Wednesday, May 30, 2012

RECIPE: Black Bean and Roasted Vegetable Salad

We've had some record-breaking temperatures in the last few weeks, making it feel like we've already hit the dog days of summer, when normally we're just kicking off the start of the growing season. This bizarrely hot weather has got me into full-on "summer cooking mode"; when the temperatures start to soar we trade our piping hot soups and stews for lighter, cooler fare which includes lots of hearty dinner-worthy salads made with a variety of grains and beans.

Lately black beans and sweet potatoes seem to be an "in" combination, judging by the number of recipes pairing them together that I've seen in magazines and on the internet. Since everyone in my family loves roasted vegetables, I was inspired to create this salad which features the aforementioned beans and sweet potatoes with a variety of other roasted vegetables, then dresses them up with the Lime and Cumin Vinaigrette from my Southwestern-Spiced Barley and Vegetable Salad.

This turned out to be a winning (and very filling!) combination. It also makes a lot, as we miraculously had leftovers (that doesn't happen too much around here these days). I served the leftovers a few days later by tossing some steamed broccoli into the mix, then smothering it all in my Zesty Cheese Sauce, topping with breadcrumbs, and baking for about half an hour. It was delicious served that way, too - and might be a good option for those of you who have kids who are a bit apprehensive about beans and/or vegetables. For some reason cheese sauce seems to make most things have a lot more kid appeal :)

3 cups of cooked black beans (or 2 cans of beans, rinsed and drained)
4-6 spring onions (scallions), sliced
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
2-3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
3 small onions, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large red pepper, seeded and cut into 1" pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Arrange the vegetables in a single layer in a 9 x 13" baking dish. Combine the olive oil, salt and pepper and drizzle over top, turning to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast at 425F for about 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Let cool for 15-20 minutes, so they are warm but not piping hot.

Combine dressing ingredients and pour over vegetables. Add black beans and green onions and stir gently until everything is evenly combined. Serve warm or room temperature.

Serves 6-8 as a main dish.

I shared this recipe at Full Plate Thursday, the GCC Recipe Swap and Friday Favorites

Want more salad ideas? Check out my roundup of Spring and Summer Salads.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Weekly Menu Retrospective #68 (Birthday Edition)

 Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

If you'd like a whole book full of inexpensive, quick and kid-approved recipes,
check out my book, Cheap Appétit : The Complete Guide to Feeding Your Family for Less Than $400 a Month (While Eating Better Than You Ever Thought Possible) on Amazon (, and Amazon UK) and Barnes and Noble.  It's gotten multiple 5 star reviews!! I've included page references to recipes that are in the book in my menu plans so you can locate them quickly. For more details about the book, go here. 

Oh, by the way, it just happens to be my 41st birthday today :) I can't quite believe I've been hanging out on the planet for this long already, but I guess since I will be the mom of TWO teenagers before the year is out, it must be true. I won a free hour long massage with my awesome massage therapist Bobbi Jo Turner in a Mother's Day draw and I'm going to have it this evening - what a great birthday present!

Granola (p.92), leftover cornbread with jam, blueberry buttermilk pancakes, French toast

leftovers, pizza, sandwiches, German potato salad 


Monday: Turkey Pasta Salad, Southwestern-Spiced Barley and Vegetable Salad (p. 206), Apple and Bacon Baked Beans (p. 177), Layered Salad (no, I didn't spend all day in the kitchen - all but the pasta salad were leftovers from hosting an extended-family dinner on Sunday)

Tuesday: Fish a l'Orange (p.192), Coconut Rice (p. 199), roasted asparagus

Wednesday: Build your own dinner salad (greens and assorted chopped veggies, plus seeds, raisins, and shredded chicken for topping)

Thursday: Black Bean and Roasted Vegetable Salad (recipe coming on Wednesday!), cornbread (p. 212)

Friday: Broccoli, Asparagus and Parmesan Frittata (used up the last of the roasted asparagus), leftover cornbread

Saturday: Spicy Pork Sandwich Pockets (recipe coming soon), leftover black bean and roasted vegetable salad

Sunday: Lemon and Garlic Chicken (p. 184), Cheesy Vegetable Casserole (p. 203) variation (I made it using the last of the black bean and roasted vegetable salad, plus some steamed broccoli, basic recipe is on page )

In keeping with my local and organic challenge, I'd also like to note the local and/or organic items on this week's menu:

Organic: coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut, sunflower oil, brown sugar (in granola), cane sugar (in coffee/tea),  raisins (in granola), sunflower and pumpkin seeds (in granola), flax seeds (in bread), bananas, navy beans (used to make baked beans), black beans, romaine lettuce, lemons, green onions, popcorn, tortilla chips

Local: apples, potatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers (hothouse), red peppers (hothouse), asparagus (finally!!), milk, eggs, sour cream 

Local AND organic:
oats (in granola), sesame seeds (used to top bread loaves), milk (used to make yogurt)

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Weekly Yard Sale Report: Southwest Yard Sale-o-Rama

Today was a big day on my yard sale calendar: the day of the annual Beulah Street Sale. This street in the southwest part of Hamilton has run an annual sale for so many years that it's become a tradition for a large number of local residents to stop by and hunt for bargains.

