Monday, April 22, 2002

My Cooking Marathon Day

I decided to try the once-a-month cooking method. I've had the "Freezer Cooking Manual from 30-Day Gourmet" for over a year, and while I've tried several of the recipes in it, I still hadn't tried doing a mega-cooking session. Today was the day! I didn't attempt a month at a time, but I think this should last us a couple of weeks any way... taking into account a few left-over and sandwich type meals.

Today I made---> 6 Sausage/Egg Muffin sandwiches... 2 Lasagna casseroles... 1 Rice Pie... 1 batch of Taco Rice for burritos or taco salad... 1 Chicken Divan... 1 Chicken Supreme... 1 Sausage/Rice casserole... and 2 pizzas!!!!!!

I also cooked---> 10 pounds chicken parts... 5 pounds ground beef... 3 pounds of sausage... and 9 cups of rice... some of which I used in the above dishes, and some I just bagged up to have pre-cooked in the freezer.

...I'm pooped!!!

The thing is, now I don't want to eat all these wonderful dishes I have my freezer... I just want to admire them!

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Gilligan's Island

My kids have been hooked on watching Gilligan's Island on TVLand lately. They get such a kick out of it. I think Gilligan's slap-stick antics tickle them more than anything else. What tickles me is not so much the fact that those poor castaways could never seem to manage to get rescued, but that they could always turn on the radio right after their most recent chance slipped away, and hear exactly what happened to their would-be rescuer! I mean, right that minute, the one-and-only station they could tune into just happened to be broadcasting the news which just happened to include a report from the South Pacific!

I found this website about Gilligan's Island and enjoyed this blurb on their welcome page:

Welcome to the "Gilligan's Island Fan Club" run by the 7 stranded castaways. The Professor found a way to make a computer out of coconuts and bamboo shoots located near the lagoon. Broken transmitter parts were also salvaged and used to make excellent conductors. During a heavy storm a telephone cable was washed ashore and we tapped into the internet in hopes that somebody would find us (The 300 baud modem was built from an old projector). The computer isn't the prettiest thing in the world but it works. Oh I almost forgot to mention..... SEND HELP!!!

LOL! They're still stranded but they managed to access the internet! What more could they need?

Friday, April 12, 2002

Taco Soup

By request!

1 lb. hamburger
1 onion, chopped
1 can whole-kernel corn
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 can pinto or red beans
3 tablespoons taco seasoning
2 chopped jalepeno peppers (optional)

Brown hamburger with onion. Add all other ingredients and heat through. Add extra water if needed. Serve with tortilla chips. Top with shredded cheese and sour cream, if desired.

Road Trips on a Budget

We love to travel! Many of our favorite memories both before and after kids involve road trips. Obviously, traveling can be quite spendy... but we are learning to economize in this area, too. I'd rather be frugal on trips, and get to go more often, than make one big splurge and then have to stay home for a long time afterwards. Here are many of the ways we have learned to save money, and some good ideas we haven't tried yet, but probably will.

Lodging: The cheapest lodging for road trips is often camping. While camping typically involves carrying along a lot of extra gear, or pulling a travel-trailer, it can be done quite simply when you just need a place to sleep for the night. We spent one night in the van as we traveled through Yellowstone Park last summer. Seems like the camping fee was about $15. Much cheaper than staying in one of the lodges, but it still allowed us to spend more time in the Park. Another year while traveling, we rented a cabin at a KOA campground rather than a motel room. It was very comfortable, with a double bed, plus a set of single bunks. We needed our sleeping bags and pillows, plus towels for the bathhouse... and of course, there was no TV, but the cabin was heated and completely adequate. The campground had a playground and a pool. It cost about $25 as compared to $50 or more for a motel room.

Food: Take a cooler! Pack chilled, canned pop rather than buying it from the convenience store every time you stop for gas. Although, some convenience stores do have a good deal on refills, so it might be worth it to take along your travel cup to fill up when you come across deals like that. Sometimes they will let you fill up your cup with ice for free when you purchase gas, too. Also, fill some water bottles three-quarters full and freeze them. They will help keep your cooler chilled, and when they melt you will have cold drinking water.

Plan to stop at rest areas or parks for picnic lunches rather than fast-food places, if the weather allows. If it's too cold or wet, you can also eat as you drive along, but we don't do that much as it's good to stop to stretch at mealtimes. Buy your picnic stuff at a regular grocery store before you leave home, or a regular grocery store along the way... Yes, picnic foods are more expensive than cooking but regular grocery stores are typically much cheaper than convenience stores where you get gas.

