Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | October 11, 2013

One Year…

It is hard to believe that this week marks our first year on our little piece of suburban paradise.  I had every intention of making frequent posts, but sadly, I let the business of daily living get in the way.  Over the course of this past year, we made some huge accomplishment:

  • Full kitchen renovation.  I love my kitchen so much, sometimes I wish that I could give it a huge hug.
  • Partial Bath Renovation.  The husband uses this bathroom.  He’s happy with it, and since it means that he doesn’t dirty my bathroom, I guess that I am happy with it too.
  • New flooring.  Leveled and laid new hardwood in our family room.  Its beautiful and makes the room a warm welcoming place to relax.
  • Painted every room in the house (well all except one).  Added some color to replace the white walls.  A simple change, but after years of living in apartments, the act of painting a wall really brings it home that this is mine.
  • First garden.  I had some successes (yellow squash and Swiss chard) and some failures (green beans).  I am looking forward to expanding the garden next year.
  • Our dog.  We rescued a beautiful Norwegian Elkhound named Fable.  She is a pain in the butt, but a great companion.
  • Nick started a business.  He is promoting and recruiting for a company that sells environmentally friendly cleaning products and safe, high quality vitamins and health and beauty supplies.  It is growing slowly, but I know he will be a success. 
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Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | April 5, 2013

Freezer Deals

I did my weekly grocery shop today.  One of the local stores had their “2 day legendary sale” where they have some amazing loss leader deals.  I was able to purchase at least a month’s worth of meat, two weeks of produce, and some baking needs for under $70!  As I got to the checkout, they were putting out the preview of next week’s items. One item caught my eye.

That was a 5.3 cubic foot chest freezer for $179!  I know that I can find one for a bit less if I search, but there was an extra bonus to this deal.  You get a $100 gift card with the purchase of the freezer.  That makes the freezer an impressive $79, well within my budget.  With the great sales this grocer has, I will get many times the value of the gift card in products.  I can’t wait to be able to really stock up when those good sales come around!

Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | April 1, 2013

Waste Not

I know that I’ve said this tons of times before, but I hate to waste anything.  My attic has neatly organized bins of old curtains, shower curtains, bedding, even clothes that can be put to other uses.  Right now, I am reupholstering my dining room chairs with curtains that once covered my younger brother’s bedroom windows.  I love that this allows me to help family and friends when they need it too!  My hate of waste is even greater when it comes to food.

One of my favorite, frugal meals is a roasted whole chicken.  We usually eat it as it is the first night.  Once it cools, I pick as much meat off of the bones as I can to use for future meals – stir-fry, pasta, tacos, or as a salad topper.  That leaves me with the carcass, some skin, and the bits of meat that just won’t come off of the bone.  This is the makings for a nice chicken stock.

Stock is not hard to make.  I fill a large pot with water, and add the carcass, a few vegetables (usually an onion, one or two carrots, celery, and any veggies that may be on the verge of going bad).  Simmer on low until the bones completely fall apart. Strain and put in the fridge or freezer for future use.  I use this stock for cooking rice, quinoa, or to make soup.  Today, I am making spicy corn and black bean soup, featuring those economical favorites corn and black beans (image from http://www.fitsugar.com/Healthy-Recipe-Corn-Black-Bean-Salad-2037856 )

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Spicy Corn and Black Bean Soup:

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot.  Add:

1 large onion, chopped

2-3 carrots diced

2-3 celery stalks diced

Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently

Add, salt, pepper, garlic, and chili powder to taste, Heat another minute or so.

Add 4 cups chicken stock, 2 cups corn, and 2 cups cooked black beans.

Bring to simmer and cook until veggies are tender.

Add 2 cups cooked brown rice and 1 can diced tomatoes.  Simmer another 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.  Enjoy with cornbread or quesedillas for a Southwestern style meal.

I love that from such basic ingredients, I can get an amazing meal.  I often store some in single servings in my freezer.  Once I have a few different types of soup in my freezer, I often drop a variety of types off to my brothers or parents.  It feelsso good to share the bounty.

Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | March 30, 2013

Scones!

I know, I know.  I said that I was going to start trying to follow the anti-inflammation eating plan that I discussed a week or so ago.  I am.  I promise.  I just had some items that I needed to use up so that I wouldn’t be tempted, and I wanted to make some goodies for Easter…Okay, I admit that those are all excuses.  I’ll start in a few days (I really will – I have been researching all kinds of great recipes – paleo, whole grain, and gluten free items) and will create some awesome items to share with all of you.  In the meantime, I made (and ate) scones.

To give credit where it is due, I found a very basic recipe from Alton Brown online:

2 cups four

4 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup sugar

6 Tbl butter (or 4 butter and 2 shortening)

3/4 cup cream

1 egg

Mix the flour, sugar, and baking powder.  Cut in the butter.  Quickly mix in the egg, cream, and any add-ins that you would like.  Pat into 1/2 inch thickness and cut into shapes of your choosing.  Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes depending upon size of scones.

