Friday, April 30, 2010

Food Waste Friday

I didn't have any "new" food waste this week (which I'm arbitrarily defining as anything purchased or prepared in the last 3 weeks). I did, however, find a couple things lurking waaay in the back of the fridge that should have been in last week's roundup:

-a couple more hunks of dead lemon (what *is* it with me and the lemons?? Definitely going to have to work on that!)
-a few fossilized strawberries
-most of a bottle of cheap champagne. We received this as a gift at Christmas. Since we're not champagne drinkers and I couldn't think of anyone else who would want it, I was a bit stumped as to what to do with it. I ended up making us Mimosas for Easter breakfast, then the rest of the bottle sat in the fridge until now.

This week's food waste prevention tip is about keeping your food pest-free. We had a pantry moth invasion about a year and a half ago and (uuuugh!) talk about having to waste a serious amount of food! Those little buggers will get into almost everything. One thing I now do to prevent little critters growing in food is to store *all* my bulk food items in the freezer for at least 24 hrs when I bring it home. This includes all my bulk flours and rice, and anything I buy out of bulk food bins. I do this with bags of pasta as well (I tend to buy a LOT when they go on sale for the lowest price, so sometimes they'll be sitting on the shelf for a while before they get used up). Since I've started this practice, I've had no problems with anything going "buggy" on me.

If this is your first visit to the blog this week, you might want to check out Why I Went $40 Over My Grocery Budget This Month and A Day in the Life of Our Frugal Family. And be sure to stop by tomorrow for my weekly Yard Sale Report. You can see what I've found so far this year here, here, and here. I'd love to hear about your own yard sale finds, so be sure to leave a comment and tell me all about it!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why I Went $40 Over My Grocery Budget this Month

Normally, I'm strict about sticking to our grocery budget of $300 per month. We use a cash-only system for groceries, and if we get to the last few days of the month and there is little (or no) money left in the envelope, we make use of what's already on hand to ride it out til the next month begins.

This month, I chose to go over budget in the final week of the month, because there were a few specials that were just too good to miss out on; the prices advertised were ones I knew I might not see again for at least a month, and likely much longer. So, I made an exception to my "absolutely no going over budget" rule to allow me to stock up on the following deals:

-3 lb bags of apples, *three* bags for $5.00 (normally priced 3.49/bag)
-2 fresh pineapples, 97 cents each (this is an unheard of price around here, I get excited when I see them for $1.99!
-3 1 litre cartons of coffee cream, $2.49 each (lowest sale price)
-3 seedless cucumbers, 77 cents each
-2 1 litre bottles of olive oil, $2.97 each (another unheard of price - typically the best sale price is $4.97/litre) I would have bought more, but we already had 3 bottles in our stash from another sale
-6 cans of Minute Maid orange juice, 99 cents each
-2 pork loin roasts, 99 cents per pound!

Total for the lot: $38.63

To compensate for spending extra this month, I'll adjust our grocery budget down to $275/month for the next two months. We'll be starting May off with a fairly well-stocked pantry, so this shouldn't be too difficult. The only staple items we are totally out of at the moment are red lentils, white beans, ground beef and mayonnaise, so I don't need to kick off the month with a big budget-busting shopping spree, just shop the sales. We'll hopefully be getting some greens from our veggie garden before the end of May, too, so we'll be able to save a bit on salad fixings!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Day in the Life of Our Frugal Family

Today it struck me just how much our frugal ways permeate every aspect of our daily lives. I thought I'd share a quick snapshot of what a typical day looks like around here. No two days are quite the same, but today is as good a day as any other of illustrating our frugal lifestyle.

