Saturday, January 31, 2015

Easy Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipe- Gluten Free, Grain Free

I think other than various bread recipes, vegan cheese sauce is probably the food I have the most recipe variations for on my blog. This is number five.
See, the thing is- when you just are buying cheese, you have a variety of cheeses to choose from, and you can pick the one you like best. So why not a variety of vegan cheese sauces, try them all, and decide which one you like best?
So here is take 5 on the vegan cheese sauce (see versions one, two, three, and four)- and unlike most of the previous ones, this is heavy on the veggies, and has no flour or anything similar, so its a little more healthy than the other ones. It's also pretty easy to make.
You can use this vegan cheese sauce as a nacho cheese sauce, as a cheese for pizza, in quesadillas, in moussaka, in quiches, baked ziti, lasagna, chicken parmesan, in mac and cheese, in tuna melts, in enchiladas, etc... Pretty limitless.
I based my recipe off of this one, but changed it up to add more of a flavor punch.

Easy Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipe- Gluten Free, Grain Free

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How We're Saving Money on Heating This Winter

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I have been challenged by the Money Advice Service to write a post on my January's "survival guide". For me, the biggest challenge in January has got to be keeping warm, as that month usually is the coldest month of the year. Right now I hear there has been a blizzard (or pseudo-blizzard) going on in the east coast of the US- we had a snow "storm" and freezing temperatures in the beginning on January- keeping warm is probably on everyone's mind.
But warmth usually means high utility costs, because most of those things that heat up your home typically use a lot of energy. Especially after December, usually a month in which most families have many extra expenses, cutting costs is something most people are think about- so why not talk about how to keep warm without blowing the budget?

Where we live it is relatively warm year round- only occasionally does it dip below freezing temperatures (though it did do that already a few years in a row in December and January). But that doesn't mean it actually isn't cold here. It often is 40-50 degrees outside... and the houses here generally have no central heating. Which means that the only heating options are on the expensive end- they're electricity or gas run- both expensive round these parts.

Because of how expensive our heat is to run, I try to run the heaters as infrequently as possible, and use these various tips to keep warm without the heaters. If you live in a place where it is colder than my area, you'll need to keep the heat on all the time to prevent frozen pipes- but consider setting the heat very low- like 45-50 degrees or so (or however high you have to do it to prevent freezing/damage) and use these tips to warm yourself the rest of the way.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

An Awesome Get Together With a Like-Minded Family

You know how sometimes you have one of those days that are just so perfect, everything going so well, but they just are so full that they leave you exhausted afterwards? Today was one of those days.

I have a friend, Holly, who is just really awesome and we're so similar in so many ways. Her family is healthy eating, gluten free and dairy free and adventurous eaters, and they're homeschoolers- unschooling inspired just like we are. We're lucky to have each other! (Thanks to the internet for helping me connect with like minded individuals!)
Today I traveled with the kids to her hometown (1.75 hours away by bus) to give Holly and her kids a private wild edibles walk around and near her house.
So first we found, learned about, and foraged a bunch of plants: henbit, stinging nettles, wild mustard, mallow, milk thistle, calendula, dandelion, sow thistle, bull thistle, plantain, lambsquarters, olive leaves, large num nums, horehound, eryngo, mullein and more!

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It was fun to do a kid centered foraging walk, unlike the adult centered ones I usually do, because it involved making it even more fun and hands on than I usually do, as well as giving me the challenge of figuring out how to explain it in kid friendly language.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sharing My Love of Foraging

Purslane- one of my favorite foraged veggies
I've been foraging for years now. Since I was a little kid, I was foraging a few things here and there (mainly jewel weed, wood sorrel, and mullberries), but I've probably been intensively foraging for the past 4 and a half years, and blogging about it here and there. (I have a whole bunch more plants I want to blog about, just need to get around to writing them up.)
Foraging, for me, is many things.

For one- I find it really cool to know all about the plants that grow nearby, which ones are good to eat, which ones can be eaten in a pinch, and which ones are gonna make you sick or kill you if you eat them. I just like the knowledge, the fact that I know about all these things that are right in front of everyone's faces yet most are completely clueless about. I can't even count how many stories I've heard about kids ingesting some plant they found somewhere, with parents freaking out, calling poison control, sure their kid is at risk of dying or hospitalization because they ate some unknown plant...

Plants are everywhere! They should not be unknown! People should know which plants are dangerous and which plants are totally safe, and even beneficial to eat- and they should teach that to their kids. My kids, for example, know to avoid the oleander plants nearby by a mile. So yea, in addition to just thinking its cool to know these stuff, I think its also imperative for safety's sake to know what is fine and what is dangerous to eat.

I also find foraging fun and provides me with some adventure- it's like I'm going on a quest and finding different things on a scavenger hunt. I never know what I'll find, which adds the element of surprise. Yesterday, for example, I found dock for the first time in a while, which made me super excited. Finding morels this past Saturday was my biggest foraging thrill ever so far.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Asian Inspired Charred Eggplant Salad Recipe- Baba Ghanoush Take Off

Did I ever mention before that eggplants are cheap locally, and I'm always trying to find new ways to use them? Oh yea- probably about a million times already...

Are you bored of hearing about eggplant? Probably not as bored as I sometimes get of eggplant. Yes, I do love eggplant, but I get bored of food easily, when I have the same food prepared the same way over and over again. I oppose eating boring food. You should enjoy your food, and being bored of food means your mean is a waste of calories, because you might as well get enjoyment out of the food you eat, but if you're bored of it, that ain't happening...

