Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Cheapo Easy Cheesy Rice (or Easy Mac and Cheese) Recipe- Gluten Free

Sometimes the recipes I share here on this blog are fancy and cookbook worthy. They're delicious and frugal and look amazing...
And sometimes there are recipes like this.
Far from gourmet, it's something I've started making recently when the kids are hungry and I don't have energy to think up something fancy or time consuming to make them, but need to feed them something beyond rice cakes and peanut butter. Luckily, despite being super simple to make and not much to look at, not to mention pretty cheap, my kids love this meal and think it's delicious. (Though it just looks like white rice, it actually is cheesy and gooey, though not so visible from this picture.)
I use white rice for this when I want something as cheap and as quick as possible, but you can also replace the rice with a package of cooked pasta, gluten free or not, for a super easy mac and cheese. Or you can use brown rice, quinoa, or whatever else you prefer.

The cheese I use for this is a soft white spreadable cheese sold locally, known as quark cheese. However, you can use whatever soft white cheese you want, though the taste will vary somewhat but still be tasty. I've made it also with yogurt cheese and sour cream in the past.

How much does this cost?
Well, it's hard to give an exact estimate, but the breakdown is as follows:
Rice locally is about $1.40 for a kilogram package (2.2 lbs), but I often buy it on sale for 86 cents for that size package. This recipe uses less than half a kilo (40% of a kilogram) making the rice for this recipe cost me between 35 and 45 cents.
The white cheese... well, I try to only buy it on sale, when it is $1.40 for a half kilogram (~1 lb) container, and this recipe uses half that container, so 70 cents. Not on sale, that container would cost $2.57, so it would cost $1.28 not on sale.

I buy my grated cheese from the cheese counter at the grocery store, and the cheapest cheese is $3.75 per pound, which worked out to be $2 for a non packed container of grated cheese. I used less than half of that container for this recipe, so lets say more or less $1 for that.

The quarter cup oil, honestly, is so cheap since I buy my oil on sale for $1.29 per pound (it works out to maybe a penny or two for this recipe), and same with the garlic powder and salt, so I'm leaving them out of the total cost.

Therefore, if I buy everything on sale, this recipe costs me no more than $2.05, and not on sale it costs $2.70.

For a recipe that is super easy to make and the kids love, and is enough to feed all the kids with leftovers, and has carbs and protein, and just needs sliced raw veggies to round out the meal, that really is an amazing price. And it isn't too unhealthy either.

Cheapo Easy Cheesy Rice (or Easy Mac and Cheese) Recipe- Gluten Free

Monday, August 29, 2016

My New (To Me) Computer Desk

You can imagine, that, as a writer, I am at the computer a lot. However, since we moved to our current apartment, I have not had a computer desk. I've been using a dresser as my work station, which, to be quite frank, was not comfortable for me, as I couldn't pull my chair up under it, and it was too high for my hands, making typing at the computer annoying.

In this picture from my post about our super frugal home makeover, you can sort of see that dresser in the corner, near the door.

 photo IMG_0336_zpsviml5aly.jpg

Even more so annoying was when two important keys on my laptop keyboard broke off (the E and the Space bar) I had to start using a separate keyboard, which was even harder to use on my makeshift computer desk, and my hands hurt when I typed a lot.

I wanted a computer desk, and had told Mike that when we move to our new place (hopefully in December) I really want a computer desk in my office. I had seen a computer desk being sold at a moving sale recently, but that would have involved spending money, and it wasn't exactly what I wanted (it didn't have a pull out for a keyboard), and on top of that, I had no idea where I'd even put the computer desk, as the dresser we had was packed, and in our small house I didn't know where else we could put that dresser (and I had no intention to toss it, since I plan on using it in our bedroom in the new place as part of my wardrobe).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Purslane Cantaloupe Salad Recipe- Paleo, Gluten Free, Sugar Free, Vegan

