Sunday, May 31, 2009

May Day!

I tallied up all the receipts for the last two weeks of May. Very, very interesting to see our patterns emerging. Just trying to get an idea of what we are spending and how much we actually make. We call it a fact finding mission. Tomorrow, the real efforts begin in cutting back, tracking expenses, budgeting and planning for our finances. So far, it's all been practice.

Oh man alive.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday Sewing

I like to sew in the summer when it is muggy and hot out. Sometimes I'll make a skirt or some summer item, sometimes I try to make something I need in every day life and use up things in new ways. I am not an expert sewer. I go by guess and by golly. If you like perfectly measured things and step by step sewing instructions, you are reading the wrong blog, my friend. I'm just a Mom, with a sewing machine and basic mending and sewing capabilities. I did make my husband's and my son's vests for our wedding, but that was different story. I had DIY wedding fever then.
Today, I had a couple of old towels, a flannel baby receiving blanket and a half yard of pink butterfly print cotton left over from an smock I made a while back. I am a lady so I won't mention by name what I was fashioning but let's just say that my goal was not so much perfection as it was absorption.
I made two, just to see if I could, though I cut out enough for at least two more. When I think about it though, I have many more recycled fabrics lying around that I could use to this end. Now that I have made the template (from of a cardboard granola bar box), it's just a matter of assembly line sandwiching and sewing of the fabrics. I'll just use them at home, not for going out.
I must say though, it is nice to know I could use these all the time instead of storebought if I wanted to.
Some might think this is too frugal, too gross, too old fashioned. Some might think I shouldn't even talk about such a thing. (I'm hearing an old tape in my head.)
Some might also say that storebought are expensive, full of chemicals and bad for the environment, which also lends itself to an ick factor, in my opinion.
Since this is my blog, my opinion is what you'll get :)
The fact of the matter is, I didn't feel like going out today, especially so the old man at my nearest corner store could fumble, hurriedly, with (yet another) plastic bag, so he could pretend not to notice what I am buying while chatting inanely about the weather. I could have used a chocolate bar, that alone almost made me go to the store, but I made do with the rest of the chocolate chips in the cupboard instead.
It really wasn't about saving money at all, that was just an added bonus.
Besides, Who would know?

Oh right...all you people on the internet...
For shame!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Vegetarians, you might not want to look...

Just fair warning...this is a meaty post. Ha ha, I'm hilarious :D

Friday night, home from my new job and taking the night off cooking. Good thing we enjoy having a BBQ once in a while. I had steak on the menu plan for last night. I was happy when the man followed the menu plan to the letter while I was away working. Even made the fish dish, which I was sure they would subtitute for, say, pop and chips, in my absence. This is really working well and saves a lot of money at the grocery store, since I only have to buy the items I need to make meals. Apparently, my family also eats healthier food because of the plan as well.

The last time I went grocery shopping, I brought a certain amount of cash and vowed not to go over. I tried valiantly but there was a sale on meat that I couldn't walk away from as we had next to nothing in the freezer. Meat is always a budget buster for us. I could take it or leave it, and have done both the taking and the leaving of it, but I went and married a staunch carnivore and now I must simply live with him :) I went twenty dollars over at the till and had to use debit. I was somewhat expecting that and I used the cash to pay another bill so it all worked out. I'm working on it!
We are also still tracking our purchases.
It kind of hit home for all of us when we had to write down the $2 for a plastic pokemon from the gumball machine...

One thing I do when there is a sale on meat is to buy the warehouse packs and then re-package it myself. I am sure that most budget friendly Moms do this, mine did, and I have always done it for myself, even before having a child. It makes things way easier when it is time to defrost something for a meal to already have it in the correct portion size for your cooking needs. Also, it makes your meat stretch further because you aren't having a ton of lefovers which may or may not end up on the garbage. Here is a pic of what I did with mine. You can't see it well here, but, for example, I bought two pounds of bacon which I cut each pack in half and now I have four packs. Same with the ground beef. I was in a hurry, next time I might freeze some things in marinades, which can save another step in the thawing, seasoning and cooking process. Now, Vegetarians, I warned you, if you are still looking, it's your own darn fault.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making progress and other yummy stuff

