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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Budget Saver: Our Favorite Bean and Pasta Soup

 Soup is just good for your soul.

     And Your Stomach...

          Your head, your sinuses and just
                             about everything else!

I love soup and this is our favorite.
There are weeks I have to make this twice.

The great thing about this soup is that you can dress it up or down to the level of your budget and what you already have in the pantry. It's a great use up recipe for that handful of pasta or if you have a mix of beans or whatever kidney, black beans or pinto beans you have on the cupboard shelf.

The genesis recipe for this soup is from a great book called, "Splendid Soups".  I typically make it with black beans and bacon. This week I had no bacon but had some prosciutto which is what the original recipe calls for. I also had no pasta (the scurge of having a teenager) so mine is sans pasta for this week (I made garlic knots out of white bread from the bread machine). My "canned" tomatoes are my canned spaghetti sauce I put up earlier this past week. See, you can mix and match with what you have. This is also great for throwing everything in the crockpot in the morning (sans pasta), blending it when you get home and popping in pasta in the last 11 mins.

Bean & Pasta Soup

Mix and match to what you have on hand!
  • Beans, black, pinto, kidney,
    what- have-you
    about 2 cups
  • 2-3 cloves garlic minced (or 2 tsp from a jar)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups tomato sauce or canned tomatoes
  • bacon or ham product about 4 slices chopped
  • basil or pesto* (see previous entry for how to make!)
  • Chicken boullion
  • handful of pasta

This is a Melissa D'Arbarian tip that I think is stellar. If you buy a bagful of dried beans, you can make them all up at once and have enough beans for several recipes, just pack them in 2 cup sizes and put them in the freezer for later use. For the cost of about two cans you can make at least 6 pots of soup or something else!

Use your pork products to render your fat. If you use something lean as I did in this case, you may have to add olive oil. Once you have rendered your fat, add your onions first.

And once they have become translucent, add your garlic and sauté for another 1 minute.


Once all the aromatics are softened, add your tomato products. Don't worry too much if this is chunky, prior to eating the soup, you will blend it all to a smooth consistency.

Save yourself some dishes. Four cups make a quart so fill up that tomato jar and get every last bit of summer goodness out of that!

Add your water and bouillon cubes.
One packette to each 2 cups of water.


Add your beans and pesto/basil and simmer for about 30 mins to an hour.



Grind with an emulsion blender. You can use a regular blender but only fill about 1/2 way and put a towel on the top of the blending cup. Hot soup burns! I speak from experience.
After blending add your pasta and cook for another 11 mins or so. I often shut the crockpot down at this point and just let the residual heat finish the pasta if I'm doing it in the crockpot.


Dress with sour cream and cheese. Delicious!
You may end up making it twice in a week too. It's just that good!
... And no one has to know how easy and budget friendly it is! 


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Goodbye My Dearest Clothesline

My Dearest Clothesline,

     It saddens me as much to write this letter as I’m sure it is to read it.

Image courtesy of

The summer of our time together is waning-I can feel the coolness in your demeanor every time we are together. The carefree, sunshine dappled joy that we shared, the joy I felt every time we got together has been replaced with the cold steeliness and I feel that with every crisp autumn day we are drifting apart.


Please don’t think I’m being fickle. I’ve attempted in everyway I know how to fix our relationship and extend the season of our friendship but at every turn you’ve clipped me short, leaving me frozen and damp. I feel I’ve done all the heavy lifting in this relationship and you just stand there and watch, you don’t even try to lift a finger. I was there when your line snapped. I was there when you lost clips. I gave you the support you needed.  Now, however, the days are growing shorter and I sense we are drifting apart.

Image courtesy of


So, goodbye for now. I admit I have a new paramour,  Dr. Yer. Yes, he’s not a naturalist as you are, sometimes he strikes me as a bit artificial.  Admittedly, sometimes his “natural scent” is overwhelming. But he keeps me warm and dry all winter long. That is more than I can say for you.


This is not a end. I’m pretty sure our paths will cross again in the spring when the weather is better. Maybe we’ll find time to mend our ways and see each other again.


Image courtesy of
Best of luck to you. You will always be in my heart.




Ms. Laun Dry

Monday, September 15, 2014

Your Personal Dresscode: Building a Wardrobe When Living Paycheck To Paycheck

The children are finally back to school. You've outfitted them with their clothes and supplies and now can take a much needed break!  (If you're a smart shopper, you may have picked up a bunch of those school supplies and ferretted those away for stocking stuffers later in December ( Now that everyone else is taken care of, have  you looked at your wardrobe lately?
Dior's New Look (Google Images)

As moms we are often the last people on our own list to get our wants and needs met.

