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Friday, December 31, 2010

So long 2010. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Also known as my "2011 Goals" post.

2010 sucked hardcore for me. It was the skidmark on an otherwise pretty good decade. A decade that saw me graduate from college, get married, work at the coolest job in the entire world for 4 years, travel overseas, and give birth to my sweet baby boy, ended with a shitty bang. Eight months of the last year of the decade saw our income cut by 40%, brought about a career change that has cost us an obsene amount of money, but won't maybe prove fruitful for another 1-2 years, and caused me to be a single parent many nights a week.

2010 caused me to question my faith in god, my own mental strength, and the idea that hard work produces good results. There was probably a 2 month period in the summer where I literally lost hope and just gave up.

2010 can suck it as far as I am concerned.

So, 2011, I have high hopes for you. I have a lot riding on you. Let me down, and I'll give you a swift kick to the britney.

2011 is the year I:
  • learn to use a sewing machine
  • learn to relax attempt to sit on the couch for more than 15 min a night without folding laundry, hanging up laundry on drying racks, stuffing cloth diapers, reading magazines on how to save money, or knitting homemade Christmas gifts
  • knit something more than a really big glorified scarf. My baby blankets? Huge scarves.
  • grow lettuce. Seriously? I live in a pretty mild climate and have a wonderful garden and yet I can't freaking grow lettuce! What gives?
  • increase our already somewhat comfortable emergency fund. For 2012 will bring with it 10 weeks without our 2nd already small income.
  • sell our property. We bought it in 2007 when times were better and we anticipated that we would move back to Washington and start building within a year. Two years in our return, we're hanging on by our fingernails a lot of time. We most certainly can't afford to build because we have to live someplace during the build. Rent + mortgage does not = a happy budget.
  • find a small part-time job I could do at home. Something like bookkeeping for 10 hrs a week.
  • finally conquer my fear and just go ahead and make my own mayo
  • employ a math professional to figure out the exact quantity of strawberry jam I need to keep my family happy for 12 months. Those calculations are beyond my state school abilities.
  • sleep
Wishing you and your family a very happy and very frugal New Years!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The grocery budget. I'll show you mine if you show me yours

People in this country are too afraid to talk about money.  Money is a taboo topic that should never be discussed with your kids until they go off to college, sign up for a credit card to get a free t-shirt, get massively in to debt, then later purchase a home with a 3 year ARM and balloon payment.  Hmmmm...how is that working out for us as a society?

So, in the spirit of being transparent, I'll share my grocery budget with you.  I would love to see yours, so please feel free to post a comment!

Each paycheck I head to Fred Meyer (where I do the majority of my non-bulk grocery shopping) and put $125 on their store giftcard.  That is my limit until I get paid 15 days later.  Fred Meyer is the PNW version of Super Wal-Mart and Target.  They have groceries, a fantastic natural foods section, and housewares.  I prefer to buy our toiletries like shampoo or razors from Target as they are generally cheaper, but FM will work in a pinch.

They often have great stock up sales as well, so I've been known to blow my budget if the perfect opportunity arises.  The Seventh Generation powder dishwasher detergent sale of November nearly sent me over the edge.  The boxes ordinarily sell for $4.79.  They were 50% off and each had a $1.00 off coupons attached to it.   The idea of paying $1.40 for an item that was originally $4.79 sent my frugal heart a racin'!  Jack could build epic forts out of the amount of dishwasher detergent I have in my garage right now.

So, for 1 month I have $250 to spend on fruits and veggies (if not purchased via the farmer's market in season), canned goods, pasta, beans, etc etc.  Soda is a treat in our house and purchased when Hansens is on sale.

Our monthly supply of milk, eggs, buttermilk, and cream (for homemade ice cream baby!) runs about $30 a month.

Meat from our butcher runs about $30 a month.  It's been known to be higher if I get bacon horny.

Flour for homemade bread, rolls, and biscuits is probably $15 a month.  A relative bargain considering how much freaking bread we eat in our house.  We're a family of carbovores!

Costco runs between $0-$75 a month.

What you don't see on our monthly budget is laundry detergent, surface cleaner, or bathroom cleaner.  The reason for this is that I make all those products for pennies!  We also don't drink alcohol.