When there are foods that are supposed to be pretty sweet, but for whatever reason aren't, whether it is cantaloupe, peaches, plums, or butternut squash, you might be at a loss for what to do with it, and maybe even have considered chucking it. If I open a fruit (or vegetable) and discover that, instead of tossing it, I turn it into a savory dish, where sweetness isn't required, and if there is a mild sweetness, instead of seeming "not sweet enough", it adds a pleasant mild sweetness. 
I bought a bunch of cheap melon the other day, but my daughter, Anneliese refused to eat it (though the rest of my kids will). Even though they'll eat it, I'll admit that it isn't my favorite thing to eat plain, as it is only mildly sweet instead of super sweet, as I like my melon. Trying to come up with a menu for supper, my 7 year old, Ike, looked through the fridge (these kids have the most creative minds and think of ideas that I never would have considered, but end up being amazing) and suggested a cantaloupe and purslane salad.
Why not? 
I used a vinaigrette for this and it came out terrific. While I used a not so sweet cantaloupe, feel free to use a regular sweet one, or any other fruit, sweet or mild, for this recipe.
Another thing I once made with non sweet cantaloupe was a chilled cantaloupe soup, which also was wonderful and refreshing.

Purslane Cantaloupe Salad Recipe- Paleo, Gluten Free, Sugar Free, Vegan

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What To Do With So Much Food

I came home from my shop yesterday, shopping cart loaded with groceries. I walked in the door, and realized I couldn't walk any further. The entrance to my home was filled with food, piled high. If I squeezed through, I could fit myself past, but certainly not the large amount of groceries I'd just bought.
Mike showed up, and tells me he's reorganizing and rebuilding our pantry, so it is more user friendly and has more available room to put it, so in the meantime, all the food that had been in our pantry was spread out throughout the entire upstairs of our house, which is what was stopping me from being able to come inside. (Don't worry, just as soon as he finished building, he put it all back.)

I cleared off the table so I can put all my groceries on display, and then slowly my husband and I managed to transport the groceries through the very confined space.
The table was packed and photographed, and then I tried to put it all away.
Didn't work.
The fridge was too full.
Or was it?

No, it just was disorganized.

I went through the fridge, shelf by shelf, removing things that have spoiled due to neglect, combining like with like, and tossing bulky mostly empty plastic containers that used to be filled with fruit.

Eventually, there was room in the fridge.

Bit by bit, I filled the fridge with the food from the table. And then I reached an impasse. Because despite having sorted and organized and emptied out the fridge from extraneous things... there wasn't room for that last box of fruit to go in the fridge.

Too much food and not enough space to keep it all.
Blessed first world problems.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"So, Do You Have A Cat?" and Other Tales from the Market

oday I went to the city to go buy some produce at the market. The last time I went shopping, 8 days ago, I spent $28.57 on produce; this morning, nearly all our fruit (other than 2 pears, and the frozen bananas which I wasn't in a rush to finish) was gone, and our veggies could do with replenishing, but that wasn't urgent. I had advertised that I was teaching a super frugal shopping class at the market, so I had to go there anyhow. Because I am trying to keep our monthly total for our groceries down, because I'm "repaying" what we spent on vacation after the fact, and our monthly total so far was higher than I'd like it to be at this point, I set out to only spend $14.28 on this produce shopping trip.

Let me just say that I was not successful.
But I still spent less on the shopping than I made from the frugal shopping class that I taught simultaneously, so that in and of itself is a minor win. And it was still a very inexpensive shop. In fact, I would say this shop was even more impressive than last week's.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Million Dollar Makeover Without Spending a Million Dollars

My first outfit I bought post makeover, that makes
me feel beautiful- and I used to think I looked
terrible in green!
I grew up in a home, that, to be honest, was not very fashion conscious. It was something that bothered me; I realized that I was wearing nerdy, out of date clothing, and wanted desperately to fit in. But I had no idea what I even needed to wear to be fashionable. It was a struggle, to be honest. I did my best to wear stylish clothing by knowing what the "in" brands were, and scouring racks at the thrift store for clothing made by those name brands. Slowly but surely, I managed to wear clothing that looked half decent and didn't make me a laughingstock. I can't say it was remotely near perfect, but vastly improved.

And then I moved to a new country where people tend to be smaller than I am, where plus sized clothes are very difficult to find, where I'd routinely walk into clothing stores and the largest size they carried was smaller than I was. At the same time, I had babies and gained weight and my body shape changed.

