Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Welcoming Fall


As I walked down the gravel lane to get the newspaper out of its yellow paperbox Saturday morning (similar to a mailbox but used only by the paper delivery guy), it required a jacket for the air was cold and the wind brisk and neither kitties nor humans were acclimated, yet.

Mouse had been curled up in her kitty bed on the porch and she let me know that a Hobbit second breakfast was required on this chilly morning.  For nothing warms kitties like a full tummy.  She did receive additional kibble in her bowl for her human servant had already seen the need for a second mug of coffee and fully understood her predicament.  

The yellow leaves have been falling for a few weeks but on the walk back to the house, I noticed the leaves of the small tree in front were beginning to turn from a deep green to a chartreuse shade with one lonely red leaf dangling from a bottom branch.  I don't think I've ever seen just one red leaf on a tree before.

These are the days I dream of in August when I think I cannot handle one more hot and humid day each season.  My mind wanders to sweaters and jackets and cool weather and colorful leaves and hot beverages and throws on the corner of the sofa and curling up with a book and a cat.

My affections tend to sway between Fall and Christmas as to which is my favorite season.  As if one were forced to choose when there is no person forcing us to do such a thing.  Christmas is all about sparkle and glitter and finding the perfect gift and the promise of what is to come just as the Resurrection would someday follow the birth of Christ.

For me, Fall is a time one must grasp the loveliness because it is so fleeting.  The only gifts are those I give myself... allowing myself time to set aside the necessary work for awhile each day to enjoy that which is a God-given temporary gift. In these pandemic days, that mostly means sitting on the porch, walking the gravel lane, or perhaps driving to the park with a mask and keeping a good distance from others.

I'm not sure why but Fall is when I most often like to talk to God... and listen.  The older I get, the more I know that verse which says "My sheep hear my voice" is true.  Not, of course, an audible voice but He speaks through that "still small voice" as well as His Word.  Sometimes He speaks through the most unlikely means but then again, this is the God who spoke through a donkey at one time.

I wonder if this longing has something to do with the Hebrew calendar and the Fall Holy Feast Days we are in at the moment.  Jesus not only lived by this calendar but it was God who gave it to His people in the first place.  So I'm thinking there is something to their timing and meaning for all people.  

Is that why I hear Him better during this time?  Perhaps it is... maybe I'm just paying attention more than usual as Fall causes me to stop and reflect in this... the Selah season.  

The other three seasons seem longer to me for once Christmas is over, Winter seems unending.  Spring is beautiful but it merges into Summer without realizing it most of the time. Fall, however, must be embraced and noticed and pondered or it will arrive and be behind us before we can absorb what a gift it is each year.  

The season has changed over the decades from when September meant the beginning of a new school year and the fashion issue of Seventeen Magazine.  That was long ago and far away but I still enjoy bringing my colder weather clothes from the back of the closet and hanging my ancient but much loved flannel robe on the hook behind the bedroom door.

So, this week I plan to enjoy hot coffee in the rocking chair on the porch even if I must take a blanket with me on cool mornings.  I want to gaze at the forest before the leaves are gone and my neighbor's red barn can once again be seen from my front porch because the trees are bare.

I want to slow down to grasp the Beauty which will seem to last only moments once blustery Fall winds have caused the trees to shed their leaves.  Winter will come soon enough and along with it the Beauty of Christmas... but also slippery roads and brutal cold winds.  I plan to hold on to Fall as long as possible.

Image:  Ducks Unlimited: As Good as Home

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Lessons learned from WWII (revisited)

 


A few years ago, I wrote about stocking up lessons learned from WWII.  Below is a slightly tweaked version of that blog post that (if I do say so myself) had some good information that I thought would still be practical as we continue in pandemic mode.  Especially since we now know emergencies can happen suddenly.

In a comment recently, I was asked how one begins to build up a pantry if they are just starting out and on a budget.  It made me smile for it is the very same way I have to try to deepen my own pantry.  It has been a very long time since I lived in a larger house with the pantry having its' own room in the basement and enough of a budget to stock it as I wish.  Ironically, I learned most of my "what not to do" lessons in those years.

The easiest way to begin deepening your pantry is to keep it simple!  

That is the lesson I've experienced through the years and what I've found those who prepared ahead of WWII learned.  If you try to prepare for the worst possible scenarios, you will live in fear and anxiety because it just can't be done.  Even if you have ten years of survival food stored and every object any website has said you should have on hand... all it takes is one big tornado to wipe you out or an earthquake or a zombie apocalypse.

