Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rainbows and Toothpaste

Hello Again and thanks for checking out what I am sharing. Although my goal is to post once a week, life seems to speed by and I find that too much time has passed. :)
Perhaps I should start an adventure on being organized, as that seems to be the biggest time eater in our house. :)

I wanted to share one of our favorite fun things and hope that it catches on and folks enjoy it at much as we do.
We are big readers in our family, I have to thank my parents for this gift. I remember my Mom reading to me constantly as a child, my father always had at least two books going at one time and stacks of magazines around the house on top of that.
Bruce's mother is a teacher so of course she too passed on the wonderful gift of loving books to him.
Reading to the children has always been a fun and special time, even now that they are older and read to themselves, we still have special times with comfy spots and fun books. Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss are always there. :)
So every year we honor Dr. Seuss' Birthday in our home. Come to think of it, we should start to recognize Sir Shel as well :)
The best thing we do on Dr. Seuss day is bake him a cake. :) Although this recipe that I am going to share is our own version of this fun cake, it was inspired by this post on one of my favorite craft sites Crafster. Or Crackster as my girl friend calls it, since I am on there pretty much every day. :)

This cake is so much fun to eat and to make. Children love it because first of all you can make a grand mess while making it, and then of course it looks really strange to eat. Imagine getting to eat that play dough creation you made as a child, only it actually taste wonderful. :)

Without further ado...Dr Seuss' Birthday Cake

We use blondies as the crust for the cake or cup cakes. Blondies are a southern version of a brownie. Wonderful in and of themselves but then you top it with cheese cake and WOW !! The inspiration for my blondie recipe was the recipe for Blondies in the Better Homes and Garden cook book. There are other versions of this cake that use cake as the crust and Brownies as well.

For the Blondies you will need...

2 cups packed brown sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
If you are making the cake spray the bottom of your spring form pan with a good baking spray. If you are making cup cakes just line your muffin tin with cup cake papers, preferably ubber fun colored ones.

Now for the cake you simply pour the batter in to the pan and bake until barely done. You want it to be still moist as you are going to bake it again.
For cup cakes place a little less than a tablespoon of batter in each up. It will spread out as you work and fill the bottom of the cup. Also, it will rise, so if it doesn't look like you have enough in the cup wait until you bake your first batch. I have made the mistake of putting too much of this batter in and then you end up with a blondie cupcake with cheese cake frosting.

Bake both versions at 350 until just barely firm and still moist.

Now for the fun part :)

Cheese cake batter
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
food coloring...lots and lots of food coloring

I double this if I am making cup cakes, especially if you have little ones helping. :)

With a mixer cream the cheese, sugar and extracts until smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time and mix well. Then add in the sour cream and mix well.

Now divide the batter into several bowls and start adding food coloring. I am usually a Wilton color girl but I have to say for this recipe the simple drop food coloring works the best and is the brightest. The neon colors really pop well if you can find them.

Once you have all of your colors mixed, take a large spoon for each color and start just plopping down splatters of color in each cup or all over the cake. Let your inner Jackson Pollack go wild. :)

Once you have or your little ones have "their creations" just how they want them, you just pop them into a 325 oven until the cakes are firm in the centers. Every oven is different so keep an eye on them. You do not want the cake or the cup cakes to brown.

That is it, :) You want to let them cool and then refrigerate, as with all cheese cakes these taste better cool.

I hope everyone enjoys these as much as we do. Please if you try it, write and let me know how you made it your own or what fun event you used it for.

Now on to the practical :) but still fun. As most of you know this blog started as a journal and sharing of sorts about our journey into homemaking, frugal living and going green. As with most things we jumped in with both feet.
Although we told ourselves that we were not going to go crazy with it, we starting getting silly and trying everything at once. When you discover something wonderful and tune your mind into a higher state of thinking it is hard to throttle back and keep yourself at a normal pace.
The only problem with that is it is easy to get carried away and then get burnt out.
As I have said before there are several factors that we are considering when choosing projects, products and changes.
How does it impact our health, our time, our money and our planet. All of these are important. The wonderful thing is a tiny difference can make a big impact on each of these factors so anything you do to improve any of these areas helps.

So over the last few weeks we have tried making our own
facial toner.....LOVE IT.. and will share in a latter post
facial soap.....Love it, use a castile based soap so I am not actually making it from scratch
dish soap...dismal failure, again a story for the next post
yogurt....a great hit, will share later....and on and on.

