Monthly Archives: February 2010

Purim family picture

What a wonderful Purim we had!  Rather than bore you with a blow by blow description of what we did, I thought I’d share a picture that one of our guests (we had a total of 23 for the Purim meal, including our family) took of us before she left.  Though it’s the end of the day and the face paint of everyone who used it is faded and smudged (the pirate, clown, and lion), you can still everyone in their costumes.

On the top left is ds16, then dh, then ds9 months (in a baseball outfit), me, dd15 (wearing Indian robe and jewelery), and dd13 (in black hat).  In the next row on the left with cowboy hat is ds7, the pirate is ds11, dd9 is the traffic light, ds2 is the lion, and the clown in front is ds3.5 (almost 4).

I hope you enjoy it!


Keeping Purim costs down

Holiday costs very easily spiral out of control, and like all other holidays, a person can enjoy the spirit of things without unnecessarily spending lots of money.  So I thought I’d share a little about some ways I keep Purim related expenses in check.  Some of these ideas will help you now; some require advance planning and can be put into use at different times of the year.

Mishloach manos – (also called shalach manos, this is the gift of food that is traditionally given on Purim to friends) – I set a limit of $1 for each family shalach manos (the kids send their own and my budget for them is lower).  Lest you think this looks cheap and chintzy because of my low budget, you’re wrong.  I actually have to be careful not to make it too nice because I  don’t want anyone to feel outdone, which is why I lowered my price from $2 to $1.  I know how little I spend, but most people wouldn’t be able to accurately guess by looking at it.  This price range allows me to send nice foods while keeping it simple – and it doesn’t overwhelm anyone.

We really enjoy preparing and giving mishloach manos (I try to keep the main list to thirty, and with the kids friends it goes up to fifty or so), so it’s not a pressure for us.  For some people, they might be best off by significantly cutting down the amount of people they give to.  As you see, we don’t spend huge sums of money that would make this financially stressful.

Food – Keeping food costs down is typical of my food saving strategies – make homemade foods, buy packaged foods in advance when they are on sale, buy at discount stores, etc.  This year I’ll be sending two sets of mishloach manos.  One will contain a half pint of homemade (home canned) salsa with a  7.5 oz bag of Garden of Eatin’ organic blue corn chips.  I bought a few cases of the chips when a store heavily discounted them to move them fast – .50 per bag (usually they’re several dollars each).  The salsa was made with tomatoes that I bought for $3 per case, tomatillos that I got free, and ended up a very nominal cost.

The second set of mishloach manos include organic chocolate bars, natural strawberry kiwi juice boxes, and 5 homemade sugar cookies that spell out Purim in Hebrew.  Again, I bought the chocolate and juice boxes when I saw them heavily discounted.  I don’t wait until a few days before Purim to start thinking about it.  The chocolate and juice were bought six weeks in advance, the chips were bought ten weeks in advance; all of these purchases were included in my regular monthly grocery budget.  My monthly food budget always includes any holiday expenses, which is nice since it keeps my financial outlay in that area constant.

Containers – The canning jars I’m sending the salsa in I bought in August 2008 for $1.30 a dozen (they were new and I shared about how I did that here – look halfway down the post).  So each brand new jar, including the lid and ring, cost me about .12 cents. If I were to buy a dozen jars new right now, it would be at least $6/.50 a jar.

After Christmas, I bought all of the non-seasonally themed candy gift boxes that were available at clearance prices, 75% off.  So I paid .25 cents for each one.  I didn’t know what I’d be sending for Purim and if this would be the right size, but figured better to buy it and have them than to regret not having them later on – it turns out that these will be a little small for my needs this year so they’ll be stored for next year.  I bought nice sized gift bags that were 75% off after Valentines Day that are large enough to fit the salsa and chips.  Those were also .25 each.