This event is such a big draw that a lot of other folks in the area piggyback onto it and run their own yard sales on the same day. So there were an overwhelming number of sales to check out today, even for a seasoned yard sale shopper like myself. The good news is they were clustered together in a very tight area, so I didn't have to do a whole lot of riding around to hit a fantastic number of sales (there were so many I didn't even try to keep count!).

My first stops of the morning were to check out a street sale plus another yard sale in my own Westdale neighbourhood. I bought these two books for 25 cents each:

The puzzle book will go into our "camping entertainment" stash, and the paper book is going into my gift cupboard.

Then I rounded up the family and we all headed over to the Beulah Street Sale (and hit up a bunch of sales on Dundurn South on the way over)..

I've never come home empty handed from this event, and this year was no exception!

 We found: a pair of hockey pants for my 12 year old son ($15), set of 4 drinking glasses ($2), book on how to make handmade books and journals ($1), dinosaur block puzzle (going in my gift cupboard) ($1), clear glass engraved bottle (50 cents).

On Beulah I also found The Mother of All Free Piles and after rooting around in it I came up with a huge armload of stuff:
 Those of you who've been reading my yard sale reports for a long time know how much I LOVE free piles :) I found so much great stuff in this one I was a bit embarrassed to take it all. The woman running the sale insisted that I take as much as I wanted from it as she just wanted to get rid of it all (she even went and got me a big bag to hold everything). Yep, every single item in the photo above was out of that free pile: Four Christmas baskets, two packages of cellophane basket wrap, a Christmas wine bottle wrap, a package of gift tags, a package of Christmas stickers, a package of cheesecloth, a package of elastic ribbon, a Christmas dishcloth, and a cute little salt and pepper shaker set (they're going to be our picnic/camping set). Nearly everything is still brand new in unopened packages! I was running low on wrapping supplies after last Christmas, so this has significantly replenished my stash.

The salt and pepper shakers up close - they're only three inches tall. So adorable! And hopefully, functional, too.

The rest of the family had had their fill of yard sales by then, so they headed home and left me to check out the rest of the sales on my list on my own. I headed over to Stanley Avenue to check out a couple of sales and found:
A pair of size 10 knitting needles (25 cents) which I'm hoping are big enough to experiment with knitting T-shirt yarn, and a pack of 20 Christmas cards ($1)

From there, I headed towards home, hitting up a couple more sales on Charleton and a street sale on Linwood without buying anything else, although I found the coolest thing I *didn't* buy today on Linwood:

This is a sheet music cupboard, but I can think of a lot of other great uses for it. I had to restrain myself from buying it, but I really don't have anywhere to put it right now (and we've got enough furniture waiting for an overhaul at the moment, so I don't want to add more until we've dealt with what we've already got!)

I also passed by St Joseph's church in my travels this morning...

...and got to meet fellow Hamilton blogger Tamara of Tea for Three (and one of her adorable daughters). I even bought something from her yard sale, but I won't tell you what as I'm sure she doesn't need everyone in the Blogosphere knowing where she lives :)

Grand total for the day: $21.25 for 25 items, or 85 cents an item
(If I remove the "big ticket" hockey pants from the equation, it works out to 26 cents an item for the other 24 items!)

Did you find anything great this week?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A RE-USE IT PROJECT: How to Make a Wooden Pallet Planter Box

Here in Southern Ontario, the Victoria Day Weekend has traditionally been the time to get out in the garden and plant, plant, plant as it's the official time when the danger of frost has passed. This year I think we only had one or two nights after the beginning of April where we got frost, it's been such a mild spring, but I still did the bulk of my planting over the holiday weekend.

While I'm gardening away, hubby usually occupies himself by breaking out the power tools and building something. Last year, it was this Hockey Stick Muskoka Chair. This year, I was pestering him for more planter boxes in my never-ending quest to squeeze more vegetable plants into the sunny spaces in our tiny urban yard.

We have several of these planter boxes already (the first ones were built during our $75 Deck Makeover) and they're all made from wooden pallets (a.k.a. "skids" around these parts). Wooden pallets are a fabulous source of free wood for small building projects, and if you keep your eye out you're sure to figure out where to find some in your area. There are a couple of places close to us where skids are routinely dumped and left free-for-the-taking, so it's not hard to get a hold of a few whenever we need them.

So, if you happen to need some more planters for your garden, you can either pay a king's ransom for them at the garden centre, or you can make some for nearly free with a couple of wooden pallets and a few other basic woodworking supplies.

Here's how:
You'll need:
A selection of wooden pallets
Tape measure
Nails (galvanized) - 4-5 dozen 1 1/2" and eight 2 1/2  - 3"
Circular saw
Table saw (not essential but handy!)

(If you don't have a circular saw, ask around - someone you know will probably lend you one!)

Step 1: Selecting pallets

My hubby recommends looking for pallets with boards that are relatively smooth on *both* sides, and 1 x 5" or 1 x 6" in width. It's also ideal if you can find ones that have real 2 x 4"s used in their construction (you'll need some of them for this project).

