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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hearth and Soul Blog Hop


Hearth & Soul Hop

Welcome back to yet another edition of the Hearth and Soul blog hop.
This is where you get the chance each week to share your favorite food related posts with the other visitors to the hop, and you get to check out theirs as well. The Hearth and Soul Hop is about food that not only nourishes our body, but also nourishes our souls.

Here's a recap of some of the rules for participating:


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.
As much as many of us are interested in frugality and green/natural living, this is a food blog hop; there are many other blog hops where you can share those posts of yours. Please keep your non food related blog posts off the hop.

All the hosts at Hearth and Soul care very deeply about this blog hop, and make an group effort to be sure that every post is commented on. We also Pin and Tweet many of the entries. You don’t find this with every blog hop, and in exchange for our efforts, we respectfully request that you include a link in the actual blog post you are sharing back to one of the hosts, either by worded link or using our badge. It is not enough to link using a communal blog party page. People rarely click on these links and it is unlikely they will find the Hearth and Soul hop using these sort of pages.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dijon Purslane or String Beans Recipe


Purslane is my favorite plant to forage in the summer, and probably my favorite foraged plant altogether, as its very mild and versatile, can be eaten both raw and cooked, and it also grows very nicely in my window boxes. Though I do need to supplement whats in my window boxes with what's growing wild, because my window boxes can't keep up with my demand for purslane.

Read more about foraging purslane here to find out how you can pick it yourself. If you live near a Mexican population and there is a Mexican market near you, its called verdolagas in Spanish and used in Mexican cooking. (I've also seen it sold occasionally in the open air market near me.)

One thing that's remarkable, in my opinion, about purslane is that it tastes so similar to string beans when it's cooked! I rarely buy string beans because they're not so cheap here usually, but purslane is free and can be used to replace string beans in recipes. So this recipe, though I use it for purslane, originally comes from a string bean recipe, and can be used for green beans, wax beans, etc... or purslane, of course.

Dijon Purslane or Green Beans Recipe

Friday, July 27, 2012

Vegan Stuffed Eggplant Recipe- Turkish Inspired, Gluten Free


When we first moved to our current apartment, we had a lovely 70 year old French Tunisian woman as our next door neighbor. We'd sit and talk for many hours, and surprisingly, despite having lived through very different times (she shared with me her experience living during World War 2 in Tunisia), we had enough in common that we had what to share with and learn from each other.
We both were into self sufficiency and cooking, and I, eager to learn more traditional recipes from different places in the world, because traditional recipes usually are very flavorful without relying on chemicals to make them that way, asked her to teach me how to cook foods from her home country.
See, neither of us speak the local language all to well, she much more comfortable in French, and myself, more comfortable in English, but we managed to communicate effectively enough for her to open a French Tunisian cookbook and show me some of her favorite recipes. One of those was stuffed eggplant, typically stuffed with meat, but I made mine stuffed with ground seitan. (Yes, that was before I went 100% off gluten.)
She has since moved away, and I don't remember at all what was in her recipe, but the idea of stuffing an eggplant remained in my head. (Before that, I had never even heard of the concept of stuffing an eggplant.)

Recently, I was in the store and saw a whole bunch of eggplants on the reduced rack being sold for pennies, with nothing noticeably wrong with them (other than them being rather oddly shaped, but it could be that its just a different variety.) Obviously I went and bought a bunch.

When trying to figure out something to make with those eggplants, I thought back to my old neighbor and her stuffed Tunisian style eggplants, and I got inspired. Only I didn't remember what Tunisian style spices were, and felt like making it Turkish style. This recipe is with lentils, so it's vegan, frugal, gluten free, and pretty nutritious. Oh, and did I mention quite delicious as well?

Vegan Stuffed Eggplant- Turkish Style

Cooking With Kids- Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies Recipe- Vegan, with Gluten Free Option

Summer vacation. For most, it probably means that the kids are home more than they are usually, but not in my case, as my kids are with me at home year round. But what summer vacation does mean is their friends are home, and it's a little too hot to play outside in the middle of the day. So the kids get together with their friends, and as parents, we look for fun things for the kids to do indoors with their playdates. Today, we decided to make cookies. I'd originally considered making chewy chocolate chip cookies, but, as luck would have it, we were completely out of chocolate chips, so that was a no go.

Instead, I decided to make lemon poppy seed cookies with the kids, as it had only ingredients that I had in the house. I made a whole activity out of it, not just having them make the cookies, but actually figuring out the recipe. 
None of the kids could read, but I wanted them to start learning how to understand and follow a recipe. (Mike can't cook; I want my kids to inherit my kitchen skills.)
On a whiteboard, I drew this recipe in a way that kids could follow along (with only a bit of help from an adult). For example, instead of writing "2 cups" I drew two cups next to a picture of the ingredient. For teaspoons I drew little spoons, and for tablespoons I drew big spoons. For 3/4 of a cup, I drew a cup and divided it into 4, and filled in three of those parts. 
This way, the activity lasted a little longer, and was more educational than if I had just told them what to measure. And the kids got a kick out of figuring out the recipe for themselves.

This recipe is a terrific one because it is egg free and vegan, can be made either with gluten or gluten free, and is very easy and quick to make.

Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies Recipe- Gluten Free Alternative

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Figuring Out The True Price Of Vegetables

Zucchini with the not so edible parts cut off
It all started because of the green beans. And the corn.
I know that in the US very often frozen and canned produce is cheaper than fresh, but locally, canned and frozen produce isn't so cheap. In fact, frozen veggies and canned are so expensive that I try to buy them only rarely, to use them at those times when I really have no other choice, and even then, I feel guilty about my wastefulness.


So, over a year ago, when I saw corn on the cob being sold at the grocery for a pretty good price per pound, I thought to myself "Why don't I stock up, and freeze my own corn instead of buying it already frozen?"

Then I thought to myself, "But is it really cheaper? Corn on the cob, after all, is corn plus cob plus the leaves protecting the cob, and frozen corn is just straight corn, no waste? How can I really know which is cheaper? Its comparing apples and oranges!"
So in the end, I didn't freeze up a bunch of my own homemade frozen corn.

A little while after that, I saw fresh string beans on sale, for what looked like a reasonable price, and again, thought to myself that I should just freeze my own instead of buying the prepackaged frozen ones, but then the skepticism kept on creeping in, saying "How do you know what's really cheaper?"
And then I thought "You can't know, so do something about it- figure it out! You figured it out for chicken and beans and starches, this isn't any different. Do the calculations yourself and stop futzing around!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kids Are Expensive; Leave Them At Home

One of the things I hear most often when people hear I have all three kids at home with me instead of sending them out to school, playgroup, or a babysitter is 'How do you manage? Don't you ever need a break from your kids?'
Its true, I definitely need some tricks up my sleeve to be able to manage, it's not always so easy, and I do need breaks from my kids to not have 'Mommy overload'.
Fortunately my husband doesn't have the longest workday, and is able to take over for me when he comes back, giving me a well deserved break. (Though try as he might, he still hasn't managed to get the nursing part yet, leaving me with only 75% freedom.)
Anyone who's a mom probably has experienced similar though- when I'm home, even if I've passed on the torch of parental responsibility to Mike, my kids know to come directly to me when they want something, throwing themselves in a hard belly slam on the floor, kicking and flailing, wailing in a voice that could shatter glass and wake the dead simultaneously, "I want Mommy to get me water!" for half an hour straight, while Mike stands there with the desired drink, a bemused expression on his face. (Or maybe I'm just lucky like that.)
Yet somehow, when I'm not around, they manage just fine without me. (Can you believe it? The fabric of the universe, surprisingly, did not fall apart the second I walked out the door.) You may say I love going out without the children, but that would be an understatement.

I try to make sure I have regular fun times without my kids (at this stage in my life, any time without the kids automatically becomes a fun time) both at a friend's house, and going to the city or to go grocery shopping. Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty that I'm leaving my kids (they try their very best to guilt trip me, what with their weepy eyes, and their trying to run onto the bus with me, crying "Mommy, don't go!"), but then I realize that I'm doing what I need to do to be a better mother. (And anyhow, when I take them along with me after they beg to come, and 5 minutes into the trip, they start whining, "I want to go home, I miss Daddy." I try to tie a string around my finger so that next time, I learn my lesson and leave them home.)

But either way, whether or not its a good idea or a bad idea to leave them with dad so I can have so alone time, the fact of the matter is- its a whole lot cheaper to go by my lonesome to the city or to run errands, a fact made very clear to me during my trip by myself to the city today.

(P.S. Any time I say alone, I mean just me and the baby. We're attached at the breast. I never leave the home without her unless she's napping and I'm making a quick run to the corner grocery store.
P.P.S. When I say leaving the kids home, I mean leaving them with my husband, not by themselves. Just making that clear.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shedding Light on Americans' Current Financial Situation

This is a guest post by Suzan  Bekiroglu. Ms. Bekiroglu is a published author, freelance writer and editorial consultant for secureloanconsolidation.com. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida, she faced the mounting obstacle of paying over $24,000 back in student loan debt. Determined to eliminate the debt, she became knowledgeable about money management. She seeks to educate others with tips on managing student loans and other kinds of debt, as well as in general personal finance and money saving tips. 

The Survey of Consumer Finances released by the Federal Reserve on June 11 revealed a surprising consequence of the Great Recession- credit card debt reduction. The number of families using credit cards dropped from 2007 to 2010, and the median balance on existing cards fell by 16.1 percent. This debt reduction was not without consequences, however.

Household Wealth Evaporated During the Recession

This positive reduction in credit card indebtedness was offset by the degree to which Americans lost wealth during the same period. Median family income dropped from $49,600 in 2007 to $45,800 in 2010, a decline of 7.7 percent. Even more disturbing is the dip in median family net worth, which lost 38.3 percent, from $126,400 in 2007 to just $77,300 in 2010.

The average credit card debt held by 46.1 percent of American families stood at $3,100 in 2007. In 2010, it was just $2,600. While the credit card debt reduction is a positive, this statistical finding is more likely to point to the number of bankruptcy filings that characterized the worst months of the Great Recession. Consumers, faced with rising debt, the mortgage crisis, and high unemployment opted for debt erasure in an effort to hang on to some aspect of their lives.

Hearth and Soul Blog Hop


Hearth & Soul Hop

Welcome back to yet another edition of the Hearth and Soul blog hop.
This is where you get the chance each week to share your favorite food related posts with the other visitors to the hop, and you get to check out theirs as well. The Hearth and Soul Hop is about food that not only nourishes our body, but also nourishes our souls.

