Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What's for lunch?

This is my first year of having to pack a lunch every day and it's proving to be more of a challenge than I ever knew! During the sporadic daycare years, packing lunches was fun and easy. Since we didn't have our son in regular care until age four, and only then for a few months, the occasional lunches I packed were like a treat and could be heated up in the microwave, so it was very similar to a lunch meal at home. Now that he is in full day kindergarten however, there are no such conveniences. I am quickly adapting to this and learning to be creative. I have searched the Internet and asked friends what they pack. The blogosphere is a wealth of ideas for lunch ideas for the school aged set.
Here is some of what I am learning:
1) Kids don't have much time to eat. At lunch time, they goof off a lot with their friends. There are many distractions. This means that a whole apple will go untouched, or, come home with two tiny browning teeth marks in it, or even worse, go into the trash after one bite.
2.) If it's mini, round or shaped like a star, it has a better chance of getting eaten. Mini bagels and tiny carrot sticks have not come home in the lunch box yet. Big bagels and celery chunks did not get eaten. Oh, and last week he liked ranch dip. This week, not so much.
3) If the container is not easy to open, forget it. It's not getting eaten. If his friends say, "Eww, what's that?", he won't eat it. It was a smoothie, but he didn't know that so rather than risk it, he just didn't go there. Now, I tell him what I am packing and give him more choices, and he's happy. Lesson learned.
4) If the lunch is too far from the norm, forget it. He likes to know what's in there or it will go uneaten. Surprises are nice though, I will have to think of some good ones.
5) Our school is "peanut aware" so nothing with any kind of nuts can go to school. They also discourage baked goods altogether, and junk foods, for nutritional reasons. So far, the treat part is usually home made granola, without nuts, or commercial cereal, but I need more ideas here.
6) I have also learned that he loves a hard boiled egg, peeled, to eat. He thinks it's neat. Yay, cheap protein!
7) Preparation is key. It takes time to think of good choices, cut it up tiny, make it attractive and package it all properly. 20 minutes before the bus arrives is a stressful time to attempt making a lunch. Ask me how I know.
8) Finally, I have learned that, once again, I feel fortunate to only have one child. Lunch making must be crazy for siblings!! I feel a little bit spoiled, except when the bus is coming and I didn't make lunch the night before. Then I feel like a sous chef in a restaurant during the dinner rush. Breakfast and lunch at the same time. Order up!
What have you learned about brown bagging it? Please, share your pearls of wisdom. I will steal your ideas and put them into practice in my own life.
What could be better than that?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Feeling Frugal

Well I have been trying to think up creative ways to get what I need and still stay frugal. Hard as I tried, I could not find a decent winter coat in the thrift store for my son. So I bought one on clearance and one size too big instead. I guess that's the next best option and they sort of match the thrifted snow pants I got him, good score. Today was a home day. I tried to catch up on the laundry, dishes and some rest. I finished an online project, my Christmas present for my grandma, a personalized photo calendar. There was an online sale 50% off until Halloween, so I figured I better take advantage of it and get that one scratched off my list. I managed to keep under the $20 dollar limit with the rebate and since we draw from a hat in my family, that's the only present outside of my immediate family that I am obligated to buy and I'm done! I used photos of all of the grand and great grand kids, so I ought to get a lot of bang for my buck. Of course, I usually bend the one present rule to include some other special people and that's where thrifting and imagination come into play. Today my son had a birthday party to go to. Against my better judgement, and with some pleading on his part, I caved and bought a store card instead of having him make one like I usually do. Consider me right back on the frugal wagon! We had purchased the same card as another kid and the birthday child barely had time to look at it. Fortunately, I won out on the recycling of a craft paper bag and some tissue and stickers for the wrappings, which immediately went into the garbage pail within seconds of opening the gift. I'm so glad I didn't spend money on them! Presently I am toasting some homemade croutons and thinking what I can throw together Into the Crockpot. We used up the last of the beef stew that I made oh, four months ago. Time for a restocking of the freezer I'd say.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Rules of Thrifting

