Thursday, 27 January 2011

Christmas Pictures--Just a Little Late

I am more than tardy when it comes to posting pictures from Christmas 2010.   I did not get our Christmas cards made or mailed this year, so I plan on sending cards out this spring.   It was a busy December and January!








Our tree this year.   I didn't get a night shot with the lights.  The Raggedy Ann paper on the gift in front is from an old roll my mom kept.   She wrapped presents in it when I was a little girl.  

My favorite presents: The girls bought everyone presents at a Santa's Workshop held at the Homeschool Center.   They decorated the bags themselves, with pictures special to each person.   They were so proud of their shopping trip!
This is what E. left with the cookies and milk.   I'm always happy to see their focus on Christ at Christmas.   Helping Daddy put Baby Jesus in the nativity after Midnight Mass ("night church") is still what they talk about most.  (My fancy editing)
Highlights: C. got a big girl bike (with Rosebud printed on it), T. got an Inchworm, and E. got her first Barbie items: a reproduction of a 1965 Barbie (a modest Barbie!) and  a carrying case.









The only thing C. really wanted for Christmas was a Jessie doll.   We aren't big movie watchers.   We had not seen the Toy Story movies until Thanksgiving.   We heard so much about Toy Story 3 that we decided to watch them all and we became fans.   That evening, I heard C.'s Jessie doll's recorded voice ask "What do you like to do for fun?"   Then I heard C.'s sweet voice answer, "I like to ride my bike and play with my dolls..."











All bundled up on his Inchworm!



 

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Called to Thriftiness

I have a bad habit of watching the baskets of shoppers around me at the grocery store check-out lines.   How many times have I watched carts loaded with unhealthy pre-made convenience and junk foods?   My first impulse is to get upset, but then I think of how many people today have never learned how to shop wisely or manage money.  When my children are all older, I'd like to volunteer to help moms learn to cook healthy, cost-effective meals and to stretch their food budgets as far as possible.   

I had an advantage of watching my mother.   She was very wise with money.   She used coupons and filled our home with beautiful things from garage sales.   She loved the thrill of finding a bargain and she always said that decorating with re-vamped garage sale treasures meant that you didn't have to feel guilty about changing your decor later or swapping out an item for another one.  

 This was Mama's coupon box.   You flip the lid upside down in the cart and the bottom of the box fits into the grooves.   Then, a section folds out for more coupons.    I admit, as a teenager, I was more than a little embarrassed to be seen with this in a grocery store!

 
 I was also very affected by the book Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by the late Father Thomas Dubay.   It is a magnificent book that helped me better understand our responsibilities as stewards of the gifts God gives us, big and small.   It's what my friend Gina would call a "kick in the pants" kind of book that motivates you!   It's not about specific financial advice; it's about the "big picture" of your finances as they relate to God and His will for your life.   When my husband and I decided that I would stay home with our oldest child, we had to learn to adjust our budget as he became bread-winner while he attended graduate school.   As a homemaker, I see it as my job to reverently accept and manage his salary so that it can be used in the most effective way.   Here are some of the ways I've tried to better use money over the years.   It's a constant learning process.   Much of this is excerpts from e-mails I've sent to friends who've requested ideas for saving money.

Many people advise that you should use cash.  I think that is best for everyone in the beginning of budgeting and best for many after their spending habits are set.   I think our goal is to constantly seek, through grace and self-discipline, to change our bad habits and replace them with virtues.   So, I don't believe that everyone has to use cash always and never use credit cards (keep those balances paid off!) as if we are incapable of being changed.   With God all things are possible.   When doing cash-only spending, make a budget and pull out the cash you'll use for that month or pay period.  You don't spend cash as easily.  I used a checkbook register for my cash, just as if I were writing checks.  Before I did that, I felt like I didn't know where all the money went.  If you haven't analyzed your spending before, this will help with that process.   My husband and I approached it as a game.  I would tell him, "If we can make it on ______ for the next two weeks, we'll be able to put away ______ in savings," and then we're motivated.   Once you've lived with your budget for about six months, it will be a habit and you will be able to regulate your spending. 

I don't buy unless we need it or it is related to enrichment--intellectual, spiritual (books)-- or real leisure & refreshment, not just entertainment.  It takes lots of self-control during gardening season; I love flowering plants and have to be selective.  

GROCERY SHOPPING--I save between 1/3 and 1/2 on groceries and this is how.  It's taken several years
to learn, but it's been worth it.  I figure what I save pays for all my diapers and wipes, at least.

