Thursday, July 31, 2014

How We Made a Homemade Couch That Doubles as a Shoe Box- For Pennies

 photo IMG_0985_zpsacf20dc0.jpgThe first time I ever thought about making my own couch was when I was 17, living in New York on my own. I'd rented a furnished apartment with a friend, and there were three beds but no couches. I decided to turn one of the beds into a couch, with pillows, a bet skirt, etc... I must admit, it wasn't super successful, and it ended up being, pretty much, a bed with a bed skirt and pillows. Oh well.
The next time I tried making my own "couch" type thing was when I attempted to make a large "bean bag" type seat, only filled with clothes.
Another flop. Wasn't comfortable, wasn't the right shape, was super heavy, and just looked ugly. So that was that.
When we first moved into this apartment, we thought about paying a carpenter to build us a wooden storage box, which we'd top with cushions and make it into a semi comfortable seat since we had no room for a couch in our apartment. That never happened.
But after successfully building a loft bed for our kids from scratch, Mike and I realized that we were able to build our own furniture, and didn't have to pay someone else to build it for us.

Why build furniture instead of just buying it? If cost is the issue, why not just look for second hand furniture being sold cheaply or given away for free?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Homemade Coffeebucha- Coffee Kombucha Recipe- Fermented Probiotic Drink

My family has been making and drinking kombucha for a long time already- it is one of our favorite drinks. It's healthy, probiotic, helps heal illnesses and promote general immune system strength, helps detox, is full of nutritional benefits, and in my opinion, tastes great.
Kombucha tea is made by putting something called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) or a kombucha mushroom in brewed tea with sugar. This SCOBY looks like a gelatinous mat, anywhere from white to beige to peach to brown, and anywhere from a few milimeters to an inch or more in thickness. The beneficial bacteria and yeast in the culture convert the sugar, tannins, and caffeine in the tea to beneficial substances for your body, after a period of fermentation at room temperature- anywhere from 2 to 7 days, depending on the temperature/season.
I'd read about something similar to kombucha- what people call coffeebucha, which is making kombucha with coffee instead of with tea. Coffee has the tannins and caffeine that the kombucha mushroom needs to survive, so the kombucha mushroom thrives in coffee. I've read, though, that once you switch your kombucha mushroom from tea to coffee you can't switch it back, but I'm not sure about that. Either way, don't use your only SCOBY to make cofeebucha- use a spare.
All the recipes I've read for making coffeebucha called for brewed coffee, but what can I say? I'm a cheapskate, and instant coffee is much cheaper locally than brewed coffee (not to mention easier) so that is what I buy. And I made my coffeebucha with instant coffee instead of brewed coffee and it works just fine.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments This Week

This was a crazy week, and I was unable to go shopping at most of my usual places, so much of what I did regarding food was just making do with what I had in my house already. In terms of produce, I had a ton of carrots and cucumbers and tomatoes that I bought cheaply, and little else (a drop of eggplant and zucchini) so all week long, instead of going shopping, we made do with what we had, what we foraged, and what I ended up being able to buy from the reduced rack at the grocery store, so lots of repeats of veggies... I made a bunch of legume based breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. And we barely used the AC here, despite it being really hot.

I didn't have a chance to write down every single day what I did that specific day, so this is just what we did over the course of the week to save money.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mock Baked Beans Recipe- Vegan Option, Refined Sugar Free

 photo IMG_0923_zps9634ca30.jpgI cooked up a bunch of navy beans, and wanted something tasty to do with them, something that my kids would enjoy. Growing up, some days in school, the lunch ladies would serve everyone hot dogs and baked beans and I thought those were the yummiest kinds of beans. Baked beans still are one of my favorite ways of eating beans. The stuff we had growing up was usually Busch's or Hunts' canned baked beans, but those aren't really available locally, so if I want them, I have to make them myself.
I thought to make baked beans, hoping my kids would like them just as I did when I was a kid... except I'm not sure if I'm really able to call them baked beans if they're not baked at all? And all the recipes I found online for baked beans call for ham hocks or bacon grease and molasses... and I used none, though I think I got the taste close enough even without them. I used chicken fat in mine, but it would work just as well with oil in its place. And I used jaggery in the recipe, which is unrefined cane sugar, which has molasses "built in" to it (since molasses is the leftovers after they remove white sugar from cane syrup), but if you want to use a different sweetener, you can use date syrup or maple syrup in place of the jaggery syrup, or coconut sugar or sucanat with a bit of water, or white sugar with a little molasses. Just add the sweeteners to taste.

