Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Coupon Site for You!

I'm certainly not a coupon user, as couponing really isn't available in my part of the world, but for those of you that do live in a place where you can coupon, and rely on coupons to lower your bills, you'll probably enjoy this guest post written by reader Monique Rowe. 

When we talk about getting creative with our budget, it is all about saving money.  We clip coupons, check out the latest store flyer and go store to store looking for the best deals.  What about eliminating the hassle of leaving your house and just start shopping online?  Yes, it is fun to walk through the department store and in the mall, but we waste a lot of time searching for what we want and then checking every store to see if we can get a better deal.  
Here is how online shopping makes a difference.  First, you need to start at a site like MyCoupons.com.  This site compiles coupon codes from hundreds of retailers with some of the most exclusive offers online.  Need some home furnishings? Use one of the many Macys coupons or Dillards coupons.  Have kids and want to get them something from Disney? They have plenty of Disney coupons.  The site is really easy to use and has side links on the left side for exclusive deals, free shipping, the most popular coupons and other great links. 
MyCoupons.com also features CouponPros that can assist you with merchants and help you get the best deal.  
Sign up with them on Facebook for their VIP List to have a chance to win weekly prizes and have access to special offers.  Even more savings are available when you buy a discounted gift card to places like Bath and Body Works or Pier 1.  
Go online and check them out and be more creative with coupons!

This is a sponsored post.

Do you shop with coupons? Do you usually use them in the store or online? How much money would you say you save via couponing? If you don't coupon, why don't you?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Frugal Case of the Munchies

One thing slightly harder in a frugal lifestyle is getting a case of the munchies. Usually, when you want to snack, you don't have the energy or inclination to start cooking up a bunch of food, and non frugal folk usually keep a bunch of ready made snacks around for that exact purpose. Frugal people, of course, could always snack on stockpiled ready made snacks bought for very little or no money via extreme couponing, but usually those ready made dirt cheap snacks are full of all sorts of artificial ingredients, making them the last choice of a snack for the health conscious frugalists.

So, what is a health minded frugal person supposed to do when they get the urge to snack?

Here's a few ideas:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Homemade Pickled Capers, Caper Leaves, and Caper Berries

Foraged lacto-fermented capers
If you live in a warm dry place, you've probably seen these plants growing everywhere. Any place that looks too inhospitable for any plant to possibly grow, thats where you'll find these, whether you're talking about in the middle of a wall of pure rock or in dirt that hasn't seen any water in months. And they're stubborn little things- once this plant decides to set its roots somewhere, it digs them in long and deep, and you'll have no luck killing the plant, no matter how many attempts you make on its life.
What plant is this?

Capparis spinosa, the caper bush. 

Caper bushes have been a source of food millenia- I know there are references to this plant as a food source even in the Bible! But how the first person who started using caper bushes as a food source ever got the idea is beyond me, as every single part of the plant tastes quite nasty when first picked off the bush and needs some preparation in order to make it palatable. (Probably the same person who discovered olives are edible, as they also taste vile straight off the tree.)

Speaking of every part of the plant... I don't know of another plant where so many different parts of the same plant are edible and are used for food! In capers, the roots are used medicinally (as well as many other parts of the plant), and the shoots, leaves, flower buds, and berries are all eaten as food. I have no experience eating the shoots or roots of the plant, but have prepared capers (the unopened flower buds), caper leaves, and caper berries (the fruit of the plant) to eat and its quite an experience, I have to tell you.

 The foods taste like no other, with a smell like dirty feet, but they're a great addition to all sorts of Italian and Greek dishes, making them worthwhile to prepare at home if you can find a bush (or two or 10) in your area.

How do you identify caper plants?

Note where its growing! In a tiny crack between an asphalt sidewalk and a stone wall!
Well, they're a thorn bush, for one, so if you don't see thorns, its not a caper bush.

They usually sprawl everywhere, in many different directions, without any apparent rhyme or reason.

They've got round green leaves ranging in diameter from dime to half dollar size, and they're a bright green.

Quite often the stems are bright purple, but they also can be a muted maroon-sh brown.

