Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Finishing up the Beef Tallow Process - The Kitchen is Now Clean Again

I finished up the beef tallow rendering.  It feels good to have clear countertops again.  Here is the post about the first part of the process.

Here is a photo of what I concluded was the best way to do the final work on this stuff.  I made the mistake of pouring the hot oil into different metal or glass containers to cool down - thinking I would need to gather up my mason jars and reheat it all properly later to be ready for storage.

Then I read online where someone suggested just pouring it out into cake pans and cookie sheets, letting it cool down and freezing it long enough that it easily breaks up into chunks.  By far, the easiest method of getting it ready for storage!  Also takes care of the problem that I would have trying to spoon it out of a mason jar later when I want to use it.  This way - I'll just pull chunks out of the freezer as needed.

This is some remelted tallow I am cooling.  Then I froze it a couple of hours and broke it into chunks:

Cracklins in a bit of tallow ready to freeze, bust into chunks and use for dog treats:

Below is the tallow that cooled in the crockpot.  I reheated the crockpot enough to get the solid middle hunk out of there.  Then I sliced it into chunks about as big as a bar of soap and wrapped each chunk in some plastic wrap.  The gallon zip lock bag on the left is the wrapped pieces ready for the freezer.

We popped popcorn tonight using the beef tallow in the bottom of the pan.  It was good!  And, since I've been handling this stuff for a few days - all day - I'm wondering if my new energy is coming from the nutrients absorbing into my skin?  Am I crazy?  I may be.  But I keep grabbing a small piece and warming it in my hands to spread into my cuticles.  I smell a bit like a french fry.  But, I swear, I've been planning, scheming and working with excess life energy I haven't had in several years.  I wonder if it will last?

Repairing an Heirloom Crocheted Tablecloth I Bought on Ebay for $4

A year ago, I came across a handmade tablecloth on ebay for $4.  It has a gash in the side of it.  I love these things and have two already that I use for other things.  One is bedspread size.  One is folded in half and lives on top of my piano.  My grandma made the one on the piano.  The bedspread size one I wrote a check for $100 to capture back when I thought I made good money.  I'm still very happy I bought it.  No one spends the hours it takes to make these things anymore.

A friend of mine crochets all the time.  I showed her the hole and asked if it could be re-crocheted in that spot to fix it.  She frowned at me.  It's not a very practical, nearly impossible for someone to come along later and try to recreate the original stitch inside a damaged spot.  So I folded the thing up and dropped it off in the corner of my sewing room to forget about.

I came across it recently and decided to get over my frustration about it - to just use it "as is" on my table because I love it and 99% of it is beautiful and perfect.  Like me.  I spread it over my table and it was a perfect fit.  Then I turned it around so the hole was in the back.  That's what my grandma would have done, I believe.  And we had a dinner party.  It was perfect.

But the next week my eye kept getting caught on that dang hole.  It was originally a slice I believe - maybe only a couple inches long - one straight gash.  But, when it was washed, it raveled out and created this 2" by 2" gaping hole.

I decided it couldn't get worse.  At the very least, I could hand catch enough tips of the torn spot so that it wouldn't continue to unravel - especially as I will need to wash it sometime.  I brought in my needle and some white thread and chipped at it - little by little.  Walking away when I got frustrated.  Picking up the needle again when I could see two tips that needed to be joined.

My grandma would be proud!

Note:  My Grandma would be proud - as I see several make do solutions in the photo of my dining room!  The dining room set was a steal of a deal at a consignment shop - $150 for the table and six sturdy chairs.  The chair seats were covered in an off white upholstery which my husband and I worked together to replace with brown pebbled leather-look vinyl I ordered off ebay (about $30 total cost).  I made all the drapes and sheers in the window.  My husband and son built the oak window seat with drawers.  The padding in the windowseat is covered in a vintage fabric piece I picked up for $10 at a local flea market type place.  Woohoo!  Sometimes I just forget how much we HAVE done when I get too caught up in what still needs done.  

Gluten Free Pasta with Fresh Brussel Sprouts and Mushrooms

This was a new recipe for me and we loved it.  Brussel sprouts are rarely a first choice for us at the grocery store.

