Five More Tips to Improve Your Home-cooked Meals

Macaroni and Cheese?

Get Inspired with Cookbooks—There are many ways to find cooking inspiration these days. Cooking shows abound, online cooking sites provide a great deal of information, but good old cookbooks are still a real pleasure once you get into the idea of cooking at home. There are literally thousands of used cookbooks floating around out there. Look on Amazon.com, or go to the cookbook section and browse next time you visit your favorite used bookstore. Even the library has cookbooks. If you browse a bit you are sure to find something interesting. Then next time you get bored with the same old chicken tacos you will have an instant resource. Boredom breeds eating out unnecessarily, and perhaps blowing your food budget.

Read the Recipe—Once you find an interesting recipe, do yourself a favor and read the whole thing, even if you are sure you know what it says. I once messed up a brownie recipe because it combined the chocolate with the flour and I (thinking I knew what the author was going to say) had already combined it with the sugar. Every recipe is different. If you read it first you’ll save yourself some unfortunate surprises. It also helps to get everything lined up, or what chefs call mise en place. Then it is easy to follow the directions.

Use Good Ingredients—Many people think that frugality means getting the cheapest stuff possible at all times. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is really all about getting the best things you can afford for the purpose you have in mind. Besides being one of the great pleasures in life, good food is one of the main building blocks of good health. There are ways to cut down the expense of high quality ingredients, as I have discussed on these pages from time to time. See what you can find in your location in the way of farmer’s markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and food coops. It may be work, but it is well worth the time and effort.

The Right Tools—In the first installment of this series I discussed good knives. If you want to cook well enough to do it every day, get yourself some good pots, pans, and other tools. You will need at least one or two pots of different sizes, and several frying or sauté pans, as well as wooden spoons, tongs and other gadgets. To understand what you need, here is a link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/dining/09mini.html

Butter—Here is a fun and easy way to make your food taste better. Add a little REAL butter when appropriate. Butter can be used to thicken a sauce. It can be flavored and put on all kinds of things from pasta to steak. I am talking about the real thing here. Americans were lied to about the health effects of butter. It is time to rediscover a sublime pleasure. Used judiciously, butter can change how your home cooked meals taste. Here is a slideshow on making compound (flavored) butter: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/04/how-to-make-compound-butter.html

 

The Gardener in Winter

Not as Barren as it Looks

This is the first time The Frugal Goddess has discussed gardening. It may seem odd to bring it up in the dead of winter, at least in the northern hemisphere. But, as any good gardener knows, there is much activity beneath the barren surface. Now is the time to plan, and having planned, to prepare. Are there fences or gopher control systems that need repairing? Soil that needs attention? Is the potting shed in good order? And, most importantly, have the seed catalogs come in?

Sitting by a fire on a cold winter evening with a nice cup of tea (or glass of Zinfandel) and a pile of seed catalogs is a great pleasure. That is one of the wonders of gardening. Each year we can invent ourselves anew. But let us not stop with catalogs. In many places there are seed banks that rely on community participation. In this tough economy we rely more upon our neighbors, and seed sharing is a terrific way to be neighborly. But it goes even deeper than that. By sharing seeds you are part of a long lineage of people who have carefully preserved the food-wealth of our species. This is perhaps the greatest wealth we have. So, as you plan this year’s garden, take a minute and imagine all the tillers of soil that have gone before you down the long years of our history. And may your garden grow in great abundance.

 

Want Free High-quality Eggs? Raise Your Own Chickens

Backyard Chicken

Eggs are one of the best sources of protein on the planet, but the good ones are expensive and the cheap ones are scary, especially in light of the recent recall. Fortunately there is a solution. Build a chicken coop and get a few laying hens. You will have all the eggs you need and maybe some to sell, trade, or give away. Home grown eggs are a great gift. And once the coop is built they are basically free. OK, you do need to feed them, but the cost is very minimal. They need a bit of chicken feed, but they also it bugs and leftover produce from the garden that is too far gone to be of interest to humans. They repay the garden with excellent fertilizer. The eggs produced at home by your own flock are of amazing quality and freshness. Once you have tasted one you will never want a store bought egg again. And the birds themselves provide great amusement.

