Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Feeding a Crowd

I love the holidays.  I love having people over for meals.  I love to share that time with others.  But, I was reminded yesterday in two conversations of times when I had to be extremely tight with our food budget.  It was very difficult to have people over at those times because I worried about having enough food and the cost.  It wasn't because I didn't want to have them over or because I didn't want to be generous--it was just hard for me.    

I found that there were a few meals that I served regularly and another way that I found I could be generous with my time and skills (which I had) rather than financially (which I didn't have).  

The meal I began making was a Meatball Soup from the More With Less Cookbook.  The premise of that cookbook is to make "more" with "less" of the world's food resources.  Most of the recipes are very inexpensive to make and flavorful.  

Here's my version of their meatball soup:

Combine 4-5 cups cubed potatoes (peel on)
1 lg or 2 small onions cut in quarters
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or 1-2 Tbsp. dried
2-3 carrots peeled and chopped or sliced
4 cups water
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
Bring to a boil, then add meatballs (see below).

I make the meatballs while the soup is coming to a boil because they're quick and easy to make.

In a mixing bowl, combine 
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper.  
Form into small meatballs and set aside.

Cover and Cook for 25-30 minutes in a pan at a simmer or low boil.  
Add 1 cup milk and 4 tsp. (1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp.) white vinegar.
Skim fat off top--the higher fat content of the ground beef, the more fat there will be.  The last time I made this with 90% lean ground beef, I didn't need to skim off any fat.  

I will warn you that this soup has a strange smell (the vinegar) when it's leftovers.  But, then you heat it up, and eat with a piece of bread and it always tastes wonderful.

The other meal I make is tacos with refried beans.  I posted the refried bean recipe a while back and you can find it here:
Refried bean tacos and flautas are both inexpensive dishes.

One of the other ideas I discovered was to have people over for dessert and games rather than for dinner.  It is much less expensive to make part of the meal than the whole meal.  I also learned to take people up on their offers (and to offer myself) to bring a dish when having company or being company.  

I once ran into a lady at BJs who was lamenting having visitors come see them.  The reason?  Everyone who came to visit wanted to have crabs, which is a meal you order out to take home and eat rather than eating in--so the cost falls to the host more often than it is split with the guests.  Her guests had no idea how much crabs cost or what they were asking (when they came with large grown children who had big appetites) and she didn't to be rude or seem stingy.  I have found a way around this one and a way to get less expensive crabs, but I am very aware of what an expensive meal it can be to have crabs with guests.  It can be hard.

The way I found that I could help with meals at church, please forgive me if I've written this before, is to join with somebody to share making the meal.  We lived far away from most people in our church until recently so it was difficult to deliver food on a weekday.  So, I would make a batch of homemade rolls, some cookies, and some muffins (all of which could be frozen by the recipient) for when they needed them.  More than the cost of the food, I was giving my time.  Typically, I also make snickerdoodles.  They are quite yummy and less expensive than other cookies to make.  I recently discovered another positive aspect of them--they are food allergy friendly since they do not have chocolate (can trigger migraines and other things) and peanut butter (the most common food allergy I hear about).  

I love having people over and if you are my friends and I invite you over--please come!  I hope that you read this blog post and understand that this is something I've sorted out with the Lord.  I am thankful that I can be more generous right now in what I fix for company, but I am ever mindful of being wise with the resources we have so that we can be generous with them more frequently rather than infrequently.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Looking for an Area Rug

Area rugs are wonderful things.  They can help cover up spots instead of recarpeting an entire room.  We knew that one of the rooms in our new home had a lot of spots on the carpet.  But, we did not realize what bad shape it was in until we began preparing to move in!  I only took a picture of the piano because the carpet looked so bad I don't think I wanted to remember it down the road.  I cleaned the carpet and was able to get out a lot of the stains, but quite a few large stains remained.  I also did spot treat the stains with Resolve and scrub with a strong scrubbing brush before I used the carpet cleaner on it.  That helped a lot.  My husband and I realized that the room desperately needed an area rug.

To carpet a room can be quite expensive.  I estimated that this room would cost about $600.  But, you also have the hastle of moving everything out of the room and scheduling the installation.  In our case, we didn't even consider that because of all the other home repair projects we have to take care of right now.  So, we started looking for a rug.

We looked at Home Depot, Costco, BJs, Ollie's (a local store similar to Big Lots or Pic 'n Save), IKEA, Lowe's, and Target.  The rugs varied a lot.  The price range for an 8 x 10 rug was $100-$500.  I was very surprised at what I found.

One of the most surprising things was that many of the "rugs" at IKEA were really unbound pieces of carpet.  I thought $200 for a large piece of unbound carpet was quite high.  We did purchase a 5' x 7' blue rug from IKEA.  We tried it out in several rooms of our home, but then returned it.  We had a similar IKEA rug a few years ago, but the quality of the rug had been higher.  You could clearly see the white backing through the blue threads.  For $70, it was not a very good value.

