Thursday, June 22, 2017

I'm still here

For those of you wondering why I haven't posted anything in the past while... I'm still here. I just have been doing a lot of thinking. As a result of various things going on in my life, thinking about how I run this blog and why, and if I plan on making any changes to it for the future. I don't have an answer yet and hopefully will go back to my regular scheduled programming soon, I just can't tell you exactly how soon.
Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Planning an Exciting and Frugal Vacation Abroad

Destination: Lublin. Photo credit Lukaszprzy
I recently learned about a site called SkyScanner.com, which allows you to find cheap flights around the world. Unlike many price comparison websites where you need to put in a specific location and specific dates, SkyScanner lets you put in your departure location, and then from there on, it's flexible. You can pick a specific location or choose "Everywhere". You can choose specific dates, or you can ask it to show you the cheapest dates.
So of course I plugged in my location, and since I didn't have a specific location in mind, or a specific date, I just left those open... and found something that astounded me. Flights from my closest airport to Lublin, Poland, for 23 dollars each way. Yes. That is including taxes and fees and all that. Its a no frills airline, and it is only on specific dates, but I said that that is too amazing of a deal to pass up.
So I booked it.

From July 5-July 10 I will be on vacation in and around the general Lublin, Poland area.

Dom mansjonarski w Lublinie (2009-06-12)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Chicken Yakisoba Recipe- Gluten Free, Paleo Option, Vegan Option, Allergy Friendly

Yakisoba made with the vegetables listed below, plus with the addition of swiss chard

In my house growing up, my mom, despite being a very adventurous cook in general, and teaching me to love foods from cuisines around the world, had very specific ideas about what flavors and foods could and couldn't get together. Fruit did not go with vegetables, and onions with fruit were an anathema to her. (When people gave us fruit chutney with onions, you wouldn't believe her incredulous reaction.)
One of those combinations that my mom considered a strict no-no were tomatoes and soy sauce- tomatoes were something Italian, soy sauce Asian, and never the twain shall meet... For the longest time, even after I rid myself of most of my mom's particular cooking ideas, and even after I began to embrace fusion cooking, I still couldn't wrap my head around the concept of tomatoes or tomato based anything with soy sauce, as tomatoes 'had no place in Asian cooking' (which isn't entirely accurate anyhow).
Imagine my surprise, therefore, to learn about yakisoba, an authentic (if relatively modern) Japanese recipe, that was made with tomato based ketchup, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce! I've been trying to find out the history of the sauce, how the fusion dish came about (and am in the middle of reading a book about the end of the shogunate in Japan and the beginning of western influence on Japanese society in the middle of the 1800s), but I am not finding a definitive answer, though I suspect it has something to do with the "westernization" of Japan, and then adapted post World War Two (but would appreciate further clarification)...

15 Summer Nature Activities for Kids

This post was written by Joe, an outdoor enthusiast and lead editor at Nature Rated; a website which rates and reviews the best outdoor gear for people who quickly want to know what to get. He believes in no fluff, to the point reviews, which help you choose the right gear for your next adventure.
Whenever daily life gets him down he heads to the nearest lake or river with his kayak and camera spending time recharging his batteries.

What are your kids doing this Summer? For many of us summer time with the kids is a time to enjoy the outdoors, the sunshine and if you're lucky the ocean.

As much as kids love summer holidays, keeping them busy can be a real chore! If you've not got the luxury of a summer camp then it's up to you as parent to find things for the youngsters to keep busy with.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Insanely Frugal Shopping Guru- Interview with Penny's Dad

