Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Robin's Red Lentil Mash Recipe

I have had some really long, difficult, and tiring past few days. Today was no exception. I didn't feel so terrific, and the heat really compounded how I was feeling, making me barely functional.
But supper needs to be made and served to my family. If we weren't on a gluten free diet, I'd absolutely be tempted to buy takeout for tonight's supper. Of course, not having takeout in my area and not having a car to get takeout from further away makes this not a realistic possibility, even if we'd felt like spending the money. 
But of course, being gluten free makes everything more complicated, and even many of the quick staples many people have in their home for times like these (crackers, sliced store bought bread) are things I can't really stock because finding frugal gluten free versions of those are nearly impossible, and I still haven't gotten good enough at gluten free baking to make my own. (My last version of gluten free bread was the first food I threw out in a while. It tasted and had the texture of a dried out Scotch-brite sponge.)
On top of that all, I'm trying to really cut back the use of dairy in our home because I think pasteurized cows milk causes us stomach aches (haven't had access to raw cow's milk to test that out) and because goat milk and cheeses are quite expensive, so I'm keeping those to a minimum. So none of my previous quick and frugal dinners that I used to make, like homemade mac and cheese with a salad on the side, are options. Pasta is pretty much out, as is cheese. Bummer.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Natural Disasters

So many stories of natural disasters going on lately.

Tornadoes destroying most of a city, a la Joplin.

Earthquakes causing such destruction in so many areas.

Flooding destroying so much, so many homes and so many people's livelihoods, not to mention taking lives.

Tsunamis wiping out cities, and killing so many.

It is really scary.

So much destruction. Never underestimate the power of nature to make us realize that even with all our technology we have, we can't control everything.

Yesterday, there was a massive wildfire in my area, and some of my friends just a few blocks away were evacuated from their homes. I also live on the outskirts of my village, and as the fire spread closer and closer to my area, I started panicking more and more. Our telephone and internet service were knocked out, and my husband was in the city and not answering my frantic calls on my cell phone.
I started wondering- what if, what if? What if my home gets destroyed? What if everything I own gets burnt up and I have to start over from scratch with my family in a new place?
In retrospect, I see that I over dramatized just a little bit, making a bigger deal out of the issue than it really was, but still, it got me thinking.
(For the record, no one got seriously hurt. A lot of land and farming area and nature was destroyed, but no houses got damaged, fortunately. The worst that happened was that a few people got hospitalized because of smoke inhalation, but thank God that was the worst of it!)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Watermelon Rind Salad (Moroccan Inspired)

I always associate watermelon with those long, hot, lackadaisical summer days. Watermelon tastes absolutely divine, its succulent, chilled red flesh the perfect complement to the scorching heat. I absolutely love watermelon, but one of the biggest deterrents to me buying this fruit is that it has such a high water content, making it very heavy. Even when half a watermelon is advertised at a very low price, only 30 cents a pound, you take it to the register, only to find out once they ring it up that that that half a watermelon weighs 11.3 lbs and cost a whopping 3 dollars and 40 cents!

And then, once you get home, eat the flesh, and toss the rind, you realize that of the original 11.3 lbs of watermelon, you just threw out 5.5 lbs- almost half! That makes whatever watermelon you ate rather expensive, no?

There are some myths that we grow up hearing, one of them being watermelon rinds will give you a stomach ache.
I'm happy to say that this isn't true! Watermelon rind will not only not give you a stomach ache, its actually quite healthy to eat. As with most fruits and vegetables, the nutrition is actually more densely packed into the outermost portion of the food, in this case, the rind, making it a good choice for eating. Studies have been done proving that watermelon rind is a terrific source of many vitamins and minerals, in addition to having many more medicinal and nutritional effects.
Eating watermelon rind isn't such a new idea- pickled watermelon rind is actually a well known Southern treat.   However, if you scour the internet for watermelon rind recipes that don't involve pickling, you'll have a little bit of a harder time finding ideas of just what to do with all that precious white stuff. So I decided that whenever I make a delicious recipe with watermelon rind, I'd share it with you readers as a tried and true recipe.

But you don't have to take my word for it- before I write recipes that are a little more "out there", I like to have my friends taste test it. I based this recipe on one my mom uses to make Moroccan style sweet potato salad, and brought it to a get together with friends and had them taste it. No one could figure out exactly what vegetable I used, but the consensus was that it was absolutely delicious, and that gives me the confidence to say that I am sure you will like this recipe as well!

Moroccan Inspired Watermelon Rind Salad Recipe

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I Live Where I Do, The Upside of My Location

After my post about how socialized medicine isn't the cure all for financial issues, within which I expounded upon what I viewed were some of the financial issues that came hand in hand with socialized medicine where I live, I got mixed reactions, varying from:
  • "Penny, this is one of the best posts you've done" (exact quote from an email a reader sent to me).
  • "That is false! You aren't portraying true information; you're stating incorrect views as facts."
  • "You're besmirching my country! How dare you! You conveniently left out all the great things about living here!"
  • "If things are so bad where you live, why don't you move to the US?"
  • "Don't knock free health insurance. You'd be thinking otherwise if you were living without insurance and had an emergency."
I am completely not surprised about this wide range of reactions, because socialized medical care and finances in general are a very touchy subject.
Today, I would like to deal with 4/5 of those reactions. (No need to talk further about the positive reactions.)

The financial positives about where I live.
Why I don't move to the US
Facts vs opinions
Health insurance

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chocolate Pudding For Breakfast

I am always looking for quick, cheap, healthy breakfast ideas, and now that I'm slowly transitioning back into a gluten free diet (on the advice of my doctor) because of some really intense fatigue I had after starting with gluten again (not going on as strict of a diet as before just yet, but possibly will later), finding easy quick breakfasts has been even harder.
Fortunately, this chocolate pudding is pretty healthy (at least according to the traditional eating, chemical free, and healthy fat diet I try to follow) and can be made cheaply and within 5 minutes or less, making it my new favorite breakfast.

Chocolate Pudding Recipe

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Socialized Medicine- The Best Frugal Tip?

For the average American, health insurance is one of the largest expenses after housing. The middle class is hit hardest with this, as really low income families often qualify for free or discounted health insurance, and wealthier families can afford to pay health insurance... but the middle class is unfortunately stuck, paying through their nose just for basic health insurance, and that is assuming they don't have any preexisting conditions which raise their rates even more. Alternatively, people go without health insurance at all, and then when calamity strikes or medical intervention ends up necessary, they end up thousands of dollars in debt.
Its a rough situation that definitely needs to be solved, and unfortunately I don't have a good solution to offer, but I hope that somehow there is a health care reform that truly solves the issue so that health insurance isn't such a problem anymore.

One thing I have to say is that in many ways, I appreciate the fact that I live in a country with national health insurance, so that I don't need to have this really large headache to deal with on a regular basis.

A certain reader who figured out my location posted a comment (with the intent of being nasty) asking me “Penny, why don't you share with your readers that your biggest way you save money is by living in a place where you don't have to pay health insurance?” And while it definitely wasn't intended to be food for thought (at least the way I read it), that comment was the inspiration for this post.

Is living in a place where I can get national health insurance really such a money saving move? That question is what I plan to tackle tonight.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

You know you might be...

You know you might be dumpster diving just a little too much if your 1.5 year old kid won't let you pass by a dumpster without picking him up so he can see what exactly is inside... and even if you reassure him it's just garbage, he still needs to see for himself before he will move on.

Absolutely true situation. Makes me laugh every time.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

KFC Style Fried Chicken

KFC style fried chicken breast
Ever get the craving for fast food? Not necessarily for food to be ready that fast (because honestly, once you factor in the traveling time, its actually quicker to make some frugal fast foods at home), but for the unique tastes you associate with foods from your favorite restaurant chains?

The first time I ever tasted KFC chicken, I was 10 years old. We were on a trip, and we ordered a huge bucket of fried chicken for the family to share. As someone into healthy foods and saving money, I'll be honest- I haven't had KFC that many more times in my life, but its still just about the best finger lickin' chickin' in the whole wide universe.

When I came across a tried and true recipe for KFC chicken, I was absolutely excited- being able to recreate that delicious taste at home for a fraction of the cost was just terrific. I did have to make a few tweaks to the recipe to make it healthier, cheaper, and suitable for my family, and here it is.
The best thing about this recipe is you can use it for whatever chicken parts you have, including chicken breast pieces, wings, thighs, drumsticks, etc... so you can keep it low cost by using whatever type of chicken you're able to get cheapest. (See my post on how to calculate which type of chicken really is cheapest.)

KFC Style Fried Chicken

Friday, June 10, 2011

Don't Panic

Don't Panic.
It's what is written on the cover of every copy of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy throughout the universe, and its also very good advice for life in general.
It may seem a bit trite, but if you think about it, keeping a level head, even in situations where it is very tempting to panic, can be very beneficial in many ways, especially in saving money.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Building Your Confidence to Forage

With summer nearly here (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), foraging for wild edibles is becoming more and more doable for everyone. The best thing about summer is that even for those less adventurous eaters who prefer to eat those foods they know, there typically are plenty of familiar fruits available for foraging for those who don't mind expending a bit of effort.

Growing up in the American Midwest, one of my earlier memories is of my parents taking my siblings and myself to a huge park, filled with huge grassy patches and forest, and there were ridable mini steam engines that we'd sit upon for a ride on the train tracks through the forest. Being as this attraction was free, the wait to have your turn on the train was rather long. We'd spend the whole day there, running about the field while mom or dad would wait on line patiently for our turn to come.
One of my favorite things that my siblings and I did was picking apples from the 4 or 5 gnarly trees growing in the area. We'd climb the tree, inspect for any burrow marks, and then dig in to the most delicious apples you could imagine.
In the meantime, other people in the area would be buying expensive snacks from vendors near the line, and all the while we were chowing down on our delicious free snacks.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dumpster Diving- The Whys and the Hows

When I do a home improvement project, or make some item to save me money, like a homemade solar cooker or a homemade food dehydrator, I try to stay away from the lure of purchasing the needed materials, as once I paid for all those things, the projects can easily turn a cost saving project to a costly project. In some cases, its cheapest to buy something instead of making it, as the materials for a project cost more than the purchased final price on sale. (Clothing is one example.) With other projects, such as solar cookers or dehydrators, making from scratch is almost always the cheaper option, as a good new dehydrator or solar cooker can cost upward of 100 or 200 dollars. Even purchasing everything to make it from scratch would still end up cheaper. My goal isn't “cheaper but still expensive”, but rather, as cheap as possible, so I try to make projects like these using as much salvaged material as possible to keep the costs extra low.

Dumpster diving is a great way to get your hands on a bunch of perfectly good and free material, terrific for all sorts of projects. Best way to find good merchandise is first checking out your area. Scout where you can find big, 20 yard dumpsters, and dig in! You'll surely find something worth keeping if you look hard enough. There are dumpster divers who stock their kitchen with what they find in the trash; I'm not that type of dumpster diver. I don't open garbage bags, hunting for perfectly good food, mainly because of various concerns unless things are in sealed packages.
I don't advocate dumpster diving for food, because I know that pushes the boundaries of people's acceptability/norms even more than cloth diapering or the suggestion to make vegetarian meals; even some of the most extremely frugal and environmentally conscious people would feel that they literally had to be starving before they'd resort to eating food rescued from the trash.
The type of dumpster diving that I do recommend is a type that is a bit more palatable to most; utilizing the availability of garbage treasures.