No matter how deep you can make your pantry, your faith should never be in stuff but in Jesus!  Having a pantry is good but if you have peace only because you have a pantry, then your peace will not be very deep.

So here are some lessons I've learned and you will find them very similar to what our forefathers (and foremothers) did in the past. 

1)  Pay attention to what and how you cook.
If you have a small space and a small budget, then the food you use the most is a priority of what to concentrate on stocking up in your pantry (and by pantry, I include your refrigerator and freezer).  Think of the five menus you make most often and look for the items that can easily be stocked in your pantry.  Don't try to buy a lot of everything you use in a year!

It is far better to have stocked the pantry to make five main dishes, than to have a lot of just a few items but not be able to make a meal from any of themThen think of ways you may extend the food you have by adding rice, pasta, etc. in a true emergency. 

People who stocked up a deep pantry before WWII stocked only basic foods to get them through.  I know I usually say that I only stock what I actually eat but I have a few exceptions.  One of them is that I keep a couple very large bags of converted rice in a Rubbermaid style container on a shelf in the garage... just in case. 

Should there be a major emergency, then I will be very happy I have converted rice on hand.  My friend has a very small house so she stores rice and certain cans of soup that, when heated and poured over cooked rice, make a meal! 

Other items stored were dried beans, sugar, salt, flour (they had various ways of keeping bugs out of it), and other basics to keep people fed.  People in other countries had oats stored ahead of time while others stored wheat ahead of time.

2) Stock the basics you use the most often first and consolidate items when possible
For instance, if you notice you use a lot of pasta, then that is a priority and it stores well when kept in a protected container (such as in their original boxes stored in a Rubbermaid style container).  I've used dried pasta that was two years old and still in perfect condition.

Types of pasta is another area where I have consolidated.  Instead of having a large variety of pastas, I now stock boxes of spaghetti, boxes of orecchiette, macaroni (in a half gallon Ball jar), and orzo (in a half gallon Ball jar).  I make lasagna so rarely that those noodles are not a priority to stock and are purchased the week I'm going to make the dish.

I use a lot of canned tomatoes so they are a priority.  Acidic veggies do not last as long as say... green beans... in a can so you do need to rotate the cans if you buy in bulk.  But you should be rotating everything anyway, in a deep pantry (using the oldest "Use By" date first and adding the most recent to the back of the shelf or bottom of the flats).

I used to stock a variety of canned tomatoes for various recipes.  It took up a ridiculous amount of space on my pantry shelves.  Then I decided to stock only a few types of cans, mostly large cans of whole tomatoes, cans of diced tomatoes, and small cans of stewed tomatoes.  (I have found by cutting a small slice on each whole tomato before using a fork to smoosh them, you do not have tomato flying everywhere.)

Of course, if you have a favorite brand and style of tomatoes other than these, then you want to make them a priority. I always have the herbs and spices on hand to add specific flavors to recipes instead of say... Italian style tomatoes or Chili style tomatoes.  An exception is a few jars of good quality pasta sauce, the epitome of good pantry food.  Just warm up and serve with cooked pasta and wallah... a main dish.

Something I learned recently... instead of cans of tomato paste, I now buy tomato paste in a tube and try to have one extra tube on hand at all times.  I learned that tomato paste in a tube was the "pantry essential" of a well known chef so I tried it and he was right.  Just a couple squirts adds a depth of tomato flavor and it stores easily inside the door of the refrigerator once opened.  I do have some cans of tomato paste in the pantry since it stores well.

3) Add simple meals to your menu
I have been making a game of preparing inexpensive vegetarian dishes based on easy to store items by adding one or more recipes to my menu each month. I have been doing this for a few years as I use less of my grocery budget on meat and stretch it with vegetarian dishes that are quite tasty.  It has not only helped my budget but my cholesterol was reduced.

Since I'm a rather old Juvenile Diabetic, I have to be careful with carbs and I've learned through experience about how many I can have (and if you take insulin, you need a balance of carbs or your blood sugar will go too low).  So I can't depend on inexpensive pasta dishes as much as I once did.

I sometimes substitute orzo for rice in my chicken soup recipes and I actually like it better.  I also sometimes use orzo for pasta salads, too.  It offers less carbs as the larger pastas.  The fiber in brown rice makes it safer for diabetics to eat but it needs to be stored in the freezer for long term storage.

One thing I learned from a nutritionist that has been very helpful is to use about half of the pasta called for in a recipe and add more vegetables when possible.  The dish then has less carbs and more nutrition, which is good for anyone even if they don't have diabetes.  I've done this for years and find it works very well.