The best way, really, to identify a caper bush is by the unopened flower buds along the stem or by their beautiful luscious flowers.

To find a caper bush, you'll want to look in the most unlikeliest of places, places where you're sure no life can grow. The ramparts of the castle of Santa Bárbaraare in Spain are one of the many absurd places that capers grow. But the best place to look for capers is in the same exact spot that you saw a bush the year before- because as I said above, no matter how many times you try to cut them down, capers won't die, and won't disappoint, for every year you can be rest assured that they'll be there, barring some miracle.

As usual with foraging, the most annoying weeds, especially thorny weeds, often make very good food. Capers are the perfect example of this. A prickly bush that you can't kill no matter how you try? Might as well put it to use in the kitchen, as I do thistle and nettles.

To pick and pickle your own capers, caper leaves, and caper berries, you'll want to first identify your caper plant.

Caper buds (capers) before pickling
Once doing that, decide what you want- do you want plain capers, the leaves, or the berries? (You won't usually find caper buds and berries at the same time on the same plant, as the buds open up to make the flowers, which then become fertilized to make the berries.) Bring a bag or container to hold each of these, and pick away, keeping the different types separate. Expect to get pricked one time or a million unless you use gardening gloves. (I prefer to work gloveless and have become somewhat adept at avoiding the thorns.) All sizes of caper buds and leaves are fine, but the bigger berries often don't taste as good.

If you dare, taste them now. They're vile. They're filled with mustard oil that you'll want to release in order to make them palatable. To do so, you'll want to soak them in plain water, changing it daily, for a week.
Caper leaves in a jar before pickling.
During this time, you'll see many changes happening to the leaves, berries, and buds. They'll go from a bright green (and sometimes purple) to a drab olive green, with lighter green splotches on their surface. At the same time, every time you come near the jars of your soaking caper parts, you'll catch a whiff of a disgusting odor, and that's good, because it means the bad stuff is getting released and isn't remaining in the food you want to eat. The water will also likely change color to a yellowish, greenish color, possibly with little white things floating on the surface. You want that to happen- it means things are working out right!

At the end of the week, when your plant matter has changed color and finished releasing most of its bad flavor, you'll want to pickle these. 
A salty vinegary brine is the typical way to do this, but lacto-fermenting it in salt water also works great. (If you do want to do it vinegary, just mix salt, vinegar, and water to taste and pour it on to the caper parts.) 
This time, I chose to make mine lacto-fermented, using approximately one tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. (This will be very salty, saltier than your standard lacto-fermented pickles, but you want it salty, as capers are supposed to have a salty taste.)
Keep your lacto-fermenting caper parts in a warm place for a few days, tasting them daily. When they have the right amount of tang and saltiness, put them in your fridge. They should last a long time, as a little bit goes a long way. Fortunately, capers don't spoil if prepared properly, so you can keep a batch made in the summer all year round, until capers are once again ready to be picked.

Foraged lacto-fermented capers
Capers have a taste that is extremely complex, and according to many, is an acquired taste. Its sharp, piquant, and quite strongly flavored.

Foraged lacto-fermented caper leaves

Caper leaves, in my opinion, taste somewhat like salty hardboiled eggs, but you'll have to try them yourself to see if my description is good or not. They're typically eaten together with fish.
Pickled caper berries
Caper berries taste rather like caper buds, with a slightly different taste.

And oh yea- one last final thing- capers grow only in the summer! I'm finding caper buds now in May on some local bushes, and these bushes will likely be continuing to have more buds and flower and eventually make berries all throughout the season until September or even later.

Note: Bugs LOVE capers! Be sure to check your caper buds or leaves for bug holes or other signs of infestation if you want to avoid eating little ants, etc... with your capers.

I realize that these plants only grow in warm places like where I live, but wanted to share my tips on how to make these for those people in the same general region and just to have the information out there because there is a severe lack of information on how to prepare these on Google.

Do you ever eat capers? How much do they cost where you live? What are your favorite uses for capers?
Did you know that if you live in the land of no capers (aka the USA aside for California), you can make your own mock capers, with nasturtium pods, dandelion buds, or even spruce tips?
Now that its finally warmer in the US and you're probably not covered in a blanket of snow anymore (I hope), what wild edibles are growing near you right now? What have you been foraging?

