Saturday, April 28, 2007

No Tomato Paste, No Problem!

I was making tomato sauce last night when I discovered I had no tomato paste. Aside from being tired and unwilling to run out to the store, I had no desire to spend money on tomato paste. It didn't fit in with my living mainly out of the cupboard plan. At the same time, my family gets grumbly with watery tomato sauce.

Here's my simple solution. I took a can of diced tomatoes and gave them a whirl in my Vita-Mix. Then I poured them through a fine mesh strainer. The end result was tomato paste and tomato juice. I used the tomato paste in the sauce and the tomato juice is in the fridge waiting to be used in another recipe.

Friday, April 27, 2007

We Interrupt Today's Friday Freebies to Bring You This...

Have you ever noticed that expenses come in bundles? Spring brings with it a myriad of fix it projects for homeowners. We are certainly no exception and with two houses, sometimes this can be a bit overwhelming. We've got a masonry chimney that needs repointing and relining to the tune of $1600, a house that needs to be repainted, a deck that needs some boards replaced, a roof that needs replacing and just yesterday the check engine light in my car came on. Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

On the positive side, our CSA pickups begin the first week in June. Since these were paid for months ago it will feel like we are suddenly getting free veggies and this will take a big chunk out of our food budget. On the other hand, June is still 5 weeks away. What do you do in the interim?

Fortunately, we've recently had a few expenses eliminated, namely my car payment, and others decreased, mainly our auto insurance. These will help but we need to tighten our belts a little bit more to get these things done in a timely fashion. My posts for the next few weeks will be focusing on living with almost zero spending.

The first thing I'm doing is beginning to sprout daily. By starting a new container or three every day, there will be a constant supply of sprouts. This should help bring down our food budget. I also recently encountered an incredible sale on organic diced tomatoes, which I stocked up on. This will help too.

After much discussion, we've decided what we will do and what we will be hiring people to do. In our opinion, roofs and chimneys are work for best left to professionals. We'll be handling the deck and house painting ourselves. Right now I'm grateful that our house is just a "small" straight ranch. It makes for easier painting and less expensive roofing.

We've opted to paint the house the same color so we can avoid the strife of colors bleeding through. We have friends who painted a very dark colored house white. It became such a chore as they put on coat after coat of paint trying to get the house bright white.

AS for the check engine light on my car, I'll find out Tuesday. The last two times my check engine light came on, the car needed a new transmission. American Honda was kind enough to replace it no charge both times since its a known problem with all their 1999 Odysseys. I even got a call last time from a representative from American Honda telling me to call her if it happens again, alluding to the the fact that they would pay for it a third time. The silly car only has 125,000 miles on it and its a Honda for heavens sake. Our dinky little Saturn had 232,491 miles on it when we sold it and it still had the original clutch. I'm not impressed by my Honda ownership experience at all.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Frugal Cooking on the Road with No Pots!

Did you ever get so excited about a trip that the logical part of your brain shuts off causing you forget very basic things? This past weekend I remembered to pack bowls and spoons for the oatmeal I brought but I never thought about bringing a larger microwavable container to heat something for the whole family. I had also intended to call the motel to see if they had pots and pans in the room but forgot.

Flash forward to Saturday night when we opted to eat in our motel room to save some money and because we were all worn out from the excitement of the day. There was no way the boys were going to be able to behave in a restaurant. We stopped by Greenstar Coop and I picked up the makings of a quick dinner that could be cooked one dish at a time in the microwave.

3 containers of diced tomatoes
3 bags of frozen broccoli
3 cans of garbanzo beans
3 packages of precooked, preseasoned Spanish style rice (which I would never buy under normal circumstances because its too pricey.)

I divided each package in half and created a delicious layered meal. The bottom layer was the rice mix, then garbanzos, the broccoli and I topped it with the diced tomatoes. Two and a half minutes in the microwave for each plate and dinner was served. It must have been an active day because Rob, my seven year old, demolished his food. Silly me, I had assumed it would be too much for the boys and that there would be left overs.

Sunday morning we had breakfast in as well. The motel had a continental breakfast so while I made oatmeal with sunflower seeds and currants or bananas in the microwave, the kids and Jim picked up free orange juice, coffee and bagels. The money we saved eating these two meals in caused me to feel no guilt when we bought our lunch for the ride home.

