Thursday, May 22, 2014

Swap It! iTunes

Awhile ago I decided that I wanted more music in my life.  It's something that really adds joy to my life, but because of the expense, I've never been one to have a huge music collection.  I would go to the library and picked up cds, but eventually the cd player quit on us (who knew a child's Tinkerbell cd player would be so unreliable?).  And to be honest, while I adore the library, I was never really able to get the kind of music that I wanted there.  And sometimes I would get a bunch of cds and forget about them entirely and return them late.  And pay fines. Ugh, fines!

Then, I received a very generous gift of an older iPhone from a friend of mine.  She had upgraded, and knew I could use it.  And then something happened. I rediscovered iTunes.  Since I don't have internet at home (just on my phone) I had forgotten about iTunes for the most part.  I was giddy with all my new music obsessions! I started buying one song here, another there, and before I knew it, I had spent $40 in new music (Dolly Parton, Sam Smith, and Bob Dylan in case you were wondering). In a week.  I was out of control!

Then I had remembered my friend's love of Pandora.  Whenever she's comes over for dinner she turns on Pandora on her phone and we stick it in a glass which gives it a speaker effect (it's an awesome trick, try it!).  And Pandora is freeeee!  Well, sort of.  It's free with a bunch of obnoxious ads.  They were so frequent and offensive (in your face advertising drives me bonkers), I couldn't take it anymore (which I'm assuming happens quite a bit)!  I took the plunge and ordered ad-free Pandora for $3.99 a month (I locked in that rate because it is a recurring monthly charge.  My rate will not go up.  I think they have since raised it to $4.99/month).

And you know what?  It's awesome! I just uploaded the app on my phone and started "making stations" (really you just enter in the name of an artist and it adds their station).

When you choose a station on Pandora internet radio, it will play music from that artist, as well as artists in the same genre.  About every few songs a song will be played by the artist you chose.  There are endless stations available, and it's a great way to be introduced to new music.  I'm sold!

If you are a music lover with a penchant for spending too much on downloads from either iTunes or Amazon, considering giving Pandora a try!

How do you get your music? Have you made the swap from iTunes to Pandora? Is there another resource like it? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Make it! Orangettes

I love when you can take something headed for the trash and make it into something beautiful.  The French, fine makers of fancy things, have done this so elegantly with the classic candied orange peel treat, orangettes.  

These are surprisingly simple, and can be as frugal as you want them to be. 

This is what you will need:

Orange peels (or lemon or grapefruit) from 4 large oranges (I used 5 smaller oranges)

Sugar (I used turbinado, but you can use regular sugar, or ultra fine granulated sugar)


Chocolate (optional)

Since you are eating the peels, I would only use organic oranges for this.  Everyone feels differently about this topic, so do what you feel comfortable with.  Either way, make sure to start by cleaning your oranges well.

Next you will take a knife and cut off the very top and bottom of the oranges.

Score each of the sides with a smaller knife so that you have several clean straight slices around the orange.  Peel the orange and slice into thin sections.

You will take these orange peels and boil them for 15 minutes in water.  

Drain, rinse, and drain again. 

I collected the water the oranges were cooked in because I thought I might be able to use it for cleaning purposes. I'd love to hear if you know what to do with it.  It is very bitter, however, and not something you want to drink (trust me on this one)!

Do not drink this. Yuck!

Next you will combine your sugar and water in a pot and bring to a boil.  You are making a simple syrup using one part sugar to one part water.   The recipe that I started with suggested suggested 3 cups of sugar and three cups of water, but I used two cups of each and it was plenty syrup to cover the amount of orange peels I was using. 

Dissolve all of the sugar, bring to a boil and add peels. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

I used turbinado sugar which is why my syrup is so dark.  

Orangettes drying, orange syrup, and a bar of chocolate.

Drain your oranges (make sure to collect that delicious orange flavored syrup), toss in sugar and lay them out to dry.  I tossed my orange peels in turbinado.  Next time I will use a finer granulated sugar to toss them in, but they still look great.  

I let them dry about 24 hours, and then I dipped them in melted dark chocolate and placed them on parchment paper on a tray and stuck them in a fridge to firm up.  The chocolate part is optional, but so worth it if you have it.

