Saturday, December 28, 2013

Wrapping Up 2013: The Year's Most Popular Parsimonious Posts

I know it's a little cliché to say, but I can't believe how fast this year has gone by!

Lots happened this year in our little family. Max entered first grade this past fall. I tell you, I cried the first time I packed a lunch for him. All's well now, though -- we've both adjusted and are doing fine with the whole transition. My Jonah is almost three; I can't help but still think of him as a baby. It's bittersweet to watch my boys grow and get older, but, luckily, they just get better with age. My husband Kevin had eventful year at work -- he's a video game artist for Disney Interactive and the studio he works at made the popular (and super cool, I might add) game Disney Infinity. He's also been busy doing freelance work. As for me, I've just kept busy taking care of this family and home of mine, though I did have one big milestone this year: I finished the first draft of my novel! It's been years in the making and now I'm busy with the second draft. At the rate I'm going, I'll probably have it ready to publish by the time I'm 40. *sigh*

In terms of frugal and homestead-y milestones, we had a couple. The first was at the beginning of the year when we finally paid off our car and became DEBT-FREEEEE! (sorry, it has to be typed that way. If you're familiar with Dave Ramsey's show, you'll know why.)  We've since been working on Dave Ramsey's third baby step and our emergency fund is over half-way funded.  Another milestone: our first honey harvest! I can't even begin to express how exciting it was to fill all those Mason jars with honey from our very own beehives - or how much love and gratitude I felt for all those thousands of little honeybees.

Now I know I didn't post so regularly in 2013 -- about half as many as I did in 2011 and 2012. Honestly, I've let it go a little so I can juggle all the things in my life. I've never been very good at balancing my time. I feel a new year's resolution coming on...

Anyway,  I thought I'd do what I've done the last couple years and look back to see which posts were the most popular (according to page-views) and compile a list of the top ten. I'm always intrigued by the posts that get the most attention -- sometimes I write them thinking, "I'm probably the only person who finds this interesting." It's always a nice surprise to find I'm not alone.

10. Peel Appeal: 7 Ways to Use Citrus Peels

It's that glorious time of year when citrus is in season, when oranges come close to tasting like candy. Save those peels and zest, boil, scrub, clean, sweeten, burn, and/or soak them. Really, it's kind of a shame that peels ever get thrown out.

9. Off the Needles: Chunky Fingerless Gloves

I love these fingerless gloves. Not only are they comfy and cozy, but they're also great for beginner-level knitters. There's plenty of winter left, so I'd definitely recommend knitting up a pair.

8. Expecting Wonders: How to Test Your Seeds Before You Plant

Planting seeds is always a sort of act of faith. You put these little things into the soil, give them some water, and expect them to sprout -- or at least hope they do. It's a beautiful concept. That said, there is one way to ensure that they will actually grow and that is to test them. It's super easy to do and it can save you the heartache of planting old seeds that won't germinate.

7. Observations & Lessons Learned from My First Winter with Chickens

As I type this, all three of the ladies are weathering another winter out in the backyard. Winter hit us really suddenly this year; one day the high temperature was in the 50s, the next day the high temps were in the 20s. Even worse, one of my hens was in the middle of molting (seriously, feathers EVERYWHERE) and another was still growing hers back from her molt. Neither they or I were quite ready for winter when it hit, but we've gotten back into the swing of things. Both ladies are fully feathered again and all three are laying. It's definitely not as enjoyable to keep chickens this time of year, but it's not too bad. That post I wrote last February has been a good reminder for me as we do this whole winter thing again.

6. Some Thoughts on Open-Mindedness & Frugality

Basically, this is the post where I ate a big helping of humble pie. Never say never, I learned.

5. Paleo(ish) Almond-Buckwheat Pancakes

For this being one of the most popular posts of the year, you'd think I would make these pancakes more often. I honestly haven't made them in months. In fact, until I saw this post was one of the more popular ones, I sort of forgot about them. Seeing as I may have overindulged this Christmas season, I'm thinking I'll revisit this recipe soon.

4. "We're Debt-Free!" : Of Car Payments and Baby Step #2

That post was basically the blog-equivalent of my debt-free scream (not familiar with that is? It's basically this). And I'm totally going to use that inspirational/cheesy picture I found when I did an image search for "freedom" again. Being debt-free is an awesome feeling and worth the work it takes to get there.

