Saturday, 28 February 2015

So You Want To Live In The Country?

Country life is ideal for us. I have never really utilized the conveniences of the city, even when I lived there. Although I enjoyed museums, galleries, libraries and coffee shops, these were less important to me, always, than space, fresh air, and quiet. I can and do visit the library and, although trips to trendy coffee shops with friends are all too rare, I feel like what we gain from living outside of town is worth the bit of a drive to enjoy what is IN town.

When I began this blog it was with the intention of providing information on how to set up an acreage in western Canada, ie. what steps there are and where to find permits, green options and the like. I have a couple unfinished posts that I should return to and make available. But beyond getting power and water and dealing with the health inspector, there are other things to consider when you think of leaving town for the countryside.

Winter is long--you are in charge of your own snow removal

In our Rural Municipality the gravel road is kept plowed (when they can get to us, and there is only one other home on this road and the school bus does not yet travel here) but our road in is our responsibility. It is an option to have the RM plow our yard for a fee, but that is not an option every where and is something to inquire about. We have a 4 wheeler ATV with a plow which does a good job if we keep on top of the snow before it is too deep or heavy. The year before we moved here the snow was 14 feet deep where our road is now. Should that happen now we would be relying on family and neighbours to come get us out.

2013, the year of major storms and wind

Your well, your problem

There are acreages close enough to town that they are on municipal water and sewer, meaning that if there is a problem you can phone someone and they come handle it. It's a tempting proposition and one that costs a pretty penny. The proximity and convenience come at a hefty price tag, but if that's your thing then go for it. You can save a LOT of money, however, by going a few miles further out. In the country, though, you must consider your source of water and know that if you aren't capable of figuring out what goes wrong you will be paying someone else to do it. What goes in must come out, so there's that sewer issue too.

spring runoff in 2013. Dealing with water of any kind is a homeowners

We have a really good well. This is an old yard site and all the old timers tell me there was always ample, clean water here. It's a comfort. Because we are on a good slope we are able to have a bell and syphon septic system (no pump=fewer worries). Except, of course, the other night when it was -25 and a wind and our sewer began to back up into our basement. We have an alarm to warn us if the tank overfills but our electrician didn't install it. The pipe where the septic system drains got drifted over with snow and froze over, meaning that once the tank was full it had nowhere to go but back towards the house. We were lucky in several ways: Husband was home and on days off. He spent 3 hours out there, first with a torch and then with a steamer that my brother brought from the farm. We were lucky to have help and that I was not here alone with the kids. We were also lucky that we noticed immediately. Husband took an armload of wood down to the stove and saw water; had he not we would likely have gone to bed and I run the dishwasher on a timer so we would have had that water plus any morning flushes before we noticed. I am extremely glad it didn't happen on a day that I did 5 loads of laundry and didn't go into the basement for several hours. I had the mess cleaned up in an hour and the worst part was for my Husband and brother who were out in the cold for a few hours. We will be keeping an eye on the end of the pipe from now on! If an acreage owner did not have the skills, that incident would have meant calling someone and probably paying them to come and help. For that reason alone, I am very grateful to have 3 brothers, my dad, and several cousins nearby if I needed them.

Recycling/Garbage Pick Up/ Mail and Other Curbside Services

I have neighbours that get their mail at the end of their laneways, but new customers no longer get that option. We get our mail at a group box site (a stand alone set of mailboxes) at the junction of two roads. When we have parcels to pick up we get a notice and take it into the post office located in Shopper's Drugmart in town. Others go to the actual post office. It is nothing to have trouble ordering online because we don't have a street number. It is ridiculously hard to get people in big cities to understand that there are no streets here. I recently had a heck of a time sending in our central vac (purchased new and wouldn't work--had to UPS it back to be fixed). They would not honour their warranty unless I had a street address. I finally got my brother's girlfriend's address. As soon as I gave that, the girl in Edmonton emailed me the UPS label. Makes no sense.

We keep our garbage in a large wooden box with a plywood lid to keep from attracting wildlife. I compost and recycle so there is not much, but it does pile up because Husband works a 24 day shift and we only get to the local nuisance grounds once a month. I refuse to put it in the trunk of my car. It is an option to get a dumpster from town and pay a monthly fee to have a garbage truck come haul it away, but this is a simple way that we can save money. We have a system for storing recycling until we can take it in. It takes up minimal room in the garage and is just part of my routine. For some people, curbside services is one thing they say they couldn't do without. I wouldn't say that we have missed it at all.

Getting anyone to come out from town can be a struggle

It really depends on the economy. Our area is absurdly busy with oil and gas (well, it was before the price of oil dropped by over 50%) and most companies have all the work they can handle within the city limits so do not take jobs that require travel. This would not be a problem everywhere, but it is the case here and it has been a detriment to supporting local businesses. I opted to hire the nearby small town plumber to do our plumbing and heating. It took him 14 months to completely finish our furnace work. We spent most of a winter with only a couple heat ducts attached to our furnace and now have water damage on 2 exterior doors because we could not rid the house of humidity without proper heating. When we called to ask please, can you come finish the job? we were actually sworn at and the whole experience has been awful. I tried to get quotes from 4 alternate companies: 2 did not even return my many calls, one returned their quote so late I had already hired the local guy, and one "town" plumbing company came in at about the same price as the nearby guy that I hired. In the end I opted for small town and have regretted it, although one would usually expect better service from a small and local company. No matter where you live, you need to consider where you will hire the services you need.