So, let's run the numbers!  We're paying on average $325-$400 a month for groceries and household supplies.  When you consider that we're a family of 3 (one with very expensive food allergies) about 75% of what we eat is organic, and probably 35% is local, it's not too bad.  We definitely have months where it is MUCH lower, and other months where it nears the high end of the spectrum.  Additionally, because there is always good food in the house, we almost NEVER dine out.  Maybe once a month we get teriyaki from a local place.

In coming months, the expenditures will likely shrink by $35-50 a month.  My sweet little toddler with the dairy allergy is a soy yogurt-aholic running us almost $2.14 a day.  My wonderful parents bought me a yogurt maker for Christmas, so I will be making my own!  Jack's coconut milk is often on sale, so I can very easily make a few week's supply of yogurt for my little healthy bacteria fiend for $3.00.

If could get my lovely and darling husband to cut out his disgusting granola bar, Pop Tart, and snack habit, we could cut another 5% off the bottom line.  I've tried, trust me.  That's another conversation for another day.

So, how about you?  What does your grocery budget look like?  Are you comfortable with what you spend, or is there room for improvement?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bulk buying

When most people hear "buying in bulk" they picture the madhouse of Costco warehouses.  People knocking each other over with massive carts, buying 5 gallon drums of mayo, and stabbing each other over free samples of chicken tenders.  True, that is the Costco experience I had when we lived in Los Angeles, but not all "bulk" buying money needs to be spent at Costco.  We are Costco members, but do a fair share of bulk purchasing locally.

We purchase 90% of our meat from a local butcher.  They raise the animals on their farm that is about 5 miles from the store (and maybe 6.5 miles from my house).  Prices are very reasonable and competitive with grocery stores.  The farm is not certified organic, but they don't use growth hormones or antibiotics.  Most of the animals are grainfed, but you can pay $.40 a lb extra for grass fed.

I love purchasing my meat from them because I'm able to keep my dollars in my community and support a local business.  Additionally, I'm not paying huge mark ups to cover the cost of shipping and GMO feed.  I can also drive by the farm and see the animals in the field.  They're out grazing and relaxing in the sunshine...ok lets be honest I'm near Seattle.  The animals are chilling in the rain much of the time.  BUT, they're not confined to tiny pens and mistreated.  Before shopping at their store, I had pretty much stopped buying beef because of all the horrendous conditions that cows in CAFO are subjected to.

At the very heart of the matter is the fact that their meat simply tastes better.  Their bacon is the bacon that dreams are made of.  Their beef, pork, and chicken taste ridiculously fresh, and have greatly improved the tastes of my dishes.  They make their own jerky, sausage, and pepperoni that is to die for.

They offer shares of cows and pigs (you pay a flat fee for a whole, half, or quarter of an animal.  They butcher and package it for you), or freezer packages.  We purchase the 25 pound freezer package of beef and couldn't be happier.  A regular 25 lb package is $119.90.  I pay $129.90 ($5.196 per pound) for grass fed cuts.  There are multiple cuts of steaks, roasts, and some ground beef.  If you can go to the supermarket  purchase grass fed local steaks for $5.196 a pound, I'm moving to your city!

We treat meat as an accompaniment to a meal, but rarely the main attraction (exceptions are pot roast, burgers, me eating an entire pound of bacon for shits and giggles, etc).   Incorporating meat in to our dishes such as lentil soup, or spicy tofu bowls allows us to get the protein and taste from the meat without spending a ton of cash on big "chunks".  It stretches the grocery budget, and let's be honest, it's much healthier.

Eggs & milk are purchased through our milkman.  They offer certified organic milk, but we actually purchase their regular milk as the cows are not treated with rBST or other chemicals.  The milk and eggs are from sources within 60 miles of my house.  Delivery is free, and they guarantee that all products that are sent to your house have been produced within the last 72 hours.  Their prices are also comparable to the grocery store.  And my milkman gave us a Christmas card.  When is the last time your supermarket milk came with holiday wishes?

