Monday, December 30, 2013

Rock Whatcha' Got January: Edition 3

You know we've always loved to cook. That is evident by the number of recipes you'll see posted throughout the years. And you know that January is always a lean month for teachers, since we get paid prior to the holiday break and then don't get paid again until the end of the month. So, here's the third edition of our rock whatcha got January menu, where we try to live out of the pantry and freezer as much as possible so we don't spend as much of our grocery money.

But first, a few tips to share about pantry and freezer cooking, and frugal cooking in general. 1) Veggies are almost always cheaper, healthier, and more filling than meat, especially when you add beans and some grain. 2) Stretch a dollar by having soup at least once a week. We have soup 2-3 times a week to stretch even further. 3) Sugars and oils are expensive. Where possible, we use oil in baking instead of butter, or go halfsies and use some of each. We also save bacon drippings for future use. They're great for frying eggs or greasing a cornbread pan (though not when our vegetarian friends are around.) I generally cut the amount of sugar in a baking recipe down by at least 1/4 cup. You can't tell the difference in taste, it's healthier, and saves more for the next batch. 4) Leftovers rock! They're great for lunches or a quick weeknight dinner. Or remix them into a burrito, soup, or some other dish that makes sense. 5) Bake your's almost always cheaper and healthier. And if you do it in a huge batch, then you save energy by only heating the oven once.

So, on to our January menu. After assessing the holiday leftovers, pantry, freezer, and knowing what was coming in our spice order from San Francisco Herb Company, I compiled the following menu.


Egg and cheese sandwiches using this french bread recipe (which will also be used for serving with soups)
Fruit salad (using some gifted fruit, leftovers from church, and grapefruit from our bulk order from Rotary Club)
Oatmeal or baked oatmeal (Simply in Season has the best recipe for baked oatmeal)
Lemon poppy seed muffins
Toast and homemade jam

Soups and Stews:

Corn Chowder
Turkey Soup with leftover carrots, celery, onion, and frozen swiss chard from our summer CSA, and of course leftover holiday turkey
Taco Soup
Potato Soup using gifted potatoes and homemade turkey stock

White Lasagna with pesto and butternut squash
Pasta bake with gifted pasta and homemade pesto
Pizza (you know it's our Friday night go-to) with whatever sauce and toppings we have on hand

Miscellaneous fillers and snacks:

Whole wheat pancakes and fruit
Bean soup
Veggie stir fry with bean sprouts (I got a sprouter kit for Christmas which I'm super excited to try out!)
Candied grapefruit peel
Peppermint bark

All told, I think we'll end up spending maybe $25 on groceries this month, which include cheese, milk, and a few vegetables. What about you? How are your pantry and freezer menus coming? I'd love to hear from you! Here's to living and saving green in the New Year!

Frugal Living and a Happy Family

Over the past few months we've transitioned to a mostly single income household, but the transition has been a joyous one. It has been wonderful to know that our little one is home with his daddy all day, and Benny has so enjoyed being home with him. And it's been such a blessing to realize that even with the transition that we're able to put away a little each month in savings, even little one's college fund.

One way we've trimmed our expenses is by purchasing some of our groceries in bulk. We've purchased dried beans, flour, brown sugar, rice, and pasta in massive quantities from Costco and Walmart, though we're seeking out other sources so we're not patronizing Walmart as much. While the initial purchase was tough, it's meant that we can readily use these things, and the unit cost is much lower. We've also purchased spices in large quantities from Costco and online sources, which also reduces the unit cost, and keeps our simple meals from being bland.

We've begun using our crockpot (aka Mrs. Cleaver, as Kingsolver calls it) at least three times a week. We use it to prep stuff, like cooking winter squash or dried beans, or preparing whole meals in the form of soups, stews, and casseroles. This has allowed us to spend more time with little man, and means that we're using far less energy for our meal prep, which means we're spending fewer dollars on our energy bills. Later, I'll share some of our favorite crockpot recipes. Using the crockpot also means that there's still time in the evenings for a family walk, because we can eat an early dinner and still have a little daylight to walk before little man melts down.

We're eating even less meat than we did before. We consider ourselves "weekday veg", meaning that we only eat meat on the weekends, and even then, it's sparingly. Toppings on a pizza, a little bit in the soup, some in a stir fry. In place of meat, we're using lentils, beans, dairy, and combos (veggies and rice, fruit and whole grains, etc.) to create complete proteins.

Our upstairs renter has worked out fabulously. He's really low key and is a great fit for our family. Most weeks, he's only around a few nights a week, so it's almost like we don't have a renter. When he's around, he sometimes joins us for family meals and loves our little guy, and lovingly tolerates Lavender's incessant barking when he comes in the house. It's this income that's probably allowed us to really save each month. We'll probably continue to rent the upstairs space, at least while the Wubba is little.

Now that the weather's cooler, we're closing the shades earlier in the evenings, but keeping them open during the warmest part of the day for the light and passive heat. We're putting our sweaters on in the evenings and loading the blankets on the bed, but we love it that way. It also allows Benny more time during the day to walk with our little guy, and hike with the pup, which means he's happier because he's outside and he's getting great exercise. It also means that the Wubba is getting lots of stimulating time outside.

The majority of our Christmas gifting is handmade or homemade this year. I found a template for making reusable coffee sleeves, so we'll be giving some of those, which will help use up fabric scraps I've stashed away for years. We've made jams and jellies and salsas when produce was free or cheap in season that we canned. I'll use some found time in the evenings or weekends to make note cards and bookmarks to use as gifts. We'll make goodie platters with cookies, candies, and snacks to give. Our homemade hot cocoa is fabulous given with a peppermint stick and a sweet holiday mug, which we usually pick up at the dollar store or Goodwill. And of course, the family will love their pictures of the little man.

So, overall, the transition to Benny staying at home has been relatively smooth. We love that he's able to stay home with Raygan; it gives him a connection with our boy he might not otherwise have and it really allows me not to worry while I'm at work since I know Wubba's in good hands.