Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Passing Down Memories through Food, Recipes and More

So my new blog location is now all ready to go. I've gotten the domain known as www.livingrichlyinretirement.com (after all I'm still frugal but not a Texas gal), chosen at least a temporary website, and will probably go live soon. My only problem to resolve is how to migrate the content on this site to that one, and if I can do it myself.  Please feel free to let me know any thoughts on that one. Other than that I've been happy with Wordpress, it's easy to use and I'm looking forward to sharing my new blog with you all.

Many year ago, I was temporarily living with my very new in-laws while my husband was in Japan  (my thirty something was a mere four). One afternoon my mother in law came up and hesitatingly asked me, if I by any chance ate calves liver.  Being me, my answer was, " I love calves liver"!".  Strange, I know!  She was thrilled.  

It turns out, you see, that my father in law (J)loves lamb, but hates liver. My mother in law (B) cannot touch the lamb (she was raised in Guatemala in her teens and it would seem she had a bad experience. She also does not eat bananas or plantains as her step father ran a banana plantation).  They had regular routine-she made lamb chops for him, calves liver for her, and then cooked piles of onions, sauteed spinach and potatoes.  I of course could have chosen either option, but being a liver lover, preferred to keep my B company. 

 After that, we moved to Washington and then to Germany.  We had liver (especially in German restaurants), but it was never like hers, and as health guidelines have changed, limited myself to once every six months. After all, as my sister says, it is gout food. My son was never tempted to partake, in any way.

When I moved to Texas after my husband died, I now had a high school/college student. Before long, I was getting a call from B asking what I was doing on Friday night,  and inviting son and self to dinner because she had gotten really good liver.  The first time, they offered to  cook something else for my son. I said no way, and since he was at his grandparents, he ate what was put in front of him, and another liver and sauteed spinach addict was born. This repeated once or twice a year until we moved to Denver.

Although that was years ago, this has come to mind recently. I have been talking about making family cookbooks for my children and realize that the time is now.  In our house, as I am sure it is in many houses, food is memory. Sometimes we actually remember to pass on those kinds of things, and sometimes we just keep cooking and forget. It's occurred to me (and to my son) lately, that we don't really know how she cooked this stuff or other recipes that were especially hers-we were too busy talking and eating, as often happens.  We know that she used bacon grease for the saute portion, but little else.
One of the book I purchased used to help me as I create my recipe books!

Fortunately we have a situation that hopefully will produce more than one great outcome as I move towards recipe collection on my husband's side of the family.  My father in law is of course at loose ends, after the loss of B.  He has likes to be busy, to have projects and have people to talk to. I think I've just given him a project, or maybe two.  Along with a birthday card, I sent a letter explaining my goal, and asking him to look through, or write down his recipes as many as possible-and not just for liver. There is grandma's jello salad, sticky chicken, berry crisp (that even my non-berry eating son would eat) Osso Buco, and more.  Since he's an amateur genealogist, I also asked him for some of that information as well, and told him that we would want to talk about that more when we visit in May.

Meanwhile, it's time for me to start searching my own memory and recipes.  My parents have been gone for awhile. Last birthday, another family member replicated the steak and kidney pie, spinach salad and homemade lemon meringue pie that my mother made for my birthday for years.  Her Sole Almondine was unmatched. I have many cookie recipes unique to our family, and traditions of my own to replicate such as homemade lasagna on Christmas eve (including sauce from tomatoes), and lots of other recipes to share-and look up.

This will be both a labor of love for me, as well as a memory for both of my adult kids.  Whenever possible I'll add a note about where the recipe came from, a picture , or something else. Both my kids enjoy cooking as well as eating, and they have been patiently waiting for this book for awhile now.

I'll be working on this project a bit every single week, beginning now. After some thought, I'm using a basic colored binder with a pocket and photo save pages-so that more recipes can be added as needed.  This way I can type the recipes, add graphics, hand written notes and pictures as needed-and still allow the kids to add their own recipes as life goes on. My intention is to update on this every week to keep myself accountable and to share my progress as I work on this family project.  I already have some "food themed" scrapbook papers purchased and am chomping at the big to begin.