What is peaceful to some is lonely to others

I can go weeks without seeing people. In the winter it can get isolating, but it is truly the way that I am wired. A couple visits with friends can last me a long time, and too much social activity leaves me plain exhausted and slinking off to my corner. That is not to say that I don't like to have people drop in. In fact, I'm quite used to my regular coffee guests and I'd sure miss them if they stopped coming. Play dates for my kids are treasured occurrences, especially since I've found some moms that are wonderful friends. But if you are considering a move to the country, consider whether the whole family can handle days at a time without social activity. If not, have you established ways to get your fix without daily trips to town? Or, are daily trips to town in the budget and part of your plan? If so, go for it! I recently heard of a family that pulled their children out of our local school and pay extra to drive them to town to school, since they are in so many activities there anyways. You might not find ballet and karate in your small local towns, but we have 4H and seasonal sports and school clubs. It is about choosing what is right for your own family and budgeting for what works. But if you haven't considered winter roads (I'm talking western Canada now) shortened days and a possible lack of your preferred amenities nearby, it can be a deal breaker for people that didn't expect to be "stuck out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do". You have to find your own entertainment, nurture hobbies, and be brave enough to go meet your neighbours when you live in the country. Personally, I've always found that harder to do in the city. I would rather be alone with my thoughts in my yard than surrounded by strangers that I feel completed alienated from. That is what has brought me to the country, so what brings you?

the view from my dad's tractor when I packed silage for him this past fall.
Many, many happy hours of my lifetime spent listening to golden oldie country tunes in that seat, enjoying that view.
 And many, many more I hope!

These are just some things that pop to mind when I think of the difference between town and country living. We can't take cabs where we want to go. It is almost a 3 hour drive in either direction to get to a major airport, professional sporting events or other big city features. It is a 25 minute drive to our swimming lessons or to get groceries, so whe we go we try to get everything done in one trip. Our fun is playing with our kids, working together in the yard and house and enjoying good homegrown food with friends and family. There are some sacrifices when it comes to rural living, but none that I resent and the peaceful, authentic life we lead more than makes up for any inconvenience. What are your perceptions of city vs. country living? Are you drawn to small town/rural life or would you rather have the city amenities at your fingertips?

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Truth Is....

The truth is...

I spent more on groceries in February than I did in January, in spite of my attempts to reduce by at least 10%. The truth is...

I justified some "special" purchases as they were for O's 3rd birthday and Easter, all a good deal, all sensible purchases. But if we were in a situation where Husband was out of work and we were living on a very fixed amount/month, the truth is I would not have been able to buy extra chocolate and some story books for my kids.

The truth is, I haven't gotten around to doing a menu plan for this week. There have been several deaths in our community and the truth is...I haven't felt motivated or that my little organizing and budgeting adventures matter, at all, in the grand scheme of things.

The truth is, a childhood friend--we grew up together and were roommates when she was pregnant and had her first baby--has said goodbye to her daughter this week. Cystic Fibrosis, killer of the young--I remember being told that diagnosis shortly after getting my own place to live. Through tears, 18 years ago, my friend and I agreed that so many advances would be made in research and treatment in her daughter's lifetime that surely it would not be the life sentence it seemed. We had health problems ourselves last year, a scary time and one where I allowed my imagination to run wild and I felt fear--paralyzing fear--for the first time in my life. The truth is, that is what that family lived with for 18 years...every milestone bittersweet, plans for the future always overshadowed by reality. The truth is, nobody can know what that is like unless they have lived it. And now that her short life is over, no one can know what it is like to keep going until they have had to do it.

But you know what? The truth is, no one knows their future. There are simply no guarantees. If anything can be learned from my friend's daughter's short but wonderful existence...take nothing for granted. Dance while you can. Laugh. Laugh loud. Marvel at the sunset. Hold your children tight, so tight, and be gentle while they grow. Appreciate your family. Be there for your friends when they need you, for you will need them too. Savour the moments when you feel good. When you do not feel good and when there is worry or negativity or drama or fear...STOP...and ask yourself what is really important? How can you I best use the time that I have? What is the best use of my energy? If I knew there was limited time, how would I be reacting? Most of life's trivialities would not matter. The things that really matter become very clear: people over things, relationships that make us happy--move beyond the ones that don't, experiences and joy and laughter--none of which need to cost money--time, sweet time together. These are the things that matter. If we knew our time was up, wouldn't we all wish for more of these things? Wouldn't we wish we had never wasted time worrying about what people think?