Now the one thing that happens when you start examining things closely is you will learn things that you didnt start out to learn. :)

So toothpaste. I found recipe that I wanted to try for making our own toothpaste. We used baking soda for awhile and really liked it but by itself or mixed with salt it taste terrible so we moved back to store bought after awhile.
Well of course once we made this declaration we decided to make our own soon as we used up the last of our store bought. LOL

This picture is what we are STILL working on for toothpaste. A month ago, the tube looked like what we would call empty. Bruce and I stood at our sink and actually looked at the tube and said, it might be time to whip up some of that tooth paste...Then I remembered my Dad.
My father could get every single smear of toothpaste out of a tube. I mean it was like a challenge for him. I remember standing at the sink and watching him hold the bottom of the tube and use the edge of the counter to help him scrape the last of the paste up to the top of the tube just for that last little bit. LOL
We decided to try this as well. It has been a MONTH !! of both of us brushing our teeth two to three times a day each. There is still probably about six more dabs in this tube. It is a running joke in our home now.
I will make our own toothpaste when it finally gives us all it has. LOL However I now know I will not be making tooth paste every week like bread. :)
A lot of you might already know this, probably already learned this lesson. For us it was striking, that simply by paying attention to how much you use of something, can in and of its self lead to conservation.

Enjoy the little things in life, a funny poem and seeing how much you can squeeze out life and toothpaste.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Better Days and Better Bread

Well I am happy to report that we are all much better and finally feeling like ourselves again.

We are still really enjoying this new adventure and trying new things every week. As I run out of store bought products we are replacing them with homemade.

I have cleaned the house for weeks now with all natural products and I have to say I love it. I have noticed that you do have to clean a bit more often. I clean the toilets about three times a week now rather than once. The shower gets sprayed and wiped down about twice a week rather than once. However the cleaning spray of water, vinegar and tea tree oil is so easy and cheap to make, I just keep a spray bottle in each bathroom and it is not that big of a deal. What I have noticed most of all is the smell of perfume and chemicals that I used to associate with clean is gone and now my home smells, well clean. Clean does not have a smell. So instead when you walk into our home you smell dinner or bread or incense etc.

I have found out that Borax is more toxic than what I once realized. I still use it sparingly as a cleaner mixed with baking soda. However it, like table salt or most other minerals is toxic if you eat it. So I have stopped using it in my kitty litter to stop the smell there and am on a new search for a good replacement. From what I can find online it is still a better alternative to most store bought cleaners. You just need to handle it with a bit more care than say vinegar and make sure you keep it out of the reach of children. The only reason that I could find for stopping the use in the kitty litter was the fact that cats can ingest it as they groom themselves. Better safe than sorry, so I will look for another alternative.

Peroxide continues to be our new found friend. We are using it as a mouth wash now as well as a disinfectant and it makes such a huge difference I am sure we will not use anything else again. There are two kinds of peroxide however and the only one you should use as a mouth wash and for your tooth brushes is the 3% that you can get at the local pharmacy. For cleaning you can use the stronger 30% that you can find online.

One of the products I was having a hard time saying goodbye to was oxiclean. I am still not sure that I will let it go completely. However I was surprised to see that the main ingredient in it is peroxide. Have not experimented with this too much as of yet but will for sure keep folks updated as I figure it all out.

It is hard sometimes to balance frugal, natural and less waste. As we change the way we live and the things that we use, some changes are made for money, some for health. A lot of what we are doing by making our own things at home does save some money but the pay off for us in the long run is the lack of chemicals that we are eating and the lack of packaging we are adding to the landfill.

Everyone is asking for the bread recipe that I have been using so I wanted to share the recipe along with some information that I have learned along the way.

This was really my first venture into making bread for the family. I have made some yeast breads before but usually just one loaf at a time and for special occasions. We started thinking about making our own bread when we started down this natural road.

We were paying on average about 2.50 a loaf for the bread that we liked to eat. We are a family for four with two school age girls. So there are lunches every day and then hot breakfast every morning. We were going through about three loaves of bread a week. That was around 7.50. I can make about 9 loaves of bread for that, less if I shopped in bulk. Not to mention the taste difference is amazing and the health benefits are notable.

So when I started out to do this I wanted something that was simple enough that I would stick to it and also that a beginner could grasp and accomplish.

This was the recipe that I found

Here is the actual recipe to keep it simple, just please note that it is not mine and I did get it from all :)

• 1/2 cup warm water
• 3 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
• 1/4 cup bread flour
• 1 tablespoon white sugar
• 2 cups quick cooking oats
• 2 cups whole wheat flour
• 4 1/2 cups warm water
• 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
• 2/3 cup brown sugar
• 2/3 cup vegetable oil
• 10 cups bread flour
1. In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, stir together 1/2 cup warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/4 cup bread flour, and yeast. Let grow for about 5 minutes. It will bubble almost immediately.
2. Measure oats, 4 1/2 cups warm water, whole wheat flour, salt, 2/3 cup sugar, and 2/3 cup oil into the mixing bowl. Mix on low speed with a dough hook for 1 to 2 minutes. Increase speed slightly, and begin adding bread flour 1/2 to 1 cup at a time until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. Humidity determines how much flour you need before the bread pulls away from the edge of the bowl. It is normal for the dough to be sticky.
3. Place dough in an oiled bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
4. Divide dough into 6 pieces. Shape loaves, and place in greased 8 x 4 inch pans. Let rise until dough is 1 inch above rim of pans, usually 1 hour.
5. Bake at 350 degrees F ( 175 degrees C) for 35 minutes, or until tops are browned. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

I love this site as it is full of great ideas and tons of wonderful folks that share cooking and baking tips along the way. This is the easiest bread I have ever made. You make six loaves in one crack. So once a week I have a baking day now with one week a month off. It takes three hours from start to finish. I like to keep the kitchen warm and let my bread rise on the stove top so I keep the oven burning the whole time.

