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Friday, September 30, 2011

Different Ways To Make Broth

Homemade wonton soup made with
 homemade chicken broth
Chicken soup.
Beef soup.
Easy to make. Just take chicken or beef consume, mix it with water, and there you have it. Chicken soup. Beef soup.

Just kidding.
I mean, those work... but those are neither frugal options nor healthy options.

What's the healthier way to make chicken soup?
Take chicken or beef pieces, cook them with water and flavorings, and there you've got soup.

Of course, those are also options, but is that the only way to make chicken or beef soup?
Not at all!
There are so many different ways to make broth, some easier than others, some more time consuming than others, and some more frugal than others, as they use things that would otherwise end in the trash.
Here's but some of the options to make healthy, natural, chemical free chicken or beef soup. (Substitute any other poultry or meat for chicken or beef written; the list would get way too long if every single time I wrote chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, goat, pork, venison, etc...)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Traits of a Tightwad- Adventurousness


Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
When I try to think of the people I know that fit the title of "True Tightwads", one of their unifying traits is their spirit of adventure, their willingness to try out things that are just a little bit... or sometimes very much... outside the realm of "normalcy" and what is "commonly done". This spirit of adventerousness allows them to capture every last drop of possible frugality and use it to the max, and end up having fun in the process.

What exactly does this spirit of adventurousness actually mean?

Some people have a hard time breaking out of their rut. They do things a certain way, and even if it doesn't end up being very beneficial for them, its hard for them to get out of that mode, to break their routine, and try something different than the norm. The foreign scares them. The strange freaks them out.

The "True Tightwad" is the polar opposite of this person. The frugalist extraordinaire not only doesn't mind doing things out of the ordinary; she relishes the opportunity to try something new out. No need to hike the Himalayas, explore the Amazon, or sail the Arctic circle, the true tightwad satisfies her thirst for adventure from the comfort of her very own home, exploring options that other people would never in their wildest dreams even consider doing, and getting the rush when she sees what amazing things she accomplished that before she didn't even know were possibilities. When some experiment she does works out beyond her expectations, she feels the thrill for accomplishing the seemingly impossible; when something doesn't work out as planned, she just takes it in stride and views it as another lesson learned, much like a true adventurer would consider getting lost not as something terrible, but an opportunity to see things that she would otherwise miss.

Hearth and Soul Blog Hop

Hearth & Soul Hop
Welcome to this week's edition of the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, where each week, cooks from around the globe share their most delicious, nourishing, and heart warming recipes. The cooking carnival where you come to share your best kept cooking secrets, those recipes with the magic ingredient in it called "Soul Spice"-  the made from scratch recipes that you make with love to feed your family, friends, and loved ones.

My co-hosts for the blog hop are:
Alea of Premeditated Leftovers,
April of The 21st Century Housewife,
Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen,
and
Melyinda of Mom's Sunday Cafe.

Until now, the blog hop was going up at 10 pm Pacific Standard Time, but since there are hosts around the world who find that time very inconvenient to post (such as myself, who was asleep when the blog hop went live, which is why this post is a few hours late), starting next Tuesday, the blog hop will be going live at 4 am Eastern Standard Time.

My favorite posts from last week are:
Vegan Gluten Free Drop Biscuits from Whole New Mom. I'll probably be trying this one out very soon!
Homemade GF Vegan Potato Gnocchi from Allergy Free Vintage Cookery. I'll surely be trying this one out with a few variations to use the GF flours I have available locally.
How to Prepare and Eat an Artichoke at Gluten Free A-Z specifically because artichoke is one of my favorite foods that my entire family loves. Too bad I have to wait many many months for it to come into season again! 


Hearth and Soul Mission

It’s about food from your hearth, made for your soul. Food that follows your intuition. Preparing food from scratch to nourish your family…body, mind AND soul! Food made with your own hands…infused with energy and passion and intent. Real food made by real people to feed real families (big and small, in blood or spirit). Ingredients from scratch, be it something grown in your garden or raised on your land…food foraged in the field or woods…food from local farms, farmers, or farmers markets…or even ingredients chosen by you from your local market that will be turned into something that feeds your soul. Tapping the food memory that each of us has stored inside; letting it guide and influence our own time in the kitchen.

We hope to embrace not only the “expected” areas of real food, but also those who want to incorporate healthier choices without sacrificing their love of food…how it tastes, the memories it conjures up, the comfort it brings. Yes, we’re trying to steer clear of packaged, processed, and boxed foods in favor of real foods….without absolutely excluding the sometimes frowned upon white sugar or flour (because the body craves what it craves…and sometimes things just don’t taste the same when you replace these). Making conscious choices and being present in the now with what your body needs…and taking steps towards exploring and enjoying healthier choices. If you take the time to listen, your body will tell you what it needs.

The warm comfort of the home hearth…stories, anecdotes, lessons, adventures, journeys, recipes, meals, beverages…we want to share the “why” of how food feeds more than just our bodies…how it also feeds our souls. After all, aren’t these the essential ingredients in defining real food? Please share links from your Hearth ‘n Soul with us each week.