Since pallets can be constructed from a wide variety of board sizes, if you pick up a few you increase the chances that you'll have enough boards of matching size to build this project. If you have a table saw, it gives you the option of ripping some of the widest boards down to a smaller size if need be.

Step 2: Breaking down the pallets

Before you can start building, you'll want to break down the pallets so you know how many of each type of board you have to work with.

Start by cutting off the ends just inside where the 2 x 4s are attached. My hubby says he does NOT recommend simply trying to pry off the 2 x 4s as he's ended up cracking a lot of boards that way (resulting in a large pile of unusable wood).

 Next, you'll want to pry the 2 x 4s off the remaining end bits (it's okay if those end bits split, you won't need them for this project).

Once you've got everything apart, you'll be left with an assortment of boards like this:

If you're lucky, you'll end up with 12 boards that are the same width and thickness to construct the sides. In our case, we didn't (largely because hubby didn't have enough time to break down all the skids we had at our disposal, so we fudged this planter a bit with what we had; this is the kind of thing that happens when you have tomato seedlings desperately awaiting a new home).

Step 3: Building the planter:

 First, you're going to need to cut some of your 2 x 4s (these will hold the sides together). Measure the width of your three boards for the first side (in our case, it was 14 1/4"). You'll need a second set of three matching boards with the same width for the second side.

Next, measure the thickness of two of those boards stacked together (here it was 1 1/2").

To calculate the length of your first four 2 x 4s, subtract the second measurement from the first (i.e. 14 1/4 - 1 1/2 = 12 3/4")

Cut the 2 x 4s to length and nail them in place to hold the side boards together. The top ones should sit flush with the top of the planter, and the bottom ones you can place where ever you'd like the floor of the planter to be (we don't put ours all the way at the bottom for two reasons: the boards aren't against the ground so they won't rot as quickly, and we have a smaller space to fill with soil). Hopefully you should have two sides that look something like the ones above when you're done.

Now you'll need to cut a second set of four 2 x 4s. These ones need to be shorter than the first set; measure the width of two 2 x 4s and subtract that from the length of the first set to figure out how much shorter to make them. Unfortunately hubby got away from me on the building process while I was on a gardening break, so you're going to have to use your imagination a little more for this next bit - cross your fingers (not while you're using the circular saw, though, okay?) and I'll do my best to talk you through it :)

Basically, you're going to construct two more sides the same as the first set, but the 2 x 4s won't run all the way to the edge on this set, you'll need to centre them in the middle. This is so you can nail the shorter set flush in against the first two sides you built, so they nest together. Make sure the bottom 2 x 4s are at the same height as they were in the first set. It should look something like this:

Although probably yours will have less mismatched boards and more accurately measured 2 x4s; it's also not likely to have a floor yet, unless you've gone and gotten ahead of me :)

Once you've gotten your basic box assembled, flip it over so the bottom side is up. Cut some more of your 1 x5 or 1 x 6 boards the right length to nail in place on top of the 2 x 4s - this creates the floor. It's okay if these boards have a few minor gaps or cracks, as that will allow for water drainage.

Now turn it back over so the right side's up again. The last thing you need to do is create the top cap for the planter, which makes it look fancier and hides a multitude of sins that may have occurred during the construction process. Our cap will have an overhang of 3/4". This is what you want to end up with when it's done:

To construct the cap, measure the sides of your box (you may have one longer side and one shorter side). Add 1 1/2" to both measurements (so you have 3/4" extra at each side of the box). Cut two 2 x 4s for the shorter sides, with the ends at a slightly more than 45 degree angle. Set the boards in place on the top of the box, but don't nail them in yet. Lay a second set of 2 x4s on top of the longer two sides. Take a pencil and mark a line across the uncut boards where the already-cut boards line up with the uncut board to get the appropriate angle to cut the second set of boards. Cut the second two 2 x 4s where they're marked and nail all four boards into place. (If your box happens to be a perfect square, you can simply cut all four 2 x 4s at a 45 degree angle and not bother with the angle-measuring step).

You're all finished! Now you just need to prime and paint it (paint only the outside of the planter if you're using it to grow veggies). This is one we made last year that is home to a tomato plant:

 Well, I don't know about you, but I'm tired out after all that building - time for a cup of fresh mint tea from the garden!

Do you use wooden pallets for building projects? What have you made with them?

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Couple of Changes...and a Request for Support

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while now, and been a little nervous about doing it. Then I saw another blogger I respect write a post like this recently, and that made me feel a bit better about the idea. So, here goes!

First, I just wanted to mention a couple of small changes I'm making to the blog. Starting this week, if I find a particularly noteworthy deal on a food or natural product (personal care, cleaning, etc) I'm going to post it at the top of the blog for the week. I've got a deal at Shoppers Drug Mart up there as my pick for this week. I have no intention of becoming a "deals" blogger, but I figured it would be fun to share the best deal or two of the week so you can make sure you don't miss it (these will largely apply to my Ontario and/or Canadian readers, depending on what the deal is). I also want to start supporting more local and Canadian bloggers, so you'll see some changes in the "Blogspiration" links on my sidebar (you can check out Crackers and MyEdit if you want a taste of other Hamilton bloggers!)