3. Homemade Weed Killer: The Experiment and the Results

Vinegar to the rescue again. Granted, it needed a couple helpers in the form of salt and dish soap, but it killed those nasty weeds!

2.  I Made Laundry Detergent! (Again) : Easy Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

Homemade liquid laundry detergent doesn't get easier than this. It takes five minutes to make, tops. No boiling or grating soap required.

1. Another 100 Painless Ways to Live Frugally

This post went nuts this year! It was a follow-up to my first list of 100 painless ways to live frugally -- personally, I think this list is better than the first. Currently working on the third one, though coming up with another 100 is going to take some creativity, for sure.

{Although this post isn't from 2013, I have to mention my post about my gingerbread cookies. It went crazy these past couple months, getting thousands and thousands of visits. One reason: it was featured on the Canadian edition of The Huffington Post. It was pretty crazy to see my little blog and the recipe featured next to recipes from Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson, and the Food Network.}

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog, whether you've been following along on my frugal journey these past four years (wow!) or if you've just found me via Pinterest. I hope my little space here has helped your life in some way. I enjoy writing it and I love taking tons of pictures of food, kids, animals, and inanimate objects for it. This blog keeps me focused on my money-saving goals partly because I feel a sort of accountability to you all. Plus, trying new things and sharing them with you keeps this homemaking and child-raising stuff fresh and fun for me. I'm not perfect at it -- not even close -- but it stays interesting due in part to you.

May 2014 be your happiest year yet!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Off the Needles: Simple Knitted Christmas Stocking

Christmas is less than two weeks away and there's still so much I want to do. Make a gingerbread house, cut elaborate paper snowflakes, see a live Nativity, take my boys to visit Santa, decorate my home with various homemade garlands and wreaths, create amazing homemade gifts, make salt dough and cinnamon ornaments with my boys, and do some service projects as a family. Basically, I want to actually do some of the things I've been pinning on my Christmas board on Pinterest.

So far this month, we've squeezed in a few Christmas movies (my oldest is a little obsessed with Home Alone), drank through a couple cartons of egg nog, read some Christmas books (The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is just as funny when you read it as an adult, just sayin') and I've baked dozens of gingerbread and sugar cookies.

There's still a lot I haven't done. And that's okay. You have to find a careful balance in December, I think. Try to take on too much and the month starts feeling more frantic than festive. Someday I may be able to juggle all those other projects and pins I want to do; for now, I'm just glad if I remember to move the Elf on the Shelf every night.

There is one project I am working on this month: a Christmas stocking for my younger son. Last year, I knitted one for Max, my older son, and it turned out pretty well. Not perfect, of course, but that's what's great about handmade stuff. My boys will know that it was knitted by hand by their mom. There's love knitted into every stitch, baby. Last year, I waited too long to start and was only able to finish Max's stocking; tonight, I'll be casting on and starting Jonah's red and cream stocking.

The photo doesn't quite do it justice. Stockings don't look nearly as good laying flat as they do hanging on the mantel. Since I don't have a fireplace or mantel (we leave a key for Santa under the doormat), I can't do the classic Christmas stocking display. That said, it really did turn out nicely, with that classic stocking shape to it. Most importantly, the stocking worked perfectly last year. It stretched really well and held a lot of treats and toys.

Last year when I decided I was going to knit stockings for my boys, I searched all over Ravelry for a good pattern. As you can imagine, there were lots and lots of them. Problem was that a majority of the patterns had all sort of complicated, albeit lovely, designs. All I wanted a nice, simple stocking pattern.  After some more searching, I finally found a pattern from Very Pink. It is the perfect simple stocking pattern and great for beginners because there is a video for each step of the knitting process (Very Pink's knitting videos are the best ones I've come across, hands down. I'd watched some of her other ones before I worked on this project.).

The pattern costs $8 to download. To make each stocking, I used two skeins (one cream, one green or red) of worsted weight yarn. You can find my Ravelry notes for the project here. I highly recommend this pattern, especially if you're a beginning-intermediate knitter like myself.