Although I'm starting this project to preserve memories, it will be an easy, inexpensive gift that requires a lot of time, very little money and will be unique-just what I am looking for.

And so it goes, this snowed in day in retirement

Saturday, February 28, 2015

11Real Ways To Save Money In Retirement-An Unscientific List

The lists abound over the blogging world, and on money management sites.  Ten ways to save money in retirement, 25 money saving tips for retirees.  Bullet lists at their best. While the list may vary in tone and content, most of them are very similar. Cook from scratch and stop eating out to save money. Review your expenses. Look for discounts. Simplistic in the extreme, another blogger called this kind of post an "Eat Your Vegetables" article, and I tend to agree.

While I'm sure these folks mean well, he is correct these articles often seem to be written by thirty somethings.  Writers, mind you, who seem to think we've forgotten everything we learned.  I'm not sure about you, but sometime after college (at the latest), I realized that menu planning and eating at home saved money, and that it was a smart move at least every year to see if another insurance company could beat my rate.  After all, most of us lived on budgets most of our pre-retirement lives, if you get my drift.  These kind of budget cuts are what another blogger refers to as low hanging fruit.  They've been cut already very often.  As a non retirement example, that advise to cut out the latte was useless, since I never stopped and got one to begin with.

The other problem I have with these kind of articles is that they are very much one size fits all-and retirees have all kinds of incomes, all kinds of interests and all kinds of lifestyles.  What retirees need (in my humble non-financial expert opinion), are new ways to look at spending and the big picture. 

And so, with little ado, these are my own personal thoughts on saving money in retirement. I am not an expert on finance, but I do know at least a little bit about budget living in retirement, as well as knowing other retirees from a variety of spectrum.  With that, here we go:

  1. Know where you are and where you are going. As someone who was not financially savvy, experienced a shocking life event and had to make large changes quickly, I failed at this one. Because I had to sell a home, buy another, and move across the world, for example, I never had the chance to follow advise. I did not "change nothing" for a year, I did not do the math, I did not ask for help and I certainly did not think about where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. My choices were driven by necessity and depression.  At some point I did sit down and take that step, better late than never.  Face the realities, however good or bad they are, and go from there.
  2. Cut from the top down, or overhead, overhead, overhead!! I spend a lot of time on this blog discussing small frugal changes that can be part of a rewarding lifestyle.  But those changes are secondary to the big one. Make sure that food, transportation, health premiums and copays and housing (and the attendant taxes and insurance) are less than what you make each month or are willing to withdraw each month. Period.  How we do that is different. Some folks will choose to give up one car. Some will downsize.  How we get there is different, but these are decisions and changes that need to be made earlier rather than later. Moving and making friends is much easier at fifty and sixty than at seventy, no matter your personality.
  3. Recognize that your time and money continuum have changed and use it to your advantage. Retirees have,while not an infinite amount of time, certainly large amounts. Spending some of that new time to save (or make) money in order to be able to fully enjoy those other chunks of time should not be considered a sacrifice. While spending a few minutes looking at sales, cleaning your own home or painting a wall may take some time, for most people most of the time that is a small price for a large reward. Just as many retirees are still investing money, invest some of that time as well.
  4. Know your personal comfort level (or "ick factor" as one person calls it)-but be willing to stretch yourself to find what works-and consider why that's a comfort level issue.  I am unwilling to keep my home lower than sixty seven degrees and it goes as high as seventy two in the winter. On the other hand I have absolutely no problem going to a thrift shop and purchasing an LL Bean sweater for three dollars.
  5. Consider spending to save if you are at the beginning of retirement or if you are not yet retired-if you are sure you are spending on a long term value.  I'm sure many of those financial wizards would disagree.  If however, you are spending on what you are SURE are so called "investment items", that can be a good thing. Prior to retirement my husband and I were prepared to invest in good ski equipment, and I purchased my three thousand dollar sewing machine. Our goal was to have a life that required "replacement and repair costs" rather than big expense costs. My father and mother in law spent money improving their windows and making their home handicapped accessible, figuring that when they were done, their only expenses would be for the basics and someone to come in and help them.
  6.  Stay healthy and explore healthy self care options.  Not talking pseudo medicine here, just looking at all the options for staying healthy.   Medical expenses for retirees are the proverbial elephant in the room, if you will. Exercise, eat right and look at the various self care options for minor and chronic ills.
  7. Find ways to do the things that are important to you for less. The fact that you cannot afford the symphony doesn't mean you can't afford the symphony.  Music fans amongst my readers may be familiar with the Voices of Light-a concert and chorale set to the remastered classic film the Passion of Joan of Arc. Symphony tickets over the US have ranged from fifty dollars and much higher.  I'll be attending this performed by a local symphony and a cathedral chorale in a large cathedral next weekend. Before saying, but I can't, check again. Almost any thing can be done more cheaply or in a different way. 
  8. Working in retirement can be fun and rewarding and is not necessarily a punishment.  However.... I don't work for the essentials of life.  If you are working to pay the bills in retirement, look again. No job is secure, as many older retirees know.  When I work (which is on and off), it's because I want something, and don't want to take money away elsewhere to get it.
  9. Be willing to step out of the box (this probably falls along with your comfort level).  Learning new things in retirement is essential.  Spend a little bit of that learning time taking savings to the next step.  While we all know that menu planning and cooking at home save you money, taking the next step can save double.  Learning how to get real food cheaply, cook and freeze and eliminate waste can lower grocery bills by thirty percent.  Learning to new home improvement skills are good for our health, brain, and bottom line
  10. Give yourself a break.  I don't drink coffee. If I did, Starbucks would probably be my best friend. I do however have a Starbucks hot chocolate and a glazed lemon pound cake once week-without regard to calories or money (well, I do have the Starbucks reward card)
  11.  Finally, saving money and cutting expenses increase your bottom line.  You can have what you want, just not everything you want.  You can afford anything, just not everything. Every dollar saved through frugality is money to either be spent elsewhere or saved and invested for future spending.  And, you don't spend taxes on what you save!