Here's a recap of some of the rules for participating:


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.
As much as many of us are interested in frugality and green/natural living, this is a food blog hop; there are many other blog hops where you can share those posts of yours. Please keep your non food related blog posts off the hop.

All the hosts at Hearth and Soul care very deeply about this blog hop, and make an group effort to be sure that every post is commented on. We also Pin and Tweet many of the entries. You don’t find this with every blog hop, and in exchange for our efforts, we respectfully request that you include a link in the actual blog post you are sharing back to one of the hosts, either by worded link or using our badge. It is not enough to link using a communal blog party page. People rarely click on these links and it is unlikely they will find the Hearth and Soul hop using these sort of pages.

Foraging Ice Plant Fruit- Hottentot Figs, Sour Figs, Sea Figs

I would call myself a pretty adventurous eater. I mean, I eat banana peels, how can I not be adventurous? I also love foraging, finding new types of wild edibles to pick and eat. So when I heard that the fruit of the ice plant was edible, I knew I had to try it out.
Last year when I went to the seaside on vacation, I picked a fruit from an ice plant, took a bite, and promptly spit it out. It was disgusting. Slimy, salty, sweet, mushy, seedy. Uch.
I didn't understand how people ate such things- they were quite revolting, and as I said above, I'm not easily turned off by foods, no matter how strange.
But eat them they do.

Ice plants, carpobrotus edulis, it turns out, are a native of South Africa, but they're cultivated in gardens around the world, from where they've spread as an invasive species, covering large areas. (My next door neighbors have ice plants growing in their garden.)The plants are made of lots of light or dark green finger like fleshy leaves on a greenish or reddish mat of stems, leaves that have 3 distinct sides and moist insides like aloe or other succulents. They have either yellow, white, or magenta, or purple flowers that remind me a bit of sea anemones.  South Africans call the fruit of this plant sour figs, sea figs, or hottentot figs, and commonly use them in jams.

Recently, when I went back to the coast, I again saw ice plants, and as I was on a quest to see what I could forage on vacation, I decided to give hottentot figs another chance, so that maybe this time I could finally see the appeal that these strange little fruit had for South Africans. Fortunately, I got it right, and now know how to make these fruit actually taste edible.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Saving Money Through Electric Heating

This post is a guest post by Thomas Milson, a blogger and green enthusiast. I found this post to be very interesting, because growing up, my house was heated by a gas run central heating system, and since we moved abroad, have had to get used to the electrical heating options here. We have radiators which are money guzzlers, making our electric bills really high in the winter, but I had heard that even so, the right electric heaters are actually the cheapest options for heating.

Recently, I haven’t had a lot of money. In fact, I have so little money that in the last place I lived (it was a house share) we never used the heating or hot water. Instead, we wore a lot of jumpers (so many jumpers) --- that's sweaters to you non Britons--- and boiled the kettle to wash the pots (I still showered because my shower was electric).

We made the decision to not use the gas (I say decision – it was not a decision) because we couldn’t afford gas and electric. The gas went because it was very expensive, so expensive in fact that it cost us more to have a couple of hours of heating and hot water with gas, than it did to use everything else that needed electricity. We could have sat with every appliance turned on for hours (we didn’t) and still spend less than what our gas bill was.

After the coldest winter I had ever experienced my tenancy agreement came to a close. So I had to find somewhere new. A week later I had found a place. It was another house share, but it had been kitted out with an electric heating system. I didn’t need to be told why this had been done: it was to save money. To say I’m a frugal person would be an understatement. Therefore I moved in.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Homemade Enchilada Sauce Recipe- Gluten Free

My sister, Violet, had really terrible hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy (dangerously bad puking)  and joined a support group for women going through the same. One of the women in her group kept on lamenting the fact that she really wishes she would be able to eat enchiladas again, that that's one thing she really, really missed during pregnancy, and my sister, Violet, had no clue what enchiladas even were. This lady taught my sister about the deliciousness of enchiladas, sharing with her her recipe for homemade enchilada sauce. Violet then passed that recipe on to me, which I modified to make it gluten free and cheaper.
This sauce can go on regular enchiladas, tortillas stuffed with meat, beans, lentils, or fish, then rolled, topped with enchilada sauce and cheese or vegan cheese sauce, then baked. You can also make layered enchiladas, which basically is like lasagna, just with layers of tortillas, enchilada sauce, cheese, and filling ingredients, then baked. To make mine gluten free, I use my grain free crepes in place of tortillas, but you can also use corn tortillas or homemade wheat tortillas if you don't need it gluten free.

Homemade Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Friday, July 20, 2012

Celery Leaf and Basil Pesto Recipe- Vegan

I try to have as little food waste as possible in my kitchen, but one of those things that I always seem to be throwing out because it often spoils before I can use it all up, is celery leaves. Its a shame though because celery is one of those things I buy frequently but rarely can find on sale.
The reason for the waste though is that with so much surface area (like most leafy veggies) it spoils rather quickly, and I can't seem to find enough recipes to use up the strong tasting and somewhat bitter leaves. I do try to freeze them but I'm rather short on freezer space thanks to the 50 pounds of dirt cheap meat in there, and I use them for soup, but don't make soup too often in the heat of the summer, so the leaves often do get wasted, despite my efforts.

The other day I had this cool idea to serve a dish from grilled polenta, grilled eggplant and zucchini slices and grilled chicken cutlets (marinated in homemade Italian dressing), thinking that it would look fancy, but it needed something to top it off, and figured pesto would do the trick.

