those of you with small families might not understand how this is possible, but this is the reality I live with – that I can buy 20 – 30 cups and only find 2 when it’s time to set the table, and that’s when all the dishes have been washed. :))  I really didn’t like using the disposables, especially since I didn’t keep them enough at the forefront of my mind, and ran out too often.  I kept thinking about what I could use instead.  A couple of months ago I noticed some clear poly-carbonate cups in Walmart that looked like glass but were very sturdy.  The problem was that they were a bit more than I wanted to pay.  However, H-shem was guiding my steps in the store, and that very day I found the same glasses, but colored instead of clear, in the clearance section, for .50 each.  (I’ve never before noticed a clearance section in Walmart.)  I bought all that were left – I think there were 13, but would have gladly gotten more if they had them.  I told my kids when I brought them home that they must not be taken to other parts of the house, and so far, almost two months later, we still have all of them.  And none are broken.  So now we don’t need disposable cups even for Shabbos.  Whew – that saves us a big $1.29 every few weeks.

Napkins – okay, I use paper napkins for Shabbos/yom tov, though not the very expensive ones.  I’ve tried several times to use cloth napkins, and I don’t like them.  They don’t absorb – the material they all seem to be made of kind of just smears the grease around.  Then they get stained, and I’m obviously not a laundry maven, because I wasn’t successful in getting the stains out.  Putting out cleaned but stained napkins isn’t something I’m comfortable with, so they were relegated to rag status.  At some point in the last few months, I had the brainstorm to use colored wash cloths, which are great for wiping hands or table spills, but not so beautiful for Shabbos.  So I buy one large package of 500 napkins, 1 ply (I don’t remember how much they cost, but not more than a few dollars), which lasts at least at least a couple of months.  For weekday meals, we have the washcloths.

Paper towels – I don’t buy these at all, and don’t think I ever have (if I’ve had them, it’s because a visiting parent bought them).  I use cleaning rags – I used to cut up our old towels, but we didn’t wear out our towels at the rate necessary to keep up with the spills needing to be wiped up.  So to bulk up our supply, I bought a couple of large packages of shop towels when a local store was going out of business.  I think I got something like 50 for $15.  They’re red, which I like because they are easy to sort into the wash and out of the clean laundry basket, and I use them for everything – wiping down the table/counters, cleaning spills, wiping hands.  They’re also good for washing dishes with.  I keep them in a basket in the kitchen, along with any old towels, washcloths, and cloth napkins.  Also, old cloth diapers also make good rags – we also had some of these in our cleaning stash, but the conflict was that some kids didn’t distinguish between old cloth diapers that were ragged and very nice new ones.  You can see why the relevance of the red cleaning rags now, right? 

Plastic bags – I periodically buy sandwich bags, the cheapest ones that are $1 for 150.  I also reuse plastic bags that foods come in, if they are dry and clean, like bread bags.  They usually don’t need more than a quick shaking out of crumbs.  You’d be surprised how many bags come into your home that are useful in this way once you start paying attention.  I also reuse the cheapie bags I buy, if they are dry and clean – many of the times, I use them to put in a leftover muffin, piece of bread, biscuit, and there’s no reason not to use them again.  I don’t rewash baggies, mainly because: a) my kids wash most of the dishes, and I don’t ask them to do that, and b) I buy cheap sandwich bags (only ziploc type bags are worth washing), and don’t feel the effort is worth saving a dollar every two or three months.  Also, I have plastic containers of different sizes to keep food in, so this minimized how many bags I use.  Buying these was an upfront cost, but there are some companies that sell decent quality containers for signifiantly less than Rubbermaid.  Also, you can reuse the plastic containers that some foods come in (like cottage cheese, or margarine – not that I’m recommending you eat that horrible stuff, blech), and then you don’t have to buy any. I happen to be partial to square or rectangular containers because they use space more efficiently so I’ve chosen to buy the less expensive containers as my main containers.

Aluminum foil – I reuse the pieces that are basically clean and dry.  I don’t rewash it, though, because it gets too complicated to keep track of what was used for dairy and what was used for meat.  Not to mention too messy to store two sets of used foil.

Disposable pans – I’m very happy that since I recently aquired stainless steel baking pans, I no longer need to buy these. When I did buy them, I reused them a number of times, making it a long lag between buying new ones. 

