Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pressure Canning Session #3

I made a double batch of 15 bean soup, following the recipe on the back of the bag. It was the perfect amount for 7 quarts, the capacity of my pressure canner. I used a meaty hambone that we froze from our last ham, not too long ago.

Ham bone 0
Hurst Soup Beans (x2) - 4.78
2 cans crushed tomatoes - 2.98
Onions - .50
Lemon Juice - .25
Chili Powder - .05
Garlic - .10

8.66/7 = $1.24 per quart

I should note that we had to go buy MORE canning jars and they can be pricey! 12.59 for a case (12 jars) of the quarts and 11.49 for the pints. I decided to go with the wide mouth style which are a bit more money then the regular ones. The wide mouth ones are easier to fill and clean. I have been searching for cheaper sources and even put a request on craigslist but haven't found any yet. I've heard thrift stores and yard sales are good places to look for them...but I haven't been doing much thrifting lately...too busy! At some point, we can stop buying them because we will just be emptying the ones we have and reusing them over and over. Gotta buy new lids each time though!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nice lazy day. (not really lazy but it felt like it)

Today has just been a fantastic day! First, I was still glowing after finding out that my Bird-E Towels were featured (again) at apartmenttherapy.com 'best of 2009' etsy finds. Hurray! It explained why my sales and convos picked up markedly.

Then I got 2 wholesale requests. I don't really do wholesale. It just doesn't make sense for me at this time. With 5 kids, my business time is limited and my retail sales are already keeping me quite busy. I did finally nail down my bulk discount rate though and I submitted details to my 2 requestees. If they are still interested, great. If not, that's OK, too. Maybe sometime down the road I can start considering wholesale a little more seriously...like when I have some help!

What else happened? Oh yeah...I was contacted by our local paper. :D They wondered if I was interested in doing a video piece of me making something crafty & eco-friendly. Yes! The video would run on the paper's website and the article would be in the weekend paper...with my name, business name and links. Coolio! Now I just need to lose 50 pounds in a week. Any good crash diets out there???

There were a couple other smaller things that happened that just made me feel good about my business today. All these things on ONE day. :D

OK, what else? Did I actually get out to my studio today?? Well, technically, yes, but I didn't actually get any work done.

Instead, I played with my kids, talked to my hubby, worked on my bulk pricing, replied to convos and emails, cleaned house a bit, did a load on laundry and made 6 gallons of Weight Watcher's Taco bean soup. Oh and I played a little Farkle on facebook. (Watch out Tamee, I got my eye on first place!) ;)

Now back to the soup. We love this soup. It's easy and very versatile. Serve it like soup just as it is. Serve it like chili with shredded cheese on top. Or a hearty tortilla chip dip. It's also great on baked potatoes. It fills you up and it's a good 'diet' food, too. Well, as long as you go easy on the shredded cheese and chips.

There are a ton of different variations of it but the main 2 ingredients that make this version good are taco seasoning and dry ranch mix.

My recipe is approx 6 times a normal person's recipe. hehe I like to make a LOT at a time. And 6 times is the right multiplication for the cans of tomatoes, sauce and corn that is sold at sam's.

So this time, I'm excited about now having a pressure canner because it will actually save me time. I used to have to wait a long time for the soup to cool before I could freeze it. Then you had to wait a long time for it to thaw before it was ready to serve. woohoo!

Although now that I'm on day 2 of using this pressure canner, I'm thinking one of the bigger models would have suited my cooking style better. I can only can 7 quarts at a time in my canner. Oh well...

So here were the ingredients in my 6 gallons of soup...

ground beef 6 pounds 6 2.34 14.04
onions 1 $ 0.97 $ 0.97
2 # dried black beans 1 2.69 2.69
2# pinto beans 1 2.25 2.25
4# Light red kidney beans 2 2.87 5.74
tomato sauce 6# 10 oz 1 2.18 2.18
corn 6# 10 oz 1 3.48 3.48
crushed tomatoes 6# 10 oz 1 2.68 2.68
chopped green chili - tiny cans 2 1.35 2.7
taco seasoning 1 $ 0.66 $0.66
ranch dressing mix 1 4.59 $4.59



$41.98

6 gallons = 24 quart

$1.75 per quart


I think 1 quart would actually be a meal for our whole family especially if served with a side and bread. Nice!

