Monday, January 31, 2011

Rules of Foraging, and Why I Feel Foraging Is Moral and Healthy

Foraging. Its more complicated and complex than I have led readers to believe. Apparently, from some of the comments I've gotten on my blog the past few days, some of you (or maybe all of you, but you're too polite) think I waltz into people's yards and pick from their garden, or uproot plants in public areas that were painstakingly arranged by gardeners, or even worse (I think), feeding my family plants that have been doused in motor oil, raid, herbicide, and toxic wastes.
These accusations are so far fetched, but I guess I understand where they're coming from, as I didn't share my rules of forage, so I can understand why some people might have thought the above to be true. I mean, I just said "I go out and pick things that I didn't grow", and yes, without explanation, that can sound like bad morals and bad health.
Hence, my rules of forage, so you can get a picture of what really goes on when I go out to forage.

Rules of Forage

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quick Cake for One

My house isn't typically stocked with junk food. Forget the monetary aspect of it, junk food is just typically devoid of nutrition, in addition to containing a whole bunch of junk that is bad for your body. Therefore, we don't usually have quick snacks available for grabbing on a moment's notice other than fruit. Treats get planned in advance and are homemade.
The other day I had such a craving for something sweet. As it was 11:30 pm, too late to start cooking up a storm. Fortunately, I remembered hearing about and making chocolate cake in a cup back in the day. No, the ingredients are not ultra cheap, nor are they super healthy, but at least I know what's in them, and I can make something yummy quickly without needing to buy and store junk food in my house.
Sorry- microwave needed for this. (For those that are wondering, we still have one, but it gets used only very rarely.)

Chocolate Cake in a Cup

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chicken Breast Wrapped Fennel Cakes

Alternatively named- How to serve one whole chicken breast to 8 people and get away with it. Although our meals are often meat free, my husband and I do like animal products, and we do enjoy eating it. Our only aversion to meat is its rather steep price, which is why I love recipes like this. By making a meal with this type of chicken, I'm able to make a low cost meat stretch even further, enough to feed as many as 8 adults, and if some of the people being served are kids, I make 10 easily. Because of its shape, each serving looks like much more than just the eighth or tenth of the chicken breast that it is. Protein isn't either lacking in this recipe, as the stuffing almost always contains some form of cheaper protein. At the price of 2.5 dollars per pound that I currently pay for chicken breast, I end up paying a dollar for a whole chicken breast, which when stretched to serve 8, costs me 12 cents per serving of meat, or 10 cents per serving when including children. Quite a low cost dish, no?

Chicken Breast Wrapped Fennel Cakes

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thrift Store Shopping- the Thrifty Way

If you want to get clothing cheaply, thrift store shopping is the way to go. Of course, dumpster diving for clothes would be even cheaper, but no, even I don't go that far. (Hey, its not like they're likely to have things that would fit me anyhow! Being very tall makes it hard to find clothing my size!)
With the rise in popularity of thrift stores now that there is a recession throughout the world (unless you live in China), thrift stores have raised their prices, knowing that people are still desperate enough for cheaper clothes that they'll be willing to buy there anyhow. And if not, thrift stores aren't exactly lacking customers at the present time, so yes, prices do get hiked up. Oh well.

Thrift Store Shopping- the Thrifty Way

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent

I'd read about making homemade laundry soap for the longest time, and it intrigued me, both because of the monetary aspect and because of the "green" aspect. For the past while, I've been cutting down on my use of chemicals in the house because I was making so many things from scratch. It got to the point that artificial chemicals, especially their smells, began to really irritate me and give me a headache.
I had seen recipes for making laundry soap, but never attempted them because I was unable to get my hands on borax, a key ingredient in homemade laundry soap, as it is not sold in my country. I also wasn't able to find washing soda, another integral part of the recipe. Fortunately, I discovered how to make homemade washing soda and someone brought me in a box of borax from the US, so I finally was able to make my homemade laundry soap.
I've been using this laundry soap for all my laundering needs, and I can say that it works as well as store bought expensive laundry soap- without the chemicals and without the attached price tag. The recipe makes a liquid detergent, which serves my purposes well, as the homemade powdered detergent need to be used in hot water, but I generally wash with cold.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Monday, January 24, 2011

Foraging in the City

I know I've been talking about foraging a decent amount lately, but that's because it has become my new love. Foraging is free, and it is healthy eating at its finest. Because foraged foods are grown on lands which have not been depleted of their nutrients, foraged foods tend to be much higher in nutrition than their agricultural counterparts. Foraged food is organic, local, sustainable, and quite delicious, if I may say so myself.