I have this basil plant that Mike bought me for 75 cents from some kids who were selling them as a class fundraiser, which regularly provides me with terrific aromatic fresh basil, but when I checked on the plant, I didn't have enough basil to make a batch of pesto. I knew you could make pesto from other greens as well, but the only greens I had were cabbage leaves and celery leaves.
I was pretty sure that a cabbage pesto was out of the picture, so I checked online to see if you can make pesto from celery leaves, and was astounded by the quantity of recipes for that. I guess my "original idea" wasn't so original after all.

Frugal Summer Fun

This is a guest post by Nancy Evans, a freelance writer with a passion for frugality, parenting, and cooking.

The nice weather that occurs during the summer has made taking a family vacation a long-time tradition. These vacations can become incredibly expensive and they are not always practical for an average working family. Fortunately, there are a number of inexpensive activities that can help a family to have fun without spending a large amount of money. Here are a few of them:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Upcycled No Sew Bow Headband From Old Socks- Tutorial

I make holes in my socks quickly, which was why I had so many holy socks with which to make my crocheted backpack. I plan on doing a whole series of posts on different things you can do with old, holy   socks, but I didn't get around to posting the other ideas yet.
When I was over at Bianca's house and she was showing me all her upcycled clothes, she showed me a headband made out of socks that was just so cute, the idea so terrific and original, that I asked her if she minded if I "stole" the idea and posted it on my blog. Today's post is inspired by Bianca; I took her idea and ran with it! (In case you were wondering, Bianca does plan on starting a blog to share these creations of hers, and when she does, I'll share the link.)

Bianca's headband was made out of loops cut out of old socks, which were then tied together with some strings hanging down and then put onto a string, also made out of loops of old socks, which was then tied on as a headband.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Allowance For Kids- Good Idea Or Not?

Money smarts. You have it. I have it. But how do we make sure our kids get it when it's not something that we pass down to our children through our genes?
There are many theories about this, and in my opinion, all are somewhat correct, and all are somewhat incorrect. What works for one kid and one family may not work for another, and nothing you do can guarantee that your kids will be money smart, but in my opinion, there are certain things you can do to at least increase the likelihood that your kids will become "the one percent" that is smart with their money, living beneath their means, and having a good attitude towards money in general.
I decided that it's probably due time to make a series on raising "money smart kids" on my blog. Disclaimer: my oldest child will only be 5 years old in September, so I'm not someone with a whole lot experience in this matter as a parent. However, I'm basing this series on things I experienced in my own life as a kid, in books I read, on advice given from people I admire, and just some of my own common sense. This is the first post in the series.

Allowance for kids- is it a good idea or a bad idea? In the frugal world, and in the parenting world in general, I don't think there is any consensus on this issue. Each side has its own valid arguments...

However, one thing I think is fairly obvious. If the first time your kid has anything to do with money is at the age of 18 or older, when they leave the house, they'll be terribly unprepared and ignorant about all the money smarts they need to get by in life, and likely will fall into the "credit card is free money" trap when they are offered a credit card on their college campus. Yes, its possible that given time, they'll learn from their mistakes, but these mistakes often have huge consequences when made as an adult, consequences that can affect the rest of their lives, as well as the lives of their children.
The only way to get good at something is via practicing; the only way to get good at money management is via practicing. Isn't it better, therefore, to practice money management when the consequences aren't so severe, when the consequences won't mean becoming homeless, racking up debt, or not having enough money to put food on the table?
I firmly believe that it is very important for our kids to have money of their own to practice with, to practice saving, to practice smart spending, to practice budgeting, to learn from their mistakes what happens if they give into their impulses and spend recklessly, and in my opinion, having a weekly allowance gives kids the ability to learn all these important lessons.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Don't Compost It, Cook It!" Book Review

PhotobucketYou know how sometimes you meet someone and know instantly that you're kindered spirits? That's how I felt immediately when I met April.

The first time I ever heard of April was when she submitted two recipes to the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop- strawberry limeade, and gazpacho, both made out of things that the average person would generally just throw in the garbage or compost. I fell in love; after all, one of my favorite things to do is to find a terrific way to use something that would otherwise go in the trash.
April calls this "cooking with compost".

April is a single mom to a teenage boy without a lot of disposable income. She wants to be able to feed her and her son as healthily as possible and as cheaply as possible, something that I strongly identify with, and I'm sure many of you readers do as well.

April contacted me, telling me that she wanted to put together an ebook/cookbook on compost cooking, and I helped her work on the book, and even came up with the name, "Don't Compost It, Cook It".

Thrift Store Upcyled Clothes By Bianca

I remember when one of the top feature stories on Yahoo was about a woman who made a challenge for herself to spend one dollar a day on dowdy, out of fashion, and ugly thrift store dresses, and upcycle them into more modern, stylish outfits, which she would then wear around town.
Her website, NewDressADay.com has the before and after pics as well as instructions on how she remade the clothes.
 See, I think that site is cool in concept, but in practicality, it seems her answer to everything she sees is "make it a mini skirt, chop off the sleeves, and then wear it with a belt", and I don't wear mini skirts, or sleeveless, and belted dresses don't look too good on me, so her ideas aren't helpful to me at all, other than the "oh, lets look at the potential in an outfit and not just at its current state".

My friend Bianca, yes, the same one with the awesome carrot salad and terrific beet salad, also likes to buy stuff from the thrift store, which she then upcycles to make it wearable or to create it more to her taste. In my opinion, she really outdoes the author of New Dress A Day for many reasons. 

