Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oh, the little things we do...

Again in the interest of "mind the nickels and dimes and the dollars will mind themselves," I used a black marker to highlight the "normal" load amount on my laundry detergent scoops. Otherwise, it would be too easy to just guess...and end up using more than is necessary. I ALWAYS wash in cold water these days, but for loads containing sheets, towels and undies, I add a scoop of non-chlorine bleach alternative. Laundry detergent is yet another of those one-time-use products that I have always tried to spend as little on as possible, but these days there is evidence it's even hard on the clothes to use too much detergent. According to the WSJ article "The Great American Soap Overdose," too much detergent makes our "clothes dingy and our machines smell." And gotta love the quote in the article that says for many loads, we could do without soap altogether!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Proof homemade cookies easier than buying store bought

Yeah, saltine cookies are some of the quickest homemade cookies around and very versatile. Much quicker than a trip to the store for a cookie fix...especially since it takes awhile to read the labels looking for cookies without high fructose corn syrup. From a number of recipes on, I modified this batch to suit what I had on hand:
Saltine Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter (I was out of salted, so I added 1/4 tsp. salt to unsalted butter)
1 cup sugar (I prefer brown sugar, but I was out)
1 pkg. saltine crackers

1 to 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (sometimes use 1/2 chocolate, 1/2 peanut butter or butterscotch chips)
1 cup chopped nuts (I used raw almonds, coarsely chopped in the food processor)
1/2 to 1 cup craisins or raisins (optional, not shown here)

   Combine butter and sugar in saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and then boil 3 minutes. Meanwhile, place one package of saltines side by side, salt side down, in a single layer in a jelly roll pan...can add a few crackers as needed to completely cover the bottom of the pan. Pour and spread the cooked butter/sugar evenly over the crackers. Sprinkle desired toppings over the top of the hot, coated crackers.

   Place pan in 350 degree oven & bake cookies 15 minutes. Cool 5 to 10 minutes in pan on rack; immediately move to plates, with crackers separated. Beware: leave these cookies too long in the pan and they will harden into one huge, hard to remove cookie!
   Cookies are pictured here in one of my favorite ways to save money by NOT buying cling wrap: a Tupperware pie keeper. Though I am phasing out plastics for storing our foods, foods placed in this container are generally on another dish, e.g., a pie plate or plate.
   I mentioned in an earlier post that I reuse cereal box liners, as a way to NOT spend money on one-time-use cling wrap. Pictured here is my bread rising in the pans, covered with a cereal box liner that had been cut open & then greased. The liner keeps the rising dough from getting stuck to the towel used to cover both loaves as they rise, further preventing their tops from drying out. Sometimes the dough will not much touch the liner paper, in which case, I wipe off any little bits of dough, fold the paper and place in freezer to use yet again; next time it'll already be greased.
  Looking for recipes for homemade cereals (flakes), so one day I'll have to think of a replacement for the cereal box liners!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pug recycles!

thanks to Practically Green for tipping me off to this cute little video!

Frugal things I hate but do anyway

Okay, in the land of remote controls, what can be more annoying than having to get UP to turn on the TV, because the batteries in the remote are dead. Add to that the indeterminable WAIT for the batteries to charge, and well, just another thing on the list of things to hate. But gotta love not spending the bucks I used to spend on AA and AAA batteries, plus less batteries taking up space in some landfill. Yeah, gotta love that. Oh, how I wish I had bought rechargeable batteries back when I first noticed they existed. Think of the money I could've saved! Even e-How says rechargeables save money.
This was a dry summer which twisted our homegrown sweet potatoes into little, sometimes big, squigglies that are flippin' hard to peel. So very annoying peeling and cutting around the nooks and crannies. BUT gotta love the part where I don't have to spend the $$ at the grocery store for some pesticide sprayed sweet potatoes. Yeah, gotta love that.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Make do: Newspaper instead of paper towels