We opted for pizzeria pizza made with soy cheese from Pizza Aroma on the corner of Green and Cayuga Streets. I don't know if words can adequately express the sheer joy of being reunited with the pizzeria experience. The hot boxes opening and releasing the aromatic steam that has built of inside. The combined textures of the sauce, the cornmeal on the back of the crust and soy cheese itself almost put us into sensory overload. Since we had a four hour ride back, we got our pizza to go and ate it in the car. This was probably a good choice since the joyful noises we were all making may have been inappropriate in a restaurant setting, even one as casual as a neighborhood pizzeria.

It was a great trip!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Enjoying Ithaca

We just got back from a wonderful trip to Ithaca this weekend. It was more of a vegetarian journey rather than a frugal one, although it certainly did have frugal undertones. We left Friday after work and school. Since it was about a four hour drive, we opted to eat dinner on the road. I made wraps with Tofurky, soy cheddar, lettuce and avacado. We also had pickles and store brand frosted mini wheat type cereal for dessert. I wouldn't eat it as a cereal but it makes a great snack. All the sugar is right on the surface where you can taste it and there's a huge amount of fiber too.

Our motel was less than stellar but totally adequate considering how little time we spent there. The staff was very friendly, I just wish they had been a little cleaner. Our room did have a fridge, microwave and range which provided us with lots of options. Knowing that Jim is a big time snack before bed kind of guy, I brought a mix of oatmeal and sunflower seeds for just this purpose. I also brought plain and vanilla Silk, dried currants and bananas.

By the time we got to the motel, we were all exhausted but it took the boys a long time to settle down. That didn't stop us from being out the door bright and early Saturday morning. We were on a mission to experience a vegan restaurant breakfast. I must confess, despite the alluring menu, I approached the ABC Cafe with a fair amount of skepticism. Sure it was a vegetarian restaurant and it had vegan options but was I going to be the one over 24 in the place? Would my kids be the only kids in the place?

All my angst was unfounded, breakfast at the ABC Cafe was one of the most amazing culinary experiences this vegan has had in a long time. The prices were reasonable as well, although it never seems reasonable when you're paying for 6. The patrons were people of all ages and this time it was the waitress who spilled four glasses of water on the table, not my kids for a change!

Afterwards, we headed down to The Commons where they were having a Rock the Arts festival. We enjoyed some jazz, some vocals and some theater all free and outside in the beautiful weather.

More on our Ithaca trip tomorrow.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Freebies

With Earth Day just around the corner, I thought I'd share a site that take eco-friendly living to the next level.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Baked Seitan, Can It Be??***UPDATE***

I read about this on Vivacious Vegan's blog, I've seen it on the PPK Forum and I've read it on Get Sconed. I have to try this recipe! I'm so intrigued by the possibilities.

I'm trying to put together Jim's bachelor dinners for the summer for nights when he's home alone. I did not do a good job on this last year. In fact, I did a terrible job on it. This year I'm off to a much better start. I've got an inventory sheet taped inside one of my kitchen cabinets and every time I add something to the freezer for him, I wrote it on the list. To make his world easier, he's not the world's most accomplished cook, I put what it is and prep instructions right on the container (ie black beans with barley and veggies, just heat and serve). I haven't calculated how many I need yet but I know I'm no where near having enough.

Now I'm off to try that seitan.

"Tofurkey!" my 6 yr old son shouted after taking a bite of my first attempt at baked seitan.

Jim said, "If I didn't see you cut it, I'd swear it was those veggie slices we sometimes buy."

The girls and my 7 yr old son couldn't really comment, their mouths were too full. Everyone took it for lunch today and there isn't a crumb left. Fortunately, this is a super simple recipe that takes very little time to put together. And yes, I did wash the aluminum foil that I cooked it in so I can use it again next time!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spring Cleaning the Paper Mountains & Other Resistant Messes

I've been bitten by the spring cleaning bug. I can no longer sit and relax surrounded by the piles of stuff that accumulate everyday when the kids come home.
What is all that stuff? My sons come home with reams of paper everyday. Some are worksheets, some are notices, but most are useless. At least now I feel like they have some purpose since I can shred them and use them in the guinea pigs cage.

I spent a good portion of yesterday evening in front of the paper shredder while the boys ran around the house bringing me piles of paper to go through. The boys thought it was a game and really loved running through the house, dropping papers off with me and then running to put books on bookshelves. Jim was certainly shocked by the progress when he got home. In truth, I was too. Its amazing what a difference I can make when I get moving. The trick now is to keep the momentum going. Everytime the kids come home, or the mail gets brought in there's another opportunity for a pile to be created.

Of course the piles of my projects are still a big problem that I haven't begun to conquer yet. I think I've come up with some empty drawer space to help with this problem compliments of my daughters and their recent room reorganization efforts. I just have to make sure the girls don't need it anymore.