And there you have it. My unscientific, one size does not fit all, advise for saving money in retirement.  These are not rules, but rather (as they say in Pirates of the Caribbean), just general guidelines.  Use them or not, as you see fit!

What about you, do you have any out of the box tips for saving money (in retirement, or any other time)???


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Another Project or Two-and Paying the Price for Those 70 Degree Days

My retirement schedule has turned into one that really varies week by week-especially when it comes to out of the house commitments. The first two weeks of the month I play Pinochle and Shanghai. I have a "Working from the right side of the brain" creativity group, a book group and my intensive volunteer commitments.  The last two weeks of the month my only regular out of the house appointments are my weekly knitting group and class and church and swimming in the therapy pool when I am up to it.

Overall this works well for me. The second part of the month in when I spend more time concentrating on cooking and baking, my craft and in depth art projects and online class (I try not to take more than one online class at a time, and one that allows me some time leeway.) Today, I was in my office organizing all the projects that I have going on, and projects I want to start. I really do try to not have more than one or two projects going at a time. The problem is that I say that for all of my hobbies. So right now I have two knitting projects int he works (and one put away for next Christmas), two quilts and three pairs of pants I want to sew, my art journal project, and my Easter decorating projects. That, of course, was only in my sewing room. That doesn't include the recipe project I am working on for my kids, baking, planning my sister's birthday, or working towards semi-finalizing my road trips.

One of the best things about retirement of course, is that I can work on any of these when I want, for as much as I want-or I can leave them for weeks on end. With the exception perhaps of my sisters birthday, none of these are "time sensitive" as the saying goes.

Which is a good thing you see, because this morning my daughter sent me a text from Texas. She wanted to know what happened to the winter infinity scarf I was kitting for her. I reminded her that she told me it was not cold enough and she would not use it so I should start on something else (I'm making the tank from this post in peach). She responded that her fiance was taking her to Chicago for their anniversary and they were going the tenth of March (her spring break). I of course, said I would knit her a scarf, as well as sending one I have never worn that she will love. So the next few days will be spent nesting as they say-knitting, baking, reading and generally being low energy, except with my hands 

Nesting inside in the warmth, that is,  and very possibly not leaving the house for a day or two or three. Because the weather overlords being what they are, we are now paying for those two weeks of 70 degree days. Cold, wet, heavy snow (pray for my tree branches) have replaced sunny sandal weather.  I enjoy the overall sunniness and balminess of Colorado weather.  Still, next year I may have to move into that mother-in-law bedroom my daughter promises me for at least March and April.