Rules for linking:

Recipes should include healthy ingredients and can be old or new recipes or posts. Articles on real food, slow food, foraging, herbal remedies, local food, sustainable food, organics, gardening or any healthy eating information written in a positive and loving light are also welcome.

If you are new to a blog carnival, or blog hop, it is very easy to learn how to join in the fun! Simply go to the blog post for that carnival and scroll down to the bottom where you will see a small box that will say, You’re Next or Your link here. When you click on that link, you will be asked to enter the URL of your recipe or article.

Please link to your article only and not directly to your blog front page.

Place a link back to one of the blog hosts, which means adding in the URL of the blog hop post which you can copy from your browser address bar and insert at the bottom of your post. You could also choose to place a blog badge into your post.

Please link a post that closely fits into the mission. You don’t have to link up every week…link up when you can. We welcome posts that are shared in other events. If you have an older, archived post that you want to add, we welcome that…as long as you go in and add a link back to Hearth and Soul.

Please feel free to use and share the Hearth and Soul Hop badge listed below to promote the Blog Hop.

Hearth & Soul Hop
Lets see your best recipes! Join up below! (If you've never participated in a blog hop before, click here to see why you should.)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Syrian Mujaddara Recipe- Rice and Lentils

I had this recipe too many times to count and in too many variations to count. This rice and lentils recipe is a staple in many houses, and has as many name variations as ingredient variations, from majadra to mujareda to mujaddara, etc.... However you spell it, this rice and lentils dish is easy to make, delicious to eat, frugal to prepare, and is a complete protein because of the combination of grain and legume.
Did I mention that it's really yummy and easy to make? Oh yes I did, but its a point worth repeating. :-D

How do you make it? Well, the good thing about it is that the recipe is pretty flexible and there isn't an exact recipe with precise measurements. (My type of recipe. Helps me use up leftovers, adjust things to taste, and not need to get measuring equipment dirty.)
Here is the variety I like making; in my opinion, its the tastiest version by far.

Mujaddara Recipe

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pakistani Black Bean Curry

I had a bunch of black beans in my house to use up. I cooked a bunch to use to make black bean cake for my children's birthday party, and then I used some of the leftovers to make burritos, but I had still some more beans that needed to be used up, and I wanted something decidedly un-Mexican because I was getting bored and needed some variety.
Here's a recipe I made with my black beans; it's absolutely delicious!
Originally the recipe called for making it with ground beef, but black beans worked so well in it that I don't think I'd ever make it with ground beef. I do plan on trying it with other beans, chickpeas, and lentils, and I'm sure they'd all taste terrific in this recipe.
I based this recipe on the Pakistani Kima recipe from Whole New Mom's website.

Pakistani Black Bean Curry

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thoughts on the Paleo Diet- Or, Are Grains and Legumes Bad for You?

As I'm going along my gluten free journey, looking for various recipes that are free from the 4 gluten grains (wheat, spelt, barley, rye) and the one other grain that many GF people can't tolerate (oats) that are also healthy and with all natural ingredients and are low cost, I'm encountering many, many foodies that are not just gluten free, they're completely grain free and legume free as well. This diet, called the Paleo or Primal diet (the two have some differences, but are basically the same idea), postulates that because "early man was hunter gatherers and lived off of animals they hunted and foods they foraged", anything other than fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, meat, and fish can't be healthy for mankind today to eat.

Now, I'll admit, I'm not exactly a historian nor a nutritionist. My knowledge of "pre-history" comes mainly from the "Earth's Children" series by Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear and its sequels), not from an in depth study, but even so, something about the Paleo diet doesn't sit right with me.
Why?
Well, in the Earth's Children series, having taken place during the Paleolithic Era (the Ice Age), and having been written with lots of research, the people mentioned were hunter gatherers. Only... they didn't just eat fruits, veggies, nuts, and meats- they ate grains and legumes as well.
Why'd they do that if they were hunter gatherers?
For me, that question actually is easy for me to answer, because it lies in my area of expertise. Foraging.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our Kindergarten Homeschooling "Curriculum" and Supplies

Y'all should knowi by now that I'm homeschooling my kids. Lee is pretty much working on a kindergarten level, whereas Ike is... I dunno, working at his own level. (I have no clue how someone would differentiate between a 2 year old level and a 3 year old level. I just know that Lee is doing pre-first grade workbooks, so its easier to peg him at the kindergarten level.

Our homeschooling day varies tremendously. Some days, like today, we do lots of schooling, and some days are pretty much living life in a homesteading way, which isn't any less educational; it just is educational in a non academic sense, per se.

We've spent very little on actual schooling supplies for our kids. What we have spent, for the most part, has been given as birthday gifts, because, like most young kids, my children are absolutely thrilled to learn, ask to learn, beg to be taught things, so educational workbooks, games, and activities are the types of gifts my children love most, much more than "regular" toys. By getting educational birthday gifts for our children, we hit two birds with one stone and spend less money than if we bought birthday nonsense gifts and homeschooling supplies.
As I've mentioned before in the post about my kids' birthday party, grandma also helps by getting educational birthday gifts, making my total expenditure even less (not to mention less clutter in the house from toys that won't even get used).

