April 24, 2008

Growing Some Grocery Savings

The rising cost of groceries is scary, but at least we're heading into the growing season and you CAN find ways to save, both now and for next winter. We've looked at these things before, but they're worth repeating...

What can you grow this coming summer? Even if you have very limited space - think city apartment with a small balcony - you can grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce using buckets. Container gardening has become very popular and there are many specially-bred smaller varieties of your old favorites available. If nothing else, you should be able to have a small salad garden if you have even just a square foot or two of space. Think vertical too...a pyramid frame set into a bucket or a small piece of fence set into a deep rectanglar window box, either can support several plants well. You' may have to water and fertilize these container-type gardens a little more than open-ground grown plants, but it's worth it.

Many communities, from inner-city to much more rural, have insituted Community Gardens in the past few years. The town or sponsoring group usually maintains the site, marks out the individual plots, often has available water, frequently fences against deer and two-legged annoyances and may even offer special children's plots. These rented plots ($10-$30 for the season are common costs depending on size of course) offer you the chance to grow food and flowers, get some sun and exercise, and also enjoy the camraderie and expertise of a wonderful community of like-minded gardeners.

If you have a yard and any room at all, your possibilites expand greatly. Even if the sun and soil are not the best, you can work with what you have. Edible landscaping combines the decorative value of food plants with the anticipated harvest. A parsley, basil, cilantro or other herb plant tucked into a border adds nice greenery and scent plus cuttings for cooking.

We've talked before about ways to plan ahead during the summer for the coming winter, and one of the best is to get to know the farmers and farmers markets in your area. Unbeatable for fresh produce, these sources also offer quantitites of fruits and vegetables for canning or freezing. The idea that we should "eat fresh, eat local" is a good idea on many levels.

If you're already planning a garden this summer, great, and I hope you will consider planting extra to share with needy neighbors. Plant-a-Row, a grassroots anti-hunger program, is active in many towns across the country, and is very worthwhile. For more information check out www.gardenwriters.org/Par/

We've had warm weather this week, the asparagus tips have poked through in our garden, the garlic is thriving, the sage and oregano fragrant, and so much is started in the greenhouse that I can't imagine where I'll possibly have room to plant it. I love this seaon!

April 14, 2008

How to Knit a Hug

When times are tough, one of the first thing that sometimes gets left by the wayside is charitable giving. What a shame!

I feel very strongly about giving/sharing whatever I have, and in the past few years I've discovered new ways to do just that. There are other things/ways to give besides your money, or even your time, which is often even more limited than your dollars.

Of course giving your time to a worthy cause is wonderful - if you have any extra time! It seems as though everyone I know is frenetically busy these days. Now, my dad died when he was 57, so I gave my year of being 57 to becoming and being a Hospice volunteer. It was a deeply demanding and rewarding year, at times both incredibly sad and unbelievably life-affirming. It also was pretty time-consuming, and that time was spent away from home.

But, with so much to do at home and in the garden, I really wanted to do something more home-based. Of course I grow a gazillion flowers - with the help of our three sixth-grade Garden Girls, Yoshi, Wendy and LuLu - but I needed something to keep my hands busy, especially in winter. The devil does make mischief with idle hands, you know!

Last year's project was knitting blankets and sewing quilts for Project Linus which distributes the blankies to kids in crises. But this year I'm knitting hugs. Well, okay, they're more usually called "prayer shawls", "healing shawls", or "friendship shawls". No matter what you prefer to call them, they're a perfect project as they are so very appreciated. Plus, it's a great way to use up some of that yarn you have squirrelled away for "someday" and if you, like me, can knit while you're riding in the car/truck, these fly off your needles!

My plan was to stockpile a whole bunch of triangular shawls and lengthy stole-type hugs, giving some to my church and sharing the rest through a wide network of friends. Well, the first four flew out of my house almost before I could get them finished. One in autumn oranges and browns went to Nebraska to warm a woman who had just had neck surgery. Another, purple and gold, went to a man finding the after-effects of cancer treatment newly challenging a decade later. Purple and gold are his college colors. Another went to a woman on her 70-something birthday, and the last one, a soft, fluffy yellow shawl, went to a woman, who would be spending many long hours at a hospital away from home while her husband was undergoing cancer surgery.

But now I'm building the stockpile back up. Our friend Lesley has just finished a smoky purple shoulder shawl for the comfort cupboard, I have an aqua blue varigated in the cupboard and am also finishing a stole in rich blues and greens. Sound like something you'd like to try?? But where to find patterns? Lion Brand yarns' website http://www.lionbrand.com/ offers a half dozen lovely and easy-to-make shawl patterns most of which use their Homespun yarn. These patterns and yarn are the mainstay of many prayer shawl programs.

One of my very favorite websites for knitting patterns is http://www.knittingpatterncentral.com/ which has an incredible number of patterns from a wide variety of sources. I've printed many, many shawls patterns from this site, and put them in a three-ring binder. Some are vintage, some very sturdy, some downright ethereal. What I really like is that there are patterns that look particularly masculine. Somewhere down the line I'll make one I've seen with a beautiful cable worked down the center.

One other website I'd recommend is http://www.friendshipshawl.org/ where there are still more patterns and some nice ideas for tags to go with your shawl. The tags are where you get to personalize the gift to the circumstances of the recipient. It may be a prayer, a poem, or just a caring note.

Making knit hugs is a project I hope you'll consider. And yes, of course you can crochet them just as easily. The important thing is all the caring, comfort, and oh, so much more that goes into each stitch. And if you do decide to make a few knit hugs, please... share the stories of your shawl projects!


April 7, 2008

Beans and Rice and Salsa...

Oh, My!

It couldn't be easier, plus it's a cheap, filling, and nutritious dish: the old beans and rice. I cooked 2/3 c rice as usual, mixed in a can of black beans (undrained), then added salsa. Now I had salsa in the freezer that I had made last summer and it had the added benefit of having corn in it. But you could just use your store-boughten salsa and add a can (drained) of whole kernel corn. I wonder how it would be using a can of creamed corn... hmmm, I'll have to try that.

I added a few seasonings... a pinch of thyme, some cilantro, a little garlic salt, some lemon pepper. To round out supper tonight, I'll make Bert's favorite, biscuits, and even though this is already a nicely rounded meal, I have some leftover winter squash so a scoop of that will be on our plates too.

This recipe is kid-doing easy, especially if you make the rice ahead, important if younger kids are doing the preparing. Leftovers travel well for lunch the next day too.

Makikng biscuits may seem like a challenge at the end of a long workday - I'm substittute teaching all this week so I definitely understand! There's a time-saving recipe in The Frugal Family Kitchen Book for making biscuit mix to have on hand. It's also handy for making pancakes and a number of other goodies. In fact, let's talk about make-ahead mixes the next time we visit.

Happy Spring! At least the sun's out this morning which is a marked improvement over recent days!