Erin's self-sufficiency blog

Dedicated to sharing my efforts in radical homemaking, self-sufficiency, simplicity, and general craftiness on a very, very small budget.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Thriftmas

I had a great time with Christmas this year, in part due to having hardly any money. I spent a dollar on decorations (floral wire). We have a plastic tree which we decorated with ornaments we have collected. We hung our little string of Christmas lights. I made an advent wreath from branches that a nice man at the tree lot gave us for free. We made popcorn strings to go around the tree and paper cut-out snowflakes to go on the windows. So it looked very festive around here.

We decided on some new traditions. Those crafts were part of it, but we also decided to donate to the food bank. We don't have a lot to offer and I am scared to let go of food, but we did it and hopefully we helped someone. We also wanted to contribute to a toy drive, but we only had two toys, and they were used, and we either needed to donate new toys, or a truck would drive up to collect our donations, which hardly seemed fair when there were only two toys.

We got lots of food sent from our families. I did my shopping at the dollar store, the used book store, and the grocery store. I made my husband some pajama bottoms from a sheet that I got a while ago from the Salvation Army. They're Thomas the tank engine pajama bottoms. It would have been pretty funny to watch me sew, as I did every seam wrong at least once and ended up sewing the legs shut or something like that. Eventually it worked out and they look pretty good. I will try to get a picture soon. He seems really happy with them.

Then there was food. It was just the two of us but I put out appetizers of cheese, sausage, smoked oysters, smoked almonds, crackers, fig spread, antipasto, and pepper jelly. All these things were gifts! I also baked for a few days so we had popcorn balls, butter tarts, peanut butter cookies, and banana bread. For dinner I made roasted chicken legs with homemade mustard, mixed roasted veg, gravy, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. I am especially proud of the stuffing because I took breadcrumbs that I had been saving up for six months and made a huge amount of food. It blows my mind that people throw away their stale bread heels and then go out and buy dried breadcrumbs in the store. I put all my stale bread pieces in a plastic bag in the freezer. You never need to buy breadcrumbs again. You can either cut them up or grind them in the food processor if you want finer crumbs. Anyways, I had only made stuffing once before, and that was 10 years ago, so I was pleased with how it turned out. I also made my gravy from a mix because I have some mix, and I didn't know how much the chicken would drip. Anyway it dripped a lot so I put some of the fat into the gravy, which was a really good idea. I added the rest to the mashed potatoes. We ate this with our ginger beer and we were so full after we didn't have room for dessert. I had to put most of the desserts in the freezer, save the popcorn balls. I actually have decided not to make popcorn balls again because I cut my hands up pretty bad on the caramel.

We ended the evening by watching a wonderfully terrible movie, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Highly recommended if you like B-movies.

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Cook your own takeout #1: Chinese stir-fry

I know that part of the purpose of takeout is to feed you when you are hungry and don't feel like cooking, or are busy and don't have time. However, you should consider that it sometimes takes less time to cook your takeout than for it to be delivered, if you are organized. I wanted to share some ways to make your own "takeout" dishes at home.

The first dish I am going to offer is stir-fry. You need some meat. I usually throw a chicken leg in the oven and tear off the meat when it's almost done. You could also use thinly sliced beef or pork. You need some vegetables. You need garlic, onion (green onion is preferred, but use whatever you have) and some ginger (fresh is best but powdered will do). You need some cooking wine (xiaoshing wine is the best, but you can use sherry or even gin) and some oyster sauce. You'll need a little stock. You will also need to cook a side dish of rice.