After the husband and I get the kids to bed and I remember to move that Elf to another part of the house, I'll pour myself a cup of egg nog or grab a sugar cookie, see if there are any good Christmas shows on Netflix, and cast on a stocking for my two-year-old. A pretty cozy way to spend a December evening, if I do say so. Makes all those other stressful aspects of the season seem a lot less important.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Soup Weather Again: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Hey Blog! Long time, no...write?

Anyway, it's December (can you believe it?) and it is so cold! On Monday, our high temperature was in the 50s; today, we'll be lucky if we hit the 20 degree mark. Brrr!

The upside: this is perfect soup weather! Not only is a hot bowl of soup so welcome on a cold day, but soup is also usually easy to make. Even more, the frugalista in me just loves what an inexpensive dinner soup can be. I love that I can whip up a big pot of soup for under ten bucks (or even five, in some cases) that will fill my family up at dinner and still have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Today, I thought I'd share a favorite of mine: roasted butternut squash soup.

And let me tell you, if you had told me that a squash soup would be a favorite of mine a few years ago, I would have said you were nuts.

For most of my life I've been squash-averse. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it was from the time my mom tried to trick my brothers and me by using squash instead of pumpkin in a pie. (The lady next door told her we wouldn't notice. We did. Mom had a surplus of squash so I can't blame her for trying.) Poor Mom. She would grow loads of squash in the garden but she was the only one who would eat it. I can remember times when I'd come home from school and the house would smell delicious. My brothers and I would run up the stairs to the kitchen to see what Mom had in the oven. To our disappointment, she was roasting squash. I have no idea why we turned our noses up at it when we thought it smelled so good. I mean, isn't that a pretty good indicator that it might be tasty?

My mom works at a restaurant and a few years ago, she brought me a cup of the popular butternut squash soup from there. As you can imagine, I didn't want to touch it.

With a little more coaxing, my mom got me to finally try it and, to my great surprise, I LOVED it. I wanted her to bring it every day she worked. It was sweet but not too much so and it had this subtle curry flavor to it. Since then, I've opened myself up to the world of squash and it's really not that bad. I'm thinking I might be planting a few butternut and spaghetti squash next year in my garden.

This week I finally made my own pot of that butternut squash soup and it was so easy -- I figured it'd be a nice way to get back onto this blog of mine. This recipe comes from the restaurant -- I was so happy when it was printed in their free newsletter.

I was going to do a step-by-step recipe with lots of photos, but I tell you, the days are getting so short and by 4:45 it was getting too dark to even get a good picture. But, seriously, this recipe is so easy, the step-by-step instructions aren't really that needed.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup 
serves 6

1 butternut squash (get one of the bigger ones at the store, I'd say),  peeled and medium diced
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch salt and pepper
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups chicken stock (you could also do vegetable stock if you want to make this meatless)
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (none of that fake pancake syrup stuff)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (I used half & half and it worked fine)

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a bowl, toss the diced and peeled squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper until it's nice and coated. Put the squash on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until it's browned.

While the squash is roasting, place cook the onion in pot with butter until the onion is translucent.

Add the stock and roasted squash to the pot. Bring to a boil and cook until the squash is tender. Pour into a blender (you could also use an immersion blender, but it'll probably take longer) and puree until smooth.

Return the puree to the pot. Add nutmeg, cloves, curry powder, and maple syrup. Stir in cream. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately. Optional garnish: top with roasted pepitas.

Avoid that bitter Arctic blast that's hitting most of the country right now. Stay inside and make a pot of this. It's for the best.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Garden Highlight of 2013 : Homegrown Garlic

This year's garden was...meh.  I feel guilty even saying that -- I mean, the fact that you can plant tiny seeds and get any food from them later is nothing short of miraculous. But this year's harvest? Not much to brag about. The cucumber plants put out a few, but not in quantities like last year. The beets were radish-sized (that was my fault -- I bought the wrong variety). The greens (that weren't eaten by snails) were mostly pretty bitter. My cauliflower turned purple (again, my fault). Slugs went to town on my cabbage. The majority of my tomatoes are turning red in my kitchen right now instead of on the vine (though I did get a lot and they were spared by our early frost). The zucchinis didn't really produce (again, my fault. I ran out of space and tried growing zucchini in a pot. Doesn't really work.). My pumpkins turned about half-orange before an early frost.

