Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review and Random Reuses

I'm no pack-rat. Well, maybe a little.

While my husband was on a week-long business trip a few weeks ago, I received a new book from PaperBackSwap (have you tried it yet? I keep mentioning it. It's awesome) called Vinegar, Duct Tap, Milk Jugs & More by Earl Proulx. I'm not entirely certain how I came across this book and thought to request it, but I'm glad I did. It made me feel somewhat validated.

How so, you ask? I hesitate before I throw things away. I feel weird putting glass jars in the garbage. I hang on to scraps of fabric from projects, certain I can find some use for them when I learn to sew. I hold on to plastic grocery and produce sacks, though the amount of those has diminished since I started using reusable bags. Even that link to my homemade bags reminds me of how I have a hard time parting with clothes. That said, I don't want you to get the impression that I'm one of like one of those hoarder-types of people Oprah does shows about. I simply just give things a second thought before I chuck them into the trash.

So the book made me feel validated - other people do this! And the author goes even further than I do. I've never saved a milk jug for anything - it goes straight to the recycling bin. And I'm always a little skeptical of some reuses, especially when it comes to decorating - like reusing lids from juice cans to make decorations or using plastic six-pack rings to make a hammock. Really, I actually read about that in The Tightwad Gazette (I wrote about this in my review of that book a few months ago. A little too extreme for me). It's all about balance. I found this book much more practical than The Tightwad Gazette when it comes to thrifty reuses.

Why reuse? Well, I wouldn't mention it on this blog if it weren't a money-saving method. I reuse glass spaghetti jars in the kitchen, garage, for crafts, for cleaning, everything! I save sour cream, cottage cheese, and other big plastic containers to save and freeze leftovers. I also use them for holding things I don't want to use dishes for (like certain cleaning solutions, paint, stain, etc.). Yogurt cups work great for holding water for painting. I can totally remember my mom using cleaned out yogurt cups as drinking cups when we were little, since we went through so many (and I know from other people, that my mom isn't the only one who did this).

The other reason to reuse is because it's eco-friendly. No matter where you stand on the environmentally-conscious spectrum, you can't argue with sending just a little less trash to the landfills. Imagine the environmental impact if everyone paused just a moment before throwing something in the garbage.

According to the Mr. Proulx, there are five storage containers you should never throw away (and some of his suggestions on how to use them in the kitchen):
  1. Five-gallon ice cream containers. Use them to hold dry cereal, flour, and sugar to keep those foods fresh longer. Also use them to store partial bags of brown sugar, powdered sugar, coconut, and nuts.
  2. Whipped topping containers. Use these to solve those medium-size storage problems, such as how to freeze extra strawberries. One of these will hold two or three servings of leftovers, depending on your appetite.
  3. Glass jars. Some spaghetti sauces and other prepared food come in glass jars. Reuse these to carry soups and sauces to potluck. Also great for storing dry, shelf-stable food.
  4. Sixteen-ounce cottage cheese and sour cream containers. One of these will hold a large serving of soup or a generous serving of casserole.
  5. Baby food jars. They'll hold everything from vinaigrette for potluck salads to metal cake decorating tips for your pastry bags.
Anyway, this book is full of great ideas - too many to include on here in a single post. There were so many times as I was reading it, I would turn to my mom (since I was staying with her during that aforementioned business trip), tell her about some tip in the book, and we'd both say, "Why didn't we think of that?!" That's why I'm introducing a new feature for the blog called 'Random Reuses'. From time to time, I'll just post how I reuse certain things and how I've implemented some of Mr. Proulx's ideas. And I'd just love it if you tell me some of your ideas...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

When the Moon Hits Your Eye: Easy & Delicious Homemade Pizza

I know it's been a while since I've posted much of anything on here. That's why I'm pulling out the big guns. I'm finally doing the pizza post.

Homemade pizza can be kind of iffy. When I was a kid, money was tight and pizza was a rare treat. So, from time to time, my mom would try her hand at making it herself. It just wasn't the same. My husband's experiences with homemade pizza have been similar in that it was always disappointing. Homemade pizza just couldn't come close to the pizzeria variety. That is, until I gave it a go.

I take no credit for this (I got the recipes from others - the dough from my neighbor, Lisa, and the sauce from America's Test Kitchen). My husband and I were both dubious, but it actually worked! Now, he says that this is his favorite pizza. Period. And I just so happened to win a family pizza-off (my sister-in-law had a friendly competition) a couple weeks ago. In fact, one of my brothers-in-law asked me that night how much I would charge if he wanted to order a pizza from me. I know I may seem like I'm tooting my own horn and all, but I'm just including all this to convince you that making delicious, cheap, better-than-delivery pizza is totally possible for any home cook!

One of the best parts of this recipe (besides the yummy end result, of course): it hardly costs anything to make. The dough is a simple combination of sugar, salt, yeast, flour, and water - basically pennies to make. The sauce costs about $1.50 for me to make (and that's a double-batch, so really it's like 75 cents per pizza. I know, I'm getting down to the nitty-gritty). The cheese is the most expensive part, but I buy mozzarella in bulk at Costco, so the cheese I use for the pizza is about a dollar's worth. The toppings add another two or so dollars. So, really, this pizza is even cheaper to make than those $5 Little Caesar's ones. And I'm totally convinced that my homemade pizza is healthier. Much healthier.

And just in case you're not convinced: this whole recipe (including baking time) only takes about 40-45 minutes to make.

Okay, okay. Enough with all the reasons to make this pizza. Here's the recipe and my method...

First, I start making the dough. In a medium bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Add 1 cup lukewarm water. After much practice and trial and error, I've learned that it is really important that the water not be too hot. Think a little cooler than bathwater. This will improve the stretchiness and consistency of the dough - whenever I use too-hot water, my dough is crappy and breaks when I stretch it out. Next, mix in 1 tablespoon of yeast. Let it sit for ten minutes.
While you're letting your yeast mixture get all bubbly, start making your pizza sauce. All you need is a 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes (I like the kind with basil), a few cloves of garlic (I always use at least three or four - I like my sauce garlicky!), extra-virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper. In a saucepan, heat a couple tablespoons or so of EVOO (I just eyeball it - just a few glugs around the pan) and add minced garlic. Cook until garlic sizzles (this will only take a minute). Add the entire can of crushed tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let it simmer and thicken for about 15 minutes. You'll only be using about half of this sauce - just freeze the rest for a future pizza.

