Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Save money ... shop at thrift stores and garage sales!

Today is wednesday ... which means HALF OFF DAY at the Salvation Army (all in NE and IA anyway; I'm not sure about other states)! YAY! Guess what day you can find me at the Salvation Army? Yeap, wednesday :)

My son Tylor is tall and getting taller every month. At one point a few months ago I prayed and told God He needed to provide Tylor with some pants, otherwise I was going to have to learn how to make them. We had been going to the thrift store at least once a month and could not find pants that fit Tylor (I forgot to mention that he's really skinny too). He was down to one pant. After praying the night before and the day of, we made the trip to the thrift store and I found EIGHT pants! I had to put some back. He has now grown out of all but 2. We went today and he found one that fit just right ... almost anyway. The waist is still a little big, but he can wear a belt (27x34). The jeans look new.
Tylor also needed some shoes. Usually I cannot find decent ones at the thrift store, however this time we found a black and brown pair for him :) He is wearing a size 12 right now. At least he has big enough feet to carry around that tall body!

Brianna and I found a few shirts. She had her mind set before we got there and knew she needed a yellow and a blue one. She found a nice yellow one and a blue one that will do till she finds one she likes better. (at only a dollar, it's ok to do that!) I have been wanting simple brown shoes for a while and I found what looks like an almost new pair.

Now for the big story! I have been wanting a good dish set for YEARS (7 or more years?). I kept looking and looking ... nothing was at the right price with a simple pattern and quality material. Today I found a 6 piece service for 12! (is that how you would say it?) There's 12 each of large, medium and small plates, regular and small bowls, cups and s&p shakers. It's Corelle and there's NO PATTERN! Even better, it's a creamy off-white color! And better still, I got it all for $15! My years of perseverance paid off.

Don't buy new! Usually garage sales are cheaper than thrift stores, however the selection at thrift stores can be better and you only have to go to one place ... save on gas!

One more thing ... when you find that one thing you've been praying about, make sure to praise the Lord!

Happy shopping!

In Christ,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Weekly meals and frugal tips

Jennifer at 'double nickel farm' had the great idea of sharing meals for the week. I thought I'd give it a try as well; feel free to share what your family does!

As we all know, or should know, family meal time can make or break a budget! We try to plan our meals a week at a time, based on what's on hand and what's on sale at the stores. First, I write a grocery list, next I clean the refrigerator, then go shopping ... and finally, I come home and write a meal plan for the week.

Something we are starting now is daily crock-pot meals. Don't get me wrong, we use the crock-pot often!!! However I am now using it every day for lunch. I found that lunch time was when I often slacked and didn't get things started when I should ... thus making the meal late and supper late as well. The crock-pot idea has solved our lunch dilemma! YAY! We are all liking it so far.

Here's our meal plan for the week; I write it all on one sheet with room for notes and a store list. I save the sheets for future meal ideas:

Breakfast is always a green smoothie, fruit &/or oatmeal. If for some reason we are out of smoothie ingredients, the children have oatmeal and I eat raw fruit (I just cannot eat cooked food in the morning!).

Lunch - I make notes on my meal chart to remind me of what I need to prep ahead of time. For example, my note for today (tuesday) said "cut up veg for wed" and "start beans in crock-pot before bed". This makes it to where I can simply get up in the morning, throw the stuff in the crock-pot, add liquid and turn it on :) How easy is that? Now lunch is always ready at noon. Since fresh veggies are abundant right now, I often will serve a cucumber salad or other raw item with the soup. Also, there's usually left over soup; I leave the crock-pot on warm and we'll have it as a snack later when we are hungry.
Monday - Minestrone soup
Tuesday - Veg & rice soup
Wednesday - Black bean soup
Thursday - Potato soup
Friday - Sun seed butter and jam sandwich with carrot sticks (thought we might want a change for that day!)
Saturday - Don't know yet!!
Sunday - Hamburger stew

Monday - Nachos with fresh salsa and corn
Tuesday - Fish, green beans and rice (we had plenty of left over veg & rice soup from lunch, so we used that instead)
Wednesday - we will be with our friends eating at their house; I am bringing a salad and fresh bread
Thursday - Beef, cabbage and rice
Friday - Veggies over rice biscuits, cuc salad
Saturday - Spaghetti & broccoli
Sunday - homemade veggie pizza (no cheese!), salad

You may have noticed we eat a few meals with beef this week ... once in a while I will buy a little bit of ground beef and cook it all at once. I then portion it out into baggies and freeze them; there is 1c of cooked ground beef per baggie. This 1c is just enough to flavor the meal and make it seem like there's a lot there, however it's not much at all. Also, we really do not like eating meat that much ... so this is a great way to save money too.