1) She only spends 25 to 50 cents on the stuff that she upcycles, instead of a dollar. (Great thrift store prices, I know!)

2) She makes stuff that are more modest than the fare at New Dress a Day; her answer to every outfit isn't "lets show as much skin as possible".

3) I'm more likely to wear the stuff that she makes, I like her sense of taste better than I like at New Dress a Day, though I'll admit, its not 100% my style.

4) She does everything by hand, no sewing machine involved.

Bianca was happy to share some pics of her upcycled outfits with you readers; while there is no before and after, she shared the techniques used to create these pieces. Hopefully you'll be inspired as much as I have been.

Hearth and Soul Blog Hop


Hearth & Soul Hop

Welcome back to yet another edition of the Hearth and Soul blog hop.
This is where you get the chance each week to share your favorite food related posts with the other visitors to the hop, and you get to check out theirs as well. The Hearth and Soul Hop is about food that not only nourishes our body, but also nourishes our souls.

Here's a recap of some of the rules for participating:


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.
As much as many of us are interested in frugality and green/natural living, this is a food blog hop; there are many other blog hops where you can share those posts of yours. Please keep your non food related blog posts off the hop.

All the hosts at Hearth and Soul care very deeply about this blog hop, and make an group effort to be sure that every post is commented on. We also Pin and Tweet many of the entries. You don’t find this with every blog hop, and in exchange for our efforts, we respectfully request that you include a link in the actual blog post you are sharing back to one of the hosts, either by worded link or using our badge. It is not enough to link using a communal blog party page. People rarely click on these links and it is unlikely they will find the Hearth and Soul hop using these sort of pages.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How to Improve Your Financial Situation

Image src
This is a guest post by Nancy Evans, a freelancer who enjoys writing about frugality and finances.

In today's economy, it is extremely easy to lose control of your finances. Fortunately, even if you are having financial trouble, there are steps you can take to re-build your finances, pay off debt, and save for the future.

Refinancing Your Home:
If you are looking to save a bit of money, refinancing your home can be a fantastic solution. When you refinance your home you can change your monthly payments, increase the equity in your home, positively influence your credit score, and you can also change the type of mortgage loan you have to adjust interest rates. Whether you want lower monthly payments on your mortgage loan or want to increase your payments to pay off your mortgage faster, refinancing your home can be a smart decision in order to save money.

Our Family Vacation- Fun, Foraging, Eating, Etc...

Ike, Mike, and Lee on vacation.
Mike, Lee, Ike, Anneliese, and I spent this past week at a resort town where we, luckily, have a place we can stay free of charge; there's a reason it has become our annual vacation destination. I wanted to share some pictures as well as what we did; I also wanted to share a few lessons I've learned from our trip.

Before we left the house, my husband got annoyed at me- he thought I way over packed, bringing stuff as if we were going away for a year and not just 5 days.
I? I have experience with this stuff. I'm a mom afterall. I know exactly what happens when you go away, especially with kids! You think you'll only need a little bit of stuff, but then you have diaper blow outs, accidents, cranky kids because they want toys to play with, kids are hungry and you need to have food with which to feed them, etc... My motto is- if you under pack, you may end up really needing something that you didn't bring, and suffer because of it. If you overpack, the worst that can happen is you have more to carry.

My husband thought I overpacked, but in the end- we used everything that we brought, and honestly, I think we should have brought more than we did, as it would have saved us money, as you'll see below.

For our trip, I decided to use disposable diapers instead of our usual cloth, as doing diaper laundry on vacation wasn't a possibility. We did not go out to eat at all while we were away, both for frugal reasons and because of food intolerances, which meant that I had to bring along some cooking implements. I also chose to bring along some foods from home that I either wasn't sure if I'd be able to find there, or that would be much more expensive to buy on vacation. All in all, we traveled with two large backpacks, one small backpack, and one shoulder bag. I still don't think it was too much, but my husband disagrees. If we'd traveled with a car, I doubt anyone would have said we overpacked, but since we traveled there by bus, t was a little harder to lug everything along.
Yes, we went by bus. The cost of transportation there, $37 round trip for the family, was the only real money we spent on the trip, other than food, which we would have had to spend at home as well. I'll admit though, food does cost more on a trip than I would at home, but still nothing outrageous.

One thing we did not bring was sun screen- sun screen is often carcinogenic, and can cause bigger problems using it than not. We all made sure to be covered up, even when at the beach and in the water, wearing hats with brims, long sleeves, etc... to keep the sun from burning us. We also made use of large umbrellas at the beach, stayed in the shade as much as possible, and timed our activities so we were indoors during the hottest/sunniest part of the day. Doing that, none of us got burnt, thankfully, even with the really hot weather and no sunscreen.

Surinamese Okra Salad Recipe

Okra- you either love it or you hate it. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I fall into the "love it" camp, after seeing just how many strange and different foods I am willing to eat. In fact, I don't think I can name even one food which falls into the "hate it" camp for me.

I recently learned a lesson about okra. If someone hates okra, there is nothing you can do to stop them sharing just how much they hate it when they hear you plan on serving it. Okra haters often can't even understand that the exact same trait, the sliminess, the interesting texture, that makes them hate it is exactly what we okra lovers can't get enough of!

