Several of my friends who follow my personal blog have been gently and not so gently nudging me to be more regular in my posts.  I’ve been really tied up with family and business issues so I have been neglectful so I’m going to rectify that now.

I want to start a series of articles about being frugal by using things that are typically available in a household.  Today I used one of the tips I recently heard about and thought it would be a good start to the series.

As for being frugal, it goes back in our family a long ways.  Before the Civil War, my family was quite prosperous.  There was a large family Antebellum home in Louisiana and my grandmother was raised like a princess.  She never quite forgot that, but when the war depleted the savings, and money went out the door, the family had to buckle down and learn to do things more efficiently, while still maintaining the level of civility they were used to.  In other words, we had to learn to be poor but not trashy.  Chuckle.  My grandmother never quite got over that part of it.  She instilled in me a sense of “princess-ness” which means I appreciate the finer things in life, but know how to get them without spending a fortune – unless  I really want a good glass of wine – then money is no object.

But more about that later.  Today’s post is about being nice to yourself, but frugally.  I LOVE a nice pedicure.  It is a form of decadence to me to have someone wash and scrub my feet and give me an amazing leg massage.  But, they are expensive so I usually only get them done on cruises.  I figure, heck, I am relaxing on the ocean, why not.  Since I don’t cruise as often as  I like the pedi’s equally don’t happen as often as well.

But, I walk around barefoot probably more than I should and over the winter wearing closed shoes means my feet get really dry, so when summer comes around, and I want to have pretty feet for sandals, my feet don’t cooperate.

Well, today I tried something that still feels amazing, a good 2 hours after the project was completed.  My mom told me about something she saw on Facebook.  She raved about how wonderful it worked.  I, being the skeptical person I am, went to Google to research the process.  Basically, it’s a Listerine and vinegar foot bath.  The idea is it will remove dead skin easily and your feet are supposed to feel even better than after a professional pedicure.  Humpf, I thought.  Wrong, I was.

The instructions are 1/4 cup of Listerine and 1/4 cup of vinegar in a warm water foot bath.  You soak your feet for 15 minutes or more and then the skin rubs right off.  It turns out it actually works.  It’s tingly and the Listerine has an interesting smell.  Some of the posts said to use the blue kind, but other posts said it stained your feet. Since I wasn’t interested in looking like a Smurf, I voted for the plain Listerine I had in the house.  I also choose to use apple cider vinegar, well, because I use that for so many other things, I felt what the heck.  In addition,  I have this nifty wooden foot scrubber that is covered in two kinds of sandpaper.  A really nice manicurist on one of the cruise ships bought me one when we were in port in Jamaica.  At $5,00, it really is a frugal find.  They are not allowed to use them anymore on the ships, so I am really fortunate that I got it when I did.  Included at the end is a picture of this nifty device.  I may have to figure out how to make one when this one wears out – or go on a quest the next time we are in Jamaica.

To finish it off, I used my Dr. Scholls Cooling peppermint foot lotion and now, 2 hours later, my feet still feel amazing.  I am not sure if it’s the foot lotion or the Listerine or the vinegar.  But who cares.  It was inexpensive, and just the right thing to do for a relaxing Sunday afternoon.  Cheap.  Easy.  Frugal.  Satisfying.

So, that’s the first of what I hope to be several blog articles on other frugal things we do around here all the time.  Today’s frugal adventure was a new one, but I am adding it to my list of things I will do often.  If you have any frugal tips, please share them as well.

Ciao, y’all.

foodfile

Homemade Dolmades - stuffed grape leavesI love Spring.  It’s finally warm enough for me to get back into my garden and get my hands dirty.  It also means I can start growing fresh vegetables again.  I love saying “I am heading out to the market – and open my back door to my herb and veggie garden.  Nothing tastes better than fresh herbs and vegetables.

In the same area as my herbs is my one and only grape vine.  I don’t have a lot of garden space so I use it judiciously.  My vine produces just enough grapes to share with us and the wasps – although I hope to deploy a strategy on that soon.  The other thing my vine produces is grape leaves.  And that means Dolmades – stuffed grape leaves.  Today is dolmade day around here and I thought I’d share some photos I took a couple of years ago of this process.  The only thing different from the photos is I am using ground lamb today for more of a true middle eastern flavor.

