Awaken the bread machine!

Last year, I received a bread machine from a neighbor who had previously received it from another neighbor. It sat unused for years at her home so she passed it on. Alas, the tradition continued as it sat on my shelf for many months, yearning for yeast and flour.

I resolved that 2023 was going to be different. I would awaken this bread machine from its deep slumber.

Also, I jogged with a friend along the lake, and we chatted about schmalzkuchen (German beignets), sourdough, and this bread machine. Thank you to this friend for sharing the joy of running and making bread!

Here is a 1 pound loaf, which is the smallest size possible with this machine. The machine kneaded away my fears with its automatic mixing, gentle heat application as the dough rose (proofing), and finally the actual baking. It took 2.5 hours from start to finish with very little hands on and cleaning effort. This cube loaf is chewy and tastes like normal bread! The crust is a little tougher through than store-bought loaves, but I will eventually figure out how to amend this. The yield is a perfect amount for me to enjoy in one week, 1 to 2 half slices per day as part of breakfast or a snack with vegan butter and homemade invasive blackberry jam.

Also: The proofed dough is an exquisite texture that I highly recommend patting. Far better than a baby’s bum!

I was curious…
How much did this 1 pound loaf of homemade bread cost?

IngredientGrams in packageCost of packageCost/gramGrams in loafCost for loaf
Water240g (1 cup)$00240g$0
Olive Oil (organic)1832$15.99$0.00872828g$0.24
(organic, raw)
All-Purpose Flour
(organic, 5 lb bag)
Active Yeast (2 lb)908$7.49$0.0082494.2g
1.5 teaspoons
Sunflower Seeds, Toasted, Unsalted, Shelled454$2.99$0.00658660g$0.40
1 Loaf Total670.2g
(about 1 lb)
Note: All ingredients were from Costco except for the flour (Grocery Outlet) and Sunflower Seeds (Trader Joe’s).

So I made 1 week’s worth of organic bread for just 147 cents! Definitely a tasty and inexpensively repeatable activity. Next time I will mix sunflower seeds into the dough (I love seed-rich, “bird food” bread) and maybe use a third or half whole wheat flour for more nuttiness.

*Update February 19, 2023*
I’ve now made this recipe 4 times. By happy accident, I discovered that doubling the honey from 15g to 30g somehow produced a softer, chewier bread (did not dry out as quickly) without noticeable sweetness. I also add 60g of sunflower seeds which gets mixed into the dough and gives nice texture. Trader Joe’s has the best value on these. The final bread weight is lighter than adding all the raw ingredients due to water evaporating as it bakes.

If you have a bread machine, you can follow the Ingredient + Grams in Loaf columns to get the recipe. I poured the ingredients in this order (top to bottom) in the Breadman Plus machine.


Curtain Hemmer

If you asked me who am I, as in my role, title or vocation, I would tell you:

My name is Michu, Chicken Tender and a Hemmer.

I recently went to a sewing class at Cultivate South Park (an art studio above Resistencia Coffee) and the teacher, Emily, helped me remember how to use a sewing machine. I had once learned over 4 years ago. I emerged from the first class with a pair of hemmed hiking pants. After the second class I could confidently wind a bobbin and had repaired a shopping bag with button thread, now ready for another thousand grocery hauls.

There are miscellaneous projects at my home that require the precision, speed, and secure stitching of a sewing machine and not hand-sewing. One of these is a pair of curtains. They drape lightly against the floor and have visibly rough edges that were pasted with some kind of glue. My first home sewing challenge! This waited a few weeks as I didn’t have any pins. I followed the Uber Frugal Month’s recommendation to wait 72 hours before buying non-necessities…lo and behold, a few weeks later I found a mysterious tomato pin cushion deep in my sewing box. I don’t know how I have this; the pin cushion I remember from 4 years ago are at my parent’s place, and this one is different. Once I discovered this tomato I threaded up the machine, pinned the curtain hem, and pushed the foot pedal.

I’m pleased because the finished curtain hem is barely noticeable. It wouldn’t catch your eye because it looks factory-made. Which for someone with little sewing experience, is a pleasing achievement!

After that second sewing class, I felt ready to have my own machine. I scoured the used marketplace and found one from an alterations store that was closing (congrats to the owner who is retiring to a farming community on Camano Island!). I like that this Brother is mechanical and not digital (less maintenance complications) but still has a sleek and sturdy design.

