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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Much Does a Garden Grow: November


In keeping with our new business-style accounting model for the garden, it is time to look at how much my microfarm garden grew in November:

What a difference a season makes!  Instead of bringing in veggies by the basket-full (no matter how pathetic this growing year was), I am now bringing them in in sprinkles.  My harvest for the month:

4 oz of medium leeks:  $0.50 per ounce, total $2.00
1/2 jar of dried thyme:  $1.65 equivalent
about a salad-worth of lettuce:  $1.00

Total:  $4.65

Actually, I am rather proud of this.  The funny-looking cold frame that Mr. FC&G built is doing a bang-up job of protecting the leeks (and probably scaring the neighbors); I saw the other day that I actually have new, thin little leeks coming up.  The leeks that I pull have definitely grown.

Also, a rather warm snap in November let the thyme plant keep putting out new growth, so I harvested a bunch and dried it, which I typically don't do in the winter.  But this was clearly new growth, so I didn't feel like I was taking much away from the plant.

Finally, keeping lettuce in the sunroom means that we can have an occasional fresh salad or bed for our fish.  That is nice.

And just because we haven't harvested a lot doesn't mean we are neglecting our veggies.  We have shifted to eating our canned and frozen veggies this month, with the end result that we really haven't purchased any fruit or vegetables in November.  I'll take it.

2011 Tally to Date: 126.69 lbs of crops; $249.36 saved
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Monday, November 28, 2011

Roasted Blue Potato Salad


I'm not usually a fan of potato salad, but I have recently developed a recipe I really like, based on tips from several recipes I consulted.  This is a great way to show off those garden potatoes you have down cellar, and the best thing is that it can be served hot, room temp, or cold, which makes it a great recipe for taking to those get-togethers where you aren't sure if you will have oven access when you get there.  (Note:  The dressing does contain mayo, so I'm not telling you to leave this sitting out all day.  Decide if you will be able to heat the potatoes and dress it onsite, or if you will be taking a chilled dish, and plan accordingly.)

Roasted Blue Potato Salad

8-12 blue potatoes (you can sub in some Yukon Golds or another "normal" color if you like), diced
2 medium leeks, diced
1 sprig rosemary, chopped
1 pat pasture butter

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix all ingredients and bake until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, mix the dressing:
1/2 cup organic mayo
1/2 cup lime juice
1 T mustard -- dijon or plain

When potatoes are ready, dress with the dressing.  Serve.

The Analysis

Fast:  This recipe takes about 45 minutes, most of which is baking time.

Cheap:  I depend on cellared potatoes, still-growing leeks, and rosemary from the front window to make it practically free.

Good:  It reheats well and is great for a hot lunch for me and a cold snack for Mr. FC&G.  Yum!
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I would like to wish all the readers of Fast, Cheap, and Good a Happy Thanksgiving!  I am truly thankful for your participation in our journey this year and hope you will be with us in the months and years to come.

To celebrate the season, I would like to offer my readers a discount at our Etsy store, Carrot Creations.  Just use the code BLACKFRIDAY2011 at checkout to receive 10% off your order, good through Monday, November 28.

Cheers!
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Mr. FC&G's Hot Toddies


Well, it was inevitable.  I caught Mr. FC&G's cold.  It makes sense; we share everything, and that includes the germs.

Luckily, Mr. FC&G was on the mend by the time I caught it, and he was ready with warm knee thingies in the bed and multiple birthday cakes, since I got sick on my birthday and consequently couldn't eat my cake as fast as he could "help" me.  (Gotta love a man that keeps making cake to be sure that you are satisfied!)  And, best of all, he made hot toddies.

I don't know what it was about this simple recipe, but every time he made me a toddy, I felt better and better.  I think we have decided to keep making and drinking toddies all winter, just to be sure we stay in tip-top health.

Mr. FC&G's Hot Toddy
1 mug herbal tea (I like chai tea for this)
raw honey to taste
scant 1/2 shot whiskey

Mix all ingredients in a mug and drink while hot.  Repeat as needed.