Second (and this is the part that is difficult for me) I wanted to ask for your support. As my long time readers will be aware, I'm a pretty DIY kind of gal, and it can sometimes be hard for me to ask for help. I've been writing this blog for over two years now, and it has been a mostly fun and rewarding experience. There is no denying, however, that it takes a big chunk of my time that could be spent focusing on my home and family. I want to keep writing posts that will help you to live well without spending a lot of money - and the time has come for me to ask for a bit of assistance from you, my readers.

One of my goals with this blog was to keep it ad-free. I know quite a few bloggers generate a decent revenue through advertising (and I'm not criticizing them) - I'm just saying that it doesn't feel right for *me*. We are bombarded by so much advertising these days, and I want my blog to feel like a haven from all that noise. Yes, I advertise my own book on the blog, and occasionally include Amazon affiliate links in my posts, but other than that I have not taken on any advertising. I have done a couple of paid product posts in the past, and found that didn't feel particularly good to me, either. I would much prefer to have a reader-supported blog, and I know that's possible because other people have done it :)

So, if you appreciate the information I provide, here are some ways you can help support me so I can continue to write this blog (and most of them won't cost you a thing!)

1. Use my affiliate links if you're making a purchase on Amazon or Mountain Rose Herbs.  Clicking on my book image (further down in the post) will activate my affiliate account; you don't have to purchase my book once you arrive on the Amazon site, but most purchases you do make will result in me receiving a small commission.

If you click on this banner:

Mountain Rose Herbs

or the one at the top of my blog page, it will activate my Mountain Rose affiliate account. I am really proud to be an affiliate of this company; they put a lot of thought and care into everything they do and offer great prices on the highest quality organic herbs, spices, teas, and other herbal and personal care products. They also pay a very generous commission to their affiliates (much higher than Amazon). I can't say enough good things about this company, so I hope you'll consider supporting them (and me!) by purchasing their products through my affiliate account.

2. Connect with me on Facebook (I have a page for both my blog and my book), Twitter or Pinterest

3. If you find one of my posts particularly useful, share it on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

4. Leave a comment! As a blogger, sometimes it can feel like you're talking to yourself if no one comments on your posts. I know you're out there reading them because I can see it in my blog stats, so please let me know if you found a particular post helpful. It seems like a little thing, but a few positive comments can really make a blogger's day :)

5. If you have something you'd like to say, but would rather say it in private, you can email me at abundanceonadimeATgmailDOTcom.

6. Let me know what types of posts you'd like to see here. I'm basically guessing at the demographics of my readers and writing what I think will be helpful - but maybe you'd like me to write about something else! For example, I don't write much about living frugally with babies and young children, because my kids are well past that stage. I do have a wealth of experience in that area, though, so I could write more posts focused on that topic if that's what my readers want. So leave a comment or email me to tell me what topics you'd like to see me cover.

7. Let people know about my book. I'm not into traditional, aggressive marketing techniques, so I'm relying largely on "soft marketing" and word-of-mouth to sell my book. I've gotten terrific feedback from many people who've bought it, and it's gotten several 5 star reviews on Amazon. A couple of people have liked it so much they've bought 8-10 copies to give away to family, friends, or clients! Still, I need a lot of help to "get the word out" and let people know it exists. If you've already bought a copy, I really appreciate it! If you love the book, writing a review on Amazon would really help me out (the more great reviews it has, the better). While we're on the topic of Amazon, entering the Amazon site by clicking on my book in the sidebar (or below) will activate my affiliate account, and I will get a small affiliate commission for most things you buy on the site after clicking through. Mentioning my book on Facebook and Twitter (maybe commenting on a specific recipe your family particularly enjoyed) is a great way to let people know about it, too. Requesting the book for purchase at your library and linking to it or reviewing it on your blog are other ways to help spread the word. If you happen to have a great independent bookstore that you frequent, suggesting that they stock a few copies wouldn't hurt, either!

7. Purchase a book or Budget Menu Plan subscription or make a donation. 

Yes, here is the part where I finally ask you to consider providing some financial support. I know there are some people who are not in a position to do this (believe me, I *totally* understand!). However, I know there are others for whom this might be a possibility, so I'm just asking you to consider it if it feels right to you. You probably know at least one person who could benefit from the information in my book (heck, one of my friends told me she saved $300 on groceries in the first month she used the strategies in my book!). So, please consider it when you're thinking about gift-giving. If you collect Swagbucks, you could even get it for free with Amazon gift certificates.

I also have Budget Menu Plan subscriptions for sale at very affordable prices - again, if you need a gift for a busy, overwhelmed mom, why not give her the gift of never having to worry about what to make for dinner again? More information about the menu plans, along with a link to a sample weekly plan, can all be found HERE.

Finally, I have now put a "Donate" button on my sidebar. If you feel so inspired, you can donate any amount you'd like (really, no amount is too small and I will appreciate any and all contributions!) Again, I know it's something not everyone can do - so please don't feel bad if it's not something you can consider right now. It's simply there as an option for those who are able and feel so inclined.