Here’s the link to the photos and below is a recipe I like – although like most things I cook – this is more of a suggestion.

https://picasaweb.google.com/117134876064181475245/MakingDomadesStuffedGrapes

INGREDIENTS:Makes about 50 dolmades
● 1 jar preserved grape leaves, drained 
- I use fresh – just pick young leaves, remove stem, soak in hot water a few minutes)
● ½ cup longgrain (Basmati) rice
● ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
● 1 onion, finely chopped
● 3 cloves garlic, minced
● ½ pound lean ground lamb
● 1 teaspoon dried oregano
● Salt and freshly ground black pepper
● 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled finely or grated (I tend to leave this out – not sure why, just do)
● 
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
● 
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
● 1 teaspoon sugar (I leave this out – and instead use cinammon)
● 
Juice of 1 lemon
● 
1 lemon sliced, for garnish
● Mint leaves, for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

  1. 
Carefully separate the grape leaves, place in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let the leaves soak for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse to remove excess salt.
  2. Drain the leaves, snip off the stems (reserving stems), and lay the leaves on a towel to dry.
  3. In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil, and stir in the rice. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook rice until water is absorbed, about 17 to 20 minutes.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet, add the onion and saute until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute one more minute. Add the lamb and cook until the meat is well browned, breaking it apart with a fork while cooking, about 15 minutes. Add the oregano, cinammon and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the feta and remove from the heat. Stir in the rice, parsley and mint.
  5. Place one leaf on a flat surface, vein side up, shiny side down. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and form into a roll. Squeeze lightly in the palm of your hand to secure the roll. Repeat process with remaining leaves and filling.
  6. Line the bottom of a 3 quart heavy saucepan with reserved stems, trimmings and any leftover or torn grape leaves, and arrange bundles seam sides down, packing them close together in layers.
  7. Combine the remaining ¼ cup olive oil with 3/4 cup water, the sugar, and lemon juice, and pour over the stuffed grape leaves.
  8. Place a small, heatproof plate on top of the stuffed leaves, cover the pan and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until leaves are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
  9. Serve warm, or at room temperature, garnished with lemon slices and mint leaves
Enjoy. Ciao y'all.

Growing up in Miami Florida we basically had two seasons – rainy and not rainy.  Well, that’s not totally true because it would occasionally get cold.  But it didn’t stay cold which meant certain plants simply won’t grow there.

When I moved to Tennessee almost 20 years ago I brought some of my favorite plants and watched them shrivel and die overnight after a freeze.  Ok, lesson learned.  Along the way I discovered perennials – real ones – not the ones that just kept growing in Florida because there was nothing to kill them.  In addition, I learned that one must either mark the ground where these plants live or suffer having them removed by kind and helpful Florida family.  After all, dead twigs and things are to go away.  Well, not really, if they are perennials. Another lesson learned.

After learning those lessons I have fallen in love with seasons and spring is my favorite.  Plants start budding.  The dreary drab colors of winter give way to reds, yellows, whites and eventually green as everything living rejoices and buds away.

Spring also means it’s time for me to move away from my computer and go outside and get dirty.  Time to remove the dead leaves and limbs and old mulch.  My hostas have little spikes sticking up out of the ground with a promise of more to come.  The forsythia, the first thing to bloom in my yard, is a beautiful yellow.  My two fruit trees bloom white, red and pink.  It’s really a glorious palette of color.

And… the bugs come back.  This last winter was pretty much non-existent so the insects have arrived in force.  The good ones are welcome – bees, lady bugs, some moths.  But today I found one of the unwelcome ones.  Digging in the dirt means ticks.  No winter to speak of means more ticks.  And they slowly inch their way up your leg on their mission to get under your clothes to dig in.  And this is not a good thing – around here it can cause Lyme Disease.  I’ve done everything I can to try to keep them away but to no avail.  So, after every dirt digging foray it’s a check of all body parts, including hair.

Even with ticks, and occasionally finding sleeping snakes (yes, snakes) I still await my spring digging with pleasure.  I am pretty frugal, and each year I allow myself one new plant for the yard.  I reserve most of the funds I allocate to gardening to my vegetable patch.  But some of it is earmarked for a new addition.  I don’t have the biggest yard so I have to be selective in what I plant.  This years addition is a Pomegranate tree.  With any luck we’ll have fruit in 3 years.  And Pomegranate martinis. Yum.

