Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Doughnuts (vegan and gluten free)

We often do two versions of the same recipe when we make gluten free, because non-gluten free people don't always enjoy gluten-free foods. But these are so good that everyone likes them. LOVES them, actually! Even with the slightly more expensive gluten free flours, they're cheaper than buying them at a doughnut store.

Here's the recipe:

Baked chocolate doughnuts

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup oil

1 flax egg (1 tbsp ground flax seed + 3 tbsp water = 1 egg)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup rice flour

3 tablespoons potato starch

1 tablespoon tapioca starch

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Bake at 325 for 13 minutes in a doughnut pan like this one:

Sprinkle with powered sugar when cool.

Makes six doughnuts

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dog Biscuits

Store-bought dog biscuits are often filled with a lot of preservatives that aren't good for dogs. And they're expensive.

I had a jar of all-natural peanut butter that I had bought at a surplus grocery outlet for $1. We had gotten some really awesome natural peanut butters there, but no one liked this particular brand very much and it was just sitting in the cupboard uneaten. So my son and I made dog treats with it. We doubled this recipe so we had plenty for our two dogs and some to give my parents' dog as a gift.

8 oz peanut butter

2 cups flour

1 T baking powder

1 C milk

Roll and cut out into shapes like you would with sugar cookie cutouts. Some people use Dog bone shaped cookie cuttersbut we just used some Christmas shaped ones that we had.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes on a greased cookie sheet.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Wax Paper

It's been years since I've bought wax paper. When we empty a box of cereal, I open up the cereal liner, rinse it off, hang it over a chair to dry, and save it for the next time I might need wax paper.

Here are no-bake cookies sitting on cereal box wax paper (and evidence that a chubby toddler hand swiped some cookies)

And layers of chocolate chip cookies separated by cereal box wax paper:

Cereal box wax paper is what I usually use first, because I don't have to wash it once it's used. But we don't buy that much store bought cereal, so when we run out of cereal box wax paper, I get out the sheets that I bought for my dehydrator, which double nicely as re-usable wax paper. They clean off nicely and can be used over and over again.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vegan Egg Nog

My family enjoys homemade egg nog during the Christmas season, which I often make when there's extra milk to use up. But the vegans in the family feel a bit left out, so I like to make a vegan version to go along with our regular egg nog. Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 cups vanilla-flavored soymilk

1 1/2 tablespoons vegan vanilla instant pudding mix

1/2 banana, sliced and frozen

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Blend 1/4 C soy milk and pudding mix and let stand 3 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and blend well.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Photos

When my kids were little, we dragged them to a portrait studio, spent hours trying to get them all smiling and cooperating at the same time for a picture, and paid an arm and a leg.

With my grandchildren, I used my iphone to take the pictures, and we didn't leave the house. We still had a hard time getting them to pose. We didn't end up getting a picture with both boys at the same time, but we got some really sweet ones.

Here are our attempts to get them all in the same picture:

Here are my favorite three. I love them as much as any we've ever had done in a portrait studio or by a professional photographer.

Toddlers are really rough to photograph, especially the super-busy, wild and crazy types. I'm aware that there are toddlers out there who you can sit down and tell them to look at the camera and they do. Not this guy! That's why we found interesting things to show him on the tree and on the fireplace in order to capture his interest. I think what makes these so cute is that he wasn't posing. He really was interested in the ornament he was looking at on the tree.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Taco seasoning

Not only are store-bought taco seasonings filled with all kinds of ingredients you probably don't want to put in your body, they are more expensive than making your own. You probably have most of the ingredients in your spice cupboard. If you don't use some of these spices very often, they can sit on a shelf getting stale until they expire. Better to use them up!

Here's the recipe:

(Makes about 3 Tablespoons)

4 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

That's all there is to it!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Egg Nog (non-alcoholic)

Today was one of those days when my teenagers told me that what we had for supper was not going to keep them full for long and they didn't know what else to eat. Usually, I at least quadruple recipes so those growing boys can eat leftovers for many snacks and meals, and we usually have plenty of snacks on hand. But today I realized we needed something more, so I looked in the fridge and found I had plenty of milk close to its expiration date and a few cartons of eggs. I also had some whipping cream I had bought for homemade ice cream that I haven't had a chance to make yet. Perfect ingredients for making egg nog!

Here's my recipe:

12 eggs, separated

6 cups milk

2 cups whipping cream

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Cinnamon and sugar

Separate eggs. Mix yolks and sugar with an electric mixer for 10 minutes. Refrigerate while you're completing the next two steps.

