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Thanksgiving – The Final Verdict

The Spread with all the Trimmings
The Spread with all the Trimmings

We had a very quiet Thanksgiving, which is what we wanted. Our food budget for November was $320, we actually spent $316.22, including Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey has been boiled, stock created, and the first batch of soup eaten with the rest frozen and all other leftovers consumed.

Roast turkey, brined in seasoned salt water, rosemary, oregano, and thyme
Roasted garlic mashed potatoes with butter and oregano
Dressing with homemade bread cubes, apples, and raisins
Green bean casserole
Cranberries cooked in orange juice and cane sugar

Apple Pie
Apple Pie

For dessert
Homemade apple pie
Homemade pumpkin pie with fresh (frozen) pureed sugar pumpkin from Sauvie Island Farms
Homemade whipped cream

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What Does It Mean to Live Frugally?

Flowers from Sauvie Island Farm, u-pick; muffins made from u-pick blueberries and bulk flour.
Flowers from Sauvie Island Farm, u-pick; muffins made from u-pick blueberries and bulk flour.

I’ve been noticing a lot lately, a lot of talk regarding living frugally and what that means.  In large part, I have sought information out because I want to glean what I can from others who have lived well frugally.  I wanted to see their tips on how to “think outside the box”.  I want to get tips, simply, that I haven’t thought of.  I forget, honestly forget, how engorged we are in spending.  The concept, for example of “Buy Nothing Day” has been one which I have been familiar with for upwards of 8 years.  The idea is not new to me to avoid shopping malls on the day after Thanksgiving.  It helps, to be sure, that my parents saved their Christmas shopping for December 24th, every year.  An argument for waiting?  The prices are lower and no one is in the stores.

My husband and I have about $2100 take home pay to work with every month.  We don’t have the luxury of deciding to live on a frugal budget, we must or we will be using lines of credit from the bank, furthering debt and giving them pennies we could have put towards items like milk.  We use W.I.C. and recently qualified for energy assistance.  We are college graduates and we qualify for government aid; how’s that but a humbling reminder to sometimes inflated egos?

Living frugally, though, forces creativity and has urged me to get back to whole foods cooking.  After we got married, I found I couldn’t cook the way I like because Peter’s tastes didn’t jive with things like arugula and tofu.  So, I went back to meat and potatoes cooking, and lack of imagination even showed how Hamburger Helper could be a happy medium.  We’ve finally gotten serious, and about at the same place on the same page, this past year, so we’ve been able to all but eliminate foods like Tuna and Hamburger Helper.  (We did find it’s much cheaper to just buy the box of Mac & Cheese rather than make it homemade.)  So, what do we do to live frugally?  Lot’s of different things.

Buying in bulk is the number thing.  We’ve been buying very large containers of TP, for example, for months.  We do not have a membership to Costco because there are local alternatives that offer the same bulk rates without the membership fee.  How would a membership fee help us to live frugally?  It’d be $40 we could have put towards car registration, for example.  So, everything we can manage to buy in bulk monthly, we do.  We buy flour in bulk, meat in bulk, vegetables in bulk.  This means I have to prepare things, and has increased our spending on quart and gallon-sized freezer bags, but I have found that as I get in the habit of doing it, these minutes of prep save hours in the end.  So, the 4 lb bags of veggies are pared down to 5 or 6 quart sized bags of veggies.  That 5 lb package of ground beef distributed out of Clackamas, OR was split into half and 1 lb sections.  We’ll use 1/2 lb for those remaining Hamburger Helper meals instead of the suggested pound.

6 lbs of blueberries picked and separated in June.
6 lbs of blueberries picked and separated in June.

We eat more vegetable dishes rather than more meat based dishes.  I’ve gotten back into my protein combining with beans and rice (Thanks Frances Moore Lappé!).  This was one thing I couldn’t do when Peter and I first got married because he simply wouldn’t eat much of the food and we’d have leftovers that rotted in the fridge.  But, we’ve come to a middle ground where my cooking and his palette have both changed.  So, he can eat and enjoy Walnut Cheddar Loaf now.  We’ve explored U-Pick farms, not farmer’s markets, for vegetable options and have fallen in love all over again with Sauvie Island.  Since my beloved mother got me a food processor, we found that truly homemade pumpkin pie is much better than anything canned.  And, because we’re getting back to whole foods, we’re doing what I love: controlling ingredients. Controlling ingredients helps our budget and it helps our health.  I get the satisfaction of using what sugar I went and how much, and I also feel like I am free to be less guilty about those occasional hamburger helper meals because I’ve gone local and organic where we can afford it.