The truth is, it has taken me a few days to get my game face on. It can be hard to visit the grieving, but it is always the right thing to do. I want to be the friend that I would need if the situation was reversed. I'll get back to budgeting and menu-planning soon (finally jotted down a quick plan for the next couple days) but for now, I have a couple cute little boys that are playing with sleeping bags on the living room floor. I must go camping. And try very hard to remember this moment in time forever.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Menu Plan February 16-22

We had a lovely day sleigh riding with family and new acquaintances yesterday. My brother is training a different horse to pull the sleigh. It was just the break we needed from being cooped up at home!

I seem to be over the hump of my February blues. Motivation has returned, and what feels like a busy week lies ahead. There are chores that I have left too long and swimming lessons start tomorrow. I want to have some quick easy meals to take the stress out of arriving home from swimming and having to make supper. Here's my tentative plan for the week:


Husband lunch: pb and j sandwiches (he actually likes them, but I do feel bad resorting to peanut butter and jam). The fresh food is getting low but I refuse to go to town until we have to go for swimming (Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next month) cans of fruit, all bran bars, puddings
Kids lunch: stirfry with left over rice
Supper: Pizza and tossed salad
major chores to do: clean ashes out of stove, haul wood to basement from garage and replenish supply in garage, all laundry, all toys tidied, vacuum, compost and garbage out, tidy front porch, tidy entryways, bake cookies and prepare a double recipe of new-york style pizza dough/ refrigerate half

Tuesday: (swim 4-4:30)

major chores: deep cleaning of all bathrooms, haul wood, prepare and refrigerate quinoa salad, get water and groceries before swimming lessons
H lunch: leftover pizza, veggies and dip, last of the fruit
kids lunch: grilled cheese, canned fruit, carrots and dip
kids snacks and drinks packed for town/swimming
Supper: chili I made last week thawed and put in slow cooker before we leave, buns, quinoa salad


H lunch: leftover chili and buns, fruit and veg, cookies
Kids lunch: play date here with little friends, fruit and veggie tray with grilled cheese sandwiches
Supper: taco night (roasted broccoli and chickpeas, spanish rice, enchiladas, guacamole)
major chores: clean my sittin' porch (dog and cats have made it a disaster this winter), garbage and compost out, laundry/washed and put away, wash kitchen and basement floors


H lunch: wraps/ leftovers, fruit and veg, etc
kids lunch: leftovers
snacks and drinks packed for swimming lessons
Supper: meatballs I prepared and froze last week put in slowcooker before we leave, fried rice and stir fry
major chores: cut veggies and cook rice before we leave for town, bake bread and cookies
Weather permitting we will spend the morning outside playing and/or at my mom's visiting and playing

Friday: (hopefully the first of Husband's 4 days off)
we may or may not spend the day running errands in town, doing things with the truck that I have not been able to accomplish. There are several light bulbs that need replaced in the garage, a honey-do list as you can imagine after a 24 day shift of work. I hate to bombard Husband on his first day off, but it is nice to get some of the list accomplished quickly and treat the kids to dinner out--then spend the weekend playing and relaxing)
Supper: pub grub (stuffed potatoes, caesar salads, wings, garlic fingers using the premade pizza dough)

Supper: pasta night

Supper: roast and all the fixin's

Saturday, 14 February 2015

February, you get me every time...

Ah, the winter blues...the grouchies....the blahs, the mama-hasn't-left-the-house-in-a-week-rants! February, you have done it again.

But it's not your fault, really. February, you have given me much to be grateful for:

  • My parents' anniversary, a nice gathering of family, 45 years survived and lived to tell about it. 
  • I have developed a real love of baking. I've always loved to cook but was not into baking. These days, the kids and I are enjoying turning out delicious breads and treats and sharing them with our friends. It is a pastime and a hobby and I'm grateful to be able to spend my days baking with my kids. 
  • A runny nose and cough for my littlest, which did NOT get my biggest sick and therefore did NOT result in a flare up of childhood nephrotic syndrome. My gratitude for that alone should make the winter fly. And in many ways, it does. 

I feel ashamed and disgraced that with much to be grateful for, I have still fallen into a wee winter slump and have been short-tempered and frustrated, particularly with my kids. In turn, they are short-tempered with each other and with me, and the whole thing can get disheartening. It is not what I wanted for my kids or myself. We do pretty good all winter but February seems to be the month where I let myself slip. So February? If you are listening, here is what I have planned to get us through the rest of your windy, cold house-bound days:

