Thrifty Thursday

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Evelyn Simak / A traditional cottage garden (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Most days are thrifty at Cottage Berg, so I admit succumbing to alliteration, but I do find regular reminders to be helpful when working toward a goal. Today’s thrifty habit is Meals that Clean Out the Fridge (or Freezer). Having learned to make use of random bits and scraps of leftovers has been a key skill in reducing food waste in our house. They are all either refrigerated or frozen in containers, and about once weekly I make a meal that can use up random vegetables, legumes, potatoes, or meat.

This is probably where casseroles originated. My mom never really made them, so the first time I saw a recipe I was stunned at all the work involved. But when everything is already made and leftover from another meal, they are very cost- and time-efficient. And that is true of most of these meals. Most are adaptable to use either cooked (neutrally seasoned) or raw vegetables; cooked vegetables should be added just in time to heat through.

Sometimes little containers get shoved to the back of the freezer or fridge.  I really hate to throw out food or clean moldy containers, so nearly emptying the fridge between shopping excursions is a good habit, and if I don’t have an idea for how to use something within a few days, I move it into the freezer.  The things that get lost in the deep freeze may become dessicated over time, but are still perfectly useful in a soup or chili.

Examples of perfect vehicles for random leftovers:

Frittata or omelet
Fried rice or bibbim bap
Soups (minestrone, for instance)
Enchiladas
Chili
Stir fry
Flatbread with toppings, or filled crepes

And then there’s always the Leftover Buffet.

Tonight I drive the carpool, and I need a quick meal to cook when I get home that will use up about two cups of cooked cabbage.  Soup is a good candidate, but I won’t have time to cook it after I get home, and am gone far too long to consider the slow cooker (after about 6 hours, in my opinion, it just tastes overcooked).   Plus, it’s Thursday night, the Night of Greatest Fatigue (I completely understand why Thursday night was meltdown night in Mari’s first years of school).  So, it will be simple: an unfilled omelet with green onions and Jarlsburg cheese, with leftover roasted potatoes and cabbage.  And then I will don my pajamas and read with a purring cat.

How have you reduced food waste? What are your weeknight go-to meals?

Frugal Thinking

forest-path-238887_1920iThe sun is poking through the clouds, shining with unusual intensity for a cloudy day directly into our dining room. The house is quiet – only the animals and I are awake. I am sitting at the keyboard, thinking. This is what I wanted more of when I quit that crazy job. Time to just think. It’s been a year now, and that anniversary as well as the lack of padding in our bank account has made me ponder my choice, which still feels right. I’ve never had a job that felt like such a good match to my skills, and because there is room to grow in the organization, I believe that our income situation will improve in time. In the meantime, Mari’s only home for two more years. I want to make those happy years, not two more years with a stressed-to-the-limit mom.

I met my friend Mary to walk and talk yesterday, and our conversation turned to how I have more time now. I definitely do, though its source is not really obvious. One hour of daily work time saving has been given to sleep that I didn’t know I was missing until I felt the resulting change. I am not spending hours each week on a job hunt, as I was for much of 2018. Overall, it’s hard to say whether reduced stress or the changed work environment is the most significant factor.

My previous job required “deep work” for the entire day.  Every task, every day, required problem solving in a different situation, resolution in a timely manner, with close to zero tolerance for error. But all day long I was interrupted by someone in person or by phone, text, or page at least every 15 minutes. Sometimes it was something that could have been asked in an email. Sometimes it was production staff asking me when I would be done using some equipment (I managed to never say, “Sooner if you stop interrupting me.”). Sometimes it was actually something urgent. Every day when I came home, my brain was exhausted – and then I would still continue to receive texts and emails and ponder unsolved issues, often in the middle of the night. My coworkers were similarly stressed, which multiplied the effect.

Now, I am still interrupted for most of the day, but I have at least an hour every morning with close to zero interruptions. The deep work I do comes in concentrated bursts, and there is no manufacturing urgency. When I leave for the day, I am done. I don’t have to make tentative weekend plans around the possibility of being called in to fix something. I have mental energy left in the evenings to learn new things, to begin creative projects, and, most importantly, to be available to my family in more than robot mode.

It is still difficult to catch up with friends due to everyone’s different schedules and time demands, but when I do, I can to settle in and enjoy the time, rather than being stressed about what I’m not getting done. Yesterday, Mary and I walked for an hour on a day with weather that can only be described as perfect (yes, in January!). Both the outdoor time in the sunshine and the discussion were therapeutic.

