When You Are on the go and a Fast Food Lunch Isn’t an Option

When your truck is your office and you are moving from one job site to another, it’s easy to start scrimping on nutrition. After all, we start early in the morning and I didn’t always plan the night before. One of the things that made me start paying attention to what was in my cooler, is when my coworkers sat hungry. I started carrying a little something extra every day. 

My go-to tools for always having lunch as a great cooler and purpose-built containers to keep foods hot or cold. 

Lunches don’t have to be expensive or unhealthy.  My favorite container is a Thermos for hot foods. The easiest last-minute, hot lunch, is ramen. Before you freak out, realize that you don’t have to add the whole seasoning/salt packet.  A scoop of leftover veggies is awesome added to it. To make it, I crumble a ramen cake (19 cents) into the hot food container, add seasoning or leftover veggies. Heat water in the microwave or teapot and add to container. Secure lid and put it in the cooler. By lunch, the ramen is cooked. When the temps are super-cold, it is a welcome treat to have something hot. 

The neat thing about the hot container is you can put any hot food in it. Wait, leftover turkey and potatoes, stuffing, ribs, meatballs…whatever is lurking in the fridge.  

My second favorite is a good hot beverage container or two. Coffee for the morning and tea or cocoa for later. Today’s Thermos jugs come in all sizes. Maybe carry a little extra to share?  

For cool drinks, I freeze water bottles and use them to chill the cooler and during the day they melt and become drinkable.  

You can’t go wrong stashing granola bars in your lunch, they are a quick pick-me-up mid-morning or afternoon. Other easy snacks are pretzels, peanut butter pods, Cheese sticks or dices, nuts, vegetables, marshmallows, raisins, cookies, homemade pudding or yogurt, 

Sandwiches are great.  I have learned that two clean, dry, lettuce leaves placed next to the bread keep it from getting soggy. No more mushy mayo sandwiches.  

Frozen yogurt tubes are awesome when it is hot outside. Kept in the cooler, they thaw by lunch. 

Eating healthy foods is important but you always want to make sure you have something sweet and something salty as a treat to battle against dehydration and low blood sugar. Working outside with an afternoon headache from either of these things is no fun. 

If time is short in the mornings, try to prepare things on the weekend to carry you through the week. Some of my favorite lunch items are listed below. 

  • Boiled eggs 
  • Fresh fruit
  • A jar of canned goodness from your stash
  • Fruit cocktail
  • Apple sauce 
  • Any casserole  
  • Homemade yogurt with jam or mix-ins 
  • Ramen packages 
  • Soups or soup packets 
  • Chicken and rice 
  • Apple juice or orange juice 
  • Quinoa and a meat of choice 
  • Oatmeal 
  • Frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches 

I have a couple of coolers, depending on my mood. My favorite cooler is great for anyone that does meal-prep and needs to carry a full day’s worth of food. It contains sleeves for 4 large drink bottles, dry goodies, and six meal trays. For shorter days, I have found a smaller cooler with an 18 can capacity, cool little storage tray, and it can be padlocked closed.  

Start to think about how you would pack up Mom’s leftovers and build your lunchbox around them.  We know bringing our coffee saves a significant amount of money. According to USA Today, “On average, Americans spend about $20 per week getting lunch in restaurants, or $1,043 a year.” Wow, just wow. I’m already regretting all the leftovers that didn’t get eaten and ended up in the trash. 

Not only am I on a mission to eat and spend more responsibly, I would like to think that there is less waste and fewer single serve containers headed for our landfills. For the past year, I allowed myself to eat lunch out once per week as long as it was inexpensive. This worked well.  

Little steps. 

Shipwreck Pie, Minus the Shipwreck

Shipwreck Pie (featuring boxed dehydrated flavored potatoes)

This version of shipwreck pie uses an inexpensive, boxed, (any) flavored, dehydrated, sliced potatoes. Our family favorite is Rosemary & Herb with Creamy White Sauce but try others for unique flavors. The end result is a fancied-up many-layered meatloaf that is good served with vegetables, pasta, or rice.