  • more exercise. I need to stop complaining about being stuck in the house and move my body. It always makes me feel better.
  • clean the house. If I'm stuck here, I should be cleaning one room every few days. No excuse that I "haven't gotten around to it"
  • in-house adventures for the kids. Play Play Play!
  • more self-care. At home spa-time: mani/pedi, facial, sunless tanner, and yes a little pruning never hurts. It makes a world of difference to take care of one's appearance such as it is!
  • more outside time. We have had a run of cold/wind, but on days where it is possible to be outside I need to come up with ideas to keep us out longer. Less time in the house=less time fighting!
  • returning J to play school, Tuesdays only. O will have time with gramma and I will help at school. J doesn't want me to leave him there, and I won't force the issue!
  • I'm investigating taking on some sort of a volunteer capacity that I can include my kids in. They are young to help at the soup kitchen, but I have been letting them each pick on item on special to donate to the food bank every week when we get groceries. I thought of us writing a letter/drawing pictures to send to a Canadian soldier. Then I read some negative feedback about women having strange motives for doing so and was left feeling disappointed with the whole idea. But I'm still thinking of ways to make it a sort of writing assignment for my 5 year old. At any rate, some sort of meaningful, community-minded activity would perk us up.
  • The kids start swimming lessons next week. I'm going to have to don a bathing suit and join my 2 year old in the water...those who know me will remember that I feel water is for showering in and THAT IS IT. It's important to me that my kids don't grow up to hate the water as I do. So...I won't put my bull on their fun. A friend told me this past summer not to let my body issues ruin their summer memories, and she was right, and I am trying. 
As of today there are only 2 more weeks in this dreaded month. We are getting dumped on with fresh snow today. When it warms up that will be lots of fun. Tomorrow my brother is having us over for a sleigh ride, our favorite winter pastime. Before I know it we will be into March and, whatever the weather might bring, I can handle it as spring comes near. Does February (or any particular time of year) get you down in the dumps? If so, have you any frugal suggestions for a pick-me-up?

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Menu Plan Feb 9-15, 2015

 The purpose of my planning a weekly menu is threefold:
  1. Use up what is potentially going to go to waste from my freezer, purchased groceries, home preserves or garden
  2. Become better organized in order to squeak out more time for hobbies/ a deep cleaning of the house/ kids activities (translation: less cooking=more living!)
  3. Attempt to reduce the amount I am spending on food by using in-store coupons, points card at grocery store, doing without, and reducing waste
I'm enjoying following the blog Mortgage Free In Three. It gives wonderful inspiration to pay off debt faster, and recently provided a printable menu planning document. As Elaine suggests, it makes sense to menu plan starting on the day you get groceries--it works well for me as I am a once/week shopper. This week my grocery day fell on a Monday because there were a few things I wanted to do in town and we never drive to town without trying to complete all our errands. NOTE: this is being posted late as hauling wood/mopping floors/laundry and some serious teenage mutant ninja turtle play time had priority. Such is life!

This week's list:

  • fill 2 water jugs (forgot the jugs at home, but should make it til next week)
  • pick up parcel new cookbook, woohoo! Perhaps a post on that later :)
  • weather stripping for the garage door since the kitties have pulled a piece of it completely off and made a draft. Wouldn't you know it, the day after I buy weather stripping I open a closet and find the weather stripping that I thought we had used up in our old house. So I can return what I bought and save ten bucks! 
For my menu plan this week, I have consulted the freezer: some bits of pork chops, enough for a meal, still some roasts and a package of steak to use up, a package of hamburger, some chicken wings, bacon, a package of deer sausage given to me by a friend, perogies, green beans, spinach. Also there are some chicken breasts and shrimp.

In the fridge: lettuce needing used today or ASAP, peppers, some crushed tomato sauce, part of a cucumber, carrots, celery, red onion. We also have some asiago cheese and a bit of mozzarella, some cheese slices (Husband likes them but I try not to buy them!).

On special at grocery store: I got 2000 extra points (when you redeem 20,000 points you save $20) buying things I needed anyways, and I resisted buying anything that wasn't on my list. Normally I don't buy much juice but both kids are getting sore throats so I bought calcium and vit D added oj, and a 5 pack of juice boxes because by then both kids were thirsty and had already drank the juice I brought from home. Altogether, this week's grocery bill was $115.52. It helped that I avoided the meat aisle altogether so I couldn't impulse-buy. I don't go near the bakery because I make all our bread and sweets at home. I've also stopped buying more almond milk until I see if the kids are going to continue drinking it. At $4/2L jug it won't hurt my feelings if they go off it :)

OK, enough stalling. This week's grocery plan:

Monday Feb 9:

  • H lunch: leftovers and buns
  • kids lunch: popcorn shrimp and homemade fries
  • supper: pizza using leftover taco meat, cold cuts, crushed tomatoes (all of which were needing used up in the fridge)
Tuesday Feb 10:
  • H lunch: pizza and fruit
  • kids lunch: buns, fruit and veggies, can of chicken noodle soup, smoothies
  • supper: lasagna, focaccia, caesar salad
Wednesday Feb 11:
  • H lunch: beef buns, fruit and veggies
  • kids lunch: leftovers
  • supper: pulled beef, buns, whipped potatoes, brussels sprouts, salad
Thursday Feb 12: ,boil eggs for Friday)
  • H lunch: beef buns, fruit and veggies
  • kids lunch: grilled cheese sandwiches, smoothies, fruit and veggies
  • supper: slow-cooker pork chops in sauce with rice, green beans
Friday Feb 13:
  • H: egg salad sandwiches, fruit, veg, pudding
  • kids: curly pasta and toast, apple sauce and veggies
  • supper: deer sausage with perogies, layered salad, green peas, fried onions
Saturday Feb 14:
  • H: running out of inspiration, but by then something will come to me ;)
  • kids: likewise!
  • supper: butter chicken, rice, roasted veggies
Sunday Feb 15:
  • H: Chicken salad sandwiches, fruit etc
  • kids: leftovers
  • supper: steak bites, stuffed potatoes, garlic toast, salad
I may not stick entirely to the plan, but now that I know what I have available I hope to thaw/prepare in advance to give myself more time for other things. The weather is supposed to warm up by Thursday so I plan to be outside rather than in the kitchen--a good thing since the wood supply is running low!