So, life is very good, but there is some threat of financial strain. To minimize that I will be renewing my focus on frugality, continuing to seek ways of saving on a regular basis. My budgeting approach is somewhat casual except for one rule, which covers just about everything: don’t spend if it’s not necessary or if it’s not in line with family priorities. (I have a formal budget in a spreadsheet, but I don’t look at it very often… it helps that I have a strong memory for numbers.) Our default when something is necessary is to first consider if something else can be substituted or repurposed, which results in many fun creative experiments and a lot of learning. I was considering some sort of formal budget challenge, but after reviewing expenses from the past year, think that I would rather just focus on that one rule, and allow that energy to go to new learning instead.

Is frugality part of your simple living path?
What tools do you use to maintain a frugal lifestyle when there are so many anti-frugal influences every day?

The Joy of Thrifting

My first-ever thrift shop purchase was an old metal sewing machine which I used it for about 5 years until it failed – ironically, for the same reason I hadn’t wanted a newer machine – some interior plastic part that couldn’t be replaced.

When we moved to Tucson, we discovered reuse shops of all types (used book stores aside – those I discovered decades ago!). Continue reading “The Joy of Thrifting”

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”

Homemade Bread Routines

wmbread2Bread.

One of my favorite aromas: a bakery that uses a sour rye culture.  One of my least favorite aromas: the packaged bread aisle of supermarkets.

I’ve been making most of our breads, of all shapes and sizes, for years. Slightly fluffy whole grain sandwich bread, crusty and fragrant sourdough, tortillas, pita, and naan, pizza, and occasionally bagels – I enjoy the process and product both.

Baking bread has the reputation of being time-consuming.  I’ve experimented with various means of fitting the bread cycle into our days, and I’ve assessed the competition Continue reading “Homemade Bread Routines”

Cool Summer Cooking

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Dinner baked outside = cool kitchen inside

When I used to visit my grandparents in the 1980s, the original 1940 gas stove was installed in the basement, having been replaced by a 1960-something model.  It was a beautiful appliance, porcelainized with that granite finish still seen on some cookware, and which looked nice for decades more than my 1990s white-finish gas stove.  The house had no air conditioning, and that stove was used all summer to reduce heat added to the main floor of the house.

Today many houses have air conditioning, but in the interest of energy conservation and comfort, as well as channeling the spirit of my grandmother, I don’t use the oven from May through September.

There are so many different small kitchen appliances that they are their own category of clutter.  Many promise, at least in the advertising copy, that holy grail of cooking: dinner without any actual work or time.  I’ve tried my share of them, and know that dinner without any work or time usually isn’t worth eating (unless the work and time were previously done, otherwise known as leftovers).

Small appliances can be tremendously convenient, though, for cooking outside of the kitchen – including cooking outside, keeping the house cool in the summer, and also reducing indoor humidity.  Added to the grill, they expand summer cooking options:

Slow cooker: dried beans, granola, fish, and all the slow cooker standards

Toaster oven: Anything that’s usually baked and can fit.  My toaster oven can hold a 6- muffin tin, a loaf pan, a 9″ pie plate, or an 11×9 rectangular dish.  Small baking pans can be easily sourced at thrift shops.

Grill: pizza and other flatbreads, vegetables, and the usual grilled fare

Today I had more of our endless stream of garden greens, some gigantic onions, and the end of a bag of potatoes.  So I made

Greens and Potato Gratin

This has flavors similar to spanakopita without the bother of a crust.

Preheat toaster oven to 350F.  Oil an 11×7 baking dish.  Scale recipe accordingly if this is too large for your toaster oven.

Steam until tender:
6-8 c chopped kale or collard greens
½ large onion, chopped

Microwave or steam until tender:
5 small red potatoes

Saute over low heat until soft and browning but not caramelized:
½ large onion, finely sliced lengthwise

Slice the potatoes.

Add to the greens/onions mixture
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp dill
black pepper to taste
salt if desired (feta is salty)

Add half of the greens/onions mixture, then top with ½ of the onions and ½ of the potatoes. Brush potatoes with olive oil and repeat layers. Sprinkle more olive oil and feta over the top layer of potatoes if desired.

Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes when everything is hot on assembly.