Domestic Bliss

My traveling co-blogger sister has been carrying the weight of this blog for a while now, as she cruises around Southeast Asia. Meanwhile I have been slacking at home and trying to get back to normal (what’s that?) after the holiday break in routine. Now I feel that not only must I carry my share of the load and post something – but I must post something super domestic in order to balance out all the travel. A little yin to her yang, if you will. So here’s what’s going on at my little house today:windowIt’s a beautiful, sunny, warm day. I did some laundry and folded the clothes outside on the picnic table.P1010054 And I made my own laundry detergent this morning! It was easy and smells really good (I used Dr. Bronner’s scented soap – one rose and one orange – and added essential oils). The laundry looks clean, right? I used this basic recipe. I was surprised at how much cheaper it is to make my own at home.

My chores completed, I meandered about in the garden. I loved this little camellia flower hanging out all by itself in the shade.  It’s the first blossom to bloom on this plant.

camelliaBack inside, I messed around with my paper chain garland project. This is a craft project that I have been meaning to get to for, like, ever. And now it is almost completed. Here’s a tiny preview:craftI also checked in with my cats. They are my stay-at-home version of the wax monks. But a little less creepy.catAnd today I am making chicken stock. When I think about the most homey, cozy, productive, domestic things I can do, making chicken stock might be the golden star at the top of the list. Check out these lovely globules . . .chickenstockI suppose I feel so strongly about chicken stock because it is one of the building blocks of my cooking. Not only do I use it as an ingredient in many dishes, but often it is the main ingredient, to which I just add whatever we have on hand, especially leftovers, to make a quick, delicious, satisfying and healthy supper. That’s all anybody needs, isn’t it? We are fans of soup around here.

I have a basic formula, which I tweak as I feel like it, for my supper soup. I learned this method from How to Cook Without a Book, by Pam Anderson, certainly one of my most favorite and recommended books, especially for beginners.

For each quart of chicken stock, I saute a diced onion in a pot and add:

1 pound cut-up vegetables, like carrots (leftover roasted ones are yummy here), leeks, celery, kale or collards (thinly sliced), zucchini, or frozen peas. Got half a head of romaine lettuce? Chop it up and throw it in.

1 pound meat (like boneless, skinless chicken (precooked or not), precooked sausages (like kielbasa or pre-cooked chicken Italian).

Some starch, like a pound of diced potatoes or pre-cooked pasta or rice or a can or two of cannellini beans. Pasta or rice gets added at the end. Or you could add a sprinkling of corn meal, like in the polentina alla toscana recipe from One Good Dish, by David Tanis. (I expect that you will be hearing more about this book from me in future posts. I love it.)

And sometimes, a 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes. And herbs and salt and pepper of course. Have some rind from a hunk of Parmesan cheese? Throw it in! So yummy.

We have had some very tasty combinations like Italian sausage, collards and tomato or chicken with spinach, rice and lemon (oooh I’m hungry now), or the basic chicken, carrots, celery and peas with pasta. Sometimes I skip the meat and just do beans and vegetables. It’s easy to combine all sorts of things in the soup. Often it ends up being more of a stew than a soup, I load so much stuff in there. But it tastes delicious regardless.

No chicken soup tonight, though. It’s too warm! In January! Instead I will strain this stock and pop it in the fridge to cool. Tonight I’m going out on the town for a quick bite with the boy before his fencing lesson. Domesticity party!!

Tomorrow I will de-fat the stock (mostly) and freeze it for a rainy day (here’s hoping for one of those soon – it’s so dry here.) Then who knows what else I’ll get into . . .

That’s the report from NerdHaven West – staying home in L.A. and doing fine. xo

Frugalicious Freezer Exploration

So – schwhateva on that $100/week for groceries not including the CSA box thing . . .

When my mother (who is a thrifty shopper) said it couldn’t be done, I should have listened. Listen to your mother! She said she spends over $100/week in groceries for just her and my Dad, so she doubted I could do it for us four – especially with two growing (and prosciutto-loving) teens/tweens.

Well she was right. There I’ve said it: It’s a little over halfway through February and I am over my $650 for the month. I have some stuff in my freezer, but not enough to feed us through the month, right? Okay, time for real-time freezer inventory. I’m at the freezer now (this could get embarrassing):

Bag of frozen peas
Bag of frozen corn (okay, I’m going to stop saying each thing is frozen)
Pint of vanilla ice cream
Container cranberry cocktail concentrate (I had an idea about margaritas – didn’t pan out)
Bag of leftover homemade latkes
2 bags leftover homemade pancakes
Miscellaneous Go-gurt tubes of undetermined vintage
Gallon bag pork barbeque (dated September 2011)
3 bags of 1.5 quarts homemade chicken stock (that’s money, baby)
Gallon bag of undetermined beige substance – here, you guess:
Post a reply if you have an idea – now back to the list:

2 1lb packages grass fed ground beef (on sale at $5.99/lb so I bought extra)
Another unidentified bag of something appearing to be of tomato-sauce origin
2 quart bags homemade veggie soup (made this last week, it’s really good)
2 qt leftover beef soup from January 2012
1 qt bag of undetermined – again tomato-ey in origin
Box Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers
1 pint bag of pomegranate seeds
1 whole pomegranate
1lb ground coffee
One-half loaf Ezekiel bread
and finally:
One lego dude frozen in a jar of water.

Oh my gosh – I feel so exposed. But I also feel heartened – I have some food I can use to keep my expenses down this month. I am taking the pork BBQ out for dinner tonight. We can have the frozen peas since we don’t get a new infusion of green until the CSA box tomorrow, and I’ll have to make some potato thing for a starch, since I don’t have buns (the potato latkes?). . . okay you all don’t need to hear me thinking aloud. You already know what it’s like cobbling a dinner together.

So, thanks for going on this impromptu adventure with me.  I doubt I can go the rest of the month without buying groceries – but I am going to use up stuff in the freezer.  After all, I froze it to use it. And of course I will keep freezing as I go. I’m not ready to give up on my $650/month goal just yet, and I will spend the rest of February keeping very close track of things. That way, I can have more information to decide whether or not it’s feasible for next month.

And maybe the extra expense for food could go into the “wants” category. . . . The food we eat isn’t just calories to fuel our bodies. Dinner is really our one regular family activity. Sure, we go on the occasional outing together (we call them RFT – random family trips), but on a regular daily basis, dinner is where we all come together. It’s not that we sit around discussing current events and Shakespeare every night – sometimes we play a card game or watch an episode of Chopped. Sometimes it’s a homework dinner and sometimes it’s reading night – be we are all together. And the food brings us there. Beyond the calories, vitamins and minerals we need to survive, I want the food experience to be as fun and tasty as possible. So it makes sense to put some of the extra expense into “wants.”

By the way, I will let you know what the undetermined stuff is. Hopefully it’s tasty!

P.S. I also realized that when I use my bank records to add up my grocery bills (I use a bank card for everything), I can’t distinguish between food and non-food items (dish soap, toothpaste, etc.) that I buy at the grocery store. I’m going to have to start saving receipts . . . just what I need, more paper around the house.