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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Preparing and Preserving Cheap and Free Past Prime Foods

Yesterday I wrote about how I went to the market and came home with an insane amount of produce, most of it that I got free, and a lot of it past prime. 154 lbs of food that needed to be dealt with when I came home yesterday and all today. The past two days were a marathon of food preparation and preservation, because there's no point in bringing home so much free and nearly free foods if it all spoils because you didn't take care of it.

So, here's what I actually did with what I brought home from the market yesterday, and other things that I did to be able to accommodate all that I needed to now store.

The first thing that I did was divide up the chicken parts into bones and skin. The bones went into the freezer to use for soup at a later date, and the skin went into my cast iron pots to become rendered chicken fat, which I use for delicious cooking, and crackling, also known as fried chicken skin.


Once the skin was all crispy, I poured it into a strainer so the fat could drip down so the skin would stay crispy instead of becoming oil-logged.

AT&T Access

By Jeff777BC - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
When my son learns something cool on his own, as an unschooler, I like to share what he learned with my friends. Recently, after my son decided to learn some coding on his own from KhanAcademy.com, and I shared what he was coding with my Facebook friends, someone asked me if they thought I'd be able to unschool my children as well if I didn't have the amazing educational internet sites available. I've done some thinking on the topic, and have come to the conclusion that having the internet available makes my ability to educate my children vastly easier, especially given the fact that we don't have a decent public library system locally.

But it isn't just about educating my children cheaply. I've discovered that having internet at home has made such an overall difference in terms of my ability to readily find information that ends up saving my family large amounts of money regularly.
For example, a friend of mine doesn't have internet in her house, and often calls me asking for advice, to look up recipes for her for low cost made from scratch foods, instead of needing to pay much more for ready made versions of the same.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

An Insane Amount of Food... For Insanely Little

My arms hurt. My whole body is tired... I think a big part of that is because of how much food I carried home from the market today in my cart...
I'm doing the math to figure out just how much the entire thing weighed... 156.5 lbs of food- 145 lbs of it produce, and 11.5 lbs animal products.
Just thinking about how much that would generally cost in a grocery store or even a cheap one would definitely not even remotely give a clue as to how much my shop cost me...
You see, for my 156.5 lbs of food I paid... get this- $20!!! Ok, and 70 cents.

Just part of today's shop. Not counting all the things I got free.
I hadn't planned on going shopping for produce this week, since we still had a decent amount. Though we were nearly out of fruit, so could use with a topping off over there. But I would need some produce next week, and I wouldn't have a chance to go to the market next week, so I figured that I might as well go this week. A few people had been asking me when I'd be teaching a class on frugal shopping at the market, and today worked out for the most people. So I went, intending to top off my produce as needed, and instead came home with 145 lbs of produce!

How did that happen?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Spicy Baked Sweet Potato Fries Recipe- Paleo, Vegan, Easy


The other night I wanted a treat. I had to go out to a fancy dinner event where I knew there was likely not going to be any food that I could eat, because of my restrictive gluten free, egg free, predominantly paleo diet, and I didn't want to be sitting there eating boring, simple food while everyone else ate their special food. 
However, I was relatively pressed for time and couldn't be spending hours in the kitchen trying to come up with an equivalent of what they'd be serving, and price, obviously, was a factor as well.
Trying to come up with a simple but delicious and frugal meal for myself, I went with baked spicy sweet potato fries (made with sweet potatoes I was gifted with), honey mustard pan seared tuna steak (frozen section of the supermarket), and garlicky (from frozen) green beans, with a (free) mango for dessert, and my homemade alcohol on the side. It was quite the perfect meal- I didn't feel like I was missing out at all, and it was easy on the budget and made very quickly too.
The sweet potato fries were so amazing that I've made them a few times since- here's the recipe so that you, too, can have this delicious and easy to make dish. And once you've made it a few times, you can make it even more easily, because the ingredients can be eyeballed instead of measured and it will sill come out great.

Spicy Baked Sweet Potato Fries Recipe- Paleo, Vegan, Easy

Ingredients:
2 trays of sweet potato wedges (about 6-8 sweet potatoes)
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2-1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes, hot paprika, or cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons oil of choice

Instructions:
1. Chop your sweet potatoes into wedges or fries. If your sweet potato is really large, your wedges may be enormous, which will affect the texture of your fries. The smaller they are cut, the crispier they will be. For a medium sized sweet potatoes, I cut them into wedges 1/8 the circumference of the sweet potato (in other words, I quartered them, and then halved each quarter.) For very fat sweet potatoes, after doing this, I cut then in half again lengthwise so each piece wasn't too big, but it really doesn't matter so much. The most important aspect is that your fries are a uniform size, so they finish cooking at the same time, and you don't have some burnt while others aren't fully cooked.

