Saturday, July 15, 2017

Basic Galette, Pie, or Tart Instructions


When I teach someone to cook, I like to teach a skill rather than a recipe. If you learn a recipe, you know how to make one dish, but if you learn a skill, the whole world opens up. When teaching a newbie to cook, I often make Goldenrod Eggs. That teaches two important skills: how to hard boil an egg and how to make a bechamel. From those two skills, you can make a wide variety of dishes for a wide variety of circumstances.

When I teach someone to bake, I aim to do the same thing and galettes are the perfect intro to baking. Even for someone who has been baking for years, the endless variations make this one of my favorite dishes to bake. The hardest part of this recipe is making a good pie dough, but even if you take the cheater's way out and buy a pre-made crust, it will still turn out good. (Moment of confession: I did use a store-bought crust once because I was doing my last-minute grocery shopping for company coming over in a little over an hour). The recipe is super flexible and can be modified in a nearly infinite number of ways.

First, make a nice pie crust. I always use the King Arthur recipe: 2 c AP flour, 1 T sugar (leave out if making a savory dish), 1 t salt,  2 sticks of butter cut into pats, 1 egg, 2 T milk. If it is really hot, you can toss the ingredients into the freezer to prevent the butter melting (which would result in a tougher, less flaky crust, which no one wants). Sift together AP, sugar and salt, then cut in butter just til it holds together if you squeeze it, but you still want to see little lumps of butter as this will result in a flaky crust. Gently mix in the egg and milk just until moistened and no more. Divide in two, shape, wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least a half hour or up to 2 days. You can freeze if desired. I've found that this batch of dough will make several galettes, so freezing the extra can make it much easier to whip up a dessert later.

Generously flour your work surface and roll out your dough to roughly 1/8 inch thick (it doesn't have to be perfect). When making galette, I usually pull off a chunk of dough and roll it into a really rough circle, about 8-9 inches across. Once I have the dough rolled, I put it back in the refrigerator to rest while I make the filling.

I use a basic cream cheese filling for a lot of my fruit galettes. I can't remember where I found the recipe originally, but most recipes are just variations of this recipe: 1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened, 1/2 cup sugar (leave out if making a savory dish), 1 egg and a tsp of vanilla. This recipe is pretty flexible. You can use a little less cream cheese or a little more egg or reduce the sugar and it will still turn out. Beat together well. If you do it by hand, it will feel like it is taking forever, then all of a sudden it is ready. It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth and it will still bake fine. This recipe is enough for 2-3 galettes and it stores well for a few days in the refrigerator. If you want to make a smaller batch, just halve everything and you can either use the full egg (I've tried it and it works fine) or use about half the egg and use the other half as an egg wash (which makes for a great color and allows you to sprinkle the crust with some grainy sugar). This filling is really forgiving which is why I love it.

I spread a layer of filling over the middle of the dough, leaving about an inch around the edge. You can do a thin layer (makes for a less filling dessert) or thicker (cooks up fine and you can serve smaller slices). Layer on some fruit. Basically use whatever you like that you have on hand. I love to use apples or peaches. Sometimes I mix a variety of fruits, placing in a pretty design. Whatever you do, either slice thin (pears, apples, peaches, plums) or cut in half (larger blueberries, cherries) if needed so they cook through. Smaller berries can be left whole.

Fold over the extra dough around the edges. Don't make it too pretty. I like having some variation. Some slices of galette have less crust, others more so everyone can get a piece they like best (I like the extra flaky crust). Plus if you try to make it perfect, you really need to make it perfect. If you aren't trying to make it perfect, there's less pressure. Every little "mistake" just gives it more rustic charm.

If you'd like, you can brush some egg wash onto the edges and sprinkle with some grainy sugar. The egg wash will give a nice shine and color to the crust, but left bare it has more ruggedness.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. You want the bottom to be nicely golden as well.

Beef Pot Pie is an easy way to give
life to leftover beef stew.
I love how flexible this recipe is. If made free-form and flat, you have a galette. You can make a rustic pie by quickly placing the dough in a pie plate and coarsely folding the excess pie dough back in. You can make a large tart or little tartlets. Put the filling on just one half, then fold over, crimp the edges and you have a hand pie. Roll dough into a rectangle, cut into smaller rectangles, put filling on one and top with another rectangle and you have pop tarts. Put into a pie plate and add a savory custard for a great quiche. Put in a pie plate, add some leftover beef stew and cover with another layer of crust for a quick beef pot pie.
I placed some curly garlic scapes
on top of this quiche for great
presentation as well as flavor.

 The basic cream cheese filling goes brilliantly with a variety of fruits, or you could leave out the sugar and make a savory galette. It would be perfect to mix in some fresh herbs or scallions before layering on some roasting tomatoes (especially heirlooms in a variety of colors), caramelized onions, bacon, ham or asparagus. Garlic scapes or fern fronds would make unbelievable presentation.

