Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Grain Free Pinwheels Recipe, Or Chicken Potato Roll Ups- Egg Free, With Vegan Options

I don't even know when I had deli roll for the first time, but it probably was somewhere around my 16th year. I was eating over at someone's house, and they served this delicious concoction of puff pastry dough, pastrami and other deli, mustard, and some sauce, I don't remember what. I really enjoyed it, and made it myself a bunch of times...
Until I actually started paying attention to the health and cost aspects of the foods I was preparing and eating. And then I stayed far away. Since deli roll is traditionally made with puff pastry dough- made with margarine round these parts- something that is one of those few things mainstream and alternative medicine agree is super bad for you. Add to that the gluten in puff pastry dough (debatable about whether it is actually unhealthy for everyone, or just for many people including myself and a few family members), and all the garbage found in standard deli meat, and you've got one of the more unhealthy foods out there- something I certainly don't plan on making for my family to eat.

But... I have this thing for rolled up stuff. I just think the fact that something is rolled up makes it look so much nicer, more appealing, and usually photogenic as well (the irony being that the pictures in this post didn't come out as photogenic as I'd hoped). Its how I take dirt cheap things and pretend I'm being fancy- by rolling them up!
So while I didn't make deli roll in years, I can't say I never missed it. I recently saw a recipe in a group for grain free deli roll, using potatoes, eggs, and potato starch, and I was excited about it.
Until I realized that it had eggs, which make me feel icky when I eat them.
And deli.
Since deli meat, in addition to being unhealthy because of all the additives in it, is also far from cheap.
And then I had this brilliant idea- instead of making my "deli roll" with deli, I'd make it with deboned chicken. To keep it extra frugal I used a whole chicken that I bought on sale, then boiled it to make broth, and then deboned it and used the meat from the chicken to make these pinwheels, so I ended up getting quite a few dishes from that chicken, and it was much cheaper than deli meat.

Everyone in my family loved it and said that I should make it again.

I made mine completely grain free, with potato starch and flax seed only, however, I think the next time that I try to make this, I will end up using some other flours, maybe rice flour or buckwheat flour, instead of the potato starch...

If you're vegan, or just looking to save money, you can mix and match up the filling. I did a mix of chicken and carrots, but this would also work well with lentils, beans, other meat replacements, veggies, or a mix of the above.

And now that I've been thinking about this- this probably would be super awesome pizza style, with tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings, instead of the meat and veggies. I'm super psyched to try that version out!

Grain Free Pinwheels Recipe, Or Chicken Potato Roll Ups- Egg Free, With Vegan Options

Monday, April 27, 2015

Different Types Of Bulk Buying- And Their Pros and Cons

I write a million times about bulk buying, bulk buying, bulk buying. I can't even count how many times I've mentioned it on my blog, but that's because I'm super stoked about it. And I hope after my recent post about how to get super healthy food on a super tight budget, where I mentioned how much I save by buying bulk, people who hadn't even give a thought to bulk buying before are now open to considering it as a possible option.

But you know what I have been realizing?

There's more than one definition of bulk buying, and there are many different ways to bulk buy.

So for you- when someone says bulk buying, what immediately comes to mind? For many, Costco or Sam's Club would come to mind, with their big ol' tubs of ketchup and giant sized packages of corn chips and extra large packages of diapers and toilet paper. For others, bulk bins at Whole Foods is what comes to mind. Not exactly the same thing, is it?

So, what exactly is bulk buying? Which one is it?

I think most people aren't even aware that there are at least 7 different types of bulk buying (of which I am aware), each with their own benefits and drawbacks. So, how do you know which type of bulk buying is best for you? Let's find out.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Different Bulk Buying Options

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments This Week

Sometimes life seems to be so jam packed with everything, lots of things going on, lots of frugal happenings, so much to share, so much to write about... And then other times it feels like life is just flying by, and just trying to keep up is already a challenge, let alone doing anything extra.
I dunno how it is, but these past few weeks have really felt like that, when I look at the calendar and say "Oh my gosh- how is it Thursday already?"- I have no idea where the week went...

Weeks like that, I glance backwards over what I accomplished, and literally wonder "What did I manage to do this week? Nothing!" and then I remember that every single day that I am home with my kids, homeschooling my older ones and keeping up with my 13 month old's crazy antics- that really is more than enough. I don't need to have a long list of accomplishments every week- a small list of things that made me smile, of things that I am proud of doing, and happy kids and a general feeling of contentedness- that is totally fine.