I can't tell the difference between store bought and homemade. Oh wait, the price, less packaging, knowing all of the additives and ingredients... I guess I can tell the difference!
I finally succeeded in making granola and this time I put it Into the Crockpot. Imagine that. What a difference. I was able to toast it without it scorching it to death. It was a lot easier this way because I didn't have to keep opening the oven door and putting on the oven mitts. Thanks to a Year in Crockpotting for that great tip. I never really considered cooking dry in the crockpot before, I always thought you had to have liquid. Not so!
The yogurt; I made a new batch using my old batch as a starter. I also let it "incubate" in my camping cooler this time, wrapped in a towel as before. There was a lot more whey this time, perhaps due to my homemade starter? I am not sure... will have to read up on this. I decided it needed to be drained, but how to do it? I got out my plastic juice jug and some cloth and an elastic band. I kind of pushed the cloth in to make an indentation and put the elastic band around the lip of the jug. Then I poured the yogurt in. Voila. The whey dripped into the jug, leaving the creamy yogurt in the cloth, which I just scooped back into the container. One litre of reconstituted milk filled up my container when it was all said and done. Beautiful. Cheap summer breakfast and it was also kid tested and approved.

I made dinner in the crockpot, a spicy, tomato based beef stew with lentils. I served it over rice and it was very good. It was in the menu plan and it made so much, I froze half of it. I am trying to plan around our new, busier schedule. This should prove interesting to the budget efforts. Wish me luck. I also made a loaf of white breadmaker bread. I got a gander at The Frugal Girl's gorgeous whole wheat loaves and I must say, they look scrumptious. Put that in my must do list, when I get more baking pans.
I got the crockpot for christmas when my son was just a baby. My sister got it for me. Wouldn't you know it, she knows me like the back of her hand. I have been using it faithfully ever since. The breadmaker is a recent acquisition. I kept talking about getting one and I never quite got around to it. I made a lot of quickbreads, muffins, scones, biscuits, but usually stayed away from the yeast doughs. I don't know exactly why. My Mum often made bread when I was young. It's one of my most comforting childhood memories. Nothing beats the smell of freshly baked bread! While I was visiting her last winter, she happened to find a breadmaker in the thrift store for $6.50. She plugged it in and checked all the buttons and decided it was worth the risk. It was! We played around with it a bit, and I had to research online to get a good recipe, but at last I have found one that is quite versatile and reliable. I can add raisins and cinnamon to make a sweet dough for breakfast, for example, or just plain when I want a fresh loaf for dinner. You see, I can't take all the credit for my frugal talents. I come from a loooonng line of Frugalistas...Recessionistas, Depressionistas, whatever you want to call it. I think it would be very educational for me to do a feature post on some of my predecessors...hmmm...
My mama done raised me right :D
Today is a big day for us, lots of changes. It's nice to take a few minutes to drink my coffee and ponder the possibilities.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thrift Store Nirvana

I have been saving all my receipts in an envelope for the last two weeks so that I can start to get an idea of what we actually spend and where. This is not the first time I have attempted to do this, however, it is the first time I actually have a plan (sort of) of what to do with the information. For the last few months we have been scheduling Money Mondays once a month so we can talk about where we are going and what we might like to do with our money. This has not been a simple process and I'll admit one or both of us has been guilty of postponing Money Monday to Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday or Thursday.... (Aw, can't we do it next week?) Anyhow, it's a process, and I am trying to take small steps. My teensy tiny step this month is to set some reasonable financial goals, five of them to be precise (besides vacation money, yep, got it we want a vacation, no, not just to see my Mum, or yours. Yes, we could have gone to the Dominican for that, I know...) agree upon them,(ha!) and remove the fear.(double ha!) That's all I have to say about that, for now... *sigh*.

Time to send my boy out to face the big wide world. Well, twice a week, anyhow. This will mean creativity in the packaged lunch department, as well as organizing the sock and underwear situation. "Go look in the dryer," is probably no longer going to cut it. He already has a cooler bag and a reusable drink box. I am going to have to get some cool kid cook books or something. The other thing we did was to buy pretty much all of our family's summer wardrobe. This is a good thing because it gets very hot here in the summer and one must have cool clothing. We had a few things, now we should be set.

Fortunately, my favourite clothing store, Value Village, had a huge 50% off sale! I went early in the day to scope it out. I hadn't stopped by the ATM yet, so all I had was a pittance of change in my pocket. I'm trying to use cash, it's a little more concrete for me. I'm cheap, so actually prying the dollars from my fist is a little more difficult than imaginary numbers on a screen. Those imaginary numbers are the tricky ones. I still managed to score two cute T-shirts for my boy, one red with sharks, one yellow with a cool antique car motif, for $2.63. The store was packed with bargain hunters, and we were hungry for lunch, so I vowed to return later with renewed vigor. I did my best Arnie impression and we went home. We did go back once the man got off work. I can pick out clothes for him and he is usually satisfied with my choices, but for once he felt the urge to look for himself. Actually, he wasn't sure I had scoured the boy's shorts thoroughly enough, and by golly he was right; he managed to find things I hadn't noticed. The racks were continually restocked during the day, so yay for going back twice. Our total for the three of us, including my earlier foray, was $43.58. Not bad for seven shirts, six pairs of shorts and a vest. I thought about posting a photo of the clothes, but just look at any photo of us. For example, in the picture above the shirts we are wearing came off the clearance rack at Walmart. I think I paid $4 each, NWT. The other cool thing was the coupon booklet given out with each purchase. We ended up with two booklets, which I am certain to put to good use, so double yay. (What's with the double 'ha's and 'yay's in this post?)

