Cheap Summer Recipes

Summer is just around the corner, yay! On the upside, fresh produce is abundant and lower in price. On the downside, it gets too hot to cook! So today I’m bringing you a few of my favorite summer-friendly cheap recipes.

Alternative pizza nights
Grabbing a pizza is a reasonably-priced way to feed a family or group of friends, but it’s hard to accommodate everyone’s tastes, and you pay a delivery fee to wait 45 minutes for a pie! We have two alternatives to pizza night that are fun for the family and pretty economical. The first is a simple idea called “pizzadillas,” and the second is a make-your-own pizza night on the grill. All it takes is a pizza stone or one of those grill mats so your pizza won’t fall through.

Pizzadillas:
Shredded mozzarella
Pizza sauce
Tortillas
Pizza toppings of your choice

Put a little mozzarella and the toppings of your choice between two tortillas, and heat on the stovetop until the cheese melts and the outside is browned. Cut the pizzadilla with a pizza cutter and dip into pizza sauce.

Make-Your-Own Pizza Night: Crust recipe originally found on Food.com

2 1⁄4 teaspoons yeast
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
3⁄4 cup hot water
1 3⁄4 cups flour
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
Pizza sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water. Let sit 5-10 minutes until the yeast mixture becomes frothy. Add the flour and salt, and mix well. This makes one pizza for 2-4 people, or you can divide the dough in half (or thirds – I have a teenager and a husband who runs distances, so they eat bigger than your young kids will) and let each person make their own. I usually double the recipe and make four individual pizzas. Roll out the dough and top with sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice. Cook on a hot grill until the cheese is melted and the crust begins to brown.

Quiche
Eggs are an economical source of protein, and quiche is a great way to turn leftover meat, cheeses, and veggies into a brunch or dinner for the whole family. Quiche consists of two parts: the crust and the egg filling. You can buy a pie crust to save time and effort, but making pie crust is really not that hard. Here is my go-to pie crust recipe; I got it years ago from my friend’s aunt who is a terrific cook!

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 cup cold butter (cut in small chunks)
1 egg
1 tsp. vinegar
cold water

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter chunks and mix until it resembles pea-sized chunks. Add the egg and vinegar and mix. Add the cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together. Remove from the mixer and divide in two. Roll out the dough and place in pie pan. (makes 2 pie crusts or one double crust for fruit pies)

Filling:
5 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup of cream or milk
cheeses, meats, and veggies of your choice

Mix the eggs and milk. Pour into pie crust. Add cheeses, meats, and veggies of your choice. I’m a big fan of cheddar, onion, and leftover ham. Sometimes I throw in some spinach if I have it on hand. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Top with cheese and bake for another 20-25 minutes. Quiche is done when the filling is firm and the top starts to brown.

Stretching seasonal produce
Summer is the ideal time for the freshest produce at the best prices. And if you’re gardening or subscribing to a CSA box, you might have produce coming out of your ears! Don’t let it go to waste, learn some basics of freezing and preserving produce.

My excess usually comes in the form of raspberries and zucchini, which both freeze well (shred the zucchini, squeeze out some of the liquid, and put in a plastic freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible and freeze). There’s nothing like fresh sweet corn in season, and it’s possible to preserve that flavor for winter too.

Summer Sweet Corn: From on a post on Little Dairy on the Prairie
15 cups raw corn kernels (shuck the corn and cut off the kernels. I like to use a Bundt pan. The little center part makes a great stand for the corn, and the kernels can fall into the round pan in any direction)
1/8 cup salt (I know. 1/8 of a cup. I just half fill a ¼ cup measuring cup. It works out)
½ cup sugar
4 cups hot water
¼ cup butter

Put all ingredients in a large pot. Heat slowly to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Ladle into freezer bags and seal. Lay bags flat and freeze.

 

I hope this gives you some new ideas for affordable, summer-friendly recipes. Share some of your favorites in the comments!

 

My Confession: Off the Wagon

I have a confession to make: I fell off the wagon. No, I’m not becoming an alcoholic. I haven’t even failed at another diet. No, I’ve failed at a different goal. Back in January I made a plan to go through all of 2017 without purchasing any clothing, shoes, or accessories for myself that were not fair trade produced. I thought I could pull it off because I have a bathing suit that fits, and I didn’t need new athletic shoes. Those are typically the hardest things to find fair trade. But I only made it to May.

This week I went looking for a sundress or two for some summer events we have coming up. I found a couple options on Amazon that were made in the USA. Since there is a minimum wage in America and labor laws in place to protect workers, I figured it was safe to buy American. I’m not sure where the fabric was produced, just that the construction was done here, so it was a bit of a compromise.