Such a waste you might say....not if you are baking cookies and muffins in the rise time. :)
If you are quick and plan ahead you can make two kinds of cookies with about three batches each during the two rise times. In the summer when the weather is hot, you can skip keeping the oven on and baking cookies. The kitchen will not heat up as it only takes 35 minutes to bake these beauties.

A few things that I had to learn the hard way or by reading other bread making information.

I measure all of my ingredients ahead of time and have them all ready when I start. I never understood folks doing this before but it really does make it much easier and you can just fly through it once you start making the actual bread.

Always make sure your yeast is fresh. It is cheaper if you buy the jars rather than the packet, by quite a bit actually. Keep your jar either in the freezer or fridge to keep it fresh. Allow the measured portion to come to room temperature before you start feeding it.

The warm water they call for...should be warm to the touch but not hot. I use a thermometer for testing mine and use about 100 to 110 degree water. When the water is the right temperature and the yeast is fresh you will see this in your bowl after a few minutes.

I use a stand up mixer for the mixing of most of the dough. It will fill your mixer FULL and you will need to clean all kinds of tiny spots that you did not know your mixer had. I use warm water and vinegar and it cuts through everything like a dream as long as you clean it up as everything is still moist.

When it says that the bread will start to pull away from the sides, it will look like this. For me the dough at this point is still VERY sticky and I usually have about four cups of flour still left to add in. I knead the rest of the dough into the bread.

You want to make sure you flour your surface well before you start kneading as again it is sticky. The best way to clean the remaining dough out of your bowl and off of your hands is with the extra flour. I add about a half of a cup of flour to the bowl once I have turned the bulk of the dough out. Then you rub the flour around and it will pick up the remaining dough for you to add to your huge pile that is waiting for you.

If you have never kneaded dough before you should know that kneading it long enough is an important step in this process. Ten minutes is a good rule of thumb but depending on weather and where you live it is not the only way to tell if you have kneaded it enough. The dough should take on a smooth texture and be slightly firm. It will feel smooth and nice in your hands and start to feel almost like it is kneading you back. It will also be a bit elastic and fall back into shape as you pull on it. This is the hardest part of making this bread and it is really not all that bad. However for me (and as I teach my girls) this is when the magic gets put into your bread. Make sure you are in a good space and thinking wonderful loving thoughts about your family when you are doing this part of it. It really does make a difference.

I use olive oil to oil my bowls and pans for this recipe. You will need a LARGE bowl to hold the dough, remember that it will double in size.

Once it has doubled the first time and you begin to divide it here are a few things that I do that is not in the instructions.

For long time bread makers.. I do not punch this down as you do with other breads. I cut it into six portions that will fit in my pans.

Then since I am making this for sandwich bread I roll it so it is more airy like the bread we used to buy. Do not over use your rolling pin, only work with the dough as much as you have to for the shape and size you want it to be.

Once you have the portion that is the right size, you want to gently roll the dough until it is the approximate length of your bread pan and about four times the width.

Then you want to start a roll on one side.

Gently roll the dough until it looks like a jelly roll.

Now tuck in the ends and place into your pan. It is going to double in size again so it will fill your pan before you put it in the oven.

Remember that this is fresh bread with no preservatives in it. So plan out how much bread you or your family is going to eat for the week. Store the loaves that will be eaten in the next few days in your bread box. If the bread will not be eaten for a few days keep it in a sealed container or tightly wrapped in your fridge. If you want to freeze it, take it out of the oven about ten minutes before it is finished baking. Let it cool as usual and then wrap it tightly in tin foil and freeze. When you are ready to eat that loaf, thaw to room temperature and remove the foil from just the top of the loaf, making your own bread pan. Bake in oven for the remaining ten minutes until the top is golden brown. It is just as good as the day you kneaded it.

One last frugal tip. Save the used tin foil for next weeks baking. When you are done baking your bread and cookies, your counter will be a flour mess. Allow the dough to dry slightly and add a small bit of the left over flour to the mess. Now make a loose ball out of your used tin foil and give the counter a good scrub. The mess will crumble off for you to sweep in the trash and then clean your counter with your normal cleaning method. This saves the sponge from getting nasty with a wet flour mess.
Happy baking and many blessings to you and yours

Monday, January 25, 2010

Still fighting the good fight ;)

First let me start with a silly disclaimer...these are the things that we do in our house to help each other and ourselves heal and get better. I am not nor is anyone in my family or house hold a doctor. If you are uncomfortable with any of these suggestions simply do not do them. Always check with a doctor to be sure all of these things are safe for you. I recommend finding a homeopathic doctor and not one that is getting kick backs from the pharmaceutical companies. Also you can learn volumes by just going to your local library, doing your own research on line and talking to friends and family that live with your same values.