What do I actually consider to be part of our homeschooling "curriculum" and "educational tools" in our home that we use to homeschool the boys?

First, there are all these books, workbooks, and magazines.



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Joining Up as Co-Host of Hearth and Soul Blog Hop

Hearth & Soul HopWhen you think of the word "nourishment", what is the first association that comes to mind? Is it a picture of boxed mac and cheese, or some frozen pizza? Or do you associate nourishment with something a little deeper, something more heartwarming, food made with love to fill your belly?

There is a story I've heard about a king who passed by a peasant's home. He smelled the most delicious smell emanating from this pauper's kitchen, knocked on the door, and was fed some of this poor person's stew whose tantalizing aroma had enticed the king to enter. The king said that this stew was some of the best food he had ever eaten, and asked to be given the recipe. The pauper obliged and gave the king exact instructions how to make that stew.
The king went home and gave the recipe to his cook, and waited impatiently for the terrific food to arrive, but when it did, alas, it was just not as good as the food he had eaten at the pauper's house, even though the cook followed the recipe precisely.
The king made a second trip to the poor man's house, demanding to know what secret ingredient the man had left out when he gave his recipe. The man, flustered, insisted that he wrote the recipe in its entirety, didn't leave out any ingredients. The only thing missing, he realized, was that when his wife made the dish, she made it with love, and put her soul into the food. That, he noted, is something that perhaps the cook wasn't able to replicate.

Why do I share this story?
Because food, dear readers, is more than just ingredients put together. When you create something, be it artwork, or music, or a delectable dish, a part of you, a bit of your soul goes into what you've made. This is one of the reasons why homemade food is almost always a million times tastier than prepackaged food. Because the food you make, with love, has that extra ingredient in it, love, that makes it taste delicious.

There's a blog hop I've been participating in for a while called the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, and I think this story reflects what the blog hop is about. The Hearth and Soul Blog Hop is a weekly food carnival about food that not only nourishes our bodies, but our souls.
It has been hosted until now by Alea of Premeditated Leftovers, April of The 21st Century Housewife, Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen, and Melyinda of Mom's Sunday Cafe.
I am thrilled to announce that as of today, I am now a co-host, and if you've never heard of the blog hop before, this is its official mission statement.

Hearth and Soul Mission

It’s about food from your hearth, made for your soul. Food that follows your intuition. Preparing food from scratch to nourish your family…body, mind AND soul! Food made with your own hands…infused with energy and passion and intent. Real food made by real people to feed real families (big and small, in blood or spirit). Ingredients from scratch, be it something grown in your garden or raised on your land…food foraged in the field or woods…food from local farms, farmers, or farmers markets…or even ingredients chosen by you from your local market that will be turned into something that feeds your soul. Tapping the food memory that each of us has stored inside; letting it guide and influence our own time in the kitchen.

We hope to embrace not only the “expected” areas of real food, but also those who want to incorporate healthier choices without sacrificing their love of food…how it tastes, the memories it conjures up, the comfort it brings. Yes, we’re trying to steer clear of packaged, processed, and boxed foods in favor of real foods….without absolutely excluding the sometimes frowned upon white sugar or flour (because the body craves what it craves…and sometimes things just don’t taste the same when you replace these). Making conscious choices and being present in the now with what your body needs…and taking steps towards exploring and enjoying healthier choices. If you take the time to listen, your body will tell you what it needs.

The warm comfort of the home hearth…stories, anecdotes, lessons, adventures, journeys, recipes, meals, beverages…we want to share the “why” of how food feeds more than just our bodies…how it also feeds our souls. After all, aren’t these the essential ingredients in defining real food? Please share links from your Hearth ‘n Soul with us each week.

Rules for linking:

Recipes should include healthy ingredients and can be old or new recipes or posts. Articles on real food, slow food, foraging, herbal remedies, local food, sustainable food, organics, gardening or any healthy eating information written in a positive and loving light are also welcome.

If you are new to a blog carnival, or blog hop, it is very easy to learn how to join in the fun! Simply go to the blog post for that carnival and scroll down to the bottom where you will see a small box that will say, You’re Next or Your link here. When you click on that link, you will be asked to enter the URL of your recipe or article.

Please link to your article only and not directly to your blog front page.

Place a link back to one of the blog hosts, which means adding in the URL of the blog hop post which you can copy from your browser address bar and insert at the bottom of your post. You could also choose to place a blog badge into your post.

Please link a post that closely fits into the mission. You don’t have to link up every week…link up when you can. We welcome posts that are shared in other events. If you have an older, archived post that you want to add, we welcome that…as long as you go in and add a link back to Hearth and Soul.

-Linky will stay open from 10 pm Monday to 11:59 pm Thursday (Eastern time).
Please feel free to use and share the Hearth and Soul Hop badge listed below to promote the Blog Hop.

