Friday, November 27, 2009

What better way to start the Christmas season...

...than with a GIVEAWAY!

I just read an awesome book called Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben. I realize it that it's kind of ironic that I'm posting this on Black Friday, a day focused on shopping. I promise it wasn't intentional. It just seemed apropos now that the Christmas season has officially begun.

This wonderful book is all about redefining the way we celebrate Christmas - without the stress, without the debt. It's not preachy, there's no guilt, no lecture. It's about a return to simplicity and celebration - without all the 'stuff' (or at least not so much stuff). You don't have to do the 'Hundred Dollar Holiday' - you adapt the principles however you want to your life. It's short - you could read it in a hour or so. It has a message that is beneficial to anyone. I loved it. And I want to give it to you.

Here's how you can get your hands on my copy of this book:

1. Leave a comment. Tell me your favorite Christmas tradition or what kind of handmade gifts you've given in the past.

2. For an extra entry, you can either write about my giveaway on your personal blog or put my blog button in your sidebar -- if you do both, you get two extra entries.

If you go for the extra entry options, be sure to let me know in your comment (or leave me another comment) so I can keep track. I will randomly choose the winners on December 4, a week from today.

Easy as pie. (mmmm....pie. Love those leftovers...)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wait! Don't Throw that Out!: A Guide to Homemade Stock

If my mom had a cooking show or book, it'd be called something like "The Frugal Gourmet" or "From-Scratch Cooking for Everyone". I was raised on meals made completely from scratch - I didn't even know that you could buy pre-made cookie dough until I was like 12. My mom is full of awesome cooking ideas that have been tried and tested in the 20+ years she's cooked for our family. Many of her ideas are from trial and error, others are old-fashioned methods, and some were experiments done during super-tight financial times. So, needless to say, my mom is an awesome resource for me. I thought I'd share one classic Mom tip just in time for Thanksgiving: how to make your own stock.

I'm not sure how many people are familiar with this technique of making stock, but it has been my experience that whenever I tell anyone that I do this, they act as if they've never heard of it. It's super-easy and very economical. I use chicken stock in a bunch of recipes and a 32-oz. box of it costs like $2.00. Yeah, that's not a lot of money, but compared to how much it costs to make your own, two bucks is a rip off. This technique reminds me of something the pioneers or people during the Depression did to use every bit of something before throwing it away. Plus, like I said, it requires minimal effort.

Once I've gotten all the meat off (see previous post), I put all the bones and skin into the really big, 8-quart pot I usually cook jam in. I fill the pot with water until the water level is just a few inches above all the bones and stuff. Then I start throwing certain things in for the flavor, which is actually pretty fun. You can add whatever you want, depending on what kind of flavor you want your stock to have - you can give it an ethnic flair using certain regional spices. As for me, I stick with a more traditional, versatile flavor. This part of the recipe makes me feel all uninhibited, like some gourmet chef who concocts all her own recipes, or better yet, it kind of makes me feel a like witch making some kind of weird brew. Anyway, I throw in a few carrots that I've broken in half or into thirds (depending on size), some celery (also broken into pieces, along with the leafy parts on the top), an onion (cut into big chunks), and two or three cloves of garlic. Next, I put in a variety of seasonings: a bunch of kosher salt, some whole peppercorns, sage, rosemary, thyme, and a few bay leaves.

Then you just let the pot cook on the stove for a few hours, stirring every once in a while, until the water has evaporated enough to leave you with a more concentrated, flavorful stock. You can tell if it's ready when you taste it - if it tastes too watery, just let it simmer a little longer until you like it. Not so complicated. Once it's all done, I strain the stock and let it cool. Once cooled, I put it in freezer bags in one-cup and two-cup portions. That way, whenever I need stock, I pull the amount I need out of the freezer, run the bag under or soak it in some hot water, and then use it in my recipe. That's it. Plus, the best part (besides the frugal part) of making things like this is that you know exactly what's in it - you don't have to worry about weird additives, like MSG, or unpronounceable preservatives. (Update: I don't use plastic freezer bags anymore -- I use glass jars. It works great, so long as you leave a little extra space unfilled in the jar so the liquid can expand.)

Last year, I used a 10-lb. turkey and got about twenty cups of stock. Just twenty cups of stock, if you buy it at the store in $2.00 32-oz. boxes, would cost about $10.00 - which is almost how much that turkey cost in the first place. Not only do you have all the meat for many meals, you get all that stock for cooking. And that's how it pays for itself. For a little work and just some time (the thing I like is that you can do other things while it's cooking - it's not something you have to watch), you will save yourself money by using the part of the Thanksgiving turkey you'd probably would have thrown away. Plus, you'll feel all smart and frugal while you're at it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cold Turkey

No, I'm not cooking the Thanksgiving turkey days in advance (how would that work anyway? It'd be so dry...). Besides, we're going to my parents' house and my mom is taking care of the turkey for Thanksgiving this year. That said, I roasted my own turkey yesterday afternoon, basting it every twenty minutes for four hours. I bought a turkey last year, too, even though we were having Thanksgiving with my husband's family. Am I crazy? Why go to the trouble?