Well we are all still dog sick here but wanted to share a few more discoveries on our natural, frugal journey.
This head cold we all four have is just miserable but I have to say we are all taking it in stride. We are not a run to the medicine cabinet kind of family and I have found several things that really seem to be helping.

Of course drink lots of fluid, however warm fluid seems to bring really wonderful relief to a congested chest and nose.

Use a neti pot or a Nassen Douche if in Germany. This makes a MAJOR difference and can bring much relief quickly. This is a natural sinus irrigation that even the children welcome when they have a stuffy nose. I use 8 oz of water warmed for 33 seconds in my microwave. As always microwave temps vary so you will need to work with your water temp and get it to a comfortable point for you. It should feel warm to the touch but not hot. Then I add a 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt and a pinch of baking soda. Mix it up until the salt is dissolved and then follow directions for neti pot use. When you have a cold doing this two to three times a day can be a life saver.

There is a tea by Traditional Medicinals called Lemon Echinacea Throat Coat...I will not advertise for my companies for free on a blog but I LOVE this tea. It has a wonderful taste and when sweetened with a bit of honey really does help a cough and sore throat.

Never underestimate the power of warm lemonade.

I used to be a huge fan of Vicks but I am not fond of rubbing the petroleum jelly on my skin. That being said, if you have some left in your cabinet, rubbing some on a piece of cloth and putting it in a hot shower with you will do wonders as well.

If you need a cough medicine here is my Welch Grandmothers recipe as best I remember it and how we use it in our family.

1/2 to 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 teaspoons of honey, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of good Irish whiskey.

In a small pan or egg poacher warm and melt the butter and honey until well combined, add in the lemon juice and remove from heat. Add in the whiskey and drink down while still warm. It will be soothing while setting your insides on fire at the same time. However you will sleep and it will help with coughing.

Always sleep in a inclined position of you have a cold, it will help with sinus drainage and will cut down on the coughing.

Of course tea tree oil rubbed on your chest or on a hankie and then placed into your pillow will help for sleeping with a stuffy nose. Camphor oil is wonderful as well.

We use both of these in humidifiers as well.

That old saying starve a cold and feed a fever...not sure where the wisdom in feeding a fever is. Two things here.....if you are running a fever, don't take medicine to break it, unless it is extremely high for a long period of time. Your body runs a fever to kill the bug that is making you sick. Let your body work how it was meant to and you will get better sooner.
As far as not eating...Well, lets not get crazy. :) However you do want to avoid dairy products and especially red meat when you are sick. Your body has to use a huge amount of energy to digest red meat. Let your bodies energy be used to help you get better and eat tofu in your soups. Or chicken soup is still a wonderful thing for a cold. Even if you don't feel like eating the soup you can drink the broth and get all kinds of wonderful things from it.

My chicken soup is simple and good..

Take a whole chicken and remove the skin. There is still plenty of fat in chickens for you to get a good stock. Place skinned chicken...with bones into a large pot full of water. Add the following spices.


All of these have healing properties and should be used liberally in your chicken soup. Add half now and half about 15 minutes before you serve your soup as they will be stronger then. Try and use fresh herbs if possible.

Bring chicken and spices to a rolling boil. Now turn down to a medium heat until you see the meat start to separate from the bone. Turn off the heat and allow your broth and chicken to cool to room temperature.

In the mean time cut the following washed veggies into bite sized pieces.

Mushrooms shitake if you can find them fresh, if not buy them dried and rehydrate.
All mushrooms are a great source of C and B vitamins but shitake
mushrooms have much higher levels of wonderful things for you.
Carrots High in C, B and A vitamins you really can't do without them when you
are sick.
Bell Pepper Again has a ton of vitamin C in it
Onion Another vitamin C friend
Leeks Just an all around wonderful food for you. Too many wonderful properties
to list but when in doubt about what will make you feel better, always
throw in a leek or two. They are cheap as well.
or Sea Weed Both are wonderful for you and if you are going to try and add seaweed to
your diet soup is a good way to start.

Any other high in vitamin C veggies that your family might like, broccoli, Lima beans, corn, peas (I would add these in at the last minute) or cauliflower would all be good. However remember the point here is to eat light, you don't want to pack in so much goodies that you are eating a stew in the end.

Once the chicken in cooled start to pull the chicken from the bone. I only use half of the chicken as again you want to not pack too much meat in your body as you are trying to heal. You can save the remainder of the meat for another meal once everyone is back to health.
Cut the meat into bite sized pieces and put them back into your broth with the above veggies. You can add firm tofu at this point as well and it is really good in the soup.

