Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I'm on a Diet: Green Tomato Bread

Y'all, I'm on a diet. But not the kind you're thinking of. There are no rice cakes in the house, no point counting, no low-calorie frozen meals.  Instead, I'm on a good food diet.  Since I'm also on a budget, I try to use what I've got without wasting.

This week, here's what I've got:

Yeah, it's a boat load of tomatoes. We had a freeze last Friday night, so that morning, we picked the last of the tomatoes. Many more than I'd ever thought possible.

And while I love fried green tomatoes, I think it's safe to say that even the best good food diet doesn't include one hundred of them in a week unless you're training for upcoming food-binge contest.

So I've searched the webs for ideas, and the first I thought I'd try is green tomato bread.  Think of it as zucchini bread except with 'maters.

It's actually quite delicious, despite being kind of a sickly green color when I popped the batter in the oven.  The top crust is crispy and really satisfying while the inside is moist, a little tart, and not super tomato-y at all. Plus, I have this smug feeling right now since my dessert actually contained a vegetable, I mean, fruit.

Green Tomato Bread
 inspired by Cooking With Michele
1/2 c butter, melted
2 c pureed green tomato, drained
3 eggs
2 c sugar (can be reduced if desired)
1 c plain yogurt
1 or 2 tsp vanilla
3 c flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

1. Mix together the butter, tomato, eggs, sugar, yogurt, and vanilla.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, and salt.
3. Bring the wet and dry together in a large bowl.
4. Pour batter into 2 greased loaf pans or one larger brownie pan (you know, a square one).
5. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.  

You can add more winter-y spices like nutmeg or cloves if you wish.  

Everyone in my family loved this bread. Enjoy!

Shared at The All Star Block Party.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Man, I'm Broke Monday: Keep it, Repair it

Because we find ourselves tight on cash these days and I'm sure we're not alone, I thought I'd start a series called "Man, I'm Broke Monday".  I might post it weekly, or maybe I'll forget all about this plan after a month, but I thought I'd share what we do to save money or stretch our dollar.

Today I'm going to show you a frightening photograph.  Seems fitting with Halloween coming up to scare the pants off of you (thankfully, since you're safely behind the computer screen or phone, I won't have to witness you pant-less, although now I have an image burned into my brain of your Tweety bird undies).

Washer is the near the stairs, dryer 20 feet away, because that's totally logical.

I know.  Gasp-worthy.  Heart-attack-inducing. Those appliances are so old. And so ugly! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

But let me tell you why I chose to shock you: it has saved us a lot of money to keep these older appliances.  My father gave me this washer a few years ago--it is nigh unto twenty years old and has a huge capacity.  The dryer was "Free with Purchase". That is, when we bought the house, we found the dryer down here. We  needed it, too, since this house is rigged for a gas dryer, and our old one was electric.

The fact the appliances were free to us is not really my point.  What's great about them is that we can repair them. By "we", I mean Ryan.  In fact, you should know that the Great Washer Repair of 2008 sealed the deal between me and my (then soon-to-be) husband.  He took a day off from work a few weeks after we met and replaced the thingamajig that makes the washer spin.  Part cost was less than $20.  The devotion and respect he earned was priceless.

Since that time four years ago, Ryan has also rigged the lid sensor (see photo below of the bread bag tie he used) and replaced the belt on the dryer when it stopped tumbling (about six months ago).  

Ryan will answer to MacGyver.
Ryan insists this work is not overly complicated and that anyone could do it, even a lazy redhead.  There are internet forums and websites where you can find information on DIY repairs.


The next time you're looking at your old appliances thinking, "Why can't I get one of those nifty frontloaders that cost $1000/each? Oh yeah, because my wallet is empty and I'd rather not go on the five year payment plan at Nebraska Furniture Mart," just remember that you might have something you can repair yourself at a fraction of the cost of a new model.  Keep what you have until it just won't go anymore rather than trashing a perfectly good appliance.

Another option is that when your 25 year old Kenmore kicks the bucket, you could try to get a used or refurbished older replacement (on Craigslist, perhaps?), which can tide you over until your financial picture improves or you just can't drown out the call of a royal blue front-loader that promises you'll lose weight and save time if you buy it (It also will chaperone your daughter's dates and make an awesome lemon souffle, which you can't eat since you're on a diet).  Newer models are much harder to repair, especially those with complex electronic systems.  I have a friend who has a swankier washer, and within two years of purchase, she had to replace the motherboard.  She and her husband are handier than most people and quite technologically inclined...I'm not sure if most people on the street could replicate their work as easily.