I started making more meals with beans (canned and dried), lentils, and such.  I'm finding we like them very much.  Hummus was already a favorite at the Middle Eastern restaurant and it is easy to prepare, especially with a food processor.  In the summer, I have a good lentil salad recipe that I love and my husband ummm... tolerates.  But there are vegetarian recipes he likes and he was the poster child for a Midwestern meat and potato man!

Experiment with vegetarian recipes (made with items easy to stock in your pantry) before an emergency where you would need them.  Especially if you have kids... and a husband.  For people will not eat what they don't like even if they are hungry.  Research has proven it as has my family.  Been there... didn't work.  Maybe if they were absolutely starving but why make a situation worse by forcing foods they are not used to eating.

4) Make baking items at home a priority
It is a good idea to learn to bake if you don't know how to make your own items at home, yet.  I found having the basics I needed on hand when we were experiencing a long period of unemployment made it possible to put together comfort and celebration food when they were needed.

Now, I'm not talking about having the cookie jar full every day (for there is such a thing as too much of a good thing) but I made something at least once or twice a week.  When the rest of the menu had to be quite simple, my family thoroughly enjoyed a treat and I am a good baker.  (I have the spiritual gift of cookies.)  I love to bake and I don't do it much these days.

5) There are some items you can purchase once or twice a year!
For instance, I use both course kosher sea salt (kept in a half pint Ball jar for cooking) and fine sea salt (for the salt shaker).  I can purchase a few boxes of kosher salt at one time and then a few boxes of the fine sea salt another time.  An easy annual stock up.  If you do any canning or pickling, you want to be certain to have the non-iodized salt you need on hand before you need it.

I don't do nearly the baking I once did so one bag of white sugar purchased in bulk at Sam's Club will last a year.  Should I decide to make jams or jellies, I would add at least one other large bag of sugar. A large box of baking soda lasts a year and is easily stored in a Ball jar.  I buy only small containers of non-aluminum baking powder but I always like to have at least one or two extra in the pantry in addition to what I'm using at the moment.

Since the pandemic, I have extra baking powder and yeast now that I know how quickly they sell out.  I just need to pay attention to the Use By date when buying both. I keep the yeast in the refrigerator after opening it. I'm also stocking more flour than I used to do.  Lessons learned!

Some of my spices, I've actually had for a few years and they are fine.  The closer they are to their whole state, the longer they last.  For instance, I'm just now using the last of cumin seeds I've had for years and they smell and taste almost as fresh as they were when purchased.  Herbs need to be replaced at least once a year.

I purchase the peppercorns for my pepper grinder about once a year, adding a backup container when the one I'm using presently is about half full.  Once again, if you are alert to your pantry then it is fairly easy to keep it stocked with essentials.

6) Make your pantry a priority in the budget!
When we were paid weekly or biweekly, I always spent the money allotted for the pantry each grocery shopping trip.  Even if I didn't absolutely need anything that week.  Sometimes I would tuck it back if I knew there was a sale coming up on an essential item.

However, most of the time I used that money to add to the pantry and deepen it further with a most used item. That is the real secret to deepening your pantry to have enough on hand to make at least five dinner menus for weeks and even months if you have the space and budget.  Once I have stocked the pantry shelves with the basics, I add items that would round out the pantry.

I can't comprehend the advice the government gives of having a few days or a week's worth of food and water on hand in an emergency.  It doesn't take long to have the ingredients for five recipes stocked and other essentials stocked for even a month.  Not to mention if you are only keeping what you need for a week at a time in your kitchen, you are probably not saving money by stocking up when items are on sale.

[Recent hurricanes have shown us that quite often, the government help cannot reach people quickly.  It has been on the news that certain areas did not receive help for a very long time, partly due to where they were located and partly due to the damage being more extensive than government officials could handle quickly.]

My budget these days is a monthly Social Security check (due to circumstances of my husband's having to go on Disability and take an early retirement fourteen years ago, the amount is even less than what it would have been otherwise).  If I can stock a little extra back, anyone can stock more than a week's worth of food.

7) Stocking up prices
One of the ways I stock a few essentials (such as canned tomatoes) is by keeping an eye on stock up prices.  Most grocery stores rotate their sales.  I know Kroger does on their cans of organic tomatoes and their canned beans.

Shopping more than one store and getting to know their prices helps to deepen the pantry.  It is easy for me to do since the three grocery stores I shop are fairly close to each other.  Some people keep a written notebook of prices but since I have simplified our menu so much these days, I pretty much know what to purchase where.  It is surprising that the regular price of some items is twice as much in some stores as they are at another.

