Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Stillroom

The stillroom is something that has long gone out of fashion in most countries. Once it was a cool dry place where (usually) women worked. It was the place to prepare herbal tinctures and other home remedies. A place to hang cheeses to dry and cure. A place to brew beer, wine and cordials.

I love this book by Grace Firth and refer to it often. She shows you how without a  stillroom you can still have lovely stillroom treats. Home cured meats, preserves and pickles are but a few things she shares. Beer, wine, soup, stew, preserves, bread, they are all here.

I love her word pictures too of what's in her "stillroom" which is really just small scattered storage spaces around her home; the crisper drawer in the fridge, a cool corner of the cellar or a cool dark closet. Corned beef, pork and beef sausages, bacon, cheeses both fresh and aged, smoked and not. Would that she lived down the road that I could visit!

Some of you may wonder why go to the bother when you can pick up the same stuff at the market, can't you? The answer is yes, sort of. You see more and more nowadays what you buy at the store in a package is less than what you thought it was and much more about chemicals, preservatives, fillers and other additives to turn a bigger profit for the company. Some of these things we know harm our health and the rest are mighty suspicious.

Then there is the satisfaction of sitting down to eat and knowing exactly where everything on your plate came from and how it got there. To be intimately associated with the food you put in your mouth is divine. To remember planting and waiting (it seemed forever) for the carrots to sprout, then weeding and thinning them, watering them when it didn't rain, anxiously looking for the first signs they were gaining girth so you could pull some babies for dinner. There is great satisfaction in it all.

Besides, even if you are not able to raise everything you need, when you have the opportunity to acquire half a pig or a side of beef it is nice to know ways of keeping it without it taking up space in your freezer. Let alone the delight to the taste buds of something new.

And aside from all these, you will almost always save money and feed your family healthier food when you take the raw ingredients and produce the final product. Compare the price of beef jerky to the price of fresh meat (realizing of course in this instance the difference in weight is what, about 1/4?).

Two years ago I canned dozens of jars of green beans, both regular and some pickled. Of the pickled ones I had some with hot chilies added. So from my little patch of beans came several products, for very little cash outlay (since I've had my jars and canning equipment for years). Fresh beans, canned beans, Dilly Beans, Hot Dilly Beans. The list of things you can do is endless.

Well, I hope you enjoy Grace's book as much as I do.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Are you a maker or a buyer?

Now then, do you make most of your food at home or do you buy most of your food ready to eat at the market? Besides the extra expense is the way of profit to the grocery and the sales tax upon your purchase, there is of course profit to be paid to the company which produced the food in question.

By buying (or even better raising your own) raw ingredients you can greatly reduce your expenses. That 'hamburger helper' in a box is merely pasta with with seasonings. I'll bet that even if you are beginner cook you can make something that tastes at least as good and probably a great deal better.

To top it off, if you used your savings to purchase whole, organic foods, then you will greatly reduce the amount of chemicals of all sorts to which your family is exposed. It is my *personal opinion* that the great rates of cancer, arthritis, diabetes and even autism and other health problems are being caused by the chemicals in our food, air, water and soil.

Check about in any vintage, antique or even thrift shop and you will find a great many cook books. Look at the older ones, printed before 1950 or better yet, those printed before 1930, when convenience mixes and such first came on strong. In them you will find good recipes for good food made with simple ingredients.
While  you may not be a vegetarian, I do think you will enjoy some of Helen's simple, delicious and nutritious recipes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How I Named This Blog 'Cottage Economy'

Some wonder why I named this blog Cottage Economy and where did that come from. Well, it comes from a book by the same title, written in 1833 by William Cobbett. Mr. Cobbett concerns himself with how poor laborers families in England and other countries can improve their lot by doing many things for themselves, by conserving their resources and in so doing give themselves a leg up.

In his introduction he gives us this definition of 'economy':

3. ECONOMY means management, and nothing more; and it is generally applied to the affairs of a house and
family, which affairs are an object of the greatest importance, whether as relating to individuals or to a nation.
A nation is made powerful and to be honoured in the world, not so much by the number of its people as by the ability and character of that people; and the ability and character of a people depend, in a great measure, upon the economy of the several families, which, all taken together, make up the nation. There never yet was, and never will be, a nation permanently great, consisting, for the greater part, of wretched and miserable families.

I love this book, so many wise things in it. It's been awhile so I'm going to re-read it. I've just discovered that you can download a free digital edition of it in quite a few different formats here.

But if you would like to own a real paper and board copy of
William Cobbett's Cottage Economy, there are several
different editions available.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Plugging the Leaks!