Now is the best time to buy turkey. I bought this 15-lb. free-range, all-natural turkey for $1.25/pound, costing me around $18 (you can get turkey even cheaper than this, but I splurged a little for the fresh, free range turkey).When nearly $20 is tacked onto your weekly grocery bill, it seems a little excessive, but it's totally worth it. This baby is going a long way by taking care of many dinners in advance and will actually pay for itself by the time I'm through with it. Really.

Once the turkey is cooked and fairly cool, I start carving it. Okay, carving it makes it sound all nice and even. I basically hack the thing apart, cutting chunks of meat here and there and then picking off the rest. I pile all the white meat on one plate and all the dark meat on another. I always feel like some kind of scavenging animal when I do this.

My cat watched this process hungrily. I thought it was funny - had to include the blurry picture. He only pays attention to me when I'm in the kitchen.

Once I've got all the meat off the turkey - and I'm talking all of it - I start separating it into freezer bags, about a cupful of meat in each. I mostly eyeball this. You can freeze whatever portion you like. One important note: as you're getting all your meat separated, keep a big pot handy. Put all the bones, skin, fatty parts, and any meat you don't want (some of it is kind of rubbery in the dark meat) into the pot. Save this for the all stock you're going to make - details and how-to on Wednesday (this is how the turkey basically pays for itself). I filled ten freezer bags' worth of turkey - that's ten dinners right there, easy.

So what to do with all that frozen turkey? Lots. My mom used this method for many dinners, in any recipe that calls for shredded chicken. Pot pie. Burritos. Chili. Tacos. Enchiladas. Chicken rolls. Chicken noodle soup. Tortilla soup. I'll be posting recipes in the weeks to come to help you incorporate your frozen turkey in your dinner plans. For now, here's what I made last night...

I got this recipe from Everyday Food magazine. It's crazy-easy. Pile some chopped onions, hot turkey (or chicken), cilantro, and a few avocado slices in a tortilla. Squeeze lime juice on top, fold, and enjoy. So simple, so delicious.

Turkeys will be reasonably priced for the rest of December, so don't worry if you haven't gotten one yet. But I suggest you try my method. It will help you cut back on your grocery budget so you can spend your money on more festive options...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lovely Links: Thanksgiving Edition

I love Thanksgiving. But really, who doesn't? It's equivalent to me stating, "Sunsets are beautiful" or "Candy is tasty". Who won't agree that getting together with people you love, eating a lot of food (especially when that feast ends with pie), and lounging around and visiting is a pretty great way to spend a holiday? It's satisfying. It's American. It's awesome.

Next week, I'll be doing a couple Thanksgiving-themed posts (mostly to do with the turkey), but I thought I'd get a jump on things and include a few related links for this Friday's edition of Lovely Links.

Homemade Roasted Pumpkin Puree - Make and Takes
I've never even heard of this blog until today, when I got an email of links from Simple Kids. I was excited to see this post - I've been so curious lately on how to make my own pumpkin puree. I was planning on using my garden-grown pumpkins and post the results of my experiment on here, but, as I researched, I learned that you need to use sugar or pie pumpkins (which fact the author also mentions in this post). I grew the wrong ones for puree. Next year, I'm going to be all over this one. By the way, did you know that there is a pumpkin shortage going on? I read all about it the other day - I guess the rainy fall did a number to Libby's pumpkin crops. If you're a pumpkin-lover, I'd suggest buying some sugar pumpkins to make your own or a few cans of the orange stuff now...

Basic Pie Dough - Everyday Food
A couple Thanksgivings ago, I was in charge of making the pumpkin pies. I'd like to think I'm a pretty competent baker, but there's something about making pie crusts that I hate. They stress me out. That Thanksgiving, I broke my favorite pie dish because I got so mad at my crusts. They kept breaking and crumbling. In frustration, I slammed my cute, red ceramic pie plate too hard on the countertop and it cracked in half. I ended up driving to the nearest grocery store, in tears (yes, in tears over pie crust), waving the proverbial white flag, and buying the pre-made ones that come in a box. Why share all this? This pie crust recipe works. And I haven't broken any more pie dishes since I started using it.

The Meal That Keeps on Giving - Wondertime
First of all, as I've mentioned previously on this blog, I always get sad when I reference my favorite, now-defunct magazine, Wondertime. It was awesome (thanks a lot, stupid recession). Anyway, I thought this article had a lot of great insights and ideas about Thanksgiving leftovers. And not just turkey sandwiches (as good as those are). Lots of great tips and recipe links. Also, while you're at Wondertime, you should check out this pie. I made it last year for Thanksgiving. It was a pain in the butt to make, but I thought it was really good. I'm not sure if I'm up to making it this year, but who knows.