Mock Boston Baked Beans Recipe- Vegan Option, Refined Sugar Free

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Asian Inspired Cabbage and Sprouted Lentil Salad Recipe- Vegan, Refined Sugar Free

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This cabbage and sprouted lentil salad recipe is delicious, protein rich, and cheap to boot. It's also versatile as well.
I based it on a cabbage salad recipe I've made and loved for years. If you're not a fan of lentils, you can just use more cabbage in place of the lentils. I love putting whatever fresh, seasonal produce I have in the house in this salad, but mandarin oranges and craisins (though more expensive) are also awesome in the salad.
I hope your family loves this recipe as much as I do.

Asian Inspired Cabbage and Sprouted Lentil Salad Recipe- Vegan, Refined Sugar Free

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Homemade Jaggery Syrup Recipe- Low Cost Honey Replacement

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Not the most flattering pic, but here's my jaggery syrup
The other day I decided to make up a bunch of healthy muffins to freeze and defrost each morning for breakfasts for my family. I wanted to make them refined sugar free, because if we're going to be eating these for breakfast, why put something unhealthy like refined sugar in it? The thing is, though, that part of the reason I wanted to make these muffins is not just for health reasons, but also for cost... and non refined sugars cost a whole lot more than refined sugars. The cheapest non refined sweetener I can get is jaggery, for $2.33 a pound, while raw honey costs me $4.15 a pound, date syrup is $3.63 per pound, and coconut sugar is $4.50 a pound plus international shipping...

Now what is jaggery? Its basically non refined cane syrup, just boiled down until you get a brick of mostly solid sweetener, and it originates in India, and can be found at Indian grocery stores. There is a very similar product, either called piloncillo or panela, from Central America, and it can be used the same way.
In other words, with difficulty. Jaggery needs to be grated or smashed up, and then melted before use. Not so simple to use in recipes, which makes me hesitant to use it, even though its the cheapest healthier sweetener I can get.
(And is it really healthier? Well, it's jam packed with minerals, especially iron, and its free of chemicals used to refine it, so yes, it is healthier.)
But then, when I was looking at a recipe to try out, it called for honey, and I certainly didn't want to be using an entire cup of honey in that recipe- that's .75 lbs, or $3.11 just for the sweetener in that recipe. I tried to see if maybe there was a way to use jaggery in its place, thought maybe I could make some sort of syrup out of jaggery.
Hit the jackpot.
Apparently, jaggery syrup is the standard way of using jaggery in cooking- only I didn't know! I'm so glad to have figured that one out.
So, I made jaggery syrup and used it in place of honey for the muffin recipe and it came out perfectly! I am super excited! As for cost? Well, I used .19 lbs of jaggery to make 2 cups of syrup, so 1 cup cost me only 22 cents... much less than the $3.11 had I used honey. And it tasted great.

Gluten free, vegan, pumpkin muffins,
sweetened with jaggery syrup instead of honey

Monday, July 21, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments This Week

Hi there! I hope you all had a terrifically frugal week this past week. I had some things happen that limited my ability to be frugal in certain ways, but even so, I don't think you can tell, because I was frugal in other ways and "made up for it".
One thing I have to say we did especially (though its not on the day by day list) is that even though it was very hot, and even though we have an air conditioning unit, we used only fans this week, and even them, not all the time. We were a little hot sometimes, but we managed just fine. By not getting used to using the AC, we were able to tolerate the heat more.
We're still cloth diapering and exclusively nursing our now 4 month old baby, Rose... and Anneliese is taking her time in getting potty trained- she's potty trained during the day, for the most part. She's completely accident free, without my even needing to remind her she goes to the bathroom on her own- she only wears a diaper overnight and when she has to make a BM, since she refuses to do that on the toilet. So we're barely using any disposable diapers. And, fortunately, its a given now that we aren't using our dryer- it's sunny enough that all the laundry that we're doing is line dried in the sun.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Homemade Onion Bajji or Pakoras Recipe- Chickpea Flour Based Onion Rings- Vegan and Grain Free