Ingredients:

1 boxed dehydrated sliced potatoes with flavoring packet

1 lb. ground beef (divided into 2 equal portions)

2 cups beef broth

1 ½ cups shredded Colby-Jack cheese

1 medium onion diced (diced finely and divided into 2 equal portions)

2 tablespoons butter, sliced into thin pats

4 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

 

In a well-greased slow cooker, layer the ingredients as follows:

  1. Dehydrated sliced potatoes from box mix
  2. 2 cups beef broth poured over potatoes
  3. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of nonfat dry milk over broth
  4. 2 tablespoons of butter sliced thin into pats spaced evenly on top
  5. Sprinkle ½ of seasoning packet from box
  6. 1 pinch Italian seasoning
  7. ½ cup Colby Jack cheese
  8. ½ of the diced onion
  9. ½ lb. ground beef
  10. ½ seasoning packet
  11. ½ cup Colby Jack Cheese
  12. ½ lb. ground beef
  13. ½ of the diced onion
  14. Pinch of Italian seasoning
  15. ½ cup Colby Jack cheese
  16. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons flour over surface
  17. Remainder of Italian seasoning sprinkled on top

Cook on high for ½ hour, then on low for ½ hour. Can keep on warm up to 2 hours.

Easy Slow Cooker Yogurt

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Slow Cooker Yogurt

This is one of the easiest ways you can save some serious money. If you eat yogurt, add up how many little, 5-7 oz. cups you go through in 7-10 days. For the cost of some milk, yogurt, gelatin (optional), and electricity, you can make the creamiest homemade yogurt. It is so easy!

What you need:

  • a slow cooker, thick beach towel, small clean containers for finished yogurt, and a whisk
  • 1 gal of milk (fresher is better, pasteurized is fine)
  • 3 TBS powdered milk (optional- use if you want thicker finished yogurt)
  • 1 small packet Knox gelatin (optional- great for thicker yogurt)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt with active cultures (save some from previous batches or use store bought as a starter. Just check the label for active cultures)

Pour milk in slow cooker. Mix in powdered milk if you prefer a thicker yogurt or if milk is high heat pasteurized. Turn on low. Let milk cook for 3 hours.
Unplug slow cooker and let sit for 3 hours without removing lid.
Scoop out 2 cups of the warmish milk and whisk with active yogurt and optional gelatin.
Return milk mixture to slow cooker and whisk quickly into warm milk.
Cover still unplugged slow cooker. Wrap in thick beach towel to retain heat and leave sitting without disturbing for 8-10 hours (this is where I go to bed).
When the cover is lifted and you scoop your spoon through the creamy yogurt you won’t believe how easy it was!
Scoop into containers and refrigerate promptly.
Top the unsweetened yogurt with fresh fruit, jam, or chocolate syrup. It’s so yummy.

If you like sour cream or Greek yogurt, simply strain through cheesecloth overnight in a colander in the refrigerator. The whey that collects is wonderful for making bread, lemonade, or even acidifying the soil around plants.

Now, you do the math. You can get a gallon of yogurt for the price of milk and some extras in 16 hours.

Let me know what you do with yours.

Electricity, My Pocketbook, and the Environment (part 2)

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Turning off the Light Bulbs, TV, and Pull the Plug on Chargers

Mobile Phone Chargers

It turns out that a cell charger uses quite a bit of power just being plugged in. That means when the phone is fully charged, well, every minute after that is a waste of electricity. The power drain (http://www.treehugger.com/culture/treehugger-homework-unplug-your-cellphone-charger.html) is amazing and sickening at the same time.

Today I’m timing my phone to see how long it takes to charge and then unplug it. Once I know how long it takes, I’ll be able to set a kitchen timer and then unplug the phone (without constantly checking it). Some phones will chime an alert when fully charged but being hearing impaired, I like to have a ballpark estimate. I just love kitchen timers, not sure how much difference it will make but willing to try. I sure won’t be leaving it plugged in overnight anymore! I also found a bunch of solar chargers on Amazon.com and am snapping one up an extra to use on the go, at work, and when camping.

Unplugging

We have been trying to adopt new habits that will cut our dependence on the public electrical grid. So far it has been hard to remember all the new things to do each day and we are constantly reminding each other when we slip up. But I know it will get easier and each new habit will become a way of life.

The habit for today is for me to start unplugging things when I am done using them. I have to tell you that this one delights my Hubs, AKA “Mr. Safety.” He would unplug the fridge when I wasn’t looking if I wasn’t careful. Ha! No, really, he has been trying to get me to unplug for years.

Play Detective 

Looking for ways to cut the electricity has become a bit of a CSI experience in our home. I’ll find myself standing in front of an appliance, scratching my head, and wondering exactly what it costs to operate. Then, there is my trusty new friend, the Kill-A-Watt meter to measure the usage and set the issue to rest.

Some things aren’t so simple to measure but yet we know they make a difference. Insulation, for instance, helps conserve but is difficult for homeowners to measure–without waiting for the fuel and electric bill.