From now on, I will stop apologizing if my list of frugal accomplishments isn't so long.
I don't need to be Wonderwoman. I can just be me, Penny, mother, wife, housewife, teacher, friend. And if I do some decidedly unfrugal things to keep my sanity, like using disposables all week long, I'm not going to sweat it.

Here's what frugal things we did this week in our house:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Delicious Honey Horseradish Chicken Recipe (Like Honey Mustard)

 photo chicken_zpscfncikrp.jpgI have to tell you- I've been really uninspired in the kitchen lately. I wanted to make chicken for supper but I wasn't sure what kind to make, so I asked my kids. "Make something sweet" my oldest son suggested. So then I thought along the lines of honey mustard chicken- only we're out of mustard right now... But we did have horseradish, which does have a similar flavor profile to mustard (not surprising, since it IS in the mustard family), so I decided to see if I could make a honey horseradish sauce for the chicken, sort of like honey mustard.
I got the idea for horseradish and honey actually a few weeks ago, when a friend said she wanted to make my honey mustard roasted fennel, but she needed a recipe without mustard and wanted to know what she could use in its place. On a whim, I suggested horseradish, and she said it came out phenomenal, so I knew that this honey horseradish chicken would be great.
And it was! Everyone loved it!
No, it doesn't taste exactly like honey mustard chicken, but similar, and is definitely something I'll be making again.

Just a note- you can use any sweetener in place of honey in this recipe- I generally make my "honey mustard" recipes with jaggery syrup and mustard or coconut sugar and mustard, and you can use white sugar and mustard as well, so to keep the costs down in this recipe feel free to substitute the sweeteners to suit your budget and dietary purposes.

If you taste the sauce, you'll think the chicken will come out spicy. It doesn't. Don't worry- this is very mild, even for kids.

For the record- horseradish is something that is very easy to forage and grows wild all over... but as far as I know, it actually doesn't grow locally to me. Here's some more info on foraging it. And if you do have some bought root and just want to stick it in the ground, it grows like crazy, and is nearly impossible to kill- we had it growing in our backyard in NE Ohio growing up, thanks to a partial root my mom stuck in the ground.

Delicious Honey Horseradish Chicken Recipe (Like Honey Mustard)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Lentil and Hot Dog Sauce Recipe

 photo IMG_0092_zpszvymotir.jpgA friend of mine, Becky, who is also very frugal and feeds a large family, has often talked about her standard weekly menu- one thing that always shows up is beans and hot dogs... I asked her for her recipe, because, honestly, my kids aren't the biggest fans of beans... and I decided to change it up and make something like that, but with lentils instead of beans.
Well, lets just say that my kids fell in love, and have asked me to make it a few times since. I use hot dogs that are "as healthy as possible"- only about 5 or six small hot dogs- which works out to be about 1 1/2 cups of sliced hot dogs- to 2 cups of lentils- so even though it has meat in it, its stretched out with the lentils.
My kids still feel like they're getting a treat, and I get to know that the more expensive and less healthy part (I admit, even the "less bad hot dogs are far from a health food) are kept to a minimum.

I serve it over rice or mashed potatoes.

It really is quite yummy, and super simple too.

(Oh- and to keep this recipe super quick to make- you can keep cooked lentils frozen in 2 cup portions, and then to cook this quickly, just dump the lentils and hot dogs with the rest of the ingredients in a pot and heat up.)

P.S. You can totally keep this vegan by leaving out the hot dogs. You may want to add a drop more seasonings if so.

Lentil and Hot Dog Sauce Recipe

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments This Past Week

Oh my, it seems like I'm getting worse and worse at keeping track of my frugal accomplishments, and posting about them each week. I need to start tracking these every day so that I actually have something to share at the end of the week...
But honestly-  I'm not sure if it's simply that I've been slacking in the frugal department, or slacking in the tracking department... because it doesn't look like much is on my latest list of frugal accomplishments...

So, here's what I remember that got done this past week to save money in our household:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Handling Plumbing Problems Yourself- Do's and Don'ts

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 Image Credit- Debspoons- Freedigitalphotos.net
Let me tell you- having no working sink is absolutely no fun. Not one bit.

From Thursday evening until late Sunday night, we didn't have a usable kitchen sink in our house. (We ended up using disposables for the duration as much as we could. Any dishes that had to be washed ended up sitting in the sink until they were scooped out into a bucket which was then dumped down the toilet.) 
The drain had been sluggish for a long time, and Mike tried doing some things to get it "less sluggish" just a drop before that, but it didn't seem to have any effect. It was draining slower and slower, until it decided to completely stop up. 
Nothing going down.