Cooked up a mess of kale and collard greens yesterday...perfect antidote to the rich foods of the day before. Even though it may not look like many greens, the skillet was heaped high with greens before they cooked down.
   Wish I could remember which frugal blogger(s) keeps a supply of cut newspapers under the sink for cleaning up messes. Was it Frugal Hacks? Practical Parisomony? that gave me the idea to try newspaper instead of paper towels for draining bacon?
   Used five layers here and there was even some grease on the bottom layer. Next time, I will use 1 paper towel on top (we use a brand that tears off in half sheets), but I'm pleased to not be using 3 paper towels. May seem trivial as far as savings go, but buying one-time use products is NOT a good use of my money.
   We do take the newspaper, but for those who don't have papers lying around, clean rags work well. Tried this myself, but our front load washer doesn't clean the grease out of rags as well as I'd wish. I've also placed napkins accumulated from take-out foods under a clean paper towel, but we don't eat fast food often, so we don't collect many paper napkins.
   I do save paper towels that have been used to clean up condensate or other non-food substances. Once dried, I save them in a drawer and have used them to soak up bacon grease, with a clean paper towel on top, directly under the bacon. I could live without meat, I think, but I'd sure miss bacon!
Kale with Garlic and Bacon
1 1/4 lbs. kale (2 bunches) --I used a mix of kale and collards, washed and stems removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 slices of crisp bacon, with largest sections of fat removed
1 cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crisp & remove to drain. Drain off much of the grease from the skillet before sautéing garlic 30 seconds then adding the greens. Cook covered until greens are wilted as desired, 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with bacon, kosher salt and black pepper. For more complete instructions, see the original recipe on The Other White Meat website.
   Incidentally, according to Mayo Clinic, kale is a good source of calcium!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Make over: cloth bag to clothespin bag

Thanks to a conversation about reusable bags over on Practical Parsimony, I got the idea to use a freebie reusable bag I had on hand to revamp my 28+ year old clothespin bag. I'd made the original bag out of some scrap of fabric hand sewn to a clothes hanger, and after all these years, the thing was literally falling apart.
After snipping the handles off a reusable cloth bag, I just scissor-cut some slits in the top of the bag. After untwisting the wire coat hanger, I threaded the (original) hanger through the slits and then re-twisted the hanger shut.
Sewed the bottom of the bag a little shorter, so I wouldn't have to reach to the elbow for the clothespins. And wahlah, my new clothespin bag!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Broccoli glut!

Help, I am being overrun by broccoli in the garden. With only the two of us to eat it, we can't keep up. And sadly, we have already worn out the willingness of family to take the excess. Last night, I cut some fresh broccoli into a stir fry, but there are legions of these florets left for me to use up. Time to get creative! With the accumulated stems, I think I will today make this broccoli soup from Martha Stewart's site; looks easy enough. Now to figure out how to use up the rest of the surplus...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stocking up saves $$

One of the best ways to save money is to stock up when prices hit rock bottom. My favorite chapsticks run right at 3 bucks, so when I stumbled upon this closeout sale at the grocery store, you can bet I bought all they had. Sealed, there is little to no chance these will go bad before I get around to using them all up. As for groceries, recently highlighted concerns over the plastic from can liners leaching into the foods has turned me from stocking up on cans to searching for products in glass. Also bought at closeout prices, the expiration date on these bottles of lime juice is soon, but I will have no problem using them up before or soon thereafter in margaritas and lime pies.
Make-ahead Margaritas
8 oz. unsweetened lime juice
8 oz. powdered sugar
8 oz. tequila
8 oz. triple sec
4 cups crushed ice
Blend in blender until ice is completely crushed. Store in freezer; take out to thaw 15 minutes on counter before time to serve. Stir mixture completely and pour the slush into glasses rimmed in salt, if desired. This mixture, once frozen, becomes the perfect slushy margarita when thawed. Add more crushed ice if a less strong margarita is desired.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Make over: Entertainment center to bar

I consider our entertainment center, bought years ago when we upgraded to a 35" TV, one of my most well-thought purchases. Even as we were upgrading our TV set to what we thought was whopping big, I could tell from all my reading that bigger screens were on the horizon. For that reason, we spent a little extra to buy an entertainment center with doors, one that actually looks like an armoire when those doors are closed. Of course, now like so many others, we have an even bigger television, but the entertainment center didn't stay empty for long. I loaded up the TV shelf with assorted liquors, and Hubby installed wire racks from which to hang our inexpensive bar glasses. Up on the shelf that formerly housed a VCR sits a variety of other glasses. A wooden picture now graces the wall behind the hole that allowed the TV breathing room in the former entertainment center. Yup, pretty proud of the way this makeover worked out!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Make over: utility closet to pantry

Converting wasted space to usable storage space is no small feat, but the payoff is often tremendous. Here, what started as the closet for the furnace, water heater and a few brooms has become my pantry. Caveat: despite the energy-saving blanket on the water heater, the thing still warms the space, so I do have to be conscious of this raised temperature in an enclosed space and not store chocolate there, for instance. Some might not like having to move the rolling cart to reach items toward the back of the wall selves, so don't store things out of reach that you often use. Advantage of the rolling cart/shelving unit is that if we sell, the cart goes with us. Anyway, this is another of my favorite makeovers. Now, where else might there be unused space...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Make over: tabletop to vanity top

