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Arva Flour mill, and other affordable pleasures

Andrea Macko, Dishing It Out

Every day, it seems, there’s news about an oncoming (or ongoing?) recession, and how we collectively spend too much and don’t save enough. The remedy inevitably set forth involves a kind of financial martyrdom which forsakes feeling good for the almighty dollar.

We’ve been led to believe that more expensive equals better. But sometimes, a “cheap thrill” can be just as good — if not better, than the pricier option. Here’s a few of my favourites.

Elemental to my daily happiness is my morning coffee: I only need a cup, but it needs to be strong and flavourful. Few machines achieve this as easily and economically as a French press. After our last electric coffeemaker kept overflowing despite regular cleaning, I returned to brewing’s humble roots.

French presses are basically idiot-proof, no matter how early in the morning it is: put a tablespoon of rough-ground beans per cup in the beaker’s base, add boiling water, stir, and cover. After a few minutes — depending on how strong you like your brew — push down the plunger and pour. I especially like the French press because it doesn’t create a lot of waste like those electronic individual-cup machines that seem to be all the rage. Since French presses can be bought for well under $50, you can splurge on your coffee beans, and really enjoy them.

After coffee, it’s off to the shower. There’s one product that’s been a constant in my washroom for almost two decades: Cetaphil gentle skin cleanser (or a no-name knock-off). Cetaphil is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year; it’s been recognized by dermatologists for its greatness since 1964. It comes in a big, boring pump bottle and is dirt cheap compared to what face wash can cost you. (I’ve often wondered how people can pay so much for something that’s on your face for all of a minute!)

Despite its lack of glamour, it’s a workhorse: Cetaphil effectively removes make-up, dirt and oil without drying, irritation or scent. But it’s not just for the face: as a hand wash, it negates the need for lotion, and if you have sensitive skin, it can sub in for body wash or soap in the shower.

Still on the sensitive skin bent, a frugal friend turned me on to using vinegar instead of fabric softener in your laundry. Just fill your machine’s fabric softener slot for soft clothes fresh from the dryer. Your clothes will not smell like vinegar, don’t worry: they’ll have a vague freshness to them that’s much gentler on the skin than whatever pre-fabricated scent your softener possesses. Those innocent-looking sheets have a surprising amount of chemicals in them, which coat your clothes to cut static, and stay on your skin — not great if you’re easily irritated. Vinegar works by breaking down the electrostatic bonds between fabric fibres, reducing static cling naturally. It’s great on cottons, but you may have some static if you do an entire load of polar fleece items in the dead of a dry spell (plan loads wisely). Buy the largest jug you can find, and stock up when it’s on sale: vinegar can be used to clean just about anything around the house in addition to its laundry magic. It’s also biodegradable, so you can feel environmentally virtuous while saving money.

My last cheap thrill is a relatively new one for me: plain old flour. A recipe columnist should admit to being thrilled by something a little more exotic, perhaps, but flour provides the building blocks for some of our most beloved dishes. Since I’ve been home full-time, I’ve invested in a bread maker to combat the rising price of store-bought loaves, and does anything smell better than baking bread or cookies?

Flour goes beyond baking, however: it subtly thickens a sauce, and is a building block of what I hope to be many paper-maché projects with Charlotte. I recently purchased flour from the historic Arva mill for the first time (buy a big bag to save more) and I’m impressed — it produces fluffy pancakes and nicely risen loaves, and it’s good to support local industry and farmers.

Use some of that flour to make a pie crust: it will become a vessel for all the fantastic fall fruit coming into season, or for a comforting quiche or savoury vegetable pie. It’s another cheap thrill worth the surprisingly minimal effort.

Many crust recipes call for lard, something modern bakers are a bit leery of. Here’s a butter-based version to try out.

Butter Flaky Pie Crust

(from allrecipes.com)

1 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour

1⁄4 tsp. salt

1⁄2 cup butter, chilled and diced

1⁄4 cup ice water

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Roll dough out to fit a 9-inch pie plate. Place crust in pie plate. Press the dough evenly into the pie plate. Proceed with desired filling.

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