Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Frugal Accomplishments

We've been working really hard to stick to our budget this month.  January is a long month for teachers, since we get paid before the Christmas holidays in December and don't get paid again until the end of the month in January.  This is also a birthday month for us, so there could easily be some extra expenses there.

But we've worked really hard, and we're skipping the grocery store this week, so I think we'll be in good shape.

  • Cooked all meals at home.  This included a new crockpot BBQ chicken recipe, lentil sloppy joes, pizza, roasted veggies, muffins, and overnight steel cut oatmeal (recipe coming soon!).
  • Enjoyed two shared meals with my mom, one using some of our BBQ chicken as the base of some yummy black bean tacos.
  • Ate leftovers for lunch each day.
  • Composted all appropriate kitchen scraps.
  • Gleaned from the food pantry and school.  Pantry included:  two gallons of milk, fancy cheese, eight cartons of yogurt, two loaves of bread, avocado, two pears, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, broccoli stir fry mix, and holiday brownie mix.  School cafeteria included:  three apples, two cartons of yogurt, cheese stick, five packs of Goldfish crackers, and three bags of Chex mix.
  • Took advantage of sales and coupons, saving over $60 on groceries.  Kept grocery budget to $150, including two packs of diapers and stocking up on canned tomatoes and shredded cheese.
  • Carpooled to work most days, saving on gas.
  • Used rags and homemade citrus cleaner for cleaning.
  • Started bathing baby in the shower, saving on some water.  He loves it!
  • Continued washing clothes in cold water.  
  • Hung all laundry to dry inside or out on the line (its been ridiculously warm)
  • Continued with cloth diapers and wipes, only using disposable at night.  Washed diapers in hot water or on sanitize cycle.
  • Used handkerchiefs, washed on hot water with towels, instead of tissues.
  • Used cloth napkins for each night at dinner.
  • Enjoyed new books from Imagination Library for the boys; they come in the mail each month for free.
  • Took little man on a date to the Playhouse and to the grocery store to pick out his icing for birthday cupcakes for school (I know I could make it cheaper and with less junk, but it was one thing that could make my week a little less crazy.)  He asked for pistachios while we were at the grocery store, and since he helped find the ones with the lowest price, and we had wiggle room in our grocery budget, I caved and spent the money.  (At least he's asking for nuts and not something sugary sweet, right?!)  Going to try to make Mommy and little man dates a regular thing, maybe twice a month, because we both had a lot of fun and it was special time.
  • Made birthday cupcakes with little man for his preschool class this week.  Made them on Sunday, he decorated, and we put them in the freezer til tonight so they'd be fresh for tomorrow.
  • Using presents purchased with gift card for little man's birthday presents.  He'll get a new puzzle and a book from us, and a few other things from family.
  • Will use the birthday banner made a few years ago to decorate for birthday party on Saturday (more to come on birthday party next week).
  • Did a bulk toilet paper order through Staples (about $7.50 for 24 rolls, ordered 7 packs).  This should be enough to last us at least a year and maybe longer.  Using family cloth and cloth wipes helps to save on toilet paper.
  • Began rereading a book I had on our shelf at home instead of making a special trip to the library.  Might make library my next date with little man.
What did you do to live and save green this past week?  I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, January 20, 2017

5 Crock Pot Recipes to Save You Time and Energy in the Kitchen

If you've been reading for any length of time, you know how much I love my crock pot.  I made it a goal last year to try out some new recipes, and crock pot recipes were some of those.  I ended up purchasing Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook after I checked it out quite a few times from the library.  I also browsed several websites and found recipes that we love.

I'm a fan of prepping ingredients the night before so that its easy to throw things in the crock pot in the morning.  Even though my husband is a SAHD, its tough for him during the day with two small boys to prep ingredients and get a meal put together.  So, the two of us come up with a meal plan for each week that includes at least one crock pot meal that will provide several leftovers worth of meals.  When the boys go to bed, one or both of us is busy in the kitchen chopping ingredients, making a quick sauce, or measuring out spices for the crock pot meal for the next day.  This makes it easy to dump ingredients in the slow cooker before I head off to work, or before they boys get busy with their days.

Here are some of the recipes we've come to love that we can just about make with our eyes closed.