I was debating what to make for lunch today, but was considering making something from India, since Indian food is cheap and healthy, and its easy to find gluten free Indian dishes. I went outside for a few minutes, and saw my neighbor, M., who was born and raised in Bombai. We started talking about Indian cooking and Indian recipes, and then she came over and taught me how to make these chickpea flour based onion rings. She called them bajji, but they seemed very similar to pakoras, which is chickpea flour batter fried veggies. Google told me that bajji and pakoras are the same thing- just different names from northern or southern parts of India.

This recipe is easy to make, very flavorful, protein packed, and cheap as well. It's also vegan and gluten free and grain free, so perfect for all sorts of special diets. If you want to keep the costs down, you can use wheat flour in place of the chickpea flour, but of course, then it won't be gluten free/grain free, and won't be as high in protein. If you're looking for a cheaper source of chickpea flour, you can generally buy it cheaper at Asian stores.

You can make these just as patties, not as rings, but I decided to make it into rings. If you don't care, you can just mince up the onions with everything else and make it into patties.

Homemade Onion Bajji or Pakoras Recipe- Chickpea Flour Based Onion Rings- Vegan and Grain Free

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chicken Lo Mein Recipe- Gluten Free, Refined Sugar Free, Vegan Options

I did a decent amount of stuff in the kitchen today, including butchering up a whole chicken, and then with the leftover carcass, plus 2 more I had in the freezer, I cooked up some chicken carcass and veggie scrap broth. Once I made that, I planned to pick all the chicken off the carcasses and use it to make some supper dish, and decided upon lo mein, a spaghetti based stir fry.

My dad is the lo mein expert in my family. Not just lo mein- he's good with all Chinese and Japanese food and cooking from scratch- he's made sake, and loves making miso from scratch as well. He also loves making fried rice, General Tso's chicken, and many other (American versions of) Asian dishes, so I decided to, instead of just winging the recipe for my chicken lo mein, to call him up and ask him for his recipe.
Me- I'm more into "natural stuff" than my dad is, so I changed up the recipe a bit to make it healthier, and here is the result- and it was a hit with everyone.

When you make lo mein yourself, the only important thing that needs to stay the same is the spaghetti and the sauce- you can change up the veggies, and use whatever suits your fancy, in place of any of the veggies listed, like peppers, green beans, sprouts, cabbage, baby corn... and you can use many other proteins instead of the deboned chicken, like ground beef chunks, eggs, deboned turkey, ground meat/poultry, or tempeh or tofu to make it vegan. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that the proteins need to be cooked first, and then added in already cooked- don't cook it together with the veggies. You can also leave out the protein if you so desire.
I used gluten free pasta for mine, but of course, you can use regular wheat pasta if you aren't concerned about keeping it gluten free.

P.S. You can make fried rice the same exact way, by replacing the pasta with cold rice- only add the rice to the cooking vegetables in sauce at the end, and heat it up together.

Chicken Lo Mein Recipe- Gluten Free, Refined Sugar Free, Vegan Options

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Menu For the Past Two Weeks- in Full Detail

 photo food_zpsca8f6b14.jpgRecently I've been talking a lot about how low our monthly grocery bill is, despite having a gluten free,
mostly refined sugar free and processed food free diet, and people want to know and have asked me repeatedly "What are you guys actually eating?"
So, I challenged myself- for one week to track every single thing our family eats. No matter what, I share it, even if it is embarrassing. I don't menu plan in advance, but do track things in retrospect.
And after a week, I decided to continue this for 2 weeks...