Baking/parchment paper – I used a lot of this when I used disposable aluminum pans, because I didn’t like cooking directly on it.  Now that I’m using stainless steel pans, it’s cut down on my parchment paper use.  When I do use it, it’s usually for challah or cookies, and the pieces that are in good condition can be reused several times.

All of this does make for more dishwashing – significantly more – and more laundry – not so much more.  But it cuts down on costs, cuts down on time spent in stores, and cuts down on running out of something and needing to go to the store.  If you’re in an area where you’re charged for garbage pick-up, it also cuts down on your trash costs (the large cost of pick up itself, plus the small cost of extra garbage bags).  On an ecological front, it cuts down on the huge amount of things that go into a landfill and won’t be decomposed until long after our grandchildren are grown.  Nice when something can be good for you and the rest of the planet, too. :)


Raw milk

>>I was wondering if you purchase raw milk? I know you have linked to the Weston Price foundation before and I know they are very supportive of drinking raw milk. I was just curious because it really intrigues me. I have actually been doing some research on it and was thinking you would be a great person to ask and then this post reminded me to ask you.<<

 Yes, we do drink raw milk. 

>>I am thinking about trying some for my family. We are not big milk drinkers, in fact I do not drink it at all, but I have been researching all of the health benefits and think it is definitely worth a try. Did it take a while for your family to adjust? <<

 We also weren’t milk drinkers before discovering raw milk – I can probably count on one hand the amount of times my kids had milk in their lives.  I had never even heard of raw milk as a possibility until three years ago, and I did a lot of research and reading before I was even willing to consider the possibility that dairy could be good for you. It didn’t take any of us any time to adjust, physically.  The harder part was thinking of milk as something that had a positive nutritive value – I had always attributed my kids’ good health to staying away from dairy products.  My husband was reluctant to try it, because he had allergies when he was younger to milk, but was surprised to have no reaction to raw milk.  Many people who can’t tolerate dairy find that they can digest raw milk just fine, thanks to the nutrients not being denatured.

>>I was told to take a probiotic (which I do anyway)for a week or so before consumption.<<

That seems unnecessary to me, but probiotics are good to take at any time, so it couldn’t hurt!   But having just a small amount and seeing if you have a reaction would be prudent, if you’re concerned.  I’d be more cautious about suddenly using something like kefir, which is a powerful probiotic – in that case, to avoid your system suddenly cleaning itself out, it’s good to start off taking just a small amount and giving your digestive system a chance to adapt. 

>>Also with such a limited shelf-life, do you freeze the milk?<<

Both farmers I bought from told me that the shelf life was a week.  But we found that the milk stays fresh in the fridge for two weeks in the summer, three weeks in the winter.  I think they are choosing to err on the side of caution – when I questioned one of them a second time, he said that they find it stays two weeks but don’t want to take a chance of someone’s spoiling before that and getting upset.  Remember that I get it the day it comes from the cow, so it hasn’t been sitting around.  I refrigerate what I think we’ll use within two weeks, and put the rest in the freezer.  Interestingly, raw milk doesn’t spoil in the way that regular pasteurized milk does because of all the good bacteria in it – it changes form as it gets thicker and more sour, but remains useable and good for you.  So even if you had it sitting in your fridge for six months, you could use it (it’d be more like sour cream by that point).  Pasteurized milk putrifies, though, and I’d hate to think of doing anything with it but pouring it down the drain once it started to go off!

Freezing raw milk changes the consistency, but not the flavor.  The cream, since it hasn’t been homogenized, will freeze into tiny pieces and stay in tiny pieces after defrosted.  Not bad, but not as smooth once it’s defrosted.  If you blend it up with some fruit, it’s not noticeable.  We definitely prefer it before it’s frozen, but no one turns up their noses afterwards!

There’s alot of misinformation and disinformation out there about raw milk, and most of what people say comes from simply not being educated about it – like too many things, there’s an excessive amount of fear mongering that comes from ignorance.  But the taste is great (some people notice a difference more than others) and the health benefits are wonderful, so if it’s something you can get hold of, it’s a good addition to your family’s diet.


When to stop having children?