Sadly, my home is an oldie and needs some attention in the insulation area. I found some great videos on YouTube.com that show it step by step. My hope is by bringing the insulation up to par we will reduce the number of times the furnace cuts on and off, thus saving electricity and biofuel. We may also be able to nix some of the electric wall heater use.

Lights 

This one probably goes without saying, except we don’t actually DO it all the time.

You guessed it! Turning the lights out when we leave the room. When prompted, I always respond with something like, “I was going right back in there.”  The truth is I get pretty sidetracked, hence the kitchen times clipped to my collar. Ha ha ha.

Repeat after me: “I do pledge to make an effort to turn out the lights in the room as I leave. I agree to thank the person who reminds me and not to make up an excuse. I also agree to use daylight if overhead lighting is not needed.”

It doesn’t seem like much, but in my house, it’s huge. People can always tell when I’m home because the house is lit up like a Christmas tree. I go to one room for something and then flit off for something else. Before I know it, there are lights turned on in every room! And don’t even think about what happens if I need to run to do a quick errand. Oh, my! This could save me a ton of money.

Grandma’s Easy White Bread

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Grandma’s Easy White Bread

What you need:

  • 1 TBS of active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 TBS bacon grease (or other natural oil/shortening)
  • 6-ish cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 TBS sugar
  • 2 standard loaf pans, greased
  • 2 9×5 standard loaf pans

This bread is so incredibly easy to make—even for folks who don’t think they can bake bread.

I got the recipe from my grandmother, back in the 80s, when I was a fairly new housewife, making our first home, and struggling to save money. It was then that I learned that my grandfather once owned a bakery. I’m thankful that they were able to pass on skills that are in danger of slipping away.  Note that *bacon grease or oil prevents the dough from becoming too elastic and controls the big air holes in the bread. Don’t leave it out, if you want a nice small crumb that goes with sandwiches and everyday use. Once you are making bread, you can experiment with it and its effect on texture. Have fun!

  1. Put 2 cups of warm water in a very large bowl. Add the active dry yeast sugar and salt. Add the *bacon grease and whisk to mix.
  2. Gradually add flour to the mixture, ½ cup at a time. At first it will be soupy, then it will start to get sticky, then move on to have a sturdier form. It will be hard to mix. A large sturdy metal spoon works well (or a stand mixer with a dough hook). The bread will become a workable, soft dough at somewhere near 6 cups of flour. Don’t add too much or it will be too stiff and prevent proper rising. Knead for 5 minutes.
  3. Oil the inside of a large bowl and transfer the dough into it. Set it aside to rise until it is 1 ½ its original size. Pick a warm location that is free of drafts. Plan on this taking an hour or so.
  4. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Punch down and knead about 1 minute.
  5. Divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape the pieces into a loaf and put in the 2 greased loaf pans.
  6. Set aside and let rise until double in size.
  7. Split top with a sharp knife and drizzle butter down middle for a fancy butter-top finish.
  8. Bake at 375° until light golden brown. Bread will sound hollow when thumped or tapped.
  9. Bread will be done in approximately 25-30 minutes. Set a timer and check it at 20 minutes.

Bread is a living thing and will have slight changes from batch to batch. The more you make it, the more you will get to know your yeast, altitude, personal oven, etc. Once you find the perfect crumb for your family, stick to the recipe variations you have found successful. If you get a new oven, you will have to play with it a bit to find the perfect timing.

Recipe makes 2 loaves. We slice into about 12 slices per loaf.

 

 

 

The Buddy Burner

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Making a Traditional BuddyBurner

If you grew up in Girl Scouts, the chances are good that you made a Situpon or a BuddyBurner.  The BuddyBurner is a fun and useful project to create with the kiddos. Not only does it make use of common items that would normally be tossed into the trash, it becomes a useful item for preparedness.

You will need:

  • An empty tuna can (save the lid if possible)
  • Corrugated cardboard cut into 1-inch wide strips across the corrugated grain
  • Broken crayons, wax remnants from used candles, or paraffin wax

Open the tuna can with a safety opener that leaves no sharp edges. Regular can openers can leave sharp edges that you must be doubly careful of. No matter the method be careful of sharp edges.

Coil up the 1″ corrugated strips tightly. Continue adding strips until you have enough to tightly fill the tuna can. If you have extra space cut a few small strips and slide them in spaces until the can is completely filled with the coil.