That said, the parsley I grew from seed has provided all the parsley I've needed over the summer and even now. The peas were dependable as ever. The raspberries and blackberries in my yard produced more than last year (mmmmm...raspberry jam). So don't think I'm ungrateful or anything when I say the garden this year was just...meh.

Except for the garlic.  Oh my goodness, the garlic was the highlight of my garden this year! And I'm telling you this because NOW (mid-fall) is the time of year to plant garlic

I'd tried growing garlic in the past with little success. Turns out, it was because I was just using cloves of garlic from the grocery store. When I would grow the ones from the grocery store, the leaves would come up and I'd get excited, only to dig up walnut size heads of it (the cloves were teeny-tiny). 

Determined to grow my own garlic successfully, I did some research and ordered my garlic bulbs. I went with the garlic variety called Music -- one of the most popular varieties, especially since it's one of the easiest to grow. I picked a hardneck variety over softneck because I'd heard that it was better for harsh winter climates. I also went with hardneck because I wanted the garlic scapes (more on those later).

I planted mine right around Halloween last year with high hopes (I could've sworn I took a picture, but I can't find it now). I've heard of soaking garlic bulbs in a mixture of water, baking soda, and fish emulsion first, but I didn't. I'm sure it's helpful and I was going to try, but I was worried I had procrastinated too much and just wanted to get the bulbs in. 

I loosened the dirt in the bed I chose, buried each clove (pointy end of the clove up) about three or so inches down, put a layer of straw over the bulbs as a protective mulch, and hoped for the best.  It was actually a lot of fun to plant a crop when the weather was turning colder -- it felt kind of strange but in an awesome way, to think I was planting something in late October that I wouldn't enjoy until the following summer. (For some tips on choosing and planting garlic you can look here, here, and here.) 

We had a really cold and really snowy winter here, and from time to time, I'd look over at the bed where I planted my garlic and wonder. Even with our rough winter, when the snow melted little green leaves poked above the soil. 

Those green leaves just kept getting taller and taller. Still, I didn't get too excited since there was a chance that there could be nice long leaves with only tiny little bulbs beneath the soil.

In late May, I started noticing the little shoot coming out of the middle of the green leaves, called the scape. It's the flowering part of the bulb that gets sent off about a month before the garlic should be harvested. It's important to cut the scapes off fairly soon, since they'll interfere with how the bulb grows and use up energy that should go to the bulb instead of the flower. The cool thing about these scapes is that they're edible and they're delicious (and they make a pretty great accessory a la Creature from the Black Lagoon, as you can see above). 

I used the garlic scapes to make THE best pesto that's ever come out of my kitchen. It had such a great garlic but-not-too-garlicky flavor. I would honestly grow garlic just for the scapes so I could make this pesto again. For some other ideas for how to use garlic scapes, check out this link

Around the beginning of July, my garlic was showing signs that it was time to harvest because the lower leaves were turning brown and dying. The key is to harvest the garlic when the lower leaves are brown but the upper ones are still green. You don't want to wait until the leaves die completely because that can affect the bulbs negatively, making them split and the coverings of the cloves won't develop properly. As excited as I was to dig those garlic bulbs out and see how big they were, I moved slowly and carefully since garlic heads are pretty delicate and if you accidentally cut or bruise them, their storage life is diminished.

To my delight, the bulbs were as big, if not bigger than the ones I've used from the grocery store for years. They all turned out beautifully -- every single clove I planted resulted in a head of garlic. I couldn't wait to whip up some kind of Italian dish to use them in.

Thing is, it's totally fine to use the garlic straight from the garden, but if you want it last for months, you have to cure it. You can find a great and thorough post about curing and storing garlic here

You know how a supermarket tomato can't even compare to the way a homegrown tomato tastes? The same goes for garlic. My mom (she grew garlic for the first time this season) and I can't stop gushing about how much better this garlic tastes, how much it adds to the things we cook. The flavor is so much stronger and delicious. It will be hard to ever go back to buying it from the store when I run out. This fall, both my mom and I are planting extra garlic in our gardens -- we're totally determined to each get a year's supply.

Seriously. If you have a garden space, order some seed garlic and plant it soon. Next summer, you will be thanking yourself that you did.

