Smooth and creamy maple-sweetened kefir

Ruth (2) drinking some kefir

How to make kefir: Video tutorial

All about kefir

How to make your own kefir

We have been busy making and enjoying lots of kefir at our house! :)  I first started making dairy kefir about 4 years ago. The boys were younger (ages 3 and 1) and I ended up consuming most of the kefir I was making myself. Before Ruth was born, I decided to take a break from making kefir. After moving from Ohio to Seattle 2 years ago, I kept intending to get more kefir grains. I finally did so this summer, and we have had a grand time making and drinking our kefir!

I bought my kefir grains from Brandy, a long-time reader here. I have been really super impressed with the quality of her kefir grains! From the very start, they have produced thick, creamy, YUMMY kefir! This kefir is better than any I have had before (though the grains do look like my previous ones). (NOTE: Sadly, Brandy is no longer selling kefir grains. I now recommend Cultures for Health as a source for purchasing real kefir grains!)

Ruth (2) had been asking for a glass of milk for snacks or at meals, and would love to drink several cups of milk each day. I didn't want her to drink that much plain milk, but I'm much more comfortable with her drinking a generous glass of kefir instead. Milk is an affordable food (usually $2/gallon at Costco), and with my own kefir grains I can serve fresh kefir for about $0.12 cents a cup!

kefir grains
Kefir grains, ready for fresh milk

The children all love kefir. For an extra-delicious treat, I stir in some maple syrup. The resulting kefir tastes similar to Trader Joe's Maple Cream Line yogurt (which costs about $3.70 for 32 ounces).

Milk kefir is easy to make, taking just a couple minutes' time, and no special warming, stirring, etc. When I ordered my kefir grains, Brandy sent about enough to make a cup of kefir each day. The grains have quickly multiplied and I'm now making 2-quart batches! :)

kefir grains

We use our kefir for smoothies or drinking (instead of milk). I sometimes blend a banana with some kefir for a morning drink, and the kids like kefir with strawberry jam stirred into it. :) Brandy suggests making a "smoothie base" where you blend some fruit and store in the fridge to mix with kefir for a quick smoothie throughout the week. Really, fruit-flavored kefir tastes like a drinkable yogurt, and my kids love getting to use straws (we buy straws at Costco for about a penny each). :)

So anyway, aside from this being a simple "I love kefir!" kind of post, this is one of the ways I've been combining frugality, health, and simplicity in the kitchen. Having affordable but nutritious snacks and breakfasts is crucial for a modest food budget (something I'm constantly striving for but still don't feel I've accomplished!), and homemade kefir has been a step in that direction. :)

How to make kefir: Video tutorial

All about kefir

How to make your own kefir

I get many requests for kefir grains, and had been directing you to a friend who sold live milk kefir grains. Unfortunately, she is no longer selling kefir grains. I decided to try to find another reputable source for kefir grains (NOT "starter") and just signed up as an affiliate with Cultures for Health.

Cultures for Health sells dried milk kefir grains, which they culture and dehydrate themselves. The grains are shipped in organic milk powder and will rehydrate within 5-7 days and then will continue to grow and make kefir.

While I think the ideal source of kefir grains is live, fresh grains (preferably given as a gift from a friend!), Cultures for Health is a good company and I feel confident directing you to them. I wish kefir grains weren't so expensive to get started -- but remember, once you have them they will grow, and you can bless your friends and family by giving away your extras. :)

Cultures for Health


More frugal tips from Jessica's blog! :)

Celebrating with homemade Sparkling Juice

When we've got something to celebrate, we like to do it with some sparkle. We like wine on occasion, but with 4 young children, we like to include them in the celebration!

In the past, we have gotten sparkling grape juice on sale, and were even given a bottle of sparkling grape juice and a bottle of sparkling cider after the birth of little Moshe! I loved that extra thoughtfulness and fun on such a happy occasion. :)

Joshua decided to make a homemade version of sparkling grape juice and cider, and his version is excellent! I think it tastes just like the bottles of sparkling juice that are sold for at least $2-3 for 750ml (about 25 ounces), only ours is a lot cheaper.

And, a huge plus is that it can be made with 100% juice, for a truly all-natural beverage without extra sugar!

The players? Club Soda (carbonated water) and juice concentrate!

