Thursday, April 28, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Sugar (and vanilla salt, and sucanat)

3 out of the 4 members of my nuclear family members are sick, including yours truly. This hot weather then cold then hot then cold then hot is messing with our immune system, and I'm left with a perpetually runny nose, with a horrid sinus headache, brain fog, exhaustion, and just generally an icky feeling. Unfortunately, my two kids are/were feeling even worse, feeling what I do, in addition to having fevers, sneezing, coughing... You know, that type of sickness you associate with mid winter, not the end of spring and heading into summer.

I'll leave you with a quick and easy recipe for today, because, quite frankly, I'm having a hard time concentrating on more than that at the moment. Even making supper almost seems beyond my capabilities. I just want to lay down and vegetate.

Where I live, when you buy vanilla extract, it's not real vanilla extract, its artificial vanilla flavoring (called vanillin), mixed with other chemicals, such as different colored dyes. Real vanilla extract is harder to find and is exorbitantly expensive for a tiny little bottle, enough to turn most frugal minded people off from buying it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wild Medicine

Today, we had a blackout that lasted for many hours. Being as I couldn't continue writing the post I was working on, I decided instead to go foraging. This time, instead of looking for plants to eat, I was mainly looking for plants with medicinal purposes. Of course, in most cases, the plants are both edible and medicinal, but I'm not planning on serving these to my family just yet- I'm dehydrating them for later use, so I have a well stocked "medicine cabinet" for when I need some cure but don't want to use prescription medication.

What did I get today?

All of today's wonderful bounty! Sorry for the bad lighting- I took it during the blackout!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cloth Toilet Paper, Revisited

Our bathroom. I know- odd looking toilet-
it's more water efficient than the standard
one you see in the US
Of all the hundreds of posts on my blog so far, no post has received more hits, gotten more feedback (both negative and positive), and inspired more discussion than my post on family cloth- reusable toilet paper.

Bathroom habits are really kept hush hush in modern, proper, and polite Western society. People don't want to know details about other people's WC habits- not exactly what went on in there, nor how exactly people wipe themselves, and I broke that taboo by writing about using reusable toilet paper.
In real life, anyone who comes to my house wouldn't notice anything different about our bathroom. It has a toilet, a sink, a bathtub/shower, toiler paper, etc... The only difference you might be able to pick up is that there is not just one garbage can- there are two. And there's a tissue box that's not quite a tissue box- it holds little cloths instead of tissues.

I don't announce to the world, especially not to visitors or anyone I know in real life (especially not my mother in law- she'd probably have a heart attack!) that we use reusable toilet paper, because I know the immediate thought that comes to mind is "Ewww! Gross! Unhygienic! Unsanitary! Breeding grounds for diseases!" and things along that vein.
Modern society has made such a disconnect between humanity and it's bodily functions to the extent that some people eschew nursing, because breastmilk is "bodily fluids", and people over sanitize their lives, making sure that they come no where near any microorganism, to the extent that their immune system looks for something, anything to fight off. Washing with water and soap isn't good enough anymore- now everything we touch, smell, see, or consume needs to be sterilized with antibacterial products or pasteurized to death so that there's no way on earth any microorganism could have survived.

Monday, April 25, 2011


I've discovered, at long last, that my little Ike, my sweet little toddler, has most likely got eczema. I'm not an expert on skin conditions- I need a dermatologist to give an official diagnosis, and don't have any personal experience with eczema. (To be completely honest, until I was in high school, I always thought "eczema" was just someone grossly mispronouncing asthma. Embarrassing, I know.)

I was kicking myself a bit for not having noticed it earlier. If my son is 19 months old now, why am I only realizing now that he has a recurring skin condition? Was I just being a completely oblivious mom?

