Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Local Businesses are best

So I don't know if I have discussed my kitchen repair projects before. No nothing as fun as beautifying my totally groovy 1970's kitchen style. I have some appliance issues. My mixer runs like a loud train, I need to take it to be serviced. And up until a few days ago my beloved deep freezer chirped like a bird. Unfortunately the chirping meant the fan motor (on the inside of the unit) was going off. And I put off repairing it, I was too busy, there was too much food in there, I didn't have the money...

Two weeks ago I had a national appliance company come out and look at it. It wouldn't make the noise, so the repairman wanted to wait and come back when it would. Now he was a very competent man, but his company is super busy. So the inevitable happened probably a few days ago it died. I called this national company two days ago and tomorrow was the quickest they could be here. Not quick enough for all my expensive organic meat!

Daniel urged me to call around this morning and I called all the companies in our area in the yellow pages. And I prayed a lot. We are going out of town next week and what would I do with my food? I guess to some people this wouldn't be a big deal. But part of my "job" as a housewife is finding food to store away, putting up strawberries, finding great deal on meats, cooking big meals and freezing some for later. Losing all my food was losing all my hard work.

So one of the companies called back, JW with Appliance Specialist. Look him up in the yellow pages. He came out, took the freezer apart immediately. He had to go get a part from the appliance repair store, but he still did this within hours of my call. I love small business owners, they care about their business so they care about pleasing the customer. Now hopefully my freezer is going to cool off quickly and I can put my meat back in there. Oh the dry ice, I had to run out and buy some to try to keep things cool. What a day. I still have to bake.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Strawberry Pineapple Marmalade

So Daniel had a post about LA strawberries being in season now. And we have been enjoying them. I decided I wanted to make some jam and process it. There was a post last summer about us making salsa, and it was really a learning experience. We didn't have all the equipment we needed and we didn't know what we were doing. After a few mistakes, and after talking to some people with experience I feel like I might actually be able to preserve some things I could give to people. Daniel and I ate what I canned last year, but I didn't feel quite confident giving any salsa or jam away.

So I got this cookbook last summer, Putting It Up With Honey: A Natural Foods Canning and Preserving Cookbook by Susan Geiskopf. I used it to make some fig honey jam that we have enjoyed all winter. That was a money saving endeavor, because some friends gave us huge bags of figs (free food!) But I will say the strawberry marmalade did cost me. The recipe called for one pineapple, 4 oranges, and 6 cups (sliced) strawberries. At least I had enough jars and lids I didn't have to buy those. Oh yeah the great thing about this book is all the recipes have honey instead of processed sugar, but honey is more expensive. For canning purposes I try to find the cheapest honey I can b/c it is going to be cooked so long whether it is raw or not doesn't matter. I still would like to think that gourmet marmalade would have cost more and not had the unique and healthier qualities of my honey marmalade. It is always amazing to me that you start out with a large amount of fruit and end up with so few jars of jam. You might can tell from the fuzzy picture I ended up with 3.75 jars! I processed the full 3 and the partial Daniel and I are eating on now. I used bigger jars than the recipe called for.

I will say making my own marmalade, jam, etc. is such of a fulfilling activity. I guess similar to making our own bread. Yeah you can find it cheaper in the store, but it won't taste as good or be prepared with as much love.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Spring Foods Down South

0b50fcf88377603e6257a79ac6e63da5In Mississippi, we get about two and a half weeks of Spring before Summer arrives, and in that brief time, two favorite foods are in season.  Crawfish and strawberries are sent up from Louisiana and can be found all over the state.   Sunday, we enjoyed 20lbs of mudbugs with friends at Old Trace Park.  As far as meals go, it doesn't get any easier: find a supplier, fill up a cooler, and dump them on a plastic tablecloth somewhere outside.  Most vendors also sell potatoes and corn that has been boiled alongside the crawfish, so sides are covered too!  You can expect to pay about $3.85/lb, which is considerably cheaper than head-on shrimp.  I've tried boiling my own- it's a fun experience , but honestly it just wasn't worth the effort when pre-cooked are nearly the same price and generally just as fresh.

For the strawberries, I'm not sure there's anything better than just fresh sliced berries.  We went through a flat in about a week, and Elizabeth has already gotten another flat and put up some for the summer.

So, if you live 'round here, go grab some crawfish and berries and enjoy these short weeks of spring!

Being producers not just consumers

So I'm really excited about me and Daniel's new project. I have blogged about in the past about how we're trying to live a frugal and healthy lifestyle (not frugal- eat value meals from McDonald's everyday!) One of the things we try to do is be producers rather than only consumers. We all know we live in a very consumeristic society. In my grandparents days they had their own cows, pigs, chickens, gardens, made their own soap, clothes... I'm interested in this, but not ready to forgo all modern conveniences. Using a clothes line part time has made me grateful for my washer and dryer. People had in rough, they really worked hard back in the day.

Anyway, my neighbor cut a tree down in the side yard beside our garage so we decided we had enough light for a little garden. My brother sent me a link to a site with detailed instructions for building a raised bed. My friends at the market who have very successful gardens swear by raised bed vegetable gardens for many reasons: good drainage, less insect problems, you can easily create a little area of great dirt among a clay yard (ours:), and there are probably other reasons too.

So Daniel got some wonderfully beautiful cedar boards for me; I love cedar- the smell, the knots, mmmm. You could use pine like my more frugal brother did, both will probably hold up well. But the wood needs to be untreated. So Daniel didn't exactly follow the lady's instructions, but he is very handy so we have a lovely bed. I can't exactly give you instructions, so follow the pioneer woman's. Me and Barley tried to help, but we were definitely the dumb labor:) After the bed was assembled we put some cardboard down to kill any weeds (or grass if you have a lawn, not a weed bed). We dumped some leaves in to facilitate drainage and compost down. Daniel then dumped out all the potting soil we had in unused pots, and it was a lot. We then disagreed about what to fill the rest of the bed up with. My farmer friend told me to put compost, we don't have much compost yet. So Daniel wanted to go get a truckload of cheap clay dirt, trying to be frugal. I on the other hand, know from my years of working at the yard and garden center that if you use crummy dirt, you will get crummy plants. So we were in a gridlock, not wanting to spend a fortune on good dirt but wanting to have good dirt for our seeds. I went to my friends at Callaway's Yard and Garden center where I worked for half of my life. We asked for broken bags and they cut us a good deal. Frugal tip: ask for broken bags at smaller yard and garden centers, they're messy but will save you some bucks.

So after our dirt dilemma was peacefully resolved we started some seeds. I bought some heirloom seeds from the health food coop, any seeds would do. I want to save my seeds from year to year (assuming I actually produce any fruit), and heirloom vegetables usually taste better and are more disease resistant. We used cardboard egg cartons, punched little holes in the bottom, used seed starter (special little bag of dirt), and kept moist. Our seeds have been going for about 3 weeks, other than the few honeydew melon sprouts Barley decided to snack on they are doing great. We are in the midst of a cold snap, 40˚ this morning! But hopefully we'll plant the seedlings soon. My farmer friend says as soon as they have their second set of leaves and it is warm enough. I stocked up on organic fertilizer and bug treatments from the coop, so we'll see how my organic garden is going to progress. Hopefully the future posts won't be as late coming as this one. I hope my garden produces well, I feel like I have much to learn!