Pack snacks to take along, too, rather than buying them at the convenience stores. I usually make a big batch of oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies to take along. These are great for breakfast, as well as snacking. Pop some corn the night before and put in bags for snacking. Buy large bags of M&Ms or Skittles and divide into smaller zip-lock bags for traveling. Do the same thing with chips... get 2 or 3 kinds and divide into smaller bags. If you have stuff like this in the car, you won't be tempted to buy the over-priced snacks when you stop.

Take along your coffee pot if you will have electricity when you stop for the night. There are several things you can make with hot water... ramen soup in a cup, oatmeal, hot cocoa, tea, coffee, etc. If you won't have electricity, a good thermos will keep water hot for several hours. Another idea is to pack a thermos full of heated hot dogs for a hot picnic lunch.

When you do eat out, order ice water to drink. It's usually free with a meal, but I've noticed some fast food places charging a dime for it recently. (That annoys me, if I'm ordering food!) Pop at restaurants is way over-priced and can add quite a bit to your meal cost. If you have chips and drinks in the car, sometimes just a .99 sandwich from a fast food place is enough for a meal. (I know, most sandwiches are more than that, but you can usually find at least one for that.)

Entertainment: I am somewhat of a history buff, and over the years that has "somehow" rubbed off on my family. As we drive along, if we have time, my husband knows I always want to pull off and read the historical markers to know what happened on this site. Before a trip, I will scout out the road atlas for historical places, and then research to see if it looks like there might be some interesting museums, visitor's centers, or state parks along the way. We've hit a few duds, but typically these types of places aren't very expensive (often free) so we just go on our way. Usually, though, we find the stops very interesting, educational, and yes... fun!!! We try to plan in time for "scenic detours" like this when have a long roadtrip to visit relatives or another destination. It breaks the trip up, creates memories, and is not very expensive at all.

Last summer we took our bikes along. We planned one night's stop at a place that had a bike trail, so that was our "entertainment" for that evening. It was a beautiful trail along a river and through a park... something we would have never seen from the car. If you don't have room for bikes, the same trails can be used for walking or roller-blading. Also, we often try to plan to stay at places that have a place to swim included in the lodging cost.

Well, there's much more I could post on the subject, but I guess that's enough for now. I'm posting this for my own future reference... if anyone has any other tips on this subject please post them!

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Fruit Smoothies

I made this to go with lunch today. (Taco soup with tortilla chips and shredded cheese.) My family loved it! I adapted it from a recipe we made years ago that we called Orange Julius. I don't know if it's really the same recipe as the Orange Julius stands in the malls. Probably not. But it's still yummy!

6 oz. frozen fruit juice or beverage (doesn't have to be 100% juice)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup water
1 cup milk
5 or 6 ice cubes

Blend on high until the ice cubes are completely crushed. Serve immediately, if possible. (My husband was late getting home for lunch, so I actually stored it in the freezer for about an hour before serving, and it was fine.)

I used a 12-oz. can of frozen juice and made two blenderfuls for my family of 4.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

The "Luxury" of Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

I'm an old-fashioned kinda gal... "just a housewife"... I know, that's an out-dated term, and personally, I prefer to be called a "homemaker" because I think it's more accurate. I'm not married to my house, but I do try to make my house a home! I make no apologies for being a homemaker. While there are many things I could have been, this is what God has called me to do at this point in my life, and I am very happy with that. There are some in today's society that seem to have the impression that being a homemaker must mean you're too lazy to get a "real" job, or at least not very smart. That doesn't bother me much. I know different, and I'm not going to argue with them about it. What does bother me are the "working" moms who seem to think that staying home is a luxury that they can't afford. "It must be nice that your husband makes such good money that you can afford to live on one income." Ummm, no, that's not how it works! I'd like to share how we afford the "luxury" of me staying home.

As with any "luxury" this one takes some planning and personal sacrifice... We don't yet own a home. We currently live in a rental, and we may need to move soon to a smaller house to lower our monthly rent. Would I rather have a nice house of our own? Of course! But would I rather have a nice house, or raise my kids myself? No contest!

Last spring I totalled our one-and-only car. It was an 8-year-old station wagon with 200,000 miles on it, but it was paid for, it ran good, and it got good gas mileage. I was just sick! Especially since we were only carrying liability insurance, and there was no money to replace it. For 3 months we borrowed a vehicle, and now we are making small payments on an even older full-size van with 150,000 miles on it, that gets horrid gas-mileage. Should I have put my kids in day care so I could get a job and we could afford a decent vehicle? Not worth it to me!