And eggplant, though I like it, sometimes stares at me and taunts me to make it some way other than my standard two methods that I always fall back on- charred eggplant salad with tahini- also known as baba ghanoush- and eggplant and tomato- ratatouille type. Eggplant and tomato sauce, eggplant and tahini. It gets boring already. With the amount of times eggplant shows up on my menu, due to it being one of the cheapest veggies I can get in the winter (and I often end up getting some free from friends as well), as much as I like those combinations, sometimes I just want something different.
I actually really love eggplant in Asian dishes, but eggplant is this super sponge, and I haven't managed to figure out how to make it without it soaking up a gallon of oil each time... So eggplant stir fry just doesn't end up happening around here.
But I did want that Asian flavor in my eggplant, somehow.
I decided to do a little fusion cooking, and do an Asian style baba ghanoush- charred eggplant, Asian style seasoning...
And oh man- this is amazing, non boring, and perfect! It was exactly what I needed to make my eggplant different and tasty...
I highly recommend it!

Asian Inspired Charred Eggplant Salad Recipe- Baba Ghanoush Take Off

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments This Past Week and Accountability For My Struggles

This past week was a relatively good week frugality-wise. Not perfect, but pretty decent.

In terms of the three things I'm trying to work on and be better with:
So first I'll start with the best- zero food thrown out!
Ok, that doesn't mean no food was wasted... it just means that I didn't clean out the refrigerator this past week... I'm sure this coming week when I clean it out I'll find rotten food that needs to be tossed... but even so, I'm still happy that no food ended up in the trash this week.
As for cloth diapers- I ended up using only 3 disposable diapers- 2 because Rose had a diaper rash and I was wondering if maybe the cloth diapers were making them worse... I always doubt myself when a kid has a diaper rash. But either way, the rash went away even after I put her back in cloth- so it must not have had anything to do with the diaper, and probably with something she ate that didn't agree with her. I also ended up using 1 diaper when I was in a big rush and didn't have time to do diapers in a few parts- folding the diaper, snappying it in place, placing on the cover, adjusting it so the cover covers the prefold... or to fold and stuff the pocket diaper. So I'm realizing that I should probably keep a few pocket diapers already stuffed for times when I'm in a big rush, so I don't use sposies as a crutch.
And as for laundry... I ended up having to rewash a load of laundry that was left in the machine too long. Oh well... First time in the few weeks since I started keeping track. Hopefully there won't be a repeat any time in the near future.

And now on to what I actually did right this week, what we did in our house to save money:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Djaj wa Rishta- Syrian Chicken and Spaghetti- Gluten Free Option

Unfortunately pasta dishes are known to not be the
most photogenic. Oh well, at least it is delicious!
My family members sometimes "complain" that since I make such a large variety of foods, and am always experimenting in the kitchen, when there is one food I make that they really like, they have no idea when they'll see it again since I don't repeat dishes very frequently, if ever.
This dish, however, is the exception to the rule.
Djaj wa Rishta, Syrian chicken and spaghetti, has become a staple in our house, mainly because it's a one pot meal that is pretty easy to make and delicious. Everyone in my family enjoys it, and I've been making it on and off for at least 6 years, since I discovered it on a forum all those years ago, posted by my friend Dana.
I make mine with gluten free spaghetti or linguine (corn pasta), but you can make it with wheat spaghetti or whatever other type of spaghetti you want if gluten isn't an issue for you.

Variations: Though I haven't tried it- if you're on a paleo diet, I am sure this would taste great with spaghetti squash instead of the spaghetti, or spiralized carrots. And if you're a vegan, I'm sure you could make this with tofu or seitan cutlets in place of the chicken.

Djaj wa Rishta- Syrian Chicken and Spaghetti- Gluten Free Option

How the Bankruptcy Process Works

This is a post by Nancy Evans.

No matter how thrifty you are, you can’t plan for everything. An accident or sudden illness could cause you to lose your job and destroy your savings. A single night in the hospital could easily cost over $20,000. There is the case of the English couple with that was facing a bill ten times that size after the premature birth of their son. Even with health insurance, you could be liable for a percentage of the cost--and that percentage could wipe out your savings.

Hospital bills aren’t the only major setback one could face, but they are one of the major reasons why even the most conscientious of savers can end up in dire financial straits.

When faced with a devastating financial crisis, you can try to tough it out, or you can use a safety net that was created specifically to help consumers cope with suffocating debt: bankruptcy.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Gluten Free Dairy Free Moussaka- Greek Eggplant Casserole- With Vegan and Paleo Options

Though I love eggplant, my family, unfortunately, are not such fans. I mean, they'll eat it if I make it in something that is otherwise tasty, other than my one pickier eater. But eggplant is often on sale for very cheap round these parts, and I don't want to not be able to take advantage of it, just because of their not being thrilled with this vegetable.
That is why I was really excited to discover an eggplant recipe that my family is not only willing to eat, but they love it so much that they demand seconds and thirds as well. I can definitely say Moussaka is my favorite eggplant recipe in the whole wide world, and I've tasted many.

What is it?
Moussaka is an eggplant based dish, with many regional variations, originating in the areas of the former Ottoman Empire, though mostly associated with Greece (probably because of that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the protagonist is embarrassed by her moussaka for lunch at school). The traditional Greek preparation, upon which I based my take-off, is made with fried eggplant ground beef or lamb in spiced tomato sauce, and bechamel sauce. Kind of like a very eggplanty, pasta free, meaty lasagna.
Since I am dairy free, I make mine with a vegan white sauce, though you can use any other vegan white sauce recipe if you want, or even a dairy bechamel sauce. I've made this moussaka with ground beef, ground turkey, and even with lentils instead of the meat- it's delicious every way. If you want to make this vegan, go with the lentil and vegan white sauce. If you're Paleo or dairy free, use the meat and dairy free cheese sauce. Otherwise, feel free to use whatever variation you desire, suiting your tastes and budget.
I don't fry mine eggplant, to save work and use less oil, and it works just as well.
This is a somewhat more labor intensive recipe, but it is so delicious that it is well worth the effort.

