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Monday, August 30, 2010

Cheap eat of the week & weekly meal planning

Meal planning single-handily saves us more money on grocery shopping than any coupon ever could.  I used to be a coupon junky too!   Saving $1.00 on anything used to give me a special thrill.

Knowing what we need for the full weeks prevents us from last minute trips to the grocery store.  The last minute trips used to include additional impulse buys that killed our bottom line.

We do eat a lot from our pantry, freezer, and weekly CSA farm box.  Our grocery bill from yesterday, including a dozen canning jars for more blackberry pancake syrup was $40.

Our meal plan this week:
Monday (meatless Mondays) - spaghetti, garlic bread, and cucumbers from our CSA box
Tuesday - turkey burgers on homemade buns, sweet potato fries, a veggie
Wednesday - Tofu scramble rice bowls.  SO yummy
Thursday - Buffalo chicken sandwiches from the crockpot
Friday - Black beans and rice (recipe below), and a side veggie.  Another crockpot recipe
Saturday - Pizza!  Pizza dough from the Kitchen Aid mixer, alfredo, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, bacon, and garlic
Sunday - family dinner at my parent's

Black beans & rice
I took this recipe, and adapted it.  I soaked 1 cup of  beans overnight, and only did about 2-3 cups of water in the crockpot.  I sauteed onion and garlic and added it to the mixture in the crockpot.  I included cumin and smoked paprika, and just let it sit for about 6 hrs.  Adding salt to beans while the cook is guarantee for tough beans.

Once everything was done, I added the salt, a can of tomatoes, and some diced bacon.  We did rice in the rice cooker made with chicken broth instead of water.  Paired the meal with homegrown zucchini marinated in Italian dressing and grilled on the BBQ.  We top the zuke with a little mozzarella just before serving.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Homemade ice cream

Homemade ice cream is easy peasy and so delish.  There are only a a few ingredients and steps you need to make cheap and additive-free ice cream at home.

Step 1 - find a good friend to give you their Kitchenaid Ice Cream maker that they got for their wedding 5 years ago and still had it in the box (gasp).

Step 2 - assemble your flavor choices.  For this post, I'm using chocolate chip mint as an example.

Step 3 - make it

Step 4 - freeze it

Step 5 - make out with the bowl

Ingredients (chocolate chip mint)
-2 cups of heavy cream (you can already tell this will be delicious)
-1 cup of milk (I use 1% organic)
-a gaggle* of mint leaves; I prefer spearmint
-3/4 cup of sugar
-4-6 egg yolks**
-a dash of vanilla.  I don't measure, so maybe 1 tsp?
-a grip of chocolate chips, diced

In a saucepan, whisk the egg yolks and sugar to combine.  Add the milk and cream, stir to combine.  Add the mint, and using a whisk or a potato masher, crush the mint while heating the mixture.  Do this for about 5 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until very cold.  Don't skip this step.  Trust me; I learned it the hard way on Friday.  Once it's very cold, strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove the mint leaves.  Take the leaves, and holding them above the milk mixture, squeeze the snot out of them.  Stir.

Turn on your ice cream mixer THEN slowly pour in the liquid ingredients.  Allow it to mix for about 15 minutes.  Once the ice cream is getting chunky, add the chocolate chips.  Mix for an additional 10-15 min.  Ice cream will still be fairly soft at this point.

Transfer ice cream to a freezer-proof container, and freeze until it's achieved the desired hardness.  About 6 hrs in our normal freezer makes it the consistency of store-bought ice cream.

*what do you call a bunch of mint leaves?  A herd?  A posse?
**yes, I said egg yolks.  Raw yolks in your uncooked food?!?!  Live a little.  Just don't use recalled eggs.  I buy mine from a local farmer at our farmer's market.  I trust her eggs.  Her chickens are good people

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Homemade laundry soap for pennies a load

About 3 weeks ago I got fed up with the detergent we were using.  Our clothes didn't smell clean and stains were not coming out. I won't call out the company that made the stuff, but let's just say the brand rhymes with tALL tree and tear. 

Now maybe you're saying that perhaps my clothes didn't smell clean because I was using a non-scented detergent.  Scented detergents do not get your clothes any cleaner - they simply mask any odors left on the clothes by the icky phosphate soap that damages water pipes and ecosystems.  Clean clothes should smell like nothing but air.  Remember being a kid and playing under the clothesline while sheets were drying?  THAT is the clean scent I'm talking about.

So, I went on to the interwebs to find a recipe to make my own.  A good friend of mine uses this recipe, but I didn't have a big enough container, or lets be honest - the patience to make a liquid.  I ended up using a recipe for powder, and so far it's working GREAT!  Our clothes smell super clean, stains are disappearing, and we're saving buco bucks.