Jim's working late all this week and I'm hoping to suprise him with the lack of project piles tonight. Here's my plan of action. Once dinners in the oven, I'll make some coffee , put on some Steely Dan, tell the boys its a game (the girls are too old to fall for that trick) and hope for the best.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Katie's Oriental Cilantro Slaw Recipe

Well we've made it through the big Nor'easter with nary a scratch, although there was a mysterious small leak from the central air vent in my bedroom that Jim needs to investigate. When you consider that just down the road people had to be evacuated from their homes, I'm thinking my small leak doesn't even count. We are fortunate that our house is set up on a hill and in no danger of flooding from the creek behind us. The waters did rise high enough to completely cover our swing set though. They've begun to recede but its still an awesome sight.

I got a request for the Oriental Cilantro Slaw recipe that I mentioned last week. This is my version of the recipe Lorna Sass has in The Complete Vegetarian Kitchen. The changes I've made take into account the ingredients that I commonly have on hand. As a rule, I also tend to increase the amount of veggies in any given recipe. You might want to keep that in mind if you like a saucier product.

Katie's Oriental Cilantro Slaw
Whisk together the following ingredients in a large mising bowl:
2-3 Tbs natural peanut butter, preferably chunky style, although smooth will work
4 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs tamari
1 Tbs water
1 cup minced fresh cilantro or 3-4 Tbs dried cilantro. You may want to use more if you're a cilantro junkie like me.

Set this mixture aside and shred the following:
1 head of cabbage
4-6 carrots, depending on their size and your tastes
You could also add any other shredded vegetables that you like.

Add the shredded vegetables to the sauce mixture and toss to coat. I like to let this sit in the fridge a while to let the cabbage wilt a bit and the tastes to blend.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Freebies

You had to know it was only a matter of time before I started wondering about composting the guinea pigs bedding. Today's Friday Freebie focuses on just that. It turns out that its ok to do since they are herbivores. Here are some links that discuss it.

BBC Radio 4 Factsheet

Green Steps at Ebinport Elementary School - check out what they're recycling.

Mid Beds District Council Composting - check out what is listed as ok to compost.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Baby Blanket - In the Words of Billy Blanks, Double Time Go!

If you've ever popped a Tae Bo workout into your vcr or dvd player you'll get the reference. I got the call early this morning, my nephew has arrived. I've got to get busy! I'll be bringing my knitting to the CSE meeting that I have later today. I always wind up waiting forever for these meetings, so it will be a good opportunity to make some progress.

I've been perusing the More With Less cookbook and I'm leaning toward making some of the master mixes in it. The idea behind a master mix is you only need to add minimal ingredients to make a variety of foods. We seem to constantly be running out of muffins and quick breads for breakfast so a master mix might help. I'm going to give it a try and see if it really is a time saver.

If I really like the results, I might try putting a master mix, as well as, some meals together for my brother and sister-in-law. With an active 2 yr old and a new baby, their time is even less available than my own. Actually, I've always thought that making several meals and bringing them to the new parents is a wonderful gift idea. Although they aren't vegetarian, my brother and his wife are pretty open and generally enjoy our cooking.

I've got so much to do!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Creative Way to Find a Qualified Contractor

Today the kids return to school after an 11 day school vacation. They could barely drag their behinds out of bed this morning. I had cut my work schedule way back during their vacation so these last few days gave them all a brief taste of summer living. Judging by the long faces today, I'd say they're all ready for summer to begin.

One of the challenges of maintaining a summer home is finding the right contractor for any job that needs to be done. JIm does most of the maintenance but some things require a more skilled hand. We've already put a roof on it and because we weren't at the job site, it took months, rather than days for the job to be completed.

Our bathroom remodel was made necessary by my daughter's foot. It went through the tiled wall while she was shaving her legs due to water damage behind the tiles. This job took an eternity as well and we weren't thrilled with the final results. In fact, Jim wound up redoing much of the work himself with some help on the plumbing from his father.

On the other hand, our heating system and hot water heater replacements went very smoothly. We've found a fabulous company that did both of these for us. In both cases the work was done in a timely manner, for a resonable price.

So what's the difference between the contractors? In our experience, and I'm sure this differs town to town, we had better luck going with a local, but slightly larger, company. It is presumed by some that the problem lies in the fact that we are "summer people" rather than year round residents.

Whatever the reason, we have found ourselves with another repair that needs professional attention, a leaking masonry chimney. Despite numerous phone calls to local masons, we've had no success getting our phone calls returned. I don't care how highly recommended someone comes, if they don't return phone calls, I don't want to deal with them. After almost a year of frustration I came up with what I consider a rather ingenious solution to get someone interested in our leak.