Spring means fresh to me.  That includes food.  By this time, I am over the hockey puck tomatoes in the stores.  All the vegetables we have eaten  have been either canned or frozen because the fresh is usually too expensive. I really like it when I can grow my vegetables.  And sometimes it is possible to grow them away from dirt.

Over the weekend when I went to get seeds for the vegetable garden, I stopped by the local Oriental market which is right nearby.  They had packages of mung beans.  A lot of you may know this, but mung beans are used to make bean sprouts.  Two jars are now in process on my kitchen window.  It’s very easy.  You need a jar, a screw on top (without a center – like the ones used for canning) and some screening material.  You cut the screen to fit inside the screw top.  Into the jar, pour enough dry mung beans to cover the bottom.  Cover the beans with water and let them soak overnight.  In the morning, empty out the water by inverting the jar – that’s the reason for the screen and also so the beans can breathe.  Pour in more water, swirl around and pour that water out.  You want just damp beans in the jar.  Repeat this process every day.

Here’s some photos of my two jars.  One of the photos is a bit blurry but the idea was to show you the screening.sprouts1sprouts2

That’s it for now.  I will add some follow up photos when the sprouts start happening along with one of my favorite recipes for sprouts – spring rolls.

Happy spring everyone.  Go get dirty. Ciao, y’all.

Homemade Hot cross bunsI love hot cross buns.  This year I decided to make some and couldn’t find my recipe so I went out on Google.  I found a nice one by the Pioneer Woman.  I included a link to her blog article below.  Here’s what mine ended as – I always nudge a recipe in a little different direction.  This was no exception.

However, while doing my recipe research I found a wealth of information about the mystique of hot cross buns.  Who knew sailors would carry one on board a ship to ensure a safe passage.  Hanging one in your kitchen would guarantee that all your breads would rise.

Old English folklore says if you bake and serve them on Good Friday they will stay good all year and not mold.  I made mine on Easter Sunday because that’s what we always did.  And no, they didn’t last.  But it wasn’t because of a mystical reason – it was because they were warm and soft and yummy.  Duh.

If you shared a bun, it was good luck.  My grandmother used to say “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be“.  Now I know why.  Her grandmother had said it to her and who knows how far back this tradition went on.

In England there are poems and songs surrounding hot cross buns.  A lot of my heritage is based around the UK so I’m not surprised they are an important part of my upbringing.  Somewhere I remember her saying one half penny two half penny which I believe was the price of the buns.  I’ll have to ask my British friends the next time I talk to them.  Still I wonder where these traditions came from.  Some of them are quite powerful.  But the people that remember are long gone.

We as a people now do such a lousy job of retaining our cultural histories.  We forget why we do things – we just know that’s what you do.  Nobody asks why.  Well, actually that’s not true.  I ask why.  My sons used to ask why.  Boy, I wish I had had access to Google back when they were growing up – I would have been the information ninja.  A client of  mine called me that one day and I loved it.  I need to figure out how to put that on a bio somewhere.

No matter your religion, these buns are wonderful.  I posted a copy on my Facebook page and a friend of mine said “even Jews would like these buns.”  True indeed.  Now I am asking myself why wait until Easter to make these (besides the “they are fattening you dope” question.  My mother in law would only eat them around Easter time – and it wasn’t because that was the only time they showed up.  You weren’t supposed to eat them – can’t figure out why.  That goes back to the lost cultural history thing.

That’s it for now.  I’ve been busy posting on my business blog (http://www.egenconsulting.com/patricia-egen-consulting-blog.html) and neglecting my favorite one – talking about food and being southern and doing neat things.  A friend of mine said you haven’t posted recently – go get at it.  Well, Nancy, here you go.

Ciao y’all.

Link to the Pioneer Woman recipe:

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/04/hot-cross-buns/

The year has started off rather chilly.  It’s not snowing but it’s dreary and cold.  So, I figured we needed something warm and comforting for dinner this week.  One of the things I miss from Miami are the wonderful hearty Cuban soups.  One of my all time favorites was Caldo Gallego.  I created my own version of it years ago, and decided that would do the trick this week.

What, you might ask, is Caldo Gallego.  It’s really a white bean stew that originated in the Galicia area of Spain.  That area tends to be cooler so warm stews and soups are a staple.

