Showing posts from June, 2014

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Hobbies

This week is  quick and easy because we are super busy with tech week for our latest theatrical endeavor:

This is not unrelated to this post, by the way. We're going to save a little money this week by

Adjusting our hobby budget to reflect changes in interests.

We keep a pretty detailed budget for the household, and our current line item for "hobbies" is set for $97.50 per month. This was based on our actual spending on things like road races and triathlons (Kirk), figure skating lessons (me), and production fees for local plays (both of us). (The kids are not included in this, as their lessons and activities are a separate item in the budget.)

Since we're adults and no longer actually need to be so very well-rounded in our ongoing education, this is an easy place to cut back. It's also an easy place to double check and make sure the budget reflects our current reality.

Turns out, it doesn't. I have stopped skating in recent years in favor of spending more ti…

Summer Peach Ice Cream

We're nowhere near having ripe peaches yet, but I saved a portion of last year's bumper crop especially for ice cream making. To do that, I puréed a quart of super-ripe peaches in the Cuisinart and put them in the basement freezer until we wanted them.
Turns out that since we stuffed our faces with peach pie and chutney and jam all year, we never ended up making the peach ice cream, and the puree just sat in the freezer all winter long. Now that summer is officially here, this is a perfect post-solstice treat.

Summer Peach Ice Cream
2 cups milk 1 1/2 cup sugar 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. vanilla 2 cups half and half 4 cups heavy cream 4 cups peach purée juice of half a lemon
Scald the milk until bubbles form around the edges, then remove from heat. Stir in the sugar and salt until they dissolve, then add vanilla, half and half, and heavy cream. Stir well and chill for 30 minutes. Stir the juice of one lemon into the pureed peaches (unless you already did this before you froze it, which…

Freezing Strawberries

Strawberry season has officially arrived! The Honeoye strawberries that we added to our patch last year are now ready to bear, and they are chock full of big, delicious berries. This variety is June-bearing, so we have tons of berries ripening all at once — more than we can eat! 
It's time to start preserving them. 
I really want to make some strawberry jam, but the next couple of weeks are just too busy to embark on a new canning project. That's the kind of thing best done once summer vacation has started and I can devote a whole day to the task.
In the meantime, though, we have to do something with the four quarts of berries I just picked. The easiest method, by far, is to freeze the berries whole. Here's all you need to get started:

Lots of freshly picked, rinsed-off berries, a cutting board, and a knife. (Make sure your knife is sharp and your board is one you don't mind getting stained with red berry juice.)
First, slice off the tops of the berries to remove the …

Herbal Apothecary: Comfrey Poultice

I'm not sure what happened, but all my weekends out in the garden have done a real number on my lips. Lots of sunshine and wind have left them very dry. They are cracked at the corners. Last weekend I put sunscreen right over them, and (while important to keep them from getting burned) it just left them even drier.
I don't have a "before" photo of this, and you should be glad. It wasn't pretty. They were so dry that they felt crispy and were peeling, and no amount of lip balm was enough to help.
Enter my new favorite medicinal herb, comfrey:

Comfrey has been used to heal cuts and burns on the skin since medieval times, when it was known as knitbone due to its healing properties. I usually just use it when I make soaps and lotions, since it is supposed to be healing and soothing to the skin. With my lips in such a state, though, I thought I could see if something a little stronger would help. So I decided to make a comfrey poultice.
To do this, I picked three youn…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Faucet Aerator

That home energy assessment we had back in April is the gift that keeps on giving. In addition to the free light bulbs and the low-cost insulation, there was another conservation freebie. We're using it to
Save money on the utilities by installing faucet aerators.
This was extra cheap and easy because the guy from MassSave did it for us, and gave us the new aerator for free:

Our old faucet aerator allowed 2.2 gallons per minute, but the new one cuts that flow to 1.5 gallons per minute. This doesn't feel any different for the washing of hands, and it doesn't look any different, either:

Using less water here cuts costs in two ways. First, you save on the water and sewer bill itself. Second, you also save on the electricity used to heat the water. I found a handy online calculator to figure out exactly how much we'll be saving in the guest bath now, and it comes to about $30 per year.

Not bad for a freebie that required no actual effort on my part at all!