Once the ten minute rest period is up, mix in three cups of all-purpose flour. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes, then let it sit for 15 minutes. While the dough is resting or rising or whatever it's doing, that's when I get my toppings ready. I shred the cheese in my food processor and I chop up my veggies. My favorite pizza toppings are from my garden in the summer - I make margherita pizzas with homegrown tomatoes and basil. Ridiculously good. When I don't have my garden produce, I usually stick with green bell pepper, onions, olives, and pepperoni (one thing I learned recently: buy your pepperoni fresh from the store deli instead of the prepackaged, shelf-stable bags. It's cheaper and there aren't all the nitrites and other preservatives). In the end, the best part is that you can do whatever you want! During this prep time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Once the dough has rested for fifteen minutes, stretch it out into the size you want your pizza to be. Grease a pizza pan with cooking spray and sprinkle with cornmeal. If you're going to make homemade pizza regularly, I highly recommend using a pizza stone instead of a metal pan. They're not expensive and they really improve your pizza crust - here's the one I use. Once your dough is all stretched out and ready, top with sauce, cheese, and other toppings. Bake for 15 minutes (or until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly). Let the pizza rest for five minutes or so before cutting. Che buono!

What is your favorite kind of pizza? Do you like any weird toppings?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lovely Links: Weekend Before Christmas Edition

--Just a snapshot of one of our Christmas outings - visiting Santa's reindeer!--

Maybe you're more on top of things than I am. Besides neglecting my blog this week, I also procrastinated my Christmas shopping until just a few days ago (seriously, why do I do this to myself every year?) and I am going to be baking up a storm today so I can give out cookies to the neighbors. And then my husband's birthday was yesterday, so it's been a little chaotic at my house lately. But, we've still had the time to stop and enjoy the season, too. I absolutely love this time of year.

Anyway, I can make no guarantees to the regularity of my postings on this blog for the next little while or so. I mean, I might have something new on Monday, but I make no promises. But, rest assured, starting the Monday after Christmas, I will be back into my regular blogging shape. So, until then, here are some great links I've come across and bookmarked...

The Smells of the Season - Make it Do
Just found this recipe for homemade, stovetop potpourri. I've been burning the same fragrant candle for the last few weeks and I've been wanting something new. And here it is! The thing I love about this is that you can put the ingredients together and give this mixture as a gift. Love those homemade gifts.

Made with Love from Gloves - Small Notebook
One of my resolutions for next year (yes, I'm already making them) is to be more experienced with sewing, knitting, etc. I feel like I'm pretty good at just about every domestic "art" except anything related to textiles, sewing machines, and the like. So I've found yet another book to add to my ever-expanding wish list on PaperBackSwap - it's called Sock and Glove and it's all about how to change socks and gloves into cute stuffed animals for kids. I know I've got a bunch of lonely socks and gloves that are missing their companions, so this would be perfect. The nice thing is that there is a link on the Small Notebook post to a couple of the projects and, really, they don't look that hard. Maybe this sewing resolution will be fruitful after all and I make some presents for next Christmas...

Eggnog (Without Eggnog) Pancakes - Joy the Baker
I love Joy the Baker. Her blog is so much fun to read, plus she has such interesting recipes. This past summer, she had a root beer float cake on her blog - it seemed like such a summery recipe. Not only was it delicious, but it was totally unlike anything I had ever baked before. So, when I saw this recipe for eggnog pancakes, my interest was piqued. It seems like such a great yet unique Christmastime breakfast. I think it's interesting how she doesn't actually use eggnog (which is one of my favorite parts of the season. Love that stuff.), but just recreates the flavor with certain ingredients. I'm going to try this recipe soon - I'll let you know how it turns out.

It's a Handmade Christmas - Little Starling Photography
I just wanted to share this link from the winner of the book giveaway from a couple weeks ago. She had some really great insights about Hundred Dollar Holiday.

The Spirit of the Season - by Thomas S. Monson
An inspiring message of how to keep the spirit of Christmas in everything we do. For the full program that this message was a part of (a devotional full of beautiful music and spoken word), check out this link.

"The way you spend Christmas is far more important than how much." - Henry David Thoreau

Monday, December 14, 2009

Take Me Away: How to Make Homemade Bath Salt

Homemade gifts are always nice. However, being the non-crafty person I am (I'm trying, I really am), the bulk of my homemade gifts are edible. While cookies are nice and all (I pride myself on making gingerbread cookies that are actually soft), there's something to be said about giving something that won't go bad or that will last a while. Enter my homemade bath salts.

I've never been much of a bath person - I prefer long, ridiculously hot showers. My mom, on the other hand, is an avid bath person. In all my 27 years, I don't think I can remember my mom taking a shower. Not even once. So you've got both ends of the spectrum reporting here - we both love these bath salts. For me, they're an occasional treat and de-stresser. For my mom, they've become a part of her end-of-the-day ritual. These salts are just lovely. They're simple, they smell great, and the baking soda and salts make your skin soft. What's not to love?

To make these bath salts, you just need to follow this simple recipe. In a non-porous bowl (glass or metal is best), mix:

1 part baking soda
3 parts Epsom salt
6 parts sea salt or kosher salt
10 drops of essential oil
a few drops of food coloring


Now, my friend told me that she only used ten drops of essential oil and just a few drops of food coloring. My mom and I use more than that. We start with ten drops of the essential oils and then add more until it smells as potent as we want it to be. Follow your nose on this one, I say. Same goes for the color - we keep adding little bit by little bit until it's at the color we want. I wouldn't recommend going completely nuts with the food coloring - you don't want an orange or red bathtub ring. The salts should be lightly colored (if you notice, the store-bought bath salts are usually just lightly colored).

The thing I love about these bath salts is that you can really personalize them for the intended recipient (or for yourself!). You can use their favorite color (or what matches their bathroom) or a scent that they particularly like. Or, you can take it a step further if you know the person well and use some kind of aroma that would be beneficial for them; lavender to help them sleep, an energizing citrus scent, a romantic rose, or a relaxing eucalyptus or mint, etc. You can even mix scents if you're feeling brave.

There's so much to learn about aromatherapy - I found a helpful introduction on Simple Mom a few months ago. Essential oils can be used in so many ways. Go to a natural/health food store and check out the essential oils you like best. Mom and I have used orange, rose, and cinnamon in our bath salts so far; others we want to try are grapefruit, sandalwood, peppermint, and eucalyptus, among others.

You can put these bath salts in any kind of container. I really like IKEA's 'Slom' jars. I get the 32-oz. one for just $2.99 (they come in various sizes at various prices). I like them because they're just the right size and I like the old-fashioned latch. If you want to take the presentation an extra step, you create some kind of tag or label for your bath salts, indicating what scent they are (or any other information, like the benefits of that scent) or directions (you just add however much you want to the running bathwater - I usually do about a 1/4 cup or so). You could also include it in a gift basket with some other bath-related items. Tie a bow around the jar and you've got yourself a nice, inexpensive gift - with all the good feelings that come with things homemade.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lovely Links: Winter Wonderland Edition

It snowed here on Monday. Of course, me and my little guy bundled up and went out to play the pristine inches of it. That was a lot of fun for a couple days. Then it got really cold. Really, really cold. Once the temperature gets above 20 degrees (for the high temperature of the day - we've been in the teens all week), we'll head back outside. But for now, we're going to do some fun stuff indoors - dare I say it? possibly some crafty stuff indoors. Anyway, what with winter arriving (though not officially winter) and the snow flying, I thought it would be fun to share some winter-related things I found for this week's edition of Lovely Links.