This time I made brown rice. You can make the rice according to the packet directions or whatever method you prefer. Then dice your onion and mince your garlic and onion and fry these. Then, add a little splash of your alcohol of choice. Then add your chopped veggies (I used cabbage, carrots, and celery. You could use some more authentically Chinese veggies if you can get your hands on them). Add about a quarter cup of stock. Cook this until soft. If you are using uncooked meat, you should throw it in at the same time as the veggies. When it's all cooked through, you can add meat if you are using pre-cooked, as well as peas if you want them (or snap peas or bean sprouts) and add a bunch of oyster sauce. Taste and see if your food is salty enough. If not, add more oyster sauce. Oyster sauce has cornstarch in it so your sauce should thicken, but if it doesn't, mix about a tablespoon of cornstarch with a tablespoon of cold water, and then add this mixture to the sauce and stir it around. To serve, put a pile of rice on your plate, and then a pile of stir-fry. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mustard and stock, with developments in laundry detergent

My big canning project this week was mustard. I used this recipe:

I chose it because I wanted to be able to can it, so I can share some as gifts and also keep it shelf-stable as long as I needed it. I don't have a pressure canner so I needed a recipe with vinegar. Anyways, it was loads of fun, and pretty easy to do. I omitted the horseradish and onion powder, because the recipe said it was okay to play with these. I don't like my mustard too hot and the vinegar made it plenty tangy. The recipe made three cups of mustard, which I canned in one-cup jars. Exciting!

I also made stock this week. I make stock frequently so it didn't occur to me to share it earlier, but I realized that many people don't know how to make stock. If you can boil water you can make stock! I gather scraps from vegetables and chicken bones in a one-gallon plastic bag that I keep in the freezer. When that gets full, I dump it into a large pot that I fill with water and I add a couple of bay leaves and a handful of peppercorns, if I have them. Then I bring the water to the boil, then reduce it to simmer and let it do that for about an hour. Then I cool it and strain it. I usually use most of the stock I just made in soup that evening, with a little bit set aside in a two-cup container for rice pilaf, and a few quarter-cup containers for Chinese food. I freeze these containers until I'm going to use them. So you can do all this for basically no money because you are using what other people consider to be garbage. Seriously. The only thing I wouldn't put in it are fruit scraps and the peels of russet potatoes, which are kind of dirty. (You can dry citrus peels in the oven and use them for mulled wine and such, and the rest of your fruit scraps you can use to make vinegar. Vinegar!) So if you do nothing else, you should make stock. Soooo easy and it saves you a lot of money over storebought stock.

I am learning about making your own laundry soap. Holy crap! It's so easy and cheap! You need borax, washing soda (soda ash, which I use for dyeing), and bar soap. The best type of bar soap to use is fels naptha, which is really cheap. I'm going to check my nearby hardware store. You only need 2 tablespoons per load. It doesn't have nasty chemicals or scents and is much better for the environment and allergies. If you need fabric softener, you can use vinegar in your rinse cycle, but I don't usually use fabric softener and I think it would be a pain in our commercial machines.

We have been doing a bit of low cost decorating for the Advent/Christmas season. I made an advent wreath with floral wire and evergreen branches. We threw evergreen branches on some surfaces and made popcorn garlands to decorate the tree with. It's been very exciting. I have made a present for my husband (more on that later, once he's opened it). I'm also doing my Christmas baking now. I've made banana bread and will also make butter tarts, peanut butter cookies, and popcorn balls. Maybe oatmeal raisin cookies too if I have enough time and butter.

Happy holidays everyone, and happy homemaking!

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

New clothing

Since I don't buy clothing anymore, you may think that I never get new clothes. Not at all. I just have to work for them. I told you about the sweater I finished last week, and here is a photo. I've worn it out and gotten rave reviews. I am very, very happy with how it turned out and can't wait to make a new sweater (can't wait is a relative term: it took me nearly a year to knit this one). I have also sewn another skirt. The pattern book I used this time was sooooo much easier to use than the last one. I cut the pattern pieces and the fabric one day and I sewed it all together the next. It was pretty easy. I spent $0 on it as I used some fabric I picked up from the thrift store a few years ago. I think I spent about $2 on the fabric then. It's very cheery. Please excuse the outfit in this photo: I looked much better put together when I was out and wearing boots and a scarf.