2. Mix the spices and salt together until uniform. If you like quite spicy, add a full teaspoon of hot pepper, or even more- 1/2 teaspoon will keep these mildly spicy.

3. Pour oil over the fries, and then add the spice mixture.

4. Use your hands to spread the oil and spices all over the entire batch of sweet potatoes, so that the flavor is all over each fry equally, and you don't have some extra spicy and some mostly flavorless.

5. Spread out the fries on a lined baking tray so that each fry touches the tray and doesn't overlap another.

6. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour, or until fully cooked and starting to get crispy, checking periodically. If you want, flip them over midway, but I don't bother.

Enjoy!

Variations:
You can make this with white potatoes or carrots the same way, for a delicious but different dish.

Are you a fan of spicy? What would you make if you wanted to make a nice meal for yourself without expending a lot of time or energy? 
Does this look like a dish you'd enjoy?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reflecting On My Spending Recently

Something I've been doing right now-
 to correct an unnecessary and expensive splurge-
making my own alcohol.
I want to be frugal, to budget well, to save money where I can, but I realize that, often, even to the most frugal minded of us, money sometimes can slip through our fingers in a slow trickle, so that, over time, the little pennies add up and you spend so much more than you'd intended to spend, and your expenses are way too high.

Then again, "too high" is relative; what would be frugal for someone would be overspending for someone else, depending on how much income they are bringing in, and how much money they have left to budget once the non negotiables are budgeted in.

For example, for our family, I decided that our regular budget of $570 per month on groceries is too much. Though it is hard, I am trying to lower it, and to see just how low I can get it to be. The thing is, though, that I'm not doing enough.

I've been keeping track of my grocery expenses every single month, writing down how much I spent on each shop, where it was, and approximately what I bought every time. Looking over my chart of my August expenses, where my total was $509 for the month, already an improvement but not as much as it could have been, I realized something.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Larb Gai- Laotian Meat Salad Recipe- Frugal, Paleo, and Vegan Options



I really appreciate traditional recipes from around the world, especially when they use healthy, cheap ingredients that I can get easily.
I mentioned to someone how much I love gizzards, that I even wrote a whole manifesto about them, and a friend mentioned to me that if I want a great gizzards recipe, I should try out Laotian chicken larb (also called laab), a delicious meat salad, that is a wonderful way to use gizzards.
For someone who eats food from around the world, and has a special affinity for all different types of Asian cuisine, I had never eaten any dish from Laos before, but certainly was not let down.

I won't say that this is an authentic larb recipe, as I did make a few changes to the recipe to make it more frugal, using the ingredients I can easily get locally (fresh lemongrass is nearly impossible to obtain where I live, and limes are very expensive, not to mention only available for a short period of time each year), and to make it Paleo.
The traditional version is made with khaa khua- toasted ground sticky rice to thicken it, but I left that out, also because it isn't Paleo, but also because it isn't an ingredient that is easy to get locally. Apparently this toasted ground sticky rice is a very important ingredient in the recipe- all recipes emphasize not to skip this... but I did. It was so delicious without it that I can say it isn't necessary for it to taste great, however if you have access to this ingredient, or want to make your own, and aren't on a diet that forbids rice, then by all means, add a tablespoon of it to your recipe.
Fish sauce is traditionally used, but I used coconut aminos instead. Feel free to use soy sauce or coconut aminos or fish sauce, whatever works for you.

I used dried herbs in mine, but fresh is even better if you have them available.

Larb often is eaten over lettuce or other greens--I ate mine with foraged wild greens, but it can also be served over rice, generally short grained and/or with chopped raw vegetables.

It is unlike anything I ever tasted before, as soy sauce/coconut aminos, mint, cilantro, ginger, and lemon juice are not ingredients I generally think to combine in my house, but it was amazing, and I've made it many times since.

You can make this with any cooked meat, pretty much. Ground chicken or beef crumbles, gizzards (chicken or turkey), cooked chicken breast, meat removed from chicken frames after boiling them for soup, deboned whole chicken, etc... Pork is often used as well.
For a vegan version, you can use any types of chopped sauted mushrooms in place of the meat.

