Saturday, May 27, 2017

Perchance to Dream

I come from a family of tea-drinkers.  Three of my grandparents were immigrants from the British Isles (Donegal, Antrim, Aberdeen).  On the fourth side, they were nearly all Brits for generations back.  My great-grandmother Caroline who immigrated to the US from Nova Scotia always had tea every afternoon.  She had a little kerosene burner to hold the teapot so that it would stay nice and hot right until the last drop.  (The little burner stands now among my collection of teapots.)  My stepfather was of mainly French Canadian extraction; he drank strong coffee all day long.  None of the rest of us could understand that.

But I live in the South.  The big thing here is sweet iced tea.  Very sweet.  So sweet that it makes your jaws ache just thinking about it.  This is one matter in which I am very much an outsider.  I was raised to drink tea hot and never sweet.  I was always taught that sugary tea was only for when  you'd had a shock to "buck you up" (one of those old English expressions so beloved by my family) or if you were feeling very poorly. 

This morning I made myself a mug of very sweet tea.

Why?  Well, I slept so strangely that I woke feeling lost and confused.

I was a bit overtired last night.  (That's one of the things about having ME:  the more tired you are, the less likely you are to find rest.)  So I woke up in a hot sweaty panic at 3 AM and stayed awake until about 5:30.  The problem was that I went back to sleep.....and then I had the sort of dream that hits me every so often when I'm exhausted.

In the dream, I'm aware of being very tired so I go to sleep.  And because I'm asleep again, I continue to dream.  In the second dream, everything is darker and often more threatening but I'm so tired that I go to sleep.  In the third dream, it's darker still and I'm even more tired; even though there's trouble on the horizon, I can't keep my eyes open so I go to sleep.  In the fourth dream.....Well, you get the idea.  The deepest I've ever gone is the ninth level.  I'll never forget it.  I almost couldn't wake up.  I had to climb up stairs in each level from deep, deep, deep down in a very, very, very dark place.  And it took a couple of days to fully recover from the difficulty of  the dreams and the waking. 

My mother used to say that she thought it must be "like diving down to death."  She wasn't wrong about that.

This morning I again had trouble waking after a journey to the fourth level.  Two hours later, I'm still feeling stunned.  It was definitely a sweet tea situation, and I'm now considering a second mug.

Although I've looked online and researched books, I've not found a satisfactory answer as to why I dream within a dream within a dream within a dream.  Spiralling downward level after level is like going somewhere that you can never fully return from.

Part of me seems missing somehow.  I'm sleepy still and honestly actually having trouble keeping my eyes open but I'm deliberately willing myself to not go there because I don't want to have to go back down level after level.  Yeah, I'm gonna go put the kettle on again.  And I'll get the sugar container.  Maybe I'll have a piece of toast with Marmite, too.

Life is good.....even if it is a little muddled right now.

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Windfall & A Wild Hare

The is one thing that has been seriously lacking around here:  Bread.  Not just any old bread.  Bread made from my mother's Very Best Bread recipe.  (Something I've written about several times before but, no, I haven't given the recipe and I'm just not ready to do so.)  And, yes, there is a huge difference between bread and Bread.  My mother's Bread is dense and slightly sweet and (important for a vegetarian like me) a complete protein.

We didn't buy store bread.  Mother made this Bread every week ever since I can remember, and I only took over the baking when she became too weak to knead.  Since I've been on my own, I've been lax about making Bread because it generally seems too foolish to do for just one person.  (It's not a small task:  it takes a full 5 pound bag of flour and makes 6 loaves.)  But, lately, I've been hungry and not just because of Zero Food Budget.  I've been hungry for Bread.  When I want Bread, there's just no substitute.  And nothing is quite right without Bread.....but Only this particular Bread.

Today while I was searching for something else, I found a windfall.  It wasn't much:  a few rolls of coins.  But when you've got a windfall, it seems only fair to spend it!  I was planning to be sensible:  I needed dish soap so I'd just buy that and nothing else. 