In knitting news, I am working on a lace cowl now. It's really difficult but I am enjoying the challenge. I haven't made a lot of hats yet, mostly because I have tried to make toques (beanies) and they just don't work with my hair. So this is kind of a hat. I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

The ginger beer is fermenting away now. We heard one jar make a loud noise today. We hope it hasn't exploded. I'm afraid to look!

This week's food project is mustard. I'll let you know how it goes. We are also making popcorn strings for a christmas decoration. I'm enjoying our no-budget Christmas preparations so far. They've been so much fun.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

A few items

We got up to a few exciting things this week. First, my husband and I made ginger beer. We fermented some ginger and sugar in water. Then we made a syrup with more ginger, sugar, and water. Next we added the two together and put it in pint-sized jars. We were going to do bottles, but to get the right kind of bottles would be $40, and we didn't have that to spare right now. They are currently undergoing their secondary fermentation. We put them in a rubbermaid tub with heavy stuff on top. This is because I heard many stories of ginger beer exploding and sending glass shattering everywhere. I hope that if they do explode, they at least won't damage the apartment (or us). We will be sad to lose that ginger beer though. We are really looking forward to it! We're not big drinkers but like a beer or a glass of wine sometimes. This way we get 10 pints from $3 worth of ingredients.

Today I made my own "maple" syrup. Not real maple syrup, which is what I grew up on, but sort of like Aunt Jemima's but better and cheaper. I've done this one before. I take some white and brown sugar and boil it in a little water, and then I add artificial maple extract. I'm not sure exactly but I think the whole thing comes to about $0.30 a batch. It's even cheaper if I make my own brown sugar, which I usually do, by mixing white sugar with a bit of molasses. That's all it is.

I have been very careful about trying to eat real food at every meal. Usually I make some kind of simple breakfast, with leftovers for lunch, and something for dinner. Today I made pork curry with coleslaw and rice. The curry mix was some of my spices and some spices mixed by the aunt of one of my friends. It was pretty good, and my husband ate it up, even though he does not like tomatoes. The coleslaw used some mayo that I had made earlier in the week, with some curry powder added, and then an all-natural dip mix added. So I "recycled" that mayo twice. I really enjoy making my own mayo, which again is about $30 a batch. Storebought mayo (and maple syrup, for that matter) aren't so expensive, but why not do it even cheaper and fresher?

I have put myself on a challenge of spending no more than $30 a week on groceries. In Canada this wouldn't have been possible but food is pretty cheap in the States, so you can save your money to spend on health care. It takes a lot of analyzing coupons, calculating, and sacrificing what you want now so you can have it later, or switching items so that you can have something that you couldn't normally have. I have figured out exactly what we're buying this week, and I am excited thinking about what we will make.

In clothing news, I have finished knitting a sweater and am seaming it now. The collar and the shoulder seams are finished, as well as attaching the arms to the body. Now I am trying to sew the sleeves together and close the body part. I have to unsew a bit because I did it unevenly and the armpit was going to be all lopsided. It's annoying to have to redo it but not as annoying as wearing something that I have worked on for almost a year to have it all weird. I was hoping I could wear it to church tomorrow but it doesn't look like that will be possible, unless I stay up until 5 AM finishing it. Oh well, there's always next week. Hopefully I'll be able to wear it when I volunteer at the museum next week. My supervisor saw me working on it and she was excited to see how it is going to turn out. She thought it was so cool that I could actually knit my own clothes. I think it's pretty cool too!

Finally, I made my own toothpaste today. I mixed baking soda and salt and a little peppermint essential oil. I mixed in a little water to make a paste. You can add glycerin too, but I didn't feel like going to the store. So that was my dental adventure for the day!