You don't have to stick with cream cheese filling. I like to use a goat's milk caramel when I make apple galettes. Try real maple syrup, honey, jelly or jam. Spread nutella on the dough under strawberries.

Use fresh fruit. Use frozen fruit. Cook down some overripe fruits into a lovely compote. Add nuts. Make a streusel topping. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper if making a savory dish or sprinkle some cheese around the edges.

Make it your own. Make it for breakfast, brunch, a light lunch, appetizer, dinner entree or dessert. Make it tonight!

Have fun baking!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money June 2017

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

Life has been a little crazy for a bit, so I'll be scaling back this post a little. I'll stick mainly to highlights in each category, rather than the journal-type entries I'd gotten in the habit of writing.
Gardening:
* I planted more goodies and have started harvesting bits of greens and peppers. It looks like it will be a good pepper year. The basil is going gang busters. I transplanted lots of plants into containers that I have growing all over the house. I foresee lots of pesto and caprese in our future, so life is good.

Cooking/Groceries:
* A few times I made galettes using fresh fruit (either from the farm or Aldi), a basic cream cheese filling and my pie crust. I used half an egg as a wash over the crust. They turned out fantastic each time. They are sweet enough to count as a dessert for me, but not too sweet to make a lovely breakfast. I love how easy it is to pull together while still having some "wow" factor for entertaining.
* I hit the farm stand a few times. Mainly, I've been scoring little cukes and carrots. We love having fresh veggies on hand, chopped and ready for snacking.

Fun:
* We took my parents out for my dad's birthday. He generally likes boring meat-and-potatoes type meals, but absolutely loves hibachi. The Japanese steakhouse near us is pretty pricey, but we bought a $60 Groupon for $30 which lowered the price enough. We all ate half of our meal and took half home for lunch the next day. Afterwards, we took them to a local garden park and laughed a lot as we walked around. We finished off the evening getting frozen yogurt at a local place. It was a really fun evening.
* We caught a blues concert at a coffee house near us. We used a BOGO coupon for our coffee, so it ended up being a pretty frugal date.
* Daisy came over once for crafting and she and hubby came over for dinner and movies another night.
* We went out with one of my coworkers and his family to the drive-in theatre. We brought snacks and drinks from home. He brought sports stuff so for a couple hours before the movie started, we played football or catch. When dusk came, I broke out some sparklers I bought at the grocer for $2 and the kids had a blast.

Nature:
* We went hiking several times. The best one was a park about an hour away. It seems like just a normal little park, but hidden in the park is an osage orange tunnel. Farmers used to plant osage oranges as a living fence. It was a positively magical hike.


Work:
* I finally got the phone call. I got hired on for full time at my job. For the last six months I've been a temp. I interviewed 5 months ago. Sometimes people would wait several years for an interview and a couple years between interview and getting hired on, so I'm really happy with the timing. This job will pay significantly more, provide extensive benefits and will eventually give me 7 weeks of paid time off a year. They generally try to keep you in the same area you are currently working (which would be ideal), but could move me anywhere in the company, as needed. The main change will be switching from first shift to second shift. I am a little nervous about it, but I think I will adjust okay eventually. I will miss my current coworkers desperately, but am glad that we will become a lot more secure now. My dad has worked for the company for going on 35 years, and I believe it will provide a good life for my family as well.

Community:
* I can't remember if I included this in an earlier post or not. My dear friend's partner was gifted some items from his client's parent's estate. They couldn't use all of it, so they gave us two beautiful bar stools and a ridiculously gorgeous lamp. These are very high-end pieces that we would never, ever be able to afford. I am super excited because I've been passively looking for some bar stools for the island since we bought the house five years ago.

How was your week?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Frugal Fun in the City

City living comes with a lot of high costs, but the city offers a lot in the way of entertainment. At times when we had little money, we were able to fall back on lots of free sources of entertainment to keep us from being bored while we were trying to stabilize our finances. Small towns offer some of these things too, so even if you live in a small town, look into some of these options.
 

* Go to any free festival you find interesting. Over the years, Trucker and I have gone to countless festivals and have never paid a penny to get in. Big cities often have fantastic festivals, and rarely charge admission. In my experience, mid-sized cities are more likely to charge admission, although there are free festivals to be found. I love going to art festivals or blues festivals. Sometimes, I go to other festivals just to broaden my horizons and experience something new. It's a great way to have fun without spending a ton of money. It can even be free if you eat before you leave and bring beverages from home.

* We love to get out deep into the woods for an all day hike, but sometimes car trouble or gas prices keep us from making the journey. On those days, we make a day of walking and exploring in the city. We'll pick a direction or a street and venture out. I pack a snack and a couple water bottles for the journey and we'll usually have a bit of spending money, although we leave the cards and big bucks at home, just in case. A couple of weeks ago, we walked to an ice cream shop to get $.50 cones before walking home. Other times we'll walk to get coffee and then walk home, foraging for wild berries as we go.

