Sunday, July 31, 2005

My Parent's Apple Tree

The apple tree in my parents yard is huge and loaded with perfect little green apples. My parents hate the tree and have promised to call me as soon as the apples start turning red. Even if the deer get all the apples on lower branches, there will still be a ton for us. We'll spend a day picking and another canning but it will be worth it in the money we save. I'm thrilled!

The moral of the story; it never hurts to ask!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bras for the Cantelopes

A key part of frugality is the ability to be creative. Its the desire to look at a problem and come up with a solution other than a trip to the store. It can be inborn or cultivated over time. The more you do it, the more naturally it comes to you. Such is the case with the bras for the canteloupes.

I've mentioned before that the canteloupes I'm growing in a container are doing very well. Currently I've got two canteloups the size of raquetballs, four the the size of golf balls and quite a few pea size ones. Since I have the canteloupes growing on a trellis, common garden wisdom recommends that they be supported in some way. Pantyhose tied to the trellis are the preferable source of support. They stretch as the canteloupes grow and don't hold moisture. The only problem is I haven't worn pantyhose in years, I hate them! It was time to get creative.

While pondering my canteloupes' lack of support, I checked the laundry on the line for dryness and discovered a bra that had clearly seen better days. It met the criteria, it was still sort of stretchy and it dried quickly. A little twine and some creative cutting and the canteloupes are firmly nestled in their new bras. My eldest daughter is still a little concerned about the whole thing. (It was her old bra and she walked out just in time to see me cutting it apart and attaching it to the plant.) Honestly, you can't tell it was once a bra. If the plants had been in the back yard rather than the front, I would have just cut the cups off and used them as is.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Our Frugal Family Day

Just to give you some idea of how to have a fun day without spending any cash, here's how we spent our day. We took a family bike ride around the lake, stopping to skip stones and enjoy the scenery. We stopped at the library on our way home for some movies, books and music. Behind the library is a gorgeous view of the Hudson River, so we hiked down a bit to enjoy a better view. Afterwards, we headed home for some dinner.

After dinner we got in the car, for the first time since last Wednesday, and headed into Lake George. First we hit the local Hannaford for Tofutti Cuties, soymilk and bananas. We ate the Tofutti Cuties as a special treat as we headed to a free fireworks show over Lake George. (It turns out the ice cream parlor we can walk to now serves chocolate soy ice cream, which is great but a cone cost $2.99. For the same price everyone had a cutie and we had two to spare or share. Did you know that they make a mint chip cutie?? It's delicious!) We stowed the soymilk and bananas in a cooler in the car while we headed down to enjoy the fireworks.

The kids had a great time and so did we.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Home Economiser Newsletter

The latest issue of Budget Living Magazine has a really interesting article called, The First Family of Frugality. I've only had a chance to scan the article but I'm definitely intrigued. They have a newsletter that, from what I've read so far, is akin to The Tightwad Gazette. They also have a website that looked interesting as well. It has a sample issue of the newsletter on it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Soymilk Debacle

I'm always in search of ways to whittle down the grocery bill. As it stands right now the two most expensive items in our grocery budget are tofu and soymilk. Tofu we use as a treat, a yummy addition to a meal. If things are tight, we skip it. Soymilk on the other hand is a staple in our house. We use it in cereal, smoothies, pancakes, homemade ice cream, pudding, its just in everything!

Recently, I read somewhere that you could substitute the water from cooking pasta for milk in baking. I was intrigued but we eat a ton of pasta so I gave it a try. Here's the verdict. Pasta water works beautifully in pancakes and other baked goods. It ruins, smoothies, ice cream and pudding by making them grainy and pasty tasting. (In a pinch you can substitute the pasta water for half of the soymilk in smoothies, etc but only in a pinch and definitely not for company!)

By the way, when something does turn out less than delectable I try to find a way to rehabilitate it rather than waste it. Just yesterday I experimented with adding a bit of coconut to our breakfast smoothie. It sounded like an exotic addition but in reality it was awful. That smoothie became the wet ingredient portion of the next morning's pancakes.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Stocking the Freezer One Week at a Time

Each week I try to freeze at least one container of vegetables from our CSA pickup. Some weeks I've put away as many as four big containers. Usually its the strong flavored greens. I find they are more palatable in the stronger flavored chilis and soups of the winter months rather than lighter summer meals. Our freezer has begun to fill up nicely. Its a good feeling. Every meal that I don't have to buy organic veggies for over the winter is money saved.