Let simmer until carrots are to your liking and then add in the last remainder of your herbs.

Hopefully your body will do the rest. In the mean time don't forget to encourage hand washing and disinfect surfaces and things that harbor the most germs. Door knobs, remote controls, counter tops all can be disinfected with tea tree oil mixed with water and vinegar.

Toothbrushes should be soaked over night in Hydrogen Peroxide. You can also use Hydrogen Peroxide to clean bath room faucets, handles etc. ( thank you Aunt Mary)
You can learn more about using Hydrogen Peroxide, what it is, the history of it and it's many uses by going here..

Lay pillows and stuffed animals out in the sunshine if you can for a sun bath during the day, if not run them through your dryer on high heat with some tea tree or lavender oil.

Don't forget to change your air filter during but especially after you all have been sick.
Again thank you Aunt Mary

Finally let the sun in if you can. Sunshine is a wonderful disinfectant and sometimes just the fresh air can lift your spirits. Blow the germs out of our house by opening up windows and getting a cross breeze going through your home. Even if only for 30 minutes.

Here's to all of our good health. May this bug be making us stronger so that the next one passes us by. :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

We are feelin' better really...

Well this blog is supposed to be about our new adventure into the more natural and frugal lifestyle, and I was really quite happy just chatting about food.
Life had other plans however. The crawling crud has hit our home and a deep cleaning was needed.
So since there is no time like the present, I jumped in with both feet into the all natural cleaning supplies.
Many of the ideas that I refer to in this post came from one of my best friends Kim. She is a pro at all natural and is full of wonderful ideas. The rest have been gleaned from books, magazines and web pages. I take no credit for inventing the wheel here, just want to pass on good information that has been rattling around in my head or that I come across.

First rule of cleaning naturally...this will only work if you do not fall into one or both of the following categories.

You only clean your home on a semi annually basis.
You are a germaphobe.

The last one is a bit tricky as I myself channel Howard Hughes on occasion. I was able to over come my addiction to bleach though and I have to say I feel liberated now. Vinegar really does cut mildew as well as getting out stains on counters.

Cleaning supplies list for all natural homemade cleaners..

Baking Soda
Tea tree oil
Lavender (dried flowers for sachets and oil for cleaning)
Lemon juice
Essential oils

All of this will get you started and really in a pinch you only need the top three.

Baking Soda will be one of your best friends if you chose to join the frugal, all natural group of folks. Baking Soda is a miracle substance that does everything from help you scrub pots and pans, clean out tubs, wash laundry, and kill odors. If you want more applications for it, you can always use it to wash your hair, brush your teeth or even keep yourself smelling fresh in lu of deodorant.

Yesterday, I had a deep need to get the sick out of my home and in the old days, like last month, I would have reached for bleach, disinfectant spray and a common household cleaner that I will not name. (It is named after an evergreen tree though)

After using just two cleaners that I made up that morning the house smelled and felt great.
First thing I made was carpet fresh. It had been awhile since we have been able to open windows and all four of us are really sick so I needed the house to smell good.

I used
1 1/2 cups Baking soda
2 drops of lemon oil
4 drops of rose oil (the rose oil I used was a rose blend essential oil, pure rose oil is really pricey)

Put all ingredients into a can of some kind. I used an old Jameson canister. Shake well. Punch holes in top of can and generously sprinkle on your carpet. Let sit while cleaning the house and then vacuum up.

This amount did our whole house and I still have some left over. The house smelled really wonderful all day long.

The only other cleaner I used was the following

About 3 cups water
2 tablespoons of vinegar
1 teaspoon of tea tree oil

You can just use the water and vinegar but tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant and I wanted to chase these cold germs away.

I used this for the entire bathroom, it was really nice not having three or four bottles. It cleaned the tubs, showers, floors, walls, sinks and toilets. I was amazed at the layers of chemical residue that came off of the surfaces. All this time I thought I was really cleaning my home and I was just adding layer after layer of chemical goo all over everything. The vinegar cuts right through it all and gets down to the surface to make everything really shiny and clean.

Then I brought it into the kitchen and did the same thing in there. I have to say it was a bit strange feeling like the house was clean but not smelling the smell of bleach or pine trees, however it was wonderful to have the house smell and feel so clean with out the presents of chemicals. There was a real freedom in not really worrying when the cats walked across the newly mopped floor. None of the clothing I was wearing yesterday is stained with chemicals.

As an extra precaution I did add tea tree oil to my laundry and I tossed the pillows in the dryer on high for about 30 minutes with some lavender oil. For the rest of my laundry, I have a girl friend that made me some lavender sachets. You basically sew a square pillow about the size of your hand, fill with dried lavender flowers and toss those in your dryers instead of dryer sheets. You clothes smell wonderful afterwards. If you have a problem with static, you can use either tennis balls or homemade wool dryer balls.
You can find easy to follow directions here...