Linking up to Pennywise Platter Thursday.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saving Money- Not!

I love sales. Items on sale, especially items I was planning on buying anyhow and have plans to use make me do a little jump for joy. Why pay full price for something if you can get it cheaper?

Today I was in the store buying some pretzels for an occasion (anyone know how to make them from scratch? Not the soft pretzel variety!) and saw that the pretzels were on the special sale display shelf.

"Awesome!" I thought to myself, while internally dancing a little jig. Buying pretzels anyhow- if I can spend less than planned, that's terrific!

Then I noted the sale.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Frugality and Excuses. Any Justifiable?

Readers of my blog will know that I'm very "into" frugality, to put it lightly. They also know that I try to spread the word about the benefits of frugality and how to incorporate it into your life with tips and ideas via my blog, my magazine column, my contribution to forums, and my personal interactions in real life.
They've also probably heard about my talking about people's resistance to change, their refusal to try many frugal ideas, and the various excuses I've heard why people aren't willing to do frugal things.
You may have assumed that I think all excuses why not to be frugal are nonsense and that none are justifiable, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
I thought I'd share some common excuses about why someone can't/won't be frugal, and what I think about those excuses, and if I think they ever have any merit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Protein Myths About Vegan and Vegetarian Foods (With Recipes)

I recently had this piece published in a magazine, and oh boy did I get a lot of negative responses. A firestorm was caused on facebook regarding this article. It appears I touched on a very sore nerve, because I basically pointed out that all these excuses people give about why they don't want to save money are just that- excuses, and people aren't interested in changing their practices. The topic I covered?
Protein- the fact that you don't need chicken or meat or even animal proteins every night for supper. Every single fact I claim is easily verifiable, which is what makes it even all the more preposterous that I got comments like "You're no nutritionist, I am baffled how you can say that white rice and pasta have protein", even though a simple look at the nutrition facts of those foods would prove I'm correct.

Anyhow, I realize that part of the reason for the whole hullabaloo was because I wrote the article in a magazine read by many people who aren't frugal minded in the slightest, so they weren't receptive to hearing this. Because of that, I wanted to share the piece with you to see if it'll cause as much of an uproar here as it did there.
If there is something I wrote that you know is incorrect, please link me to information that proves your point.

One more thing I'd like to add is that based on the research I've done, I definitely am not an advocate of a vegan or vegetarian diet as I believe that there is much benefit to be had from animal products (as the Weston Price Foundation supports); however, replacing some of your meals each week with vegan or vegetarian meals won't cause any problems nutritionally and will likely save a lot of money. To clarify again in case I wasn't clear- this article isn't meant to convert people to veganism or vegetarianism, rather to argue that you don't need chicken, turkey, pork, beef, or even fish every. single. day.

So, here's the article; let me know what you think.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Update on Ike, Sleeping, Weaning, and Food

Anyone who has been following my blog for some time will know that my kids like to keep me on my toes, especially my little one, Ike.

Ike is a year and 8 months old and he is like the Energizer Bunny.
I don't think he has an off switch.

He has an inquisitive mind and likes to figure things out, like how to get the things he wants off really high shelves (climbing on the shelves like rungs of a ladder), how to turn on light switches (using a broom stick to be able to press the switch), how to help himself to a drink (opening the fridge, taking out a pitcher of drink, and pouring it into his mouth), how to flush the toilet by himself (which doesn't exactly help lower our water bill when he decides to make a game out of this)....

Ike is a really fun kid to have around, but he also definitely keeps my hands full. Never a dull moment in this house, that's for sure.