For me, the best thing about foraging is that it allows me to bring down my grocery bills very drastically. By foraging, I'm buying much less produce overall, and I'm going for much longer stretches between grocery shops. Last grocery shop was 4 weeks ago, and I decided that instead of my planned shopping trip tomorrow, I'm going to push off going to the supermarket for yet another week, making 5 weeks between grocery shops.

When I originally posted my first foraging pictures back in the summer, some of you probably thought that I lived in the wide open country side, with fields available for foraging. I corrected that mistaken assumption when I shared about living and foraging in suburbia, but I bet I've still got some of you shaking your heads and saying "Oh well, if only I didn't live in the city... Because you can't forage in the city because there's no green."

I wasn't sure what the situation was. Could you forage in the city? I knew I'd foraged carob in the city before, but what about greens and other things? Is it possible to forage if you're living where "there is no green"?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are really yummy. I grew up never having them at home, but only having them for school lunches, and I was quite fond of them. I never made them married though, because they call for ground beef, which is quite costly round these parts.

Fortunately, I've discovered a very easy recipe that you can use to make using either ground seitan or cooked green/brown lentils (or TVP if you insist, but I don't promote eating any soy products, especially TVP, because of health reasons), and it is absolutely delicious!

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Making Ground Seitan- Frugal Vegan Hamburger Alternative

Ever since I bought my 50 pounds of vital wheat gluten, seitan has become a bit of a staple in my house. Seitan from scratch is a little time consuming (and I'll have to do a cost comparison to compare its cost to seitan from vital wheat gluten, but it might work out cheaper), but with vital wheat gluten, I'm able to make up a recipe in a snap and use it to make all sorts of low cost "meaty" dishes, from sloppy Joes to "meat" lasagna to rice-a-roni to wontons to tacos to stuffed peppers.
 I even use ground seitan to cut the cost of my ground meat by mixing them together (while the meat is raw), bringing the price of the hamburger down by 46% when I mix it half, half! (If you only mix 1/3 ground seitan with 2/3 ground meat, the price comes down by 31%.)

Making Ground Seitan

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Messy Chef

I've come to the conclusion that I cannot work neatly.
Last night, my husband and I (well, mostly my husband) cleaned up the kitchen till it was spotless.
Today, it wasn't nearly as neat. (Understatement of the year!)

Here's how my kitchen looks when it's clean.

A quick look in my kitchen though on a regular day would make you think it hadn't been cleaned in at least a week.

Why's my kitchen such a mess?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Quick Wardrobe Makeover

Maidenform Women's One Fabulous Fit T-Shirt Bra,California Blue,34CI desperately needed a clothing makeover recently. My clothes weren't sitting nicely on my body, making me look less than well kempt. No, unfortunately there was no money in the Penniless household with which to buy a whole new wardrobe. Something needed to be done desperately though, money or not. Feeling good about yourself is important for success in life; when you look slovenly, you start feeling unworthy and depressed and stop functioning at higher levels. 
Fortunately, there's a way that, by just buying one new article of clothing, you can give yourself a whole new look. How do you do that?
Men readers, note that this post does not apply to you, so kindly move on. This is girl talk.