Then my favorite bra turned on me. There is nothing quite like being stabbed in the heart… There are a few companies making fair trade under things, I’m a big fan of my Pact Organic socks, and I buy their undershirts for my guys, but I haven’t found a company that caters to plus sized people. In fact, everything fair trade is hard to find in plus sizes, but undergarments and swimwear are the worst.

Since I was already making an order, I bought a few other things. That’s how it goes, isn’t it? If I mess up my diet, I eat the whole buffet. If I break my shopping fast, I make it worth paying shipping. I didn’t max out a credit card or anything, but I picked up a bathing suit cover-up and a pair of pajamas along with some underthings.

My husband is turning 40 this summer, and he decided that rather than throw a party, he would like to go on a short trip, just the two of us (as an introvert, this was more his style). So we booked a birthday weekend in Vegas. In August. Yikes. August in the desert… Since I already failed at my goal, I bought a second bathing suit for the trip, and a pair of cute shoes that were really cheap.

I did it. I messed up. I can’t change that (well, I could return some things. But that’s not always an option). But I have to pick myself up and start again. I went four full months without buying anything that wasn’t fair trade. That’s pretty good. I learned some things about need vs. want and making do with what you have, and I practiced saying no to my urge to medicate my feelings with shopping (it’s like eating your feelings, but more expensive…). Because of my commitment, I also learned about some great fair trade companies. There were some wins, for sure. Now I need to dust myself off and start again. It’s never too late to do the right thing. One binge does not make me a bad person. I’ve only failed if I don’t pick myself up and get back on track. (I’m trying to convince myself here. Is it working? I think so.)

I’m always looking for fair trade retailers, especially if they carry hard-to-find items like swimwear, plus sizes, and athletic shoes! Share your favorite fair trade or American-made company in the comments!

Famine in the Horn of Africa

Back in 2011, there was a famine in the Horn of Africa. The famine killed thousands and disrupted systems in ways that have not yet been fully overcome. And now the region is facing famine once again. A famine is an extreme, widespread scarcity of food. Famines are usually caused by wars or environmental conditions that prohibit the growth of grass and crops, resulting in the death of livestock and eventually people. The famine that Eastern Africa is facing right now is caused by a drought that is killing off the vegetation and plant life.

The Horn of Africa is a peninsular region on the far eastern side of the continent, and includes the nations of Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. The famine right now is particularly bad in Somalia, a nation of 10.8 million people on the eastern edge of the Horn of Africa. In the north, Somalia is just over 20 miles from Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, so the culture is influenced by both East Africa and the Middle East. The environment is hot, and rainfall is normally irregular, though right now it’s pretty much nonexistent.

According to UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), nearly 1.4 million children in Somalia are expected to be acutely malnourished this year. Obviously one can die from starvation, but malnourishment can also cause stunted growth, physical and mental impairment, and decreased immunities that leave children susceptible to life-threatening illnesses. Famine also causes people to leave their homes in an effort to find a better situation. This migration upsets education and tears families apart.

This situation is devastating and heartbreaking. Famine isn’t caused by laziness or bad choices, it’s just plain bad luck. And try as we might, we can’t bring back the rain. So while opportunities like education and access to capital are usually the best solution for poverty and hunger, in a situation like this people need an emergency handout to bridge the crisis period. Many of the world’s hunger relief organizations are on the case, arriving with food, water, and medical care to see people through this crisis. But the need is huge. UNICEF estimates 1.4 million children will be affected by acute malnutrition this year, but the adults who care for them will face the same challenges, so the actual number affected is probably double that.

There are three things that we can do from here to support Somalis during this crisis:

  1. Pray – Pray for rain to return to the Horn of Africa. Pray for those who are suffering. Pray for the missionaries and non-profits working to bring relief. Pray that donors and volunteers would step up the challenge.
  2. Give – Non-profit organizations have carefully fundraised budgets and planned programs to manage around the world. This crisis is an additional burden on their organizations. I’ve signed up to raise donations for Feed My Starving Children’s Somalia initiative this summer, and you can make a gift or learn more about that here.
  3. Volunteer – No, I’m not suggesting you fly to Somalia. In fact, I would discourage it. They don’t need more mouths to feed right now! But there are things we can do from here. Research organizations working in the country, and help them raise money. Use your social media following to raise awareness of the problem and the organizations working in the region. Some organizations even have ways that you can help hands-on. Here in the Twin Cities, FMSC is having a special packing weekend June 2-5 at the RiverCentre in St Paul to provide for this extra demand on their resources. I’ll be there packing on Sunday evening and Monday afternoon that week. If you’re in the area and would like to sign up to help, you can find that information here.

This draught and famine will eventually pass, but how many lives will be lost in the meantime? Do what you can, starting, and ending, with prayer!

If you know of other organizations working in the area, or other things that we can do to help, please leave a comment!