"It is not what we earn, but what we save, that makes us rich. It is quite as important to stop the leaks as it is to figure on big profits" Rolfe Cobleigh, Handy Farm Devices and How to Make Them, 1910

I so love that quote! You can read the book here When we take control of our lives and our finances and begin to scrutinize what will give us the best return for our time and money in every area we find those little leaks. Quite often the ailing business can be brought round with some cost cutting measures and a case of plugs. The same holds true for the family budget.

Where is your budget leaking? Remember all those dimes add up to dollars. Spend a few minutes filling a water bottle and putting it in the refrigerator, pack yourself a lunch, make your own pot of coffee. None of these takes much time to do but they will quickly plug that convenience store leak in your budget.

If you don't know how to hem your pants, patch a hole or sew on a button, don't you think it's about time you learned? These simple things can keep your clothes going a bit longer, they don't take very long to do, in fact I used to keep a basket with mending or some sort of sewing or embroidery by the couch and while the rest of the family watched the movie, I was sewing (or sometimes knitting). I was still enjoying the movie, but I don't have to have my eyes glued to the screen to follow the plot.

For some more money saving ideas check out my article at Associated Content.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saving Money

I so so soooo love being in tune! I have procrastinated buying new shoes for several months and printer ink for a few weeks. In the meantime I got emails about sales & such and oh am I happy camper: I got an email coupon good for 20% off my order and free shipping on an order over $75 so I ordered 2 combo packs and have 8 black, and 4 each blue, red, yellow coming for only $78.38.

Then I got an email for, buy anything and get $15 off any purchase over $60. Well my Sketchers usually cost around $60 so I went looking; a pair of Sketchers, usually $105, on sale for $79.95 so they only cost me $64.95 (shoebuy doesn't charge sales tax OR shipping!)

At both websites you can sign up to receive email newsletters which often have coupons or special sales that are not advertised on the website; you have to put in a special code at check out to get them. I don't buy these things very often but am really happy to get the specials when I do need to buy them!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Quick (reasonably healthy) Dinner

A dinner I often make for myself starts with a box of organic whole grain mac & cheese. My local grocery carries a couple of brands so I wait for a sale and stock up. No matter the brand, I generally ignore the directions.

What I do is fill my 6 quart pot about half to two-thirds full of water and when it comes to a boil dump in the macaroni. When the pasta is almost done I dump in a bag of mixed frozen vegetables. I like several varieties and usually have some different ones on hand. What ever you like will work, although I have never tried leafy greens; I think they would get overcooked.

When the veggies are hot I dump it all in the colander and drain well, then back into the pot. I add a couple tablespoons of butter (I object to margarine on several grounds but will save that rant for another day) and stir until the butter is melted. Then sprinkle in the cheese powder while stirring (this and the next step will give you a nice creamy sauce without lumps of powder, yuck.) Then slowly pour in a small amount of milk while stirring constantly.

After that I usually toss in a couple of handfuls of shredded cheese because I like it really cheesy. Sometimes I vary this by adding some chopped or shredded meat, leftover ham is my favorite but chicken or beef also work.

This takes less than 30 minutes to fix, the veggies and whole grain pasta offer fiber along with vitamins and minerals, the cheese and any added meat offer protein. If you use all organic ingredients then it will be a pretty healthy dinner. At any rate it is much better than running out for fast food!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bit by Bit (Time Management)

Well, they say Life is what happens to you when  you are making other plans. Rather I think it's what happens when I get distracted from my goals. After more than 12 month hiatus I am working hard to get things back in shape around here. I'm still working full time, but I have managed to make all of the financial goals I've had and will become debt free around January of 2012.

A few days ago I realized that I had been majorly procrastinating in several areas. So I made up my mind that every day I would spend 15 minutes working on four areas of my life; my kitchen, my garden, decluttering the junk all over the house and my desk, paperwork and business affairs. So far I have mostly accomplished this for 10 days now (I did have a couple days where I didn't get all four done). (edit June 21, 2011 I have now been doing this for 23 days in a row and have begun another blog to chronicle this journey in living color. Come along for the ride at My Journey from CHAOS to Organized)

The result has been remarkable. The kitchen is clean and tidy which makes cooking healthy food and cleaning up after a breeze. The gardens beds are slowly appearing from under a forest of weeds and jungle of rubbish. I vow not to plant too much until I am home from vacation in September. By then things should be quite cleared up and ready to plant. My desk has slowly appeared from under piles of paperwork and filing. I had been slacking a bit about paying bills, losing them in the piles but am back on track now. And slowly boxes and piles are disappearing from the living room and studio.

I can't wait till I've kept it up for two or three months, it will be amazing. On another note, I recently refurbished a resin garden fairy and returned her to greeting duty by the front gate.
Refurbished Garden Fairy

I wrote an article with step by step photos if you'd like to read it go here: Refurbish Your Garden Art

Friday, June 3, 2011


The Dervae family of Pasadena, CA are some of the most inspirational people you will ever meet. They are living the good life right in the midst of the city.