Larb Gai- Laotian Meat Salad Recipe- Frugal, Paleo, and Vegan Options

What to Expect when Living on Your Own for the First Time

I moved out of the house and became fully self supporting, other than health insurance, when I was 17. It was a rough transition, and though I was managing well at first, I made a lot of mistakes, and there were lots of things that I just got lucky with, so I didn't get into too much trouble, but even so, I ended up needing to be bailed out by my dad once during that first year. For those frugal minded folk who are considering moving out and being self supporting for the first time, who want to make a budget, here's a post written by one of this blog's readers, about expenses to consider and check out when building a budget for your new home.

The prospect of moving out and beginning life on your own can be exciting. It can also be daunting if you think of all the expenses you’ll have to face once you sign that lease agreement.

A 2015 report by the US Census Bureau indicated that the median annual income for households in the US fell by 1.5 percent in 2014. While it may not seem like much, it does indicate that the cost of living is going up while household income isn’t. Chances are that you may struggle to keep up with the expenses of living on your own if you’re not careful about your finances.

Understanding the different expenses one encounters when renting is important if you’re planning to go out on your own. This guide will give you a better understanding of expenses to expect and where you can cut costs and save money.

Monday, September 19, 2016

My Most Frugal Shopping Trip Ever

Today my fridge looked scarily empty. As someone who tries to stick to a paleo diet as closely as possible, my diet is very produce heavy. My kids also prefer to snack on produce, ideally fruit. Having a mostly empty fridge is stressful for me because then I don't really have anything to eat or anything easy and healthy to give my kids when they tell me they're hungry.
But I was tired today and going to the city to the market to buy my cheap produce sounded too exhausting. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should just go to the corner store and buy produce there, or at least to the nearby supermarket instead of traveling to the city. But that thought was fleeting as I'm still trying to really lower my grocery monthly total and know that produce is exponentially cheaper in the market and I'd be paying a high price for that convenience. I decided it wasn't worth it.
So instead, when my husband came home from work, I went into the city to go produce shopping at the market, exhaustion and all. I feel my efforts really were rewarded, because I don't think I ever got more produce for less money without foraging.

Just some of what I brought home today

On  my way home, pushing my heavy shopping wagon, filled to the brim with produce, knowing that it was certainly enough to fill my fridge, I reminded myself that this is why I did it, why it was worth the exhaustion. Because that produce they weighed so many pounds that I had to strain to push it all, cost only $14.14!!!
When I get that much produce for twice that, I'm amazed by that low cost, so you can imagine how exciting this was...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What Unschooling Is Not... and What It Is

My unschooled, not uneducated kids love learning
KhanAcademy math. This is a screen shot of what my 9
year old recently covered in KhanAcademy.
I never require him to learn math. He asks for it.
As someone who tends to be, not only the token homeschooler in most circles I travel, but also the token unschooler, I end up being an ambassador of sorts for homeschooling, and specifically unschooling, with so many people wanting to know what it is and how it works, and I've written a few posts on the topic in the past, including this relatively detailed one about what exactly unschooling is. (If you haven't read that, I recommend reading that before reading this.)
Yet despite that, the questions keep coming. Recently, a friend also wrote this whole long message to me about why unschooling is bad, but it was full of all sorts of misconceptions, none of what she said actually was unschooling.  And today someone mentioned that she unschools her kids after school, and by a few other people, I was asked to elaborate what unschooling is.
However, since I already wrote what unschooling is, I figured I would also attempt to explain it by addressing what unschooling is not.

Unschooling is not...

Are You “Penny Wise and Pound Foolish”?

This is a post by reader, Nancy Evans.

Saving money sounds easy on paper. Avoid overpaying, take advantage of discounts, get creative, and the retained cash starts to build. Anyone who has actually tried their hand at saving money knows this perception is an illusion. Seemingly simple ways to save are in actuality more complex and slippery than they appear on the surface.

There’s a saying which applies here: “Penny wise and pound foolish.” It’s a phrase used to describe folks who relentlessly strive to cut costs on a small scale, but neglect to think about the bigger picture. Sometimes the short-term savings don’t lead to long-term benefits. In fact in many situations, penny-pinching only makes spending increase with time:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Easy and Quick DIY Homemade Orange, Clementine or Tangerine Alcohol

My homemade alcohol, after I already drank a bunch.