Now- why not just call our landlord to fix it?

Because where I live, if something in an apartment breaks through routine use/faulty equipment/weather, it is the landlord's responsibility to fix it, but if it is broken because of the fault of the tenants, it is the tenant's responsibility to fix it. And clogged drains... well, they usually are the fault of the tenant. (Alright- its exacerbated by the fact that this apartment, though new, was built very poorly, and the drainage system is horrible.)

So anyhow, Mike was annoyed at me that the sink was draining really slowly, since it kind of was my fault, since when I was cleaning up, I put away the sink strainer and then lost it, so lots of small pieces of food were going down the drain, which certainly contributed to the clog, but I'm not sure if it was the sole cause of the clog.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Homemade "I Spy in a Bottle" Toy

 photo IMG_0075_zpszaeacuy0.jpgI am a big fan of do it yourself, especially when it comes to toys and other fun games. In addition to that, I also enjoy finding uses for things that would otherwise be thrown out.

Therefore, when I was at my friend Z's house, and saw what she called an "I Spy in a Bottle" game, I thought it was a super cool idea and decided to make one for our family as well.

So, to do this, what you first need to do is get a large plastic bottle with a wide mouth, or a large plastic jar, made from clear plastic. Yes, I said plastic, because this will be a game for kids, and as much as I'd like to think my kids wouldn't break a toy made from glass, I know its inevitable.
Alright- who am I kidding? I'd be the one to break it, since I break all the glass things in my house. Erm...

So, either way- start by getting your plastic jars/bottles. Since most of the things in my house actually don't come in plastic containers- they usually come in glass jars or plastic bags or whatnot, since we're not buying lots of processed foods/condiments, this was actually the part that was the hardest for me to do. I actually got my jar from my friend- it used to contain cookies.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Taking a Virtual Trip- With Google Maps

Living on a super tight budget with my family, I would say we have a very good life, and we have everything we need, and a lot of extras as well. But I must admit that one of the hardest things for me is knowing that since we're short on cash, there's a lot of things I had growing up that I will never be able to give to my kids. Among them is the experience of visiting all sorts of interesting places, including tourist destinations and the places where my parents grew up.
My husband and I both live and are raising our kids oceans away from where we grew up, and I wish that one day I'll be able to take my children to my hometown, to see where I lived. I tell them stories about growing up, show them pictures from my photo albums, but its simply not the same without being able to see the surrounding areas, to really be able to experience it. I would also love to be able to visit my husband's native South Africa.

Unfortunately, since money is tight, we do prioritize things that we need over extras, and things that are permanent over fleeting things, and memories, while amazing, can be had for free or very cheaply, even if they're not all the memories I would have liked to give to my children. And if we did have some money saved up, unfortunately we'll be putting it towards the possibility of a down payment for a home one day- because plane fare around the world from a large family, even from a cheap travel deals site like Expedia- is simply out of our budget, and lower down our list of priorities than being able to own a house one day.

So, since taking trips to far off locations isn't an option for us, I wanted to see if there was a way to show our kids where we grew up, the neighborhood, etc... without needing to pay large sums of money.

Enter Google Maps.

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My childhood home, courtesy of Google Maps street view

I know, sounds ridiculous, but it really isn't.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Frugal Accomplishments These Past Two Weeks

I have to apologize- it's been a little hectic the last little bit here, so much so that I haven't really had a chance to write down the list of all the frugal things we did over the last two weeks other than a few things here and there, and it's even been crazy today so I didn't end up writing this post yet, and now before bed I'm jotting down what I remember about the frugal things that went on here over the last two weeks...

So, here's what we did in our home to try to save money these last two weeks:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Egg Free Paleo Fudgy Brownies Recipe- Grain Free, Egg Free, Vegan Option

 photo IMG_0022_zpsidsvtfcu.jpgI had such high hopes for this post, you have no idea. I had seen a recipe for sweet potato based grain free brownies on Facebook a bunch of times, and then I decided to play around and make something like that, only with my almond pulp left from making almond milk instead of almond meal. So I played around with it, until I got a batter that I thought tasted and looked reasonable, and then baked it.

And then the first problem came. My oven wasn't working properly or something, because the top of the brownies were burnt. As you can tell from the picture.