This is one of my all-time favorite makeovers. Hubby and I found the top from an old table out in the yard of an antique/junk store. Paid all of $5 bucks for it, though we did pay a small additional amount to have the rough, weathered surface planed off just enough for it to be level. Then Hubby carved out an opening in the center of it, installed an under-mount sink, and the former wood tabletop now beautifully gives some class to our t-tiny mudroom bathroom. Btw, this half bath is only as wide as the vanity! A pocket door made it possible for us to squeeze this in next to our washer/dryer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Make over: 2nd uses for product packaging

Loving a site I recently stumbled across: An Exercise in Frugality, and especially felt affirmed by her post on plastic free lunches in which she touches on reusing product packaging, like cereal box liners.
   This is one of those things I do but pretty much thought I was the only one these days to do so. I cut open cereal box liners, brush with oil and use to cover my bread dough as it rises in a bowl. Previously, I'd used cling wrap, but Fake Plastic Fish had me rethinking all plastic purchases. Since then, I especially try to avoid one-time-use plastics like cling wrap... This is the low-hanging fruit of reducing plastic consumption. AND I spend less money on cling wrap and other throwaway products leaving me more $$ to spend on what I really value.
   My freezer is now a mess because I am too lazy to wash all these package liners. Just store them in the freezer after shaking them out or brushing out crumbs, whatever. On the day I use them, I figure they are just as fresh as the day I shook out the cereal, and I don't hesitate to put them to certain reuses, particularly separating foods that are to be refrigerated or frozen.
Examples of packaging that can be reused: 
  • Chocolate baking squares papers=great food dividers, like keeping leftover pancakes or waffles from sticking together when freezing
  • Butter wrappers=food dividers but first the butter left on them can be used to grease a pan
  • Cereal boxes=cut open and use as a table protector for messy art projects, e.g., when gluing or painting. My Mamaw, deeply affected by the Great Depression, saved just about everything. When I was a kid, she handed out cut up cereal boxes for us grandkids to draw on the cardboard insides. 
  • Cereal box liners=once opened, perfect for covering the bread dough as it rises in the bowl. Unopened, perfect for wrapping and then twist-tying off to seal non-compostable kitchen waste, to keep it from stinking up the house until the waste can gets filled.
 That's all I can think of for now, but I'm sure there are more re-uses out there if we put our minds to it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"Green Behavior Develops through Peer Pressure" but let's be nice, people!

   Oh, peer pressure...sometimes it becomes a runaway train! I am stunned at the outcome of the debate over at Non-consumer Advocate, one of my favorite frugal sites. I jumped into the long queue of comments by replying to one of the early comments, but how I wish I had read them all before posting anything. I returned to read the comments a few at a time (stepping away to dust mop one room after another, which is my way of feeling like I am not totally whiling away a morning reading and not doing anything productive). I was so surprised at the turn of the comments which culminated in an excellent blogger wanting to call it quits.
   We must remember in our efforts to live more sustainable lives that just walking the walk without judging others is enough. It has taken me too long to educate myself about the ethics/economics of buying organic foods, shopping at certain stores, and I certainly have SO MUCH MORE to learn that I have no right to judge others. While this article on Planet Green has a good, green point Why Leading By Example Matters: It's in the Science - Green Behavior Develops through Peer Pressure, we must be careful that peer pressure doesn't come across as personal or character assaults.
   Where I live there are so few people who seem concerned with green issues that I find myself on the defensive often. I will have to make an even greater effort to be sure that defending myself doesn't end up sounding snarky towards others. Katy of Non-Consumer is way ahead of the curve, FAR ahead of me, and I thank her for sharing her knowledge and hope she soon returns to blogging.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Make do: Groceries instead of toys

Bought this little metal shopping cart at a garage sale many moons ago...bought it as a safe landing for my teenage daughter's curling iron. These days it is my newly acquired step-granddaughters' favorite toy. They set up the "grocery" on a kitchen chair, load up the cart, and then go through the "checkout line" with me, their friendly cashier. Only real groceries from the pantry will suit now, though taped empty boxes satisfied the kids in the beginning. Bags of lentils do NOT make good groceries to play with...we learned this the hard way. Best part is the checking out, because they use real money (mine) to "pay" for their groceries. Great way for the kiddos to learn to distinguish the coins and bills and potentially learn how to count money. And the real bills and coins are more fun than play money. Real money instead of play money--real groceries instead of play groceries. By making do because we had no real toys on hand, we stumbled on the favorite toy box of all: the real world.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Plastic Bag Pollution

yikes, we've got to get serious about using LESS plastic!!