How to Make a Snowstorm - Craftstylish
This was a serendipitous find. I honestly don't remember what led me to this site, but I just love this idea. It's a really cute decoration that costs next to nothing. And it's really easy (my kind of craft), too. It's hard to explain succinctly, so just click on the link. If you look in the picture above, you'll see that I made one, only we used fishing line (we don't go fishing, but we always have fishing line on hand. Super-useful stuff) instead of dental floss.

Creamy Tomato Soup - Joy the Baker
I'm making this next week. I think I'll even splurge for the San Marzano tomatoes (if I can find them). Oooh and I'll make grilled cheese sandwiches with them....

DIY Door Draft Stopper - Not Martha
I'm not entirely sure this will work in my house, on the door I want it for, since it's really only works with hardwood floors. Oh well. I figure someone out there might benefit, so here you go.

Make it: A Snowman Kit - Make it Do
This is such an awesome idea. Making snowmen is one of those spontaneous things (at least for us) and once we've got the guy built, we start foraging around the yard for sticks and rocks and going through the coat closet for accessories. How great would it, instead, be to have a kit all ready, complete with rocks, buttons, a scarf, and even a cool top hat? No more searching in the cold! This link has the complete how-to, including how to make a the top hat. I just love this! Plus, it would make for a great homemade gift for a family you know. I'm going to buy the materials today. I'm even going to be brave (I'm working on getting over my sewing phobia) and make the hat. Who knows, I may even try to make the corncob pipe while I'm at it...

Homemade Hot Cocoa
This is the recipe I used this week. Making hot cocoa from scratch is so easy and so delicious. When I was a kid, my mom would make this recipe (it's the one on the box of cocoa powder) after we'd go sledding or if we'd been out in the yard for a while. So many memories. I just love the changing seasons.

"Maybe Christmas Doesn't Come from a Store" by Jeffrey R. Holland
A beautiful message for this beautiful time of year.

"Getting an inch of snow is like winning ten cents in the lottery."
-
Calvin & Hobbes

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Soup Weather: Delicious Creamy Cabbage Soup

As I type this, the temperature outside is -1. Yikes. It's been an extremely cold and snowy few days here and when the weather gets like this, nothing sounds quite as nice as a hot, filling soup dinner. So, today, I'm sharing the soup I made Monday night: creamy cabbage soup.

I know, I know: Cabbage soup? Isn't that some kind of diet thing? Yes, but this completely unrelated. Stay with me here...

When I was in high school, I worked as a watiress at a little Swiss-American restaurant in my hometown of Midway, Utah (the town is famous for its Swiss settlers), called Das Burgermeister Haus. It was a nice place with some yummy food - knockwurst sandwiches, ham & Swiss on homemade Swiss bread (delicious), rösti potatoes, beer bread (also delicious), apple strudel, along with some traditional American foods. It's been closed for a while now, but occasionally I'll think of that that place (especially when I watch Santa Claus is Coming to Town and they mention 'Burgermeister Meisterburger') and crave a knockwurst sandwich and a bowl of cabbage soup.

Anyway, when I worked there, there were three questions I was asked during just about every shift: 1) "What's with all the Swiss stuff in this town?"; 2)" Can you yodel?" (for the record: No. Sidenote: If I wore my hair in Heidi-style braids, I always made more in tips. Always. I have no explanation for this.); and 3) "Creamy cabbage soup? (they'd ask with their faces all scrunched up) Is that any good?" I would promise them it was and tell them that if they didn't like it, I would get them a salad or different soup. I never had to get someone something else. Once people had it, they were hooked. People always asked for the recipe but we never gave it out. Well, that's not true: once a NBA player came to the restaurant and his wife asked for the recipe. She wrote their home address down on a piece of paper and asked me to mail it to her if I could convince the main cook. That's when I finally got a look at the 'secret' recipe and wrote it down - for myself and for the basketball player's wife. I have the index card in front of me, in my high school handwriting. And now, I'm sharing it with you.


This is possibly one of the cheapest recipes to make. You probably already have most, if not all, of the ingredients in your fridge right now. I remember when I wrote down the recipe, I thought, "That's it?" Even if you were to go out and buy all the ingredients, you could keep your costs easily under five dollars. And it makes quite a bit - this pot of soup can feed 4-6 people.

Creamy Cabbage Soup
2 cans (14 1/2 oz. each) chicken stock. (Heather's note: Or better yet! Use your homemade stock from Thanksgiving! I used a little under 4 cups of my stock in this recipe)
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 medium head of cabbage, shredded
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/4 cup of butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups light cream
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 cups cooked, cubed ham (optional - I didn't use this in mine. This may make it cost a little more than the five dollars I mentioned)

In a large soup pot, combine broth, celery, cabbage, onion, and carrot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour, salt, and pepper; stir to form a smooth paste. Combine cream and milk; gradually add to flour mixture, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until thickened; continue cooking one minute longer. Gradually stir into vegetable mixture. Add ham (if using) and thyme and heat through.
I tried to cheat and just use milk when I made it because I didn't have the cream. Use the cream. It took forever to thicken and I had to add more flour, which I think affected the consistency and taste a little. But don't get me wrong: it was still really good. I served it with some popovers. Perfect (and cheap!) dinner for a cold, winter evening.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Leggo that Eggo: Making and Freezing Waffles

Now that I'm back from my blog hiatus, I figure I should just start by dropping a bombshell. I'd tell you to sit down, but you're probably already doing that, seeing as you're at a computer. Here it is: there's an Eggo waffle shortage. Okay, so I'm not really panicking. I thought it was funny, though, how the article I read was entitled, "Kellogg warns: Brace for an Eggo shortage." Brace? One woman in the article was talking about how she was going to have to ration them in her household. Well, never fear, I am here to give a frugal solution to anyone's frozen waffle woes.

Can people have frozen waffle woes? Yes. A few months ago, the Costco by me stopping selling the huge boxes of Kashi waffles that my son loved. He seriously loved those waffles - he wanted them everyday. I liked them because they were healthier than the Eggo ones (my son didn't like those as much anyway) and they were a good deal at Costco (an amazing deal compared to how much the little boxes of them are at the regular grocery stores). As you can imagine, I was a little sad and a little annoyed that they stopped carrying them. As I left the store, pondering my breakfast options, I suddenly thought, "Why don't I just freeze my own waffles?"

I wasn't sure if he'd like them as much as the Kashi ones, but it was worth a shot. Long story short: I made a batch, froze them, and put them in the toaster like I did with the store-bought ones. He couldn't tell a difference between the two. So not only did I appease my toddler, but I was saving money in the process (I estimate that can make a batch of waffles - about 12 to 14 of them - for a couple bucks). Even as healthy as the Kashi ones are supposed to be, I also liked the fact that my waffles had less ingredients in them (I read a book once that said that you shouldn't eat any processed food that has more than five ingredients in it). So when I saw this week that Costco was, after a months-long absence, carrying them again, I wasn't even tempted to buy the big box of waffles. My homemade ones won.