* Find out about free access to museums. In Chicago, you can check out passes at any library branch to get into different museums for free (up to 4 people). In my current city, there is no such option, but most of the museums have some option. One museum is free one (very crowded) day a year, another is free every Sunday (with free concerts in the summer!), and a few small museums are free every day. The summer reading program at the library offers a couple one-time free passes for two small museums after you read 4 books during the summer. These are great options for the curious city-dweller, with or without kids.

* Sign up for newsletters with local events. One trendy local site sends out a newsletter with every kind of event going on each weekend. Many of these are way beyond my price range, but there are almost always a few free events going on. Sometimes the events aren't up my alley; sometimes they are the perfect thing for a fun weekend.

* Enjoy the arts. Go to a gallery opening or hop. Watch an art demonstration. Take a long stroll through a neighborhood with a lot of galleries.

* Check with your local theatres. One theatre near us has free symphony performances a few times a year. Another had a free documentary viewing and a meet and greet (with free gourmet ice cream) with the local actor who made it. Yet another has $10 symphony tickets for several shows each year.

* There are likely more movie options in the city than in a small town. You have several theater chains to chose from, so call around for the best matinee prices. Maybe you even have a discount theater. Our's charges $2.25 admission; on Tuesday's it is $1.50! The fancy theatre downtown has a summer movie program. When you buy a strip of 10 tickets, it is only $2.50 each for a really nice experience. Lots of local parks have drive-in movies, so there are lots of movies to chose from. Bring your own popcorn and beverage.

* Art in the park. Many cities offer concerts and plays in the park. These can be fantastic. At one park in my city, it's an all-out thing. People bring short tables and pile them with fine food and pop open a bottle of wine. It's fantastic and costs nothing to get in.

* Find some coffee house culture. Poetry readings or concerts at coffee houses are incredibly frugal events. Often there is no cover, and you can sip your coffee while you enjoy the entertainment. Cost out can be as low as $1.50 a person.

* Go to the library. Not just for books, movies, CDs, magazines, internet, and ebooks (although, certainly check these out while you're there!), the library can be a fantastic source of entertainment. Ask about concerts, movies, lectures and classes at your branch or nearby branches. In one city I lived in, there was a month of financial classes for free at various branches around the city. We bused it out to several events to learn as much as we could. Made for an educational night out and gave us things to talk/dream about on the bus ride home.

* Go to book releases at coffee houses or book stores. These are great fun, depending on the type of book. The best book release I ever went to was for a true-crime mafia book (Trucker and I are obsessed with Mafia movies, so the real-life stories of people we'd heard about was fascinating).

* Take a walking tour of your downtown or a historic neighborhood. Do your research before hand, then venture out. Make sure you know some good trivia to impress your date/interest your kids. Try to hit places with fascinating stories, intricate architecture, or vibrant street art. Stroll around interesting little stores (unless you've got kids that would get bored or destructive) or maybe hit a tiny, very localized museum. If you'd like, take a bit of pocket money to pop into a candy shop or grab ice cream cones if you'd like.

* Visit an ethnic neighborhood for fantastic grocery shopping. I love to visit Chinatown to stock up on my favorite herbal teas. The prices are great, and it's fun. This can also help to kick you out of a cooking rut. Since you're just grocery shopping, it doesn't really cost anything out of the entertainment budget and if you do it right, can save you on your grocery bill.

Even if your expenses are high in other ways, city living does offer some great ways to economize in other areas.

Share your favorite frugal city fun tips in the comments.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 5/22 - 5/28

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
Gardening:
* I got some collard, onion and scallion transplants from the farm stand and popped them into my garden.
* We have lots of lovely growth in the garden. Overall, everything is looking good.
* I harvested some mulberries from the garden and also foraged some when we went out hiking.
* We stopped at the farm stand twice. The first time I just got a head of lettuce, bunch of beets and some sugar snap peas. The second time I got collards, kale, lettuce and peas. All but the lettuce from the U-pick. I harvested some sugar snap peas and some that were a bit more mature. I figured that leaving them on the vine would reduce future yields, and I would love to have some fresh peas to serve this week.
* I harvested the largest garlic scape harvest yet.
* Trucker whacked down some of the Japanese honeysuckle. It will surely be back with vengeance, but at least he keeps it from overtaking the house. Japanese honeysuckle is by far my least favorite plant right now.

