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Monday, January 31, 2011

Clean your jewlery -safely and cheaply

This week's Monday tip is brought to you by the letter H for Hydrogen Peroxide.

Simply fill a small glass or bowl with enough hydrogen peroxide to cover the jewelery you want to clean.  Let it do it's thing (bubbling action) for a few hrs.  If you have an old soft toothbrush, give it a little scrub at the end.  Rinse with water, and you'll have gorgeous sparkling and gunk free jewelery for about $.04.

I've done this with silver and white gold and have never had issues, but if you're worried, consult your warranty policy that comes with fancier pieces!

Friday, January 28, 2011

We may never go back to cable

Last week I wrote about a moral conflict with our cable not being turned off after we had asked for it to be.  And after they stopped charging us for it.  Well, they finally did turn it off.  Right in the middle of my first sick day from work day in six years.  Balls alive, oh the timing!

After the initial panic of not knowing what to do without TV in our lives, we looked for alternatives.  We ordered an indoors HDTV antenna that a few people I know have had luck with.  Unfortunately, after a day it didn't work for us, but I blame our neighbor's enormous house for blocking the signal. 

Indoor antenna: FAIL

Then we tried just plugging the TV in to the wall to see what we would get.  Turns out, we get Fox and about 3,000 religious channels.  I have faith in god (don't let me love of a good curse word fool you), but I prefer to grow my faith with people who don't wear pink wigs, have enormous fake breasts, and tell them I need to send money.  Thanks, but no.

Direct connection to cable outlet: FAIL

Next, I bought a HDMI cable from Fred Meyer to connect our Macbook to our TV.  The cable wasn't compatible with a Mac.

Generic HDMI cable: FAIL

Finally, Troy watched a YouTube video on connecting Macs to a TV via HDMI cable.  We ordered this wicked cheap cable from Amazon.  It worked.

Semi-generic HDMI cable that we actually spent a few minutes researching: SUCCESS!!!!

Unfortunately, we didn't read the part about also needing an audio cable to get sound.  We are now rocking any show we want via Hulu or specific network's websites (seriously, you guys NEED to be watching Southland on TNT. So so SO good).  We have sound via some old computer speakers that my dumpster diver spouse found a few years ago.  If anyone knows of a good/cheap audio cable that is compatible for Macbooks circa 2007, please leave a comment!

For a one-time price of $8, we're watching all the shows we could ever want to (except The Mentalist.  Side eye to CBS for not streaming that show).  The other night Troy said "why in the world were we every paying for cable"?

I don't know buddy, I don't know!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

1 crockpot + $34 + me being awesome = three meals

WARNING: If you don't eat beef, you won't like this post...

I love pot roast.  LOVE it!  I throw everything in to the crockpot and in 8 hours it's perfect.  I don't prep the meat or do anything fancy and it ALWAYS turns out great.  But, in the past I've only ever made a 1-2 pound pot roast because for me, the best part of the pot roast is the veggies.

When we bought our grassfed beef freezer package from our local butcher, they put enormous chuck roasts in there.  I knew we could never eat that much, so I got to work on formalizing a plan.  After an agonizing amount of planning (about 4 minutes), I came up with a game plan.  Last night I put it in to action.  The results?  1 crockpot, $34, and three nights of meals.

Strategy 1 - Operation Big Ass Pot Roast
-Place two huge pot roasts in a big 7 qrt crock pot
-Add halved or quartered potatoes, chunks of carrots, and 1/2 diced onion
-Sprinkle meat with seasoning salt or kosher salt, and pepper
-Throw in some minced garlic
-Add beef broth or stock until it covers half of the meat (make sure the veggies are all covered by broth)
-Put crockpot on low for 8 hours

Strategy 2 - Glean leftovers from crockpot
-Shred all of leftover meat.  Divide into two equal parts

Strategy 3 - Operation Haga los Enchiladas ("make enchiladas" according to babelfish)
-Use half of the shredded beef and make a batch of enchiladas.  I used The Pioneer Woman's recipe (but used coconut oil to fry the tortillas instead of canola oil.  Canola oil is barf)
-Store covered in the fridge and serve for dinner the next night

Strategy 4 - shredded BBQ beef sandwiches
-Use the remaining half of the shredded beef.  Add BBQ sauce.  Mix.  Freeze.
If you need that broken down in to multiple smaller steps, I worry for you.

