Coffee heat rising

Saturday Roundup: A day late and a dollar short edition

This weekend’s round-up of interesting and entertaining posts is a day late because I spent yesterday shopping, cleaning house, and preparing dinner for friends. A great time was had by all: following a Julia Child recipe for beef bourguignon, I turned a pot roast into something awesome.

A dollar short because pot roast is not pore folks’ food any more. Good grief! In the first place, I couldn’t find a decent roast. Neither Safeway nor Costco had a chuck roast capable of rising to the occasion: Safeway’s was actually chuck steak, an inch or so thick, and the only “chuck roast” in Costco’s meat case was two small pieces wrapped into a single package. Both choices were overpriced, higher than the much larger rump roast that I got on mark-down at the Safeway. By the time I finished buying the meat, some dried noodles, a few stewing vegetables, a box of relatively unadulterated beef broth, and a bottle of cheap wine, the dinner cost almost fifty bucks!

Rump being an altogether-too-chewy cut of lean meat capable of cooking up into shoe leather, I had to bard the darn thing with parboiled bacon fat, a lengthy process and a nuisance. But it turned out more than good enough for government work.

It seemed strange that no beef roasts, to speak of, were available at mid-morning on a Saturday. Are we looking at a meat shortage? Or should we join My First Million in contemplating the possibility of a coming famine?

For those of us who have been reduced to penury by the weekend grocery bill, Catherine Shaffer reminds us that DVDs are to be had for free at the local library; at Wisebread she explains how to get your hands on those perpetually loaned-out new releases and popular television shows. Trent and Mrs. Trent are experimenting with cloth diapers (hope they save enough to cover the cost of the extra diaper rash cream they’ll soon be needing…ouch!). Poorer Than You has an eye-opening post about how to foil those darn messages from your printer that tell you the ink cartridge is almost empty-when it’s not. And over at Get Rich Slowly, the project to track the cost of growing garden vegetables proceeds: so far, JD and Mrs. JD have spent $157.30 to arrive at the robust seedling stage.

The Mac is really annoyed at having been made to do things it didn’t want to do, and now it’s galloping along at the speed of a stampeding snail. So, it’s time to shut everything down and reboot.

Or better yet, to shut everything down and go dine on some leftover pot roast. Outta here! A fine Sunday evening to all!

Friday Frugal Crafts: Cure your own olives

Last Friday, after contemplating the age-old process of preparing dried beans for human consumption, I remembered another ancient food craft lurking in my past: curing fresh olives.

Olive curing dates back at least to ancient Greece, and probably further than that. I do not know how long people have been curing and eating olives, which are unpalatably bitter when picked fresh from the tree. But if you’ll recall, Ali Baba hid from the thieves in an olive jar, so presumably this is a process that stretches back to our remote ancestors.

apr4olivesFirst, you’ll need access to a bearing olive tree. In the United States, these grow mostly in the Southwest, and even here, states such as my own have banned flowering olives, because their pollen is highly allergenic. (Notice that they haven’t outlawed the ponderosa pine, whose extremely irritating pollen drifts from logging country to afflict legions of sufferers-money crops get a pass.) Nevertheless, olive trees are very long-lived, and so if you look around, you’ll probably find an old one in a neighbor’s yard or on public property.

Most people are thrilled to have you pick their olive trees, for they regard the fruit as nothing but a nuisance. Tant pis pour eux, say we!

This recipe calls for ripe olives. So pick the ones that are still on the tree-DO NOT use olives that have fallen on the ground! These will introduce mildew. Choose olives that are cherry red to purple. Dead black ones make a mushy product. To avoid bruising, drop them into a container of water.

Wash the olives and make a small slit down to the pit at the blossom end (opposite stem). Cover with water in a nonmetallic container. Glass or crockery is best; plastic will do. Change the water every day for 5 to 6 weeks to leach out bitterness. When ready, they will be rather tasteless but should still have a slight bite.

Now wash the olives again in clear water and layer with table salt, placing them back into the clean nonmetallic container. Each olive should be well sprinkled. Let them stand five to seven days, pouring off collected liquid daily.

At the end of this period, wash the olives again.

Put them into clean lidded jars. Add your choice of spices (see below) and cover with this pickling solution: 4 Tbsp. salt, 2/3 cup vinegar laced (if desired) with lemon or lime juice, and bottled water to make one quart. Do not use home-made wine vinegar, since its level of acidity is not constant.

Leave an inch or more of headroom in each jar, with all the olives submerged in pickling solution. Add about 1/2 inch of olive oil. If your jar narrows at the top, olive oil should cover the wider part below.

For seasoning, use your spice shelf and your imagination. Combine or use separately garlic, celery seed, dried onion, rosemary, oregano, dill, etc. You can substitute the juice from a jar of dill pickles for all or part of the water.

Jane Reinl’s “Mother India” Olives

To a quart of pickling solution, add 1 tsp. curry powder, 2 tsp. minced dried onion, and 1/2 to 1 tsp. crushed red pepper.

Garlic Dill Olives

To a quart of pickling solution, add 2 Tbsp dried dill and a half-dozen cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced lengthwise.

Fennel Olives

Pulverize a tablespoon or two of fennel seeds in a mortar, an old coffee grinder, or the blender (don’t reduce them to powder-just break them up). Add the pulverized fennel to a quart of pickling solution. If desired, add chopped leaves from a fresh anise bulb.

If you would like to flavor commercially prepared olives with these spices, pour off the liquid and drown the olives in olive oil. Then add the spice combination, experimenting with the flavor until you arrive at the amounts that suit your taste.