The Analysis

Fast:  This takes no longer to make than a mug of tea, so pretty speedy.

Cheap:  Frankly, I have no idea if this is cheaper than Nyquil or a similar over the counter medicine.  I do know that it worked better for me than do most of those cold meds.

Good:  I felt so much better after each of these toddies, all warm and pretty energetic.  They certainly have gotten me through the worst of a cold, and that counts for a lot.
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

5 Tips for Capturing a Little Extra Heat


Are you still freezing yer buns?  We really have not yet begun to freeze around here, but those of us who are keeping the house heat set on "low" know that it helps to capture every spare degree of heat.  Here are five ways to make your house toastier without spending any extra money:

1.  Reset your ceiling fans.  This was once a matter of great debate between my father and I, so let me say for the record that your fan should be set with  the downward edge of the blade going forward, which is usually clockwise.  Many fans will settle the debate for you by putting "winter" and "summer" on the switch.  This pushes the warm air at the ceiling downward, which keeps the living area of the room warmer.  We don't have ceiling fans at Casa FC&G other than in the sunroom, but they do make a difference.

2.  Stop the dishwasher mid-dry-cycle:  This is one of my favorite tips.  I set the dishwasher to do a dry cycle as part of the normal wash, then stop it midway through and open the dishwasher door.  The dishes are already dry and as sterilized as they are going to get, and all that lovely steam and heat comes out and fills the kitchen.

3.  Leave the clothes dryer open a minute or two:  If you like to fold your clothes in the laundry room, leave the dryer door open while you do it.  The heat inside the dryer drum will come out into the room.  Be careful, because depending on how well your dryer is vented to the outside and how secure the baffles are, you can quickly get outside cold air.  But that initial burst of warmth is wonderful.

4.  Leave the pot on the stove:  If you boil pasta or potatoes, lift the food out with a strainer or slotted spoon and leave the boiling pot on the stove (with the burner off) while you eat.  The heat will escape into the room.  This is also a great excuse for making stock during the winter.

5. Open the oven door:  My all-time favorite.  When you do you regularly-scheduled baking, open the oven door when you are done to get a burst of 350 degree air coming into your kitchen.

The Analysis

Fast:  None of these ideas should take more than a few seconds to implement.  Would I steer you into a long, drawn-out project?

Cheap:  You probably won't notice a huge difference in your heat bills, but every degree counts in the winter.

Good:  Keeping warm while saving money is what we are all about!
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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shop Locally, Shop Sustainably


(OK, so the photo has nothing to do with the topic today, except to say that this was my first log cabin pot holder, and I still think it is pretty.)

So, we're getting into the holiday season, and it is almost impossible to avoid weighing in on how to handle it: use your frugal savings to shop a lot; cut back and shop a little; don't shop at all.  Whatever your perspective, there's probably a good strategy out there in the blogosphere.

However, I'm going to suggest that the FC&G way to handle holiday shopping is to shop locally as much as you can.  Here are my thoughts:

1.  Shopping local is sustainable:  Much of this blog focuses on things you can do to be self-sufficient, but no person is an island.  We cannot live entirely alone; human beings live in communities.  I suggest you use your money to support your neighbors' work, in the process keeping the money in your local community.  Eventually, it will come back to you.  That is a sustainable system.

Gift idea:  Rather than ordering gift baskets of food from large distribution organizations or those mall kiosks, go to the winter farmers' market and buy local jams, preserves, sausages, and cheese, and put those all in a pretty container.  Even if you are carrying the goodies a long way to Grandma's house, the purchases will support your community, and you are sure to have a one-of-a-kind gift.

2.  Shopping local is economically viable:  One way to support your community is to exchange your skill for someone else's.  Yes, that sometimes means barter, but primarily, we use money as an intermediary in the process.  So, you trade your skill as a computer programmer or a welder or a teacher for money, and then you can trade that for someone else's product.  I suggest you keep that money and that effort in your own community by buying as much as possible from local providers.  If you are in an area such as mine, which is still feeling the impact of the recession, those dollars kept at  home will do far more good than they would if they took an expensive trip to a corporate HQ.