The second mishloach manos is wrapped in cellophane we were given a couple of years ago by someone cleaning out their basement – they gave us a number of unused rolls because they didn’t want to store something they wouldn’t be using until the following year.  The kids are all very good at being creative with what we have.  I was out of ribbon to tie the cellophane up with, so we found a roll of thin black string, and then the kids used the thin threads of tinsel (the kind you use as metallic ‘grass’ at bottom of baskets) to tie on top of the string to make it look more festive.  I had gone to Trader Joe’s with my toddler the day we prepared these, and got a few helium balloons while we were shopping.  Some of the older kids snipped off lengths of the ribbon it was tied with to wrap theirs with.  :)

When I send gift bags, I don’t write on the labels, so that the person receiving it can save it for future gift giving if they so choose.  Gift bags are expensive and it’s a shame for them to only get used once, don’t you think?  It won’t surprise you that I save the containers we receive on Purim. :)  I let the kids choose from these throughout the year when they need to take something to a birthday part, and the following Purim they can choose from those containers to send mishloach manos to their friends.

As I mentioned yesterday, the kids made a lot of containers this year, so they didn’t take much from what I was stored in the Purim box (they used mostly card stock and paper plates).  If you learn to look at containers that are already coming into your house with an alternative idea in mind, you’ll see lots of free containers that you can use.  For example, the little plastic baskets that cherry tomatoes come in, the lidded microwaveable containers that some frozen vegetables come in, foam containers that one local grocery packages their discounted vegetables in – there are so many choices.  When I bought pearl onions that came in a small purple net bag, I saved them.  You can recycle jars or cans, then decorate them for this purpose.    The kids did this last year for Chanuka food gifts to our parents (one example was when they layered dried beans in glass jars, added spice bags and instructions for cooking).  You get the idea!

Costumes – I’ve made a number of costumes from cheaply purchased clothing at the thrift store.  Sometimes I buy it to use as is, sometimes I buy it for the fabric.  I’ve purchased elegant used formal wear made of nice fabrics like silk, taffeta, and velvet evening gowns (if there’s a stain somewhere on it you can get these very cheaply), taken the item apart, and then resewn it into dress up gowns for girls, and king costumes (jacket/cape with pantaloons) for boys.  I once bought a blue cotton sheet to make a prairie girl’s dress, and the bonnet and matching apron came from a old cotton robe that was checked red and white.  Costumes are fun to sew because it doesn’t matter if they are perfect, and your kids will think you’re incredible just by whipping together something basic. You can also buy costumes at the thrift store after Halloween, or buy them new when they are deeply discounted after Halloween.  I can’t usually go to yard sales because my dh takes our vehicle to work on Sundays, but I have gotten some nice costumes for the littles in the past (lion, Tweety bird, horse) for just a dollar or two.  Don’t forget to ask friends if they have something you can borrow before running out to buy something.  We’ve rarely spent more than a few dollars at the very most for a costume.

Seuda – (festive Purim meal) – I’ve been flabbergasted by how much people spend on this.  Last year we spent $15 for 13 people.  That was the first time we had a dairy meal for Purim, but it was very nice and everyone enjoyed it.  We had homemade challah rolls with butter, thick vegetable soup, homemade pizza (equal to about three or four pies), chevre (goat cheese), cottage cheese, roasted potatoes and yams with rosemary, and a big fresh salad.  And we put out orange juice and milk to drink, in addition to water.  For dessert we had banana chocolate chip cake, chocolate cake (both cakes were from shalach manos), and rice pudding.

This year I was thinking I’d be hard pressed to beat that price, particularly since this year we’ll be having a family of 9, in addition to our family of 11, and then our three parents as well (23 people total).  But you don’t have to keep it to less than $1 a person for it to be very affordable.    Providentially,  tonight my dh came home and told me a friend wants to empty his freezer in preparation for Pesach (Passover) and give us three pans of food from his daughter’s wedding – meatballs, chicken, and a cooked vegetable dish.  This is really nice food, and since I also want to empty my freezer for Pesach, this will be used for our Purim meal.  :)

Remember an important mitzva of the day is to give charity to those in need that at least equals what you spend on mishloach manos.  This is above and beyond regular tithing, and it’s not the place to cut costs!