I spend more time cooking to save money on convenience foods and eating out. I buy most of our clothes second-hand. Our kids don't get everything they see advertised on television that strikes their fancy. Are we depriving our kids? I don't think so. Thirty years from now which will make a better memory in their mind: "Oh, remember, we got McDonald's happy meals twice a week... and remember that one toy that looked so cool on tv, but broke the second day we had it... and remember the great frozen pizzas we used to eat?" ...or... "Oh, remember, Mom used to play board games with us... and she took us to the park, and for walks, and on bike-rides... and remember the stories she used to read to us?" Those are the "luxuries" my children enjoy. Probably they don't see them as luxuries now, but one day they will! I can say that with certainty, because I had the exact childhood I'm describing... not many material things, but a mother who stayed home and raised her own children!

To begin with, if I got a job, we would undoubtedly need a second vehicle, plus insurance, gas, and maintenance. So subtract that from my take-home pay... Then subtract the cost of child-care... And I'd probably need a nicer wardrobe than I currently have, to wear to work. Would there really be very much money left after all that? Maybe there would be... then we could afford a nicer house, etc. In any case, I am willing to fore-go whatever we "might" could afford for the privilege of raising my own children.

In future blogs, I will share ways I have learned to save money on the "cost of living," as well as creative ways to plan family fun times without spending a lot of money.

Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Thoughts on Being Frugal

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday browsing the sites listed below on how to save money. Many of the ideas are things I already do, and have always done so they don't help me a whole lot. I did get a few good ideas, though. Mainly what I was looking for was how to create something out of nothing! LOL! Well... at the very least, how to stretch what you do have to last as long as possible. And, no, I'm not doing this just to see if I can... I really do need to stretch every dime just as far as possible.

Once in awhile I'll pick up a magazine at the library and read articles on "economical" fashion alternatives. They'll show how you can put together an outfit very similar to a $900 designer outfit for "only" $150!!!! Only?? Excuse me?? $150 for one outfit? I don't think so! One article I read recently was telling how some of the stars are willing to scrimp on one thing, I guess to justify the item that they splurge on. There was one that "scrimped" by buying $30 Old Navy jeans so she could splurge on a $300 sweater. I sat there thinking, my splurge would be a $15 pair of store-brand jeans, only because I can't find jeans in Tall at garage sales, while my scrimp would be a .25 t-shirt from the garage sale! LOL! Okay, so I know how to economize on clothes. Fashion's just not that important to me... as long as it fits, and is neat and clean and has been in style within the last 5 years I'm happy! Right now, I'm not even concerned about clothes. What we have can and will last us through this tight spot!

But how to stretch the grocery budget, that's another question. Years ago our grandparents rarely bought anything. They raised everything they ate. Since we live in a rental with a very small yard, and the rental contract does not allow vegetables gardens, that's not an option for us.

Many of the articles on the websites suggested things like: buy store-brands or generics (already do), stock up when things are on sale (already do), only shop once every week or two (already do)...

Some of the more practical suggestions involve more work, but as I have more time than money at this point in my life, these are the ones I'm going to have to learn to apply: Give up non-nutritional food. (No more coffee, pop, potato chips, candy). Cook from scratch. (No more box mixes). Use up left-overs. (Don't waste food!) Plan menus ahead. (No more waiting till 30 minutes till time to eat to decide what to have.)

Here's a couple of interesting articles on "bare bones" grocery shopping... and who knows? It may come to that!

The $5 Stretcher Challenge (Can you eat for a week on $5?)

The-Cupboard-Is-Bare-And-The-Money-Is-Low Grocery List

Another thing I thought of was to learn to get by without things like paper plates and paper towels. Again, more work. But I can wash plates and towels. Haven't figured out how to get by without toilet paper, though! An old Sears catalog isn't exactly an option! LOL!

What are your best money-saving tips? And please don't tell me something like-- Eat out at lunchtime instead of dinner! When eating out at all is not even an option, that's not real helpful! LOL!

Monday, April 1, 2002

Easter weekend

We made the "Resurrection Cookies" on Saturday night. Unfortunately, I hadn't read the recipe thoroughly enough to "get" the part about "beat on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until high peaks are formed"... I had just checked to make sure I had the ingredients, and then just jumped in. The bad thing about it is, I don't currently have an electric mixer!! Good thing I had the foresight to ask DH to join us for this project. I had him reading the scripture verses as the kids and I mixed up the recipe. And then we ended up having to beat those egg whites by hand!!! Do you have any idea how long it takes to form stiff peaks beating by hand? A long time. DH and I took turns for a full 30 minutes, beating until our arm got tired then handing it back and forth. But it was worth it! The "cookies" turned out perfectly! The only thing is, I wouldn't exactly call them cookies. They are actually kinda like divinity candy. Maybe we should change the name of the recipe to "Resurrection Confections"! Yummy!

I also made the bunny cake. DH took the kids out for two or three hours on Saturday morning, so I made it and had it sitting on the table for them when they came home. The kids were very impressed!