Monthly Archives: February 2009

Homemade fast food

When we got home from today’s shopping trip, it was already almost time for dinner. So while I directed everyone else in unpacking groceries, I asked my dd14 to whip up a quickie dinner, our version of fast food. At my suggestion, she took out a couple of jars of canned ground chicken (2 lb, 1.29 each), put it in the pot with a #10 can of seasoned tomato sauce (1.99), and added a handful of carrots and onions that we dehydrated this past month – it needed just a short time to heat up before it was ready.  It was so nice to take advantage of the work we did then, and not have to saute, chop, or peel anything when time was short and everyone was hungry (it’s the same concept I’ve touched on before, of doing the work ahead of time and being more relaxed later on). Ds15 simultaneously made a pot of pasta (3 lb – 1.49) and heated up a couple of pounds of frozen peas (1.99) in another pot. 

By the time everything was put away, the table was set and dinner was ready.  What a pleasure, to sit down to a warm and filling meal after hours of driving and going from store to store!   As we were all sitting and enjoying it, dd14 asked me if that really would be called cooking from scratch – to her it seemed almost too fast and easy.   But it definitely was a made from scratch meal, even though it was so quickly put together. 

Lots of people would think it faster and easier to go out for dinner after a day like today, but we were able to have our dinner on the table in less time than it would have taken us to get in the car and drive to the closest pizza store, at a total cost of under $7 for our family of ten (with some leftovers for tomorrow lunch!).  So you see, affordable doesn’t have to mean hours in the kitchen!


A stitch in time saves nine!

All clothing needs repair from time to time, regardless of your age and how careful you are.  But I have one child in particular who is very hard on his clothes – very.  I don’t know how it’s possible to rip every single pair of pants through the knees within such a short time, or to have brand new socks with holes after a couple of wearings,  but it’s a gift he has.  :)  A few weeks ago he brought me a pair of pants that had a 6 or 7 inch gap at the knee, and asked me if I could fix them.  It seems that he had run out of pants that didn’t have holes (and you wouldn’t believe how many pairs I’ve bought for him!), and he needed something to wear. 

I told him I’d try my best, though usually I scrap his pants totally after he finishes them – it’s never felt worthwhile to try to repair such big rips.  So I pulled out another old pair of his pants, created a huge patch for this pair, and after sewing it neatly shut, added the patch behind it so it was double strength.  He happily accepted them back, not perfect but still looking good enough for every day wear.  And by lunch the next day, they were totally ripped through again.  Sigh.

I then suggested to him that he bring me something as soon as he sees it beginning to need a repair, instead of waiting until the garment is basically devastated.  I’ve told all of my kids this, but this time, he listened!  I gave him a new pair of pants a couple of weeks ago that were extra sturdy, and it took a full week and a half before he started to inflict damage on them (no, that’s not wearing the same pants every day).  But this time, he brought them to me as soon as he heard some stitches start to go. 

This makes a huge difference in being able to repair something and keep it looking new, instead having things worn down fast.  A small repair can quickly be taken care of, and no one is any the wiser to it having been fixed.  A large repair ends up taking significantly more time and energy, and after all of that work, often isn’t as nice to look at in the end.

Likewise, sometimes preventative efforts can extend the life of a garment – an example in this case would be strengthening the pants with a patch inside the knee before giving them to him to wear (old ripped pants are a good source of patches).  Many of the pants I buy him already come with this feature, and it adds a lot of durability to his clothing.

As the old saying goes, “A stitch in time saves nine.”  So true!


Making mustard

Until last night, it never occurred to me that a person could make mustard.  It just seemed like one of those industrial kind of products that probably required special ingredients.  But last night, I suddenly thought that maybe the container of mustard seeds that have been sitting in the back of my spice cabinet for who knows how long, might have some connection with making mustard.  (I know, some of you are probably saying ‘duh’ right now.)  I like having a variety of spices, but sometimes my willingness to buy spices I don’t yet know how to use means that they sit around for a while, especially something like mustard seeds, which I’ve never seen called for in a recipe.