Handmade Herbal Laundry Detergent

Approx 4 oz. grated soap (comes out to about a standard sized bar)
Postscript: I found that 2 cups of grated soap was the most effective
2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
1 cup baking soda
essential oils (optional)
Normal loads use 1TBSP - 1/4 cup.  I've been using about 1/8 cup with great results.

I used this bar soap (much cheaper at Target and my local grocery) and grated it in a cheese grater.  That definitely took the longest cause my wimp-ass arms kept tiring out!

When my parents moved out of their house they owned for about 19 years, my sis and I had 27 hrs to pack them up and get them moved.  While packing up their bathroom closet, we found a little box full of tiny bits of discarded bar soap that looked like it had been hidden away by a family of cheap squirrels.  THIS would be a great use for those nubs for additional savings.

Borax and washing soda can be tricky to find, but I found them in the laundry aisle at our Fred Meyer grocery store (Fred Meyer is owned by Kroger, so if you have a Kroger or a Ralph's, you may be able to find it). 

Because we have sensitive skin in our house, I decided to not use essential oils.  Instead I used homemade scented baking soda to add a little natural fragrance to our laundry.

Costs (be impressed, I don't just "do" math for anyone)
-Bar of soap - $3 (5 oz)
-20 Mule Team Borax - $2.79 for 76 oz = $.0367 per oz
-Arm & Hammer Washing Soda - $3.29 for 55 oz = $.059 per oz
-Arm & Hammer baking soda - $5 for 12 lbs (192 oz) = $.026 per oz

Costs per batch - note the interwebs say 1 cup = 8 oz
-Soap - $3 (could find this cheaper for sure)
-Borax - $.587
-Washing Soda - $.957
-Baking Soda - $.208
Total: $4.752

If I'm using 1/8 of a cup (1 oz) per load, that works out to $.1056/$.11 a load.  Had I used my parent's creepy doomsday soap, it would be $.0383/$.04 per load.

Compared to tALL tree and tear, where I was paying $.249 per load, that is a damn good savings!  Plus, I'm keeping waste out of the landfills, and chemical crap out of the waterstream.

Making laundry soap isn't going to make you a millionaire, but I'll just reiterate when you're watching your budget, every penny can make a difference.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Diaper pail deodorant cakes

For my sis.

Ingredients-baking soda
-essential oils (again, I like the peppermint)
-muffin tins and papers. Don't worry, no muffin tops needed for this recipe
-filtered or distilled water. Don't have distilled water? Bring water to a boil and let it rest for a few hours - voila, distilled water.

I don't measure when I cook, but use small amounts otherwise you'll get a shit ton of these things. Pour water (1/2 cup ish?) in a bowl, add 5-however many you want drops of essential oils, and add baking soda until it makes a really really thick paste/putty.

Put in muffin papers in muffin tins and let harden overnight. When they're dry, they'll resemble a white hockey puck.

That's it. Simple. Cheap. And easy. Just like some girls I knew in high school. Who said that?

Cheap-o but effective surface spray

I use this stuff for all surfaces except for marble (cause I don't have any, but it wouldn't be good for it anyway) and mirrors. Not sure about granite either.

All purpose-surface cleaner
-1 spray bottle. Spend a little bit more money and get an industrial strength one. Something like this. I've had ours for years. Before that I was replacing them every few months.
-White vinegar. Buy it at a bulk store for the cheapest rates. We get ours at Costco - 2 gallons for like $4.50.
-Dish soap. I hope you already have this...
-Essential oils. I like Plant Life oils because they're really well-made, and inexpensive. Essential oils are a little bit of an up-front investment, but they last forever. I've had the same bottle of Sweet Orange for maybe 2+ years. Any essential oil should work, but stuff that is a bit more cheaply made might require more product to achieve the desired scent. Tea Tree oil has great anti-bacterial qualities, but I can't get past the fact that is smells like Sasquatch's balls.

Fill half of your bottle with water, and half with vinegar. Put 10-20 drops of dish soap in. I usually add the dish soap after the water and vinegar so that the top of my bottle isn't just full of suds. Then put as many drops of essential oils as you'd like on top of the dish soap. Shake, and use as needed.

Now a few things to note - a weaker essential oil scent won't be great for masking the vinegar smell. Vinegar will dissipate about 10 min after you use it as long as you aren't using straight vinegar. Worst case scenario, your house smells like you douched it for a few hrs.

I like a combo scent of sweet orange, lemon, and grapefruit. Right now I'm digging peppermint.

We have two 12-pack of washcloths from Target that we use like bleach wipes. We use them once or twice, then throw them in the wash pile. We use old cut up towels for bathroom cleaning so that we're not mixing poo germs with pho.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Saving ~ $100 a year on haircuts

And no, my tip isn't to cut your own hair. I cut the boy's hair, but for my own I need a professional, thankyouverymuch.