Growing up, my mom would make okra in a tomato sauce with onions and garlic, and while that is plenty delicious, when I picked up okra from the farmers' market recently, I wanted to try making it a different way, and not just fried okra as is customary in the American South.

Many friends gave me all sorts of ideas, but the one I decided to go with was the recipe I got from my friend Michelle. Her family hails from Suriname, and she has a whole trove of recipes from her family's homeland, including Surinamese okra salad. To be honest, when I first heard her family was from Suriname, I had no clue where it was! Wikipedia'ing helped me learn that Suriname is in South America, near Guyana and Brazil.

This recipe is very simple to make, contains very few ingredients, and is made with no salt, so good for those on a restricted salt diet. I made a few tweaks to Michelle's family's recipe to make it healthier and just because I felt like it, so I can't tell you if its an authentic Surinamese recipe now, but it sure is close.
I was really glad that I made this recipe- my kids gobbled it up, and asked for more. I'll certainly be making this again.

Surinamese Okra Salad Recipe

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sabich Sandwich/Wrap Recipe

I never was a big sandwich fan. I also didn't used to like hummus, aside for on a very rare occasion. Hard boiled eggs? Always thought they needed mayonnaise to make them palatable.
But that all changed when I tasted my first Sabich sandwich. 

Sabich is a type of sandwich, made famous by an Israeli restauranteur, who started selling it as fast food. Its name is an acronym of the Hebrew names of the ingredients therein- salad, eggs, eggplant; they typically also contain pickles, parsley, and tahini sauce.
Sabich is generally served in a pita, but some also serve it on bread, and since we're gluten free in our home, I serve mine in gluten free wraps, like rice paper, or gluten free crepes.

Something about the combination of flavors in sabich makes it simply out of this world- the hummus pairs beautifully with the hard boiled eggs, making them moister, and the addition of the rest of the ingredients, though simple, really make the dish. They're vegetarian,  dairy free, refined sugar free, etc... and when made with these wraps, gluten free. They're also pretty healthy. Did I mention that when made with wraps, they're the perfect travel food?

I served these sabich wraps while on our recent vacation, and they were a hit by everyone. The people who ate them couldn't believe how simple the ingredients were.

Sabich Sandwich/Wrap Recipe

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chicken Vegetable Pad Thai Recipe


For me, pregnancy and nausea are two things very, very interconnected. I don't just have nausea for the first trimester, but rather, the entire nine months long! I have to say that during my first pregnancy, the nausea seriously wa s the worst I'd ever experienced in my life. Just a few months after my wedding, and I spent nearly 3 months straight in bed, just watching movies, because I was too nauseous to do anything. Very miserable.

But the first trimester was the worst part of that pregnancy. I couldn't handle anything! Worst of all was protein. Chicken, beef, and fish made me nauseous. So did anything sour or with a slight sour aftertaste, so some cheeses were out, as were nightshades and zucchini and so many other foods that I can't even remember now, fortunately, nearly 5 years later. Pretty much all proteins other than some legumes and nuts and tofu and seitan made me hurl; even the thought of those foods made me nauseous.

My 19th birthday (and husband's 21st birthday) passed during that really rough first trimester of mine, and alas, though I had wanted to go out to a restaurant to celebrate our birthdays with my husband, there was no point in going out to eat when entering a restaurant with all its food smells would make me queasy, so we ended up waiting another month, until my first trimester was over, to have our date.

When we got to that restaurant, I still was pretty nauseous, and couldn't stomach the thought of any animal proteins, yet wanted to order something that at least had protein in it. Upon scouring the menu, I discovered one dish that fit my criteria. Tofu pad thai.

That was the first time I ever had pad thai. I was not in love with the dish. It probably had something to do with my pregnancy nausea messing with my taste buds, but in the few years since then, I didn't have any interest in having pad thai again.

Recently, though, I've come across more and more gluten free pad thai recipes out there and they intrigued me, also for being gluten free, and also because they combined ingredients that I would never think to combine (soy sauce and coriander and peanuts).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hearth and Soul Blog Hop


Hearth & Soul Hop

Welcome back to yet another edition of the Hearth and Soul blog hop.
This is where you get the chance each week to share your favorite food related posts with the other visitors to the hop, and you get to check out theirs as well. The Hearth and Soul Hop is about food that not only nourishes our body, but also nourishes our souls.

Here's a recap of some of the rules for participating:


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.
As much as many of us are interested in frugality and green/natural living, this is a food blog hop; there are many other blog hops where you can share those posts of yours. Please keep your non food related blog posts off the hop.

All the hosts at Hearth and Soul care very deeply about this blog hop, and make an group effort to be sure that every post is commented on. We also Pin and Tweet many of the entries. You don’t find this with every blog hop, and in exchange for our efforts, we respectfully request that you include a link in the actual blog post you are sharing back to one of the hosts, either by worded link or using our badge. It is not enough to link using a communal blog party page. People rarely click on these links and it is unlikely they will find the Hearth and Soul hop using these sort of pages.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Recipe- Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Refined Sugar Free

I know, I know, wrong season. I should have posted this recipe around Thanksgiving, or at least in the fall or winter, but what can I do? I saw butternut squash on sale recently for very cheap and loaded up, and then made this delicious crustless, dairy free, gluten free "pumpkin pie".
Yes, my "pumpkin pie" is made with butternut squash, but guess what- pumpkin pie filling in the US is also typically made from butternut squash, so this recipe is "authentic".
This recipe is pretty adaptable. You can make it with butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, or even carrots, and it'll all be good. I make mine without refined sugar, but you can make it with regular sugar if you're just trying to keep the costs down.