Melt the wax or crayons and pour into the can. Allow the wax to fill the spaces in the corrugated cardboard. The cardboard becomes a wick and the wax become the fuel.

The saved lid can be used as a quick way to extinguish the flame and preserve unused fuel.

To use, place the burner on a fireproof surface, where it may remain when it becomes hot. This is an activity best done outdoors. Simply light the cardboard wick. The burner will become very hot.

A larger can with holes punched in it for airflow may be placed above it to heat water or food.

For a bit of a walk down memory lane, go to http://www.girlscoutsla.org/documents/6_Griddle_Skillet_Buddy_Burner_Recipes.pdf and enjoy some Girl Scout fun. Don’t forget to support your local Troop with a donation of money or purchase of cookies!

Electricity, My Pocketbook, and the Environment (part 1)

Turning on the Light Bulb

Today is not the beginning of a quest but the extension of one that has been going on for many years. In 2004 our family used 14,060 kWh over the course of the year. That was the year we did our first electricity challenge. In 2008 I shared my challenge with others. In 2016, we were down to 11,043 kWh. That was in spite of having two new buildings and electric heating units installed in three rooms.

Over the next few months, I have promised myself to re-research and carry through on the things I need to do to tweak my energy usage even more.
In the past I have just implemented energy savings ideas with no strategy on how to get from point A to point B. Sure, they probably helped, but did I miss some? Quite likely! Am I still missing them? Certainly.

The US Dept of Energy has great information on choosing a company to do an energy audit and what to do to get ready. http://tinyurl.com/6bb4lz For more information on energy audits go to http://tinyurl.com/6q3vqb
A few years ago, our local news did a piece on energy audits and used Chopper 10 to evaluate heat loss with heat seeking radar and some other fancy electronics. Wouldn’t it be cool to have that done?
Now, I have an idea of what they look for. I will contact some companies and see about having the audit performed, but for now, I will start my own list.

 

CFLs and LED technology

A great debate has begun over the safety of using CFL bulbs in the home, considering that they contain a small amount of mercury. As a person who is chemically sensitive from previous overexposures to hazardous materials, I want things to be safe.

I have a choice if I want to use technology which requires less electricity: CFL bulbs or LED components.

CFLs contain varying amounts of mercury so they could be a hazard if broken in the home and not cleaned up properly. I am going to need to weigh the dangers carefully. http://tinyurl.com/yq8a6l Energy Star puts out an informational pdf to help. http://tinyurl.com/2elryb Unbroken CFLs should be recycled and broken CFLs should be cleaned up properly. Check out the links if you want to educate yourself on how to do it. The CFLs contain much less mercury than the fillings in my teeth. EEK, is that a good thing? The good news is that the amount of mercury is being reduced dramatically.

While CFLs are readily available, I may choose to use LEDs in areas where they may come in contact with children or pets and use CFLs where they are not likely to get broken.  For more info on LEDs go to http://tinyurl.com/6ns7zl

I’ve discovered a site http://www.eartheasy.com , and ordered a few goodies to try. First, I scooped up an amber LED bug light for outside.  It’s about three times more expensive than the traditional incandescent we used to buy. However, it will use less electricity and that reduces mercury emissions into the air at the power plant side. Yippee! It’s one good thing for the environment that will also help on the electric bill. Another source for LEDs is http://tinyurl.com/6krxb7,  and http://tinyurl.com/5rjrkm .
I’m changing the bulbs in my home (about 2300). Some bulbs have already been changed, so I’ll have a head start. A few years ago, I put in natural light fluorescents in the office to help fight a vitamin D deficiency. A side is that the natural light bulbs lift mood and can prevent seasonal affective disorder, which can strike during the winter.

Benefits all around.

All the Whey

If you are into making your own mozzarella cheese or Greek style yogurt, you may already be acquainted with the delicious drink made of whey. It’s a shame my family had been missing out on this so long. No, we weren’t letting the protein-rich liquid go to waste. I would save it for use in bread making, soak dried beans in it before cooking, or acid up the soil around acid loving plants. Even the worm farm and compost bins appreciated a drink when there was more than enough to go around.
Well, it’s not likely there will be any leftovers this summer. The whey liquid can be sweetened up with agave nectar or sugar and it tastes just like lemonade! Chilled, over ice it is just divine–and so healthy.
The picture at left shows how much whey liquid is recaptured from a single gallon of milk after making American Mozzarella Cheese using rennet. Nothing wasted! If you are looking for a really easy recipe, check out the Junket website or the rennet tablet packet insert.