I added dried cherries and almonds to the dough and topped with a drizzle of almond flavored glaze and a few additional toasted almonds.  They put bakery scones to shame!  The possibilities are endless.  I’m thinking my next batch might be a mixed grain scone with ham and cheese in it – perfect for lunch on the go or with soup for dinner.

Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | March 24, 2013

Cooking with Quinoa

A year ago, I had no clue what quinoa was.  Sure, I had read the name is some healthy cookbooks, but had never searched it out or even tasted it.  I tried it for the first time at a work event where the chef had mad a quinoa stir-fry.  I was hooked – it was fluffy, but with a firm bite.  Unfortunately, I had no clue where to buy quinoa as I had never seen it in the grocery store.

Fast forward six months.  I am browsing the shelves of Sam’s Club and see a good sized bag of quinoa for just under $5.  I snatch it up (photo courtesy of www.earthlychoice.com ):

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I’ve picked it up every time it is in stock since then.  I love its versatility!  It can be substituted for pretty much anything that you would use rice for.  Here is one of my favorite quinoa recipes:

Cran-Orange Quinoa

1/2 an onion minced

olive oil

1 cup quinoa

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup orange juice

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

cook the onions in oil, just until translucent.  Add quinoa and quick toss with the onions.  Add both stock and juice and bring to a boil.  Stir in cranberries, reduce heat to low (very low to ensure that the sugars from the juice don’t burn), cover and simmer 12-15 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Remove from heat and stir in walnuts.  Enjoy!

Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | March 20, 2013

A Tough Month!

I know that I haven’t mentioned it, but I recently lost my job.  I have been applying and interviewing like crazy (yay!), and don’t think that I will be out of work for long, but until then, the money is going to be super tight.  After a review of our finances, we found that we are actually spending a good bit less than we had thought!  Which means that I can take some time to find a career that I will love, rather than just something to pay the bills.  However, it will still be TIGHT.

With that in mind, Nick asked if I thought that I could keep our groceries to about $100-150 per month until I am back to being employed.  I am always up for a challenge, especially a frugal challenge!  With that in mind, I did my grocery shopping today.  With it being so close to a major holiday, there were some massive savings on loss leaders.  I spent $49.80 at Aldi’s (my favorite discount store) and got most of our needs for the next month.  I want to pick up a half ham ($0.69/lb or about $8-9) and a turkey ($1.09 or about $15) from one of the other chains in my area, which will bring my total to about $75 for enough meat and staples for the month.  That leaves up to an extra $75 for produce and milk for the rest of the month.  Given that I already picked up enough for two weeks, I think I am in pretty good shape.  I might even be able to afford a few little splurges!

Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | March 19, 2013

What’s for lunch?

I’ve often found that answering the question of “What’s for lunch?” to be more challenging than the ever popular, “What’s for dinner?”  I’ve found this to be an issue of planning.  I figure out what I am going to cook for dinner each night once I do my weekly grocery shopping so that I can ensure that nothing goes to waste.  I am much more lackadaisical about lunch (a good goal for next month).

Nick is always happy with leftovers, even if it was last night’s dinner and will be tonight’s as well.  He says that it just feels more like real “meal” than anything else.  I don’t mind including some type of leftover, but I certainly don’t want the same exact thing for three meals straight.  Here are some of my quick, frugal favorite:

  • Field greens topped with leftover chicken, turkey, or ham
  • Pizza Quesadilla – Corn tortilla topped with tomato sauce and cheese, toasted
  • Any type of leftover soup from the freezer
  • Fruit and cheese platter (heavy on the seasonal fruits)
  • Quinoa salad (leftover quinoa salad, veggies of choice, and tossed with homemade vinagrette)

What are your favorite frugal lunches?

Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | March 17, 2013

Anti-inflammation diet

One thing that people are surprised to learn about me is that I have a chronic illness.  At various points over the years I have received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, palindromic rheumatoid arthritis,  and chronic inflammatory arthritis, depending upon how my blood tests were looking at that particular point in time (From what I understand, changing diagnoses is very common with autoimmune disorders).  There was one thing that was common to each of the doctor’s that I visited – they all asked if I had celiac disease (and tested me for it) or any other intestinal problem.  My tests always came back negative, but I could understand their reasoning.  In addition to the joint pain and swelling typical of arthritis, I also have  chronic malnutrition – iron, vitamin D, an calcium deficiencies that don’t respond to supplements, difficulty maintaining weight, and possible decreased nerve function in my extremities.  Since my response to anti-rheumatic drugs is minimal, I recently began to research alternative treatments, including diet treatments.  This is one of the resources that I found (image from http://www.amazon.com):

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The author talks about how inflammation is caused and how proper diet can help in treating it.  Towards the middle of the book she details what foods should be eaten and which should be avoided.  The diet focuses on eating lots of low glycemic vegetables, whole grains (excluding wheat), fruits, and organic, grass fed meats and poultry.  There really is a lot available.  To me the biggest obstacle is that the few foods that in the “don’t eat” category are my favorites.  These include tomatoes, potatoes, wheat, and coffee.