Gluten Free Dairy Free Moussaka- Greek Eggplant Casserole- With Vegan and Paleo Options

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to Make a Homemade Firetruck Birthday Cake- Without All That Processed Food Junk

A great birthday cake can truly transform a birthday party from fun to fantastic. If, like myself, you try to stay away from processed foods, especially margarine/shortening and food coloring, you might feel bad, thinking your kids will be suffering, since they can't have those "super cool" cakes that others have at their birthday parties.
Not to worry- you can still make great cakes for your kids birthdays, even without all that junk and chemicals normally found in these fancy cakes.
Ok, I take that back.
Not 100% without processed food.
You see, when I think of a fun birthday cake, I usually think lots of fun colored frosting, not just brown frosting. Chocolate frosting is cool, but kids want their race car cake or heart cake or space ship cake to have lots of colors and not just be entirely brown.
The "problem" with making a fully healthy birthday cake is that the healthier sugars all are brown, so any frosting made with them ends up being brown. To be able to make white frosting, which can then be colored with various means (I'll get to that in a second), you need to use white powdered sugar. Not powdered healthier sugars.
So- I make fun cakes for my kids' birthdays nearly processed food free. The only processed junk is the white sugar in the frosting. It's possible that maybe I'd be able to make a white frosting with powdered xylitol, but I haven't tried it yet. In the meantime, its just been white sugar.
But- food coloring free, hydrogenated oil free, dairy free, gluten free, egg free, and the cake refined sugar free- yea- that's what I'm talking about!

My friend, who's seen the birthday cakes I make for my kids, asked me if I'd be willing to make her son a healthier birthday cake for his birthday. A fire truck birthday cake, I was game to try it, and I really like how it came out, and so did the birthday boy, so I wanted to share how I made it with you.
I haven't seen anything like this before out on the internet, so hopefully it'll be a good resource for those fire truck loving birthday boys whose mamas don't want to use chemical food coloring and other junk in their kids' cakes.

So, before I go further, let me list all the ingredients I used, and then I'll explain how I made it.

ThredUP's 99 Cent Sale!

I am very lucky in that I live in an area with great thrift stores selling a variety of clothes at super low costs, and we also have clothing swaps where I am able to pass on old clothes and get new ones easily. Many people aren't as lucky as I am, and either don't have local thrift stores, or the ones that they do charge a lot for their items.

ThredUp is an online consignment that buys and sells like-new kids' and women's clothes. They carry thousands of popular brands at up to 90% off retail. You'll find brands like J. Crew, Gymboree, LOFT, Hanna Andersson, Banana Republic, Mini Boden, Theory and many more, plus an amazing selection of handbags.

I've written before about the benefit of decluttering, and getting rid of clothes that you don't wear and are just taking up room in your closets. While garage sales are a wonderful way to earn money on extra items you have lying around, people don't always have the means to throw a garage sale. Consider ordering a free Clean Out bag from thredUP, mail in the items they accept (they have strict acceptance criteria so make sure you carefully read through their standards before you send in your bag) free of charge (postage is included already on the bag), and earn some cash from the items sitting in your closet.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Tricks and Gimmicks of the "Store Without Gimmicks"

There's a chain of grocery stores in my area that has been getting a lot of press lately. While one chain (lets call it R Grocery) (the chain I usually shop at) is known for their great prices (overall the cost of a grocery cart there have been proven to be significantly less than at their competitors, research shows), a newer chain (Lets call it O Grocery) is opening stores in more and more places and attracting people with their prices as well. I heard a lot of the hype about O Grocery's chain, and though R Grocery is much closer to me, when I was in the city the other day, I went out of my way to shop at and check out O Grocery.

Before I went, I asked in our local frugal Facebook group what the best deals were there, and I stocked up on those specific things. I was impressed with those prices, but the rest of the store? Some stuff had good prices, some had great prices, but some weren't anything to write home about, since they were more expensive than I typically find them at R Grocery...
But, even though some of the stuff were worth stocking up on, it was a hassle to get to that store (involved 2 buses, minimum, each way), so I said that it would have to be a once in a long time outing...
However, O Grocery just opened a new branch 2 weeks ago that is right on my bus route, and I was really excited about it, since it meant I could shop there without the hassle that it was before. Last night I went there to do my usual weekly shopping instead of at R Grocery, and I just felt the need to write up about it.

O Grocery has a slogan written everywhere- "Without Tricks, Without Gimmicks". They want to be known as the gimmick free store- what you see is what you get- low prices and that's all. Great idea for a store, no?
It would be, if it were actually so.
In fact, I found it ironic that for a store that labels themselves as a gimmick free store, they had many more gimmicks than R Grocery, and in fact, any other grocery I remember shopping at in the last while.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Teaching Kids about Healthy Attitudes Towards Beauty, Health, and Weight

I think one of the hardest things about being a parent is trying to find the middle ground, to raise your kids with appropriate attitudes towards different things instead of falling to either extreme. I want to raise emotionally healthy children, with a healthy sense of self and self image, as well as with a good attitude towards health and wellness. I want my children to be happy with themselves, to love themselves and everything about them, yet at the same time, always work on being the best "them" that they could possibly be.