Purim preps and the drinking issue

Purim is around the corner and we’re in the full swing of preparations here!  A couple of days ago the kids baked 150 hamantaschen (with homemade chocolate filling), and cut out thirty sets of sugar cookies that spell out Purim in Hebrew (five letters in each word, so 150 letter cookies); each of the thirty sets will be part of mishloach manos that the family sends out.

We have several container options for mishloach manos that they’ve made.  One is something that looks kind of like a small basket, made from card stock we were given over a year ago.  They taped them into box-like shapes and attached a handle; that was dd13’s idea.  Dd15 helped ds3 and ds7 make containers by stapling two paper plates together, folding down the tops of each, and attaching a pipe cleaner for a handle.  A number of them are wrapping theirs in cellophane, and it looks like I won’t be using any of the (heavily discounted sale priced :)) containers that I bought.  Dd15 printed out a bunch of colorful personalized labels, and everything is looking really nice.  Everything was packaged and finished last night, so no rush for Sunday.

They also have been preparing their costumes.  This year I really wasn’t involved much at all.  They have the many costumes I’ve made to use if they want, and the older kids are all able to figure out something on their own.  When we placed our order for grass fed beef a few weeks ago, it came in a large box with thick layers of styrofoam on all sides.  We saved this and it’s become the basis for a costume for dd9, a traffic light.  That was finished yesterday.

Now on to another kind of preparation.  I have a strong distaste for this topic but I feel it’s important not to stay silent on something I find of such great concern.    Purim is a beautiful holiday with so many special mitzvos.   However, one of those mitzvos is so easily abused that I think we have to be very, very careful about how it’s performed and what messages we give the impressionable children around us.  My concern is that too many people are using Purim as an excuse to drink and kids are picking up on this not so subtly expressed behavior.

I watched this presentation with my four older kids (ages 11, 13, 15, 16) two or three weeks ago, and I think it’s worth watching with your kids who are preteens or teens, too.  It’s done by a frum organization who is trying to get the message out to Orthodox families that this is something our communities need to address.  My kids already know my very strong feelings on this topic, since I’ve discussed the concerns brought up in this presentation with my kids on several occasions, but alcohol abuse is an important topic and isn’t the kind of thing that one speaks about just once.  I also watched with them a couple of the videos on this site (for some reason only two of the four were loading for us or I would have watched them all).

It’s good that all of our Purim specific preparations are done (except for cooking for the seuda) since I now have to get back to my kitchen to deal with 2 cases of napa that were on sale.  When I opened them up this morning and realized how many heads of napa were in each box (11 huge heads, at least five pounds each), I wasn’t congratulating myself on my bargain (7.99 case).  Rather I was mentally wondering why I did this to myself!   :roll:   The only thing on my side is the cold weather, which will hopefully help keep them fresh for a while longer.


Twice Baked Potatoes

I’ve made these a number of times, always varying the recipe according to what I have on hand.  It’s very inexpensive, easy to adapt, and it always tastes great!  We make double this amount for a lunch meal, but a smaller family would probably do better to halve it.  :)

Twice Baked Potatoes

  • 8 medium potatoes
  • 1/4 – 1/2  c. butter or coconut oil
  • 1 c. chopped onion (any kind – white, green, or red)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • optional – 2 c. shredded vegetables (carrots, broccoli, spinach, napa, cauliflower, zucchini or whatever you have on hand)
  • 1/2 c. milk/cream/sour cream
  • 2 c. cheese (hard cheese or cottage/ricotta, or combination of )
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Wash the potatoes well, prick them with a fork, and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until tender.

    While the potatoes are baking, saute the chopped onions and garlic in butter.  When they are soft and translucent, add the finely chopped/shredded vegetables of your choice.  Cover them and continue cooking on low until they are soft.

