Archive for the ‘eating your pantry’ Category

Confession: The No Spend Month Aftermath

I’ll admit that I haven’t blogged about my no spend month to a point that is highly suspicious.  I had intended to do weekly updates.  I somehow expected that week one would be the honeymoon phase and by week two I would look like this.

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It didn’t happen.  So what did happen?  I think the truth of it is that I got rattled.  It sounds stupid when I say it out loud (thank goodness I’m just typing.)  I had my food lists and my menus.  I knew what perishables were OK to buy and I felt good.  I think I even adopted a benign almost Jedi- like smile knowing I had no longer a mindless drone targeted by the consumer death star. Cue music.

It started with something small.  Josh and I decided to use a gift card to go to a movie.  It included snacks so we were good to go, at least until we got to the cashier. Eight dollars?  For what?  The movie was only being shown in 3D so it would be an upcharge.  I honestly felt ill.  If I’d been by myself I think I would have gone home.  This wasn’t the plan.  I thought I was in control. After that there were unexpected school fees, a minor repair and getting stuck somewhere for the day where I needed to buy food.  None of these should have been in surmountable but somehow it shook me.  I maintained staying away from most grocery shopping but the dark side offered cookies and I took them.

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It’s taken me a little while to figure out what happened but it is simple.  I have a tendancy to be all or nothing.  I will climb that mountain, achieve excellence in the field of excellence and have those thinner thighs in thirty days.  I grew up in a culture of leadership worship.  You needed to define what made you special. A lack of ambition was a vice.  It made sense. The generation before had had to work so hard to make it that we with our privileges should be world shakers.  I didn’t realize I’d brought so much of that into this.

It seems terribly dramatic for something as simple as a month of strict budgeting but it was more than that.   Once I put aside that this wasn’t a race to be won I took it for what it was.  It was to be a new habit, a new perspective on my relationship to money and food.  It was also a spotlight on my need to validate myself with measureable success. I had to accept that I will not be asked to lead the rebels to live outside of the Empire’s control.  What I will do is take my participant ribbon and give it some respect.  I managed for the most part to use what I had for meals, not go shopping for clothes, except that one bra after a wardrobe malfunction, and find a new source of income.  I wanted something big and finite.  A penny pinched lifestyle is not about an iron control but being able to flex with your situation.  It is also something beyond a quick fix.

So now I am midway through March.  I accept the challenge as a learning time with no pass or fail and I am good with that.  Anyone in the market for a slightly used droid?

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Let There be Peas on Earth and in the Stir Fry

I will admit that there can be a rather chilly detente that occurs in my refrigerator.  There are certain shelves that see a fairly brisk rotation of items. These spaces are the accepted free trade region.  To the sides are the condiments that are the story keepers, the elders of the fridge that rarely cede their spots to newcomers.  In the crisper I do my best not to let the denizens liquify but how much parsley do I really need?  Oh sure I could freeze it but as long as it is visible I can tell myself I am going to make a fresh and healthy soup.  It is a green leafy badge of clean eating superiority.

So what has this all got to do with being penny pinched?  I admit that some days I am intimidated by my fridge.  I open it and see random supplies and am not sure what to do.  I might see one dish for a meal but I get a little sketchy on how to make it reflect the food rainbow.  I’ve been told a handful of M & Ms does nothing to meet the requirements of the bottom of the food pyramid.  Elitists.

That being said I realize I will never balance my food budget or dietary needs without some help. I had gotten into the habit of buying new food because I didn’t know how to use up what I had.  This is where I found this helpful tool on allrecipes.com.  I had been looking for the perfect cornmeal muffin recipe and I noticed that one of the search engines was to list the ingredients I wanted and also the ones I did not want.  This opened up a lot of possibilities.  I decided to haul everything out of my fridge.  Green Peace launched a formal complaint as the contents of the veggie crisper were being considered as a part of a self sustaining eco system but I prevailed.  I found recipes that would use up the scraps of cooked chicken, 1/2c. of green beans, red pepper paste and pearl onions.  I began to make headway into hostile territory and dismantle the peculiarly stacked architecture of tupperware, take out boxes and ziploc bags. (In my defence there was really only one takeout box but the visual image was too cool not to use).

I also found that Pinterest became a great place to store recipes that worked for me with veggies where I was lacking a bit of imagination.Translation: I sometimes need encouragement to not settle for just meat and potatoes.  The photos help.