I realize you probably are or feel like you are tapped out after outfitting the kids, but the reality is that September is one of those milestones for all of us. Its an unofficial "renewal" or "rebirth" where we begin the year anew. September is the perfect time for us to revamp and renew ourselves and we can begin with what we wear.

Don't think what you wear matters? Au contre. Every time you walk outside of your home, you are representing not only yourself but your family. Many people you encounter in a day may never talk to you, but based on what you are wearing, will make observations and tailor how they treat  you based on your appearance. If you are dressing frumpy, the message you are projecting to the world is that you don't care enough about your appearance to put any effort into it. The unconscious message the public perceives is that, if you don't care what you look like, then there is no reason for them to care about you or your opinions because obviously you don't care about them either. Really do you think it's appropriate to go outside with the description "JUICY" written across your bum? Or worse yet, pajama bottoms in public that basically shout, "I was too lazy to get dressed this morning?" Is that really the message you want to send out?

I didn't think so.

I'm no fashionista... not by a long shot. But I have had several decades now of experience and worked in jobs as diverse as runnning a register to representing a multi-million dollar company to CEOs, presidents and salespeople from all over the globe. I've seen the decade of the 1970's where women where encouraged to dress like men to get ahead (what were we thinking, they wouldn't notice we were women?) to the neon clothes, legwarmers and the power suits and bows (yes power bows) of the 1980's. I learned how to interview in the 1990's and worked my way through the remainder of the next two decades. So, to quote the song lyric, "I know a little... baby I can guess the rest"....

And for most of the time, I was living paycheck to paycheck.

Here is what I've learned through all these years: when you are living on a budget you need to develop a strategy to build a all encompassing wardrobe.

How to Build a Killer Wardrobe, One Paycheck at a Time

Audrey Hepburn
1. Think Audrey Hepburn, not Lady GaGa..A classic wardrobe is always your best bet when funds are limited and your wardrobe has to cover a multitude of life scenerios. It's called classic for a reason and that is that these are well cut clothes in shades of navy, black, brown, grey and burgundy that can take you from the parent-teacher's conference, an interview, meeting with the bank to grocery shopping. They can be dressed up or down and mixed and matched.

2. Ammortize...When considering purchasing a garment, determine how much wear you are realistically going to get from it. Is this a piece you are going to wear once a week or something you'll wear only a few times a year. If you are going to wear this every week, maybe that $40 is worth it for a nice pair of pants verses $85 for a dress you'll wear at Christmas and put away for the year.

3. How Well Made is the Garment?  No matter how cheap a piece of clothing is, it is never worth taking home if the garment is cheaply made. Hold the fabric between your fingers, does it feel substantial or does it feel inferior? Does the pattern meet up at the seams or is it obviously misaligned? How well has it been sewn together? Are there obvious threads hanging off it that should be clipped?

4. Does it Need to be Dry Cleaned? Dry cleaning is not only a money suck, it's a time

suck. I often refer to it as having to go break my clothes out of "clothing jail". When considering a purchase, be realistic with your lifestyle. I own very few things that need to be dry cleaned because I simply don't have the time. In writing this, I just realized I have my husband's dry cleaning to pick up. I had completely forgotten about that and I'm sure he has too. In general, it's just not worth the time if you can avoid it.

5. Not Everything Has to Be Brand New...Ebay has really changed the way most of us think about buying clothing. Growing up, I avoided wearing hand-me-downs like the plague. Going to the Goodwill was completely off my list as I hated those clothes (it was the 1970's-1980's so lets face it, there was a lot of polyester so that is part of it). Nowadays, it's not uncommon to make a purchase of clothing on Ebay that is gently or nearly new. One of my favorite brands of clothing is Coldwater Creek. Even on sale I really can't afford them. On Ebay, however that is often a completely different ballgame and now my local Goodwill carries brandname, often designer clothing for mere pennies. I've bought a nice leather jacket for as little as $15 and my favorite shirt that I wear about once a week cost me $4. The best thing? No one has any idea these aren't from a major department store and now it's stylish to be "green". Also with people buying ripped jeans and distressed jackets, you are now styling and authentic.

6. Shop Your Closet...  And have someone else help you. Sometimes we wear the same thing over and over again out of habit. They say you only wear 20% of your wardrobe 80% of the time so now is the time for new eyes. You bought these things for a reason but maybe it is time to have someone else shake things up. Have your husband pick out something he'd like to see  you in and something to wear with it. Have your daughter do the same. You may not always like the outfit they put together but it may be enough to get your creative juices flowing and see a piece in a new light.

An interesting accessory can make an outfit.
7. When You Can't Buy, Accessorize.   While you may not have the funds to do a complete make over, try adding something to the outfits you have that you may have never done before. A scarf when you've never worn a scarf before, a steam punk necklace with a conservative shirt. Something that brings new life to your outfit can make you feel brand new.