Last week, Mario of ABC's The Chew stated that most American's overcook their brussel sprouts.  That's why we're not crazy about them and usually insist they be swimming in cheese sauce. Makes sense to me.

To keep from overcooking them in this recipe, Michael Symon was slicing the fresh brussel sprouts which makes them quick cooking in a skillet - much like you might do with a chinese dish.    That's when I decided to try it.


Of course, I don't actually go to the website and read the recipe.  Oh, no.  I just wing it.  Because, well, anyone who knows me knows that if I open up my browser I'm lost for a couple of hours in internet land.

For our adaptation, I used gluten free pasta.  We don't keep angel hair pasta in the pantry - because I have granddaughters who request macaroni and cheese when they visit. But, this elbow stuff worked out great.  This is the brand I have depended on for three years now and never been disappointed.

I cooked up two cups of dry pasta as directed on the package.  I always use the energy saving method which means you only boil the pasta a couple of minutes then pull everything off the heat and let it set for about fifteen minutes.  I do this because I am forgetful and I hate overcooked gluten-free pasta.  This option lets me walk away and come back later.

I chopped one pound of fresh brussel sprouts into about 1/4" slices.  And sliced about eight portabella mushroom, diced an onion and a clove of garlic.  Sorry I didn't take photos before - but here are the containers after I had used what I needed for my recipe.  Brussel sprouts must be in season right now - I don't think I've ever noticed a full one pound package of them before at my grocery store.

In my cast iron skillet, I used about 2 tablespoons of butter to saute the onion and garlic.  The butter cooked away and I added about another tablespoon of olive oil to keep everything from sticking.  Then I added the chopped brussel sprouts and mushrooms and cooked until softened but not thoroughly cooked through.  

As everything was finishing up - I remembered that Michael Symon had used bacon to start his onions and garlic on the episode of The Chew.  I used two cooked sausage links leftover from the weekend - chopped them and threw them in at the end.  They weren't necessary for flavor - thus I think this recipe would be good done vegetarian.

I added about 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil.  Then I sprinkled on some real parmesan cheese (the kind I keep in the freezer not the green can we use for pizza).

All in all, I probably added about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese to the finished mixture - some stirred in and some sprinkled on top.

We really liked it!  As I've grown more accustomed to cooking everything gluten-free and from scratch - I've gotten more adventurous with the vegetable-heavy dishes like this one.  My husband, who is not gluten-free, eats with me so he makes some adaptations on his plate.  He ate his serving alongside a chunk of leftover beef brisket.  But it's still a win as his plate was 3/4 vegetables and pasta.    

Monday, January 13, 2014

Visible Monday: Grandmas and Jean Butts

Linking up for Visible Monday today!  

Jeans are one of the very last categories I've focused on in my three year plan - closet makeover.  I now believe that the only things more difficult to get "right" are fitted tees and button down blouses and this might be due to my bustline being outside the parameters most patterning companies use.  Notice - I didn't say there was anything wrong with my body.  There is something going on with the fashion designers and their patterning staff!

This - casual, yet practical and self-empowering look -  "I just threw on jeans today"  has proven to be the most difficult for me to perfect.  And it is the one I wear nearly everyday - as do many women living in rural areas.

I'm getting close!

Jeans: Levi 527 thrifted $5.99
Top: Land's End Canvas, ebay score for $3.99
Boots: Thrifted, $5 several years ago
Bag: Recent thrift score - Goodwill $7.99.  Fossil.  WAY more than I like to pay for a bag at Goodwill but I kept fondling it so I decided to give it a try.  It was very dirty.  I washed it in the kitchen sink and refurbished the leather with mink oil.  It's fantastic!  I'm slowing accepting the fact that even at the thrift store, I am usually more satisfied with one $8 or $10 purchase that is calling my name - rather than my usual stash of many $1 to $2 items.

It's all mud and muck out there as the snow is melting.  Been wearing these most days!

The jeans are mens Levi 527's.  I picked them up at Goodwill a while back and was surprised I liked the fit. Then when people started complimenting me on them, like over and over, every time I wore them, I decided I ought to take a closer look at what they were doing back there!

So that's what's going on!  Great!  I'm finally learning the concepts Rachel taught me!