Hearth & Soul Hop
Why Link Up Your Posts?
Now, in case you never participated in a blog hop and wonder what the point would be in doing so, the answer is this-
You can write some really awesome terrific posts, but if no one knows about them, people won't find their way to your blog. If you want more visits to your blog, linking up your posts is a great way to do it. Not every single person who comes and checks out your posts will become a follower of your blog, but if your post is enticing enough, there's a good chance that people will decide to follow or subscribe to your blog.
Even if this doesn't happen this week, if you start posting links to posts you write on a regular basis, you'll become a "familiar face" to people participating in the Hearth and Soul blog hop, and there's a good chance they'll subscribe to your site in the future.
Just a few hints- to get more hits:
1) Try to link up to the blog party earlier on in the game. The later on you add your participating post, the fewer visits you'll likely get.
2) Try making the title as interesting and eye catching (but relevant!) as possible. If you write "Healthy Food" as your title, you'll probably get fewer hits than if you write "Some Amazing New Info That'll Keep Your Body Strong!" as the blog post title.
3) If your post has interesting perks, like if its frugal, or gluten free, or allergy friendly, or vegan, try to include those in the title so that people looking for those types of posts can find you more easily.

Well, what are you waiting for? Lets get this party started!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Budget Double Birthday Party Celebration

Pirate treasure map for our
"Tape the X on the Treasure Map" game,
"Pin the Tail on the Donkey" style
My boys have birthdays a few days apart. They're 2 years apart, but because they are home with me and not in daycare only with kids their exact ages, their friends are a range of ages, and often they play with the same kids, or with the same sets of siblings.
I figured that instead of making 2 birthday parties for my kids, promoting jealousy between them and the dilemma of just who gets to be the center of attention, and which friends to invite to which party, I'd just make my kids a joint birthday party.

Today, we had a really terrific party. The weather was perfect, the environment pleasant, activities great, company terrific, and the cost stupendous.

This birthday party was sugar free, gluten free, dairy free. And yes, we had cake. Frosted cake.

The total cost of the party was what I paid for 1 cup of honey, 1 cup of black beans, and 5 eggs. Pretty much nothing.
But that doesn't mean the party was lacking in any way. In fact, I think the party was one of the most rocking parties I ever attended. The kids all had a terrific time, and so did the adults!
What did we do?
Well, the party planning only started yesterday morning. Correction- a week ago, when I went grocery shopping, I knew already what type of cake I'd make, so I bought any ingredients I didn't currently have in the house. Other than that, the schedule and activities were only decided upon yesterday morning.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Frugal Crafts for Kids

A turtle costume I made for my son.
Shell is made out of paper mache.
Ever try to think of creative projects you can do at home with your kids to entertain them, but don't want to spend a fortune on supplies? I've previously shared a recipe for making salt dough; here's some more crafts you can do with your kids to keep them entertained frugally.

Frugal Crafts For Kids

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Homemade MSG Free Onion Soup Mix

I used to make quite a few recipes with onion soup mix. It tastes yummy, is easy, and adds lots of flavors to foods with no work at all.
It's also very processed and has lots of chemicals in it. Yes, even the ones labeled "MSG free".
Fortunately, I recently discovered a recipe for homemade onion soup mix, using only ingredients I already had in the house! It's terrific for days like today when I feel really terrible. (I had gluten 2 times this past week- in small amounts, but I think it was enough to weaken my immune system and allow me to get sick- this is the first time I've gotten sick since going gluten free, even when everyone else in my family has been sick.)
This soup mix makes a good instant soup, and works well as a seasoning for recipes that call for onion soup.
I'll be honest- it doesn't taste exactly like the boxed mixes, but its close enough, and still good.

I got this from Heavenly Homemaker, an awesome site, by the way, for frugal, healthy recipes. (Only she uses gluten... so most of her recipes don't work for me. Oh well...)

Homemade Onion Soup Mix

Friday, September 16, 2011

Homemade Vegan Worcestershire Sauce

My nearly finished bottle of homemade
Worcestershire sauce
Its very hard to find Worcestershire sauce where I live, so I asked one of my friends who was traveling to the US to bring me back some of that yummy sauce. My friend did so, and I excitedly added it to my collection of condiments.

That Heinz bottle of Worcestershire sauce just stayed on my shelf though, unused. Reading through the label is scary- too many ingredients that I either don't recognize or know specifically to be very unhealthy. Some of those wonderful ingredients include high fructose corn syrup, caramel food coloring, polysorbate 80, sodium benzoate, etc...
Is it any wonder that I decided to look to see if I could make my own Worcestershire sauce, one without any scary ingredients?

This is the recipe that I found, tweaked, and have been using successfully for the past year or so. Its cheaper to make this than to buy Worcestershire sauce, has no scary ingredients, and is also fish free, making it perfect for people that can't or won't eat fish for whatever reason. You can easily make it gluten free by using gluten free soy sauce in the recipe.
Unfortunately, it does have some white sugar in it; I haven't tried yet making this with healthier sweetener options, but I use so little Worcestershire sauce at a time, and the amount of sugar in it is relatively small in comparison, that I don't have a problem using this recipe at this point in time. If anyone has a white sugar free Worcestershire sauce recipe, I'd be glad to try it out. I assume that it would probably work with rapadura, but can't make any guarantees.

