Vintage Recipe: Butter Star Cookies

IMG_20181211_095713When I was a college sophomore in my first apartment, I asked my mom for a cookbook. I hadn’t yet mastered cooking rice, and I just wanted some simple instructions. She gave me my great grandmother’s 1932 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, a cloth-bound binder with pages that had aged as gently as Louise, with her beautiful script on the back pages. I looked through it… and at some point returned it to Mom’s shelf. I was moving a lot and didn’t want things I wouldn’t use, and it wasn’t the book I needed at that time. I eventually figured out how to cook rice and a lot of other things, mostly without instructions.

Years later, I became fascinated with old cookbooks, Continue reading “Vintage Recipe: Butter Star Cookies”

Cooking Dinner… After Dinner

radishes2The ease of dinner from the fridge or freezer on weeknights means that the cooking time must come from some other time in the week. Rather than doing a big freezer cooking day, my routine has always been to simply cook more than we need and freeze the extra. But when 5 of 7 days of the week have little cooking time after work, another strategy is needed… and that’s when I cook dinner after dinner. Continue reading “Cooking Dinner… After Dinner”

Simple Annual Greetings

My 4328/10
German Christmas Card c.1911 from University of Nottingham, shared through CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The first year that I sent my own holiday greetings, I hand-wrote individual letters to everyone.   It was before our marriage, before our parenthood, and before my career burnout.  And even then, it was too much.

I love a good handwritten letter, and I still send them – Continue reading “Simple Annual Greetings”

Black Friday, *sigh*

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Oh Black Friday.  How I ignored your existence for so many years.  Then we remodeled our house, and needed new appliances, so in 2011 the siren song of your deals sucked me in.  And since then, while I don’t elbow or trample anyone in person, I do participate in the online frenzy.

What I love about Black Friday:

  • Deals, ok?  I love the deals, especially on things I was already going to buy or waited to buy until Black Friday deals came up.  In preparation, I made a good effort to locate all these items secondhand, and was successful on some fronts (I bought my daughter a big load of clothes, and found winter boots for both kids) but not on others.  So:  I bought shoes for the kids, a bed frame and mattress for my daughter, a new vacuum (this year’s killer deal winner), new jackets for the kids that we love from Gap, a few clothes for me, a few stocking stuffers for the family.
  • The thrill of the hunt, looking for the best deal.  Notice that this will also appear below.
  • The gratification.  I delayed it, then I got the stuff.
  • Related to the thrill of the hunt, the stacking of bargains.  For some, I got the store’s discount, then additional $$ back through eBates, and my cashback through my credit card.  Cha-ching on stuff I would have been buying in the near term anyway.

What I hate about Black Friday:

  • The human price of instant delivery.  I haven’t even been able to bring myself to listen to this podcast episode about it because I know my feelings will be horrible.  At some point, I need to (see “misalignment” below).
  • That I was willing to buy things new just because they were on a deal, when if I’d waited longer I could have likely obtained them secondhand, conserving resources and money.  I don’t worry as much about the money as in the past, but the manufacturing load of new items troubles me.  Except, it seems, when the deals are so good.  So that leads me to . . .
  • Misalignment with my values.  Why am I willing to morph into some crazy-consumerist one weekend of the year and not at other times?
  • The thrill of the hunt.  Oh, there you are again.  I wasted a LOT of time that weekend looking for the best deals on beds – and ended up buying one off Amazon for the regular price.  I have been known to “buffer” with online shopping and see this is a negative activity for my overall well-being (“buffering” being a term from Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School and meaning activities we undertake in order not to feel undesired feelings or urges).

How about you?

How I View Money – a Retrospective (Part 1)

money-2724241_1920I’m sure this will be fascinating to many of you, and make others want to lay their head down on the nearest pillow and fall directly to sleep.  Or maybe somewhere in the middle?  Not even sure why I’ve been thinking about this lately.  Probably because in reading all of Ilse’s wonderful posts, I’m reminded of how long it’s been since I “met” her and Stephanie online and where my own outlook on money, frugality, simplicity, intentionality, etc. has meandered since.

So grew up middle class in rural MN.  Mom and dad never talked about money, well, not the details, but we knew we had enough for everything we needed but not quite everything we wanted.  I always had the distinct impression that I should not request designer clothing, for example, which pretty much I didn’t care about – or perhaps I didn’t care because I knew I wasn’t going to have, anyway.  But we were able to do all kinds of school activities, and always had enough food and clothes and medicine and books and toys and everything.

When it was time to go to college, I was determined to do it without loans.  I went to community college concurrently with high school for free, then an additional year there to finish up an Associate’s degree, which I planned to transfer to a public university where I would finish my degree quickly and with no debt.  Until . . . I got overwhelmed by the prospect of that public university and I visited a beautiful private college with its immaculate grounds and super welcoming admissions staff and FREE POP AND WAIVED APPLICATION FEE.  So I applied, and got accepted.  I was so excited!  Then the financial aid letter arrived, with its skillions of dollars in loans as part of the package.  And though I’d stated my goal of no student loans for yeeeeeeeeears, my parents were like, “meh, debt’s part of life.”  And so I signed and waded into my first student loan.

What I also didn’t know is that I needed an additional year at that private college to cover requirements not accepted from the community college.  So.  There are a lot of things a family doesn’t really understand when no one’s completed college.  Now we know.  Transferring doesn’t always equal saving money.

Ultimately I borrowed around $20K in loans, a modest amount to some but an amount that weighed on me.  So after college and a stint working abroad, I got serious about actually taking some action to eliminate these loans.  I’d also wracked up some credit card debt during a year of underemployment, so I had that on my conscience too.  It was at that time that I discovered Your Money or Your Life, and the heavens parted and the angels sang and I drank the Kool Aid and counted all my socks and everything else I owned and was shocked into action.

