Wednesday, June 29, 2011

For the Kids: Homemade Sidewalk Paint

Really, it doesn't get much easier than this.

For kid-friendly outdoor creativity, mix 1/4 cup cornstarch with 1/4 cup of cold water in a bowl/cup/reused container.  Add a little bit of food coloring (not too much since you don't want to stain your sidewalk. A few drops will do ya.). Stir.

Give the kids some paintbrushes and send them outside. Easy for you, fun for them -- everyone wins.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Meatless Monday: Noodles with Thai Peanut-Chili Sauce

Almost three months ago, after baby #2 was born (Has it been three months? I swear I had him last month. Weird.), my friend, Renee, stopped me in the hall at church and asked if she could bring me dinner the next night.  Not being one to pass up a free meal, I was more than happy to let her.

Sure enough, she dropped off a dish of steaming noodles and a loaf of coconut bread the next day (Did I mention that my friend is from Hawaii? The coconut bread was divine.).  Right after she left, my four-year-old and I looked at each other for a second and then dug in, slurping down the spicy, peanutty noodles. We somehow managed to stop and save some of the dinner for my husband, who was still on his way home from work.  Of course, I called my friend the next day to get the recipe.

I love this recipe for a number of reasons. One reason, as I've already  mentioned, is that it's totally delicious. It's also meatless, adaptable, and super-simple to make. It's a good summer recipe because it won't get your kitchen too hot and it only takes about 15 minutes to make. But I think I love it most because it's one of those go-to recipes that consists of things already in your fridge or pantry, making it a great frugal meal.

So without further ado, here's the recipe for this Meatless Monday...

Noodles with Thai Peanut-Chili Sauce

8 oz. linguine (I've used both regular and whole wheat. I also used a pound of spaghetti once.)
1/2 cup chicken stock (I know I said this recipe is meatless, but I figured chicken stock was kind of an exception since there's no actual meat in it. Plus, I had a bunch of my homemade stock in the freezer. That said, I'm certain vegetable stock would work just fine in this recipe.)
3 tablespoons peanut butter (feel free to adjust to your tastes and add more or use less)
1-2 teaspoons of chili sauce, like Sriracha (Again, adjust according to what you like. I used two teaspoons and it was spicy but no too hot for my little guy, though he's a little more tolerant of spicy foods than other kids. Start with the minimum and go from there-- you can always add more.)
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Fresh ginger, about a 1-inch chunk, peeled and grated (tip: store fresh ginger in the freezer -- it keeps longer and is easy to grate)
3 cloves garlic, minced
Chopped green onions or chives, cilantro, chopped peanuts, limes

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.

While pasta is cooking, combine stock, peanut butter, chili sauce, honey, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until peanut butter is smooth and all the ingredients are dissolved and melted together.

Drain pasta. Put cooked pasta in a serving dish or bowl. Add sauce. Toss until noodles are completely and evenly coated. Once the noodles are dished out on plates, top with chopped peanuts, green onions or chives, and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Just Another Meatless Monday

Not too long ago, I read about a new movement called Meatless Monday. It's an effort to improve the health of the population, to show people how to make more ethical food choices, and to help the world as a whole by going without any meat once a week (check the link above for a lot of great information about how and why you should go meatless for at least a day). While I think those are extraordinary reasons to go meatless one day a week, I'll take it a step further and suggest it for money-saving reasons, too.

Years ago, my husband and I didn't eat meat. We had fish occasionally, but we didn't eat any poultry, beef, or pork. For the most part, it wasn't that hard to do. Sure, we had to be a little more resourceful and inventive about what to cook since most recipes and meals center around some kind of meat, but it still wasn't so bad. Plus, it saved us a lot of money.  Today, we eat meat but not too often -- we go meatless at our house probably 2-3 times a week.

When people would find out that my husband and I were vegetarian, the most common response was a baffled, "What do you eat?" I was surprised by how many people just couldn't get their heads around not having meat in a dinner. Truth is, going meatless doesn't relegate you to a life of solely cottage, cheese, beans, and Tofurky (though I never minded the tofu hot dogs, to be perfectly honest) -- there are so many options and ways to cook without meat, I swear you won't even miss it that much.

That's where my newest feature on this blog comes in -- every other Monday or so, I'm going to share a meatless recipe with you. It might be one of my tried and true recipes or it may be one I'm trying right along with you.  And, please, send me your favorite meatless meals {my email address is parsimoniousprincess(at)gmail(dot)com} so I can share them with everyone.

As for tonight, try this recipe...