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop.}

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lovely Links: 'National Preparedness Month' Edition

My blog is certainly not an emergency preparedness blog; there are a ton of other blogs that cover that topic extensively. I'm definitely not an expert at prepping, either -- I just barely started putting our 72-hour kits together a few months ago. I find it interesting and somewhat amusing, however, that my most popular post to date on this blog is about emergency preparedness. A lot of people really wanted to know how to make an emergency heater, I guess. (Really, you should make one -- it only costs five bucks.)

For the Lovely Links post this month, I thought it'd be appropriate to have an emergency preparedness theme since September just happens to be National Preparedness Month. What does emergency preparedness have to do with frugality? Plenty, in my opinion. I believe that emergency preparedness goes hand-in-hand with self-reliance and frugality. 

I'm certainly not as gung-ho about emergency preparedness as some people I've met (as in, the types of people I think secretly want a natural disaster/zombie apocalypse to happen so they can use all their supplies), but I try to be smart about it. Like I mentioned, I've been working on putting together a 72-hour kits in backpacks for each member of my family. We've got a good amount water and food stored. We've got those emergency blankets and sleeping bags that look like aluminum foil, 100-hour candles and glowsticks, a battery/hand/solar-powered radio, and, of course, plenty of vinegar. I do need to work on our first-aid kit, though.

Oh, I do have those emergency heaters on hand, in case we ever need them.

Thing is, emergency preparedness can get overwhelming. There's so much you can do and it's hard to know when you've done enough (at least, I worry about that). It'd be easy to get carried away and just buy everything at once. Going into debt is definitely not the way to get prepared for an emergency -- in my opinion, debt is just another kind of emergency. The best way to go about it, really, is to do what you can little by a little, with the resources you have.

Here are a few links I've found in my efforts to get my family a little more prepared, should disaster strike. You can find more ideas on my emergency preparedness board on Pinterest.

How to Store Water :: Family Survival Planning
Storing water is probably the most important thing you can do in terms of emergency preparedness. You can live three weeks without food, but you can only live three days without water. Plus, it's also necessary for hygiene and sanitation. This link is great because it tells you how to store water, as well as dispel some myths about water storage (it's not so hard as some people think). There are also helpful links within this link (you got that?) about where to find water in an emergency and one about how to purify water.

Evacuate Your Home - 9 Checklists to Help :: A Pinch of Joy
If you've been following the news, you'll know that a lot of people in Colorado have had to evacuate over the last couple days due to severe flooding. An evacuation can be necessary for so many reasons -- last year, my brother-in-law had to be evacuated from his home because of a wildfire. This link is great because it's so organized -- I am not an organized person, so I appreciate people who like to come up with systems and checklists. This link will help you get all organized and ready to make dealing with an evacuation a lot less stressful.

36 Lessons Learned from Testing a 72-Hour Kit :: Survival Mom
This post is great because there are plenty posts about putting together a 72-hour kit but not so many about actually using one. I like the good, practical advice given here. Plus, I always enjoy a good list.

The Tackle-Box First-Aid and Wellness Kit :: Abide With Me
Remember how I mentioned I need to work on my family's first-aid kit? I love the idea of using a fishing tackle box - it really makes so much sense. The only thing that would be comparable would be one of those Caboodles from the 1990s. I'm sure my mom didn't save the one I used back in sixth grade, so I'm thinking I'll go pick up a tackle-box soon.

Lessons in the Aftermath of a Disaster :: Homestead Revival
It's almost unavoidable to read or watch the news and not see some kind of coverage of a disaster somewhere. This post is helpful because it shows what lessons we can learn from others and it's a good basic review of the essentials of preparedness. I like it because it helps me evaluate how prepared my family is. Definitely worth a read.

Every time I think about emergency preparedness, I can't help but think of a verse from one my church's books of scripture: "If ye are prepared ye shall not fear."  So, yeah, it can be kind of unsettling, scary, and even depressing to consider the worst-case scenarios as you prepare for an emergency, but being prepared gives you a sort of power. It's amazing what having the right supplies on hand, organized, and ready can do for one's peace of mind.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sweet Success: Our Very First Honey Harvest

I'm just going to put it out there: nothing tastes quite as deliciously sweet as honey from your very own hives. Seriously. The honey we harvested a few days ago is better than any other honey I've ever tried. It might be even sweeter because we had to wait extra long for it. We started beekeeping last spring, but we got no honey harvest (due to the drought conditions in my state -- just about every beekeeper here suffered last year).

