Frugality

Chili Marathon

Along the lines of "taco meat makes good chili, and leftover chili makes good chili cheese burritos", Savannah emailed me her Chili Marathon:

Day 1:  Make Chili using your favorite recipe. Brown beef & seasonings on stove top, then combine remaining ingredients in crock pot and cook on high for 2 hours.  This week I served my chili with the traditional saltines and cheese but instead of using sour cream, I made a salsa with avocado, red onions, parsley, lime juice, salt and pepper. It was DELISH!

Day 2: Boil pasta spirals or large pasta shells, drain and immediately add back to pot with several large scoops of cold chili. If you like spicy food, add a few dashes of hot sauce.  Turn heat up to medium and add lots of shredded cheddar cheese. Once hot, top with diced onions and more cheese.  (You can use any pasta you have on hand but the recommended pasta hold more sauce, thus making each bite hold more delicious chili flavor.) We call this 15-minute masterpiece “Chili Mac”.

Day 3: Reheat left over chili and serve over large baked potatoes with salad on the side.  So Easy!

Day 4: Microwave hot dogs, place on buns and top with chili. So Easier!

All of the above meals are great on their own or served with a side veggies (frozen, canned, or fresh) or a green salad. 

 

We love chili (our favorite is my mom's recipe!) and usually have at least two different meals from it -- served in a bowl with sour cream and cheese, served in flour tortillas, or served over nachos. I also find that chili freezes really well (I use an empty quart-sized yogurt container) and thus makes a great meal to pull out of the freezer on a busy day! :)

Do you ever have chili marathons at your house? :) What's your favorite way to use chili?

You can also read about my tips for making cheaper chili here!

Breakfasts from my childhood: Popcorn cereal!

Popcorn cereal

Last week, I made a quick trip to the store with Ruth in tow. The boys and their daddy were here at home, just hanging out.

When I got back, my largest stainless steel bowl was sitting on the kitchen counter, and it was piled high with popcorn! I guess the boys had asked for some popcorn, so Joshua made them some. And then he made extras since he's nice like that. :) (Oh, the fun of having an air popper!)

Normally I would have grabbed a stick of butter, melted it, drizzled it all over that big bowl of popcorn, and sat down for a gigantic snack. However, that's not really an option when you're counting calories... :P :)

I remembered Popcorn Cereal from my childhood, and decided that was what we would do with all that popcorn!

My boys had never eaten popcorn cereal before, but they loved it! I was surprised that it really was as good as I had remembered. :) (Check out the recipe for step-by-step photos -- as if it were complicated...) ;)

Joshua never had popcorn cereal as a child. Have you ever had it? Did/do you like it?

Applesauce for the week

Applesauce

A big can of applesauce from Costco fills these two bowls to save in the fridge. Apples and water are the ingredients, so I don't mind serving it as a snack or side dish with meals.

But "applesauce for the week"? Actually, we're doing good if this lasts 3-4 meals/snacks! :)

Do you buy anything in these big (10#?) cans? If so, what?

Almond coconut granola for breakfast

After weeks of buying cold cereal (even at cheaper stores or in bulk at Costco) I am convinced that my homemade granola is more affordable. Please don't ask me to do the math... I'm not a math sort of person. :P :)

Anyway, I refused to buy any more cold cereal for the children and me, and the last empty bag prompted me to get busy and make some granola! :) This Almond Coconut Granola is really easy to make, and kept our house warm and smelling nice while it baked! :)

Grocery budgeting... with lots of stores!

Baked Beans
(Baked beans, made cheaper from dried beans rather than canned.)

Grocery budgeting has been on my mind these days, so I thought a poll about it would be interesting. :)

I've written about food budgeting in the past -- a couple years ago, I wrote about how we eat well without breaking the bank. If you've ever looked at my recipes and wondered how we can afford the food we eat, it's really only because everything is bought on sale or in bulk. (And I do mean in bulk! Think twice before allowing me to join your health food co-op or before offering to help us move!!)

But while I consider myself to be generally frugal, due to upbringing and necessity, I've also admitted that I am not a to-the-penny food budgeter like my friend Crystal. :) And, we consume a lot more than $40 worth of food each week.

Before Joshua accepted this new job, we formed a new budget based on the cost-of-living changes we knew we'd be experiencing if we moved to the Seattle area. (When we found out that Joshua was going to be [most likely permanently] laid off from his last job, the decision to move became even more clear to us.)

Our new budget allows $100 a week for food/grocery/household items. I'm still getting a feel for the stores here, but from the sales I've seen and the prices I've looked at, I think we can easily eat well on less than $100/wk for our family (2 adults, 2 boys and a baby girl).

