SoBo Mama's Tips & Tricks











{January 2, 2013}   I Can….
Under Pressure

Under Pressure (Photo credit: Sharon Drummond)

Over the past few years, I have worked on becoming more self-sufficient.  It is often cheaper and healthier to do things “the old-fashioned way.”  In my mind’s eye, I am in Grandma Betty’s “fruit room,” grabbing jars of fresh water salmon and homemade applesauce for dinner.  I don’t think I had store-bought jelly till I was in Middle School.  At the time, these were reminders that we didn’t have as much money as the Westscott’s or Hurley’s.  I didn’t appreciate all of the work that went into picking and prepping and canning.  I dreaded the summer days picking green beans and berries.  Now I know that each of those jars was seasoned with love.

I love opening the door to my pantry and seeing all of the jars of sauce and jelly lining the shelves.  Very rarely do I share any of the things I make.  At Christmas this year, I did give away a couple of jars and at New Year’s I opened a jar of Blueberry Blush to share with the girls.  The problem for me was vegetables.  Chili.  Green beans.  Corn.  Potatoes.  My grocery would run great sales, and I couldn’t take advantage.  All of those low-acid foods you cannot can in a water bath canner.

Last Christmas, knowing I was in such a pickle with my canning journey, Dad and Jobeth bought me a pressure canner.  It’s the coolest thing, and I can cook dry beans and make huge batches of foods.

And it sat on top of the freezer for a year.

Because I’ve not been making time to can.

And I don’t know what I’d like to can.

And I know that it is time-consuming.

And I’ve not made the time.  Until today.

New Year’s Eve I made eight quarts of Magical Mystery Beans (and no, I won’t share the complete recipe).  I filled my biggest Pampered Chef pot to the brim.  And since it was a small gathering this year, we had plenty left over. And while I am all about leftovers, Grizzly and the Monkeys burn out really quickly.

“We sure have plenty of beans, Babe,” he tells me yesterday, with a not-so-excited look on his unshaven face as he examined the contents (lack of contents) in the fridge.  I could see his brain rewinding to the last time he made a brisket and nobody showed up.  How many ways can you use leftover brisket?  I came up with about seven before Grizzly started running to Little Caesar’s on his way home in the evenings.

No fear, Big Guy!  I’m getting adventurous and playing with the pressure canner today!

I ran several quart jars through the dishwasher as I read the instruction book for the canner. I filled and cleaned rims and all that jazz till I had 6 jars in the canner.

And we’re down to 19 minutes still on the timer.

"Home Canning Vegetables Out Of The Press...

I’m excited because I love to make chili and some different convenience foods like that and don’t necessarily like freezing everything.  So if this works well, there will be more pressure canning in my future. It’s more time-consuming than I’d like but I think it is worth it in the end to have those jars full of love in my pantry.

~ Katie

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{December 1, 2012}   Your Friend, Your Freezer

Refrigerator

 

The price of disorganization is high.  You end up with late charges on bills that aren’t paid on time, often leading to higher interest.  You duplicate purchases that you don’t intend.  Your spaces are not used to their fullest potential.

 

I’ve been there.

 

On my journey to the land of cheaptitude, I’ve really started to focus on my home.  If my home is running smoothly, everything else seems to fall in line.  For my home to run smoothly, I need the most bang for my buck.  This includes all of those spaces in my house, my real estate.  Today’s focus is the freezer.

 

My freezers are a vital component to my home.  If one stopped working today, I would find a way to replace it within a few hours because I am so dependent on these spaces.  That being said, it does no good to have freezer space if you don’t have a clue what is in there.  A disorganized freezer, like anything else, is a money-sucking waste of space.

 

My freezers are actually pretty organized.  They haven’t always been, and I understand how easily they can become a hot mess.  If you don’t have a deep-freeze, limited to just your fridge-freezer, you have to be much more conscientious about how you use the space.

 

I remember the days of breast milk bags piled next to hamburger patties.  I’ve come a long way since then.