We’ve read advice books and listened to some advice radio, namely Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsey.  Peter’s aunt gave us a Larry Burkett book for our wedding gift, which I found helpful for suggesting what pecentage of income should go where.  I had no idea how housing costs, for example, should break down and equal 38% of your net pay.  If you have to overspend in one category, what can you give up to make the budget balance?  This continued control has given us freedom to buy ice cream because we’ve only spent 2/3 of what we allow ourselves on food for the month.  We know what has to go where and together we are accountable so it’s not just a selfish justification but a double check.

As we’ve gained control, we’ve also been able to lighten up.  Peter loves to check out craigslist for deals and fun things.  So, now, when he asks if he can get that $50,000 boat, I feel free to say, “Yes,” because I know he knows that I know that we can’t afford it.  And, we hopefully now have the hindsight to continue this accountablility especially since we know our income will increase sometime in the future.  I still have loans to pay off.

So, what does it mean to live frugally?  It means we are accountable to each other, first and foremost.  It means for us, that we talk about how to trim the budget discussing what we can go without (soda and coffee).  For us, it means we shop together.  It means I cook and Peter works on the cars.  It means we use cost-saving environmentally methods for cleaning.  I think it has brought us closer together and continued to show that we know the answers and those outside books (like the Yankee How to Live on a Shoestring) only offer random tips that won’t add significantly to what we’ve already done.  It means we use the library more and get new a lot less.  But, how often do we really need new?

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Buy Nothing Day, version 2008

Last year we saw tips on how to budget shop like a pro.  In light of recent economic trends, when people have a more immediate need to watch their spending, let’s try any number of these alternatives on Black Friday while we switch the paradigm to Buy Nothing Day.

  1. Don’t go shopping, for anything
  2. Stay at home, relax
  3. Play with your kids, spouse/partner, friends
  4. Play board games
  5. Call up that friend you’ve been meaning to call during the holiday season now
  6. Make cookies, decorate with your family
  7. Enjoy hot cider
  8. Sit by a fire
  9. Sing carols
  10. Volunteer (soup kitchens, your favorite organization, neighborhood groups, churches, schools)
  11. Make Christmas wreaths with your friends
  12. Make Christmas cards and ornaments
  13. Decorate your Christmas Tree in a timely (not early) fashion with said homemade ornaments

Let’s use this year’s economic cautions as a reminder for what really counts at the holidays: Loved Ones, not Stuff.

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Thanksgiving Revisited

Our cost for Thanksgiving, because we got an insanely cheap turkey at 29 cents a pound, is $26.26, and we’ve got all the items needed.  Today, New Seasons posted in their weekly ad a local harvest Thanksgiving for $50.  I could feed ten with the feast I’ll make, but I’m banking on lots of left overs to get us through, plus freezing turkey and/or broth after the main feast is done.  It’s just interesting to me how this new budget idea for Thanksgiving is all the rage.  It’s like advertisers finally caught up with the layoffs and belt tightening the rest of America has undergone for ages.  Certainly, we continue to live in an era of opulence, but it’s like it’s a less shiny version.  Quiet pontifications for a different way of doing Thanksgiving.

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Thanksgiving Dinner

What is Thanksgiving all about anymore when very few actually harvest anything? Is it a reason to just engorge on traditional food while placating ourselves with family? Or is it really a time to give thanks for all the blessing we have, the food, the shelter, the family who keeps us sane and guides us through rough times? It is quite interesting to me how much Thanksgiving’s image has changed from our grade school plays. Pilgrims coming in, thankful for these Indians who knew how to plant and harvest, they generously shared their knowledge, and then we shared a meal. Let’s not discuss everything our grade school teachers didn’t teach us about Thanksgiving (the first), and rather compare the differences. Who of us now make it a true harvest meal? We had a garden of peppers and tomatoes. Because we planted late, we still have some last remaining tomatoes, but our peppers have all been devoured . So, our harvest dinner should include the remaining tomatoes, yes? Instead, we are having a more traditional fare, by ourselves no less, embarking on a new, smaller, quieter tradition.