Last week, I had an interesting conversation with my older kids (we have lots of interesting conversations, actually!), ages 10, 12.5, 14, and 15.5.  I always have thoughts on something percolating in my brain, so these conversations get started when I share my thoughts or ask them for their opinions.  In this case, I asked them if they thought people should continue having children if the parents were unable to pay full tuition for the children they already had.   Since we homeschool, tuition isn’t an issue I have to deal with, and this was a non-personal starting point for a conversation about the value of having children and the choices we make in providing for them.

This isn’t something we’ve ever discussed before, and my kids really wanted to hear my take on it.  But I want my kids to learn to think things through for themselves, not to just adopt whatever I say as the right position, so they each had their say before I made any comments.  One child surprised me by saying no, people shouldn’t have any more kids if they can’t pay full tuition, and when I asked her why, she said that they would have so much financial pressure that they wouldn’t be happy to have more children.  And if they weren’t happy, they shouldn’t have more children.  So their happiness was the defining value, not the tuition.  The others argued that school is only one way to educate a child, and isn’t a necessity, educating your children is what parents are responsible to take care of.  So they said if people wanted to have more children, they should look for other ways to educate their children that would meet everyone’s needs, and that tuition alone wasn’t a good yardstick to use to make that decision.

I then asked what if someone couldn’t afford full tuition for more than one child, should they stop having children at that point?  What if they could afford full tuition, but couldn’t afford for the mother to stay at home with the children when they were young?  What about if the children had to share bedrooms, couldn’t afford sleep away (or even day camp), had to have very simple food, couldn’t afford extra curricular activities, wouldn’t have weddings/college tuitions fully funded by parents?  What about if they had to drive old cars, live in a tiny house in not so great neighborhood, buy used clothes, and never had vacations?  What if they could afford full tuition, overseas vacations, and an otherwise high material standard, but the kids came home to an empty house every day, or spent more time with a nanny or housekeeper than their parents?

To me, these questions have to be asked to get to the heart of the issue.  We have to ask ourselves these questions to define what our foremost values are, to determine what is worthwhile to spend money on, and where children fit into that picture.  What are the necessities in raising children?  This is so individual, yet there are so many judgements of those who make different choices than we do.  But because the core values behind the decisions are so widely varying, it’s not likely there’s going to be a consensus from the different sides.

Fortunately, everyone doesn’t have to agree with the choices we make.  It does matter if we’ve taken the time to think about the choices we make. As you know, we so far have eight children (soon to be nine).  Having each and every one of our children is a value for us.  It’s a conscious value, meaning that we don’t go on  having kids because we don’t know how to prevent it, or because we feel social pressure (none of that actually – few of our peers have large families), or because we feel it’s a religious obligation.  It’s because we have so much joy in raising children, in putting our time and efforts into growing people who are making the world a better place and who bring so much light into our lives and the lives of one another, that the material ‘sacrifices’ some might see us as having made pale in comparison.

Having a larger family means our kids share rooms.  We have a modest house in a working class neighborhood.  We drive an eight year old van that comfortably seats us all, go on yearly camping vacations, and don’t consider summer camp a necessity for anyone (though a number of the kids have gone).  Our extra curricular activities are limited, though the kids have been fortunate to have music lessons and sports when desired, and though we do get to have some nice day trips and outings.  We see paid work for teens as a positive value, and encourage good financial management from a young age (all of them from the age of six and up have their own savings accounts).  There is no college fund for any of them – we expect our kids to find ways to fund college, if that’s the route they take (though we’ll pay for any college expenses while they are still in high school, if they choose to do dual enrollment), and have told them that when they get married, it means that they’re taking on adult responsibilities, including paying their own way and providing for themselves.  We are very supportive of teaching our children skills that will help them as they enter adult life, but not very supportive of giving children money just because they want something.

We see learning to get along with others in your family as a very positive value.  Learning to think about others and look out for younger siblings is a positive value to us.  Learning to delay gratification, share, and make choices because you can’t have it all builds inner character, in our minds.  So are we depriving our children? Should we have stopped long ago so that the older children could have more materially as they are growing up?  We don’t think so.