Last night Mr. Frugal by Force was out at his internship, so it was just me and the little lad.  I managed to do almost all of this while Jack was eating dinner.  He was my supervisor grading my performance from his perch in the highchair that I brought in to the kitchen.  He provided great directions like "Onions.  CUT UP.  MOMMA.  Meat.  Tortwilla.  COOKIE pwease"?

Let's run the numbers! 
Note, each meal makes enough for 2 adults + 1 toddler.  And then lunches the next day for the adults.

Meal 1 - Pot Roast
-Two enormous grassfed pot roasts - $17
-Organic carrots, onions & potatoes (purchased in bulk) - $1.20
-Organic beef broth (Better than Bouillon from Costco ) $.35
-Spices - $.10
Total: $18.65

Meal 2 - Enchiladas
-Can of enchiladas sauce - $2.50 (next time I'll stock up when they're on sale or make my own)
-2 cans of diced green chilies - $2 (I stocked up during the last 10/$10 sale!)
-Package of tortillas - $3.49 (I've made my own before, but these are freshly made at a local market and way better than mine)
-Organic chicken broth (Better than Bouillon from Costco) - $.20
-Organic coconut oil - $.25
-Organic onion (purchased in bulk) - $.50
-Will serve with refried beans - $1.12 and homemade spanish rice in the rice cooker - $.50
Total: $10.56
-postscript: I forgot about organic cilantro and green onions!  Add $1.20 to this recipe (I used the cilantro and onions for other dishes too).

Meal 3 - Shredded BBQ beef sandwiches
-Bottle of Annie's Organic BBQ sauce (I actually don't like this stuff, because I think it tastes like donkey balls, BUT I had it and didn't want to waste it) - $3.29
-Homemade burger buns - $.40??
-Sweet potato fries ~ $1.00
-Green beans - $0 (frozen from my garden this summer)
Total: $4.69

Grand total for 3 meals from 2 crockpot roasts and 1 day of cooking: $33.90
Postscript: see note above in the enchiladas.  Total for all 3 meals goes up to $35.10

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday's tip - a rotisserie chicken in your crockpot

Say whaaaaaa?
For reals yo - a full on rotisserie chicken in your crockpot.  Easy peasy, cheap, and yummy!

Directions
*This works best as a weekend crockpot meal
-Halve small red potatoes, or quarter larger potatoes and place it with the skin-side facing up (you'll be putting the chicken on top of the potato skins) in the bottom of a large crockpot.  Make sure it covers the bottom of the whole crock.
-Rinse a whole chicken and pat dry with paper towels.  Shove 2 tblsp of solid butter and diced garlic in the chicken's butt (this is how my chicken came to be known as "crockpot cooter chicken").  Place in crockpot on top of the potatoes.
-Melt 2 tblsp of butter and mix with 2 tblsp of olive oil.  Add minced garlic and brush over the surface area of the chicken.
-Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and paprkia (smoked paprika kicks normal paprika's ass.  Just saying).
-Every few hours, use a turkey baster and bast the chicken with the juices that congregate at the bottom of the crockpot.
-Mine was done in 5-6 hrs on low.  Crockpots vary on cooking time, so I recommend this as a weekend meal so that you are home.
-In the last hour of cooking, sprinkle a little dried parsley over the chicken.

-Once the chicken is cooked, transfer it to an oven-proof baking dish.  Place it under the broiler in your oven for 3-6 minutes (watch closely).  This will crisp up the skin to give you a realistic rotisserie chicken.

Serve the potatoes whole or mashed with the chicken.  With soaking in the butter and olive oil for 5+ hrs, my potatoes caramelize and they take on the taste of sweet potatoes.  You could also use carrots, celery, and onions with the potatoes to cover the crock.

Of course, I didn't take a photo of my crockpot chicken before we tore in to it, but imagine it looked something like this (cause it did.  Minus the plastic tray):


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sometimes being honest blows. A lot.

Two weeks ago, I turned in our DVR and ask for our cable to be turned off.  That was a Saturday, and they said someone would turn it off on Tuesday.  Tuesday came and went, and we still had cable.  We had a lot of crazy weather that week, so I kept thinking "well, they'll eventually get to it".

I got my cable bill last night, and saw that they weren't charging me for the service I was getting.  The guilt got to me and I called this morning.  The woman on the phone seemed shocked I was "turning myself in", and a big part of me was kicking myself for doing it.