But when I was standing in that store, all I could think of was Bread.  My mother's Bread; I had everything I needed to make it except milk.  I didn't have to think twice.  I went to the dairy case and then quickly to the checkout before I could change my mind.  When I got home, I paused only long enough to pat poor old Daisy-Cat and change my blouse.

Even though it was 90 degrees outside, I was gonna leave the central AC off so the dough would rise properly--a small price to pay for Bread.  Even though it was already 3 PM and there would be hours of work and waiting ahead, I was gonna bake Bread. 

And bake I have.  6 loaves.  It's in the oven even as I type.  And I know that the world will right itself on its axis because there's Bread for supper. 

Life is very, very good.

....editing to add:  this was the scene just after 7:30.  Heavenly.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

How to Handle Imperfect Produce

It seems to me that, although I've mentioned clearance sale veggies and what I do with them many times, I've never really said just how I go about it. 

The first thing to do is "triage" the vegetables--see what needs to be used or cooked first.  The more damaged the veggies, the faster they need attention.  And you've also got to think sensibly about what will save you the most work in the long run.

When I brought my veggies home, it was immediately apparent that two of the tomatoes were in big trouble (bruised and going soft) and the yellow pepper was on the verge of it (fuzzy mold starting on the bud end).  There were several things I could have done (like making a sauce of the tomatoes and pepper) but I decided that the best way to get the most meals from them was to stuff the large tomato and the pepper; the smaller tomato would be added to the stuffing mix.  Since I'd be making just one stuffing for both, that would be simple.  Also since the pepper had to be cut in half long-ways to get rid of that bad area on the bud end, I could make two meals out of the pepper instead of just one.  I'd have the stuffed tomato for supper because I've learned (the hard way, of course) that stuffed baked tomatoes don't freeze too well.

Because the oven was heated up anyway, I also decided to cook all of the white sweet potatoes as well.  (Many folks don't know that all sweet potatoes were once white or pale yellow; they only became orange when they were crossed with pumpkins.)  I'm inclined to forget that I've got some veggies in the fridge and I've learned (again the hard way) that sweet potatoes are easy to ignore until it's too late.  Cooked, they can be sliced and frozen in portion sizes.  I prepared six servings to freeze and one to use for making squash biscuits. 

Squash biscuits (which are actually a type of yeast roll) normally call for winter squash but sweet potatoes work fine for them as well.  And if you'd like to have my Great-Grandmother Caroline's recipe for Squash Biscuits, you can find it in this post.  Caroline was born 101 years before I was, so you can imagine that this is quite an old recipe, and it is one that I've never discovered elsewhere.  By the way, that old post will tell you how to roast a pumpkin, too.

Having taken care of the primary veggies, it's time to think about the others.  I know that I can always change my mind about what to do on the items that can wait a day or so but it's good to come up with a basic plan of what would be best. 

At least half of the bananas are not yet ripe enough to be made into banana bread, so they can wait.  And I enjoyed two of the bananas already--fried, one of my favorite treats.

The apples need to be taken care of sooner than the bananas.  Since there are some large bruises, I'll pare and slice most of the apples for baking into a sort of applesauce that can be stored in portions.  The others will be chopped and added to a fruit cake (if you didn't know already, let me warn you that I Love good fruitcake) that I was already preparing before I went shopping.  It's Barm Brack Bread (recipe is in this post) with dried fruit that needs soaking for 24 hours.  Fresh fruit can be added to the batter just before baking.

The russet potatoes and the summer squash will become soup for the next day's supper.  The red potatoes will also be cooked the next day, then diced for frying later, and they can be frozen for later meals. 