Price breakdown of the homemade sparkling juice:

Club soda: $0.75 for 2 liters (or less, if on sale; you will have some left over)

Frozen juice concentrate: ~$1.25 (depending on the kind and sales)

60 ounces of homemade sparkling juice: $2

60 ounces of commercial sparkling juice: $5-7

Savings: $3-5 for a few minutes of work! :)

You can use any juice concentrate you wish. I like the clear juices best, like grape or apple, rather than orange -- although we've served sparkling orange juice to guests and the children all devoured it! Of course, the quality of juice you use will make a difference, so don't use a can that's been freezer burned or isn't otherwise delicious! ;)

Check out the recipe for measurements and more info on making sparkling grape juice! Your family will love it if you make this for them!! :)

For more frugal tips, visit Jessica's blog! :)

A slow-cooker full of pinto beans

I love, love, LOVE pinto beans!

I didn't know this until I tried some freshly cooked pinto beans made by my friend Candy's Mexican mom a couple years ago. I begged her mom to tell me HOW she made such delicious beans!

Beans, salt, and a little cilantro, she said. I bought beans at Costco the next week and have been in love ever since! Just look at these pictures and tell me you don't want some hot fresh beans in a bowl right now! ;)

Cooked pinto beans with toppings

I like to serve cooked pinto beans like a loaded baked potato. Cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, cilantro, fresh salsa, avocado -- load 'em up with whatever's in your fridge and suits your palate! :)

Crock pot with cooked pinto beans

Last year, Joshua's mom gave me this Hamilton Beach 6-quart slow cooker. It's perfect for taking to potlucks (which we do regularly) and beans & rice is one of my favorite meals to put in it!

I've also found that cooking dried pinto beans in the crock pot makes them super tender (maybe from the gentle cooking rather than harsh boiling?) as well as convenient!

My method for slow-cooked pintos:

Use about 1 cup of dried beans per quart of capacity in your slow cooker.

Soak beans overnight. Drain and replace water with fresh, to cover beans. Cook on HIGH for 6-7 hours or on LOW for 8-10 hours.

Or, place dried beans in slow cooker, fill with water, and cook on high for 10 hours.

Season with salt before serving.

Cooked pinto beans with toppings

Posts in my "Frugal Potluck Choices" series:

Our favorite beans & rice

Italian Cheese Bread (with price breakdown)

Using less butter

Soft butter spread on pancakes... one of many great ways to use this soft butter spread!

Here's a quick and easy soft butter spread recipe! Joshua made this for me, because he was tired of our butter always being too cold to spread on bread (we keep our house cold!).

This spread is really simple -- two parts butter, one part oil, and one part (this is where it gets... exciting!) water.

Yes, we're now spreading water on our bread! Now, if that isn't frugal, I don't know what is! ;)

Visit Jessica's blog for more frugal tips! :)

Frugal Swim Diaper

Ruth (2), all done swimming and ready for lunch! :)

We've been going swimming at our apartment's pool this summer, and while we were out there today, I snapped a couple pictures so I could share my frugal "swim diaper" alternative.

Thirsties diaper cover

The disposable swim diapers are so pricey, and really they are useful just for containing any solid-type accidents, since they fill with water as soon as the child jumps in the pool, anyway.

Thirsties diaper cover

A Thirsties diaper cover does the job of a "swim diaper" quite nicely! For Ruth (about 30 pounds) I use a size Large, and it's still got room for her to grow. Since the chemicals in the pool water are hard on fabrics, I use the same cover for swimming every time, so as not to put excess wear on all my diaper covers.

Wrap tightly, secure with the velcro, and then put the child's swim suit on top. It's a perfect and very affordable swim diaper option! I've seen cloth swim diapers for sale online, but they were more expensive and not something I already owned. :) Since I already had the Thirsties cover from (thanks to SwagBucks), I didn't even have to invest anything new. The cover usually costs $11 -- about as much as a pack of swim diapers... but will last much longer! :)

Here's a video clip from today's swimming.

A few minutes after the video was taken, I looked back at Moshe and he was fast asleep. :)

Sleeping Moshe

Head over to Jessica's blog for more frugal tips! :)

Beyond baking soda: 5 easy frugal recipes for household products

Want to get away from commercial products but aren't sure where to turn beyond your box of baking soda? Here are easy recipes for 5 household products! Sometimes baking soda is enough... and sometimes you need something more. These are all recipes I have tried and used extensively -- with my honest opinion of them. :)

My homemade scouring powder

1. Homemade scouring powder. This takes just a minute to mix and works great. I haven't bought commercial scouring powder since trying this homemade version several years ago. If you use scouring powder, this one is worth making (unless you can get it for free somehow!). :)

My homemade laundry soap!!

2. Homemade laundry detergent. You knew this one was coming, right? :) Now, for my confession. Ever since we moved across-country almost 2 years ago, I have just used laundry soap powder in a big bucket from Costco. It's around $14 and my first bucket (which was actually a gift from my in-laws when we moved here!) lasted us 12 months! I use less than the recommended amount and it works great. No storing supplies to make my own. And for $1.20 a month? I do like 20+ loads of laundry every month!!