I started working diligently to pay off all my debt in March of 2006.  I documented my journey on a now-defunct website dedicated to tracking goals.  By this time I had about $34K in student loan debt (I’d also started a masters program), credit card debt and auto debt (because, since debt bothered me so much . . . I had bought and financed a brand new car.  Riddle me that.).  I did all these odd jobs, I had a graph (I just recycled that sucker about a month ago, I couldn’t let it go for years because I was sooooo proud of what it represented).  Finally, in 2011, all of it was paid off, and in the interim I’d finished the remainder of the masters program on a cash basis and taken several trips including India and Hawaii, and gotten married!  Admittedly a dual income definitely helped knock out the last $15K or so.

I’ll bring you my married life journey in a future installment, which I’ll link here when it’s up!

 

Cooking for a Crowd, Everyday


I’ve mentioned before that ever since I’ve been back to work, freezer cooking has been my lifesaver. It’s not the first time I’ve used this method in my parenting career, and I’ve been tweaking my techniques for a few years now, and figured I’d share them.
-For a while, I did once a month cooking, but that ended up being too much to hack when the meals I was making were twice the size of the average family’s. I’ve never had a huge kitchen, and there are only so many dishes I could manage after an entire day of cooking. It would end up being a 2-3 day long event, after which I was really tired. I switched to cooking for two weeks at a time and found it to be much more manageable.
-I enlist the help of my older kids. James can make rice in the rice cooker, Bella can brown the ground beef, and Cheyenne can use her special cleaning magic powers to help me clean up. (I don’t know how I merited having a teenage daughter who likes to clean. I annoy her with my slovenly ways.) Even Travis, Charlotte and Veronica can open cans, or run veggie scraps out to the compost.
-Sometimes I compromise and buy things pre-chopped, like onions. I can get a bag of frozen chopped onions for about $1. Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s not a bank-breaker, and the take-out I’d end up eating if I didn’t have food pre-made would be. Bonus points, no one whines at me about the onions hurting their eyes.
-I stopped using disposable pans. I do not love disposable stuff, and I freezer cook often enough to justify a little investment in the project. Walmart has 9×13 pans for under $4, so I just started buying a couple each time I went, and pretty soon had a respectable stash of them.
-If I’m making something like chicken legs, and I know it will be one of the meals I toss in the crockpot on the day we eat it, I’ll freeze the legs separately before adding them to the bag. Otherwise, they freeze in a clump, and it’s a craps shoot whether or not they will fit nicely in the crockpot on cooking day.
-Certain things, like chili, or beef stew, I never make in anything smaller than an electric roaster oven. We’ll eat it often enough that, if I’m going to go to the trouble of making it at all, I might as well make two or three. I usually make at least one roaster oven of some kind of stew or soup on freezer cooking day, which also doubles as that day’s dinner. We can all take a bowl and there is still enough leftover for two meals. This cuts down on what used to happen, spending all day cooking only to order a pizza for dinner.
Overall, this seems to be the method I’m having the most success with at the moment. Weeknight dinners are easy to make, and easier to clean up, leaving more time for spending with my kids. It’s kept my eating out budget in check, and given me more rest at the end of a busy day.

My Formula for Meal Planning

Meal planning doesn’t scare me as much as it seems to scare other people. In August, before school started, I sat down and planned out four months of menus. I wouldn’t normally be that on top of things, but because I was nervous about my first semester as a full time working mom, I figured I should probably have some kind of plan in place. I’m a big fan of variety. As easy as it would be to have every Tuesday be tacos, every Friday be pizza, and every Monday be spaghetti, I wouldn’t stick to a meal plan like that because I would get restless and bored. I decided that what I could do was to create a similar framework, but with categories assigned to each day of the week, instead of a single meal. The categories can change from month to month, or they can stay the same.

So, for example, in August Monday is pasta night, in September it’s Mexican food, in October it’s chicken, and in November it’s pork. Wednesday night is soup and sandwich, or soup and salad, all three months, because we really like soup, and there is a wide variety of soup recipes we can make.

The benefit of this framework is that when you sit down to pick out recipes, you don’t ask yourself overwhelming questions like. “What 31 things in all of creation do I feel like making for dinner this month?” You ask yourself manageable questions like, “What four hot dishes (casseroles) sound good in December.”

I’ve compiled a list of categories that I’ve used before, in case anyone finds it helpful to use.

  1. Soup and sandwich
  2. Soup, salad and breadsticks (like Olive Garden)
  3. Hot dish (for those outside of our area, a hot dish is a casserole)
  4. Sliders (these are easy and there are a lot of variants)
  5. Burgers
  6. Meatballs
  7. Pasta
  8. Mexican
  9. Roasts
  10. Chicken
  11. Pork
  12. Beef
  13. Meatless
  14. Brinner
  15. Stew
  16. Pot pie
  17. Eggs
  18. Salads
  19. German
  20. Cold/Hot sandwiches

I do usually repeat the same thing every Friday for a month, but rotate what that is between waffles and make-your-own pizza. I have one of my big boys, James for waffles, and Travis for pizza, that is in charge of being the meal helper on Fridays, so they alternate months. They enjoy it a lot. We also have a standing date with my dad one Friday a month for fish fry at a local supper club, in the longstanding Wisconsin tradition. Most Saturdays we either have a hot dog cookout by the bonfire, with s’mores, or, if the weather is bad, sliders and some kind of chips or crackers and dip for a game night indoors. It’s not a perfect system, but it works pretty well for us.