Gift idea:  Rather than buying a mass-produced item, consider supporting an artisan who is now making a living off of his or her skill.  A local woodworker, for example, could potentially create anything from a set of coasters to a fabulous Adirondack chair, and you are sure that you are spending your money with someone in your community while you give an interesting gift.

3.  Shopping local is political:  This is not a political blog; I don't care if my readers vote or think the way I do.  However, I do hope my readers are voting with their dollars (or yen or euros) by supporting businesses that behave the way they believe is responsible.  Have you ever tried to trace the supply chain for a product from a large conglomerate?  Physical supplies come from all over the globe, as do administrative supports and marketing.  With your local businesses, your artisan is often the same one standing behind the counter, and that person can tell you in detail where the supplies came from and how the product was made.  If you agree that the person behaved responsibly and ethically, then your money is a vote to support continuation of that behavior.

Gift idea:  There are fewer worries about poor workplace conditions or questionable executive behavior when you buy local.  Quiz your local merchant about the supply and production chain when purchasing.  Try to find local substitutes for things you might otherwise buy from a faceless conglomerate, like knitwear from a local knitter who uses natural fiber yarns.

4.  Shopping local is environmental:  OK, not always.  But if you want raw honey or a product made without latex or a gift that uses as many upcycled items as possible, your best bet is the local provider.  If the large conglomerates have economies of scale on their side, then the small local provider has the advantage of overseeing the process in minute detail.  This means you can use your purchase to support a business that protects the environment in a way that you believe is effective.

Gift idea:  Think about bypassing the cookie-cutter gifts in favor of unique items that fit your sustainable beliefs.  There are many artisans in your community that work with upcycled items and create beautiful jewelry and household decorations that involve very little new raw material.

What are your ideas for sustainable holiday gifts?  Will you be shopping local this year?
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Coping with Cold Season the FC&G Way


Here we go again.  November starts the busy season for me, with extra work coming into Hilltop Communications, extra work and teaching at the second shift job, extra work on Carrot Creations to get ready for the holiday season, and the normal household responsibilities.  Then, almost predictably, Mr. FC&G has come down with a cold, and if this follows our normal pattern, I will get one soon enough in spite of our taking precautions about germ-sharing.

Therefore, today I thought I'd share a round-up of sustainable projects to help you weather cold season.  While I can't promise any of these will definitely prevent a cold, they will make dealing with it a bit easier.

Make Your Own Hankies:  I've noticed a distressing trend lately of people in offices leaving crumpled tissues within reach on their desks.  I'm guilty of this sometimes.  Maybe these tissues are used to wipe hands after a snack, but I'm afraid some of them are there because it seems wasteful to use a tissue for a single nose-dab and then throw it away.  It is, but yuck!

Make some of your own hankies.  Take a whole bunch of them to work, if need be.  You can easily use one once and then stuff it in your briefcase to bring home for laundering.  (Make yourself a little baggie or re-use a plastic grocery bag if you are squeemish about carryin the used ones around.)  Or, if you choose to use your hankie more than once, a hankie takes the stress of folding and storing in purse or pocket much better than does a flimsy tissue.  And homemade hankies are so much nicer to a sore nose!

Sage Noodle Soup:  With the antimicrobial properties of sage and the traditional anti-cold goodness of chicken broth, this is a great palliative when you are sick.  You will see that the first time out I resorted to packaged chicken broth; if you are the healthy one in the family and you have time to make chicken stock, this recipe will really turn out well.  Make a bunch of stock over the weekend while you are feeling well, then you will have the "fixins" for soup for a while.

Heat Up Some Bed Warmers:  Don't make a person feeling under the weather go to bed with cold feet.  Slide a warm bed warmer (or "knee thingie") in bed with them for comfort.  I love these regardless how I am feeling!
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Lime Tree is Expecting


One of my great pleasures in life is a well-mixed mojito.  It is such a fascination of mine, I have spent quite some time tinkering with the recipe.  Key ingredients are homegrown mojito mint, and homegrown key limes.