What then will our menu be made of?  The following:

  • One 10 lb Turkey, not free-range this year as we are on a budget, $0.79 per lb at Safeway
  • Stuffing, made from one loaf of cubed homemade bread, about $1.50
  • Green bean casserole (God I love it no matter how trite), our most expensive per person item, about $3.76, the beans were purchased from a frozen 4 lb bag at $3.70 with about 1 lb to be used, the cream of mushroom soup will be about 0.90 and I may use 1/2 can of fried onions at about $1.50
  • A relish tray (for example only, probably will not serve) 1/2 lb each of celery & carrots, $0.85
  • 1 gallon of milk for mashed potatoes and beverage, $2.75
  • Fresh cranberries, 12 oz, $2.50 purchased from Fred Meyer
  • Potatoes, 10 lb bag $1.98, I’ll use probably 6-10 potatoes for garlic mashed potatoes, let’s say 5 lbs (too high an estimate I am sure) for about $1
  • Apple pie (homemade!), $2.60
  • Pumpkin pie (2), also homemade including fresh (now frozen) pureed pumpkin, $1.60
  • Bread (homemade!), $1.50
  • Cream (maybe…), $2.00?

The total?  $28.46.  This meal will be for a measly three.  A choice we have made.  With plenty of leftovers.  Realistically, we could feed 6 and 1/4 with a per person price of $4.55.  I doubt we’ll drink all the milk, and I will probably get myself some coffee for this day.  If we weren’t going to have green bean casserole, the price would drop to $25.63 and $4.10 each. The reason for this detailing?

The U.S. Farm Bureau released today that the average Thanksgiving meal will cost $44.61 for 10, or about $4.46 each.  The menu presented from the Farm Bureau uses purchased pie shells, rolls, and pumpkin pie mix.  They do not include apple pie, and they use stuffing mix!  Most of my ingredients I already have on hand, a form of modern day harvest, yes?  I included milk in the price because the Farm Bureau did, although we always have enough on hand.  I am not including the cost of butter and sugar as again, it’s a staple.  I’ve guessed at the price it will cost me to make pie dough (thanks Grandma for the great recipe) and bread.  I buy my flour and oils in bulk, for example 33 oz of extra virgin olive oil costs me about $7, whereas if I were to buy it per bottle at a normal grocery it would cost almost $10.  In fact, the only thing we have to purchase for Thanksgiving is the Turkey itself, which we’ll get at the deal posted above from Safeway this week.  I figure we’re making up with all the homemade goodies for not having a free-range turkey for one year.

I suppose I’m gloating.  I’m quite proud that we’ve been able to take these cost saving measures, maybe even so far, and still feel like we’re eating good.  It’s very important to me that my family’s nutrition does not suffer and that we train Levi up to be a good eater.  I have over 16 individual spices in my spice rack, whereupon I grew up with my mother who had about 6.  Curry, for exmaple, has been a frequent dinner lately.  We mix it up between standard meat and potatoes and the somewhat exotic for our Eastern European pallets with hot and spicy.  We trip into 30-minute glamor with the help of Rachael Ray and my imagination, and we’re doing it on a true budget.  And, Thanksgiving will be on the Cheap, but it will be a healthier meal than the one advertised by the Farm Bureau.

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How to make Creme Fraiche

I believe knowledge should be shared, and free.  Together, I believe we hold the resources to make any life we want.  But, along the way we embraced that we should be appreciated for our knowledge through payment.  There are others who can explain in a better, clearer manner than I the history of money and why we do things the way we do.  That said, I am including a recipe I found from Lynn Rosetta Casper of the Splendid Table on how to make homemade creme fraiche, a delectable treat, I am told, for just about anything.  Find the original article here.

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
  • 2 cups heavy cream (pasteurized, not ultra pasteurized or sterilized, and with no additives)

The steps

  1. Combine the buttermilk and cream in a saucepan and heat only to tepid (not more than 85 degrees on an instant reading thermometer).
  2. Pour into a clean glass jar.
  3. Partially cover and let stand at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened.
  4. Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using.
  5. The cream will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

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October Levi

Dinner Time
Dinner Time

This month has been a busy month for the little bug.  We’ve been getting up later, thanks to Peter’s late schedule.  So our days typically look like this:

Levi sleeping at Sauvie Island Farms when we picked out pumpkins.
Levi sleeping at Sauvie Island Farms when we picked out pumpkins.

