Sunday, June 23, 2013

Where did June go?

This month has just flown by!  I started the month with big resolve to live more frugally...and life did its very best to thwart our efforts:

1. It's a five weekend month...which means our grocery bill will automatically be higher than a four-weekend month, since that's when we do our shopping.  On top if that, we seemed to run out of diapers, wipes, paper towels, and toilet paper all at once, which meant a major trip to Costco.

2. Somehow we ran out of home-cooked food and steam two weeks this month, which meant extra trips to the cafeteria (for me) and McDonalds (for Mr. Homesteader and also for family breakfasts when we ran out of eggs.) 

3. I attempted to give up my beloved soda in the middle of a coup made by Wee Homesteader, who has been waking up four or more times per night all month, instead of what used to be two or three.  So I've been extremely tired and looking for caffeine and comfort in Dr Pepper Ten.

4. We attempted to start the process of switching banks to avoid $55 a month in fees we're paying at Bank of America.  Our application to my company's credit union was sent back due to missing paperwork (that they didn't ask for in the first place), so we lost a month going back and forth.

5. We had to replace Mr. Homesteader's computer so he could start doing freelance at home again.  His old one had reached its capacity to process the large file types that he works on, coupled with a malfunctioning fan that had the computer shutting off every 15-20 minutes.

6. DMV license renewal for my car and massive late fees because we never got the first notice.

7. My department was restructured late last week and the changes are not pleasing to me in the least.  I have a new boss that nobody seems to like, and I *loved* my old one, and I have to learn all new accounts and deliverables come July 1st.  Made for some down days and a few indulgences in retail therapy.  As of this weekend, I have a new perspective on it and am ready to dive in...but retail therapy leaves a trail that must be reckoned with.

8. Several other miscellaneous expenses that came up throughout the month.

Sigh.  Looking forward to the electric bill (did I really just say that???) to see how my experiment panned out...maybe there will be a bit of good news in that envelope for once!

On the positive side, there were many yummy meals with recipes to share, and planting of vegetable gardens - yay!  Stay tuned...

 San Marzano Tomatoes!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Miracle cream

One thing I think most, if not all, parents of diaper-wearing children can relate to is a case of incurable diaper rash.  Little Homesteader was really easy in that sense for the longest time.  And then, all of a sudden, last summer, he broke out into so bad of a rash I couldn't even believe it.

We tried EVERYTHING.  We bought so many creams and lotions and combinations thereof...I couldn't even tell you all of them.  We must have spent hundreds of dollars trying to cure that rash.  Little wailed during diaper changes.  He was just starting to talk and would bawl, "All done!!!" It was heartbreaking.  It finally cleared up after about a month.  A very long month.

Last fall I was introduced to essential oils by a good friend.  I've never been big on modern medicine, though I have lucked out with relatively good health and have the luxury of making that statement.  So it's only natural that I fell into essential oils.  Okay, I became slightly obsessed.  Maybe extremely obsessed.  

One of the first things I read about was making over your diaper bag.  There was a recipe for diaper cream and I thought, "Why not?"

The recipe goes like this:

1/2 oz beeswax
3 1/2 oz fractionated coconut oil
2 drops melaleuca essential oil
2 drops lavender essential oil

Melt the beeswax over a double boiler and stir in the coconut oil.  Let cool a bit and then add the essential oils.  Stir to combine and pour into a 4 oz glass jar (hint: use an old baby food jar).

Well, after the experience I described above, I had a healthy skepticism about yet another diaper rash cream.  So I quartered the recipe.  Since we were past the baby food stage, I used some plastic containers I bought cheaply.  The next time Little started to get red, we put a little of the cream on the budding rash before bed.

The next morning, there was no sign of the redness.  At all.

And the same thing happened the next time.  And the next.  And the same thing happened with Wee Homesteader.

I think the key is in the beeswax.  Every cream we tried just soaked into the diaper, whereas this one seemed to stay on the skin and really protect against any wetness while the melaleuca and lavender soothed the pain and worked on the underlying cause of the rash, and the coconut oil calmed the irritation.

It's pretty much a miracle cream in our house.  I put it on cuts and dry skin and burns and anything else.  It's like my Windex, if you will.

And I'll never spend hundreds of dollars on chemical-laden creams again!