Savings per month…

June Is Busting Out All Over

Despite the cutworm scourge, the rose slug infestation, and spring's slow, cold start, June has finally arrived. And with that comes lots of color in the cutting garden:

Here you can see yarrow, poppies, and lupines. Those yellow lupines have been a wonderful surprise. I planted them just last year, and this spring they have come up three times the size that they were. They are growing straight and tall, and look really great. There are some other flowers here too, and I gathered up an armful of them to bring inside before the rain comes again:

In the vase are the yellow lupines, pink irises and poppies, white Siberian irises, some red yarrow, and some purple salvia (that last one's in the front and a bit hard to see in the shadow). 
June is the very best time for garden flowers here: It’s the time just in between spring's rain and summer's heat. I haven't added any plants to the cutting garden this year, but instead decided to wait out a season and see what reall…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Electricity Supply Rate, Part 2

We did this about six months ago, but smart shoppers will always be on the lookout for ways to

Lower electric bills by choosing the cheapest supplier possible.

Back in the winter I switched our electricity supplier to Verde Energy, which offered a lower price for electricity than National Grid's winter rate. That was a six-month contract locked in at 8.99 cents per kilowatt/hour, but starting this month they will switch us to their variable rate, which could (and most likely will) be higher than their promotional rate.

Even if it's not, coming to the end of the contract means that it's time to look around and see if we can do better. Sure, this is a task that takes a little work in the research department, but this is quick and easy thanks to National Grid's helpful list of possible providers. It really doesn't take all that long to click through each, check rates and terms of service, and make a choice.

I didn't think I would find anything cheaper than National…

Please Don't Eat the Roses

While soaking up the sunshine and giving the perennial border a once-over (weeding, deadheading, general inspecting) this weekend, I noticed a pretty serious problem with the White-Out roses there:

Not certain you see see the problem? Compare to this photo taken just two weeks ago:

So where there used to be two big, full, green rose bushes, we now have two crispy brown ones. (Although if I'm being honest, that photo above isn't without some warning signs that I failed to notice. The brown you can see easily are actually pretty harmless dried rose hips from the previous season, but when I zoomed in on my the file in iPhoto, I could see the beginnings of spotting on the good leaves.)
Anyway, here's a closer look at the damage, which is extensive:

The leaves look lacy and brown, crispy and dry. But with all the rain and cool temps we've had this spring, that didn't make much sense. 
Some internet research brought me to the Missouri Botanical Garden, and they have an …

Real Baby Carrots

I'm trying to remember the last time we had carrots. It must have been some time over the winter that we ate the last ones we had — maybe February? Those are the breaks when you're (irrationally?) committed to seasonal eating: the ups and downs of feast and famine.
So when I was out in the garden thinning the carrots today, they looked (and smelled!) so tasty that I couldn't bear to compost them. Instead, I saved the nicest ones: 

These are what real baby carrots look like, by the way. Well, almost. This photo was taken after I twisted off the leafy tops:

So the bucket of greens and too-tiny roots went straight to the chickens. Next to cherry tomatoes, carrot tops are their favorite treat.
The big baby carrots were washed and trimmed and added to our dinner salad:

They are tiny, so oh-so-delicious — especially after several months without carroty goodness on my plate.  Plus it gave a nice vitamin boost to our summery hot dogs (which, it should be obvious to Lehigh Valley …

The Problem With Dolley

Our champion egg-layer, Dolley:

She's my favorite chicken, and I think this photo gives a good sense of why. She's got a winning personality: friendly like a dog, curious like a cat. She was inspecting my shiny phone when I took this picture, and the cheeky monkey pecked right at the lens just a second later.  
All that and a basket of eggs.
Up until she molted this winter, Dolley could be counted on to lay an egg every day. She was a machine!
But now she's not.
The kids aren't even sure exactly when they last picked up an egg from Dolley (hers are the dark brown ones, and they are easy to tell apart from the rest). Usually, if you see anything at all in the nesting box, it looks like this:

It would appear that Dolley has been eating her eggs before we can get to them. Even other birds' eggs in the nesting boxes have been pecked at, but not destroyed. This must be the downside of her otherwise lovable chicken-y curiosity: She pecks at everything, and she has now d…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Milk

I'm not sure if this one will be helpful to anyone else or not, but we've started looking at our spending on groceries, and found an easy way to save cash by

Stopping our weekly milk delivery and buying it at the store instead.

You read that correctly: We had a milk man bring our milk to us once a week in a lovely, old-fashioned kind of way. It was fun, and the milk was delicious, which I attribute to the glass bottles:

It's also not ultra-pasteurized, so you could use it to make cheese and yogurt and get better results than with milk that is pasteurized to travel greater distances and sit on store shelves for longer periods. (The downside of this is that the expiration date is forreal, and almost uncannily accurate.)
So we loved this milk, and if you want to give home delivery from a local dairy a try, Catamount Farms is a great way to go. 
It's expensive for people in the middle of trimming their expenses, and it turned out to be a no-brainer area to cut back on…