The hardest part about raising Ike is that he appears to have very little need for sleep. I've written about his sleeping issues, but in short, at a year and a half, he was going to sleep at 10 or 11 pm, and waking up every hour or two to nurse, and then got up for the day at 7 or 8 am. Definitely no fun.
I got Ike to go to sleep earlier by making sure he wouldn't nap too late in the day, and then he'd go to sleep at the early time 9 or 10. And then wake up every hour or two to nurse.
It was crazy.
But the craziest thing of all was that when I was out of the house and Mike watched the kids and put them to bed, Ike would easily sleep for four hours straight or more.
It was something about my being there that was encouraging him to wake up. Nursing.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Yes, Parents Can Be Teachers

An ABC match up worksheet put
 together for my son in about 3 minutes.
Pardon the unprofessional drawing-
 I only wanted to make sure that Lee
could identify the pictures on my own-
 I wasn't aiming for a work of art
A few times recently I've been noticed by strangers. Noticed for having my 3.5 year old son, Lee, with me during school hours. Where I live, keeping a kid above the age of 3 at home is all but unheard of; people immediately begin to question my reasoning. Was it just that his birthday was past the cut off date to be able to make it into pre-school? Next year, obviously, he's going to school?

People are truly befuddled when I tell them that no, I have no plans on sending him out to preschool when he turns 4. Or to kindergarten when he turns 5. Or even to first grade once he turns 6.

When it finally dawns on people that I plan on homeschooling my children long term, immediately a wave of recognition passes over their face.
"Oh, you're a professional teacher! Why didn't you tell me that?"

Me? I'm not a professional teacher. I'm just a high school graduate with some college under my belt, but I'm more than capable of teaching my children everything they need to know until they'd go to college. Ok, maybe not everything, but for the rest, there are resources to teach my children what I cannot.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Guessing Game

I know I said I'd share instructions on how to make sushi today, but in the end I went in to town with the family to run errands, and I'm too tired to do a step by step tutorial with pics for the post. So that'll have to be for another day.

Instead, I'll leave you with a guessing game.

My day today involved:

A measuring tape

Unearthing a wooden box from our storage room

A broken huge mirror

Hunting around the city for a glazier, only to find out that the the telephone book is only aware of 4 in the city, none of them remotely close to where I was told there was one...

Finding a glazier eventually and having him cut me a 47 centimeter by 47 centimeter square of glass

Lugging said piece of glass home on a bus, all the while trying to get Ike to not kick it and shatter it

Some cardboard

Perhaps also some Styrofoam

Anyone want to put the clues together and figure out what I spent my day busy with?
Lets hear your guesses...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Making Sushi- Part 1- Sushi Rice Recipe

The first time I ever had sushi in my life was at a Japanese restaurant in New York, on a trip there with my family when I was but a little kid. A short while after, the first sushi bar opened in my city and we were so excited. A birthday meant a special date with mom to go to the sushi bar, where we'd have our edamame (green soybeans), green tea,  maki rolls (standard sushi), sashimi (raw fish slices), and nigiri (rice topped with raw fish).

I always loved those dates, as it meant bonding time with mom and eating delicious sushi. I'm a raw fish girl all the way; vegetarian sushi simply doesn't cut it for me!

I remember once in high school having a class party at this restaurant with a sushi bar. I ordered sushi while my other classmates ordered more typical American food. Some girls, seeing a food they'd never had before, requested if they could taste some of mine. Grudgingly, I acquiesced, and gave 2 girls 2 out of the 6 pieces in my maki roll.
Waddya know- they both took one bite, spit it out, declared it absolutely disgusting, and tossed the other half in the garbage. And then proceeded to mock me for enjoying something that vile.
And here I was, both annoyed at the wasted delicious, expensive food, and at their very uncultured palate.

Anyhow, with that prelude...

Sushi is available where I live. Well, if you take the bus to the city center and are willing to pay a huge amount of money for a tiny little amount.
And I will occasionally buy it. And then regret it. Because I have a hard time enjoying things fully after paying an arm and a leg for it.
So I just make my own.
No, it doesn't contain raw fish. Whereas there are places in the city where I can pick up sushi grade raw fish, having no car and not living close to the city center would mean that there would be at least an hour and a half that that fish would be traveling before it got home, and I don't feel safe enough to do that and eat it raw.
I make my sushi either vegetarian, with smoked salmon, with imitation crab, or with canned tuna fish. It's not the same, but still does the trick a majority of the time.