What have you got planned for the week?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Make Your Own Gravy Mix

When I was growing up, we made all our gravy using the drippings from roast meat with some salt and pepper for flavour, the water from boiled potatoes/vegetables and some flour and water to thicken. At some point (enter Husband) I started trying to make a more restaurant-style brown gravy. Admittedly, it sure is good on fries and when there are no drippings provided by the cooking process (ie fish and chips) or just wanting to spruce up a bland au jus. Is it just me? I started buying those darned little packages of gravy mix back when they were around 65 cents each. The trouble is, they are now $1.65 on a good day and usually don't thicken. To add $1.65 to the cost of a meal when one is trying to cut expenses is counterproductive, particularly when it adds zero nutritional value and is exceptionally salty. Although we reduce salt in many areas of our diet, our kids don't like gravy so I haven't been as strict with it. However, I think that we are becoming sensitive to how salt affects our bodies and I have no desire to have swollen hands and feet at night! Basically, I would like to make a nice, tasty gravy for less, always have it on hand (soooo tired of not having the mixes!), and have some control over what is added.

Bless the world wide web! There were many recipes that were a variation of bouillon and flour, to which butter and water were added. But I also came across a site claiming to have hacked the KFC 11 herbs and spices recipe. Oh, I was all over it!

So thank you to Ron Douglas, said to have broke the code on the recipe, and "WonderHowTo" Food Hacks for making the intel available to "brilliantly lazy" home cooks like myself ;)

I happened to have both beef and chicken OXO on hand, and while I know there is nothing gourmet about it we are talking restaurant-burger-and-fries type gravy here. You can also adjust your salt content by adding less, which I might once I've had a chance to taste this a few times and tinker with it. But for anyone interested, here is how I combined a few different recipes to make a thick gravy without the use of drippings. 

Homemade Gravy Mix

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp bouillon (I used 1 part beef, 2 parts chicken for more colour)
1 tsp each: oregano, chili powder, sage, basil, marjoram, pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder
1/2 tsp each: mustard powder, celery seed

I actually didn't have basil and I ran out of paprika when I made a second batch to give away. What I like about this is I can adapt the spices and amount of bouillon over time. NOTE: I ground the herbs in my mortar and pestle for a smoother gravy. 

To Make The Gravy

In a saucepan, brown 2 Tbsp butter over low heat
Whisk in 2 Tbsp gravy mix to make a thick paste
Add one cup of water slowly, whisking out any lumps as gravy thickens

We liked this gravy with homemade fries, and I used the gravy mix with extra flour and cornstarch to season and coat the chicken that I fried. We enjoyed it, and I hope that you do too! Have you ever tried  making your own sauces and seasonings?

How I Did: February 1-7

I enjoyed having a menu plan much more than I thought I would. I felt able to plan a day or two in advance, which left me with a bit of extra time for blogging and sewing (two of my goals this year). We are very flexible, which helps when you have children and live in the country--trips to town pop up and/or get delayed and it is best to just roll with it :) It is easy for me to say that because my kids are not in any extra activities, but that will change when they start swimming lessons in town on February 17. I may be whistling a different tune by then ;)

So how did last week's plan go?

Off the top, I posted the plan without consulting a calendar, so ended up with the wrong dates for the days of the week--off to a great start as usual! 

Sunday: I made 2 loaves of bread (froze 1). Made 2 dozen buns (froze 1 doz). I got company and forgot to make the pear crisp, so I made it Monday night instead. Used up the remainder of a bag of pears that would have been composted.

Monday: All went according to plan.

Tuesday: All went according to plan.

Wednesday: We made an unscheduled trip to town. I improvised a new recipe for fish cakes and used up leftovers from the fridge. I thawed the roast that I had planned to have Thursday, but because I bought some reduced avocados that needed eaten I switched to...

Thursday: Taco night. Also pre-roasted Friday night's roast and made buns for...

Friday: Pulled beef on homemade buns. Seriously, how have I never made this before? As the daughter of cattle ranchers, with limitless beef roasts over my lifetime...I shall be making up for lost time with this one. Really, really good. An upcoming post on this, I'm sure!