 

I’ll begin with the set-up on my fridge freezer.  As it is in the house, in the kitchen, and more easily accessible, the only things I keep in it are my freezer-to-crockpot meals, one of each frozen veggie (I try not to buy canned anymore, unless it’s something like kidney beans), and basically anything I might use in the immediate future.  I will not keep more than one package of waffles or pancakes in the freezer in the house.  With the exception of my crockpot meals, I duplicate nothing in this freezer.  First, if it’s easily accessible, it disappears really quickly (ice cream, waffles, yogurt)  Second, I just don’t feel that it maximizes my space.  Any frozen stockpiling is in the deep freeze in the garage.

 

I used to have the most wonderful chest deep-freeze.  I think the reason I prefer that style is because that is what my grandparents always had.  Also, I could get more bang for my buck – space!  When we moved to our new house, we ended up with the fridge-style deep freeze, and I’m not crazy about it.  Most of our meat is game, processed locally, and the ground meat comes in little round packages that don’t stack well.  I have to use baskets on the shelves of the freezer to keep the meat from falling out every time the door opens, and as much as I love baskets/containers/organizing products, I’d prefer just to have my stuff sitting on the shelf.

 

I’m adapting, after 5 years.

 

  • I have dedicated one shelf of the deep freeze to bread and frozen pizza.  My maintenance number for bread is 6, so I keep 2 stacks three high on the top shelf.  My pizzas stand up like books on the rest of the shelf.
  • The next shelf holds a dish pan full of rolls of ground meat.  There are some roasts, back strap, etc. stacked in the small space next to the bin.
  • I keep veggies and other frozen dinners in the shelves in the door.
  • At the bottom of the freezer I keep juice pouches, water bottles, etc.  I do this for 2 reasons.  First, a full freezer runs more efficiently and stays frozen longer in a power outage.  Second, it saves me from buying cold packs for the monkeys’ lunches.

 

I used to use tracking forms, also, and am trying to figure out how to upload them.  With tracking forms, I always knew what was in the freezer, how many I had on hand, and so on.

 

Do you prefer a pretty, empty freezer?  Is that more organized than one that is full?

 

~Katie

 

Freezer Inventory Form

 

 



{November 25, 2012}   The Cost of a Disorganized Pantry

Right now, in my refrigerator, I guarantee there are two partially used bottles of ketchup, at least two barbecue sauces, and maybe multiple jars of pickles.  Does this make any sense?

Part of the problem is that I share my living space with Grizzly Adams (he isn’t DH today – he forgot to make coffee) and two monkeys.  If there is a gene for organization, they all lack it. I’m not the most organized woman in South Bossier, but I do know being disorganized costs money.  How does it money?  Let me count the ways.

  1. Any kind of storage in a house is a piece of real estate.  Your house is worth $X/square foot.  This includes your storage.  If you’re not using it efficiently, you’re wasting money.
  2. Stock rotation is important. I worked in hospital pharmacies for years and it was a concept that nobody loved, but it saved money.  Use what’s there and going to expire first.
  3. Keep track of what you have.  When I was trying the www.organizedhome.com system, I actually kept lists on my freezers and cabinets of what stock I had – and it helped.  If you have 10 bags of sugar already and no major project, do you really need another bag when you go to Kroger?  Well, I don’t.

But my pantry is a hot mess now.  I actually have two converted closets in my utility room.  While one is strictly food storage, the other has my stoneware, canning supplies, and infrequently used small appliances.  I feel like I can put my valuable real estate to better use.

Organization of any storage space is such an individual thing.  There are beautiful photos of stunning pantries all over the web.  And my Pinterest boards.  But not everyone has the same type or size storage space.  Like I said, I’m blessed with two converted closets in the utility to use as pantry storage, but I haven’t seen anything online that remotely looks like my storage.

I’m thinking if I sort things by frequency of use and type of meal, I’ll be a lot happier.  The second pantry can serve as back up, overstock, etc. along with my infrequently used gadgets.