Sunday was spent at the beach. We packed a cooler and drove to the provincial park which is less that ten minutes from our home. I know, I am lucky. We spent $11 on picnic snacks and the rest we brought from home. We played frisbee and laid on the beach for hours. SO relaxing :) Yes, those are our feet. No, we are not photographers.

My question to other thrift store shoppers is : Does it matter to you what cause the thrift store supports, or do you strictly thrift for the deal/thrill of the hunt/money saving? Most of the places that I go have what I consider to be fairly noble causes, but there is one I don't agree with. Trouble is, I know they have fantastic deals in there, they advertise them all the time and I am dying to go in and browse. I won't state what the cause is here, I don't care to start a controversy today about who believes what, what is and is not right, blah blah nauseum. It's one of those one side-or-the-other type of issues.
Ask me tomorrow, I may surprise you with a fresh controversy, but for today, I will stick to the mundane subject at hand. Should I go in and have a peek at their wares? So far I haven't been able to do it, something is holding me back...what if I want to buy something? Surely my frugal nature would override my haughty ideals. Does my fifty cents matter towards supporting their cause? If I were in a state of need, would I have the luxury of a lofty moral position? How far do you go to be frugal, yet maintain your morals?

No rest for the wicked

Hi! Have a brownie :) They turned out really good, moist and slightly cakey. I substituted one of the eggs in a two egg recipe for...yep, you guessed it..yogurt. I throw all the nuts and goodies on top because you can use less, (I used 1/2 cup each instead of a full cup, 50% less), and it seems like more if it is not hidden in the brownie batter. I also use a glaze, about two tbsp instead of a full icing recipe. Less is more, I say. I'll give you the recipe, just leave a comment, but be warned, I have altered it. Every time I make something I switch it up, depending on what I have in the pantry. No one notices these little things as they are devouring the chocolatey goodness, and it saves me ingredients. I am running low and I did not manage to make it to the farmer's market as I planned this morning. I have been on the phone all morning, scheduling appointments for my son. I got myself a part time job. I am so happy because I will be able to begin our budget and debt snowball with even more confidence. There will be added expenses that come with working but, let's face it; an increase to the monthly income is a good thing. I just hope we don't go too crazy with the packaged foods, that's been a big cost in the past. I will have to be a bit more organized than I have been before. I think I will have to become even more creative with less time on my hands to remain in the frugal ways. We have started to become accustomed to the simplicity of such things as fresh bread from the bread maker (me, ha ha), homemade goodies and the like. I don't want to give it up, for spending hard earned dollars on fast foods and junk, so think I will have to manage my time better. I won't be able to be as spontaneous, (ooh, let's make cookies, it's!) but more disciplined in my planning. My menu plan my have to become a little more specific as to include lunches and breakfasts, for example. No more winging it, I guess. Oh well, I have many good blogs from which to draw my inspiration, and much to learn.

Oh, jeez, I gotta get in the shower!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Busy hands

I had a few projects that I wanted to get done so out came the old craft box. My son and I just love doing little crafts for fun but I had some things I had been putting on the back burner for quite some time. Finally, I got them all done in one fast and furious morning craft session. I have a bunch of decorative rocks left over in my stockpile which I have had several creative ideas for, yet they remain in a bucket, unused. I originally used them in vases on the picnic tables at my camp away wedding two years ago. I have tons and tons so I am hoping I can think of a few more things to do with them, because I just love them. I may have to concede, however, and offer them up to a fellow freecycler, though, sigh. There are just so darn many of them. I started making a vase by hot gluing the smaller rocks to an applesauce jar in a mosaic-like pattern. I can't easily recycle my glass jars here, so I try to reuse and re purpose them as much as I can, or avoid buying them altogether. This bored me after a while, it was repetitive and tedious so I quit half way. I'll post a pic if and when I ever finish it. It looks pretty good, so I just might.
The other thing I did was to make fridge magnets. These were super quick. The directions are:

Uh, I glued a magnet to each rock. See? Pretty huh?

Actually, these might make a cute gift...hmmm....