I started the day by checking on our batch of yogurt that had incubated overnight. It was successfully brewed up, so I poured it into individual serving containers and stuck it in the fridge. I wasn't sure if the yogurt would work out or not, as I'd invented a new incubation method on the fly. Our yogurt maker died and I didn't realize it until I had a batch in progress (I'll share more about my method in another post soon). Once I had the yogurt taken care of, I pulled the bowl of Refrigerator Bread Dough that I'd made last night out of the fridge, and got two loaves of bread rising (the rest of the dough went back in the fridge to be used later this week). I then started a load of laundry (in my freecycled-to-me machine, using homemade laundry detergent) and hopped on my (15 years old and still going strong) bike for a 4o minute spin along the Waterfront Trail.

Once I got back home, I had a Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin for breakfast, along with a cup of coffee made in our yard sale purchased $1.00 coffee perker. I got the bread in the oven, dealt with some household administrative tasks, had a quick shower, and got dressed in my thrift store and yard saled (and still looking nearly new) clothes. While I was doing all that, my hubby rode his (also many years old) bike over to the CAA office (a couple of kilometres away) to get his driver's license and license plate renewed.

Once hubby returned home, we planned out the rest of our day while we sorted out what was going to be on the lunch menu. He works a lot of evenings and weekends (he's a Realtor), so often he will take most of a day off one day during the week. This day usually ends up being an errand-running and household chore day, and that's how it turned out today. Our kids are homeschooled, so on these days they either help us out with whatever we're doing, or work on a project on their own.

Lunch was the last of our Sunday dinner roast chicken (bought on a buy-one-get-one-free sale), diced up and turned into a sandwich filling with red peppers, green onions and mayo, all on fresh-from-the-oven bread. I topped my sandwich off with avocado slices as there was half an avocado in the fridge that needed to be used up. All of the produce we used was purchased on sale as well, most of it for half price or less.

After lunch hubby and I ran out to do a couple of errands in the van (our only family vehicle) that were too far away to get to by bike, but located close to one another. I stocked up on sale-priced decent quality underwear for myself, and we picked up some paperwork my husband needed for work.

The errands took about an hour. Once we got back home, my husband taught my 10 year old son how to cut the grass (which desperately needed cutting!) My son is planning to do some lawn cutting this summer to earn extra money, so his dad is teaching him how to do a really good job so he'll have satisfied customers. While they were doing that, I hung the load of laundry out on the line, did a bit of yard cleanup and checked on my arugula seedlings to see how they were doing. My older son went down the street to pick up a perfectly good toboggan that had been left on the curb by one of our neighbours. A couple of our toboggans bit the dust this winter after years of use so a "new" one will come in handy for next winter. We've taught our kids to always check with homeowners first before taking stuff from the curb to make sure it's okay. It's a very common practice for people in our neighbourhood to put anything they no longer want on the curb, and no one looks askance at whoever decides to pick it up and drag it home!

The boys went back in the house to "do their own thing" for a while, and my husband then rode his bike over to the office to do a couple of hours of work there. I planted some spinach seeds in our raised vegetable bed and finished cleaning up the yard.

Now I'm sitting here taking a coffee break and writing a blog post. Soon I'll start our dinner of Pasta with Creamy Peanut Sauce, Broccoli and Carrots, with all of the ingredients having been purchased on sale (the recipe will be coming to the blog soon!)

After dinner we'll take the dog for a stroll. The kids will play outside with their neighbourhood friends. We'll probably read a bit of our library copy of Stormbreaker (from the Alex Rider series) together, then watch a Battlestar Galactica DVD (also from the library). If we feel like a snack, we'll make some air-popped popcorn and hot chocolate made from homemade mix.

We'll head off to bed well fed and fulfilled from another day of living life on our own terms, eager to see what the day brings tomorrow!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Yard Sale Report for April 24, 2010

When I picked up the classifieds to check out this week's sales, initially I thought I might not even go out this morning. I didn't see any listings for my section of the city (even though this is my third week out, it's still on the early side for yard sales around here). Thankfully, I was smart enough to peek in the sections for adjacent areas! I found two yard sales listed just outside my normal "boundaries". I also noticed a church rummage sale for the city adjacent to mine, located in an easy-to-get-to-by-bike area. So off I merrily went! I ended up riding by an unadvertised sale further down my street, so I stopped off there first, but didn't buy anything. At the next stop, I picked up two nonfiction books (in pristine condition) for $1.00. The sale after that one turned out to be more of an "expensive antiques sale", so although I enjoyed perusing the wares, I didn't buy anything there. I then geared up for my ride over to the rummage sale (just under 10 km away in the next city). I saw another unadvertised sale on the way there, so stopped for a peek but didn't find anything I needed.