Levi gets up around 9, and we get out of bed around 9:30 or 10.  He has breakfast of a banana, a handful of Cheerios, and a sippy-cup full of milk.  Then, we play.  Sometimes we watch Baby Einstein’s Baby Bach.  Or we did until a few nights ago when he jammed it in the DVD player, and he has been unofficially grounded from watching his beloved DVD until we can corral his button pushing a bit more.  Interestingly, the desire to watch the DVD has wained.

Levi navigating through the corn maze after he woke up from his nap.
Levi navigating through the corn maze after he woke up from his nap.

Then, it’s nap time where Levi will sleep for an hour and a half to 3 hours.  This means, we often have a late lunch.  Usually lunch comprises one cut up hot dog, some grapes or other fruit, and some type of grain, which could be a slice of bread, part of a muffin, or maybe some more cereal or a leftover pancake.  The afternoon activities vary, but there is always dancing throughout the day.  Levi has many musical toys that either sing or make music in some other way.  Sometimes we’ll go for a walk, and sometimes we’ll go to the park.  Sometimes I’m baking so we just dance.

Levi working on fixing the heater.
Levi working on fixing the heater.

Next it’s dinner time.  Dinner varies from pasta to casseroles to vegetarian dishes to a straight-up meat and potato dish.  We have learned that Levi loves small pasta that he can wrap his fingers around.  He seems to always taste everything.  We even give him a half a piece of garlic toast, which he tastes every time, and every time makes the same surprised look when he realizes how tangy the garlic powder is!  He is still a ferocious meat eater, so when we do have a chicken or beef dish, he will gravitate towards that first.

Levi showing Mommy how to use the computer.
Levi showing Mommy how to use the computer.

After dinner, Peter usually goes to work, and kitchen clean-up begins.  After that, we dance some more, maybe watch Baby Bach, maybe the News Hour with Jim Lehrer.  Usually though, from 7-8, there is much chasing, hiding, and dancing.

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Bountiful Feast

We’ve been purchasing many of our food goods at a local restaurant supply shop, Cash and Carry. They are, thankfully, open to the public.  This has been one of the ways in which we can experiment with trimming the fat from our budget without sacrificing nutrution, or simply to see if it is possible.  With the help of Cash and Carry and buying in bulk flours, we were able to make $5 pizzas the other night.  The crust was a recipe from a friend, homemade, yielding 2 crusts.  The ingredients included about 1 quart of homemade marinara sauce, with parmasean and mozzarella cheese.  Other toppings included shredded chicken, diced tomato, onion, and green peppers.  I thought they looked quite gourmet when we were done!

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More Muffins

Smarter Muffins

Preheat oven 375 degrees

Grease 2 6-cup jumbo sized muffin tins
Makes 12 jumbo muffins

2/3 C milk
1/2 C oil
2 eggs
2 C unbleached white flour
2 C whole wheat flour
1 C packed brown sugar
4 t baking powder
1 t sea salt
2 very ripe mashed bananas
1 C raisins
2 C applesauce
1 C minced carrots
1 C walnuts

Mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder & salt) in small bowl and set aside. Mix milk, oil, and egg in large bowl. Incorporate dry ingredients until moistened. Do not over mix. Add raisins, applesauce, carrots, and walnuts. Spoon into muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Apple-Raisin

Preheat oven 375 degrees

Grease 1 6-cup jumbo sized muffin tin
Makes 6 jumbo muffins

1/3 C milk
1/4 C oil
1 egg
1 C unbleached white flour
1 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C brown sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t sea salt
1 C raisins
1 C applesauce

Mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder & salt) in small bowl and set aside. Mix milk, oil, and egg in large bowl. Incorporate dry ingredients until moistened. Do not over mix. Add raisins and applesauce. Spoon into muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Banana Nut

1/3 C milk
1/4 C oil
1 egg
1 C unbleached white flour
1 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C brown sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t sea salt
2 very ripe mashed bananas
1 C walnuts, crushed

Mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder & salt) in small bowl and set aside. Mix milk, oil, and egg in large bowl. Incorporate dry ingredients until moistened. Do not over mix. Add bananas and walnuts. Spoon into muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Synopsis

The milk-applesauce combination in the smarter muffins made a very moist, spongy textured muffin. I would recommend adding 1/4 t of cinnamon or cloves for an added kick to these tasty treats.