Although I really must admit that I don't really do this to save money. Not really. I'm just lazy and don't like cooking all that much. I love putting effort in at one time, having something to show for it and then get a chance to slack later. And there is that benefit of me choosing what goes into it. I like that part, too. It's nice that my hubby really appreciates my kind of cooking. Heck, I guess he just appreciates any kind of cooking that he doesn't have to do.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pressure Canning

I love to make soups. I love to make BIG batches of soup. Work hard for a little bit and end up with many, many meals for the effort. Hello! What's not to love? In the past, I would make 2, 3 or 6 gallons of soup at a time and then I would freeze the leftovers in individual and family serving sizes. Sometimes I would use freezer bags and sometimes I would use plastic freezer containers depending on what I had available. I would rarely reuse the freezer bags but I would use the containers over and over until they pitted on the sides or perhaps if I lost a lid.

Anyhow, at some point in the past year, I become aware that you could can soups and meats if you had a pressure canner. It just never dawned on me that you could do this at home. I did hear that you could pay to do your own canning at the county extension office but they had rules and it wasn't cheap to do. You had to use an approved recipe AND you had to cook it there before canning. To make it worthwhile, you'd almost need an army of people to process a large amount of food quickly.

So I started doing research and found that serious canners recommend the All-American brand of canners. For Christmas, my darling hubby surprised me with the 21 1/2 qt model. yippee! (He would have gotten a larger one but we have limited space on our range because of the built in microwave.)

I read the instruction manual...and it scared me!! So many warnings about serious injuries that could occur every step of the way if you screw something up. yikes! I panicked and tried to find a canning friend to walk me through it. Hubby went online and found some fantastic canning videos on youtube. That helped allay my fears and I was ready.

Hubby picked up 2 cases of canning jars and extra lids for me... $30 (ouch!)

First recipe...beef stew.

We had a 6# beef roast in the freezer from a previous sams' club trip so we decided to use that. Cost $15.03

Then I was going to break down the other costs but I seem to have lost some of the receipts! Well, OK...whatever 3 qts of cubed red potatoes ($2.50), 3 cups of diced onion ($1), 3 cups of diced celery & 8 cups of carrots costs...add that in. (I don't count the seasoning because we buy that in bulk at sams' for cheap.) I'm thinking it was probably around $23 for everything.

So this is what the stew looked like when we threw it together before canning. Browned cubed beef, veggies, beef base and seasonings. If I were making this for immediate use or for freezing, I would have thickened it with flour but that's a big no-no with canning.

Then it was time to start canning! I filled my quart sized pre-washed & pre-warmed canning jars with stew but left 1 inch headspace like my directions stated. I wiped the rims with a clean damp cloth and then put the lid & rings on.

The jars were very hot so I was thankful that my hubby bought me the canning accessory kit which included a jar lifter. The jars were then loaded into the canner which already had hot water in the bottom. (We accidently put a little too much water in. Whoops!) I will say that the directions in the manual were very confusing! You had to look at this page and then refer back to that page and then look at yet another page. I guess because there are so many options with canning. It would have been easier to a beginner like me if all the directions were complete in one place...even if it would have made the instruction manual a lot thicker.

Once I had 5 of the jars in, I realized that I forgot to swoop the insides of the jars to get the air bubbles out. Whoops! We pulled them back out and redid them. I was careful to rewipe the edges before we rescrewed the lids back on.

That's my hubby's hand, not mine, if you are wondering why it looks so masculine. ;)


We got all 7 jars in, screwed the lid on the pressure canner and started the process.