A little background: growing up, I went to the same elementary school where my mom worked as a teacher.  Which means I was naughty, the teacher would just walk down the hall and tell my mom.  And my dad worked for a juvenile detention center.  He used to take my sister and I to work occasionally and show us all the kids in the cells.  And then he would say "if you're bad, you'll end up here".  So, I'm still pretty much terrified of being in trouble to this day.  And I'm 29.

So, while I LOVE the idea of getting free cable, I'd be up at night worried the cable police was going to come after me.  And when they did catch me, would they hand me a bill for x number of months that I had been enjoying the service for free?  The thought of one giant bill for 6 months of cable almost gives me the runs.

In a few days when I have ZERO TV reception, I'll probably look back on this post and my actions and have a few choice words for myself.  But until then, I sleep soundly.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Monday" tip of the week

My Monday tip for you is not to expect a tip on Monday if it's a three-day weekend.  Way too much bread to bake and snuggles to dish out to a certain toddler!

My tip comes from my grandma and is has been in our family for many many years.  If you have a pot or dish with a tough stain on it, soak the item in hot water with a mix of liquid dish soap and powdered dishwasher detergent.  Soak for 1+ hours, and then scrub.  It's always taken off about 99% of my stains.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This is the end, my beautiful laundry friend - laundry day 4

Point of fact: listening to the Doors while doing laundry makes the clothes dry more quickly!*

So, if you've stayed awake this past week long enough to read my fascinating laundry series, pat yourself on the frugal back.  And dear god, you need more interests in your life!

Today is all about resources and things I personally use.  These are recommendations from my experiences, but know that different things work better for others.
  • Detergent.  I use this homemade recipe that works great and is wicked cheap.  And it's simple to make.
  • Drying racks.   Back when we moved in to our new apartment, I put our drying racks on the deck on a rare sunny January afternoon.  Troy said "are you sure you want to do that?  Our new neighbors will think we're weird".  I rolled my eyes and put them on the deck.  The next sunny afternoon I saw they had hung their laundry out as well.  Our neighbor said she was inspired by us and went and found a drying rack.  So pffft to Troy!
    •  Drying racks can be found pretty much anywhere - Amazon, other online stores, Target, Wal-Mart, thrift stores (my neighbor got hers at a Goodwill), yard sales, etc.  I have 1 wooden one, and 1 "metal" (shiny plastic) one.  Like them both, but the "metal" one is much sturdier.  I got it at Target for about $22.
  • Smaller hanging rack.  This is great for socks, bras, undies, wash cloths, etc., and frees up your standing racks for the bigger items.  We hang it from our dining room light fixture.  Cause we are klassy!
  • And finally, my other $1k tip is to buy two of the same laundry baskets.  I have no idea how I lived 29 years with only 1 basket.   Two makes doing things SO much easier.
xoxo,
Sarah

*The Doors rock, but don't make your laundry dry any more quickly.  Sorry!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hang 10 - Laundry series, day 3

Or hang 20, or 30 pieces of laundry to save money! 

Yesterday was a snow day for me, so I decided to can some applesauce/apple juice and play with my little stinker Jack in lieu of blogging about laundry.  Don't get me wrong, laundry is SUPER exciting...but so are impromptu snuggle days with a toddler!

Today's post is all about how to utilize "classic" laundry drying techniques to save money and valuable environment resources.  Reduced use of my dryer has saved us at least $20 a month.  Which is nice because our apartment is The dryer is all I have right now!

Year-round, I use two basic folding drying racks and a hanging rack for small items (see tomorrow's post for resources).  In the summer we have 2 very small retractable drying lines on our deck.  Given that our deck is west facing, and the sun doesn't go down until 9:30 pm, we can dry a ton of laundry in 1 day during the summer.

The rest of the year, I live in a super damp and rainy climate.  A climate that is known for drenching things instead of actually drying them.  But, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to keep our clothes mold and stank-free.

The system:
-Start a load of laundry in the washer before leaving for work.  Some people are sketched out by a washer running while they aren't there, but I don't give two shits.
-When I get home from work I set the washer to an extra "spin" cycle.  This helps get rid of any excess water.
-After the spawn has gone to bed (7 pm), I hang the laundry up to dry.  1 rack has the heavier items (towels, etc), and the other rack has lighter items (cloth napkins, etc).  Probably takes about 5-10 min and I do it in the living room while watching TV or a movie. 
-Before bed, I take the rack of heavy items in to Jack's room.  The only heater that we leave on at night is in Jack's room, so that is the warmest place in the house.
-The other rack goes in front of our crappy inefficient heater in the dining room.  It's somewhat out of the way, and guaranteed to be on for about 3-4 hrs per day.
-The next evening, I collect the clothes, throw them in to the dryer for the appropriate amount of time (sometimes it's 10 min, others it is 30+), and fold.