Cooking/Groceries:
* I made an epic brunch one day. I made fried eggs (free from mom; she got them in exchange for watching a friend's chickens while they went on vacation), Brussels sprouts ($.99/lb on managers special), collards (from the farm), toast ($.50/loaf from aldi) and grits ($.10/box at salvage grocer; used 1/3 box and added herbs from the garden). I served hot grape gelatin to drink (never had it? It's an Amish drink for when you aren't feeling well. We use it to get extra gelatin in our diets).
* I made a wonderful quiche for lunch one day with enough leftovers for each of our lunch the following day. I made my own pastry and filled with leftover Brussels sprouts (manager's special), collards (from the farm stand), sliced sugar snap peas (from the farm stand), sauerkraut (free from Trucker's job) and garlic scapes (from the garden). I used 3 eggs (on sale for $.69/dozen), the rest of a container of spinach artichoke dip and milk for the custard and used both mozzarella and romano (manager's special) cheeses. It was amazing the first day and better cold for lunch the next.

Food Preservation:
* I froze some garlic scapes, diced up. I'll add these to soups, casseroles, tacos, and whenever sauteing a mix of veggies as a base.

Fun:
* I had one particularly rough day. We decided to stay in and relax. Trucker went out to pick up pizza (we had a BOGO coupon in our entertainment book, so we got two mediums for $10 with plenty of leftovers). We cuddled and watched movies all evening.
* We had a couple coffee dates.
* We went fishing one day at a new place. We went a little too early in the afternoon, so they weren't biting well. I caught two, but nothing big enough to keep. Trucker caught no fish, but did catch a turtle. We were able to get the hook out without hurting him.
* We went to another gallery hop. It was one of the nicest evenings I can remember.  There were just a lot of good shows. Lots of hope in spring. My favorite shows was one in which the artist had painted each and every one of her possessions. It definitely makes you to take pause to consider the Tyler Durden quote about what you own owning you. The weather was perfect. The company was perfect. I guess that makes for a perfect night.
* A theatre troupe in our area does Shakespeare in the Park. We went one evening to see Julius Caesar. It was my first time seeing it live. We packed a lovely picnic from home: manager's special seafood salad, manager's special crab and jalapeno dip, manager's special beer cheese, store brand crackers and drinks from home. Total cost for the food was around $6 and was comparable to the cost to prepare dinner at home (In general, I tend to make nicer dinners on the weekends since I don't have time to cook at all during the week). I always love spending a nice evening outdoors, watching talented actors, eating good food and hanging out with Trucker.
* In planning our vacation, we decided to buy an Entertainment book for the city we were staying in. For Memorial Day they had a $10 sale with free shipping. At that cost, using it for one meal or museum would pay for it. They had a 25% off promo code if you bought two or more books. I called my parents and asked them if they wanted in. They got one as well, bringing our cost to $7.50 each. They are going as a big group (My parents, all three sisters, plus 1 husband and 1 boyfriend), so the BOGO coupons at most restaurants won't be a great deal for them. However, they plan to use a lot of pizza coupons, as they can order whatever size pizzas needed to feed them all. For us, BOGO coupons will make up whatever meals we will need to buy (We plan to use gift cards for 1-2 meals, eat breakfast at the hotel and get no more than 1 meal out a day). Also, a lot of the area museums have BOGO coupons, so we will be able to have affordable options if it rains.
* After a long day of working on the house, we went out for pizza. We went to a place just down the road that had a special since it was Sunday ($10 pizza and one of the best in the city). Whenever we knock out a big project or spend a day doing work we hate doing, we take a little cheap date afterwards to relax and reward ourselves.

Nature:
* We went for a couple mile walk at the Audubon. There is an obstacle course which I of course ran. I love seeing all sorts of less-common birds. Next time I need to bring my field guide.
* We went for a 4 mile walk at the park. It was a nice, warm day. We didn't see a lot of wildlife, but we did see loads of pretty plants. I loved seeing that the blackberries are coming along nicely.
* We went hiking a few more times.

Frugality:
* My mom's cousin looked at both our cars. Trucker's exhaust was broken in two places and he needed spark plugs changed. He charged $40 for all. I had him look at my car to make sure everything was looking good for our vacation. He replaced the radiator cap and charged me $10. We would be in so much trouble without him.

House and Home:
* We are still line drying clothes. I enjoy it for the most part. I've only once had to go to work in (slightly) damp work pants, which is pretty good when you consider how often it has rained, how high the humidity is and how much we work.
* Trucker made an online query to get some quotes on our electric work. We will get several quotes before we decide on a particular person.
* When we were at the gallery hop, we found a store going out of business. They were selling everything for really cheap. I got some little boxes to use for storage for $.50 each.

Work:
* I worked overtime several days. I took one day off (without pay but without using a call-off day) and we had the day off for the holiday so I got a 4-day weekend. It was so needed.

Health:
* We went to the gym several times between the two of us.
Possession
* I went for a run out in the real world!
* Trucker got a sty on the inside of his eyelid. It was causing him a lot of discomfort so we went to the Little Clinic at the grocery store to be prescribed an antibiotic eye drop (free with our insurance since we asked for a generic). We definitely wanted to get it looked at since his uncle died from not treating the cancer he thought was just a sty.

