Friday, January 28, 2005

Quick Update

It's finally Friday, and what a long snowy week it's been. I'm looking forward to a productive weekend. Lots of things going on around here. Several new projects in the works including a new 3-6 year old mommy and me fitness program that is scheduled to start 2/15. Also two continuing ed classes starting next week, one on becoming veg, the other on healthy eating. I'm very excited but cautious as well, all are dependent on enrollment. Fingers are crossed.

I've finally started reading Fast Food Nation. More soon...

Monday, January 24, 2005

Snowy Day Veg Snacking

It snowed almost all day Saturday and the wind blew like crazy all day Sunday. We have the only hill in the neighborhood so as you may imagine, a lot of kids were here yesterday. Kids get hungry and that means I'm providing snacks. Talk about stress.

The thing I've noticed recently is no one seems to miss the milk in my hot cocoa or the butter in my popcorn. I use the cocoa recipe from the first PETA cookbook, its easy and delicious. My popcorn is "buttered" with olive oil spray and a toss of salt. To keep costs down I use a pump sprayer for the olive oil that can be refilled. The cocoa is made with soymilk.

No one left early or seemed deprived. I think confidence in your own cooking or concocting ability is half the battle when entertaining non-veg friends.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Vegan Pizza Night

Friday was pizza night at my house. It was a family affair and each one of the kids had a job. The girls greased the pans, grated the soy cheese, and helped roll out the dough, the boys helped spread the grated soy cheese. While all this was going on, I made the sauce from this really easy recipe from the Vegetarian Resource Group. I had used my last jar from this summers canning experiment earlier in the week. More on my foray into canning another time. For now just know that it was definitely worthwhile.

We made four pizzas using 2, 2 pound pizza dough recipes. (Yes, I know thats four pounds!) We used one block of soy cheese for all four. How was this accomplished without looking skimpy? I cut the block of soy cheese into 4 sections before grating it, this way every pizza had the same amount. It worked out extremely well. Our friend joined us for dinner so we ended up comfortably feeding 3 adults, 2 teens, and 2 kids. I don't know if you can get more frugal or delicious than that!

My next goal is to experiment with some of the recipes in The Uncheese Cookbook by Joan Stepaniak. I've only tried 2 or 3 of her recipes and they've all been tasty. I suspect I may be able to cut the cost of the soy cheese I used on the pizza by using one of her recipes. Of course, it will have to pass the family taste test:-)

Tonight I'm experimenting with a New England Baked Beans recipe that I found in possibly the most un-veg cookbook ever, Cast Iron Cooking from Johnnycakes to Blackened Redfish. There's always something to be learned, even in a cookbook that has cooked squirrel recipes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Here's what I think about what I've been reading

Sometimes, things need to be spelled out for me or I just miss the point. Like online bill paying for example. In Living Well on a Shoestring the author makes the point that to pay a bill by check you have to take into account cost of checks, stamps, and the risk of late charges if you don't time the mailing of your bill correctly. That got me thinking, online bill paying at my bank is $6.95/month for unlimited transactions. That always seemed ridiculous to me but when compared with a book of stamps $7.40/20, I got curious and delved a little deeper. It turns out that for us online bill paying will save us a bit of money and the convenience of not having to run to the post office is really appealing.

I never would have considered this until I read Living Well on a Shoestring. There were a lot of other good tips in there, some new to me and many I'd already employed. If you've read the Complete Tightwad Gazette, you may find you know a lot of the tricks of this book but its still worth a look fromt he library.

I wouldn't mind owning it if I found it at a yard sale or library book sale. It would make a great reference book to flip through when questions come up. I frequently use the Complete Tightwad Gazette that way.

Vinegar, Duct Tape, Milk Jugs and More is also a good read and would make a great reference book. It helped me finally figure out a use for the sides of an old metal crib that I've held onto way too long (a triangular trellis for veggies) but I there wasn't enough new ideas for me to run out and buy it full price.