Above all else, don't get caught in the trap of believing you need to spend a fortune on a new thing that claims to save money and the environment (in this case, water usage).  I know this is hard for some.  I've battled my desire to have things that don't waste water and other precious resources.  But the energy savings are not substantial enough to justify our going into debt or spending beyond our means.** If you love Sarah Richardson but have the budget of the typical working Joe, spray paint your existing model and make believe you have your own Tommy sidekick making witty comments while pointing out this awesome 9.99/yard fabric.  Of course, I've *never* spray painted appliances...

Anyway, I hope our set lasts forever. I know it won't, but I think we'll have gotten our money's worth.

**The claim is that the HE washers can save you about $60/year in energy costs.  I'm all for savings, but if you're struggling, should you buy a new $$ appliance for 60 bucks a year in savings?  For me, the answer is obviously NO.  It can wait for now.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Freeze warning tomato salad

Despite the dire predictions in the dead heat of August, these tomatoes haven't given up.  I wonder if they're related to me because their high level of stubbornness is epic.

Heirloom Amish Paste.

Yesterday, I picked a bowl full of Heirloom Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes.  You'll notice they're a mix of green, brown, and red.  Hybrids tend to be much more uniform in color, but less delicious, while these colorful heirlooms are spectacularly yummy, even if a bit green in spots.  I bought this vine at Home Depot during a 50% off sale and had great success.

Instead of freezing them, I wanted to enjoy my last guaranteed fresh tomato salad of 2012.

I added plenty of fresh mint from the garden.

 And then made up a dressing of oil, acid, salt, and pepper (remember tomatoes like lots of salt).  Mixed it all up and plopped the salad into this awesome vintage dish my mother gave me during our last visit (makes that Hurricane Isaac debacle seem worth it).

For the first time ever, more than half of my offering to book club was actually enjoyed by someone other than myself.  Plus, the hostess asked for some leftovers to save for later.  Add in the Cava (Spanish sparkling wine) we all drank and the books we discussed, and the evening was a success.

Freeze Warning Tomato Salad

Ripe tomatoes from the garden cut in half or in pieces
Mint, Basil, or some other fresh herb
Onion, chopped finely (optional, but it's soooo good)
Olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Lemon Zest 
Splash of Balsamic Vinegar
Plenty of Salt

Combine the tomatoes, herbs, lemon zest, and onion.  Start with a little bit of the olive oil, lemon, and balsamic vinegar.  Taste.  Add more if necessary.  Salt generously. Pepper as desired. Garnish with more herb.

This is one salad you can mix up for awhile because tomatoes aren't that fragile.  Keep tweaking until you're happy.  

P.S. My Winslow is having surgery tomorrow.  Please keep her in your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sibling Rivalry: Annuals vs. Perennials

Consider the flora of the earth.  You find large, powerful trees as well as tiny flowers and everything in between.  Some produce yummy things to eat while others would kill you an instant.

Today I'm here to tell you about two distinct types of flowers.  Sisters, if you will.  The Hussy and the Good Girl.

Consider the wildflowers I planted in the spring. One bag of annual seeds covered the south side of the backyard. They were tall and skinny and produced flowers faster than you can say WonderBra.  Yup, those annuals were hussies, putting their goods out there for all to admire.  

Come over here, soldier, and gimme a kiss.

But take a look at these other wildflowers.

Here's the shorter and heftier big sister.  The one who took months to become substantial. The one who made her admirers wait for what seemed like an eternity for a bloom.

I'm worth waiting for.

These gals are perennial wildflowers, which means they should come back year after year.  It took them forever to bloom and grow because they were busy building roots since they're in it for the long haul, not just a one-summer-night's-stand.

My own red-headed flower standing in front of the perennials.
We planted the perennials in front of our (not so) lovely compost pile (which currently has three rather large tomato seedlings growing out of it), in hopes that flowers would distract critical eyes.  They've been fairly low maintenance and have tolerated the drought very well.  I'm glad I managed to stay patient because I was ready to rip 'em out a few months ago.

Yes, Good Girl, you were worth waiting for.  Sure, your sister's a tall drink of water, but you're the keeper.

(So next year when you're planting your garden, think about investing in perennials.  Cheaper in the long run, and they aren't as promiscuous!)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Peanut butter and WHU????

Y'all, I've had a religious experience over here at The Kiefer Cottage, and it's all thanks to peanut butter...


...and pickles.

Last night, I read an article from the NYTimes on the cult classic: the peanut butter and pickle sandwich.

At first, I thought that sounded kind of gross.

