Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mint Tea

We grow lots of mint in our backyard.  We didn't set out to grow a lot, but that's what happens when you plant mint.  I had a small space that I had envisioned it to hold all of my herbs.  I put a root or 2 of mint on 1 end and lemon balm on the other, planted the rest of the herbs in between.  In about 5 years time the mint is winning and the lemon balm is coming in at a close second.  I have had to move the rest of the herbs to a space near my backdoor.  Yes, dad, I know you told me so!  Of course, the move for my other herbs works out better, since my herbs are closer to the kitchen.  I can just step outside and snip off a little bit as I am cooking. 

I have been collecting mint recipes for obvious reasons.  There are many uses of mint.  Sometimes, I just bring some in, crush it a little, and lay it around.  It smells really good.  I gather a large amount of mint early in the day.  I cut the steams close to the ground.   I wash the mint in cold water and pick off the dead leaves.   Then, I shake the extra water off and wrap it in a kitchen towel and place in the refrigerator.  I can keep the mint in the refrigerator for several days and use as needed.  

We do not generally buy soda pop.  Water and coffee are usually our choices for drinks at my house, but mint tea is an alternate that is great during the hot days of summer and so easy to make.  Here is a simple use of mint (not really a recipe) that is a great addition to a frugal, simple life.  

Mint Tea 

When I want mint tea, I put fresh water in my tea pot and bring to a boil.  I leave some room at the top of the teapot.  Then I turn it off and put in 4 tea bags.  I let it steep for a few minutes and then shove in as much of the mint as I can, without overflowing the tea.  I always use the stems and the leaves, but you can use just the leaves.  I let these steep and cool on the stove.  Then I pour it into a  pitcher.  Since the tea will be concentrated, I add enough water to my liking.  I like tea really strong, but when I am serving it to guests, I dilute it a little more.  A nice touch for the ice cubes would be to add a small spring of mint, add water and freeze.   Add the ice cubes to a glass.  Just pour over ice and sweeten to taste.  A little mint sprig and you are all set.  Ah, so refreshing!

I will add more mint recipes and ideas as we get more into spring.  What are your favorite ways to use mint?  Please share. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Growing Good Feelings

When my husband got sick, he wanted so much to continue to work and help with our expenses.  I tried to create activities to help him continue to be a contributing member of our family, even though he was unable to work outside our home.  Gardening was one of our solutions.  

The first spring after he got sick, he dug up a strip in our backyard.  I had read several books on small space gardening.  The Postage Stamp Garden Book, How to Grow All the Food You Can Eat in Very Little Space By Intensive Gardening Techniques by Duane Newcomb was the book I found most useful in the beginning.  We do not have a large backyard.  We measured out a long strip 4 feet wide.  Each year we added another strip or space.  Each year we tried different kinds of vegetables.  We have grown tomatoes, peppers, okra, cabbage, potatoes, onions, lettuce, turnips, beans, peas, squash, cucumbers, and egg plants.  We have planted pumpkins several years, but they take up a lot of space for so little output. I have lots of mint and lemon balm in small strip.  I have a little space by my back door for my kitchen herb garden.

Due to the Alzheimer's disease, my husband is unable to make plans and execute them.  I plan what needs to be done and what and where we are going to plant.  I also do most of the planting.  I used to have him help more with the planting, but he is having more difficulty with that, so I give him a little area and don't worry about the results, then I finish at another time.  My husband gives me a lot of suggestions on what he would like to plant.  For several years, pumpkins were his favorite, but now he wants to try corn.

My husband is a good weeder.  He loves to go out and pull weeds.   He can spend long periods of time outside weeding.  I think this is something he can do without little input from us.  There have been weeding incidents, though.  My chocolate mint and four-o'clocks have been sacrificed occasionally.  I have come home to find my entire front flower bed plant-free, weeds, flowers and herbs.  I have to remind myself, before I react, no big deal.  Plants can be replanted.  The harm I can cause by showing my disappointment can cause more harm than good.  What's the point?  He won't be able to remember the difference next time, but he will often remember my reactions.

Gardening gives my husband something to look forward to all winter.  He hates being inside without anything productive to do during the cold months.  I often see him thumbing through gardening books during the winter.  Whenever I find a gardening book at a garage sale I get it for him.  I want to keep that spark going as long as I can.