I'm glad I read both books because you can always find some new idea. The library is one of the best tools for frugal living! For all you moms with little kids who haven't been able to browse the library in years (I count myself in this group), see if your library is online. Our card catalog is online and what a grat thing it is. I just go on before the kids wake up, put holds on things I'm interested in and when I visit the library with the kids my stuff is waiting for me at the desk, FREE! Be aware that some library systems do charge for holds, ask first!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What I've been reading

I've just finished reading Yankee Magazine's Living Well on a Shoestring and Vinegar, Duct Tape, Milk Jugs and More. Both are worth a read. More details tomorrow.

Friday, January 14, 2005

My favorite bread & pizza dough recipes

I too have experienced breadmaker challenges like, lovely crust but gluey on the inside or top has caved in like an old mine. Nothing peeves me more than when I take the time to do something and it goes bust. To be frugal you have to be organized and to be organized you have to believe that your efforts will have a postitive result.

This is precisely why most of the time, I just close the door to the room my teen & preteen daughters share. I'm not going to miss the bus or go to school without breakfast because my left shoe is missing. Just this morning, they went to the bus stop in the pouring rain with no umbrella. One left hers in her locker, the other lost hers in the closet.

Now back to the bread conversation. As I said in an earlier post, I prefer an old fashioned bread mixing bucket. I can mix 5 or 6 loaves at a time in there, which means I only think about bread once a week. I still use the breadmaker when I misjudge things and start running low. Its still a timesaver.

Anadama Oatmeal Bread
This is the bread I usually make. I've tweaked it to the point where it is fairly foolproof. The only variable is the amount of water you use, depending on what kind of oatmeal you use you may need more or less. This makes a 2 pound loaf and can be done in your bread machine on a basic bread setting.

1/3 cup oatmeal
3Tbs cornmeal
2 cup boiling water

Combine these three ingredients in a heatproof bowl stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps. Let sit 10 minutes before adding to bread pan. Then add the following ingredients in the order given:

3Tbs canola oil
3Tbs molasses
2 1/4 cup whole wheat bread flour
1 1/4 cup white bread flour
1/4 cup oatmeal
1/3 cup of soya powder (this is vegan) or powdered milk
1/4 cup gluten
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
1 tsp salt
2 tsp dry yeast

If you want to bake it in the oven and avoid that bread paddle hole in the bottom. Bake it at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.

Pizza Dough

This can also be made in a bread maker on a dough only setting. It makes two pounds of dough or enough for two thick or three thin crusts.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 3/4 cup water
3 cups whole wheat bread flour
1 1/4 cup white bread flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs gluten
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dry yeast

I usually make extra and keep it in the freezer.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Snow, Power Failures and How did I run out of matches?

Well yesterday was another snow day for my middle schoolers and my kindergartener. Despite this, my preschooler had school and three senior citizens did show up for my 10:45 exercise class. Hmm, that should give you an idea of how "bad" the weather really was.

Despite the cold rain that fell most of the day, my kids and a bunch of neighbor's kids spent four hours sledding. They were soaking wet when they finally came in and I did an extremely unfrugal thing. I put their wet clothes in the dryer. I'm hanging my head in shame. Using my dryer less dropped our last electric bill about $20 from the same time last year. I've gotten in the habit of letting jeans and other heavy things hang on a drying rack overnight before putting them in the dryer. It works well, especially if we have a fire going.

Speaking of fires, did you ever notice all the pallets lying around behind businesses with signs that say free? Did you ever wonder what people do with these? Well there is a gentleman far more creative than myself who makes furniture out of them. His company is called Pallet Art. Someday, when I have time, I'd love to give that a try. Currently my hubby brings home pallets to use in our fireplace. They burn quickly but being that they are free, who cares. We use a mix of the pallet wood and our normal wood pile and it works great.

I don't think you could run a fireplace solely on pallets because of the quick burn time but by combining regular split wood and pallets you could certainly make your cord of wood last twice as long. For anyone interested in giving it a try, we've found sawing the pallets down the middle works better than using a sledgehammer to break apart.