Ingredients for peppermint toothpaste

3. Homemade toothpaste. This one's fun to make and even tastes pretty good! I'm not still using this homemade toothpaste, since I instead am going by this dentist's advice for dental health -- which includes fluoride. No, I'm not done studying about teeth...

Homemade Dishrags

4. Homemade/upcycled/free dish cloths. Don't laugh! Seriously, these are the best dish cloths. But if you like your fancy store-bought dish cloths, then here are tips on how to deal with stinky dish cloths. :)

Homemade deodorant

5. Homemade deodorant. Really easy, effective, and affordable. Aluminum-free! This stuff is great. Do give your body an adjustment period of a week or even longer if you've been using anti-perspirant for years on end. Body odor is a strange thing some times! Another frugal deodorant alternative is a salt crystal.

Bonus mentions:

Re-purposing cheap shampoo (from when my long, thick hair said "noooooo" to the free stuff!)

Simplifying cleaning around the home! Unfortunately, I think every time we add a child to the family the definition of "clean" changes a little -- for the dirtier! Someday when the kids are older this trend reverses, right??? ;)

Getting motivated to clean! I sure need this most days. :P

My cleaning routines/tips. That post, from several years ago, is funny to read. Life changes a lot in 4 years' time, I guess!

Frugal toilet cleaner: I read somewhere that using a few tablespoons of bleach is just as good as any fancy toilet cleaner. For tears now, I've just used a splash of bleach in the toilet every couple weeks -- and use a brush to clean it. I turn on the bathroom exhaust fan when I do this, to help avoid the fumes. I keep bleach in the house for various reasons so this works for me! :)

Frugal glass and mirror cleaner: Distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. This makes a good kitchen or all-purpose cleaner as well. This is probably my most-used cleaning product -- except for dish soap! :)

My household cleaners:

Scouring powder (bathroom, kitchen)

Vinegar in spray bottle (bathroom, kitchen)

Bleach (toilet, towels occasionally)

Various soaps and cleaning cloths/rags -- for dishes, handwashing, and laundry

Do you have a recipe for a really great worth-making household product? Leave me a link or comment about it! I'm up for trying something new! :)

Tips for Frugal West Coast Living

Walk essentials
Walk essentials: Water bottle, picnic lunch, and diaper bag

On the weekend, I branch out from cooking-related posts and write about my family, answer reader questions, or just blog about what's on my mind! If you have a question or topic you'd like me to tackle, send it my way! :)

Rebecca writes: 

I'm a fan of your blog and have been following it for some time now. My family is soon moving from Kansas to Tacoma, WA and we couldn't be more excited. I have heard a lot though that the area has a much higher cost of living than Kansas. I was wondering if you would have any west coast tips for this Kansas girl.

This site has great charts and statistics for various areas! I especially love looking at weather charts. :)

We've found that housing prices are the biggest difference from living in Ohio. We moved from renting a 2-bedroom house with a garage and yard in Ohio to renting a 2-bedroom apartment north of Seattle and our rent almost doubled!

We've read (and found) that utilities are slightly cheaper here. We live in a 3rd-floor apartment and combined with the milder climate here, our heating costs are a lot less than they were in Ohio. The same goes for cooling -- since we use a fan instead of air conditioning like in Ohio! :)

Our picnic at the park
Our picnic at the park

Food is slightly more expensive here overall BUT there are still great sales and quite a lot of stores to choose from! I like to get my groceries at Costco to keep things as simple and affordable as possible (having 4 young children, only 1 vehicle, and the weekend traffic being NOT fun!), but there are so many stores and farmer's markets and the options are virtually limitless!

I love that the weather here is conducive to getting out a lot more (no freezing cold winters or blazing hot summers), and there are beautiful parks and places to go for FREE! We've only scratched the surface when it comes to parks and trails and beaches!

Kids playing at a park

Gas prices are higher here, but traffic is more of a hindrance to travel than gas prices. ;) Traffic is one of the downsides to this area. Aside from freeway congestion (and most north-south travel requires the use of I-5 or I-405), the stop lights are just plain LONG if you're trying to get anywhere during rush hour. So while everything is so close, it's not like driving the "2 miles to the store" we did in Ohio. We measure distance in minutes. "Two miles" seems a lot further when it's called "15 minutes"... or even more! :)

Car insurance is a lot higher here than it was in Ohio. I think our insurance nearly doubled when we moved! We still just have 1 vehicle, and we don't travel/drive a ton (to work, church, and the grocery store once a week!).