After much thought and research about how to heal eczema, I've learned that many of the tips on how to naturally deal with eczema are things that we already do- use skin products that are as chemical and fragrance free as possible, stay away from artificial ingredients in food, don't bathe kids too frequently, cloth diaper, have healthy animal fats, etc... are things that we anyhow already do, both for frugality reasons and for general health and environmental reasons.
For this reason, his eczema has been pretty tame, enough to occasionally flare up as a diaper rash, but not being bad enough that I actually noticed that the rash was more than the typical diaper irritation.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Picky Eaters

Lee happily eating hollyhocks
 (large leaves at right) that he picked
himself on a foraging expedition.
I have to ask, do your little ones like, and eat the things that you make? I have an EXTREMELY picky 4 yr old, and if it "looks" funny, she ain't touching nor eating it. How do you get your little ones to try, eat and like all the things you make?
This question is one recently asked by a reader, but I've been approached about this topic numerous times, each time by someone else incredulous that my kids actually eat foods that many other children wouldn't even look at.

I'm not a parenting expert, nor do I claim to be; after all, I only have 2 kids, with my oldest being but 3.5 years old. I do have experience with a few more kids than that, though, as I ran a home based daycare for a few years, and have educated and "parented" nearly 30 kids within that time (my method of running my daycare was to treat those kids as I would my own, so I consider what I did with them "parenting" to an extent). As I said, I'm no expert, I'm just speaking from my experience with all these kids I've fed over the past few years, so take what you like and leave the rest, if it doesn't apply to your kids or if you have special issues involved.

So Penny, do your kids actually eat your food?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Pretty Cheap Family "Outing"

My husband had the day off of work today, and I wanted to take advantage of that time for the kids and myself to spend some quality with Mike, who so rarely has free time, being as he works very long work weeks.
We were looking for something to do, and at first considered going to the zoo, as we have a yearly membership there, but we only really woke up for the day today pretty late (10:30 am!) and going to the zoo is a long, exhausting trip, one for which we had no energy.
We then thought about going hiking at a national park in the area, but we have no car, and there's no public transportation there, so we had to pick something else to do.

Instead, we decided to take advantage of the great outdoors in our very own backyard.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Apple Butter Jam Recipe

I call this recipe Apple Butter Jam because it's apple jam that bears a striking resemblance to apple butter, but with the addition of sugar, making it more of a jam than the purely concentrated apple sauce which is apple butter. This jam recipe tastes good on bread, crackers, and toast, and I'm sure I can think of lots of other good uses for it if I have enough time. It's suitable for canning in a water bath canner, and best of all, it contains no bought pectin, making it easier on the budget and for people without good sources of hard to find ingredients.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Menu Plan- Week of April 18th

Last week I did a massive shopping trip, and while I preserved some of what I bought, I still have much fresh produce that I would like to use up, so this week's menu plan reflects that.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Frozen Cucumber Salad Recipe

My freezer needed to be defrosted. It had frozen over, and because of that, it was working extra hard to keep the fridge at a normal, cool temperature. I apparently lowered the temperature in the refrigerator because things weren't getting cold enough, but once I thawed out the freezer and the fridge was working better, I forgot to raise the temperature in the fridge...
After buying a large amount of produce, I discovered on Friday that my fridge froze a large amount of my veggies!!!

For some of these, I didn't mind so much that they froze, as I had been planning on freezing them anyhow.

For others, like the cucumbers and radishes, I was quite annoyed that they froze.

Being as I don't like to waste any food, but also don't like gross tasting or wrong textured food, I was unsure at first what to do with those cucumbers.

And then it hit me-

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why Preserve Produce?

Some preserved produce I made
Preserving produce has been the task of gardeners (and their wives) for millennia. Produce was grown in the warmer months and needed to last throughout the cold, winter months where little, if anything grew. With gardening, often much food is ripe at the same time, too much to be able to use it all at once without it spoiling, unless some is preserved for later.

A reader asked me the following, good question in the comments, which I  felt deserved a full post in response.
"I'm not sure I understand why you have to buy seasonal vegetables and fruits in bulk. I like to buy whats in season and its usually the freshest and cheapest. If it's not there a few weeks later, I buy something else. Is it because you don't have a car and have to limit your trips? I applaud your energy in getting this all done, in any case."
If I'm not a farmer or gardener, and instead purchase my vegetables, why don't I just buy "normal" amounts of in season produce instead of buying a lot at once, and why do I preserve my produce?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Putting Away A Million Perishable Groceries and Preserving Them

On Tuesday, I made a massive, massive shopping trip. 232 pounds of food, most of them perishable items. I don't have a spare freezer, nor a massive fridge, and I don't want it to spoil before I use it all up. I also don't have a basement to make a root cellar, so what am I going to do with all this food?

