Saturday, June 20, 2009

A $3 Side Table

I wish I'd taken a picture of this table before I refinished it. It had good Danish Modern lines but was so surface worn and distressed that the $10 yard sale price had been reduced to $5 and my offer of $3 was gladly accepted.
When I think of refinishing furniture, my head almost explodes remembering the long, labor intensive, tedious process of stripping paint and finishes...undertakings of my more energetic youth. Now, I search for the easiest and fastest route to revitalizing things that are genuinely worthy of the trash heap.

This table took a quick coat of black paint with a very small bit of sanding and white paint on the top. The zebra pattern was not artistic genius, just a quick computer search for a general idea and a matter of painting black lines on the white top. I didn't even have to pencil the pattern in advance. A little silver "Rub n' Buff" on the old brass drawer handle and the little table was ready to enter the 21st century.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chicken: Stock or Broth

While the rice is resting and the 3 qts of Chicken & Dumplings, and 4 qts of Chicken Vegetable Soup w/ Noodles finish up on their own, I would like to address my confusion concerning chicken fat. Considering today’s mania about fat of any kind, I would be inclined to remove and discard it. However, my childhood recollections overrule and I generally treat it as liquid gold. (If I die next week of clogged arteries, please don’t follow my example.)

In 1949, my father moved my thoroughly southern mother and us children to Cleveland while he attended school for four years. For the first year, we lived on the ground floor, left/rear, of a large red brick apartment building somewhere on Euclid Avenue. I remember that the front entrance had buzzers and speakers. Each day, coming home from the 2nd grade, I would have to press the buzzer, listen for my mother’s voice and announce myself into a little ring of holes in order to get the door to unlock. The door seemed huge and heavy. Wearing mittens and carrying my book-bag made opening it difficult but it was one of my favorite moments in any day. Perhaps that’s why walking into some restaurants whisks me immediately back to my childhood. The fragrances of out apartment did not ‘waft’. They were not gentle, like something on a spring breeze. They were hot, heavy and hard. Almost taking your breath away…and they were delicious.

Sylvia, a large Italian woman, downstairs/right/front, cooked with sausages and dried meats, garlic and basil and oregano, a great deal of which decorated her long white apron. With flour flying, she made her own ravioli and hung pasta on a clothes rack to dry. She had balls of cheese weighted with a plate and a rock in a large crock filled with liquid. Ester was the pencil thin Jewish woman who lived upstairs/left/rear/. She cooked with onions and caraway, cabbages and fishes and chicken that still had feet and necks and were laid out on a table that was covered with newspapers. Most often, the aroma from one of the kitchen overwhelmed the other but sometimes it was a real, mingling battle.

I loved those smells. I loved those women. I spent hours in their kitchens watching their every move. It was Ester who taught me to make latkes, the old knuckle-shaving way. When I got my first food processor, I tried it as a shortcut to turning the potatoes to a gray pulp but it wasn’t the same and I quickly returned to the time consuming method of hand grating. It was Ester, also, who taught me that chicken fat was something of a gift from heaven. I remember the golden pools floating on her soups. I strive diligently for that look, for that taste.

Today I have cooked big pots of chicken as well as Italian dishes. My kitchen has achieved the fragrance of that long ago battleground which existed just the other side of our huge and heavy apartment entrance door.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sometimes Old-fashioned Makes Cents!

Not only is this a new blog, I’m a new blogger, almost totally dependent upon my daughter not just for blogging instruction but for encouragement. Although she’s an 11-12 hour drive away, her blog has kept her close for me. I see my grandchildren in their creative activities, read her frugal living tips, recipes, weekly menus and shopping guides.

Tonight, she suggested I spend time researching. I was about to give up after 20 or so duds, when I finally stumbled onto some blogs and sites that contain genuinely helpful information for anyone seriously trying to save money. I was pleasantly surprised and my faith was renewed. The first was a fun, funny and pleasant surprise. Could you possibly be interested In MAKING YOUR OWN LAUNDRY SOAP FOR ABOUT 40 CENTS A GALLON? I was…so I clicked on their U-Tube Video. No wonder so many people live their lives in cyberspace! This was wonderful. Water. Borax. Fels Naptha Soap and Washing Soda. Who knew???? Super simple. Super savings!

I was so inspired, I kept searching.

It wasn’t long before I came to a well researched and wide-ranging site with an article about growing your own recession Victory Garden. It gave a little WWII history, brought the concept quickly into the present, dealt with the home garden and even opportunities for apartment dwellers. A really good read. Then there was a point-on article with a list of cut-to-the-chase specifics detailing the Biggest Mistakes Poor People Make. If you think you have avoided such mistakes, read the article. You might be surprised and might get a tip or two that can make a difference in your personal situation.

Slowly I am improving in my ability to navigate this world of my children and grandchildren and you. Funny, isn’t it, that the reason I’m even here is to help readers look to the past for solutions to the financial difficulties of this futuristic age?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Frugal Grandmother's Sheets

I remember when fitted sheets first hit the market. I would have said they were 'the best thing since sliced bread' except that I didn't know bread came any way except sliced. Ah...but this is about sheets.

Flat sheets for top and bottom were a horror to me at the age of 12. I had been making my own bed for years but never changing the linens. It seemed that 12 was the magical age for learning to do just that. 'Hospital corners' were the bane of my young existence. Even if Mother might turn an occasional blind eye to something less than a perfectly square corner, it was my father who regularly did the inspections. Whether it was the propriety of his upbringing or his not-too-distant discharge from the Army after WWII, I guess I will never know but he had little patience with a job improperly done.

Not long after my mastery of the hospital corners, I spent quite a bit of time with my paternal grandmother. On the first occasion of my changing bed linens I noticed a peculiarity. One of the sheets had a seam sewn directly down the middle, from head to toe. Upon further examination, I noticed that it was the selvage edges that had been sewn together and the outer edges had been neatly hemmed. My unsatisfied curiosity caused me to ask for an explanation. It was simple:

The center of the sheet had worn thin from use but the sides, having received virtually no use at all, remained "as good as new". Put the sides in the center, the center to the sides and the sheet will last twice as long.

Mind you, this was not my poor grandmother. Yes, I had one of those, too. But this was my 'comfortable' grandmother with AT&T stocks and a shiny new car and perfectly coiffed, blue hair. "Put the sewn sheet on the bottom", she said, undoubtedly to reserve wear to the top sheet. However, after careful consideration and believing myself to be the princess of 'princess and the pea' fame, I opted to use the sewn sheet for the top with the seam flaps facing up. After all, I reasoned, if the little 'flaps' were to touch me in the middle of the night, they might tickle and I would have none of that.

I hadn't thought of my grandmother's sheets for eons, perhaps not until I started seriously paying attention to the tumbling economy. So, I've told you that to tell you this: We have had life so very easy for such a very long time that few of us remember simple things like 'making-do with what we have' and 'a penny saved is a penny earned'.

If my thoroughly proper grandmother could be satisfied with life while getting twice the wear from a simple sheet, I believe we can make it through whatever this economy throws at us. Perhaps if we think hard, think back, we will each remember some example of almost forgotten avenues to thrift. My hope is that you will share your thoughts and ideas here. Post a comment, please.