Homemade Worcestershire Sauce

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Today is a Special Day

My husband, Mike.
Pic taken on our wedding day.
Today is an extra special day. Today marks 5 years from the event that changed my life in so many ways.
5 years ago to this day, Michael (aka Mike) and I became husband and wife. I can't say things were smooth sailing right from the start; like every couple, we had our ups and downs, mostly in the financial sphere, as well as when we were learning the ins and outs of living as a married couple. What Mike and I have been through together only served to draw us closer, and I can say with confidence that 5 years ago, September 14th, I married my soul mate, the guy who is absolutely perfect for me, everything I needed and wanted.
That isn't to say that Mike and I are alike in every way. In fact, when my father first met my husband, right before we got engaged, he expressed to me that he didn't see how Mike and I could work out as a couple, as we're just so different from each other, night and day, in fact.
My dad was right. In so many aspects, Mike and I are/were polar opposites. He's a gentle, soft spoken, laid back, well mannered guy, and I'm a more pushy, loud mouthed outspoken woman. I'm the type of person who is constantly on the move, never sitting still, a go getter, and always seeking an adventure; Mike, on the other hand, likes nothing more than to just chill out and relax at home; traveling stresses him out. I'm outgoing; Mike is an introvert. My husband is very proper, refined, and a bit of a neat freak; I did not get the same type of upbringing and I'm just a tad less “proper” and much more messy. Even in the looks department we're very different, as I'm big boned, broad, and on the heavier side; Mike weighs a good 50 pounds less than me (when I'm not pregnant!) and is a string bean.
Me on our wedding day.
Wow, I look so young! I was only 18 then!
Of course, all this was before we were married. Over the last 5 years together, we've rubbed off a lot on each other and our personalities are actually a lot less different than they once were. I really feel that marriage has brought out the best in us, softening our rougher edges, and making us a little less extreme in our personality traits.

One thing though, that Mike and I always had in common, which really has been the basis and backbone of our marriage, is that we are on the same page when it comes to how we view the world. We both value the same things, and have similar perspectives on nearly everything. The coolest thing about Mike is that he is almost a mind reader- when I try to explain to him how I feel about a certain issue, I don't need to do much explaining at all- Mike totally “gets me”, and usually feels very similarly! Its so nice to have someone who understands how I think and is on the same page and doesn't think I'm a nutter, even when I feel and do certain things very differently from the norm.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Homemade Arithmetic Manipulatives for Homeschooling

I'm planning on homeschooling my kids. In fact, I say that I'm already homeschooling my children, as in my area it is nearly unheard of to have a child who is 2 or older be at home instead of in nursery/daycare. Having a 4 year old at home? Well, there is public school preschool already for children aged 3 and up, and keeping a 4 year old at home raises quite a few eyebrows, indeed, when people see him with me during normal school hours.
So yes, I consider myself to be homeschooling already, as I have a 2 and a 4 year old child at home with me full time; I am the one providing all their educational needs.
At this age, there isn't much schooling that needs to be done. Kids pick up so much just from their every day life; their head gets full of knowledge just from living life fully and the explanations about the where's, why's and how's that inquisitive children's minds are always asking every day of their lives. Formal schooling certainly isn't necessary during the preschool years.

A lot about the unschooling homeschooling philosophy speaks to me. Unschoolers believe that a child naturally is motivated to learn, and by forcing them to learn by having a rigid learning schedule, etc... a child's thirst to learn is quashed. Unschoolers believe in child led learning, not parent led learning. When the child expresses an interest in something, the parents provide the material and help to learn it, but not before. If the child doesn't show an interest in the subject, the parents won't require him to learn it.

I'm not completely in the unschooling camp; there are things that I'd require that my child learn, even if they weren't particularly interested in it, as I think there are some basics that must be learned in order to be a fully functioning adult in society, but the child led learning is something that I think is beautiful.

And so, for a while, Lee and I were learning the alphabet together, identifying and writing letters, learning the sounds the letters made, and beginning to put together basic words. But lately, Lee has shown that he really wants to learn arithmetic. I'd be standing there washing the dishes, the kids coloring pictures, and Lee would ask me "Mommy, how much is 4 and 2?" And I'd stop what I was doing, show him how to figure it out using his fingers, and then go back to washing the dishes. 5 minutes later- "Mommy, how much is 6 and 3?" And again, I'd show him how to figure it out.
At least a few times every single day, Lee has been asking me arithmetic questions. Even though some might say 4 years old is a drop young for teaching addition and subtraction, Lee has shown a strong interest in learning the subject, so I decided the time is ripe to teach him math.