They don't look "perfect" but that's kind of charming I think. And once you taste them you will know why they sell these in the fancy French bakeries!

I packaged them up in jam jars and gave them as gifts.

The total cost for this was about $4.50 for 4 gifts.  I used organic sugar and organic fair trade chocolate from Trader Joe's.  Using less expensive chocolate and sugar would make this significantly cheaper.

Here is the cost breakdown:

Orange peels - I'm counting these as free since they would normally be tossed and we buy oranges anyway.

Sugar - About $2.50 worth of organic Turbinado from TJ's.

Water - Free

Organic Fair Trade Dark Chocolate Bar from TJ's (optional) - $2

I haven't decided what I will be using the orange syrup for yet, but I think I might use it to make a rhubarb sauce.  You could use it to add to tea, for summer cocktails, basically anywhere you would use simple syrup.

Have you ever made candied citrus peel?  Have you ever tasted it?  These have been getting rave reviews from kids and grown-ups alike, so give it a try!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Don't Follow Recipes (Plus a Recipe)

Feeling comfortable "winging-it" in the kitchen is something I sort of take for granted. Most of my adult life, I have cooked using recipes as inspiration, but not something to rigidly stick to.  And most of the time I don't really use recipes at all.  But I know some people are a little more intimidated by cooking and feel like following a recipe to the very last detail is the only way they cook.  If that's you, I'm here to set you free (in the kitchen)!  YOU DO NOT ALWAYS NEED TO FOLLOW A RECIPE!

When you live the frugal life, being flexible is extremely important.  Flexibility is the ability to bend, right? And it's so necessary in the kitchen! You may even come up with a new and improved dish this way!  

Following recipes strictly sometimes requires ingredients you may not have - and sometimes they are expensive.  For instance, the last recipe I was inspired by required bay leaves.  I wasn't about to go to the store just for that, so I left it out.  It also suggested I use garlic (I say "suggested" because I'm not going to let this little recipe boss me around!). I didn't. It turned out great anyway!

It's crucial to let go of the fear of screwing something up.  Perfectionism and rigidity have no place here.  Your best is good enough in your home and kitchen.  And even when it's less than stellar, there are often ways to fix it.  If not, it was a learning experience, right?

Now, back to the matter at hand. Knowing just a few basic things in the kitchen can take you really far, and today I will share one that I use many times per week in my cooking.

The Salad "Formula": 

For exceptional salads you need a combo of an acid (I prefer unseasoned rice vinegar but any kind of vinegar or acidic juice can be substituted), a fat that is liquid at room temperature (I prefer olive oil),  salt (I use kosher), pepper, and onions (optional, but oh so tasty).  For the proper proportions you don't need a recipe necessarily, let your eyes and taste buds tell you when it's right. Just swirl them in and toss. Adjust to your taste as you go along!

Now anything can be added: celery, carrots, peppers, cilantro, parsley, mint, apples, you name it.  If it sounds yummy to you, throw 'er in there!  In addition, you can add mustard,  honey, or juice to the oil and vinegar if you want to pump up the vinaigrette. 

You can use this formula for any kind of salad! Rice, quinoa, bean, lentil, lettuce, veggie, the list goes on.

This is not at all to say that recipes don't have their place. Baking, for instance, requires a more specific balance of ingredients to get it just right (but even that can be played with once you have a some basics down).  Recipes can be excellent for trying something new, or being inspired by a new blend of ingredients, but they are not the law!  Repeat: Recipes are not the law!

So here is a lentil salad I made recently.  I tried to find the original recipe that inspired it, but was unsuccessful.  I do know it required several ingredients I did not have and it didn't make it any less delicious!  The main combo I was working with was lentil and mint.

Mint Lentil Salad:

1 pound green lentils, drained. (I used Trader Joe's) Cook them in a pot of water until done but not mushy. 

Olive oil (probably about 1/4 cup - I just swirl it around in there)

Rice vinegar (about 1/8 to 1/4 cup - adjust to taste)

Juice from a lemon

Small handful of mint, chopped

Small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

One small onion chopped

2 cucumbers, de-seeded and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste (Don't skimp on the salt!)

