Monday, January 9, 2017

A Penny-Saving Loaf of Bread

Baking during the winter is a God-send.  It warms up the house and gives a tasty treat afterward.

I've been working on different bread recipes for a few years, and about 5 years ago leaped into the sourdough brew.  My first rounds of it were posted on my old site, Sunny Patch Cottage (Wordpress) as Sourdough in the Making.  Herman is still around, bubbling happily on the countertop with part of him staying cool in the freezer as well.

Baking our own bread saves us a few dollars on the grocery budget.  We get to have whatever grains we prefer, and the ingredients otherwise are suited to what we enjoy.  The typical recipe that I put together tends to give about 3 loaves of bread, sometimes 4, and costs well under the $2 to $3 per loaf we spend for store bought.

There are many bread recipes out there to try out.  We tend to go for the whole grain wheat and rye.  I've also made my fair share of potato bread too.  Our absolute favorite is a light sourdough (not too sour, but a mild flavor), with buttermilk, kneaded until it is silky smooth, baked til golden, and when buttered and cooled, cuts to near the size of commercial breads.

My current "typical" recipe includes about 2 to 3 cups of sourdough starter, a cup of water, 3 tablespoons of regular yeast (I buy in bulk and store it in the freezer), a drizzle of honey to proof, olive oil drizzle, 3 eggs, and a combination of rye and white flour.  All of this goes in the dough hooks of my good ol' Sunbeam mixer and then work with water and flour combinations enough to get a good sticky ball, cover to rise, and then make the loaves, bake at 375 until hollow sounding and deep golden brown, brush melted butter or olive oil on top, and serve when cooled.

That basic recipe also makes our cinnamon rolls.

To help the dough rise faster, I like to put on a stock pot of water to boil, which warms up the room and brings in humidity.  I also tend to put a small pan of water in the oven, which adds humidity so the crust takes longer to harden, and allows for a higher top.

To toast the bread once sliced, we put it on a cookie sheet at 400 for a few minutes, butter, and enjoy.

The cost of making these are pennies compared to store bought.  When using whatever flour you like, you can even make the specialty types of breads that are sans gluten and low carb.  I have yet to really experiment with these due to costs of almond and coconut flour in large amounts and a tight budget to work with.

What kinds of breads have you tried out so far?  Have you tried specialty types of loaves, and if so, how did it turn out?

I'd love to hear your experiences!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Keeping Cozy During Winter Months

Winter is upon us, and while the snow flies we can work on ways to keep the dollars from flying away as well.

I've asked some of my friends what they do to help conserve resources during the cold winter months.  This is not an exhaustive list (I'm sure there will be more posts on this as more ideas float around and the winter months go on.)

Something we do in our house is electric heat tape on water pipes.  We have a small crawl space type basement underneath the part of the house where the water pipes run, and hubby wrapped what he could in the heat tape.  It really does help in keeping pipes from freezing in the bitter cold.  Also, in the worst of temps we drip the faucets to keep just a little movement so there's no freezing up.  Back on the farm, we'd keep the cabinets open wide and drip faucets, but it would still be so so bitter that the pipes froze over anyway (many years ago back on the Missouri farms)--but dad never used heat tape.  There was no place to plug in, nor really room to get under there much as the floor of the house was literally 4 to 5 inches above the dirt.  Gotta love the old old farmhouses!  Through the years, even in the days as a single mom living in a little bitty mobile home (12x50) among other places, the heat tape seemed to make a big difference.  It may seem a bit of an investment at first, but it is cheaper than broken water pipes.  When I had my small trailer, I also wrapped the pipes in a black foam cover that went over the electric tape as extra insulation.  Whether that was a good idea or not, it helped insulated exposed pipes from Missouri winters.