Last year, the dwarf key lime tree gave me its first crop of about 8-10 limes.  This year, although the tree set at least that many little limes, they all fell off or disappeared as the weather went from chilly to hot.  So, I was particularly excited when the tree bloomed again, just as I brought it indoors for the season.

Now, I will do a lot of things for my plants.  I water them to simulate rain, I use grow lights as needed to supplement sun, and I even run a little fan to help seedlings learn to deal with wind.  But I was a little concerned when I thought I was going to have to become a surrogate bee and help the lime tree have baby limes.

Last year, I dutifully brushed the pollen from the stamens of the flowers and transferred it to other flowers in the hope of getting a winter crop of limes.  Little did I know, my efforts were for naught, because my flowers were all "male;" that is, they only had stamens.  In order to get limes, you need flowers with a stigma, the little bit that looks kind of like a lollypop sticking up in the center of the flower.  (If you think I knew this ahead of time, let me tell you that I spent quite some time Googling like mad when the plant bloomed this year.)

The sources I consulted suggest that a citrus tree will pollinate itself as long as you have flowers with stigmas and stamens, but I wasn't going to take anything to chance in my wind-free and bee-free environment, so into the dining room I went, humming Barry White tunes and wielding a paint brush.  I transferred pollen from stamens to stigmas and hoped for the best.

Sure enough, my lime tree now has the characteristic green swellings at the base of the stigma in the flowers.  If all goes well, I hope to have a crop of at least a half a dozen key limes by spring.  The blessed event is much anticipated.
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rice-a-Ron-ish


I have to hand it to Kayla K, over at her blog Kayla K's Thrifty Ways.  She suggested a recipe for homemade "Rice-a-Roni," and I knew I had to try it with my own twist.  (Visit Kayla's when you have the chance; she has some great thrifty projects, and she is another blogger in the small family space, which is helpful for those of us who are cooking and crafting for two instead of six.)

The "Rice-a-Ron-ish," as I call mine, was done in less than 20 minutes, and it tasted really good.  Mr. FC&G declared it "a hundred times better than the boxed stuff," and I have to agree it had a subtleness and flavor that the spice packet variety doesn't have.

FC&G Rice-a-Ron-ish

1 cup instant brown rice
About 1 cup whole wheat spaghetti, broken into small pieces
2 t. sage
1 t. thyme
2 medium leeks, chopped
2 cups homemade chicken broth
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Cook the rice, pasta, and spices in the broth.  Add the leeks in the last 5 minutes of cooking to preserve some crunch.  Serve as a side dish, or wolf the whole thing down as a meal for two, which is what we did!

The Analysis

Fast:  Just like the box, this was ready in 20 minutes.  In fact, my pasta was nearly cooked in the time it took me to go out to the garden and get some leeks.

Cheap:  The homemade broth, and garden spices and leeks make this super-cheap.  There is probably less than $1 worth of rice and pasta in here to serve two.

Good:  The flavor of the chicken broth really came through on this, along with the spices.  This is so cheap and easy, I don't think I'll ever buy the box again.  Thanks, Kayla!
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Much Does a Garden Grow: Final Summary


As I promised yesterday, with the 2011 main gardening season over, it is time to distill some lessons from my gardening effort.  It was a very bad year weather-wise:  almost three months of rain and cold, followed by epic heat.  Things would sprout and then become stunted; the fruit trees tried to fruit but couldn't.  Our oak trees didn't even produce acorns.  I watched lettuces struggle and then bolt practically overnight. Yet, in spite of all of that, we turned a bit of a retail profit, and we learned the following:

Gardening is profitable:  If you average the haul out over the entire year, we brought in more than 10 pounds of produce per month and saved over $20 per month.  I consider that pretty pathetic, given the amount of space I dedicate to gardening, but even with the challenges we faced, we saved money.  In a sense, the garden this year was like a monthly CSA box that I was paid to take.  I still stand by my calculation that the overall savings is more like $20 per week, because the garden produce displaces a lot of more expensive and less-healthy purchases.  Why buy frozen pizzas when that shredded zucchini in the freezer can be the basis of zucchini orzo?