There are some items I mainly buy at Sam's Club (which is the warehouse store closest to where I live) to save money.  Understanding that not everything is cheaper in bulk but some items certainly are less expensive.  I usually buy the large package of toilet paper one month and then the large package of paper towels another month.  It is cheaper to purchase my chocolate chips there in bulk (stored in a half gallon Ball jar).  This has changed post pandemic, I buy toilet paper and paper towels whenever I can find them!

I used to save a lot on some items by belonging to a food co-op.  However, it wasn't as feasible for us once we bought a smaller house and were on a fixed income.  Not to mention there were only three of us (and now two!).  It certainly can save money for a larger family IF you do not add to your purchases items you don't need.  Ask me how I know.  ;)

These suggestions are just very basic and simple but they are how I keep at least a small pantry with limited income and space.   Always remember to ask God for wisdom before investing any of your time and money into storage for He knows what the years ahead will be like for your family.

Some Great Links
100 Items that Will Disappear First in a Disaster... here.  This is a revised list of the original that has been around since pre-Y2K days.  Linking to the list is not a recommendation of the website since I have not read everything it contains.  It is a survivalist site so the list is overwhelming but filter through it and I think you will find a lot of good ideas.

The Wartime Farm from the BBC is available to watch on YouTube.  It is fascinating!  Episode One is available... here

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Between hummingbirds and humbug

There are signs of the seasonal changes around us that happen every year... squirrels acting squirrely as they gather nuts for the winter, those same nuts raining down on our roof from the black walnut tree next to the Study window, and the hummingbirds fluttering around aged flowers as they get ready for their long flight southward.

The hummingbirds were particularly busy last week as I was able to watch their almost unbelievable hovering in the air to find whatever nectar remains from the end of season blooms.  There is no book or television program that can take my attention away from watching this process each year.

They are often hidden in my yard most of the hot weather season but there is something about this time of year when they sense the long journey ahead and the need to enjoy lots of little meals throughout the days before they take flight.

They are even showing up by the front porch to grab a nourishing snack from the late blooming pink geranium which grows in the container that holds mainly coleus and a type of ivy.  I know they are drawn to the bright colors like red but apparently they appreciate a pretty pink flower, too.

I opened the front door one day last week, looking through the glass in the storm door for evidence that Mouse was on the front porch waiting for her lunch.  While there was no outdoor kitty present, there were two hummingbirds enjoying a geranium snack.  Normally the opening of the door would cause them to take flight but that day they stayed.

As I stood at the door, one of the hummingbirds flew so close to me that I was concerned he would fly into the glass.  What a privilege it was to have even a matter of seconds to appreciate his beauty and the wonder of his wings that allow him to hover in place.

I wondered what brought him so close to the window when I caught my own reflection and remembered I was wearing a red top.  He must have thought I was an odd looking flower blossom?

I thanked God many times for the joy those birds brought last week.  Their appearance is fleeting enough that one has to be at the right place in the right time, especially on the front porch where they are seldom seen.  I have come to realize that such times are not coincidences but glimpses of God's love at work in my life.

I titled this with both hummingbirds and humbug because I have found 2020 has had a way of bringing out the Scrooge in us.  One must admit that we get to the place where we wonder what shoe is going to drop next.  There has never been such a year in our lifetime when one event after another has occurred, the most obvious being the pandemic.

Sometimes it seems as if the darkness is winning, even though the Bible tells us differently.  We have read the end pages and they are full of indescribable joy and a reborn earth.  However, if we do not rein in our thoughts, it would be easy to let them go down paths which only bring worry at the least... despair at worst.

We understand that the battle for our peace is in our minds.  Too much time pondering the possibilities would make anyone a Scrooge.  When we realize a battle exists, we can do something about it that opens the way for us to be filled with joy. 

While the hummingbirds were a serendipitous enjoyment, on most days I have found it necessary to look for the beauty that is around me in this unconventional year.  For where I live each day is somewhere between the times of hummingbirds and humbug. 

Through the months I have been choosing little things here and there to bring light into the darkness.  Sometimes it has been simply buying one rose at the grocery store to place on my desk.  Earlier in the Spring, I made certain there was space in the budget for deck and porch flowers.  Some of them are still bringing a smile each day.

I have taken the time to watch favorite old movies and re-read a few beloved books.  I find revisiting the music, movies, and books that I already know will make me happy is often the best way to battle a humbug spirit.  Well, except for losing myself in the Psalms.