My recipe goes like this:

2 cans white beans

Chorizo or Salami

1 Ham hock and small ham pieces

One large sweet onion – diced

3 cloves of garlic – diced

Olive Oil

1 large turnip – diced small

5 leaves of collards – chopped

3 medium potatoes – diced

6 cups water and 4 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon Cumin

Instructions:

Saute the chopped up ham hock, ham pieces and salami or chorizo in the olive oil.  After they have browned a bit, add the garlic and onions.  Turn down the heat and saute until the onions are translucent.  Add in the chopped turnips and potatoes.  Saute to absorb the fats.  Next add the beans.  Stir to combine.  In about 5 minutes add the water.  Now, taste the water and add any needed salt.  Add the cumin and any pepper to taste.  Let simmer for about an hour.  Add the collard greens.  Let simmer an hour more.  The more this cooks the better it gets.

Serve with some wonderful earthy bread.

That’s it for now.  Enjoy the recipe.  Ciao y’all.

This year we decided to have a lean Christmas.  Everyone is scrambling for extra cash so I told people to either make simple gifts or give coupon books with things like “I’ll do the dishes” or “I’ll cook every night this week” (my personal favorite one).

What I elected to do was make several rice neck warmers.  I had gotten one at a spa recently and thought, gee, I can do that too.  This article will describe my simple process, ideas for which were gleaned from several Google searches, but ended up being my own design to fit what I wanted.

The main items you need are a sewing machine, some fabric, and rice.  In my case I bought packages of kitchen towels at Walmart.  We get them every year to  make crocheted kitchen towels and find them to be sturdy, soft and durable.

DSCF6247

To start off, I cut off the double seamed ends of the towels. Then, I measured 11 inches for my width.

DSCF6248

The standard size I found out on the web was 11 x 22 so my cut down towel was perfect.

DSCF6249

I folded the towel inside out lengthwise.

DSCF6250

Next, I stitched a seam down the open end, curving the edges at the bottom narrow end.

I left one end open.

DSCF6251

I trimmed the corners of the narrow end so it would not bulge when I turned the towel inside out.

DSCF6253

After I turned the towel inside out, I stitched a seam down not quite the middle of the towel.

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By “not quite the middle” I mean one half was a little narrower than the other. It’s not exactly in thirds. I found that the towel, once filled with rice, seemed to lay better if the two sides were not exactly the same width. I made sure the the middle seam did not go all the way to the end of the towel so I would have an edge to turn over and stitch closed.

DSCF6256

Next came filling the sides with rice. I created a funnel out of the top of a quart size soda bottle.

DSCF6257

Inserting the funnel end into one side of the towel, I poured in rice until it was almost full.

DSCF6258

My trial towel worked better if it wasn’t jammed full of rice.

DSCF6259

It needed to be flexible to move around my neck or shoulder. I found filling up the sides leaving about 2 to 3 inches open worked well.

DSCF6261

After filling both sides, I turned in the open end and stitched it closed, backing up over the stitches to ensure I had a nice tight closure. On some of the neck warmers I added a ring of zigzag ribbon to act as a holder. The size of the holder was designed to fit over a door handle.

DSCF6262

How long you put the warmer in the microwave depends on how hot you want the warmer to be. 2 seconds is slightly warm, 3 seconds is starting to get pretty hot. 4 seconds will guarantee a burn on my neck, so try it out starting at lower temperatures till you find the one you like. My husband found out that 4 seconds was too hot for him, but a friend of mine heats hers to 5 seconds. Again, it’s personal choice.

DSCF6263

That’s it for now. Hope everyone has a happy 2013. Ciao y’all.

Recently, I have found a new vice – Pinterest. I spend evenings scouring around looking for great tips, tricks and culinary adventures. I stumbled upon on photo that show someone regrowing celery from the bottom that had been cut off a celery bunch. Hm, intriguing idea.

I went to the blog entry (I’ve listed the link below to give proper credit) and saw that not only could you do this with celery but also Bok Choy. So, I embarked on yet another experiment. And I’m happy to say, well, gosh darn, it works. I’m posting the first photo here and will update the blog entry as time progresses and my experiment continues to grow.