Make over: leftover hotdogs

When the weather turns off cold, why fire up the outside grill when the fire in the wood-burner can cook your hotdogs on the hotdog roasting fork you use for camping? And for those days without a fire, a Crockpot will turn the trick. Just put the hotdogs into the crock, cover and cook them on High for 45 minutes to an hour. They cook in their own juices and taste better than those cooked by boiling on the stove.  
Leftover hotdog makeover: Italian-seasoned sauté
Leftover hotdogs, sliced on the diagonal into 1/4 to 1/3 inch pieces
Green pepper, halved and sliced to desired thickness
Onion, halved and sliced to desired thickness
Dried oregano (1/2 to 1 teaspoon depending on how many hotdogs)
Dried basil (1/2 teaspoon or less, optional)
Ground pepper to taste
(No salt needed: hotdogs are pretty salty to begin with.)
Olive oil, 1 tablespoon or less
Directions: Combine the dogs/green pepper/onion; sprinkle with seasonings and sauté in the oil in a non-stick skillet or seasoned cast iron pan just until heated through and fragrant. Serve hot.
   Recently discovered that Hebrew National brand has no fillers. A hotdog is about the only beef I eat, but I'm still searching for a decent vegetarian alternative.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I HEART: my local library

Rather than purchasing songs or buying CDs, I get a lot of my favorite tunes from the library. So easy to play on my computer or iPod. Wish I could remember the minimalist who suggested downloading all your CDs onto your computer and then donating those CDs to your local library. I have done this with the majority of my CDs...a win/win for both me and my community. Makes me feel GOOD to know others will enjoy my CDs. And slowly paring down my belongings will simplify my life as well as increase my storage space. Though donated and now in my library's collection, every time I need a kick in the pants I can still listen on iTunes or my iPod to my audiobook CD of Larry Winget's You're Broke Because You Want to Be: How to stop getting by and start getting ahead. (Though I disagree with his stance on couponing and other small ways to save, I totally agree with him that desire combined with effort pays off in shaping our finances.) The iTunes was a free download and my iPod was gifted to me by my brother. Not wanting to pay the $100+ bucks for a new one, I'd asked if he knew anyone who might have a used iPod to sell, and he said he had one lying around that he didn't use. Free for the cost of a new pair of earphones!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Barefoot Contessa's panko-crusted salmon

Some friends & I have decided to cook together (in our own kitchens, in our different cities) from Barefoot Contessa's new book, How Easy Is That? This was our first recipe & it really WAS super easy...who'd have thought?! ;)
the crumbs, etc., before stirring with olive oil
The salmon fillets, each coated with 1/2 tablespoon of dijon mustard & topped with the crumb mixture.      
   Pictured here just out of the oven, ready to be tented with foil & set to rest an additional 10 min. to cook itself the rest of the way through.
   Tasted delish with a last minute squeeze of lemon. Thanks, Barefoot Contessa--Ina Garten! If the rest of the book's recipe's are this good & easy, I highly recommend Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?
   Can I make this more cheaply? I think I can. Next time I'm going to substitute canned wild salmon and make salmon patties. We'll see how that works! 

Make over: Book love

I have a "flipping through cookbooks" addiction, which leads to many a worn out book spine with clumps of pages releasing from the spine. My sister-in-law who works in a library recommended acid-free book glue. Now I squeeze or brush glue down any broken spines or onto the spine-edge of loose page sections, secure the book with rubber bands & place the book spine down to dry. In the interest of minimalism, I recently pared down my bulging cookbook collection, copying beloved recipes before donating my seldom used books to our local library. This King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book definitely made the cut! Btw, check out the King Arthur Flour blog!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Save electricity: Unplug & duck walk

Took this pic to highlight a couple of means to save electricity in the bathroom. First off, unplug the phantom loads. In this case, the blow dryer gets unplugged every morn after use. Also in this pic of what's under my vanity, hanging on the left is a little brush & dustpan combo. Though tempted to put a hand-held vacuum in the bathroom just to clean up the hair that accumulates so quickly, I opted for the low-tech instead. Besides, this dustbin-duo will outlast its electric alternative. AND I get a little exercise each time I squat down & duck-walk across the floor, sweeping as I go. Still considering where to hide a little compost bin for tissue paper that doesn't need to go in the toilet. Thanks to Eco Mama for reminding me that every room likely generates potentially compostable waste.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Make do: Vacuum cleaner

When the most-used attachment on our vacuum lost a wheel, that side then scratched the floors. Solution: a little cloth bandage. Placed on there months ago, it's still going strong! Incidentally, though I hate wasting foodstuffs, especially spices since they're so expensive, I have somehow managed to spill ground cloves on the floor (twice!), and cloves in the vacuum filter heat up as you vacuum and fill the air with a sweet aroma. That is the only time that vacuuming makes me feel like cooking!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Make over: Wine box to sock tray

It came with four bottles of wine in it, but now it houses my socks. Gotta love that!
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