It feels good to have acquired a machine for the same price I sold mine for 4 years ago.
It feels satisfying to fix things and do little improvements for my cozy home.
It feels right to buy useful, thoughtfully-planned things that are within my means (this was part of my monthly $200 ‘homestead garden’ budget).

Come on over if you have anything that needs a-hemmin’!

Uber Frugal Month Goals

Next month, I’m going to partake in the Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month. Step 1 is to establish your goals. I’m going to do that here.

  1. Why are you participating in this Challenge?

    I want to learn new ways to be frugal. I want to curb the tug of consumerism, materialism, and shopping which is a vacuous hobby that delivers fleeting bliss. I want to be surrounded by others who are like-minded and feel encouraged and supported by them. I want to learn ways to save money and dedicate it towards what is most meaningful to me. I want to become more attuned and aware of my spending and saving habits and my relationship with money. I want to develop a healthy, peaceful, and happier relationship with money, personal finances, and finances with my family.

  2. What do you hope to achieve?

    I hope to achieve a better understanding of my saving and spending habits so that I understand how much realistically I spend in a month/year. This will give me a sense of how much money I’ll need to live when I retire (early), happily veering off this rat race and living a sustainable, fulfilling, self-sufficient life on a small farm or homestead.

    I also hope to achieve a better relationship with money. It becomes a strained topic when I bring it up with my partner. I want to ask my parents about how they manage their money, but I freeze up and haven’t asked them. I want to grow comfortable talking about money with my partner, my parents, my family and friends without it resulting in hurled insults or harsh feelings.

  3. What are your longterm life goals?

    Where do you want to be in 5 years?
    In 10 years?

    This is the first time I am penning this publicly.
    I want to achieve FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early).

    I want to have the option of not working for a company (full time office-work) and that if I choose to, it’s because I enjoy it, not begrudgingly because I need the paycheck.

    I want to have this option while I feel the fire and joy of keeping a productive homestead, which means the sooner, the better.

    Something in me dies when I imagine slaving away in the rat race for another 5 years. (That something is a putrefied rat corpse). I’d like to exit the rat race in 5 years, but it might be more like 10 years (when I’m about 40). I’m pretty confident I can achieve FIRE by age 50. No matter how many years it is, you damn well better bet that I’ll be enjoying the journey. I may have an office job by day but I am also tending the happiest chickens on earth, growing nutritious fruits and veggies, making mulch and vermicompost, building wooden coop structures, and more. No one can tell me a work meeting is more important than these things. My own conviction is firm.

    I want to graduate from Chicken Tender and try other forms of animal husbandry. Raising hens from chick-stage. Raising quail. Raising 2+ kunekune pigs. Possibly pasture-raising and butchering meat-chickens.

    I want to get good at growing my own crops and making good, homemade food so that I do not need to rely on going to a store. It’s late December and I am enjoying frozen cherry tomatoes and canned tomato sauce from my September harvest. I hope to grow and process enough tomatoes each year that I don’t need to buy them from a store (this post’s photo is from a batch of canning tomatoes). Same goes with strawberries, lettuce and mustard greens. There will be more crops I get good at growing and preserving. Even with chicken eggs, I have not had to buy any all year, and I enjoy a 2-egg skillet breakfast most mornings.

    In 5 years, I want to be on my way towards having a 2nd type of animal (my working companions).
    I want to be self-sufficient in tomatoes, berries, and leafy greens.
    I want to have savings towards a possible small farm or rental property.
    I want to be frugal and save money smartly while still enjoying life, without guilt from either.

    In 10 years, I want to be debt-free. I’ll have paid off my house or be on the way.
    I want to be a small farmer, sharing my organic, flavorful eggs and produce with customers.
    It’s possible I may still be working – if so, I want to be happy while at it.
    I will never stop learning. I want to always be learning – whether it’s a programming language, gardening strategy, animal husbandry, ice-skating, a new bike route, or frugal hack. Usually it’s multiple things like this at the same time, because my life is multi-faceted and I don’t hone into 1 sole obsession.

  4. What about your current lifestyle might prevent those goals from happening and what can you do about it?

    My mindset. I am practical, pessimistic, negative. There’s good and bad sides to this.
    Knowing me, my saving nature and practicality would have me financially ready for FIRE in some years. But I may not take the leap (ie leaving job, getting a pig) until I am very sure. And not taking the leap sooner means delaying happiness.