Many of my friends suggested wood heat.  I fully agree with this one!  Wood heat is a renewable resource, and it takes elbow grease to get it, but the warmth it provides is amazing.  Many years ago my aunt and uncle had wood heat in their living room, and it was so so warm and cozy.  Good memories there!  In our rural area, wood is a big part of heating, and you can smell the wood burning through out the town here.  When we first moved into town, I would smell the wood burning, and since we live in a wood frame house, would be alarmed and get up to make sure our house wasn't on fire.  It took me a while to get used to having many people around us use wood heat.  My favorite memories are of my aunt and uncle's house with the wood heat, and my cousin and her husband's home with the outside wood burning stove that provided heat inside and also provided enough heat to help keep a greenhouse going around the heater.  One day I would love to have wood heat.  Until then, we handle electric run heating in our home.

Another way to save money in the winter is to invest in new windows for your home.  This works well if you own your home!  Energy efficient windows may be a large investment at first, but well worth it for all the heat and cool air you keep in the home in the various seasons.  It makes the value of your home rise too, I'm sure.  We have one or two of those type windows in our house, and you feel nothing come in--it's great!  Other ideas for windows include putting blankets up to windows securely to keep the cold out and the heat in.  This falls in line with the plastic idea in my first post of this winter series.

Something to think about--many older houses don't have much in the line of insulation in the walls.  It's just the way they were made.  The newer homes have lots of insulation put in, and it makes a difference.  In older homes, maybe consider using wall hangings, like soft quilted kinds, to cover walls, especially outter walls that tend to get very cold.  Break out grandma's quilts or make some of your own to display, and you get decoration to suit your style as well as an added layer of insulation throughout the home.

A thought for indoor heating--the fireplace heaters.  They are good for extra added heating, and have the look of a fireplace.  You could possibly decorate them up for holidays as well--added bonus!

What other ideas do you have about keeping cozy in the winter?  Please feel free to share in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Staying Warm Without Killing The Bank Account

wood burning kitchen stove

Winter brings snow, cold, and high heating bills for most of us.  Our family is no exception.

There are definitely ways to help tame down the heating bill monster, and each family will have different ways to go about it.  Some have old farm houses with lots of drafty areas, some have energy efficient homes that are air tight, some are in between.

I've grown up on farms and spent many many cold days/nights in farm houses with more drafts than the military had.  A lot of mornings it wasn't unusual to wake up with ice on the inside of the windows.  Oddly enough those days from my memory seem the most cozy.

In the houses we lived in, we mostly had Warm Morning or Morning Glory stoves for heat.  It oddly enough looked like the one pictured below, including carpet.

Those bad boys could kick out some heat, and usually were centered in the middle of the house.  In fact my father-in-law still uses one and it keeps his house feeling like the tropics.  Ours on the farm was hooked up to propane and sounded like a shotgun when it kicked on.  We kept an old coffee can full of water on top for humidity, and many mornings you'd find dad stretched out in front on the carpet after getting out and breaking ice.  I joined in that and had to thaw myself out in front of the old Warm Morning pretty often too.  We lived in North East Missouri at the time, back in the late 80's and through 2000.  Let me tell you, winters can get rather mean and nasty there--not like Minnesota or Wisconsin or the Dakotas nasty, but it has a hefty bite to it.  Previous to moving to Missouri we lived on a ranch in South East Oklahoma, where it doesn't normally get extremely cold--not by northern standards.

To help on costs for propane, my folks would buy on contract in the late summer and do fill ups on the tank early.  We didn't use much propane during the rest of the year, with an electric top stove and electric water heater.  I don't remember the cost, but those days it seems everything was cheaper than it is now.  We (mainly dad and I) would work on putting plastic up to the windows and using wood slats to keep it up.  We'd throw bales of straw around the foundation of the house as well.  I was the last kid at home (of 11 of us) so I did a lot of the fixing up for seasonal things, including the winter set up.

Dad and I worked outside a lot, as there was cattle that needed ice broken, the owners (who owned the property and cattle that we helped tend) would come in with hay bales and feed buckets, and there was always keeping an eye to make sure no cattle went out onto the pond and fell through the ice.  That Warm Morning stove felt great coming back in from the bitter cold.  We'd put our gloves and boots by it to warm them back up and defrost the gloves that had ice all over them, and thaw ourselves out while mom did her thing taking care of the house as much as she could.