Either that, or go find a room to rent on the gulf coast. Near the beach.  Where it's warm.

Monday, February 23, 2015

About Those Oscars...........

I am not a huge fan of awards shows.  The only one I would stay home to see are the Tony Awards because of the music and the fact that they often have full scenes of plays as part of the show.  That said, for the past few years I have gotten more involved in watching the awards-if only as background.  They've taken out much of the time bloat that was in the shows for a few years there, and have, for the most part streamlined the system.

For the past few years, I have also not been particularly surprised by the results. While I rarely even attempt to see all the movies prior to the awards, I have a family member who does see those movies, even the hard hitting, hard to take movies-and has called it right in most of the major categories for the all of those years.

Tonight, temporarily snowed in, I did watch the Academy Awards. Here are my slightly off kilter thoughts on what I saw and heard:
  • No one but Neal Patrick Harris should ever be allowed to host an awards show again. Nothing personal as to Billy Crystal or anyone else, but the guy has this thing down!
  • I don't get the Wes Anderson thing (admittedly I have not seen this current movie). I find his movies for the most part "off" and slow and well, they just don't hook me in. I do plan to see the Grand Budapest Hotel, once it is on my small screen.
  • Two of my favorite actors are Michael Keaton and Bill Murray.  They act when they feel like it and they are unafraid to play kooky, kinky, unique characters.  They  don't require starring roles. They act for the fun of it. However, Birdman must be a very strange movie.  All those awards and at least half the people I know hated it-but the other half loved it.
  • Julie Andrews looked absolutely stunning at seventy, and the tribute to the Sound of Music was wonderful. Nothing to make you feel past middle age than realizing it's the fiftieth anniversary of that film.
  • They really should divide the categories up further at the Oscars, like other awards shows do-although I always wonder if comedy/musical is a proper category
  • I was happy to see that a non-Disney song for real adults won best song.  I had no doubt that the Selma song would win, and in that regard I got one right.  I do love John Legend and can listen to him sing nursery rhymes, however.
  • Unless I missed it, we managed to get away without see through dresses or bottom showing skirts, although Jennifer Lopez came pretty darn close.
  • Julianne Moore is always so real and I love her speeches. She is a great actress, although I will probably never see Still Alice.
  • I think Sean Penn is one of the greatest actors of our time, but I do remember when he shunned awards, shows, journalists and anything else. Now he's the grey haired guy giving out the big award.  Check out the trailer of his new film by the way.  Sean Penn as action hero.
  • Idris Elba could read the phone book to me.  Enough said. 
  • I personally am not turned off as such because a movie has violence, swearing, sex, or anything else. All of those are appropriate and can enhance a movie. I would say that from my perspective, American Sniper, Selma, and Gone Girl all require the level of violence they have-and I say that as a woman who screamed and turned her head last night when I finally watched the film version of Gone Girl. Sure, you can wallow in violence but real stories about real people with real problems have real violence and real sex, and swearing.  
  • The same is true as far as "like ability".  Without any spoilers, at the end of Gone Girl, you really, really, really, really hate almost every single character. It is still an excellent novel and excellent book.  I'd say if you can hate Ben Affleck, he and the others have done their jobs.
  • Last but not least, I'm thinking about those poor guys off camera at the separate awards.  These days, movies are about technology and science. I'm not sure that the scientists who invent the technology should be sent off to the back room.  Then again, I'm not sure we can take a longer ceremony.
And so it goes, on a frigid Sunday night in Denver.  While we're not the midwest or the northeast, we do have single digit temperatures and three days of solid snow, which has kept me in the house. On the other hand it will be fifty if not sixty by the end of the week, so I'll not complain.

What Oscar movies have you seen, and what did you think?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Frugal Fridays - Saving (and Making) Money While Loving Retirement

 Well, folks, I believe in the next month or so this blog will be moving to Wordpress. This has been a tough decision, but once I decided to be more active, and to change this to a retirement lifestyle blog from just a frugal blog, it seems to be the best fit. I'll keep you updated on this, and hopefully all will go smoothly!! Please be patient with me on this one!