I've written before about my desire to lose weight, and fortunately I've made progress, to the point where I am definitely in the healthy weight range, and aesthetically much better than before (I'm no longer regularly getting asked if I'm pregnant), but at the same time, I would like to lose more weight. Not a lot- my goal weight is about 15-20 lbs away from where I am now (I lost about 25 lbs already)...
The other day my son asked me if I am able to eat dairy. I told him that the answer is complicated. He wanted to know more. Question followed question, and eventually I told him that I can eat goat dairy, but I don't want to, because I want to lose weight.

"But what's wrong with how you are now, Mommy? You're not fat," my 7 year old Lee wanted to know.

That question was a toughie, and it scared me.
Because there is nothing wrong with how I am now. Yes, I am overweight, according to the BMI, but not by too much. I look good. I just want to look even better. I don't want my kids to think that there is something "wrong" with them if they're less than perfect, because no one is perfect. And I don't want my kids to think that someone skinny is better than someone fat. I don't want my kids to think that someone's value is connected to how they look. And I worried that maybe what I was doing might be harming my kids.

So that made me do a lot of thinking.
And though we generally tend towards unschooling, I put together a lesson plan to hopefully try to teach my kids healthy attitudes about beauty, health, and weight loss. Hopefully it'll help someone else here- maybe you can use it with your kids as well.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How to Get Self Published For Free! A Guest Post

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Photo Credit- Bill Longshaw-
I was 9 years old the first time I got published. For an aspiring writer, nothing is more intoxicating than seeing your name in print, especially for the first time. I've been a writer as long as I can remember, with many ideas of books I wanted to publish. But one thing always held me back.

What if no publisher wants my book? What if I work so hard on my book, and the only thing that it results in is a big stack of rejection letters?

There was a novel I was in the middle of writing, and I published it chapter by chapter in blog form. I got great feedback on it, and everyone who read it encouraged me to finish it and publish it. But I shelved that project, since I knew the niche that the novel fit was too small, and no publisher would accept it. So after 9 chapters, I gave up on that book.

If you've been dreaming of writing a book, but the thought of query letters and rejections after toiling for months or even years on a book is too hard for you to bear...
This post is for you.

I currently have 2 books I am in the middle of writing- one a cookbook, and one on foraging, (and two or more ideas for children's books I want to write) but the publishing aspect was scaring me.

In the past, people knew that the alternative to getting accepted and then published by a publisher was to self publish books, but it was a costly venture, with the writer accepting upon themselves all the printings costs, with the hopes that eventually they'd be able to recoup that cost. Advertisement and distribution was all on the writer, and the writer would end up needing to keep all the printed books in their home until they were sold. It was a gamble, a risk that people took if they were desperate enough to see their name in print, but not something that your average Joe would do.

With today's technology, self publishing is a "whole 'nother kettle of fish" than what it once was. You can self publish entirely for free, without needing to lay out money in the hopes of selling- you can make pure profit without needing to worry about making back what you spent. Added bonus- you don't need to store boxes and boxes of your self published book, since they are printed on demand and mailed to those who buy them.

My friend, Kelly Sangree, author of BooksBikesandBudgeting self published her amazing book "Hard Core Poor - a book on extreme thrift" (see my review of the book here), and I asked her to write this guest post to tell us more about how to self publish. After reading it, I am really excited now, because this is definitely doable for me, and I don't need to worry about getting crushed by rejection after rejection.

Just a note- if I would self publish, it wouldn't be entirely free for me, since I would probably hire a graphic designer to help with the layout first, or at the very least, with the cover. This is optional, though, and would just help with making the book look more professional.
And as for advertising and distribution, that I'd probably do myself.

How to Get Self Published- For Free! A Guest Post by Kelly Sangree

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments This Past Week and Accountability

This week has been challenging in more ways than one, but the main challenge being that 2 days this week we had no water, so it made it hard to be productive... We also had lots of rainy weather, which made laundry more difficult to do...

Here's my accountability for some specific struggles I've been working on.
In my disposable diaper tally- I used 7 this past week, but only 1 was out of laziness... the other 6 were when we didn't have water and I wasn't able to wash off dirty diapers, etc...
I didn't leave any laundry in the machine which then needed to be re-washed. So that's a win.
And while some food did get thrown out, it was less than last week. Only 1 cucumber and a little bit of rice that got left out too long...
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More than one time I was about to throw out a food (like some food that I didn't care for) and went to take a picture of it before tossing... then because of this post, I rethought what I was doing, and instead of throwing them out, I made them into a yummy meal that was a pleasure to eat. So I'm proud of that.

Here's what we did to save money this past week:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bakso- Indonesian Meatball Soup Recipe- Gluten Free and Delicious!

I have this fascination with foreign cultures. If my life turned out differently than it did (like if I had more money, and no kids), I could definitely see myself being a world traveler, since I love learning about and experiencing foreign cultures. In fact, I was just discussing with Mike today, that whenever I hear about a country that I don't know much about, I usually end up searching for more information about it on Wikipedia, reading about its various ethnicities in its population, their religious beliefs, its geography, etc... but what interests me most about these countries is often their food.

When I learn about a new country, I am so tempted to go there just to eat some of their local cuisine. Since that isn't really in the picture at the moment, I "settle" for trying out some of their native recipes at home, and have come across some real treasures that way.