We first had to wait for it to steam for 7 minutes. It looked like this.


video

Exciting huh? Then we put the little regulator on, using the 10 pound setting since that's what our recipe called for. Then it was 90 minutes of process time at 10 pounds with the jiggling of the regulator. It looked like this...


video

The pressure canner is done but it hasn't cooled down enough for me to open it. They warned you heavily not to try to rush this part so I won't! Although I can't wait to open it and make sure all the jars sealed the right way. I know we ended up with a bit more then 8 qts worth of hearty beef stew made without preservatives with ingredients that I was in control of for around $2.75 per quart. (It could be made more economical with less meat more veggies.) And the best part....it won't use up freezer space! And it will be much quicker to reheat.

All in all, this wasn't too bad at all. Tomorrow we will turn these ingredients into WW Taco Bean Soup and 15 bean soup.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My take on having a cash register at a show...

My Arts/Craft Show Background

I am not a highly seasoned arts/craft show vendor but I have quickly learned the ropes. I currently only do one 'show,' the newly built Riverside Arts Market (aka RAM) that is less then 2 miles from my home in Jacksonville, Florida. RAM opened in April of this year. I missed the first few weeks but I started at the end of April. I don't do RAM every week...just not possible...but I have done enough of them to learn a few things about handling sales at shows.

In order to sell at RAM, I had to get legal. Not too scary, actually. I went downtown to the Tax Collector's office to get a peddlers business license. It was not too pricey and the process was easy. I has also filed my DBA online..I don't think that part was required for RAM but I wanted to be covered to use my Athena Creates name. I also had to get set up to accept sales tax for the state of Florida. That was done online and it was free. (All of this was later changed when I became a corporation in August of this year but this gives you an idea of how I started.)

In reading the sales tax info, I learned that if you sell something, you are required to provide a receipt with the sales tax broken out separately. As a buyer, I can say that most vendors don't do this. And in the beginning, I didn't either but I had that nagging feeling that I was a (gasp) lawbreaker! I tried to hand write receipts but it was time consuming and cumbersome. You want to be fast so that the customer behind the one you are 'ringing up' doesn't put the item down and walk away.

The majority of the booths have access to electricity and they charge a reasonable $5 if you choose to use it. I had noticed a few vendors with cash registers and it peaked my interest. So I started looking at them and reading reviews. There are some inexpensive ones out there, some that run on battery power. The reviews on those were OK, not great. The complaints were that it took a long time for the receipts to print. I eventually discovered that I could get some really nice features by buying a slightly pricier model.

The One I Bought:

I chose the Sharp XE-A203. I opted to buy new but I did scout craigslist for a used one first. There were a few out there but I was concerned they wouldn't have the manual or all the keys and whatnot. This model had a display facing the customer. It also let me highly customize the data. I could program departments for the different products I sold. I could also set up different cashiers (for when my hubby or oldest dd came to help) and I could even put a logo or my own text on the receipt.


First things first, setting up the register was not as easy as you would think..even with a manual. The software would not work on my desktop PC which has Vista. Not sure if that was the problem or not. I did not end up calling customer service...I just tried loading it on my laptop and it worked fine there. I was able to set up departments and to get my logo in. Eventually, I removed the logo and just opted to add 6 lines of data that I thought would be helpful to my customers. When I was playing around entering fake sales, I found that sales tax was not being figured correctly when I offered a discount on an item. It was taxing the total before the discount. The manual was useless in trying to figure out how to fix it. I put a call in to Sharp's customer service and they were able to help me in a friendly manner.



I had a vision of a customer bringing an item to me, I'd press a button and it would ring up the item without me entering the dollar amount...so I set my departments up like that but I left a few miscellaneous open for dollar entry...which was a good thing.

I made tags for my products with the price and a tiny department number under it. Unfortunately, not all my items got tagged. I brought the stuff with me to finished tagging but the market opened before I had finished.

Here's how my first live experience went...

Customer brought up an item. I realized then that left my master programming list at home. The customer's item just happened to be one without a tag and none of the similar items had a tag. In my panic, I just couldn't remember what button to use. I started mashing buttons with the intent to figure out the right one with the intent that I would void that receipt. It worked but I was sweating bullets for the 40 seconds that it took me to figure it out. I've had a few transactions like that because I didn't have my cheat sheet handy. And yesterday I left my register keys in the van and my hubby had to come to my rescue. I'm sure that wouldn't happen to anyone else though! ;)

After that, things went much smoother. All in all, the first day was a success and I LOVED being able to hand my customers an accurate receipt. I also found it helpful to have the register figure the change for me. Yes, I know how to count change but it would slow me down a teeny bit especially at the end of the day when my energy would be waning (and lack of sleep from preparing product the night before didn't help!)