    When the potatoes are done, scoop out the insides, and mash them with milk, cream, or sour cream.  Mix in the sauteed vegetables, then the cheese.  (If you’re using hard cheese, reserve some to sprinkle on top at the end.)  Add salt and pepper to taste, mix well.  Then add the mixture to the empty potato shells – it will be overflowing, especially if you add the optional vegetables.

    Sprinkle some hard cheese on top, then pop them back into the oven for another 10 or so.  Serve warm.

    (This post is part of Slightly Indulgent Tuesday and Pennywise Platter Thursday.)


    Getting toddler to try new foods

    >> My toddler is adamant about not eating certain things. We’ve dealt with a lot of food sensitivity issues with all 4 children, so it has been commonplace for different people to be eating different things at the same meal over the last few years. Gluten free foods were very expensive so we couldn’t all eat the same things. Different children have avoided different foods along the way. Now the new baby is super corn sensitive (as in I can’t even use sodium ascorbate that is guaranteed corn residue free because, even after I metabolize it and turn it into milk, he reacts to it). Again, I am trying new recipes, introducing new foods, etc. The two older girls are doing fairly well, but do complain a bit. My husband is finally on board with eating everything. The 2 (nearly 3) year old is the biggest holdout. She often refuses to eat anything when there is one thing on her plate she doesn’t like. She has figured out that she can avoid a fight if she is pleasant about refusing to eat at one meal and then eats more than usual at the next meal. I can force her to sit at the table, but I can’t force her to eat, and I’m not sure I should be anyhow. Any ideas? Thanks!<<

    There are plenty of parenting issues that require taking a strong stance, but hunger forces kids to eat so I never saw the point in insisting my kids eat anything.  When I put out food at dinner, I put it our family style and everyone helps themselves to as much as they want.  (The littles are very generous with their helpings,  lol!)  I wrote about dealing with picky eaters here.  As I said there, I figure that if a child is hungry, then he’ll eat.  I’d say that if your daughter is sitting at the table for the meal and is meeting her nutritional needs appropriately, don’t worry about it.

    However, I’m going to suggest that you make one meal that everyone can eat.  I know that can be hard when dealing with multiple allergies/sensitivities since it probably feels like it leaves you with about three foods to choose from! 😆  But you’re only one person with four little kids, and it seems like making multiple foods for each meal is going to become draining pretty quickly.

    And it’s not only a question of your time and energy.  It’s normal and reasonable for kids to pick up an idea that they can have custom made food and turn down what’s served if they don’t like it when there are so many options available to them.  Also, as they see everyone eating the same foods, there’s a kind of nonverbal encouragement at work that helps give over a message that everyone else likes this, so it must be okay!

    We don’t have serious allergies to deal with here, but for health reasons I tend to naturally avoid foods that are the most common allergens (very little gluten, corn, no soy), and I’m pretty comfortable cooking for just about any kind of dietary restrictions.   There are recipe alternatives for just about everything!  For example, coconut milk is a good replacement for dairy, nut flours are good for baking (if you can have nuts – otherwise there are gluten free grains and coconut flour), arrowroot powder or potato starch are good substitutes for corn starch, et.

    Also, the more simply you cook, using just basic ingredients and not fancying them up too much, the easier it is.  For example, some quinoa cooked in a bone broth with some protein on the side along with roasted or sauteed vegetables is a nice dinner that would work for most allergy considerations. Trying to make quinoa flour muffins that appeal to everyone would be more challenging.  I’m not saying not to experiment – I enjoy trying new things myself!  Just don’t tie yourself into knots trying to make happy.

    I’ve just started reading Gut and Psychology Syndrome, by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.  In it, she gives suggestions for encouraging young children to eat new foods.  She basically suggests starting with just one bite of the new food at a meal, and reinforcing that bite with something very positive (stickers, praise, excitement, a treat).  Though this isn’t the approach I would take, I can see how this could work, so I’m sharing it here in case it will be of help.