Take bibimbap for example, a famous (and very versatile) Korean dish, made out of various proteins, vegetables, rice, and toppings. I've never been to Korea, and can't see myself ever going there, but making bibimbap at home makes me feel like I've traveled to Korea.
Bakso, in my opinion, is to Indonesia what bibimbap is to Korea. Just as bibimbap is more a general recipe idea than a specific strict recipe, and can be made with what you have in the house, bakso also can be made with what you have in the house. Rather- you have the base- the meatball and the broth, but the rest of the things that you put in the soup can be changed up depending on your mood, diet, and availability of ingredients. The added bonus is that this dish is gluten free and egg free, and can easily be made paleo legal (by leaving out the noodles or using zucchini "noodles" in their place).

Bakso meatballs have a special texture based on their unique preparation method, and they can be made in advance and frozen for later use, as can the broth. The meatballs can also be chopped up and used in stir fries. The additions to the soup should be prepared separately and put into each bowl, then broth added to top it off. The vegetable additions can be added either raw or cooked. For example, I used raw grated carrots in mine, which I let soften for a few minutes in the hot soup before eating.

So, enjoy this dish of Indonesian street food with me, and close your eyes and pretend you've really traveled there and gotten to experience it.
Bon Apetite, and safe travels!

Bakso- Indonesian Meatball Soup Recipe- Gluten Free and Delicious!

Friday, January 16, 2015

No Boil Gluten Free Vegan Mac and Cheese- With Butternut Squash

 photo macandcheese_zps59b1d060.jpgNothing says comfort food like a big plate of mac and cheese. Being gluten free and dairy free and without access to vegan soy free cheeses like Daiya, it's not so easy to make yummy mac and cheese. It usually involves a bunch of steps, and a bunch of pots, which I don't always have the energy for.

And there's the added aspect that many of the gluten free noodles that are sold locally taste good, but don't hold their shape beautifully once mixed with the cheese sauces.

I had this theory that if I took my gluten free pasta and made a no-boil mac and cheese recipe- I'd be able to have a yummy and easy mac and cheese, without the noodles falling apart. I converted a "yes boil" vegan mac and cheese recipe and turned it into a no boil one, that made one pan dirty and that's it... I made it last Sunday, when we had no running water in the house, so the added bonus was that it didn't require separate boiling water, then more water to rinse... (P,S. We got our water back thankfully!.)

This mac and cheese recipe tasted delicious, and I highly recommend it!

No Boil Gluten Free Vegan Mac and Cheese- With Butternut Squash

Thursday, January 15, 2015

No Water ALL Day Is a Royal Pain

 photo IMG_0102_zpsbf74027a.jpgI started writing a few posts today, and stopped them all not long after I started.
It's been hard being productive today, hard for me to focus on anything... other than the crazy situation going on right now.

A few hours after I woke up this morning, I got a message from my husband- we got a text from the municipality telling us that our water will be turned off in a few minutes, due to a repair that needs to be done.

Yes, our water was turned off.

I have experience with that.

You see, last week, last Saturday morning, our solar panels on our roof burst because of freezing temperatures, and then when it warmed up, water was pouring out of the solar panels on our roof, giving us a waterfall right over our front door. So we filled up a few big containers with water and shut off our water main. And it remained off from Saturday morning until Sunday night when someone finally came to fix our solar panels.
It's really not fun to live without running water.

And we did that already last Saturday and Sunday.

So to wake up with the news that that would happen again today did not make me happy. But at least I knew how to be prepared....

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Latest Grocery Shopping Trip- and Challenge For Myself

 photo 20150113_195504_zps4d40fa35.jpgYesterday I went to the grocery store, since there were a few items I needed to stock up on- I'd completely emptied out my stores. But the thing is, I've been back at tracking my grocery shopping to the cent this past month, and yesterday was the last day of the month I was tracking, so I wasn't in the mood to add a big bill to our thankfully relatively low monthly bill... and on top of that, we were well stocked on most stuff, had enough vegetables and nearly enough produce, and I knew that if I bought more produce I'd likely end up having things spoil on me...
In short, I knew that while I needed to replace things already (there's only so many times I can borrow yeast from my next door neighbor), I had no need to do a big shop, but knowing myself, I get tempted by all the sale items, etc...

So, I told Mike that I'd go shopping, and I'd set myself a limit- only spend 28 dollars at the store. He gives me a look and says "Do you think that is even possible?" I thought it over, and adjusted it- I'd send 57 dollars and no more. That, I felt was doable.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reader Shares: Very Frugal Turkey Breast and Ham

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Image credit- Gualberto107;
I got this email from a reader today, and I really loved what she did, so I asked her if she'd mind if I'd post it on my blog so you can benefit from it as well. She was happy for me to share. Hope you enjoy it!

Hi there,
My name is Amanda. I am an avid reader and frugal divorced mom of three in Oregon. With one small paycheck and three kids under 10 years old, it can be a challenge. We have a shopping budget of about $250 a month (food, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, etc.). I stockpile things on sale using coupons, and I always have an eye out for deals, especially on meat. I try not to buy meat unless it is $.99/lb or less (clearance, coupons, holiday meat sales like pork roast, shank ham, whole turkey, and hot dogs). I did some frugal kitchen experiments the other day and thought you might be interested in the result.

Cheap Turkey Breast:
Do you remember that 99 cent/lb deal on whole turkey breast at Safeway a few weeks back? Well, although higher than the cost of a whole turkey sold for 69 cents/lb, I thought it might actually be the better deal due less work deboning it and less heavy bones, hardly any tendons, etc. I also thought that even with fat and bone in a whole turkey breast, that the price after removing the meat might still beat the price of boneless/skinless chicken breast.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ground Beef Baked Kofta Kebabs Recipe- Restaurant Quality, Gluten Free, Egg Free, Paleo and GAPS Legal

The picture doesn't do it justice!
If I had to pick one thing that this blog is probably known for (other than being run by a homeschooling, home-birthing, placenta "eating", "hippy" mama), its probably my complex and complicated charts and calculations in which I compare what is actually cheaper, like which cut of meat is actually cheapest once you factor in the meat to bone ratio, or which types of beans are cheapest to make... that some people call genius, and others think are proof of how bonkers and obsessed with insignificant minutiae I truly am... Haha...