This new year coming up I am setting Friday as ifits day.  If it is in the fridge then that is what’s for dinner.  If it is still there the next week it is time to shuffle it off to that great compost pile.  My goal is for a couple of empty shelves because I learned to use what I already had.  Now to go back into negotiation with my tartar sauce who is staging a sit in.  Wish me luck.

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Sept.29th Growing my Pantry

Today was one of the wonderful fall days here in Langley. There were a lot of community events like the Artists Studio Tours, prepping for next week’s Cranberry Festival and the one I staked out, the Apple festival.  The weather has stayed warm and sunny and I gently persuaded my 14 year old to join me “Get in the car.  We are going to celebrate apples. It’s a family bonding time. One day you will remember this fondly.  By the end of this you will be able to tell the difference between damage done by a cutworm moth or just plain scabs. Imagine! I bet none of your friends can do that.”  In awe of the implications my son chose not to make eye contact and put on his earphones. I think he needed a minute to prepare himself.  I didn’t want to overwhelm him by talking about the tour of the historic apple orchard and that it was on the heritage site of what was intended to be the capital of British Columbia.  It is on the banks of the Fraser River at the Derby Reach historical park. It’s where they used to have signs saying, “stay back from unstable cliffs” until too many people went behind the signs to see what was unstable and had accidents.  There would be people in Voyageur dress and the chance to get your picture taken milking a wooden cow cut out.  I had to be careful not to speed.

You may wonder what this all has to do with pinching pennies and eating from your pantry.  Did I mention that the event was free?  In all seriousness I was looking for some real information about apples.  One of my greatest joys in my yard are my two apple trees.  They are grafted hybrids and different limbs can yield different species of apples.  There is nothing like twisting a fresh apple off of my own tree, washing and eating it.  It is the ultimate in organic, healthy eating, eating locally and saving your budget.  In the same vein I planted 6 blueberry plants a few years ago but they have given up in dispair.  I was hoping that I could learn how to nuture my garden.

As soon as we arrived it felt like a movie.  There were fiddlers, people in period costumes, and tents filled with visitors in their khakis, sweaters and hiking shoes.  The first tent had varieties of heritage apple slices to sample.  Each apple was labelled for its name, taste and useage. Some were for eating, or baking or storage, or even cider.  There were the tours and we got to taste apple pears, Northern spy and just missed out on Banana apples.

The find of the day was the tent with the trees for sale.  My heart started pounding.  These were heritage trees that had been grafted and carefully grown and were for sale.  Even better than that, the staff was there to explain how to plant, prune and feed the trees.  I learned that I could prune in the middle of summer. A vigorous trimming was completely all right.  Then I saw the handout.  “How to care for your blueberries”.  I learned that just about everything I’d done to my plants guaranteed a lack lustre harvest.  Could it be that I had a glimmer of gardening hope?

In the end I talked to the man at the last tent and realized that the cutworm moth and scabs had both come to visit and there was not a lot I could do but leaf curl, HA!  Your day is numbered.

I left with one golden plum tree and one golden russet apple tree.  I went to a free event and spent $70.

Thoughts:  It is great to try and grow your own food but it needs knowledge to make it work.  Putting some focus on producing fruit for my family and friends feels wonderful and helps stretch the staples in my pantry.  It will be a while before this is a reality but attending more events where I can educate myself opens up more opportunites to take control of what I can offer.  Information sets you up for success.

Time to gather some apples so I can make some strudel.  Hhm maybe some apple butter would be good too.

Sleeping with the Enemy

This last week has been a nasty kind of hectic and left me bone weary.  This is usually the worst time for me to try and eat healthy and look after myself.  Money usually streams through my fingers and it all goes to food or the rough equivalent.  I know when I am exhausted and stressed I eat solely from the four basic food groups: drive thru, delivery, frozen and Pepsi.

I have had a shower that refuses to shut off on request, a backed up sink with a belligerent blockage, the tenant’s kitchen tap burst and his bathroom tap could not even rinse his toothbrush.  I had to bring paperwork to Canada Government Services, complete a type of audit for Revenue Canada and more forms for yet another branch of Federal Government.  The toughest part was that my lupus was flaring and created a titanium strength fatigue along with a wisp of the blues.  Each morning I felt like I’d just pulled two all nighters and couldn’t focus. Even dressing/getting ready can take up to an hour.  Sometimes just lifting the pots and pans were too much and I’d sleep for 14 hours at a stretch or more. This would usually be the perfect storm for bad eating.