This morning we finally got around to picking those wild blueberries and raspberries we found on our property. They were delicious! We're keeping an eye out for more. Saturday we'll be checking out the status of the apple tree at my parent's house. They were planning to take it down but I'm hoping I've convinced them to let us harvest apples first! One person's nuisance is another person's applesauce.

Fruit for my Shady Yard

The latest issue of Mother Earth News has a very interesting article on growing currants and gooseberries. Personally, I've never tasted either one but I'm intrigued because both of these berries don't mind shade and cold. My yard has plenty of both of these conditions.

I'm planning to check out a local farmer's market this week to hopefully get a taste of them. I discovered from ads in the paper that both currants and gooseberries are grown locally. If they taste good they may be a better choice than the dwarf fruit trees I've been trying to figure out where to put. I'll let you know what I discover.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Quickie Dessert

Have you ever noticed how much cake can be left behind after the cutting is done? There seems to always be a ton of crumbs. I finally figured out what to do with them.

I saved the crumbs from the Peanut Butter cake and the Chocolate Peanut Butter cake placing them in bottom of dessert cups. I topped the crumbs with a scoop of vanilla soy ice cream and a sprinkle of vegan chocolate chips. The kids, including my neighbor's daughter, were all thrilled with their "fancy" dessert.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Container Garden is Bearing Fruit, Literally!

I was watering my container garden today when I discovered a multitude of teeny canteloupes and strawberries! I can't tell you how excited I am. I am very curious to see how they develop.

My kids were all very excited as well. I don't think any of us really thought this was going to work. I must say, its very motivating when a plan comes together.

While hanging the laundry, I discovered wild raspberries which we'll be picking in the morning. There aren't that many but they will be a lovely addition to our breakfast. I'm planning to read up on raspberries to maximize next year's crop.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Crowd Pleasers

Today Hillary heads back home. Last night we had a get together to wish her well. We feasted on Baked Macaroni and Cheese (using the recipe from Peta’s Veg Starter Kit) with collards and breadsticks. For dessert we had Peanut Butter Cake and Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake from the Simple Treats cookbook. Simple Treats is a must have cookbook for dessert lovers. The recipes look somewhat complicated, but they really aren’t and the results are consistently delicious.

As is often the case in frugal cooking, success in both taste and pocketbook comes down to your ability to recognize what ingredients can be substituted for each other. The Mac and Cheese recipe called for broccoli, which I was out of. I know from past experience that steamed collards work well in place of broccoli, especially in recipes with nutritional yeast based cheese sauce. The breadsticks were just defrosted bread dough shaped into sticks and sprinkled with Italian seasoning.

Substitutions in baked goods can be a tricky business. You always need to have an awareness of what the function of an ingredient is. Last night I ran out of maple syrup so I substituted a mix of sucanat and molasses. This is not my first choice but it works in a pinch. The cakes tasted great. My mother in law even took some home for my father in law. “He loves your cakes,” she said. That may be the highest compliment I’ve ever received from a staunch non-vegan!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Stretching It Until The Reinforcements Arrive

It was a shock to discover last night that we were getting low on food. At home I've got half the closets in the house set up as pantries. Here, what seemed like a ton of food during long weekends isn't really that much after all. A car full of food was to arrive with my hubby this evening. I had to make a decision. Do I give in and shop for today's food or do I get really creative and try to make it through the day? The challenge was too much for me to pass up, I decided to give it a try.

Surveying the cabinets, I came to a few conclusions. First there was plenty of homemade granola, raisins, and scones for breakfast but there was only a limited amount of soymilk to accompany it. To make things even, I did the serving. We had just enough for everyone. Whew!

There were plenty of yellow split peas in the cabinets but who wants soup in July? For lunch I ended up concocting a barbequed split pea over rice dish. It was actually quite tasty. The split pea mixture included an assortment of veggies that effectively cleaned out the vegetable bin in my fridge.

For dinner, I used the leftovers as part of a really creative dinner which I consider a supreme achievement, considering what I had to work with. I used the recipe for tortillas from the Complete Tightwad Gazette and filled it with the lunch leftovers. I topped each with some salsa and a cheese sauce recipe from the Uncheese Cookbook. I threw together a quick cornbread and peanut butter cookies for dessert. It looked quite impressive on the plates and I don't think anyone but I could tell how hard I worked to make almost bare cupboards yield food.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What to Do With a Rainy Day

Today we headed to the library, since a storm was brewing, and took out a whole slew of movies and books. I confess I had a fine on my library card for a late DVD. That's the worst kind of fine, it costs a dollar. I hang my head in frugal shame. (In my defense, that fine was there since last summer.) Still, I don't want to make this a habit so to prevent future occurences, I'm hanging the slip with the due dates in a prominent place.