So off I went to research online, and I found a recipe that called for basically the ingredients I had.  We ran out of mustard last week (we don’t use it very often), and today seemed like as good a day as any for an experiment.  My ds6 and I made a batch this morning.  It took just only about five minutes and was very easy – the most time consuming part was putting the finished mustard into a jar and washing the blender.  :)

I’ll share basically what I did here (I added some mustard powder that has also been sitting around, so estimated how much it weighed and put it in the ingredients as seeds) – but I’ll probably experiment a little more next time to see how different amounts of mustard seed and powder affect the end result.  It looks like real mustard and is tasty, though it’s a little spicy – my husband likes spicy mustard, but I prefer something more mild, so if this is a plus or not depends on who is tasting it. :)  

Avivah’s Mustard

  • 4 oz mustard seeds 
  • 1/2 c. vinegar (I used plain white)
  • 1/2 c. oil
  • 1/2 c. water (you could use broth or wine)
  • 1 T. tumeric
  • 3 t. lemon juice
  • salt to taste

Grind the mustard seeds until they are powdered – a blender works well for this.  Add the remaining ingredients, and blend all together until thoroughly mixed.  Yields two cups of mustard.

I can’t say how economical this will be for you, since it depends very much on the price you usually pay for mustard, and the price you’ll pay for mustard seeds (I buy most spices for under $1 in the typical little containers, less when I buy larger containers).  But for us, having all of the ingredients on hand that weren’t being used anyway, it was a great way to use something up and turn it into something useful! 


Integrating leftovers into meal planning

Part of maximizing our food budget means using all of the food that we buy, and that includes using up leftovers before they need to be disposed of.  I’ve too often in the past not been conscious enough of the leftovers in the fridge (particularly when someone else put them away and I didn’t know it was there) and it was a shame to throw out food that would have been perfectly good if I had discovered it in time.   Leftovers started off as food that I paid for, and so throwing away the food is really like throwing away money!

What I do now has a couple of parts.  Firstly, before I write anything down on my menu plan for the week, I look in the fridge and see what I have.  This includes any perishables, and also includes whatever dribs or drabs are left from Shabbos or even before.  These are the first things that are integrated into my plan.  This week I had leftover chicken, cholent, and a couple of cooked potatoes, and those will be combined to make a tasty chicken stew for Sunday night dinner.  Sometimes there’s a lot more to use, sometimes a lot less.  But however much there is, I’m starting the week knowing that all the leftovers I have are being used up first thing while they are fresh.  

I don’t mind serving the same food in the same form twice, but it’s nice when it can be ‘repurposed’ into something different.  My kids aren’t picky eaters at all, but they still appreciate the variety that comes to the table.  It’s a different feeling to see the food when it’s changed to be something new.  I think it’s a shame that many people throw leftovers away without even considering serving them again, and are disgusted or horrified by the suggestion to re-serve them.  Is it having served it once that changes it’s status from appealing food into something unappetizing?  Or maybe it’s too much of a bother to think about what to do with them?

Anyway, during the week, I stay aware of what is left over, and if there’s anything, try to incorporate it during the week.  Sometimes when I have a lot of something left over that is enough for a meal on it’s own this means changing my plan by not making something on the schedule.  Sometimes I have something very simple written down for a meal (like baked yams), knowing that there will probably be ample amounts of something from the day before (creamy cauliflower soup) left over to flush out that meal.  (And if I had any of that soup left, I’d mix it into the cauliflower mixture for calzones, since the ingredients are so similar.)  My menu plan is a guide to be helpful to me, not something that is written in stone and unchangeable once planned. 

Lastly, I often have CORN night on Thursday – that stands for Clean Out Refrigerator Night.  As unappetizing as that may sound, this usually ends up being a meal that everyone enjoys.  It’s the perfect way to use up all the little bits of side dishes, by putting out more dishes in smaller amounts.  The last couple of CORN stews have gotten enthusiastic reviews – if they didn’t know it was CORN night, the kids would never guess that I’m using all the little bits of this and that to create it.  The main problem with these successful stews is that I can’t exactly replicate them for another time!  When there’s not enough of leftovers, I make something else to add to the meal. 

I enjoy finding ways to use up all of our leftovers – it takes a little bit of thought and planning, but not very much, and it helps me feel like I’m being a responsible steward of all the abundance that G-d has sent us, not taking what I’ve gotten for granted and discarding it without thought.


Weekly menu plan

It’s already another new week!  Doesn’t time just fly by?  Here’s this week’s menu plan:

Sunday – breakfast – oats and milk; lunch – sandwiches; dinner – chicken stew

Monday – b- apple cinnamon oatmeal; l – creamy cauliflower soup; d – fish cakes, corn dodgers

Tuesday – b – french toast, homemade banana jam; l – baked yams; d – split pea soup, Cuban bread

Wednesday – b – pumpkin streusel muffins; l – out shopping and will buy the kids something; d – whole wheat pasta with bolognese sauce

Thursday – b – eggs, hash browns; l – cauliflower calzones; d – CORN (clean out refrigerator night)


Ingenius envelope solution!