My initial impression when I first walked in to the rummage sale was that it might not have been worth the ride there! However, I soon realized there were multiple rooms full of goodies to explore and got down to some serious treasure hunting. I ended up with two wicker baskets (both with unique shapes!), a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup (to complete my collection - I now have the 1, 2, 4, and 8 cup measures and they all work hard in my kitchen!), a like-new copy of Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, two cast iron trivets with funky decorative designs, and (my favourite find of the day!) a hardcover copy of The Fanny Farmer Cookbook for 50 cents! This classic cookbook's been on my wish list for a while now and I was thrilled to find a copy in such excellent condition for nearly free.

This week's total: $10.00 for nine items, or $1.11 per item

(The cast iron trivets were $2 each, which jacked the per-item cost up considerably. I've been making do with el-cheapo cork mats from Ikea for ages and I decided these lovely trivets were worth it - they will last a lifetime!)

Added bonus: Because I rode my bike nearly 24 km this morning, I also got an excellent workout while I was out bargain hunting.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My First Food Waste Friday

I've been on a concerted campaign to get our food waste down to zero for a while now. So I was pleased to discover Food Waste Friday over at The Frugal Girl! I'm sure it will help keep me honest about exactly how much I'm wasting.

This is what I pulled out of the fridge yesterday that was no longer fit for consumption:

One dead lime, half a moldy lemon, about 1/3 of a small onion all dried up, and approximately 1 tsp of butter (I'd saved that from butter I'd melted to dip donuts in, figuring I'd use it for another melted butter application, then promptly forgot all about it!)

I *hate* it when I waste citrus!! Well, I hate wasting food at all, but particularly limes and lemons as they're one of the most "spendy" foods I buy - however I do consider them an absolute necessity for cooking good food!

The good news is that I'm pretty sure this represents my food waste for the entire month of April (thus far, anyway). Let's see if I can keep the rest of the month to zero!

I figured I'd try and post a tip about how to minimize food waste each week, just to keep things fun! This week's tip is about storing green onions.

I recently read that it's best to store green onions in a glass of water at room temperature, so I decided to give it a shot. These ones were in the fridge for a bit first, and the little wilty bits happened during refrigerator storage. I've had them sitting like this for a few days, and they seem much fresher now than they did when I took them out of the fridge (where they'd been stored in a Ziploc bag). The real bonus of this idea is that I can't possibly forget I have green onions to use up when they're sitting right on my kitchen windowsill. Plus there's no chance of anyone piling five pounds of carrots on top of them in the crisper and crushing the snot out of them (you know who you are!)

That's it for this week's Food Waste Friday. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

RECIPE: Build a Cucumber and Bean Salad

I've seen a lot of cucumber salad recipes flying around the internet lately - must be a sign of spring! Everyone in my family adores cucumbers, and we finally have local, reasonably-priced ones available again (after a loooong winter!), so I figured I'd whip up a cucumber salad of my own. One of the recipes I saw used chickpeas, and since I still have a lot of chickpeas in the freezer from the last time I cooked up a batch from dried, I decided to start with a cucumber and one can's worth of chickpeas and see where I went from there. Since we also had sweet peppers (also for the first time since fall!) I couldn't resist throwing some in for colour and crunch. Before I knew it, I had a gorgeous-looking salad that ended up being a huge hit with my family. This is definitely going to be a spring & summer staple around our house from now on!

To make the salad as pictured:

1 seedless cucumber, sliced and quartered
1/2 a red pepper, chopped
1/2 a yellow pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 can, drained and rinsed)
2 green onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper

In a medium sized casserole or serving dish, combine the cucumber, peppers, chickpeas and green onions.

