Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Home Canning: Tomato Soup August 13, 2014

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 2:32 am
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When my husband was truck driving for long haul companies, we found out quickly that home canning meals for him to take on the truck was a huge savings to our monthly budget. It was also far more healthy for him than the fast foods found at truck stops. One of his favorite soups is a Tomato Soup that I make.

This recipe is very easy to follow. The only ingredient in the soup which you may not regularly stock in your pantry is the tomato juice. The jars of soup are processed by waterbath, though you can do it in a pressure canner if desired. The resulting soup is slightly thick like the cans of condensed tomato soup you buy at the market. Depending on your personal preference, you can eat the soup as it is or thin it a bit with water or milk.

Before starting the recipe, prepare your jars. Make sure they are clean and ready to go. Always inspect the jar rims before each canning session to make sure there are no flaws that could prevent a good seal. It is also a good time to take your flat lids and set them to simmer in hot water. This will help to insure a good seal when the jars are processed.

Tomato Soup for canning
*Makes about 11 pints of soup

1 cup butter (I don’t recommend substituting with margarine)
8 tsp. Salt
3 Tbsp, finely minced fresh onion
4 bottles of tomato juice
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp. Pepper

In a large stock pot, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and heat until dissolved. Add flour, making a rue, by stirring until blended into a smooth consistency. If necessary, add a bit of the tomato juice to aid in making the rue. Once the flour mixture is smooth, start stirring in the remaining tomato juice. Add the salt, pepper, and onion. Mix well. Cook one minute, stirring constantly to blend the seasonings into the mixture.

Carefully ladle the soup into clean, sterile jars. Wipe the rims with a clean cloth to remove any soup that may be on the rim. Add the flat lids and attach the rings to hold the lids in place while processing.

I process the jars by waterbath method. To do this, you place the jars in your waterbath canner, using the rack that came with your canner, and cover the jars completely with water so they are fully submerged. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, start timing the processing. I process pint jars for 1 hour and quart jars for 1 ½ hours.

Please note: Whenever you are canning, always try to match the temperature of the water in your canner to the temperature of the jars going into it. If you add hot jars to cold water, or vise versa, the jar can break. Learned this myself when I got into a hurry one day. The bottle of the jar broke cleanly off the jars and I lost all the food in that jar. What a waste!

I have used a pressure canner to process this soup. In those situations, I process pints for 25 minutes and quarts for 35 minutes under the pressure level for our elevation.

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Frugal Remodeling July 21, 2014

Filed under: homesteading,off grid,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:08 am
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One of the aspects of living in on old home that we are very aware of is that the old homestead house needs remodeling.  Not necessarily a total updating of the home, but simple cosmetic upgrades.  Some of the plans that we have are more involved than others.  Our home was built about 1890 and is the oldest inhabited structure still standing in our small rural community.  With that age, there are definite changes that need to be made.  Here is a list of some of the upcoming projects.

First, we will be lowering the tall ceilings.  This is to help lower costs of heating the home in winter as well as to allow us to better insulate the ceiling.  We will only be lowering the ceilings by about 1 foot, but it will make quite a difference once winter comes.

Next, we are putting down new flooring.  When my husband served in the Navy, the ships her served on had a rubberized material as flooring.  This material indulated the floors very well and was easy to maintain.  We checked at the home improvement centers and a similar product can be purchased there.  We plan to put it in nearly every room.  The house was built with a crawl space under it.  Each year, the floor becomes cold from the winter winds blowing under the house.  This flooring will help to prevent that.  It will also give the kids a warmer and more cushioned surface to play on.

For lighting, we are looking at buying the old fashioned propane gas lights.  These work in a similar way as the camp lanterns in that you burn a mantle.  The gas lights are very safe and modern versions of the old lights are readily sold for use in Amish or other off-grid homes.  These lights are mounted as sconces on the wall, so will be well out of the children’s reach.  Because they give off heat, we will likely use them more in the winter.  Summer months, the daylight lasts plenty long enough to meet out needs without much additional lighting needed.  As they do now, the kids will still have battery operated lanterns for lighting their bedrooms.  This has proven to be the safest option.  Small decorative lights can be found even at the Dollar Tree type stores.  These usually take 2 of the AAA batteries.  For each child’s lantern, I find myself changing batteries only about once every week or two, depending on the time of year.  The batteries are also purchased at Dollar Tree, so the cost for their lighting is very low.   I have tried the solar lights for them, but the small ones only give out enough light to be used as a nightlight.  Never enough to illuminate the bedroom sufficiently for them to play in the room on early winter evenings before bedtime.  My husband and I still use oil lamps on high shelves.  Currently, we go through a 5 gallon container of kerosene once every 2-3 months if used for lighting the lamps alone.  In winter when lamps are lit for longer amounts of time, the usage is about 5 gallons every 4-6 weeks.