But I love Bread and Butter pickles, and I love Peanut Butter, so I might as well give it a try.  (I also love liver and pickles together and if you haven't tried the combination, you should. And don't give me that "I know I wouldn't like it" because I've missed out on winning tastes when I refused to try something new.)

First, I spread the peanut butter on a piece of bread (I didn't want to use two pieces in case I hated the thing).

Next I added slices of pickles.

Then I folded it over and ate it.  I felt it needed a lot more pickles, so I doubled the number, and then decided this might be the most delicious new thing I've tried in quite some time.

I shall eat this again.

Ryan, on the other hand, decided, after one bite, that only a crazy fool like me could enjoy such a strange combo.

That's okay. More for me.

Tried anything new lately?

I linked up to The All Star Block Party.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Whistle While You Work

Ever have one of those days when you're all set and ready to clean this messy house up and while you're at it, the kids will magically start doing chores (even the baby, who looks quite strong for his age) and obviously you're only a few hours away from being worthy of a feature in "The Cleanest House in America" challenge?

Drew loves to "help".

Nah, me either.

I find cleaning sucks the marrow out of my life and not in Dead Poets Society kind of way.  And I grew up in an immaculate house. So where did this malaise come from?

I'm not sure, but I think I'll blame high fructose corn syrup.

Oooh, a puzzle!  Cleaning can wait.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Republic Wireless {Affordable Cell Phone Service}

While I'm sitting at my front window watching my neighbors get their houses filled with new energy efficient appliances, their windows repaired, and their holey walls patched up, I figured I'd tell you about something Ryan and I did to save money recently.

It had to happen, especially since my student loan payment just tripled (!!!) now that my 4 year graduated repayment plan has expired. As a side note,  Income Based Repayment (IBR), while a life-saver in some instances, isn't always the best choice.  It would mean my monthly payment would be less than the interest owed, so if I ever made more money or were somehow blessed with a lump sum from the heavens and later decided to pay off the debt completely, I'd have to pay back MORE than what I owe right now. Also the thought of taking 25 years to make payments makes me kind of ill.  If I had eye-popping debt, you better believe I'd do it, but mine hovers around the price of a baseline luxury sedan (one with manual windows, that is).  At this rate, I'll have a huge portion of it paid off in six years, with the rest soon after.*

Anywho, up until now, Ryan was on his parents' cell phone plan, and it was time to cut the cord on that (many thanks to my generous MIL for allowing us to mooch a bit). Meanwhile, I was on another carrier's contract for a seemingly outrageous amount for not much benefit (1000 minutes, no data, for $50/month with me using perhaps 100 minutes a month).  We needed an alternative that wasn't too expensive and was contract-free so that our monthly outlay for portable communication devices (sounds swanky) wouldn't exceed what I was already paying just for my own service.

In steps Republic Wireless. They've been in Beta forever, or at least close to forever, testing their hybrid phone model, which primarily uses Wi-fi for calls and data as well as standard phone networks when Wi-fi isn't available. We finally got in on the beta waves after 10 months on the waiting list.  Right now, we're paying $45/month (taxes inclusive) for our cell phone service. Not just for one, but two smart phones.  You can use it unlimited as long as you're connected to Wi-fi, which the phone finds automatically, and you get limited service on the Sprint network when you're not in an area with Wi-fi (I'm not going to say "car" unless you promise that you're not driving and texting/talking. Seriously, you might as well be drunk doing that, so just don't).

republic wireless

Republic is not for you if you

1) Want a top of the line phone (ours is perfectly respectable but not state of the art) or

2) Need unlimited data all the time anywhere or

3) Have to have perfection 100% of the time with the service (the VOIP is sometimes a bit noisy--this is still Beta, which means they're testing, tweaking, and perfecting right now) or

4) Can't pay for an un-subsidized phone (we had to pay outright for ours, so they were $250/each**, which we saved up for over several months. Most contract plans keep the phone price down because they make up for the subsidy with the higher priced data and minute plans).

But if you're a casual technology user, needing to save money yet wanting more than a basic dumbphone, consider Republic.  I've had no issues with the phone and am getting plenty of dopamine hits with the constant access to the interwebs.  Pow! Status Update! Pow! Pictures of kittens! Oh, that dopamine feels so gooooooood.

(Another alternative is a prepaid plan from any other carrier.  It seriously pains me to see people who struggle to put money into savings every month pay too much for cell phones.  I mean, some pay hundreds for their devices and have nothing in the bank?  Folks, there are ways to have a fun gadget and not go broke.  And if your friends make you feel bad for not having the latest and greatest, well, they aren't your friends.  It's okay, I'll be your friend.)

