Every single month (it seems, at least), I find myself slammed with one or more large hits. This month, the big one was childcare.
On the one hand, the after school program for the girls is relatively inexpensive – it sets us back $170 per month, per child, which is a far sight better than the $125 per week per child the average daycare charges.
On the other hand, you have to jump in the instant months become available and snap up your spots. All of the months. So when April and May opened up, I had to jump on in and pay my $900 all in one go. Ouch.
This month, I have two big ticket items coming at me like a pair of freight trains that left Denver at 4:15 and Chicago at 12:45, traveling at…oh. Wait. Sorry. Math homework confusion. Ahem.
The first train is property taxes. Again with the two hand thing – compared to a lot of our neighbors, our taxes are very low. On the other hand, it’s still $1,600.
The second train is the car insurance. Ordinarily I pay the whole thing in one swell foop, because otherwise they charge me 12% interest on the balance and I am against that. However, this year…sigh. I think I’m going to have to take them up on the financing offer because meh, the income-outgo ratio sucks lately.
Speaking of which, one of the things I want to do this month is put some extra effort into cash conservation.
It may come as a complete surprise that stockpiling cash often comes as a result of not spending it.
I know! Revolutionary! Quick, somebody call the committee, ‘cause this kid deserves the Nobel prize in Economics!
Ahem. OK, so, possibly, there have been greater discoveries made this year.
Or possibly, the whole thing is rigged.
ANYWAY. It can really be surprising how much money you spend on this and that. Each individual thing is small. Five dollars here. Twenty dollars there. Just forty dollars for this sheet set, what a deal…twenty dollars for a pair of jeans, practically stealing.
They all add up, each ‘negligible’ little thing piling on top of the last one. Even my thrift store purchases add up. Less than I’d pay at the mall, but more than I’d pay if I just didn’t buy them.
This month, I’m invoking a partial spending fast. No thrift stores, no stockpiling, no loading up the freezer or picking up twelve boxes of Ritz crackers, even if they are at fire-sale prices. The idea on groceries will be to cook and serve what we already have, filling in only what we actually need – mostly milk and fresh produce until the CSA deliveries start.
Tonight, I used the last whole chicken from the freezer to make one of those comfort-food dinners. I quartered an onion for stuffing, melted some butter, added some garlic salt and brushed the outside of the bird with it, then put it into the oven and roasted it. Mashed potatoes and canned corn rounded it out.
Which brings me to another subject. Another mom last week was complaining about how expensive mashed potatoes were. And I was all, Errrrrgh? because hello, cheapest food on the planet.
Well, she was talkin’ potato buds, the instant-potato-substance. Cheaper than KFC, sure, but when you’re keeping a family with a teenager or two fed? It still gets pricy.
It was her impression that ‘real’ mashed potatoes were a lot of huff, bother, mess and that you needed some kind of mystic powers to make mashed potatoes.
Now, I’ll admit that there is some amount of practice involved that makes mashed potatoes something I consider fast and easy. But really…they’re not hard.
The basic system around here is this.
Set out a pot large enough for the potatoes to simmer submerged in water. Fill it with water, then set it on the stove to heat while you select and prepare your victims.
The basic recipes, which feeds six smallish appetites or four more average ones, takes six medium potatoes. Wash and peel them, then give them three decisive cuts: One down the middle lengthwise, and then into thirds. Plop! Into the heating water they go.
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a brisk simmer. Give them about fifteen minutes then poke at them with a fork. If they give way fairly easily, you’re ready. You don’t want them to explode at the slightest pressure – that’s going to make grainy mashed potatoes. You don’t want them too firm, either – if they fight the fork and have a chance of winning, they’ll be lumpy.
They should break apart with slight pressure. When that happens, take them off the heat and drain them. Toss a quarter cup of butter or margarine into the pan, put in the potatoes, and start with a quarter cup of milk.
Set the hand mixer on stun and start whipping the spuds. This is where your human eyeball comes in: If they seem grainy and ‘too thick,’ add a tablespoon of milk. Just a tablespoon – the point of creamy goodness comes fast, and you can’t take the excess milk out very easily.
If you like them a little rustic (with lumps), leave the speed low and stop sooner. If you prefer them to be really smooth and creamy, set that mixer on kill and whip them.
And then you’re done. It generally takes me just over twenty minutes start to. Set the pan to soak while you’re eating and cleanup is no big deal, either.
Don’t be afraid of your kitchen, folks. I know, I know, a lot of you aren’t. But I also know more than a few you are, and you find those home-cooked goodies intimidating because when they don’t turn out right…well. It’s so obvious, and you feel like a failure because gee whiz…every other cook in America can do this in his or her sleep, what’s wrong with me?!
Ya know what? The first several runs I made at mashed potatoes sucked. Mightily. My most common mistake was over-boiling the potatoes, which made them gummy and blech. I also over-salted them, under-cooked them, over-whipped them, and once absent-mindedly dumped almost a cup of milk into them. (Potato soup, that’s what that was.) (Not bad, exactly…just, you know, not mashed potatoes.)
Don’t worry about it. If anybody gives you crap about your mashed potatoes, invite them to make their own damned dinner and see how they feel about it then. Laugh about it. Enjoy it. Love yourself for trying…love yourself for getting better…love yourself for succeeding.
And don’t worry too much about wasting some potatoes or even burning some steak along the way. Kitchen accidents happen to everybody, even famous celebrity chefs. These are valuable lessons, investments in future good things.
Give them a try. You will save money in the long run, eat healthier foods (OK, mashed potatoes are not exactly the Gold Standard for health food, just stay with me here…) and if the apocalypse actually happens and there is no more take-out?
You will be worth your weight in gold.
You have to plan ahead, people. Those who can cook from scratch, post-apocalypse? They’ll be nearly as valuable as people who can make socks using two sticks and some string…just sayin’….
(Seriously. Imagine if you couldn’t pop over to WalMart for a pair of socks? Who loves their resident knitter now, huh?!)
Marquis de Vauvenargues
9 hours ago