Saturday: While I had planned to use up some frozen drumsticks, I ended up adding some chicken breasts and hosting my parents' 45th anniversary supper. It was only 4 extra adults, and I did make too much, but homemade fries and pasta salad, plus a green salad, peas, and buns made for a finger lickin' good time ;)

I have found a new recipe for dinner rolls. I confess to being inept at rolling them into nice balls, hence the misshapen and odd-sized buns that we have been eating all these years. My stand mixer has made such a difference in my bread making endeavors. I stubbornly resisted buying one (cost and I really wanted to make the food my granny did with just her bare hands). Alas, they don't make 'em like they used to and I could never get it right. The mixer gets it right, though. Now to figure out how to make the rolls look purty....I'm getting better, but still a ways to go ;)

Most pictures of the food in my kitchen are from directly above--less clearing of counter tops necessary that way!

Good bye store-bought, expensive, disappointing gravy mixes! Growing up, flour and water was sufficient to thicken roast drippings into gravy. At some point we became hooked on adding a package of gravy mix, or to making gravy when there are no drippings (ie. fries, dressing and gravy mmmmm). A little digging around on the internet and I am now in business making my own self-thickening gravy mix. I'll post on it soon!

When I planned Saturday's meal, I meant to use up the cream cheese that is in my fridge in some kind of wonderful dessert. I forgot, but cream cheese never goes to waste (in fact, I can't believe it has survived til February...WTH?) This is a great recipe from America's Test Kitchen, a fluffy yellow cake with chocolate icing. I made it because the brother that came loves it; he ate so much supper he skipped dessert in spite of my encouragement...really, you better have a piece!

So that was the week. I feel happy with my results. I don't pressure myself to stick too rigidly to any kind of schedule. While my kids are young and free, we just roll with whatever is happening. At the same time, it is easy to have the day-to-day chores take up all of my day and I don't find the time for my own interests. I felt that the meal plan helped me accomplish extra baking/cooking on certain days which freed up time for some sewing and blogging, and of course more time playing with my kids. Have you tried anything new in the kitchen lately?

Friday, 6 February 2015

On Not Getting Derailed

I love to host gatherings. If we can manage as a family to tidy the house, subdue the dust bunnies and clear the clutter, I do love to cook a big meal and enjoy it with family or friends. I fear, though, that I tend to go overboard and throw in a fancier  more labor-intensive menu from time to time and it tends to take the fun out of it for me. I spend my time frantic in the kitchen rather than visiting, and beyond that it usually ends up being more expensive.

Last year my mom didn't want an anniversary supper-we had enjoyed several family gatherings in a row and it felt unnecessary. This year I suggested a meal, she has agreed, and besides my parents there will be two of my brothers. Nothing fancy, and I'm resisting the urge to make it a bigger deal than it needs to be.

Right away I was inclined to run to town for ribs for a special meal. But I have taken inventory and there are chicken breasts in my freezer, so I plan to do something with those. I also want to use up the lettuce and vegetables that I bought the other day so they don't go to waste, so there will be a couple salads. Potatoes or rice? Also I have cream cheese left from my Christmas groceries. We will do something with that for a nice dessert. I will have a think on it and post what I came up with--on hosting a dinner without buying anything special. By not getting derailed this week, I hope that sticking to a grocery budget is becoming second nature. Do you normally get special groceries when you are hosting a dinner?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Newfoundland-inspired Fish Cakes

I get an amazing amount of traffic looking for a Newfoundland Dressing recipe. Likewise, I've posted about another favorite of ours: Newfoundland Peas Pudding, and the Jiggs Dinner altogether. As a Saskatchewan gal with a farming background, I would never claim to do the food justice--but none of the Newfoundlanders who are "up away" and have eaten here have ever complained ;)

I'm on a mission to use up food that is languishing in our freezer and pantry. In my weekly plan I had intended to do homemade fish and chips--but on reflection the cheap store-bought cod fillets were just too wimpy to hold up to batter and frying. I wanted fish cakes, but nothing too fussy. The kids have been getting up at 5 am lately and I'm feeling the February blahs creeping in.

The kids love to help cut the potatoes with the fry maker I got for Christmas. So that part was easy. I cooked the fries with just a bit of oil in our actifry (last year's Christmas gift). I had made extra dressing a few weeks ago and froze it in a sandwich bag and happened to have leftover gravy from our roast beef supper the other night.

I had a basic idea of how I wanted to make the fish cakes, but googled some recipes for inspiration. I was really glad to come across a cooking site that I had never seen, and I'm happy to pass it on here. I am sure I will use often when looking for new recipes. I didn't follow the recipe, exactly, but rather took my inspiration and ran with it.