It was so hard for me to find clothing, that what ended up happening was that if I found clothing that fit me, I bought it. If it was free, even better. I had a closet bursting with clothing, most from clothing swaps and second hand stores, but some from cheap clothing stores. You know the phrase "water, water, everywhere, nor any a drop to drink"? Well, it was like that with me and my clothing. So many clothes and yet nothing I put on made me feel good about myself- I had nothing to wear!

One day, after trying in vain to find something, anything to wear in which I looked decent, I looked at myself in the mirror and felt like crying. I looked terrible. I felt like a lump of drooping, blobby, yucky mess, and my clothes, despite being nice clothes, in theory, weren't helping me feel any better about myself. I knew something needed to change, but I wasn't sure what.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My Latest Super Frugal Grocery Shopping Trips!

This morning I went into the city to teach a private foraging class- very short on produce. I think I literally had no fruit in the house other than frozen bananas and cherries, and the only fresh veggies half a butternut squash, a few carrots, and a few beets.
I needed some produce pronto!

While teaching about wild edibles I foraged a bundle of Asiatic dayflower and purslane but needed much more produce than that.

So, of course, that meant a visit to the market, because that's where I can buy so many reduced rack type produce (and often even high quality produce) for rock bottom prices.

Because I didn't have the kids with me, I was able to do my rounds and check out all the best prices before buying anything so that allowed me to keep down the cost of my shop.

I set myself a goal to only spend 28 dollars on my produce and guess what? I did! I came in exactly 3 cents under my goal!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Foraged Grape Leaf Chimichurri Recipe- Paleo, Vegan, With Alternative Options

As a forager in my area, what you typically have to work with is lots and lots and lots of greens. Sure, there are some fruit and nuts and mushrooms you can forage, but the vast majority of forageables in my area are greens. To be honest, as someone who likes variety in my diet, sometimes I get bored of those greens and wonder if, perhaps, there are other things I can do with those greens other than just eating them in a salad or sauteing them.
For inspiration when it comes to greens, I find it best to look abroad, as every country in the world, I assume, has traditional recipes made with greens that are local to them, each with their own methods of making them, with different flavors and styles of preparing them. Take these traditional recipes and replace the greens with what you forage locally and voila- you're left with a new and creative and different way to eat those "boring greens". Of course, food purists would be all over me and say "That's not [whatever name you gave your dish]! Real [whatever name you gave your dish] has [standard ingredient] in it and yours does not!" But I don't really care. If it has a similar flavor profile to the original, and most of the ingredients are the same, I am happy to call it that, even if the purists give me grief.

Take this chimichurri recipe. If you've never heard of chimichurri before, and you just read the ingredient list, you might think that it sounds like pesto, and I'd say you're correct. Chimichurri is similar to pesto in that it is a condiment made from pureed/blended greens, garlic, and oil, but while pesto is Italian in origin, chimichurri is Argentinian. A big difference between pesto and chimichurri is that pesto typically is made with pine nuts (or another nut replacement), and cheese (or a cheese substitute), while chimichurri is made with  decent amount of vinegar or lemon juice. The predominant taste, other than the greens, in chimichurri, is sour, while pesto is more garlicky than sour. Another thing that chimichurri always has is oregano. The base of it is oil, vinegar, and parsley, but the additional flavorings are oregano, pepper, garlic, and salt. Replace the parsley with whatever local green you want to use and you won't get exactly the same flavor, but similar enough that I feel it can certainly be called chimichurri.

Chimichurri is traditionally used as a sauce for grilled meat or chicken, but I find it works well on fish and vegetables and as a replacement for other sauces on sandwiches, grains, etc. When I make a batch of chimichurri, I pretty much put it on everything I make, until it gets used up. It's that tasty.

While I make my chimichurri with grape leaves that I forage, feel free to replace the grape leaves with any not too bitter green you have locally. However, bear in mind that grape leaves have an acidity of their own, so if you use a non sour leaf (lets say mallow, for example), add some lemon juice to your chimichurri, in addition to the vinegar, until the flavor is just right. I've seen chimichurri recipes using chickweed, mustard greens, wood sorrel, nettles, kale, swiss chard, arugula, mint, basil, carrot greens, etc. while I haven't seen any recipes specifically with it, I can't see why this can't also be made with mallow, lambsquarters, milk thistle, amaranth, romaine lettuce, sow thistle, or celery greens. It is so versatile. Start off with this recipe, but use a little less of the salt and vinegar than it calls for, and replace the grape leaves with your other greens. Then add more vinegar and lemon juice and salt to taste as needed, and you're good.