My clothes never stink, they never mold, and I save beauco bucks on energy!  A bonus is that clothes that aren't always in the dryer last a lot longer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The good, the bad, and the poopy - laundry series, day 2.0

We've been cloth diapering Jack since he was 3 days old.  We had 2 packages of Pampers that we planned to use at first, but after the initial shock that some moron doctor actually let us leave the hospital with a real-life baby wore off, I quickly realized cloth was just as easy as a paper diapers.

I won't do a huge post specifically on cloth diapers.  If you want to catch up on what we've used along the way, please click here and here.  The answer first version is: we currently do a mix of Bum Genius 3.0 (though I hear the 4.0 that has since come out is great!), Blueberry diapers (man, those have gotten WAY cuter since I bought my 4 diapers 2 years ago), and some other diaper we're borrowing from my sis (her little man's waist is currently too small to use them) that I don't like.   

There are tons of resources out there for people looking to get in to cloth.  Jillian's drawers (and other companies) offer a cloth trial if you want to determine if cloth is for you without shelling out the upfront cash.  I will say that with everything I've tried and bought we've spent about $700-800 on diapers.  But that is a one-time cost that we've paid and included some very spendy newborn diapers that have now been used by 3 other people.  It can definitely be done MUCH cheaper depending on your system.  The average cost for diapers and wipes from newborn to potty training is a whopping $3k.  Plus, the diapers I have now can be used when frugalbychoicecheapbynecessity3.0 comes along in the VERY far off future.  My uterus and I are on the 2-5 year plan.

Ok, you may be saying to yourself "this is supposed to be a post about laundry.  Get the freaking point already".  Touché.

We (a term I use very loosely because due to an unpaid 2 year internship, Mr.Frugal Against His Will is rarely home these days, so it's usually all on me) do diaper laundry every other day.  We could probably stretch it to a full 2 days, but at that point the diaper pail is itching for a cleaning.   We use a top-loader because we rent and that is what is in our apartment.  We currently use Rockin'Green detergent  (1 bag lasts for about 3-4 months), but have used Tiny Bubbles in the past with good results, but our washer is just terrible, so we needed something a little stronger.

Our system
-A diaper with a "solid" (classy way of saying poop) in it gets sprayed off using the Bum Genius diaper sprayer (I would like to make out with the inventor of this) and then put in the pail.
-At home we use cloth wipes (cheap Target Circo washcloths sprayed with a water the phenomenal Baby Bits solution.  1 box of bits has lasted us about 16 months).  The wipes also get hosed down after wiping solids.
-When the pail is full, we do 1 rinse on cold, then a hot wash with detergent, and then 2 cold rinses.  I hang most of our laundry to dry (see post tomorrow for details on how I accomplish this in the rainy PNW), so I like to put the diapers through an extra spin cycle to get any excess moisture out.
-Diapers go on the rack for 24 hrs.  I "finish" the inserts in the dryer the next evening if they need it, and then stuff them in about 10 min while watching TV.

Once you get a system down, diaper laundry is not a big deal - I promise!  Also, please note that when we're using the sprayer on the diapers, we're wearing rubber gloves.  So, I'm not elbows-deep in poop on a daily basis.

If you're interested in learning more about cloth diaper systems and additional info, feel free to send an email to beingfrugalbychoiceblog@gmail.com or post your email in the comments.  When I was pregnant, my nesting side and my nerdy side conspired and I somehow found myself with a Powerpoint on the merits of cloth diapering.  I'm happy to share the dork wealth with you guys.

*Note, Jilliansdrawers.com is not a sponsor of my blog (though that would rock).  All the links above are done based on my experience with products and Jillian's kick ass customer service.

Monday, January 10, 2011

It's not you baby, it's me

My dearest cable & DVR box,

Please don't be sad that we can no longer be together.  There comes a point in many relationships where it's best for each party to go their separate ways.  That time for us came on Saturday when I dropped you off at the cable company.  I know you tried to be strong, but I saw that little tear in your circuit box.  I was sad too sweetie.  I was sad too.