I have fairly short hair that is very fine. I enjoy getting my hair did, but found that I was going every 2 months -at $40 a pop - including tip. When I stepped back to figure out why I thought I needed a haircut every 2 months, I discovered that I truly didn't need a HAIRCUT that often, I needed a neck trim.

Because my hair is shorter, I live in constant fear of the back growing more quickly than the front resulting in a mullet. Mullets aren't sexy. You didn't know? Well, they're not.

So now, I get my hair cut 3 times a year instead of 6, and a neck trim 3 times a year.

Let's run the numbers:
6 haircuts a year= $240 including tip
3 haircuts a year= $120 including tip
Savings= $120
3 neck trims a year $30
Total spent= $150
Total yrly savings= $90

When you take in to account time and gas, it works out to around $100 a year. $100 extra a year may not seem like gettin' rich money, but when you're watching your pennies it's a start.

8/16 update - I saw a new lady at my normal salon and she said that she includes neck trims for free to her clients. So, I'm switching to her and increasing my savings!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Simple & cheap bathroom scrub

Sick of paying for a bathroom tile scrub? Hate the fumes? Well, sit right down and I'll share a little secret with you. Ready? Most "eco-friendly" bathroom scrubs that cost $5 for a small 50% baking soda.

"SHUT UP", you say.

"I will NOT", I say.

"But why have I been spending all that money when I could get a 12 lb bag of baking soda at Costco for under $7", you say.

"Cause you're an idiot", I say. Wait, I wouldn't say that. Scratch that.

Anyhoo, this weekend I made some stupidly cheap toilet scrub using my kiddo's leftover snack and some crap in my cupboard. I gave Jack some orange this weekend, and rather than composting the peel, I threw it in to a little plastic container. I filled the container with baking soda, shook it for 5 minutes while Jack danced (seriously) to the shaking sound, and then let it sit for a few hrs.

Fast forward a few hours - remove the peel and leave the lid off overnight, and voila, orange scented bathroom scrub for pennies.

-when cleaning tubs, showers, or sinks, squirt some dish soap on the surface and sprinkle the baking soda on. Rub in to make a paste, leave for a few minutes, and rinse with warm water. I don't recommend this for general surface (counters, etc) cleaning. I'll post my surface cleaning solution at a later time.
-sprinkle in your toilet and add vinegar. Make volcanoes in the toilet that doesn't require a trip to Taco Bell! Scrub with a toilet brush, and leave for 20-30 min. Flush
-deposit your savings in the bank, or buy me some flowers!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to make vanilla extract at home

*warning, without giving anything away, if you normally receive a Christmas present from me, don't attempt this at home...cause then you are a Grinch and will ruin Christmas for me.

Saturday Jack and I made homemade vanilla extract. It was extremely easy (start to finish it took 10 minutes), and I'm looking forward to testing the results when it's ready in 8-12 weeks!

The process is says the person who doesn't know what it taste like yet.


-vanilla beans. Don't get the old crummy expensive ones from the store. These are lovely, had free shipping, and were shipped extremely quickly. And they made my mailbox smell heavenly.
-vodka or bourbon. Note if you don't drink, visiting a liquor store is like a foreign experience. I told a Jewish friend of mine that it would be like if she visited the bacon store.

Step 1 - assemble your beans and kitchen shears, or a sharp knife (paring knife would be great):
Step 2 - cut vanilla bean in half, leaving about 1/2-1 inch at the top intact. They're easier to cut than it looks like. The consistency is similar to that of a pepperoni stick:
Step 3 - find a glass jar with a secure lid. I used a quart sized canning jar. Fold the beans in to the jar:
Step 4 - pour 2 cups (for every 6 vanilla beans) of your choice of liquor in to jar:
Step 5 - put lid on jar, and shake a few times.
Store in a cool, dry place for 8-12 weeks. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the vanilla flavor will be. Shake the jars every few days to speed the process.
When ready to give as gifts (hypothetically speaking of course), pour in to individual bottles. I found a great deal on this site. As you use the extract, replace with a little bourbon or vodka, and the beans should last for a few years.
And now you have a lovely gift, that is frugal to give, and isn't full of additives and high fructose corn syrup.
Step 6 - ask your personal assistant to upload photos on to your blog:
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New blog, same me

I'm starting a new blog in addition to Jack's blog to have a separate space to talk about my homemade stuff and dirty hippy ways.

Most people who go to Jack's blog to view photos of my insanely adorable child don't give a tinker's damn about making granola bars. Hence the separate blogs!

Hope you chose to follow this one, and that you also enjoy it.
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