Basic Black Beans  This one is so easy, it's almost not worth posting.  But I get asked so much about how we cook our beans (because so many people rave about them), that I thought I'd post it here.  The night before, I measure out three cups of rinsed, dried black beans (sorted and picked through) into the bottom of the slow cooker.  I cover them with six cups of water.  Then we add about a tablespoon of cumin, tablespoon of salt, 1/4 cup dried onion, 3-4 cloves of crushed garlic, and sometimes a teaspoon of chili powder or tumeric, depending on what we're using them for.  In the morning, we leave them in their stock, cook on high for about two hours, and then low for the rest of the day.

There are many nights when we fix these for a simple meal of beans, rice, and cornbread with fixins (cheese, sour cream, salsa, etc.).  The next night we might use them for black bean tacos.  We usually just put the stoneware crock in the fridge, because we like to use the last of the beans and stock as the basis of our chili.

Black Bean Chili  As mentioned, we use the black beans and stock as the basis for this.  (You could certainly mix up the beans and do pintos, red beans, kidney beans, etc.)  We add about 1 1/2 cups of chopped bell pepper, one chopped onion, 1 cup corn kernels (canned or frozen), 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, and about 1/2 sliced jalapeno.  If we have it, we also like to add ground beef or ground sausage that is browned, but it doesn't always happen.  For spices, we add about 1 T chili powder, 1 T cumin, 2 tsp salt, and 3-4 cloves of garlic.  This cooks on low all day (7-8 hours).

To serve this, we like to have corn bread or tortilla chips.  We top each bowl of chili with shredded cheese, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, and maybe some hot sauce.  If I have cilantro or avocado, I like that as well.  The boys both really like this, especially if we have fresh corn bread.  To stretch this even further, you can serve it over rice.

Roasted Veggies  We love roasted veggies, but in the summer, we hate to heat up the house by cranking up the oven.  The crock pot is the easy solution to this.  We have several methods, but the basic one is to chop a variety of root veggies (potatoes, onion, carrot, beets) into 1-2 inch pieces.  Then we drizzle them with olive oil, shake on salt and pepper, add some dried rosemary, and cook them on low for about 4-6 hours until they are fork tender.  They don't get the pretty golden color that they do in the oven, but they taste great.  Its also a nice way to prep a side if your oven is busy with a main course.

You can also do corn on the cob or baked potatoes in the slow cooker.  Just wrap in foil and let them go (no liquid in the bottom) for about 4 hours on high, again, until fork tender.

Asian Chicken with Ginger  We love this method for cooking chicken, and the yummy sauce it creates.  We have made some tweaks to the original recipe and double the carrots it calls for, add a sliced onion, and chunks of pineapple.  I think it would also be fabulous with broccoli thrown in.  Cook up some brown rice and it's an easy one pot meal!

We also like to make my aunt's recipe for Asian coleslaw (similar to this) if we have time.  It's a great side dish with this meal.  One of the best things about this is that the boys love everything in the meal, so its a crowd pleaser, and it provides enough leftovers for several nights.

Lentil Sweet Potato Stew  This is a really simple vegetarian and vegan friendly recipe.  Again, we tweak it some from this original source and add more carrots and sweet potatoes than it calls for.  (We tend to like things more of a stew consistency than broth-y soup)  But if you're on a tight budget, then make it as the recipe calls for.  Toss it together in the morning, and its done in the evening for you with only one dirty pot to wash!

Served with some crusty french bread, this is a great meal all in its own.  The boys both like this one as well, and the lentils are a great source of protein and folic acid (great for pregnant and nursing mamas too).

I'll be back soon with another crock pot series!  I hope you enjoy these and find that they fit your budget and help you live a little greener!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Frugal Accomplishments First Week January

This past week we did pretty well with the budget category, until my car started flashing the check engine and AT oil temp light.  We took it in to get checked out, and a sensor needs to be replaced, which is generally not cheap in Subarus.  We're trying to make this one limp along until we can get enough saved up for a new to us AWD vehicle, but we'll see how the repair bills keep coming.