But while you are fabulous and provided me many hours of entertainment while being up for all hours with a colicky baby and while pumping, I just can't afford your champagne tastes on my homemade apple cider budget.  I love the service that you provide, but in the end, food, prescriptions, and heat trump your entertainment value.

I know that there are tons of new shows coming up, and I know that Southland (which is the best show on TV right now) is coming out with an all new season.  I know baby, I get that.  Please don't try to tempt me with promises of shows on Planet Green, or if we're being honest, VH1; momma loves a good trainwreck!  I'm going to need to join a 12 step program to get past this when Mad Men returns from hiatus.

Perhaps we will meet again soon, some day in the near future.  Until then, I'm armed with a digital converter box praying I get a free signal, a computer with internet access, and a library card that lets me check out whole seasons of shows for free.  I fear however that I'll realize that I CAN live without you.  So, don't hold out hope on a reconciliation.  If things are meant to be, we'll find out way back to each other once again.

Best wishes for a lovely and long life in someone else's home.  I hope they can afford you and will treat you better than we did. I know that the banged up IKEA entertainment center wasn't fitting to your status.

xoxo,
Sarah
Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity.

Airing my dirty laundry. The first post in a week-long series

This week I'm going to do a series on laundry.  I know, I sure like to tackle the sexy topics, huh?

Ugh, laundry.  The pile of torture that plagues all families in this country.  But did you know that it doesn't have to be a struggle and something that haunts your dreams?  It's true!  Between clothes, sheets, cloth diapers, and misc., we do 1 load of laundry a day.  And yet, I spend maybe 15-20 min a day tackling it.  So much better than leaving it all for the weekend and taking up your free downtime.

So, to kick off my series series, I bring you the cheapest and easiest laundry tip of all.  Make sure you have a pen and paper handy because you'll want to write it down.  Ready?

1) buy a Downy Ball
2) fill it about 2/3 full with cheap white vinegar (3 gallons for $4 from Costco)
3) drop in washing machine and walk away

Ok, I guess that didn't require you to get a pen and paper.  Anyone with a short-term memory equivalent to a gnat should be able to remember that. 

Cheap, white vinegar is truly a miracle worker!  I use it in my homemade cleaning supplies and it's fabulous in any type of laundry.  In laundry it acts as a odor neutralizer and a bit of a fabric softener.  The smell WILL wash out during the rinse.  I promise that you won't walk around wearing clothes that make you smell like you're in a Massengill ad.

I used to adore fabric softener, but once I realized what it was doing to my clothes, the environment, and my pocketbook, I quickly looked for an alternative.  Now, if I can smell it on someones clothes, I wonder what allure it ever held for me; it's SO strong.

We never use anti-static products, and yet I don't have a problem with clingy clothes inappropriately riding up my back or sticking unflatteringly to my buthigh (the horrible part of every woman's body where their butt meets their thigh).

So give vinegar in the Downy Ball a chance and see how it works for you!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Homemade coconut milk yogurt

After multiple frustrating attempts,at last I've figured out the formula to make this work.  In my previous yogurt post I talked about success with making real milk yogurt, but up until the other night success using alternative milks had proved inedible.

My son has a dairy allergy, and my sweet little nephew is allergic to dairy AND soy which leaves my sister up shit creek without a paddle when it comes to yogurt choices.  Store bought coconut milk yogurt is delicious, but at $2 for 4-5 oz is very much out of our price range.

For the coconut milk, I use Turtle Mountain's refrigerated product which is sold under the brand name "So Delicious".  When switching my son from all breastmilk when he turned 1 year old, I did a lot of research to find the perfect alternative milk for him.  Almond milk was out (nuts), rice milk doesn't have the fat content I was looking for to develop his young brain, and too much soy isn't great for males.  Refrigerated coconut milk seemed to be the best solution.  It is comparable to whole milk for fat content, but has a surprisingly  much lower sugar content. 

It did come with a bigger price tag ($4.49 for half gallon), but Fred Meyer grocery store usually runs two-month long sales where it is $2.99.  So Delicious and coupons.com usually offer $1 off coupons which make it a more economical alternative.