Here is a tool that I made to teach my son arithmetic. It cost me absolutely nothing to make, and with its visual aids, is working wonders to teach my son basic arithmetic concepts.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Homemade Fig Honey- Fig Syrup- Natural Sugar Free Sweetener

My homemade fig honey
I am on a quest with my family to cut back all our use of processed white sugar, and replacing it with chemical free, frugal sweeteners. In my attempt to find something to use as a sweetener instead of expensive honey and maple syrup, I was trying to figure out what I could use to make my own healthier sweetener. (Note- too much of any sweetener isn't so healthy, but I'm trying to use sweeteners as close to how they come in nature, without having been bleached or stripped of the nutrients that come together with the sweetness.)
A friend suggested to me to try to make a sweetener from one of the fruit I am able to get in my area either for free, either by gleaning or foraging, or at very low cost in season at the store or farmer's market. The first thing that came to mind was to try to make a sweetener out of figs, as I've got plenty of fig trees growing in my area, and I'm never quite sure what to do with them, and because they're so sugary and sweet.

I googled and scoured the internet, but didn't really come across with any good ways of making a sweetener out of figs.

So, I used my head and came up with this awesome idea- making fig honey! Ok, maybe honey is the wrong word to use and syrup would be a better description, but all the fig syrups I found on the internet contained white sugar, which is something completely different than what I made. This is a sweetener made entirely out of figs and water, nothing more.
And it contains no fig solids either, which makes it a good replacement for honey in recipes.

How do you make fig honey? Here's how.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Tribute- 9/11

I'll tell you straight out that this post has nothing to do with frugality.
Nothing to do with parenting.
Nothing to do with anything I usually write about, but I felt it was important nonetheless.

Today, 10 years ago, I was sitting in my 9th grade classroom between periods, and my sister sought me out to tell me "An airplane just flew into one of the Twin Towers in New York." I didn't quite get the magnitude of it at the time, assuming it was a small private jet that lost its direction and tragically hit into a building. Then when not long after that, we heard from our teachers that a second plane just hit the second Twin Tower, and then we knew that it was more than a fluke and it was serious news indeed.
We didn't learn much after that, and the school was considering early dismissal, afraid because there also was a terror scare in our city. People were panicking.
I went home at noon, as I usually did (I was homeschooled for half the day that year), and spent the afternoon with my family glued to the non stop commentary on the news.

I didn't live in New York. I had relatives there, but the magnitude didn't hit me fully. I mean it did, but I didn't know anyone in the Twin Towers. It was scary to think about, the fact that these people were just sitting at their desk at work when their lives were either ended or completely altered in a huge way.
And then I found out that yes, even though I didn't live in NY, the tragedy became very personal indeed to me.

My cousin Aaron, my second cousin who I'd never met, 24 years old, was working as a broker for Cantor Fitzgerald on one of the upper floors. After that fateful day, he was never seen or heard from again.
One of the many who perished, with no remains left behind; he must have been incinerated upon impact.
This cousin of mine; we shared a great grandfather, and I never got a chance to meet him, because some people decided he deserved to die because he was an American.
So sad.
So sad that I never got to meet this cousin that apparently was so special that 800 people showed up for his memorial service! At such a young age to have made such an impact on people's lives shows something really special about him.
One of the things my cousin was known for was his always trying to live his life to the fullest, and to make people happy and learn to enjoy life.
I'd like to think that maybe, maybe, his legacy lives on through me, and through this blog, trying to make the best life possible, even with not much money, to try to live life to the fullest even on a very tight budget.

RIP Cousin Aaron.
Aaron, you will be missed. Too bad I never got to meet you. I'm sure I would have liked you, after everything I've heard about you.

I know I'm not the only one personally affected by 9/11. Every American's life was changed forever on that day.

I must say that I'm proud to be an American. The way the US united in solidarity after such a tragedy spoke wonders about the American spirit.

This song brings me to tears every time I hear it and I felt I needed to include it in my post.

 

My life actually was even more personally affected by the 9/11 terror attacks.

My father is a doctor for the US military. Because of 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror the US engaged in, my father was deployed to Iraq for one year, where he spent his time as part of a Stryker brigade, getting shot at, battered around, and losing dear friends of his.

My dad and some of his fellow soldiers in Baghdad.
My dad came back from Iraq changed. He injured his shoulder permanently being thrown around the MEV (Medical Evacuation Vehicle) and is still suffering from it today. He missed his eldest daughter's wedding while stationed in Iraq. And he came home with a whole new appreciation of life and a different attitude.

My father is being deployed yet again within the next few months, this time to Kuwait. Please, let my dad come back home safely.

God bless our soldiers. God bless all those who died on 9-11. God bless all the heroes of 9/11. God bless the USA.

How were you personally affected by 9/11? Do you know any people who got killed that day? Where were you when you heard what happened?
Do you have any friends or relatives in the US military?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Homemade Mexican Spice Mixes

I used to have no problem buying pre-made spice mixes from the grocery store or the spice section of the bulk foods store. That is... until I one day decided to look at the package of my curry spice mix and noted that MSG (monosodium glutemate), a chemical we absolutely avoid in our house, was in that spice mix.
ACK!
Nope. Not going to be eating that.
Unfortunately, spice mixes often get away without writing exactly what they contain; they often just write "spices", which, at least where I live, and in many other places, can mean there is unlabeled MSG in there. We're all into keeping things natural in our home, chemical free and made from scratch.
On top of that, where I live, there isn't a large enough Mexican population for Mexican foods to be sold here, so many of the spice mixes used in Mexican foods can't even be purchased here, even if you weren't concerned about the MSG.
Or, you might want to make something that calls for one of these spice mixes and you don't want to have to run out and buy a ready made mix if you can save the time and gas money (not to mention the other money that will inevitably be spent once you make a trip to the store).
Either way, it's always good to know how to make your own spice mixes at home.
Here are some of my favorites that we've used for Mexican night in our home (some as recently as yesterday).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Vegan Meat Substitute