In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and stir until well blended. Pour over cucumber mixture, and stir gently until well blended.

That's it! Super easy, but super delicious (and really, isn't that the best kind of recipe?)

You could easily vary the ingredients, using what you have on hand, and come up with a winner every time! I've made this salad twice already, and the second time I tossed in some chives from my garden and some diced-up mozzarella. YUM! Feta would also be fantastic in this salad. When I had it for lunch the next day, I threw in some chopped avocado (no-one else in my family likes avocado, lol!) You could use white beans in place of the chickpeas, and tomatoes in place of (or in addition to) the peppers. For a Southwestern variation, use black beans instead of chickpeas, corn instead of yellow peppers, and lime juice instead of white wine vinegar. And throw in some avocado, too, unless you, too, have a family of avocado haters! You could sprinkle a bit of cumin and chili powder into the dressing as well, to give it a bit of a spicy kick.

There are enough possibilities for this salad to keep me experimenting all summer long. I'd love to hear what variation of this recipe becomes your "family favourite"!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oh My, Oh My, Oh MENDING!!

Clothing repair and renovation is one of the tasks about which I procrastinate the most. While I find it satisfying to save items that would otherwise be tossed out, I find the mending process quite time consuming (I'm not exactly the most skilled seamstress out there, which probably doesn't help in the speed department).

So, let's just say I've been ignoring my mending basket for (ahem) quite a while now. I knew there were a lot of items in there that would be needed for the spring and summer season, so yesterday I finally dared to assess the situation:

Yikes! I didn't have a mending "pile", I had a mending *mountain*! After taking a few deep breaths, I decided I better dig through and prioritize the items that would be most needed for the upcoming season.

Things still look kind of imposing post-prioritization, but I think I can actually get through this pile in the next month or so, and we'll be good to go until the fall.

What's there:
-Five (yes, five!) pairs of my pants that have gotten a bit "floodish" but otherwise still fit okay; I'm planning to turn them all into capri-length pants.

-Three of my boys' swimsuits, which all need seams repaired. One of them also needs some new elastic cording put through the waist. These should be pretty quick to do.

-A pair of my younger son's pants that needs the butt repaired.

-Two pairs of my husband's pants that are frayed and/or torn near the cuffs. These are both slated to become shorts.

-A couple of T-shirts and pairs of shorts that need minor seam or hole repair.

In addition, several of the black items are on the faded side. I'm planning to try dyeing them with some RIT dye, (plus a couple of other items I have hanging around that aren't pictured). This will be my first time using dye, so I'll let you know how it goes!

I also need to do some repairs to our spring and summer quilt (at the left in the first photo). We received this as a wedding gift nearly 15 years ago and some of the quilted pieces have started to come loose. I shudder to think how long this might take me, however I really want this quilt to last as long as possible so I've got sufficient motivation to get it done.

Anyone else out there with a mending mountain? I'd like to think I'm not the only one!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yard Sale Report: April 17th, 2010

It was one of those mornings that tested my yard sale devotion: freezing cold and looking like it could rain any time. Wouldn't I rather snuggle up in my nice warm bed for a couple more hours, then sit around in my jammies drinking coffee?

Fortunately, it takes a LOT to deter me from the prospect of finding some good bargains, so up I got! I knew that today's scheduled events included a moving sale and a church rummage sale, both likely to contain bargains galore. So out the door I went, sufficiently bundled up to withstand the brisk temperature as I made the rounds on my bike.

I was very well rewarded for my efforts. I'm a fairly discerning shopper, even at yard sales, but there are three things I can seldom resist: books (especially cookbooks), baskets, and clear glass/Pyrex. I found all three today!

