Oct 20, 2014

Canning Day not Cleaning Day

Monday is supposed to be the "big" cleaning day around here, but I had some canning I needed to do, so Cleaning Day this week will be Thursday. This works well  because we have company arriving on Sunday and the house will stay nice and clean for just those few days between Thursday and Sunday. How's that for logic? LOL  Jeff did go ahead and do the "big cleaning" upstairs today because we had company last week and the guest room needed clean sheets and to be vac'd, the guest bathroom needed scrubbing. So that's all done and he'll just have to do a light re-cleaning on Thursday.

Got up this morning before the alarm went off at 7:30. Love that. Hate alarms. (They alarm me!) Had lots of energy and got up, dressed and got going right away. Of course, I do my Daily Chores first. I had dishes to put away and a couple of tea cups from last night to put in the dishwasher. I wiped down the counters and stove top, cleaned the sink and threw a load of kitchen linens (cloth napkins, kitchen utility towels, table cloth, dish cloths) into the washing machine and got it going. Then I swept the kitchen floor, straightened up the family room and was done.

I have a thing about canning and sanitation. A bit of a fanatic that everything is extra clean before I start food prep for canning. So I wiped down all the counters, my work table, and the sink with a bit of household bleach. You can't be too careful.

I store all my jars in the basement, so went down and got three boxes of jars - 1 of quart size and 2 of pints. UNfortunately, I should have done that last night because they were new jars and needed to be washed in the dishwasher. While I was waiting for jars I got the pressure canner out, all my utensils ready, pulled the appropriate jar lids and rings, got last night's soup heated up, got the two roasts cut into 1.5 to 2 inch chunks and popped half in a dutch oven and put it in the oven (for shredded beef), and put the other half in a pan of seasoned water (for plain beef chunks).

I spent the day canning. I was disappointed that I'd figured quantities wrong, and my final tally was only 8 quarts of Beef Vegetable Soup, 6 quarts and 6 pints of beef chunks in broth, 3 pints of shredded beef in BBQ sauce, 4 pints of  Mexican-seasoned shredded beef (for tacos and burritos), and 4 pints of broth. I still can't figure out where I went wrong in my calculations, so I'll have to figure that out for the future. From my 20 lbs of beef purchased at $2 a pound, we will get 34 meals (pint jars of shredded beef are good for two meals for us) plus the beef broth, plus the soup we ate last night, plus a container of soup in the fridge for tomorrow night. 36+ meals. Good, but not great.

The one thing about canning is you spend a  lot of time waiting. Waiting for jars to wash, waiting for the canner to come to boil, waiting 10 minutes while the canner vents, and then meat products, depending on the size of the jar, take 75 to 90 minutes in the canner and you have to be attentive to the canner during that time. Then you have to wait 15-30 minutes for the pressure to come down, 10 minutes for the jars to cool in the canner before taking them out... and then repeat it all over again for the next batch.

Today while I was waiting, I finished the load of laundry (wash, dry, fold, put away!), wrote a blog post, cruised FaceBook several times, printed out some medical forms I need, caught up on my Amazon reviews, read some of a book I need to review, re-organized the contents of the refrigerator (am I the only person that likes the contents of the fridge to be organized?! No one else seems to get my "like with like" theory when it comes to the refrigerator!), and played a game on my Kindle. Oh, and watched a taped episode of Project Runway while putting my feet up and having a cup of coffee this afternoon.

The canner is still huffing and puffing as I write this, but it's the last batch and will be done shortly. I've got all the canning stuff washed and put away, jars not used put back in the basement, counters wiped down (again with bleach - it was meat!) and the kitchen straightened up -- just in time to cook an easy dinner (scrambled eggs, bacon and toast for Jeff - leftover soup for me).

Getting things DONE

In the past, I was the world's worst procrastinator. Why do it today when it will be there to do tomorrow? No more. I thought I'd share how I push through and just "get 'er done", after seeing Sarah post on FaceBook today: "My biggest obstacle...getting off this stupid computer so I can get stuff done!"  Been there. 

First, we have a weekly schedule that let's me see how much free time I actually have (a lot!). When creating a schedule, it's always important to give yourself time to do the things you really want to do - computer time, sewing time, playing with the grandchildren time, etc. Here's what our schedule looks like:

Monday: Big Cleaning Day (4-6 hours)
-- Jeff: Clean upstairs (dust, vac, clean bathroom, empty all trash, change sheets)

-- Me: Clean downstairs (dust, vac, mop floors, clean bathroom, empty all trash)

Tuesday: Daily chores, grocery shopping or errands if needed, then Free Day

Wednesday: Baking, canning, laundry, daily chores
-- Jeff: Plan and cook dinner

Thursday: Good general pickup and light cleaning (1-2 hours) then Free Day
-- Jeff: Upstairs
-- Me: Downstairs, vac kitchen and family room, clean guest bathroom
The afternoon is designated to get out of the house - walk, park, movie, whatever we feel like.