    Good luck!


    Choosing between money or love

    Yesterday someone asked me to write about marriage, but it’s something I don’t really blog about, though I do give feedback when asked in person and very occasionally online.  About three weeks ago I answered the following question in a private forum, and I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, which is to share the question (that was posted anonymously) as well as my response.

    The person who asked the question two weeks later dropped her anonymity in order to contact me privately to thank me for this answer.  She said she had been agonizing over what to do, and had spoken to various professionals to determine the best course, but still didn’t have clarity. She said that my response to her was so helpful that she decided to stay with the marriage and try to make it work as a result.  Since this was so helpful to her, I thought it might be of some value to others as well.

    >>Question: If you have to choose between money and love, which would you choose?

    DH is a good person. I work insanely long days (constantly working and finding time to relax), and DH makes dinner at times, tidies up the house, etc.

    The only problem is that he is LAZY, UNMOTIVATED, and hasn’t found himself career-wise. He and his mother admit that he has no motivation. (I’ve known him for years, and) first we thought he was working for a bad company, then we blamed it on a 9-5 sched that he wasn’t cut out for, then we blamed the wrong graduate program, and then his parents shared that he has always had a problem with motivation his ENTIRE LIFE. I have so much drive and ambition, and am curious if his absolute lack of desire to do ANYTHING. I’ve tried and tried for years to help him, and then also tried by not helping him. Either way, we lose and I’m so darn resentful.

    I’ve been told to either deal with being poor on the books but emotionally fulfilled (though I’m not b/c I resent him) or divorce. I’ve tried everything–career counselors, attempting to find every source of employment from being a guidance counselor in the South Bronx to a writing instructor to a barista at Starbucks and everything in between. He says he may never find himself, and I either need to accept that or leave. And I told him that he needs to find purpose in life or leave.

    We’ve been together a year.  Can you let me know what you think?<<

    First of all, I don’t think you’re asking an accurate question since you don’t have an either/or situation that would apply. You don’t have money and therefore you don’t feel love.

    I’m going to share something very important that no one else is addressing (remember, this was in a venue where others were sharing their feedback). I think you knew who he was when you got married, even though you didn’t know the full extent of his lack of motivation (none of us know the full extent of any aspect of a spouse’s personality before going through life a certain amount of time together; unpleasant surprises are par for the course), and you probably were attracted to his relaxed and good-hearted personality. Right?  Wasn’t that part of his appeal to someone as focused and driven as yourself?

    But now you want him to now keep that relaxed part of himself and simultaneously become more like you. That’s what lots of women do, marry someone who is different and then get angry/resentful that he’s different. And then they try to change him. Not fair.

    This is only something to get divorced about if you refuse to look at your part and continue to resent and judge your husband. There’s no way to be happy if you won’t do that. Your husband seems to be a good person who loves you and is responsible in other areas; I really doubt that he’s inherently lazy and doesn’t care. It’s more likely that he doesn’t know what direction to go in, doesn’t have confidence in his abilities, and needs a lot of guidance and support (NOT you to tell him what he should be doing!) to know what direction to move in. He has his own challenge with feeling powerless and unable to change this area; you have your own opportunity to grow.

    You have a tendency to be controlling and this is a chance to really work on that. You love people conditionally, and marriage is about loving the whole person, the whole package. This is what the real issue; your unwillingness to accept life on life’s term and to love him for who he is.

    It’s hard for someone who naturally a go getter to realize that this isn’t a natural trait for many people. The most direct path to your goal of having a husband who is motivated is backing off, accepting him, working on yourself – that’s the only way it will happen. If you can let go of your fear and need for immediate change, love and support him for who he is without trying to manipulate his behavior, you’ll be amazed at what can happen long term. One day you can look back at your amazing marriage and realize what you would have thrown away if you hadn’t been willing to look at your part and work on that.