I added kale blossoms to give it a pop of color

The combination of the Salad Dressing "Formula," mint, and lentils was delicious. 

The last time I made this recipe was Mother's Day and I was too busy to take a picture.  But here's my cat, and she's pretty cute.  She thought the clean dish towels would make a nice bed for her on the counter.  Naughty!

She loves being photographed. Can't you tell?
Do you always stick to a recipe or do you get creative in the kitchen? Do you use a similar formula for your salads?  What are your frugal "formulas" in the kitchen?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Make it! Broccoli Stalk Salad

Did you know that you can use all of the parts of broccoli?  

In addition to the florets, the stalks and leaves can both be eaten with a little preparation.

Broccoli from the store

I'm looking forward to harvesting my own broccoli this spring, and using the leaves to cook with, however the broccoli in the store very rarely includes the leaves - what a shame!

Homegrown broccoli

The stalks of broccoli can make a delicious raw salad.  Since broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, you don't want to gorge yourself on it because it can be gas producing.  Also, your thyroid can be affected by over-consumption of  raw cruciferous veggies (take special care if you have thryoid disease as we do in our family) as they are considered goitrogenic. You can enjoy raw veggies like these in smaller quantities, or if you wish, sautee lightly in a pan before dressing.

And now, on to the recipe! Start by chopping off the florets and the softer parts of the stalk of the broccoli and cook as you wish.

Next you want to take your tough stalk and peel using a vegetable peeler.  Remove the hard outer part of the stalk with it, revealing the softer inner part.  You can toss these bits into the compost, or save in a bag in the freezer to make vegetable broth.

Now, using the peeler, create thin slices of broccoli stalk and put them in a bowl.

Use a small amount of homemade mayo  and toss the broccoli stalk pieces.  Add a splash or two of rice vinegar.  Sprinkle with kosher salt, pepper (and other spices such as crushed red pepper if you wish), and serve!

Voila! Broccoli Stalk Salad.
In her typical fashion, my daughter gobbled up this yummy salad in just a few minutes.  It was quick to make, delicious, and full of nutrients.  I love that we used what would typically be tossed in a simple, easy, and frugal way.

Bon Apetit!

Frugal Week in Review with Photos

I worked a lot in the garden and yard this week.  My daughter played with chalk in the sun while I worked.

My daughter made this sign for the garden with chalk.

I found all the usable containers in the yard (all found from the side of the road previous years) and filled with dirt and planted seeds.  I made a make-shift potato grower out of a compost cone insert I wasn't using.

Tomatoes, cilantro, raspberries, radishes, and potatoes in my make-shift potato bin.

I brought my lunch to work everyday.

I returned my library books and dvds on time (it's easy to forget when we have long days away from home).

Midweek I was given a large bunch of rhubarb from a coworker. I had never cooked with it before and it was delicious! I made a lower sugar rhubarb sauce for my parents.  I still have some left over that I intend to use.

I made delicious lentil crackers. I was just winging it and have never used lentils in baking before. They turned out awesome (and kid approved)!

My neighbor was headed to the store on Saturday and I gave her $2 and 2 coupons and she picked up 2 bottles of the Santa Cruz organic juice that was on sale at QFC.  I made popsicles with half of one of the jars, and made a spritzer with berries and sparkling water for a lunch with our friends.

I picked up a free quart of paint at True Value and let my daughter choose the color, "Aloe."  We will be using it to paint some accessories in her room.

My mom shared many seeds with me, as well as some of her homemade fertilizer mix containing lime, kelp and alfalfa.

I harvested a ton of kale before I pulled out the plants (except for one I will be using for seed collection) and we have been eating it alongside both breakfast and lunch. I shared extra with neighbors.

There was a lot more than this from the plants I pulled!

Sunday we had a lovely lunch with our dear friends Meg and Celeste. We had a huge salad with various lettuce varieties from the garden, and an onion from my mom's garden.

I added fresh dirt in the lettuce bed.

I also cooked up bits of chicken and carrots and onion.  We ate that, our salad, kale and had our lemonade spritzer with frozen berries. We joked that it was a detox lunch.  It was almost all green things! 

Meg brought raspberries and chocolate to share.  She also brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

The beautiful flowers against the mirror I found on the side of the road!