Saturday Round-up: Sumer y-cumin’ in edition

The pool is almost warm enough to swim in (assuming you’re a polar bear). I managed to get in up to my waist, but couldn’t bring myself to take the full plunge. Another week of 90-degree days, though, and yahoo! It’ll be everyone into the drink!

My Money Blog has got a lively exchange running about whether financial considerations should play a part in the decision to euthanize a terminally ill (or maybe just a pretty sick) pet.

At Freelance Switch, Robert Janelle reflects on the cheesiness of freelance bidding sites, something I’ve had occasion to notice, too. Thanks, Robert!

Along those lines, Ramit at I Will Teach You to be Rich hosts an article by Free Money Finance proprietor FMF, who explores the best ways to make extra money. And at Millionaire Mommy Next Door, Erica Douglass reflects on a common mistake women make in starting a new business.

At Wise Bread, they’re talking about David De Franza’s speculation that Europe soon will again become an affordable travel destination for Americans. Money, Matter, and More Musings posts a rant about passport photo ripoffs and offers a clue to how to get 32 copies of an acceptable picture at a rock-bottom price.

Be This Way has an entertaining post on “saving by delusion,” a way to make yourself save, and also on the general subject of the psychology of money, Plonkee offers several excellent excuses for spending on clothes. Mrs. Micah is pleased that she and Mr. M. saved a chunk of dough on prescription drugs with YourRxCard.

Finally, J.D. at Get Rich Slowly points out the wisdom of asking after discounts and forgiveness for finance charges. A$k and ye shall re¢eive!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

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1 Comment

Mrs. Micah

Not quite that warm here, but pleasant enough. 🙂 Thanks for mentioning the post…they’re pretty exciting cards.

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Frugal Household Hints: Vinegar is sweet

Vinegar is the cheapest household cleaner around. Nothing does a better job of cutting through a film of grease.

1. Put vinegar in a squirt bottle (you can dilute it about 50-50 with water). Spray the kitchen counter and wipe dry with a soft cloth or paper towel.
2. Spray mirrors or windows with vinegar. Wipe dry with a microfiber cloth.
3. Pour about a cupful of vinegar into the dishwasher before adding detergent and running the cleaning cycle. This will eliminate hardwater film, especially if you use an enzyme detergent.
4. Pour 50-50 vinegar and water into your steam iron. Let it sit for an hour. Then turn the iron to “Linen,” hold it over the sink, and squirt steam out of it until the reservoir is mostly empty. Drain; refill with plain water, and drain again. After the iron is cool, wipe the sole clean.
5. Soak a paper towel or small rag with vinegar. Wrap it around a calcium-crusted spigot. Layer a piece of plastic wrap over it and secure with a rubber band or wire tie. Let stand for several hours. Remove vinegar wrap and use a plastic scrubber to clean off mineral gunk. (Do not try this on fancy finishes!)
6. To polish copper: first put on a pair of rubber gloves. Wet tarnished copper with vinegar. Sprinkle with salt. Rub with a sponge or rag. Rinse well. (Do not even think of trying this on silver!)

Got other uses for vinegar? Please share!

Make a New Year’s to-do list

In my experience, New Year’s resolutions fade from memory along about January 7. Several reasons for this: we make unrealistic vows (“I will lose 100 pounds this year”); we cast our resolutions as broad generalizations rather than as specifics (“I will put more money into savings”); we ask ourselves to do things that don’t fit into our routine or are out of character (“I will teach myself to play bongo drums”), or are downright impossible (“and I will learn to play a Bach cantata on the bongo drums”).

What if, instead of resolving to achieve some broad goal, we made a checklist, the very sort of checklist that helps many of us get things done in an ordinary day or week? Instead of stating a wish, a to-do list tells you how to get through the process of accomplishing things. It speaks in specifics, not generalities. And a to-do list, being a pragmatic sort of device, is likely to fit in to the life we are already leading. On that theory, here is my 2008 to-do list:

1. Three days a week, add bicycling or mountain park hiking to exercise routine
2. Lose five to ten pounds by

a) staying off the sauce,
b) increasing exercise as above, and
c) continuing to eat lots of whole foods and less sugar & refined grain

3. Bring food to the office instead of ponying up $8 for the miserable restaurant fodder that passes as lunch
4. Drink tea, not coffee, and less of it
5. Learn to put widgets on iWeb pages
6. Join four social networking sites
7. Aim for two no-purchase days a week
8.Snowflake the Renovation Loan principal down by $1,000 (that’s $83.30 a month)
9. Invest $250 a month in an interest-bearing account to build liquid savings and to provide the option of paying off Renovation Loan within five years
10. Invest net income from side job (approx. $3500 a semester) in the same interest-bearing account
11. Wear better clothes to the office, using the wardrobe now expanded by after-Christmas clothing purchases
12. Try to wangle a Power Mac from the university
13. Build cross-campus collaboration by trying to land another research assistantship to be staffed by grad students in the publishing program
14. Build new ways to mentor graduate students and reinforce editorial training
15. Make new friends

a) through Meetup.com
b) rejoin the choir

As a list of New Year’s resolutions, this would be way too long. It could be cast as six broad, eminently forgettable goals: reduce stress, build readership for Funny about Money, pay down the Renovation Loan, save more money, improve job performance, and meet new people.

As a to-do list, it contains no more items to accomplish than I normally accrue for a single day. I think it’ll work.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? I challenge you to accomplish as many of yours as I will of mine! Meet me here after each quarter of 2008 to compare notes. See you in three months-and sooner, I hope.