Here are all the non-clothing items I hunted down. At my first stop (the moving sale), I got both of the baskets, plus that super-cool Pyrex platter (I have never seen one with a design like that before!), a set of glass candlesticks and a vintage Laura Second Canadian Cookbook (circa 1977). I love a good vintage cookbook, especially a Canadian one. They are usually good for a few laughs over the more bizarre dishes or recipe titles (Huskies-in-a-Drift or Baked Seal Meat, anyone?) I do find they are also an excellent source for classic recipes using basic ingredients, just the thing for any frugal cook! This one has a recipe for Rhubarb Relish which I'm hoping to try if my fledgling rhubarb patch yields enough this year. I paid a total of $2 for all of those items.

Next stop, an unadvertised yard sale across the road from the moving sale. I picked up that cute little pink stripey wallet (which coordinate perfectly with my summer tote!) and an umbrella for a total of a buck. Umbrellas seem to bite the dust pretty quickly at our house, so when I see one in good condition I grab it!

I was busy getting my bounty tucked safely into my bike panniers (I had to bungee cord the basket on top of my bike rack) when it started SNOWING!! That nice wet barely-snow. It may be the first time I've been snowed on while yard saling. For a split second I considered heading home rather than riding out the extra couple of kilometers to the rummage sale. But I just can't say no to a rummage sale :)

I scored the rest of the items pictured above at the rummage sale: small glass pyrex baking dish, another vintage cookbook (Betty Crocker's New Boys and Girls Cookbook, circa 1965, first edition!), two hockey books for my younger son (already tucked away in the gift cupboard for holiday gift giving) and another book which is also going to be a gift (I have a particular recipient in mind, who sometimes reads this blog, so I'm not being any more specific than that!) I got all of the books for a total of $1.00. The small glass dish plus all the clothes in the next photo were another $6.50.

I could have taken a much more artful photo of the clothing but I was worn out from my morning of bargain hunting, so I just slapped everything down quick. I got a pair of black yoga pants, a white collared long sleeve shirt, light green camisole top, white T-shirt and a tank top (under the T). I also got my hubby a light blue Denver Hayes T-shirt which looks like it's never been worn; it's not in the photo because I'd already handed it off to him! To be honest, I wasn't sure if any of the clothes were going to fit right, but at rummage sale prices (much lower than thrift store prices) I'm willing to play "clothing roulette". Anything that didn't fit would go in our own yard sale pile (we're holding one in about a month). I got lucky this morning and everything fit me perfectly except the tank, which is a tiny bit bigger than I'd prefer it to be, but will probably still be fine for cycling in.

Grand total for the morning? $10.50 for 18 items, or just over 58 cents per item. Yes, it *was* worth going out in the cold for all that!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reflections on 5 Years of Microwave-Free Living

Our microwave oven kicked the bucket five years ago this month. At first, we were frustrated - the darn thing hadn't lasted nearly as many years as its predecessor, and a new microwave didn't fit into our budget! What on earth were we to do? While it's true we probably could have gotten one off of Freecycle, or possibly at a thrift store, after we'd calmed down a bit, we took the critical step of thinking "do we actually need to replace this item?" Heck, we'd lived without a car for three years (while we had two little kids, no less!) Surely we could live without a microwave?

We thought about what we actually used our microwave for, and the answer was basically 4 things:

1. Reheating half a mug of cold tea or coffee
2. Reheating leftovers
3. Thawing frozen foods
4. Melting chocolate

Not a whole lot, when it came right down to it. Surely we could figure out how to accomplish all of these jobs without a microwave? After all, we'd both been half grown before our family households even owned microwaves! And it sure would free up some extra space in the kitchen if we didn't have a microwave hanging around.

As it turns out, we figured out how to accomplish all of the above quite easily and have never looked back. We do get some house guests who are rather incredulous that we don't own a microwave (they seem to think we're leading them on, and we must have one hidden somewhere) but we don't mind at all!

In case you're wondering, here's how we do all of the aforementioned tasks in our microwave-free home:

Reheating hot beverages: We've learned to drink the whole darn mug while it's still hot! It's actually forced us to slow down and be more mindful of our cup of tea or coffee. At first I occasionally had to resort to reheating half a cup of cold coffee in a small saucepan on the stove, but I can't remember the last time I had to do that! I've learned to take the time to enjoy it freshly-poured.