On the flip side, we’ve been told how lucky we are that we can afford to have one parent at home full time.  (‘Lucky’ is the subject of another long overdue post….)  Our children enjoy knowing that one of their parents is always available to them, something that many people will say is a luxury.   A family member who once told me that every generation is responsible to make sure the next has it better materially than them clearly would say we’ve failed in our basic parental responsibilities.  Most others have looked at them and commented that they are happy and well adjusted – and told us to have more, that the world needs more children like ours!  For us, we take it one child at a time, being mindful of our emotional and physical ability to meet what we consider to be the crucial needs of each of the children we already have.

This is a topic that is now being discussed in wider circles, as the mother of the octoplets gains fame.  I don’t support choosing to have a child when there isn’t a stable family structure in place, as I see that as purposely denying a child what should be a basic right.  But it seems that very few people are bothered by this, and that the real concern is financial.

Most people would probably agree that having more children when you can’t take care of those you have already have is neglectful and not something to be supportive of.  The question is, how do you define taking care of your children, and where do you personally draw the line?


The cost of eating kosher

So many times I hear people complain about the cost of eating kosher, and it’s true that kosher food tends to cost more.  But it’s not helpful to feel like victims and say how easy it would be to keep our food budgets low ‘if only’.  After all, many people who aren’t limited to eating only kosher struggle with their food budgets, and they would also have to learn new strategies and ways of thinking about their spending if they wanted to get their costs down.

I’ve often found incredibly cheap meats and cheeses (non kosher, of course), and thought how I could easily feed my family for $300-$400 instead of $600 a month if I didn’t have to eat kosher.  My feelings about this are, we all choose in what light we want to view the objective reality, and I don’t find it helpful to look at things in a negative way.  So I choose to remember every time I go shopping and put something in my cart that costs more than I’d otherwise pay, that I’m fortunate to be doing an easy mitzva – one that the only challenge to is sometimes paying a bit more.  Even though my budget isn’t very large and I like to save money, I’m doing it because what H-shem (G-d) wants of me matters, and I’m happy to have a tiny opportunity to remember that. 

All of that being said, let’s look at really what the costs of eating kosher are.  (By the way, I hear the same kind of complaints about the expense of eating ‘healthy’; everything that I’m writing here could easily be applied to that concern.)  In my opinion, the main concern is mostly meat and dairy products.  If you choose to eat lots of processed foods, that’s fine, but of course you’re going to spend a lot more money than if you cook from scratch.  In that case, it’s not eating kosher but eating processed foods that is costing you. 

What about poultry/meat costs?  Even when it comes to meats, you get to choose what you put in your shopping cart, and that determines how much you’ll end up spending.  There are always less expensive choices.  This week in our local kosher supermarket, there are turkey drumsticks and chicken wings on sale for .99 lb, which was a fraction of the price of anything else (I think chicken thighs for 2.69 lb was the cheapest thing I saw after that).  While every week there isn’t something this inexpensive, every week there are at least a couple of items that are significantly cheaper than usual (and wherever you may live, you probably have at least periodic sales).  Do you think if you found a way to regularly buy and cook only with the meats/poultry that are on sale that you’d save money?  (By the way, also as of today, the non-kosher chicken wings in a local store, also on sale, were 1.39 lb.  So it’s an inaccurate assumption to make that non-kosher meat is always less expensive.)   

Some of you will object that chicken isn’t meat, and meat is much more expensive.  You’re right, it is.  Again, you’re the one making the choices about what to buy, and whether you buy poultry or meat.  I spoke to a local kosher butcher recently to find out what cut of meat the chopped meat is ground from, and what he told me was interesting.  The least expensive chopped meat is made of the higher quality cuts of roasts that haven’t sold within a short time, which means there’s going to be practically no difference in flavor between the $18 lb roast and the cheapest ground beef.  The more expensive lean ground beef is made of neck meat, a tough cut of meat that isn’t good for much if it were sold on it’s own but people will pay more for because they think it’s healthier.  (Any kind of ground meat should be used within a day or two or immediately frozen after purchase.)   I like roast as much as the next person, but I can’t justify it as a necessity by any means, particularly for someone struggling with their food costs. 

You may insist that you have no way to lower these costs, but maybe you could take another look at what you’re eating, when you’re eating it, and how much you’re paying for it when you buy it.  You don’t have to have meat every night of the week, or even on Shabbos.  You could use a less expensive cut of meat.  Or you could use chicken.  Or you could use less per person, in stir fries or stews, instead of a large portion of protein per person.  There are lots of choices.  And you get to make them!

