I Was Just Thinking #1

Now, I know we are all much cooler than our moms were, and of course we look much younger than they did at our age.  However, we are still moms.  And as such, anything we become associated with becomes quite uncool to our kids, particularly our teenagers.  So my thinking is that Facebook is probably winding down.  Perhaps a bold statement,  but really, if you’re on Facebook, friending your high school lab partner or your freshman year roommate, is that something your kids are going to want to be doing, too? And, sadly, technology moves with the young’uns (and not us poor, decrepit, middle-aged people).

And while I’m at it, I think that incandescent lightbulbs are going to become harder and harder to get.  I hate CFLs and the way they give everyone a bilious, greenish complexion.  If you put them on the outside of your house you gain the aura of a mini-mart at midnight.  Esthetically they are no good, no matter how you look at them.  And they are supposedly so good for the environment, but how long before their mercury content becomes a hazard in and of itself?  But the current thinking seems to be that CFLs are the best thing since sliced bread.  I, however, disagree.  Let’s just say I’ve been stocking up a bit (“hoarding” sounds so extreme…) on incandescent bulbs.

Now, I’ll just throw this out there, too.  I think books (you know, the kind with a hard cover and pages made out of paper) will become more valuable as e-readers become more popular.  And I say this not just because I collect books (particularly pre-1965 editions of cookbooks, homemaking manuals, etc.), but rather because I think people will start getting rid of them, and publishers will stop printing so many.  Old books will become a novelty.  Although I have to wonder, what happens to your whole electronic library when your device won’t hold a charge anymore, or is too old to be used with the latest technology?

And finally, whole chickens are on sale this week at Safeway here in Vacaville for 79 cents a pound!

Book Report #2

Well, the book I am reading right now is sooo good I had to share, even though I’m only about halfway through.  It is called Pilgrim’s Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge.  Written in 1948, it tells the story of two families in England, the Adairs and the Eliots, who meet by coincidence, but whose lives become closely entwined.  Pilgrim’s Inn is the name of the house where the Eliots live, and where much of the action takes place.  I read a passage today that just said so perfectly why I like books about homes and families, and also highlights exactly why autumn is my favorite season.   (Alright, so spring is fast approaching.  I couldn’t just hang on to this until October!)  Okay, listen:

“The Eliots found it a queer sort of evening, a transition evening.  Hitherto the house had been to them a summer home; they had known it only permeated with sun and light, flower-scented, windows and doors wide open.  But now doors were shut, curtains drawn to hide the sad gray dusk.  Instead of the lap of the water against the river wall they heard the whisper of the flames, and instead of the flowers in the garden they smelled the roasting chestnuts, burning apple logs, coffee, the oil lamps, polish, all the house smells.  This intimacy with the house was deepening; when winter came it would be deeper still.  Nadine glanced over her shoulder at the firelight gleaming upon the dark wood of the paneling, at the shadows gathering in the corners, and marveled to see how the old place seemed to have shrunk in size with the shutting out of the daylight.  It seemed gathering them in, holding them close.”

How great is that?  It is how I feel about my own house, and how I hope you feel about yours—everybody needs a nest.

Book Report #1

When last we met you had a chicken in the oven.  For the sake of argument, I will assume you are no longer sitting at the kitchen table, wondering what to read while your chicken cooks.  However, now you will have an idea of a couple of things to get at the library (or used on Amazon or Alibris or Abebooks).

Queen Lucia by E. F. Benson is one of my favorite books.  Written in about 1920, it is the first in a series of seven short novels, and tells the story of Riseholme, a small English village.  Riseholme is populated by such silly people.  They are pretentious, snobbish, and ignorant.  On top of it, they are all back-stabbers.  But oh my goodness, what fun this book is.  The action in Queen Lucia surrounds an Indian guru who comes to the village.  All are eager to befriend and commandeer the yogi in question, and, of course, things go terribly wrong.

The main character is, not surprisingly, Lucia, who feels she is the most important person in the village, the one who sets the styles and the attitudes of her “underlings.”  As Phoebe-Lou [hey, I want to be named Phoebe-Lou!] Adams of The Atlantic said, “Nothing that Lucia and her enemy Miss Mapp [who is introduced later in the series] did was ever of the slightest importance, but they did it with Napoleonic strategy, Attilan ferocity, and Satanic motive.”  And the Los Angeles Daily News called it “charmingly malicious.”

It is also laugh-out-loud funny.  Lucia is really Emmeline Lucas.  As a testament to her pretension, she and her husband pretend to be able to speak Italian.  They sprinkle their speech with caro mios , and molto benes.   I’m sure you can imagine the difficulties that arise when a visitor who really can speak Italian comes to the village.  Her pretensions are numerous—she  plays the piano (always by the open window), but the only thing she can play is the first movement of Moonlight Sonata (after the performance of which she always gives a deep sigh, to underscore how moved she is by the music).  She puts on tableaux (reenactments of famous moments in history) that are wildly boring, but the villagers are required to attend or suffer her wrath (or, perhaps worse, become the subject of her gossip).  Lucia also talks baby-talk to Georgie, her slightly frightened, but still (mostly) loyal, friend who is, ahem, a confirmed bachelor who is sensitive to dogs and his lack of height, and who is the source of much unintentional hilarity.

This is a nice, quick read (less than 200 pages) that will make you laugh.  Please don’t be put off by the fact that these are not very nice people.  If it makes you feel better, they nearly always receive a comeuppance, although that comeuppance usually makes you feel a bit sorry for them (no mean feat on the part of E. F. Benson!).  I think any of us can appreciate the humor in the gossipy machinations of some people (which still go on today, enhanced by electronic communication), whether or not you happen to live in a small English village.  Enjoy!

Five Frugalities for Family Feasting

We all know about the economy (it’s lousy), and that we can’t go back to being spendthrifts (fun while it lasted, but now too scary).  There just can’t be the supposition any longer that there will always be a job, always be money, always be some way of getting more cash flow.  Sacrifices will be made.  But if you stay home, more than likely you are already making sacrifices.  In our family, we keep our cars forever, and we don’t go on vacations.  There may be a teensy (or perhaps not so teensy) part of me that is glad–I like to sleep in my own bed–but I know a change of scenery would do us all good (and a new car would be plain fun!).  However, as I believe Austin Powers would say, it’s just not in the cards, love.

The trick to being thrifty is to do it so that it doesn’t feel like thriftiness.  I remember reading a book on frugal living years ago, and one of the suggestions was to leave the scrapings of jam in the jar, pour milk in, shake it up, and you would have a delicious, fruity, milkshake type of drink.  I believe I will  have to pass on that concoction.  While it may be thrifty, it is certainly icky.  Shaken milk and jam sludge do not a milkshake make.  There was also a recipe for making your own sourdough starter, and thus your own sourdough bread.  The amount of time you must devote to the care and feeding of sourdough starter is negligible, and if you like to bake, baking bread is delightful.  It can become a hobby in and of itself.  It doesn’t even have to be sourdough—any bread is good bread.  It makes the house smell great, and it does give quite a sense of accomplishment. I love baking bread—for fun.

But baking bread isn’t really all that practical.  It goes stale quickly, you have to slice it by hand (which doesn’t sound like such an onerous task, but when you are making lunches at 6:00 in the morning, it’s kind of annoying), and of course, the convenience factor. There are good in-store bakeries that make excellent bread, with a nice crust and great flavor, for a very reasonable price, whether you go to Costco or Nugget or Raley’s or Safeway.  So while homemade bread is touted as thrifty, I’m not sure it’s such a realistic goal these days. Thrift has to be bigger than a homemade bread project taken on in the name of frugality that will surely grow tiresome and be abandoned, and it really doesn’t need to be as painful as, say, a jam scrapings milkshake.

I am careful with my food money. Aside from the mortgage, my biggest expense is food.  I don’t like to clip coupons, because then I end up buying something just because I have a coupon for it, not because it’s something I would have bought anyway. Coupons also tend to be for premade or processed foods. Now I don’t have a huge problem with processed foods—I love Cheetos as much as the next person.  But the bulk of your diet shouldn’t be premade stuff. It’s just not good for you. I think you should be making mashed or scalloped potatoes from, well, potatoes.  And 10 pounds of russets is usually pretty cheap—certainly less than $4 for 10 pounds—and lasts quite a long time.  Try this:

Recipe #1: Oven Potatoes

Cut potatoes (about one 3” potato per person) into 1” chunks, place in a bowl, toss with some canola oil, and sprinkle generously with salt.  Spray a baking sheet with Pam (otherwise they stick terribly), and using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to the prepared baking sheet.  Cook at 425 degrees for about 30 to 35 minutes.  Delicious! This is a quick, easy, and inexpensive side dish that goes with roasted or barbecued meat, and it requires no babysitting. No need to flip the potatoes or anything.

And speaking of roasted meat, an extremely economical meal is roast chicken.  If you wait until whole chickens go on sale for 99 cents a pound, you can stock up, put them in the freezer, and eat really well.  You can make several nights worth of dinners from these two humble chickens. Whenever I make roast chicken, I always roast two of them—my roasting pan is large and the two chickens snuggle up together in the v-rack. Now, these directions work for one or two chickens, about 5 to 7 pounds each, but since I have plans for the second chicken, I’ll assume you’re making two as well.

Recipe #2: Roasted Chicken

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Unwrap the chickens, and take out and discard all the messy bits and pieces inside. (Yes, it feels yucky and yes, you will get messy.  You’ll be fine.)  I don’t know that you have to rinse whole chicken before you cook it, but I always do.  Dry the chicken thoroughly on paper towels that you’ve placed on a cookie sheet (makes cleanup so much easier).  Place the chickens, breast-side-up, on a v-rack in a  roasting pan. Generously salt and pepper the inside of the chickens.  Cut a lemon in half and put a half in each chicken.  Cut an onion in half and put a half in each chicken. You could put an unpeeled, halved clove of garlic in each bird, if you want. If you have rosemary or thyme growing in your garden then put a sprig in each bird, but for heaven’s sake don’t go buy any—it tastes just fine without it.  Now, spread the breast side of each bird with softened butter (use your fingers—easier), about a tablespoon or a bit more per chicken, not forgetting to butter the legs, too.  Generously salt and pepper the outside of each chicken. Pour some water in the bottom of the roasting pan, not touching the chickens, maybe an inch deep (keeps the spattering down and the oven clean). Place chickens (in the pan, on the rack) in the preheated 425 oven and roast for 1 ½ hours. Now would be a good time to pour yourself a glass of wine. You may feel like Julia Child at this point. Oh!  For the last ½ hour you could scoot the roasting pan over and cook the potatoes (above) on their own baking sheet, at the same time as the meat. After you have carved the meat, save the carcass and any bits of leftover chicken—you’re making soup later in the week. Make a salad, and this is a great weeknight meal. You could also proudly feed this meal to company. The chicken will be a beautiful golden color, the meat will be moist and flavorful, and you will not feel thrifty in the least. You will feel like you are feasting.

After dinner, don’t forget you have another whole cooked chicken lying around the kitchen. Put that one in a Ziploc or a Tupperware or Gladware or whatever until tomorrow.  We will be having shredded chicken burritos (or tostadas or tacos) for dinner.  Here’s what you do tomorrow night (or in a few nights—the meat will keep just fine in the fridge for a few days):

Recipe #3: Mexican Shredded Chicken

Discard the lemon and onion in the cavity of the chicken. Use your fingers and a knife to pull all the meat off the bones. Again, save the carcass. Use your fingers and a fork to shred the meat.  You can shred the skin along with the meat or discard it—up to you. Place the shredded chicken in a saucepan, and add about a cup and a half to two cups of chicken broth to the shredded chicken. Broth should completely cover the chicken, but how much broth you need depends on how much chicken you have. (Obviously.)  Add chili powder, a little cumin, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to the chicken and broth.  Take about 2/3 cup additional broth, mix in a small bowl with about 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and set aside. Bring the chicken and broth to the boil over medium heat.  Stir the cornstarch and broth mixture in the small bowl and then pour into the saucepan. Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring constantly.  When the mixture has thickened reduce the heat to just simmering and taste (careful—hot! Do I really have to tell you that?). Do you want more chili powder? Garlic? Salt? Pepper?  Now you have delicious shredded chicken that took you about 20 minutes to make. Gather tortillas, refries, lettuce, salsa, cheese, etc., go about your business, and make the Mexican food of your choice (well, tostadas, tacos, or burritos). Truly cheap, truly delicious.

Finally, remember you saved the carcasses of your two chickens. Wrapped well, they will keep for a couple of weeks in the freezer. Use them to make an excellent chicken broth.

Recipe #4: Chicken Broth

Place carcass in a stock pot, cover carcass with water by about an inch, add about a teaspoon of whole peppercorns, an onion cut in half, maybe a couple of sticks of celery cut in thirds, and a carrot or two, cut in half. Bring to a boil, then let simmer gently ‘til slightly reduced. Taste then add salt and pepper, then taste again. Strain broth and freeze in one-cup portions and use whenever you need broth. Alternatively, use all the broth to make chicken noodle soup.  So now you have yet another night of dinner!  It’s amazing!

Recipe #5: Chicken Noodle Soup

In a stock pot, slowly sauté an onion, a chopped carrot or two (depends on how carroty you like your soup), two ribs of celery, and salt and pepper in oil until vegetables soften. Add the broth (about 4 to 5 cups) and two cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, simmering for about 30 minutes. Next, add chicken left over from the roasted chicken or from the carcass itself. Bring the soup to the simmer again and add about 2 cups of uncooked egg noodles (or whatever pasta you have on hand) to the broth.  Let the noodles cook right in the broth, about 8 minutes.  Add a pinch of dried thyme and a big pinch of poultry seasoning. Taste the soup, add salt and pepper or more poultry seasoning if needed, then taste again. Done!

See? Thrifty doesn’t have to mean 89 cent boxes of macaroni and cheese all the time. Instead, you can take a lot of pride in cooking simply and well, and feeding your family nutritious meals that don’t seem like you are scrimping at all.  Say you spent $12 on the two chickens. Well, the roast chicken will serve four, the shredded chicken will probably make about 10 burritos (or about 12 tostadas or tacos), and the chicken noodle soup would serve 4 to 6. It’s a lot of food for not a lot of money.  The thing is, you have to be willing to do a little work and a little planning. But the results are definitely worth it.

Now…what are you going to read while you’re waiting for that chicken to come of the oven?? (We’ll talk later.)

What’s Vacaville?

Well, let me tell you.  Vacaville is a city in Northern California.  In fact, Vacaville epitomizes Northern California.  Unlike Southern California, we have all four seasons.  We don’t get snow here in Vacaville, but we get frost and lots of rain in the winter; we have beautiful, mild weather in spring; crisp, cool fall days; and scorching hot, bone-dry summers.  Formerly a ranching and farming community, Vacaville is returning to its roots.  Farm stands and farmer’s markets sell produce locally grown in our rich soil, here at the edge of the Central Valley.  Chicken farmers (chicken ranchers?) sell their products not only to locals, but also to restaurants in the nearby San Francisco Bay Area.

The Vacaville Housewife has the good fortune to live in this delightful place, and also to write about managing life and a household here in Vacaville, California.

Respect the Housewife

Housewifery is maligned and mocked.  But really, if you’re not going to take care of your family and your home, who is?  Now, for many women, staying home to care for home and family is not an option, financially.  But if you can, simply put, you should.  What’s happened that well-behaved children are an anomaly, and that we need government agencies to tell us to sit down together at the dinner table?  Women are generally the keepers of family tradition, and thus of a lot of societal tradition.  So it’s up to women to change what is becoming a tradition of fast food and too many after-school activities.  I know, I know, “Why can’t men do it? They’re just as capable.”  Well, because, frankly, they won’t.

This isn’t a blog of household tips (although there may be some), or a how-to-raise-children guidebook (although I may have some ideas).  There will, however, be book suggestions and movie ideas, and new music to try out.  There will be recipes and menu ideas.  This blog will also delineate the fact that staying home is a privilege.  It’s also a lot of hard work, and you’ll need to make time for yourself.

While you’ve got your fourth load of laundry in the dryer, and the dishwasher’s still running, why don’t you take the time to read?  Or to look for new music online?  Or work on making something (like a quilt, or a painting)?  Or watch a DVD of an old movie, where there were stories, but no special effects, and where most people’s clothes stayed on most of the time.  Or you could think about having a dinner party, and start to play with who you’ll invite and what you’ll serve.  See, that’s another thing.  What happened to dinner parties, where children stayed home with a babysitter (which is fine, because for the vast majority of their little lives, you are with them–no need to feel guilty about leaving them for one evening!) and parents got a little dressy and had adult beverages and adult conversation?

I think you may be getting the idea.  I want to show you things to do to make the most of your time at home, to make your time fun and productive, not just a grind of cream-of-mushroom-soup-based dinners, laundry, and ferrying children to soccer and violin.

I want to help make your home a soft place for your family to land when they come back from work or school (whether it was a good day they want to share, or an awful day they want to forget),  which is probably the most important thing a housewife can do.

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