    Currently it’s difficult to talk about money and work things out with my partner. This makes me take on extra burden of paying a larger share of bills, which means less money saved for future pig-tender me. This needs to change, and I believe it gradually will.

    Another hindrance is my fear, timidness, cowardice to ask questions about money to my parents, who have been good financial role models for me. Time to start breaking the ice. Even writing about this on my blog is a form of breaking the ice.

    Unplanned spending is dangerous. Buying items not on the originally grocery shopping list is dangerous. Stick to the shopping list like Sara’s weekly $100 grocery shopping (from the Youtube Channel Matt & Sara). Be disciplined.

    Don’t go thrift shopping for fun without a specific, well-thought out need in mind. If the goal is to shop for fun, then have allocated dollars for just this.

    Finish the food I have. I buy or acquire more food in a week than I can consume. This has been one of the final and harder parts of minimalism for me. “Food minimalism”. This would make me spend less on food and waste less and enjoy more fridge and pantry space.


Plum Salad + Chicken Tenders

Have you ever tried sliced plums in a salad? The arugula and lettuce greens go surprisingly well with the fruit. Here’s a fresh summer meal I’ve enjoyed these last few evenings:

  • Vegan chicken tenders
  • Trader Joe’s Incredisauce (“great with nuggies!”) and Peri Peri hot sauce
  • Salad: baby greens, balsamic vinaigrette, seeds, 1-2 sliced ripe red plums
  • Optional: Any leftover sides, like elote corn kernels or carrots & hummus

One day I discovered Blanqui (the white hen) eating a fallen plum. I looked up and realized the tree straddling the fence line was laden with ripe plums! This discovery inspired this meal. It also feels appropriate, not ironic, that I enjoy the tenders as a loving tender of happy chickens.

In Praise of Processed Food

The difference between serving tea made from herbs you grow yourself and herb tea from a bag “is like the difference between serving your guests a good vintage wine instead of some cheap plonk,” says Conrad Richter, president of Richters Herbs in Goodwood, Ont. “Herbal teas packed in bags are usually powdered,” he explains, so they’re “almost never as flavourful as whole herbs.”


I’ve been drying herbs for tea lately. It’s hard work. Plucking early, before the sun wilts the leaves, washing several times to remove bugs or hoping they won’t be noticeable if served to guests. Then drying them in a dehydrator, trial-and-error for what temperature and time to set. Then stripping the leaves or flower buds off from the stems, and scattering the fragrant stems in the chicken nest-box. Making a little jar of mint or lavender takes hours of processing. At one point I thought, “I hate this. I’m spending hours working with my hands for something that costs $1.99 at the store and I’m not sure if it’ll even taste good.” I used to not disagree with those who criticized processed food. But now I realized, processed food = professionally processed food. And if it doesn’t come processed (straight from the garden), then it will ultimately still be processed…by me, instead of professionals.

I suppose there’s some upside. When I process myself, I *know* that the herbs are organic and pure, that I shook off most of the bugs, and didn’t add anything unsavory. I enjoy the labor but will admit it is extraordinarily time-consuming and perhaps not cost effective. My hope that this was worthwhile is if it has better flavor that what’s offered at the store.

One morning I added a few pinches of lavender buds to my breakfast tea. It was full of flavor, a complex spiced kick! At least there’s promise that the food processing was worth it.

Salad with Sprouts & Lettuce

I’m going to document meals I’ve made that use a home-grown ingredient, and create a cookbook/recipe idea collection.

Here, I have a slice of pizza with a salad made with garden lettuce and mason-jar-germinated sprouts.

– Balsamic vinaigrette: 1:1 balsamic vinegar and olive oil, dried basil, touch of honey, shake in a jar
– Lettuce from the garden: Ruby red, tango (frilly green one), and mezclun blend
– Sprouts: alfalfa seeds germinated in a jar
– Pumpkin & sunflower seed topping
– Apple slices

Poang vs Pello Ikea Chairs

For the past few years, I have placed a comfy reading chair in my favorite spot at home, usually by the window with the best light and view. This was an Ikea Pello armchair for about 2 years.