I realized from tracking this that more often than not, I don't eat breakfast. I don't even pay attention to the fact that I only get around to eating most of the day around lunch time. I need to start making more gluten free, high protein, baked goods that I can freeze and defrost for breakfast, since I noticed that the reason I don't eat breakfast is that I don't have energy to cook in the morning. I need to stock up on xanthan gum, since I am currently out, and it limits my ability to make breakfasts for myself.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments This Week

I had a pretty intense and relatively stressful week, so frugality wasn't the top thing on my mind. I also had a really long and exhausting day today, but I didn't want to not post this, so I'm just posting this as is, no intro, no elaborations on the notes I took throughout this week.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chicken Veggie Salad with Peanut Butter Dressing Recipe

I made a lovely salad yesterday, that served as an entire meal, was filling, delicious, cheap and nutritious. I wanted to share it with you.
I used lambsquarters as the base of my salad, together with other veggies, but you can just as easily use any other green, like spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, etc...
You can make the salad vegan by leaving out the chicken, and just serving the dressing over the vegetables, but in my opinion, the chicken adds a lot.

This salad can also be used to fill rice paper spring rolls, and the dressing used as a dipping sauce.

Chicken Veggie Salad with Peanut Butter Dressing Recipe

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Crispy Fried Noodles Recipe- With Gluten Free Options

Isn't it awesome when you discover a new use to a food you'd been cooking a long time, a way to prepare it that is so much cooler than the other way you'd been making it, opening up new realms of possibilities in the kitchen?
I just discovered a new use for noodles- frying them!
I love taking leftover spaghetti and frying it up with seasonings, but that is not what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about taking pasta, dry, raw pasta, and frying it.

The results are amazing.

I've tried this with a few different types of noodles, each end up slightly different but still great.

See these?

These were the first fried noodles I attempted to make. They were made out of cellophane rice noodles.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Homemade Matching Game To Teach A Language

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I sent my boys to school this year instead of homeschooling them, as I did in past years, since I felt my children weren't learning the local language fast enough, and thought full immersion would help them learn it.
Fortunately, 6.5 year old Lee picked up the local language pretty quickly, and while his speech definitely isn't yet on the level of other kids his age, it is good enough for him to make friends who speak only the local language, and this helps improve his grasp of the language.
Ike, on the other hand, had a much harder time picking up the language. He understands a few phrases here and there, but barely speaks a word- his vocabulary is very limited despite being in a class for an entire school year that only was in the local language. We're reaching out to the proper venues to help him with learning the language (I suspect a learning disability having to do with language, because of other speech pronunciation issues he has, but am waiting for an official evaluation), but in the meantime, I asked a friend who had a kid with a similar issue what type of help she got.

This friend said that, in speech therapy, one of the things done to help her son learn the language was by playing a matching game, in our local language, and that was helpful in increasing his vocabulary.
So, in addition to just working on speaking more of the local language in our house with Ike, I decided to make our own matching game. For free.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Frugal Accomplishments This Week

Hi everyone! I hope you had a frugal week this week, a week in which you didn't spend more than you needed to, a week where you got the most for your money, a week in which you don't regret spending a lot of money on things that aren't important to you.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to partake in many frugal activities this week, so I'd say this was a terrifically frugal week.
Here's what I did frugally this past week:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Honey Mustard Lentils Recipe- Gluten Free, Refined Sugar Free, Vegan Option

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I've been having a love affair with mustard lately. Especially when it is paired with honey, and even more so when the pair are with dill as well. So many dishes taste simply divine with the addition of mustard and honety. Because of that, I decided to experiment and see how lentils taste with mustard and honey; I've done it a few times now, and can honestly say that it is one of my favorite ways to eat lentils.
It's super simple, healthy, and uses just a little bit of honey that you can replace with sugar to keep it even cheaper than it is already. I've used both fennel bulbs and zucchini in this recipe, but I'm sure it would also be great with other veggies like peppers, cabbage, etc...
Feel free to experiment- this recipe is just a base.
I sprout my lentils first before using them in this recipe, but you can use them unsprouted as well- sprouting just increases their digestibility.