    I really do know how hard this is.  It’s a real process of growth, and I hope you realize I’m taking time to write this because I really want to support and encourage you to do what will bring you true happiness and love – and maybe money one day, too. Smile

    What would you say to this question?


    Weekly menu plan

    I’m so happy that at the end of last week I was able to get 30 dozen pastured eggs and twenty dozen gallons of raw milk – I really appreciate how much they add to our meals and I’ve missed having them the last couple of weeks.

    Here’s the menu for this week:

    Shabbos (Sabbath) – dinner – sourdough bread, chicken soup, roast chicken, potato kugel, beet salad, broccoli slaw, curried eggplant, mushroom, and tomato; lunch – chicken stew, kishke (stuffing), traffic light pepper salad, broccoli slaw, tomato olive salad, sweet potato pudding, blue corn chips and salsa

    Sunday – brunch – eggs with sauteed broccoli and carrots; snack – bananas and peanut butter; dinner – chicken stew, salads

    Monday – b- smoothies (milk, eggs, fruit); l – twice baked potatoes, spinach; d – Indian ground beef, stir fried green beans with cashews

    Tuesday – b – homemade yogurt with sliced almonds and raisins; l – sourdough bread, borscht; d- whiting boulangere, baked yams, lacto fermented green beans

    Wednesday – b – huevos rancheros, kimchi, guacamole; l – Italian kidney beans, polenta; d – crustless broccoli quiche

    Thursday – b – cottage cheese, fruit, nuts; d – hamburger and rajmah (curried kidney beans)

    This week I made sourdough instead of my regular challah for Shabbos.  It was good, but the kids asked if I could still make traditional challah for next week.  I preferred the sourdough; it has a nice hearty flavor and is very satisfying.  But how much I enjoy something is definitely affected by the nutritional value since I can’t shut off the connection in my mind between how something tastes and how it is processed by the body!

    Last night I started a pot of lamb broth going that I’ll use as a base for the borscht later on this week, as well as using it as is for eating/drinking.  I had some today for dinner – so rich and flavorful, yum!  Hot broth makes a wonderfully satisfying drink on a cold day.  I keep thinking I’d like to get my kids into the habit of having a cup each night before bed (particularly because of the benefit to their teeth), but I first have to remember to suggest it. :)

    Today I prepared yogurt for the week.  I made a gallon and a half, since that’s what comfortably fits into my pot!  That should be enough for two breakfasts.

    I cooked up the last of the sale tomatoes I bought at the end of last week together with some tomatillos.  I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with them – I’ll reheat them in the morning to can them, probably as some kind of salsa.  Everyone really enjoys salsa with corn chips for Shabbos dessert, and it’s also nice to have the salsa for breakfast tacos or together with eggs.

    On Weds. last week my ds soaked a lot of kidney beans for the dinner he was preparing that night, not realizing I had already soaked and cooked a pot full.  They were finished sprouting by today and I cooked them up to use  for later this week.

    (This post is part of Menu Plan Monday.)


    Taking advantage of vegetable bargains

    I think I’ve hit my personal record for buying a huge amount of food for a tiny amount of money and if you’ve been reading here a while, you know that’s saying something.  I spent $45.63 at one store on Wednesday, which included but wasn’t limited to: 4 cases of tomatoes (28 lb each), 7 cases of yams (40 lb each), 19 heads of celery, 150 lb potatoes, and a case of bananas (40 lb).   To be honest, I did have a store credit of $24 from the two cases of yams I bought last month that spoiled in a very short time, so the total would have been a little more had I not had the credit. But I was quite pleased with it.

    Note: if you buy something and there’s a problem with it, don’t assume it’s your fault.  I knew that something was wrong when the yams went off so fast (I’ve been buying in bulk and storing in bulk for a couple of years now and this was unprecedented in cold weather), but at first I assumed I’d have to swallow the loss – the store I bought the yams last month from was far away from my home, I no longer had the receipt, and I wasn’t able to return until five weeks after the original purchase.  But I’ve learned it doesn’t hurt to ask, and when I called and explained to them the date I bought them, how I stored them, and what happened, they readily agreed to refund the entire price whenever I’d be back in their area, without having to show any proof of purchase.  It took about five minutes to make the call and get the person in charge on the phone; $24 for five minutes ‘work’ is pretty decent, don’t you think?