Pumpkin Pie Recipe- Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Refined Sugar Free

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Easy Beet Salad Recipe

The family and I are off on a 5 day trip. Mike isn't working this week, so we were invited to stay at a relative's apartment in prime tourist area. (Yup, same place as our trip last year. I love having this vacation available to us without needing to pay high prices for hotels or other lodging!) Today is the big day! I can't wait to tell you all about our trip when we get back! (Yes, this time the trip is with the husband, not myself with 3 kids!)
In the meantime, I've scheduled a bunch of delicious recipes to share with you for your pleasure while I'm gone. (I'll still be checking my email and responding to comments as much as possible, though my internet presence won't be the same as usual.)

~  ~  ~  ~

Remember I told you about my friend, Bianca, temporarily living next door? Well, one day, I spur of the moment decided to make a bonfire and have a barbecue with Bianca and another friend, potluck style. Bianca brought along the most delicious beet salad, so different than the sweet and sour beet salads or sour and spicy beet salads that I've had before. It was a sure crowd pleaser!
When we asked Bianca what was in her beet salad, she assured is that it was very, very easy.
It absolutely is! Since getting the recipe, I've made it a few times; it's my new favorite way to make beets. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Easy Beet Salad Recipe

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Homemade Chickpea Hummus Recipe

Picture from wikipedia.
My camera ate up my picture, sorry!
Once upon a time, I didn't care much for hummus. I thought the only way to eat it was spread on sandwiches, and bread was never my thing, even before I became gluten free. In fact, I went to far as to tell the caterer for my wedding specifically not to serve hummus, even though he typically did, because I didn't care for it.
But that's because I was eating the store bought stuff, which locally, is not just chickpeas, but actually mixed with a lot of soy and hydrogenated oils, which really affects the taste.
Homemade hummus? Now that's another thing entirely- I absolutely adore it! And, if you have chickpeas already cooked (I cook up a large batch and freeze it so I have it on hand, but canned also works for this), its a cinch to make.
No, I still don't care for hummus on bread with tomatoes, but its great as a dip for veggies, mixed with tuna fish in place of mayo, or smeared on a flatbread which then gets filled with various other fillings.
P.S. Yes, I know standard hummus is made with tahini sauce, but I prefer mine without. Its cheaper that way too.

Homemade Chickpea Hummus Recipe

Friday, July 6, 2012

Homemade Sriracha Sauce Recipe- Refined Sugar Free


I thought I grew up with lots of food diversity, eating food from around the globe as our standard dinner fare. And in a sense, I did eat much more varied diet than the standard American, but there were still some cuisines that were foreign to me, some dishes and foods that I never tasted.
Sriracha sauce is one of them.
It's my mom's "fault", most likely.
She hates spice. Loves flavor, but has a strong aversion to feeling her tongue burning the way many people enjoy.
My sister, Violet, inherited my mom's dislike of hot pepper, but I'm of a different breed. I take after my dad, with my love of salsa, red pepper, and pickled peppers.
Well, since "spicy is bad" mom was the one doing most of the cooking in our house, I never had the chance to taste Sriacha sauce. Since I've been married and exploring all sorts of cuisines, with an emphasis on Asian cuisine, I've seen more and more recipes calling for Sriracha sauce. Now that I'm aware of its existence, I keep on noticing bottles of Sriracha sauce being sold all over the place. Only the price is pretty outrageous, in my opinion- over 6 dollars for a pretty small bottle, so I've never bought any. On top of that, one of the first ingredients in it is sugar, and since we're avoiding refined sugar in this house, I didn't want to spend that much money on something that wasn't even healthy.
So I've never tasted real Sriracha sauce.
But someone challenged me to make and post my own Sriracha recipe, and on top of that, I wanted Sriracha of my own to use in my Asian cooking.
A bit of a challenge to make something after never having tasted the real deal, but hey, I did that with my homemade fish sauce, so why not do it with Sriracha?

The debt-avoiding options in modern life: what can you do?

This is a guest post from Scott, a freelancer who writes on the topic of money saving and technology.

The double-dip recession has made it a troublesome time for tens of thousands of people up and down the country, and it's not letting up on many of them - even now. As unemployment is at an all-time low, and with utility prices climbing each day, now's the time to take control of your finances and avoid the possibility of falling into debt. Luckily, with new options in business and technology, there are a few good ways to keep yourself on top of your cashflow.


Online budgeting tools

It may be a simple way to start your quest to lower your debt or outgoings, but these budgeting tools will balance and itemise incoming money and all of your spending habits, so you can move forward with confidence knowing that your accurate balance sheet will decide how much disposable cash you have to spend. Starting with necessities like utility bills, food shopping and accommodation costs, don't forget to include other things you may overlook like mobile phone charges and online subscriptions. Every penny counts! Money Saving Expert has a great guide to budgeting to get you started.


Understand modern property buying companies

While it's not a choice that many people want to take, a lot of individuals find that they need to reassess their living situation. After all, people have a lot of money tied up in their housing arrangement, yet the financial burdens of owning a house in disrepair - or simply one afflicted with mounting bills - can often be the cause of debt in the first place. While the rental market is a profitable venture, getting a buy-to-let mortgage is difficult, while you also have to adapt a home to lettings laws. Consider using a company, like Tom Craven, that specialises in quick home sales, giving you the financial freedom to get back on the housing ladder with something smaller.