There are several more home cleaning recipes out there and a lot more things that I want to try. I really want to only share the things that I try personally, however so I will share them all as I go.

I would love to hear from anyone that has ideas or recipes to share.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Never underestimate the power of leftovers

When you are trying to be frugal and live wisely, you really have to take a moment and evaluate. Where you can cut back and also what might you be wasting?
There are a lot of folks that don't like eating the same thing two or three times in a row but you can recreate dinners, lunches and breakfast from parts of what you had the night or day before.

Before I share last nights dinner idea, I wanted to share some of our favorite ways we have found to use what normally would get tossed.
Some of these ideas come from friends, some from my Mom. Growing up one of five with my Grandfather being in the military, she learned a lot from her Mom.

The cost of bread can add up and most of us eat it daily in some way.
Remember that bread can be frozen so if you see it on sale OR if you bake it yourself you can always freeze extra loaves as you go.
If you have left over rolls, pita, sandwich bread etc, you can freeze the leftovers for later. However my favorite thing to do is break it up so I have bread for stuffing. I keep a bread bag in my freezer and when there is a piece left over or the heels of the loaf I break it up into stuffing size pieces. Then when it is time for stuffing you don't have to dry out your bread or buy the stuff in the box.
You can also let it sit out and stale just a bit, then grate and toss with your favorite spices for you own bread crumbs.
Last but not least, left over bread makes great croutons. Cut the left over bread into small pieces, brush them with olive oil and sprinkle on your favorite seasonings. Bake for 20 minutes in a low oven.


We love fruit in our home and I always try and keep some around. More often than not though there will always be those extra few pieces that start to get bruised and then no one will eat them.
For citrus remember that they make wonderful household cleaners. For lemons and oranges you can cut them in half and use them to get the smells out of your sinks several days after they have lost their snack appeal. Cut into small pieces and put in your garbage disposal, they can get rid of smells wonderfully. You can also cut them up and drop them in a pot of water with some other spices for a wonderful smell that will fill your whole house. You can use all of these ideas as well with just the hull that is left over after making fresh lemonade or orange juice.
For apples and pears, peel and cut off bruised sections, then you can stew them or bake them and the family is getting a wonderful desert.
Bananas are my favorite as darker bananas make wonderful muffins and bread. You can usually get a darker bunch on sale at the grocery for next to nothing. When you see this deal snap it up. If you don't have time to bake in the upcoming days, no worries. When you have a bunch or even an odd one you can put your bananas in the freezer for use later. They will turn black on the outside but the banana itself will be better than ever for baking. Pull the frozen fruit out about an hour before you want to bake, let it sit at room temp. When you are ready pinch the top of the peel off and then slide the fruit out in one smooth motion. The fruit will slide out of the peel and be ready with out even much mashing.
Finally if you are lucky enough to have a food dehydrator you can make fruit leather. Put any mixture of your favorite fruits into a blender, blend until you have a thick fruit sauce. Spread on a saran wrap sheet in your machine. The thinner you spread it, the faster it will be ready.
Once done, cut into wedges and roll. These are a prefect snack for the girls and uses up tons of apples and pears that would not have gotten eaten other wise.


Meat, gets a little tricky as it take practice to think ahead of time and project how much your family will eat and what you can do with the left over meat. If you know that your family will not eat the entire package of chicken then don't barbeque the entire package. Two pieces of chicken saved can make a good soup or quiche for the next nights dinner.
If you are going to get a big piece of meat, make sure that you make something that can be used in other ways.
My girlfriend from England makes wonderful roast dinners with whole chickens and then uses what is left of the chicken for soup, pot pie extra. I have another friend that makes a wonderful pasta dish with left over baked chicken.
We like pot roast and one of our favorite things to do is make lum sandwiches the next day. (recipe to follow)
Remember you can always freeze most left over as well. I have revived an old family tradition called end of the month soup. Have a good sized container in your freezer and at the end of every meal you add in the tablespoon of veggies or small pieces of meat that are not large enough to save. At the end of the month it all goes in a pot a cooks for the day. Some of the best soups I have ever tasted were end of the month soup and now I know how good my Mom felt feeding it to us as well.
To save time and money, you can buy your ground meat in bulk. When you bring it home, brown all of it at one time, adding in the basic spices and additions like onion, garlic etc. Then you can freeze the precooked portions. This can save you time and save your meat from getting freezer burned.

Think outside of the cook book.
Just because it says it is breakfast food doesn't mean that it has to stay there. Here in America we don't stray very often but in Europe it is normal to have eggs for dinner or lunch. One of our favorite dinners is quiche. It is easy and filling, I usually make two at once and then we have a slice for breakfast for several days in a row. Quiches are a great way to use up a small amount of leftover meat and make it stretch.
Remember that you can send leftovers for lunch the next day. The children went to school happy as larks today with left over tabouli, hummus and pita.