We had a power failure yesterday, which is pretty rare around here. It only lasted an hour or two but it caused me to discover that not a radio in the house had batteries and although I did have batteries, I did not have the right combination to run any of the radios. This increased the challenge of figuring out who had school and who didn't. Last year for Christmas, I got my parents a solar/crank radio for camping and I'm kicking myself for not getting us one. I like the idea of never thinking about batteries again. Besides, if I can convince my kids that turning the handle on an old fashioned bread bucket is fun, surely I can convince them that cranking a radio is a blast:-)

Speaking of bread buckets reminds me of bread machines. They're tempermental little buggers aren't they? I have one and I do use it but I use it less and less since I got the bread bucket. More on that tomorrow (with recipes).

As for the matches, I don't know how you run out but I did and the cigarette lighter is almost out of fluid.

Monday, January 10, 2005

How Sunday Can Make or Break the Week

Here's what got done in the food department yesterday. We baked 6 loaves of bread, 48 pumpkin muffins, made 2 batches of granola and a big batch of hummus.

The muffins were divided into containers that my hubby will take to work during the week and the rest were put in a container on the table for the kids to grab for breakfast or snacks during the week. Isn't 48 muffins a lot you may be asking? No, not in a family of 6. These muffins take the place of grabbing a buttered roll at the gas station when you're running late for work. So the muffins are a double benefit, easy on the pocket book and easy on the waistline.

The granola is so much tastier, healthier and cheaper than anything you could buy in a store. The kids love it as a snack and its so much better than chips. Its really good on soy ice cream too but right now its too cold to think about that!

Homemade bread, is it a necessity to be frugal? According to the Complete Tightwad Gazette, no its not, especially if you have access to a bakery outlet. So why do I bother when I live 20 minutes from a Freihoffers Outlet? Quality and nutrition. I know what I put in and I know there are no wierd chemicals like partially hydrogenated oils and the like.

As for the hummus, my kids and hubby all love it in sandwiches, and its easy.

So here I am Monday morning, sipping coffee, blogging and not worrying about breakfasts or lunches for the week. Looks like a good week to me!

Saturday, January 08, 2005


Judith's comments got me thinking. Of course the first thing I thought was, how cool someone's actually reading this besides my hubby! Once I got beyond that,and it did take a while:-), I began thinking about the resolutions she listed, specifically paying off all consumer debt, excluding mortgages, in 2005. I like that one and its one of my goals as well.

Sometimes things just click in your head. This time last year I discovered the Complete Tightwad Gazette. We'd always been on the frugal side but extra money after bills meant you had extra money for spending. Sound familar to anyone? Something clicked when I read that book and it pushed me to re-examine our spending style. Small changes here and there through the year really helped us avert what I think would have been financial disaster not to mention it would have greatly reduced our chances of retiring early.

What do I mean by financial disaster? Well let me first that my definition of financial disaster may be very different than someone elses. We were/are in no danger of losing a home, a car or having services discontinued (ie lights, phone etc). In fact, our bills were/are all still being paid, we still have credit cards with lots of available credit (I have begun to think of credit card companies as the devil's foot soldiers but that's for another post) and I've never had a creditor call the house in search of missing/late payments. For me financial disaster meant spending in excess of what we make on a regular basis and digging ourselves into a hole of interest charges. It meant having to do overtime to keep up but not being able to enjoy any of the extra money. It meant that unplanned expenses really could mess up my financial world. I prefer to have a cash cushion, as you never know what expenses might pop up. (Like two days ago, when my hubby did some body work on his car in the snowstorm.)

So if I'm so brilliant, how did I end up with any consumer debt? Easy, because furnaces need to be replaced, tires wear out, roofs leak and dinner out after a long day is easier. And none of these things are required to happen when you have "extra money" lying around. Also, its so much easier to slide your credit card through the card reader at the gas pump than to go inside and pay cash, especially if you've got kids.

Why is 2005 the year I'll be able to make it all go away? Because knowledge is power and I spent much of 2004 gaining and implenting new knowledge on how to live more frugally. I begin 2005 with no charges for Christmas shopping. It was cash, freecycle or handmade this Christmas. We've changed our buying habits dramatically, we really think about purchases. Do we NEED this item? If we do need it, can we borrow it? Can we get it used? Can I borrow that book/video from the library?

I also look at finite expenses differently. The preschool tuition that I will be done paying in April is not extra money, its money to use towards other bills that need to be paid down.