Another thing that surprised me was the clear difference in quality as correlated to cost.  The rugs at Ollie's would be great floor coverings for rooms that you simply needed something on the floor.  Some of them were softer and thicker than others.  They were as nice as the IKEA rugs, but half the price.

Target had a nice selection of rugs.  They felt nice and had some great patterns.  They carried some 5' x 7' rugs in the store, but only 1 or 2  8' x 10' rugs.  They have many on their website, though.  The price range for rugs was similar at Home Depot, Lowe's, and at Target.  We found 8' x 10' rugs that varied between $225 (for very thin) to $400 for a much thicker rug.  Home Depot and Lowe's both had some 8' x 10' rugs in stock.  Target had 1.  That was a factor for us.  Christmas is almost here and we wanted our den to look presentable (the spots were that bad).

We settled on a rug from Lowe's.  The price listed at the aisle was $278.  It rang up for $288, but they will give it to you for the price listed if you ask.  I also had a 10% off coupon which brought the price down to $251.  We brought the rug home and it fit perfectly in the room.  We had wanted a rug that would hide the dirt and work with the couch and other furniture in the room.  I am so thankful that the rug has done just that!  

As for the design and color of the rug...  One of our friends explained to us that Persian style rugs are great for hiding dirt and spots.  I can see why!  I had never thought of them that way.  We chose this rug because we thought the color of it would also hide dirt well.  In the first day on our floor, it always has.  The carpet in this room is a magnet for dirt and leaves!  In this room, we have a red couch, tan walls, beige carpet underneath, our television console, and our homeschooling supplies and furniture.  I wanted a rug that would complement the red couch, but not seem too dark for the room.  The first picture shows how dark the paneling was before I painted it last week.  We wanted to keep the lightness of the room that the painting brought to it.  This rug has done a great job doing just that.  I chose a rug with a little red in it with colors that complemented the couch, but mostly contrasted with the red.

The other aspect of the rug I considered was the pile.  We have a dog and 3 children.  I didn't want a loop rug that was going to get easily snagged by Molly's nails.  I had a friend who carpeted her house in berber and then had to recarpet the whole house within a year because of how hard her 2 dogs were on the carpet.  Ever since I heard that story, I always try to think about what we're going to do on the carpet (sit, stand, walk) and who's going to be on it (pets and people)!  

So, that's our rug.  After all our shopping, it feels good to look at it and know how much of a difference it has made to how the room feels!  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chopping Boards and Butcher Blocks

Moving into a new house has had a lot of lessons for me and a lot of things to fix!

I realized very quickly that the previous owner made a lot of improvements to the house, but she didn't complete them all the way.  She covered up the finishing touches that needed to be taken care of.  

Yesterday, I started to take care of one of them.  In our new kitchen, there is a kitchen island.  It isn't a butcher block.  Butcher Blocks are made out of hardwood.  I don't believe this is hardwood.  But, whether it is an island with a butcher block or wood counter top, it needs to be taken care of.

There are 2 options for cooking surfaces.  One is to apply mineral oil to it.  You can get mineral oil at any pharmacy, Target, or Walmart.  You would sand down the surface lightly with 220 grit and then apply a coat of mineral oil with a rag by rubbing it in.  

The other option is raw Linseed oil or Tung Oil.  You can purchase Butcher Block oil at Home Depot, for about $10-$15 for a quart can.  IKEA has their own product called Behandla which is made of "Tung oil, linseed oil, methylcellulose, lead free drying agent, plant-based emulsifier, water".  It is only $5/can.  I've used it for the past 3 years with our wooden countertops and feel comfortable with it.  

For the kitchen island in our new kitchen, I sanded it down lightly with 220 grit sand paper and then applied Behandla finish from IKEA to it.  I used a disposable 1" brush and then wiped down the excess with a paper towel when I was done.  The liquid is flammable, so I don't use cloth rags with it.  When you use Behandla, you have to put several coats on it to begin with, but then afterwards apply a coat about every 6 months (or at least that's what I do).  

If you don't put some kind of finish on your wooden chopping blocks or butcher block, they will split.  

As for disinfecting wooden surfaces, they have natural germ repelling properties, but I spread a little plain white vinegar on the surface and wipe it all over with a rag to disinfect.  This also works for plastic cutting boards.  I don't like bleach and having it around kids, so white vinegar is a much safer option.

At camp, we labeled our vegetable and meat cutting boards so that they wouldn't get mixed up.  It's good to be careful.  I don't worry about this at home, but I am careful to never use a plastic cutting board that I've cut meat on until it's gone through the dishwasher.  

About 8 years ago, I had a friend who's baby got sick with salmonella when she was 3 weeks old.  The family never figured out how she got it.  When I mentioned it to friends, everyone would automatically assume that they weren't very clean.  That wasn't the case at all!  The mom's kitchen was very clean and well taken care of. Watching their daughter get so sick made a big impression on me.  Now, I'm very careful to wash my hands frequently while cooking when handling meat or eggs.  I don't want to accidentally get my family or friends sick.  So, I'm careful to clean my hands and with cooking surfaces.  

Wooden countertops and cutting boards are beautiful and I love them.  But, I try to take good care of them!