Tag Archives: frugal

Dollars for Decent Food

One of my colleagues handed out prizes at school recently, saying, “…and if it breaks before you go home today, well, it’s a dollar store prize.”

And that’s a lot of what you find at the dollar store (Dollar Tree in our case) — cheap plastic toys that don’t last long. So why do we keep going there? Well, this time it was because the kids wanted to spend their allowances. Thankfully, they did make some good choices — bubbles for blowing, crayons, a perfectly good water bottle.

I got some supplies for our Girl Scout meeting (you can get cheap craft supplies and school supplies at Dollar Tree, although quality may vary). But I also did much of our grocery shopping for the week!

What?! That doesn’t sound like a recipe for finding decent, sustainably produced foods, right? Well, it’s not like shopping at the farmers’ market or Whole Foods, of course. But I can’t afford Whole Foods right now, and the farmers’ market isn’t open yet anyway. So I looked around for some of the basic items we needed for the week and found: snack crackers, graham crackers, pretzels, tortillas, jam, hot dogs, shredded cheese, chicken pot pies (the husband eats them for lunch), and cornbread mix.

No, that isn’t a lot — but we didn’t need a lot, because we have a fairly full pantry right now due to ordering canned and dry items from Azure Standard. And it’s definitely not organic health food, but these are the same things I would have bought at a regular grocery store anyway. I do buy meat and eggs from local farmers, and I often buy organic veggies, but I don’t buy organic everything, and I do get moderate amount of moderately junky stuff like snack crackers.

The jam is the one thing I normally wouldn’t have bought, and felt rather guilty about — it’s basically flavored sugar goop, not real jam, and I’m usually a little more careful about that.

As a bonus, the cornbread mix was from Marie Callendar’s, and it’s something I haven’t seen at our regular grocery stores for a while.

It’s not something I’d want to do every week, but by shopping at Dollar Tree, I saved money as well as some time (because we were going there anyway). Both of those are good for my sanity.

What’s your experience shopping at dollar stores? Ever find anything really exciting?

Investing in Food

People often say that organic and natural farming just isn’t profitable. Some farmers insist that conventional methods developed in the 20th century are necessary in order to make a living.

But there are investors out there who see it differently. Yes, wealthy people who could be putting their money into Wall Street!

In this OPB news story, individuals and groups of angel investors have been putting money into “slow food” and getting a satisfactory rate of return during a time when they might be taking a beating on money invested in Wall Street.

Meanwhile, I’ve joined a local food buying club, and am sending some of our dollars directly to farmers in exchange for locally grown/raised potatoes, onions, eggs, and beef. I feel like this is money well invested, too, even though I don’t see a direct monetary return. And we’re saving money by banding together with neighbors to buy!

Accidental Meals

I think I’m a pretty good cook. But sometimes I mess up, or stuff just happens, and we have to deal with it! Here are a couple of examples in which we did NOT deal with it by getting takeout.

Pease Porridge Hot, Pease Porridge Cold

I thought I’d throw some split peas, rice, and broth/water into the crock pot in the morning, and season it up for dinner in the evening. Easy, right? But the liquid/solid ratios are different in the crock pot. Usually you need less liquid in the crock pot, because the liquid doesn’t cook off as much. But apparently that doesn’t hold true for rice and/or split peas, so what I found when I got home was a fairly dry mush.

I had to take one kid to a LEGO club meeting, so I decided to wait and fix the meal after dropping her off. I stopped at the store and picked up some more milk (not related to the soup) and some pre-cooked bacon pieces.  I added some extra water to the mush and stirred in the bacon (as well as some sauteéd carrots and onions). It was still mush, not soup (mostly because of the rice), but we ate it. And we ate the leftovers later. But not nine days later.

Pizza and/or Breadsticks

I love pizza, but I’m currently (and successfully) losing weight. I wanted to try making a lower-fat, lower-calorie pizza. My plan was to use some frozen bread dough, homemade tomato sauce, part-skim mozzarella, turkey sausage, and olives. Frozen dough requires thawing and rising, which means the timing can be tricky. I asked my husband to take care of it during his midday break, when he’s normally home. The instructions for a quick thaw say to heat the oven to 200, put a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven, put the dough in a pan in the oven, and TURN THE OVEN OFF. Unfortunately, he missed that last step, so the dough thawed and then baked slowly at 200 until we got home.

Fortunately, when I bought the rest of the pizza fixings, I had also bought a large package of English muffins. So we had English muffin pizzas instead. And the bread? It was baked through, although flat, and it actually made a good appetizer, warm and torn apart into breadstick-like pieces.

Eating on a Budget

Oh, hi! I’m back! It’s been a hectic few weeks, what with softball practice, softball games, a concert, birthday parties, user group meetings, etc. It’s all good. Just a very busy good.