Using her examples and advice at wwww.graspingforobjectivity.com , I started a great crusade last year to understand what mom jean butt is and how it happens to the best of us.  Taking her up on her offer to evaluate what I was wearing I sent her jean butt photos - see below:

Can you see the problem?  

Rachel gave me the okay on these - now I see how I could do even better

Isn't this mind blowing?  I might have accomplished the same result by posting arrows and a sign "Flat rear.  She carries her extra weight here" with little arrows pointing at my upper hips.

Now we're getting into the more western cut jeans which I thought were my very best option.  What's up with that weird angle pocket placement?
These were my previous favorites - Aura by Wrangler.  Ugh!  See how wide and flat they make me look?  And the trademark feature - the pockets are too high leaving that weird part at the bottom curve of your roundness that draws the eye and screams mom butt jeans!  Back to the drawing board.
Well, as you can see - its been quite an ongoing project!  My first advice - never, ever buy another pair of jeans without a butt photo proof.  Even taking a friend with you is risky.  And, you can absolutely NOT see the right angle of your own backside in a department store mirror.  Even if you twist around or stand on your head. I've learned my lesson!

Why not grab a partner and do the "Jean Butt Elimination Game" at home?  It only takes an evening.  Your closet will thank you.  And your photographer can easily be watching the football on the couch as mine was.  Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Granddaughter Stories: This New Place That's Kind Of Like A Library, But It's Not

My four year old granddaughter called yesterday - excited to tell about this new place she went with Momma........

It's kind of like a library, but it's not.  You can't just pick out as many books as you want.  You can only pick out one book.  

But then you pay for it.

And then you get to keep it...


Cool place, huh?

If you want to visit this new place, you can google Barnes and Noble.  Maybe there's one near you?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What I Learned from my Post at the Mr Money Mustache Forum

Our New Year's Eve - grilling chicken for me during the snowstorm
As I told you about earlier - I posted our financial situation on the forum at www.mrmoneymustache.com  Within a few hours I had an abundance of great advice regarding our particular financial situation which is like so many in America.  We keep plugging along but we don't seem to be going anywhere.

If you register for their forum - you can post your situation under "Ask a Mustachian".  Use their suggested format of listing your income, expenses, assets and liabilities.  And then ask your questions.  Mr. Money Mustache is known for his views on how to gain financial independence using badassity as he calls it.  He started his site after seeing the abundance of sites recommending things like putting 20% of your income towards retirement, etc.  Why would 20% be a goal?  Why not 80% if you can get it there, quit whining about 1st world problems and make it happen!

His readers love when he talks about people who need a (hypothetical) punch in the face to wake them up to their financial drain.  He has strong opinions on how addicted we all our to our ginormously heavy hunks of steel we sit in alone to get to where we're going.  One of my favorite ideas of his is that I should be treating debt as if my hair was on fire and thousands of bees were stinging me.  That's how our grandparents felt about debt.  Debt could be useful - but if you had any it better be foremost on your mind until you zeroed it out!  Not something to be added as a budget line item for the rest of your life!

One of the first things suggested to me bounced out of the sleepy budget item:  electricity.

Our electricity runs from $130 - $240 or so per month.  Is that good?  Bad?  We keep the heat at 64 degrees and I'm wearing my goosedown parka to watch free antenna tv.  In the summer, we wait until we can't stand it anymore and then run the a/c at 78 degrees.  I thought we were doing our part.  

I learned through mrmoneymustache that my costs should be about half that per month.  Verified by my further investigation - we are using 1350 kilowatts per month to have the lowest bills in the year at $130.  The Mustachians all said I could focus on that area and get my kilowatt usage from 45 KWH per day to nearer 20KWH per day.  The level of excellence some of them have achieved is a mind blowing 5 KWH per day!  But, I'm not into all that survivalist type thinking.  I'm not ready for two showers a week, or plugging in my hot water heater hours before my shower so it can be unplugged.  But, what could I do to get to 20 KWH per day?  

So, where are we draining out electricity each month?

An electric hot water heater uses 350 KWH per month regardless of how much you are actually using hot water.  It keeps the water nice and hot every day, all day for us.  At quite a cost!  That amounts to 1/4 of our total bill.  And there are only two of us living in this house!

A big fan costs about 1 cent per hour to run.

A refrigerator costs about 47 KWH per month.  We have three running all the time plus a freezer.  What's in there?  We're doing some investigation on this one.