Today I was paying bills, and to my dismay, found that the last of our envelopes had glued themselves together to the point of being unusable.  Since I like to get things out in a timely way, the only solution seemed to be to go out to the store and buy some more, but that seemed like a lot of time and energy for just three envelopes. 

Suddenly, I remembered something I read about years ago, that I just yesterday demonstrated the concept of to my kids, how to recycle an envelope (not a used one, but the kind enclosed for bills, donations, etc.).   I checked my recycling pile from yesterday, and it had exactly three evelopes there, and this is what I did.  Firstly, you separate the flaps of the envelope, and turn the entire thing inside out.  Then you use a glue stick to restick the flaps back down (I bought packs of glue sticks at the beginning of the school year when they were 5 cents for a package of five), so this is a very nominal cost for me), and when you’re ready to seal it all up, just moisten the flap, and stick it to the inside of the envelope, instead of the outside. 

It probably sounds much more complicated than it is!  I was delighted to save myself a thirty minute outing to the store, and my husband also loved the ingenuity of it when I showed him.  I also liked finding a way to resuse something instead of tossing it into the recycling pile (which is better than throwing it away, but still uses additional resources).  I wouldn’t use this for my business mail, but for the type of things I needed envelopes for today, it was perfect.  It saved me time, gas, money, and energy. 

You just never know when a frugal tip will come in handy!


Multi level marketing and me

Today I had a thirty minute conversation with someone I became friendly with several years ago through a public speaking group.  He called to interest me in a multi-level marketing product he has recently gotten involved in, which sells a bundled package of services ‘to save you money’ for a monthly fee. 

Now, I’ll be upfront and say I don’t generally like MLM.  I don’t like when every friend and aquaintance becomes targeted as a possible income stream.  But because I wanted to be fair, I listened to all he had to say.  I looked at the website he recommended.  And finally he wanted to know what I thought.  So I told him. 

I told him that it seemed to me that it was all based on convincing people they would save money by spending money on services they would probably never need.  I pointed out that most of the services that were being bundled couldn’t save people money unless they increased their spending.  I said that I felt it wouldn’t be fair to give people the message that they need to look to the experts (ie, the companies offering these services) to take care of them when what they needed was to take responsibility for themselves as much as they could. 

He insisted that people would save money.  So I went through several of the services that he specifically mentioned and said how I thought they could be better dealt with for much less money.  Insurance for identity theft – eliminate or reduce credit card usage, monitor your bank and credit card statement regularly, learn about strategies to protect your identity.  Discounts for dental services – focus on preventative dental care to minimize need for expensive dental work, go to a dental college when services are needed.  Discounts for eye exams and glasses – go to an online website like zennioptical for inexpensive glasses.  Debt consolidation – go to the library, get a book on getting out of debt, and make a plan.   

He said very few people are going to do that, that people’s time is worth more money than what they’d be spending (I actually have a post that is half written on exactly that argument, waiting for me to find time to finish it).  Well, he may be right that people aren’t going to rush out and start reading books and educating themselves, though I think that’s a skeptical and limited view of human nature.  But I told him that it’s learning to do exactly that which would help people improve their lives financially, and I’d rather spend my time empowering people and dealing with the root of the issue than tell them that spending on something is the answer. 

Then he told me I’d be helping people to have a better life, since they would make money on every referral they signed up, and asked why I think making money is bad (which I never said but think must be one of the lines they teach you to use on people when the conversation isn’t going well for you).  I responded that I don’t have a problem with making money, if it’s something you believe in and you’re offering a legitimate service, but that I don’t believe in turning every single activity into an income stream (which is why my blog doesn’t have any ads or monetizing elements built into it, despite repeated suggestions by others to add them).  He said if I could make money on it, what’s wrong with that?  I said that we all do things for money, and there are things we do for pleasure, and for me, helping people save money is something I do for pleasure.  And I pointed out that he himself has this experience of not charging for every valuable service he offered, as he didn’t charge his daughter every time he watched his granddaughter!

I didn’t mean to be a tough customer, but participating in something like this doesn’t align with my values.  He didn’t really agree with me, which is okay, so we agreed to disagree, and left it at that!