Long ago I came to appreciate the healing value of what I hang on the walls; which is why I like beautiful artwork purchased on sale or at thrift stores, needlework made by friends, Susan Branch calendars, family photos, and bulletin boards filled with images that make my heart sing. 

This past week when we had a couple cooler days, I put together a lovely sausage lentil soup to simmer in a favorite deep red dutch oven.  It has been awhile since the calming experience of slicing and chopping have come together to make soup. I've been looking forward to soup and sweater weather. 

I haven't figured it all out, yet.  I think it is going to be necessary each day to determine I will do what brings life and light into my days and to avoid (as much as in my control) those which bring fear and frustration.  God provided the hummingbirds but I chose the flowers.  Both brought joy in dark days.

Image:  Photo by William Jobes at birdwatchingdaily.com

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Stocking up vs hoarding and other questions

There were a few very good questions last week that I will answer now and then share what I did for my pantry this week.

Does Za'atar have coriander in it?

Most spice/herb blends such as curry, garam masala, and Za'Atar have the same base ingredients in them and then can differ according to recipe.  For instance, when I tried different Za'atar blends, I found I didn't care as much for the authentic blend that had wild thyme (hyssop) as I did for the same blend with regular thyme.  I think it was just a more familiar taste as an American.

Za'atar is the name for both the blend and is the name for wild thyme (hyssop) in some Middle Eastern countries.  It seems a lot of Za'atar blends contain coriander seed so if you are allergic, don't try Za'atar until you read the contents.

Finding stewed tomatoes in a can...

My mother's vegetable beef soup recipe does not taste the same without a couple cans of stewed tomatoes in it so I wasn't happy when the brand she used seemed to stop making it.  For awhile, I couldn't find another brand.  

Then, I was happy to see that Red Gold sells stewed tomatoes and while it is not exactly the same "recipe", it is close enough.  I do like all Red Gold tomato products. 

What is the difference between stocking up and hoarding?

The best definition I have heard of the difference is this... stocking a pantry is something regularly done by families in times of plenty while hoarding is when you purchase a lot of item/s when there are severe shortages, making it difficult for other people to buy any of the product.

Is stocking up against the Bible?  Doesn't the Bible tell us to "take no thought for tomorrow"?

This is a great question!  I'm depending on what I have read from excellent Bible teachers over the years and I have come to agree with the answer completely.  This is one of those times we cannot take one verse and make a denomination of it.  We have to seek the full counsel of the Bible.  When we do that, we see how both ideas are in balance.

First of all, there is the story of Joseph and why many ministries who feed the poor and/or who stock food and supplies for emergency situations are called Joseph ministries.  God warned Joseph that there would be seven good years of harvest followed by seven years of famine and that he was to store grain during the seven years there were good harvests.

Joseph stores the grain in various cities around Egypt and by doing so, he saved not only the Egyptians from starvation but individuals in other countries and eventually his own family (that is a whole other wonderful story!).

We also find in Proverbs 6:6-11 that we are to be like the ant, who "stores its provisions in Summer and stores its food in harvest".  The one who doesn't do this is called a sluggard.

So, what does it mean to take no thought for tomorrow?

It simply means... we are not to worry about tomorrow.  We are not to fret and lose sleep and have fear about tomorrow.  We do what we can to prepare as God calls us to do, given our budget and space available.  Then we trust God with the rest. To me, this brings peace because I can't put together a really deep pantry like I once was able to do.   

I have some extra supplies, canned goods and such I buy each month on the shelves, and some meat bought on sale in the deep freeze, which isn't very big (a medium deep freeze looks much bigger than it is in the showroom!).

I know God does call and make it possible for some people to put back enough not only for their family but for other people who would need it, too.  This is a true Joseph ministry!  I know so many people through the last couple of decades who have heard from God to stock up even a little as is possible.

This "feeling" that something was coming has been getting stronger in the past couple of years for many friends.  I definitely believe COVID-19 was part of it but we still haven't faced the full impact of what the pandemic has done to the economy, yet.

We made it through two long term periods of unemployment due to a deep pantry and then the compassion of good friends.  Unemployment was the number one reason I have heard that most people used their pantry before the shortages brought about by the pandemic.

Everyone I know who is seeking God's wisdom about deepening the pantry still believes there are difficult days ahead when we will be glad we were like the ant and stocked up before the proverbial winter.  We do what we can and after that, we "take no thought for tomorrow" and trust God!

What I added to the emergency pantry recently.

I added a bag of dried eggs to the pantry to keep on hand for baking should we have another lock down.  I was given dehydrated eggs before a few years ago and they did work very well, especially for baking.  The brand I bought is not for long term storage, it has a Fall 2021 Use By date but I know it will get used one way or another.  It had excellent reviews on Amazon.