 What came next was a surprise.  After spending Monday racing from place to place it was already 2:00 pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch.  I thought about the foods available at the local drive throughs and something happened.  I realized I didn’t want them.  I thought about what was in the fridge at home and my brain started putting together a meal. In fact it was a far superior meal to what I could have bought.  All during the drive home I expected that at the last minute I would think of something I would prefer but it didn’t happen.  I  found myself pulling into my driveway and going inside.  Now for the non-addicted ( as in addiction being used as a term to cover lazy and unhealthy behaviour that I routinely choose) this is normal.  For an exhausted stress bunny this was exceptional.  I found this pattern repeating itself for several days.  OK I did breakdown and get a small hamburger and fries at McDonalds at 10 pm one night but I had just met with my ex-husband’s new wife for the first time.  (She turned out to not only be beautiful but an amazingly nice and authentic woman.  I even forgave her for being so slender. )

I know I’m not out of the woods with stress eating but I think I am slowly turning my pantry into my go-to place for food.

Thursday- $5.34 spent on 4 litres of 1% milk for Josh.  Lunch was naan bread with sauce, cheese and Italian seasonings.  Dinner was lazy beef stroganoff on egg noodles with red peppers and a side of carrots.  Cinnamon buns for dessert.

Even though I’m getting to the end of the month and the end of the “Eat Your Pantry” challenge from the Year of Less I know I need a lot more practice before this becomes a permanent habit.  I still have a lot of goals yet to attain and I need the accountability so we will see where I can bring this to and be happy even if I am penny pinched. 🙂

thanks, Deb

Sept.21rst Christmas Tacos

I’ll admit it.  I tend to overthink things.  When I decide on something I want to get started now and work until it is finished.  “Hhm. To get in shape I need to be active for at least an hour a day.  That is 7 hours a week, 28 hours in a month, so if I work out for 12 days in a row I’ll be good for the year.”  OK I exaggerate a bit but not much.  I have learned to beware the zeal with which I approach new projects in favour of creating plans that have a bit more staying power.

With trying to do the “Eat Your Pantry” challenge from the Year Of Less blog I quickly spread out from saving money to making sure I hand made everything.  That came with a huge amount of left overs, as there are only two of us, many hours searching for recipes that used what I had,  and massive amounts of pots and pans to wash.   I quickly learned that not every night could be new culinary creations.  One night as I looked over a table brimming with hand pickled veggies, crockpot chicken, and a specialty salad with fresh made dressing I asked Josh what his favourite part was.  Without looking up he said, “The rice.”  The rice.  The stuff I measured out into a steamer. The plain white rice.  The counter was littered with every measuring cup and spoon, pots, bowls, knives and cutting boards I owned.  I’d be washing up an hour at least and he liked the rice. I got the message.

To be honest I should have got the message many years ago, almost eight years ago to be exact.  It was six days before Christmas that the three of us were moving into our new house.  There was little time to put up a tree, unload and get ready for the holidays.  In the middle of appliances that were not working and a phone line that didn’t get hooked up I realized it was Christmas eve and there was no way I was going to be able to put on a proper traditional Christmas dinner.  I reached into one of the bins and came up with a package of taco fixings.  I decided to chop up a red and green pepper and presented them to our son.  “Here we go sweetie. Christmas tacos!”  He was six and munched happily as I felt like a complete con artist.  I promised myself that the next year would make up for it.

The next year I did thing up in style with an actual table cloth, candles, candied yams, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, corn and of course the turkey.  We sat down at the table and my son looked at everything and hung his head.  “Josh, what’s wrong?”.  He looked up at me, his eyes filling, “Mom, where are the Christmas Tacos?  I’ve been looking forward to them all day,  It’s just not Christmas without them.”  I quickly promised we’d have some the next day and he perked up and we had a good dinner.  I had no idea that he’s remembered that and that making a memory didn’t need all the crazy making activity. Since then it has become one of our traditions.   The times that I’m the most stressed are a direct reflection on my expectations.  It is not just the work that causes the stress but the expectation I have of what I must create in order to for me to call it a success. Sometimes I am a royal pain in my own backside.

