Friday, May 31, 2013

Back to Basics Budget

I tutor students in the evenings in order to help pay our bills.  *B* doesn't make enough for me to stay home without it, but we have a small overage when I tutor.  Rather than being prudent, we were using the extra cash for fun things or miscellaneous expenses:  a dinner out here, a coffee there, a store-bought gift for a friend's baby shower, that kind of thing.  Eighty-five percent of the time, the purchase is food related.  In the summers, my tutoring drops off significantly (though not completely).  As of this week, my tutoring drops from 4 days a week to 2, and I just hit a scary realization:

We can't technically make our bills this month.  

I've been ignoring our budget for far too long, and somehow (though not really somehow, I'm the one who did it), we've wracked up a moderate credit card bill.

We tried swearing off these miscellaneous purchases completely.  We've tried setting goals like "if we don't go out to eat this month, we can get this very modestly priced item that we've wanted."  (The item in question is a mason jar sealing attachment for my FoodSaver that costs less than $10.)  We've tried giving ourselves a very small budget of $20 a month to allow for a few splurges.  But it always ends up that our willpower fails us.

I really have no idea what I'm going to do.  We need to find the power to loose the hold our temptations have on us.  We need to plan ahead - rather than stopping for dinner at 6 pm because we ran errands at 3:30 pm, we should have had food with us, eaten beforehand, or *gasp* waited the twenty minutes to drive home and thirty minutes to get some good food on the table.  (That was tonight.)

Going out to eat needs to be something we just DON'T THINK ABOUT anymore. 

The other part of my problem:


Rather than admitting that I can't afford something, I'll find a way to "make it work".  We buy it anyway, then I realize later that there is no way to make it work if it means shorting your mortgage. My mom was (is) the same way.  She would buy things (mostly food) in the exact same way, and then she and my dad would have a huge argument when he found out what she was doing.  While *B* and I don't have arguments about it, I feel massively guilty.

Rather than making a gift, printing up some baby related IOU cards, or admitting to a friend that I couldn't afford a baby shower gift for her, *B* and I bought a $50 gift from her registry.  My thinking was that I know she spent at least that much - probably more - on the gift she gave us.  But she and her husband make at least twice what we do a year, and we all know it.  Since she's such a good friend, wouldn't I think she'd understand that we're on a tight budget?

It seems what we need are a little humility, some honesty (with ourselves and others), and creativity.  Starting tomorrow (June 1st), things are going to be different because they HAVE to be different.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Magic Dough

Over the last couple of months, I've been making all of the baked goods that we eat.  I've been making bread for a long time.  Then, I started making tortillas using this recipe from The Prairie Homestead.  They're delicious, and I make a double batch that lasts us up to a month.

For Memorial Day, I was craving burgers.  I had attempted hamburger buns once, and they were alright, but very dense.  Joolz posted some bun recipes for me that I was excited to try.  After reading them, I realized that the bun recipes were very similar to my bread recipe.  Huh, that makes sense!  So I made some buns.

Then I was looking for a recipe for pizza crust.  I found one from 100 Days of Real Food and wouldn't you know - it's roughly the same recipe!  And in the comments, they talk about making pretzels with the dough.

On Monday, I made a quadruple batch of this dough to make two pizza crusts, some pretzels, and some buns.  It was amazingly easy to do.  While I haven't tried it, I'm sure that with a little tweaking, it could also make some awesome bagels.  I'm planning on trying to do just that with this tutorial since that uses just a little more flour and water than I do.

So here it is:  the magic dough recipe!

1 cup warm-hot water (110 degrees)
2 T honey or maple syrup
2 t yeast
2 T oil
1 tsp salt
3 cups whole wheat flour

  1. Mix water, sweetener, and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer.  Let it sit for about 10 minutes to make sure that the yeast is still alive.  It should be foamy.
  2. Mix in the salt and oil.  
  3. Add in the flour and knead in the mixer with a dough hook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Spray a bowl lightly with oil, put dough in, and let it rise for one hour.
  • Roll out dough and place it onto a greased cookie sheet.
  • Prick holes in the dough to prevent bubbles from forming.
  • Bake at 450 degrees just until set.  Don't overcook it.
  • Freeze or top with sauce, cheese, and toppings and re-bake until melted.
  • Roll dough out into a rectangle.
  • Cut into 12 (or more) strips.
  • Form into a pretzel.
  • Toss into boiling water with baking soda for about 30 seconds each.
  • Place on cookie sheet, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 450 degrees for about 10-12 minutes.
  • Spray a bread pan with oil.
  • Punch the dough down and shape into a loaf.
  • Let it rise until 1 inch above the top of the pan (about 1/2 hr).
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  • Punch down the dough and let it rise for another hour.
  • Divide into twelve balls and form them into flat circles the size of your palm.
  • Place on greased cookie sheets.
  • Let rise until hamburger bun sized.
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Summer Treats

It was nearly 90 degrees here yesterday, so it seemed an appropriate time to make some summer treats.  I've been working on water kefir for over a month now, and I finally made a batch that was exactly what I was going for.  This is a slightly sweet, tangy lemonade with just a little bit of fizz.  Where I usually drink my kefir with trepidation, I devoured this one.