As much as I loathe shopping at Super Wal-Mart at certain times of day, it's just the cheapest overall, so I plan my trips so I don't have to go very often and I go early in the morning.  I have learned the prices, approx., of my staple items and I use that as my base price for comparison shopping at other stores.  It might be time-consuming, but it will only take once to go through the store with your staple items on a list and jot down the prices.  You can then use that as your shopping list when you're at other stores, also, to compare the price.

I always check the price per ounce on the price shelf label to compare sizes and brands.  The big package is NOT always cheaper.  It's the best way to compare, especially when comparing meat.  If you've never compared, you'll be shocked to see the difference is something like a whole chicken compared to individual boneless, skinless cuts.  It's been worth it to learn to cut a chicken!  Plus, for recipes like gumbo or casseroles, dark chicken pieces taste better.  You can get 10 lbs. bags of leg quarters from between 59 cents and 79 cents a pound.  A whole chicken is just easier to tear apart after cooking!

For a casserole, wash and dry the chicken and then cover it in water in a large pot.   Add carrots, onions, celery, salt and pepper, parsley and bring to a boil.   Turn down the heat to low and let it cook for an hour or so.   Then, take the chicken out and let it cool before shredding it.  Allow the broth to cool before straining it through cheesecloth, or at the very least, a tight colander.    Then, I put mine in a large bowl and pitcher.   I place that in the refrigerator and let the fat solidify at the top so it's easy to skim off.   Then, I measure it into one- or two-cup portions (more for specific recipes like gumbo) and freeze it in small freezer bags. Much cheaper than canned broth and you can control the ingredients, especially sodium.   Try using broth instead of water when you cook rice.

If you're making a recipe where the chicken will stand out more, like chicken salad, I suggest you bake your chicken, especially pieces like leg quarters.   Lightly drizzle and rub them with olive oil (I don't skimp on olive oil purchases) and sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and paprika.   Bake at about 350-375.   This method produces even more flavorful results than stewing chicken, but you don't have leftover broth to use.  

Ground turkey is cheaper than ground beef.   It is only healthier if you buy the 93/7 ratio or ground turkey breast.   I don't buy the 85/15 mix anymore because I would rather spend a little more today than spend a lot more later on health care.   There are some recipes where beef is better, or a combination of turkey and beef is better.   Then, I buy ground sirloin on sale.   I figure I'm paying forward on health care.

Wal-Mart will match ads of other stores, including Walgreen's, CVS, Target, Toys' r ' Us, in addition to the grocery stores.  I recently found out Target will do the same.   I keep a list each week of the specials I want to match.  Wednesday mornings are exciting for me because that's the day the new ads are in the newspaper.   I figure I'm paying for my subscription with the money I save, plus I'm supporting the local paper.   You usually don't have to show them the ad at the check-out if it's a grocery store, but if it's another store like Target, you have to have the ad with you.  I group my match items at the front of my groceries to get them out of the way at the check-out.  Wal-Mart will not match ads for specials like buy one, get one free or % off. 

I especially buy cleaning items and health & beauty products at Wal-Mart.   A locally-owned grocery store and a local meat shop have the best quality and prices for meat, so I buy it there.   I've found Wal-Mart to be the most expensive place to buy meat and poultry.



I use coupons, but not as many now.    We buy very few processed foods.   Our children only get things like fruit snacks, snack crackers, etc...when we're traveling or a special day or event.   These foods are not healthy and they are so expensive.   And pre-packaged individual servings are extremely expensive.   I really only use coupons for baking products (usually in papers during holidays), health & beauty, and cleaning items like furniture polish.  

So, instead of eating cheese and crackers, I slice apples in thin rounds like potato chips for them to eat with cheese.   Still crisp and much healthier.   I also clean with combinations of vinegar and water or bleach and water.   Baking soda is also great for cleaning.   Another tip: use cheap shampoo to clean your tub and shower.   It cuts through the soap scum.   You can always sanitize afterward with bleach or vinegar solutions.   These changes have saved me a great deal of money!  

It takes time to use coupons at first, but honestly, it becomes second nature.   There are never as many coupons in small local papers as there are in the "big city" papers.   There are usually no coupons on holiday weekends, but I still check, just in case.  Ask friends and family members for their sections if there's a really good coupon. 