At the end of the day, figuring out my sales info was so much easier especially since I broke my departments down based on specific product. I could easily see that my adult long sleeved shirts were selling like hotcakes. I had a feeling that my girls' tie dyed dresses weren't selling well..but when I looked at my register report at the end of the day...they were selling! My faulty impression was based on the fact that many people came and admired but not as many bought. In the madness of the day, I seriously forgot about items that did sell. The summary took my faulty memory out of the equation. You could obviously do an inventory before and after the show to get the same data...or you could keep a detailed log as items sold but I never found the time to do it manually.

At the beginning of the day, I use the RA button to log how much money I am starting with and it adds that to my cash sales and tells me what my final tally should be. And during the day, I can QUICKLY figure out what my sales were thus far.



Here's a fake example of my summary report. It's called a X1 report.


It makes my life easy! I can see exactly what my sales were and how much money I should have in my register.

Pros
  • It is WAY quicker then writing a receipt and manually figuring things out with a calculator.
  • It's lightweight and easy to transport.
  • It doesn't take up that much room, maybe a slightly larger footprint as a regular sized cash box.
  • I can put my info on the receipt: my store name, my name, my etsy website & the dates I am scheduled to be at the market.
  • I can easily apply a discount, either to a single item or to the whole total. Sometimes I put the slow movers on sale for 10-20% off. Or I can offer a vendor discount if someone asks.
  • I can price my items exactly at the price I want without having to round up or down. And without trying to build the sales tax in there to get to a whole dollar amount.
  • The back-end accounting is so much easier! I can easily see what I need to submit to the state for sales tax.
  • The data of items sold is invaluable...without me manually tracking it, I mean.
  • My customers get a detailed receipt of items they have purchased.
  • It lends a feeling of professionalism.
  • The cash is not visible. I always wonder about the booths that keep their cash boxes right out in the open where the 'shoppers' can get right next to it. Maybe they don't keep much cash in there but I also think that it would be an easy target is the seller was distracted.
Cons
  • The cost of buying one.
  • There is a learning curve & in my case since I have never run a register before, I was starting at ground zero.
  • You have to be organized about it. Either have *everything* labeled or have a cheat sheet taped to the register or just use a few basic entry departments where you key in the dollar amount. And make sure you have the keys!
  • Requires electricity that you may have to pay extra for.
  • You have to learn a new routine when ringing a sale up.
Precautions
I will say that my register is VERY lightweight. Much more lightweight then I expected. I turn my machine off after each sale because I once had a little girl reach over and mash buttons. It popped the drawer open! Luckily I was right there but it took me a bit of time to void what she had rung up. If I have to leave my booth, I do empty the register of the bills just to be safe. I still wear my vendor apron to keep things on hand like my pen, keys so I just tuck the money in there. I also choose to put the back of my tent up and I block access to the register with my table slanted so that I can walk to the front of my booth to help a customer without worrying so much that someone would walk away with the whole register. I think these are the same precautions that you would take with a cash box though.

Summary
For me, having a cash register has been the right decision, a good investment for *my* business. I've done enough shows without it, my products are selling & I need to streamline the processes where I can. I don't do a bunch a different shows where electricity may not be available. I might sign up for 1-2 smaller venues during the RAM hiatus (now until March) but I can go back to my cash apron for those if I can't get electricity. And my product offering will be much smaller so it will be easier to keep track of things manually.