Quiz: Which Thanksgiving Side Dish are You?
I know, I know. You're probably thinking: what kinds of insights could I possibly glean from a quiz? Well, if all those Seventeen magazines I read in high school taught me anything, PLENTY. For example, this quiz taught me that I'm 'Mashed Potatoes and Gravy". Old-fashioned and proud of it. Deep, thought-provoking self-discovery awaits you at this link.

Video: In the Spirit of Thanksgiving
I just found this video today. It made me happy.

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others." - Cicero

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Home Remedies - Scarlett O'Hara Style

Gone with the Wind just came out on blu-ray yesterday. *Sigh* My husband and I watched the first half last night in all its restored, high-def glory. It was gorgeous.

But what does this have to do with frugality? Not much, admittedly. I came across a book in at my in-laws' house a while back and I had to borrow it. It's called Home Remedies from the Old South. I mostly borrowed it for laughs and thought it would be fun to share on this blog. You know, just for kicks. And now I have a good excuse because of the blu-ray release of one of my all-time favorite movies.

Disclaimer: I don't endorse any of these remedies; I have no idea or opinion on their effectiveness or if they've been approved by modern medicine (though I'm sure most of these wouldn't hurt since they're mostly made from foods). That said, here's just a few of the interesting, funny, and unusual ideas I read...
  • Soaking hands in very hot water will ease pain in the head.
  • Heal varicose veins in a month. Put full strength vinegar onto offending veins twice a day. Each morning and evening, drink a glass of water with 2 tsp. vinegar in it.
  • Frequent eating of sunflower seeds will prevent rashes and skin eruptions.
  • Scaly rashes are healed by rubbing daily with a raw potato.
  • Burns will heal fast if covered with froth of a lightly beaten egg white.
  • Lighten the color of the face by rubbing down twice a day with a fresh tomato.
  • Cook small potatoes in their skins. Strain and set potatoes aside. Apply this goodly juice to the hair, without getting it on the face or neck. Allow to dry without rinsing. Will darken drab brown hair and eliminate gray streaks.
  • Apple cider vinegar taken every day will keep the reproductive system of both men and women working fit and fine.
  • Sip on a strong infusion of raspberry leaves to shorten and reduce labor pain. Makes for lively babies!
  • Cure twitches and reoccurring muscle cramps in one week by taking 2 tsp. honey with each meal and at bedtime.
  • Every lady soon learns to drink lots of water to keep the body purified.
  • Washing up is much nicer when flower petals are scattered into the bath. If flowers of the honeysuckle are sprinkled into the bath water, your skin will emerge as soft as a baby's bottom!
  • A goodly tea of alfalfa and nettle will lessen swelling.
  • Eat a generous spoonful of horseradish sauce each day to prevent baldness of the head. Hair growth can also be promoted by rubbing the head with a clove of garlic. Do this four times a day.
  • A cup of strawberries with each meal will cure the gout, quick!
And don't forget this handy tip for your beauty regimen...
  • Grate a medium sized cucumber and simmer for five minutes in a cup of fresh milk. Add enough oatmeal to form a thick paste. Pat this mask onto the face, neck, shoulders, and down well onto the bosom. Lay quietly while it dries, then remove with lots of cool rain water.
I'm sure if you try that last one you'll be, as Rhett Butler says, "the cutest trick in shoe leather."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Some Thoughts on Coupons

You'd probably think that I, being the self-proclaimed Parsimonious Princess, would be big into coupons. Seven newspaper subscriptions. Incredible filing systems, with each coupon sorted by expiration date and categories. Spending only a few dollars for a cart loaded with groceries.

Nope. I don't even have a newspaper subscription - I bum my weekly coupon insert off someone else. And filing them? I keep my coupons in envelopes that come with our bills (I don't use them since I usually pay my bills via phone or online), sorted according to expiration date (one envelope for ones expiring in November, one for December, etc.), clipped together with a cute clothespin my friend made. That's it. I admit it - I am no couponing queen.

Not that there's anything wrong with couponing, per se. Some people really make it work for themselves. More power to them. A lady at my church has the whole couponing thing down. She has a big family and spends an incredibly low amount on groceries by strategically shopping with coupons and checking all the local grocery ads. I even took a class from her - it made a lot of sense. I felt empowered. I was going to do this thing!