This isn't going to be the most informative of posts -- I am certainly no expert on honey extraction. As the title indicates, this was my first go with the whole process. Mostly, it's my way of saying "Yay! Our beekeeping efforts finally paid off!" and to give a quick overview of the process to the bee-curious.

(You'll have to excuse the quality of the pictures in this post -- I only had the ones from my phone and Instagram feed; my toddler took the memory card out of my regular camera and lost it. Also, I took the pictures quickly; as you can imagine, extracting honey is a pretty sticky process.)

Once we knew early this year that our bees had survived the winter (hooray!), we had our fingers crossed that they would have a much more productive year than the last one. With each inspection, we saw more and more frames gradually get filled. By mid-summer, we started adding the honey supers to our hives with excitement and hope. Sure enough, by Labor Day weekend, we knew for sure we were getting a honey harvest.

Getting the bees out of the honey supers was definitely interesting for my husband and me. We had a general idea how to do it, but we were also kind of winging it.  We used a homemade fume board (basically fabric stretched over a wooden frame) sprayed with mix of oils that bees don't particularly like the smell of. On our first hive, the bees moved right out of the honey supers down into the brood boxes below. The second hive was a little more stubborn. Eventually, we had to get my dad's leaf blower and blow the poor little bees out of the honey super. 

Another problem we encountered was that the bees had built some bridges between the frames. When we pulled the frames apart, huge sections of honey were exposed. This sent the bees into a sort of feeding frenzy. Things were really sticky by then, with little bees gathering everywhere in clusters around us, on the hives, the frames, our tools, everywhere trying to lick up the honey. Lucky for us, they were too busy gorging on honey to sting us.

We ended up putting some of the loose and exposed honeycomb into jars. We were going to mash them up and get the honey out, but it's been too much fun just opening the jar and breaking off a chunk of honeycomb to eat. It's kind of like honey gum: once you get all the honey out, you just spit out the mashed beeswax into the trash. Oh my goodness, it's good. It also kind of makes you feel like Winnie the Pooh.

The good news was that we eventually got all the frames out and ready to extract.

For about a week before our harvest, I was struggling trying to get an extractor rented (since manual honey extractors can cost around $400 to buy), but then soon found out one of our neighbors had rented one for Labor Day. He said were welcome to use it, so we split the rental cost. Even better, he let us extract in his garage, where everything was already set up.

We had a few frames that were completely full -- every inch of it covered in capped honey. Most of our frames, though, looked more like the one pictured above. I can't help but be completely fascinated by the way these frames look with all those perfectly formed hexagons.  Anyway, that section that's white is where you'll find the honey!

The first step of extraction is to uncap the honey. You do this with a tool that looks sort of like like a hair pick. You drag the metal tines of the tool across the top of the capped honey, exposing the sweet stuff underneath. The cool part is that you can save all the cappings (see how it fell into the container on that rack?) for other stuff; I have yet to figure out what to do with them, but I'll let you know when I do. 

Once the honey has been uncapped, the frames are put into the extractor.  One the three frames are put in, the lid is shut and the crank on the top of it is turned quickly. The honey is flung out of the comb using centrifugal force. The nice thing about this method of extraction is that the honeycomb is left in tact so that the bees can reuse it next season (read: less time building foundation, more time filling it with honey!).

The honey settles at the bottom of the extractor and comes out through a valve at the bottom. We used two strainers over a plastic food-grade bucket. This bucket also had a valve at the bottom (with another filter), which we used to fill the Mason jars we brought. My husband, my mom, and I oohed and ahhed as the dark, golden honey flowed into the jars.

Our final haul: three gallons (approximately 35 pounds) of the most delicious honey I've ever tasted! Even better, I did a little math. I can get local honey at the health food store for about $4 a pound; at that rate, I've got around $140 worth of honey. Another year of this much honey and our start-up costs (the hives, the bees, the equipment), will be more than covered.