But then I tasted it, and it still tasted great! It was a more moist brownie, since I used no grains and didn't use any egg replacer- it was very fudgy- kind of like a cross between a thick pudding and a brownie. So the texture wasn't what I was expecting, and it didn't look right because it got burnt on the top, but at least it tastes good, right?

And then I gave some to Mike as a taste tester, asked him what he thought of it. He said it was ok. Then I asked him if it was good enough to put on my blog. He said "I dunno, I will eat anything, but I don't know if your blog readers will enjoy it."


But my kids loooved it and are trying to devour the whole thing while I'm writing this post (I'm writing this on a backdrop of the noise of my kids scrambling to eat it up), so it can't be that bad, right?

I decided to post this recipe anyhow, but with a disclaimer.

My husband, I think, just is weirded out by the flavor combination of sweet potatoes and chocolate- I remember when I made sweet potato based chocolate pudding I got the same type of reaction from him, so....

I will be making this again when I have more almond pulp. And if Mike doesn't want to eat it?
Well then- more for us!

Egg Free Paleo Fudgy Brownies Recipe- Grain Free, Egg Free, Vegan Option

Important Steps to Minimize Your Tax Bill

This is a post by Nancy Evans.

A big part of every individual’s personal finance budget is taxes. Poor planning can lead to higher than expected tax payments. These unplanned payments can put a huge strain on your cash flow. To avoid this problem, consider taking these steps to minimize your taxes.

Avoid overpaying and waiting for a refund
As this article points out, overpaying your taxes and waiting for a refund is a poor decision. In essence, your overpayment is a loan to the federal government. You also don’t earn interest on the dollars that you’ve overpaid. The IRS has stated that, due to understaffing, it will take longer for taxpayers to receive their 2014 refunds than in past years. Claiming a refund and waiting for your payment can tie up a great deal of cash.

To avoid this problem, closely estimate your tax liability for the year. If you work for someone else, make sure your Form W-4 includes the proper withholdings amounts to cover your tax liability without generating a large refund.

If you're not comfortable with tax issues, consider working with a tax accountant.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Homeschooling- Because Life Doesn't Have To Be Miserable

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Image Credit
David Castillo Dominici- FreeDigitalPhotos.net
My friend Kelly Sangree (author of the terrific book Hard Core Poor) is a fellow homeschooler, and wrote an article on homeschooling her kids. (One of them, anyhow. The other goes to Catholic school.)  As always happens in such homeschooling related media, a firestorm broke out in the comments section. Of course, I had what to say, and after I posted this whole long spiel there, I decided that it was something I didn't want to just leave in the talkback section of an article, but wanted to share with my readers specifically.

And it has to do with one of the main arguments I get as a homeschooler, an unschooler specifically, especially once people hear that one of the biggest things that draws me to homeschooling is that I feel it is the safest environment for me to raise my children in, from an emotional perspective. They aren't thrust in social situations above their emotional and mental capabilities and left to fend for themselves, taking their cues from the pool of kids just as immature as they are, about how to relate to others, especially when it comes to bullying, whether from classmates, schoolmates, or even how to deal with teachers that may do things that are bordering on bullying if not outright bullying. (And in case you think teachers don't bully... my husband has stories that would make your hair curl, about bullying both from teachers and principals, from as young as first grade.)

When kids are constantly stressed out by an environment that doesn't feel safe to them, an environment in which they are continuously on guard because they are afraid of getting attacked, either physically, verbally, or emotionally, they can't be receptive to learning as much as they could in a safe environment in which they can relax and open their mind to the multitude of information in the world around them.

Visiting Houston on a Budget

This is a guest post by Laura Adkins, a Hipmunk writer who lives in Birmingham, Alabama. She composes travel and money-saving tips for people all over the United States.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S., but it feels more like an eclectic collection of small cities. The city has 2.2 million people in a greater metropolitan area twice the size of New York, but its relaxed, welcoming atmosphere is that of a much smaller town. There's something for every traveler, including beautiful parks, eclectic galleries, delicious restaurants, and enjoyable hotels in Houston. The city's low cost of living makes it a perfect place for travelers on a budget. Here's how to enjoy the city without spending a fortune.

Head to Hotel Indigo at the Galleria for a great deal on a room near the biggest mall in Texas. There's also a business center with computers and printers, a 24-hour fitness center, and a pool. Each room comes with Wi-Fi, a coffee maker, and a mini-fridge. You can explore hundreds of stores, and there's an ice skating rink in winter. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes.