The magic formula
  • 5 cups of coconut milk (click here for coupons and locations on where you can buy this stuff)
  • 1/2 heaping cup of coconut flour (I use Bob's Red Mill.  We've had a bag in the house leftover from Jack's wheat allergy.  It's wicked expensive, but a little goes a long way.  And it's chock full of fiber).
  • 1/2 tsp of Xantham gum.  Yes, I know that's a controversial ingredient, but for now it is a necessary evil.  If your grocery store offers bulk bins buy the xantham gum there.  A package is about $17 for 6 oz, but I was able to get enough for 7 months for $1.75 via a bulk bin!
*note, my directions are for a yogurt maker, but there are loads of recipes out there that don't require a machine.
1) Heat coconut milk in a large and VERY clean pot.  In small bowl, whisk a little coconut milk and the coconut flour and xantham gum until it's smooth.*  Add flour and milk mixture to the main pot.  Stir very well until milk is steaming and reaches 185 degrees.
*I didn't do this and I'm kicking myself for it.  I ended up having to use an immersion blender to smooth out the lumps.
2) Once the milk hits 185 degrees, remove from heat and cool until it reaches about 110 degrees.
3) Add 3 heaping TSP of your starter (store bought coconut milk yogurt or yogurt from your last batch) in to one of the yogurt maker cups.
4) Add a little (1/3 cup?) of the cooled milk to the cup with the starter.  Stir very well.
5) Add the contents of the culture cup back to the pot of cooled milk.  Stir very well.
6) Fill the jars with a little more than 1/2 cup of the mixture & place in the machine. Turn machine on for 11 hrs.
7) Once done "cooking", cool for at least 4 hrs in the fridge prior to serving.
8) Give to your sister in an attempt to be your nephew's favorite aunt!

I would say the results are somewhat comparable to the store bought coconut milk yogurt.  It's very custardy (that's a word), but the homemade had more of a pronounced coconut flavor.  Jack liked it with a little vanilla extract and a tsp of strawberry jam mixed in.

Let's run the numbers! 
This recipe made eight 5 oz cups
1/2 gallon Coconut milk - $1.99 (on sale + coupon).  I used $1.24 worth
1/2 cup coconut flour - ~$1.00
store-bought coconut milk yogurt - $1.99.   I used about $.85 worth
Xantham gum - ~$.10
Total: $3.19
Price per container: $.39.  Even with mega coupons, that sure beats the store-bought brand!

It should keep in the fridge for 10-14 days.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

So it turns out I'm a total snob

What a crappy realization to come to.

I've always avoided Grocery Outlet because "it's icky and only had low brow stuff".  The Grocery Outlet in the town next to us is in the same strip mall as Value Village and The Dollar Store.  Let's just say the parking lot is always a fun people watching location.

Anyhoo, in an effort to avoid a traffic jam I always hit at 4:30 on my way home, I decided to head to GO after picking up Jack from my aunt's.  Wow.  Wow, was I ever surprised!

They had a decent selection of organic produce, but what blew me away was the organic cheeses and boxed foods.  Generally I avoid most processed foods even if they're organic, but their selection of organic diced (canned) tomatoes, pasta, soups, and cereals were amazing! 

Jack eats Cascadian Farms organic "Just O's" every morning for a snack before breakfast.  At Fred Meyer they are $4.59 a box.  I always stock up when they are 2/$6 and have a coupon for $1 off 2 which makes my price $2.50 a box.  Grocery Outlet had them regular price for $2.49!!!  True, they expire this month so I didn't get them to add to my stash, but overall the savings is $2.10 a box.

They also had a huge selection of boxed rice, almond, and soy milk.  I also picked up a bottle of organic Kombucha for $1.29.  Yum!

So I will admit it.  I'm a snob for turning up my nose at Grocery Outlet.  No longer my friends.  No longer.

I did not receive any compensation from GO for this post.  I just was impressed and wanted to spread the word!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bringing a little more culture in to my life

No, not the kind where you visit museums and attend slam poetry sessions.   That wouldn't work for me.  I like South Park and fart jokes. Nope, the kind of culture for your guts - yummy probiotics and friendly bacteria!

My mom bought my a yogurt maker for Christmas.  I had researched it for months and went back and forth about even keeping it on my wishlist, but I'm SO glad I did. 


It's very easy (50,000 foot level directions)- heat milk (your choice on what kind) to 185 degrees.  Remove from heat and cool until the little thermometer that comes with the machine recommends you add the culture.  Put in cups, turn machine on for 10 hrs, and walk away.