Here are the rest of last week's accomplishments:

  • Cooked all meals at home.  Had a few shared meals with family and friends, which was fun.
  • Composted all kitchen scraps.
  • Used veggie stock, frozen tomatoes, frozen beef, and gleaned veggies to make a pot of soup in the crock pot, saving on electricity.
  • Accepted gleaned items from the food pantry:  yogurt, bread, green beans, mixed veggies, snack packs of almonds and cheese, and fresh fruit.
  • Gleaned from school cafeteria:  three string cheese, two apples, one milk, five bags of Goldfish crackers, two cartons of yogurt
  • Picked up a few items on Harris Teeter's Super Doubles event, totaling about $15
  • Tried a new overnight porridge recipe.  Needs some tweaking on the cook time, but the flavors were pretty good.
  • Did some organizing and cleaning out.  Filled a paper grocery sack with items to donate to Goodwill.
  • Washed all clothes in cold water and line dried things.  Found dryer balls stashed away, so will try to use these for drying towels to cut down on drying time.
  • Continued to use cloth diapers, cutting down on cost.
  • Little man had several dry nights, so that saved on laundry.
  • Hand delivered thank you notes for Christmas gifts as much as possible, saving on postage.
  • Sent out evite for little man's 4th birthday party, saving on paper invitations
  • Found cake mix in cabinet to use for said birthday party
  • Found another tie dyed t-shirt little man made that we can use as a birthday gift for another party to attend this weekend.
  • Showered every other day to save on hot water, and keep skin from drying out.  This also saves on shampoo, soap, and hair products.
  • Used both sides of a cotton ball for makeup removal, saving on cotton.  (Tip:  if you use natural products, you can then compost your cotton balls)
  • Used cloth wipes and family cloth when possible.  We wash these on the sanitize cycle or with diapers, so they are always very clean.
  • Took advantage of being snowed in for a few house projects such as spackling and sanding dings in walls, cleaning out behind the fridge, and catching up on laundry.  Being snowed in saved on fuel.
  • Made homemade powdered citrus cleaner from dried orange peels to use for cleaning bathrooms and kitchen sink.  Repurposed a large spice container to make using the cleaner easier.
I'd love to hear from you!  What did you do to live and save green last week?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

January Meal Plan

This month we're going to continue to work down what we have in our freezer.  We were also gifted several things over the holidays that will help round out meals, and we made a trip to Costco for a few things.  It is my hope to do very minimal grocery shopping for staples only (we already picked up corn meal, baking soda, and milk).  Hopefully next month will be our annual bulk spice/herb order, so next month's grocery budget will be less too.

We also plan to make use of the leftover items available to us through the food pantry.  This week I put up a quart of collard greens in the freezer, used two bags of fresh organic green beans, saved two gallons of milk, and we took several apples and cut up fruit that would have gone bad before the pantry reopened for clients.  This gleaning really does save our grocery budget and help cut down on their food waste.

My grandmother gave us a new crock pot for Christmas, which we're super excited about.  We're planning to use it a lot, as we have come to rely on it with the boys keeping us so busy.


  • Cranberry bread (gifted over holidays)
  • Egg and cheese sandwiches (using croissants or rosemary bread from Costco)
  • Leftover holiday egg and cheese casserole
  • Overnight oatmeal in the crock pot
  • Muffins:  lemon poppyseed, cranberry orange, molasses muffins, marmalade muffins, and winter squash muffins with nuts or pumpkin seeds
  • Smoothies
  • Yogurt parfaits with frozen berries and pumpkin seeds, nuts, or dry cereal crumbs
  • Leftovers rounded out with fruit (citrus, bananas, or gleaned from the pantry)
  • Smoothies with frozen fruit and smoothie powder from Costco
  • Crock pot Asian chicken with carrots, pineapple, onion, and candied ginger over rice
  • Baked sausage, apples, and sweet potatoes over rice with greens
  • Tomato basil soup in the crock pot with grilled cheeses
  • Pasta with tomato basil soup as marinara
  • Black beans (crock pot) and rice with fixins
  • Black bean tacos with winter squash or enchiladas
  • Homemade pizza x 2-3 with homemade pesto
  • Homemade mac and cheese with steamed/roasted veggies
  • Veggie stir fry over rice with egg rolls
  • Breakfast for dinner:  French toast or French toast casserole with fruit and yogurt parfaits
  • Tuna casserole with roasted veggie sides
  • Chex mis (gifted)
  • Hot cocoa (gifted)
  • Gingerbread house pieces
  • Holiday cookies
  • Fresh fruit
  • Dried fruit (apricots, prunes)
  • Dried fruit and nut trail mix
  • Cashews (gifted)
  • Almonds (gifted)
  • Pistachios (gifted)
  • Popcorn (gifted)