Setbacks:
* One day as we were getting ready for bed, Trucker noticed that my tire had gone flat. This was particularly frustrating because his car was in the shop over the weekend. The plan had been for him to ride with me to work the next morning, drive my car home and my mom would meet me with one of their cars to borrow (We could have borrowed it earlier but I didn't want them to be short a vehicle, especially since we didn't really need it if I was off work). We tried to get the tire off, but we couldn't (torqued too tightly). We called our insurance and they sent someone out who was able to replace it for us. The next day Trucker took it to the tire shop, where they replaced it for free since we had a warranty.
This is my favorite piece from the gallery hop.
Community:
* My sister sent me a text and said that at her job they were throwing away the items that had been in the lost and found box for a long time. She said there was a really nice black coat and asked if I wanted. It was a black Dockers brand heavy-duty coat in great condition.  Trucker has been needing a nice, black coat and had just asked me two weeks ago to look out for one for him. This one fits him well.
* When I stopped by the farm stand, my former coworker said that the volunteer she was supposed to meet hadn't showed. She had no one to run the farm stand, but had needed to do some deliveries for her business. I ended up running the farm stand for a couple hours. It was really nice to see some of my clients.
How was your week?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mulberry Bonanza

It's that time of year, folks: Mulberry season!
For those of you not in the know, mulberries are where it's at. They are misunderstood and neglected, but you can totally use that to your advantage. Mulberries are considered a weed in a lot of the country and many homeowners despise them for the stains left on sidewalks, driveways, cars and bare feet, not to mention the blue-colored bird droppings that can stain everything else.

But the mulberry is so much more than that. Mulberries are a delightful delicate berry that would certainly sell like crazy at the farmers market if only it could handle the ride. Their hardiness is also a great boon for homesteaders and gardeners who want a dependable crop. They have a delicate flavor that can border on blandness depending on the variety (more on that later).

When I was young, my grandma would have me over to harvest mulberries. We would spend the entire day harvesting her many trees. I'm pretty sure I ate more than ended up in the buckets, but she was awesome and let me eat my fill. My hands would be stained purple for days and I loved it. I felt like I was in a different world. It was the essence of youth and summer and living forever. When Grandpa came home from work, we would gather in the living room and fill big bowls with mulberries, cover with milk and eat. It is still one of my favorite snacks. And just a hint, use milk, not cream as the heaviness of the cream seems to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the berries.

They are very nutritious and low in calories. They have a fair amount of potassium and iron (1 cup provides 14% of the recommended daily value). They also have a lot of vitamin C, some calcium and plenty of other nutrients.

Unripe berries that will turn purple.
If you want to harvest mulberries, first you need to find some trees/shrubs. If you are not so fortunate as to have them on your property (my house came with 7!), you can easily find them. Look for red/purple stains on sidewalks. If it is public property, harvest as you please. If it is on someone's property, technically you can harvest anything overhanging the sidewalk, but it is better to ask. I can almost guarantee that you'll never have someone say no; they'll just be happy to have less of a mess (hint: frame this as you being a kind-hearted person selflessly helping them avoid said mess). Check parks as well. In my neighborhood, I have dozens of trees, so I am never in want.

Now, a mulberry is not a mulberry is not a mulberry. In fact, there are a few kinds of mulberries and they are all slightly different. Red mulberries are native to North America. White mulberries were imported from Asia with the intent of creating a silk trade here. That didn't work out and now these are considered an invasive species (so really, by eating them so they don't grow new trees, you are doing a public service). This does not necessarily refer to the color of the berries when ripe, and they can also hybridize. Many mulberries start green, then ripen through white, pink, red and finally to a rich purple/black color. However, many varieties will be ripe at red, pink, lavender, or even white! The varieties that are red or purple when ripe tend to taste the best and have the most pronounced flavor. White and lavender varieties tend to be on the bland side. They are super sweet but lack the tartness that balances it out. I harvest whatever I can get. I prefer the red and purple ones for eating fresh, but the white ones are fine when mixed with others in baked goods and sauces. And honestly, I'll take whatever I can get. In my neighborhood, I've found that the tree that gives lavender berries has the largest berries, so I get more bulk by harvesting that tree.

The leaves are serrated and can be either heart shaped or lobed. Generally, the younger trees tend to have lobes. See photos.

So how do you tell if a mulberry is ripe? Basically, it's ripe if it is laying on the ground. Many people mistakenly think you pick mulberries, but this is guaranteed to leave you with fewer berries and most of them unripe. When mulberries are fully ripe, they drop off the tree at the slightest touch. If you go to pick one, 50 fully ripe berries will drop to the ground. If you have to pull at all, they aren't ripe yet.

When you have found your tree, watch it carefully. Once you see a few berries laying on the ground, grab a tarp or old sheet. Lay the tarp under the tree and shake the branches. You can use a hoe or stick to get higher branches if needed. All of the ripe berries will drop onto your sheet and you just pick it up at the corners and carry in your harvest. It's that simple. Not only will this give you the best berries, but you'll be able to harvest huge amounts in no time.