I basically steamed the fillets in just a bit of butter and their own juices, then sauted finely chopped onions in the same pan. After they had cooled slightly I flaked them apart gently with a fork and added the onion, an egg, about a Tbsp of store-bought tartar sauce, and about a Tbsp lemon juice. The secret ingredient that I had never thought to add before (which I found on RockRecipes) is mashed and cooled potatoes. I happened to have just the right amount leftover in the fridge, and the result was a very nice flakey fish cake. I rolled them in panko before frying them in a Tbsp butter and Tbsp canola oil. I made my own tartar sauce and a salad to accompany the meal. All in all, I used up some odds and ends in the fridge and freezer and made a quick tasty meal that we will definitely try again. Most importantly, I found a website to add to my favorites where I can learn more about Newfoundland culture and food. Do you like to find new recipes to use up leftovers?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A Swing and a Miss

You might recall I recently stated that "theoretically I may not need to get groceries this week". There were a few things that I forgot in my weekly groceries: namely water for the humans (our well is not potable so we refill 5 gallon jugs) and food for the dog and cats (we got a puppy at Christmas; he warrants his own post one of these days!).

We couldn't be out of water, nor food for the beasts, and the cost of buying such things in the next little town over is prohibitive. As much as I would like to support a local business, I can't justify $7 for the water that I would spend $3 on in town (also a local business). My 3 jugs were filled for $9, a savings of $4/jug or $12 altogether. That easily covered the drive to town (45kms, approx cost of $7 per round trip). I don't like to leave those types of purchases to the last minute in case there is a blizzard or extreme cold, a sick child, or even just not feeling like a trip to town. We have been about a week with out going anywhere; it was time to get out.

The things is, we never just run to town for one thing. While we were out we got our mail (the box is only a mile away, but I am expecting a parcel so if the parcel note had been in the mail I would have needed it to pick up the parcel in town at the post office). We also needed fuel (purchased where I can also collect air miles) and we grabbed some groceries. To the tune of $175.28. Cringe.

 All things conspired to send us to town today, and I am fine with that. My goal is to reduce what we waste and stick to my grocery list to spend less on food. In that sense, we are progressing.

I planned to watch for flour when it was on sale--today was the day at $5.98 for a 10 kg bag. I got two because I am baking more and have been caught buying flour sometimes for $11 or even $12/10 kg. I like it better this way.

My kids are usually good about not asking for things in stores. However, they were intent on a treat for the pup as we ran out of dentastix the other day. Because all things must be equal, J had to pick out a different treat for the dog because O was first to touch the dentastix. I can afford to choose my battles and the puppy pepperoni made it into the cart, but the pet food aisle is off limits until next time we run out of dog food.

I splurged on a bag of avocado for $3. They have been $1.48 each lately so we haven't had them in ages. I plan to do a bean salad and perhaps a taco night rather than the shepherd's pie I had planned. My potatoes that would have accompanied the hamburger in shepherd's pie will keep, but the avocado will not. Do you see where I am going with my menu-planning helping me reduce kitchen waste? The kids asked for strawberries, and I succumbed. Ditto the $3 bags of popcorn (1 each, because they were sold in pairs). All in all, I bought toilet paper, basmati rice, and sriracha sauce (saved 90 cents) which were also not on my list. I blew the budget by $46.14! I am already learning that my justifications while shopping (ie. it's on sale today, or I don't want to run out before our next shopping day) just would not fly if we were in a serious situation like being unemployed and living off savings. I don't feel that I bought (many) unnecessary items but I am realizing how reducing a monthly budget will be a challenge. 

Shopping Trips in February: 1

Total Spent:
  • Groceries: $175.28
  • Water: $9
  • Fuel: $39. 26
Do you budget the money that you spend on food, or have an idea of what you usually spend? Do you notice prices going up and, if so, have you altered what you are buying?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Menu Plan January 31-February 7 2015

The end of January already? Yikes!

As I've mentioned, I have some beef roasts to use up. They will factor into this week's plan as will a bag of pears that I need to use up. I have a few things to consider, Husband's lunch for work being one of them. He got a heater that plugs into the lighter in his truck so he can now take leftovers (Yay!!) and I also like to send a variety of foods because after years of packed lunches it must be getting a little repetitive. There are also our lunches at home, which will be either leftovers (not my kids' favorite thing to eat but I shall prevail!) or simple fare complimented with fresh fruit and veggies. I won't bother listing our breakfasts because we are very predictable: toast and fruit for us at home and Husband leaves so early he does not bother eating.

Sunday Feb 1: 

  • Husband lunch: leftover pizza, veggies, cookies, fruit cup
  • kids' lunch: fruit/apple sauce, veggies, curly pasta
  • Supper: 1/2 roast and all the trimmings, fresh buns (freeze some), pear crisp for dessert*

*although I rarely make desserts, we will use up our bag of pears in a pear crisp (recipe at end of post).

Monday Feb 2:

  • H lunch: roast beef on a bun, veggies and fruit, pear crisp
  • kids' lunch: buns, fruit and veg, and leftover pear crisp.
  • Supper:  beef stew, buns 

Tuesday Feb 3:

  • H lunch: leftover stew, veg and fruit
  • kids' lunch: a pre-arranged pizza party at our house with friends. I will do fresh veggies and smoothies along with cookies 
  • Supper: A huge sirloin steak (free from mom) will be used in beef stir fry, rice and noodles from my America's Test Kitchen Cookbook. Love it!