One of the main resources that we are planning to use with our remodeling are businesses that sell reclaimed or factory seconds lumber and building supplies.  Just by using the factory seconds in lumber, we can save over 50% of the cost for building materials.  We found a business that sells this type of product up in Tulsa.  It will be a long drive (nearly 80 miles) to reach the business, but the savings will make the trip worth while.

I found the business by doing an internet search for “recycled reclaimed construction lumber Oklahoma”.  Yeah, it was quite a long search topic but it gave the results we were looking for.  There are many such businesses across the USA.  This one happens to sell not just the lumber, but flooring and roofing materials as well.

We are still planning to build our own wind turbine and expand our solar panel system.  Harbor Freight sells solar panels for far less than many other retailers.  Being as we do not have a house full of electricity using appliances and such, the systems from Harbor Freight will be more than sufficient.

In short, the remodel is more cosmetic than anything.  We are going to relay the plumbing to get rid of the PVC pipes which easily can freeze during an Oklahoma winter.  A subzero outdoor faucet will also be installed at the water faucet near the porch.  A new bathroom is being designed by my darling husband.  Putting in new insulation and more efficient windows is also in the plans.  The house, once done, will be far easier to heat in winter and keep cool in summer.

I can’t wait to get started.  Soon, we will be heading out and buying the first of many trailer loads of supplies to get started.  In the meantime, I am going to be sorting out more things to donate.  There are boxes that have not been looked into for several months upwards to a year or more.  Those are easily going to be donated since we have had no need for the items in those boxes in all this time.  End goal is to have less stuff and keep only what is necessary.  That particular goal has never changed.  Only my definitions of what is needed has undergone adjustments.

 

Homemade Air Fresheners December 1, 2013

I typically buy the little gel pellet style air fresheners from Dollar Tree.  These pellets come in a jar with a vented lid.  As the gel pellets dry out, they shrink until becoming hard little beads.  I had a couple of the jars right now that have fully dried up.  Instead of throwing the container and all away, I came up with a couple of ideas for recycling these jars.

Idea #1  Use the jars for moth balls.  If you ever have stored your clothes only to find that a mouse or other damaging pest has gotten to your clothing, you know that adding moth balls will repel most pests.  Fill the empty jars with the moth balls.  Tuck them into your clothing storage shelves around the boxes or into a large tote.

Idea #2  Fill the jars with potpourri of your favorite scents.  A favorite mixture that I like in the kitchen is to place a blend of broken cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole allspice, and dried orange peels.

Idea #3  I found a wonderfully easy recipe for making homemade gel-type air fresheners on One Good Thing by Jillee.  The ingredients are very simple: liquid potpourri, unflavored gelatin, and salt.  A second recipe that she shares in her tutorial used water and essential oils in place of the liquid potpourri.  I would recommend testing the containers first by placing hot water in them to make sure they are heat safe.

For those times when you need a spray, here is a very easy recipe.  In a small dish mix together 1 Tablespoon of baking soda and 2-3 drops of your favorite essential oil scent.  Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and fill with water.  Shake to dissolve the baking soda.  Use just as you would a store-bought freshener.  You can adjust the strength of the scent by adding more essential oil.  This mixture is safe for using on furniture or anything that needs a bit of freshening.  Knowing the benefits of aromatherapy, I am thinking of making some in a lavender scent to use on bed pillows.

Learning to make your own fresheners, you can easily customize the scents to meet any aromatherapy needs that you may have.  Aromaweb has over 60 recipes for making your own aromatherapy blends.

While I am at it, I am going to throw this link out here.  Frugal by Choice blog has the recipe for making homemade “Vicks” shower disks.

Enjoy!

 

 

Frugal Crafting Challenge November 3, 2013

Filed under: Crafting,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:33 am
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If you enjoy making crafts, sewing, crochet, etc., them you know how quickly the supplies can take over. Often, we buy supplies ahead of time or when on sale only to have those supplies sit unused for extended time periods. So, here is my challenge. For the next week, using only the supplies that you have on hand, make a craft, holiday decoration, or gift.  No purchasing new supplies! Use only what you have among your supply stash. 

One you have done this, feel free to post about or in the comments or share a link to your blog where you posted about the item(s) you made during the challenge.

Let’s see how creative we can be!

 

Simplifying Your Life….Really? April 19, 2013

Filed under: homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:07 am
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I have been reading blogs lately and a question has come to mind. In many of the simple living themed blogs (sadly, mine included) I see a pattern. We start out with the goal in mind of simplifying our lives. Please know that I am not talking about a life of ease from work, just getting rid of the excess and junk in our lives that bog us down. It is an attitude of focusing on what is truly important in our lives and less on what society would have us believe to be vital.