From Google Images.

8. Go To The Mall.  In this instance your not there to buy, you are there for reconnaissance. Window shop and see what the upcoming styles are and how to add them to your wardrobe. The mall windows are great inspiration and as they are in your neighborhood, are more likely to reflect the taste of the local culture. 

In this world, you never know when you are going to have to get a job. Medical issues arrive, divorce happens or maybe you've decided to go back to work after the kids have left. Maybe, like me, you've always held a job outside of the house. Regardless, you need to always have a navy blue interview suit at the ready. I've seen people wear horrendous things to a job interview. You are trying to sell yourself as the perfect candidate for a job: reliable, trustworthy, responsible. So you carefully choose, A JEAN SKIRT???? Jeans are for casual wear, wearing them to an interview is telling the interviewer that you don't take the position seriously. If you aren't taking the position seriously, why are you there? Never forget that they have to sell you to their boss as the best candidate and why, so they aren't going to recommend someone that may make them look bad. Your interview suit should in generally be blue as psychological tests seem to indicate that most people view blue as stable, reliable and trustworthy. (Why do you think standard checks are generally blue?) It's a color that is almost universally liked. You can get away with black or brown, but often these colors seem really harsh in an office environment.

10. If You Like it, Buy Several and In Many Colors. As a mom, you know that the first time you wear a white shirt will probably be the last time you wear it. You'll end us spilling something on it that will stain it the first time. If I like a cut of a shirt, I'll buy it in several colors because as soon as you decide you need another one, you won't be able to buy it again. Stock up when you can. Use layers to dress it up and look different.

Ultimately, the best fashion advice is own who you are and relay that in your confidence. There is almost nothing so fashionable or sexy as confidence. Own who you are and what you've done. Few of us have beautiful figures that we can dress like a supermodel but then, we've done something that is magnificent, we've brought forth human life! We manage households. Some work outside of the home. Some work in the home. We raise children. We cherish our relationships. Fundamentally we are the caretakers of our sanctuaries and the caretakers of the future generation. We are fashionably awesome.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Surprise in the Basement!

When you live in an old house like my, 1867 house, you sometimes discover really neat things.

Today was one of those days.

I was canning and and I knew that one of the previous "women of the house" had left all her canning jars in the basement. The one that did this lived here in the 1970's to early '80's so I figured I'd probably have a bunch of either normal jars and/or maynaise jars. Money is tight this week and I've been canning up a storm so I thought I'd check out her jars to see if there were any I could wash up and use.

Well, there were some mayonnaise and assorted bottles that obviously were condiment jars at one time (and those cannot be reused to can)  ... and then some of these! Aren't these neat? I researched the Ball jars online at this lovely blog,, and it appears that some of these may be from as far back as the 1920-1930's! I so totally love that! The jazz age is one of my favorite times in history, I love the Art Deco style, and now I own a little piece of it. Too cool.

Now the down side, most of the jars in the basement are also the clamp lid style and having never canned with these, I did some research online as well only to discover that it's generally not recommended. The information I discovered here:

indicated that it generally isn't safe as old jars may have chips or cracks that would prevent a good seal or may actually crack under the pressure of canning. Bummer. I seem to have a lot of these. If anyone has had success canning with old bail style jars, please let me know. Also most of mine are rusted, is there anywhere that you can replace the wire on these?
If not, I'll need to find a lot of craft projects using bail style jars.

While we are on the topic of canning.. and because I've been up since 9am doing it today, let me give you a tip I was reminded of recently that I had forgotten. If you can tomaotes, listen up. We all know the biggest time suck when canning tomatoes is the time you spend boiling the skins off of them. About a year ago, I was watching Rachel Ray's 30 mins. cooking show and she roasted the tomatoes in the off season to bring out their flavor. "Eureka!" I thought. While she wasn't intending this as a canning trick, this certainly works and allows you to peel as many tomatoes as you can fit on a baking sheet at one time.

Line you sheet with tin foil. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash your tomatoes and make an X in them just as you would if you were boiling tomatoes. Now put the entire thing in the oven for 20-30 mins. After that time remove them. You have just now loosened up all those tomato skins AT ONE TIME! Just now cool, peel and process! This is one of those, why he heck didn't I think of that! It's brilliant and works wonderfully. Careful lifting them out of the oven, in my case 30 tomatoes get a bit heavy. But isn't that a wonderful thing?

Happy canning season from my kitchen to yours!


Monday, September 1, 2014

Your Friend, Mr. Pressure Canner

I have an addiction.

I mean a really bad addiction.

A canning addiction. I know, ::hanging my head down in shame::... it's a problem, but... I can quit anytime I want to ....