I still have the jars out on my kitchen table and I get a little giddy when I see them. Not only giddy, but full of gratitude for the tens of thousands of honeybees we've tended to since April 2012. It's really a miracle how those bees work to make such a perfect product. Who would have thought I'd grow to love a little insect as much as I love those bees!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I Took a Month Off...and the Blog Had a Birthday!

Hey, everyone! I'm back!

August was a busy month for my family. Not only was it the last month of summer vacation (which means squeezing in all the things we didn't do enough --or at all -- in June and July), but we also dealt with a broken arm (my oldest fell off the monkey bars) and a case of strep throat (same kid, three days before school started) in August.  Then there was the back-to-school hustle and bustle; I only have one child in school, but it's an adjustment for the whole family to get back into a set routine. Like I said, August was a pretty busy month!


During my August hiatus, this blog celebrated a birthday. The Parsimonious Princess has been going for four years now! It's been fun to chronicle my experiences and experiments here during that time. I've tried a lot of things I never thought I would in these four years: cloth diapering, raising chickens, beekeeping, and a bunch of other things. Of course, there has also been the expected things on here too: a lot of cooking from scratch, gardening, canning, and declarations of love for vinegar.

Thanks for stopping by little space here, whether you started reading back in 2009 or if you just barely found me via Pinterest. Writing and posting on this blog keeps me motivated in my efforts to live frugally and simply, making me always eager to learn more. I hope reading it does the same for you.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Our Favorite Camping Craft: Rock Monsters!

Our family loves camping. It's such a great way to unplug from the busy-ness of life. Plus, it's not nearly as expensive as some other summertime getaways.  Most of the time, we let the just kids play and explore. However, there are those moments when the kids get a little antsy -- when the grown-ups need some downtime, while meals are cooking, when it's too hot to leave the shade, or while they're waiting for the next fun activity (like swimming and fishing at the lake).  It's those moments when we break out out the paint and googly eyes and make our favorite camping craft: rock monsters!
{I have to mention that I can take absolutely no credit (as much as I'd like to) for the cute banner pictured above --  my talented sister-in-law made it for our family camp-out a couple weeks ago.}

To make the rock monsters, you simply need some paint (I've used acrylic craft paint and washable Crayola kids' paint), brushes, glue, and plenty of googly eyes.  Making rock monsters is fun on a variety of levels: searching for the right rocks, finding accessories for the monsters (in the form of grass, leaves, bark, etc.), deciding what they'll look like, and then bringing the rock monsters to life.

The thing I love about this craft is that it's fun for all ages. We've been making these at camp-outs for years. As you can see in the pictures above, my six-year-old, two-year-old, and 32-year-old all got in on the rock monster-making action. At our last camp-out, we also got the cousins in on it. Everyone was quiet and busy for a while.

All of the creations turned out so well, each with funny personalities and lots of character.

First, my two-year-old's rock monster (this was the first time he's made one). He particularly liked sticking the googly eyes all over the rock.

My six-year-old made a bunch of rock monsters. They're so full of personality -- they crack me up!

I always look forward to what my husband comes up with. He made these and the punk-rock one (ha ha -- get it?) at the beginning of the post. I seriously love all of my family's rock creations. It's amazing what a couple of googly eyes can do to an inanimate object, you know?

We've got quite a collection of these rock monsters -- we bring them home and put them on display on our porch, a sort of memento of our camping trips throughout the summer. What can I say? This camp craft...(wait for it)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

More Good, Cultured Fun :: Making Frozen and Greek Yogurt

Have you tried making your own yogurt yet? See, I told you it was easy!

Without question, I prefer Greek yogurt over regular. I remember the first time I ever tried Greek yogurt (mmmm....Chobani pineapple. Yum.), I was surprised how it tasted more like a dessert than the yogurt I was used to. Since that first taste, I haven't been able to eat regular yogurt; it just seems too watery. This kept me from making my own yogurt for a while -- I wasn't ready to give up my Chobani yogurt. Turns out, making your yogurt Greek is simple. The difference between regular yogurt and Greek is that the Greek yogurt has been strained, removing the whey, hence the creamier texture.