Since his disease continues to progress, he is not able to do the same tasks that he was unable to do when we first got started.  I have to continue to adjust the tasks.  He is much frailer now than he was, so digging and turning over the soil is out.  A friend is letting us use his rototiller for those tasks.  

Gardening has been a great outlet for me.  At first, I felt if I had 1 more job to do I would explode and this gardening thing was adding a lot of work for me.  I think a lot of that resentment was for the disease and the way it was affecting my life. (Yes, this disease affects his life more than mine, and I am not proud of this, but I do have moments of "poor me".)  Of course, now that he has in home health care, I can leave lists of tasks to be accomplished during the day and know that he will have the added support he needs.  We often go outside and walk through the strips and admire our handiwork in the evenings and weekends.  Of course, there is the added bonus of fresh vegetables.  Good years we even sell some of the surplus.  Now, I love that my husband and I can create such beauty in our life in spite of the ugly disease we are dealing with.

Do you have solutions that you have use to help your loved one feel useful and good about them self?  Please share.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day!

I knew Earth Day was approaching, but I hadn't really given much thought to it, as far as this blog.  This morning, I realized that since this blog site is about using God's resources in the best possible way and making choices that show good stewardship of those resources,  I decided that a post would be an appropriate way to mark the day.

I try to cut down on waste by eliminating unneeded packaging such as cans and boxes.  Using foods that are less processed means I do a little more work, but the trade off is that I have more control on what my family eats and less packaging to go to the land-fill.  Also, it usually means that I save money. Thirty years ago, I started using a recipe that helped me do just that.  

Many casserole recipes call for a can of soup.  This recipe replaces the canned version and doesn't take much more time or effort than opening the can.  In my opinion, the added benefit is that the end result tastes fresher.

Basic White Sauce 
Melt in saucepan.
3 TB. butter

Blend in
3TB flour
1/4 t. salt
Cook and stir until bubbly.

Whisk in
1 cup milk, stock or combination
Cook until smooth and thickened.

This is comparable to 1 can undiluted soup.

Celery Sauce  
Saute 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1 T. finely chopped onion in butter before adding flour.

Cheese Sauce 
Add 1/2 cup grated cheese and 1/4 t. dry mustard.

Mushroom Sauce 
Saute 1/4 cup finely chopped mushrooms and 1 T. finely chopped onion in butter before adding flour.

Chicken Sauce 
Use chicken broth or bouillon as half the liquid.  Add 1/4 t. poultry seasoning or sage and diced cooked chicken if available.

Please share the ways in which you make good choices for the environment.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Laundry Day

I am not very fond of doing laundry.  I hate the piles and piles of dirty clothes.  I hate folding, putting away, hanging it up, on and on.   I don't really like shopping for laundry soap, softening, stain remover. Does it never end!   

Here are some tricks I have found that help lighten the load so to speak.  I start at least 1 load of laundry everyday except Sunday.  At my house, even for just the 2 of use we still have at least 1 full-load a day.  I put the load in right after I take my shower while I am getting ready for work.  I use cold water for most loads for extra savings.  

We hang our laundry out on the line most days, except for the really cold or wet days.  We hang it inside on those days.  My husband hangs the laundry out after he wakes up in the morning.  Since he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, I have tried to find tasks that he can do so that he feels like he is contributing to our life.  Since we don't have to run the dryer as long as normal, this does help us to cut costs.  I do put the clothes in the dryer with a wet cloth and let them bounce around for a little while, about 10 minutes to soften them.  I'm not in favor of stiff towels and such.  

I use 1 cup of vinegar in each load.  The vinegar helps to soften the load and also helps take out stains.  Vinegar is also good if you have a load of sour clothes, it takes out the smell.  

We also make our own laundry detergent.  I have been using it for around 4 years.  My husband grates the bars of soap, which also helps me on time.  I have read recipes on line that say you can use other kinds of bar soaps in place of the Fels Napha.  I have tried and like the Fels Napha better.  I hadn't really ever noticed the bars at the store before, but they are in the aisle with the other laundy needs.

Here is recipe I use.

Homemade Laundry Detergent Gel

Makes 5 gallons -use about 1/2 c.