I've taken some of those lessons learned on the farm and use them now in our house.  We live in an old wood frame house, and I like it.  It reminds me of being back home.  It has the old double hung windows and mostly the original lead glass,  It has drafts of course, which is to be expected.  To fend them off, we worked at putting plastic up to the windows, as well as using old blankets up to the doors when they are not in use.  Simply cut two little holes at the top of an old blanket and put a nail on either side of the door frame, hang, and when you are not using the door, keep the blanket up to keep the wind and cold air from coming in.  We also invested in insulated curtains.  These I am not fond of.  I washed one set without reading directions and completely ruined them.  They must be washed cold and line dried, and even then they stick to themselves and remove some of the insulating materials adhered to the back of the fabric.

Baking is a big thing in the winter here.  Although, I did try it the other day when it was very cold, and I couldn't get the yeast warm enough to proof.  Our kitchen is in the back of the house, and when the arctic freight trains roll through, it's not the easiest to  keep it and the laundry room and bathroom warm.  Heat just doesn't reach back there well due to how it's laid out.  But, with the gas stove (older one that I really like as it doesn't use electricity for ignition) going and space heaters we keep it fairly decent.  Baking during the cold days does help, and provides fresh made goodies and keeps the back half of the house warmer.  I've been also known to put on a stock pot of water and throw in cinnamon sticks and cloves to simmer, adding more water as it evaporates.  The only downside is the red drip marks that sometimes ends up on the wall behind the stove...but it's easily cleaned with Murphy's Oil Soap and the boiling stock pot puts out a nice scent and heat and some humidity.

We also have taught the kids (and reminded ourselves) to wear layers inside the house as well as out.  It's nothing during the coldest days to find us wearing multiple layers.  We have the heat set at a certain temp, and that is usually within our budget and there it stays--if one is cold, put on more clothes.  If we're watching tv or sitting down reading or sewing or whatever, there's plenty of lap blankets to go around.  The family has enough clothing to wear 3 layers a day for 2 or 3 weeks and not run out, so they have no excuse.  Wearing extra clothing in layers helps keep warm, and doesn't put more pressure on the heater and utility usage.  We don't expect the family to dress for summer in the middle of winter--it will not feel like the tropics in our house until July, therefore we have to dress appropriately.

I've also put layers of quilts and blankets on all beds.  One child has 4 that he uses (his choice), the others choose up to 3.  Most often they get too hot and kick them off, but they are there for them to use just in case.

We also make use of space heaters.  Yes, I keep an eye on them, and we've bought ones with the feature that shuts them off if they tip (and tested them out).  They help a bit in rooms that are farthest away from the heat sources.  When used sparingly, it doesn't hurt the utility bill much.

Going through winter doesn't have to cost an extreme amount.  Yes, it gets cold, but with planning and a little work ahead of time, even in older homes, you can cut the cold and keep as much heat in the house as possible.

I guess you can say we are a bit old fashioned in how we handle the cold.  That's how hubby and I were raised, and it seems to work.  Sometimes the older ways work the best. :)

How do you keep your heating bills down in the winter months?  I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Frugal Kansas Homemaker

Frugal homemaking is more of a lifestyle than a fad.  It comes with time, learning how to make the pennies stretch and keep going when there's not much, if anything, left to work with.

Many generations of homemakers before us lived frugally.  They grew their own food as often as possible, canned for the winter months, worked with making their own clothing or recycling purchased clothing until it was either pieces of a quilt or a rag to clean with after being reused for other clothing purposes.  They did things more by hand, took time to cook homemade meals, and did it most of the time on one income.

How did they manage a full and thriving household on a small budget?

They lived frugally.

It is my desire to share ideas and thoughts here about how to go about stretching the precious budget dollars.  Whether it's recycling, growing our own foods, making our own cleaners if possible, saving on utilities, etc, we can use one idea or another to help stretch dollars to last just a little bit longer.

The Lord gave us the income we have, and it's up to us to be responsible for what we use our dollars for.  If we squander, we are held accountable.  If we use it appropriately, to the best of our abilities, we glorify Him better.