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).