Reheating leftovers: We purchased a thrift-store toaster oven for seven bucks. It's still going strong five years later, and has already outlasted that final (bought new) microwave of ours. I found some small baking dishes at the dollar store, which fit perfectly in the toaster oven two at a time. They are just the right size for heating up a single serving of leftovers. It takes 10-15 minutes to reheat food, rather than 2-3, but the quality is much better - the taste and texture are just like freshly cooked, and the food stays hot MUCH longer.

Thawing frozen foods: When possible, I take out the food I'm going to need for the next day the night before, and let it thaw overnight in the fridge. When I forget to do that, I thaw it in a stainless steel bowl filled with lukewarm water for 15-20 minutes (I only do the warm water thaw when I'm going to cook the food immediately afterwards).

Melting chocolate: I use an improvised double boiler; a stainless steel bowl placed over top of a saucepan of boiling water.

I know there are at least a few people thinking "but how do you make popcorn?" because I get that comment a lot! We've used a hot-air popper to make popcorn since long before our microwave died. You can also do it the good old-fashioned way in a pot on the stove.

Is there a common modern "gadget" that you've learned to live without? I'd love to hear about it, so please leave a comment!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Satisfying Start to Yard Sale Season

Saturday was one of my most looked-forward-to days of the year: the official start of yard sale shopping season!! My neighbour two doors down had a big yard sale (he's moving) and while I didn't find anything there, my dh (who went before me) found a new handsaw and a baseball glove for my younger son. He paid a total of five dollars. Both of these items were on our list of things we were hoping to find; the baseball glove was particularly pleasing since my son's a lefty and that makes it harder to find him a glove.

My next stop was the rummage sale at a local church. I've been to rummage sales at this church in the past and always come away with some great finds, so I was jazzed up as I rode my bike over to check it out. Here's everything I ended up finding there (except the ball glove, from the aforementioned yard sale):

I got a 500 piece Lord of the Rings puzzle and a Harry Potter trivia game, which both look to be in virtually brand-new condition save for the lack of shrink wrapping. Both of these are going in my gift cupboard for now (they will probably be Christmas gifts for my boys). I also found 3 Bone books which I'm also tucking into the gift cupboard for my boys - they recently discovered this book series and are enjoying it. In addition, I picked up a Simpsons book which may end up being a gift for my dh (a huge Simpsons fan) and a book of "horror filled activities" which I gave to my boys. I usually try to pick up a small surprise I can give them right away when I've been making the yard sale rounds; they know I always find cool stuff and are always excited to hear about what I found that week!

Rounding out the haul were a couple items for myself: 250 Best Cakes and Pies cookbook, heart shaped silicone mold for ice cubes or candy-making, and a set of 3 matching wooden picture frames. The frames are really solid wood and have neat diamond shaped detailing around the edges. They are going to be part of our photo-archive project that we're planning for our front hallway. Total cost for everything from the rummage sale? Three dollars!

All in all, a great way to kick off the season!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Treat Photos

Just a quick post today to share photos of the yummy Easter treats we enjoyed yesterday!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Eggs:

Homemade Hot Cross Buns:

Cream Cheese Brownies:

Pavlova with Lemon Curd, Strawberries and Whipped Cream:

Links to most of the recipes are in my previous post. I decided at the last minute to make these Peanut Butter Easter Eggs instead of the cream cheese mints - and I'm VERY glad I did because they turned out to be fabulous! I also ended up devising my own cream cheese brownie recipe after I read the reviews of the Black & White Squares on Martha Stewart's site (lots of people were commenting that they didn't turn out properly). This recipe is pretty close to what I did and they were easy and delicious.

Needless to say, after all that I took a day off from cooking today. Leftovers are a wonderful thing!
Related Posts with Thumbnails