Thursday, September 30, 2010

Always More to Learn

I don’t know it all, or even most of it. Each person has their own perspective and skills. Each live out of their personal repertoire of frugal hacks. Maya Angelou said when an old person dies it’s like losing a library. I would never have learned how to make good pie crust if it weren’t for Millie. Or attempt brewing dandelion wine if it weren’t for the check out guy at Sharp Shopper. Or see how to tie a knot on the end of a thread to mend something if it weren’t for Grandma. Old people know stuff. If nothing else they know the stupid things to avoid. But they know tons of valuable stuff too. What to keep and what to let go of. So ask questions, listen, apply, and grow.

The flip side is this. Frugality is not all there is. Younger people know stuff too. Our first born remembers how to get places when I’m disoriented. He can program the phone, do things on the computer (more than one way and without fuss or freaking out), and work the TV remote. Both sons tell me to lighten up and get perspective. Their optimism is encouraging, their dreams possible. Sometimes they have fun at the expense of work. And maybe, just maybe, that’s not too bad, to just enjoy life.

There’s always more out there to observe and master. And when your life is over, you hope you’ve done the best with what you have, and passed the good stuff on to others.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I’ve Got Those Oh So Cobalt Blues

It was a fall day, much like today. Cool, very pleasant. My mind was elsewhere though, somewhere down and discouraged. I had walked from the train and was trudging up the steep Walnut Street incline to Mom’s house after doing something in Philly. Low autumn sunlight glinted off blue in the dirt near the sidewalk. A sliver of brilliant, happy, cobalt blue. After pulling the thing from the black soil, I rubbed it’s surface and knocked the dirt out. It was an old Bromo Seltzer bottle. The kind you put a cork in. About two and a half inches high.

How it got there, I don’t know exactly. Except I do. God put it there for just that day, just as the sun slung low in the west, to hit it just right and shimmer. For me to pick up.

It’s traveled all over with us. To South Dakota for our difficulties there. Back home when we cared for Mom. And now here in the midstate, as a sort of Ebenezer, that He will never leave nor forsake.

I like to look at it on the window sill with light shining through it when I’m feeling low. Think about the God who took the trouble to do something special for one person, out of the billions on this planet. A bit of cobalt blue in a sea of black.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Carrot On A String

Most cheapskates are sick of the same tired advice. (Remember the latte factor, pay yourself first, have a six month emergency fund, cook from scratch, get a side hustle, pay off high interest loans...). The counsel isn't bad. It's only frustrating because it doesn't 1) apply, or 2) deliver the promised "life will be wonderful when you're done" payoff. A carrot dangling on a string. Always out of reach.

I once criticized my dad's colleague’s work. He responded by putting himself in the other guy’s shoes. "No one sets out to make bad sculpture". This has financial implications. You do the best with what you have in hand. Skills, money, information, energy, and time are dropped off in various amounts at different seasons to various folks. It’s all a matter of using it. We all know spendthrifts, when confronted with the “latte factor” concept for the first time, have an epiphany. Those of us who cut costs wherever possible, and still tread water, look for more edgy ways to reach the magic carrot.

Should we seek the carrot at all? When, if after having done all we can, we still can’t retire, can’t give as we’d like, can’t help our kids more, and just get by, are we stupid, irresponsible failures? Sure, “the plowman ought to plow in hope”, so goals in themselves aren’t evil. But if we are faithful now, and God still doesn’t “bless us” here, is that wrong?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tasty Tidbits From Things You’d Typically Toss

A chicken carcass simmered in a large pot of vegetable laden water is a common soup base in many a frugal kitchen. Then there’s the infamous leftover casserole. But here are four less common, even giftable food items, prepared from peels and seeds you’d normally dump.

For candied orange rind start with about four thick skinned oranges. Score the surface into quarters through the white, and peel from the fruit. Slice the rind lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips. Place them in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Drain. Repeat. Drain and repeat again. (This removes bitterness.) Dissolve 4 ½ cups of sugar in 1½ cups of water over low heat. Add peels to the sugar syrup and simmer on a low heat until the rinds become translucent, about 45 minutes. As they float to the top gently push them under with your spoon. Let them sit in the syrup overnight. Heat through again in the morning and drain the peels. (Keep the syrup for use in iced or hot tea. Yummy.) Carefully coat individual peels in more granulated sugar and dry on a cookie cooling rack overnight. Done right, these have a gum drop like consistency with a hint of zing. In our house they don’t last a day.

Toasted seeds begin with a squash, like butternut, or pumpkin. Remove the seeds, rinse and separate them from the pulpy middles. Toss the pulp. Drain the seeds. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Drop the still damp seeds, single layer, into a lightly greased pan. Sprinkle the seeds with salt, garlic powder, and paprika. Or for those who like bit more kick, chili powder. Toast for about fifteen minutes until lightly brown. Let cool a tad, and munch away.

My Mom introduced me to pickled watermelon rind as a kid. Now I make them regularly. Start with the rind, scrape off most of the pink, and remove the green skin. Cut the prepared white rind into ½ inch cubes and measure about a quarts’ worth. Dissolve ½ cup salt in 5 cups of water, add the rind, and let sit overnight with a dish on top to keep the rind submerged. Drain. Rinse well. Cover with fresh water and boil until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and put back into the pot. Combine 5 1/3 cup sugar, 2 ½ cups water, and 2 ½ cups white vinegar in a large non-aluminum pot. Tie 2 cinnamon sticks, and 4 teaspoons whole cloves in a cheesecloth bag. Drop the spice bag into the vinegar sugar mix, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the rind to the liquid and let sit overnight with the spices. (Putting a dish on top.) Bring to a boil again and simmer until the rind becomes almost transparent. Remove the spice bag. Transfer the rinds into clean, hot jars with a slotted spoon, packing tightly, and pour the hot syrup over them, leaving about ½ inch head space. Cover and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Wait three weeks before using. These are lovely served along side salty and pungent foods like cheddar cheese or ham.

Lastly, a new addition to my frugal repertoire, apple peel jelly. Take the cores and peels from about 15 apples (4 cups tightly packed). Put them in a large pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Drain the juice through a cheesecloth lined colander into a bowl. (I use the low sugar pectin, but if you make the real thing follow the recipe for apple jelly on the package.) Measure 6 cups of juice. If you find it’s not enough, don’t squeeze the peelings, but do a second boiling of the peels in an additional cup or so of water. Once you have 6 cups, put the juice into a pot. Take the box of low sugar pectin and mix it with 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Add the pectin mix to the juice and whisk it in. Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. (You’re stirring constantly.) Add 3 3/4 cup sugar and return to boil. Let it boil hard for one minute. Pour the jelly into hot glass jars, leaving about 1/8 inch head space, wipe the rims, and screw on prepared lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Or turn the lidded jars upside down on a towel. Let cool undisturbed for 24 hours. Test for a seal. Refrigerate and use unsealed jars first.

So there you go, taste treats from what you’d normally toss. Bon Appetit.