Overall, we really love living in the PNW! Aside from housing prices, I think everything else (utilities, gas, insurance, food) pretty much evens out and we get to enjoy the beautiful cool summers, mountain and Sound views, and woodsy trails! :)

Does anyone else have West coast tips to share??

I appreciated this guest post at Money Saving Mom about frugal living in high cost-of-living areas. And I know Jessica lives in the San Diego area, and blogs about frugal living there. :)

Walk essentials

10 Fabulous Foods We Make at Home (Not Buy!)

I thought it would be fun to do a compilation of our favorite homemade versions of either convenience food or restaurant items. Here are 10 fabulous foods that we make at home!

Homemade mocha frappuccino

#1. Homemade Mocha Frappuccinos! These taste remarkably similar to Starbucks, but for a fraction of the price. We like to add unflavored whey protein to ours when using as a morning pick-me-up. Joshua has drank one of these every day for the past year! (Save money by purchasing your cocoa powder at a bulk foods store.)

#2. Papa Murphy's Specialty Pizzas. I started out by creating what we considered the perfect homemade pizza, which surpasses any take-out pizza we've ever eaten. Now, Papa Murphy's keeps sending us advertisements in the mail, so I got inspired by their ads to create my own homemade versions of their pizzas. YUM!

Papa Murphy's pizzas I've created thus far (another one coming tomorrow!):

Thin-Crust Bacon Artichoke Pizza

Mediterranean Herb Chicken Pizza

Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal

#3. Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packets. This was a fun project, and the kids loved all the flavors we made! I'm picky and prefer old-fashioned rolled oats cooked on the stovetop, fresh that morning, but this is a simple and frugal convenience food. :)

Olive Garden Salad and Dressing

#4. Olive Garden Salad and Dressing. I've served this salad to lots of guests and it gets rave reviews! Salads are generally very affordable to make, and having a good salad recipe can be the inspiration needed to create one at home!

Sweet and Sour Chicken over Rice

#5. Sweet and Sour Chicken. This photo needs updated, but the recipe is excellent. This from-scratch sweet and sour chicken is deliciously similar to the kind we loved at Chinese buffets.

Hot chocolate made from the mix!

#6. Powdered Hot Cocoa Mix. Super easy, super yummy. No more Swiss Miss packets! :)

yellow rice

#7. Homemade Yellow Rice. Did you know that you can make your own yellow rice? It's delicious and that beautiful yellow color is from turmeric -- a healthy spice. :) We LOVE this yellow rice.

Orange julius

#8. Orange Julius! Joshua is the master behind these. :)

Deluxe Chocolate Cake

#9. Deluxe Chocolate Cake Mix. This can be made ahead and stored like a boxed cake mix. It's also the best homemade chocolate cake I've tasted! :)

Condensed cream of chicken soup recipe

#10. Homemade condensed cream of chicken soup. Just as good as canned -- without the MSG! :) I haven't bought canned cream of chicken soup in over 6 years. This homemade recipe is my own version and it's worked great in everything I've tried! :)

Bonus mentions:

Homemade chicken stuffing mix --like the boxed mixes, only using your own bread crumbs and spices.

Homemade vanilla extract --very nice when we didn't have access to Costco's vanilla. Now that we have Costco, I may just buy theirs when we run out. :)

Dairy kefir --healthy and really affordable to make. (Super easy, too!)

Which of these things have you made at home? Are any of them new to you? What am I missing on this list that I really should try in the future?? :)

Summer from-scratch favorite: Whole wheat sandwich buns!

Whole wheat buttermilk sandwich buns
Whole Wheat Buttermilk Sandwich Buns

I absolutely love Joshua's grilled food. Chicken, burgers, or fish -- he makes such healthy YUMMY food and I get out of cooking a main dish, too! :)

When it comes to burgers or other grilled meat sandwiches, Joshua likes buns rather than plain bread. And when it comes to buns, I'm picky. I don't like the $0.99 packages of white buns from the grocery store... I like the $3+ whole wheat buns.

Whole wheat buttermilk sandwich buns

Which is why it makes sense to make my own Whole Wheat Buttermilk Sandwich Buns -- especially when I have a nice bread machine to knead the dough! Hands-on time is really only 15 minutes or so, and that's well worth it for these delicious and healthy homemade sandwich buns!