The berries don't all ripen at once, so you will need to go back a few times to get more. This is ideal though because you can get just what you need over a longer period of time.

Ripe purple mulberries
When you plan to use them, you'll want to clean them well to get rid of dirt and the tiny bugs they often have. Just submerge in water and remove the bugs that float. A couple washes should be sufficient.

They won't keep long, just a few days in the refrigerator. If you need to keep them longer, either cook them and store the cooked berries in the refrigerator or toss into the freezer. They are delicate, so avoid manhandling them. Don't store in deep containers as the berries on the bottom will be crushed.

A lot of people recommend clipping off the tiny green stems before using. Honestly, I don't have time for that. I use the berry whole and have never felt that the final quality suffered for it. If you decide that you need to, use scissors or nail clippers to easily (although not quickly) remove them. And if you are going to use them for juice, jelly or syrup, leave them on and strain them out.

If you are not one to wear the purple hands as a badge of honor, there are two methods to remove the stains. Rub lemons/lemon juice on your hands or rub unripe fruit on your hands then wash them with soap.

Use them as you would other blackberries or raspberries. Use in muffins, cobblers, crisps or scones.

Toss a few into your morning smoothie. The flavor won't stand out much, but it is a good, nutritive filler and adds some nice color (if you use a darker berry).

Add to oatmeal or toss in with cold cereal such as bran flakes.

These make an excellent pie. In fact, it is my favorite berry pie. They would be lovely in little tarts or a cooked puree added to thumbprint cookies.

Add whole to cheesecake or swirl in a cooked puree.

Add to pancake batter. Double points if you serve with a syrup made of the berries (Cook them down in a little water and a healthy amount of sugar, then run through a strainer).

Make a berry sauce or ice cream topping.

Put them in parfaits, popsicles, slushies.

You can juice them, I suppose, although I've never tried. You could also make wine.

Use in tea.

Make ice cream or sorbet.

Mulberries are a fantastic fruit for the frugal foodie or aspiring homesteader. Free, low maintenance, great nutrition and a lovely flavor make this one of my favorite plants for growing my own food.

Give it a try! You'll love it!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 5/8 - 5/21

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

There was another active shooter event in our metropolitan area again this week. I really don't have adequate words. All I can say is always be aware of your surroundings and if your city/county offers citizen response training, do it.

Gardening:
* I harvested several springs of oregano from the outdoor garden. The leaves are huge and so fragrant.
* I went out with mom to buy seedlings. Transplants were packs of three for $1.99 or a flat of 12 packs for $14.99 ($1.25 each). We each picked out what we definitely needed first. I had 11, so I grabbed an extra pepper pack. Mom had 7, so for $1 more, she ended up getting 5 more packs. She got one more pack of tomatoes, 2 more packs of peppers and two packs of flowers that she loved. Mom got three strawberry plants ($2.99 each) and 5 lbs of seed potatoes ($.99/lb). We had looked into buying seed potatoes from a catalog. It was going to cost $12/lb, plus $7 in shipping! Dad had only planned on getting 3 lbs at that price ($43). By buying locally, she got 37 seedlings (one of the tomato packs had a freebie), 3 strawberry plants and 5 lbs of seed potatoes for $28.91.
* I planted all of my tomatoes and peppers. I spaced them out a little more than usual and added some organic fertilizer (usually $8/bag, found on clearance at $2.29). Hopefully I'll get a decent yield this year.
* The forecast called for 3 days of rain, so I decided to get my seeds planted in the garden. I planted lettuce (Oakleaf, Thai Oakleaf, Red Sails and Black-Seeded Simpson), radishes (Cincinnati Red, Sparkler and an Easter Egg mix), carrots (Little Finger), New Zealand spinach, basil (both in the garden and a container) and dill.