Clean off your beaters and beat egg whites with the electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

Clean off your beaters and beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form.

Mix milk and nutmeg into the egg yolk mixture. Fold in egg whites and cream.

Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top. Or, if your family is like mine, spoon it generously on top.

I doubled this for my family, but I don't think I would have had to. It's very rich and really does make quite a bit, so I think one recipe would have been sufficient.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


If you've got fruit, pectin, sugar, and a stovetop, you can make jelly very easily.

This is a great thing to make with extra fruit in the summer, but also a great treat with frozen fruit in the winter. Simply defrost and follow the directions on the pectin container.

I bought this pectin, which allows you to make 22 half-pint jars total. You can make up to 10 jars per batch:

You can double or triple the recipe, which is nice if you have a lot of fruit. There is also a low-sugar recipe on the pectin. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks interesting.

You can can or freeze the jelly too, but unless I have a bunch of fresh fruit to use up in the summer, I like to just make enough for us to eat right away. I just put the jelly in glass jars.

Here's a batch of blackberry jelly:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Chicken Stock

Winter time is perfect for soup. You don't have to buy canned broth in the store, or those packets of chicken bouillon. It's easy and cheaper to make it yourself! If you've recently had a meal with roast chicken (or turkey!), you can use the bones to make chicken stock. Just put water in a pot, plop in your chicken bones, some onions, carrots, or garlic if you have them on hand, bring to a boil then simmer. I only did mine about 2 hours, but I've read that some people do it as long as 24 hours to really bring out the nutrition and flavor.

I made enough for 2 big pots of homemade soups this week.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Butternut Squash

My dad visited a farmer to buy apple cider and the farmer asked if he wanted some squash that hadn't sold. He said that if it wasn't used soon, it would go bad, and he wasn't going to use it. My dad knows his daughter, and got them for me.

This starts to happen when people find out you cook from scratch a lot. They say, "Can you use this up? I have more than I could possibly use." And they give it to you instead of throwing it out.

That's one of the keys to keeping your grocery bills low: Using what you already have in creative ways instead of buying more. And sometimes, using what other people already have!

Butternut Squash is prepared just like pumpkin.

You cut it in half.

Then scoop out the seeds and the worst of the gunk and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Then you puree it just like you would pumpkin, just tossing it in the blender or vitamix.

I got some and mixed it with brown sugar and butter, then warmed it on a pot on the stove. It made an excellent side dish.

I put the rest of the butternut squash puree in Ziploc bags and plopped in the freezer to be used at a later time. You can use pretty much anyway you'd use pumpkin. In pie, muffins, cookies, soups, whatever you'd normally make with pumpkin. Most of our Thanksgiving leftovers are finished already (teenage boys live here--enough said!) except for the sweet potatoes. I plan on making a squash/sweet potato casserole. You know the kind people make with marshmallows on top? Mmmmm.... I'll let you know how it goes in another blog post!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pumpkin Puree

Pumpkin pie, pumpkin rolls, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin soup...all yummy things that require the same ingredient...pumpkin puree.

What they don't require is a trip to the grocery store to buy pumpkin puree. All you need is a pumpkin, an oven, and a blender. I rescued this pumpkin that never got carved into a Jack O Lantern.

I cut it in half. And for extra flavor, let a baby gnaw on it.

I scooped out the seeds and the gunk (and saved the seeds to make roasted pumpkin seeds with later!) Then cut it into pieces like this and put it on cookie sheets and baked it at 350 for 45 minutes. I filled these 2 cookie sheets twice with this sized pumpkin. Some people line their cookie sheets with foil, but this really doesn't make that much mess, and I'd rather scrub off the cookie sheets than have to buy more aluminum foil.

When it cooled, the skin easily peeled off. Then I put it through a blender. You need to add a little water to get it to blend well. There isn't a specific measurement--just as little as you need to use in order to get it to blend. You don't want to overdo it or your puree will be watery. Big pumpkins tend to be more stringy. I had to run this puree through the blender twice, even though I used the Vitamix, which I've never had to do before. I filled Ziploc bags, which I labeled with how many cups I filled it with, and put in the freezer. I used 2 cups right away for a recipe that I didn't take a picture of here. So pictured here is 16 cups, plus I had an extra 2 cups for a grand total of 18 cups of puree from one jack-o-lantern sized pumpkin.