It's been a while since I had one of those, but I'm in the middle of one of these intense calculations that truly knocked my socks off, blowing my mind, and changing how I look at what I do on a regular basis... and may blow your mind as well.
But that'll have to wait. Hopefully it'll be ready by tomorrow, at which point I will be able to astound you with my deductions...

In the meantime, let me knock your socks off in another way- with these better than restaurant quality but super easy kofta kebabs.
What exactly are kofta kebabs?
Well, most people, I assume, know what shish kababs are- cubed bits of meat and veggies speared onto a skewer and then grilled... Kofta kebabs are a whole different kettle of fish- the only thing they have in common is that they too are on skewers. (Though not always. Our local stores sells kebabs without skewers.) They're made from ground meat as opposed to cubed, and if you prepare them right, they are out of this world.
I have shared a recipe for Greek style kofta kebabs before, and they really are delicious, but the last time I made kebabs I wanted to try something different; I didn't have mint, so needed a different spice mixture, and I wanted to bake mine in the oven instead of grilling them, since I was feeling lazy and didn't want to have to stand over the grill with finicky kebabs that might fall apart if I am not careful, or might burn on the outside before the inside is fully cooked...
After perusing many recipes, I made this one up, roughly based on this recipe, and oh my gosh- I thought I died and went to heaven, they were that good. Probably the best kebabs I've eaten in my life. Mike was laughing at me because I was seriously swooning as I was eating these.
Needless to say, they were a hit with the entire family, and this will now be my "go to" recipe when I have ground beef to use.

Ground Beef Baked Kofta Kebabs Recipe- Restaurant Quality, Gluten Free, Egg Free, Paleo and GAPS Legal

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments This Past Week and Accountability For My Struggles

Hi everyone and welcome back to my weekly round-up of all the frugal things I did this week, as well as my accountability for things that I may or may not have done as frugally as I would have liked to.

So first off- cloth diapering. I was going very well this past week! All through rain and snow and an inability to line dry my laundry outside, I was exclusively cloth diapering! Super proud of myself! I washed cloth diapers and even made a make-shift rack in my bathroom to dry them on, since I didn't have room to hang up my standard indoor washing rack since we needed to bring a whole bunch more stuff indoors because of the storm. What helped was inheriting a bunch of cloth diapers from a friend earlier this past week (mainly pocket diapers, but also a few other types) which meant that with my increased stash, I wasn't as stressed out about having enough diapers and having them dry in time!
I also didn't leave any loads in the machine long enough to need to re-wash them, so points for that, as well as points for not using my dryer!
My husband did buy a package of diapers just in case, because I didn't want to be stuck without in the storm... I did end up using one disposable diaper on Saturday night... because we had problems with our water because of the storm, and until our landlord gets that fixed (hopefully in the next few hours) we've been completely without water, so that means no doing laundry, not diaper laundry and not anything else- and not even washing off the dirty diapers with our diaper sprayer...

And as for food waste...
I can't say I had none.
I did my best to repurpose a lot of food that would have otherwise gotten thrown out- even using up the zucchini bread that I made that I thought tasted icky (fortunately the kids and hubby didn't mind it) and turned flopped frosting (peanut butter based) into a base for a smoothie.

 photo garbage_zpsf8b21d8f.png

But I did have some food that ended up in the trash. A little bit of leftover mashed potatoes with tuna fish and ketchup (half a serving, maybe), some foraged greens, some citrus fruit, a tomato, and a bunch of cucumbers. I gotta figure out how to use those cucumbers up, because I'm noticing that cucumbers are one of those things going in the trash most often...

So, what did I get right this week in terms of frugality? Well, here's what we did to save money this past week:

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Decadent Chocolate Cake Recipe- With Gluten Free, Vegan, and Refined Sugar Free Options

I recently bought coconut sugar in bulk cheaply (or as cheap as I can get it anyhow), so I finally have enough available to be able to be using it as my staple sweetener. While I do try to use jaggery syrup and date paste (my cheapest non refined sweeteners available to me) in as many recipes as I can, they are harder to work with, and require a lot of playing around with to be able to get things the right texture...
Coconut sugar, on the other hand, is a dream to work with, since it has pretty much the same granulated texture as white sugar, so it can be substituted 1:1 with white sugar without too much trouble (though the end result is less sweet).

I made this really awesome chocolate cake- decadent and perfect- made with coconut sugar, as well as being gluten free, egg free, and  vegan, and I'm just super excited to share the recipe. I based it off the Hershey's chocolate cake recipe. Its got the perfect texture- not too dry, not too moist, not too dense and not too fluffy. It's been a big hit in our house!

This recipe makes a 9x13 or bundt cake or 2 8 inch round baking pans or 30 cupcakes.
If gluten isn't an issue for you, feel free to make this cake with gluten. If eggs aren't an issue for you, feel free to use them instead of the ground flax seeds. And if white sugar isn't an issue for you, feel free to replace the coconut sugar with white sugar.
But, if you avoid all the above like I do, feel free to make them without all those ingredients, and rest assured the cake will come out awesome!