I swear this time of year you could put anything down in front of me and I'll figure out a way of putting it in a jar and on the pantry shelf for the winter. By the end of October I'll swear that, "I'm not going to do as much canning next year"... then August rolls around and the cycle begins anew. My husband laughs at me when I say it. After almost 20 years together he knows the drill and knows I'll back at it again next year.

Many of us are used to water bath canning. It's the method that our mothers and grandmothers may have used to do all their canning. It's a good method and one that I employ when I only have enough produce to do a few cans.

But if  you do serious canning, like I do, a water bath canner takes too long and too much of your time. Consider investing in a pressure canner.

**My canner is from Mirro.

Oh... no... come back... don't run away.

I know you have family stories about pressure cookers exploding potatoes all over the ceiling at the family's holiday meal. We do too. But pressure canners aren't scary I guarantee it. I've canned for approximately 16 years with my pressure canner and not once even popped the pressure gauge. It's like anything, use it and you'll gain a familiarity with it.

Why pressure can? Well for the first part,  you can actually can up to **22 pints in a pressure canner... at ONE TIME! It saves a lot of time to fill that canner and walk away for 20-30 mins and have everything done. It's also one of the only deemed "safe" home canning methods the USDA recommends*. (It's also a bit scary some of the other methods I had never heard of before, steam sealing your cans in  the dishwasher???)

And while it is big and bulky, it's actually not that hard.

A good seal is paramount to building pressure in your
canner. Always make sure your gasket is in good shape.

First, make sure your canner is clean and the gasket  is not cracked but nice an pliable. This is my canner, it's over sixteen years old and the gasket is as good as the day I bought it. The gasket is what helps to build the pressure in the pressure cooker by creating a good seal to prevent air leakage. Ultimately, this pressure transfers to your  jars to make sure they seal safe and sound.

Secondly and most important, make sure that the vent in the top of your pressure canner is clear and free of any blockages or obstructions. I typically accomplish this by blowing through the vent to make sure everything is clear.

Make sure this is clear to relieve pressure.

This vent comes with a little gauge called a "petcock". You are supposed to use it to gauge how much pressure is in the canner, 5lbs, 10lbs, 15lbs, etc. You put it on and then time the number of times it "jiggles" in a minute to gauge the pressure in your canner.

I don't ever use it. I know that for my pressure canner, once I get it hot (on high) for the entire water inside to be hot, I turn it to med-high and it's good to go for any of my canning. Until you get the feel of using the pressure canner use it, it's a good precaution, but I boil mine long enough that I rarely have a problem with them sealing.

If the pressure ever did get too much, this little warning plug will pop up.
It's kind of like the little temperature gauge that is in your holiday turkey,
although you don't want this one to pop out. It's your safety gauge.
Fill about 3/4 of the way up.


To fill this behemoth, I take it to the bathroom and fill it with the shower spray nozzle. It's the fastest way outside of a hose and I can set it to hot to start speeding up the process.

Fill your canner about 3/4 of the way up. You need some air space at the top to build pressure so you'd never want to fill it completely up.

After  you fill it with the water, you must add about 1/4 cup of vinegar. Apparently this is to prevent mineral deposites on your canning lids and inside the canner. I always thought it helped cut down on the bacteria that may be in the water as we know we can clean with vinegar but apparently it's to protect the canner.

Once it's filled, place in your "shelf" or "tray". This shelf creates an airspace underneath your jars so that your jars aren't directly on the bottom of the canner where they could get the direct heat. If they were in direct contact with the heat source, they could possibly explode. That would be bad. 
Here is where you are going to learn from my experience.
Buy a buffet range. Just some little one or two burner affair. It'll cost you about $30-$35 or so (at least mine did eons ago). Pressure canners get EXTREMELY hot. (So if you have little ones, the kitchen should be a no kid zone during this process.) I've done my canning at night only to wake up in the morning and the canner is STILL WARM!
When I first started canning in my home, I did it on the enamel stove that came with the house. After the first year, we replaced the stove. The pressure canner got so hot, it flaked off the enamel on the stove. (The stove was old and crummy anyway so no big loss but still!) A small buffet burner will prevent any such issues. I've had mine for many, many years (about 15) and its still going strong. It's more acceptable to cause damage to something that you haul out of the closet one a year then damage your expensive stove.
After this point, you just place your canner on the burner, put the lid on tight and wait for the canner to get hot. I usually start processing my produce at this point. Once I'm ready to can, the canner is up to temperature. If it appears too hot, I put it down to medium high but that is about as low as I get. Most recipes I process at 20-30 minutes just to be safe. In general, most if not all of my cans get sealed. It's actually extremely rare one doesn't.
The pressure canner gives you a piece of mind that your finished product will be safe for your family to consume because it's a more reliable method for getting the majority if not all of your cans to seal. It's not that hard to use and it is a good investment for your canning dollars as it lasts for years to come.