When making sushi at home, the trickiest part, in my opinion, is making the sushi rice. I always thought it was this terribly complex process involving timers, exceptional hearing skills, and a lot of luck, but fortunately I soon learned that though more involved than regular rice, it's not so difficult to make.

Sushi Rice Recipe and Instructions

Monday, May 9, 2011

Gluten Free Menu Plan Monday In Retrospect and Eczema Update

So, we've officially been on a gluten free, dairy free, egg free, coconut free, and nightshade free diet for almost a week, and gluten free, dairy free for longer than that. This was an experiment to see if it would help my son, Ike's eczema, and I have to say, I'm already stunned by the results.
In order to make this experiment more accurate and to pinpoint exactly what it is that is helping or hurting the eczema, I continued to use the disposable diapers I was using when he broke out in his bad rash. (If I switched back to disposable and the rash went away, I wouldn't know if the healing was because of the diaper switch or the food elimination.) I also didn't put on any special creams.
The rash, I'm glad to say, went entirely away! No more trace of any skin issues. Until I served something with tahini in it. He started getting a rash again the next day. So now sesame is suspect, so we added that food to our list of no-nos. And then the rash started healing again and was mostly better... Until on Friday, Ike ate some leftovers of Mikes pita pizza that he brought home (gluten, dairy AND tomatoes!) and then Saturday his rash got worse again. Fortunately he just had a bite or two of the pizza, so the rash didn't get terrible, but now it's already on the mend.
It's amazing to see what a difference the food we eat makes to our system...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

To all you moms out there, I just wanted to wish you a happy Mother's Day!

You moms rock, carry kids in your belly for nine months, feed your babies whenever they're hungry, even if it's inconvenient for you, have many sleepless nights, and love your kids to pieces, and teach them to be the adults they will be one day. You're the role models for your kids and thats why you're loved so much.

Moms- you're incredible!

Here's a video I saw that I found touching, and I wanted to share with you.

And since most of the time, motherhood starts with pregnancy, I thought this was a fitting video to share- I saw it today for the first time and thought it was really sweet and touching.

And in case you're looking for a frugal Mother's day idea, no need to spend lots of money on a special Mother's day present- something from the heart is usually most appreciated. I just called up my mom and told her how much she means to me, and what a difference she's made in my life, and all the different things I appreciate her for. I know that as a Mom, I'd appreciate hearing something like that, or even seeing it written down, much more than I'd appreciate a tangible Mother's day gift.

What are you doing for Mother's day today? How are you celebrating?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Lacto-Fermented Turnips- Salt Pickled Turnips

If you're like me, you've probably seen turnips on sale at the grocery store, and have had little idea what to do with them that didn't involve soup or turnip mash. You might have wondered what else you could possibly do with turnips, ideally one that is healthy and easy to make, and tastes good to boot.

Wonder no more.

Fortunately, on the web I stumbled across the idea for a Japanese condiment- lacto-fermented turnips!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Making Money Blogging- Some Tips

People often talk about how "just being frugal isn't enough", because the amount of money you can save can never be more than you're actually earning. While I agree with that in theory, I think many people throw frugality out the window when they try earning more money, and end up being in a worse position financially than someone like myself, with a small income but very frugal. Ramit Sethi recently wrote an article on that subject- what do you think about it?
The approach we've taken in our family has been "increase income when possible so long as it actually is improving finances." Which is why in the nearly 5 years since I've been married, I've never once been purely a housewife. I was always doing something to try to increase our income, whether it was working as a dental assistant, working in someone else's at home daycare, running my own at home daycare, working as a telemarketer, doing transcription jobs, cleaning other people's homes, and now working as a magazine columnist and blogger.
Frugality is good, but if frugality isn't doing enough for your finances, finding a way to improve your finances while not increasing expenditure is something very beneficial and sometimes absolutely necessary.

On that note- have you ever wondered what it takes to make money from blogging? Did you ever see someone who apparently makes a living via writing and wondered how they do it? While I can't tell you how other people do it, these are some tips that might help you get started if you were thinking of potentially supplementing your income and possibly even making a full time income via blogging. This is what has been working for me, but hey- I'm not expert, so don't take my word on it.