Friday: Daily chores, free day

Saturday: Laundry, outside work, garden, clean and vac out car

Sunday: Out to do something fun, family day or Free Day.

With the exception of the Daily Chores - which MUST be done every day (no excuses!), our days are flexible. We can swap a Monday for a Tuesday if the weather is nicer on Monday and we want to go out. We can swap Saturday for Sunday if grandkids want to come over. It's flexible BUT it all needs to get done. 

If you are organizing and decluttering (which, believe me, I had to do once my kids were out of the house), you can schedule in a half a day a few days a week for doing that chore. And understand, once you get through it all, it will STAY done if you stick to your schedule!

Daily Chores List:
Dishes out of dishwasher, dirty dishes in

Wipe down stove top, counters
Sweep kitchen floor
Trash out
Clean kitchen sink
Wipe down bathrooms, check supplies and towels
Good general pick up - put things away if needed
Vac kitchen area rug if needed
-- Jeff: Make bed, straighten his bathroom

So use schedules and lists, but understand if you don't schedule in time to do the things you want to do (vs the things you need to do to maintain a clean and organized home), you'll burn yourself out in no time. Set short term goals for big projects -- instead of "I need to clean and organize my entire house!" try "Today I will clean out two junk drawers and find 20 items to donate." Think in small chunks, rather than huge, overwhelming projects.

It's so important to think in small steps and not get overwhelmed with the larger task at hand. If you get overwhelmed, you will put it off. If you put it off, it will NEVER get done.

Don't let this be you!

Oct 19, 2014

Back to Basics

My younger sister, Sarah, recently joined the world of the unemployed. Scary stuff when it's not what you planned to do, but exciting for her because she's wanted to be a stay-at-home wife (her kids are grown) for awhile now. She and I both wish we lived closer so I could help her through this transition time. I am budget-conscious (AKA cheap) to a fault. I have developed routines that keep my house clean and organized. My husband recently retired, so I now make foods from scratch, grow what I can, buy in bulk, buy multiple meat items when I find a good sale, have a fully stocked pantry and freezer, dehydrate, grow my own herbs, and, with all these combined, currently spend about $100-$150 a month on food (as opposed to my old $160-$200 a week).

So how can I share my techniques with Sarah when she lives 1100 miles away?

Right here, right now - by blogging about my daily routines and life.

So this is my gift to you, Sarah -- and to anyone else that is undergoing a major change in their lives and are just starting to focus on home and budget.

I'm not going to tell YOU how to do it all -- you have to find what works for you. What I'm going to write about is what works for ME, and you can take from it what helps you with your own personal goals.

SO.... This is how my day went.

Today was a pretty average day for me. We have a "Schedule" on our refrigerator, and Sunday is listed as "Laundry, Family, or Go Out".  Well, laundry was done on Friday, Mr. B spent the day with us on Saturday,  and after a hectic week, neither of us felt like going out. So today was up for grabs.

Up, dressed (including shoes, which works best for me), coffee and downstairs by 8 a.m. I'm a morning person, energy-wise, and I dislike sleeping past 7:30. Makes my day too short.

Once downstairs, I do my daily routine.
-- Empty dishwasher
-- Put any dirty dishes into dishwasher
-- Clean sink
-- Wipe down counters
-- Sweep kitchen floor
-- Check family room and straighten if necessary
-- Check downstairs bathroom, straighten, clean up if needed
-- Quick walk around the downstairs and see if anything needs to be put away

Next I sat down with a cup of coffee to figure out what's for dinner and what to put on my To Do List for the day. It's Sunday. I didn't really want to do much!

Take meat out of freezer for canning on Monday
Make beef vegetable soup for dinner
Dehydrate lemons
Clean out and organize storage unit in kitchen

Ready to make soup!
I took two 10 pound Eye of Round roasts out of the freezer so they could defrost for tomorrow (Monday) when I will pressure can them in various forms (more about that tomorrow). I decided to cut off about 3 pounds of one of the roasts to make a very large pot of beef vegetable soup for dinner tonight, with extra to pressure can tomorrow.

The roasts, by the way, were on sale a few weeks ago. Normally $5.99 a pound, they went on sale for $3.99 a pound, but shortly after went on sale for Buy One Get One Free, which brings it down to $2 a pound! At that price, I bought 20 pounds - that's an $80 saving for one of my favorite cuts of meats.

So, I made a large pot - about 15 quarts - of beef vegetable soup today. Tomatoes and carrots from the garden, an onion, garlic, leftover peas and carrots, celery, bags from the freezer containing bits of vegetables and leftover meats and juices from past meals. All went in the pot, simmered all afternoon and we had some very tasty soup for dinner tonight, plus I have soup to can tomorrow.