If you're wondering how I feel about letting my kids veg out in front of the tv on a rainy day, it doesn't bother me at all because it is such a rare occurence. We don't have cable here and the tv antenna is a joke. If its not on tape or DVD, my kids can't view it here. Plus, the tv is never on when the weather is good.

While the kids relaxed with movies, I flipped through my copy of the Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn. This is a book I definitely think is worth owning because each time I flip through it, I learn something new. Its a thrill to see what I've implemented since the last time I peeked at it. The variety of topics covered make it a great jumping off point for further research.

Todays meals started in the solar ovens but ended in the slow cooker once the clouds took over. I'm really enjoying learning to use the solar ovens. There's more rain in tomorrow's forecast so I think I'll give fireless cookery a try for tomorrow's dinner. As for the kids, we will include more games and crafty activities if tomorrow is unsuitable for being outdoors.

We got a break from rain this evening long enough to take a fairly long bike ride. This is the kind of exercise I enjoy most because it masquerades as innocent family fun. The kids all love to bike ride. We also got to enjoy the last two songs of a free outdoor concert. Every Tuesday in the summer there are free concerts at the local park. Maybe next week we'll get there in time to hear more than two songs!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Getting Ready for the Townwide Tag Sale

Saturday is our little towns unofficial townwide tag sale. There is a craft fair and book sale at the local park and many people choose to schedule their own tag sales this same day. It can be a savings bonanza if you handle it correctly.

My older kids, and my Fresh Air guest, are all given a few dollars to use (or not). They all know that it will be the only money they recieve from us and it is contigent on chores being done in the weeks before. This eliminates begging and whining which I really appreciate. It has taught my daughters to be choosy as well as the fine art of haggling, which I personally am not very good at. Last year my kids ended up with two free bikes on top of all their other purchases. I'm so proud!

For me, its an opportunity to fill a few bags at the book sale and peruse the crafts for ideas. Yes, I'm one of those annoying people who look but rarely buy at a craft sale. I usually go home and jot ideas down for the upcoming holidays. The tag sale is also an opportunity for me to get a jump on the holidays and school shopping. Shopping the thrift circuit is not the same as shopping at Walmart. You never know when you may find what you've been looking for. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and other times you can't find anything you need.

We try to go after we've eaten to avoid the temptation to purchase overpriced food while we're out. The fact that there aren't a lot of vegan offerings make it a little easier on us. We always bring water to fend off the thirsty whinies. In the past we've taken our red wagon to tow our tired younger ones in. I'm not sure if they'll still fit but we've discovered a playground nearby. We plan to hit it before heading home. Hopefully that little carrot will help keep the little ones in check.

I almost forgot to mention, my favorite part of this event is that it is all within waking distance of our house! That just satisfies me on so many levels.

I'm also looking forward to taking a walk the morning after the tag sale when everyone puts their stuff out for the garbage man. You'd be amazed how much usuable stuff is tossed after an event like this.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Burger Rolls

Sometimes a frugal veggie mama has to compromise. Such is the case with my weekly purchase of veggie burgers and Silk at the local mom and pop grocery store in our town. Things like veggie burgers and other vegetarian fare don't stay on the shelves without demand, so we decided to purchase them locally this summer despite the slightly higher price.

On the positive side, we can walk to this grocery store and avoid using our car. There is certainly a savings there, both monetarily and environmentally. On the other hand there is no way that I'm going to pay for burger rolls as well. The time has come for me to master burger rolls.

For this evenings dinner I successfully cooked burger rolls in our solar oven using our usual bread recipe. I just defrosted one of the loaves from my batch of frozen bread, shaped the rolls and popped them in the oven, talk about convenient. I need a little work on my shaping but the texture and taste were really good.

Sometimes my best solutions are my simplest ones.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Winner of a Dinner

Tonight's dinner was one of those culinary marvels where everything goes exactly according to plan. The meal featured whole wheat pasta with a chunky sauce (onions, garlic scapes, yellow split peas, the last remnants of a salsa jar, chopped black olives and tomato sauce), focaccio bread with black olives and fresh basil, and steamed kale with fennel/basil vinagrette.