Cooking/Groceries:
* We went to the farm stand one day and got a bunch of radishes. The radishes are amazing. They have great texture and aren't as spicy as your typical store-bought ones. Trucker and I walked to the farm stand to save gas, get exercise and enjoy each other. While there, I got to see one of my old coworkers and talk for awhile. I miss her. I miss the farm. I will have to try to get out to volunteer at some time.
* The next time I went I got strawberries (The first of the year!), sugar snap peas (half of which I ate while driving home) and two bunches of radishes. I always donate a fair amount to support the farm and my community members who can't afford to pay, but considering what produce of this quality goes for, I feel I'm getting a good deal.
* I made grilled pizza one evening.
* Trucker made spaghetti with tomato sauce and polish sausage. It was so good.
* We got more fish for the freezer. The only cost was for the fishing license, which I basically consider an entertainment cost, so it was free. We caught 15 bluegills large enough to bother with. I buried the heads and guts in the garden.
* I pulled some pork from the freezer (leftover from our party) and used to make BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. I added BBQ sauce (store brand on sale), mustard (salvage grocery) and sauerkraut. I served on store-brand bread (on sale) and added a sprinkling of cheese and a heavy serving of kraut on mine.
* I made taco soup to use up the rest of the party leftovers. I added some seasoning to the containers from the freezer and cooked in some pork stock. Trucker said it was one of the best soups I've made.
* I went to Aldi and got some bargains: shredded cheddar ($1.99/lb; at Kroger the cheapest cheese ever goes on sale is $1.79/12 oz and this is rare), eggs ($.59/dozen!) and bread ($.49/loaf, manager's special).
* We went to the Amish grocer in my hometown. We were quite lucky. They were having a customer appreciation day and were giving away free homemade ice cream (A real serving size too!) and samples of their bakery's fry pies and brownies. They were also having a 10% off sale. We bought 2 packages of cheddar cheese powder, a package of BBQ seasoning, a package of honey mustard powder, some trail mix (a gift left for mom) and chocolate covered peanuts (a gift for Grandpa).
* Trucker made an amazing breakfast for us one morning. He made french toast (I sliced strawberries, banana and mango over mine) and ham and egg omelets. Perfect start to the day.
* I made beef stew with some beef from the freezer (manager's special). I used random veggies from the refrigerator and pantry: carrots, onions, scallions, radishes, celery (dehydrated) and beets (dehydrated). I also tossed in some leftover sauteed collards and seasoned with herbs from the indoor garden. I cooked it in the slow cooker while at work so it was ready when I got home. It turned out really good.
* We made a pesto pasta. I fried a couple pieces of bacon and sauteed onions in the grease. I tossed with cooked pasta, diced tomatoes (canned) and pesto from the freezer. It was amazing.

Food Preservation:
* I air-dried oregano, sage and basil.

Fun:
* I met up with Doodles for coffee at a local diner. It was nice to catch up with her.
* I took Mom out one day. She drove out to the city and we went to a local nursery to get all of our gardening stuff. Then I took her out for Greek food at a local restaurant we love. We went shopping a little, but I didn't spend anything. It was a wonderful day. She is so sweet and fun.
* We went out on a couple coffee dates.
* We went on a date to a local restaurant. A couple of our friends had given us a gift certificate for our anniversary. We had a wonderful time. We split a burger and fries and a flat bread (happy hour special for $5) and drank water. We have a little left for a discounted second date. Afterwards, we took a stroll through a historic neighborhood and talked. We thought about going out for ice cream, but opted to buy some to take home. We got a gallon of ice cream for 2/3 the cost of going out.
*Our movie group went out to the discount theatre to see La La Land. Tickets were $1.50 each and we did not buy concessions.

Nature:
* We enjoyed nature...by killing it. We went fishing one evening at a pond at a park near our house. We couldn't keep the fish off of our lines! We caught around 50, but only 15 were big enough to bother cleaning. It was a lovely evening. The humidity was low, it was warm enough to not need a jacket and the geese and ducks were everywhere. It was a quite peaceful way to spend an evening.
* A state park near us opened two new trails for the first time in 50 years! We went down for a late morning hike. It was a really pleasant day, although the return trip involved a lot of climbing! It was a great workout.

Frugality:
* I got some mud on my jeans when we went hiking and fishing one day. After washing, they were still pretty stained up. Fortunately, we are line drying now so the stains weren't set. I used some stain remover and after some scrubbing was able to save them.
* I found an awesome purse at the thrift store. It is cyan and brown and goes perfectly with the rest of my clothes (all of my other purses are leftover from previous styles, but I won't get rid of them til then wear out). It only cost $1.50! There is a small scuff on the bottom, but I think it will be easy to remove. Even if not, it is barely noticeable.
* We returned a couple items that we didn't end up needing. We got $24 put back on our card.
* We sent away two rebate for items we would have purchased anyway.
* We went to a community yard sale in my home town. We did really well. I got a nice dolly for $4. It only needs to have the wheel tightened a bit. I also got a chippy coat rack for $1, a fish skinner for $.25 (I'd been thinking of getting one the last time we cleaned fish), cute produce baskets (a stack of 10 for $.25) and a pair of jeans in my size in a free box.
* The next weekend we went to a community yard sale in a neighborhood near us. I only bought one item: a lunch box with my company info on it. It was insulated and very cute. It cost a whopping $.25. I also grabbed two nice glass bottles in a free box. They were from a fancy juice place down the street, but will be great for bringing drinks with us when we go out to concerts, festivals and plays in the park.
* I got my hair cut when Great Clips was having a $5.99 sale. Even after tip, it was quite affordable and I am happy enough with it. I cut it a little on the short side so I can go longer between cuts.

House and Home:
* We continue to line dry clothes. I am enjoying it, honestly. I get an excuse to go out into the yard during perfect afternoons. It definitely takes more planning, but that is the only downside.