I grew up in a house where alcohol was a fact of life. It was never a taboo thing, nor was it abused. I had alcohol from when I was a young age, a sip here and there, and my father drank alcohol a few times a week. (My mother hates the taste of alcohol.) I have never seen anyone in my family get drunk. My father would drink a shot or a glass, depending on what it was, and then go to bed. That's it. Of my five siblings, I think none of us have ever rebelled with alcohol or gotten drunk or remotely abused it, and I think a big part of it was because of how we were raised, with it being neither taboo nor abused.
A big part of the reason for the attitude towards alcohol in my house was the fact that my father was a brewer (masterbrewer is his nickname for himself). Having loved chemistry in college, he transferred his love to biochemistry in the house, and we regularly had at least a few different things brewing and fermenting at once. From when we were children, I remember a room in our basement, dubbed "the beer room" where our homemade alcohols were stored until use. My father made, predominantly, stouts, meads, and wines, but he also made sake one time, as well as miso (multiple times), and more.

Since moving to our current country, my dad no longer has a beer room, nor access to the special ingredients that are available in homebrew stores, but that hasn't stopped him from figuring out how to make his own homemade alcohol with what is available to him.

As for me? I like alcohol, I won't deny that. But as I said, I don't abuse it, and I've never been more than tipsy in my life. (I do have a moderately high alcohol tolerance, which means that I can have more than the average woman I know still without getting drunk.) I enjoy having a glass of wine for special occasions, or winding down from a long day with a drink or two. My favorite drinks, actually, are either cocktails or store bought mixed drinks like Bacardi Breezers or Smirnoff ice, hard lemonade, or sweet wines, though I do enjoy non sweet drinks and even bitter ones on occasion, even though my preference is for sweet.
The biggest issue I have about alcohol, though, is the expense. Because of various things that happened locally, to discourage too much alcohol consumption, high taxes were placed on alcohol locally, so a bottle of vodka or other hard alcohol can be very expensive. Wines and mixed drinks are cheaper, but since you drink more in one go, I'm not sure what actually works out to be more inexpensive per drink. I sometimes make my own mixed drinks, with homemade tomato juice and worcestershire sauce and vodka, or with a non dairy milk, sweetener, coffee, and vodka, or homemade mojitos with sweetener and lemon juice and mint and either rum or vodka or tequila, or just whatever other fruit juices I have with whatever hard alcohol I have. However, most times I have a drink, I feel like I'm wasting money because the cost of each drink adds up quite quickly, and think that maybe I should be spending money on more important things.

My dad, as I mentioned, makes alcohol now with cheap ingredients he could find locally, so I thought I'd make one of his current brews- alcoholic iced tea, using all cheap, local, easy to find ingredients. But the other day, when I went to make some, I realized I was all out of tea, so even that wasn't an option.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Crafting With Nature

The kids and I recently went to an event that had as its activity green crafting, which was a great frugal activity that I wanted to share with you, as it was really fun, not to mention can be done entirely for free.

All the crafting base materials were items found in nature, or things that would have otherwise gone in the trash. There were all sorts of dried out seed pods, shells, acorns, various sticks, wood, corn husks, stems, pine needles, pine cones and so many other types of forageable items, as well as bits and bobs of plastic that were saved from the trash, milk cartons, etc...

The only items that cost any money were the glue (hot glue, in this case) and paint.

There was a table with sample items, mainly different critters made from these materials, glued together, some painted and some unpainted.

Here's what our family members made at this crafting activity, so you, too, can get some ideas of things you and your kids can craft together from free materials. Of course, no need to what we're doing, just showing some possibilities.



A made up creature, inspired by elephants, hedgehogs, and who knows what.