Although bruised, the eggplant and six of the tomatoes will be fine in the fridge overnight.  Four of the tomatoes will be cooked into tomato soup.  Two will be added to the eggplant when it is cooked.  At least that's the plan for now.....I'm wondering whether I ought to make Pretend Ratatouille (recipe in this post) instead.  (I secretly hate eggplant but Pretend Ratatouille is pretty good stuff.)

After thinking carefully about what is on hand, there are some food substitutions that I can make (like dried onions) and some I can' milk.  I really do need some milk for baking banana bread but since the bananas aren't fully ripe, I have a couple of days to remedy the lack or decide another way to keep the bananas (like possibly drying them in slices).

So, as I wrote this, I already had two meals from my food haul and I got containers ready to put in the freezer and the fridge--enough for 8 meals and for making a batch of biscuits.

Handlling imperfect produce isn't really difficult:
  • triage & prioritize
  • make simple plans using what you have on hand
  • cook
  • eat or store
  • and don't wait too long to take care of it.

It's surprising how far $6 can go.  And I will feel ever so much happier knowing that there is some good food waiting in the freezer.

I've gotta keep cooking.
Life is good.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Food Haul!

Like just about every other human being on the planet, I watch YouTube videos.  I like to know what other folks are up to generally.  I'm interested in some of the Tiny House stuff (even though my house is merely Small and Not Tiny).  I like to catch up on what some of the Homesteaders are up to.  And, yeah, okay, I admit it:  I love to watch cat videos like Maru and ShiroNekoShiro but my very favorite is Takashi Furuya because he uses the money he earns from his beautiful videos to provide food and medical care for feral cats.  Here, watch one and earn a few Yen for the kitties:

Anyway, this has nothing to do with food, does it?  Okay, so I'm chasing squirrels again but the thing I was gonna say before I got distracted was that one of the Homesteaders I watch does some Food Haul videos.  I find those interesting because, let's get really real, I'm nosy.   And also because my own shopping habits are very different.

I'll see her make a Food Haul that she believes to be excellent value.  But I'm sitting there shaking my head because she's bought potato chips in bulk, for pete's sake, and a ton of processed sausage and other kinds of meat.  Not my idea of value but, hey, I'm an old vegetarian, what do I know?  Kudos for her for paying careful attention to what she's doing; more people should do that.

Since I've been on Zero Food Budget for weeks I've had to get a little more creative that I'd prefer.  That includes sampling some very old MREs (I wrote a post about that but it sounded kinda whiny so it's still sitting in my draft file) and almost completely emptying the freezer.  Today, I figured that I had just about had it with being abstemious.  I don't do well with processed foods, so the stuff from the MREs kinda got to me (especially considering that my feet have swelled up like rising loaves of bread).  I had to have some fresh food pronto!

After doing some "tall figuring" (as my grandmother used to say), I decided that I could spend $6 at the grocery.  Woo-hoo.  Doesn't sound like much does it?  Well, the result kinda depends on what my local grocery has on offer.....Without further ado, here's MY Food Haul:

.....and here's my receipt:

$6 plus tax.  So what I've got here is half a dozen apples, ten bananas, 8 tomatoes, an eggplant, a squash, a pepper, half a dozen white sweet potatoes, three russet potatoes, and about 9 or 10 red potatoes. 

You've got it:  I buy clearance sale veggies (and I've written a bunch of posts about it before).  It's what I can afford and I am tremendously grateful for it.  Is stuff bruised or blemished or slightly old?  Yes.  Am I bothered by that?  No. 

What I see there in those packages is what it can become:  banana bread and apple muffins and baked apples and tomato soup and potato-veggie soup and baked eggplant and a stuffed pepper and baked sweet potatoes and squash biscuits, not to mention that I can enjoy eating fresh bananas.  Enough food for a feast!  Seriously.  All I've gotta do is go to the kitchen and get cooking.  Thank goodness I've got eggs and flour.  There's no milk and no cheese but there's margarine so I'll make it all work.