Since the water kefir went so well, I decided to try a ginger beer recipe from Rhonda at Down to Earth. This is day two, so we've got some time to see how it went.

 I also made vanilla ice cream, which I've been promising to *B* for a week now.  I used this recipe from The Prairie Homestead, but it didn't come out quite right.  It was gritty, buttery, and a little powdery.  I've been doing research, and I think I used waaay too much batter for my KitchenAid ice cream maker.  Next time, I'm going to cut the recipe in half and try it again.  This iteration of the ice cream made five pint jars worth!  I'm not quite sure how, considering the recipe says it only makes a quart, but we'll take them all the same.

What's your favorite homemade summer treat? 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Itty Bitty Body, Massive Appetite

Miss F is almost 11 months old.  She's small for her age - exactly 17 pounds as of this morning.  She's still wearing 6-9 month clothes, and occasionally I'll realize that she's wearing some 3-6 month clothes that I forgot to put away.

Miss F was born at a sizable 9 lbs 6 oz.  But she lost a lot of weight her first week because she had a hard time nursing and had digestive issues.  It took three weeks to get her back to birth weight.  So it's been a continual struggle to make sure she gains enough weight.  When she was younger (about 6 months), the doctor chided me for her weight.  He told me I must have been drying up and that I needed to supplement with formula, though I didn't agree. 

She was (is) a happy little baby with a double chin, relatively chubby legs, and good diapers.  We didn't supplement, and we kept her nursing exclusively until 6 months.  Even at 7 months, I was still nursing every hour and a half plus at least two sessions overnight.  She started eating solids and had no trouble downing all types of food: chili, curry, you name it, she ate it.

We've been dropping nursing sessions down to the normal number for her age.  But in the last two weeks, Miss F has been screaming at the top of her lungs if she wants more food.  This morning, I gave her 4 oz of full fat greek yogurt while her oatmeal was cooking.  She feeds herself most meals, and devoured it in far less than five minutes.  By the end of breakfast, she had a full cup of Scottish oatmeal AND the other 4 oz of yogurt.  That's two whole cups of food in a little baby belly!  And she nursed right before breakfast!  In contrast, I had 3/4 of a cup of oatmeal and I was quite satisfied.  For lunch, she had more food than I did again (3 oz pork and 5 oz of peas and carrots).  For dinner, she had a little less than I did, but still a significant amount (3 oz pork and 8 spears of asparagus, chopped).  According to My Fitness Pal, that's about 867 calories, not including her nursing sessions.  Livestrong says that (based on her weight), Miss F needs between 700 and 930 calories per day.  That's an average day, but still, she's only gained 3 oz in the last two months.

"Please, sir, may I have some more?"

I've had no luck in finding out if her appetite is normal.  From what I've read, most kids have 2-8 tablespoons of solid foods a meal.  Really?!?!  She's never had only 2 T of food.  Out of all of the things I thought I'd worry about as a parent, weight gain was never one of them.  *B* and I both come from heavy families, so I always thought it would be the other way around. 

But here I sit, wondering if my wee one is malnourished or if I'm feeding her wrong.  She feeds herself, and from what I've read, they don't tend to overeat that way.  But what if she has no idea when she's full?  All the time, I think silly things like she hasn't learned to clap yet.  Has her food intake affected her development? She crawled really early, why isn't she walking yet?  Is she not getting enough food to give her strength?  But at the same time, I wonder how on Earth does this kid eat so darn much!?  When does this confidence-in-parenting part kick in??

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Amazing Garden Realizations

This year, we're putting a lot more effort into our garden.  It really shows - we have over FORTY edible species in 1/20 of an acre. I can't imagine how much food we'd be able to grow on a whole acre!  Given this realization, I wanted to take stock of the plants (edible, medicinal, or ornamental) that are up and growing right now, not including things planted but not sprouted.

June-Bearing Strawberries

 Solomon's Seal

 American Holly


 Ostrich Fern




 Lemon Thyme



Greek Oregano

Plantain (Good for bug bites)
 Hostas (Did you know they're edible?!)
 Sempervivium (Hens and Chicks)

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus
Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)


 Soon to be Royalty Purple Pod Beans

 Snap Peas

 Alabama Crimson Trumpet Honeysuckle


 Celery and Corn Salad (Macha)

 Mr. Stripey Tomato and Marigold

 San Marzano Paste Tomatoes

 Purple Potatoes


 Stinging Nettle



 Mister Lincoln Rose

 Crones (back) and Culinary Dandelions (front)


 Black Chokeberry

 Blueberry (Patriot)

 Blueberry (Jersey)




Ever-Bearing Strawberries
 Mint (Spearmint, Peppermint, Chocolate, and Pineapple)

 Our Little Backyard

Our first non-greens harvest of the year!