On Wednesday, we called a well known and respected local fireplace and stove company. Jim told the gentleman that we were looking to put an insert in our fireplace to increase efficiency. (This is true but it is not a priority right now.) He went on to describe our fireplace. The gentleman felt it would be no problem and told Jim they could send someone out to get the measurements to see what would fit or if we would need to do something custom made. Then Jim threw in the zinger, "I have just one problem. I have this leak in my chimney that I can't seem to get resolved and I wouldn't want to do anything with an insert until it was fixed..."

Within six hours, we had gotten our phone call to their mason returned and an appointment was set up for him to come and look at the problem. He arrived promptly on Saturday morning and gave an incredibly thorough inspection to the chimney. (I do mean thorough. He was on the roof, in the attic, in the main floor of the house and in the crawl space inspecting that chimney.) His impressions of the problem and solutions to it jive with what we already knew. He gave us a ball park estimate but will be mailing a detailed estimate at the end of this week. It is such a relief to finally make some progress on resolving this leak!

For those of you sitting back scratching your heads wondering if that was an ethical way to get a qualified contractor, rest assured we will be heading down to the fireplace and stove company to check out inserts once the chimney repair is complete. We had always planned to get this information anyhow.

Sometimes you need to be creative, really creative, to solve an unyielding problem!

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Guinea Pigs are Helping Me Get Organized

I'll bet you didn't know guinea pigs were that talented, but ours sure are! We've opted to use shredded paper as their bedding and its working out wonderfully but it requires a hefty amount of shreddings and we just don't get enough bills to provide enough for the weekly cage cleanings.

Last week I found myself uncontrolably drawn to several binders and file folders full of papers that I haven't looked at since I left my last job in 2000. A quick look through revealed what I've always suspected but have been too unmotivated to verify, it was all useless, outdated info. I shredded enough for this week and next week. I have to admit its rather addictive. Fortunately, there are plenty more folders of useless info just waiting for me to shred them.

Jim, who is not usually a lover of small animals, is thrilled by this added bonus brought on by the guinea pigs. Motivation truly comes in all forms!

In food news, I created an unexpected combination last night that stretched leftovers and was really tasty. I had equal amounts of Cold Thai Sesame Noodles and Oriental Cilantro Slaw leftover from the weekend. Both recipes have very similar ingredients, mainly peanut butter and cilantro, so I decided to try combining them.

First, I heated the slaw on the stove to wilt the cabbage. It had been a little tough and I thought this might improve things. Once the cabbage had wilted, I turned off the heat and added in the leftover Thai Noodles. I gave everything a good stir to combine and then served it warm. The results were different and very delicious. As I hoped, wilting the cabbage improved the toughness but still provided a little crunch.

My knitting project is coming along too. Its finally starting to look like a blanket. I'm really hoping that I have time to finish it before the baby arrives. At the rate I'm going, I need at least another 10 days. I may have to put in some extra time to get the job done. The really exciting thing for me is that the knitting is becoming more automatic.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Friday Freebies

I've said before that I need to organize my craft supplies. Here are some sites that give ideas. I don't necessarily advocate buying boxes, I'm sure I could find something free to use, but the ideas are good.

Sewing Room Salvage

Organizing Sewing Supplies

Organizing Your Craft & Sewing Supplies

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Organic Fruits & Veggies Just $.49 Per Pound!

I've been making a weekly trip to our local natural food store for soy milk and fresh fruits and veggies (just one more reason I can't wait for the CSA to begin!) With our soymilk consumption at its current level, we have hard time making 8-64oz containers last a full week and I can't fit more than that in the fridge. For right now, this makes a weekly shopping trip for these items a must.

The store I go to, marks organic over-ripe and bruised fruits & veggies down to $.49. This week, I was able to get quite a bounty of apples, potatoes and sweet potatoes. For just $10.45, I was able to get enough potatoes and sweet potatoes for 2 meals, as well as, a tremendous amount of apples. For the most part, the bruises on the apples were so minor that my kids have been enjoying eating them as is! The more bruised apples became a delightful apple crisp. As for the potatoes, I really couldn't find any problem with them.

The challenge now is to find uses for the rest of the apples before they get yucky. I'm going to try the apples in our smoothies this weekend and there's definitely some apple bread in our future.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Yoga for the Special Child

I just got my confirmation letter and itinerary for the week long Yoga for the Special Child Basic Certification Program I will be attending this summer. My youngest son has very mild cerebral palsy and I've been doing yoga with him for years. Sonia's book, Yoga for the Special Child, has been an inspiration. Knowing that I will be attending a training that she will be teaching is so exciting, I can hardly wait.