A couple Mondays ago, I tried out Pioneer Woman's recipe for taco pizza (though I used my go-to recipe for the crust since it's much faster). Yeah, the picture's not much to look at, but trust me, it's really, really good. We'd already eaten half of it by the time I thought to take a picture. The recipe is so simple to make and you probably have most of the ingredients on hand. Black beans, cheese, lettuce, sour cream mixed with Cholula? Mmmmm...a great way to start the week.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Verde Delicious: An Introduction to Tomatillos

My garden isn't complete without a couple tomatillo plants. Every season, I plant them in pots on my patio, next to all my tomatoes, and dream about homemade salsa. Tell me I'm not the only one who dreams of salsa in her spare time...

{*crickets chirping*}

Well, it's worth dreaming about because few things are more delicious than salsa made from garden produce -- including salsa verde made from homegrown tomatillos.

Tomatillos are a great addition to your garden because they not only do well in a variety of salsas, but they're also easy to grow and can be very productive. Here are a few things I've learned about this plant, both from research and experience:

Tomatillos are indigenous to Mexico (in Mexico, they're referred to as tomates verdes), and they are used in stews, moles, and salsas. When grown to maturity, they turn purple and have a very sweet flavor, but they're most commonly harvested when they're green and tart. When cooked, they develop a sort of lemony flavor. They add a really nice, zesty flavor to a dish.

Tomatillos grow on a bushy, spreading plant -- similar to a tomato. According to my copy of Sunset Western Garden, they can grow as a high as 4 feet and just as wide. This hasn't been my experience, but I guess it's possible! You can either let them sprawl or train them to climb a trellis/tomato cage. Each tomatillo grows within a papery husk (they remind me of Chinese paper lanterns) until it fills the husk and splits it. When they are harvested, the husk is removed and the skin of the fruit is sticky to the touch. It's a kind of a weird plant, actually, but I think that is even more reason to plant it!

Tips for Growing

Like tomatoes, tomatillos are a frost-tender annual, so only grow them when all danger of frost has passed. They'll keep producing until the first frost gets them in the fall. You can grow them from seed if your last frost date is early enough -- plant seeds directly into soil 4-6 weeks after last frost; they should germinate in about 5 days.

If your growing season is too short to plant very successfully from seed, you can either start them indoors 6-8 weeks before you intend to plant them or you can do what I do and buy starts at your local nursery. Tomatillo starts can be a little tricky to find -- my favorite nursery is one of the few places near my home that carries them. Then again, my mom found her tomatillo starts at Walmart this year, so maybe they're getting a little more common.

Tomatillos grow best in full sunlight and moist, fertile soil (I have yet to find a plant that doesn't like moist, fertile soil, but I'll mention it anyway).  I grow mine in terracotta pots on my patio, one tomatillo start to each 14" pot, planted in potting soil. This method has worked well for me every year I've grown them. You can also plant them in the ground in your garden, like you would with tomatoes. Water them regularly until they begin to fruit; you can cut back on the water then, but be careful not to let them become stressed.

Harvest & Storage
Harvest your tomatillos when the husk changes from green to tan, when the fruit is deep green and about the size of a walnut. The key is to harvest while they're green, before they turn yellow or purple.

For the best flavor, keep tomatillos in their husks until you're ready to use them. They'll keep in their husks in the refigerator for a couple weeks if stored in a paper bag. You can store them even longer if you remove the husks and refrigerate them -- up to three months, one site says.  You can also preserve them through canning (be sure to use a recipe formulated specifically for canning) and/or freezing. I froze a jar of my salsa verde last fall and just used some in a recipe for baked chicken taquitos (so good!) a couple weeks ago. 

Before using them, be sure to wash all the sticky stuff off the surface of the tomatillo. From there, you can prepare them according to any recipe you want to.  

Speaking of recipes, here's the recipe I used with my tomatillo crop last fall. It works well on its own with tortilla chips or in any recipe that calls for salsa verde. Not only is it delicious, but it's also really easy to make. The ingredients are simple and whole process only takes about a half-hour from start to finish.

Salsa Verde -- from a ripped out page of some past issue of Martha Stewart Living
Makes 4 cups

12 tomatillos (about 2 1/4 pounds), husks removed, rinsed well
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 ounces fresh cilantro (about 1/4 of a bunch), stems included
1  jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed and discarded (unless you want to keep some for extra heat)
1 small white onion, finely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil; add salt. Cook tomatillos until pale, about 5 minutes. Drain; cut each tomatillo into 4 wedges. Purée tomatillos, garlic, cilantro, jalapeño, and onion in a food processor.

Transfer tomatillo mixture to a medium stockpot. Bring to a simmer over low heat; cook until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.