Hello there everyone. Today I decided to do something a little bit different. I've talked about my parents before, and how I grew up, and shared various things my dad and mom have taught me about saving money and cooking... Recently, though, my dad has been talking to me about his monthly grocery budget and I'll tell you something- if you think I'm nuts and crazy frugal, he outshines me by a mile.
My dad cooks mainly for himself, 3 meals a day, seven days a week, and has guests (2-4 at a time) over for about 7 or 8 meals a month.
His grocery bills on average are about $43 dollars a month for all that.
Yes, you read that right. This is not a typo. 4. 3. dollars.
And I thought my 428 dollars-575 dollars a month (ok, for a family of 6, granted) was frugal. The biggest difference is that my dad is cooking for one (mainly) and I'm cooking for 6, and my dad and I have very different diets. My diet is very vegetable heavy, gluten free, processed food free, pretty much paleo, and my kids eat gluten free. My dad on the other hand doesn't avoid processed foods in theory, but overall does simply to save money, and he eats a lot of gluten and refined carbohydrates and white sugar, etc... I wouldn't necessarily recommend someone follow my dad's shopping and dietary habits, but since I know there are many out there that don't see the need to eat the way I do, gluten free and practically paleo and a "traditional foods diet" but just want to eat decent meals on a low budget, I figured that it would be a nice idea to share how he shops and cooks. Maybe it'll inspire those of you who eat a diet more similarly to his than mine.

Here's the thing. I wanted to tell you about how he shops and how he keeps his grocery bills so low, but I knew many people wouldn't be likely to believe me, so for a month I asked him to keep tally to the nearest dollar, and for the month of May he spent $75.50. With half of that being food that he stocked up for a few months in the future. He predicts that he'll probably spend under $30 this month, but I'll follow up with him next month to see.

My dad is here right now, visiting, and I decided to write this post interview style, so he can tell you about how he shops the way he does, where he shops, what he eats, why he does it, and all that.

Meet my dad, Cardiologist Colonel Edward of the US Army, currently on inactive duty and living abroad not so far from where I do.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Marinated Artichoke Hearts Recipe- Canning Option Included

I love artichokes in so many ways. Marinated artichokes have got to be some of the most delicious methods of artichoke preparation, but they cost a ridiculous amount where I live- roughly $7 for a small jar. Making it yourself, though, especially when artichokes are bought frugally in season, or even more so, when bought from the reduced rack, they are a fraction of the cost. I made each jar for under $1, probably under 50 cents. I use pint sized jars for my recipe.

Once you have your artichokes prepared, it is very simple to marinate them. You can marinate them and then keep them in the refrigerator, or you can water bath can them, and then not need to store them in the fridge. 
Just note that when I water bath canned my artichokes, they ended up turning a brownish/purplish color, so if you want your artichoke to stay a pretty light green color, it's best to make them into refrigerator pickles. (Perhaps there is a way to make it maintain its color even when water bath canned, I just haven't managed to figure it out yet.)

You can do this with as many artichokes as you want, as my recipe is per jar. Double, triple, or increase as desired.

On top of being a low cost recipe, these marinated artichokes are delicious and suitable for a variety of special diets, whether gluten free and paleo to vegan and allergy friendly. If you love artichokes, give it a try- you won't regret it.
While I used oregano and thyme in my marinated artichoke hearts, feel free to mix up the herbs, using whatever flavors you like best paired with your artichoke hearts.

Marinated Artichoke Hearts Recipe- Paleo, Vegan, Allergy Friendly

Making Realistic Recipes from Cookbooks

A cookbook suitable for any kitchen
When you open a cookbook, sometimes the perfectly styled dishes there can seem very intimidating, something that people without time, money, or energy can’t recreate precisely with their cooking.

However, cooking doesn’t have to be a stressful experience- you can take recipes from cookbooks and make them your own, in a way that suits your lifestyle. Reading a cookbook doesn’t have hard and fast rules- you can use the pictures and recipes there as inspiration (who doesn’t enjoy flipping through cookbooks with beautiful pictures, and then get inspired to want to make similar?) and then adapt them as needed. Don’t like a certain ingredient? One of the items listed in a recipe is unaffordable? Substitute! Consider using frugal ingredient substitutions, as I listed here.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How to Clean and Prepare Artichokes for Pickling and Stuffing

I absolutely adore artichokes. Growing up, we had them on special occasions with my family, and because of that, I have really positive associations with that vegetable. I love artichoke any way I can get it, baked, boiled, stuffed, marinated, in soups, salads, you name it...
I felt like I hit the jackpot when I got 30 lbs of artichoke for 25 cents a pound, but I will admit, I was just a little bit overwhelmed. Much as I love artichoke, the only way I'd ever made it before was boiled or baked, whole; when I'd had it other ways, I'd always started with frozen or canned. I didn't want to just boil or bake all my 30 lbs of artichoke whole, but didn't even begin to know where to start if I wanted to turn my whole artichokes into hearts or to be able to can them.