Photo by Ryan Coleman via Trover.com

Monday, April 6, 2015

Paleo Mocha Cookies Recipe- Egg Free, Dairy Free, Grain Free, Gluten Free, Vegan Option

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Rose couldn't keep her hands off these cookies!
I've been doing a lot of kitchen experimentation lately, trying to come up with some good grain free dessert recipes, trying to keep them as low cost as possible. Added clincher? I was trying to make these refined sugar free, and didn't have access to my usual coconut sugar which I find works really well in desserts- but I did have honey. I don't have much experience making desserts with honey, and I find the liquid sweetener makes recipes much more likely to flop.
And yes, I did flop some recipes recently. I tried making cookies with homemade quinoa flour on Friday, and they tasted pretty icky in my opinion. (Fortunately a friend enjoyed them, so I passed them on happily.) But my grain free banana bread was a success!

Since I was all out of desserts once my banana bread was finished, I decided to attempt making some grain free cookies today, sweetened with honey. Since nuts are expensive (as a commenter in my banana bread post rightly wrote), I tried to use as little nuts as possible in this, stretching the nuts with potato starch and coconut, which end up being cheaper per pound. After my last attempt at cookies flopped I was super antsy while they were in the oven, but fortunately these came out decently. They're not super sweet, but I've gotten used to less sweet things- its also healthier and also works out cheaper since sweeteners are often the most expensive part of these recipes.

Paleo Mocha Cookies Recipe- Egg Free, Dairy Free, Grain Free, Gluten Free

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Vegan Grain Free Banana Bread Recipe- Paleo, Sugar Free

 photo IMG_0001_zpsjfdtq6r4.jpg

I was experimenting in the kitchen yesterday, trying to put together some recipes, taking into account various dietary needs of different people I was feeding, and I ended up with these requirements: no eggs or dairy, no grains, gluten or otherwise, and no sugar, and seeing a case of bananas that I bought, I was being hopeful that maybe I'd be able to make something banana based. First I thought banana fritters, but then decided I would rather try to make a bread that hopefully, hopefully would work out well.
I am so excited to say that my experiment was a success, that my banana bread tasted good, and the texture was decent. It's more moist than most banana breads, and its more bready than cakey, but it did the job. I plan on making another batch tomorrow, and then try toasting it. I can picture this being spread with butter, jam, or honey, or maybe even cream cheese, for people that can eat dairy.
I made mine with ground walnuts, but I'm sure it would work with ground nuts of any kind, or even ground sunflower seeds for a nut free version.
To keep this Paleo approved, use tapioca starch instead of potato starch. I'm sure corn starch would also work with this, if you eat corn.

Vegan Grain Free Banana Bread Recipe- Paleo, Sugar Free

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Natural, Homemade House Cleaners- Or What Penny Actually Uses in Her Household For Cleaning

Citrus vinegar cleaner
Last week I wrote a post that was very popular, about what actually is used in my household for health and hygiene products, not just what I blog about using ideally, and this post is part two. What we really use to get our house cleaned.
Mostly eco-friendly cleaning products.
But not only.
Because things... (and husbands, lol), sometimes get in the way.

Ok, so, here's what actually, truly goes on in my house. Here's how we actually clean the house, and what we use to clean it...
Starting in the kitchen.

How to Stay both Budget and Family-Friendly When Visiting Washington D.C.

I must admit this guest post, while in some ways makes me very happy and nostalgic, it also makes me sad. You see, growing up my family went on lots of great trips, like to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Hoover Dam one trip, the Kentucky Derby and Mammoth Caves another, and another trip in the area of Virginia and DC among others. We had a really great time on all those trips, and I would love nothing better than to be able to take my kids to the places like Washington DC where I have such great memories (as well as side splitting hilarious stories), but not living in the US, I can't take my kids on these trips...
So just reading about all free and low cost things in DC that I never even saw when I was there with my family when I was a teenager, makes me a little sad and wistful about what I missed out on.

Photo by Eric Loit via Trover.com
As a penniless parent myself, I know how hard it is to find a balance between budget and family friendly when planning a vacation. If your next vacation is taking you to the nation’s capital, then I have some suggestions to keep you on track. For a city that is one of the most expensive in the country to live in, Washington D.C. offers some surprisingly frugal tourist attractions. If you put one or two of these on your vacation to-do list and then add a cheap hotel in Washington, DC into the mix, you will be golden for this trip.