That's what I've been spending my day today doing. Busy as a bee, preserving, and making space for more preservation to take place

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shopping Trip- April 12, 2011

I did a massive shop today. More massive than I've done in a long while, but no regrets whatsoever. I had planned already for the past few months to do a big shopping now, and that was part of the impetus for my no shopping challenge the past 2 months.
I stocked up on lots of things that I found tremendously on sale, and plan on preserving a good portion of even the perishables, for future use. Not my most frugal shopping ever, but I bought what I needed, plus some splurges, and some things that are more expensive than my usual shopping items, but this is the cheapest I can ever find them, so I'm stocking up.

How much did I spend?
265 dollars.
I know.
I can hear your gasp from a mile away.
But this expense was planned.
And budgeted for.
And paid for in cash, not credit.
So no regrets.

What did I buy?
A HUGE amount of food.

Looky look! I had a hard time fitting it all on the table; I needed to pile things on top of each other in order to get it all into the picture.

And now for specifics, what did I get, and why.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Menu Plan Monday- End of No Shopping Challenge

Back in February, I decided to embark on a "No Shopping Challenge", to try to use up some of the things in my massive stockpile, so I could have turnover of my foods and use up some things that would otherwise not get used up. The added benefit of this was to be able to save the money we'd usually spend on groceries, in order to have extra money set aside for some lower income and higher expense months coming up.
So, how did I do on my challenge? For the first month, I was very good and, as set out in the rules of my challenge, only went to the grocery to pick up one or two items, and no more than 1 or 2 trips per week. In March, a friend invited herself over to my family for a dinner, and wanted me to "go all out", and gave me money to spend on the dinner, so I did a big shop then, with the intention of buying nice things for the meal, but I did have things left over to supplement my pantry.
Since then, I've been back on track and have used up most of the old things in my stockpile, and barely spent anything on groceries, and certainly didn't do a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly shop as I used to do.

I'm done with the challenge. My stockpile supply is really low, and I'm going to do my first real, big shopping in 10 weeks! We did manage to put away a decent amount of money during this time, and I have very little really old food on my shelves. My no shopping challenge was a success.

Now that I've completed my challenge, I'm ready to go shopping tomorrow (and don't worry, I'll share details of my shopping trip).
Here's what's on the menu.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring Cleaning Treasures

In the Penniless residence, we're smack in the middle of some intense spring cleaning, and I wanted to share some thoughts on the subject with you.

Spring cleaning- you may ask- what's it got to do with frugality?
Well, aside for the fact that frugal people tend to do the cleaning themselves instead of paying for professional cleaning help, there's still more.

I think every person, at least once a year, should do a thorough cleaning of their house, turning it inside and out, organizing it, and cleaning behind, under, on top of, and inside everything. It doesn't matter what time of year you do it, but spring  is the season of regrowth and renewed energy. During spring, you're not huddled indoors freezing anymore, but its not too hot yet that you would work up a sweat as you would if you'd leave "spring" cleaning for July.

Spring cleaning should be done because its important for mental health, but, more relevant to this blog, it's a money saver.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Easy Cinnamon Buns

I like cinnamon buns. They use only ingredients I anyhow have around the house and get for cheap, and because they use regular bread dough, I just make a larger batch of dough when I'm baking bread and use some of that for my cinnamon buns.

Here's how to make cinnamon buns in few, simple steps.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Poverty, Frugality, Charity, and Government Assistance

Sorry Readers for the lack of in depth, detailed posts as of late. I've had a lot on my plates lately, including work obligations (I needed to get 7 weeks worth of  work done in 2 weeks), familial obligations, and just general life "stuff" that requires much physical and emotional energy. I've been running on an average of 3-4 hours of sleep per night lately, so my thoughts aren't the most coherent, and I'm not sure how much  "ramblings" you want to hear.
But even though I don't have a full post written out, there's been something on my mind lately and I wanted to hear your opinion on it. There's no right or wrong answer, but I'd love to hear a debate in the comments section about your thoughts on this.