Over time, for some the time frame is longer than others, the message of the blogs change. I read about women who are trying so many different ways to simplify that they are in effect causing more unnecessary work and stress for themselves. Let me give you some examples. These are NOT ones copied from any other blog but are hypothetical in nature to state a point.

Blogger #1 is trying to cut back on grocery expenses by making all her family’s meals from scratch. At first, she is learning to make homemade pasta, bread, and other pantry staples in an effort to buy less packaged foods and cut back on her grocery costs each month. After a while, you notice that she is spending quite a bit of money buying ingredients that are costing enough that you realize that she is likely spending even more on the groceries than when she started out.

Blogger #2 is sewing for her family to save money. While a great idea to know how to make your family’s clothing should the need arise, she is spending so much on fabric & sewing supplies that you wonder where the true savings come into play.

Blogger #3 is a trend blogger. She reads new ideas on other blogs and gets so excited about trying the ideas for herself that she inadvertently spends more money and makes more work for herself. Case in point, a blogger that gets so caught up in making a wide variety of homemade cleaning supplies instead of making 2-3 that will work on everything.

In the above examples, here is what concerns me. Blogger #1 started out with the right idea of trying to be more frugal in her grocery spending. Unfortunately, like so many others, she decides to try and recreate packaged foods in her home in a way that is not financially a wise choice. For example, I can buy a large frozen veggie lazagne for about $12 that is more than large enough for a family meal. To make that same lazagne would cost me far more by the time I bought the fresh produce, sauce, cheeses, etc. The only way I could make it cheaper is if I used fresh produce from my own garden. If I were devoted to never buying packaged/convenience foods, then making the recipe when my garden is not in season would cost more than buying packaged. On the same note, unless I am great about recycling containers, stocking my pantry with homemade mixes would be costly. Far better to learn to make a single recipe of those items. This is especially true if the mix is not one that you use on a regular basis.

Blogger #2 is wanting to sew for her family. If the purpose is to learn how to make the clothing, that is great. But does the cost of supplies, along with the increased workload, make it worth your while? Wouldn’t it be more frugal to shop at yard sales or consignment shops instead? Personally, I think any homesteading mom should have a good basic knowledge of how clothing is constructed so that she can make repairs to extend the life of the family’s wardrobes. But are we truly making the right choice if we are spending more for the sake of being able to say that we made it all ourselves?

Blogger #3 is a tough one. There are so many ideas adn recipes out there that when taken individually would be a savings of money for the family. Adding too many of them together can defeat your purposes. For example, a common attitude is that for every type of cleaning, you need a special type of cleaner. This hype was started by the cleaning product companies to sell more product lines. If you take a critical look at your home, you will find that you need very few cleaners. To really save money, you simply find the 2-3 recipes that will work on as many surfaces as possible. The trends are not just with cleaning products but with many areas of our lives as we become more self-reliant. Just because John & Jane Doe are storing 400 lbs of wheat doesn’t mean that you need to consider the same thing. If another person is saying how critical it is to raise your own meat, you don’t have to rush out there and buy livestock. There are other ways to accomplish the same ends without taking on work and expense you may not be able to afford.

There is a little of me in each of these bloggers. I have had my moments of insanity when I thought I had to do it all in order to be self-reliant. Over time, I found that I was just being silly in my spending of our resources. Not just in the resource of money, but my time and work. In the past, I have made up a large supply of mixes that took over 6 months to use. Now, if I make up a mix, I make only what will be used within a month. This saves not only the expense but storage space. I may keep the ingredients for the mixes well stocked, but I don’t make the mixes themselves unless I have a need for them.

I have learned to buy clothing at thrift stores or yard sales. Often, I have been able to find like new clothing for less than $2.00. In one instance, I bought myself a skirt, with the original store tags still on it, for only $1.00 at a yard sale. There are some clothing items that I refuse to buy secondhand, such as underclothing, but nearly anything else can be found for pennies on the dollar and in very good or like new condition.

In following trends or jumping on ideas that others present, I never saved us money in the long run. Cleaning supplies is a hot topic among DIY blogs. I find that in our home I only need to make 3 cleaners: an all-purpose cleaner, laundry soap, and fabric softener. The all-purpose cleaner will clean nearly everything. If I want to wash windows, then I simply mix white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. The laundry soap serves well as a dish soap. You can add a bit of orange oil to it if you wanted, but it isn’t essential.

The point is, when you take a look at how you are working to simplify your life and save money, are you really reaching that goal or are you making things harder on yourself both in work and finacially?