I still have some laundry detergent but I decided I wanted to buy one extra bag to keep in my pantry where I also keep extra bottles of dish washing soap (I wash dishes at least twice a day), Lysol wipes (they finally became available again), glass cleaner, etc.  The size I buy became impossible to get through Amazon for many months and I wasn't buying their $100 bucket.

As part of a "pantry lifestyle" (having available what I need and when I need it), my favorite planner was on sale almost half-price so I went ahead and purchased it.  It was a simple $10.00 purchase for an item I would really miss if it wasn't available for January.

Mentioned in this Blog Post

Charlie's Soap 100 loads 1 pack... here.  (This has been my go-to laundry detergent for eighteen years, it is very concentrated so a little goes a long way.)

Judee's Whole Egg Powder... here.

Blue Sky 2021 Monthly/Weekly Planner... here.  (I checked today and they are still on sale.)

Disclaimer:  Most links to Amazon.com are Associate links.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Our Place in God's Story


I was looking out the kitchen window one morning last week, it happened to be the first sunrise of September, gazing at the scene which surprises me every year at this time.  For it is in this stage of Summer, just before it slips into Autumn, that one can stand at the sink and peer out at the illusion of living at the base of one of the Smoky Mountains.

It has something to do with my house sitting on a small hill, the tall trees in the distance being at their fullest, and the foggy mist we often have early mornings this time of year.  I have to remind myself that there are not even the smallest of mountains in my part of the state... some large hills, yes... mountains, not so much.

In a way, this other worldly illusion is a gift each year for I love the Smoky Mountains.  I love their beauty and their history and their traditions.  I love the music that came with immigrants from Scotland and Ireland to the mountains.  In the beginning of my marriage, I thought I would spend my life in or around the Smokies.

My fiance was working on a graduate degree in Furniture Engineering, which is a field where Civil Engineering meets Wood Technology.  So, of course, he would find work in the furniture making capital of the country... North Carolina.  We decided to spend the first part of our honeymoon in Asheville before driving through the mountains, at least most of the way, on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the eastern part of Virginia.  Beautiful country!

However, our desire for where we wanted to live was not God's plan for us and we ended up in Michigan.  Western Michigan.  Where it snows and snows and snows.  God must have smiled when I first longed for a life in a southern state. 

Michigan turned out to be good for us and I came to love the beauty of the Western Michigan coastline.  It was an excellent location for my daughter to spend her childhood.  I loved the area most of the year but once Christmas was past, it was a long wait for warmer weather and flowers.

Now I look back and wonder at the passage of time and how God has woven our story into His Story.  When I was quite young, I would become very frustrated when things did not go as I had planned.  I honestly thought that God wasn't listening to me as I made lists of goals to accomplish and the time periods in which they would be fulfilled.

Of course, now I am a little more mature and I have more knowledge of His Word and I am ever more in awe of Him than I was at age twenty when I spent my honeymoon in Asheville... longing for a lifetime of viewing the Smokies.  How like God that at this stage of my life, he gives me a house that has the illusion of those mountains through my kitchen window.

I'm fairly certain the subject of man's ability to choose his ways combined with God's sovereign will has been a subject of perplexity since... Eden?   How my desires and goals get incorporated into His Story is known only by the Master Weaver but I can look back on the decades and see the work of His hands... and trust Him with my future.

We all must admit that 2020 has been a shock to the system and the longer we see challenges, the more they wear on us.  I am certain that none of us at the beginning of the lock down saw it continuing to the extent it has in September.  Much less did we expect anarchy in the streets continuing for any length of time.  There is a reason we feel something is "off".

Once again, God has been reminding me that I am... we are... living in His Story.  We are to pray for our leaders, our country, our friends and family, etc... but that the weight of the world is not on our shoulders.  We do what is in our hands to accomplish... pray, take care of each other, share His love and His Word, vote for candidates who mostly share our values about freedom and the sanctity of life... and the rest is done by Him.

I must not be looking so far into the possible scenarios of some future event that I am not enjoying what part of His Story I am living today.  How can the world be completely a bad place when we can still get a hot pumpkin spice caffeinated beverage on a cool day?  I mean... really?  As I write, my son and daughter-in-law are in town and are bringing with them my first pumpkin spice latte of the season.

I think I hear the angels singing...