I stress bake (thankfully I don't stress eat, or I would be enormous), and 2010 has been the most stressful year of my adult life.  There have been times that I've gone through 20 lbs of flour in a weekend.  I purchase my flour through Central Market (a Towne & Country market).  If you do a bulk purchase through them you receive 10% off your total purchase.  I also purchase my favorite organic hand sanitizer through them for bulk discounts.

Honey is purchased at our local butcher's and is produced about 2 miles from my house.  It's $10 for a quart sized jar (think mayo sized jar).  For comparison, the little bear full of honey at the supermarket that isn't actually legally required to be pure honey is about $4 for 6 oz.  My beekeeper (yep, she is mine) is the cutest woman ever.  She recently told me if I need to get more honey and the butcher is closed, to just stop by her house and help myself.  There is a jar to put the money in.  Oh and she is like 80 and has an British accent.  I mean, really.  Adorable. 

Other items that are always kept in large supply at our house:
-Toilet paper (Costco)
-Organic canned tomatoes (depends)
-Diced chilies for my tortilla soup (will post that recipe later) (Fred Meyer)
-Recycled paper towels (I can't get Troy to break the habit, but constantly nagging has proved successful in lowering consumption) (Costco)
-Organic black beans (depends, but always purchased in bulk and stored in mason jars)
-Organic Whole Wheat spaghetti (whomever has the sale!)
-Spaghetti sauce (ingredients purchased at Costco, made by me in the crockpot, and stored in small containers in our garage freezer)
-Mozzarella cheese (have yet to find a good source of organic mozzarella cheese that doesn't require me to sell a kidney to afford it) (Costco)
-Jars of applesauce, apple butter, pears, and peaches (canned by yours truly.  Produce purchased via a local broker)
-5 lb bags of organic potatoes and onions (Fred Meyer)
-4 gallons of distilled water.  I hate bottled water, but it's imperative that you have some stored for emergencies.

In keeping a lot of non perishable/slow to perish staples in our house, we're rarely at a loss for meals.  If the zombies attacked tomorrow (oh, the day is coming my friends), I feel comfortable that we would survive thanks to my food storage and our research.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Real Food. Why I made the switch

I always did my best to eat well, but we consumed A LOT of packaged/convenience foods prior to 2009.  The turning point came for me when my little toeheaded baby was diagnosed with "milk protein induced Colitis" when he was 14 weeks old.  Basically it's a fancy medical way of saying he would poop blood if I ate dairy.

Within about 5 days of cutting dairy out of my diet, my infant changed from a GERDy devil baby who constantly cried and made me realize why there are posters in labor rooms reminding you not to shake your baby, to a happy and funny little ducky.

Before I cut out dairy:




After:


Ahhhh, what a peaceful difference.

Later on, we realized he was also allergic to wheat. 

Jack had only my breastmilk (and homemade baby food) for the first year of his life, so I was unable to eat anything he was allergic to.  As a dairy FIEND, that was one of the hardest things I've been through.  While looking for food to cook for our family, I realized that EVERYTHING processed has dairy or wheat in it.  Part of it is because our own government subsidizes commodities to the point where they are so cheap that manufacturers put them in everything (be strong Sarah, stay off that soapbox).

After being faced with spending $15 for special version of my favorite foods, I realized that making my own is not only cheaper, but much more healthy for us. 

Today, Jack's dairy allergy has eased up a bit, and he's outgrown the wheat allergy, but my dedication to whole real foods has remained strong.  It's not a gimmick or a trend for is.  It is a lifestyle.

So, why should you chose real whole food for YOUR family?

Because, real food makes snowmen happy:
It makes our tummies swing (forgive me, I needed an appropriate tie in to this adorable photo):
It's more delicious than sand:
And studies show that families that eat real food are much more glamorous than their processed-food eating counterparts:
This is science people.  You can't argue with it!

Meal planning -whatcha eatin' and when

I've mentioned a few times about how meal planning has been instrumental in being able to eat good food at a low price.  Much more so than couponing and watching the sales, meal planning keeps us on budget without sacrificing my goals for us to eat as much organic and/or local food as possible.

In addition to making sure we eat quality food, meal planning has allowed me to work full time and serve a nourishing meal to my family.  I have about 20-30 min each night to prepare dinner, so good planning is key.  We don't have the financial resources to buy takeout when I don't feel like cooking, and besides, most takeout food is low-quality and stuff I don't feel comfortable feeding our family.