Work:
* Trucker picked up an extra shift at his job.
* Trucker gets an amazing job perk. He is able to take home sauerkraut on jarring days. He brought home two jars. They retail at $9 each. It is some of the most tasty kraut I've ever had. I am so delighted. I already crave it each day and plan to make sure we consume a little each day.
* I took a penalty-free day off. It is nice to get a little time to relax and take care of me. This was the day I took Mom out, so it was time well spent.
* I packed food each day.
* I worked a fair amount of overtime the days I did work. My department doesn't work a crazy amount compared to other departments, so any overtime I do get is welcome to compensate for my days off. The way I see it, each hour of overtime I work funds an hour and a half of time off.

Future:
* Trucker had another acting job. He is in a commercial for a local grocery store chain. I am so proud of him!
* Trucker had another audition and he thinks he did well. I'm proud of him.

Health:
* Trucker was still fighting his cold, so he didn't hit the gym hard the first week. The next week he went more often and we went a couple times together.
* I am finally running a little on the treadmill at the gym. I wore a different pair of sneakers and these slide a little less. I do not enjoy running on the treadmill, but I am just trying to get my endurance back. Once I get my endurance back and a little more strength, I hope to return to running outside, where I enjoy it.
* We are eating kraut every day. It will be interesting to see how we do getting daily probiotics. I've already told Trucker he is never allowed to quit this job.
* There were some pain relief patches that the dollar store sold for $1/20 pk. They worked well and were a great price. Then the local stores stopped selling them, although a different chain started carrying them at $4.50/20 pk. Trucker suggested I look online. I was able to order a case of them for $1/pk and will be set for a long time.

Community:
* My cousin got married this week. It was a beautiful wedding that fit them perfectly. They are both musical, and the ceremony involved her singing to him when walking down the aisle, her dad singing, the couple singing a song together at the end of the ceremony and her mom playing the trumpet as they walked back down the aisle. The location was at an opera house. It was great to get to talk with family.
How was your week?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Grocery Shopping While Travelling

Coming from someone who values locality in food, this seems heresy to say, but sometimes my food travels. Or rather, when I travel, I look for local food to take home with me. I don't travel far away and I never fly. I do take day trips to see family an hour or so away, and I take weekend trips within the state or maybe the state over. When I do, I look for opportunities to enjoy local or "exotic" food at a good price, and bring it home. The gas consumption is minimal since I'd be taking the trip anyway, so perhaps a tiny bit extra for the extra weight (although I'm sure 10 pounds of food isn't adding to my gasoline consumption too much).
When I visit my parents an hour away, I visit a favorite grocery store. It's a scratch and dent grocery and it's phenomenal. I find organic cereal for $.33/box and whole grain pasta for $.59/lb. Every so often, I find ends-and-pieces of local jerky for $5.99 for a 5 lb bag. However, since it is an hour away, I don't make a special trip just for that store. It's only ten minutes from my parents, so I stop when I'm already out that way. The savings over buying those items at the grocery store is more than the cost of gas, meaning I essentially get paid to take the trip out there. Win.

When we drive out to the boonies to go for a day-hike, I like to stop at farm shops and roadside stands to get the local's garden surplus. Just outside my favorite state park, there is a little roadside stand. The offerings are just whatever the home-gardener has a surplus of, but it's fantastic produce and a great price. $1/lb for tomatoes, $.50/large squash, $.25/zucchini or small squash. I prefer my money to go to a real-life family, rather than some grocery store.

When we took our honeymoon to Amish country a few hours away, we really hit the food jackpot. There were several scratch n dent groceries. We bought pasta and canned veg at bargain prices. We drove by a grain mill that sold whole wheat flour at the same price per pound that white flour cost in our city. We bought a few bags, and tossed all in the freezer upon returning home. Our honeymoon package included a $150 gift certificate good at the inn's restaurant, bakery, gift shop, or general store. We ate our meals at the restaurant. On the last day, we had over $100 left. We went to the bakery and got a few loaves of bread (some for the freezer) and a few sweets. Then we went to the general store and spent the $90 left on jams, jellies, coffee, tea, pasta,spices and bags of trail mix.

When we go to Chicago to visit family, we have a few stops that we have to make, mainly to bakeries. One bakery sells cookies for $.20 each and sub rolls for $.33. A few ethnic bakeries offer some of our favorites that we can't find here, and don't (yet) know how to make. This provides a little splurge, but at a discounted price. We'll sometimes stop in Chinatown for our stockpile of herbal teas and other items, or we'll stop by a neighborhood with a fantastic selection of exotic produce at bargain prices.
By keeping our eyes open when we travel, we're able to get great scores on food. We often save money over buying more exotic selections in our town, and we get to try lots of new things without the cost of going to a trendy restaurant. Often, the grocery savings is close to the cost of gasoline, thus making our trip less expensive. Whenever you venture away from your neighborhood, keep your eyes peeled for some fun, new food adventures.
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