And when we’re very busy, we’re not always behaving in a frugal way. Oh, we haven’t been out buying flat-screen TVs and designer athletic shoes. It’s just that we’ve been relying more than usual on convenience foods and eating out. So now it’s the end of the month, and we need to tighten our belts (meaning both that we need to save money and that I need to lose a few pounds).

We’ve got a few things on the shelves and in the freezer to use up. So today, I went grocery shopping for the week and spent $22.36.

I didn’t use a single coupon. I generally don’t use coupons, unless they’re for something I would buy anyway and they’re attached to the store shelves. We don’t subscribe to the newspaper, and we don’t usually buy name-brand items, so I don’t feel it’s worth it.

No, I just kept it simple, and bought things that would supplement what we have already.

Here’s the tentative menu plan (dinners only):

  • Baked salmon w/ zucchini (I have a slab of salmon from the farmers’ market in the freezer)
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Pancakes
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Black beans w/ salsa and rice
  • Split pea soup with bacon (I have a package of bacon ends to use up)

You may notice that I didn’t buy any fruits or vegetables except for the zucchini. We have on hand frozen veggies, apples, carrots, canned beets and canned mandarin oranges.  I might pick up some frozen apple juice another time; I forgot about it today. We also have young lettuces that we can thin out of the garden — yum!

We have both hot and cold breakfast cereals in stock, and plenty of coffee and milk.  We also have yogurt and cheese for a little protein boost.

For lunches, I restocked bread, mayo and peanut butter and bought a package of bologna and some tuna. We already had a package of hot dogs, and I bought buns today.  I often take leftovers for lunch, but I actually don’t anticipate having leftovers from the meals I have planned.

These aren’t the healthiest, most earth-friendly meals I’ve ever planned.  Well, except that they don’t contain a lot of meat! That’s earth-friendly. But they will get us through, and quite comfortably.

More resources on frugal eating:

Frugal Cooking: Mustard Greens + Bacon = Yum!

Yesterday I made this year’s first trip to the local farmers’ market.  It’s a small, neighborhood market, so unfortunately the produce pickings were slim.  It’s still the early season for produce in Oregon, but the market also had only one real produce vendor (out of 15-20 total vendors).  That vendor had asparagus, kale, mustard greens, spinach, cilantro, radishes, rhubarb, potatoes, and onions. I got asparagus and mustard greens. We already have potatoes and onions, no one else likes kale, and I hate washing spinach. Yes, I buy the pre-washed spinach in a plastic bag.  Sorry!

I knew I’d better use those greens right away; otherwise, I’m likely to let them rot in the fridge. I also had half a pound of bacon in the freezer, so…bacon and mustard greens for dinner!  We had a large noon meal today, so this dish plus bread and butter was plenty for us.

I made this with just one bunch of mustard greens, but one bunch cooked down is not much, so I’m doubling it to two bunches for the recipe.  Of course, the size of your bunch may vary, and you could use any type of greens.

Mustard Greens with Bacon and Onions

2 bunches mustard greens
1/2 pound bacon
1 onion (I used brown, red is probably good too)
1 tablespoon vinegar (I used rice vinegar, but whatever)
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Wash greens and tear into small pieces.  Place in a large (3-4 quart) pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer.

Meanwhile, put all of the bacon in a large frying pan (I use cast iron) over medium-high heat.  I used the swirl method of cooking bacon, which means you don’t have to muck around with laying out the slices and flipping them over. You just separate the slices and throw them all in the pan and stir frequently until cooked.

Remove bacon and set aside (crumble when you get a chance).  Chop the onion and cook in the bacon fat until it starts to brown.  Remove pan from heat. Add vinegar and brown sugar to onion and bacon fat and mix thoroughly.

Drain greens in a colander, pressing to remove additional water.  Toss with onion mixture and crumbled bacon.


What’s For Dinner: Split Pea Soup With Bacon

Split Pea Soup with BaconEconomical, tasty, and easy, split pea soup is a perfect winter meal. I’m sure there are thousands of recipes out there, but this is how I do it. It’s simple enough to make any time, even after working all day.

You should be able to find dry split peas for a dollar per pound or less. I use green, but yellow peas are good, too. If you are splitting pennies, you can use less bacon (just enough for flavoring), or do without meat altogether. I also sometimes use ham instead of bacon (if we have leftover ham), although I really like sautéing the vegetables in bacon fat.

Ingredients

6 cups chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth
1 lb. dry split peas
2 large carrots, sliced or chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
5 strips bacon (or pre-cooked crumbled bacon)
1 pinch salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. thyme leaves

Fry bacon and set aside on paper towel. Keep frying pan with bacon fat warm on stove. If using pre-cooked crumbled bacon, you can use bacon fat saved from another meal, or just use olive oil.Split Pea Soup

Using a 3-qt pot, bring broth to a boil, adding peas when it comes to a full boil. Allow to return to a boil and then turn down to simmer.