Here are a few more recipes, as usual if they are mine, the measurements will not be exact and feel free to add in other spices or remove some.

Lum sandwiches

This is from my Grandfathers head, I am sure it might not be exactly how he made it but it sure taste the same.

Use leftover pot roast a piece about the size of two fist will make more than enough to feed four.

In a medium stock pot add in your meat
some onions from the roast dinner cut thin and small
some juice from the roast dinner
about two cups of water
a clove of garlic crushed
a package of beef bouillon
about a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

Bring all the contents to a light boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for several hours, making sure that the liquid level in the pot stays full enough to keep meat from burning. As you stir on occasion, start to pull apart the meat. When it is totally fallen apart it is done.

Now take some good quality bread, spread with butter and add lum meat and sauce and enjoy.


3 tablespoons catsup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder


We love this for dinner and it is a great way to use up just a handful of meat that you might have left over. I have used ham, turkey and chicken with it and all are really good.
You can also use different veggies, try bell peppers or broccoli as well.

one pie crust or enough fillo dough to cover bottom of pie plate for several layers
4 to 5 large eggs
1/2 cup of milk
one cup of shredded cheese ( we like sharp cheddar)
1/2 of a small sweet onion or one leek sautéed and cooled
11/2 to 2 cups of cooked spinach cooled to room temp
about a cup of diced meat of your choice
little more than a tablespoon of flour
dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350

Make your pie dough or layer your fillo dough in your pie plate set aside

In a medium sized bowl add in your cheese and flour. Toss until cheese is coated well.

In a large bowl add your eggs, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Whisk until well blended.

Add in other ingredients and whisk well.

Pour mixture into prepared crust, bake for about 45 minutes or until knife inserted in middle comes out clean.

Easy, easy !!

I double this and make two at a time. One is enough for dinner with bread and a salad and then the second one last us for the whole school week for breakfast.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Adventure

Our New Adventure this year is slowly moving into reducing our foot print even more and cutting cost where we can. Because of where we live it makes recycling on a big scale impossible but there are several things we can do just in our own home so we are getting started on that.

I wanted to share some of the information that I have found and then will let everyone know how things are going as we move along.

First place to cut money was our food budget. There has been a TON of garbage being generated just through packaging alone and the cost was getting out of control. Due to the area we live in, our grocery bill was about 800 dollars a month. Now mind you that is with me cooking all of our meals. Unfortunately in this country, eating healthy cost more than eating all of your meals out of a box. Fresh fruits and veggies are very expensive and heaven help you if you want to eat organic.
So here we steps. My first move was at the beginning of the school year, we bought, each girl a thermos, a sandwich holder and a washable lunch bag so that has saved a bit right there. No sandwich packing and no juice boxes. We buy the cans of Juicy Juicy, 100% juice, you can use the can as you would an old coffee can or recycle it AND it is remarkably cheaper than the boxes. We mix our juice with mineral water to give it a bit of a fizz and it makes it last longer.
Frozen juice is even cheaper, however it is really hard to find one that is not packed full of sugars.
The next thing I started looking into was how to cut down on our meat eating, just for cost reasons and that alone, since we all love a good steak. However the cost of meat is outrageous now AND lets be honest, it is really not good for you for the most part. We buy our chicken hormone free, we eat very very little pork (the meds that they shoot them up with are making people sicker and sicker every year) and we try to limit our beef to about three times a month or so. We DO eat buffalo when I can find it, it is not much more expensive than beef, but is way better for you.
You can order it online, it is a tiny bit pricey, however if you cut cost in all of the other places that I am about to share with you, then you can more than afford it and still come out ahead.

So the number one way to cut back on ethnic food. Most places on this planet do not eat a 1/4 pound of meat per person per meal. If we Americans put a proper portion of meat on a plate for a typical American meal we would feel cheated and our heads would talk us out of being full. HOWEVER, if you move outside of your box and start eating different foods, then you can feel full and you are trying something different.
Last week I bought one pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs for 3 dollars. It had six thighs in it. I used two one night to make a Middle Eastern dinner. Then the next night stuffed the last four for our dinner.

Middle Eastern food is a wonderful way to cut back on meat and it satisfies you because it is packed with vitamins so, you walk away from a meal, not feeling full to the point of overstuffed but you feel good because your body has all it needs. I will share our favorites in a moment as they are all easy to make.

However, I must share the name of one wonder food right here and now. Tahini...if you have not heard of it, you should really find it and try it. Now it does cost about 5 bucks for a jar jar will last us up to a week and we eat it every single day. If you are going to eat it every now and then, it will last a long time. Most recipes only call for a few teaspoons or tablespoons at a time.
It is basically ground sesame seeds and water. (We love labels with two ingredients). It is one of the main ingredients of hummus. We do eat a lot of hummus but we use tahini like peanut butter as well. I mix, 2 tablespoons of tahini with one tablespoon of honey and one teaspoon of cinnamon. YUM...we eat it on toast in the morning, waffles, with apples. It is really good...and here is the has NINE grams of protein in one serving. No bad fats and no sodium. It is high in calories and good fats and packed with iron as well, so it is a good food to start off your morning with. Like I said you only use a bit of it and the recipe above makes a spread for four or five servings on toast or waffles.
So you will have to initially drop some cash on the tahini. If you don't use or have a good olive oil, that will cost you upfront also, but if you leave out two days worth of meat it will pay for both of those ingredients in one grocery trip.