Sometimes I will buy a whole chicken, cook it, pick it apart, portion the meat into baggies (1c) and freeze. Then I take the left-overs, throw them in a stock pot with a few misc. veggies and seasons, bring to a boil, then simmer a few hours. Let it cool, strain out the chunks, and what's left is fatty chicken stock. I keep that in a bowl in the refrigerator over night. Pull it out in the morning, scoop off and throw away the fat that has settled at the top, pour into mason jars, and freeze.
In general, we hardly eat meat of any kind (don't like the smell of it, nor the taste in most cases, nor the way it makes us feel) ... we'll go for months at a time without preparing meat at home.

After we steam veggies, I dump the water into a 'community mason jar' in the refrigerator. This collects till full, then gets dumped into a crock-pot soup as a veggie stock.

Something I used to do but stopped ... and plan to do it again ...
When we get home from grocery shopping, I used to prepare a lot of the vegetables, rice, pasta, etc. in one day and then store in the refrigerator or freezer for later use. I would peel and chop vegetables and store in a container with water in the refrigerator. I would pre-cook all the meat for the month and freeze it. I would cook a lot of rice, beans, etc., portion them out and freeze. There were several other things I did, but you get the idea I'm sure! This makes meal prep time so much shorter the day of.

I try to cook extras so I can freeze at least one meal for later use. This does not work with everything, but a great majority of items freeze well. Recently I made a huge batch of spaghetti sauce - I ended up freezing about 10 quart jars full. I poured the sauce into the jars, then topped with the lid ONLY (no band!). Once it was frozen, I put the band on. This allows for expansion and no cracking.

We try to make crackers, pasta and tortilla shells, however it usually does not happen :( This is on my top priority list. Thursday I plan to make either pasta or tortilla shells ... I'll blog that. Also, I used to make batches of granola and healthy cookies for easy snacks. I plan to start that again as well.

All of this takes time but is fun and such a great way to spend time as a family. It's amazing to me how much time I waste - to my shame - when I could and should be doing more important things. This has been one of my biggest prayers (for myself) to the Lord ... that He would show me the way to get all the important stuff done and reveal to me the time wasters in my life ... we have recently gotten back on track and I give God all the praise for that. I continue to pray for strength and encouragement to keep it up. We are also trying to be more structured with our homeschooling ... I plan to post on my other blog about that soon.

Well, that's all the TIME I have for now :)

Matthew 6:33But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.


When making jam, it's nice to have the right equipment.
-A big pot with a basket helps, however you can use a big pot and a dish towel at the bottom in place of the rack (the rack keeps the jars off the bottom of the hot pan; the towel will do the same thing). A flat lid a little smaller than your pot could work too (that's what I did with my pickles the other day).
-A jar funnel is a mess and time saver.
-Jar tongs help lift hot jars into and out of the boiling water (especially helpful if you do not have a basket).
-A lid grabber, with a magnet at the end, quickly gets hot lids out of the pan and on to the jars. -A cooling rack is nice too ... lets the air circulate more freely around the hot jars.
A dishwasher helps keep the jars HOT and clean. You can also use a large pot: put the clean jars into the pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer till ready to use.
A clippy magnet holds the instructions above the stove top quite well ... keeps them from getting lost or ruined.
Finally you are ready! Make sure you have the right amount of mashed fruit and lemon (see instructions) BEFORE you begin. I use Pomona's Universal Pectin - this allows me to use a much smaller amount of sweetener than regular pectins (I get mine from the bulk food order [Azure] but can also get it at the local health food stores). Make sure you have your desired sweetener(s) ready. I use 1/2c honey and 1t stevita per batch (you'll find Stevita at the same places as Pomona's).
Follow the instructions listed in your pectin box. Soon you will be ready to fill the [HOT] jars:
Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth, top with lids and bands. Put the jars into the basket; put the basket into the boiling pot (or use the tongs to lower them down into the pot one by one). Bring water back to a boil and boil for the stated amount of time. When done, allow to cool on a wire rack. I let mine sit where they are for about 24 hours. Check the seals, take off the bands, and store in a cool place.
Wait a few days before you open one ... if you can wait that long! If I am out of jam, I will often open up a jar after it cools (like I did today - YUM!).