In order to enjoy my retirement to the fullest, I need to make frugality (both active and passive) part of my lifestyle.  For the most part, this frugality fits in seamlessly with my days, and I barely notice those frugal things, because they are pretty ingrained and generally not such a chore. Sometimes retirement frugality is more out of the box, and sometimes, it's even an effort. It is, however, rarely a chore, and rarely does it truly inhibit me from doing what I want to do.

A fellow blogger regularly writes a column entitled "five frugal things".  In this case, I figured I would take a leaf out of her book and share the regular-and irregular things that have happened this week to keep my budget in check, as well as one, well, not so frugal thing!

  1. As is my regular habit most weeks, I had a full social life while spending little money.  My knitting, book and game groups are all part of various meetups or newcomers group, where the cost of attendance is generally a latte or a single happy hour wine.  This makes my weekly round up of fun very cheap, except for discounted supplies for knitting or sewing.
  2. I self-entertained cheaply as well. I'm taking a free Craftsy class, two in fact (one on learning to design and sell patterns and one on cake decorating).  I just finished binging on the first season of Bosch (yes that's Harry Bosch) on Amazon and am working my way through those Midsommer Murders on Netflix.  This is not a "free" activity as I pay an annual membership on one side, and a monthly membership on the other side. However since I do watch TV and movies, this cost saves me a great deal over my movie outings. Add that to my NY Times Sunday crossword, two kindles books and my sewing and designing and I've had a busy week.
  3. I did go to a real movie, at a matinee, using a Christmas gift card and my rewards card. My next visit will be free with my rewards. I don't mind going to the movies at a matinee, as I enjoy the quiet, and can spread out my snacks and coat to the next chair. My new favorite theater has fully reclining seats.
  4. I grabbed a few freebies during my quick online daily perusal. Today these included a free Cadbury creme Easter Egg, a free advance ticket to the Will Smith movie Focus, free Krispy Kreme donuts, a free Redbox rental, and a free coke coupon
  5. I downloaded a $10 off $25 at JC Penney coupon. I do this every week, although I don't use it unless I have a reason to go near that store.  Their Foundry for big and tall men offer extra long sizes from size large onward, which means eventually I will have a pile of long sleeved turtlenecks and shirts to gift my son-which actually tuck in past his long torso.
  6. I used the Retail Me Now app on my phone to check for any instant coupons when I went into Joannes to get thread-I have a variety of apps on my phone offering discounts and deals that I keep handy, and lets me cut less coupons.
  7. I chose not to make reservations for restaurant week, when all the best restaurants have a multi-course dinner for $30.00. My readers know that I LOVE gourmet food. However the best dishes are often not available during restaurant week, and my goal is to eat well in Seattle, so for now I will forgo that temptation!
  8. As mentioned elsewhere, we are painting the living room and hall-with Sherwin Williams paint purchased with a coupon.  Discounted paint, a few hours dusting and cleaning walls and floor on Saturday, and painting on Sunday has saved an enormous amount of money.
  9. As always, I spent a few minutes each day grabbing the above mentioned deals, checking loss leader grocery prices and more.  This week, very few things were at my "best price" so my grocery shopping will be limited to produce and dairy products and a few other things.
  10. I had two medical tests: a thyroid sonogram and a trans-vaginal sonogram. My total copay for these was forty dollars.  This was less a frugality issue than a good insurance issue, but a money saving one never the less. Now to get up the nerve to do that colonoscopy prep.
  11. Finally, I downloaded a forty five minute exercise program from U-tube. Exercise is important to health and can be worth paying for. This one is probably both a time and money issue, as I arise at 9:30 or later, and often miss the exercise classes. For now, that online class, plus some walking will fill my exercise needs.
Into every life some rain must fall, even in retirement. To show you just HOW ill I was over Christmas, the federal government, in it's wisdom, paid me my teeny tiny pension payment-twice. So busy was I coughing, crying and general being a malingerer that between cross country driving and sending other people out to shop for me, that balance did not get checked.  The government, as always, takes away what it gives, however, to be sure-in March. Fortunately this is just a teeny part of my income, but the fast that I missed this is well-unusual.