The next thing I had to get done was some thank you cards. I'll admit I had a look at Walmart and I was seriously considering just buying some to save the time. They were $7 for ten boring cards. It's not bad really, just I had better ideas for my $7. So I decided to make them myself. I did buy the letter stickers, they were a dollar, but I still had card stock left from aforementioned wedding, (when I made my own invites). I had at least two cards to send for favours done for me lately and I was determined to get them out this weekend. I am trying to make more of an effort to show appreciation to the important people in my life. My son reminded me of the third one just in the nick of time, as I was making them. My son is brilliant :)

In order to keep the little one busy, so I could go with the creative flow and because I had been promising for so long, I got him started on a recycled CD fish craft. I had seen one hanging in a random car one day and thought it was such a good kid's craft. Cute, simple, recycled, it had all the elements. I also knew I already had all the materials in my tote at home. This craft is cheap like borscht and my kid loves it. We plan on making a few more to hang outside. They make great sun catchers. You can see the simple directions here:

That was quite a burst of creative energy I had. I love it when that happens.

Admitting Limitations

I guess I am feeling a little testy this morning. I woke up and was going through my blogs and finding new and more wonderful projects and inspiration to draw on. The site above, for instance is fascinating with it's refashioning and recycling. I saw many cool ideas, some I might even like to try myself. I was getting really into it, until I saw the project for "Old flip flops+bathtowel = spa slippers". I had a pair of these myself that I got in a cheap spa kit/ stocking stuffer last Christmas. They are comfy slippers, no doubt, and I wore them all around the house, for a while. Then they got damp from the bathroom floor and the thought of the potential bacteria growing in them gave me the heebs, so I washed them and dried them and donated them in a give-away bag to the thrift store. I know, I am strange. Then, this morning, when I saw this project, make your own from an old bath towel and flip flops, all thoughts of potential bacteria left my mind and were replaced by the thoughts, "How resourceful! How frugal!" Suddenly I was in love with the spa slipper idea again! After all, it's been months since I had those slippers, maybe they are not as bad as I thought... DIY and with readily available materials?? All my squeamish fears left me as I imagined cute, homemade birthday presents. Eagerly, I read the tutorial. She does really well, making a pattern from her second hand towel, (one of my limits, I don't buy towels or underwear second hand, however, if used for footwear I am more forgiving. Sheets are OK, but I usually use them just for fabric.) She has several clear pictures of all the pattern pieces, then she begins sewing.
Turns out her home machine won't go through all the layers of batting, terry cloth and rubber flip flop so she pays a friend $28 to sew them professionally. Say What?
Don't worry, she used a coupon for 20% off. Yikes. $28 was a deal?? Are you as shocked as I am? She spent a dollar on the towel, the same on the flip flops and then spent twelve hours of labour. Does she value her time at so little worth? Is this what is considered frugal? Resourceful? No, I'd say it was a huge flop. A flippity floppity. Just admit it and carry on. Yes, she finally finished the slippers and they are fairly cute, but I would have admitted defeat when it came time to shell out the almost thirty dollars, just to save face. This is what I mean by admitting limitations. We all make mistakes in trying to live frugally and resourcefully. Phoebe at Cents to get Debt Free did a pretty humorous post about her flops. We all make them.
Of course, no one wants to blog about those mistakes. I certainly wasn't about to post a photo of my homemade granola. I burnt it to a crisp, wasting the ingredients. OOPS. Live and learn. On the plus side I now know the process to make granola. (Step #1 Don't burn it.) I didn't, however, go out and pay someone to make me some gourmet twenty eight dollar granola just so I could post a photo. Sometimes the blogosphere really bugs me, like reality television does. Keep it real people!
Am I the only one who feels this way?? Feel free to let me have it in the comments section.
EDIT: I'm pretty sure I have PMS, so, um, yeah. I'll take it out on the slippers. Also, next time I'm going to put my granola... (and my all too hasty, trigger/typing fingas)
...Into the Crockpot!
Like the Crockpot Lady does!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lucky Me