Of course the no brainer for a small amount of meat is oriental food. Fried rice, stir fry and more than I can list, all call for only a small amount of meat to be cooked in them and you fill up on rice and veggies. You can also use good amounts of Tofu when you are cooking Oriental and it is fine. We use the soy meat that comes in a sausage tube for eggrolls and you cannot tell a difference. We use Tofu in soups, when you are using it in fried rice or stir fry, just get the extra firm kind and sauté it for a few minutes in sesame oil and your favorite oriental seasonings, it is really good.

I love to cook and all four of us love to eat, my three people's favorite question is "what's for dinner". The girls would most likely eat whatever but I have spoiled my husband and it if did not taste good he would not eat it. He is wary of "health foods" as he is afraid of them not having taste but he has loved every one of the dinners that I am going to share with you.

I will try and share a recipe a day to give you an idea of what we are eating. I can tell you that in the past three weeks of trying this and a few other things I have dropped our grocery bill down to about 120 dollar a week so far. There are still several other things that we are going to try. I will share as we go.

So finally our dinner last night

Steak strips with yogurt sauce

Steak Strips

One boneless sirloin steak
Half a sweet onion cut in thin strips
two cloves garlic crushed
the juice from half of a lemon
two tablespoons of olive oil
small amounts of
red pepper
Curry to taste (we like a lot)

In a heavy bottomed skillet, add olive oil and get good and hot. You want the meat to sear when it hits the pan.
While waiting for the skillet to get hot cut the steak into thin strips going against the grain.
Once the skillet is hot, add the onion first so it starts to caramelize. When the onions are clear add the meat, it will only take about five minutes for it cook. Add in meat and the rest of the spices and stir to keep from burning. It is done when it is well browned and onions are caramelized.
You should do the meat last as it is the fastest and you want it warm.

The yogurt sauce

About a cup of yogurt
3 cloves of garlic crushed
the juice from half a lemon
sea salt to taste
about 1/4 cup of cucumber thinly sliced (paper thin) and then cut

When the meat is done you lay it on a warm pita, add some lettuce if you wish and then drizzle on the yogurt sauce. Eat with sides of hummus and tabouli


Half a bag of dried chick peas
two cups chicken stock
one cup water
two teaspoons garlic powder
two teaspoons onion powder
three teaspoons parsley
two teaspoons red pepper
two teaspoons lemon peel
sea salt
blk pepper

Once cooked you will need
All of the above spices plus
juice from half a lemon
two tablespoons of tahini
crushed garlic

All of the spices are a guess as you should work with what you and your family will like. I probably used more garlic than that. ;)

You need to start the chick peas about a day before you want hummus. You can get chick peas in the can but they are loaded with sodium and lack flavor to me. This way you are cutting the sodium, the trash foot print and you are cooking flavor into your peas.

The night before soak half a bag of chick peas in water. Put them in pan and cover completely, then add about two more cups. They will soak up a ton of water. I soak mine for a full 24 hours and it cuts the cook time.
Once they are done soaking pour off water and rinse well. Add back into put and add in your cup of water, two cups of chicken stock and all of your seasonings.
Bring to a rolling boil and then reduce to simmer. Cook until you have only about a 1/3 cup liquid remaining and the chick peas are soft enough to eat and blend.

In a blender mix, two cups of chickpeas, two tablespoons of tahini, crushed garlic, juice from your lemon. Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Put on large dish, drizzle with good olive oil and sea salt. Now you can use this as a dip for your pita. It is LOADED with protein and very filling. It will last for five days in the fridge and up to two months in the freezer. You can use it as a spread on sandwiches instead of mayo as well.


Now tabouli is a salad and it is traditionally made with parsley, as parsley will not wilt in the hot temperatures. We have used all kinds of dark leaf veggies in there and like them all. Our favorite is spinach.

You will need
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/2 ts sea salt
1 1/2 cups of water
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 lemon juice
1 to 2 cups Parsley, Spinach or other green
1 cup diced tomato (or more)
1 cup diced cucumber
1 cup sweet onion, purple onion or we use leek

In a large pot bring water and salt to a roiling boil. Take off of heat and stir in bulgur wheat, cover immediately with tin foil and set aside for one hour.
Cut all of your veggies.
When the wheat as absorbed all of the water and cooled mix in your veggies with the olive oil and lemon juice. Serve chilled.
This can be eaten as a salad or with pita.