In general, lights cost about 60 KWH per month.  We have way too many of the old fashioned bulbs still around here - each of those curly weird lightbulbs cost about $1.  Each one I replace will save me $8 per year in electricity.  Guess what's on my grocery list for next week?

The dishwasher uses about 40 KWH per month and those are blessed from the heavens and will never be disturbed.

The furnace blower (we heat with propane central air) and the a/c use about the same amount of electricity - about 50 KWH per month.  Estimates are that it costs about 35 to 60 cents for every hour it runs.

Computers - about 36 KWH per month. Search for the "vampires" - things that suck electricity 24/7 while they aren't being used.  I'm trying some new habits of clicking off the six prong toggle switch every night.

The clothes dryer - about 30 KWH per month.  It costs about 60 cents per hour to run the dryer.  So worth it for many items, but I do hang all my clothes up to dry because I have the space in the general vicinity of the heater.  I've also been drying jeans about halfway and then hanging them on their regular hangers as if they were ready to go into the closet to finish up.  Jeans lose their longevity with all that dryer action.

At this point - I am going to have to tell my husband that he is correct...(cough....hmmm....ummmm....cough) in that our old water heater will have to be replaced soon.  It was here when we bought the house 28 years ago.  In the past six months, it has developed a very slow leak so I have a constant wet spot from it to the sump pump hole.  It's time. And Mr. Money Mustache says that even if it were in full working order, he would feel "hair on fire and bees stinging me" urgency to pull it.  It's draining away money faster than we can bring it in.

As far as bringing in more money - I'll add another post soon!  Incredible advice from common hard-working people - that's what you will find on www.mrmoneymustache.com

Making Beef Tallow

I made beef tallow this week.

My kitchen is a disaster.  Please ignore the window casing ugliness.   I'm married to a carpenter - this was the beginning of a "whole house gets new windows project" that began in 1995.  I think it's still on the to do list but at this point, I don't care anymore either.  

Back to the tallow.....

See the beef kidney laying to the left?  We live in beef country.  Think Kansas City, the K.C. Strip.  Since Kansas City is a large urban area, of course, K.C. Strips got their name due to the herds of grass fattened cattle being shipped out of the Kansas City Stockyards to the rest of the country back in the days before refrigeration was plentiful.  I live in the places where the cattle live before their big day in Kansas City.  So all the farmers and ranchers around here keep a couple back for their own freezers and have them processed in local places.

Our neighbor - the butcher - brought over this heap of stuff in a clear plastic bag and proceeded to cut the thick casing of tallow off of each kidney.  Then I began cutting this huge, thick, waxy white thing into about 1" chunks.

Everything I read on line said to cook it down on low heat on the stove top like this.  See how clean and organized I was at this point?  After a couple of hours of cooking with minimal progress, I dumped the whole mess into my biggest crockpot for the night.

This is what I had after everything cooled out.  I dipped hot oil out of the crockpot a few times over the cooking hours.  I'm sure it would have overflowed if I left it alone.  As you can see, there was quite a bit of tallow and cracklins that came from this batch.  The bowl is what I dipped out of the crockpot as it simmered for hours.

Be careful!  Don't use anything plastic (bowl, dipper cup, spoons, etc)!

This is the leftover cracklins stuff.  I'm planning to dump it all in with some flour, maybe an egg or two? and try to create dog bisquits.  UPDATE: No need for all that - I melted this cracklin mess down again and poured it onto a cookie sheet with a nice tall rim so nothing could spill out.  I let it cool out, then placed the thing in the freezer for a couple of hours.  Once its frozen, twist the metal pan a bit and use a metal spatula to break it loose and into dog size chunks.  Very easy.  I put my gallon zip lock bag of dog treats back in my freezer.

As far as smelling up the house....yes.  My house smelled like someone was cooking McDonalds french fries for a couple of days.  Now that the whole mess has completely cooled out, we can't smell it anymore even though its all still sitting on the countertop waiting to be put into something for storage.  It's almost like candle wax when its cooled out.