Winter vacation ideas

It seems to have become expected for many families to take a vacation during winter break, and that vacation increasingly has come to mean going away.  I don’t begrudge any hardworking parents or kids for wanting to relax when they finally have some time off as a family, but I have to wonder about the focus placed on getting away.   After all, how much time do most families get to spend at home during the course of the year?  And by that I don’t mean seeing each other in transit, grabbing quick meals and in between rushing from one activity to another.  I mean, how much time do they actually get to spend relaxing together and sharing good times at home?

When we bought our house, I joked with my family that if the actual hours our house was use was figured in, and tallied with how many people it was used by, it would be hard to find a cheaper house than ours!  We’re very blessed to be able to spend many hours a day together, and I know that we’re unusually lucky in that and don’t take it for granted.  I realize that most people don’t have a schedule like ours.  Which is what makes me think, isn’t winter vacation a good opportunity to spend some time at home together?  It would reduce money stress (too many people are spending money they don’t have for vacations) while giving families a time to reconnect, and isn’t vacation supposed to be about relaxing and connecting with those you love? 

Maybe staying home – having a ‘staycation’ – isn’t viewed as much of an option because it seems so humdrum.  But being home doesn’t mean doing nothing!  There are so many places to explore in every city, most of which you’ve probably never been to.  When I lived in Seattle, I never visited the Space Needle, even though I lived only a few minutes drive away (and it was right next door to the science center that I regularly took the kids to!).  But every tourist who came to the city headed there right away! 

To find out about some of your local possibilities, you can contact your chamber of commerce, or start asking friends and neighbors for ideas.  They should be able to give you a long list of options, many of which are low cost.  I’ve lived here for six years, taken the kids on a good number of trips, and still have many, many places that I’ve never gone to that are within a thirty minute drive.  Your attitude also makes a big difference – you shouldn’t oversell something because your kids will get suspicious, but be cheerful and have an attitude that you’re going to have a great time – my husband once commented that I’m good at selling my kids on my ideas.  I never thought of it as selling;  I just figured, if I’m positive about something and share with my kids why I think it will be fun, why shouldn’t they want to participate?  And they do.

Remember, the outings don’t have to be mind-blowingly exciting.  I think that trips that are too impressive actually set our kids us to have unrealisticly high expectations for the future, and diminish their ability to enjoy simple outings.  (That’s one problem I have with Disneyland.)  And places you’ve been to before, like the zoo, aquarium, science center, etc, are fun to go to again – having been there before doesn’t preclude them from being good options.  You don’t need to schedule a day full of activities – even one outing a day is plenty, and will leave you with ample time to wake up late, move a little slower than usual, and make everyone feel there’s something fun to look forward to (this is the approach I take to planning summer days at home with everyone).  And if you choose a novel way to get there, even going somewhere old is a new experience – my husband wants to get day passes for the train and take the kids from place to place downtown one day, which would be fun (but when he broached the idea to me this summer, the reality of taking an infant and toddler along with their stroller and carrying the food and water we would all need for the day made me suggest we put it off for another point).

Meals – make mealtimes special.  Make something different that you know your kids will love.  For lots of moms, there’s no time for anything more elaborate than a bowl of cold cereal and milk in the morning before school and work, which is fine – now’s your chance to shake things up a little with a bigger and nicer breakfast.  That might be pancakes and french toast, shakes, omelettes, muffins – there are loads of possibilities (some of the recipes here on my blog might be helpful).  Don’t think this means you need to spend your days in the kitchen during vacation – get your kids involved side by side with you.  Cooking and baking, especially treats, can be so much fun for kids! 

Then there are the entertainment possibilities that you can do at home.  Maybe you can buy a new game (or pull out one that you’ve bought and never used), do some crafts, or plan a large scale family activity.  Would it be fun to make baskets?  But some kits.  Painting, clay modelling, sewing, quilting?  Start thinking and get your juices going.  Visit a local craft store for ideas.  Activities can be as simple as a big family jigsaw puzzle, or bigger, like painting a room or doing some home renovations.  Don’t say, ‘Well, that’s not fun.”  Remember what I said about attitude?  It’s the attitude combined with doing something with your child/ren that makes it fun.  We did a huge amount of work in our house with our kids (knocking down walls, putting up walls, adding a bathroom, replacing the kitchen, painting, etc), and it was a positive experience for everyone.  They learned so much and felt great about being able to do something meaningful and real.  Kids don’t expect to be entertained (unless you’ve gotten them used to expecting that, and you can get them unused to that, too!), but they do want to have something to do.  If you assume it’s drudgery, it’s virtually certain they’ll see it like that, too.  If you think it’s a great family activity, your enthusiasm can pull them in. 