The recipe I use is really simple - I got it from Everyday Food magazine. I make a batch of these every 7-10 days. I have the recipe practically memorized.

Buttermilk Waffles

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups low-fat buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, go here for a substitution. It's the last one on the list)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
Flaxseed meal (optional)

Heat waffle iron (brush with vegetable oil if yours isn't nonstick). In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, butter, and eggs; add flour mixture. Mix until just combined - don't overmix. The batter will be thick and a little lumpy. Pour batter onto iron (no exact amount, since every waffle iron is different. Eyeball it. I usually use a couple tablespoons on each square on my waffle iron). Next, I sprinkle it with some flaxseed meal. It doesn't affect the taste and gives it a little nutritional boost. Close the iron and cook the waffles until they're golden brown and crisp (or, if your waffle iron is like mine, wait for the ready light to turn on).

Once you're done cooking them (and after you've eaten a couple fresh off the iron - yum!), pile them on a plate and let them cool for a little while. Once the waffles are cooled, put them in a gallon-size freezer bag and stick them in the freezer. Whenever you're ready to serve them again, stick a frozen waffle in the toaster. Every toaster is different so you'll have to watch them and adjust the light-dark control. I usually have my toaster set somewhere half-way. Top with some syrup and you've got a delicious, hot breakfast - perfect for any winter morning, or, as in my son's case, just about every morning.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What better way to start the Christmas season...

...than with a GIVEAWAY!

I just read an awesome book called Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben. I realize it that it's kind of ironic that I'm posting this on Black Friday, a day focused on shopping. I promise it wasn't intentional. It just seemed apropos now that the Christmas season has officially begun.

This wonderful book is all about redefining the way we celebrate Christmas - without the stress, without the debt. It's not preachy, there's no guilt, no lecture. It's about a return to simplicity and celebration - without all the 'stuff' (or at least not so much stuff). You don't have to do the 'Hundred Dollar Holiday' - you adapt the principles however you want to your life. It's short - you could read it in a hour or so. It has a message that is beneficial to anyone. I loved it. And I want to give it to you.

Here's how you can get your hands on my copy of this book:

1. Leave a comment. Tell me your favorite Christmas tradition or what kind of handmade gifts you've given in the past.

2. For an extra entry, you can either write about my giveaway on your personal blog or put my blog button in your sidebar -- if you do both, you get two extra entries.

If you go for the extra entry options, be sure to let me know in your comment (or leave me another comment) so I can keep track. I will randomly choose the winners on December 4, a week from today.

Easy as pie. (mmmm....pie. Love those leftovers...)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wait! Don't Throw that Out!: A Guide to Homemade Stock

If my mom had a cooking show or book, it'd be called something like "The Frugal Gourmet" or "From-Scratch Cooking for Everyone". I was raised on meals made completely from scratch - I didn't even know that you could buy pre-made cookie dough until I was like 12. My mom is full of awesome cooking ideas that have been tried and tested in the 20+ years she's cooked for our family. Many of her ideas are from trial and error, others are old-fashioned methods, and some were experiments done during super-tight financial times. So, needless to say, my mom is an awesome resource for me. I thought I'd share one classic Mom tip just in time for Thanksgiving: how to make your own stock.

I'm not sure how many people are familiar with this technique of making stock, but it has been my experience that whenever I tell anyone that I do this, they act as if they've never heard of it. It's super-easy and very economical. I use chicken stock in a bunch of recipes and a 32-oz. box of it costs like $2.00. Yeah, that's not a lot of money, but compared to how much it costs to make your own, two bucks is a rip off. This technique reminds me of something the pioneers or people during the Depression did to use every bit of something before throwing it away. Plus, like I said, it requires minimal effort.

Once I've gotten all the meat off (see previous post), I put all the bones and skin into the really big, 8-quart pot I usually cook jam in. I fill the pot with water until the water level is just a few inches above all the bones and stuff. Then I start throwing certain things in for the flavor, which is actually pretty fun. You can add whatever you want, depending on what kind of flavor you want your stock to have - you can give it an ethnic flair using certain regional spices. As for me, I stick with a more traditional, versatile flavor. This part of the recipe makes me feel all uninhibited, like some gourmet chef who concocts all her own recipes, or better yet, it kind of makes me feel a like witch making some kind of weird brew. Anyway, I throw in a few carrots that I've broken in half or into thirds (depending on size), some celery (also broken into pieces, along with the leafy parts on the top), an onion (cut into big chunks), and two or three cloves of garlic. Next, I put in a variety of seasonings: a bunch of kosher salt, some whole peppercorns, sage, rosemary, thyme, and a few bay leaves.

Then you just let the pot cook on the stove for a few hours, stirring every once in a while, until the water has evaporated enough to leave you with a more concentrated, flavorful stock. You can tell if it's ready when you taste it - if it tastes too watery, just let it simmer a little longer until you like it. Not so complicated. Once it's all done, I strain the stock and let it cool. Once cooled, I put it in freezer bags in one-cup and two-cup portions. That way, whenever I need stock, I pull the amount I need out of the freezer, run the bag under or soak it in some hot water, and then use it in my recipe. That's it. Plus, the best part (besides the frugal part) of making things like this is that you know exactly what's in it - you don't have to worry about weird additives, like MSG, or unpronounceable preservatives. (Update: I don't use plastic freezer bags anymore -- I use glass jars. It works great, so long as you leave a little extra space unfilled in the jar so the liquid can expand.)

Last year, I used a 10-lb. turkey and got about twenty cups of stock. Just twenty cups of stock, if you buy it at the store in $2.00 32-oz. boxes, would cost about $10.00 - which is almost how much that turkey cost in the first place. Not only do you have all the meat for many meals, you get all that stock for cooking. And that's how it pays for itself. For a little work and just some time (the thing I like is that you can do other things while it's cooking - it's not something you have to watch), you will save yourself money by using the part of the Thanksgiving turkey you'd probably would have thrown away. Plus, you'll feel all smart and frugal while you're at it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cold Turkey

No, I'm not cooking the Thanksgiving turkey days in advance (how would that work anyway? It'd be so dry...). Besides, we're going to my parents' house and my mom is taking care of the turkey for Thanksgiving this year. That said, I roasted my own turkey yesterday afternoon, basting it every twenty minutes for four hours. I bought a turkey last year, too, even though we were having Thanksgiving with my husband's family. Am I crazy? Why go to the trouble?

Now is the best time to buy turkey. I bought this 15-lb. free-range, all-natural turkey for $1.25/pound, costing me around $18 (you can get turkey even cheaper than this, but I splurged a little for the fresh, free range turkey).When nearly $20 is tacked onto your weekly grocery bill, it seems a little excessive, but it's totally worth it. This baby is going a long way by taking care of many dinners in advance and will actually pay for itself by the time I'm through with it. Really.