The finished "meat". Haha, I know!!! Not the most photogenic
 food, but what do you expect? It's supposed to taste
 good and be a filling; it isn't so presentable in things...
Are you a vegan or vegetarian? Do you ever host friends that are vegan or vegetarian? Or are you ever in need of a meat style sauce or filling that you want to make meat free? Here's a terrific recipe that tastes pretty meaty but has no meat in it. Nope, no soy either, nor wheat gluten/seitan. Its pretty budget friendly too, as well as versatile. You can use it for shepherd's pie, as a meat filling for ravioli, as the meat layer in lasagna, among many other things.

Vegan Meat Replacement Recipe

Foraging Produce vs Shopping at the Grocery Store


Grapes, passionfruit, and almonds, as well
as the first lemon of the season.
All picked today within 2 hours.
I love foraging for foods to nourish my family. It's how I fill our refrigerator and cupboard with fruits, veggies, and nuts all year long. I forage so much, that I actually jokingly refer to the "great outdoors" as my "grocery store". But it really is not. If anyone tries to make you think that foraging is just like grocery shopping, they're pulling a fast one on you.
Foraging and grocery shopping have one thing in common. They both provide you and your family with food. But, they're so different from each other in so many ways. As I was foraging all the food today in the picture at the right, it hit me just how different supermarket sh

How does foraging differ from grocery shopping? Let me count the ways.

Foraging vs Grocery Shopping

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When Frugal People Seem Hypocritical

Sometimes I wonder what people think of me when they first meet me. They might look at my stylish, often name brand clothing, pushing my children wearing their nice clothes, in my fancy, flashy double stroller, going on trips together, perhaps to the expensive local zoo, and assume I'm a middle or upper class lady, living the high life with my family. Upon meeting me, when they discover that I make money by writing about living an extremely frugal lifestyle, I can almost see them mentally rolling their eyes, thinking to themselves “Oh, just another one of those bloggers who doesn't practice what she preaches, living it up while claiming to be extremely frugal. She probably thinks buying one latte a day instead of two is being extremely thrifty.”

On the other end of the spectrum, some blog readers might not understand how it is that I don't go stir crazy, living such an austere lifestyle, cramped into a teeny tiny home with my growing family, eating foods that are 'beneath the dignity' of most people to ingest. It may seem like I'm depriving myself and my children of all enjoyment in life, living in our “decrepit hovel” and subsisting on “food scraps and weeds”, and that when my children grow up, they'll resent all this “lack”.

And lest you think I'm just imagining this happening, I can tell you of numerous times when I've been on outings with my kids, licking a (shared) ice cream cone. Real life friends aware of my extremely frugal lifestyle and writing have gone as far as to tsk me, literally wagging their fingers at me over my “naughty indulgence”. Of course they reassured me afterward that they meant it as a joke, but you know what they say- every joke has a bit of truth, and they may have been feeling subconsciously that I was being just the slightest bit hypocritical.
And there are other real life friends who have shaken their heads at me sadly, feeling sorry for me that our family is subsisting on such a tiny budget and therefore living a depressing, melancholy existence, especially after being in my apartment and seeing how small of a space we live in, too tiny to have any couches without making our home too cramped to function, so we choose to live without a couch, etc... and make comments about how we'll need to find a new apartment soon, and don't we go out of our minds from the lack of space?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Foraging for Purslane

Purslane sauted in butter with onions and garlic.

I love foraging. I love writing posts about foraging. But every time I go to write a post on foraging, I start questioning myself.  Will this post actually help most of my readers? Does this plant actually grow where my readers live and not just locally? Is the plant easy to find, especially for readers who don't live in the country side? Because of different climates, is this plant actually in season where most of my readers live (various parts of the US)? Does the plant taste good enough and not entail too much hard work that most readers will actually try it out themselves?

Purslane (portulaca oleracea- also known as pigweed, verdolaga, pusley, or little hogweed) poses none of these problems, and is actually the perfect foraged food to feature on my blog.

Why? Because it is absolutely delicious and mild. You don't need to be an exotic foods lover to enjoy eating purslane. It takes no advance preparation to be able to eat it and has many different culinary uses.

But the best part about purslane is it grows EVERYWHERE! There isn't a single continent in the world other than Antarctica that doesn't have purslane growing on it. Whether you live in Canada, New England, Southern US, the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa (and a host of other places I didn't mention because this list was getting long), you're in luck! Because come summer, and this plant grows where you do. You just need to open your eyes.