FYI, today I made strawberry/blueberry/peach jam (was going to be just strawberries but didn't have enough to make 2 batches, so I added the other fruit). I also made spiced peach - the 'spiced' part is cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. More cinnamon than anything else, however no more than 1t total spices in 1 1/2 batches. The spice adds a hint of flavor but does not take away from the peach taste. Yum!

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Who doesn't like home made pickles? Well .. I'm sure not everyone does, but we do! No dies or funny ingredients ... fresh from the garden ... yum!
Our garden has done very well so far and I FINALLY got around to making pickles. I remembered to take pictures too! You'll have to go to my other blog to see garden pictures.
Assemble your ingredients ... vinegar, fresh dill sprigs, fresh garlic, fresh onions, turmeric (optional), salt (not optional!!), and of course ... cucumbers! Also have ready your hot, sterile jars. I keep mine hot in the dishwasher ... what a great help that is. I always have more jars ready than I think I'll need.

Make your brine - I use about 15c water, 4c vinegar and 1c salt. Place in large pan, set to boil, then turn to low.
Slice your cucumbers into desired shapes. Get your pans, lids and bands ready:

Have your daughter make dinner (or get it in the crockpot before you begin) ... you probably will not feel like making a meal during or after canning! Brianna made basmati rice (rice cooker to the back left in the picture), and vegetables (fresh zucchini and summer squash from my uncle's garden, mushrooms and carrots). She sauteed the veggies in water, then added a little butter, olive oil, salt and italian seasonings just before serving.
Put into each quart jar: 1/8t-1/4t turmeric, a few slices of onion, 2 cloves of garlic and 2 sprigs of fresh dill:

Pack in your cucumbers, fill about 1"-3/4" to top with brine, lid and band the jars and put into boiling water:

Sometimes jars break :( thankfully this was the last batch!

Bring to a boil and then take out ... if you leave in too long, your pickles will loose color and crispness. Here's a picture of the finished pickles; I used 1/4t turmeric, however next time I am going to use 1/8t:

I made 1 1/2 batches of 'brine' and got 12qt jars full ... 11 after the broken one (we ate the cucumbers). A quart of brine was left; that got stored in the refrigerator for next time. Let jars sit over night to cool. Check seals, take off bands and store in cool dry place. I let the pickles sit for at least 2 weeks before opening.

Clean up and enjoy your dinner!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Read it and weep

My usual wednesday morning routine includes going over the local grocery store sale ads, writing a list of what's on sale, and thinking about meals I can make with that list along with what's on hand.

One of the stores had a 5 day dinner plan in their ad with the title: "Budget Friendly Meals". That caught my attention right away! Then underneath the title it read: "Complete meal for a family of 4 for about $3 per serving." Yes, $3 PER SERVING was considered a 'budget meal'. That's $12 for a family of 4 for ONE MEAL. That's $360 for 30 meals (dinner each night for a month ... not including breakfast, lunch and snacks!). That's almost TWO TIMES the amount of my WHOLE FOOD BILL (3 meals a day plus snacks) FOR ONE MONTH! Yikes!

We spend about $45-$50 a week on food for the 4 of us. Here are a few frugal bean recipes; ok, a disclaimer first ... I usually do not follow recipes, even the ones I make up and write down. I just throw things together; whatever sounds good, is cheap, on hand, etc. I normally do not use measuring devices either ... my point ... if I have measurements here, it's only an estimate. Figure out what you like and write it down so you don't have to remember next time!