Now, tell me, what would you do with $6?  Get Starbucks?  Maybe a large order of fries at McD's?  It will be gone in five minutes and what will you have left?

I'm not cheap.  I'm poor.  There I said it.  It can be embarrassing but I'm not ashamed.  I'm doing the best I can, and I try hard.  There's not a lot I can do about everything but I can still do something!  And now I'm gonna go cook.

I am deeply and richly blessed.
Life is absolutely good.

Looking Out My Window Again

It's late springtime in South Mississippi, so we've got the sort of weather you'd expect:  rain, rain, and more rain.  That, of course, means that my backyard is flooding.  No surprise.  It always does that.  The ground is so wet, in fact, that I can see more than a dozen crawfish castles from my desk window.  What is a crawfish castle?  It's a dirt mound that looks like this (borrowing a picture from online because I can't be bothered to go outside in the rain to take one myself):

And there are fresh fire ant mounds, too--as I understand it, they build underground generally and make aboveground mounds when they need to cool the nest.  Mounds pop up all over the yard this time of year.  That's when I miss my guinea fowl the most; they were brilliant at keeping fire ants at bay.  The guineas would watch the mounds until they got just-so-high, then they'd feast on the insects, and roll in the dust from the mound as a coup de gras.  Clever guineas.

The rain is keeping me from pursing work outside.  There's so much to be done.  Oh well, a little at a time.  The good news is that seeds have been sprouting in my old container garden.  Although it's just a week since I planted them, my wax beans sprouts have already shot up more than 6 inches.  And the radishes!  Oh my, I didn't think they'd germinate so I dumped a whole seed packet in the pot, and it looks like every single seed has sprouted.  I'll have to do some serious thinning there.

The volunteer tomatoes in the new garden area are still coming up.  Seems like every time I go to the garden, I find another new plant.  I'm just letting them grow where they will, and I've put tomato cages wherever I could.  But I've run out of cages and there are more plants coming.  The tomato plants seem mostly quite strong and healthy.  The mini-tomatoes are a bit weak but there are tomatoes growing on their thin little stems.  The romas seem to be fierce and have lots of fruit on the way.  (Yes, tomatoes are fruit rather than vegetables.)  I don't know what variety the other plants are.  We'll just have to wait and see.

I haven't seen anything going on with the corn and sunflower seeds but, as I mentioned earlier, I strongly suspect that they've been eaten (most probably by some busy little squirrels).  I'll try planting again.  And I hope to make some more mounds--the rain is softening the ground nicely so maybe that will make it easier to chop up the soil. 

There's so much more I want to do but I need supplies and I need to do a lot more clearing.  Still, progress is on the horizon.

It's a lively time of year.
Life is good.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Coincidence? I Think Not

First off, I've gotta explain that I'm getting started clearing up my workshop.  This is NOT a small thing.  The mess is massive, and the workshop building is actually larger than my house.   Honestly, I've taken to calling the place The Black Hole of Clutter.

While the current workshop mess isn't the worst that it has ever been (the Worst was when my stepfather died--indescribable filth and disorder; instead of cleaning up cat poop, he'd kick it under the workbench so it would pile up.....but never mind), it's still really very bad. 

There is stuff leftover from either 3 or 4 of my own yard sales, stuff from two other people's yard sales, stuff from my tenant and my friend who have moved out of town, stuff from when another friend's store closed down. Stuff.  There are also piles and piles of empty boxes and packing materials.  Stuff left from my mother's belongings, my grandmother's, my stepfathers.  Stuff.  Seriously tons of stuff.  And I've been avoiding dealing with it.

But I have to have a yard sale.  Have to.  Need to earn money.  And I also just need to get Stuff under control.

So the whole time I'm in the workshop today, I'm trying to remember to pray and the Only thing I can say is "thank you, thank you, thank you."  That's it.  It's all I've got.  "Thank you."  And I'm reminding myself that's what I wrote about in my previous post.  Philippians 4:5-6 (a Bible reference that I essentially consider my own personal home address).