This is a local park in my town. Those little specks are families at a fishing derby in the pond. I know, I am pretty lucky. Lucky to live here, lucky to be in sunshine most of the year, lucky, lucky, lucky. That's just what this post is all about. You see I've learned a few things about myself in the last year or so. For one thing, I have learned that I have to get outside everyday or I go kind of squirrel-ly. I have learned that I have to eat nutritious foods, regularly (not just live on caffeine until noon) and that, most of all I must express myself creatively in order to be happy. I must also be grateful. Grateful for it all, what I have, what I don't have, what I learn and mistakes I make, for they are the greatest teacher of all. Yesterday we went for a walk to my favourite store. It's a discount store and it is absolutely crammed with every conceivable thing you could think of from art supplies to home decor to hardware. It just has everything. You could spend hours in there and still not see the whole store. I took my son for a walk because we had some time to kill, and my dollar store list had a few items on it. Yes, I bring a list to the dollar store, too. Otherwise I can get swept away with the "it's only a dollar!" type of mentality and end up buying a bunch of silly stuff that I don't really need. Every so often when I get the urge to splurge, I will give myself a ten dollar limit and throw a bunch of stuff in the basket. Then I have to be selective and take out any items over nine, because with tax, that is my limit. Nine items is usually more than enough. This is why I usually shop alone, not just because I am so weird, but because if somebody says to me, "you should buy that" nine times out of ten, I will ;) Well, I wasn't alone. I was with my son and he, knowing me very well, having scrutinized my every emotion, body language and facial cue since birth, was trying to play me like a fiddle. "You should buy this mom, ooh look at this...isn't it pretty? I think you need this Mom...Oh, I think this is a learning game..." I held fast, though and we left with my only spending $5 dollars and three items. Whew.

We started walking home and were feeling pretty great. The cashier had given my son a lollipop, so he was thrilled. We were walking along when I happened to catch the eye of a young man in front of the book store. He was rinsing his toothbrush from a water bottle. He quickly averted his eyes. I could only assume that he was a homeless person, from the warm clothing and back pack. He was attending to his oral care on the sidewalk. I was reminded in that moment how very lucky I am. Lucky to have my family, my home, my five dollars worth of dollar store merchandise. Lucky that my toothbrush lives in it's own palace, a room of it's own; my very own bathroom(s). I can go to the dentist when I have a problem with my teeth. Lucky that my short walk would take me to my comfortable couch where I could rest my tired feet and warm up from the chilly day. Lucky that we would soon have a hot supper on the table. Do I feel the pinch of the economy sometimes? Sure, I do, but, man... Have I ever got it made.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Menu Plan and Brown Bagging

See my beautiful coffee mug? It's a one of a kind. I received it as a gift from my best friend. She is the type who remembers to send gifts at just the right occasion, when you are least expecting it and need a pick me up. She is such a good friend :) I got the little parcel tag in the mail and thought maybe it was one of the free samples I have been signing up for. (I will wait to see if I get any before I share the link. I don't want to pass on bogus information.) So, I finally brought my little tag to the post office and got back in the van and opened up the box. Inside was this beautiful mug! Just for me, for Mother's Day. My son, seeing how much I liked it, eyed it hopefully and asked, "Aunty sent that cup for all of us, right?" In his four-going-on-five year old mind, everything I have is also, by rights, his and mostly that is true. Some things, though, are just for me. I was happy to say, "Nope, it's for me, for Mother's Day." The boys, too, spoiled me quite well for Mother's Day. This year I got breakfast in bed, a potted plant and chocolates. It was lovely. I think we Mums need things that are just for us. Whether it is a special coffee mug, listening to our girly music instead of the husband's punk, or 15 minutes alone in our bathtub without interruption. Good luck with that, I still haven't managed to find the secret to that one. I have a small family but they both seem to need my attention quite a bit, especially when I am in the bathroom and technically unavailable.

One thing I have done to make life easier is to start and stick to a menu plan. This takes care of the dreaded four o' clock question: "What's for dinner?" This way, we all know and whomever is around to cook, (usually me, but not always,) knows what to make. I keep it simple. No thinking required. We also know we have the ingredients handy because we planned the menu before we went to the store. Again, no thinking. (Just rattle those pots and pans, will ya? We're starving over here.) This also saves money because you are not just buying whatever strikes your fancy at the time that you are shopping. (Oooh, a shrimp ring! That should be good for the week...) Many times I have put all the groceries away and then somebody opens the fridge and states with disgust, "There's nothing to eat." No more. I don't plan all of the meals, just dinner. Breakfast is usually oatmeal and yogurt, or commercial cereal. Snacks are fruit, cheese or a PB toast. Once in a while I bake cookies or muffins, but those are usually gone before they come off the cooling rack. Lunch is usually soup and sandwiches for me and the boy and the husband eats dinner leftovers at work. Don't go feeling sorry for him, our leftovers are usually pretty awesome because we cook things we like to eat. Way better than a frozen dinner or a sub from the convenience store. He has a big appetite and those puny frozen portions don't hold him over all day. He would then end up buying two or three snack foods. Cha ching. He also has been bringing his own coffee in a thermos. He started this last year when I printed out the ATM statement, highlighted and added up how much we both were spending at the corner store on snack foods for work. Because we work so hard, we deserve to pay the salaries of convienience store workers? Yikes, it didn't make any sense. Of course, we both smoked then, too and bought our coffee in a paper cup EVERY morning. What were we thinking??