I did a lot of googling to try to figure that out, and I'll admit, even that wasn't so helpful, since most of the instructions were vague or called for baby artichokes, which I didn't have.

However, I managed to figure it out and turn my artichokes into artichoke hearts for stuffing, canned them, made them into soup, and it's a game changer. I feel worlds of options opening up for me in the kitchen now because of this.

To help explain how to clean and prepare artichokes for pickling and stuffing, I made a video of my sister Lizzy, demonstrating how to do this. If it looks hard, I literally showed Lizzy how to do this only one minute before making this video- it's easy to learn. As that was her first time doing so, note that the more often you do this, the more practice you get, the faster you can get it done.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Tuna Tartare with Capers on Beet Carpaccio Recipe- Paleo and Delicious

The other day I was looking for a fancy dish to make for a nice meal, but didn't want to spend too much money on it, saw some beets in my fridge and capers I'd just foraged, and got inspired to make this dish, tuna tartare with foraged capers and sow thistle capers on beet carpaccio. I first saw my friend Ben make a dish similar to this; his plating was an inspiration for mine.
Carpaccio is a dish invented in the 1950s and originally made with paper thin slices of beef topped with olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and salt, and more recently people have started making meatless versions of it out of beets.
Tartare is typically made from raw meat or fish, onions, capers, and seasonings, and is similar to the raw fish ceviche.

When I made this dish, my entire family was in love, and the dish itself, despite its fancy appearance, was relatively easy to make and quite frugal. Tuna steaks, I'm sure you're thinking, are not remotely frugal, but if you compare the price per pound with canned tuna, tuna steaks typically work out to be significantly cheaper. I used just one tuna steak for this recipe and stretched it with lots of capers and onions and it was enough to serve as an appetizer for our entire family. The fish in this recipe cost me about a dollar, the beets about 35 cents, the onion was free, and the rest of the ingredients were so insignificant in terms of cost- a fancy appetizer like this for under $1.50, approximately the price of a can of chunk light tuna locally, definitely a frugal dish, even factoring in the tuna steak.
If you want to do a more fish heavy dish, and not have such a high onion to tuna ratio, you're welcome to do so, it will just increase the cost, and it tasted fishy and delicious enough like this, so I wouldn't change anything.

In terms of safety and raw fish, I'd suggest you do your own research about what types of tuna that you can locally buy are safe to eat raw. Sushi grade tuna would work, for example.

I used a combination of homemade foraged pickled capers and sow thistle capers (recipe in my book Penniless Foodie in the Wild, now available in Kindle version as well as print, on Amazon) in my recipe, but you can use store bought pickled capers or any mock capers, or a combination thereof in this recipe.

If you want to keep this vegan and/or lower the costs, you can simply make the beet carpaccio, thinly slice a raw onion and scatter it on the beets along with capers, before adding the rest of the toppings, and it tastes delicious and looks beautiful, albeit a little less so, that way as well.

Tuna Tartare with Capers on Beet Carpaccio Recipe- Paleo and Delicious

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Tale of Our Bedroom Vanity

Our new house, while nearly double the amount of living space of our old place, is still quite small for our family of six. Other than the bathrooms, the smallest room in the house is my bedroom. We did design the layout of the apartment, putting the walls and doors where we wanted, more or less, since we bought the place before internal walls were built, and we could have possibly made our bedroom bigger. However, any additional space we added to our bedroom would either make our kitchen/living room/dining room smaller, which we didn't want to do, or getting rid of our second bathroom, not either something we were keen to do. We made the choice to sacrifice bedroom space for the sake of the rest of the house.

Out bedroom is 8.5 feet by 10.3 feet, or 2.6 meters by 3.1 meters. 87.5 square feet or 8 square meters to be exact. Add to this the fact that there are two doors in the room (one from the hallway, and one to the bathroom) and no built in closet space, we needed to figure out how to store everything two people need in the bedroom. This was not an easy thing to do by a long shot.

But we figured it out, by building our own beds and night stands, used some Ikea "hacks" and repurposed some furniture from our old apartment, and we mostly figured it out...
Other than a place to store my makeup, jewelry, hair things, etc... I needed a vanity...

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