What does this have to do with frugality, you may wonder. Actually, quite a bit.
In terms of my sons health care costs over a lifetime, the savings can be substantial. The greater his mobility, the less his need for adaptive equipment and services as he moves into adulthood. In terms of his quality of life, this little investment will help me work with him more effectively. As it is, most people don't realize that he hass CP since he does all the things other kids do. Kyle will also have the opportunity to work directly with Sonia Sumar, the creator of Yoga for the Special Child as part of my training. Sonia uses the children of particpants in her teaching.

If you want to look at things in a more concrete dollars and cents spent way, consider this. This training is being offered in Queensbury, NY which is about 25 minutes from our cabin in the Adirondacks. Although the training costs $895, I will not spend any additional money on hotels,travel (ie. airfare), or meals. Finally, I am learning a skill and earning a certification that is not only useful in my personal life but can also be incorporated into my work as a fitness instructor.

I should also mention that I paid for the tuition by check, not by charge. I planned and budgeted for several months before comfortably being able to spend that much cash on anything. Now that its spent, I have no regrets and no credit card bill to worry about.

In other yoga news, I'm still working on that headstand. As I tell my yoga classes, Yoga is a practice and there's something to be learned each time we practice. Now if I could just stop falling over!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wishing for the CSA to Start

Last night, while chopping up some carrots, I turned to Jim and loudly exclaimed, "I am so sick of carrots, collards, onions and winter squash. All I really want is the CSA to start!"

I have this outburst inwardly almost every year. I think of it as my taste buds crying out for the bounty of early summer harvests. I know you can get variety all winter long but we really do try to eat in season as much as possible. Being aware of the costs, both ecological and monetary, of eating strawberries in January makes it hard for me to enjoy them.

I'm fascinated by comunities that have winter farmers markets. I realize they would largely carry the very vegetables that I'm whining about but I love the fact that they give people another opportunity to eat locally during the time of year when it is most challenging.

We did have a one time winter farmers market locally way back in February and it was a thrill. Several farms in the Hudson Valley got together and froze their excess harvest. The market worked much like a CSA where everyone bought a share. The share included frozen portions of squash puree, strawberry coulis, red and green peppers. It was heavenly and all locally grown. I hope we will see more of this in the future.

We're planning another weekend visit to Ithaca later this spring. I'm curious to see what their farmers market looks like this time of year. Click here and here for a peek at our last trip. This time we'll be leaving the pets at home with my sister which should open up some more options for us. I'm curious to see how Ithaca holds up under a second look. We were certainly tickled with our first encounter!

Check out the Brunch Menu at the ABC Cafe. Leenie discovered this gem and its on our must visit list. Tofu scramble with a side of grilled seitan anyone?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Gifts for Unexpected Giving

Can it really be Monday already?? The weekend flew by in a bit of a cleaning frenzy. For weeks, we've been making piles of things that are no longer useful to us but still have some life left in them. Saturday afternoon we loaded up the car with items to be donated and headed over to the local thrift store.

Naturally, a visit to the thrift store, even just to donate, requires a peek inside. The boys found a pogo stick that was practically brand new for a mere $4.99! Rob spent most of Sunday mastering it. He can hop 200 times without falling! Not bad for a kid who just started. Poor Kyle isn't even heavy enough to make the spring compress!

I found several brand new skeins of yarn for just 99 cents each. I have visions of knitting dancing through my head! I've done a few rows each night on the baby blanket that I'm knitting. Its so exciting to see it begin to have a design, even though it makes my mistakes more evident. I can't wait to get my collection of Granny Squares started.

Yesterday was my aunt's birthday. We made her a batch of granola. Once it cooled, we added:
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup raisins
1 cup currants

We put this into a container for her to keep. Rob made a label for the container that read Mangan's Grand Granola. We also attached two of the potholders I had just made from outgrown sweatshirts.

I really like the way they came out. I was able to incorporate the front pocket of the sweatshirt into a place to put your hand into. I used an old blanket on the inside for insulation and I added decorative knots (like you would in quilting) to give it a more decorative look. These were such a handy and useful gift that I've decided to make a few more to keep on hand for unexpected giving.

I find this kind of productivity very therapeutic and relaxing. I just need to find a better way to store all my "raw" materials. I'm certainly guilty of having too many projects going at one time. I've begun to look at every bit of material that I come across, and that includes outgrown kids clothing, as potential project material.