Not only do you save quite a bit doing it this way (especially if you grew your own pumpkins, which are very low maintenance and easy to grow), but the taste is 100 times better than canned.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holiday outfits and winter boots and coats

'Tis the season when people spend TONS of money on Christmas outfits, along with winter boots and coats.

Sure, little girls look adorable in their Christmas dresses. They make sweet pictures. Maybe you wear the dress to church on Sunday. Maybe to Grandma's house. After it's worn 2 or 3 times, you're done with it. It's an expensive investment if you pay full price.

Yard sales are a great way to stock up on things like that, but if you don't get an opportunity to yard sale often, or you didn't find an adorable Christmas dress in your little girl's size, thrift stores can give you good deals. It's cheaper, it's better for the environment, and it supports local rather than big box businesses. Win all around!

My daughter owns an online thrift store that is perfect for helping you find great deals on clothing--both children's and adults.

As of this writing, there are some super-cute Christmas things available. (Of course as things are bought and new things are added, things may be different, depending on when you're reading this.

Like an adorable Christmas dress in an 18 month

And a gorgeous Christmas dress in a 3T

Or a very elegant black and white dress with ruffles and roses in a 6X

Fancy dress in a Girls 10

Infant boys Christmas sleepers and onesies

An adorable Santa outfit in a 3 month

An adorable Christmas outfit with a hat in a 12 month

Michkey Mouse Christmas pj's in a 24 month

There are even some snow boots left!

Cars pajamas in a size 6

And even some pj's for Mom

Friday, November 22, 2013

Herbal Iced Tea

When you're trying to reduce your food bill, the last thing you need to do is spend money on store bought iced tea. What are they, like $2 or $3 per gallon? It adds up quickly.

Not only is it cheaper to make your own, it's healthier. And it's super easy.

You can buy herbs in bulk or grow them yourself or forage them yourself. You can buy them in tea bags, too, and that's ok, but if your goal is spending as little as possible, that might not be the most economical.

This time, I used the teaberry leaves I picked when my family and I went teaberry picking. We picked some leaves as well as the berries on these beautiful little plants:

I threw some teaberry leaves as well as last of the fresh mint in a pot (I took this picture a few weeks ago--where I live, there is no fresh mint to be found outside anymore!) Years ago, someone gave me a snip of mint from their yard, and it's grown like crazy in my yard ever since. It takes over everything if you let it!

Let it simmer awhile.

Add ice and sugar.

Sometimes we add raw honey instead of sugar, which is definitely healthier. If you do that, add the honey while it's still hot, before you add the ice.

Teaberry leaves contain salicylates, just like aspirin, so you have to limit how much you drink (just like you have to limit how much aspirin you take). The tea will help ease headaches, aches, and pains. It's what Native Americans used for aspirin. I also read that colonial Americans drank teaberry leaf tea when they stopped drinking English tea during the Revolutionary War.

If you want a tea that you can drink cup after cup after cup, try chamomile or mint.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Playdough

You don't need expensive toys to entertain a toddler!

We used pumpkin pie spice to make homemade playdough that smells awesome!

We used this recipe:

5 3/4 Cups flour

2 cups salt

8 teaspoons Cream of Tartar (found in the spice aisle)

3/4 Cup oil

1 container Pumpkin Pie spice (1.12 oz.)

4 Cups water

Mix it all together in a big pot, put on medium-low heat, and stir. I had a hard time getting it to mix together well, so I used my electric mixer for awhile.

Pretty soon it looked like this:

I stirred until I had a hard time stirring it, then spread some flour on the table and dumped the playdough on. As soon as it cooled down a bit, I used my hands to form it into a few balls then let the toddler go to town!

Playdough can be very intense play

                   There can be train tracks
                   And roads with tunnels
And snakes!

When we were finished playing, I put it in a Ziploc bag and refrigerated it. It should last several weeks, so we'll get it out to play with over and over again!

Frugal living is an art, and recipes like this can be much cheaper if you buy cheaply.  I got my flour on sale, and got my pumpkin pie spice at a surplus store for 50 cents.  That makes a big difference in cost for these type of things.  Always watch for deals, and when you get a deal, stock up as much as you can! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Apple Sauce

Applesauce can be bought in jars in the grocery store, but really...if you've had both store bought applesauce and homemade applesauce, who wants the store bought stuff? Homemade is tastier and healthier and really easy to make.

You start with apples. If you are lucky enough to have an apple tree, or a neighbor with an apple tree, or are lucky enough to find one growing in the wild, all the better because then your apples are FREE. This time, I bought my apples at a farmers' market for 6.50 a half bushel. Always check farmers' markets for deals on produce. You often get a much better deal than you get in the grocery store. Plus, you get to meet the people who grew your food.