2 quarts boiling water
4 cups grated bar soap (2 bars Fels Napha)
4 cups Borax (20 Mule Team)
4 cups Super Washing Soda (Arm & Hammer)

Add grated soap to boiling water and stir until soap melts  I use a long handled whisk.
Pour soapy water into a clean 5 gallon bucket.  Add the Borax and Washing soda.
Stir well until all is dissolved.
Add 4 gallons of hot tap water.  Stir until mixed.  Again I use the whisk.
Cover bucket and let set overnight to gel. Stir well.
The directions originally said to store the detergent in empty milk jugs.  I used to do that, but the already used jugs leaked.  It was a waste and a mess.  Now I just leave it in the 5 gallon bucket and dip out what I need.

The don't consider my laundry load finished until it is folded and put away.  This I try to do every evening before bed.  I don't have this part down as well as I have the other parts, but I try not to consider the laundry room an extenstion of my closet.  At least for a moment I can say, laundry done.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Holidays and Alzheimer's Disease

My husband has had a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease for the last 5 years.  We have had lots of experience with family gatherings and care-giving during that time.  I have learned that it takes a lot of  planning to help keep him comfortable.  Every situation is different of course, but for my husband, he does better with structure and a schedule that is predictable.

My family certainly does not qualify for structured and predictable, but after some wild learning experiences, I have learned a few things.  Of course, the disease is in continuous flux, so nothing is set in stone.  Flexibility is key.  He does better when we are at our house because of the familiarity.  Traveling or going to someone else's house takes another plan.  Since he can't remember the details, but he does seem to recall some of the plans, he will need to reminded over and over.  I try to start our conversations with the information he seems to be struggling with, such as, who will be coming, when they are coming, etc.

The noise and commotion along with the disruption of his schedule are our main problems.  I keep his morning schedule as uninterrupted as I can. No matter what, my husband has to start his day the same way every day.  I think of it as a computer rebooting.  He gets his coffee, get dressed, washes or puts dishes away, and then makes the bed.  He will eat his breakfast when someone gives it to him and then takes his medicine.   He does a lot of walking around between tasks.  This usually takes a while, but some days can take longer, so that has to be a part of his schedule.  If he is interrupted, he can have a meltdown or a catastrophic episode.

Since it is Easter, I will make sure our clothes are ready the day before and have as much of the dinner made ahead.  I also have other family members bring parts of the dinner.  Simplicity is my theme song and organization is my friend.  The most important thing I can do is to stay calm and in control.  I get up a lot earlier than my husband normally, so I try to do a lot of the preparation ahead of time.  We have in-home health care while I am at work, so I try to run my errands ahead of time while he is with the care-giver.

I keep our bedroom ready for him so he can go in and shut the door if he needs to get away.  Other family members can step in with dinner preparation if I need to go sit with him.

Many of the family live a distance away, so there is lots of visiting and catching up.  We have an egg hunt with prizes for all.  We try to keep things fun for all, from the little ones to the eldest.  If things don't work out perfectly, we don't make a big deal of out of it, we just try to make him comfortable and move on.  That is the flexibility.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Playing with your food.

Being frugal doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun.  I am planning on having Easter dinner at my house this year and I was looking for something different for our feast.    Last Sunday, my  Church had an Easter egg hunt and lunch for the children and their parents, so I volunteered to bring a Bunny Bread vegetable tray and Deviled Easter Chicks.   I found the recipes/directions for the bread at and the chicks  They were both pretty easy to make, but I have some tips to make them easier and frugal.

Bunny Bread

There is a really easy to follow video showing how to form the bunny on the website.  The directions say to use frozen bread, but to make it frugal, I used my favorite bread recipe.  Then, I just followed the directions.  I used a milk wash to give the bread a finished look.  After the bread bakes a short while, I put a little milk into a bowl and then brushed the surface of the bunny.    I made the bread the day before I needed it.  I waited to cut the hole in the tummy until right before I was ready to serve, then I put the spinach dip right into the hole.   I made spinach dip because I thought that would be the kind of dip[ that a bunny would want to have in his tummy.  I didn’t think the children would like the spinach dip so we had another kind for them.   There wasn't any dip left, so someone liked it.  Of course, there wasn’t much of the bunny left either.

