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Food + Cooking

Extreme Frugality:
Who Would Have Thunk It?

In this day and age of specialization, W. Hodding Carter is an unashamed generalist. The man is curious about everything, and his books have taken him around the world. He’s followed in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, retraced Leif Ericsson’s journey to the New World in an authentic replica of a Viking merchant ship, and has written about the ecology of the Everglades, the history of plumbing, his quest for Olympic gold, and even how to build your own mackerel smoker with the same single-minded determination. These days, he’s finding adventure of a different kind—living within his means.
balsa planes

I was going to write about our pantry moths and the fact that I can’t do what I did the last time we had an outbreak of those annoying winged pests—throw away all the grains and anything made with grains*. And I was also going to write about being overcome with emotion on Memorial Day, while I stapled 300 feet of chicken wire together to make a gigantic pen for the hens. It wasn’t the work involved that brought tears to my eyes, but what I saw when I glanced over my shoulder: Anabel building five four-foot-high string-fences for our peas to grow on; Helen digging holes and planting two new Jonathan apple trees; Angus shooting his homemade slingshot and helping everybody with their projects; Lisa weeding, planting, transplanting, and generally fixing things; and (reality check) Eliza—well, Eliza was helping in fits and starts, in between showering, picking out clothes for a party, and arguing with me as to why she couldn’t help. The setting, action, and plotline of the scene before me were not part of any script I’d written or anticipated for us. Here was a family working together with a purpose, and we even appeared to know what we were doing. It felt self-sufficient and confident and beautiful in our own slapdash, cross-your-fingers fashion.

Like I said, I was going to write about all that as well as the fact that if you had told me three or more years ago that I’d be collecting 17 eggs a day from my own hens, selling said eggs with my kids to friends and neighbors, baking bread that people raved about and then selling said bread to more and more people each passing weekend, I would have, at the very least, looked for the Candid Cameras.

And I was going to let you in on a surprise: Lisa and I are proud parents yet again. And, even worse (in my mind) or better (in Lisa’s mind), depending on how you see these things, we’re having multiples. In fact, it looks like we might have octodectuplets, at the very least. Okay, so they’re not actually human offspring but are instead chicks—offspring of our Rhode Island Red rooster and many of our Black Australorp hens—but we’re still pretty excited around here. Our local kindergarten always hatches chicken eggs every spring, and so we offered all three classrooms a dozen each, expecting one out of every two to hatch. After all, common wisdom (common to us poultry people, that is) has it that a rooster can only service 10 hens, and we have almost 20 now. Well, ol’ Snowflake, our rooster, is one hell of a stud. Of the dozen eggs in Angus’s class, 11 grew into chicks, and 7 hatched in another class. (The incubator was accidently ruined in the third class.) The kids all had great questions when I spoke with each class about egg development, and they invariably knew more than I.

But what I really want to write about is Angus throwing his $1.39 balsawood glider around the house this morning. After sliding the wings, rudder, and pilot in place, he had played with it off and on for a few days—what boy can’t resist a glider even with pheromone-loaded traps in the house?—before it crashed into a bicycle, which somehow fell over and destroyed it. Yet, this morning, Anabel and Angus taped it back together and he’s been tossing it in loop-de-loops and long, record-setting flights for hours.

“Yessss!” he just called out to nobody but his imaginary world. “One hundred and fifty-seven feet! Hooray!”

Now, that’s what I really wanted to write about.

Frugal Tip of the Week

I was going to save this idea for an entire blog, but my editor pressed me for my weekly tip, and since I hadn’t thought of one, I’m going to have to offer this up sooner than planned. I hope a few of you appreciate it and even take our advice. I say “our” because it was Lisa’s idea and, at first, I was completely opposed. I knew there was no way we could live without this product. Yet, despite all my complaints and initial fears, we have.

What do we want you to get rid of? Paper towels.

I know you use them for EVERYTHING. We did, too. But, they cost, on average, a dollar a roll, and there’s hardly a single task they perform that can’t be done by dish towels, sponges, and rags. We used to use two or three rolls a week (I know some families that go through one a day). So, not only are we saving $120 a year just by giving up something that we actually don’t need, but we’re also helping the environment.

Give it a try for two weeks and then let us know how it’s going. We’re convinced you’ll be won over—except when it comes to making bacon in the microwave. The bacon sticks to the rags, so we’re on the lookout at local yard sales for one of those nifty bacon-cooking dishes that I once thought a complete waste of money.

* How do you get rid of them? I could have written an entire entry just on pantry moths because getting rid of them is quite exciting. It’s a matter of sex, pure and simple. No, no, don’t go jump in bed at the first sight of Indian meal moths (their real name). I’m not talking about human sex. I mean go get a couple of alluring pantry moth traps for three dollars or so. They’re loaded with irresistible male Indian-meal-moth-attracting pheromones and coated with a sticky substance that holds the adventurous dudes forever—thus breaking their reproductive cycle. I like to think of these as a moth-catching version of a female cop disguised as a prostitute. We’ve just put some up—after vacuuming and cleaning everything in the pantry with soapy water. According to most experts and common practice, you’re supposed to throw away all contaminated food because the bins and boxes are interlaced with webs and full of larvae. Being the guy that I am, though, I just stirred up the webs to break them up and fed the larvae to the family. (This is extreme frugality, after all.) Bugs and larvae are full of protein and fats, of course, and no one in my family is the wiser—until now. The irony in all this is that the reason we got the moths is because we bought such large—thus cheaper—amounts of flour, barley, wheat, oats, etc. The moths and their offspring hang out in those big grain bins at your local co-op and supermarket.