With meal planning, I go against the grain and don't first search the sales and then plan around that.  We buy so much in bulk, that typically I'm just purchasing fresh fruits and veggies and some odds and ends most weeks.  Buying produce in season keeps the grocery budget trim, and ensures that you're not eating berries that have been gassed in Ecuador to produce a bright color and shipped 1,500 miles to your market.

I have a simple powerpoint calendar printout that I keep on our fridge that shows the weekly dinner menu.  Lunches are almost always leftovers from the night before.  Breakfast for me is 2 slices of homemade bread (1 with homemade apple butter, and the other with peanut butter and local honey).  Troy typically has an egg sandwich, and Jack prefers soy yogurt or homemade applesauce, some fruit, and one of momma's homemade "cakies" (buttermilk pancakes) from the freezer.

As we run out of stuff throughout the week, we note it on a dry erase board on the fridge.  Saturday I sit down and make a grocery list based on the board, and anything else we need for the week.  I stick to the list 90% of the time and that saves us huge bucks.  If I see a wicked sale on something I can't pass up, I'll deviate from the plan a bit.

Many people prefer to make a weekly meal plan, but not assign a "day" to that meal.  I have to assign a day because I do all my prep for the week on the weekends, or in the evenings.  Time is simply a precious resource that is nonrenewable for me.

Before meal planning, I was running to the store multiple times a week and spending way too much money.  Troy and I were also constantly fighting about who was cooking dinner, what was for dinner, and would we have enough.  I can't recommend good planning highly enough!  If you think it's too stringent for your lifestyle, try it out for 2 weeks.  If you hate it, you can always just go back to the way that works best for you.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday tip, and a recipe

I work about 45-50 hours a week, and with daycare drop off and traffic, I commute about 1-1.5 hours a day.  I am a real-life example that it's totally possible to serve your family real food while working and being on a strict budget.  How do I do it?  A few things:

1) Meal plan.  Meal plan.  Meal plan.  For reals people, meal planning saves us so much money.  I'll do a post on that on another day.
2) Stock up on good deals!  Another post for another day.
3) Prep for the week.  Whether you do it all on one day, or the night before, food prep saves the evening for actual cooking.
And #4 is also my weekly tip - embrace your crockpot! Crockpots are a great way to make a delicious home cooked meal without slaving away over your stove or oven for hours.  I use the crockpot at least twice per week to prepare healthful and yummy meals for my little family.  Tonight, we're dining on lentil soup - YUM!  Surprisingly, my 20 month old toddler loves this recipe.

I have two crockpots.  My 7 quart beast (mine actually says Rival, but it is the exact same thing) which we call the Duggar Family Crockpot.  This size is great for bigger families, or when you want to make enough to freeze for other meals.  I also have a 4 quart cutie that I use for certain recipes.

Lentil soup a'la Sarah (bear with me.  I don't measure).
This in my 7 quart one so that we have leftovers for 2 lunches tomorrow
-12 ish cups of beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
-A handful of potatoes, carrots, celery (or whatever veggies you want) diced in to small pieces
-1 small onion diced
-half of a bag of lentils (rinse prior to putting in)
-garlic, salt, pepper, parsley to taste.  I also usually splash in a bit of smoked paprika for flavor
-put on low for 8-9 hrs, and walk away
-prior to serving, I like to crumble up a little bit of ham or bacon for added flavor

We usually pair this with my homemade bread turned garlic bread or rolls, or no knead bread.

Let's run the numbers!
-12 cups of organic beef broth (I use Better than Bouillon Organic from Costco): $1.00
-half bag of organic lentils - $.50
-organic veggies - ~$1.00 (I buy in bulk)
-spices - ~$.10
-ham - free.  Leftovers from my parent's Christmas ham!
Total: $2.60
It will make 6 servings +, so $.43 per serving!
12/28 edit: it made 10 servings, so that brings it down to $.26 per serving!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tip of the week!

3 weeks in a row.  Look at me go!

My tip for this week is that BYOS (bringing your own stuff) helps reduce waste and can even save you a little bit of money!