And one last picture for you, because I am really excited about it.  Here is the broccoli growing in one of my raised beds. I have never grown it before and am so excited to eat it fresh from the garden.

What did you do to save money this week?

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Frugal Garden

After a long but enjoyable day in the garden, the beds have been made (cleaned) and planted.

Gardening can be a pricey hobby, but it doesn't have to be.  And even though I put money into my garden, the benefits far outweigh the costs for me. When my time is spent gardening, I feel fulfilled. When I am fulfilled I am less likely to feel the pull of consumerism. After a day in the garden I don't want to go out and spend money. My body and mind are at peace from working in the dirt.  Who needs a new pair of shoes when they are going to get dirty anyway? Who wants to go out to eat when you are sweaty, covered in dirt and have kale blossoms in your hair?

Not to mention, who needs a gym when you are going up against this?!  This is what two of my garden beds looked like yesterday morning:

Time to tame this beast!

The kale put up a good fight, but I prevailed.

The kale stalks were massive and took a good bit of force to get them out.

It was like hacking through the jungle!

Cleaning the beds.  Looks like a jungle in there!

But it wasn't time to lay down, the clover had to be dug in and dirt added to this bed.

Folding in the Crimson Clover

No matter if you are a seasoned gardener or looking to plant for the first time this year, there are several ways to make gardening more frugal no matter the amount of money you have to spend.

And it produces food! Food you can eat! Food you don't have to buy!

In all of that "mess", there was this glorious food to be harvested.

Thyme and the final harvest of kale from last year's kale plants. It filled a whole grocery bag and weighed several pounds!

And here's what's in one of the beds currently:

Lettuce, broccoli, kale, spinach, beets and chard already thriving in one of the beds.

Below are a few ways to make gardening more cost effective.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  Your garden is only limited by your creativity (or your ability to google)!

Make your own compost: This is something I'm working on. My parents have done it for years. I found my compost garden cones for free on the side of the road and have seen them offered on Craigslist and Freecyle often. You can also find unique ways to build your own compost bins. Although if you are composting food matter it's very important that no animals (i.e. rats *shudder*) can find a way in.

Use free resources: Craigslist, Freecyle and the side of the road are excellent options for finding many yard and garden necessities. Most of my pots have been found on the side of the road.

Plant stand and pots. Just a few of the many additions I've found on the side of the road.

Seed and plant share: I've had two offers this week alone from passers by who want to share some plants from their gardens. Gardening is such a community activity. When I am out in the garden I connect with my neighborhood in a way that is really unique and beautiful.  People offer help, too! I've had three neighbors this week alone either help with something or offer their help.  However I do live in a very special neighborhood filled with very generous community-oriented people. 

Use older seeds: Don't throw out seeds just because they are a few years old. They can last up to ten years with proper storage! While their efficacy may be affected, my mom and I have always used-up older seeds.  The most important thing is that they are kept dry and cool.

Peas from 2009

Collect seeds: If you notice in my first photo, I still have one kale plant growing that has gone to seed. I will collect the seeds when they are ready and then remove the plant. One plant produces more seeds than you could possibly use at one time. It is the most economical way to procure seeds. 

Start plants from cuttings: Neighbors will happily share a small cutting from their plants. I'm currently sprouting roots from cuttings from yellow curry and rosemary in a jar of water in my kitchen.  I've had to frequently add new water though because our kitty thinks it's really fun to knock over anything with water while we are away at work and school!

If you are going to shop, shop sales: While I love to support my local nursery when I can (and it's where I bought my fruit trees), sometimes Home Depot and other big box stores have excellent plant sales. I was able to fill a huge cart with many landscaping plants for under $100 earlier this year. They are all doing very well and would have cost triple the amount of money if I would have purchased at the nursery.

Dirt: Dirt has been my biggest overall gardening expense. I hope that with my improved focus on compost, that I will be amending my own soil and rely less on dirt I have brought in.

You can also just purchase bags of dirt and compost and plant directly in them! Just slice through the bag and plant - it's that easy!

Soil amendments: Coffee grounds are a terrific soil amendment and add much needed nitrogen to the soil. You can get them from Starbucks or local coffee shops for free! Just ask, they are happy to give it away.