Pot Pie
*Combine cooked beans, pieces of cooked vegetables, slightly cooked & cubed potatoes, chopped onions (saute in water first), and whatever else you like.
*Make gravy of your choice ... I usually brown some flour in a pan, then add water till it seems like enough. Next come the spices, braggs, or whatever. Then more flour/water or both till it's just right. Sometimes I'll add mushrooms.
*Put into a baking pan. Top with biscuit mix (2c flour, 1T baking powder, 1/2t salt, seasons if you wish, cut in fat ... 1/4c-1/2c ... lightly stir in liquid ... 3/4c-1c water, milk, stock, whatever.)
*Variation ... of course you can pour your filling into a traditional pie crust and top it with another crust, or top it with biscuits, however I like to just do the biscuits to save time.
*Bake at 350 till done.
This is a great way to use up left over vegetables from previous meals.

Bean burgers
2 1/2c beans (kidney is our favorite for this recipe)
1/2c oats
2T braggs
Spices to taste (salt, pepper, garlic, onion, etc.)
Mash, form into ~6 burgers, fry till brown (grease the cooking surface)
Serve with normal burger toppings, baked 'french fries' and something green.

Rice Pilaf
Water saute - onion, garlic, vegetables (celery, green pepper, mushrooms, sprouts, etc.)
Add - 1-2T braggs or soy sauce, salt, pepper, and other seasons of your choice, 3-4c cooked brown rice (or other cooked grain), 2-3c cooked beans, 1/4-1/2c seeds or nuts, raisins, olives, etc.
Heat & eat! This is another great recipe for leftovers ... and you only need one pan :) YUM!

Black Bean soup
Saute carrots, onion and celery till tender (we use a lot of carrots & celery, not much onion)
Add garlic, 1 1/2t each dry basil & oregano, salt & pepper to taste, 4c or more of water, 3c or more black beans, 1-6oz can tomato paste, 2T braggs or soy sauce.
Simmer till done. Top with parsley before serving. Great with salad and fresh bread.
Variations ... adjust the amount of vegetables to your liking; can also add other veggies.

OK ... that's it for right now. Have a great day!

In Christ,

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Crock Pot Beans

Beans are cheap ... we buy them in 25lb bags through Azure Standard. Before I go to bed, I (or Corban) will fill the crockpot about 1/3 full with dry beans. I will wash them, then fill it up to about an inch from the top with water. I set the dial on 'warm', cover it, and go to bed. In the morning, I will set it to 'high' and cook till soft. Then I scoop the beans out with a small strainer and dump into a large strainer to rinse with cold water. The children divide up the beans into quart size freezer bags for meal-sized portions.
We use beans for a variety of things, however my favorites are black bean soup, minestrone soup, bean burgers, and in green salads.
They are good for you and cheap! In their dry state, they last a long time ... as long as mice do not get to them. Also, in their dry state, you can sprout them :)

A good book on using beans is "Country Beans" - I got this book about 7 years ago when I decided to be a vegetarian again (we are no long strict vegetarians, however we hardly eat animal products). I never knew beans could be used in so many ways till I got this book!!!

I'll share a few bean recipes in my next post. Have a great day!

In Christ,

Friday, July 4, 2008


Here's the much awaited post on sprouts ... I actually almost FORGOT to post it today!! Ooops. It's been a really long day (as was yesterday).

Why do I like sprouting? I am able to grow fresh, organic, nutritious, CHEAP and delicious vegetables in my own home, with little effort, in about 3 days!!! WOW!

Basics for sprouting ...
You can sprout pretty much anything that is in (whole, original) seed form - wheat, quinoa, rice, legumes, flax, and so on. Just as each grain, seed or legume has its unique flavor and texture, so do the sprouts. Alfalfa for example is kind of sweet and crisp. Lentils are also crisp, but have almost a bit of spice to them. Wheat berries are sweet and chewy. Garbanzo beans are a little nutty and crunchy. And so on. Some things are not as easy to sprout as others ... I sprouted flax seed once and did not like it because it was slimy ... but flax is like that anyway so I should have known better! Oh well, live and learn, right?! I like quinoa sprouts, however they have a tendency to get stuck in my teeth, and that kind of bugs me!! But they are tasty nonetheless.