There is a WinCo south of Seattle, but I haven't been there yet. We do have a Costco close by, a Grocery Outlet, and a Trader Joe's, along with all the other usual places (Walgreens, Safeway, Albertson's, QFC, Fred Meyer, Rite-Aid, etc... is there no end to stores and restaurants here??!!).

I'd love to hear recommendations of what you like to get at those different places! Albertson's seemed to have the best sales last week, I thought... and Trader Joe's has the best prices on bananas, oranges, and red peppers for sure! :) Costco and Grocery Outlet are great especially if you want name-brand stuff, but we usually don't. Okay, actually I love Costco and want to buy lots of stuff there but it can get pricey!! ;)

My "new" form of "reel" exercise

My "new" reel mower

I got a "new" piece of exercise equipment last week. Remember my query about reel lawn mowers? Well, it hasn't rained much since then and when the grass finally got tall enough to need mowing, I got a call from someone alerting me to a second-hand reel mower for sale.

We drove 10 miles to look at it, and I probably over-paid, but saving the earth's landfills sometimes means we buy old junk from retired folks, right? ;)

Just kidding. The guy assurred us that there was enough scrap metal in the mower that we couldn't lose money. And I don't think he was exaggerating, because "light" and "easy to push" aren't what come to mind when I mow with this thing.

Especially since our lawn was/is 6 inches tall and full of little sticks. Oh, and the guy said he had never needed to sharpen the blade. You all warned me about tall grass and sticks, but where there's a will there's a way.

During my first mowing attempt, Yehoshua said to me "Mommy! You can take a picture of this for your website." and I laughed! After forty-five minutes spent pushing through 6-inch tall-and-very-thick grassthe last thing I planned to do was blog about it!!

It's too dark in this picture to tell, but tonight I went back over some of what I had initially mowed and it went pretty well! Over short grass, this mower pushes about as hard as our old push mower did through really tall grass, so I think I can handle pushing it.

The "woooosssshhhhh!" of the grass being cut is a really lovely sound, too.

Every time I came past Ruth, she did this:

And I could actually hear her squeal as I mowed!

I'll post an update next summer when I'm having to mow all the time. :)

Composting update: Adding another bin + stirring

One of our compost bins

A few months ago, I shared about our homemade composting bin (a modified garbage can). It's been working great for us! Here's the latest.

We started out by filling one whole garbage can (layering carbon and nitrogen as described in my original post) with the remains of our former compost pile. We then started a new compost bin for this summer.

Recently, with the eating of many many garden-fresh foods and lots and lots of corn on the cob, our second compost bin was completely full!

We have found that as the bins get full, it is difficult to impossible to turn them by rolling the can. And rolling partially-full cans does work, but tends to actually separate the layers of carbon from the nitrogen layers (we were using newspaper and cardboard for carbon, and kitchen scraps for nitrogen).

So, we transferred our full compost bin to a new bin, mixing with the shovel and layering in more carbon. Now we'll let that one sit for a while (late this fall or early spring) before repeating that process and seeing how far along the compost is.

Above, you can see what the bin looks like that was filled with fresh compost just a few months ago! It, too, was too full to turn, so it just sat. It's not finished yet, but is getting black and spongey! And the bin, that was absolutely packed with garbage is now about 1/3 full. It takes a lot of food scraps to make compost!! :)

I'm hoping to work this compost into our garden plot in a cople months. I wonder if it's better to do that in the Spring or the fall... When do you usually add stuff like compost to your garden?

Composting is so much fun! :)

The food we don't refuse

In the midst of canning tomato juice...

I wasn't planning to spend this evening/night canning tomatoes. In fact, I had filled every single one of my empty canning jars and thought I was finished doing tomatoes for the year!

Late this morning, our neighbor called and asked me if I could use some tomatoes. I had no idea how many she had for me -- just that they were "getting pretty ripe". I said I'd take them, and next thing I knew, I had about 3/4 bushel of tomatoes on my back doorstep!

At first glance, I wondered if I had just accepted 3/4 bushel of composting material (i.e. rotten tomatoes!) but there was actually a lot of good ones in there and they did indeed need to be used immediately.

My mom was already headed our way this evening and she dropped off some quart canning jars. I'm still working on canning the last of the 16 quarts of tomato juice I made!

One of the things I learned from my parents' example was not to waste. When God said that He would provide all of our needs, He didn't say that it would be done in the way we wanted, at the time that we wanted. Being willing to work hard and sacrifice leisure time in order to accept His blessings is something I still work on being disciplined about.

Did I need the extra tomatoes right now? No, I didn't. But what if next year's need was being supplied right now -- and I refused it? How can we throw away food today and yet expect tomorrow's needs to be supplied?