BASIC 101 - When you're cooking, in many cases it takes no longer to cook extra meals. I could have cooked just one pot of soup for dinner tonight with some left over for lunch tomorrow. But it didn't take much longer to cut extra beef, onions, celery, garlic, etc for 15 quarts of soup to eat later, than it did for just one meal. Whenever possible, double or triple what you're cooking for dinner and put the extra in the freezer or preserve it by canning.

A few days ago, I also picked up two five pound bags of fresh lemons. I use a lot of lemons and lemon peels in cooking and in iced tea, and lemons can be quite expensive. I normally pay $4.99 for a bag of lemons, and these were on sale at 2 for $5. As winter approaches, the price of lemons will go up so I stocked up. I "preserve" them by dehydrating them. I cut them into thin slices and then I cut the peel off the ends to have dehydrated peels as well. These took about six hours to dehydrate, then I stored the slices and the peels in two separate mason jars, sealed with my vac sealer.

Jeff was busy down in our basement all day, and came upstairs with some sheets and blankets he'd found and wanted to use for various storage items, but needed them washed. So I did two loads of laundry.

BASIC 101 - "Doing the Laundry" should mean only ONE thing - wash, dry, fold AND put away. Never leave a load in the washer - they'll smell. Never leave a load in the dryer - they will be too wrinkled! Never leave clothes in a pile or laundry basket to be put away later. Later never comes. Do it now. Stop allowing yourself to think you "did laundry" if there's still laundry in the dryer or in a pile or in a laundry basket. You should not consider it done until you wash, dry, fold and put away.
I have a storage unit in my kitchen that was actually once a pulpit. Weird, I know. But I like weird things and I needed a place to park my laptop and to store supplies like envelopes, notebooks, extra cords for the camera, etc. Non-kitchen stuff that I wanted handy in the kitchen. I'd cleaned out the entire unit a few weeks ago, but forgot about the drawer, so wanted to get that done. There wasn't much in there, but I did pull out two manuals (printer and virus software) that needed to go in our manuals binders, so I gave those to Jeff to put away. Threw out a lot of paperwork and receipts I needed to keep for just a little while, but now could be thrown out. Found two birthday cards I'd bought but forgot to send, so put them back in the drawer - so I can forget to send them again next year. Sigh...

Jun 3, 2014

Reverse Menu Planning - (or: What We Ate Last Week)

A big trend amongst bloggers is to post their menus for the upcoming week. I've done it myself many times. That said, I've also strayed from the planned menu many times (!) and we end up eating something totally different than what I planned. So what good, really, did it do to post a planned menu if I'm not sticking to it?

So now, here's what we REALLY ate last week! On a side note, I am trying to eliminate as many processed foods from our daily menu as I can. Sometimes it's just not possible and sometimes (hot dog rolls) it's just not convenient. But in my book, "Some is better than none" so I just do the best I can.

If you try nothing else in this list, try the STRAWBERRY PINEAPPLE SALAD WITH PINEAPPLE RANCH DRESSING. Oh my. Quite possibly the best salad I've eaten in many, many years.

Homemade sour dough bread French Toast
Sunny-side up egg
Sunday - Breakfast for dinner!

Grilled Extra Lean Hamburger, topped with
Homemade Guacamole/Salsa (*recipe) and
Homemade sandwich rolls
Roasted Red Pepper Hummas
Garden Fresh Gourmet Salt-free Tortilla Chips




Grilled Chicken Thighs with BBQ sauce
Half a baked potato

Grilled Extra Lean Hamburgers (again!)
Topped with pickled red onions
Leftover Apple Coleslaw
(fermented with garlic and lemon grass)
(ended up mixing them in coleslaw - yum!) 


Hot dogs (Boar's Head - no nitrates, no fillers)
Tomato, lettuce salad topped with leftover guacamole/salsa
Potato Gnocchi with garlic and Parmesan cheese

Saturday - no picture - take out Chinese Food!

*Recipe - Guacamole Salsa

I know there's a million guacamole recipes on the Internet, so you probably don't need one more. But mine is SO easy and tastes SO fresh and bright. It's kind of like guacamole, and kind of like Salsa. We use it on burgers, to dip tortilla chips, or as a salad dressing. Here's what I do:

2 Roma Tomatoes
1/2 large green pepper
1/2 medium yellow onion
2 jalapeno peppers (take out seeds if you don't like heat)
1 tbsp of cilantro paste (or use a 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro)
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
Salt to taste (I don't add any)

Chop and mix all these up real quick in a food processor.

Take the pits out of 2 avacados, scoop out the flesh, place in a bowl and mash well. Add the above ingredients from the food processor. Add 1 tbsp of lime (or lemon) juice. Stir well. That's it!