Purslane likes heat, so is likely to come up during the hottest part of the summer, and doesn't need so much water either, but does well even where it's very rainy during the summer. It grows amidst other plants on grassy knolls, from between cracks in driveways and sidewalks, among your other plants in your vegetable garden, etc... The only thing it doesn't really like is too much shade or too much water.

Why would you want to forage purslane? 
Well, for starters, because it tastes nice. Purslane has a taste that is hard to describe. I'd say it tastes somewhat like a cross between cucumbers and green beans, with a bit of lemon, when raw, and when cooked it still tastes like that, with the slightest touch of asparagus (but barely- and I've never heard anyone else describe the taste as asparagusy). An interesting fact- the earlier in the morning you pick purslane, the more sour it is, something having to do with the way the plant does its photosynthesis.

Purslane can be eaten raw in salads, sauted with onions and garlic, in stir fries, and in soups. I've cooked purslane with chicken, cooked it in an omelet, used it as a topping for pizza, to name but a few more options.

It's very yummy and good for non adventerous eaters. Two people I know who decidedly do NOT like anything "weird" or "exotic" or "funky" ate some purslane that I offered them, and then kept on asking me for more and more, they liked it that much.

The other reason why someone might want to forage purslane is it is tremendously healthy. It has one of the highest sources of omega 3 fatty acids of any plant source, and is very rich in vitamins and minerals as well. (See here for a more complete list.) On top of everything else, as a foraged plant, its naturally organic, and it's free!

How do you identify purslane?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Is Frugal Cheap? Is Cheap Frugal?

On a message board I frequent, someone linked to this article on "frugality", which ended up getting lots of responses. Some of the people ridiculed the author for being "less than frugal" by purchasing really expensive bags, and other people ridiculed the author for missing the point of frugality, because frugal doesn't mean cheap.
Does it?
Does frugal mean cheap?
Is cheap frugal?

I was asked to weigh in on the topic.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Quick Fruit Shake and Healthy Sugar Free Sweetener

I've always been a fan of shakes for breakfast. Their ease. The fact that they're so filling. That they're nutritious, delicious, and a well rounded meal. That they're quick to prepare and drink on days when you have less energy and time.
And now because they're a good sugar free, gluten free, dairy free recipe that is quite frugal to make.

To sweeten this recipe, I used overripe bananas. Last time I was in the grocery store, bananas weren't that cheap, as they're not really in season yet over here, but there were a bunch of really overripe bananas in the reduced section, being sold for only 18 cents a pound! Needless to say, I bought a good 15 pounds of those yellowish/brown mushy bananas.

Overripe bananas are terrific to use as a healthy sugar replacement in recipes, so long as you don't mind a strong banana flavor, as they are very sweet and delicious! You don't need to buy them fresh and wait for them to get overripe- if you can buy them from the reduced rack, you'll get them the perfect sweetness without needing to pay as much money.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Greek Stuffed Pepper (Casserole) Recipe

I'm always looking for ways to serve nice looking food without too much work, and without spending too much money. Stuffed peppers is one of those foods; not too much work, very versatile, can be made very cheaply, and it looks nice when you serve it.

I generally make my stuffed peppers, and stick the leftover stuffing around the peppers in the pan, making it look more like a "casserole" than individual stuffed peppers, but once I remove them from the pan and serve them individually, they look like your usual stuffed peppers, just as presentable, etc...
If peppers aren't cheap where you live, you can also use this exact same recipe for making stuffed zucchini (you just hollow out the inside with a spoon, knife, or vegetable corer (my choice).
I use green bell peppers for my recipes, as they're usually much cheaper than the colored peppers, and they all taste good. (The ones I used in these pictures were purchased on sale for 12 cents a pound!)

This recipe is a Greek version of stuffed peppers, and it is absolutely delicious.

Greek Stuffed Pepper Recipe

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Eliminating Sugar- Frugally, Naturally

For someone who tries to feed her family as healthily as possible, I've been feeding them food with refined white sugar for an awfully long time. And pretty much everyone knows, not just the "Health Food Fanatics" like myself, that white sugar is decidedly unhealthy. It's been linked to blood sugar surges and crashes, hyperactivity, obesity, diabetes, metabolic imbalances, candida, cholesterol, and weakened immune systems, among many other things.
Why, oh why, then, was I still buying sugar? Why, oh why, did I not eliminate it and replace it with something healthier?
For someone as health conscious as myself, using white sugar was more than just the slightest bit hypocritical.
But what kept me using sugar was the price. Sugar was cheap, only 35 cents a pound, and we like sweet things in our home. Other sweeteners, though I knew they were healthy, put me off buying them as they were exorbitantly priced. Honey locally is 5 dollars a pound, maple syrup roughly the same. Date honey, a "cheaper sweetener" is a whole $3.20 per pound. My frugal self cringed at paying these high prices. I just. couldn't. bring. myself. to spend that much money on sweeteners.
So while I was cutting out msg, white flour, food coloring, artificial flavorings, etc... I was still feeding my family something I knew in my heart of hearts to be vastly unhealthy.
But hey, at least its still healthier than high fructose corn syrup, right?

But now, now I decided at long last that I have to cut sugar out of our family's diet.
Come hell or high water.

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