Oh yes, and one final thing: Whether you choose to do some, all, or none of the above, I appreciate you stopping by to read what I have to say! Thanks for being here :)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Weekly Yard Sale Report and Southwest/James North Wanderings

It's the long Victoria Day Weekend here in Canada and I don't think the weather could be any nicer! It was a perfect Saturday morning for hitting the yard sale circuit on my bike and I had eight sales on my list to check out.

Since I have a lot more local readers than I did many moons ago when I started these yard sale reports (and thanks to CBC Hamilton it's not exactly a secret that I live in The Hammer so my "blogger anonymity", if I ever had any, is totally shot) I've decided it would be fun to add some more local references to these posts. So, non-local readers, I love you, too - you just might not always know what I'm talking about, but you might get to know a lot more about the city I live in :)

I started off the morning at a sale on Aberdeen. I didn't buy anything there, but working my way towards Locke Street I encountered this little fellow on the porch:

I then headed slightly northeast to check out a sale on Herkimer, and scored this beauty:

A Lagostina Dutch oven - the holy grail of cookware. I've been dreaming of finding a good quality Dutch oven at a yard sale for years, so to say I was excited about this find would be a slight understatement. We recently had to throw out a pot we'd been using for 20 years (my sister-in-law was going to throw it out all that time ago and we managed to get two more decades of regular use out of it). This is a more than worthy successor to our expired pot, that's for sure.  I paid $4 for it and went (very) happily on my way!

This particular yard sale was located right in my old stomping grounds. I lived near Queen & Herkimer for several years, in this place:

It's nearly unrecognizable from the time I lived there. It used to have a green stucco exterior, and I'm pretty sure that large evergreen tree wasn't there when I was. I guess a lot can change in 15 years :) We lived in the main floor apartment on the right hand side of this semi-detached house.

I headed further north and backtracked a bit west to get to a sale on Dundurn north, where I didn't buy anything. Making my way further northeast, I happened to spy this:

Was someone hoping to do their grocery shopping at Victoria Park? Maybe they can come back a bit later in the growing season and barter for some veggies from a member of the Victoria Park Community Gardens. I'm not even sure where that cart would have come from as there are no grocery stores in the immediate vicinity.

Here was the scene at York and Bay just after 9 a.m. this morning:

 Is EVERYONE at the cottage? By the time I made it home I concluded that everyone that's still in the city was either hitting up yard sales (they were all doing a brisk business), strolling down James North, or exploring the Waterfront Trail.

From York and Bay I wove my way towards the James North area. I stopped to check a sale on Bay North, and while I enjoyed a stimulating conversation with the proprietor, I didn't buy anything. My next stop was a sale on MacNab North, where I found these:

I got these spoons for ten cents apiece, which I think is one heck of a deal. The smaller spoon in the middle (I'm told it's a jam spoon, and it will look right at home serving up our homemade jam from a Mason jar) is definitely real silver and I'm pretty sure the larger ones are, too. They need a bit of cleaning up, but I've been meaning to polish our silver (inherited from my hubby's grandmother) for ever and a day anyhow, so hopefully this is the incentive I need to finally get the job done.

I then made a stop on Mulberry Street, where I found the coolest thing I DIDN'T buy this morning:

A selection of retro frames!

By then the day was really starting to heat up and I was starting to run out of steam, but I pressed onwards to check out one more sale on James North before taking the Waterfront Trail back to Westdale.

The view from Burlington and Bay this morning:

After making it back to my own neck of the woods, I stopped at one final sale where, miraculously, I didn't buy any books even though they had a ton of them.

That pretty much sums up this morning's adventures!

Grand total for the day: $4.30 for 4 items, or an average of $1.08 an item.

Did you find anything great this weekend?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Finds from our Spring Clothing Shopping Expedition

Monday was 50% off day at Value Village, so we headed out to do our big spring clothing shopping trip. Hubby and I are pretty well fixed for clothes right now, so we were mainly looking for clothes for the boys, who have either outgrown or worn out most of their spring and summer clothes from last season!

It was total chaos at the Value Village - our timing was not great and I think we managed to hit the after school crowd - but we managed to survive the experience and came home with the following:

Six pairs of shorts (all for the boys) and two swimsuits (one for my 12 year old son and one for hubby, who desperately needed a replacement for his ancient suit). The cost of these items ranged from $1.50 to $4.00, with the total spent on shorts and swimsuits (before taxes) coming to $22.50.

My 12 year old son is starting to develop "champagne taste" when it comes to clothes and is becoming extremely label-conscious, providing an additional challenge when it comes to finding him clothes that he deems acceptable. He's quite fixated on Abercrombie and Fitch at the moment,  and he managed to find two of their sweaters that fit him, making him a happy camper (and I was happy with the prices; $1.50 and $4.00). My 14 year old picked up a really good quality black fleece pullover (not pictured) for $7.50.We also found 7 new T-shirts for the boys, ranging from $2.00 to $2.50 in price. The before-tax total for sweaters and T-shirts came to $28.50.

Finally, my 12 year old son found himself yet another pair of black sneakers (pretty much the only colour he considers acceptable these days). His current pair is starting to show some signs of wear, and sine he is constantly playing one sport or another with his friends all summer long, I wanted to make sure he had a backup pair when the current ones bite the dust. These cost $10.00. Thankfully both boys still have flip flops or sandals in good condition that we picked up on clearance at the end of last season, so they should now have adequate footwear to make it through the summer months.

The grand total for the day, with taxes, came to $68.81 for 19 items of clothing, or an average of  $3.62 an item. 

This trip was a real headache-inducing experience, but after I reminded myself how much money we saved for enduring two hours of chaos, it was definitely worth the effort! I *am* glad we only do this a couple times of year, though :) 

To learn more about how we spend less than $100 a year (per person) on clothes, go HERE.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Weekly Menu Retrospective #67

Welcome to my weekly roundup of the past week's eats. I prefer to report what we ate in the last week, rather than what we're planning to eat in the coming week. Why? The reason is pretty simple: although I usually have a general idea of what we're going to eat in the next week or so, life often unfolds a little differently than planned, and I adjust my menu plan on a near-daily basis to accommodate leftovers and other not-possible-to-plan-ahead circumstances. I find this is the easiest way to ensure that I minimize our family's food waste. I'm also willing to admit that I'm a rather spontaneous cook, given to preparing foods that strike me as the most appealing thing to eat right here and now!

If you'd like a whole book full of inexpensive, quick and kid-approved recipes,
check out my book, Cheap Appétit : The Complete Guide to Feeding Your Family for Less Than $400 a Month (While Eating Better Than You Ever Thought Possible) on Amazon (, and Amazon UK) and Barnes and Noble.  It's gotten multiple 5 star reviews!! I've included page references to recipes that are in the book in my menu plans so you can locate them quickly. For more details about the book, go here.

Granola (p.92), Chocolate Zucchini Muffins (p. 114), , Rhubarb Streusel Muffins, blueberry buttermilk pancakes, peanut butter toast

leftovers, pizza, grilled cheese, salad, sandwiches  


Monday: Make-It-Your-Way Potato Hash (p. 140)

Tuesday: Pad Thai and roasted asparagus

Wednesday: Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Lentil Soup (p. 162), Cornbread (p. 212)

Thursday: Lemon and Garlic Chicken (p. 184), Easy Oven Fries, tossed salad topped with leftover roasted asparagus

Friday: Turkey and Vegetable Coconut Curry (a variation of this recipe, p. 136)

Saturday: Pineapple and Bacon Baked Beans (a variation of Apple and Bacon Baked Beans, p. 177)

Sunday: Barbecued pork chops with spicy rub, potato salad, asparagus with lemon butter, Pineapple Coconut Cake (p. 225)

In keeping with my local and organic challenge, I'd also like to note the local and/or organic items on this week's menu:

Organic: coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut, sunflower oil, brown sugar (in granola), cane sugar (in coffee/tea),  raisins (in granola), sunflower and pumpkin seeds (in granola), bananas, navy beans (used to make baked beans)

Local: apples, potatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers (hothouse), red peppers (hothouse), strawberries (in smoothies - from last year's pick-your-own expedition), rhubarb (still using up last year's freezer supply!), milk, eggs, sour cream 

Local AND organic:
oats (in granola), sesame seeds (used to top bread loaves)

(Unfortunately, the asparagus was not local - it was advertised to be, but when he got to the store it was from the U.S. - apparently the Ontario crop had suffered frost damage, but there is supposed to be local stuff this coming week!)

For more great meal ideas, check out Menu Plan Monday at

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Weekly Yard Sale Report for May 12, 2012

It was a fabulous morning for some yard sale shopping and I headed out bright and early this morning to check out the bargains. There were only three sales running in my area today, and as it turned out both of my finds were made at my first stop of the morning, the sale right in my neighbourhood.

Here's what I came home with:

 I couldn't resist this metal basket ($3.00). I'm hoping some day I might actually have "backyard fresh eggs" to put in it; up until then I think it's going be pressed into duty corralling our flip flops by the front door for the summer.

At the same sale, I also found this slightly worn-around-the-edges but still sturdy rocker ($5.00). With a little TLC and a new paint job, it should be pretty easy to restore it to its former glory. I'm not sure where in the house it's going to live yet, but it's quite comfy so I want to find it a home somewhere where it will be used regularly.

Grand total for the day: $8 for 2 items, or $4 an item

Did you find anything great today?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Local and Organic Challenge: My May Food Coop Order

It feels like Christmas comes several times a year for me - every time a new coop order arrives (once every 2-3 months) I am a bit like a kid in a candy store. I guess in this case that would be an organic, fair trade candy store :) Our latest order arrived yesterday, so it's time for another update on my local and organic challenge.

I managed to haul this rather large volume of food home in two bike trailer loads. Fortunately the order coordinator (where the group order gets delivered and sorted) lives in my neighbourhood so it's only a few minutes' ride to my place.