Whew, I'm glad we have wised up a little. We still have a long way to go to get where we want to be, but at least now, we have a plan. A menu plan.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Farmer's Market and Homemade Naan Bread

Best $4.50 I ever spent. Don't you just want to kiss that spring garlic? It has the mildest flavour, too. The lady selling them gave me a free bundle when I bought the first one, how nice of her. I'll definitely be going back to my local farmer's market which will be on three times a week all summer. They had everything, but I will definitely not mosey in at ten a.m. next time; all the fresh eggs were gone :(. They also had herb plants which I spied and coveted for my urban patio. Goodbye grocery store produce, I want to eat locally grown foods for the season. Why not? I live in the most rich agricultural gold mine, we have orchards and fruit everywhere. I am definitely going to take advantage of it this year. I guess I have just been spoiled, since I moved here, food everywhere for cheap, practically dripping off the trees in the peak season. Moving here from Vancouver Island, which has many farms and a fantastic farmer's market as well, I guess I just kind of took it for granted. Silly me. Well, I appreciate it now and am resolving to support my local farmers a little more for all their hard work. I can't wait to find out about all the delicious local food. I spied some spelt flour, organic honey... there is just so much to try. I will chronicle my discoveries and share them here.

After I got the lay of the land at the farmer's market, we went home for lunch and planned our grocery shop. I used up the rest of the turkey soup I had thawed from the freezer and made tuna sandwiches with lettuce and cucumber. I was out of mayonnaise, so guess what I substituted? Yes, my homemade yogurt! I have used it in so many things, it has a wonderful mild flavour and I have used is as a creamy topping on my baked potatoes, in my smoothies, on my sandwich,and in my homemade naan bread. What's that you say? Homemade bread? Yes, and it was easy. While I was gathering the ingredients, my husband is all, "You know, if you need flat bread I could just go and buy you some," looking at me in wonder at my baking enthusiasm. I said, "Sure, go ahead. Do you remember the last time?" The last time I bought tortillas at the grocery store on sale, we had just sat down to eat my fantastic burritos and there, black green and fuzzy, was a huge mold spot on the wraps. Talk about ruining dinner and our appetites. Eew. It made me so mad that I had paid four dollars for rotten flat bread, that I learned how to make tortillas on YouTube. They were so easy, and most of all, FRESH. My husband shivered with the heebie jeebies, remembering the icky store bought flatbread, and left me to my devices.

Here is my yeast naan dough after rising. It took about thirty minutes for the dough to double. I could have made them smaller and had ten or twelve, but eight was plenty for the three of us.

I got this recipe while waiting in the doctor's clinic. Don't ask me why we were there, I have a son and a husband they are always getting roughed up, one way or the other. It couldn't have been too life threatening. All I remember about the visit was perusing magazines and writing recipes in my notebook. I found this magazine with a section on ethnic food recipes, falafels, naan bread, kebabs. (Aren't they lucky to have me for a wife and Mum?) I wish I could remember which magazine so I could credit it. I think it might have been Canadian Living, but I am not sure.

Last night we needed a carbohydrate for dinner and I remembered the naan recipe. I was using up all the bits in my frig, leftover steak, (no, the irony of serving beef with naan bread was not lost on us) the rest of my celery and half an onion and green pepper. We had just gone shopping and I wasn't quite ready to break into the new food yet. I keep reading all these food waste blogs and while I am not quite ready to confess my waste in a pictorial every week, they make a valid point. As a rule, we all waste way too much food!

Naan Bread Recipe:
1/2 cup warm water
2 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg beaten
5 tblsp plain yogurt <3

Start yeast with water and sugar, let it do it's thing, 10 minutes or so. Then mix together your dry ingredients. Add oil, egg and yogurt in a measuring cup, mix together. Pour into yeast mix, then add dry ingredients slowly, mixing a soft dough. Cover and let rise until doubled. Divide dough into equal parts and roll out flat, then fry in a small amount of oil on a cast iron pan on medium heat. They take about two minutes each to cook.
The thing I liked most about this naan recipe was that it only used two and a half cups of flour (the tortillas needed four) and the leavening agent was yeast instead of baking powder, which made the dough soft and fluffy. I also liked that the recipe called for yogurt! Is there anything yogurt cannot do? On the other side the naan becomes golden brown and crispy in a little bit of oil, while staying soft and chewy in the middle. Yum. I liked the way it bubbled up in the pan. This recipe is a keeper. We all loved it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Keeping more money, realistically.