Save egg shells and use them in soil for calcium or sprinkle on the top to hinder pests such as snails. To be honest, I think I might have a strain of mutant snails on my hands and there are so many that the egg shells have not been 100% effective. I'm currently placing a bounty on each of their heads for $.02 per snail that my daughter finds and puts in the compost.

An almost blank canvas. Soil with egg shells to help keep the pests away.

Get creative! Don't buy a trellis - find some sticks or poles instead. I used some decorative curvy branches I had found for free at a garage sale and made this pretty trellis for my peas. The pot was found on the side of the road and originally held a large tree. I just drilled holes in the bottom for drainage. I love the natural look of the branches.  There are so many ways to get creative in the yard and garden.

My free "trellis" for the peas.

All in all, for the exercise, food, spiritual and mental benefits, the cost of gardening is well worth it to me.  Yesterday I worked the soil and my body. I was peaceful and at ease. I planted carrots, beans, zucchini, cucumbers and pumpkins.  In the evening my daughter helped me plant some of the plants that I have been meaning to get in the dirt for quite awhile.  She asked me, "Mommy, can we garden every night?"

I'll leave you with a poem I wrote many years ago. Probably a decade before I started my own garden.

Dors bien, tu es fatigue...

 Harried garden.

 Orphaned en decembre.

 Bit by bit dew
 freezing tulip bulbs

 Sickly patch,

 you tortured poet.

 Sleep sleep sleep.
 Quiet dear.


Tangle up tonight.

Lay down.
 Let go the grip.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Free Paint at True Value

I've mentioned before that this is not a daily deals site. However when something comes up that is truly a bargain (or better yet, free) I will happily pass along the info!

Money Saving Mom just posted this terrific freebie for a free quart of True Value Easy Care Satin paint. It's good for Saturday May 17th only!

Print this coupon and bring it in to your local True Value.

Making Old New Again: Metal Tray Makeover

At my garage sale last Saturday, I came across a tray that was looking pretty shabby, and I decided I would sell it for $0.25 and get it out of the garage.

I used to use it as a tray for a houseplant, but it had gone unused for several years.

What the tray looked like before painting.  Good bones, but not usable condition.

I kept looking at it and decided it had such great "bones" I would try my hand at giving it a little makeover.

I cleaned it up with a dry rag and found some old Krylon indoor/outdoor robin's egg blue spray paint I had in my garage. If you have something like this and it's really corroded, you may need to sand it with a very fine sand paper.

After one coat of paint, I could see a beautiful gift emerging!

A few coats of spray paint brought it back to life!
 I sprayed the top and let it dry, and then flipped it over and did the same. All in all I gave it three coats.

I love how it turned out! This would be the perfect addition to the gift for my sister-in-law's birthday!

I ended up using a different, more colorful bouquet for her gift.

At a garage sale a few months ago I purchased this pretty tea cup for $3.00. The jasmine tea was also also on sale for about $3.00. The vase I ended up using was free from a neighbor looking to get rid of it, and the flowers were from my yard.

The "new" tray, a vintage tea cup, Jasmine tea and flowers from the garden.

The tray really brought everything together. The gift was so pretty, there was no need for wrapping! My sister-in-law loved her gift and wanted to start looking for trays she could spray paint. It was simple, easy, and quite frugal at only $6. Best of all, she used the tray that very evening!

What have you made-over lately?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In Bloom

These are some of the sights currently in the yard and garden. Photos were taken by my friend and neighbor, Deborah. Close-up pictures ensure you don't see my weeds! 

Azalea in full bloom

“They blossomed, they did not talk about blossoming.” 

Kale gone to seed. We like to eat the flowers in salads.

“The yellow glistens.
It glistens with various yellows
Citrons, oranges and greens
Flowering over the skin.” 

A rhodie on a newly made-over tray.

“The time came when the risk it took to remain tight in the 
bud became more painful than the risk it took to bloom.” 

― Anais Nin

Snowball tree

“All our wisdom is stored in the trees.” 

― Santosh Kalwar

Volunteer Calendula

“since the thing perhaps is
to eat flowers and not to be afraid” 

Crimson Clover

“A weed is but an unloved flower.”