Deviled Chick Eggs

The eggs were a little harder to make.  The recipe suggests to slice a little off the large end of the egg so that it sits upright.   That was easy to do, but sometimes I cut too much off, then it left a hole in the bottom when I took out the yolk, so I had to be careful there.  The next part was not as easy.  To get the yolk out, make sure you cut lower down on the egg.  I had to break the yolk up a little to get it out.  I did find that the egg whites need to be chilled so they are easier to manipulate.  Also, make sure the egg yolk mixture is thick enough to mold into a chick.  I used small pieces of carrots for the beak and small pieces of black olives for the eyes.  I went through a lot of eggs figuring out how to get the yolk out.  I used the rest of the carrot on the bunny bread vegetable tray.  Cutting my own vegetables to use on the tray is a frugal move also.  We had egg salad sandwiches the next day with my practice pieces.  The reactions from the egg hunters made the chicks worth the trouble.  

I can't wait to serve these holiday treats to my family.  Yum!

If you are serving something fun at your holiday, please share.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Frugal Baking for Spring - Lemon Bars

This is one of my favorite spring recipes.  It is easy, quick, and frugal to make and tastes good, too.  You can't beat that!   When I took it for the refreshment for a meeting at Church, one of the ladies commented that I had probably made it from scratch. Honestly, I didn't know there was another way.  The ingredients are probably in your food pantry.  What could be easier?

Lemon Bars


½ c. butter, softened

¼ c. sugar

1 1/3 c. flour


2 eggs                                   ¼ tsp. baking powder

¾ c. sugar                            3 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 Tbsp. flour                       powdered sugar
Combine crust ingredients in large bowl.  Mix in low speed until blended.  Pat into ungreased 9 x 13 inch baking pan.  Bake on the center rack of a 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until brown on the edges.

Meanwhile, prepare filling and pour over the crust.  Return to oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until set.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool.

Cut into squares and enjoy the season!

Do you have a favorite frugal spring recipe?   Please share.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Frugal Friday – cooking beans 101

A few days ago a friend of mine asked me if I cooked my own beans.  I told her I did.  She told me that she had made bean bags for the kids’ activities for Easter and had some leftover beans.  She cooked them and was really surprised at how easy they were to fix and how delicious they were to eat.   I added that not only are they easy and good, the only waste she had when she was done was a little plastic bag.  No empty cans to send to the landfill.   Beans are a great nutritional addition to your menu, as well as a frugal choice.  If you are making frugal or nutritional changes to your menu, make small baby steps.  I have read where a frugal or nutritious change to the diet or menu should start with one meatless meal a week and beans would fit the bill.  My family dines on beans at least 3 times a week and sometimes more.  We eat bean and onion burritos, beans and rice, soups with beans.   Pinto beans, black beans, red beans, and black-eyed peas are some of our favorites.  We use a lot of garbanzo beans in the summer time.  All of the beans I mentioned are cooked about the same, except for the garbanzo beans (chick-peas are another name for them.)   Think of cooking most beans as bean cooking 101 and garbanzos as the advanced course.  Actually they aren’t harder they just take longer and take different tools.

 I have found that if I cook beans, it is just as easy to cook a large pot of them and then freeze them.   I would use some for that week’s meals and then put the rest into large freezer bags and toss them in the freezer.  When I needed beans I would thaw out the bag.  The problem, then was using up the rest of the beans in the bag before they got bad since many recipes using cooked beans call for 15-ounce cans. The solution took me years, but I finally got there, drum roll please, I put 2 cups into smaller freezer bags.  I take out what I need and leave the rest for another time.  Oh my, life is so simple.

Recipes for cooking beans will be on the bag.  Pick a soaking method, overnight or quick soak.  Either works, for me the choice is a management issue.  Did I plan on beans and did I remember to put them out the night before or is it an emergency?   

Start by sorting and washing the beans.  Don’t let this step scare you.  I pour the beans into a colander and run cold water over them.  Pick out discolored and broken beans and discard.   Use either the overnight soak or the quick soak.  Use 6 cups water for every 1 pound dry beans.

Quick Soak: boil beans and water for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour.   

Long Soak: let beans and water stand overnight (6-8 hours).

Cook:  I like to drain the beans and add fresh water.  Simmer until beans are tender.   If I am cooking pinto beans I usually throw in chili powder, garlic powder, and paprika.  That way the beans are on the way to tacos, chili, or refried beans.

I will be add a refried bean recipe in a couple of days.

I’m always looking for different bean recipes, so if you have a favorite bean recipe, please share. 

Thanks, Debbie