Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Day Awakening"

     In college, I liked to dabble with various forms of writing. I went through a phase in which I was captivated by poetry. I even took a poetry class to develop a greater understanding of and ability with the art. While browsing through old files on my computer this morning I found a bunch of poem attempts that I had written during that time. It was rather fun to reread and remember those times. I thought I'd share one with you today.

What forms of writing are your favorite to learn and practice?

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

5 Simple Ways To Save Water

      One discovery that is made when you move frequently is that rates for utility services are not the same everywhere. I was rather shocked when I received our first water bill in our current home. I initially thought that perhaps we had gotten into poor habits of greater water consumption. However, after comparing our current usage with our usage at our previous residence I learned that despite the gallons consumed being the same our bill is 60% higher now than before. Ouch! I then determined to try to make some simple changes that would better conserve water usage in our home.

      Conserving water isn't just a matter of financial concern. It's also a matter of preserving the environment. Environmental concern can become pushed to the side when supply is seemingly abundantly available. However, the truth is that the supply is relatively small and the processes for purifying and transporting it are complex. According to the EPA:

      less than 1% of all the water on Earth can be used by people .. The rest is salt water (the

      kind you find in the ocean) or is frozen. Communities across the country are starting to
      face challenges in maintaining healthy and affordable water supplies; that's why it's more
      important than ever to use our water wisely and not waste it. In addition, it takes large 
      amounts of energy to produce and transport clean water and to process waste water.

      It's so easy to simply turn on the faucet and let the water run unnecessarily. Or, perhaps enjoy that hot shower a bit too long. These expenditures come at a cost. Interestingly, many times when an issue is unsustainable to the environment it is also unsustainable for my family budget. And so, my husband and I determined five very simple ways that we could begin to conserve water in our home.

5 Simple Ways to Conserve Water
1. Place a bottle of water in the toilet tank
      We used a 1 Liter water bottle. The water in the bottle displaces the water stored in the tank. The tank then uses 1 L. less water with each flush. 

2. Replace shower head with a water conservation/low flow head
     This was the one area that I was really hesitant to change. I was dreading having to shower with a low flow shower head that left me cold and with suds in my hair. But, we looked carefully at the various models available and purchased a multi-setting shower head that permits 2.0 gal/min. flow. It even has a drip setting for when you're not needing full water flow. Yet, we've found that this setting is sufficient to keep it on at all times. 
     Waterpik has a great calculator that can be used to determine the savings produced by investing in an "eco flow" shower head. According to the calculator, we're now saving  9,855 gallons of water! Hooray!

3.Shorten showers
     I will admit that I'm notorious for taking long hot showers. Nevertheless, we've set a goal to limit showers to 10-15 minutes. 

4. Rinse dishes in filled sink instead of running water
     I habitually rise my dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, which lessens the workload placed on my dishwasher. A lot of water is wasted by leaving the water running while rinsing each dish. Instead, I plug the sink to fill with a small amount of water. Since the dishes are merely being rinsed and then loaded into the dishwasher, I'm not overly concerned if the water gets a little dirty. Periodically, I let the water drain out and then refill. I actually save quite a bit of water this way.

5. Thaw frozen foods overnight instead of under running water
      The ideal method of thawing frozen foods like meat is placing it in a dish and then in the refrigerator for a period of time (typically overnight). When in a time pinch, an alternate method is to place the food under running water. Some foods, like fish, can take up to 15 minutes using this method. Yikes, the waste of water! A little thinking ahead and planning early for meals can prevent needing to resort to this unnecessarily consumptive method. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Menu Plan: Spring (Mar. 17-23)

Strategies used this week:

  • We've based the menu off of a lot of items we already have on hand. I've mentioned before that we will frequently purchase items in larger quantities and then store them in the freezer. These items typically offer a better unit price, and decrease our weekly purchases. 
  • I also tend to overplan meals. Sometimes we'll use all the meals planned, and sometimes we won't. I decided it's better to plan extras than to plan too little and have nothing to eat by the weekend. For instance, we didn't quite get to the barley casserole last week so we'll be having it this week. It works out in the end because we already have those ingredients on hand from purchasing them last week and so that's less to purchase this week. It's also really nice to know you have meals on hand just in case the planned meal doesn't work out. 