I would not recommend one to a newbie who has never done a show before. Doing shows is not for everyone. Make sure you like it and that it's profitable before you invest a ton of money! And maybe a cash register is not for someone who does 2-3 shows a year. And it's probably not necessary for someone who sells one item at one set price. I offer probably 50 different items at different price points.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Last Day at the Riveside Arts Market for 2009


December 5th (yesterday) was my last scheduled appearance at the Riverside Arts Market (RAM) for the 2009 season. There are 2 more RAM dates but I did not get signed up in time for spots with electricity, a must for me now since the purchase of my cash register. I am on a waiting list so there is a chance that I might get in. Still haven't quite decided if I will say yes if I get that call. It is December. We have a birthday coming up for our twins..oh and that thing called Christmas. I suppose it would be a good idea to have presents under the tree...and I don't think my kids would appreciate Bird-E Towels and the rest of my tie dye stock. Ingrates that they are.

I loved my location. It was not an end spot but that was OK. I was down closer to the food vendors and there seemed to be more foot traffic. My sales were higher then last week but not as high as they were 3 & 4 weeks ago. Being close to the food was also good...I was able to eat. Yay for eating! Another wonderful feature of the location was the proximity to the restrooms. I bring my valuables with me and not have to wait for my hubby to come watch my booth...which wasn't an option yesterday anyway because my dear hubby flew to Texas yesterday for a business trip. (Pray for me...patience and whatever...because I have never done this on my own for a week before. Uh - 5 kids really do take 2 parents, I think.)


Carla, my custom order bride, (that sounds like I ordered her - LOL - no, she was the bride who ordered a ton of Bird-E Towels for her reception a couple months ago) came by with her new hubby. It was so cool to see them. I have thought about her over the months and kept thinking I should contact her to see how the wedding went. She said she's going to send me photos from the wedding..yay!

I also met quite a few other customers. Several other vendors came by and purchased from me. I'd be willing to bet that more then 50% of my sales were to other vendors. One vendor who had a booth behind me bought t-shirts for her entire family for Christmas. I didn't have a boyish long sleeved shirt in size 4 that she really wanted and it was a struggle to find something that worked. We ended up going with a short sleeved one. (Reminder to self to order more long sleeved 4T shirts.)

Dawn, a friend of mine through Etsy and now in 'real' life, had a booth a couple spots down. She has beautiful glass pendants and other cool stuff like slumped bottle cheese boards and neat paper weights and glass dishes. Every time I walked by, her booth was loaded with people! (Hope you had a great day, Dawn!) Her etsy store is FirstLightGlass. Dawn had her children (+ a friend) with her for a portion of the day and I loved watching them skip around. It was especially cool since they were sporting their new tie-dyed t-shirts. It was like moving advertising. ;)

I also finally sold a shirt to Copper Head Dan. He's the one who requested long sleeved shirts back in the summer. He gave me a free copper sand dollar so that I would remember and darned if I just hadn't seen him since then. And the long sleeved shirts have definitely been a hit so thank you, Dan! I was initially scared of the price of the long sleeved blanks (compared to short sleeved ones) so I'm not sure I would have taken the plunge. Dan picked up a orange and blue shirt...to root on the gators.

The day started out so nasty and cold. Rainy, gray skies and just blah...and then the sun came out and it ended up being a lovely day. Yay! There were MANY booth cancellations...28 to be exact. I have to say that I was SO very tempted to cancel, too. With hubby catching a flight, we had to make arrangements for someone to watch the kids and then I needed help breaking down my booth. And then the prospect of standing in the icy cold rain just didn't add to the appeal. I'm glad I stuck it out though! It ended up being a lovely day...and my brother and his girlfriend came to the rescue for the babysitting and booth breakdown.

This is my brother, Levi, here. He is my baby brother, born when I was 9 years old. He was supposed to be Kelly and it took me a long time to forgive my mom for ruining the lovely all-occasion card I made for him with KELLY plastered on the front. I had gotten one of those little brass things that you punch through paper and it lets you attach 2 pieces of cardstock together. I had cut a little window in the card and attached a wheel of cardstock that said 'birthday,' 'Merry Christmas' and other holidays . So it was a whole year of card giving that was ruined when they came home with Levi and not Kelly!

He looks a little scruffy but he is a really nice guy and he always helps me out when I ask. And he's super smart with computers so he helps me when my computer crashes. I'm thankful to have him around. He was helping me break down my grid walls here.

Coming up soon...my take on having a cash register (vs not having a cash register) at a show.