Now, where do you start clearing?  The stuff in front of you, right?  That makes sense.  It's logical.

I couldn't do that.  In my head, I kept seeing a box on a shelf in the center back of the workshop.  In fact, I had been thinking about that shelf since before I left the house.  It wasn't in a convenient place, and I had to get through other boxes first.  I had no idea whatsoever what could be in any of those boxes.  But, no matter what, I felt like I had to get to that particular box on that shelf.....that if I got to that box I would feel that I had accomplished something for today.  I only wanted to spend an hour in the workshop after all so that I wouldn't become overwhelmed or overtired.....but I had to get to that box.

And I did.  
The box turned out to be leftovers from the closed store. 

Guess what I found in the box? 
This is for real.  I'm not making this up.  It really was in there.

God answers prayer.
Everything is gonna be fine.
Life is good.

When There is No "Budge" in the Budget: Peanut Butter Balls

Money.  Now, there's something we all worry about.  Me, I tend to think about it in terms of food budget because with my tiny income that's one place where I can cut corners.  Once the bills are paid, there's sometimes not much left. 

On a good week, my food budget is $15.....or $20-25 on a very good week.  Right now, the budget is $0.  Really.  There's nothing available to spend.  I've been on Zero Food Budget for a couple of weeks.

Currently, there's not a whole bunch in the pantry so I'm mostly depending on the stuff I've got in the freezer.  No, I haven't bought packs of frozen goodies or pre-packaged meals.  That junk is too expensive.  What I have is stuff I've made myself.  I buy clearance sale veggies, and I cook.  Cooking is key.  Soup.  Baked beans.  Muffins.  Bread. 

I keep reading news articles and blog posts about folks who do a "food stamp challenge" to see how little they can get by on.  And every single one of them complains about how they suffer.  The author who infuriated me most was one who had a dozen eggs and figured that she could eat two a day so as to save money; and she was so hungry all the time that one day she ate either 3 or 4 of the eggs.  That is so foolish!  If you've got eggs, what you do is bake!  You make cornbread or muffins or other baked goods.  When you combine eggs with flour or corn, you have a "complete protein" substitute--it's better for you than just chomping on a hardboiled egg.  It also makes that egg go a whole lot further in filling you up to satisfy hunger.  But, there are carbs!, you say.  Well, yes, of course, there are; when you are working, you burn up calories and you need to be fed.  People worry too much about "skinny" and too little about what is healthy.   They don't worry enough about avoiding over-processed foods that are loaded with addititves.

But, as usual, I digress.  Yesterday I wanted something.....something sweet, something different, something that wasn't soup.  Yeah, I've been eating a lot of soup from the freezer.  I'm not perfect; sometimes I like a treat and, yes, I sometimes (but really rarely) have good old processed peanut butter (it's a cheap quick protein).  So I dug around in the pantry.  There was a little bit of this, a little bit of that.  So I made Peanut Butter Balls--a little sweet, a little protein, all good.

Mix together about 1/3 cup of peanut butter (I was emptying the jar) with about 1/4 cup of confectioner's sugar (estimating--you want enough to keep the stuff together but not so much that it gets crumbly) with 1 individual size box of raisins, and about 2 tablespoons chocolate chips (I had a few leftover from muffins I made last week).  Stir it all together and form into 1-inch balls.  And then enjoy!

I made 8 or 9 of them.  Not something I wanted to eat all at once, so I'm keeping the rest in the fridge. 

Soup is good for you, of course, but it's nice to have something a little extra sometimes--something that reminds you that brighter days are on the horizon.  It helps keep you on track until the Zero Budget Days are done.

But here's the secret to help keep you carrying on no matter what battle you're facing:  Philippians 4:5-6.  Basically, it says simply,
Don't worry about anything;
give thanks for everything.

Life is good.
I'm grateful.