- Egg Sandwich (scrambled eggs &  cheddar cheese on toast), orange
- Winter Oatmeal (oats, diced apple, flaxseed meal, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, drizzle honey)
- Egg & Veggie Omelet (eggs, swiss cheese, diced tomato, sliced mushrooms, diced bell pepper, S &P to taste), toast, orange
- Toast with peanut butter and diced apples 

-repeat chowder
- repeat chicken, potatoes, green beans meal
- repeat barley casserole
- Veggie sandwiches on homemade focaccia bread
- open (perhaps leftovers or a breakfast for lunch theme)

- Roast chicken, potatoes, green beans
- Barley casserole (we didn't get to this one last week)
- Spaghetti squash spaghetti with homemade pasta sauce (you could do just the spaghetti squash as "noodles," but I really prefer adding some whole wheat noodles to it. For presentation, serve it in the squash halves.)
- Chicken pot pie using a whole wheat pie crust
- Mediterranean fish packets, greens
- Ribs, freezer slaw, baked sweet potatoes

-celery with peanut butter
-fruit: oranges, pear, apples
-cheese slices
-homemade crackers

*Note: Reviving Homemaking is not affiliated with any of the sites or companies included in the links, and was not asked to include or recommend them or their recipes in this post. (I simply like what they have to offer!)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Adding Convenience to Homemade: Using the Freezer to Shorten Meal Preparation Time

      As much as I love homemade foods, I can't say that I always love spending hours preparing each meal. I think this is a common sentiment, and the need for greater convenience often drives an individual to forego homemade in favor for packaged foods. I enjoy using fresh and homemade ingredients in my meals, and feel that I don't have to entirely give that up for the sake of convenience. Instead, I've realized that it's a matter of figuring out little ways that can save me time (and in some instances, money) later. Although I do not do "freezer cooking" per say, I am learning and getting better about utilizing my freezer as a means of creating shortcuts to my meal preparations.

     Certain ingredients and meals simply do not freeze well. This result is due to water freezing within the product. The frozen state assumes more space and thereby displaces some of the structure of the food.When it thaws, the food may have a bit of a different taste or texture. It's a bit of trial and error to learn what does and doesn't freeze well, but soon enough you'll have a working list of items you can keep stocked in the freezer. 

      Utilizing the freezer to shorten meal preparations can be done in two ways: 1) freeze ingredient components and/or 2) freeze complete or near complete meals. When making a meal that I know will freeze well I may simply make a full recipe or extra. I then portion out the extra into serving sizes and freeze. When I'm in a pinch I can easily pull out a meal from the freezer, thaw, and finish cooking. Even when I'm not pressed for time to prepare a meal I still enjoy having ingredients or meal components already prepared and in the freezer.
  For instance, last week we had BBQ pork chops, freezer slaw and cornbread. I made the bbq sauce for the meal, and the remainder of the sauce was portioned into 1 cup portions and stored in bags in the freezer. This saves me time from preparing the sauce again the next time we have a bbq meal. The effort also ensures that the sauce isn't wasted by sitting in the refrigerator too long. The full recipe for freezer slaw makes about 9 cups of slaw, which is way too much for just two people. So, I divided it into 1 cup portions and again stored in bags in the freezer. The next time we have freezer slaw, all I have to do is grab a couple of bags out of the freezer. Last, I prefer to make my cornbread in individual servings by using a brownie pan. Because each side is cooked and less exposed, they will freeze and thaw better than cut pieces which leaves the sides exposed. Cornbread takes about 45 minutes, and so that's 45 minutes saved from the next meal we have that has a side of cornbread. I didn't have to spend an entire day preparing for future meals. Yet, I still have a really good start on the preparation for future meals. 

Tray freezing bell peppers
       The other means of shortening meal preparation time is by pre-cutting and freezing certain vegetables. A lot of time is spent simply cutting onions, bell peppers, scallions etc. Instead of cutting them when needed, I can dice them ahead of time and store in the freezer so that when I do need them all I have to do is measure out the amount. When freezing diced vegetables, I find it is best to use the tray freezing method. Tray freezing is essentially spreading the food pieces across a sheet tray and freezing. The pieces will freeze individually. They then can be scooped up and placed in a bag to store. If you just dice and place in a bag to freeze, then when you need a portion you're faced with breaking up a solid frozen mass to break apart. I prefer to tray freeze as much as possible. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Menu Plan: Winter (March 10-16)

Strategies used this week:

Sometimes the perks or rewards at grocery stores are really not all that valuable. Most rewards programs are targeted towards the packaged products, since that's where the money is made in the food industry. Since we focus on the basics for our dry goods (flours, sugars, dried fruits,  grains, beans etc), dairy, un-processed meats, and lots of produce we've come to learn that the points don't add up to much. These programs work by enticing you to purchase products in exchange for a "reward" in the end. The deal may even sound good and be something like 10/$10 or Buy One Get One. The catch in these offers may be that you are required to purchase the full amount in order to get the savings. Also, the sale offer may be for an item that is unnecessary and you might have other wise passed over it. Truth is, you can save quite a bit by simply not buying than by buying on sale. Take a note from the sales ads each week. How many pages are devoted to basics like meats and produce? How many pages display packaged products on sale? About twice as many packaged as basic. This is where grocery money is often unnecessarily spent.  Some families may be large enough for the basics to add up to enough points to receive the reward. However, it is wise to keep track of your grocery purchases and determine at what cost participating in grocery store rewards/perk programs comes for your family. It may be the case that you could save by shopping wholesale, in bulk or at a discount grocery store instead of relying on "rewards."