*As a result of this drastic budget change, we'll be relying on some leftover supplies to do a few projects but otherwise we have to not pursue anything major at this time. Kind of sucks, but I'd rather stay current than go into default in the name of home renovation.

**It's a Motorola Defy XT.  Very hardy. Dropped it into the toilet (with clean water THANK GOODNESS) and it came out unharmed despite being completely submerged. Didn't even have to do the "put it into a jar of rice" trick.

Disclosure: Nobody paid me for this review and I'm not affiliated with Republic except as a full-price-paying customer.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

We didn't get it

A few months ago, The Kiefer Cottage was selected as a finalist for a great program for historic homes.  We were told we'd get anything ranging from a few meaningful things (seal up the exterior kitchen walls for instance) to a full-on, very expensive, whole house weatherization bonanza.

The work is scheduled to start Thursday.

And we're not getting any of it.

I am so bummed.  We did receive a free professional audit of the home completed along with a long list of recommendations to improve the energy efficiency of the house.  Apparently, our house deserves a gold medal in leakiness.

Our furnace is pretty bad, our AC worse, and we have little to no insulation in our attic (as well as no heat upstairs, but we didn't need a professional to tell us that!).  

We'll never know the reasons our house wasn't selected, although I do know the scope of the entire program was tweaked after we were assured we'd be getting more than a token, so I can't dwell on it.  And we are getting a few things like a water heater blanket and a low-flow shower head. I'm sure they'll be shiny and help us a bit.  (However, where is my free Obama cell phone? Okay, I have no idea what that whole thing is about, but I figure if I put it out there, maybe he'll send me one)

Yesterday, I pretty much knew the news about the grant would be bad, so I drove myself to distraction. That is, to the movie theater.

Argo was a great flick.  Intense, thrilling, and often very funny.  I left feeling better because I realized that Ryan is totally channeling Ben Affleck these days.  Just needs a full beard.  And perhaps to grow a few more inches.  Taller, that is.

Anyway, I'm currently drowning my sorrows in hard cider and trying to rework the budget (let's see, we can cut all fun from the spreadsheet.  Wait, already did that. That's why I blog. It costs me nothing) so we can buy a new furnace when ours finally kicks the bucket rather than just building a bonfire in the family room (the thing's like 30 years old. It's just a matter of time).  I'm thinking the girls are old enough to start their vaudeville careers, so we'll be having soft shoe boot camp every morning from now on.  I've always wanted to be a stage mom.

You say vaudeville ain't the thing anymore? Ugh, back to the drawing board.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Little Red Fox with a Big Booty

I'm feeling a bit rantalicious today, but bear with me.

I spent a couple of weeks with my mom in August, and we went through years and years of financial records, photos, and other memorabilia.  And look what I found.

This is a photo I took of a picture, hence the poor quality. But look at me.  I was a fox!  (Funny I use that word because my college friend Julian called me foxy a few times. I never believed he was being serious.)  My friend Sarah was visiting at the time, we were just about to head out for a fun night--it was 15 degrees that evening, which was outrageously cold for south Georgia.  It was an evening of gloriously outrageous lawful misbehaving.

I felt so bad about the way I looked, though.  I'm sure you see that little pooch.  I thought it was huge. I thought I was a super fatty.  I thought my nose was too big, my skin not perfect enough, my booty too jiggly.

Circa 2002.

I look back now and think, what the hell was wrong with me?  I should've felt *good*, not bad.  Cute, smart, funny, and with a booty that many many men appreciate. I was too dumb to realize I was doing just fine.

And yet I know I wasn't the only one being too critical.  Women are notoriously negative about themselves.  Even now, friends of mine bemoan their momma-hips, their tiny double chins, and their flat hair.  It's just not worth it, though.  If you're taking care of yourself, shouldn't you be celebrating your difference than wishing to be like some perfect little thing in a magazine (who's been photoshopped beyond recognition anyway)?

So that's my lesson to you. Next time you're beating yourself up for being a little fat, or having a few zits, or frizzy hair, or whatever, just stop.  Ten years from now, you might regret how you held yourself to unnecessarily high standards and wish you had stopped the negative baloney and enjoyed living a bit more.

Thankfully, I'm through with that.  My hips are much wider than before, my nose seems to have even grown a bit, and my hair isn't that red anymore (I'm a blond except in the most perfect light, like my profile pic).  I may not be a fox, but does that really matter?  Nah.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A redhead turns three

Winslow turned three yesterday. 

She's the redhead in the middle. Her sister wouldn't sit still (hence the blur) and Drew was mesmerized by something on the wall.