 

Recycled Containers in the Pantry April 18, 2013

I wanted to share a simple and frugal idea. I saw a great idea on TV while spending a few days with a dear friend a couple of months ago. They showed a family who used 2-liter soda bottles for storing rice. That got me thinking.

With many grains or items like powdered milk, you have to watch out for pantry pests such as weevils. Those little buggers will eat their way through paper packaging to get to the dry goods. Many times I have opened a brand new package of saltine crackers and found that weevils had gotten to them. Same thing has happened with various grains, including rice, flour, and powdered milk. If you store these in bulk amounts, such as a large 4-gallon bucket, you can lose the entire bucket of food if weevils happen to have been in the smaller package purchased at the store. What happens is that the weevil can get into the food at the store or warehouse. When you empty it into a larger bulk container at home, yoou have just contaminated the entire supply. This is where creative storage comes in handy.

I don’t use much soda, but we do use a lot of juice. The juice bottles that we get are flat enough that when laying on their side, you can easily stack them. I am using these for rice, oatmeal, granulated sugar, and any other item small enough to easily pour from the bottle. Things like brown sugar are stored in wide mouth containers such as peanut butter jars. I love the fact that if something gets in one container, it won’t cross-contaminate into the entire supply. Case in point, I had a peanut butter container of grits. Weevils got into it and I was able to toss out that one container instead of all the supply. I purposely will buy the amount of an item needed to fill new containers. Unless it is something like sea salt, I typically won’t add new supply to the previously purchased supply. I am able to better rotate my stock this way as well as lessen the chance of contamination should I get a bad batch from the store. With the amount of juice that we drink, I easily have the ready supply of juice bottles ready to be used.

One new idea that I am going to start doing is to buy a pint container of dried herbs at a time. I have certain dried herbs that I use very often. By buying a pint container worth of the herbs at a time, I can fill a peanut butter jar with the herbs. I purchase my herbs in bulk from a health food store for far less than what a grocery store charges. Once I am able to get the herb garden fully established, I will dry my own herbs instead of buying them. Until then, this is my most economical way of getting the culinary herbs that I need.

What inventive ways do you have for storing your pantry supplies?

 

Recycled Convenience March 26, 2013

Filed under: family,green living,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 9:11 pm
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I have been taking note of the prices of the serving size packages of yogurt and other foods that we enjoy. It is ridiculous to see how pricey most of these can be.

About 2 weeks ago, I stopped at a KFC to get some lunch for the kids and I. They have the small reuseable plastic containers for their individual orders of side dishes. We saved the containers to reuse when we got home.

I bought a quart size container of yogurt at the store for about $2.50. Using the containers from KFC, I filled up 4 of them to make the kids their own individual servings of yogurt. A 4-pack of yogurt, in the same measurement, costs $1.88 if you buy the Great Value brand from Walmart. The quart size yogurt container is still 3/4 full. This means that I should easily get 12 of those KFC containers worth of yogurt from that quart. If I bought 12 of the individual yogurts at a rate of $1.88 per 4-pack, that comes out to $5.64. By making up my own using recycled containers and buying a quart of the same brand of yogurt, I can get those 12 individual serving for $2.50 or a savings of $3.14. In other words, I can get double the amount (24 individual servings) and still be 64¢ under the price of buying 3 of the 4-packs of yogurt. If you make your own yogurts the savings are even better of course.

I do this same type of thing with jello and puddings. Instead of buying the snack containers, make a box of jello or pudding but divide it into individual serving containers before refrigerating. The convenience is still the same in that you have grab & go containers, but you are spending far less.

I look back at all the snack size packaging that we used to purchase and I cringe. We wasted so much money back then. Now, we are doing it a lot cheaper. The kids still have their snacks available, but we are smarter about the costs. Filling the containers takes only a couple of minutes of my time. Well worth the savings!

You can take this idea to other areas. One is to buy (or make your own) trail mix in large quantity. Using small containers, repackage the trail mix into serving size portions. This again will cut down the expense.

If you have access to a health food store that sells unflavored gelatin in bulk bins, buy it that way instead of buying boxes of jello or packets of knox gelatin. To make your own jello, mix 1 Tablespoon of unflavored gelatin to 2 cups of fruit juice. No sugar is used as the juice is already naturally sweet.

There are many homemade granola recipes available online. Add dried fruits and nuts of your choice to make your own healthy snacks or cereals. As with everything else, you can use recycled containers to make your own individual snack packets.

As you look around your kitchen or pantry, take note of the containers that you can reuse for other purposes. By contrast really noet how much trash you will be tossing out once the single use containers are emptied. It can be quite an education! I now look at most containers at the store. If I can get the same or similar product in a package that can be reused or better yet, composed or burned, then I will buy those before buying a container that is single use. This alone can save you money as well.