It was just the right mix of colors and flavors. It was also super simple. I started the sauce about an hour and fifteen minutes before the meal by sauteeing the onion and garlic, adding the yellow split peas and water, and simmering for about 45 minutes. When the peas were tender, I added the remaining ingredients and let simmer for another half hour.

The focaccio bread was made from a piece of the pizza dough that I was defrosting for tomorrow. I finely chopped black olives and fresh basil and just kneaded them into the dough. I sprnkled garlic powder on top and let rise for 15 minutes before baking.

The kale was just cut off the stalks into a microwave safe bowl, the vinagrette poured on top and microwaved for about 4 minutes.

This time of year I really try to make my meals revolve around the produce we get from our CSA. It helps me avoid waste. That's why I used garlic scapes rather than regular garlic. It was just what I had on hand. This is also why we used a fennel and basil vinagrette and kale. These were all things we had picked up earlier in the week. Over the years I've gotten much better at learning what can be substituted for what without destroying a recipe. It is one of the most useful frugal culinary skills to have.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Eye Appeal

My brother and his wife ate over last night and inadvertently offered me a peek into the mind of an omnivore. My brother looked into the pot and asked if we were having the same beans and rice we had earlier in the week. While the beans (French Lentils) and the rice (actually barley) was used in a dish I made earlier in the week (it also had sauteed fennel, broccoli and a basil/fennel vinagrette) last night's dinner bore little resemblance to that dish, in terms of taste. Last night I added sauteed onion, garlic scapes, green pepper and fresh cilantro. (I love fresh cilantro!) Dinner was served with tortilla chips and topped with salsa.

However, it did initially look mighty similar. I think, for my brother, it fed into the notion that vegetarians always eat the same thing. I've made a mental note to pay more attention to the eye appeal of my dished when entertaining. A simple garnish would go a long way on this.

I've always worked on the assumption that familar foods would go over better with non-veg people. To that end and because it is very economical, I've often stuck with variations on beans and rice recipes. I'm thinking that since I've been veg so long, and since I generally entertain the same people over and over again, perhaps its time to trot out some of my more adventerous dishes the next time I entertain. Perhaps a gluten "pot roast" or vegan sloppy joes on whole wheat buns will be on future menus. How shocking would it really be? No one blinks when I bring vegan mac and cheese anymore.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Welcoming Hillary

Yesterday was a whirlwind of activity. My oldest daughter's braces came off, my son turned 5 and our Fresh Air Fund visitor, Hillary, arrived. Based on all the happenings of the day, we found ourselves with quite a bit of company at dinnertime. I suppose I could have cooked, but I opted for Chinese instead. It was a nice treat for everyone and considering how many people we fed, it was a pretty decent bargain.

We set everything up buffet style, which gave everyone (veg and non-veg) an opportunity to sample the veg offerings. I love when people are surprised by the variety of veg foods available from "mainstream" sources.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Fourth of July

The company I was supposed to have today will be coming tomorrow instead. We took advantage of this and cleaned the garage. I hate cleaning but it makes it so much easier to be frugal if things are organized. Who hasn't been mid project and bought something only to find they had something that would have worked just as well?

We spent the afternoon on the beach with the kids. They just never get tired of playing in the water and on the sand. Dinner was a delicious, quick macaroni and vegan cheese, with potato salad and homemade veggie burgers. Who says being vegan can't be fun and yummy??

As I write this, there is a fireworks extravaganza going on just down the street. I don't think you can get more frugal than that!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Kids & the Containers

The canteloupe plants have a lot of flowers and the zucchini plants are not far behind. The worms are actually making compost. I harvested some of the compost and added it to all the containers. I swear the plants look perkier already but it may just be wishful thinking.

My sons are really impressed with all of this. They keep checking to see if anything is ready to eat. I let them pick some of the basil I have growing in one of the containers for tonight's dinner. They thought that was really neat.

People are amazed at how willing my kids all are to try new foods. I think part of that willingness stems from the hands on experiences they have with food whether at our CSA or in our home gardens. Its not magic, its just exposure and involvement. It's the magic of planting a seed and following it until it bears fruit (or vegetable.)

It sounds like we'll be having a whole bunch of company tomorrow. I'll share my frugal successes and failures tomorrow evening.