You will need to figure out how many hens you need and build accordingly. Chicken housing has two parts, the coop, or shelter where the hens roost at night and lay the eggs (usually) and the run or yard where they forage and get exercise by day. Different breeds have slightly different space requirements. This article at http://poultryone.com/articles/housing.html has a useful table. You may also want to try a chicken tractor, or portable pen with no bottom that can be moved around the field. The entire chicken house must be built to keep predators out.

Once you have the chicken yard set up, it is time to decide on what breeds interest you the most. There are literally hundreds of types of chickens. By choosing a less common breed you will be helping to preserve biodiversity. White Leghorn chickens have created a dangerous monoculture. So get a different breed. The eggs that your flock produces may be brown, green, or even blue. To help decide go to http://www.backyardchickens.com/breeds/breed-search.php and use the breed selection tool.

You must decide if you want a rooster or not. The bad thing about a rooster is the four A.M. wake-up call. They also may peck the hens. The good thing is being able to increase your flock without further expense. Just remember that you should only have one rooster to cover your flock. More than that can cause aggressive behavior, and the dominant rooster might kill the other.

For truly organic eggs you have to use the slightly more expensive organic feed. Here is a link for organic feed, including a recipe to make your own. http://hubpages.com/hub/Organic-Chicken-Feed

Even if live in an urban area you may be able to raise chickens. Many local governments allow small scale farming such as this within their jurisdictions. Here are two sources of further information: http://urbanchickens.org/ and http://www.squidoo.com/BackyardChickens

You will need to learn a little about chicken health, and have a good veterinarian, one that specializes in livestock. Keeping them clean, protected from predation, and well fed is a good start, but they still may need a doctor every so often.

So, whether you live in the city or the country, consider adding a flock of chickens to your household. Every time you eat an egg you will be happy. And you can sell the overflow for about five dollars a dozen.

Here are some books to help you plan your foray into livestock farming:

http://www.amazon.com/Chickens-Your-Backyard-Beginners-Guide/dp/0878571256/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1286571922&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Chickens-Dummies-Kimberley-Willis/dp/0470465441/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1286571999&sr=1-1

Slow Down and Save Money

Slow and Steady

Speed in general is expensive. DSL costs more than dial up and jet fuel costs more than hay. But it is not just speed itself that is expensive. It is the attitude we develop as our lives speed up. It is the take-out dinner because cooking something takes too long, driving when we could walk, and filling our lives with one event after another most of which are spending occasions.

In fact that last item may be the key. The more cluttered our time is the less things we can do ourselves, which is almost always the more frugal choice. But it’s not just the cost of the event itself, though that is a consideration. It is the frantic quality that descends when we cram in more things to do than we can possibly accomplish comfortably.

Something interesting happens when we are forced by economic circumstances to slow down. When I first set out on this path I had been running at top speed for years. But now I had barely enough to pay bills and buy a few groceries. After I bought food there was no money left to go anywhere else, and at any rate driving anywhere but home would be a waste of precious fuel. So, I would go home. At first days seemed very long. There were chores, preparing food and other DYI projects, but when those things were done there seemed to be nothing to do. I wouldn’t go out unless I was going to work or buying my few supplies.

At times I would be at home for days at a time. I once saw a documentary on hummingbirds that explained how the bird’s metabolism was is so high that they go into a state of torpor when they sleep. This is a sort of mini-hibernation where all their bodily functions slow down to a crawl. That is what I felt like after awhile.

Though this process felt very uncomfortable at the time it eventually led to a wonderful discovery. I started to look around. I walked down to the Laguna a half mile from my house, past a pastoral landscape that changed with the season. I watched the birds in the backyard. In the evenings there was time to listen to music, sit by the fire and watch Netflix. The occasional beer at the local pub was a great treat.

These days I actually have a small surplus, but I have no intention of speeding back up again. As soon as you change your perception of time one of the true benefits of frugality becomes apparent. And that is true even if you have plenty of money.

%d bloggers like this: