Thursday, June 12, 2014


While most men will cringe at the idea that crochet is a modern pioneer skill, I would argue that it involves skills that are as old as time.  In ancient days, men wove their own fishing nets.  Basically, they used a type of crochet.  We see pictures on Pinterest of cutesy potholders and children's bonnets, but crochet is a very useful pioneering skill.

Okay, I have to admit that when I did a Pinterest search of "man crochet", I got a lot of fruity pictures.  But if we are talking survival skills, a knowledge of crochet can really come in handy.  My own grandfather was taught to crochet as a young child and made socks for his family.  He passed that knowledge to one of his granddaughters, but I don't think anyone else in the family learned from him.  If you are in a survival situation, I'm sure a new pair of socks would be valuable!

When I was a kid, I heard about a pro-football player who did needlepoint.  At the time I thought it was very funny.  Admittedly, I think because he was smashing the stuffing out of guys in his day job everyone gave him slack for doing needlepoint.  But who decided it was a woman's hobby?

I'm currently in the process of learning how to crochet.  It's actually not that difficult, and when you get the hang of it, it can be very relaxing.  Try watching some online videos.  I bet you can learn too.

I have seen some projects that people did that used other mediums than yarn.  You could literally tear up old clothing in to strips and crochet it to make a blanket or rug.  Don't overlook the benefit of crochet for modern pioneer living!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Saving Energy/ Cooking Rice

Many years ago, a church friend and her husband relocated to China, so insisted that the company move their food storage with them.  I'm sure this was a huge expense for the company, but they did it anyway.  After a few years in China, they were relocated to another country, but realized how impractical it was for them to move all of that food a second time.  So this friend decided to give away her food storage before leaving China.  She spoke with a Chinese liason and asked him if she could give the food to some of the men who were doing repairs in her apartment.  She wondered what kinds of food would be best to offer them.  She had a lot of dried beans and wondered if they would like them.  The liason answered and told her that the best food to give them would be her stored rice.  He explained that beans take a lot of energy to cook.  Men such as these could not afford the gas to cook the beans.  Rice takes much less energy to cook.

I've thought of this experience many times over the years and have decided that the Chinese really are the masters of living with very little.  Most Chinese stir fry vegetables over a very high heat.  This causes the vegetables to cook very quickly, using less energy.  If you find yourself in a true survival situation, unless you have unlimited energy source, consider cooking foods that use less energy.  Stick with foods like potatoes, rice, and fresh vegetables.  


Put one part white rice, and two parts water in a pan.
Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and cover.
Simmer for 15 minutes (don't take off the lid during cooking time.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Make it Do, or Do WIthout

Have you ever heard this old saying?

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

I think in America, because of our affluence, we have become a "throw away" culture.  It's always amazing to me to see what kinds of things people throw away.  Many of them are perfectly good, it's just that the owners got tired of them, or wanted a newer, more stylish model.  In some cases, even thrift stores are picky and won't accept anything that isn't in pristine condition, even if it still has a lot of life left in it.  But often, just a coat of paint, or a good cleaning can make something usable again.

I have a neighbor who has a talent for fixing things up.  I think part of the reason she is good at this is because she is a very detail oriented person.  But she also grew up in a family where she was taught how to repair things.  I think this is a dying art.  I remember one time we went to a garage sale together and she saw a rocking horse.  It was the kind that is suspended from springs; do you know that kind?  She has a little boy, and thought he would really like playing with it.  But the problem was that it was made for a little girl.  It was purple and pink with girly details.  So my neighbor got to work with some spray paint.  Not only did she spray the frame, but she used newspaper to mask certain areas of the horse and sprayed it like a paint pony!  Honestly, I don't think a factory could have made it nicer!  She even found a small gold star that she glued to the halter.  Being a horse person herself, she knew that if a horse has a white leg, then the hoof of that leg will be a lighter color.  So she painted the hoofs according to the color of the leg.

At one point we had a bed at our house that had an ugly headboard.  It was that really blackish color of wood, and I just didn't like it.  I gave it to my neighbor.  She repainted it a different color, and made it look like a ship captain's bed!  See, I could have done the same thing, I just didn't have the vision.  I'm not sorry I gave her the bed, I'm just sorry I didn't have her vision.

So what do you do with things you don't want anymore?  How about turning old clothes in to a quilt, or a braided rug?  Or how about using the fabric to make children's clothes?  I'm not saying we should hoard everything, but think before you throw.

And in addition to thinking before throwing, think about how you might give a second life to things.  Can it be repaired?  How much money will you save if you repair it instead of buying new?  There is a lot of charm in things that are used.  Don't fall prey to worldly covetousness that tells you that if it isn't new, it isn't good enough.  Learn to recognize that there is charm in something that has been used.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Homemade Pesto

After my last blog about pizza, I wanted to post this recipe for pesto.  I learned this from my neighbor who makes her own pesto all the time.  I have to say that there is no exact recipe, but  you really can't mess it up.  At home in the States I grow my own basil, so it's convenient to make pesto.

Homemade Pesto
Fresh basil (about two "handfuls)
About 1/2 cup of walnuts  (unless you want to be all highbrow and use pinenuts.  ;)
About 1 cup of fresh parmesan cheese
2 cloves of garlic
Salt to taste
Olive oil

Combine all ingredients in the blender.  Add just enough olive oil to incorporate the ingredients.  You will need to adjust the amount of the olive oil depending on the thickness of the pesto.  If your pesto is too thick, add a little more oil.  Blend until smooth.  I would try to use this up within 2 weeks.


When I was first married I used to make pizza, but frankly it was terrible!  Over the years I have learned that I need to use better ingredients, and I have adjusted the use of the dough.  (For some stupid reason, I used to use ground beef....)  I have it figured out now and I want to share with you what I have learned!  Why spend a lot of money on take out pizza, or going to an expensive pizza parlor when you can make it good at home?

The dough recipe was given to me by my brother.  When I first started using it, I didn't have pizza pans, so I made one big pizza from a jelly roll pan.  Now I realize that was too much dough for that size of pan.  It was more of a pizza cake....   This recipe makes three rounds.  It's such an easy recipe that I have it memorized.

Pizza Dough

In a large mixing bowl (I use the large tupperware bowl) combine the following:
3 Cups flour
1 tsp. salt

In a separate bowl combine:
2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast (I think that's one packet...I measured once)
1/2 cup of very warm water

Note:  When using yeast, if you use too hot of water you will kill the yeast.  But it needs to be pretty warm.  If you could wash dishes in it, it isn't too hot.  :)

When using yeast, always start it in a separate bowl so that you can "proof" the yeast.  This means that you are basically testing it to make sure that it is good yeast.  If it starts to bubble and the water turns cloudy, then your yeast is good.  When all of the yeast in the bowl has started to react, then you can add it to the flour mixture.

Make an indentation in the center of the flour mixture.  Pour in the yeast mixture.  Add one more cup of very warm water.  Stir until the flour is incorporated and the dough follows the spoon.  Now knead for a few minutes by hand.  You will probably need to add a little more flour so that the dough won't stick to your hands.  Knead until the texture is smooth and elastic.

You knead by folding the dough in half and pressing down, then fold in half again and press down.  Repeat this until the dough is smooth.  By kneading, you are causing glutein from the wheat flour to form.  Glutein is the substance that binds the bran.

Leave the dough in the bowl and cover the bowl with a clean, dry cloth.  Let sit until double in size.  That means that the circumference of the dough ball doubles.

While the dough is rising, prepare your other ingredients, and grease the pizza pans.  When the dough is double in size, take one third and put on the pizza pan.  Grease your hands slightly and begin to form the pizza by hand.  I used to roll out pizza dough until I saw this method on tv.  It works much better, and is less mess.  Repeat with the other 2/3 of dough.

Here are my favorite pizza recipes:

No science to this.  I buy inexpensive spaghetti sauce and spoon some on the dough.  Next spread a layer of mozzarella cheese.   Lastly lay out a layer of sliced pepperoni.  Bake about 15 minutes, or until the bottom of the pizza is golden.

Make a pepperoni pizza, but add chopped onions and bell peppers, chopped mushrooms, olives, etc.

Southwest style:
Instead of spaghetti sauce, spread barbecue sauce on the dough.  Top with cheese, shredded cooked chicken, and thin red onion slices.  After it is cooked, add fresh chopped cilantro

For the sauce, combine pesto sauce with a little olive oil.  (Try growing your own basil and making pesto from scratch!)  Spread on the dough.  In a bowl, combine one chopped tomato, and one chopped red onion.  Add a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  (about a tablespoon each)  Mix well and put on top of the pesto sauce.  Top with chunks of feta cheese.

Try this some weekend!


While living in China, I have had to make pancakes from scratch.  What I have learned from this is that I like homemade pancakes MUCH more than the mix kind.  And I have learned that it doesn't take much time to whip them up.  Why go to the expense of buying a separate bag of pancake mix when you already have all of the ingredients to make them from scratch?  Try this recipe, and see if you don't agree that they taste better.  I honestly can't remember where I got this recipe from.  It may be from Pinterest.  But it's the recipe I always use.  I'm giving it to you exactly as I copied it.


Combine the following:
1 1/2 C. flour
3 TB sugar
1 3/4 TB baking powder
1 tsp. salt

In a separate bowl combine the following:
1 1/2 C milk
3 TB melted butter (I use oil because of the cost of butter here)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Add dry mixture to liquid mixture.  It will look a little ubble, and it really spreads out after you put it on the pan.
For Buttermilk pancakes:
Add 1/2 tsp. baking soda.  Decrease baking powder to 1 tsp.  Substitute buttermilk for regular milk.

(Note:  as a substitute for buttermilk, add a teaspoon of vinegar to a cup of milk.  You will immediately see the milk curdle.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Grocery Store Vegetables

American grocers have found the perfect way to preserve their vegetables, while forcing the buyer to have to buy more frequently.  In America, we have water sprinklers installed above the vegetable bins.  They are set on a timer to automatically spray the vegetables frequently throughout the day to keep them fresher.

The advantage to the sprinklers is that food doesn't dry out as quickly.  It keeps leaves moistened, and also keeps foods cooler.  Sprinklers do help keep some vegetables longer.

The disadvantage to sprinklers is that they can actually cause foods to spoil quicker.  Cilantro is a perfect example.  If cilantro is wet when it is put in to the refrigerator at home, it will quickly spoil and turn black.  Potatoes and onions do not last long in moist environments.  Clearly, there should be two different sections at the grocery store; one for items that need to be wet, and one for items that need to be dry.  But usually, grocers place all items under the sprinkler, except for the potatoes and onions.  This makes the food look appetizing in the store, but causes it to spoil quickly at home.

My suggestion is to take the vegetables out of the bags when you get home and let them dry out.  Then put them inside ziplock bags to store in the fridge.  You will find that your vegetables last longer!

Perpetual Vegetables

Just this past year I learned that there are some vegetables that will regrow if you cut them back.  My cleaning lady here in China planted some green onions in some pots on my patio.  She explained that I can cut them back to use, and then they will regrow.  I've been using the same green onion plants all year!  They wintered over in the mild climate here.  I just noticed the other day that she pulled up the old ones and planted new for this coming year.

I was reading on Pinterest and found that there are several other plants that are the same.  Celery, and most herbs will grow back if you just cut them back.  Back home in the States, I had a large basil plant that kept going all summer.

Here are some vegetables that I read about that can regrow after being cut back:

romaine lettuce
Bok Choy

I read that you can even cut off the top of a pineapple and plant it, and it will grow a pineapple out of the top.  I haven't tried that yet.  But I have cut back lettuce and herbs.  It's nice to have green onions whenever I need them.  And have you ever brought home Cilantro only to have it spoil quickly?  If you grow some, and just pinch off what you need, and let the rest grow back, you will always have some!

Try growing a "Kitchen garden", and try planting some "perpetual vegetables"!

Barbecue Sauce

While living in China, it was difficult for me to buy barbecue sauce.  I decided to look online and see if I could find a recipe.  Surprisingly, I had most of the ingredients already.  Barbecue sauce has some key ingredients:  ketchup, vinegar, and sugar.  I went ahead and made my own, and discovered  that although you can buy inexpensive barbecue sauce, I like homemade much better!  It only takes a few minutes to mix up, and it will keep in  your refrigerator for a couple of weeks.  Here is a recipe I use, although I used up all of my Worcestershire sauce, so I just don't add that.  If you don't have the exact item, try substituting something else.  I think you will like it just as much.  Barbecue sauce can be made many different ways.  This recipe is a combination of a couple of different recipes.

Barbecue Sauce

2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1/3 C vinegar (white or cider)
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
1 TB yellow mustard
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (If you don't like spicy, you can eliminate this.)

Combine ingredients and simmer over a low heat.  You can add water if it is too thick, or cook longer if it is too thin.   

Refried Beans

For years I have been buying refried beans in the can.  They taste good and are convenient.  But after living abroad where I couldn't buy them easily, I began to make my own refried beans.  I think homemade taste much better, and are much cheaper!  They are quite simple to make.  I don't think I will ever buy them again!

First you will need to prepare the beans.  Soak them over night and cook for about 1 1/2 hours until tender.  I usually do this ahead of time and freeze them in ziplock bags.  That way I can just grab a bag whenever I want refried beans.

Refried Beans

1/2 onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
2-3 cups of cooked beans  (pinto, kidney, black...whatever kind of bean you like.  They all taste good)
salt to taste
2 TB oil
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup milk

Heat frying pan and add the oil.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Add the garlic and cook another minute.  Add the beans and water.  Cook until the beans are heated up.  (If you are using frozen beans, cook until the beans are defrosted and warmed through.)  Using a potato masher, mash up the beans in the pan until they are the well macerated.  Add the milk and continue to mash until they are creamy.  Add salt to taste.

Seriously, these are so easy to make, and so much cheaper than canned beans!  Having cooked beans in the freezer is the key.

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit!

Beans are an excellent source of protein, and are very filling.  I think they get a bad rap because of the resultant gas that comes.  But people who eat these high fiber foods regularly will find that their body will adapt to the change in diet over time.  I have heard that if you put a potato in the pot when cooking, it will absorb some of the gas.  But I haven't actually tried that, so if you do it, comment and let me know how it worked.  Beans are a great food, and can be used in many ways.

What I want to emphasize about beans is that they are far cheaper to buy dry, in bulk, than already cooked in cans.  It does take a little more effort to cook dry beans, but you can save a lot of money by buying dried.  Think about the poor countries of the world.  What do they eat most?  Rice, and beans.   If you want to save money, eat like people who don't have much money.

The key to cooking beans is to soak them overnight.  Rinse the beans, making sure there are no rocks or other debris.  Put them in a large pot and cover them with water.  I usually have at least 3 inches of water above the beans.  They really soak up the water.  Leave them overnight.  See how simple that is?  Just pour the beans in a pot and cover with water and let them sit on the counter.  The soaking happens while you sleep, so no work involved there.

There are two different ways to cook beans.  You can boil them in a pot on the stove, or you can use a pressure cooker.  Obviously the pressure cooker is faster.  But if you are spending the evening watching television, you can let them simmer away while you are doing other things.  Just be sure to check them occasionally to make sure they are still covered with water (add more if it boils down), and that they aren't boiling over.  I would suggest cooking them about 1 1/2 hours in the pot, or about 45 minutes in the pressure cooker.  Just cook them until they are tender.  If you use the pressure cooker, be sure to not open the lid until it has cooled down.  Also, before cooking, pour off the water they soaked in and add new water.  This does help them to create less gas.

Now here is the real trick about beans.  When you prepare your beans, prepare more than you want to use.  I usually prepare quite a bit.  I fill my pot half full of beans, and then fill it up with water.  After the beans are cooked, let them cool, then put them in ziplock bags and put in the freezer.  Beans freeze very well, and then you have beans already ready for when you want to make dinner.

Look for my next post about making refried beans!

You DO Have Time for That!

Whenever I talk to people about doing things "from scratch", they often say that they don't have time for that.  I disagree.  Many of the things that I will discuss on this blog are quite simple, and can be done while you watch tv, or surf the internet.  And in most cases, you will be more pleased with the results than if you just went out and bought ready-made.  Some of the tips I will share will actually save time in the future.

For example, some people buy packaged pancake mix.  I've did that for many years until I moved to China and couldn't find it to buy.  After spending two years making my mix from scratch, I have found that it only takes about 5 minutes to throw together, and the pancakes are far better tasting than the ones from scratch!  I doubt I will ever buy pancake mix again.  So even if you think you don't have time, try it anyway, and you will see that it's not as hard as you thought.


I wanted to start a new blog to try to preserve some basic skills that are being lost in our modern world.  It seems so many people rely on grocery stores for food, retail stores for clothes, and do not have the basic skills to survive in a time of less convenience.  So many families buy frozen foods, or eat out every night.  Many people do not even know how to thread a needle, or plant a garden.  While I don't claim to be a master at any of these things, still I have had opportunities to practice frugal living, and want to share some things I have learned.
I think it isn't until convenience is taken away that we really learn how to do things basically.  Having lived in China for several years, I was put in a situation to have to learn how to cook "from scratch".  I have learned some skills that could literally make the difference between simply surviving, and thriving.  I hope that this blog will be beneficial to some.