Decadent Chocolate Cake Recipe- With Gluten Free, Vegan, and Refined Sugar Free Options

Friday, January 9, 2015

Homemade Vegan Jalebi Recipe- Deep Fried Sweet- Gluten Free and Refined Sugar Free Options

 photo jalebi_zpsb32487ff.jpgA few weeks back my kids asked me to make donuts, and I agreed, but kept pushing it off, not really interested in the mess that making donuts would probably entail... My kids kept on asking me when we could make the donuts, and finally I decided that the best compromise would be some other deep fried treat...
I'd remembered reading about Jalebi, an Indian deep fried treat, similar to funnel cakes, which seemed like it probably would be doable and not such a big mess... According to Wikipedia, these are served all over Asia, typically for Ramadan and Diwali festivals...
Essentially what they are is a batter piped into a spiral shape in oil to deep fry, then soaked in a sweet syrup.

I decided to try to make them gluten free and vegan, so I played around with some recipes I found and came up with this. Making them refined sugar free was a no brainer to me- I decided to use jaggery, since that is a non refined sweetener native to India- so I assume that this is how they were made traditionally anyhow.
You can easily make them gluten free or with gluten, and someone asked me if you could make them with chickpea flour and no grains- I'm sure it would be fine, I just haven't done it yet.

After I made them- they came out awesome, by the way, and didn't make a big mess at all!- I posted the above picture on Facebook, and my friend, who's husband is from an Indian background, asked me if she would be able to have one for her husband, since it is his absolute favorite treat that he used to get from restaurants, and he hasn't had it in a long time- she wanted to surprise him with one.
Well, I got great feedback! He said he loved them- they taste almost exactly like he was used to- but better! So that made me feel great...
There was a lot of demand on my Facebook post to share the recipe, so here it finally is.

P.S. They were a hit with my family as well. Sticky and crunchy and delish! Really hit the spot! I think I'll be making these again in the near future!

Homemade Vegan Jalebi Recipe- Deep Fried Sweet- Gluten Free and Refined Sugar Free Options aka Jilawi, Zoolbia, Zalabiya

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Taking Inventory of my Stockpile

I've mentioned my stockpile many times in the past, but today I'm really thinking about it. We have a storm heading our way, and predictions are that roads will be closed, supermarkets will be either closed or empty due to lack of delivery, and everyone has been panicking, making sure that they have enough food and equipment to ride out the storm safely.
Me? I'm sitting here pretty comfortable in the knowledge that, should roads be closed and we're trapped at home, our family has more than enough food to last through the storm... and far beyond.

Because of my amazing stockpile!

Now- what exactly is a stockpile? It means that I have a lot of food in storage, mostly non perishable foods (though some would call what I have in my freezer my stockpile, but I don't really)- 333 lbs of dry goods and 20.5 gallons of liquids, to be exact. (At least as of December 31st, when I took inventory.)

Yup, that is a whole lot of food.

What exactly is the purpose of storing so much food in the house at one time? Especially if I have such a small home (we're living in 484 square feet with our family of 6)?
Well, in short, because it makes my life easier, and saves me money.

I don't need to panic about running out of food in an emergency like everyone else around me seems to be doing- we have enough food to get through any emergency, whether the emergency is a snow storm or a war, or even more personal emergencies, like being extremely short on cash and not having money for groceries, or being housebound for whatever other reason (like if I or a kid is sick).

But other than the whole emergency preparedness issue, there's the big money saving reason.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hard Core Poor- A Book on Extreme Thrift by Kelly Sangree- A Book Review

Have you ever met someone, and thought to yourself that the two of you are kindred souls, that you just get each other completely? I have a good friend, Kelly Sangree, and even though we've never met in person, we are very close, since we seem to simply understand how the other one ticks.
Kelly says, though, that she "had a leg up on me", that she knew we'd be good friends, even before we spoke for the first time. She's been a loyal blog reader "since long before you were even gluten free", she says... That means roughly 4 or 5 years, minimum, she's been reading my blog...
Kelly's got three kids, homeschools one and sends another one to school, has a few gluten free members of her household, and is natural minded, super thrifty, DIY, creative gal, who likes to problem solve to figure out innovative solutions for various money related queries... She also manages without a car most of the time, bike riding her super cool cargo bike...
When I need someone to problem solve with, to ask input on for tough dilemmas, Kelly is the one I often turn to, because she has a great head on her shoulders, and I know her advice will usually be spot on.
So when I heard that Kelly wrote a book on frugality, entitled Hard Core Poor- A Book on Extreme Thrift , I immediately asked her if I could do a book review, because, knowing her, I knew I'd love her book.

I wasn't wrong.

I have ADD or something similar. Unless a book is a gripping novel, sucking me in, I usually have a hard time getting through books, because something always comes up and distracts me from the book, no matter how much I like the book or the information covered within. (I usually have, at any given time, at least 10 books that I'm in the middle of...) This tends to be especially true with non fiction books...

Kelly's book, though, captivated me in the way only great novels usually can. I've read many finance related books in the past, many that I loved (including The Complete Tightwad Gazette, The Total Money Makeover, etc...) but none spoke to me as much as the book "Hard Core Poor".
As I read the book, the Kelly I know and love shined through- her wisdom, insight, creativity, and humor, all those things about her that I appreciate (and the reasons I'm proud to call her a friend), come through clearly in the book, making it a real pleasure to read.

You know how they say that a lot of those frugal books and blogs out there are woefully short of actual, practical ideas to help you save money- they usually just say "stop buying those lattes and you'll have extra cash" or focus entirely on couponing, so there isn't much of tangible use that you get out of the book?