A fresh batch - one for home, and one each for school!  It will harden to a white paste as it cools.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

La Pasta!

A friend and I always greet each other with an exclamation, "Pasta!" It stems from the business trip to Brazil where we first met, to audit one of our company's manufacturing facilities.  One of our contacts (who didn't speak English) came looking for something, "blah blah blah la pasta blah blah blah la pasta!"  Neither of us knew what "la pasta" was, so she just scoured the room until she found a blue 3-ring binder.  She held it up in the air and triumphantly declared, "la pasta!!!"  It has been a joke between us ever since.

But this post is actually about pasta - the food variety.  You'd never know it by the content of this blog thus far, but I'm actually quite obsessed with knitting.  However, ever since Little Homestead came along, I haven't had much time for knitting, or any of the other arts I love that have to do with knitting.  I still dabble in a couple side businesses that have to do with knitting (here and here), but I don't get any actual knitting time.  

So I've concentrated my efforts on things that I love that help my family - cooking, home decorating, finance, etc.  And some of them actually go hand-in-hand, like finance and cooking.

One of the ways I'm trying to help keep our expenses down is by cooking at home more and eating out less...especially at work.  When I was job-hunting after our move to CA, I really got into making things from scratch - different kinds of bread, bagels, and other baked goods.  I learned many substitutions for dairy so I could make some of Mr. Homesteader's favorite meals that he could no longer eat due to his milk allergy - his grandma's chocolate covered cherries, green bean casserole for Thanksgiving, macaroni and cheese, etc.

Last week Mr. Homesteader was watching Diners, Drive-In's, and Dives and saw a thick tomato sauce that had his taste buds salivating.  After much thought and preparation, I attempted to make such a sauce for him.  I combined several recipes I found online as well as had honed over the past couple years of cooking for the family. 

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Garlic, 1 head
Roma tomatoes, 10 medium
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Carrot, 1 medium, chopped
Celery, 3 small stalks, chopped
Onion, 1/2 large, chopped
Tomato paste, 1 small can
Red Wine, 1/2 cup
Beef Stock, 1/2 cup
Italian Seasoning, 2 tsp
Cinnamon, 1 pinch
Ground Beef 1 lb
Spaghetti, 1 lb
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.  Cut the tip off the head of garlic to reveal the tops of the cloves.  Peel back the outer wrapping.  Place on a small sheet of tin foil and drown in olive oil.  Wrap up.  Place on cookie sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes.  When it's done, unwrap and squeeze to get the garlic out of the head.  It should just smoosh out and you can add it into the tomato sauce below.

Slice an "X" into the end of each tomato.  Put into boiling water for 60 seconds, then remove into an ice bath.  This will make the skins peel off the tomato uber-easily.  With this batch, they were peeling themselves off as I took them out of the water.

Once the tomatoes are cool to the touch, peel the skins off and quarter.  If you want, you can also seed the tomatoes.  These ones didn't have a ton of seeds (at least, I don't notice them eating the final product, but next time I will probably squeeze out the innards when I'm cutting them up...just to see the difference.
Put the quartered tomatoes into a dutch oven on medium/medium-low heat.  Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are broken down.

In the meantime, chop the carrot, celery, and onion.  Put into a pan with extra virgin olive oil over medium heat and saute until tender.  Add in tomato paste and stir to combine.  Let cook for a few minutes to let the tomato paste "wake up".  Add the red wine to deglaze and let reduce a few minutes, to cook out the wine flavor.

When the tomatoes are broken down, stir in the vegetable mixture and the garlic and let cook for another 30 minutes for the flavors to combine.  Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until as smooth as you desire.  Add in the beef stock and spices and continue to cook on low for 2-3 hours, until the color has deepened and the sauce is thick.

Brown the hamburger meat and add into the sauce.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Combine with the sauce and enjoy!

I pretty much nailed it the first time out.  Which generally means I'll never be able to make it just right ever again. Knowing me, I'll continue to tweak it just a little each time, anyway.  I already have my eye on subbing out the cinnamon for some cloves, and maybe adding some bacon.  Oh, and making tomato paste from scratch, natch.  In time, I'll end up with two completely different recipes.  But for now, lunches this week have been very, very yummy.