I do my big coupon shopping at Kroger because they double coupons up to .50 and triple up to .39.  If you don't have a Kroger Plus card, it's easy to sign up for one at the office.  You'll have to have one to get sale prices or to double and triple coupons.  My test for buying at Kroger is that it has to be about the same price or cheaper than Wal-Mart.   Also, Kroger store brands are great.  I only buy their whole wheat pastas and their pretzels because most name brands have allergy ingredients.  Kroger seems to be sensitive to allergies; on their website they have a special section for allergies, including recipes. Kroger's store brands are consistent and worth the money.   I recently discovered Kroger canned pumpkin this Christmas.   It made for the best pumpkin pie I've ever made.   I'll never use another brand of pumpkin!

Lots of Kroger's specials are not in the ads, so I go through the store to check for yellow special shelf labels.  They always have the date the sale ends on the bottom right corner of the label, so I know if I need to stock up on a good deal or if I have time to buy some now and some later.  Sometimes the special price is for several months.   Another Kroger benefit: For every $100 you spend, you can save 10 cents a gallon on fuel.  The great thing is that Kroger counts the $ amount before coupons, so I actually get credit for more than I actually spend.  On non-food items like detergent, it's often cheaper to use a coupon that's 50 cents at Wal-Mart than to double it at Kroger because it might be so much more expensive at Kroger.  However, Kroger has great sales, so you just have to watch carefully.

I don't buy an item just because I have a coupon, unless it is free or nearly-free.   Otherwise, I only use coupons on needed items.   When it comes to filing coupons, there are great plastic coupon/check files at Wal-Mart that don't tear.  Make your categories and as you cut your coupons, stack them by category.  Then when you're done, you'll be able to just place each stack in its section.

Sam's is not always cheaper.  I only buy things there that are cheaper per ounce or container than Wal-Mart and things that I am going to use in a short amount of time.  Bread and fresh meats are usually a good deal.

When shopping in early morning, walk through the dairy, produce, and meat sections and look for "pullbacks." These are items that are still perfectly fine, but approaching their sell by dates.  You can get some great deals.  Kroger is especially good about this in their dairy section and you can sometimes find some low prices on meat pull-backs at a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

I'm the Queen of Cheap, but I won't skimp on freezer bags, since I'm freezing to save money.  Ziploc double layer bags are great for meats.



I cook almost entirely from scratch.  The more processed foods are, the more you're going to pay for them.  Plus, you can control what your family is eating.  My daughter has nut allergies and we have to be careful about foods we buy.   More time consuming meals I save for weekends when my husband can help with the kids, then we have leftovers.  The crock-pot is great for "scratch" cooking.  Breads are not really that hard to make, even without a bread machine.  Plus, there's something stress-relieving about kneading dough.  Don't have a need to knead?   You can use the dough hook on a heavy-duty stand mixer for good results, too.

Rice, like pasta, is a great meal extender.  Whole grain rice is especially good because it's so filling.  In addition to beans and rice, we eat stew over rice.  We're from Louisiana and there you eat most things over rice!  A benefit of this is meals last longer, leaving left-overs,and the only thing better than a quick meal is a night of just heating up left-overs.

Avoid being tempted to eat out on busy nights.   I go ahead and chop all my seasoning vegetables like onions, bell pepper, celery and freeze them so the prep work is done for future meals.  Make things even easier by freezing in pre-measured amounts for standard recipes in your collection.  You can place several snack-size Ziplocs inside one freezer bag.   Also, I freeze celery leaves instead of throwing them away.  It's the most flavorful part and perfect for stocks and soups.   

When I make pancakes and waffles, I make a full batch and freeze or just refrigerate the leftovers.  They reheat beautifully in the toaster and we can have homemade breakfasts all week.  They taste much better than store-bought frozen and they're so much cheaper.   Just put wax or parchment paper between pancakes if you freeze them.  Waffles are easy; just throw them in the bags.   Muffins also freeze beautifully.   Wrap or cover with a paper towel and microwave to thaw.  I make homemade cookie dough and freeze it. Homemade pie dough can also be frozen up to a month.   Both are so much cheaper and delicious than pre-made in the store.

Taste of Home and Southern Living magazines are great recipe sources because their ingredients are basic and realistic for busy families.  You won't have to buy some expensive item you'll only use once. Community cookbooks by organizations such as churches and Junior Leagues are also great.

I wait until holiday items go 75% off unless there's something specific I think won't last that long.  You
should never pay full price for Christmas gift wrap!  Waiting until 75% gives me less to choose from and there's less of a chance I'll buy something I don't really need.  I buy gifts all year, as I find them on sale. The local Hallmark will have their big clearance sales in the summer, starting in June, and most stores have big clearance sales in January.