Wednesday Feb 4:

  • H lunch: leftover pizza, veg and fruit, puddings that need used up
  • kids' lunch: leftover pizza, veggies
  • Supper: Shepherd's Pie and Salad

Thursday Feb 5:
  • H lunch: Shepherd's Pie
  • kids' lunch: grilled cheese, fruit and veg
  • Supper: homemade fish and chips using fish that has been in the freezer awhile. Also Newfoundland Dressing and gravy (saved from the beef roast). *a note on making dressing: quite often when I make dressing, I make extra and freeze enough for another meal so we can have the special treat in a hurry!

Friday Feb 6:
  • H lunch: frozen pizza pops that I bought for when I'm too lazy to make a lunch :)
  • kids' lunch: leftover fish and chips
  • Supper: pulled beef sandwiches on fresh buns using a recipe I found at

Saturday Feb 7:
  • H lunch: pulled beef on buns
  • kids' lunch: wraps and salad and veggies
  • Supper: drumsticks in sauce with Rice and Green Beans from the garden (frozen)

And there you have it--a week of meals taken from the food available in my freezer and pantry.  I don't consider this a savings, because we are living off food that we have already paid for and that will be replaced. Where I feel I am succeeding is in that we are using up things that might otherwise go to waste--either through going past their expiration date, becoming freezer burnt or being tossed into the compost pit. Rather than using store-bought pork loin for pulled pork sandwiches, I am using meat that was available to us. Theoretically I should not have to buy groceries this week at all, unless eggs and milk run low. If need be, I can save money by not going to town for groceries (45 kms) and instead supporting a small town grocer that is closer. I have to go to that small town anyways so I can pick up any essentials then, but at the higher price anything that is not essential will have to wait for the week of Feb 8-14 to be bought in town.

Do you follow a menu plan, or how do you decide what you will cook during the week? Do you follow the specials or buy only what you have listed? 

Pear Crisp (adapted from my apple crisp recipe,
which came out of an old recipe book of my moms when I left home
a million or so years ago)

6 pears, peeled and sliced
6 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp sugar cinnamon my apologies to anyone who might've made this before I found my mistake!
3 Tbsp butter

-spread in small casserole dish and top with:

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
8 Tbsp butter

-Bake at 350F for 15 minutes covered, 35 minutes uncovered.

Please Note: this is an old recipe and it is ALOT of sugar. I usually throw in extra apples or pears and reduce the amount of sugar (the original recipe actually calls for 1.5 cups brown sugar on top). This is just the recipe that I have, you really can't go wrong with sugar, fruit and cinnamon. But if you have a favorite recipe, adapt it to use up the fruit in your kitchen that is going to waste. The point for me is to not let the pears wind up in the compost. Enjoy!

The Grocery Plan

I just want to begin by saying that making frugal choices means different things for different people. I am extremely lucky and grateful to have the privileges and gifts that I do. In preparing to write this post I realized that I have more money invested in tea than many people can invest in their week's groceries. I would never want my posts to make anyone feel worse about their situation and I do not want to come across as superior. This is simply the tale of my family's journey towards smarter money management, trying to pay down debt faster, and creating less waste with our choices. I know that I am extremely lucky to be able to stay home with my kids everyday and I know that so many others cannot. I do not mean to patronize but rather start a conversation and encourage. 

I feel like I am always thinking about how I can reduce my grocery spending but I have not taken action. I have decided to challenge myself for the next few months to reduce my spending, reduce what gets wasted in my kitchen, and reduce the stockpiled food that we are not eating.

This is my pantry. Believe it or not, it has been recently organized. I'm the only one who uses it so if I know where things are that is all that matters, right? 

I have a drawer where I keep the flours and dry grains. One area I would like to increase my stockpile is buying more flour when it is on sale. I use it up quite quickly making all our bread, so might as well keep extra and save a bit of money.

The rest of the baking supplies are in a corner cupboard. I usually bake according to an informal rotation of recipes. Now that I am trying out new recipes, I experiment according to what ingredients I have on hand.

So Here Is THE PLAN:

Take Inventory: While I do believe a full pantry has its benefits, I dread wasting food and I need to do better at using up certain items before buying more. For instance, we have a lot of apple sauce. I need to use some up in pumpkin bread and feed the rest to the kids before it is outdated. My real challenge right now is to use up some beef roasts that my mom gave me when she was cleaning out her freezer. Over the next few weeks I will try to get creative with some recipes to use up the meat without getting sick of it! I also have green beans frozen from my garden that need used. Also this week I need to use up a bag of pears that are ripening too quickly. I'm thinking a pear crisp is in order for dessert!

Consult Flyers and Coupons: After taking inventory of what needs used up around here, it makes sense to check the flyers for anything I might need to complete my menu plan for the week. There are a few items that I plan to stockpile more of (flour, mostly) so I will watch for those going on sale as well.

Baking List and Menu Plan For The Week: I confess that I've never menu planned before. I mostly go by my gut, as it were. But I think it is time that I get more organized and more conscious of using what is on sale and what is at hand and needing used up. I hope that you will join me as I attempt to cut spending and reduce waste!