Ideal conditions for sprouting - a somewhat warm and dark place. However I sprout in the winter just fine (we keep our heat as low as possible to save money); it just takes a little longer to grow.

You will need a bowl or mason jar and some sort of cover for it. I use wide-mouth quart mason jars and plastic sprouting lids I got at the health food store. The lids have a built-in screen to make rinsing and draining easy. If you do not have that option, I suggest using cut up old (clean) pantie hose or some sort of thin cloth. Just cut a big enough square to cover the top and screw the jar ring on. This will allow you to rinse and drain just as easy as the nifty plastic lid, however you will probably have to replace the fabric and ring every so often. I have never sprouted in a bowl, so you are on your own there! Here's what my lid looks like:

The sprouts on this post have come from mung beans, green lentils and alfalfa seeds. Pictured below, the mung beans are on the top left, lentils on the top right and alfalfa at the bottom. I used a penny to show the size of the seeds. Mung bean sprouts are what's commonly used in Chinese food. Alfalfa sprouts are popular for using in salads and sandwiches.

First you need to soak the seeds over night. I use about 1/2c of seeds per quart jar ... however I might start using less because by the third full day they are pretty squished in there! I will try 1/4c next time. Not all seeds will take up the same amount of room ... for example, when I sprout alfalfa seeds, I use 1/8c per pint jar and that fills it up real good.
Here's a picture of the mung beans soaking:

I store my sprouts in one of the kitchen cupboards and try my best to remember they are there! So, put them where you will remember them!
Like I said, soak them overnight in water. Drain in the morning (you can save the water for soup stock or to water your plants), rinse, drain and leave drained. Tilt the jar up-side-down at about a 45 degree angle so the water is allowed to drain out better. I prop my jars up in a medium sized pyrex mixing bowl. Set back in the same dark place (still propped up) and leave till the evening time. Before bed, drain, rinse and prop up again ... back into the dark place! After about 24 hours, your sprouts should have little 'tails' (sprouts!) - well, I guess it's been about 36 hours at this point, including the soaking time (lentils on the left, mung on the right):

OK ... rinse, drain and prop up in the dark again, morning and evening. Here's what 24 more hours looks like:

You can stop here if you'd like, however I like mine to be a little longer. So, after yet another 24 hours (still rinsing and draining twice a day), here are the final results:

I then rinse and drain one final time, pull them out of the jars and place them in bowls. I put the bowls in the window to get a few hours of sun ... this greens them and, as a result, adds more minerals. I forgot to take a picture of the greener sprouts, but here's how they look in the bowl anyway! The lentils are first, then the mung:

Here are a few pictures of alfalfa sprouts - in the window to get green, and the end results:

That's it!!!
Simple ... so what if you have problems? Maybe your seeds were too old or cracked? (they wont sprout like that!) Maybe you did not drain it properly? (they will form mold) Maybe the room temp was too hot? (they will ferment).
Store your finished sprouts in a covered bowl or plastic bag for about a week.

Now then ... what do you do with all those fresh, homemade vegetables? Of course finding a way to eat them raw is the best - it would be a shame to kill them after all that work you put into them! We usually eat our sprouts as a salad ... using the sprouts in place of the lettuce. Add all the 'normal' salad ingredients like tomatoes, carrots, olives, etc. Another way we will use them is by adding them to sandwiches, tacos, burritos and so on. YUM! My favorite is alfalfa by far, however I know variety is good for you, so I try to mix it up a little. Besides, alfalfa seeds can get a little pricey. One more way we will use them raw is by making tuna salad sandwiches - tuna, sprouts, pickles, and whatever else you like in your tuna salad ... mix it all up with mayo and spread it on some bread or crackers.
When using them cooked, I will add to a stir-fry. I like to add it at the end so they are still mostly raw and not totally dead. Sometimes I make too many sprouts and we don't eat them fast enough ... then I will throw them into my crock-pot soup. That's about it!

Please share if you have a way you like to eat your sprouts. I'm always up for trying something new.

Have a great day!