Garage sales and consignment shops are great for kids clothes, but I don't buy things like t-shirts or shorts unless they're cheaper than what I can get at Wal-Mart regular price.  If you bought their play clothes on clearance or at a garage sale, you don't care if they get them dirty or stained.   Plus, you have more money to spend on church and dressier clothes!   I like to put my children in old-fashioned smocked items.  Plus, this helps with being good stewards--reuse what's already available.



Below are some money-saving recipes to stretch your food dollars:

Dried Beans

I use the same recipe for black-eyed peas, pinto beans, and red beans and rice, except I use smoked sausage in the red beans and rice.

Hearty Black-Eyed Peas
(from HOMESTYLE COOKING by SOUTHERN LIVING; these don't require soaking)
1 (16-ounce) pkg. dried black-eyed peas
4 cups water
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. pepper
3/4 tsp. salt
1 (1 lb.) ham steak, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, or 1 ham hock
4 whole jalapeno peppers (optional)
BRING first 6 ingredients and, if desired, jalapenos, to a boil in a Dutch oven; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour or until peas are tender. I usually take the lid off to let them thicken a little.

MOIST CHOCOLATE CAKE
(good snack cake recipe from TASTE OF HOME)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
Confectioners' sugar
In a mixing bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients.  Add egg and butter, mix well.  Pour into a greased 8-in. square baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool.  Dust with confectioners' sugar.

Mexican Style Goulash
 --I add salad and green beans and we have a meal!   

1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, un drained
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a large skillet, cook beef, onion, bell pepper, and
garlic cloves until meat is browned.  Stir in
tomatoes, sauce, corn, water, chili powder, oregano,
and salt.  Bring to a boil.  Add macaroni.  Reduce
heat, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until
macaroni is tender.  Sprinkle with cheese; cover and
cook 2-3 min. longer or until cheese is melted.

Hamburger Delight
My mom and I both won first place in cooking contests with this one!   Chop the vegetables finely; it's not the same if you don't.
Ingredients:     
1 lb. ground beef
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 (10.5 oz.) can tomato soup
1 cup water
2 beef bouillon cubes
1/8 - 1/4 tsp. salt, if needed (the soup has a great deal of salt)
1 medium carrot, chopped fine
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped fine
2 bay leaves
cooked rice
Instructions:   

In a large skillet, cook meat and garlic until meat browns and crumbles.  Drain well and return to skillet.   Add tomato soup, water, bouillon cubes, and salt.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.   Reduce heat to low and cover.   Simmer for 15 minutes.   Add carrot, celery, green pepper, and bay leaves, stirring well.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes.   Serve over cooked rice.

Martha White Country Waffles 
(taste like they're fried)

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup oil
1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp. sugar

Heat waffle iron.  In large bowl, beat eggs.  Add milk
and oil; blend well.  Add flour; mix well.

For each waffle, pour batter into hot waffle iron.
Bake until steaming stops and waffle is golden brown.


Betty Crocker Mom's Best Waffles (light and fluffy)


2 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour*
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup veg. oil
1 Tbsp. white or brown sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Spray iron with spray, if necessary, and heat.

Beat eggs in large bowl until fluffy (I use my stand
mixer).  Beat in remaining ingredients just until
smooth.

Pour about 1/2 cup batter from cup or pitcher onto hot
iron.

Bake until steaming stops or golden brown.

*These are also good when you use 1 cup all-purpose
flour with 1 cup whole wheat flour!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Tee's Corn Pudding

Today, Cooking.com had a question on their facebook page, "Corn pudding: yum or yuck?"   Most of those who left comments responded with Yuck.   Obviously, they've never had a good corn pudding.   Here's a fantastic recipe from, big surprise for me, Southern Living: Tee's Corn Pudding.   Try it as a side dish year round, even with frozen corn.   It's especially delicious in the summertime when you can use fresh corn.   We like it with grilled dishes.   Homemade corn pudding from scratch: Yum!

from Southern Living.com:



This classic recipe has a rich, soufflé-like texture without the hassle. The result is an impressive holiday side dish the entire family will love.
Total: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Yield: Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 12  to 13 ears fresh corn, husks removed
  • 1/4  cup  sugar
  • 3  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
  • 2  teaspoons  baking powder
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  salt
  • 6  large eggs
  • 2  cups  whipping cream
  • 1/2  cup  butter, melted

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Cut kernels from cobs into a large bowl (about 6 cups). Scrape milk and remaining pulp from cobs; discard cobs.
2. Combine sugar and next 3 ingredients. Whisk together eggs, whipping cream, and butter in a large bowl. Gradually add sugar mixture to egg mixture, whisking until smooth; stir in corn. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.
3. Bake at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes or until set. Let stand 5 minutes.
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