What about dairy?  If you eat only chalav yisroel, you’re going to be more limited, without question.  But again, you get to make the choices!  Buying when it’s on sale is critical in being able to enjoy ‘the good stuff’ without breaking your budget. Last week, I bought shredded cheese for 2.59/8 oz (and got enough to put some in the freezer for Pesach).  At the next store I went to, it was 5.99 for the same thing.   Instead of bemoaning how expensive it usually is, I wait until the price is right and stock up!  Also, I use cheese as an ingredient, not a main dish.  That means my kids don’t eat chunks of cheese with a meal, but enjoy it very much sprinkled on their pizza or into soup.   I take advantage of regular cottage/ricotta cheeses on sale (by the way, I don’t eat exclusively chalav yisroel), and again, buy alot when the price is good.  Since these things can be frozen, a limited refrigerator shelf life shouldn’t keep you from being able to take advantage of great sales and enjoy them on weeks when they are full price.   

Now, let’s be even more radical in thinking about dairy.  What about if instead of buying your milk at the store, you bought directly from the farmer?  That’s what I do, and I pay $2.50 per gallon (and if I watch the milking, then it’s chalav yisroel, too!).   I buy a lot once a month, and keep some in the fridge, the rest in the freezer.  Milk that is defrosted had the exact same flavor and consistency it had before it was frozen (except raw milk, but we’re not talking about that here). 

But you don’t live next to a farm, you say!  Neither do I.  Because the farmer I buy from lives quite a distance from me (almost two hours), I researched discount/bulk food shopping in that area, so that I can take advantage of being in the neighborhood when I get my milk.  I do a full day of shopping once a month, and the additional gas costs are more than offset by my savings. 

If you bought your own milk and felt cheese was really too pricey, you could decide not to eat cheese.  Or you could get a book from the library and learn about making your own cheeses, in which case a pound of cheese would cost you whatever you were paying for a gallon of milk.  I’m not suggesting that it’s for everyone, and if fact I still prefer buying my cheese to making it.  The point that I think it’s important to make is that there are many, many things we can do, if we want to, to get control of the supposed fixed costs of kosher food. 

At the risk of being totally redundant, I’ll say again that it comes down to evaluating the choices we make, looking at what our options are and what we can do, and being willing to either do something different, or stop complaining.  :)    Happy shopping!


Piano recital

This afternoon we attended the first piano recital for any of our kids.  Three of our children are taking lessons from a talented neighbor – dd14, dd12, ds10.  Their teacher has a wonderful baby grand piano, and she has given the kids permission to come into her home any time during the day and practice.  Since that’s what they do, I don’t have much of an opportunity to hear them play, except for the occasional times they use our electronic keyboard. 

So today it was really nice to hear all of them.  Each of them played three solo pieces, and then two duets.  I especially enjoyed the duets – all three of them played a piece together with one another, and I loved seeing the teamwork involved in playing together. 

There was one other student who participated, and it was especially interesting to watch her interact with her parents, who are both deaf.  A friend of the mother brought some special electronic equipment, and during the intermission I asked about it.  She explained to me that it was something that could be hooked up to the piano, and amplified the music so that it could be connected to the parents’ hearing aids, making it possible for her parents to hear her play somewhat.  Isn’t that a wonderful benefit of technology?

All of our parents were able to come, which was very nice for everyone.  The grandparents were all very happy they were able to make it, and even brought bouquets for each of the kids!  I’m so grateful the kids have this opportunity – as I’ve said before, music lessons aren’t necessities, but they are benefitting so much from them.


Weekly menu plan

Today is a busy day for all of the kids – the older four have been in and out (mostly out) all day.  Three kids had piano this morning, and are practicing for their recital late this afternoon.  The older two boys spent hours together at the gym (finally got the family membership on Friday), the two older girls spent a couple of hours volunteering at a synagogue social event, and after the recital, one dd will be out babysitting for the night.  So my menu plan that was written last night has already been adjusted for today since so many of them haven’t been around.