Making Money From Blogging

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thinking About Summer Heat

Image credit: tungphoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
May is here, and where I live, May means summer. We've already gotten a taste of summer these past few weeks, with short sleeve days interspersed with freezing cold days, but I know that very soon the seasons will turn and summer will be here full force. My foraging has already changed, as many of my typical foraging spots are too hot, dry, and sunny to sustain growth of greenery, so I'm picking the more drought resistant plant varieties, as well as the few plants surviving in their secluded, shady spots.

With summer nearly here, I've got a lot on my mind. Things I'm planning on doing this summer to save money, things that I'm considering doing this summer even though they'll cost money, and things that I want to do to save even more money so that the costly things don't need to cost as much.

Last summer was the most miserable summer of my life. We live in a quaint little top floor apartment that has absolutely no insulation- not only does it have leaky windows, but there are large few inch gaps in some places where air can flow through freely. While I've survived my whole life, aside for one year in the US, and including the past 5 years I've been living in this tremendously hot country, with no air conditioning, and for the most part with very limited usage of fans, last summer I dreamed of air conditioning.
Salivated at the thought.
Felt like I was truly dying without.
And it's not like I didn't try other ways of keeping cool, but when the cold water coming out of your faucet is hot enough to scorch you, and the air that the fan blows on you feels like a car exhaust, you really start suffering in the heat and consider spending money on things that before you considered pure luxuries.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Going Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free- Now???

Yesterday I posted about our family's decision to go gluten free, dairy free, egg free, nightshade free and coconut free. (GDENCF for short.) This is post 2 in the series.

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."
It is the best possible time to transition to a GDENCF diet, it is the worst possible time to transition to GDENCF.
It is a terrific time to transition to GDENCF; it is a terrible time to transition to GDENCF.

It's a terrific time to switch to GDENCF, because we've finally gotten our finances under control and are spending below our means. Our grocery bills are currently much lower than we can afford, and we have a little bit of wiggle room in our grocery budget. We've put aside the extra money that we've had left at the end of each month into a savings account, giving us a bit of a cushion.

Its a terrible time to switch to GDENCF, as we just paid off 3 of our debts that were leaning on us heavily with a good chunk of the money that was in our savings account and have less extra money to fall back on.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Going Gluten Free, Dairy Free, and Much Else

I love cooking. I love being adventurous with food. I love being able to walk into the grocery store, note the sales on healthy, single ingredient items, and stock up on them. I love being able to cook based on what is cheap, and creating varied delicious menus for only pennies per serving.
Only, I don't know how easily I'll be able to continue doing that, at least for the next little while.

Last week, I shared with you readers that I've discovered that my little one, Ike, has eczema. I hadn't noticed it until now because it never really had gotten so bad, until a week and a half ago. Once I've noticed how my little one is suffering, I decided I had to take action and do something to cure that eczema.

The Role of Genetics
After posting, I called up my dad the doc, to find out if there was any occurrence of eczema in my family, just in case there was a genetic link that I was unaware of. Lo and behold, I discovered that skin conditions are rampant in my family. My father has eczema, one sibling has extremely irritable skin, another has psoriasis, my first cousins have eczema, as well as a plethora of other people on my dad's side. I also know that I have quite a few relatives on my mother's side with either psoriasis or eczema.
Holy cow!
No wonder my son has it- it's definitely in his genes!

Now that I am aware of the genetic aspect, I started looking to see if there were other genetic components that could help me figure this one out and how to deal with it. I know my dad is sensitive to gluten, possibly even has celiac. My dad, brother, and I all are sensitive to dairy. (I was lactose intolerant as a kid but seemed to have outgrown it, but my brother is probably allergic and my dad is still lactose intolerant.)
Upon doing research, I've discovered that food allergies and sensitivities can show up as eczema, with gluten, dairy, and eggs being the most likely culprits on that list.
Hrmmm, I thought to myself. In my family we have lots of skin sensitivity, gluten sensitivity, and dairy sensitivity. How much do you want to bet that those are all interconnected?