Once the turkey is cooked and fairly cool, I start carving it. Okay, carving it makes it sound all nice and even. I basically hack the thing apart, cutting chunks of meat here and there and then picking off the rest. I pile all the white meat on one plate and all the dark meat on another. I always feel like some kind of scavenging animal when I do this.

My cat watched this process hungrily. I thought it was funny - had to include the blurry picture. He only pays attention to me when I'm in the kitchen.

Once I've got all the meat off the turkey - and I'm talking all of it - I start separating it into freezer bags, about a cupful of meat in each. I mostly eyeball this. You can freeze whatever portion you like. One important note: as you're getting all your meat separated, keep a big pot handy. Put all the bones, skin, fatty parts, and any meat you don't want (some of it is kind of rubbery in the dark meat) into the pot. Save this for the all stock you're going to make - details and how-to on Wednesday (this is how the turkey basically pays for itself). I filled ten freezer bags' worth of turkey - that's ten dinners right there, easy.

So what to do with all that frozen turkey? Lots. My mom used this method for many dinners, in any recipe that calls for shredded chicken. Pot pie. Burritos. Chili. Tacos. Enchiladas. Chicken rolls. Chicken noodle soup. Tortilla soup. I'll be posting recipes in the weeks to come to help you incorporate your frozen turkey in your dinner plans. For now, here's what I made last night...

I got this recipe from Everyday Food magazine. It's crazy-easy. Pile some chopped onions, hot turkey (or chicken), cilantro, and a few avocado slices in a tortilla. Squeeze lime juice on top, fold, and enjoy. So simple, so delicious.

Turkeys will be reasonably priced for the rest of December, so don't worry if you haven't gotten one yet. But I suggest you try my method. It will help you cut back on your grocery budget so you can spend your money on more festive options...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lovely Links: Thanksgiving Edition

I love Thanksgiving. But really, who doesn't? It's equivalent to me stating, "Sunsets are beautiful" or "Candy is tasty". Who won't agree that getting together with people you love, eating a lot of food (especially when that feast ends with pie), and lounging around and visiting is a pretty great way to spend a holiday? It's satisfying. It's American. It's awesome.

Next week, I'll be doing a couple Thanksgiving-themed posts (mostly to do with the turkey), but I thought I'd get a jump on things and include a few related links for this Friday's edition of Lovely Links.

Homemade Roasted Pumpkin Puree - Make and Takes
I've never even heard of this blog until today, when I got an email of links from Simple Kids. I was excited to see this post - I've been so curious lately on how to make my own pumpkin puree. I was planning on using my garden-grown pumpkins and post the results of my experiment on here, but, as I researched, I learned that you need to use sugar or pie pumpkins (which fact the author also mentions in this post). I grew the wrong ones for puree. Next year, I'm going to be all over this one. By the way, did you know that there is a pumpkin shortage going on? I read all about it the other day - I guess the rainy fall did a number to Libby's pumpkin crops. If you're a pumpkin-lover, I'd suggest buying some sugar pumpkins to make your own or a few cans of the orange stuff now...

Basic Pie Dough - Everyday Food
A couple Thanksgivings ago, I was in charge of making the pumpkin pies. I'd like to think I'm a pretty competent baker, but there's something about making pie crusts that I hate. They stress me out. That Thanksgiving, I broke my favorite pie dish because I got so mad at my crusts. They kept breaking and crumbling. In frustration, I slammed my cute, red ceramic pie plate too hard on the countertop and it cracked in half. I ended up driving to the nearest grocery store, in tears (yes, in tears over pie crust), waving the proverbial white flag, and buying the pre-made ones that come in a box. Why share all this? This pie crust recipe works. And I haven't broken any more pie dishes since I started using it.

The Meal That Keeps on Giving - Wondertime
First of all, as I've mentioned previously on this blog, I always get sad when I reference my favorite, now-defunct magazine, Wondertime. It was awesome (thanks a lot, stupid recession). Anyway, I thought this article had a lot of great insights and ideas about Thanksgiving leftovers. And not just turkey sandwiches (as good as those are). Lots of great tips and recipe links. Also, while you're at Wondertime, you should check out this pie. I made it last year for Thanksgiving. It was a pain in the butt to make, but I thought it was really good. I'm not sure if I'm up to making it this year, but who knows.

Quiz: Which Thanksgiving Side Dish are You?
I know, I know. You're probably thinking: what kinds of insights could I possibly glean from a quiz? Well, if all those Seventeen magazines I read in high school taught me anything, PLENTY. For example, this quiz taught me that I'm 'Mashed Potatoes and Gravy". Old-fashioned and proud of it. Deep, thought-provoking self-discovery awaits you at this link.

Video: In the Spirit of Thanksgiving
I just found this video today. It made me happy.

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others." - Cicero

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Home Remedies - Scarlett O'Hara Style

Gone with the Wind just came out on blu-ray yesterday. *Sigh* My husband and I watched the first half last night in all its restored, high-def glory. It was gorgeous.

But what does this have to do with frugality? Not much, admittedly. I came across a book in at my in-laws' house a while back and I had to borrow it. It's called Home Remedies from the Old South. I mostly borrowed it for laughs and thought it would be fun to share on this blog. You know, just for kicks. And now I have a good excuse because of the blu-ray release of one of my all-time favorite movies.

Disclaimer: I don't endorse any of these remedies; I have no idea or opinion on their effectiveness or if they've been approved by modern medicine (though I'm sure most of these wouldn't hurt since they're mostly made from foods). That said, here's just a few of the interesting, funny, and unusual ideas I read...
  • Soaking hands in very hot water will ease pain in the head.
  • Heal varicose veins in a month. Put full strength vinegar onto offending veins twice a day. Each morning and evening, drink a glass of water with 2 tsp. vinegar in it.
  • Frequent eating of sunflower seeds will prevent rashes and skin eruptions.
  • Scaly rashes are healed by rubbing daily with a raw potato.
  • Burns will heal fast if covered with froth of a lightly beaten egg white.
  • Lighten the color of the face by rubbing down twice a day with a fresh tomato.
  • Cook small potatoes in their skins. Strain and set potatoes aside. Apply this goodly juice to the hair, without getting it on the face or neck. Allow to dry without rinsing. Will darken drab brown hair and eliminate gray streaks.
  • Apple cider vinegar taken every day will keep the reproductive system of both men and women working fit and fine.
  • Sip on a strong infusion of raspberry leaves to shorten and reduce labor pain. Makes for lively babies!
  • Cure twitches and reoccurring muscle cramps in one week by taking 2 tsp. honey with each meal and at bedtime.
  • Every lady soon learns to drink lots of water to keep the body purified.
  • Washing up is much nicer when flower petals are scattered into the bath. If flowers of the honeysuckle are sprinkled into the bath water, your skin will emerge as soft as a baby's bottom!
  • A goodly tea of alfalfa and nettle will lessen swelling.
  • Eat a generous spoonful of horseradish sauce each day to prevent baldness of the head. Hair growth can also be promoted by rubbing the head with a clove of garlic. Do this four times a day.
  • A cup of strawberries with each meal will cure the gout, quick!
And don't forget this handy tip for your beauty regimen...
  • Grate a medium sized cucumber and simmer for five minutes in a cup of fresh milk. Add enough oatmeal to form a thick paste. Pat this mask onto the face, neck, shoulders, and down well onto the bosom. Lay quietly while it dries, then remove with lots of cool rain water.
I'm sure if you try that last one you'll be, as Rhett Butler says, "the cutest trick in shoe leather."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Some Thoughts on Coupons

You'd probably think that I, being the self-proclaimed Parsimonious Princess, would be big into coupons. Seven newspaper subscriptions. Incredible filing systems, with each coupon sorted by expiration date and categories. Spending only a few dollars for a cart loaded with groceries.