Here’s the menu for the week:

Sunday – breakfast – french toast with fried apples; lunch – oatmeal muffin loaf; dinner – turkey, sweet potatoes with apples, kasha, and leftover cholent

Monday – b – farmer’s breakfast casserole; l – calzones; d – kasha nut loaf, yogurt sauce

Tuesday – b – granola, yogurt, sliced banana; l – black bean soup; d – Brunswick stew

Wednesday – b – omelets, buttermilk biscuits; l – minestrone soup with rice pasta; d – falafel balls, Greek rice, techina

Thursday – b – Amish oatmeal; l – CORN (clean out refrigerator night, but my kids told me last week I need to call it CORA – clean out refrigerator afternoon when I have leftovers for lunch); d- chickpea and peanut stew

As you can see, I decided to take advantage of the cold weather and planned soup for almost every day lunch.  It’s filling, nourishing, warming, and very inexpensive to make.  In the summer no one has the slightest interest, so I need to make it while I can!  I made a huge pot of turkey stock today that will make a delicious base for each of them.

Having a menu prepared at the beginning of the week really simplifies preparations for the rest of the week, because I know what I’ll need when, and can take steps to have it ready.  Today we did a bunch of prepping for meals this week.  One dd prepared the oat mixture for the granola, so it can soak overnight and we’ll bake it all tomorrow, so it will be ready for Tuesday morning.  She also blended the steamed cauliflower for the calzone filling.  Another made the pizza dough for the calzones, and baked up a double recipe of leftover oatmeal muffin loaf (from the leftover apple cinnamon oatmeal at the end of last week) for a late lunch today.  Ds6 brought up chick peas, kidney beans, and black beans, and ds10 started soaking all three in separate bowls.  By soaking them now, they’ll have sprouted later in the week when we need them and the nutritional benefits will be maximized.  Ds15 is preparing the breakfast casserole loaf for tomorrow’s breakfast – I’ve learned from scheduling this in the past that it has to be made in advance to be ready to serve on time for breakfast.  And lastly, dd8 is preparing to soak two packages of walnuts in a sea salt solution; they’ll be dehydrated overnight and ready to use for Monday night’s kasha nut loaf.

Does that sound like a lot of work?  It actually has taken just an hour, fit in between the kids going in and out.  That should basically be it for the week’s necessary advance food preps, except for soaking the flour and oats for Weds and Thursday morning breakfasts, and I can do that the night before I make them.  It drastically simplifies my cooking during the week when time is shorter, and makes it possible to make healthy meals that are served in a timely way.  By lumping the preparations together, it’s an efficient use of our energy, and by doing it together, we get a lot done in a short time frame.  And no one feels overly burdened by having to do all the work.


Time to get your taxes done

I thought a friendly reminder about getting your taxes done now would be in order.  I know, I know, who wants to come to my blog to be reminded about taxes??  But it’s very freeing to have them done ahead of time.  We filed ours two days ago, and I’m glad to have it done before there’s any last minute rush.

In addition to the nice feeling of getting something big that has to be done out of the way, there’s also an economic reality to be aware of.  I hate to sound like the voice of doom, but if you have fun following national economic news like me, you know that things aren’t looking good right now financially for a bunch of states.  And you probably also know that so far, two states aren’t going to be sending out tax refunds, just IOUs.

Hopefully, those will be the only two.  But as the saying goes, better one bird in the hand than two in the bush.  So get in line early and get your taxes done. If you have a refund coming to you, it’s a lot more likely you’ll get it if you file taxes sooner rather than later, if trouble arises for your state.  If you do live in a state that ends up having trouble honoring their commitment to give you back the money you’ve lent them interest-free all year (can you tell how extremely unimpressed I am by governmental financial management?), you’ll be glad to have your funds back in your account rather waiting for your state government to miraculously find money they don’t have. 


Mishloach manos preparations

Since it was requested that I share what we’ve done in the past when sending mishloach  manos on Purim, here you go!

First of all, I don’t do themes.  I don’t write cute, funny, or inspired poetry.  I just try to send something that fulfills the mitzva, that people will appreciate getting.  What I’ve enjoyed receiving the most are practical and useable foods, so that’s what I try to send.  I know most people send a lot of treat foods, so I feel that by sending something a bit different, it offers a balance.  Of course cakes are always nice, but Purim is a very busy day, and it’s nice to receive something early on that you could sit down and eat right away if you wanted.  At the end of Purim, there are so many cakes, cookies, and candies around that something that is more substantial always seems to be appreciated.  When I’ve sent store bought foods, I’ve also tried to keep it practical. 