The little things

There are loads of smaller gadgets that you should never overlook, should you want to save yourself some money in the long-term. Dongles, for example, may save you loads of cash on internet costs - with some, you don't even have to sign up for a long-term contract. Rechargeable batteries are cheap, and will likely last longer than most good brands' offerings anyway. Special shower heads lower the amount of water you use, while smart plugs cut electricity to devices not in use. They may cost a little up front, but they will save you plenty in the long term.


In what way do you find technology helps you save money? I find the biggest way technology helps me save money is via the blogs I read for frugal tips, as well as Wikihow for DIY things. What about you?


See my disclaimer.

Free Books to Download- Part 2

This may look like an ad, but its just a graphic I grabbed
Yesterday, I spoke about my love affair with books that has continued over the years. Books and I- we're inseparable. (I just finished a really great one- Amy Tan's "The Kitchen God's Wife"!)
My husband has never understood what I love so much about books- he'll take a movie over a book any day, while I'm exactly the opposite.
I live in a teeny tiny apartment, and despite having not much space for things, we have a ton of books! There's shelves upon shelves of books we own, and then usually at least 5 or 6 books that I'm in the middle of lying around the house, usually left open, face down, with their spines being bent out of shape.
One thing I love about being able to download books onto my Kindle app on my phone is that it doesn't take up our valuable room in the house, and that my husband can't close the books, losing my place, as he is wont to do.
Because of my ADD brain, I often jump from one book to the other, as my mood suits me- I don't always stick to just one book. With my Kindle app, I am able to have multiple books with me when I go out of the house, and when I'm waiting for the bus, I can just read whichever book I feel like it, depending on my mood, and don't need to carefully select the book to read before I leave my house.

So, here's part 2 of the list of e-books I got free from Amazon's Kindle Store, broken down by category. (To find and download these free books yourself, type the book name and author into the search bar in the Kindle store.)

A * means I've already read it or at the very least, am still in the middle.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Free Books You Can Download Part 1

I've always been a voracious reader, since I was very young. My parents encouraged my siblings and me to read as much as we could, as its "good for the brain". For many years, reading was my number one hobby; I loved escaping from the monotony or stress of day to day life by curling up with a good book. I've been known to stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning reading.
I had a special relationship with the librarians at my local public library. They learned my preferences in books quite fast and always had more suggestions what books I should read next. Their suggestions led to some of my very favorite books; reading them gave me very fond memories. I miss those librarians I grew up with.

Today though, no longer living in the US, I don't have access to public libraries filled with neatly indexed English books, especially not with the inter library loan system we had in the library growing up. Instead, if I want to get books to read, I have to either borrow from a friend or buy second hand from a used book store (and the books there are not so cheap, unfortunately).
I missed reading.

That is, until I discovered that there are so many free e-books available to download from the Kindle store. You may think that this doesn't help you at all because you don't have a Kindle, but if you have a smart phone, there is a free Kindle app for smartphones to download, which you can use to read any Kindle book. Even if you don't have a smartphone, you can download a kindle reader onto your computer, with which you can read all these downloaded books.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hearth and Soul Blog Hop


Hearth & Soul Hop

Welcome back to yet another edition of the Hearth and Soul blog hop.
This is where you get the chance each week to share your favorite food related posts with the other visitors to the hop, and you get to check out theirs as well. The Hearth and Soul Hop is about food that not only nourishes our body, but also nourishes our souls.

Here's a recap of some of the rules for participating:


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.
As much as many of us are interested in frugality and green/natural living, this is a food blog hop; there are many other blog hops where you can share those posts of yours. Please keep your non food related blog posts off the hop.

All the hosts at Hearth and Soul care very deeply about this blog hop, and make an group effort to be sure that every post is commented on. We also Pin and Tweet many of the entries. You don’t find this with every blog hop, and in exchange for our efforts, we respectfully request that you include a link in the actual blog post you are sharing back to one of the hosts, either by worded link or using our badge. It is not enough to link using a communal blog party page. People rarely click on these links and it is unlikely they will find the Hearth and Soul hop using these sort of pages.

Monday, July 2, 2012

How To Get Airplane Tickets Cheaply

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I haven't been on an airplane in nearly 6 years. Yes, since I moved away from the US six years ago, I haven't stepped my feet on American soil even once, though I miss the US and would love to. People tell me, though, that life in the US has changed in the past 6 years, and that if I went back, it wouldn't feel the same as it used to, and I still wouldn't feel "at home". Who knows...
Either way, this is a longish preamble to get to the point that no, I don't have any current experience flying, either locally or abroad. For that matter, I've never even bought an airline ticket myself- I only ever flew when I was living under my parents' roof or partially being supported by them. So I am definitely not an expert in this matter.
However, I've been asked a few times how to get airfare cheaply, especially lately, since summer is the time that most people think of traveling. I'll tell you one thing- airfare is never cheap! The question is- can you get airfare for just an arm and a leg, and not an arm, a leg, and a million bucks? After being asked do check it out, I did lots and research and discovered that fortunately, there are ways to lower the cost of airfare. Here are some of them.
If you want more info, you probably should check out frugal travel blogs. (But seriously, can travel ever be called frugal? Or just "not as hideously expensive"?)

This is based on an article I wrote for my magazine column.

How To Get Cheaper Airfare

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