Go find some tomatillos to grow -- it isn't too late to plant a few starts -- and enjoy the unique and delicious flavor of one of my garden favorites. Before long, you'll be dreaming of salsa right along with me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Random Reuse: The Cereal Box Guitar

It's been unseasonably cool and unusually rainy here, which has translated into more time spent inside than both me and my four-year-old son would like. As a result, I've been on the lookout even more than usual for any kind of creative activity for him. Plus, it warms my heart whenever he's working on something at his {messy} art desk.

Not too long ago, I came across the idea for a cereal box guitar on Pinterest. It was pinned from the blog, Made By Joel. I've since fallen in love with that blog and I highly recommend it to anyone who has any influence on children. It's full of awesome, creative ideas. Anyway, being the sucker I am for reusing things, my little guy and I gave the cereal box guitar a go.

To make this simple project, you'll need:
  • an empty cereal box
  • scissors (a craft knife is also useful, but I just used scissors)
  • rubber bands (as many as you like; we used three)
  • tape (we used masking, but you can use any kind you have)
  • paint, glue, and embellishments (optional but encouraged)  

To start, you'll need to trace a circle for the hole.  We used a canning jar, but you could also use any cup/glass.

Cut out the hole with scissors or a craft knife. As you can see, our edges weren't perfectly cut, but I don't think that really matters.

Cut the cut-out circle in half and tape it below the opening. This will keep the rubber bands from resting on the box. To prop it up away from the box, attach it with a thick loop or two of masking tape. You could also do what the tutorial instructed and use the other half of the circle cut-out by folding it and sticking it under the half-circle.

Now this step is optional, but Max had lots of fun painting his "guitar"...

...and gluing a few things to it. I think my favorite additions were the googly eyes and, of course, his name written on it.

Once the paint was dry, we slipped on the rubber band "strings".  To keep the sound from being too buzzy, the tutorial we followed suggested taping the strings down (as you can see above). 

Final step: rock out!  For our pick, we used a bread bag tab. You can also use part of the circle cut-out and fold it into a pick shape. At one point, Max used a colored pencil and dragged it across the "strings" like a violin. Often, the simplest things will get kids to be creative and keep them entertained. In this case, it only took an empty cereal box.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Adventures in Cloth Diapering: The First Two Months

If you'd told me almost a year ago, when I first learned I was expecting, that I was going to cloth diaper my baby, I wouldn't have believed you. I would have told you that I was frugal but not that frugal. My mom cloth diapered me and my brothers back in the 1980s and I've always considered her a sort of patient saint for doing it. Cloth diapers seemed good in theory but not worth the hassle. Plus, even if I wanted to, there was absolutely no way I would get my husband on board.

And now here I am, about to tell you all about what it's like to cloth diaper a newborn. Little baby Jonah is already two months old and quickly leaving the newborn phase. So, here's an overview of what worked, what didn't, what I would do differently, what I like, how my husband has fared, and all the other stuff in between.

{Note: I'm writing this assuming you know all the cloth diaper lingo. Cloth diapers have come a long way since our mothers and grandmothers used them. There are so many different types of diapers and accessories -- it can be overwhelming and confusing if you're not familiar with all of it. I will be writing more in-depth posts about cloth diapering in the future. For now, I'm just giving an insight into my routine and first-time experiences. Okay, moving on...}

The Gear

For the majority of the first two months, we used:
Quick Summary

We used disposable diapers for the first five or so days as we were busy adjusting to having a new baby in the house. We were sent home with tons of diapers from the hospital so we decided to use them.  After a few days (and with a little nervousness), we started using the cloth diapers during the day and the disposables at night. Once we ran out of the hospital and gifted disposables, I bought a package of them at the store. I was so tired at night and we were doing so many changes, it was just easier to do disposable. Once that small package of diapers ran out, I was starting to get the hang of it all, so we decided to go with cloth at night, too. 

During the day we use the prefolds and then the pocket diapers at night.  With the prefolds, we used the Snappi fasteners (they replace diaper pins and work sort of like an ace bandage clip does) to keep the diaper together under the cover; once Jonah got bigger and the prefolds were getting snug on him, we stopped using the Snappis and just used the cover to keep the prefold in place.

We haven't really used the diaper sprayer since it doesn't really do much with the...errrrr...consistency of newborn poo. The liners do really well catching most of it, so we just flush the soiled liners (wet liners can be washed and reused).  We've stopped using them, though, since the runny, seedy newborn poo just washes right out and there isn't much solid to catch. Ahhhh...a sure sign of parenthood: discussions about poo. 