Here's the booty this time round:

Back row:
1 litre Soleil d'Or organic, cold pressed canola oil (Canadian produced) $12.87
1 kg Dutchman's Gold unpasteurized honey (locally produced) $8.20
1 kg Oak Manor organic pumpkin seeds (Ontario produced) $10.31
1 kg Oak Manor organic sunflower seeds (Ontario produced) $5.62
1 kg Oak Manor organic millet (Ontario produced) $4.05
1 kg Oak Manor organic popcorn (Ontario produced) $5.95

Middle row:
1 kg Oak Manor organic quinoa (Ontario produced) $7.62
425 g Nature's Path organic flaxseed meal $5.58
1 kg Camino fair trade organic cane sugar $5.89

Front row:
11.34 kg organic unsweetened shredded coconut $89.18
5.5 kg organic navy beans $17.51
1 case (12 x 400 mL cans) Thai Kitchen organic coconut milk $22.22
12 kg Oak Manor organic cornmeal $28.48

For those just joining me on my "local and organic challenge" adventure, you may rightly be wondering what on earth someone with a food budget of $400 a month (for a family of four) is doing spending just shy of 90 bucks on coconut. Well, last time I bought an insane amount of raisins and oats, and next time I'll buy a crazy amount of something else. Buying in such large quantities allows me to get a fantastic price per pound and makes it much easier to afford the purchase of organic foods (in some cases I'm getting prices at or below grocery store prices for conventionally grown foods). I expect that the coconut will last at least a year, even in this household where we're all a little coconut addicted. The 12 kilograms of cornmeal may last us that long as well (although we do eat a lot of cornbread and all have a fondness for my Lemon Blueberry Polenta Cake!). I'll be portioning and packaging the coconut, cornmeal, and beans for storage in the freezer.

This time round, everything in my order is organic and all of the grains and seeds (except for the flax) are produced in Ontario. The honey is from a local Hamilton-area producer.

Grand total for this order: $223.48

I think we've made some great progress overall with this local and organic challenge considering we are less than 3 months in! And I hope I am going to have some more exciting news on this topic very soon (I just need to iron out the details on another great local food lead I've gotten), so stay tuned for further updates.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Does a Frugalista Do it All?

If you are new to the idea of living more frugally, it's easy to be overwhelmed by what  promises to be a never-ending to-do list of money-saving activities. When people find out that I cook all our meals from scratch, garden, can and freeze foods, make many of our personal care and cleaning products and help my hubby with assorted DIY projects around the house, and on top of that manage to find time to blog, write a book and homeschool my kids, they often shake their heads in disbelief and state they could never find time to do all those things.

Well, as is often the case, I beg to differ. I am not one of those organizational geniuses who squeezes maximum productivity out of every minute of the day. I am very fond of sleeping at least eight hours a night. And I'm definitely not one of those mega-high-energy people who loves to keep busy - in fact, I prefer a much slower pace and factor an ample amount of leisure time into most days. So how do I still get all that stuff done?

One reason I'm able to "get it all done" is that there are a lot of things I don't do:

I don't spend a lot of time shuttling kids all over the place: My 12 and 14 year old kids are responsible for getting themselves to their climbing lessons, swimming lessons and hockey practice (all of which are an easy walk or short bike ride from our home). I don't have to ferry them around to visit friends, either as most of their friends live right here on the same street as us. There are a couple of homeschooling activities located a bit further away that require us to bike escort or drive them over, but that's about it.

I don't spend a lot of time shopping or running errands: I'm able to get most of our routine errands (such as dropping off/picking up library materials, going to the bank and post office, and shopping at the neighbourhood grocery store) done in 30-45 minutes on Mondays and Wednesdays - and since I live in such a fabulously walkable neighbourhood, I'm able to do them all on foot rather than driving. Because we only go shopping when we actually need to buy something specific, we don't need to go all that often. We do two major thrift store clothes shopping expeditions per year (one in the spring and one in the fall). My husband and I share the grocery shopping duties, and often they are picked up in combination with other errands rather than making a special trip. Most of our gifts are homemade or come from my gift cupboard, so we don't spend much time shopping for gifts, either.

My house isn't ready for a Better Homes and Gardens photo shoot: While our home is usually relatively neat and uncluttered, it's not often buffed and shined to a gleam. The kids are responsible for vacuuming, and the kitchen and bathroom get cleaned routinely but deep cleaning of the rest of the house is something we just don't get to all that often.

I don't cook fancy meals very often: While I do cook all our meals from scratch, I usually keep it simple.  Many of our dinners can be prepared in 30-45 minutes. I do usually put in more time and effort on our Sunday dinners, but even that isn't always true depending on what activities we have going on. We are always well fed, but I don't make it complicated.

I don't watch much TV and try to minimize my time on the computer: We don't have cable, so that helps reduce the temptation to park myself in front of the TV for extended periods. Since we watch TV shows on DVDs (borrowed from the library, of course!) it only takes about 40 minutes to watch a one hour episode of a show. Starting about this time of year, we usually abandon TV watching for spending time outside in the evening, puttering in the garden, going for walks and bike rides, and relaxing on the front porch. I also try really hard not to waste too much time surfing the net or hanging out on social media sites, which can be a huge time sink. I try to get on the computer, do what I need to do, and get off!