So this afternoon, I took before pics (oh my goodness!) and emptied the main pantry.  It really didn’t take long to reorganize, but what a mess I made!  There is a lot of wasted space where there are no shelves, so I have to be creative.  The top shelf now has two crates to hold my cereal stockpile.  Next is my canned and boxed goods – beans, fruits, Hamburger Helper, etc.  Those things I might want to prep dinner (actually, DH, because I rarely do Hamburger Helper!) Below that shelf is my pastas, taco shells, rice, etc. and a dish bin containing extra spices and barbecue sauces (of which I found 4 bottles today!)  Next I have a breakfast & lunch shelf.  Peanut butter, all of my precious jars of jelly, a container of open cereal, oatmeal, grits, and fruit snacks.  The bottom shelf has a drawer of lunch snacks, crackers, and drink mixes that won’t fit in the pocket organizer on the door (a repurposed shower caddy.)  The dog’s food I keep in a small tote and it fits under the bottom shelf now.

But that left my baking stuff without a home.  I don’t bake much because of my oven situation, but I do have things in case I ever get it fixed.  With all of the jelly and sauce out of the back up pantry, I noticed I had some space to spare.  So I unloaded that pantry and reorganized.  My indoor grill is now on the top shelf, since we rarely grill indoors, along with a baking stone I almost never use.  My canning supplies are on a shelf to themselves now, and my actual baking supplies take up two shelves, very neatly, and share with my crockpots.  My bread machine still sits down below and I’ve moved a drawer to the floor in there for bags  and wraps.

It was a really productive late afternoon for me.  I wish, as I had been working, that I would have gone ahead and created my pantry inventory but I suppose it can wait.

How is your pantry organized? I think mine will suit my purposes for now. At least I know not to buy any more barbecue sauce when I go to the store this week!

~ Katie



{November 23, 2012}   Making Do With What You Have

a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, top slice ...

I don’t know too many kids who don’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  With droughts, salmonella outbreaks, flooding, freezes, etc., the price of peanut butter in my local grocery has gone up almost two dollars a jar in the past year, and jelly is steadily increasing.

Thankfully, my Rhonda Belle thinks ahead.  2 years ago for Christmas, she and Papa Mac gave me a Ball Canning Starter Kit.  She wants me to be more self-sufficient.  I started out with red sauce and moved on to a variety of apple products.  Rhonda Belle’s friend “Mother Earth” has been an invaluable resource as I’ve been learning to can.  Not only does canning save me money, but this way I know what is in the products in my pantry.  I definitely prefer chemical-free, preservative-free foods in my pantry.

Part of being self-sufficient is making do with what you’ve got.  And I am running low on jelly.  Thankfully, one of my sweet 8th graders and his mama gave me a pretty container full of Satsumas (thank you, Jamie, for the identification!) and I realized there was a good chance they’d spoil before the monkeys ate them all.

Using my handy-dandy Pampered Chef citrus juicer (not the best option, as much as I love a Pampered Chef gadget!), I spent over an hour on Monday juicing and straining my little orangey friends.  They are chock-full of seeds, which I have saved to replant at some point.  And I put the juice in the fridge till I knew what I’d do with it.

Motivation visited me today.  I ran jelly jars through the dishwasher and got myself together.  I found a recipe online, got my supplies situated, and got to work.  This is the recipe I used:

Easy Satsuma Jelly

  • 4 cups Satsuma juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 5 cups sugar – I’m going to try to decrease the sugar next time
  • 1 package Sure Jell

Combine your juices in a pot.  Slowly add the Sure Jell, stirring constantly.  Bring it to a rolling boil.  Boil for one minute, continuing to stir.  After one minute, add the sugar and bring it back to a boil.  Again, boil one minute and then remove from the heat.  Fill your jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Easy peasy!  I already had most products on hand, so I spent no extra money on this project.  The jars I use again and again.  The orangey things were a gift.   The pectin I purchase by the jar, and actually got it free at Kroger with a coupon.  Sugar was under $2 for a 4 pound bag.  I’m not a math person, but I think I’m under $1/jar.

And I love all of those pretty jars lined up in my pantry.

I still have blueberries in the freezer from a berry picking trip in June.  I’m thinking blueberry champagne (still got a bottle from New Year‘s!) jelly.  What do you think?

If you’re new to canning, I highly recommend the Ball Canning Discovery kit, or the Ball Fresh Preserving Kit.  Also, The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is great for beginners.  Follow the recipes or you’ll have a bit of a mess on your hands.  I’ve had to remake a few batches of jelly because I used recipes that looked great online but didn’t work out.

I’d love to hear your experiences!

~ Katie



et cetera
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