While digging down in the blog, it pointed me at yet another blog which talked about the same thing and also noted that you can regrow spring onions indefinitely. Basically, you put onions you have either pulled out of the ground, or bought in a store, into a glass of water. You “harvest” the top parts leaving about 2 inches of the onion still in the water. And voila, the onions continue to keep growing. That’s pretty cool and I will try that project soon as well.

That’s it for now. Here’s the link to the blog I found on Pinterest. http://www.thekitchn.com/re-growing-celery-grow-a-new-bunch-indoors-or-outdoors-169801

Ciao, y’all.

This month, lots of things in my garden are coming in and need to be picked. Every year I try to get creative and do different things. This year is no exception.

First off, I have a grape vine growing Suffolk Seedless Grapes. They turn a really nice red color and unfortunately have become very popular with wasps. It has become apparent I will lose the race if I try to wait until they are fully ripe. Just last week, I lost 7 clusters to the evil winged monsters. So, I decided to harvest them ahead of schedule. Here’s what I did as kitchen experiments with the grapes.

For one half, I pickled them. Yep, pickled them. The ingredients are vinegar, sugar, rosemary, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes. I found the recipe on the American Public radio station website. Were they successful. Well, my husband loves martinis. He usually puts olives in them. Not anymore. Now it’s pickled grapes. I’m worried I’ll not have any left over for me to eat.

The next grape experiment was making raisins. I had my dehydrator out for tomatoes, which I’ll talk about in a bit. I took the other half of the grapes and put them on the racks to dry. Sweet isn’t an adequate word to describe the taste. Oh my goodness. Now, I’m trying to figure out which I like more – pickled or dried grapes. Next year, after installing some kind of netting to ward off the wasps, I’ll try both. Or maybe some wine. Who knows.

Now, on to the last experiment. I love sun dried tomatoes. This year I have a bumper crop of tomatoes so I quartered several and put them in the dehydrator. That’s not new. What was new is what I did with the dried tomatoes. I found a recipe that I sort of followed that layered the sun dried tomatoes in a jar, in the following order: one layer tomatoes, add in some chopped garlic, some dried oregano, some kosher or sea salt, a layer of basil leaves, then repeat again the same items to the top of the jar. Note – the basil leaves are from my garden too. Pour olive oil to cover the entire mixture. Again, this was awesome and I can’t decide if I like the tomatoes or the flavor-infused olive oil best. Truly, a grand experiment.

It is pretty cool to harvest food from your garden and then create wonderful tastes in the kitchen using those ingredients. I just love summers and the fruit of our labors in the yard.

Here’s links to the recipes I found using Google to help me with my experiments.

Pickled grapes: http://www.publicradio.org/columns/splendid-table/recipes/app_pickled_grapes.html

Olive Oil and Dried Tomatoes: http://www.scordo.com/2009/08/recipe-homemade-sun-dried-tomatoes-olive-oil.html

Ciao y’all

Woo hoo. I harvested the first Shiitakes today. They will sauted with balsamic vinegar and wine and put over sliced Rib Eye steak over Ginger Rice. It is really cool. This experiment actually needs to be upgraded to a project – not an experiment. It’s working. Still haven’t seen any Pioppino mushrooms but they are supped to take longer. The enokitakes are starting to “bud” – I guess that’s what you call it. Mushroom farming is new to me so I need to study up on the jargon. But, I can’t wait to see how the mushrooms taste. They will probably be the freshest I’ve ever eaten. Still not brave enough to go out in the wild and harvest – but we’ll see. Maybe. One day.

Shiitake Mushrooms - first harvest!

Well, the mushroom experiment has officially started. We are actually into week two of the process. That process is basically misting the mushroom bases 3 to 4 times a day. This photo shows the humidity bags over the Shiitake and Pioppino sets.

Mushrooms!

Notice we have babies on the Shiitakes. Woo hoo.

Looking Closer

first mushrooms

This is a closeup of the mushroom babies.

All that is required is the daily misting. The hardest part was the fact the water couldn’t have chlorine. That meant boiling water every day. Mother nature came to the rescue and provided us with a deluge over the weekend. I harvested rain water and now have a proper supply of non-chlorinated water for my mushroom patch.

Mushroom Misting

Mushrooms!

Now, figuring out a way to help Don remember to mist them for me while I’m off on baby watch in Arizona will be the real trick. Wish me luck.

Ciao, y’all. And happy new year.

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