I always tell my kids you never stop learning, even when you're an adult.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Surviving the Flu

Well its snowing like crazy over here. School's been cancelled for the kids and I'm hoping for a phone call saying that my gym won't be opening either. For the first time since Monday I don't feel like poop. I've done the achy, can't breathe, dizzy, just let me lie here in a pile thing for the last two days. Interestingly, I've also taught all my aerobics classes the last two days as well (go ahead, call me a nut job, I deserve it.) Of course after teaching, I went home and put myself to bed for several hours and I know the wierd tingly sensation that I had yesterday while teaching wasn't normal sweating. I should have called in sick.

Here's my theory on the whole experience because I know the flu should hit you harder than it hit me. First of all, I got it from my 80 something year old neighbor who also kept moving throughout his bought with it. He may be the spriest little old man you could ever meet. He was 82 when I first met him and standing on someone's roof clearing snow. We could all learn a lesson from him.

I really think the main reason that I'm not still in bed is based largely on my lifestyle. I'm a fitness instructor (no I don't love to exercise but at least I get paid to be in shape!) and I teach at least four days of the week, sometimes five. Ironically, the only time I felt fairly good was when I was teaching class. I could breathe better and I didn't feel achy. I think my diet makes a huge difference, no dairy to increase mucous production (believe me I had plenty without), no processed foods, garlic and other spices to clear stuffiness, and drinking lots of plain old water.

There's a soup recipe that was in Vegetarian Times, I shudder to think how many years ago, but its loaded with garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper to help clear you up. I make it every time one of us starts getting really congested.

The main flaw with my lifestyle when I get sick like this, is food preparation. Since I make most everything from scratch, I still had to drag myself out of bed to cook. Its not that my hubby wouldn't help, he just is lost when it comes to cooking from scratch, besides he doesn't mind doing dishes which I despise!I'm planning to cook some emergency food and stash it in the freezer for times like this. If I'd have had some soups, stews or casseroles in the freezer, I could have put them in the crock pot and not had to think about it.

I'm just glad to feel better.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Happy New Year

The days after Christmas are so strange around here. For weeks before I live by a chart that shows me what presents I've (or we've, my kids are a huge help) finished and what still needs to be done. The last two years, I've been stitching the final stitches on Christmas morning (although I had more time to spare after completing the last stitches this year, so that's positive progress.) December 26th, its all over.

Now there are projects that I've been wanting to complete, like making the curtains for the living room or trying to make a rag rug from old jeans. This past weekend I put the finishing touches on a DVD bookshelf that was rescued from the trash heap. The back needed to be reattached but structurally it was fine. There were some ugly spots where the finish had come off. A little strategically placed wall paper border (left over, of course) and it looks great! I was also pretty proud of my crayon trick for the spot the border didn't cover. A little brown crayon followed by a little black crayon and the white spot now blends in perfectly!

2004 centered around frugality, finding our excesses and cutting them whenever possible. We cut down to basic cable and never missed it. We began really making use of the movies and books at the library. We discovered freecycling which helped us give and recieve so many useful things. We became thrift store regulars, seeking out treasures amid the racks. We discovered canning.

2004 also focused on honesty in our dealings with others. It was the year that my five year old announced to a neighbor that he did not eat lots of turkey on Thanksgiving, he ate lots of Tofurky. When she asked why, he told her we didn't eat animals. It was the year that my four year old asked for only stuffing and vegetables at his preschool Thanksgiving feast even though I gave him the option to try turkey. It was the year my daughters made pizza with friends at their birthday parties and all their friends agreed to try and prefered the soy cheese to the dairy cheese. It was the year my kids taught me to be up front and unapologetic about my beliefs.

So what's in store for 2005? I'm hoping to get more earth friendly and decrease my global footprint even more. Solar ovens, compost tumblers, and rain barrels are all things I'll be exploring. Planning our retirement home and life is also on my mind even though I'm only 34 and my hubby is only 39. The choices we make now will forever impact how and when we are able to live our work free years. I'll also be reading and trying out new recipes, especially ones written about lean times. One of the most creative cookbooks I came across was Grandma's Wartime Kitchen. It certainly wasn't veg but there were some great veg recipes in there.

Happy New Year