And so it's gone, this week in retirement!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Doing It Ourselves in Retirement-Painting the Walls and More!

Just a quick note that I'll be changing some of the blog background soon.  Also, in the next few days you may want to check out my blog roll further. Earlier I mentioned that I wanted this to become more of a lifestyle blog written by a frugal retiree than a retirement blog.  Since many, if not most of the blogs I read are not necessarily about retirement, I'll be adding some of those to this blog and talking about them in the future.

Maintaining a house, and making it yours, is a work in progress most of the time. I know many retirees who are either still making house changes or are updating the newer downsized retirement homes they have moved to. Either way, whether it is making our homes handicapped accessible, changing furniture arrangements for a different kind of lifestyle or something else, the challenge is to make our homes ours without breaking the bank. We all have different "hire it out" tolerances both in terms of money and effort.

When we moved into this house, the colors were deep, not clear and definitely not my style. I suppose some people would consider the colors traditional-dull beige, dark pewter in my bedroom and more. I've previously posted pictures (more than once) of my bedroom before painting and the beige front room with the undecorated mantel (because I didn't want to hang before I painted).  What's more, every single room had the ceilings panted the same color as the room.  Which, for now, leaves me with bright yellow bedroom walls and dark pewter gray ceilings.

The easy way for us to have dealt with that situation would have been to hire someone to come in and paint the whole house.  Two big problems with that one. Cost, of course being the first.  The other problem was the colors. We are not traditionalist in terms of color and it took awhile to choose a color that worked for me and would bring out my fireplace.

 After experimenting with many colors, we have finally gotten some real paint on our front room-in colors that work for me. While I can no longer paint, my sister can as can my college student. I am relegated to moving furniture and washing walls. 

That said, self painting is not difficult, IF you take the time to prepare (move furniture, tape, clean cobwebs and lay down floor coverings).  It is certainly not difficult when you have no stairs or high ceilings.  This living room was painted in a weekend, with the first day being preparation and the second day being painting.  In a bit of serendipity those walls that I hated came to our rescue.  They were not light or dark but a strong medium beige.  That, added to the color of the paint, meant this room needed a single coat of paint or one gallon.

Because we paint ourselves, we already have most of the requirements. Old sheets have been sacrificed, we have rollers and pans that purchased once, can be used over and over. Because I am an email subscriber to most of the paint companies, we had coupons for forty percent of our gallon of paint, and other gallons as well.

So far we have painted two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living space and we are on to another bathroom.  Colors range from turquoise to yellow, soft green, and blue.  In this case doing it ourselves has been the best option, as it often turns out to be.  Unfortunately, at some point I will need to pay a guy or gal to come in and do that ceiling thing throughout the house. Cheaper than falling and and injuries, and every room has a ceiling fan and light. Some times you have to know when to fold 'em!

I another bit of do it myself-ness, I have started knitting some tank tops for summer. A tank top requires a skein or so of yarn, cheaper than a good tank but about the price of a visit to Walmart. As I am less than impressed with the spring/summer colors I see so far, I have chosen to to make something in a color and style I like. I'm still a beginning knitter, but my friends seem to think this can be done, so I will keep you all in the loop as it were. Off to look for lime green or yellow yarn.

Meanwhile, after a week of sixty degree days, the snow came again yesterday. Today, sunshine and a high of thirty eight,  tomorrow back to fifty. Not a problem for me, as I was already planning to be my homebody self. Since my return Sunday from watching Fifty Shades of Grey (a story for another time), I have not left the house, and probably will not leave until my class Tuesday evening.

I'm exercising and doing yoga via U-tube, reading one of my downloaded kindle books, watching the Midsommer Murders on Netflix while quilting, knitting, and starting my online class.

I also am taking an art journal course, using prompts and a variety of techniques on each page.  I've also designed two unique quilt projects and I'm exploring how best to write the tutorials, transfer to PDF and get them out in the market. Lots of challenges there, and plenty to keep me busy and active at home for a couple of days.!

Tonight, off to class-but first, Shrove Tuesday pancakes, or Mardi Shrove Gras as my church calls it!