To Greek-ify your yogurt, you'll need:
  • fresh homemade yogurt
  • a large bowl
  • a colander/strainer that's smaller than the aforementioned bowl
  • thin cloth (more on that in a bit)

Line the colander/strainer with the thin cloth. This can be from a variety of sources. I ran out of cheesecloth (which wasn't working that well anyway since I'd bought cheap grocery store kind that doesn't have a very fine weave), so I improvised with some my cloth napkins that are made out of birdseye cotton (it's the same kind of cloth used for diapers. I got my cloth napkins from Etsy -- I love them.), with the cheesecloth I had left layered on top of that. They worked even better than the layers of cheesecloth I'd used before (plus cheesecloth can get kind of pricey). You could use a thin tea towel or some muslin cloth, too. I've also read about people using paper towel and paper coffee filters. Personally, I like the idea using cloth over paper since it's reusable, but work with what you've got. 

Put the strainer over the large bowl and then pour your yogurt into the cloth (or whatever you choose to use). Fold the edges of the cloth over the yogurt and put it (the whole shebang: bowl, strainer, yogurt, etc) into the fridge for 1-2 hours. Really, you can let it strain as long or short as you want, until it gets to the consistency you like.

I strained mine for a couple hours and it got to that consistency I love. It's not the best picture, but if you look closely, you can see where I got my fingerful of yogurt in the lower-right corner. Totally strained and creamy. Yum!

Once you've strained your yogurt, you'll see that there's liquid collected in the bowl under the strainer. Whatever you do, don't throw that out!! That clear, yellowish liquid is the whey and it's actually quite useful and really good for you. For a great post about whey and how to use it (she has 16 different uses for it!), check out this link

If you're not going to use your whey in a couple days or so, you can freeze it for later. I freeze mine in jars. My boys' pediatrician (remember, the guy who finally convinced me to give this yogurt making a go) said he freezes whey in an ice cube tray (yet another use for them -- what a useful kitchen tool!) and then will pop a couple cubes into the smoothies he makes (since whey is full of protein and vitamins).  

The only downside to making your yogurt Greek: it does cut your yield down. Because of the straining, you'll end up with less yogurt than you started with (obviously) -- how much less depends on how much you strain it.

Want to make your homemade Greek yogurt even more delicious? Make frozen yogurt!

My husband has been on a certain kick lately: he loves plain, tangy frozen yogurt. You know, the kind at those places where it's self-serve and you can load it with toppings. Knowing this, I thought it'd be fun to try to use my newfound yogurt-making skill to make one of his favorite treats.

Time to pull out the ol' ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen-Aid. 

I got the ice cream attachment a few years ago for Christmas from my husband. Really, it's the gift that keeps on giving. Throw some cream, and some sugar into that bowl (after the bowl has been chilled in the freezer for several hours) and you've got ice cream that makes the store-bought stuff taste like...well...a sorry excuse for ice cream.  

I'd never made frozen yogurt before but I figured it couldn't be much different than making ice cream. It wasn't.

Even so, I wanted to use a recipe as my guide and I thought this one sounded the best, just what I'd been looking for in recreating my husband's favorite kind. (Note: it works with any kind of ice cream maker.)

You simply mix the yogurt with some sugar and stick it in the fridge for an hour. I used less sugar in my version than was called for in the recipe because we still wanted the tangy flavor of the yogurt to come out. 

Once it chilled in the fridge, I poured it into the already-started machine and let it the Kitchen-Aid work its magic.

I was going to dish up the frozen yogurt into a cute little bowl with a pretty placemat underneath, with some of the raspberries from my yard (yay!) daintily placed on top. Nope. It didn't make it that far. No way were were going to risk that stuff melting while I tried to style it just-so and get a un-blurry photo. Basically, I split it between the hubs and I in a couple oversized mugs, gave the obligatory offer to the boys (they didn't want any -- hooray!), tossed some of the raspberries on it, and stuck a couple spoons in each mug. Nothing fancy here.

But the taste. Oh my goodness. I'm not exaggerating at all when I say it was one of the most delicious things I've eaten lately. It was divine. You owe it to yourself to make this homemade frozen yogurt. It may be one of my favorite homemade vs. pre-made accomplishments yet.

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. 

{This post is linked up to Frugal Days, Sustainable WaysHomestead Barn Hop, Simple Lives ThursdayFrom the Farm Blog Hopand Little House Friday DIY Linky.}
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