God is quite practical, we see that in the precision of His creation.  So, I should not be surprised that while I have been praying for instruction, I have been led to bring the two boxes of Fall decorations out of the garage.  To fully embrace my favorite time of the year... Fall, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

We need the continuation of our seasonal traditions and decorating and food and anything else we can still do to keep some form of normalcy in this crazy year of 2020.  Especially if we have children still living at home or in our daily life.

This is our opportunity to instill within them faith and not fear in uncertain times and yes, something as small as cooking pancakes every Saturday morning or watching a family friendly movie and eating popcorn each Friday night can do that!  I have seen the importance of such consistency in my own child raising years.

He has been reminding me to light candles now that the darkness is settling in sooner each night.  While I love the flicker of real candles, I have a few battery operated primitive style candles that look very real and are kitty friendly for side tables and the coffee table.  It doesn't matter if I am the only person in the house that loves the flicker of candle light... the other person in the house reminds me we have electricity.

Choices are important in these days where so much seems to be out of our control.  Choices when purchasing food to make a favorite soup or salad or pie. The choice to take a little extra time while running errands to purchase charcoal burgers and onion rings at our favorite drive-in.  A tradition that will end soon as they will be closing in a few weeks for the season.

The choice to read instead of scrolling Facebook or to listen to the new Shane & Shane Vintage album downloaded at my daughter's recommendation.  It is becoming clearer that much of how I am feeling has a lot to do with my own choices at what to give my time and attention to each day.

It won't be long, my friends.  Even if it is years away, it isn't long in light of Eternity.  God's Story is unfolding and His Word promises us that He is preparing for us something so wonderful that we cannot imagine it in these earthly bodies. 

Image: From ashevilletrails.com

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Seasonal stockup on a budget


It is looking more like Fall these days, even with the temperatures battling it out with highs in the 70s some days and 90s on other days.  I've put some Fall decorations out but I'm waiting a few more days to put any pumpkins on the porch.  I couldn't wait for mums and bought a small white mum and a small rust mum a few weeks ago when I found them at a great pre-season price.  The buds were very tight when I bought them but they are now opening in full beauty on the porch.

It was hard to believe (how many times I think of this phrase lately) but another monthly stock up day was earlier this week.  I write out my Meijer list on one sheet of paper from the tablet made for that purpose and my Aldi list on the other side.  Most of the items on my list are always purchased each month but I also write down those items I might purchase, just to keep them in mind as I mentally calculate the budget.

My goal has been to restock my pantry after all the pandemic shortages and do some seasonal stocking to prepare for the cooler weather.  So, I thought I'd share a little more about my pantry shopping strategy and how I've tried to restock the essentials on a budget.  It never ceases to amaze me what can be accomplished a little at a time.  Although, I know it is far easier to restock for two people than it is for my daughter and her family of seven!

This month I didn't purchase very much meat, partly because my husband had to eat a mostly veggie diet for a few weeks so I have meat left in the freezer.  I did finally find one package of beef bones at the store and bought it in spite of the price, now the same as the beef itself used to cost.  It went into the freezer for a future batch of veggie beef soup.  I can justify the price in the nutrition it adds and the amount of soup the bones, beef, and veggies come together to make.

I have written for years that I am not a warm/hot weather cook.  We have plenty of BLT and grilled cheese sandwiches, salads, scrambled eggs, and other quick meals in hot weather.  Fortunately, my husband doesn't mind as long as I don't serve anything with mayonnaise in it.

However, as soon as sweater weather arrives, the kitchen is once more a welcome place to spend time and I'm looking forward to soups, stews, casseroles, and even making bread again in the bread machine.  I use the dough cycle and bake the bread in the oven.  It is perfect for the needs of a small household.  My friend makes very good bread and she bakes hers in the bread machine.

My pantry strategy of spending more on stock up day to fill in areas of the pantry that needed restocking and then buying just one or two items when I went to the grocery store the rest of the month has paid off very well.  Since I'm on a budget, it has been the best way to have on hand what items I need now and possible future needs.

What has also helped is changing the strategy to having less options on the pantry shelves (concentrating on what is needed for my five main meals) and purchasing more of those items I use a lot already.  That has helped me prioritize the available budget.  I am now about at the point where I can spend some grocery budget to expand my options.

These are items I will continue adding to the pantry even though I have quite a few already... like canned tomatoes.  Especially when I can find large cans of whole tomatoes, which have been very difficult to find during and after the pandemic shortages.  I also stock small cans of diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, and tomato paste.  This week I bought a few cans of chili ready tomatoes to add to the pantry, just to add options, although salsa would also work for Mexican style meals.