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

How I spent $100 for a year's clothing

I once heard a "fashion expert" advise women to put a few hundred dollars away each season for new clothes. If people followed that advice, it would mean about a thousand dollars a year for clothing. This is for the apparently important task of keeping up with all the latest trends. Well, as we all know, nobody looks good in all the latest trends and they often don't last that long. I also feel it's a bit morally abhorrent to pump all that money into disposable items, made in inhumane factory conditions, that you don't intend to keep for very long. So I have long thought that I should revise my clothing purchasing practices, and I am pleased to discover that after a year, I have done a pretty good job. This year, I spent about $100 on clothing, and I think I can do even better next year. In that time I've gotten two dresses, a bracelet, a necklace, a pair of pants, three sweaters, a skirt, a neckwarmer, four t-shirts, a blouse, undies, and a purse.

My first discovery was the fact that I don't need as much new clothing as I have previously thought I did. I was remembering back to the nineties, when clothing was more expensive, when I had eight outfits: one for each day of the week and one for special occasions. I did just fine then. So I realized that I didn't need to add to my wardrobe at the rate I had been doing for the past few years. In fact, I got rid of half my wardrobe when I moved to Portland, and I can't even remember what was in the half that I got rid of. I still have plenty of clothes.

I bought two sets of things from the mall this year: two dresses, priced at $20 and $25 Canadian, and a set of badly needed new underthings, about $35 American. I would spend the same money on undies next year, but I might skip the dresses. I love my new dresses and I get a lot of wear out of them, but they aren't something I need new from the mall. I have lots of nice dresses to keep me going for a while.

The bracelet and the necklace I made myself. I had the stuff for the bracelet around, and I used a gift card to buy the stuff for the necklace. They both turned out very pretty.

The pants, two sweaters, and two t-shirts were hand-me-downs from my Mom. I think I spent about $2 on thread to hem the pants, and I use this thread for lots of other things as well. As an extra bonus, the sweaters were hand-knit by my Mom.

The other sweater is actually not complete yet, but should be finished by the end of the week. I am knitting it right now. I bought half the yarn with my gift card and spent $15 on the rest of the yarn. I actually bought too much yarn and I have made a hat for my husband and can probably make a scarf with the rest.

The skirt is the one I just finished sewing. I spent about $2 on the zipper, and the rest of the materials I got for free.

I spent another two dollars on thread and about four more on patches to mend my pants and those of my husband's.

The neckwarmer I made with yarn and buttons I already had.

The purse and the other two t-shirts were gifts.

For spending $100 for a year's clothing, I don't look like a hippie. I look like a nice Christian girl with slightly funky style. I can wear most of my clothes to church or the museum (actually, I can wear just about anything to church but a bikini. I just like to look nice.) Most of my stuff is pretty and fashionable. Since I am poor, it is very important to me not to look poor, and I certainly don't look poor.

I might even be able to sew one or two more patterns before the year is out, meaning that I could get a skirt and a blouse at no cost!

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Rosehips and a skirt

Today was a very exciting day. My husband and I gathered wild rosehips at a nearby park. We originally found them when participating in Nature Day at the park. They were beautiful and red and abundant. We took them home and put some of them in the oven to dry for tea. The rest we made into rosehip syrup, which is apparently very good on pancakes and ice cream and such. Also, they are very high in vitamin C. I canned most of the syrup and refrigerated and froze some.

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I also finished sewing my first skirt today! The sewing's not perfect but the fit is amazing. I'm very proud to have made a garment that I can actually wear, like in public! I made it from an old curtain. I don't have photos yet but I'll get my husband to take some when I wear it tomorrow. I'm going to take it out for a test run at church tomorrow. I'm very excited about showing off my handiwork to my friends. It's my goal to only get new clothing by making it for a while. There might be occasions where I need to hit the thrift store or even buy something new, but it's not like I need a lot of new clothes, so I for the most part, I can wait until I have time to make them.

In other news, my husband made dinner tonight but I made the mayonnaise. I love making mayonnaise and you should try it.

Also, I gleaned some apples this week. There is a house near ours that has an apple tree and I pick up the apples (if they're still good) that have fallen off the tree and over the property line.

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