A few months ago I replaced the Pello chair with an Ikea Poang chair. Both are similar, but the Pello is about half the price of the Poang and not quite as popular. There’s not much information online comparing the two. Since I’ve had both, here are my side-by-side comparisons.

Note: I’ve removed the cushion covers on both to show the frames. The white fabric chair (left) is an adult Pello, the wood/black fabric base (right) is an adult Poang.


  • Poang has wood horizontal bars along the back of the frame, whereas Pello does not (white canvas fabric only). This gives slightly sturdier back support on the Poang than on the Pello.
  • Poang’s base frame is slightly larger. It takes up a little more floor space.
  • Biggest visual difference: Poang’s arm rests curve up a few inches. This doesn’t seem to change any sensation when seating.
  • Poang is more customizable: It comes in several cushion colors and wood frame shades (black, dark, light wood). Currently Pello only comes with a white cushion and light birch-veneer color wood shade. Older versions can come in other shades.


  • Seat width/size and back angle are the same.
  • Both are compatible with the Poang footrest.
  • Both are comfortable for relaxing and reading. The back angle is sloped a little too far back for using for dining and eating.

The Poang has a more handsome look, excellent back/lumbar support, and comes in many more colors and options. It currently retails for $149 new.

Pello is simpler, great back/lumbar support but slightly less than the Pello, and limited color options for $65 new.

Both chairs are popular on used marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Search for key words like “poang” or “ikea chair”. Many sellers mistakenly post their Pello chair as a Poang. Look at the top of the armrests for Poang’s telltale upward curve or Pello’s straight edge. You can often get a used chair and footrest/ottoman for the price of a new chair alone. Fabric (non-leather) cushion covers are also fully machine washable!

401K Retirement Accounts

On 401Ks
Recently, the topic of 401K retirement accounts came up in a conversation, and my friend and I sighed saying “I have no idea what I’m doing”. This is common among many people. I am no expert, but here’s a bit about what I *do* know.

In the past, people worked at few companies for their entire career. It was common to start working and later retire at the same place, and then receive a pension (a set monthly amount) after retirement as a way for elder you to enjoy life thanks to small contributions younger, working you made over the years.

Few companies give pensions now, and instead use a 401K system. The main exception I know of are the military and government. Even utility and insurance companies are phasing out their pension plans. 401K is similar in concept. You contribute an amount of your choosing from your paycheck each month, and can collect the sum back when you reach a retirement age set by the federal government (currently age 59 ½ or older). Nonprofit orgs’ equivalent of the 401K is called the 403(b) and it works the same. I’ll refer to both of these as “401K” from here on.

Sometimes, the employer/company matches your contributions to your 401K. For example, say I can contribute up to 6% of my monthly salary to my 401K, and my employer matches 50% of that. That means that if I contribute $200 a month for future, elder me, my employer will match and give $100 — free money! — as well.

It’s wise to get as much of that employer’s matching contribution as possible. Right now, I don’t really feel like setting aside 6% (say $200) of my paycheck each month. I’d rather buy something shiny now! But my employer’s free money for future retired elder me is a very good offer that should be maximized. This squirreling away of money will not be in vain.

Roth vs Traditional

Money put into a 401K account can go into 2 types of accounts: Roth, or Traditional. There’s plenty of resources online on what these mean. The big question is, which type (or both!) should I use?

  • Roth is better if:
    You (or you & your spouse who file taxes jointly) expect to earn more when you retire than you do now. You pay federal income tax on the 401K money saved now, but don’t pay any taxes on it when you withdraw it later.
  • Most people tend to earn less when they are starting off their career than when they have ended it.
  • Which means, if you are young, or before mid-late in your career path, then Roth can be better.
  • If you’re 50/50 and not sure how you & your spouse will be earning down the road versus now, you can split your 401K contributions into both Roth and Traditional accounts. It’s not a bad idea to diversify.
  • Traditional is better if:
    You’re older, closer to retirement age (59 ½), not expecting to increase income much, or not expecting to be changing up to a higher tax bracket.

Happy saving!

Wok Bok Choi

There is bok choi growing in the garden, planted by the previous resident. Big stalks of bitter, fibrous stems daunted me for a month.

Recently I got a carbon steel wok. I scrubbed and seasoned it over direct flame. The first several times I used it, I set off the smoke alarm while it was warming up. I think it has something to do with using canola, safflower, or common vegetable oil. They’re not cut out for the high temps of wok frying. For that, look to peanut oil or bacon fat.