Nope. I don't even have a newspaper subscription - I bum my weekly coupon insert off someone else. And filing them? I keep my coupons in envelopes that come with our bills (I don't use them since I usually pay my bills via phone or online), sorted according to expiration date (one envelope for ones expiring in November, one for December, etc.), clipped together with a cute clothespin my friend made. That's it. I admit it - I am no couponing queen.

Not that there's anything wrong with couponing, per se. Some people really make it work for themselves. More power to them. A lady at my church has the whole couponing thing down. She has a big family and spends an incredibly low amount on groceries by strategically shopping with coupons and checking all the local grocery ads. I even took a class from her - it made a lot of sense. I felt empowered. I was going to do this thing!

Then I realized that coupons don't really fit into my lifestyle. For one, I buy hardly any of the things advertised with coupons. Scrubbing Bubbles? I'll keep my good ol' baking soda and vinegar for cleaning my bathroom. Pillsbury biscuits? I can make them from scratch in about a half-hour for a lot cheaper than the canned kind (though I do kind of like opening the exploding tube...). I don't buy sugary cereals or cookie dough (sidenote: I thought it was hilarious the other day at the store when I saw a box of Cocoa Krispies proclaiming its immunity-boosting effect on children. Riiiight.) - a lot of the coupons are for foods that aren't nutritious. There are tons of medicine coupons - we don't use a lot of medicine and when we do, it's often generic. And then there's the matter of store brands vs. name brands. Store brands are often less expensive than the brand name stuff, even with the coupons (unless you shop like my friend at church does and coordinate everything with the ads - like I said, her system is awesome).

BUT, I do use coupons. My in-laws get the Sunday paper and one Sunday afternoon I noticed that they threw out the coupons (mostly because my mother-in-law does a lot of her shopping at Costco and doesn't need them). So, I asked if I could have them and now they set all the coupons aside for me every week. I'm willing to bet you could find someone, maybe a grandparent or neighbor, who doesn't use their coupons (not that I suggest you stroll around your neighborhood, find a house with a newspaper in the driveway, retrieve it for them, and then ask for their coupons.). Even though I don't use the majority of them, I still save some money using them. Here's what I use coupons for:
  • Sometimes, there are just brand-name products we prefer, like Daisy sour cream, Skippy Natural peanut butter, Scott toilet paper, etc. We just like them better (and the food products often more healthy) than the store brand. In my opinion, this is the key to couponing: only use them for things you would buy without a coupon. As the old adage goes, "A bargain ain't a bargain unless it's something you need."
  • Dental hygiene. I never buy toothpaste, mouthwash, or toothbrushes without a coupon now. By coordinating the coupons with sales at grocery stores, I can get a tube of toothpaste for a dollar (once I managed to get some for like 50 cents) and toothbrushes for free. Whenever I see a sale in the grocery ads on dental stuff, I stock up. Coupons help with that, for sure.
  • Diapers (hopefully not for much longer, though...). Maybe your experience is different, but I stick to the brand-name diapers because they've just worked better for me (everyone seems to have some kind of brand loyalty when it comes to disposable diapers), so coupons help take some of the ouch of out of the price. There are always tons of diaper coupons in the coupon sections of the newspaper. Sometimes, too, I go to Target and get a print-out coupon for diapers with my receipt.(Yet another sidenote: before I get someone who points out that it would be cheaper to use cloth diapers, I just want to say that I plan on at least giving cloth diapers a try -- a try -- with my next baby. Really.)
  • Feminine hygiene. If you shop the ads and use a coupon, you can get a better price than the store brands sometimes.
  • Pet food and supplies. There's always plenty of coupons in the Sunday paper for pet food, treats, and kitty litter. Treats seem superfluous, I know, but sometimes I can get them for really cheap if I use a coupon. My giant cat is always appreciative.
  • I like to buy lots of natural food, cleaners, and hygiene products, however there are hardly ever any coupons in the Sunday ads for the health store brands. But I've noticed that lots of the natural/health food stores (like Sunflower Farmers Market or Whole Foods) carry some kind of free magazine that has health-related articles and recipes in them. These magazines happen to have advertisements in them too and have lots of great coupons. I get lots of my Kashi cereal coupons this way, along with coupons for cleaning products like Method. One other tip: I've noticed that the natural/health food stores in my area often have promotional coupon books at the registers.
  • While we're on the topic of coupon sources, also check online. I've found quite a few good coupons for brands I buy online. One site I go to occasionally is Coupon Suzy or you could go to Pinching Your Pennies for some suggestions on where to find online coupons (PYP is also a great site for anyone that wants to use coupons more enthusiastically and create an effective system. Plus, they go through all the weekly grocery ads in your area and tell you what sales are best - great resource just for that.)
I know there may be some out there that think I'm missing out on a whole aspect of frugality by being lukewarm on couponing. And that's fine. There are whole websites and blogs devoted to great coupons and deals. For me, coupons are just a small part of my money-saving arsenal and I don't mind clipping a few coupons if it means I'll save a few dollars here and there. But that's usually as far as I'll go.

One final note: I learned recently that you can send expired coupons to military families living overseas. Since they have to do their shopping at the commissaries and post exchanges on bases, the products they buy are usually more expensive than here at home. However, these stores on base will take coupons up to six months after their expiration date. Since the families overseas don't have access to the Sunday newspaper like we do, these coupons can be pretty scarce. So, if you have any unused or expired coupons, send them them to our military families! The easiest way to do this is through the "Troopon" program -- just send them to the address in the link and they'll send the coupons to the bases overseas for you (the link to this will always be in the sidebar). You can also check out other sites like the Overseas Coupon Program or Coupons to Troops if you want to send the coupons to the bases yourself.  It's just a small way to show our gratitude our men and women in uniform -- and their families -- who sacrifice so much in our behalf.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lovely Links

--Now that it's getting colder, we're spending more time inside reading. The book on the right, Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever, is a yard sale find we just rediscovered. --

How the week has flown by! It seems like I just barely posted a list of helpful, frugal, and insightful links. And like last week, this weekend's links have no particular theme - just a hodgepodge of things I found interesting and then bookmarked. Enjoy!