Here are some things I remember sending: challah with vegetable soup; chicken soup with matza balls; challah with homemade marmalade; canned salmon and small bottle of grape juice; box of crackers and butter; box of tacos, can of beans, bottle of taco sauce; chocolate cake or banana bread with a fruit/juice.  We often add in smaller items, like a small bag of hamataschen, nuts, or something similar, but that’s not the main thing.  Sometimes I’ve chosen not to send homemade foods, because some people aren’t comfortable receiving them, and since most homemade goods end up piled together, some people will throw away all the homemade foods they receive at the end of the day.  That’s not where I want what I send to end up.  

Something that I’ve had to remember is people who only eat chalav yisroel or yoshon.  The yoshon aspect limits home baked goods to them, and I don’t know everyone’s personal standards when it comes to this.  It’s not a great feeling to give someone something, and have them hand back the items they can’t or won’t use!  Fortunately, I can only think of two people over the years that we’ve given to who this has been an issue for.   If I’m sending something dairy, like last year (butter), I make alternative packages for those who I think keep chalav yisroel. 

I keep the expenses for each one to a maximum of $2, which I think is very reasonable, considering that to add your name to a Purim card and joint mishloach manos costs $3 around here.   That includes the packaging costs.  Obviously what I send depends on what I can buy or make for that price. 

As far as packaging, I’m always a little torn between it looking nicer and keeping it simple.  My kids recently informed me that they were embarrassed that last year it didn’t look so nice – we gave a large box of whole wheat crackers, with a 8 oz. rectangular bar of butter taped on, wrapped all around with ribbons.  I thought using cellophane would be too much but the kids thought it looked too simple.  (In the same conversation, they also said they were uncomfortable because their personal m.m. looked too nice last year.  Yes, I was rolling my eyes. :))  My challenge isn’t the cost, but is balancing wanting to send something to someone that they’ll enjoy and feel good about, but not sending something that could leave someone feeling inadequate that what they’re giving you is too little.  (This is why yesterday I chose not to buy Pesach cake mixes to send to people, even though they were inexpensive.)  Purim should be a day of good feeling and not competition.

We usually buy inexpensive baskets, and wrap everything up in cellophane.  I generally pay 25 cents for each basket (I’ve bought them the last few years at a nut store that sells their overstock from their x-mas gift baskets), and have used sturdy plastic bowls or plates when I didn’t get the baskets.  I buy a large roll of cellophane from the store, which is enough for all of what we send (that’s about $6).  I have ribbon from years ago when I bought a bunch of rolls at a thrift store for a very small amount of money.  This past summer, someone cleaned out their basement, gave my kids a bunch of toys, and included some brand new rolls of cellophane – that will come in handy this year.  :)  Then I put a simple Purim sticker on top with our name and the name of the family we’re sending to.

This year, dh was at the store where the baskets were, and picked them up for me.  He called to ask which ones to buy – there were three kinds, and one was especially beautiful, though they were all the same price.  I told him not to get the nicest one – there’s no way anyone would think it was inexpensive, and I don’t want to be deceptive in sending something that fancy.  Also, it was substantially bigger than the others, and I’d have to fill it!  So he got only one, to send to our rabbi. 

I hope this clarifies – if there’s something that I haven’t touched on that you’d like me to respond to, please ask!


Food shopping again

I had a productive day of food shopping today.  And yesterday I stocked up on six months’ worth of grape juice (thanks again, Debbie!), enough to hold me over until they run a good sale again (usually it’s about twice a year around here, a month before Purim and a month before Rosh Hashana).  Two of my kids, when they saw how I bought ‘only’ 35 bottles (64 oz each), said, “That’s it?  Don’t you think you should go buy some more?”  They initially thought I had stopped only because I bought everything available on the shelf.  Do you think they’re developing a skewed attitude of what a normal amount of food to buy is??  (But I agreed that they might be right, and maybe I’ll get another six to be sure I don’t run short – we do use a huge amount on Pesach.)