Really, you can't go wrong with this one.

Foraged Grape Leaf Chimichurri Recipe- Paleo, Vegan

Thursday, August 11, 2016

All About Versatile Yuca Dough and Using it to Make Grain Free Vegan Goodies

Baked yuca dough wild greens gnocchi, absolutely delicious, grain free, and vegan!

First off, I need to write that there are two plants, one named yuca and one named yucca and people often misspell them. Yucca with two c's is also known as Spanish dagger, and grows wild in many places and is ornamental in others, is in the asparagus family, and can be foraged to use as food. This yuca, with one c, is also known as cassava, manioc, and tapioca, and surprisingly to me, is in the spurge family, the family with many, many poisonous plants...

Yuca roots, where I live, are not cheap at all, at approximately $3.89 a pound, but in many areas of the US, as well as other parts of the world, yuca can be bought very cheaply, for as little as 50 cents a pound in many parts of the US.
I first heard about the uses of yuca root when I was researching how to make your own tapioca starch, and then I heard about cassava flour (unavailable to buy here, or even to ship here) which works wonderfully in gluten free/grain free products. Then I heard more and more about yuca dough, and how it has so many uses. Many typically gluten items, such as baked goods, can generally be made gluten free with a bit of finessing, but making them grain free is harder. However, gluten free, grain free items are possible when using coconut flour, eggs, and/or nut flour, but if you can't use coconut flour or eggs (both bother my stomach) and try to use no or fewer nuts (it can get expensive) it's quite hard to come up with ideas on how to make things.
Enter yuca dough.
Without any grains, gluten or not, without any eggs, and without any nuts or coconut flour, you can make all sorts of items generally made from grains, from pizza crust to ravioli to gnocchi to empanadas, just by using a dough made from yuca.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Moving From a Teeny Tiny House To a Small House

There aren't many friends that I've written about on my blog by name, but my friend Cara is one of them. I wrote about her and her husband's Xtracycle, about visiting them in their teeny tiny home, and shared a guest post that she wrote about how they made living in a teeny tiny home work for them. 
When you become well known for something rare and considered extreme by many, and then your lifestyle changes, it makes people curious about why your lifestyle changed, and how you're adjusting to it. In that spirit, here's a guest post Cara wrote about why and how they moved to a larger home. Their home, now, is even bigger than my home!
Just a note- Cara wrote this a little while ago, but took some time to get it to me, as she had a healthy beautiful baby girl in March, who has been keeping her busy.

Tiny House Living: An Update

When I last wrote of how we made tiny house living work, we had a very different living situation. My husband worked in the city and it made sense to stay where he could bike to work for free rather than have to spend money on a cab or bus. As I mentioned in that other post, I needed to be in the city for medical reasons that thankfully are no longer relevant. And, because my husband's job promoted him and gave him a raise, which included free use of a car, we were no longer bound to bus schedules or ability to bike.

So we moved out of the city.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Some Amazing Deals and Steals I Got

Now that our vacationing is over and we have more or less a normal month ahead of us, it's time to get cracking and see if we can have a month of good eating that costs as little as possible. I haven't been following our menu plan perfectly but have been using it for inspiration for meal ideas when I'm at a loss for what to make for my family for meals...
But I have to work on our menu plan because a lot of the quick meals were based on store bought gluten free breads which I was buying cheaply, and for various reasons I can't be relying on them anymore. So now I need to come up with alternative meal ideas using something other than that- maybe homemade bread if I fill the freezer with enough rolls. I have to still figure that out.

Yesterday I went to the market and found some really great deals which hopefully will allow our family to eat well without spending a lot.

8 Frugal Tips for Car Owners

Image source Dr Joseph Valks
This is a post by Nancy Evans. I don't have a car and have no plans on buying one any time soon, but since I know many of you do, hopefully these tips will help you save money with your car. Thank you Nancy- I know I learned some new things through this post!