Happiness is......going shopping and coming home with everything you wanted for $15.49. Yes, I went to the Sal-Mart today. I was on the lookout, as I always am, for frugal clothing for myself for work. My job attire needs to be casual and comfortable and most of all, wash and wear. My wardrobe allowance is small, so I have to get creative. For the most part, I get compliments on my choices, so I must be doing alright. Today happened to be a sale; all pink tags 1.00! I picked up a blouse and a cardigan which almost match exactly for two bucks! I also picked up a near- new hoodie for the boy. One can never have too
many fleece hoodies.
Here, my son is wearing his favourite Spidey jammies,
which I found with a Diego set at Value Village for $3 each.
These looked brand new to me when I bought them and after I washed them,
they looked like all of his other P.J.s. They were the perfect Drive-In attire.
Then, I heard angels chorusing and a light shone down from up above. O.K., not exactly, but there, in the Salmart, was the exact same food chopper that I have been looking to replace since mine was dropped from the counter top a couple of months ago. There was no price on it, and beside it, another chopper sat, (missing a vital part, which in my mind made it fit only for the landfill), for $5. This set my mind to thinking. How can I get my perfect, complete chopper for the best price? This also got me thinking about the Rules of Thrifting. By now, I tend to think of myself and a near expert in sifting through the garbage in thrift stores and coming out with the gems. I have been thrifting most of my life and I while have bought my share of useless and frivolous goods and promptly had to re-recycle them, by now I have honed my skils almost to an exact science. If you are interested, I will gladly share my pearls with you now.

1. Don't buy junk.

This rule seems obvious but in the mind mode of all the good deals you are getting and all the money you are saving by thifting, it is easy to overlook quality and possibly let down your standards a tad when piling on extra purchases. Examine everything with a critical eye. Will you really wear it? Will it fit you? Did you try it on? Will you really fix that button? If there is a shadow of a doubt in your mind, put it back on the rack. This brings me to the second rule...

2. Have a list.

Just as in any other store, you wouldn't just buy things because they are there. Well, maybe you would, but if you are trying to be frugal you wouldn't. I always have a list of things that I need in mind, or at least, categories. For example, we are low on winter gear, my son always needs clothes and Christmas is coming. I found myself almost brand new snow pants today and a cute holiday plate which I could serve my chocolate chip cookies on. The food chopper was on my mental list.

3. Watch prices.

Don't assume everything is a good deal just because it is used. In fact you have to be even more on your toes in the thrift store because the prices vary and never seem to have a rhyme nor reason. In my mind, if I am paying my hard earned money for something it had better be excellent quality and a good price. I will use the snow pants as an example. They were seven dollars. I almost never spend seven dollars on one item in a thrift store. To me that is the extreme end of the scale. But since the pants were in excellent condition, exactly my size and I know that I could not buy them for less than $30 new, I ponied up the $7 before the next lucky thrifter came by to snap them up. The pricing thing brings me to my next rule. It's really more of an opinion. You do what you think is best.

4. Don't expect to haggle...much.

For the most part, the price is the price, even if it doesn't make any sense why one white turtle neck is $3 and one is $5. You are in a thrift store. Do you haggle at Walmart? Just scan for the $3 one in perfect condition and take that one home. Today, the pink tag sale made me challenge myself to find the best $1 deals I could. The woman before me tried to ask for a cheaper deal on something and was denied. While I admired her courage for asking for a cheaper price, I did not admire the way she left in a snit when she was turned down. For the food chopper without a price, I explained, politely, that the one beside it was missing the handle and had been priced at $5. I waited patiently while the cashier asked the manager for a price, (something she was unwilling to do for the abrupt woman before me), and happily accepted the final purchase price that was offered: two dollars. I did not demand that the cashier lower the price nor did I demand haughtily to speak to the manager. I respected the woman who was helping me and bagged my own purchases, as the line behind me had started to form while she was away getting my cheap price. You see, I want to go back to this store, probably often. I like good deals. This brings me to my final general rule.

5. Keep going back.

You don't have to find everything in one day. Neither do you have to buy out the whole store. If they don't have what you want, or it is all junk, walk out of the store! Don't buy something just because you walked in, or just because it's a dollar. That's your dollar. Keep it for something good! Also, some days, there is just nothing worth buying. Attitude is key. I know, for myself, if I am not in the right frame of mind, I can come home with junk, which defeats the whole purpose. It's called thrifting, not junking.

That being said, if you do make a mistake and bring home say, a polyester shawl from the seventies with burgandy trim and a previously undiscovered grease stain, don't beat yourself up. You could use that trim on something, maybe a lampshade. Clear out all your old junk, make a donation and start fresh with a new take on thrifting.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This Panda is Canadian eh.

So I knitted another tuque. Too bad it only fits my son's beloved Panda. I didn't follow a pattern, I just kind of flew by the seat of my knitted pants and this is what I got. Not bad. If I had any babies around I would have had a captive model, but alas, Panda will have to suffice. Try as I might, I just can't squeeze it onto my sleeping son's gargantuan head. Oh well, he will have a surprise in the morning. I'll just tell him I meant to do it all along. He won't know the diff. He wanted a headband anyways. A green one with a blue stripe. My last knitting project, which was supposed to be a cell phone case, is now a sleeping bag for another stuffy we call Bert. I'm sure by the time I am through, all his toys will be very warm this winter. Happy knitting!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Beans, beans the magical fruit...

I am really into beans and legumes lately. They are so economical, make a meal stretch beyond any normal limit and can be seasoned as desired. I usually use dried beans, because they are so cheap and can be stored indefinitely. It has taken me some research and patience on how to incorporate them into my meal planning but it has been worth it. There is something so comforting about a warm, filling meal made with beans. Beans very nutritious and fiber-filled to boot! The most recent things I have made with beans are a split yellow pea and ham soup and burritos. Both turned out fantastically well, if I do say so myself and made enough for me to stock up in the freezer for those I-don't-wanna-cook days. For example, I used up the leftover cubes of ham from a shoulder picnic we bought on sale and a pound of split yellow peas and it made almost a gallon of delicious soup! I could feed an army with that! My best trick is to soak, soak, soak, those beans the night before, preferably, and rinse away the soak water. Then bring to a boil, season and simmer one hour or until tender. If foam bubbles up, skim it away; that to me, is the fart gas. Some people add baking soda to help this, but I worry that it might add a yucky taste to your beans. Add more liquid if you need to. You can then freeze for later use or use in your bean dish. I also find, as in the burritos, pureeing the beans a bit with the other ingredients, or slow cooking until quite broken down in the soup, seems to help with the, uh, flatulence. Although in my house, this is regarded as nothing more than humorous! (Ha ha, bean farts :) Not so good for work and school though...) I used up leftovers for my burritos, so no real recipe to speak of; a half a tomato here, a frozen bunch of tomatoes I saved from another dish, a half onion, a dried bit of garlic, the meat and the beans. I let it all simmer away until it was nicely cooked through and reduced the liquid content. Then I pureed it all in the pot with my hand blender. With the seasonings, (chili powder, garlic and onion salt, whatever I had on hand) the filling turned out very good. This method would also be delicious with some ground round if you prefer a non-meat alternative. Very economical, a few tablespoons in a tortilla, (or maybe even homemade naan bread), fills you up nicely once you add the cheese and salsa and whatever else you like. I had more than enough to put some away and I only used a half pound each of meat and beans. Cheap and delicious, that's what I'm talkin' about!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Homemade Pumpkin Pie

Happy Thanksgiving Canada! Well, it's actually tomorrow and we are having our dinner tomorrow, but I got started on Saturday making pumpkin pies from scratch. Yes, I could have just bought a couple of pies at the grocery store and I have done that many a year, but I still think it is more cost effective, not to mention satisfying, to make your own. I made enough pastry for two shells, a dozen tarts (I used my peach preserves in those, YUM!) and I still have enough pastry in the freezer for another use. Maybe I'll make Pate au Poulet (or, in English, Chicken Pot Pie,) one of our family favourites. I like to practice making pastry as well, it is a skill that I think is good to have.
Here are my unbaked pies. Thank goodness I heeded the advice to shield the pastry edges with foil during the last half an hour of baking, or else indeed, they would have been too dark. They turned out well and await our dessert for tomorrow night.

The peach tarts, however did not make it that long :) 2 boys, 12 tarts, one was "broken", you get the idea...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thanksgiving weekend medley

This is a child's tuque and scarf I knitted a couple of years ago. It was my first and last knitting project. I like knitting and I hope to get back into it this fall and winter. Somehow it's one of those things I put to the side in place of other, faster gratifications. This project was entirely knit in garter stitch which was funny because that was the only stitch I knew how to do. It made the knitting quite tedious and the toque a little baggy. I have since learned to purl and can now rib and make things stretchy. Gauge is still a bit of a mystery but I imagine the only thing for that is practice. I was lucky enough to receive a big box of yarn and a bunch of different sized needles from a fellow freecycler, so I have everything I need to pick up and knit again. All I need is the proper motivation. It is my hope that posting my one success will inspire me again. I also have crochet needles. Hmmm. Anyone a knitter? What are you making? Any tips for the novice??

In other news, I am growing out my hair. I used to be addicted to highlights and most of my family thinks that I am a natural blond because I wore it that way for so many years. In the last year and a half or so I have been growing out my natural color for a few reasons: a) I have no idea what it really looks like beyond a few inches of roots, although now I am beginning to see that I am what the french call chatain or a dark reddish blond. It's not nearly as bad as I feared and I do have natural highlights which are quite nice. b) my natural hair is so much softer and touchable than the bleached out hair and my natural curl comes out a lot better and c) highlights are expensive and it's one of those unnecessary expenses that I have been trying to pare down in an effort to be more budget conscious and frugal minded. On another note, my husband has told me he really likes my natural hair a lot better. So, there you go! It is a little dry on the ends from the last remaining bleach, so I gave it a bit of a trim and did a home hot oil treatment. I used olive oil and two steamy towels. You heat up a small damp towel in your microwave until steamy. While that is going, you distribute the oil through your hair until all the ends are well covered. Then you wrap it in the steamy towel. Not too steamy, of course, or you'll burn your head. Use common sense, please! While the second towel is heating, you get a hot oil treatment. Switch out the towels a few times then shampoo your hair and condition. Wow, what a difference!
Do you have any home beauty treatments you'd like to share? Recipes? Please leave a comment.
Happy Thanksgiving, Canada! I will try to post again before I go back to work.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cookies and Cocoa

The weather has cooled off considerably around here and we have officially packed away all of the short sleeved shirts and unpacked the sweaters. With everyone out and about in school and at work we have already had the first round of cold and sniffles go through our house. That's when I decided to break out the chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate, using my home made chocolate syrup. This cookie recipe, that a co worker found on the Internet, apparently has an urban legend behind it, of which I had no prior knowledge. All I know is these cookies are darn good. They have a crispy outer edge with a soft chewy inside and when warm, the chocolate and coffee flavour remind me of a gourmet coffee shop cookie. I would gladly pay a dollar each for a cookie this good, although probably not $250 like the urban legend claims.
Neiman Marcus $250 Cookie Recipe
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp white sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 c flour
1/2 tsp bking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
1 1/2 c semi sweet chocolate chips
Notes: We added mini marshmallows at work (just because we could, heh heh) and they were fantastic. At home, I added walnuts because that is what I had on hand. Next time, I will add something like pecans or chopped almonds. I also substituted drip coffee and it was still good, though the espresso powder did have better flavour. I wanted to see if I could make them with more frugal ingredients at home and the cookie tin was still emptied in record time.
Enjoy your cool weather delights!