But local produce is out there:  If you don't have the space to garden, don't worry.  More and more, I saw local and/or "regional" produce available in my grocery stores, and the prices became very reasonable when the produce was in-season.  If you can't garden, you can still buy local, and you can save some money by respecting seasonality.  That means strawberries in May, not December.  And I hope my local supermarket reads this and sees my displeasure at finding pumpkins and rhubarb in the same produce section.

Organics are difficult:  However, I had a lot of trouble readily finding organic produce.  Yes, it is out there.  Most grocery stores carry some.  However, much of the time that I looked for an organic analog for a price comparison, I couldn't find one.  Had I been able to, my "amount saved" tally would surely have been much higher, because organics average about $1 per pound more than conventional produce, across the board.  With the recent opening of a local Earth Fair store, I should have a better chance at checking organic produce prices in the future.  However, right now our best chances for organic produce are lettuces and "keeper crops," like squashes, potatoes, onions, and carrots.

So are special varieties:  Purple potatoes?  Black Krim tomatoes?  Specialty peppers?  If I wanted a certain variety of veggie, I almost certainly had to grow it to be sure I could get my hands on it.  Stores are making progress, but they still carry primarily the most common varieties of veggies and often lump others together under the umbrella "heirloom," which anyone who has ever grown Black Krim, Amish Paste, and Yellow Pear tomatoes knows is nonsense.

Herbs are lucrative:  If you can only grow one category of produce, make it herbs.  Across the board, my herbs gave me the best ROI.  However, I expect this will change when and if I ever have another 300 pound tomato year.  (Cripes!  A decent tomato year could net me about $900!)

Save your seeds:  Above all, the difference between profit and loss in a bad year was saving seeds, starting my own plants, and relying on perennials.  Crops like leeks that are relatively new to me I grew from greenhouse plants, and they didn't turn a profit.  With things like herbs, peppers, pumpkins, and tomatoes, even a relatively small harvest could be profitable because of low or no seed/plant costs.

Gardening makes you eat more veggies:  Duh, right?  But this finding is very important if you are considering a gardening effort.  If you are buying all of your produce, you will buy exactly what you think you will eat.  If you are growing it, you will eat whatever is ripe.  This makes for some amusing meals ("Do you think we could put zucchini in that?"), but it means that we used veggies to stretch pizza dough, to top pasta, and to moisten cookies.  This isn't a trick to get little kids to eat; this was a way to use our hard-earned veggies in healthy ways before they went bad.

The garden never ends:  This was the big surprise to me.  I've been gardening since I was eight years old, but recently Mr. FC&G and I have put a lot of effort into extending the season on both ends.  This year, we started forking the garden in February, and now in November, we still have leeks, peas, carrots, mint, rosemary, swiss chard, lettuce, tomatoes (fingers crossed) and limes to look forward to.

And the Future:  So what does this mean for the future of this column on the blog?  Starting today, I will be reporting on the garden like a business, which I think of it as anyway.  I will do a month-end post that lists produce harvested and expenditures.  I'll keep adding to the current tallies through the end of 2011, then January 1, 2012, the "garden year" rolls over and we start from zero.  I anticipate operating in the red for a while in January/February because of the seed orders, then working ourselves into the black as the year goes on. It seems like the best way to take into account the ebb and flow of a garden.  After all, gardeners don't typically buy all new seeds and plants in spring, put them in the ground at Mother's Day, rip them out before the first frost, and call it done.  Instead, we have stashes of seeds, we start things at different times,  we watch the weather and pull out the tarps to see if we can extend the season by days, weeks, or even months.  A real gardener is always looking for a new crop to fill in underused time and a new treat to bring some veggies to a winter-dulled palate.  I think this will be a better way of keeping track.
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