Think about what’s fun about going away.  Is it the hotel experience?  Maybe you can replicate that in your own house.  Room service, a printed schedule of events for the day, even putting some special mini soaps and lotions in the bathroom can add to the ambience.  Maybe you can plan a theme for your vacation at home.  I’ve shared here about our indoor campout – this meant we did some of the things inside that we would have done outside if we were camping – setting up a tent in the living room and all sleeping there for the night together, eating dinner by candle light (since our most recent Daddy Fun Day, my 2.5 year old asks every night if we can use the oil lamp at dinner – and probably 50% of the time now, we agree!), having foods that are typical camping foods for us (hot dogs, hamburgers, roasted marshmallows).  That’s an example of a theme.  You can get your kids involved in brainstorming if this is something that interests you – getting them involved also means they’ll be a lot more positive about whatever you do, since they’ve had a say in planning it.  Get a good book for an evening or afternoon read aloud, or check your library for a nice family video that you can enjoy together.  If it ties into your theme, all the better.

It’s great for everyone to have time to sleep in, hang out, and relax.  But don’t rely on that alone to create a nice atmosphere.  Most kids who have been used to rigid school scheduling start getting antsy without knowing what’s coming in the day.  So making a plan and letting them know what the basic plan is, in my opinion, is very helpful in keeping everyone relaxed.  

If you have ideas of things that have worked well for you, please share here for others so others can benefit!


Strawberry Bread

Here’s another breakfast loaf that our family enjoyed last week.

Strawberry Bread

  • 3 c. flour (we used freshly ground spelt)
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 T. cinnamon
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c. sucanat (originally this recipe called for 2 c. of sugar, but this was waaaay too sweet, so we adapted it – we prefer to use the lower measurement)
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 c. oil
  • 2 – 10 oz package frozen strawberries, slightly thawed

Combine dry ingredients, separately mix wet ingredients, and then combine the wet and dry.  Bake in two greased loaf pans at 350 degrees for 60 minutes.


Time to start budgeting for Purim and Pesach

Many of you have been surprised that my monthly food budget stays the same, regardless of holiday food expenses, particularly at times like Purim and Pesach.  I do this by thinking ahead.  The reality is that a month which has a holiday in it is going to be more expensive than months that don’t have holidays.  That’s the reality, but it’s a predictable reality that you can plan for.  Too many people are for some reason surprised two weeks before a holiday at the necessary expenditures.  If it’s the first time they’re dealing with it, that’s one thing, but I hear the same shocked comments every single year, and most of them come from people who have been preparing for __________ (fill it in with the name of the holiday) for years.  What a shame to go into any holiday with a sense of financial doom, especially since it’s just not necessary. 

Right now is the time that I consciously plan for Purim expenses like mishloach manos and matanos l’evyonim.  They don’t go on a credit card – they’re budgeted for in cash in advance.  However much I might want to do, I have the natural constraint of keeping my costs within the money available, which is very different from being able to put a little more on the credit card if I feel it’s necessary.  Also, I try not to be elaborate in what I send to others – I’ve never believed it a service to the community to participate in overly high standards that leave everyone feeling pressured to keep up.  We have way too much of that pressure in our communities and I don’t want to contribute to it. 

As far as food, it’s not too soon to start keeping your eyes open to suitable possibilities for Pesach food.  Many foods that we use on Pesach are suitable for Pesach all year long and don’t require special supervision, or have Pesach supervision all year long (grape juice comes to mind).  Ground beef on sale?  Chicken, turkey, lamb, roast?  Now’s the time to buy it (obviously assuming it’s kosher l’Pesach) and can be used and put it in the freezer.  You know that it’s not going to be less expensive the longer you wait, right?  (Does the term price gouging mean anything to you? :)).  I put the meats (which are already wrapped) into the freezer inside a clean bag on a separate shelf from everything else so that no chometz gets on it; the non perishables are likewise stored away from other things. 

What about clothes?  Shoes?  If these are things you want to buy for yourself or children for the holiday, get them now.  Spring clothing is already in the stores. Don’t wait to do this when you’re trying to buy everything else.   In addition to the huge financial wallop all of this packs when done within a very short time, there’s also the time pressure of too much to do, too little time. 

Take a little time now to make a list of what you expect to need for both Purim and Pesach.  Look at what can be done in advance, and spread that shopping out over a period of a few weeks so that it’s only a little bit more to do each week.  You will feel so much more relaxed when yom tov comes around.  Simchas hachag should be a term that means something, not something about which we roll our eyes in disbelief that it’s expected of us!