The One Most Important Article of Clothing

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When More Expensive is the Better Deal

I like a bargain. I like spending as little money as possible. I'm always looking for the best prices. But sometimes, in order to save money, you need to spend more money than you were originally considering.
And no, in this case, I'm not talking about buying food in bulk and laying out more money up front, because you're spending less per unit of food, even if its a large chunk of money being spent at once. Sometimes its worthwhile to spend more money per unit, when it means you're spending less money altogether.
The point of frugality isn't just to spend the same amount of money, but getting more things with that same amount of money. That is great, don't get me wrong, but a big part of frugality is just spending less money altogether. Here are some instances when spending more money will be a better deal (in my experience, anyhow).

When More Expensive is the Better Deal

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cutting Cost of Ground Meat Recipes

Meat is expensive, no bones about it. (Pun intended.) From my calculations, at least around here, ground meat (aka hamburger) is actually one of the more expensive types of meats, at least compared to the other things I regularly would buy. (I'm not comparing hamburger meat to steaks, obviously.)
Many recipes call for ground meat, as it is a delicious and protein rich addition to a dish, but adding this expensive ingredient to all these foods can significantly impact your grocery bills. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to lower this cost and still make your food taste good.
The added benefit is that many of the packaged ground meats sold in the US are very unhealthy and contaminated- the following tips help you find a healthier and cheaper alternative.

Cutting Cost of Ground Meat Recipes

Sunday, January 16, 2011

When Rules Seem Immoral

I'm a criminal. Or at least, from the way I was treated today, you'd assume I must have done something terrible, unlawful. What really happened?

Today I was foraging near my usual local grocery store. While walking around, I decided to check around the side of the building, to see if there was anything there. My husband works for a company subcontracted by the store and often works in the area, and I go to that grocery store often enough that they know me well. I definitely didn't expect any problems.
While I was near the side of the building, I saw the store dumpster. It was filled with lots of fruits and vegetables. All that waste made me so sad. Food that could feed so many people instead just getting thrown in to a landfill where it will sit and not decompose for tens of years. (Even decomposable things don't decompose quickly in landfills because of the bad conditions there.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Homemade Chalk

I'm dealing with a sick little Ikey (my 16 month old). He came down with the flu that's been going around my neighborhood. (Husband was sick 2 weeks ago, I was sick the week before that.) While he's sleeping (the rest of the time he wants to be in my arms), I thought I'd share some quick instructions for making homemade chalk.
I made this for my boys and they absolutely loved it! We bring chalk along whenever we go on errands or trips- Lee and Ike are entertained easily by drawing on the sidewalk while waiting for the bus.

Homemade Chalk

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wild Fennel- Foraged Food

A nice amount of wild fennel.
I had zero intention to forage today. My littler one (officially renamed Ike from his old pseudonym Spike) was sick and I had plenty to do. Yet somehow I arrived home with a nice sized 4.5 ounce bundle of wild fennel. How did that happen?

Well, I was driven to the pharmacy to pick up some meds for my son (vitamin C, to be honest), but needed to walk home. On the way, we passed near a place where I'd seen a drop of wild fennel before, and I was so tempted to make a small detour and take a look. Ike and Lee were enjoying the fresh air, and it was a detour of about 100 feet. All of a sudden I discovered one fennel plant, then another, then another, until my entire bag was filled with wild fennel fronds!

So, how can you forage for wild fennel too?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monthly Shopping and Produce Consumption

Some wonderful foraged produce I've
been feeding my family. Free produce
between shopping trips.
You set yourself a goal to go shopping once in the period of an entire month. No grocery runs, even for milk and for produce.
How on earth do you manage to do such a thing, and still provide well rounded, nutritious meals for your family? What produce can your family eat if you haven't been to the grocer or even the corner store in 2, 3, or even 4 weeks?

I've been going 4 weeks without grocery shopping for the past 2 months. My family has definitely been having lots of produce. How?
Like so:

Produce Consumption When Shopping Monthly

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stretching Time Between Grocery Shopping- Perishable Proteins

I'm a big proponent of stretching the time between grocery trips for as long as possible, without even having quick runs for dairy or produce. I used to go shopping weekly, then switched to bi-weekly. Recently (for the past 2 months) I've switched to monthly shops, and yes, that includes all produce or dairy.
How do I do it, you've asked? How do I make sure my family is getting enough healthy food, especially during the second half of the month? Here's what I do, plus a few other ideas that don't work for me because of lack of space but can easily work for others.

Perishable Proteins When Monthly Grocery Shopping

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Homemade Washing Soda

Homemade washing soda. Note the graininess.
Compare to the baking soda picture below.
Washing soda, also known as soda ash or sodium carbonate has many uses, from acting as pH stabilizer in pools to acting as a water softener to removing calcification in water heaters to making lye pretzels. Washing soda is a beneficial item to have around the house, especially if you want to make homemade laundry detergent, as it is one of the main ingredients. However, washing soda isn't always so easy to come across (especially if you're living in a far out place like I do).

Fortunately, washing soda is fairly simple to make at home, not to mention frugal as well. For example, you can get a 12 lb bag of Arm and Hammer baking soda for the same price as a one pound of fancy washing soda from Thrive Market.

Homemade Washing Soda

Baking Soda

1. Fill a wide baking dish with baking soda.
2. Heat in the oven at 400 degrees until all the baking soda becomes washing soda. Occasionally mix it so that this process happens faster and more uniformly.
3. Use as needed!

See- told you it was simple! 1 ingredient. 1 step.

The difference between baking soda and washing soda is water and carbon dioxide. Seriously. Baking soda's chemical makeup is NaHCO3 (1 sodium, 1 hydrogen, one carbon, and 3 oxygen molecules). Washing soda's chemical makeup is Na2CO3 (2 sodium, 1 carbon, and 3 oxygen molecules). When baking soda is heated up to high temperatures, it breaks down to become washing soda, water steam, and carbon dioxide.
By cooking your baking soda, you can easily and safely get washing soda without needing to travel to far flung places to buy it, and you can make as much as you need at a time and don't need to lay out a lot of money on buying washing soda. (If you buy baking soda in bulk as I do, you can make washing soda especially cheaply.)

Baking soda on the left, washing soda on the right
So how do you know if your baking soda became washing soda? Baking soda and washing soda look different, feel different, and taste different. If you make your own washing soda, you'll be able to tell in an instant which baking soda has become washing soda and which has not yet.
But if you don't believe me that you'll know immediately, the differences between the two are this:
Washing soda is grainy, baking soda is powdery.
Washing soda is dull and opaque, baking soda is crystalized like salt and reflects light, i.e. it is semi shiny.
Washing soda is separate grains, baking soda clumps together.

Baking soda. Note the differences between how it
looks and how the above washing soda looks.

Now, what do you do with your newly made washing soda?
Save it for tomorrow when I'll teach you how to make homemade laundry detergent!

Have you ever bought washing soda? Have you ever seen it in a store? How does the price differ between washing soda and baking soda? According to, washing soda is three times the price of baking soda. If you've bought washing soda, what have you used it for?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Frugal Wedding Gifts

Funny Wedding Cake Toppers Bride PINCH Groom BUTT SexyFrugality runs in my family. My sister, also pretty frugal, reads my blog frequently and often calls me up, saying "Penny, you know, you should write about x." Or "Penny, why haven't you ever written about y?" The other day, my big sis called me up and said "Penny, you should write a post about gifting frugally for weddings." 
Me? Write about that? That's not in my circle of reference. I go to weddings rarely. Maybe once every year or so? I live in a community of married couples and my social circle involves mostly my local pals. Not many singles here getting married. 
My sister, on the other hand, is in college, and there are people getting married left and right. Weddings for her are a frequent occurrence, and she's managed to make sure that she gets a good gift for the bride and groom yet still manages to stay within her very tight budget.

And now, without further ado, I'd like to introduce my sister, Sister Penniless. Show us what you've got!

Frugal Wedding Gifts

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Don't Call the Plumber

My friend's husband is a plumber, and while I'm all for helping support my friends and their spouses by giving them work, my first priority is teaching myself and others to be self sufficient, even if it means that the plumber will get less work.
Recently we had some plumbing issues. Clogged sinks, leaking sinks and toilets, clogged drainage pipes, the works. We took care of them all on our own, saving us (and our landlord) a pretty penny. I thought I'd share some of these do-it-yourself plumbing tips, tricks, and techniques, so you'll know how to fix problems when they arise, saving yourself both the headache of waiting for a plumber to arrive, and you'll be able to keep the money in your pocket.

Do It Yourself Plumbing

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Raw Radish, Beet, and Fennel Salad

Radish, beet, and fennel salad served along side
sesame chicken breast and quinoa/brown rice mixture
This has got to be my all time favorite recipe for salads. I made it up on a whim one day, a compilation of a few different recipes I'd seen in other places, and wow, it was an absolute keeper! These are all cool weather crops, and are a crisp, light, and tasty alternative to all the wintry root vegetable stews and soups.

This is recipe number three in my radish recipe parade.

Raw Radish, Beet, and Fennel Salad

Monday, January 3, 2011

My First Blogiversary!

Ok, I cheat. My first blogiversary was yesterday. I'm so terrible with dates that I missed that! But anyhow, just wanted to share some nice blog stats and let you join in with my happiness. is officially 366 days old.

In those 366 days, there have been 385 posts, making an average of 1.05 posts per day.

We started off with 0 Google followers, 0 subscribers, 0 visits, and 0 visitors per day.

Now, we have 411 Google followers, 783 subscribers, and 426 Twitter followers.

111,251 visits. That's One hundred and eleven thousand, two hundred and fifty one! Wow!!!

On average, there are 650 visitors a day, 18,000 visits per month, and 42,500 page views per month!

I've had as many as 60 or 70 comments on one post, usually something controversial!

The most visitors I ever had in one day was on March 25, 2010 at 1,100 visitors when I was quoted in a article! Runner up was 837 visitors on August 9th. But I'm quite happy with our 733 visits we had just on Thursday of this past week!

In one year, this blog has grown from a little unknown speck on the bloggosphere to a vibrant community of commenters who have become friends who are there for each other, helping each other out, and building a better tomorrow! And it's all thanks to you, my wonderful readers! I couldn't have done it without you! You've given me support and encouragement, feedback, constructive criticism, advice, love, friendship, and much else! I really appreciate all that!

Thanks everyone for making my blog what it is!

Can't wait to see what the next year of my blog will bring!

Happy New Year!

Russian Radish Salad

Sorry the pic is a bit fuzzy- unfortunately I can't find
 the charger for the batteries for my other camera.
My family has Russian roots; there were numerous family jokes about how the only "green vegetable" in Mother Russia was the potato. This recipe reminds me of the fact that Russia can be so cold that not many vegetables grow there. This cucumber and radish salad is made with some of the only vegetables hardy enough to grow in that cold clime. I make it fairly frequently throughout the winter and it gets inhaled!
I recently brought this dish to a get together of friends and it was polished off, down to the last drop, even by people who generally don't care for radishes. There's no spiciness left once it finishes marinating.

Russian Radish Salad

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Radish Recipe Parade

One of my son's favorite books at the moment is Jack Prelutsky's Scranimal Island, and of the poems within, his absolute favorite poem is the one about the radishark, a cross between a radish and a shark.
The poem (at the right) is quite amusing, in my opinion, heightened by the fact, that yes, most people are quite terrified of radishes. They have absolutely no clue what to do with them and would run a hundred miles rather than have to eat a radish.

I remember once upon a time I was at a get together with a bunch of very religious women. One of the dishes being served was a radish salad. I naively asked the women if there was a symbolism behind eating the radishes, sure that that is the only reason such a dish would be served. The ladies gave me a puzzled look. No, they answered, there's nothing symbolic behind eating radish salad. Still confused, I continued, "If there's no symbolic reason to eat radish salad, why are you serving it?" The ladies' answer "Because it tastes good."
Those ladies must have thought I was off my rocker. But I was asking in all seriousness. Before that point, I had never seen anyone chose to eat radishes. Radishes were just something people put in a vegetable salad so that others could pick it out, right?
That day I learned that yes, radishes, when prepared correctly, can taste absolutely delicious!