Kelly's book has a lot of practical, down to earth ideas that will actually be more useful to you than just "stop buying lattes" or "use coupons".

 photo kelly_zps884c291c.png
Kelly with two of her kids, on her super awesome cargo bike

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Seafood Gumbo Recipe- Made with Salmon Scrap Broth, Paleo Legal, Low Carb

 photo gumbo_zps23bf3402.jpgBrrrr... In the last little bit, it actually finally feels like winter here. We had a lot of sunny days this winter, where the kids were too hot in the sweatshirts I made them wear, days where the weather felt more like April than December. But make no mistake- winter is certainly here now. The house is certainly chillier, and I do what I can to keep the family warmer, hopefully without raising our bills too much.
During the winter, the thing that speaks to me the most is hot soups. Thick hearty soups are best of all, since they warm you inside and out, not to mention tasting delicious, and can often be made very low cost.

I made this superb seafood gumbo recently from broth made from boiling up my salmon scraps(the bones, fins, etc... left after I took all the meat off my salmon heads and bones/tail) with a little salt , but you can make it with any fish broth.
It is very easy to make, and tastes divine, in my opinion.

Unlike most seafood gumbo, this does not contain either meat from animals (so it is suitable for pescetarians) nor shellfish (so it is suitable for those who avoid shellfish). It also is completely grain free and Paleo legal, not to mention low carb and diet friendly in general.
Give it a try! It's delish!

If you're not a seafood eater, or don't have okra, check out my cactus paddle and chicken gumbo recipe.

Seafood Gumbo Recipe- Made with Salmon Scrap Broth, Paleo Legal, Low Carb

Monday, January 5, 2015

Homemade Plaster of Paris Candle Holders- Without Special Molds

The candle holders we painted at Anneliese's birthday party.
They're really supposed to all be as deep as
 the one on the left, but I ran out of plaster and the stores were closed...
When I was planning Anneliese's birthday party, I decided that I wanted to be decorating candle holders at the party, and I specifically had plaster candle holders in mind. I looked at stores and I looked online, both locally and abroad, to try to find molds to make my own homemade candle holders, but had absolutely no luck finding anything, let alone something inexpensive that I liked...

So I decided to try and figure out how to make my own plaster of Paris candle holders, without any special molds. I'd wing it.

It took me a few tries- I think I trashed 3 versions- before I finally figured out how to make these.
Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and get it right the first time...

I made mine flower shaped because I had flower shaped silicon molds, but you don't need that- if you even have silicon muffin tins or even disposable plastic cups, you can make these. I just wanted to make it "girly" enough for my "girly" so I made them flowered, but just plain round candle holders is fine as well. If you have a loaf pan or other larger molds like other silicon baking pans, you can make candle holders that hold many candles, not just one.

The type of candles that I like to use are tea lights, so I made mine the right size for tea lights. If you like taller tapered candles, for example, you would just need to adjust the size of the holes to account for that.

The kids all loved painting them at the party, and I think they look rather cute, if I may say so myself!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments This Past Week and Accountability for My Struggles

Hello there again, and thank you for tuning in to this week's frugal accomplishment roundup, as well as my accountability challenge for the areas in which I struggle frugality-wise.
Thankfully, it's been a good week, where I haven't slacked too much, and have been relatively productive in the frugal arena.

So, as to accountability first of all...
I haven't had to rewash any loads of laundry because of forgetting them in the machine! Yay! And I haven't used the dryer at all, despite it raining outside a couple of days- and I don't have my laundry piling up too badly! So I'm excited about that!
And on a related note, I did well with my cloth diapering challenge. I've been exclusively cloth diapering all week long and haven't bought any new diapers. I used two disposables this week when we went away for the weekend (after my daughter soaked through her diaper and clothes overnight and I was afraid we'd run out of clean clothes if I wasn't on top of changing her cloth diapers enough), so that's great. I probably will buy disposable diapers either today or tomorrow since this week is supposed to have really bad weather, and I'm afraid that if I find out my diapers aren't drying fast enough, I won't even be able to go to the grocery store to buy 'sposies, so I'm going to buy just in case, and hide them away so I don't have easy access, just in case of emergencies.
As for food I tossed- I will be starting next week a full reckoning, so nothing to share about that for now. But it wasn't much. (Just stuff that had gone off before I posted about starting this challenge.)

So, here's what I did to save money this week, in addition to all that above:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

DIY T-Shirt Yarn Bracelet- Homemade Sensory Chew Toy

 photo 20150101_183126_zps780c0b0c.jpgDo you have a kid that likes to chew on things?
Some kids are sensory seeking, some kids just have this excess need to chew. It is just who they are...

I recently discovered that one of my kids (who I shall not be naming) likes to chew on things. Specifically his shirt sleeves.
His shirt sleeves are in tatters...

Fortunately, as soon as he outgrew these clothes, I was going to get rid of them (no use in storing clothes that, at the very least, won't be used for another 6 or 7 years, if ever), so I'm not too disappointed in the shirts being ruined.

However, I would like to prevent more ruined shirts...

I'd been offering this kid to chew on something else instead of his shirt sleeves, maybe something like a carrot, and many times he was excited to chew on a carrot instead...

But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I don't want to be teaching my kid to eat if he isn't hungry, but is just seeking oral stimulation...

So I was looking for other ideas to offer him to chew on, that won't ruin his clothes, but will offer him the same satisfaction.

They sell various chewable items for sensory purposes- chewable necklaces, toys, bracelets, etc... and because of my kid's desire to chew his sleeves, I decided to make my own chewable bracelet, out of the very fabric he loves to chew- T-shirt material.

It came out cute enough that I say that this doesn't just have to be for sensory seeking kids for chewing purposes- it can also be a fun accessory to wear, just as is.