Then I realized that coupons don't really fit into my lifestyle. For one, I buy hardly any of the things advertised with coupons. Scrubbing Bubbles? I'll keep my good ol' baking soda and vinegar for cleaning my bathroom. Pillsbury biscuits? I can make them from scratch in about a half-hour for a lot cheaper than the canned kind (though I do kind of like opening the exploding tube...). I don't buy sugary cereals or cookie dough (sidenote: I thought it was hilarious the other day at the store when I saw a box of Cocoa Krispies proclaiming its immunity-boosting effect on children. Riiiight.) - a lot of the coupons are for foods that aren't nutritious. There are tons of medicine coupons - we don't use a lot of medicine and when we do, it's often generic. And then there's the matter of store brands vs. name brands. Store brands are often less expensive than the brand name stuff, even with the coupons (unless you shop like my friend at church does and coordinate everything with the ads - like I said, her system is awesome).

BUT, I do use coupons. My in-laws get the Sunday paper and one Sunday afternoon I noticed that they threw out the coupons (mostly because my mother-in-law does a lot of her shopping at Costco and doesn't need them). So, I asked if I could have them and now they set all the coupons aside for me every week. I'm willing to bet you could find someone, maybe a grandparent or neighbor, who doesn't use their coupons (not that I suggest you stroll around your neighborhood, find a house with a newspaper in the driveway, retrieve it for them, and then ask for their coupons.). Even though I don't use the majority of them, I still save some money using them. Here's what I use coupons for:
  • Sometimes, there are just brand-name products we prefer, like Daisy sour cream, Skippy Natural peanut butter, Scott toilet paper, etc. We just like them better (and the food products often more healthy) than the store brand. In my opinion, this is the key to couponing: only use them for things you would buy without a coupon. As the old adage goes, "A bargain ain't a bargain unless it's something you need."
  • Dental hygiene. I never buy toothpaste, mouthwash, or toothbrushes without a coupon now. By coordinating the coupons with sales at grocery stores, I can get a tube of toothpaste for a dollar (once I managed to get some for like 50 cents) and toothbrushes for free. Whenever I see a sale in the grocery ads on dental stuff, I stock up. Coupons help with that, for sure.
  • Diapers (hopefully not for much longer, though...). Maybe your experience is different, but I stick to the brand-name diapers because they've just worked better for me (everyone seems to have some kind of brand loyalty when it comes to disposable diapers), so coupons help take some of the ouch of out of the price. There are always tons of diaper coupons in the coupon sections of the newspaper. Sometimes, too, I go to Target and get a print-out coupon for diapers with my receipt.(Yet another sidenote: before I get someone who points out that it would be cheaper to use cloth diapers, I just want to say that I plan on at least giving cloth diapers a try -- a try -- with my next baby. Really.)
  • Feminine hygiene. If you shop the ads and use a coupon, you can get a better price than the store brands sometimes.
  • Pet food and supplies. There's always plenty of coupons in the Sunday paper for pet food, treats, and kitty litter. Treats seem superfluous, I know, but sometimes I can get them for really cheap if I use a coupon. My giant cat is always appreciative.
  • I like to buy lots of natural food, cleaners, and hygiene products, however there are hardly ever any coupons in the Sunday ads for the health store brands. But I've noticed that lots of the natural/health food stores (like Sunflower Farmers Market or Whole Foods) carry some kind of free magazine that has health-related articles and recipes in them. These magazines happen to have advertisements in them too and have lots of great coupons. I get lots of my Kashi cereal coupons this way, along with coupons for cleaning products like Method. One other tip: I've noticed that the natural/health food stores in my area often have promotional coupon books at the registers.
  • While we're on the topic of coupon sources, also check online. I've found quite a few good coupons for brands I buy online. One site I go to occasionally is Coupon Suzy or you could go to Pinching Your Pennies for some suggestions on where to find online coupons (PYP is also a great site for anyone that wants to use coupons more enthusiastically and create an effective system. Plus, they go through all the weekly grocery ads in your area and tell you what sales are best - great resource just for that.)
I know there may be some out there that think I'm missing out on a whole aspect of frugality by being lukewarm on couponing. And that's fine. There are whole websites and blogs devoted to great coupons and deals. For me, coupons are just a small part of my money-saving arsenal and I don't mind clipping a few coupons if it means I'll save a few dollars here and there. But that's usually as far as I'll go.

One final note: I learned recently that you can send expired coupons to military families living overseas. Since they have to do their shopping at the commissaries and post exchanges on bases, the products they buy are usually more expensive than here at home. However, these stores on base will take coupons up to six months after their expiration date. Since the families overseas don't have access to the Sunday newspaper like we do, these coupons can be pretty scarce. So, if you have any unused or expired coupons, send them them to our military families! The easiest way to do this is through the "Troopon" program -- just send them to the address in the link and they'll send the coupons to the bases overseas for you (the link to this will always be in the sidebar). You can also check out other sites like the Overseas Coupon Program or Coupons to Troops if you want to send the coupons to the bases yourself.  It's just a small way to show our gratitude our men and women in uniform -- and their families -- who sacrifice so much in our behalf.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lovely Links

--Now that it's getting colder, we're spending more time inside reading. The book on the right, Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever, is a yard sale find we just rediscovered. --

How the week has flown by! It seems like I just barely posted a list of helpful, frugal, and insightful links. And like last week, this weekend's links have no particular theme - just a hodgepodge of things I found interesting and then bookmarked. Enjoy!