This recipe is from Donna, and it is SO good! :) I changed it to be 100% whole wheat flour (the instructions and photos are my own, as always). Be sure to check out her original recipe on her blog and see what hers look like, too! :)

Whole wheat buttermilk sandwich buns

What did we use these buns for last week? A delicious grilled salmon sandwich! I just made another batch of these buns this morning, and we'll have grilled chicken sandwiches for dinner. Yummy! Now, maybe Summer will finally warm up here in the Pacific Northwest! :)

Visit Jessica's blog for more frugal fun! :)

Is Costco frugal?

Joshua and I have enjoyed discussing this question which was left in a comment yesterday:

I've been reading your blog for a few years so I know you are a frugal shopper and homemaker. Do you find you get a good price on the items at Costco? We shop there, too and have noticed our grocery bill rising and I'm trying to figure out if it is because of the items that we buy there or elsewhere (usually Walmart). We aren't able to get everything we need at Costco and find some of their things to be more expensive than Walmart.

The short answer to "Is Costco frugal?" would be... it depends! :)

What you purchase, how far you have to drive, how large your family is -- these are a few of the things that determine whether Costco is saving you money or costing you more.

I do feel that we get a good price on the things we buy at Costco. However, not everything there is a good deal, of course.

Here are some of my favorite frugal deals at Costco:

Romaine lettuce, organic carrots, spinach

Bananas, apples (some kinds), pears

Frozen strawberries, blueberries, organic veggies (green beans, peas, and corn)

Butter, plain yogurt, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese

Pinto beans, 50# bags of bread or all-purpose flour

Mission tortilla chips, corn tortillas, Rotisserie chicken (pick out a big one; they're all $4.99!)

Bottled water ($0.09 per bottle, which is a good deal if you use bottled water; we drink Berkey water though), some spices, vanilla extract

Why we do most of our grocery shopping at Costco (at least for now):

We go through a lot of food. Our boys eat a lot, we have dinner guests almost weekly, and we pack lunches or eat at home for all our meals. (Or church potlucks.)

Costco is 3 miles from our house.

This year's Costco membership was a gift from Joshua's parents. (They know I'm crazy about Costco!)

With 4 children ages 6 and under, I don't like to shop at more places than necessary, and weekly sale-shopping involves more than 1 stop. We go to Wal-mart/Target/Fred Meyer type stores about 3-4 times a year, and I've found that those types of places are my weak spot when it comes to spending more on stuff we wouldn't normally buy, including food.

Food also happens to be sort of a hobby for us. Joshua enjoys creating cheesecakes and loves to grill. I love baking bread and trying new things. We both appreciate the quality of the foods we buy at Costco. I realize that I am not "saving" any money when I spend $5 on Costco's organic frozen green beans vs. buying canned green beans from Aldi, or generic frozen green beans on sale. We just enjoy them a lot more. (Maybe that's why we go through so many vegetables!) :)

The dangers of shopping at Costco:

Buying in bulk can mean that, while you're getting a better price on something that would normally be expensive, you don't ration it (since you have such a large quantity) and end up using more of an expensive item.

I've seen this in our household with getting the 1/2-gallon cartons of heavy cream. Great cream, great price -- but instead of having whipped cream as a rare treat, we use it much more freely. It's nice to be able to serve whipped cream generously, especially to guests, but we probably don't actually save money on a luxury like whipped cream.

One remedy is to ration bulk purchases. Know how long the item needs to last. (Write it on the box/container, if necessary!) Freeze what you won't be able to easily use up fresh, to make things last longer. The 5-pound bag of shredded cheese looks like more when it's divided into 3 portions, and two are put in the freezer for next week or the week after.

Costco carries non-food items, which in my book are usually non-essentials. If you let yourself wander into the center section, be careful! I am really good about not buying other "stuff" at Costco and sticking to just food, but it can be tempting.

Carter's kids outfits for $6.49?! That's a good price on quality CUTE clothing but my kids have never had a need that GoodWill or hand-me-downs couldn't meet. I stay away from GoodWill for the most part, too, since if I can't think of true NEEDS to look for there, I am probably wasting my time, money, and filling our house that much fuller.

After years of shopping and eating from Aldi's, moving away from Aldi's and moving on to Costco shopping and eating has made us notice the quality differences. We're not "brand snobs" but we are somewhat "quality snobs" now. This could be hazardous if we ever move away from Costco, but, I imagine we would make the adjustment back.

What do you think? Is Costco (or Sam's Club or BJ's) frugal, or not?

For more frugal ideas, tips, and discussion, visit Jessica's blog! :)

You can also see photos and price break-downs of several Costco shopping trips for our family:

Grocery shopping at Costco (week 1) -- $102

Grocery shopping at Costco (week 3) -- $132

Costco shopping week 4 -- $118

Costco groceries (week 5) -- $88

Week 6 -- Costco -- $150


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