Honey Mustard Lentils Recipe- Gluten Free, Refined Sugar Free, Vegan Option

Friday, July 4, 2014

Middle Eastern Rice with Chickpeas Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan, Sugar Free- With Pressure Cooker Option

Ever have to cook lunch for your family, but the only produce you have in the house is carrots and onions, and you want to make a full meal with veggies, protein, and carbs, and you are short on time and want to make a one pot meal?
Happens to me all the time. This is a one pot rice, chickpeas, and carrot dish I made in the pressure cooker, and it tasted great. If you want to make it in a non pressure cooker, you can make it in a regular pot, just add an extra cup of water, and cook until all the water is absorbed.
It's a good meal for when you're short on time, since the cooking time is very short. I used home cooked chickpeas which I froze in small portions, to make this quick cooking.

Middle Eastern Rice with Chickpeas Recipe- Gluten Free, Vegan, Sugar Free

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Homemade Fruit Flavored Water- Refined Sugar Free

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I am not the biggest fan of drinking water, unfortunately. I mean, I will drink it, since it's good for you and cheap, especially important in hot weather like we're having now... but I get more motivated to drink when I have something other than water to drink.
My Laborade recipe is an awesome recipe for rehydration, but since it uses so much honey, it's hard for me to justify making on a regular basis, and I just keep it for emergencies...
Locally they sell something that is "fruit flavored water"- which isn't sweet like juice, but is flavored water with a mild sweetness to it.

I decided to try making my own fruit flavored water, by infusing water with fruit, with a touch of sweetener. I've made infused fruit flavored water with no sweetener in the past, but the small amount of sweetener added to it really makes a big difference, making it that much more enjoyable.

I love how it came out, and hopefully will be doing this more and more, now that I figured out how to make fruit flavored water.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Chilled Carrot Soup with Leek and Cumin Recipe- Vegan, Easy, GAPS Legal

 photo IMG_0511_zps39cce8ee.jpgThe other day I wanted to make a fancy meal, and in my book, that typically includes having an appetizer. Soups are great appetizers, and chilled soups are perfect for the hot weather we've been having lately. Only I was in a bit of a bind, as the only veggies I had to use for my appetizers were carrots and some leeks that I got free at the farmer's market.
However, I played around with them and came up with this super delicious and super easy chilled carrot soup with leek and cumin. I am sure it would work just as great with onions instead of leek.
And best of all- its gluten free, dairy free, grain free, egg free, vegan, refined sugar free, Paleo/Primal/GAPs legal- perfect for everyone.
Unless you don't like carrots.
Then you wouldn't enjoy it.
But perfect for everyone else.
And did I mention that it's easy? Oh yea, I did already, but it still bears repeating.

P.S. Yes, I know I have a different chilled carrot soup on my site already. But that uses orange juice which I don't always/typically have in my house, so I kind of consider it a specialty ingredient. This is made with no specialty ingredients- you can use onion in place of leek and its completely "run of the mill" made with what most people anyhow always have in their house. So the orange carrot soup is simply divine, and I save it for special occasions when I do have orange juice in the house. And this recipe for when I don't.

Chilled Carrot Soup with Leek and Cumin Recipe- Vegan, Easy, GAPS Legal

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Saving Money on Burial Related Expenses

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Photo credit- tiverylucky | Free Digital
Death and dying aren't things that people like to talk about, but it is, unfortunately, a fact of life, and one that we all have to deal with at some point or another. On top of the grieving process that everyone goes through when they lose a loved one, there is also the added factor that when someone dies, their loved ones have many extra expenses.
My grandmother died two and a half weeks ago, and my mother was telling me about all the expenses that have come up since then, expenses that she hadn't necessarily thought about in advance. In addition to funeral costs, there was the expense of dealing with the will related bureaucratic issues, packing up my grandmother's apartment and moving it, among other things.
My mother now is in the process of arranging a headstone for my grandmother's grave, and today, my mother was telling me about what she decided to do to save money.