It doesn't matter what variety of apples you use. I like to mix a few different varieties together if I can. I honestly don't even remember what the two varieties I got were called.

Your recipe depends on your method. One way you can do it is peel and core your apples, put them in a pot with a little water or apple juice, add sugar and cinnamon to taste, cook about half an hour until soft (stirring often), and run through a food processer until smooth.

It's really that easy!

I rave often about my Vitamix, another tool I have that makes my DIY life so much easier. It's another one of those tools you can pay for in advance and in the long run, it more than pays for itself. Same concept as buying cloth diapers instead of disposables.

To do Vitamix applesauce, all I do is peel the apples (Although you can leave the peels on, too, if you want, and the Vitamix is strong enough to puree them too. My family doesn't like the taste as much if they're unpeeled, though.)

Then I put the raw apples into the Vitamix, use the tamper a bit to push the apples down into the blades, turn it up to speed 10 and high until it's done. That's it. Applesauce complete.

And I haven't had to stand over the hot stove stirring or worrying that when I walked away and forgot to keep stirring, if the burned stuff on the bottom will make it taste bad. (Am I the only one who does that?)

Friday, November 8, 2013


There are two kids in diapers in my house, and we don't buy disposable diapers. Diapers are one of those areas where a bigger initial investment in a quality product that will last a long time is cheaper in the long run than buying something disposable over and over.

We invested in cloth and use them exclusively. We've tried a few different brands and styles, but by far my favorite are Charlie Banana. They're easy to wash, especially when a baby is still exclusively breastfed and their poop isn't smelly yet (One of the fun practical perks to breastfeeding)!

The initial investment seems costly, but it doesn't take long for them to pay for themselves (and then save you BIG TIME) because you keep re-using them.

One neat thing about Charlie Bananas is that they have the option to buy one-size diapers that are adjustable from 6-35 pounds.

Or you can buy all girl

or all boy.

Or you can try just one diaper just to see how you like it:

Even counting the cost of water, electricity, and laundry detergent, we've saved tons.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Pumpkin Pie

Yes, it's as good as it looks! We topped it with delicious homemade vanilla ice cream. We grew pumpkins this year, which I used to make pumpkin pie today. The story of our pumpkins is kind of funny. We carved jack-o-lanterns last year, like we always do, and threw the guts and seeds in the compost. In the spring, we spread the compost when we planted some peppers and tomatoes. And pumpkins grew. Lots of pumpkins!

Here is one of them, before it turned completely orange:

I made three yummy pies, two regular and one gluten-free and vegan.

I started by making pumpkin puree--click here to see how.

For the regular ones, I used the recipe in Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book 15th Edition: Gifts from the Kitchen (Better Homes & Gardens Plaid) For the gluten free/vegan one, I just substituted soy milk for the regular milk and flax seed eggs (1 T ground flax plus 3T water = 1 egg).

Making pie is a pretty frugal thing to do, especially since I didn't have to buy the pumpkin. But a few other things made it even cheaper for me:

I received the Better Homes and Garden cookbook for a wedding present, and it was so well-used that when I found a like-new one for $2 at a yard sale 20 years later, I grabbed it.

Shopping at a surplus outlet (A store that sells slightly expired/dented/store-went-out-of-business foods), I bought:

-soy milk for 50 cents

-pumpkin pie spice for 50 cents

-sugar for 69 cents a pound

-Pillsbury gluten free pie crust for 79 cents

-bag of flour for 79 cents

It was very low-cost and used things I bought because I got them cheap or that I already had in my fridge (like milk and eggs).

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Decorations

Today I didn't buy Halloween decorations. My teenagers made jack-o-lanterns.

They're big video gamers, so they turned their pumpkins into Pikmin 2 and Bowser.

For our scarecrows, we started with old wood, nailed together.

Then got old pieces of burlap or pillowcases, stuffed them with straw and drew on a face. Staple gunned them together. Stuffed old clothes with straw and stapled them on. You can use old clothes you have lying around the house or pick some up at a thrift store. Used string to tie off hands and feet and used string for a belt. Added a straw hat. Viola!

Unfortunately, our dog ate my scarecrow's leg.

Of course, I still have decorations that we've put out for years. I've never understood who buys all the new holiday decorations year after year. I have fond childhood memories of decorating with the same decorations year after year. New isn't always better!