Right along with all these things I don't do, there are a few things I *DO* do that also help keep our frugal household running smoothly:

I have a (loose) daily routine: While our family's never been the type to stick to a rigid schedule, our days are generally organized in a loose sort of routine. Mornings I spend writing/blogging and doing household administrative tasks (like paying bills online and checking to see what's due at the library) while the kids have time to pursue whatever interests they want on their own. In the afternoons, I spend a couple of hours with the kids on more structured learning activities. Usually after that I will have a couple hours before I need to start dinner, so I will get some combination of household maintenance activities (cooking, cleaning, laundry) and exercise done in that time.

I make use of little bits of time: Many "maintenance" activities only take 10-15 minutes to complete and I use little bits of time throughout the day to get them done. I will often whip up a batch of granola (which takes less than 10 minutes of hands-on time) before starting the dishes after dinner. That way it can bake while I finish the kitchen clean up. Similarly, a batch of muffins or refrigerator bread dough takes less than 15 minutes to put together. Most of the personal care and cleaning products I make take little time to put together, too. The majority of my garden maintenance is done in 20-30 minute chunks of time, too.

I take advantage of my high-energy days: On those days when I feel particularly bursting with energy, I try to capitalize on it and squeeze in as many tasks as I can. I might spend a few hours in the kitchen, making everything from stock to yogurt to flour tortillas to quick breads, or finally get to some of that deep cleaning in other areas of the house!

I set aside scheduled work days for bigger projects: Some activities do require larger blocks of time to get them done and I set aside specific blocks of time for them. During the growing season, canning is a priority activity. Since my husband and I usually do this together and his work schedule varies a lot from day to day, we schedule in specific mornings or afternoons to get batches of preserves made. If we have a large DIY project in progress (such as renovating part of our house), we'll schedule in specific times to work on it.

I sometimes have to let things go: I'm far from perfect (just like everyone else) and sometimes things simply don't get done. While we do can food every growing season, some years we get more preserving done than other years, and yes, there have been clothes that have gotten outgrown while they've sat in my mending pile. Some of the things on our household DIY project list have waited years to get completed. I try not to be too hard on myself about those things that have gone undone and instead give myself credit for the many things that DO get done.

How do YOU find the time to fit in "frugal" activities?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Weekly Yard Sale Report for May 5, 2012

This morning I braved the brisk and windy weather to hit 5 yard sales and a church rummage sale. Most of the sales weren't very exciting, but one fantastic find made all that riding around worth my while:

I have been searching for a new, larger lamp for my bedside table and this one's a beauty! It was marked at $15 and I got it for $10. This is no IKEA lamp, either. It's solid as a rock - in fact it's so hefty I decided to weigh it and it came it at just under five pounds! I've already installed it in its new home and it looks fabulous. I had nearly bought a couple of other lamps last yard sale season, but I'm glad I waited for this gorgeous one to come along. It's a lovely classic style and so well made it should last a lifetime! I'm guessing this lamp must have been at least $75-$100 new, and it's still in perfect condition so I got a great deal. I'm really looking forward to having much better lighting when I'm curled up with a good book at bedtime.

I also found these at another sale:

Three childrens' books/activity books (25 cents each) that are going in my gift cupboard.

That was it for the morning. I will be basking in the glow of my new lamp for quite a while I think!

Grand total for the day: $10.75 for 4 items, or 2.69 an item.

Did you find anything great today?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

RECIPE: Quinoa and Zucchini Corn Cakes

I've been making some variation or other of corn cakes for years. They are a quick and easy vegetarian (a.k.a. cheap) meal that is perfect for the warmer months of the year as preparing them doesn't heat up the kitchen too much. I've been experimenting with quinoa a lot lately and decided to try adding some to these corn cakes to give them a nutrition boost. They were a lot more filling than I expected! If fresh corn is in season, it will make these extra special, but you can use frozen or canned corn if fresh isn't available.

These are great with any type of salad on the side - you can find some of my favourite spring & summer salads here. In the above photo, they are shown with my Build a Cucumber and Bean Salad.

It also occurred to me that this batter is suspiciously similar to the one I use for making hushpuppies. So, I think you could probably get away with deep frying these by the spoonful like you do with hushpuppies if you want a special treat (and with the additional of the veggies and quinoa, they'll be a lot more nutrient-dense than your average hushpuppy!)

1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup grated zucchini
1 cup corn kernels
1 cup cooked quinoa

oil or bacon fat for pan frying

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg, butter, onion, zucchini, corn and quinoa. Add the buttermilk mixture to the cornmeal mixture, stirring gently just until combined.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil or fat in a large frying pan (I like to use my cast iron skillet for these). Pour about 1/4 cup of batter into pan for each corn cake. Cook until they start to form bubbles on top; flip and cook another minute or two, or until golden brown on second side.

Serve with salsa and sour cream.

Makes about 3 dozen corn cakes.
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