Brown Rice Rice Pudding - Joy the Baker
(It's supposed to rain/snow here today and when I saw this recipe in my email inbox, I immediately craved it. The ingredients are wholesome, simple, and inexpensive. My kind of recipe.)

Save Money by Using Your Slow Cooker - A Year of Slow Cooking
(I've been meaning to mention this new blog I found. I'm not even sure how I came across it, but here it is. The author of this blog took on the daunting task of using her slow cooker every day for a year. Amazing. I plan to test out some of her recipes soon - I'll let you know the results. But, I thought I should let you know about it and I figured this would be a good link to start.)

(I know I've mentioned this site before, but I just had to mention it again. I just got four books in the mail today - for free! I've been getting a lot of children's books lately from the site (I just got one today that I'm wrapping up for Christmas). Joining PaperBackSwap is free. You post books you don't want anymore, ship them at your expense to anyone that requests them, and get book credits. When you find a book you want, you use a credit, and someone sends it to you at their expense. I've posted books that I didn't think anyone would want, only to find that someone actually did! One warning: it's kind of addicting. And my wish list has over 30 books on it.)

Is Knitting Better than Prozac? - New Urban Habitat
(I came across this article this week and thought it was so interesting. Basically, studies have shown that people who are actively doing things with their hands, be it cooking, gardening, knitting, etc., have lower rates of anxiety and depression. After reading this post, my ambition to learn to sew and knit was reaffirmed. It's the one domestic art I don't know how to do. Wish me luck.)

'One for the Money'
(I read this message in pamphlet form before I was married. I remember reading it and thinking that I was going to frame my future household finances around these principles. The advice is simple and straightforward and as true today as it was when it was given over 30 years ago. If you want the pamphlet, you can get it here for free.)

"Being frugal does not mean being cheap! It means being economical and avoiding waste." -Catherine Pulsifer

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Am Your Guinea Pig : Baking Soda Shampoo and Oil Facial Cleanser

Don't feel bad. I'm the oldest child in my family - I'm used to it.

Lately, I've been reading some interesting articles on various blogs about using au naturale products when it comes to hygiene and taking care of our bodies. Really interesting stuff. It all started with a post on Simple Mom about how the author hasn't used shampoo or conditioner for three months. At first, I was like, "Huh?", followed with a little bit of "Ew." But as I read on (and saw a picture of what her hair looks like), I was intrigued. And then I read a post a few weeks later on the same blog (Simple Mom is a great site) about something called The Oil-Cleansing Method. Again, I was intrigued and instantly thought, "I wonder if I should mention this on the parsimonious blog..."

In church on Sunday, the teacher in my class told a story about Gandhi. A mother had come to him with her son, seeking advice. She was worried that her son ate too much sugar and wanted Gandhi to tell him to stop. He simply told her to come back in a week. A week passed and the mother and son came back. Gandhi simply told him, "Stop eating sugar." The mother was a little annoyed and asked why she hadn't just told him that a week ago and saved them the journey to him. He told her, “Last week I was eating sugar, this week I gave it up.” So, even though I immediately thought, "Ooooh! I should write a post about this!", I thought it would be wise to at least give it a try. Gotta practice what I preach.

The first thing I tried was the oil-cleansing method (OCM). This is a cleansing routine for your face. According to her blog post (you really should read it for all the interesting details and research she did), you can use natural oils to clean your face because oil dissolves oil. My initial reaction to the thought of using oils on your face was that it could only make things worse, right? However, what she wrote made lots of sense to me. I was open to something new - my skin has been looking kinda blah lately. I always prefer natural solutions to cleaning, cooking, etc., so why not try this? Plus, I was just running out of my facial wash and thought I would give the OCM a chance before I went out and bought some more.

To clean your face using the OCM, you use a combination of extra-virgin olive oil and castor oil. Most people already have the EVOO; castor oil can be found in the drug section of your supermarket, over by the laxative and stomach-issue section. Depending on your skin type, you mix a certain ratio of olive oil to castor oil: for normal skin, a one-to-one ratio; for acne-prone or oily skin, three parts castor oil to one part EVOO; for dry skin, one part castor oil to three parts EVOO.

I mixed the oils into a little container that has a lid - I store it on my bathroom shelf. Once you're ready to clean your face, gently massage the oil onto your dry face. This gets all the gunk off, including make-up. I used this to get my Halloween make-up off and it worked really well, even for mascara and eyeliner. Next, get a washcloth wet with hot water (but not too hot) and put it over your face until it becomes cool. This is steaming your face and clearing your pores. After this step, get the cloth wet again and wipe off the oil. That's it.