The cost of being a car owner these days is enough to make anyone want to scream. From the time you take the car off the lot until it has “run its course,” car ownership could easily cost you thousands of dollars each year. However, because having your own means of transportation is a lot more convenient that having to rely on someone else or find public transportation, we opt to incur the costs. Rather than break the bank by being a car owner, try these frugal tips and watch the savings add up.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

All About Our Tenth Anniversary Vacation

Wow... now that I'm back from our vacation and have had time to think and get our kids reacclimated to real life, I figure it's time to get off my back and get to work writing and calculating and putting an effort into posting and doing other things to make money. So, as I'd said I'd do, here is a write up about our 10th anniversary vacation, the first vacation my husband and I ever had without any of the kids (we never had a honeymoon either, unless you count a family camping trip with my mom and younger siblings 3 weeks after our wedding). And oh boy, it was a good one.

I wrote before how I've been feeling overwhelmed and stressed out and in great need of a vacation, to recharge my batteries and connect with my husband without the kids around, and how I've felt the adventure missing in my life and wanted to include more of that?
Well, this vacation was exactly that.

Upon returning home, I can honestly say that it was exactly what I needed. I feel a big sense of satisfaction, like my lust for adventure was filled (for now, anyhow), and that I have more energy, emotionally and physically, to deal with what life throws our way, and to handle the kids. What, in the past, would make me lose my cool, at the moment is not. I find myself much more level headed and in a much better mood because I took care of my emotional needs and therefore now have what to give to others. This trip with my husband was pretty physically active, days pretty full, and yet I can home feeling much more rested than I did from our week long trip 3 weeks ago with the kids to a resort town where, other than a long hike one day, the rest was pretty much chilling out and doing relaxing things. That trip I felt I needed a vacation from our vacation, whereas this one despite our high activity level, I came home feeling refreshed and invigorated.

I'm not sure the best way to structure this post, but I guess first by writing the entire cost, then share what we did each day, and then give the breakdown of the expenses.

So total cost of our trip, including everything from accommodations to food to activities to transportation was $718.70, and if I include the parasailing I did on our previous trip instead of this trip, that's another $50, so a total of $768.70.

So no, I definitely can't say this was the cheapest vacation ever, but it was well worth it, and we did it as frugal as we could while still enjoying ourselves, and I think we made the most of our money.

So, what did we do on our trip?

Before we went on our trip, the first thing I did was look into accommodations. I didn't want to get stuck on one location and then find that accommodations there would cost so much that we wouldn't be able to afford to spend on anything else for our trip. I checked out AirBnB, as I;d heard you can find cheap places to stay there, and was pleasantly surprised that I could find places that looked much nicer than hotel rooms for a fraction of the cost and with many more amenities. Just for example, all the places we looked at were entire apartments with large bedrooms, kitchenettes, and one had a living room/dining room area as well. In comparison, The cheapest hotels I've ever seen in this country are $120 a night for just a small bedroom and bathroom and nothing else, and in the place we wanted to go to, city C, the cheapest hotel there was over $200 per night. I only found one AirBnB place there and it was $82 per night. Since city C was the area we wanted to go to most, because it was where I planned on scuba diving, we reserved 2 nights at the one AirBnB in that place.
Then we decided to book two more nights in city H, not so far from city C, for quite a few reasons. Since a big part of my desire for this trip was to do some touring and sightseeing, I wanted to get as much done as possible and see as many things as possible. Staying in city C would mean limiting options of what to do, as there aren't so many touristy things available there. Then there was the cost difference. In city H there were many AirBnB options, including some for only $39.50 per night. So I booked two nights there as well.

Post-Baby Hacks to Take Advantage Of

Though I'm not expecting a new baby any time in the near future, I know many of my readers probably are, so hopefully you'll enjoy this post by another reader.

Whether you’re a new mom or a seasoned pro, the time after you give birth is an intense and emotional time. Your body is regulating itself back to the homeostasis it was at nine months ago. You have this new person to love, teach, and care for, while still balancing other external factors of your life – work, other children, personal relationships. It is a tough time that can weigh heavy on your heart and well-being. This time is for you and the maintenance of yourself, so that you can be the best mom you can be to your new love.

During the first few weeks of post-pregnancy life, there are a few parental hacks for newborns that can help your body and mind get back in synch with one another: