Sunday, October 31, 2010


Happy Halloween, for those of you celebrating!
Enjoy yourselves...

And a little flashback for those new to the site-
Here's 2 costumes I made for my kids:
A Big Bird costume
and a
Cookie Monster costume.

Dressing up is lots of fun for kids, but no need to break the bank to buy expensive costumes. With articles of clothing coordinated to fit a theme, maybe a tad of sewing or cutting out props from poster board, you can easily make cute costumes for under 5 dollars, and more often than not, completely free!

What costumes do your kids wear? How much do you spend on them? Homemade costumes or store bought?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mashed Potatoes and Turkey Neck Gravy

Mmmm yum! Doesn't that just make your mouth water?
I served my family the most scrumptious meal today that I couldn't pass up the chance of sharing this frugal meal with you readers! It's based on items bought for really cheap, as turkey necks are very cheap around here, as are potatoes and onions. The mushrooms were a bit of a splurge, but I go the cheapest I could find (in this case, canned), making me feel a tad less guilty.
This dish is so powerfully and richly flavored that it will make you rethink ever using chemical filled gravy mix or soup mix again in your gravies.

Mashed Potatoes and Turkey Neck Gravy

Ingredients for Mashed Potatoes:
Rendered chicken fat
Pepper (optional)

Ingredients for Turkey Neck Gravy
Turkey necks
Rendered chicken fat
Corn starch or potato starch
Garlic powder
Soy sauce

Instructions for mashed potatoes
1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until they're falling apart. Quartering them makes this process faster, as does cooking the potatoes in a pressure cooker.
2. Pour off most of the water into a container. (Reuse this water when making bread. The starch in this water helps make the most terrific bread.)
3. With a potato masher or a fork, mash the potatoes into a smooth consistency. (Yes, I skipped the peeling stage. I keep the peels in mine- it's healthier that way and makes sure there is no food waste.)
4. Saute onions in chicken fat until golden. Add to the mashed potatoes.
5. Mix well. Salt, and add pepper. If dry, add a drop of the potato water.
6. Serve with turkey neck gravy.

Instructions for turkey neck gravy
1. Cover turkey necks in lots of water and boil. You want to cook this for a while so they really soften up. A pressure cooker will eliminate cooking time, but otherwise it should simmer on a low heat for a good 2 hours or more.
2. When the turkey necks are soft, saute a large onion in chicken fat until its a golden brown. Once the onions are cooked, add mushrooms and saute.
3. Set aside a cup of the water in which the turkey necks were cooked. Pour a large amount of the rest (or more, depending on how much you're making) into the pan with the sauted onions.
4. Mix starch with the reserved water, more or less depending on your preference. The thicker you want the gravy, the more starch should be mixed in. I usually put in half a cup or more of starch. Add the starch to the pan and bring to a boil.
5. Once the gravy boils, note the texture. If it is not thick enough, take a bit more turkey broth and mix it with more starch and repeat the process.
6. Add soy sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste.
7. Add the turkey necks to the gravy and serve over mashed potatoes.

Enjoy! Bon Apetite!

Note: No amounts were included in this recipe because amounts are variable. Add however much "seems" right to you. I used about 2 pounds of turkey necks, 1 small can of mushrooms, 2 large onions, a tablespoon or two of soy sauce, etc...

Do you ever make mashed potatoes and gravy? What's in your recipe?
Have you ever cooked with turkey or chicken necks? What is your favorite way to make them?

Linking up to Real Food Wednesday. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Prices- Not Always What They Seem

As a bargain shopper, I'm always looking to find the best deals for differnet foods. When I find food at a very low price, I get so excited I can do a little dance. Ok, just in my head.
But... is the lowest priced food always the best deal?
Sure, when you have a 1 pound box of cookies and a 2 pound box of the same type of cookies, and the large box is only 1.5 times the price, you know right away which is the better deal, but sometimes it's not so obvious.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kombucha 101

My kombucha brewery. Different batches at various stages.
Wouldn't it be terrific if there was a way to make drinks that were fizzy, sweet, chemical free, and best of all, healthy? Soda drinkers of the world, take note- you can have your cake and eat it too!
Kombucha is a lacto-fermented drink that has been embibed for centuries (or more) in the far east, and more recently by the health "nuts" and traditional food enthusiasts worldwide. This tasty beverage is made by adding a kombucha "mushroom" (also known as a SCOBY or tea mushroom) to sweetened tea, tranforming it from a standard drink to a probiotic that is an antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and downright tasty, making it the perfect soft drink replacement with numerous purported health claims.

To make kombucha, you first need to obtain either a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast ) or grow your own from purchased Kombucha tea (click here to learn to grow your own SCOBY). If you know any kombucha makers, they'll likely pass on a SCOBY, as each batch of kombucha results in yet another “baby” mushroom, and you can only use so many. You can also get from people in online kombucha communities like this one- Kombucha Yahoo Group . Because of some laws the Ministry of Health in my country, I was unable to purchase Kombucha tea and didn't know anyone locally who had mushrooms, so my kombucha plans were put on hold until a friend's mother brought her a tea mushroom from the States... and since then, I haven't looked back.

Kombucha growing has a small learning curve, but once you've got the basics down, you can make so many variations of this superb concoction that you'll never want to buy those cheimical filled fizzy drinks again.

Making Kombucha

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Frugal Fast Food Meals

I've been incredibly busy and stressed out lately with absolutely zero energy. No exaggeration there. Though I usually love cooking, lately just the thought of preparing food for my family is just another chore with which I don't want to be bothered. (Is it any surprise that I feel the need to quit one of my current jobs?)
In all honesty, if I even had a local takeout place, I would be sorely tempted to be their number one customer at this point in my life, even though takeout prices would drive me to the poorhouse. Instead, what I've been doing lately is relying on a lot of homemade frugal "fast food meals" that can be prepared with minimal effort and minimal time. Some take some advanced preparation but can be frozen in parts and mixed together as necessary. Here's but some ideas.

Frugal "Fast Food" Meals

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lost Post about Work

Technology is a fickle thing. I
 had a post all typed on my palm pilot about how I am so overwhelmed with life lately because I bit off more than I could chew just to make some extra money, and while it is making me a sizable sum of money, it's leaving me run down, snappy, physically tired, emotionally tired and in physical pain. My shoulders hurt, my neck hurts, my ankles hurt and my knees hurt. And I'm constantly nodding off and not getting the things I need to get done, done. I was going to just transfer it over here to the computer, copy and paste it onto my blog, and head off to sleep. But it got lost in translation and now it's neither on the palm pilot nor on the computer. Oh well. And if writing a blog post when I dreadfully need to be headed to bed isn't overwhelming, I don't know what is....
I did tell one of the cleaning jobs that is farthest from me and takes the greatest toll on me because it is twice a week with a long commute to please try to find a replacement for me, because I am too exhausted to continue like this.
That felt good...
And now tomorrow I am free as a bird to actually catch up on sleep and get things done around the house. I hope my knee will bend painlessly by then.
Yes, having extra income helps, and no I haven't given in to the urge to spend money on convenience items (unless you call a can of beans dumped on some noodles with some veggies a convenience item...). However, I'm not sure that all the extra money in the world is worth physical pain, exhaustion, and just being completely wiped out.
My husband asked me to please work less because he is seeing the toll all this work is taking on me.
Fortunately, I was offered a work at home job that will take less time and make more money than even cleaning, and it is doing something I enjoy. More details on that another time, but I'm glad to say that quitting some cleaning jobs won't be the end to us financially...
Ok, I'm off to bed.

Have you ever had a job that took such a physical and mental toll on you that you quit it, despite needing money desperately?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rendering Chicken Fat

I know, I know, some of  you will cringe at the thought that I actually serve my family food specifically cooked with rendered chicken fat, but as blasphemous as it sounds, as the daughter of a cardiologist I'm still a fan of the Weston Price Foundation's traditional foods diet.
I believe that the less processed a food is, and the longer our ancestors have been eating it, the healthier it is. (And yes, there has been scientific research backing up that claim.) Chicken fat and other animal fats have been around much longer than other, more frequently used oils; I feel 1000 times better serving my family something cooked with chicken fat than made with canola or soy oil.

Rendering chicken fat is a fairly simple and easy process. I love using rendered chicken fat because of a- the health reasons, b- the price (free or very cheap!) and c- the taste! I love that food cooked with chicken fat is so saturated with flavors that no artificial flavorings and chemicals need to be added to the food.
(You can also render fat from any animals. Beef, lamb, and pork are but some of the other options, but I've only rendered chicken fat.)

Rendering Chicken Fat

Friday, October 22, 2010

Just Because It's Free?

I've definitely relayed numerous times my life of things that are free. When I don't need to lay out money to get something, I'll definitely take it much quicker than if I needed to pay to get the same thing.
The question comes down to- is it worth taking anything, just because it's free? I mean, if I'm paying nothing for something, why not take it?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I've been mighty busy today. Doing what, you ask?
Making all this, of course:

What on earth is all that stuff? Is that really all made from scratch? 
You betcha it is!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Accountability with Grocery Shopping

I like accountability. That's probably why I enjoy posting details of my shopping trips on this blog. For example, today, when I spent more than I usually do on groceries, after having just gone shopping last week, I find its good for me to post a detailed list of what I bought and why, both to make sure that I actually am making the right decision when making my purchases (because if I can't justify it, I'd be too embarrassed to buy it because I know it would be posted here), and to show you how flexibility is important when it comes to grocery shopping frugally.

Today I spent $.79.70 at the grocery store. Yikes- thats nearly twice as much as I spent last week! If I hadn't shopped sales, I would have spent $28 dollars more buying what I bought. I bought  a ton of food, and this should be more than enough to last me at least for another 2 weeks, in addition to refilling my stockpile of food that I had been depleting because of relatively high prices lately.

That $79.70 bought all this:

Monday, October 18, 2010

10 Ways to Reuse Plastic Bottles

I never (ok, only rarely) buy bottles of soda, juice, and water, but I know many that go through these very quickly. Plastic is a non renewable resource (being that it is made from crude oil) and doesn't decompose, so it ends up sitting in landfills indefinitely. Communal recycling programs are a good alternative to the dump, but I prefer to use plastic bottles for my own benefit, eliminating the need for to spend money on things around the house. (Because I don't usually buy things that come in bottles, I usually ask my friends to save me some bottles when I need them, or I take them out of the communal bottle recycling and wash them well.)

Without further ado, here's:

10 Ways to Reuse Plastic Bottles

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Homemade Cloth Pads- Type 2

I love reusable cloth menstrual pads. I didn't have a large enough stash though, and needed to use disposable pads last time my Aunt Flo came. Big mistake. My cycles are so much heavier and more uncomfortable when I'm using chemical saturated disposable sanitary napkins that I hopefully will never need to use them again. But first, I needed to sew a whole bunch more cloth "mama pads".
I decided to use a different pattern than I used last time, because I thought these would work better, and they definitely do!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Easy Frugality Tips for College Students

Today, I'm glad to share a guest post from Mark Macaluso who writes about Masters programs in accounting. I usually share frugal tips more relevant to parents, but Mike shared some good tips that are relevant for the younger crowd- thrifty tips for college students. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did.

There are many reasons for college students to be thrifty, and the most important of them is that they cannot afford to get deep into debt even before they’ve graduated. For those of them who have the burden of student loans to carry, careless spending could add to their woes. So that’s why it’s necessary to adopt frugality right from the beginning, before too much damage is done. However, college students don’t like the fact that they have to tighten their purse strings and bring down their spending. So if you belong to this group, here are a few easy to follow frugality tips that do you a world of good:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why Homeschool?

I keep my three year old son out of school and plan on homeschooling him, his brother and any future kids I have for as long as it works for our family, even the complete K-12 if we can manage it. Readers wanted to know why we intend to educate our children this way. I've touched on some of the benefits before, but hope to give a more clear and expansive answer today.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Great Shoe Debate

I'm a Croc-a-holic, sort of. If you took a look at my shoe closet and saw my white Crocs, orange Crocs, 2 pairs of black Crocs and one pair of grey Crocs, you'd probably think I have some sort of a love affair with these wacky new shoes of the 21st century. This is not so. Personally, I think Crocs are pretty ugly and feel no particular fondness for them. They have but one redeeming factor, in my opinion.

The reason I have a million and five pairs of Crocs is simply because they don't sell women's shoes in my size in this country. Crocs are unisex, so I just buy men's shoes and pretend that it's really women's wear.
In the last 5 years, I have not bought any real shoes. (All those 2 dollar knock off Crocs don't count. Wait- you thought I actually had authentic Crocs? No way!) Last week was the first time in my entire time living in this country that I found cute shoes, tried them on, and they actually fit me comfortably.
The downside?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Weekly Grocery Shop- 10/12/10

For a while I was posting my weekly or bi-weekly grocery shop to give people an idea of what I was buying, but I fell out of the habit.
Today, though, I was in the grocery store and the cashier saw how much the total bill was, and then how much it got lowered after all the sales and discounts were tallied up. The cashier's jaw hit the floor and asked incredulously how I managed to do that, because that was the first time she'd seen anything like that.
What amazed her so?
I had a large shopping cart filled with an abundance of groceries, and it rang up for a grand total of 70 dollars, when usually that amount of groceries usually is 150 dollars (if you're not me, that is).
Then, all the discounts got deducted, and what was left was a bill of 45 dollars. That is a 50% discount off of my entire shop! I know, I know, for people who live in the US and have coupons available to them, they often get 75% or 99% off, or even get paid to take their groceries, but this is done without any coupons- only relying on loss leaders.

Without further ado, here's what I bought today.

If you look carefully, you'll see I made sure to get some of every food group- starches, proteins, vegetables, fruit, and fats. All healthy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Homemade Crackers and Play-Dough

I love crackers, but they are quite expensive around here, especially if you're looking at price per pound. A while back I found a recipe for crackers, but they tasted so terrible that I gave up making them until I found a new recipe and tweaked it till I could find my own, cheap, and relatively healthy cracker.
The best part about this cracker dough is that, in addition to being very simple to make and calling for very few ingredients, the texture is just about that of play-dough. Because of this, I set aside some of the dough for my son to play with, roll out, cut, and use as he would play dough (with clean hands and utensils, of course), and then bake the crackers that he made after. It's loads of fun and entertainment for him, is cheap and easy to make, and none gets wasted. Not to mention, entirely chemical free.

Homemade Cracker Recipe

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cloth Diapering With Tummy Bugs

Little 1 year old Spike has been sick with a tummy bug the past few days. Any mom can imagine what my days have been like- my kid throwing up at the worst possible times, like on a 2 hour car ride, in the middle of a fancy dinner party, on me, my pajamas and my bed while I'm trying to catch a few hours of sleep. Of course, being sick only served to make an already clingy kid even clingier.

But the most annoying aspect of the whole deal is the diapers- oh the diapers! I must have changed at least 15-20 dirty diapers a day for the past few days, and done a cloth diapering load at least once a day. One load goes in, the next load gets hung up, and I'm hoping that it's sunny out, otherwise my cloth diapers won't dry before I use up my last dry and clean diapers, and I'll need to resort to using rags or something else.
My life right now is full just being on top of all the diapering, washing, and line drying. I'm drowning in soiled diapers over here.
I would not be exaggerating to say that I have almost regretted using cloth diapers for these past few days and have nearly gone to the grocery store and purchased a package or two of diapers for the next couple of days. I've seriously thought to myself "Why, oh why, do I cloth diaper? Am I a martyr or what?"
But the second I started that line of questioning, I already knew the answer.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Relying on Loss Leaders- Wise or Foolish?

We eat a lot of vegetable based meals in my house, so when a massive heatwave ruined many crops in the area, and local produce prices skyrocketed, I had to really strategize to try to keep our budget in check. I usually only buy vegetables on extreme sale, allowing me to buy things at a fraction of their going rate. Because of the heatwave, this vegetable sale was first put on hold, and then very limited, putting a serious crimp in our savings plan and ability to feed my family vegetables cheaply.
When lamenting my frustration with the situation to a friend, her matter-of-fact response was that building my budget around loss leaders is foolish because I'm too dependent on things remaining status-quo, and it's only a wonder I didn't get burned sooner.

Is relying on coupons, sales, and loss leaders truly as foolish as my friend claims it is?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bringing the Gym Home

I'm not a believer in gyms, so if you've got a lifetime membership to Curves or Lucille Ball, you might not find this post as relevant.

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as going to the gym to work out. Life itself was a workout, from chopping wood to lugging water to working in the field, etc. People, for the most part, were strong and physically fit just by living.
Today we live a much more sedentary lifestyle- for the vast majority of us, we need to make a specific effort to keep healthy and in shape. Hence the prevalence and popularity of gyms.
Gyms have plenty of benefits, such as the access to special equipment and machinery to help you get into and stay in shape without needing to lay out money and set aside space in your home for your own exercise equipment. Gyms also allow you to be in an environment that promotes fitness, gets you revved up and in the mood of working out, with only adult company so you don't have any children pulling on your shirt, vying for your attention, and stopping you from exercising. However, gyms are also quite expensive once you add up membership/entrance fees, childcare for while you're there, as well as the cost of transportation.

The Gym- At Home

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chicken Ratatouille Recipe

When I was a kid, one year on my birthday, I requested of my father that he make me one of my favorite dishes- what was called in our house "turkey moussaka". My father was incredulous at my request, as the "moussaka" was just reconstituted leftovers, a way to ensure that food wouldn't go to waste.
Nonetheless, that dish was what I wanted for my celebratory birthday meal, as it was, in my opinion, one of the tastiest meals there was. With my modifications to make it healthier, this still is my favorite way to rejuvenate leftovers as it is quite delicious.
After doing some research, I discovered that this dish was misnamed (moussaka is something very different), so I've renamed it "chicken ratatouille".
I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do!

Chicken Ratatouille Recipe

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wonton Soup Recipe

Yesterday I posted a recipe for homemade wonton wrappers, the first step in making one of my favorite soups- wonton soup. Today I'll be sharing part two of the recipe- the broth and the wonton fillings.

Finished wonton soup. Yum yum, delicious!

Wonton Soup Recipe

Wonton Wrappers
Salt water for boiling or
Oil for deep frying

Broth Ingredients
Chicken parts (see below)
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and cut in slices (this can be adjusted to taste if you don't like ginger as much)
4 scallions, chopped up
Salt- to taste
Soy sauce- to taste

Wonton Filling Ingredients

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Homemade Wonton and Egg-Roll Wrappers

Not my wonton soup. Pics of that later.
I grew up on Chinese (and Japanese) food. Even now, years later, Chinese food is what I am most comfortable cooking, and the taste of soy sauce evokes memories of tummies satiated with delicious home cooked meals.
My parents were adventurous cooks, not afraid of a little hard work, so as children, we were treated to delicacies from homemade lo mein to General Tso's to beef negemaki to sushi. My father even made Sake (Japanese rice wine) and miso. One thing, though, was left to the experts and only eaten at restaurants on special occasions- wonton soup.