Is it worth the time and expense to make homemade bread rather than buying it from the store?

My homemade whole wheat bread

It's Frugal Friday time over at Crystal's blog, and I thought I'd participate this week by answering a question someone recently asked:

I know you make your own bread and I did too for a while. But I make white bread. When I tried making wheat bread it was heavy and dry. With summer here I have been buying it. I think it is a good deal at $.75 a loaf for white & $.99 for grain.

Do you think it is even worth me making bread at this cost?

Short answer: Only you can decide if the time, expense, and health benefits of homemade bread is worth it to you!

Every home runs a little differently. One person might care more about the cost upfront, and choose to buy their bread. Another person might have special equipment that makes homemade bread very quick and easy -- and so it is worth it to them.

Others feel so passionately about consuming only the healthiest bread, and feel that the health benefits far outweigh the other factors. And some families don't eat much bread, so it's not really a big deal. Or the husband/father prefers bread from the store.

Several times recently I've been asked to sell a loaf of my homemade wheat bread (this is the bread we normally consume). In order to come up with a price, I decided to figure out what each loaf was costing in ingredients.

Cost analysis of my homemade 100% whole wheat bread (per loaf):

1 cup filtered water = $0.01
2 tablespoons oil = $0.06
1 teaspoon salt = $0.01
2 tablespoons raw honey = $0.20
1 tablespoon milk = $0.02
2 tablespoons dark brown cane sugar = $0.04
3 cups freshly ground whole wheat flour (about 1 pound of grain) = $0.58
2 teaspoons yeast = $0.08

Cost per loaf: $1.00 (no, I didn't try to get it to come out even!)

Optional dough conditioners for whole wheat bread (we do add these):

Pinch ginger = $0.01
Pinch citric acid or ascorbic acid = $0.01
1 teaspoon lecithin = $0.05
3 tablespoons gluten flour/vital wheat gluten = $0.30

Final cost for my loaf of bread: $1.37 (minus other considerations such as: butter to grease the pan/dough, fuel for the oven, wear and tear on equipment such as grain mill and bread machine, and additional strain on the air conditioner during hot months)

This does make a very large loaf, comparable in size to the 100% whole wheat loaf that Aldi sells for $1.49 (last time I checked -- a few months ago).

I realize that we are not saving money by making homemade bread -- at least, not compared to what we could spend for the cheapest bread in the grocery store.

I like making bread for taste reasons and for health reasons. Commercial bread has an odd chemical smell to me. One time I tried warming up a few slices of wheat bread (from Aldi) in the oven to go with some soup. The bread was doughy and smelled awful!

And have you ever noticed that loaves of bread from the store just don't mold anymore? Seriously. I have had loaves from Aldi (which has the cheapest price -- the price I compare my bread to) that sat here for three weeks and beyond -- even a month after the expiration date on the bag, the bread still hadn't shown any signs of aging, aside from being slightly dry. But only slightly dry.

And the taste of fresh homemade bread, well, the $1.49 loaves at Aldi just can't compare.

Health reasons -- I won't go into all of those here, but I feel as though my homemade 100% whole wheat bread just as healthy or healthier than any loaves you can buy in the store -- and comparable loaves would cost $4+ each -- if we're comparing taste and quality.

Those of you who make your bread, I'd love to hear your take on this topic! Why do you choose to make homemade bread? Do you eat both homemade and store-bought? Is the time you put into it worth the savings and health benefits -- or do you feel like you're "just breaking even"? :)

Onions, onions, onions!!!

Yellow onion from the garden!

My parents (who, unlike us, got their onions planted on time!) had a bumper crop of huge onions this year! This is my hand holding one of the yellow onions my mom sent over for us! They grew Vidalia onions as well, and they're just as huge.

Every year, my mom pulls the onions and lays them on cardboard in the sun to dry. (She pulls the cardboard indoors during the night or during rains.) The sun dried the outer layers a little and helps the onions stay fresh longer.

But not this year. For some reason though, this year the onions aren't keeping. Many of the huge, beautiful onions are starting to go bad already!

So, we're drying them. Actually, my mom is doing most of them, but she did send over a big pan of onions ready for me to dice and put in our dehydrator. That's what I was doing yesterday morning!

It took me about an hour to chop all of the onions -- 60+ cups -- and today I have a gallon bag full of dried onions! They smell so yummy... and will be very convenient for soups, in bagels (I hope!), in taco meat, etc... :)

The dried onions

Here is a video and photo tutorial about how I dice onions. I'm sure I could save even more time by having a fancy gadget to dice them, but for now, it's a cutting board and knife! :)

Oh, and to save my eyes from watering too much, I put the exhaust fan on above the stove and stood at the stove to chop. :)

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