It's a good thing. It's helping people out that are struggling.
But really- who is deserving of charity?
Is the person (A) who has no job and no source of income, but has no physical problems that preclude him/her from working, and decides that it's easier to be a beggar on the street than to get a job, worthy of receiving charity?
Is the person (B) who doesn't make a lot of money, but makes stupid monetary decisions and is wasteful, and therefore can't keep afloat worthy of charity?
Is a person (C) who does manage to keep afloat by going without things that everyone else has, and living an extreme, extreme frugal lifestyle, and manages to build up a little savings even so- worthy of charity?
What if persons B and C both make the same money, but C makes sacrifices to make ends meet, and B just lives above his means, who is more worthy/deserving of charity?

When I say charity, I mean an individual or a private organization, not a government organization. If you were the charity giver, what would be your guidelines for giving charity?

How about government assistance?
If someone is eligible to receive government assistance (WIC, food stamps, medical assistance, housing assistance, etc...) but is able to manage without the assistance by tightening their belts and living extremely frugally, should they feel guilty about taking the assistance? Should they turn it down? If you could manage without assistance but the assistance would give you some breathing room and you were eligible, would you accept it?
Do you think people should be frugal with their government assistance? Meaning- if you were spending 75 dollars a week to feed your family before you were eligible for assistance, and now you get food stamps that are 150 dollars per week (I'm making up numbers here), should you start buying non frugal things, luxuries that you didn't allow yourself to buy, or should you be as frugal with government assistance as you are with your own money?

I'd love to hear your answers, and I'll give my opinion after hearing some responses.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Running Water- Needs Vs Wants

A while back I had a series of posts that dealt with the topic of needs and wants, meant to get us (myself included) to consider the things we take for granted, and to pontificate about whether or not those things are really essential for our survival. By doing so, it would help us appreciate all of the extra things that we do have, instead of focusing on the things that we lack that the Jones of our society try to convince us are needs. And if push came to shove and we were very desperate, what things could we possibly make do without?
I decided to revisit the topic, as Sunday I got inspiration from the most unlikely of places- a water outage that left us without running water for nearly the entire day.
So- running water- need or want?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Perfect Chicken Soup Recipes

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
The way to my heart is through a bowl of soup. Soups are the frugal cook's best friend, as they can be made from nearly anything, including frugal ingredients or food past its prime and still taste terrific.
I grew up with many different types of soup, but to me, chicken soup was just something you make from consomm√©/bullion and water; plain old chicken soup was too "boring" of a dish for an exotic food chef like my mom. Once I moved out of the house, I got to experience the culinary delight that is chicken soup, and have since discovered that there are as many variations to this soup as there are stars in the sky, each one with their own delicious, signature taste.
When I make chicken soup, I don't just throw a bunch of random ingredients into a pot and call it a day- I decide which unique flavor I'm aiming for, and make the soup that matches that precisely.
Here's my most frequently made variations, and where I learned to make that precise variation.

Note- each of these recipes say "chicken", but don't specify what type precisely because it doesn't matter, as long as you use enough to give it a strong chickeny flavor. I use whatever I have, including, but not limited to: Chicken carcasses, chicken wings, chicken scraps, including fat, skin, and wing tips, water from boiling chicken gizzards, chicken necks, etc.
All recipes are assuming you are using a 6 quart pot, filling it with the ingredients, then filling it the rest of the way with water.

5 Terrific Chicken Soup Recipes

Friday, April 1, 2011

Homemade French Fried Onions

Have you ever seen a recipe calling for French fried onions, and wondering where you can buy them, or even what on earth they were? Have you ever wondered if you can make these yourself and not need to pay an overpriced fee for this topping? Wonder no more, because French fried onions are so easy to make at home.