- Egg Sandwich (scrambled eggs &  cheddar cheese on toast), orange
- Winter Oatmeal (oats, diced apple, flaxseed meal, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, drizzle honey)
- Egg & Veggie Omelet (eggs, swiss cheese, diced tomato, sliced mushrooms, diced bell pepper, S &P to taste), toast, orange
- Toast with peanut butter and diced apples 

-Spaghetti with (ground turkey) meatballs and sauce, side green salad
-Roast beef, mashed potatoes, asparagus
-Veggie quinoa burgers, baked potato fries with homemade seasoned salt
-Beef & cheddar sandwiches
-Barley casserole

-repeat soup
-repeat barley casserole
-beef, sweet pea and noodle stir fry
-Loaded baked potatoes with chicken, mozzarella, and tomatoes

-celery with peanut butter
-fruit: oranges, pear, apples
-cheese slices
-homemade crackers

*Note: Reviving Homemaking is not affiliated with any of the sites or companies included in the links, and was not asked to include or recommend them or their recipes in this post. (I simply like what they have to offer!)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How To Make a Tablecloth From a Sheet

     When we moved into our current home, I decided to change my color scheme up a bit.  I had previously done bold primary colors and now desired some cooler tones. The new color scheme also allows me to incorporate my favorite color- gray! My current room project is our dining room. I wanted to replace (or at least have a second) the red tablecloth with a gray one. I soon discovered that gray is not a very popular color for a tablecloth, or, at least, not as popular within my desired price range. I then discovered the local discount store was having a white sale. I found a king size set of sheets for $20 and instantly envisioned the set being transformed into a tablecloth and seat cushions. The pillowcases will be used to make pillowcase dresses to send to organizations like Dress A Girl Around the World. That's a lot of material and potential for the typical price of a single store-bought tablecloth. 

       The skill level for sewing a tablecloth from a sheet is that of beginner. If you can sew a straight line, then you can do this project. The most difficult part for me was my sheet material being rather thin and lacking in structure. This is one area in which the rougher tougher sheets are better than the "luxury." 

        Below is a tutorial for making the tablecloth. If you would prefer printable versions of the tutorial than follow either link below.

Tutorial: How To Make a (52"x70") Tablecloth From a Sheet
1. Begin by washing and drying your material to account for any shrinking. Next, iron the material. 

2. Lay material out on a large flat surface. If you have an existing tablecloth, then you can lay it on top, and use it as a size guide. You will then measure one inch extra around all sides to allow for a 1/2'' hem.  If not using a guide, then measure out a rectangle that is 53'' x 71''.

3. Cut out measured amount.  

4. The edges will be finished with a 1/2'' hem. A beginner's tip is to use a fabric glue stick and disappearing ink pen to ensure all parts align properly. Using the disappearing ink pen, measure and draw a line 1'' and then a second line1/2'' from the first around all edges. This acts as a guide for folding the edges and making sure they are straight. The corner markings will also be helpful in creating the mitered corner. 

5. Fold edge of material to meet first line marking. The folded section will be about 1/2'' wide. Do the same for all four edges of the material. (It may be helpful to add some glue and then iron to keep it in place). 

6. Next, fold the tip of the corner corner piece to the innermost crossing of the line marks. Press the bottom edge of that fold with an iron to maintain marking of the edge. (I've demonstrated it with a dotted line in the photo below). 

7. Unfold the corner. Cut along this line. This will reduce bulk within the corner once sewn. 

8. Ever so slightly turn the raw edge of the cut corner under (towards wrong side of material) and secure by ironing it in place (may be helpful to add a dab of glue). 

9. Fold one edge of the tablecloth material so that the corner edge of the cut corner meets the innermost crossing of the marked lines. Do the same for the other side.  

The corner edges should meet and now look like this. 

10. Fold side edges again to meet innermost marked line. You should now have a 1/2'' hem and mitered corners all around the material. 

11. To finish, simply top stitch 1/4'' along the perimeter of the tablecloth. 

12. You will probably want to add a waterproofing to the material since spills are bound to happen at the dining table. Scotch Guard is a common product for waterproofing. You could also just lay a clear vinyl tablecloth over everything while eating. 


One of the fun aspects of having a solid tablecloth is the potential to change up the look with various centerpieces and even cloth napkins. Textiles are fantastic for adding a lot of color and life to home decor while still being budget-friendly!
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