Sometimes simple is enough.  Sometimes simple is just better.  This thanksgiving I will be alone for the first time.  I thought about trying to create a big traditional dinner. Maybe I’ll just invite some people over for Thanksgiving tacos. Red and orange peppers make it perfect for Thanksgiving right?

May you all be richly blessed this thanksgiving and dwell on all that makes you truly grateful.

When “to be” is the Only Option

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve canned  corn relish and made blackberry jam from hand picked blackberries.  I’ve created balanced homemade meals and avoided fast food (pretty much), started to organize my closets (You didn’t seriously think I got that done yet did you?), started to reduce my pantry and freezer stock, cancelled online daily deal subscriptions, avoided flyers and searching for airmiles deals, as well as sifting through paperwork, art supplies and filling donation boxes.  As I finished up washing yet another stack of handwashed pots and pans generated from apples studel made with apples from my own tree I was struck with the strength of my feelings.  I’m tired!!!!  There was a reason I ate out, ignored the filing and did not hand make my own shampoo and deodorant (and trust me folks, crystals do nothing to reduce the stink even if you think your aura is cleaner.  I’m just saying.)

Today my joints are swollen, my face is puffy and I can’t follow the plot line of America’s Next Top Model.  In other words it is time to rest, and let the world take care of itself.  Today I will ignore the dog toys, eat ifits (if it is in the fridge you can have it) and just enjoy my home.  We work so hard to create an environment for everyone but ourselves.  It is hard to realize that I have limitations but there is wisdom in knowing yourself, testing the boundaries and accepting when you have gone as far as you can.  Today is the day to let my home look after me rather than the other way around. Today I will enjoy snippets of summer that still exist in my garden. Today I will just be and be content.

Crafters in Sheep’s Clothing

You see the rich colours and glossy pictures as the magazine sits up on the rack.  It promises tips and techniques.  You know that this will be the one to have the project that will launch a new mindstorm of creativity. One of your favourite artists has an article that showcases her newest products.

 You proudly march it up to the cash knowing that you are saving so much by being a “do it yourselfer” or have you?

You stop by the craft store and there is a demo. for  something you had thought about trying and they even have a coupon for the supplies. They offering classes to learn the technique and some of them are free! Of course you need to buy all the material from the store first.  Yes if you thought about it $50 in supplies is a little steep to learn Tiborean lattice woven ashtrays but just think, when you get home you can make dozens.  Sure you need to buy a lathe and wood curling specialized vise grips from Tibora but hey, it could happen.

I love to learn new things. Papier mache, crochet, sculpting, acrylic abstract, beading, wire work, sculpture, basketry, mosaics can all use basic materials and tools but each has an industry behind it that is constantly at you to buy more and more products to create the latest thing.  A quick tour through any arts and crafts store will have you going down endless rows of colourful, exciting, shiny papers, inks, stamps, glues, findings, yarns, patterns, stains, and every possible accessory.

Once I’d get home with my precious magazine I would find that it was primarily advertising and that the articles were primarily advertising.  The projects were designed to showcase things you don’t have and will need to purchase.  Crocheting magazines feature yarns you don’t have.  They don’t say you can’t use what you own but we all know that if you do you will are just not a serious artist and can’t expect to achieve the results promised to the faithful who have bought the “in crowd” yarn.

Lesson:  To combine a frugal lifestyle with a leaning toward handmade you need to be “clever as a serpent and wise as a dove”.  You have to see the crafting industry for what it is, an industry.  They are there to sell.  One of the beauties of the internet is that if you are discerning you can learn basic techniques.  Be aware of your own weaknesses.  A few days ago a saw a link to homemade rugs.  It got my heart racing. I immediately wanted to jump in and try it.  Sure I would need yards of a fabric I didn’t own and a backing that was suspect for durability but,… No.  I had to calm down.  Like a bar to a drinker, I need to avoid new materials and techniques while I’ve got bins of materials waiting to be transformed.  Single use materials are not a good investment.  No new workshops for now.  I’m swearing off (unless it is Maureen Carlson as the teacher. Learning from her is on my bucket list.)  I need to deal with my excess of stuff and stop looking for new distractions.

In the blog “The Year of Less” September is the month to “Eat My Pantry”.  I think October with be the month to “Craft from my Closet”.  Be careful out there gentle crafter. There are wolves  in artist’s clothing.

Sincerely, Deb

(photo was taken at Van. fan expo. and is not meant to represent this woman as anything but a really fun person)