And you know what? I love it. It makes my skin feel so clean, refreshed, and soft. It's also really quite relaxing, especially the steaming part. And I love that it's so natural - no weird, unpronounceable ingredients. And you can't beat the price! I already had the EVOO; the castor oil only cost a couple bucks. Much cheaper than the various brands of facial cleaners I've bought over the years. So, I've tested it and I'm a fan of the OCM. Try it - let me know what you think.

This leads to the other hygiene experiment: going "'poo free" (BTW - Simple Mom isn't the only place I've read about this method. I also saw it here). I had no idea that this was even an option, but you can actually use baking soda instead of shampoo! Ah, baking soda. *sigh* Is there anything it can't do? Then, as conditioner, you use apple cider vinegar. Again, who knew? To be honest, I was a little more reluctant to try this one. It just seemed too odd. Plus, I happen to have a hook-up when it comes to shampoo and conditioner. BUT, I thought it was worth trying, just so I could use something even more natural than what I use and so I could share it with my parsimonious pals.

I'm still in the process of testing this one. I haven't used the vinegar yet. I've been using baking soda instead of shampoo, but still using my regular conditioner. I just get a bit of baking soda and mix it with water until it's a paste and then I rub it through my hair. The author of the post that inspired this uses a squeeze bottle with the baking soda and water already mixed. Next time I take a shower, I'm using the vinegar.

I have to say, I really like the results from using the baking soda. My hair feels lighter and softer. According to Simple Mom, this is because using baking soda helps retain your hair and scalp's natural oils. Shampoo uses mineral oil (which is a byproduct of gasoline when it's made from crude oil. Ew.) to create an artificial shine since it strips your hair of the natural oils. That's why it gets greasy if you haven't washed in a while. I've found I can go a little longer between washings and my hair doesn't look bad at all. I know, I know. It's a kind of paradigm shift to move away from shampoo, but it's worked for me. And baking soda costs hardly anything. I'm gong to keep trying it before I give a wholehearted recommendation. But, for now, it's working better than I thought...

Have you ever heard of these methods? Have you ever tried them? Are there other natural, frugal hygiene/beauty things you do?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Love Those Black Bananas...Sort of.

Personally, I don't really like bananas. Okay, that's putting it too lightly: until I fed them as baby food to my son, I could barely smell a banana without wanting to throw up. I don't know what it is, but I've always hated them. Which, really, is a shame. They're healthy, conveniently packaged, and inexpensive. But, my husband likes them occasionally and I'm all for having more fruit and vegetables available for the family. Plus, I don't think bananas are too terrible when they're mixed in stuff (except pudding or Jell-O. Ick.).

Since bananas aren't eaten super-fast at our house (even though I don't buy a big bunch of them), they have a tendency to turn all spotted and black. This is totally fine, though. I just freeze them for smoothies or for banana bread. I'm quite sure most people do this, so I thought I would post a recipe I found a year or so ago in my favorite (but now defunct) magazine, Wondertime. The recipe is for "banana bread bites" - instead of the traditional loaf, this bread recipes lends itself to a more interactive approach with cookie cutters. Here's the recipe:

Banana Bread Bites

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon (I added a little more since I love the stuff)
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
2-3 medium bananas mashed (equals about a cup)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Heat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 baking pan. Mix all the ingredients together, in order listed. Pour the batter into dish - spread evenly. Bake until toothpick comes out clean - about 15 minutes. Let the bread cool on a wire rack for an hour or until completely cooled.

Once the bread has cooled, use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. I think smaller cutters work best, but I only had my big ones available. This recipe supposedly yields 2 1/2 dozen pieces - with my giant cookie cutters we got like ten shapes and then a bunch of short edge pieces that were too small to cut out. That said, my little guy still had fun cutting out stars, hearts, and Mickey Mouse shapes.

Once you've cut the bread with the cookie cutters, dust them lightly with powdered sugar. I think my son may have liked this last step the most. He got powdered sugar on everything, including himself. Baking with kids is the best - and even better when it's easy and inexpensive.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lovely Links

Hope you all are enjoying the beauty that is fall. No theme to the Lovely Links this week - just a few things I came across that I thought might be interesting and beneficial for all my awesome readers.

Six Natural Remedies You Probably Already Have - Simple Mom
(A couple weeks ago, I wrote about natural remedies and I thought that this was a good follow-up. Lots of easy tips.)

Udder Covers - For Nursing Mothers
(My husband's cousin sent out an email about a promotion offered by this company. They make covers for breastfeeding moms - I had no idea these even existed three years ago when I was nursing my son; it would have made life just a little easier for me! Anyway, these covers are usually $32.00, but for a limited time, if you enter "1free" in the promo code box on the order page, you get the cover absolutely free! All you need to pay is the $8.95 shipping and handling cost. From what my husband's cousin said, this is less than it costs to make your own cover! Even though I'm not expecting or anything, I still ordered one since I figure I'll need it someday. And, even if you're not going to use it yourself, it still makes an awesome baby shower gift - and you can't beat that price! I don't know how long the promotion will go, so if you're going to get one, I'd get it soon!)