Lately it seems like everyone is talking about the recession, being a recessionista, living frugally and tips on saving money. It's great to see people being a little more aware of where their money goes and focusing a little less on material things to make them happy. It seems to me that any place you start is a good start and since everyone begins at a different place financially, different ideas of what is and is not "frugal" abound. For myself, as I mentioned, I started from growing up on a very small income, so going without and making do is second nature. That does not mean that I am smart with money though, because I have a long way to go in that area. Just ask my creditors. As an adult, I rebelled against my frugal upbringing and now I am paying the price, literally. For me, it's about letting go of expectation, realizing it is not about what I think others think about what brand of shoes I wear. They are probably worried about what I think of what brand of shoes they wear, or maybe, people don't worry about this at all and I am completely out to lunch. I finally decided on the third option and just let it go. I wear whatever is on sale. I can't win. If I wear the cheapest, ugliest option, my feet hurt and I feel very un-trendy. If I wear the most expensive brand, (which I will admit, I have made the error in judgement and bought things in order to fit in) then a strange thing happens. People notice. They make comments. Whether out of envy or wondering why I would spend so much money, I am not sure, all I know is I do not enjoy that kind of attention. So I'll stick to what is comfortable, is hopefully not too fashionably objectionable and is, most of all, budget friendly. I thought up a few other ways to save money, but not silly ways like the ones that seem to be flying all over the Internet lately. No, I am not going to join a money club and tell all my friends my financial business, nor will I organize a clothing swap. Maybe this works for people in real life, but I have never seen it happen. Most of the people I know are not frugal at all, at least they don't want to show it on the outside. No one wants anyone to think they can't afford everything. Horrors!
I think it is a change of mindset and learning to wait for things.
No more instant gratification. No more Gimme Gimme More. No more walking around like a billboard giving away free advertising on my person.

Today, middle of the May Long weekend, we went to get my son a haircut and then play at the beach. We are staying home, that's a sure way to save money, on expensive road trips and gas, plus my husband worked an extra day on Saturday. It all adds up. Yes, I could cut my son's hair myself in order to save money and I have done that in the past. Trouble is, I am just not that talented, he ends up looking like I buzzed him, which is fine, but now he wants to be able to do his own hairstyle with gel. He is a very handsome almost-five year old. So why not pay for a haircut at First Choice and save money some other way? He gets to have the experience of being fussed over, instead of with me, at home struggling to make him sit still, and I get a nicely groomed little boy. We have decided to alternate haircuts too, so we are not paying for more than one cut at a time. I'm growing mine out, and trying to stop bleaching it. Less chemicals, softer hair, as well as more money in my pocket, not on my head.

While we waited for the haircut, I cruised by the Dollar store and bought one of those super flyer frisbees with the hole in it for a buck. My husband found those long skinny balloons that you make balloon animals with. If you pump them up and let them go, they go whizzing through the air, it's hilarious! We had a gas at the park, I'll tell ya. After, we wanted ice cream. There are three of us, so three cones would be what, four or five bucks? Well, we bought a 4 litre bucket at the grocery store instead, 3.99, plus the cones, 2.99 for twenty, cooled off in the air conditioned aisles, and when we got home had delicious ice cream cones, with tons to spare for the next ice cream craving.
The biggest thing I have done to save money is to Quit Smoking. Yes, I am ninety days smoke free today. According to my quit smoking gadget, I have saved over $500. By far the best decision I have made to date, health wise, frugal wise, you name it, I feel so much better about myself.
Quit! Quit now, I say!
A few other things I am starting to do is:
1. collect coupons
2. actually take back my refundable drink containers, (well, I sorted them out from my regular recycling anyway)
3. making things from scratch sometimes, such as bread and yogurt,
4. buying in bulk to reduce unit cost and from the bulk section to reduce packaging (but only items I will really use, I still have relish from last year because no one eats it...)
5. simply not buying things the minute I see them, just for the sake of spending money!
The more I remain concious, the more satisfaction I get from saving money! Some things I do are really fun, too, like making the jean skirt and spray painting the freecycle table.
Of course, long term, I have many goals I would like to achieve, including doing wise things with all of this so-called saved money. I even got a book from the library on Personal Budgeting.
What has gotten into me? Don't ask my husband, he is really bamboozled :D
I just want to start at the beginning, and take small steps towards keeping more of our money.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Success! Homemade Yogurt.