 

4 Myths about Poverty and Hunger

We all have some preconceived notions about poverty and hunger, but how accurate are those notions? Here are four ideas many of us have about hunger, and a dose of the truth.

  1. Hunger-related deaths are a problem in developing nations, but not in America:
    Though most of the world’s hunger-related deaths are in developing nations, there are Americans suffering and even dying from hunger and hunger-related illness. The actual stats in the U.S are about .58 of every 1000 deaths is caused by hunger. That’s way lower than places like Ethiopia, but in modern, democratic America, it’s still too many.
    And hunger is about more than life and death. Children who do not get proper nutrients can face permanent physical and mental disabilities, stunted growth, and lack the immunities to fight off other things.
  2. SNAP (food stamps) are frequently abused, with recipients using their benefits for junk food, soda, or pet food:
    In fact, SNAP benefits can only be used for approved items. The benefits are preloaded onto a card, and when the card is swiped only the value of approved purchases is charged to the card. SNAP covers milk, cheese, fruits and veggies, grains, meat and eggs, and other necessary food items. It is not good for the purchase of pet foods, soda, baby formula or diapers, or junk foods like chips and cookies.
  3. In America, hunger and poverty are limited to poor areas like Appalachia, the “rust belt,” and Native American Indian reservations:
    While those areas may have more poor and hungry per capita, the truth is that every single county in the United States has some people living below the poverty line and fighting food insecurity. Every.Single.County. The idea that it “doesn’t happen here” is a lie we tell ourselves so that we don’t feel guilty. Know the truth. There is poverty in your county. There are people who rely on the local food bank.
  4. Poverty is caused by unemployment and laziness:
    Yes and no. Obviously not working means not getting paid, and a period of unemployment can dig a hole that takes years to recover from. But one in four American workers brings home wages at or below the poverty line. Low-paying retail, service, and factory jobs are often not enough to make ends meet. These jobs usually don’t come with benefits, either, so an unpaid sick day can be very costly.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the realities of poverty and hunger in America today. What surprised you?

Organization Profile: Kiva Microfinance

Thank you for your patience as I have been up to my eyeballs in kitchen remodel and then traveling for Easter weekend. My part of the kitchen remodel (painting the cabinetry) is done, and it’s in the hands of the pros who will soon be installing the countertops and the new sink and faucet. I can’t wait to have it all done!

Over the years I’ve mentioned the power of microfinance in creating long-term change for people living in poverty. The lack of access to relatively small amounts of capital stunts an individual’s ability to build for the future. But I don’t just talk about microfinance; I actually participate in the process.

I currently have a portfolio of four microfinance loans through Kiva. Kiva is a four star-rated non-profit organization that connects private lenders to small borrowers around the world. With an investment of $25 or more, you can become part of a team that helps poor or underrepresented people get the capital they need to start or expand their businesses. The loans vary in amount, as do the borrowers’ projects, but the lenders always chip in at $25 per person. Kiva gives you the tools to choose your borrowers by gender, location, group or individual, and by investment type (education, agriculture, production, etc.). You can narrow down the results and then read through the borrowers’ stories until you find one with which you connect. Some loan projects even have matching funds available, so your $25 can go twice as far!

The borrowers have a repayment schedule, just like a loan from your local bank or credit union, and they pay a little interest. Kiva claims their repayment rate is 97.1%, and the individual stories come with a risk rating to help you chose your project. So far all of my loans (with the exception of the one I made just this week) have started to make repayments.

I make a new loan twice a year, at Christmas and at my birthday. My goal is to build a portfolio of loans large enough that I can continue making my bi-annual loans using only the repayment capital from the old loans. It’s really exciting to read the stories of the potential borrowers and to have the opportunity to support their dreams and a better future for their families. I currently have four loans open, and they include male, female, and group borrowers on several continents. Two of my loans helped small farmers add bee keeping to their family farms – a benefit for the environment as well as the farmers’ futures. One of my loans is right here in the US, helping a small business owner invest in her company. The fourth loan helped a group purchase raw materials for their peanut butter business (my son chose that one!).

I always evaluate a potential project by the long-term sustainability it will provide for the borrower. For example, I would pick a project that helped a farmer get equipment before I would pick a project that provided wholesale goods that would be here and gone. Not that wholesale goods is a bad investment, but I want my investment to keep on giving year after year, making it possible for the borrowers to do more for many years to come. Some of the donors like giving to loans for women in countries where women are denied access. Some donors have a heart for a particular country and make loans in those places.

Participating in a microfinance loan is a low-risk investment. If a loan goes unpaid, you just made a $25 donation – no big loss. But if it gets repaid and you continue to reinvest the money, your $25 could have a tremendous impact for generations to come.