3 Great Ways to Spend More Money - Small Notebook
(Not exactly the type of link you'd expect to see on a blog about all things frugal, but I thought this article was quite insightful. I like her attitude about thinking of things that you can get, instead of thinking of all things you can't when you're trying to be frugal.)

20 Activities Under $10 - Simple Kids
(As the weather turns colder and kids have to stay inside more, it can be hard to come up with new, fun things to do. This link has a lot of fun, simple ideas. And I'm all for only spending $10 to do it!)

"Thou Shalt Not Covet"
(Click this link for spiritual enlightenment. Applicable to everyone and every situation.)

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." – Leonardo da Vinci

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: America's Cheapest Family

I know this may come as a huge shook to you, dear reader, but I happen to always be on the lookout for a book with new ideas on how to live more frugally. In my various searches on Amazon and PaperBackSwap for book suggestions, I came across this one, America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money by Steve and Annette Economides. I had to wait a little while on the hold list at my library to get it, but I finally got it a couple weeks ago.

Being completely honest, I have to say I didn't really learn all that much from this book. Nothing against it or anything, but a lot of the book's content was a review for me. That said, there's nothing wrong with a good review now and then. There many times when I was reading that I would think, "Oh yeah, I forgot about doing that..." or "I should be better about doing that..."

I had my notebook that I write random things in at my side and I wrote a bunch of notes of things that served as useful reminders, along with things I wanted to share on this blog. Here's a few:
  • Reduce the number of grocery shopping trips. If you go a few times a week, start going weekly. If you go weekly, try going one every two weeks. You could even work your way up to going only once a month like they do (they explain how in the book). This was a fairly new idea to me - I didn't really think the frequency of shopping trips made that much of a difference. I'm going to give bi-weekly grocery shopping a go. I'll let you know the results of that experiment in the future...
  • Consider getting a separate freezer. The more I think about it, I'm definitely leaning toward getting one because it would be nice to stock up on good sales (like when turkeys go on sale later this month...) and to freeze produce from my garden. Plus, my freezer in my kitchen is getting really full. In fact, just a minute ago, I heard my husband shout because he got nailed by a rock-hard package of frozen chicken when when he opened the freezer. What can I say? It's a delicate balance in there.
  • Using a price book. I need to be better about that and update mine.
  • The book had lots of ways to save on utilities: using ceiling and portable fans, putting a special blanket on your water heater, low-flow shower heads, vacuuming refrigerator coils annually (never done that), using a clothesline, landscaping to shade the house, etc. Lots of good ideas, mostly common sense.
  • I really liked the section in the medical chapter that focused on preventing disease. Like Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
  • There were lots of fun ideas for entertainment, recreation, and vacation. Like stay-cations - I always thought the idea of taking a vacation at home sounded kind of lame, but they actually helped me open my mind to the idea.
There were other things that I didn't write down that may be useful to others or be new information to someone. There's definitely more than what I listed. I also skipped the section on how to get out of debt just because we're following Dave Ramsey's plan already. One complaint: I had a hard time with the clothing section because I just can't get myself to buy our clothes at thrift stores. This is something I really should get over - I know a bunch of well-dressed people who almost exclusively buy their clothes second-hand (if you're one of those people, let me know. I may have you be a guest writer on here). Even then, this book made a really good case for doing that, much better than The Tightwad Gazette did for me.

This is a really great starting point for anyone wanting to live more frugally but doesn't know where to start. The book is laid out very well and is extremely readable. It only took me a few hours here and there to get through it. One thing I really liked about it is that at the end of every chapter, they give three different ways to apply the principles in the chapter based on how gung-ho you want to get. Kind of like those old aerobics videos from the 80's (this link, by the way, is a gem. My mom used to workout to this program in the morning. I would sit and admire - no, envy - the brunette's awesome ponytail) where they show the different levels of intensity - you can do low, medium, or high effort. Like with the cheesy workout video, doing even the low effort is better than doing nothing. Go, borrow the book from the library, and I promise you'll find something - even just one thing - that will make it worth your while.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Vegging Out: Saving Money with Meatless Meals

For about a year and half - maybe even closer to two years - my husband and I were vegetarian. Well, technically, we were "pesco-vegetarian", meaning we'd occasionally eat seafood. We did it for a bunch of reasons - mostly health and moral/ethical reasons - but we eventually drifted back to our carnivorous ways. Our return to meat all started last year, with an In-N-Out burger while en route to Disneyland...but I digress.