8 Free Gallons of Expiring Milk- Cheese Making and Beyond

In my community we sometimes get deliveries of free past prime fruits and veggies, dry goods near or past their expiration date, and the occasional dairy product.
On Wednesday, among the deliveries were 1 liter cartons of milk, and initially they told everyone they can take 4 per family. But barely anyone took. Why? Because the expiration date was September 8, the day after. Why would people want milk that was about to expire? The milk was just sitting there, and the organizer made an announcement that people can take as much milk as they want. Still no one budged.
I went and took some more milk, and then when I saw the milk just sitting there, realizing it was going to go to the trash if people didn't take it, I took even more.
People saw me taking it, and said "Why are you taking it? What can you do with milk that is expiring tomorrow?" I explained to a friend that once you cook milk, you are extending its shelf life so it will last much longer than just one more day.
This friend asked me what I'm going to cook with the milk, so I told her my first plan is to make cottage cheese. "How do you do that?" she wanted to know. I explained to her simply how to make it- you heat the milk and add enough lemon juice or vinegar until it starts curdling, then strain it through a cheesecloth. Once strained you add salt and milk and you have cottage cheese. She was amazed.
Another person overheard me talking to her, said she heard me talking about making my own cheese, and asked how I did it... So I explained to her as well. Then two more people came over and said they heard something about cheese making, and this time I explained about making cottage, paneer, yogurt, and yogurt cheese. Every single person was fascinated- they had no idea that you could make your own cheese, let alone so simply!
Fortunately, my explanation about the cheese making encouraged some people to take milk that otherwise wouldn't have, but there still was a lot left over. I took as much as I could carry, but unfortunately, a lot did end up in the trash.

When I got home, only then did I count how many liters of milk I bought.
30 liters of milk!
That's 8 gallons, for you non metric folk.


So, in the interest of full disclosure, here's how I dealt with my 30 free liters of milk.

Eight essential checks to make before you borrow money

I am really opposed to taking out loans. Debt is bad and can cause a bad financial situation to get from bad to worse. Dave Ramsey and his followers talk tremendously about how much debt causes problems in life, and people work so hard to pay off debt that they've accumulated. I rarely ever think that taking out a loan is a good idea- if you can't afford something, don't buy it, don't spend money on it. Save up for things instead of borrowing money to pay for them. And if your income does not meet your expenses, either raise your income or lower your expenses or both, don't take out loans to cover your expenses because then it will just be a cycle of more and more financial issues...
But, if you have decided that you have no other options but to take out a loan, please consider these issues brought up in this post by a reader, Ben. 

The internet has allowed people who need to borrow money to do it easily, either for a treat such as a holiday or new conservatory or for more pressing concerns such as bills and debts. But before wading straight into a borrowing agreement that could be crippling it is worth carrying out a few simple checks and asking responsible questions, such as these:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Beginner's Guide to Going Gluten Free- Part 1: What is Gluten and How to Avoid it


As one who is known among my friends and in my wider social circles as being off gluten, when friends get told that they or their kid needs to go off gluten, they often turn to me asking for help. It's a scary thing, overwhelming at first, and people don't know what to do. I've long wanted to write a beginner's guide to going off gluten; as much as I want to help each time, I'm not always available to give as thorough of an answer as I'd like, so having a prewitten post with a link to share would prove useful. The other day, my friend, Dani, post her child's Celiac diagnosis asked for some advice on how to weather the transition most smoothly. This post is dedicated to you Dani, with the hopes that this required change not be too difficult.

So, you've been told to go off gluten, and/or been given a Celiac diagnosis. Now what?
The most frequent question I get from people who know I'm off gluten (5.5 years already) is 'What do you eat? If you can't eat bread what do you fill up on?' I'll be honest, I find this question question quite amusing since even before going off gluten I never cared much for bread, and my diet was never based on it (could be I subconsciously realized it didn't make me feel good and hence avoided); however, when someone's diet does revolve around bread gluten free diets are far more daunting.

Before I can get into the details of what you can eat, we need to cover what you cannot.

What is Gluten?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Some Amazing Bargains I Got and an Exciting Deal I Made


Yesterday, I went into town to do some much needed produce shopping (other than picking up a head of lettuce, a cabbage, 4 red peppers, 6 cucumbers, and a bag of carrots on Thursday, I hadn't bought any produce for 10 days); as a family that goes through a lot of produce, pickings were very slim this morning, so I needed to buy some fruits and veggies pronto. I left the littler kids with my husband, and took just my biggest son, Lee, who turned 9 today, for some mother son bonding time over shopping... And, of course, he is a big help when he comes along, so that was just terrific.

Since I didn't have the younger ones with me, I wasn't in such a rush because I wasn't trying to finish before they got too cranky, so I was able to take my time and stop at the scratch and dent store. Even though the purpose of the trip was produce, I rarely get a chance to stop at the scratch and dent store, which is an amazing place and one of my favorite places to shop for great deals.

This particular scratch and dent store is relatively new, but it is perfect for someone like myself, as they have so many gluten free and often even paleo items for as low as you can possibly imagine. Today I was not disappointed at all!

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