When I woke up and saw it was snowing (something I hadn’t expected when I went to sleep last night), I momentarily considered cancelling my planned monthly shopping trip.  But I decided to stay with my original plans, and I’m glad I did – I don’t like pushing things off once everyone is expecting something.  There was a good amount of snow and hail while I was driving, but the highways stayed clear, and we got there and back in a decent amount of time.  While we were driving, we enjoyed listening to the first cassettes of the set we gave my dd8 and ds1o for Chanuka – Fellowship of the Rings.  (It’s amazing how much value we’re getting out of that 20 cent gift – dh also started listening to it on Sundays when he drives in to work!  At almost twenty hours of listening time for the entire set, with the two it was given to plus others in the family now enjoying it, we’re way below 1 cent per hour of entertainment!)  They are much further along in the story, but willingly agreed to start at the beginning so everyone else would know what was happening.  Since we were driving for over four hours, plus the kids wanted to stay in the van and eat lunch while I made a quick stop into one of the stores, they got plenty of listening in!

My two oldest kids were the only ones who went with me five weeks ago, and both of them felt like this was a puny shopping trip, lol.  Last month, you may remember, I hadn’t been shopping for seven weeks and had two months of food money budgeted to spend instead of one.  Besides buying only one month’s worth of food today, part of why I think this trip seemed so measly was that I bought fifty pounds of sucanat ($85).  (I was so glad to find the supply has been resumed after months of not having any available from the wholesaler, and in the nick of time (ie, with just a few pounds of sucanat left in my house – I was already thinking I might be forced to buy brown sugar), I was able to order it again!)  Between that and the grape juice, it used up a third of my monthly budget!  Since a bag of sucanat doesn’t take up much room in the van, despite costing as much as two 50 lb bags of wheat and 25 lb of millet combined, the van didn’t impress them as being very full today. 

But I still got a case of eggs (30 dozen), 50 lb potatoes, 40 lb yams, 5 cases of yogurt (6-32 oz containers per case, 30 containers total), 40 lb bananas, and a case of cherries.  And 15 lb butter, 16 lb cottage cheese, 15 lb chevre, 25 lb flour (white – for Purim baking), 25 lb sugar (for Purim baking and Pesach), 4 lb walnuts, 10 lb carrots, a few lb polenta, 25 lb grits, 8 jars of almond butter with honey, 6 boxes herbal tea, and lots of miscellaneous stuff. 

I also did all of my Purim shopping today, and the kids got all of their stuff for mishloach manos.  I’m not sure what we’ll send from the adults in our family yet, but I’ll use what ingredients I have on hand and figure it out!  I also got started on Pesach shopping, which was nice – four boxes of matza farfel ($1), five cans of matza cake meal (.79 each), several bags of sugar, a bunch of strawberry and raspberry jello (I don’t usually buy this, but at .33 each the price was right and it’s useful for some of the sorbet type desserts I like to serve on Pesach), cocoa, #10 can of pizza sauce (1.99) and a couple of chocolate chip cake mixes (because they were cheap – .89- Pesach cake mixes are so unbelievably expensive that I would never consider buying one otherwise).  It’s not a lot, but it’s that much more I won’t have to buy when Pesach is a week or two away.  I don’t buy many processed foods even for Pesach, so I shouldn’t need much more than lots of matza, oil,  and potato starch (of the non perishables – obviously we’ll need a lot more food than that!) – I have to check what I put aside last year as far as spices and anything else I might have tucked away. 

I’m planning to go shopping again in five more weeks, which will be a week before Pesach, and buy enough for six or seven weeks (for Pesach and the weeks afterwards).  Then I won’t have to shop again until two or three weeks into May.  I don’t usually think this far ahead as far as when to shop, but I’m trying to shedule my shopping trips now so I don’t feel any pressure of us running low on food supplies when I give birth (due very beginning of May, though the last two babies were two and three weeks early).  Like this, I’ll have at least a few weeks after birth before going shopping again after Pesach. 

When my  husband called from work late today, he asked if I got what I wanted when I was shopping.  I told him I never get what I want – I get what there is, and what I buy is what I want!  But that’s by no means a complaint!  I have such incredible gratitude every time I complete my monthly shopping trip.  H-shem (G-d) is so good to me, because He always sends me the items that I most want, when I need them!