This actually makes sense to me.  In the months leading up to my wedding, my husband adopted the most strict phase of the South Beach Diet.  To help him avoid temptation, I kept my carb choices to those that he would not eat.  I ate tons of fruits and veggies and the occasional side of brown rice or organic puffed rice cereal.  I may have occasionally had a mixed grain pita, too.  The point is that I felt great!  I actually gained some weight, especially muscle, and was the most physically active that I had been in years.  I even managed to climb the Duns River waterfall on our honeymoon – without pain!

Despite the benefits, it scares me to turn away from my favorite money saving staples.  No more pasta or quick baked goods. No sandwiches!  I will end up trying this once I make my next grocery trip, but it will be a challenge to keep to my budget.  I will keep you posted

If you would like to learn more about the anti-inflammation diet, the book is available here.

Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | March 16, 2013

Oatmeal Muffins

I was in the mood to do some baking a few days ago.  Being frugal, I looked in my pantry to see if there was anything that I had an abundance of.  There was – oatmeal.  I turned to one of my favorite recipe websites, http://www.allrecipes.com , to see if I could find a recipe.  Once I found the recipe, I made a few changes (because recipes are just a guide).  Here is what I came up with:

Oatmeal Muffins

1 cup milk

1 cup rolled oats

1 egg

1/4 cup oil (or butter)

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup brown sugar (or other type of sugar, honey, or sugar substitute)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix milk and oats together.  Let sit at least 10 minutes while you gather the remaining ingredients and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix just until blended.  Pour into prepared muffin tins and bake 18-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into muffins comes out clean. Makes 12 muffins.

The recipe as listed above will make a very bland, basic muffin (not sweet or cake like, more like a little bread loaf).  It is great with some butter and jam or served with a bowl of soup.  Since it is a very basic recipe there are a ton of possible variations to fit your personal muffin taste.  Here are my suggestions:

  • 1 grated carrot (about a cup), 1/4 c chopped walnuts, 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I made this one and it was tasty)
  • Cranberry apple – 1 large apple, chopped or grated, 1/2 cup cranberries, 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • Banana Nut – 1 mashed banana, 1/4 cup nuts of choice, 1 tsp vanilla
  • Peanut Butter – 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup peanut butter chips
  • Cheese Muffins – 1 cup favorite shredded cheese

Nearly anything could be added.  Just keep in mind that if it is a moist ingredient sou may need to add a little extra four or cook a few minutes longer.  What are you adding to your muffins?

Posted by: amandaleigh1231 | March 10, 2013

Aldi Awesomeness

Grocery shopping has to be my favorite activity.  There is just something about wandering the aisles getting ideas for new recipes.  One of the greatest things about the area that I live in is that we have a ton of different grocery stores.  Within a short drive, I have Giant Eagle, Shop and Save, Sam’s Club, Trader Joe’s, and Aldi.  I have found that Trader joe’s and Giant Eagle are the best for exotic products and menu inspirations.  however, the frugal inside of me just loves Aldi.

In addition to amazing prices, I love the simplicity of Aldi.  The store is compact and easy to navigate – the layout makes sense.  Items are grouped by categories without those pesky end-caps to encourage you to pick up an item that you didn’t realize that you needed.  The cashiers have a great line of sight to all areas of the store, making it easy to see if anything needs restocked or cleaned without constantly roaming the aisles. 

On my most recent trip, I spent just over $14.  I was able to purchase a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, one block of cheddar cheese, a loaf of 12 grain bread, 10 pounds of potatoes, 2 pounds of carrots, a bunch of celery, a container of artisan lettuce, and a bag of baby bell peppers.  I thought that it was a very impressive haul.  Here is one recipe that I made from all of the goodness:

Creamy Potato Soup

1 onion ($0.30)

2 carrots ($0.16)

2 celery stalks ($0.15)

4 baking potatoes ($0.40)

1 quart stock (mine was free made from a leftover ham bone and veggie scraps, but Aldis Chicken or Vegetable stock would also work for $1.29)

1 quart water

1 quart milk ($0.97)

Salt, Pepper, Thyme, Corn Starch (at most an extra $0.20)

Chop onion, celery, carrots, and potatoes into a fine dice.  Put in crock pot and add stock and water.  Season with salt, pepper, and thyme to taste.  Simmer over low for about 30-45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.  Mix a few tablespoons of corn starch into the cold milk and add to the pot.  Bring back to a simmer and simmer for 1-2 minutes to allow the corn starch to thicken the broth (If it is too thin, some leftover mashed potatoes could be added to thicken it).  Enjoy!

My total cost was $2.18 to make a big pot of this soup – I am guessing about 8 meal sized portions. That is an amazing $0.27 per serving!  Thank you Aldi.

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