Each month, I have also been adding or replacing one or two spices as needed and either a bottle of cooking oil or extra virgin olive oil.  I need to be careful since there are only two of us because oil can go rancid if not used within a certain time period.  So I buy smaller bottles of olive oil and medium size containers of cooking oil.  I still use canola oil for those rare times I fry something.

I have some Crisco shortening sticks already since they are essential ingredients in a few baking recipes, especially a couple Christmas cookie recipes.  I found long ago that the butter flavored Crisco went rancid quicker than I used it but I have not had trouble with the regular Crisco sticks.  Of course, Mom used Crisco to fry just about everything and she lived to be 85!

This week, I was looking at the foreign food aisle as usual (although many of these foods are now incorporated into the American diet) and was pleased to see that sumac and Za'atar were now available in the Indian/Middle Eastern section of Meijer.  I bought a jar of sumac since I had run out.  I already have Za'atar that I bought from Amazon.  (I plan to return to Kroger soon to buy two or three pouches of the Indian veggie stew I tried previously.)

I have added a few other items to the pantry for flavor such as a jar of Spice World Garlic.  I will add one or two more small jars before Winter.  This brand contains garlic that is grown and packed in Coalinga, California.  

I need to add a couple jars of chopped pimento to the pantry since that is an essential ingredient in my potato salad!  That is the kind of item I add to my monthly grocery list that stays on the side of my refrigerator.  Otherwise, I will forget it until I want to make potato salad and then... oops!

Now that there are cooler days in the forecast, I want to try more vegetarian main dishes and these kinds of spices, garlic, etc. will be very helpful in that goal.  I just have to be careful that they are added in such a way to be husband friendly.  ;)

I know this is another one of those "thinking out loud" pantry posts but it is the best way I know to share how I stock a pantry on a budget.  Oh, I was asked why I prefer King Arthur Flour.  It is not only unbleached but unbromated.  It also uses American grown wheat that is non-GMO.   So I do prefer it for my day to day baking needs.

Do remember that stocking a pantry just a little at a time is better than not stocking at all because we don't have the space or money to do more.  There is a  lot of online chatter about the possibility of stringent lock downs again.  I don't know if that will happen but I do know in the area where I live, we have yet to flatten the curve on new cases.

One thing I do know for certain, November in the States has the potential for a lot more civil unrest. The time leading up to the election has been my goal for months now to restock the pantry should it be necessary to stay inside until the worst blows over.  One does not have to live in a city since widespread civil unrest can cause major supply disruptions anywhere in the country.

It wouldn't take much to disrupt the supply lines again as some items are still hard to find unless you happen to be in the store when they arrive.  I had to return to Meijer the day after I did my stock up shopping just to buy a few more items.  In only one day, the shelves that had been stocked with paper towels were now completely empty and the store brand of tissues were mostly sold already.  Less than twenty-four hours!  I was hoping my allergy medicine was back in stock (nope... another empty shelf).

It is an entirely different way to shop these days than what I have been used to doing.  However, we adapt and do what is necessary.  I thank God that we still have plenty available even if now it requires going to a few stores to find everything or that we have to purchase a different brand than our favorite.

Once again, if you have the ability to help someone hurting right now, a grocery store gift card and/or a gas station gift card (or cash!) may make the difference between them keeping the faith and becoming absolutely desolate.  You may have no way of knowing this side of Heaven what your gift will mean to them.

Do some detective work and try to find out needs a friend isn't telling anyone about.  Drop off groceries if you know what they will eat. Include some snack food as well as well as the healthy food. Honestly, a box of Captain Crunch would put a smile on my mother's face!

Even just a $20 bill slipped into someone's hand will make a difference.  We can do that while social distancing, can't we?  I have been in a desperate situation with two long term periods of unemployment and I can assure you that a little given in love makes all the difference in the world to your friend or family member (or complete stranger!).

Mentioned in this Blog Post

Small jar Spice World chopped garlic... here.  (I don't use a lot of garlic or I would purchase the larger jars. Once it is open, it has to be refrigerated.) 

Za'atar... here.  (I tried a few types and I like this one the best.)

Ziyad Sumac... here.  This is the same size bottle I bought at the grocery store this week.  Quite often the grocery store price is cheaper but it was the same as Amazon sells it.

If you have read pantry posts for long, you may remember that I first tried sumac on hummus and then on fattoush at a restaurant on campus when my son was in college.  I don't know where it was all my life.  Well, okay... in the Middle East and not the American Midwest.  This brand contains no additional salt or additives.

Disclaimer:  Most links to Amazon.com are Associate links.  I thank you.