We got her one gift, something the whole family has been enjoying.

Even Rufus the cat.

Many demands for private castles to be constructed.

A few months ago, Ryan and I briefly discussed what a three year old would enjoy.  This year, we've made an effort to not have toys that have only one function or that are too gizmo-like.  And these blocks are just right for creative play.

We devoured cake and then Katie reminded us her own birthday would be very soon and that we shouldn't forget it.

Don't worry, kid.  We won't forget. You won't let us.

P.S. Remember how meal planning has helped keep our dinners leaner?  Well, I'm down a couple more pounds this morning.  Maybe one day I'll be able to say something obnoxious like "Ugh, it's so hard just keeping weight *on*.  It's like I can't eat enough!"

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Mini-Bar for the Lush in the Corner

Look what I found at Target for 70% off!  

Something small enough for that corner (wouldn't want to cover the vent), but useful, too!

I can hide stuff in it.  

Or place awesome artwork on top of it.  (Got this piece from Elizabeth Ocean)

Can't wait to fill it with sparkling wine and whiskey.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Meal Planning for the broke and busy

First off, let's revisit our garden challenge for 2012.  We committed to donating to Heifer International any of our grocery savings from the summer.  Because of drought, pests, and mystical curses, we didn't really save anything (maybe $20). However,  we did say The Kiefer Cottage would donate at least a goat's worth of funds ($120), and we followed through yesterday, now that the growing season is wrapping up here in Kansas.  Next year, I have big plans for making the garden more efficient, so hopefully we can do better summer of 2013.

But let me get to the main point of my post: meal planning.  I don't usually tout products, mainly because I think we need a little less consumerism in the world, not more, but I have found a service that has lifted a burden for me.  For the past three weeks, I've been using The Fresh 20 meal plans, available for $5 a month.  The weekday dinner plans are estimated to cost about $75 for five meals for four adults, and the ingredients are seasonal and often organic (for those who care about that).

Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Wild Rice Pilaf and Roasted Pears
I didn't subscribe to save money because we are already spending less than food stamps would give us--it'd be hard to cut back much more than we have.  But I haven't had to worry about making extensive lists or about the nutrition-factor (the meal plans come with nutritional information), and I've now got some new recipes in my arsenal (roasted pears were a serious hit in this house).  

Braised Chicken and Peppers with Cilantro Rice
The preparation often includes making extra for a meal for later in the week. For instance, we made the brown rice pilaf one night and then just added wild rice to it for another evening's side dish.

My only complaint is that the preparation time estimates are sometimes way off.  We don't like our onions to be toothy, so I always have to cook longer than the 2-3 minute estimates for that ingredient.  Also, the estimate on the brown rice was 25-30 minutes. Uh, I've never had luck with brown rice taking less than 45 minutes.  But overall, the prep doesn't take too long, and often is less than 30 minutes.

There are other websites that provide this service, so I think there's something for everyone.  I found a website the other day that touts five dinners being prepped in an hour, surprisingly called 5 dinners 1 hour and it costs the same as The Fresh 20.  I think most people (notice I said *most*) can find help if they need it with providing freshly prepared meals for their families.

*As a side note, as a result of eating normal sized portions (something me and Ryan have trouble with--we love food a lot), and enjoying relatively lean foods, we've dropped some weight! I'm down five pounds in 2.5 weeks, so that's a great thing in my book.

**The Fresh 20 is not affiliated with me and doesn't even know I wrote this review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Let's talk about art

Y'all know I like hanging stuff on the wall. Not 1 measly piece per 1000 square feet like some people. I'm more of an art maximalist.  The more, the better.

I came by it honestly. Remember my mother's walls in New Orleans?

Speaking of my mother and art, she recently was driving by a house near her neighborhood when she noticed a pile of stuff that looked decidedly un-junky.  She plopped a couple of boxes of the mystery items into her truck and sped away, just as another vehicle drove up to inspect the rest.

She found a treasure trove of art.  Pencil drawings, watercolors, and even a painting or two.

One of the pieces is, um, hardly a masterpiece.

I'm at a loss for words on how to describe the portrait except that it had water damage at some point.

But looky what else there was...

And this one too.

They're small, with the little log cabin measuring 3.5 x 4.5 inches. They each are set in a mat, but they need to be framed.

Who produced these gems?

Yeah, I know it's on its side but my computer insists the photo should look like this, so it stays.  

Anybody know this artist?  We found a drawing of his for sale on ebay but otherwise have not found any information.

Anyway, trash can be treasure, y'all!  I'll keep you posted on where I hang the drawings.

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