Once again I was browsing through my favourites list and I came across another one I have been thinking about trying, but never quite getting around to:
Homemade yogurt.
Now, that always sounded complicated to me, but it turns out, it is not at all. Funny thing is, I decided to try it with powdered milk. Not because I particularly use it all the time, it's just that I had mixed up a litre of it to use for coffee and oatmeal before we did our shopping. My husband will hardly go near powdered milk, maybe a dribble in his coffee if there is nothing else. I find if you mix it properly and chill it over night, it's nearly like skim, which is fine for me, in a smoothie, or for baking. My four year old son hasn't noticed yet. Anyway, I had this litre of milk hanging around, and a tiny bit of plain yogurt left, I thought why not? I gave it a whirl. I don't have a yogurt maker or even a thermometer. I might invest in a thermometer because I do feel like I was pretty lucky in my temperature guessing. I was using the reconstituted milk so it wasn't a huge investment if I screwed it up. Next time though I will use full fat milk and a thermometer to do it properly. I thought of this exercise as comparable to using a muslin instead of the expensive fabric when sewing. It was a trial run.

I gathered my ingredients; milk, one litre, and plain yogurt, for starter, 1/4 cup, maybe a scraping more because I wanted to use it up. That's it! I like a two ingredient recipe. I made sure my yogurt had active bacterial cultures listed in the ingredients. It did, I was good to go. First I brought the milk just to a boil, while stirring often. I did this on a medium heat, which takes a tad longer but lessens the risk of scorching the bottom of the milk. Once it came just to a boil, I took it off the heat and let it cool. The directions said to cool until 120 degrees, or until the "bite" of hotness is no longer felt when you put your finger in the milk.

Well, I put mine in the freezer to cool faster because I am impatient like that :) Then I went on the computer and forgot about it, then when I took it out I was sure it was too cold, so I put it in the microwave. I don't recommend this round about way of doing things, I am just being honest about my ways. I have made a few errors in the kitchen experimenting, but hey, live and learn, I always say.
After a minute or two, I figured it was probably good, (note to self, get a thermometer, they are very handy) warm but I could put my finger in without the "bite", so I stirred the yogurt starter into my milk in the glass bowl. I plastic wrapped it and then wrapped it in a great big beach towel, as insulation, and left it on the counter. Then I went about my merry way, went shopping at the dollar store, priced out thermometers... (Four dollars?! at the Dollar store? Hmm, maybe that's a good price, maybe not. I think I'll keep looking.)

Before I went to bed, I unwrapped my bowl from the towel and, miracle of miracles, it looked like yogurt! It was still a little runny, and had a clear liquid (whey) on top which I poured off into another container. I put it in the fridge. This morning it looks like this:

I put the spoon in to show that it is quite thick as is, though I have read in the reviews that some strain it in cheesecloth to extract more whey and have an even thicker yogurt.

Considering this is made from reconstituted powdered skim milk, I am pretty satisfied with my yogurt making experience.

Homemade, low fat, smoothie yogurt!

I wonder why I am paying two or three dollars for the half the same amount, every week, in addition to the lunch yogurt we buy....Hmmmm. Something to think about.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Introductions are in order

Hello! It's so nice to be here. I started this blog just because I enjoy writing, reading other blogs and learning how to do things from other wise people who graciously share their inspiring ideas. For instance, recently, I dusted off my sewing machine and thought back to the eighth grade, when I learned how to sew and I made this jean skirt. I had a link in my favourites list for forever to do it and I always thought it would be too complicated, but let me tell you, it wasn't at all. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture tutorial but there are many other people who have. I am proud of this skirt because it did not cost me anything but time, which suits my sensibilities nicely. There are many people trying to cut back and consume less these days, I am not an original. Many of the frugal ways of life were ingrained into me as a child. I grew up raised by a single and resourceful woman and we made it through some pretty lean times. Things like wardrobe refashioning, cooking from scratch, not buying things, that was pretty much my childhood...I find I am revisiting those sensibilities as many people are these days. I got all of the materials for this particular project from freecycle including that beautiful embroidered ribbon trim. As a side note, I do apologize for less than professional quality photography. At this moment, a super fancy digital camera is simply not in our budget. Until I can get our finances under control, (just another possible goal of this blog), my old point and shoot digicam will just have to do.
If you haven't joined your local freecycle community I urge you to do it today. Don't wait, get free stuff now!! Some of the wonderful things I have received are: a patio table, (which was white but I spray painted it lacquer red and now it is the envy of my neighbourhood, at least in my own mind), a fleece sports themed pillow and blanket set for my son, which he loves, many craft items such as; a huge box of yarn and knitting needles, a huge tote full of tassels and trim... so many wonderful things! FREE. If I haven't mentioned it already, I Love Freecycle! Perhaps for my next post I will put up some pictures of my bounty.
For now, though, it is great to be here and I hope to find out more about all of you who may visit me here at Into the Crockpot.