Now, on the other hand, I haven't seen where anyone has pointed out the smell of the kidneys themselves.  Whooo---eee!  The butcher held it up to my nose because originally I was asking if there was a use for the meat.  And he said, "Maybe.  But can't you smell it?  I've spent too many years doing this.  I can always smell it."  Then he held one up to my nose.  And, yes.  Don't do that experiment unless you want to know.  And never be able to forget it.  

These were at a near gagging level until I decided to start using my 100 pound black lab dog as my disposal. Yummmmm...he was excited!  I thought I'd wait and give him the other one tomorrow in case kidney meat is rich for his system.

This last photo was an experiment - using a coffee filter to try and strain out the smaller bits of cracklins.  As you can see, it didn't work and now I have two more pans to wash.  But I may try it again just for the idea of creating stackable cakes of the tallow for the freezer, rather than trying to dig the hardened stuff out of jars later.

So........the big question remains...Why did I make beef tallow?

Two reasons.  In trying to get mentally and physically healed after my crash of 2010.  I came across information on hormonal imbalance.  Womancode is a new book out by Alisa Vitti.  You can watch her talk at TED on a youtube video "Loving Your Ladyparts".  From that point, I drilled in on adrenal crashes and found Dr. Lam.  I now believe I had a pretty severe adrenal exhaustion and crash problem which nearly incapacitated me.  I've been three years healing now and Dr. Lam states he believes it can take as long as twelve years to recover.  

Dr. Lam believes people who are recovering from adrenal crashes need more animal fat and more salt in the diet.  The American diet is nearly void of animal fats today.  Remember when your Grandma kept a little can of grease beside the stove and reused it to fry eggs or potatoes?  It wasn't until the late 1960's and early 1970's that people began buying vegetable oil at the grocery store.  Before that, everyone just used the grease that naturally came from other foods they cooked.  So, tallow is one way to reincorporate this way of cooking.  This batch should last me for at least a year if not longer.

The second use is for skin.  Beef tallow (or any animal fat, bison, sheep, deer, etc.) is much closer to the same content of what oozes out of our own skin.  Since we shower so often, we scrub it off.  The beef tallow is a way to put it back on the places that are getting crackly and dry.  I'm trying it on my hands (bonus since puddles of it are all over my countertops) and my cuticles (love it already) and gingerly trying it on my face wrinkles (supposed to be "miracle like" results - I have no results after one overnight use - so no opinion, YET).

Well, I have a kitchen to scrap and scrub.  Have you ever made tallow?  How did it go?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014 is the Year to Uncover the Financial Cat Box

My freeloader family of barn swallows each spring - wonder how much I should be getting from them in rent?

This is the year I will uncover the financial mess I've been successfully covering for three decades.  Oh, so embarrassing!  But, I have a feeling I don't look that much different that many of you.  I listened to Dave Ramsey this week on the Katie Couric show....70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.  55% of us are worried about it.  And there came the open question - who are the other 15%?  Why aren't they thinking about it?

My experience is that the other 15% have a spouse who worries for both of them.  Thus the case in our marriage.  I'm the one who (at least visibly) is thinking about our financial picture....alot.  Like when we drive through to fill up the tank and I am ticking through what I remember of the bank statement online to determine if this particular $40 might be the one to tip us into an overdraft charge.  Like when I wake up in the morning and my first thoughts are a quick scan of what day it is and whether or not the bills absolutely due by today have been taken care of, followed by a quick mental run down on what will be due next and when the next paycheck will arrive.  Everyday.  Several times a day.  And one quick review before I go to sleep.  This is what I am doing when I seem to be daydreaming.  Ha!  

So, here we go.  Mr Money Mustache followers - please help!

We live in a 1000 square foot home in rural Kansas.  Three bedroom, two bathrooms.  Full basement (which gives me another 1000 square foot for storage, family overnights and used to be/could be again side-income work space).  Plus a 500 square foot upstairs dormer type space which is where one of the bedrooms with bathroom are located.  Ten acres.  No neighbors.  Seventeen miles from any stores, gas stations, places for employment.  Quiet, clean and in good condition.  Nothing fancy.  I've always called it either my "little house on the prairie" or compared it to living in a nice cabin -but year around.  Most people who own cabins on the lake have one larger and nicer than this place but we are quite content with it.  We will stay here the rest of our lives somehow and the grown children plan to keep the property into the future as the homeplace.