For example, bringing my own bags to the market gets me $.05 off my total order per bag.  I usually save about $.20 per shopping trip.  At 1 trip per week, that's a $10 per year savings.  And it's no longer just the grocery stores that do it!  About six months ago, Target started offering a $.05 reward per bag!  I'd like to think that my constant request of this while filling out online Target surveys helped a little bit!

Most stores sell their own bags for about $1.  Thrift stores and even looking around the house will often yield cheap or free bags to use.  I always have 2-3 bags in my car, and keep a Chico bag in my purse at all times so I'm never without.  I try to never return home from any form of shopping trip with additional plastic or paper bags.  Cause let's be honest, what really happens to all those plastic bags we bring home?

Another benefit to bringing your own bag is that they're MUCH stronger than paper or plastic bags so you can put a ton more stuff in them.  When I'm grocery shopping with Jack, I don't have a lot of free hands to unload bags.  Knowing I can reduce my trips between the car and our apartment helps immensely!

If you're a coffee drinker, bringing your own cup could net you a tiny savings as well.  Big chain stores like Starbucks give a $.10 per cup savings.  Smaller independently owned shops give a discount of up to $.25 per cup!

We rarely eat out at restaurants, but when we do I always wish I brought my own Tupperware to take leftovers home in.  This will go on my goals for next year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Homemade chicken nuggets

Fast food nuggets creep me out, so I have abstained for quite a while now.  The no nugget streak ended last night thanks to Baked Chicken Nuggets from Allrecipes.com.  Seriously allrecipes.com I need some ad sponsorship or something from all this linkage I do! :-D

The nuggets were good, but I wouldn't count them as "great", but that is probably my fault.  I left the salt out of the recipe thinking it wasn't needed and for once in my life, I was wrong (it was a shock to everyone else too, trust me).

Ingredients

3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (I used local free-range chickens from our local butcher and holy hell, yum!)
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs (I used panko)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt (essential)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (next time I would do garlic and parsley instead)
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/2 cup butter, melted (I soaked the chicken in buttermilk for about an hour and then dipped it in to the breadcrumbs.  No butter was needed)

Directions

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
2.Cut chicken breasts into 1 1/2 inch size pieces. In a medium bowl Ziploc, mix together the bread crumbs, cheese, salt, thyme and basil. Mix well. Put melted butter/margarine in a bowl or dish for dipping.
3.Dip chicken pieces into the melted butter/margarine first, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Place well coated chicken pieces on a lightly greased cookie sheet in a single layer, and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.   I needed almost twice this amount before the chicken was no longer pink.  Also, I lined the baking sheet with foil and then put a wire rack on the cookie sheet (and then Pam'ed the hell out of it).  I flipped the nuggets after 10 min so that 1 side wouldn't get too brown.

Overall, they were fine, and very easy.  They paired well with my homemade ranch and homemade honey mustard.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Homemade ranch dressing!

We're not big salad eaters, but Troy usually likes to have ranch on hand for various occasions.  After spending $3 on a bottle of Hidden Valley (and then looking at the creepy ingredient list), I knew there had to be a better way.  Thankfully that coincided with me accidentally ordering too much buttermilk from our milkman last week.  Note to self: a pint is the small one.  Quarts are MUCH bigger.

Per usual, I headed to allrecipes.com* and typed in "ranch dressing".  After searching through various options, I selected Ranch Dressing II to try.  I made it early Saturday morning and put it in a small mason jar in the fridge to allow the flavors to blend.  Within about 5 hours, it tasted pretty much like Hidden Valley ranch!  As written, the recipe works best as a dip.  My recommendations/recipe edits are below:

Ingredients


1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream  (I used about 3/4 cup of buttermilk instead because I wanted it to be more of a dressing than a dip.  And um, I had buttermilk.  And sour cream is icky)
1/2 teaspoon dried chives
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed (use WAY less.  I love dill, but even using about 1/4 tsp was too much)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (use a smidgeon more)
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

1.In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, chives, parsley, dill, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.
 