When the diapers are wet and/or soiled, we spray them with Bac-Out (this helps with stains and odor) and stick them in the hanging laundry bag (we keep it on a hook on the bathroom door). I do a load of diapers just about every day. I rinse them in a cold or warm cycle, wash them with detergent and vinegar in hot wash/cold rinse cycle, and dry them in the dryer. It's been really rainy here so I haven't been able to use my clothesline all that much -- when I do, however, the sun magically removes any sign of stainage.

The Good

We bought all these diapers and accessories a few months before Jonah's arrival. Having spent a good amount of money getting all of our supplies, we were a little nervous that we'd hate it once we got started. Luckily, the transition to cloth hasn't been bad at all. Really. It's not nearly as hard, gross, or time-consuming as I thought it would be.  One day, as I was putting another load of diapers into the washing machine, my husband walked into the laundry room and said, "I honestly don't mind this."  We've both been surprised by how we've adjusted.

Our favorite diapers are the prefolds. This came as a huge surprise to us. I got them since they were so inexpensive (especially compared to the pocket diapers) and planned on using them during the day while Kevin was at work. When we'd discussed using cloth diapers initially, he agreed to it on the condition that we wouldn't use the prefolds.  Who would have thought that we'd both come to prefer them over the others? We've never had a leak with the prefold method. Not a single one. The Thirsties covers are great because they have double gussets at the legs that catch anything that leaks from the cloth. The prefolds are easy to clean and dry easily. I really like Green Mountain Diapers -- a review of their diapers to come in another post.

Other benefits: No diaper rashes (he only got them when we had him in the disposables at night). We haven't had to adjust our budget to cover diaper costs. When he pees or poops in a diaper ten minutes after we've changed him, I don't get that feeling like I've just wasted diaper. Plus, I feel all earth-friendly.

The Bad (or, at least, the most tiresome)

It's been a few years since we had a newborn in the house. I kind of forgot how much they pee and poo. With disposables, you go through plenty; cloth diapers have to be changed even more often. This translates to A LOT of diaper changes.

I'm not a huge fan of how bulky they are. They make getting pants on him a little harder (thankfully it's getting warmer and I can just put him in romper or a onesie without pants). It made his newborn-sized and 0-3 month clothes a little harder to fit. We've been putting him in 3-6 month clothes and the fit pretty well because of the diaper (and it doesn't hurt that he's a chunky baby -- as of this writing, he weighs in at over 13 lbs.). 

The Ugly

When we first decided to use cloth diapers, Kevin and I were sold on the pocket diapers. They seemed the easiest. The prefolds seemed like they would be a huge hassle -- the pocket diapers were the most like the disposables we were used to. Plus, I'd read some really good reviews about the Bummis Tinifit and Easy Fit diapers. They are well-made and wash really easily (the pocket insert is attached and comes out of the diaper by itself in the wash). So I shopped around and got some pretty good deals on them.  Still, they cost, on average, $12-15 a pop. I figured, though, that we would save the money and it was worth the expense. This is still true -- even if we went exclusively with pocket diapers, we'd still save a lot money.

However, the prefolds only cost $2 each AND we like them better. The pocket diapers, while nice enough, still leak if you don't change them in time. Like I mentioned earlier, we haven't had any leaks with the prefolds and covers. I like the pocket diapers for going out and they are easier to use in the middle of the night. For those reasons, I would still get a few of the pocket diapers, but not nearly as many, especially of the TiniFit ones.  Now that Jonah's bigger, we've started putting him in another brand of pocket diapers (along with the Easy Fit) I bought before we had him and we really like them, but, again, I wish I would have bought less of the more expensive pocket ones and bought more prefolds.

As of Now...

As Jonah has gotten bigger (and even cuter, I might add), we've had to order more prefolds in the next size up, the small size - I bought 10 of them, plus 3 Thirsties diaper covers (size small). The newborn prefolds fit for about six weeks. We got PLENTY of use out of them. He outgrew the TiniFit diapers around six or seven weeks, as well. We've started using the Bummis Easy Fit and Go Green Champ Diapers (reviews to come -- I really like the Champ diapers). During the day we use prefolds and we use the pocket ones at night.

The Verdict

Believe it or not, I prefer cloth.  If someone offered to give me disposables to use, I honestly would still go with the cloth. Granted, newborn diapers, though plentiful, are not very stinky and gross (breastfed baby poo doesn't even stink to me), so this could change as he gets bigger. For now, though, I like Jonah having cloth next to his skin instead of plastic. He hasn't had a diaper rash since we started using cloth exclusively. I like not throwing away hundreds of diapers and I LOVE not buying them every week. They take a little extra work and planning (as in, I have to carry arounda wet bag when we go out), but the savings and benefits make cloth diapering totally worth it to me.
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