Home - valued at about $100,000 just before the economic downturn.  Owe - about $30,000.  4.?% interest.  Only four more years until it's paid off.  We've lived here 28 years and made many improvements - always DIY.  That's the good news.

School loans - I got a degree that has never paid back for various reasons - most significantly the geographical problem of living too far from larger population areas.  So, twenty years of deferred payments and forbearance plus two small parent loans on behalf of the kids....and I currently owe $27,000 at 5.?%.  I've been making regular payments on this balance since 2008 but it only creeps down the balance.

Credit Card - only one, thank goodness.  But, I've been unemployed for three years now and we've had to keep relying on it to fill in the gaps.  It stands at $13,300 balance now - all charged within the past three years with my health crisis.  At a whopping 19% interest.  We are so called "great, long-term customers" with Discover but they always tell me that our rate is their best rate for great, preferred customers like me.  I suspect that means their stupidest customers -  like me.  (*#@*$^*(@

Doctors bills - just a few small balances that hang around like buzzy flies and I can't get them paid!  Total of $490 - all incurred in the past year.

IRS - This is the most recent kick in the gut.  I filed my 2011 taxes, owing $300.  Paid in $100.  Got several overdue letters.  Got depressed.  Didn't file my 2012 taxes because I knew we would be in the exact same boat - adding another $300 - $500 in balance due.  And now, we are preparing for another year of the same.  Except - the IRS got tired of waiting on me to get my act together and ordered my husband's withholdings to be upped $300 per month.  I know they need to be paid.  But, the $300 each month tips the apple cart for us.  We can't do it in our current situation - and as you know, we are doing it because that's the way these things work.  It's taken out before he gets his check.  This began last week - Jan 1.

Vehicles  We own two.  No debt.  Unless you want to count all the repairs that have been done using the credit card (above) over the past three years which is several thousand dollars of that balance.  A 1994 GM truck 4x4 with 250,000 miles on it.  And a 2001 Olds Bravada with 210,000 miles on it.  Both run well and are well suited for our needs, with the gravel roads and ability to haul things (trash, recycle, trips to Aldi's, grandchildren) and meet our commitments in bad weather.  

Income:   My husband is a highly skilled carpenter with 30 plus years experience.  He makes XXXXXX a year.  Rural Kansas, remember?  He is not suited for self-employment, at all, which is a shame because others have made good money by hiring him through the years.  I've suggested I manage jobs - no way he would agree to that.  The better news is that this current  wage comes with a full benefit package including a state agency pension plan (the good kind), good health insurance, paid time off, good working conditions for him as he ages, etc.  He plans to stay with this job, if possible, until he retires.  He started 13 years ago.  Before that, he earned $15,000 - $24,000 a year with absolutely no benefits.  Year after year.  We raised two children with no health insurance and no savings - sixteen years of it.  That was the original hole we dug.

My income.  Of all my working years, I have only had about six years of earning a good income.  I've tried multiple things.  And in 2010, I lost a good paying position due to the end of funding (federal grant ended). At the same time, I had a close brush with long-term scary illness, mental, physical, etc.  I've been unemployed for three years now and have my health back to a reasonable point but I cannot handle the level of responsibility and stress I carried before in employment.  Currently, I am working a writing contract for $500 a month, writing several book type projects that may be sellable, and making or picking up items to sell on ebay, etsy and amazon.

I have $12000 in an IRA plan.  And a tiny 403(B) plan that will pay approximately $600 a year (rest of my life) when I retire.

We are both 55 years old.  Our children are married and supporting their own families in great shape which is a total relief to us - knowing our grandchildren are well cared for with financial security.  We did one thing right!  It's time for Grandma and Grandpa to get this old debt mess cleaned up so we don't get left in the dust!

Is it hopeless?  It can't be.

UPDATE:  The forum members over at www.mrmoneymustache.com were very, very caring and helpful in looking at my budget details and pointing out what could be done.  Thank you!  

If you feel like you could use an honest evaluation of where you're at and where you're headed with your own family financial situation - I highly recommend using their forum.  They encourage you to follow the "Readers Case" template to organize your information.  People who are well ahead of the pack in gaining financial independence will offer valuable feedback and suggestions.  Again, I can't thank them enough!  We are better already and prepared for 2014.