    Along with my wonderful windfalls came a lot of work!   People often think I’m just lucky that I find so many things so inexpensively, but the truth is that most people walk right past these kind of deals and don’t recognize the opportunity in front of them.  Or even if they realize the price is really low, they don’t know what to do with such huge quantities without it spoiling before they use it.  I never let a concern about quantities stop me from buying (as you see from the fact I bought almost 300 lb of yams :)), I figure somehow I’ll find something to do with it! 😆

    The tomatoes were super cheap because they were very, very ripe.  So I had to process them right away.  That meant that I (along with my kids) spent a solid chunk of time yesterday washing, chopping, cooking, and canning.   Was it worth it?  I think so.  We made 15 quarts of tomato sauce, 12 quarts of salsa, and 5 quarts of tomato juice.  Pretty good, since the ingredients for all of it didn’t cost more than $15!  (My kids wanted to know why I didn’t buy all of the cases available at this price.)  It’s a nice feeling of satisfaction at the end of a day to see the counter filled with beautiful jars of home canned foods.  And I like knowing that my kids are developing an attitude of self sufficiency as well as learning real life skills like preserving foods.

    I was considering canning the celery but to do that I’d have had to pressure can it.  Though if you look at the actual processing time, pressure canning looks faster than water bath canning, it doesn’t take into account the time needed to bring the canner up to pressure, process the food, then wait for the canner to depressurize before moving on to the next batch. That can add up to an hour to each load.  Since I wanted to get about 80+pounds of tomatoes dealt with in one day (saved some to use fresh), I decided to only can what I could water bath and the celery ended up being dehydrated instead.  Dehydrating celery is so easy – just slice it thinly and put it on the trays.  But it’s honestly almost disheartening to watch sixteen heads of celery becoming so compact that they fit into a quart sized jar – and there’s still room left in the jar!

    I’m planning to can a bunch of the yams, since they’re in beautiful condition now but they won’t stay that way forever.  But I won’t get to that until next week, since there’s no rush.  Then I’ll have them in a ready to use form to add to soups, stews, or casseroles.

    The bananas were very ripe (had lots brown flecks on them but weren’t turning black), but my kids attacked them so I doubt there will be enough left by Sunday to even consider turning into fruit leather.  Bananas make great snacks since they’re so filling, especially when spread with lots of peanut butter.

    An additional frugal perk of canning in the winter is that you really appreciate the added warmth from the hours of cooking and steamy smells wafting throughout the house.

    (This post is part of Frugal Fridays.)


    Delicious Cabbage Soup

    Cabbage is a wonderful winter vegetable – it’s inexpensive, stores well in a cool room, and can be made into a huge variety of tasty dishes.  I created this soup a couple of days ago, and though I thought the twelve quarts I made would be enough for two lunch meals, it got gobbled up at one sitting!  The amounts below should work well for a smaller family than ours  – I made about three times this amount.

    Delicious Cabbage Soup

    • 2 medium onions, chopped
    • 2 – 3 cloves of garlic, diced
    • 2 – 4 T. oil (I used rendered chicken fat)
    • 1 – 2 lb leftover turkey or whatever meat you have from making broth (you can use ground meat instead if you don’t have any leftover meat to use up)
    • 1 large head of cabbage (purple or white)
    • 1 T. sweet paprika
    • 2 t. thyme
    • 8 c. broth
    • salt to taste

    Heat the oil in a pot, and add the chopped onions; cook until translucent.  Add the soup chicken and saute it until it’s warmed through.  Then add the cabbage, spices, and broth.  Cover the pot and cook on medium until the cabbage is so soft it’s almost melting.  Taste it and add salt according to your personal taste – I’d estimate I used about 3 T. sea salt for my large pot full (12 quarts).