 
 
Let's run the numbers:
  • Mayo - $3 for a big jar, and I used a cup, so $.45?  One of these days I'm going to make my own mayo.  It's on the list!
  • Buttermilk - My milkman had it on sale for $1.39 for a quart.  There are 4 cups in a pint, so $.35
  • Herbs - ballpark, I'm guessing $.15 for everything?
Total spent on dressing: $.95

Hidden Valley, you can suck it.  Not only did I make my own dressing that is just as good as yours, but mine is way cheaper and free of icky stuff:
Vegetable oil, egg yolk, sugar, salt, buttermilk, spices, garlic, onion, vinegar, phosphoric acid, xanthan gum, modified food starch, MSG, artificial flavors, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid, calcium disodium EDTA, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate

Mmmm, MSG and disodium phosphate anyone?  Just like grandma used to make it!  When I went to spell check this post, the only thing the dictionary didn't recognize was the ingredient list from Hidden Valley.  That's telling you something!

*I receive no compensation for talking about this website.  It just rocks my world and I thought you guys should know!

Vanilla extract - 4 months later

In August, I did a post on how to make vanilla extract from scratch.

This weekend, I took it out of my professionally installed root cellar and cold storage carport garage to test it out.  I can't say I've ever actually tasted pure vanilla extract that wasn't mixed into something, so I'm not sure how it compares.  It still tastes a bit like bourbon, but the vanilla flavor is really strong.  I used it in my peppermint brownies this weekend, and everything tasted just fine.

I had little labels made via VistaPrint (ALWAYS google a coupon for this site.  ALWAYS), and I know it's dorky, but I LOVE my vanilla bottles (it says Three Cooks In the Kitchen):
Please enjoy the background scenery of Jack's cloth diaper inserts drying on our drying rack.

Ok, so let's do the math!
1/2 lb of Vanilla beans (54 beans @ $26.99 is ~$.50 per bean.  I used 12 total for this) $6
1 big bottle of bourbon - $25
40 Bottles - $28
Labels - $12
Total: $71
Price per bottle: $1.77
Cost of "real" vanilla extract at the grocery store ~$5 or $6

I bought two $10 bottles of cheap vodka and am already brewing my next batch in my laboratory ghetto pantry/linen closet!

Monday tip of the week!

Two weeks in a row!  Look at me!  This week's tip is giving you a random use for something that typically just gets thrown away.

When you're baking this holiday season and using butter (cause it's delicious), save the stick wrapper.  I have a Ziploc in my fridge full of them.  Then, when a recipe calls for a pan to be greased, you can use the little wrapper and the residual butter flecks to grease up the pan.  It works - I swear!

Friday, December 10, 2010

My core beliefs on food

  1. You don't have to be rich to live richly.
  2. Processed "convenience" foods are making the US an extremely unhealthy society.  Replace the boxed meals with REAL FOOD.
  3. Sometimes, no matter how much you enjoy cooking from scratch, sometimes you need to eat a Costco dog.  That is OK.  They are delicious. See #4.
  4. Most things in moderation.  We're all just doing the best we can.
  5. It is 100% possible to work full time and serve your family real, whole foods made from scratch.  It just takes some planning, a good extra freezer, and a crockpot.
  6. Any food you buy that has a claim of "we've added x in for your health" isn't healthy.  It means they took the good stuff out when processing it and then had to add it back in.  Soda with antioxidants is NOT going to prevent you from getting sick.  Nor is a PopTart "now with 8 g of fiber" a healthy snack.  Sorry Troy.
  7. Baking and cooking can be therapeutic.
  8. When you're completely out of ideas for meals - the answer is always eggs.
  9. Bacon was invented by all the gods of all world religions combined.  It is truly a holy meat.
  10. Everyone should work in food service for 1 week.  You'll get a whole new appreciation on what a bunch of assholes we are as a society.
  11. Pass me those peanut butter cups.  Not the crappy Reese ones. I want the Nestle Treasures.  Oh wait, we're supposed to boycott them because of their business practices?  Crap.  These jerks make some good candy.
  12. Movie theater popcorn could be the cause of the Louisiana oil spill and I would still eat it gladly.  I know it's terrible and full of crap.  See #3 & #4
  13. Try at least twice to make your own bread.  You'll be hooked. (har har)
  14. I'm all for living simply and the back to the land/grow your own movement.  But I must be allowed my Kitchen Aid and crockpot in your hippy utopia.  It's a deal-breaker for me.
  15. Who was the jackass who decided Jell-o pudding pops were no longer a viable product?  Bring them back!
  16. I'm not sure how, but I know the answer to world peace involves butter.
  17. Once a month try to make something new.  Try making a product that you've always bought (like bread, or dressing, or graham crackers) from scratch.  At least 50% of the time I'm sure you will find it's much easier than you expected.  And the taste is almost always better.
  18. The secret ingredient in the food that I made and you're in love with?  Probably dill.
  19. I'd rather club a baby seal than give up pizza. 
  20. We cannot legislate ourselves out of the current processed food mess we're in.  Making McDonalds illegal will not solve the obesity crisis.  Making good fresh food available to everyone is the answer.  Food deserts in low-income neighborhoods is criminal.
  21. Preparing and eating dinner as a family is a wonderful way to connect with the people you care about.  Please turn off the TV and talk.  You may just find those texting strangers in your house are pretty cool.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday tip of the week