More detailed directions:
-heat 1 quart + 1 cup of milk in a clean pan until it steams and hits 185 degrees.  I also added 1/4 cup of powdered milk for a thicker consistency.
-remove from heat.  Put in thermometer that comes with the machine.  It will indicate when to add the culture.
-put 1-3 heaping TBLSP of the culture (plain store-bought yogurt, or from a previous batch of homemade, or from a purchased yogurt starter culture) in to one of the cups from the machine.  Add a little cooled milk to the culture cup and stir well. 
-Dump contents of culture cup back in to the big pot of milk and stir well.
-Transfer contents of the pot in to the 8 individual containers.
-Put lid on machine, set for 10-11 hrs*
-Walk away
-When machine beeps, transfer jars to fridge.  Let them cool for about 4 hrs before eating.
*If you're smart, you will do this about 10 hrs before you are scheduled to wake up in the morning.  Then you won't be a moron like me and have to get up at midnight to put the jars in the fridge.

I used 5 cups from my milkman milk, so $1.55 worth of milk + $.35 worth of powdered milk + ~$.15 of organic plain yogurt.  I got eight 6 oz containers of organic yogurt for $2.05 which is $.25 per jar.  Suck it grocery store.  Later this week I'm going to try it with raw milk which will increase the overall cost by $1.50 and the per-container cost to $.44.  Still better than packaged yogurt AND I'm not throwing out containers!After the yogurt has cooled in the fridge, you can add any flavorings you would like.  The texture is thick - almost like a custard.  It reminds me of the yogurt I had when we were in London & Spain; rich and creamy!  Almost like a Greek yogurt in the states, but not as tangy.

Now, for Jack (the soygurt aholic who costs us $30 a month in special yogurt) who has dairy allergies, I'm having issues creating the perfect non-dairy yogurt.  My sweet little nephew has a dairy and soy allergy, so I'm trying to create a good yogurt for both of them.  I've had 2 failed batches, but I'm not giving up.  My next attempt comes tonight.  Hopefully the magic combo of coconut milk plus the addition of
coconut flour will do the trick!

There are plenty of ways to make yogurt that don't involve a $50 machine.  Many people keep it cooking for 24 hrs at 110 degrees by putting it in their oven with the light on, or on the counter on top of a heating pad.  I can't go without my oven that long, and I have hardly any spare counter space.  So, the machine fits my lifestyle.  And makes my tummy happy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tip of the week AND a recipe!

This week's tip is to spend a few minutes each week reviewing your bills.  Just give them a glance over to see if you're getting charged incorrectly or if anything seems amiss.  A review of my cell bill and a 10 minute call to customer service netted me a $50 refund for an overcharge dating back two years.

Also, NEVER be afraid to ask a customer service rep for the best deal.  This works best for phone, cable, internet, insurance, companies etc.  We've had high-speed internet at home with the same company for two years, but I am still paying the introductory price.  I just keep calling and asking them to extend it.  It costs a company almost 3x as much to sign a new customer as it does to keep an existing customer, so they want to keep you happy. 

Some tips for getting discounts on your existing services:
-Be polite.  Make the rep your ally.  No one will go out of their way to give a discount to a major tool.
-Say that you have been looking at competitor's prices and are hoping you can remain with Company X since you've appreciated their great service, blah blah blah. It helps to have actual examples of competitor's discounts and sales!
-Ask if there is a discount based on your current employer.  For instance, I get 12% off my Verizon bill because of my employer.  You HR department should also have a complete list of discounts available.
-If the customer service rep is unable to get you a discount, very politely ask to speak with a manager who may have more flexibility in offering them.

Sometimes you'll get nothing from your troubles, but if you save even a little bit each month, it does add up!

Recipe - Meatballs.  Mmmmmm....meatballs
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground sausage (I used spicy Italian from our local butcher) with casings removed
~1 cup breadcrumbs (I prefer panko)
~3 tblsp grated parmesan cheese
-sprinkle of oregano, pepper, seasoning salt, parsley, basil
-splash of worcheshire (I can never spell that correctly) sauce
-1 egg mixed
-splash of milk

1) Add dry ingredients to large mixing bowl.  Splash milk in and lightly mix.  Add meat and egg.  Mix
2) Brown in olive oil for about 30-60 seconds on each side.  Transfer to a cookie sheet.
3) Bake at 400 degrees until the center is no longer pink.  I think I did 30 min and it was a bit too long.
4) Serve with spaghetti and homemade garlic rolls and a salad. 
5) Slip in to food coma.
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