Brown Rice Rice Pudding - Joy the Baker
(It's supposed to rain/snow here today and when I saw this recipe in my email inbox, I immediately craved it. The ingredients are wholesome, simple, and inexpensive. My kind of recipe.)

Save Money by Using Your Slow Cooker - A Year of Slow Cooking
(I've been meaning to mention this new blog I found. I'm not even sure how I came across it, but here it is. The author of this blog took on the daunting task of using her slow cooker every day for a year. Amazing. I plan to test out some of her recipes soon - I'll let you know the results. But, I thought I should let you know about it and I figured this would be a good link to start.)

PaperBackSwap
(I know I've mentioned this site before, but I just had to mention it again. I just got four books in the mail today - for free! I've been getting a lot of children's books lately from the site (I just got one today that I'm wrapping up for Christmas). Joining PaperBackSwap is free. You post books you don't want anymore, ship them at your expense to anyone that requests them, and get book credits. When you find a book you want, you use a credit, and someone sends it to you at their expense. I've posted books that I didn't think anyone would want, only to find that someone actually did! One warning: it's kind of addicting. And my wish list has over 30 books on it.)

Is Knitting Better than Prozac? - New Urban Habitat
(I came across this article this week and thought it was so interesting. Basically, studies have shown that people who are actively doing things with their hands, be it cooking, gardening, knitting, etc., have lower rates of anxiety and depression. After reading this post, my ambition to learn to sew and knit was reaffirmed. It's the one domestic art I don't know how to do. Wish me luck.)

'One for the Money'
(I read this message in pamphlet form before I was married. I remember reading it and thinking that I was going to frame my future household finances around these principles. The advice is simple and straightforward and as true today as it was when it was given over 30 years ago. If you want the pamphlet, you can get it here for free.)

"Being frugal does not mean being cheap! It means being economical and avoiding waste." -Catherine Pulsifer

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Am Your Guinea Pig : Baking Soda Shampoo and Oil Facial Cleanser

Don't feel bad. I'm the oldest child in my family - I'm used to it.

Lately, I've been reading some interesting articles on various blogs about using au naturale products when it comes to hygiene and taking care of our bodies. Really interesting stuff. It all started with a post on Simple Mom about how the author hasn't used shampoo or conditioner for three months. At first, I was like, "Huh?", followed with a little bit of "Ew." But as I read on (and saw a picture of what her hair looks like), I was intrigued. And then I read a post a few weeks later on the same blog (Simple Mom is a great site) about something called The Oil-Cleansing Method. Again, I was intrigued and instantly thought, "I wonder if I should mention this on the parsimonious blog..."

In church on Sunday, the teacher in my class told a story about Gandhi. A mother had come to him with her son, seeking advice. She was worried that her son ate too much sugar and wanted Gandhi to tell him to stop. He simply told her to come back in a week. A week passed and the mother and son came back. Gandhi simply told him, "Stop eating sugar." The mother was a little annoyed and asked why she hadn't just told him that a week ago and saved them the journey to him. He told her, “Last week I was eating sugar, this week I gave it up.” So, even though I immediately thought, "Ooooh! I should write a post about this!", I thought it would be wise to at least give it a try. Gotta practice what I preach.


The first thing I tried was the oil-cleansing method (OCM). This is a cleansing routine for your face. According to her blog post (you really should read it for all the interesting details and research she did), you can use natural oils to clean your face because oil dissolves oil. My initial reaction to the thought of using oils on your face was that it could only make things worse, right? However, what she wrote made lots of sense to me. I was open to something new - my skin has been looking kinda blah lately. I always prefer natural solutions to cleaning, cooking, etc., so why not try this? Plus, I was just running out of my facial wash and thought I would give the OCM a chance before I went out and bought some more.

To clean your face using the OCM, you use a combination of extra-virgin olive oil and castor oil. Most people already have the EVOO; castor oil can be found in the drug section of your supermarket, over by the laxative and stomach-issue section. Depending on your skin type, you mix a certain ratio of olive oil to castor oil: for normal skin, a one-to-one ratio; for acne-prone or oily skin, three parts castor oil to one part EVOO; for dry skin, one part castor oil to three parts EVOO.

I mixed the oils into a little container that has a lid - I store it on my bathroom shelf. Once you're ready to clean your face, gently massage the oil onto your dry face. This gets all the gunk off, including make-up. I used this to get my Halloween make-up off and it worked really well, even for mascara and eyeliner. Next, get a washcloth wet with hot water (but not too hot) and put it over your face until it becomes cool. This is steaming your face and clearing your pores. After this step, get the cloth wet again and wipe off the oil. That's it.

And you know what? I love it. It makes my skin feel so clean, refreshed, and soft. It's also really quite relaxing, especially the steaming part. And I love that it's so natural - no weird, unpronounceable ingredients. And you can't beat the price! I already had the EVOO; the castor oil only cost a couple bucks. Much cheaper than the various brands of facial cleaners I've bought over the years. So, I've tested it and I'm a fan of the OCM. Try it - let me know what you think.

This leads to the other hygiene experiment: going "'poo free" (BTW - Simple Mom isn't the only place I've read about this method. I also saw it here). I had no idea that this was even an option, but you can actually use baking soda instead of shampoo! Ah, baking soda. *sigh* Is there anything it can't do? Then, as conditioner, you use apple cider vinegar. Again, who knew? To be honest, I was a little more reluctant to try this one. It just seemed too odd. Plus, I happen to have a hook-up when it comes to shampoo and conditioner. BUT, I thought it was worth trying, just so I could use something even more natural than what I use and so I could share it with my parsimonious pals.

I'm still in the process of testing this one. I haven't used the vinegar yet. I've been using baking soda instead of shampoo, but still using my regular conditioner. I just get a bit of baking soda and mix it with water until it's a paste and then I rub it through my hair. The author of the post that inspired this uses a squeeze bottle with the baking soda and water already mixed. Next time I take a shower, I'm using the vinegar.

I have to say, I really like the results from using the baking soda. My hair feels lighter and softer. According to Simple Mom, this is because using baking soda helps retain your hair and scalp's natural oils. Shampoo uses mineral oil (which is a byproduct of gasoline when it's made from crude oil. Ew.) to create an artificial shine since it strips your hair of the natural oils. That's why it gets greasy if you haven't washed in a while. I've found I can go a little longer between washings and my hair doesn't look bad at all. I know, I know. It's a kind of paradigm shift to move away from shampoo, but it's worked for me. And baking soda costs hardly anything. I'm gong to keep trying it before I give a wholehearted recommendation. But, for now, it's working better than I thought...

Have you ever heard of these methods? Have you ever tried them? Are there other natural, frugal hygiene/beauty things you do?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Love Those Black Bananas...Sort of.