I'm going to start posting 1 frugal tip a week every Monday.  Let's see if I can keep this up for more than 3 weeks in a row!

This week's tip: spices.  My sister shared this tip with me a few years ago, and it's genius I tell you!  When you've run out of spices, skip the expensive spice aisle and head to the bulk section.  By bulk section, I mean the part of the store with big bins of things - not necessarily Costco or Sam's Clubs.  In the Northwest, Fred Meyer and Town & Country Stores (Central Market) are awesome resources.  For anyone close to a big city, Whole Foods should have this as well.

This weekend I needed more celery seed.  It's hard to find in the spice aisle and if you can find it, it is about $6 for a small bottle.  I bought half of a small ziploc bag full for $.31.  I'm not mathematician, but those are good savings!  And I swear they taste fresher.

We also use a lot of sesame oil for cooking stir fry and hummus.  A 7.5 oz bottle was $4 at my local market.  Central Market on the other hand has sesame oil in bulk (who knew?!).  I got 16 oz plus a new squeeze bottle for $6.50.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mmmmmm, a cheap, easy, and healthy dinner? Sign me up! (But Amy don't read this)

Bacon pierogi bake from Cooking Light - yummers!  But mine sure didn't look that pretty.

Ingredients


1 (16-ounce) package frozen potato and onion pierogies (such as Mrs. T's)
Cooking spray
2 center-cut bacon slices, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup (3 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/2 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup thinly diagonally sliced green onions
1/4 cup chopped seeded plum tomato
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Preparation


1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Arrange the pierogies in an 11 x 7-inch glass baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cook bacon in a saucepan over medium heat until crisp; remove from pan. Set aside.


3. Add garlic to drippings in pan, and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add 1/3 cup cream cheese to pan, and cook for 1 minute or until cream cheese begins to melt, stirring frequently. Gradually add chicken broth to pan, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over pierogies. Top evenly with 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until bubbly and thoroughly heated. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with bacon, green onions, tomato, and pepper.


Cooking Light put this at $1.84 a serving.  Let's do the math for mine.  Note, I doubled the recipe because we always take leftovers for lunch the next day.

2 boxes Pierogies - $5.50 (will do my best to find these on sale next time!)
Organic cream cheese - $2.50 for a box, and I used 2/3 so $1.87
Organic Chicken broth - $.20 (maybe)
Cheese - already had this, so maybe $.25
Organic Green onions - 1 bunch was $1.20 and I used them for 3 meals this week, so $.40 for this meal
Organic tomato - $.85
Garlic - free gift with our last CSA box!
Bacon - I get my bacon from a local butcher who makes it himself from his own piggies.  It's $5.99 a lb, but nitrate and hormone free.  And freaking awesome.  The package I had was $4.73 and had 12 slices.  I used 4 for the dish and the other 8 went in my mouth vanished.  So that's $1.57 worth of bacon for this recipe.

That comes out to $10.64 for the meal.  Because I doubled it, we got 6 servings (I'm still counting that even though Troy will eat 2 servings worth for lunch today!) so that is $1.77 per serving!  I beat Cooking Light's estimate using as many organic ingredients as possible.
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