I watched this video on how to wok stir-fry bok choi. She emphasizes good technique and using garden-fresh vegetables. She only uses oil and salt to season, letting the bok choi’s natural flavor shine. She’s right about the simplicity. “Fresh vegetable has its own umami and sweetness.” There is a natural sweetness to the crunchy stem; sugar is not necessary. And you don’t need a fancy stove-top with gas flame to stir-fry!

Here’s my result today: Stir-fried garden bok choi with hamachi kama (yellowtail cheek). 잘먹겠습니다! Let’s eat!

Rain Harvest

I’ve been working on a new project to collect rainwater. Call me crazy, but getting huge plastic tanks for this is a long-time dream come true. Here’s what I did:

  • Identify an appropriate spot for a 300-gallon IBC tote (a cube container with 3.5-feet long sides). It should be under a rain gutter downspout that gets good flow, and somewhat out of view to reduce the eyesore (ie do not block windows).
  • Obtain two IBC totes from Craigslist. Request delivery (these won’t fit in an SUV). Make sure they are food-grade/food-safe and did not formerly contain toxic chemicals. Water collected in these totes will be used to irrigate vegetable gardens and provide drinking water for chickens. Seller confirmed they are from a dishwashing business and are safe to use.
  • Clean the inside of an IBC tote (or ask seller to do so) with a pressure washer. Empty out the water. Make sure the spout works.
  • Obtain & use a T30 star driver bit to unscrew and remove the top two metal bars of the cage. DeWalt bits are good quality. T30 star bolts are standard on IBC totes. You can look for the letter “T” on the bolt to check.
T30 bolts on tote & T30 driver bit (largest 6-pointed star bit in most bit sets)
  • Remove plastic tote from the metal cage.
  • Set newspaper or cardboard under the plastic tote. Wear a mask to reduce inhalation of paint fumes. Paint the plastic tote so that it is opaque, which will inhibit algae growth. Look for lighter areas & thoroughly coat with paint until light doesn’t shine through. Using “Rustoleum Comfort Grip” or a similar product is optional but makes extended spray paint sessions significantly more comfortable for the hands.

    I used 3 spray paint cans of “Rustoleum 2x Satin Finish” in color Colonial Red to fully coat one tote, and the red color will make the tote blend in slightly with the red brick of the house. I also got the same spray paint in “Claret Wine” (a slightly darker, purpler tone) for the second tote. This one requires 5 cans to fully coat. Who knew some colors take more quantity to cover a surface than others.
  • Let the opaque painted tote cure and dry under a covered, sheltered area for 3-4 days. The longer the better.
  • Set up cinder blocks around the base of the IBC tote’s designated location. 6 blocks set edgewise (so holes are facing up, not the sides) sufficiently form the perimeter. The IBC tote spout is very low so raising it up on blocks will give height clearance to fill a jug and let water flow down hose by gravity better.
  • Insert plastic tote inside of tote cage. Set up tote on top of cinder blocks. Even with 2 people, the tote is heavy!
  • Cut wire mesh screen (the kind used for window screens) and place over the top opening of the tote. Cut a little bigger than needed. Secure with the ring-lid or bands. This screen is fine enough for most debris, and mosquitos cannot enter through the holes and lay eggs in the collected water. (The biggest enemy will be algae. An occasional pressure wash inside will help).
The screen would be better under the black cap, not temporarily secured with rubber bands which will get brittle from the summer sun. The black cap was too tight to unscrew for the time being.
  • Set up rain gutter downspout to flow into the tank through the screen. Pour a jug of water down the spout to test that the downspout is positioned well, secure, and water flows into the screen.
  • Set up an overflow system in case the tote fills up. For example, drill a ~1″ hole on the side, near the top, with a hose through this hole that goes out several feet away from the home and foundation.
  • The IBC spigot is very large and does not fit standard hoses. Set up a coupler and standard hose-size brass spigot.
  • Enjoy collecting and using rainwater! It’s better than city-treated water for watering plants because it has dissolved oxygen and is not treated with chemicals like chlorine and fluoride. This is better for the garden. Total cost including tools was about ~$336 and there are city rebates available. After the initial set up, it also means a free supply of water!
Rainbow after a downpour. Fort Knox Chicken Box in construction in the background.