As you might imagine, one of the byproducts of our vegetarianism was a lower grocery bill. And though our meatless days are mostly over (I say mostly because I almost never cook with beef or pork - most of my non-veg meals have either turkey or chicken in them), I still incorporate vegetarian meals into my menu planning at least twice a week. Not only does this help us eat meat sparingly (seriously, our country eats waaay too much meat - if we all cut back, we wouldn't need to mass-produce the animals the way we do here. Dang it - I got on the soapbox. I made a goal not to do that in this post), but it's a frugal way to cook for yourself and your family. Here are a few ideas to get you to go meatless, even if it's just one dinner a week.

These are all things I made back in our veg-head days. I might add that none of the recipes include tofu - nothing against it, I just could never get it to work for me. Maybe I just expected too much of it. Anyway, here's some ideas...
  • Pizza is a staple at our house. I'm going to devote an entire post to my pizza recipe in near-future. It is ridiculously fast and easy - and I make it for less money than even a $5 Little Caesar's pizza. But if you're dying of suspense and have to have the recipe right away, you can check out this link to my personal blog when I wrote about it a little over a year ago. We have pizza once a week and it's so easy to make it meatless.
  • While I'm mentioning pizza, I might as well add that Italian food offers many meatless options. I think it's partly due to the fact that meat isn't always the center of the meal and the pasta fills you up. Of course, there's always spaghetti - it's really easy to omit the meat in spaghetti sauce. There's also lots of vegetarian lasagna recipes out there (seriously, tons. Do a Google search. Here's one I found that I think I'm going to try - even though I LOVE my go-to lasagna recipe). There's also eggplant parmesan - delicious and surprisingly easy.
  • And while I'm mentioning noodles, how could I not mention macaroni? (This post is quite stream-of-consciousness...) Homemade macaroni and cheese is super-easy and cheap to make, not to mention so much better than the boxed kind (here's the link to the recipe I use - though I just use regular cheddar instead of white). You can also add some vegetables to the mac and cheese - I always add broccoli. My sister-in-law's mom made us chipotle macaroni and cheese, which was also awesome. Macaroni is oh-so-versatile and easy to go vegetarian with.
  • Now, one option totally unrelated to Italian food or noodles (well, I guess you could serve it on noodles...): stir-fry. The nice thing about making stir-fry is that you can basically make up your own recipe for the sauce, add whatever vegetables you want, and serve it on rice. Here's the link to a helpful guide (basically just a formula to follow - you decide the ingredients) and how-to to get you feeling more stir-fry savvy.
  • Beans are your meat-free friend. They're bursting with protein and are very filling. My favorite beans are black beans and I use them in all sorts of recipes, particularly in Mexican dishes. An example: I'll fill tortillas with cheese, black beans, corn, and a little enchilada sauce, roll them up, line them in a pan, top with more enchilada sauce and cheese, and bake them for 15-ish minutes. This is such an economical dinner to make because most of the ingredients come from your pantry or freezer. Again, Google bean recipes and you'll find a ton of ideas.
  • Eggs are an awesome meat-free dinner option. Sometimes, if I'm feeling lazy, I'll just make omelets for dinner (I'm going to try to make them a la Julia Child - I've been reading the section of Mastering the Art of French Cooking all about omelets and I want to make a truly French-style one). Another awesome way to use eggs for dinner: Smitten Kitchen's huevos rancheros. Click on the link - I dare you. I can't look at this recipe on her blog without getting a mad craving for them.
  • Make breakfast for dinner - sans the sausage, ham, and bacon. When I was a kid, my mom would make breakfast dinner and we loved it! If you're going to do this, use this pancake recipe.
  • Soup it up! There are so many options when it comes to soup, especially if you want to make a meat-free soup. You can make a simple chowder with a roux, a little water, and some vegetables (I'm keeping this all fairly vague for a reason - I'll be posting a bunch of soup stuff in the weeks to come). Or you could make this minestrone soup - not only is it meat-free and delicious, but it is so cheap to make since it's mostly just vegetables that you probably already have in your crisper and then a few pantry items. Really, it costs almost nothing to make, but it's just as good as what you'd get in a restaurant.
The ideas I've listed are only a start - there really are a ton of options when it comes to making meatless meals. Granted, if you're going to eat this way all the time, you may need to get more creative, do some more research and reading. One cookbook that I recommend is Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers - the recipes are specifically made to be simple, weeknight-type of vegetarian dinners. I also have the be-all and end-all of vegetarian cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This is an amazing guide and has all the information you could possibly want on how to prepare and cook vegetables, along with beans and grains (like rice, quinoa, barley, etc.). And then there's the Internet - you can find a bazillion vegetarian sites and recipes.

So, step away from the meat counter (don't tell my dad I wrote that - he just so happens to work as a butcher at a supermarket in Park City) and try a meat-free dinner, even if it's just once a week. You'll be surprised how little you'll miss the meat - and your wallet may just thank you.
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