Meanwhile, turn the bacon fat up to medium/medium-high and sauté the carrots, onion, salt, pepper and thyme until onions are translucent.

Add the vegetable mix to the broth and peas. Cover and simmer for at least 45 minutes, or until peas are soft enough to break up into a mush. If the mixture seems dry, add water or broth during cooking. Add the crumbled bacon during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Serve with croutons. Makes 4-6 dinner servings.

Split Pea Soup with Croutons

What’s for Dinner: Garbanzo Pasta

That was good! Good enough to share with you!

Being financially strapped as well as trapped by a snowstorm (it’s very unusual to have a foot or more of snow here in Portland, Oregon), I’ve been trying to use up what we have in the pantry already. That’s a good practice anyway, but I’ve been neglecting it somewhat until recently.

Today’s dish was based around a bag of dry garbanzo beans. I bought them months ago, but never used them. I always have good intentions about using dry beans, because they are cheap and nutritious, but then I avoid them because of the soaking and cooking process. It was a lengthy process, but well worth it, and with some planning ahead, you can do it too!

Chickpeas; photo by Little Li

Ingredients

1 lb bag of dry garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion
9 baby carrots
Salt and pepper
Garlic powder
Dried oregano leaves
Dried basil
2-16 oz. cans tomato sauce
1 small can sliced mushrooms (or fresh sliced mushrooms if you have them)
1 cup small pasta shells

The night before (or at least 8 hours before cooking) put garbanzo beans to soak in 2 quarts of cold water. The next day, drain off the soaking water and rinse beans in a large colander. Return beans to large pot, and add 2-3 quarts of fresh water (water should be at least 1 inch above beans). Do not add salt. Bring beans to a boil, then simmer for 3 hours. Yes, 3 hours. You can shorten this to 40-50 minutes by using a pressure cooker. I do not own one. You might also be able to cook them in a crock pot all day if you work. I have not tried this yet.

When the beans are done, drain off the cooking water and rinse them again in the large colander until you see no foam. You will have a large amount of beans at this point. Put 2/3 of the beans into freezer containers (about 2 cups in each container) and freeze for later use. Put the remaining 1/3 aside for the moment.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Peel and coarsely chop the onion and add to skillet. Chop the baby carrots and add to the skillet. I disguise my carrots by chopping them very finely with a hand chopper; you could also use shredded carrots. Or, if you and/or your family are not picky, use larger chunks. If you are using fresh mushrooms, add them now, too.

Give the carrots and onions a stir, and then add salt, pepper, and herbs to taste. I do not measure. I added a large pinch of salt, and then sprinkled enough pepper, garlic powder, and oregano to lightly cover the entire contents of the pan, followed by a quick dash of basil. Sauté it all together for several minutes, until the onions are translucent . It will smell delicious!

Add tomato sauce, beans, and mushrooms. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta shells according to package directions. Drain, and stir into sauce mixture.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese. This served my family of five, with leftovers.

A Frugal Meal for a Better World

Can a meal save the world?  Or at least my sanity?  I just put a hearty soup on the stove for my family, which did make me feel a little better.

“Feeling glum, disgruntled, and snarky. Watch out,” I tweeted late this afternoon.  Why so glum?

Well, there was this over at George Fox University, here in Oregon.  It wasn’t so much the actual incident involving racial slurs as much as the comments on the article.  Too many of them were ignorant and/or hateful, and left me feeling less hope for the future of our country.

And then there’s the general state of the economy, and the prospect of a $700 billion Wall Street bailout and/or a full-blown depression.

McCain wants us to think that he thinks this is so important that he and Obama should suspend their debate to resolve the issue.  What, Congress can’t handle this one without them?  And they can’t do anything long-distance?

And then there was this, from Democracy Now!, letting us know that a military unit, for the first time ever, is officially being deployed to keep the peace here at home in case of civil unrest.  They start October 1.  There’s also a detailed article on Salon.com.

No wonder I’m depressed!

Depression or not, the family still needs to be fed.  I was off early today, and we have no evening activity, so I had time to put together a nice lentil soup.

I don’t know whether it was the physical act of chopping and sauteing vegetables that helped, or whether it just feels good to be able to provide a good meal for my family despite all of the bad news.  Lentils, carrots, onions, a few herbs, and we’re set!  Frugal and sustainable.  If necessary, we could probably even grow our own lentils!  I know they sprout and grow easily, although I’ve never tried actually growing and harvesting the beans.

So, even if everything does go to h— in a handbasket, we can make it.

Now I’m going to see what the dude in the White House has to say to us.