Thursday, September 29, 2011

Clutter Bug Boogie

So I have been absent from the blogging world for several weeks.  I apologize...I have been taken over by a fall cleaning frenzy--some have their day in the spring, for me it is in the fall.  As windows get shut-up with the cooler weather, I feel like that is the time to start the thorough cleaning--the removing of spring/summer dust and grime.  In the spring you are opening up the windows and in flies the outdoors-- dust and all.  To each his (or her) spring or fall it really is up to you.

I was motivated even more this year to declutter as I clean.  Generous family members allowed us to inherit their stuff (some of this was appreciated...some of it not so much).  While these gifts are well-intentioned, my own mantra is "clutter is no gift."

But something else had happened to my house over the years--I was so good at finding bargains or free items they started to take up my living spaces. My frugality, while a friend on most days, was not a friend when it encumbered my day-to-day living spaces (or better yet, my day-to-day living experiences).  And so I have began the slow process of clearing out the clutter.  Somedays have been major overhauls of a room-- but on most days, I set a timer and see if I can clear out and replace within the 15-minutes I have set aside. The frustrating part of this is I'm losing money in my clearing out.  Even if these things were purchased for a quarter at a garage sale that is still a quarter I wasted.  Thankfully, there are items that were free and so no loss (except for the time wasted finding a home for this stuff and later removing it).

Still, my plight to clear out represents a common problem when a person gets the "frugal" bug.  "Sale, reduced for  quick sale, half-off, going-out-of business" are all statements that can suck in the most frugal-minded folks and bring us to buy things we don't need or really want.

There are several tactics to avoiding overbuying even when it is a "good deal."

Wait 24 hours--chances are it will still be there tomorrow and once the fever has wore off you may decide you don't need it.  If you fear it will be gone you can buy it (make sure it can be returned) and keep it in your car for the next 24 hours--then decide should it come in the house or go back.

Ask yourself, "Will this improve my life substantially, is it necessary, will it be more work to take care of this item in the long run?"  Usually your answers will be--No! No! and Yes!

Have a running "needs" list of things you do need--so if you do catch a "good deal," a garage sale, etc. you can use the list.  Just as your grocery shopping list saves you from making rash purchases so does this "needs" list. I make a "needs" list every year during garage sale season (usually it involves figuring out what clothes my children have grown out of) and this helps me avoid buying what I don't need.

If you do purchase something, know that you will have to remove something else out of your house to make room for it.  I purchased a pair of PJ's and out went an old rag-tag pair (and so my drawers still close easily).

Hopefully if you stop and reflect before you buy--you won't have to do the clutter bug boogie very often.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Counting Your Beans...


I enjoyed a nice weekend at my sister's home and discovered a cabinet full of canned beans (for her future pot of chili).  She explained to me that she always uses canned– she doesn't know how to "do" dry beans.  A can of beans can range from cents to over a dollar a can.  A bag of beans will cost you over a dollar usually but you get a lot more in return– additionally, you lose a lot of the sodium and many of the "added" ingredient.  Even more the cans beans purchased in tin cans may contain more BPA (Bisphenol A) than the plastics we've been pulling out of our toddlers mouths. BPA has been linked to breast cancer and early puberty in women.

Prior to my frugal self-education...I didn't even know that beans came from anywhere else but cans.  I didn't know how to "do" dry beans either.  So for all of you scared of dry beans take a chance...and avoid some yucky side effects when enjoying your chili.

How to Cook Beans

Put two cups of beans in a coliander and rinse clean--look for any twigs, rocks, or rotten beans and pull out and toss em' (you could compost the twigs and the rotten beans but not the rocks...)

Put the beans in a glass bowl and cover with water--place a lid or a towel over the beans (to keep bugs and dust out).  Let the beans sit overnight or 6-8 hours.

(If you don't have time or forgot to let them soak overnight--fill you tea kettle up with water and bring it to a sing--pour the hot water over the beans in a glass bowl and let it sit for an hour...should be ready to cook after that hour.)

After soaking beans pour water off (0r reserve this water if recipe specifically calls for it– otherwise assume you are going to cover them again with fresh water)

Beans can be cooked in several ways; slow cooker, stove, or pressure cooker.  I typically use the first method so food can cook while I'm doing other things.  I just inherited a pressure cooker and so I'll let you know how it goes.  I'm sure some people have cooked beans in the oven as well....I just haven't experienced that...maybe someday I'll find an obscure recipe that calls for it...maybe over the campfire in a cowboy hat as's an adventure who knows?  Okay back to the beans...

Follow your recipe–this will involve covering beans with some type of liquid...for chili I just cover with water and add my spices, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and some corn at the end.  If I start a pot of beans on the crock pot in the morning I cook on low all day– if you have a half day (6 hours) cook beans on high.  

On the stove your beans can be done in a little over an hour or two on simmer (I usually try to get them done a little faster and boil them and then simmer).  

Here is the trickiest part about beans....OLD BEANS WILL NEVER GET SOFT!!!!!  If your bean are over a year old they are useless to you as food.  They make great art for the kids however or a delightful bean bin for little ones to enjoy some tactile learning....and again back to the cooking part

For years I thought I would never be able to cook beans they always stayed hard for me...because they were always ancient...I get an idea in my head to cook with some and forget about them, until over a year later when I would get the same notion...but then I would feel like a failure with my pot of hard beans...beans will soften if they are fresh– so give yourself a break if you've ever had that disaster didn't know and now you do.

Were really about done-- on your first go with slow cooker beans you will want to stay close to home (maybe try it on a weekend).  The liquid cooks down and so you will want to practice a little so you know how much liquid to keep in there so they don't dry out or burn.  I end up drowning my beans so I rarely ever have had to worry about this (but I like my drowned...they are tasty that way).  Refried beans are really the one time you do need to pay a little closer attention and since I know that you've now got a black-belt in bean basics I'm going to give you my rock star awesome refried beans need to yo quiero T. Bell  anymore....

Slow Cooker Refried Beans

1 onion peeled and chopped
3 cups dry pinto beans (0r black beans), rinsed
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (optional if you like it warmer– I sometimes add a dried chile pepper and take it out prior to mashing–it makes it just about right for my kids who don't like things too hot)
2 tablespoons minced garlic or 1 tablespoon garlic powder
3 teaspoons salt (more if you like)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin 
9 cups of water

1. Place all ingredients in the slow cooker and stir.  Cook on high for 8 hours (add more water as needed).  If your water is evaporating too quickly turn your slow cooker down.
2. When beans are cooked strain them but make sure to RESERVE THE LIQUID.  Mash the beans with a potato masher or large fork (add the reserve water as needed to get them to the consistency you desire)....

Happy eating!