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cooking From Scratch for The Rest of Us-Eating Well Frugally

I have a confession to make: I do not particularly love to cook.   I know a fair amount of bloggers who have embraced gourmet cooking in retirement. The enjoy experimenting with new skills and new dishes and find cooking a joy and a hobby.  I am not one of those people.  I was married to one of those people and am related by blood to a couple others (all male, it seems).  These guys can spend a day cooking happily for a meal that will be eaten in an hour.

In my marriage, I cooked those weeknight get it on the table meals, and my husband cooked everything else-holidays, entertainment, and weekends.  My brother has been known to spend a day cooking oxtail soup from scratch, or experimenting with three different steak and kidney pie recipes on my birthday. I on the other hand am terrible with a knife, love baking with a passion but could be called just a so so cook.

Unfortunately, I love to eat really good food. I also, like many retirees, am on a food budget.  I've previously written about how I shop for food and stay within my budget.  The other part of the equation is of course, cooking the food.

Cooking from scratch can sometimes be hard for families of one or two (ours sometimes has three).  I could be easy to settle for scrambled eggs or a deli chicken, or popcorn and cut vegetables and dip.  I prefer to eat good food and have a sit down meal, even if it is me alone (with it rarely is).  I also have a number of activities in retirement that keep me out and about until close to dinner time.

If you are a non cook like me, but like to eat, I may have a few suggestions.  What works for me may not work for you but experimentation is always a good thing and you may be happy with the results.

My freezer is my best friend, yes, even in retirement.  Most good recipes are for four or six and sometimes eight.  So if, on the weekend I DO make a good, complicated recipe that I like, I can freeze half of it.  This means that another meal requires only thawing and reheating.  Yes, it will taste just as good, IF you freeze it properly. I love to bake, but a whole cake or piles of muffins would go bad, so I freeze those as well. The only thing that does not freeze well are popovers.  Freezing is also good during grill season. I make individual packages of chicken breast, beef or pork that I have frozen in family packs, but marinade in with the meat and freeze. Thawed meat will be marinated and ready to go.

I cook extra meat either for leftovers or to freeze. This is more true in grilling season but- I cook a whole family pack or two of chicken breasts. I "par cook" some of them so they are still a little pink (this is safe for this purpose). I then freeze these grilled breasts (or whatever).  When I pull them out they will still have the grilled taste (an easy one is to reheat with peppers and black beans).  Leftover meat can be put into chef salads and served with bread if nothing else.

I use wine, garlic, onions, mushrooms and occasionally peppers liberally. I have learned that almost everything tastes better with one or two of these things, and some with all! I actually use peppers non liberally, because it seems that for me nightshade plants do not help with my arthritis.  That said, for small families I think the one area where convenience foods are justified is in the produce section. My grocer has containers of chopped onions, onions and celery.  They even sometimes have single stalks of celery, so I don't have to buy a whole package for two stalks. I've been known to get one of those veggie trays that has celery, carrots, tomatoes and broccoli heads and dips so that I did not have to throw out produce. The freezer section ha a whole section of vegetables that are called recipe starters-one has onions, garlic and mushrooms, for example

My slow cooker is my friend. I have learned that with a few basic ingredients one can turn out a gourmet meal.  Soups, chicken in wine, beef stew in wine, chili and so much more come out great in a slow cooker.  When I look at a recipe online, being a non cook, I also look at the reviews and tweaks others have made.  For those chefs who wonder, I do not brown meat prior to putting in the slow cooker and have never had a problem, although I do occasionally brown those vegetables.

Finally, I do of course rely on those convenience type meals-just mainly made by me. Homemade soup (made in bulk and frozen) with grilled cheese sandwiches, home made quiche (one of those things I was terrified of until I made it the first time and realized how easy it was) and a salad, breakfast for dinner, home made mac and cheese and more, all are part of our regular eating.

And so it goes with cooking for this non cook. Of course, having said all that, tonight is my son's birthday. We're having lamb chops, fresh asparagus, and couscous, none of which will be cooked by me (except for the homemade angel food cake and chocolate whipped cream)!  After that it's back to slow cooker chili, french toast and sausage and fruit, and quiche with spinach salad.

Are you a cook or a non cook?  Or somewhere in between.