    This recipe is super inexpensive and it’s a great way to use up your leftover chicken from making broth.  The cost for me to make 12 quarts was under $5: the onions were .29 lb (I used approximately two pounds – .60), the cabbage was .39 lb (I used about 8 – 10 lb/3.90), and since I got the turkey carcasses for free, the broth and turkey were free.  It’s packed with flavor and nutrients, and is very digestible.  Perfect to warm you up on a cold winter day!

    (This post is part of Pennywise Platter Thursday and Ultimate Recipe Swap.)


    Another way to soak grains (whey free)

    I’ve mentioned a number of times that I soak most of my grains and flours in order to reduce the phytic acid level.  The reason for that is when the phytic acid is present in a food, it binds with the nutrients and minerals and sucks it out of your body.  Which in turn means that regardless of how healthy you think the ingredients you’re eating are, the actual nutrition your body can use is much less than it technically would seem ‘on paper’.

    I was recently asked once again for alternatives to soaking grains that don’t require whey.  I often use yogurt or kefir, but that doesn’t work for those who prefer not to use dairy.  Raw apple cider vinegar and lemon juice are other options I’ve tried, which work fine but I’ve  been less than thrilled with the taste.  I recently learned about another option from Stephan Guyanet and after trying it out, thought I’d share it here with you. He suggested it specifically for brown rice but I don’t see why it shouldn’t work for any grains and I’ve used it so far for brown rice and barley.

    The basic idea of this soaking method is that you’re ‘growing’ your own acidic medium, and the process reminds me of how you grow your own sourdough starter.   The main difference is you’re soaking whole grains rather than flour, but the process is essentially the same.  Though it sounds kind of tedious it’s really not; it’s just a couple of extra steps in the beginning and then you have your acidic medium to soak your grains in from then on.

    First of all, put the grain you’ll be using in a bowl and fill it with water (ideally unchlorinated – if you don’t have a filter, you can let it sit overnight to let the chlorine evaporate).  Let the soaking grain sit in a warm place for about 24 hours.  In the past I’ve always left it at room temperature, but since in the winter our house is cooler than in warmer seasons (obviously!) and warmth is important when soaking grains , I put it on the lowest temp in my dehydrator for a while and then let it sit overnight in the dehydrator after I turned it off.

    When you pour off the soaking liquid, reserve about a cup of the liquid and put it in a jar in your fridge (this is your ‘starter’).  Now cook your grain in fresh water.

    The next time you’re going to make prepare grains, soak it the same way as before, but this time add the water you reserved.  This liquid has the beginnings of good microorganisms growing, and they will hasten the growth of more microrganisms in this second batch.  These bacteria secrete phytase, which are essential in breaking down phytic acid.  Again, siphon some of this liquid off after the grain has soaked for 24 hours, before draining it and cooking the grain in fresh water.

    Every time you soak your grain, add some of this reserved liquid.  And each time you finish the soaking process, save some liquid for the next time.  Each time you do this process the liquid becomes more potent, and Stephan wrote that after doing this a few times, eventually your homemade acidic medium will break down 96% of the phytic acid in your grain (after 24 hours of soaking).  In case you haven’t read the percentage of phytic acid that is generally left in grains even after soaking (and I’m assuming most people aren’t like me and don’t read those things for fun :)), it’s a surprisingly high amount.  So this soaking process will result in a dramatic increase in nutritive value.

    You can keep this soaking water in your fridge for a long time.  Basically you’ll use it similarly to how you use any other acidic medium, just by adding a small amount to the liquid you use for soaking.  I’ve been cultivating my ‘liquid starter’ for three batches so far, and the grain doesn’t have the sour taste you tend to associate with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.  I expect that it will get more tart with increased bacterial growth, though, so I’ll have to see if/ how much the flavor changes with time.

    (This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.)