Personally, I don't really like bananas. Okay, that's putting it too lightly: until I fed them as baby food to my son, I could barely smell a banana without wanting to throw up. I don't know what it is, but I've always hated them. Which, really, is a shame. They're healthy, conveniently packaged, and inexpensive. But, my husband likes them occasionally and I'm all for having more fruit and vegetables available for the family. Plus, I don't think bananas are too terrible when they're mixed in stuff (except pudding or Jell-O. Ick.).

Since bananas aren't eaten super-fast at our house (even though I don't buy a big bunch of them), they have a tendency to turn all spotted and black. This is totally fine, though. I just freeze them for smoothies or for banana bread. I'm quite sure most people do this, so I thought I would post a recipe I found a year or so ago in my favorite (but now defunct) magazine, Wondertime. The recipe is for "banana bread bites" - instead of the traditional loaf, this bread recipes lends itself to a more interactive approach with cookie cutters. Here's the recipe:

Banana Bread Bites

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon (I added a little more since I love the stuff)
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
2-3 medium bananas mashed (equals about a cup)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Heat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 baking pan. Mix all the ingredients together, in order listed. Pour the batter into dish - spread evenly. Bake until toothpick comes out clean - about 15 minutes. Let the bread cool on a wire rack for an hour or until completely cooled.

Once the bread has cooled, use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. I think smaller cutters work best, but I only had my big ones available. This recipe supposedly yields 2 1/2 dozen pieces - with my giant cookie cutters we got like ten shapes and then a bunch of short edge pieces that were too small to cut out. That said, my little guy still had fun cutting out stars, hearts, and Mickey Mouse shapes.

Once you've cut the bread with the cookie cutters, dust them lightly with powdered sugar. I think my son may have liked this last step the most. He got powdered sugar on everything, including himself. Baking with kids is the best - and even better when it's easy and inexpensive.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lovely Links

Hope you all are enjoying the beauty that is fall. No theme to the Lovely Links this week - just a few things I came across that I thought might be interesting and beneficial for all my awesome readers.

Six Natural Remedies You Probably Already Have - Simple Mom
(A couple weeks ago, I wrote about natural remedies and I thought that this was a good follow-up. Lots of easy tips.)

Udder Covers - For Nursing Mothers
(My husband's cousin sent out an email about a promotion offered by this company. They make covers for breastfeeding moms - I had no idea these even existed three years ago when I was nursing my son; it would have made life just a little easier for me! Anyway, these covers are usually $32.00, but for a limited time, if you enter "1free" in the promo code box on the order page, you get the cover absolutely free! All you need to pay is the $8.95 shipping and handling cost. From what my husband's cousin said, this is less than it costs to make your own cover! Even though I'm not expecting or anything, I still ordered one since I figure I'll need it someday. And, even if you're not going to use it yourself, it still makes an awesome baby shower gift - and you can't beat that price! I don't know how long the promotion will go, so if you're going to get one, I'd get it soon!)

3 Great Ways to Spend More Money - Small Notebook
(Not exactly the type of link you'd expect to see on a blog about all things frugal, but I thought this article was quite insightful. I like her attitude about thinking of things that you can get, instead of thinking of all things you can't when you're trying to be frugal.)

20 Activities Under $10 - Simple Kids
(As the weather turns colder and kids have to stay inside more, it can be hard to come up with new, fun things to do. This link has a lot of fun, simple ideas. And I'm all for only spending $10 to do it!)

"Thou Shalt Not Covet"
(Click this link for spiritual enlightenment. Applicable to everyone and every situation.)

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." – Leonardo da Vinci

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: America's Cheapest Family


I know this may come as a huge shook to you, dear reader, but I happen to always be on the lookout for a book with new ideas on how to live more frugally. In my various searches on Amazon and PaperBackSwap for book suggestions, I came across this one, America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money by Steve and Annette Economides. I had to wait a little while on the hold list at my library to get it, but I finally got it a couple weeks ago.

Being completely honest, I have to say I didn't really learn all that much from this book. Nothing against it or anything, but a lot of the book's content was a review for me. That said, there's nothing wrong with a good review now and then. There many times when I was reading that I would think, "Oh yeah, I forgot about doing that..." or "I should be better about doing that..."

I had my notebook that I write random things in at my side and I wrote a bunch of notes of things that served as useful reminders, along with things I wanted to share on this blog. Here's a few:
  • Reduce the number of grocery shopping trips. If you go a few times a week, start going weekly. If you go weekly, try going one every two weeks. You could even work your way up to going only once a month like they do (they explain how in the book). This was a fairly new idea to me - I didn't really think the frequency of shopping trips made that much of a difference. I'm going to give bi-weekly grocery shopping a go. I'll let you know the results of that experiment in the future...
  • Consider getting a separate freezer. The more I think about it, I'm definitely leaning toward getting one because it would be nice to stock up on good sales (like when turkeys go on sale later this month...) and to freeze produce from my garden. Plus, my freezer in my kitchen is getting really full. In fact, just a minute ago, I heard my husband shout because he got nailed by a rock-hard package of frozen chicken when when he opened the freezer. What can I say? It's a delicate balance in there.
  • Using a price book. I need to be better about that and update mine.
  • The book had lots of ways to save on utilities: using ceiling and portable fans, putting a special blanket on your water heater, low-flow shower heads, vacuuming refrigerator coils annually (never done that), using a clothesline, landscaping to shade the house, etc. Lots of good ideas, mostly common sense.
  • I really liked the section in the medical chapter that focused on preventing disease. Like Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
  • There were lots of fun ideas for entertainment, recreation, and vacation. Like stay-cations - I always thought the idea of taking a vacation at home sounded kind of lame, but they actually helped me open my mind to the idea.
There were other things that I didn't write down that may be useful to others or be new information to someone. There's definitely more than what I listed. I also skipped the section on how to get out of debt just because we're following Dave Ramsey's plan already. One complaint: I had a hard time with the clothing section because I just can't get myself to buy our clothes at thrift stores. This is something I really should get over - I know a bunch of well-dressed people who almost exclusively buy their clothes second-hand (if you're one of those people, let me know. I may have you be a guest writer on here). Even then, this book made a really good case for doing that, much better than The Tightwad Gazette did for me.

This is a really great starting point for anyone wanting to live more frugally but doesn't know where to start. The book is laid out very well and is extremely readable. It only took me a few hours here and there to get through it. One thing I really liked about it is that at the end of every chapter, they give three different ways to apply the principles in the chapter based on how gung-ho you want to get. Kind of like those old aerobics videos from the 80's (this link, by the way, is a gem. My mom used to workout to this program in the morning. I would sit and admire - no, envy - the brunette's awesome ponytail) where they show the different levels of intensity - you can do low, medium, or high effort. Like with the cheesy workout video, doing even the low effort is better than doing nothing. Go, borrow the book from the library, and I promise you'll find something - even just one thing - that will make it worth your while.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 
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