Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Arugula pesto pizza.

Lima beans with onions, tomatoes, garlic, ham, cheese.

Ground turkey with peas, carrots, onions, cabbage, and a bevy of leftover Asian sauces. Served over rice.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cooking from scratch is HARD WORK

Here at frugal healthy simple we (well, I) discuss the virtues of cooking from scratch to enjoy healthy and frugal foods.

One thing that I haven't really covered is that it can be really hard work. Over the last several weeks, I've gotten to thinking about it more. I remember about 4 years ago, talking to my mother and my mother-in-law (in separate phone calls) about cooking. They both said "I don't know how you can't be sick of it". My answer back then was easy: "1. I've been cooking for two years, not 40. 2. my husband eats anything that I cook."

Those are important points to make. If my latest food experimentation du jour (or month) happens to be vegan vittles, my husband will happily scarf down mediterranean chickpeas and rice, or vegan pad thai, until the cows come home. My step-father and to a much smaller degree father-in-law, however, are picky. They don't like fish/vegetables/nuts/spicey foods/ethnic foods...you get the picture. So after 40 years of cooking the same foods (or getting a grimace with something new), I can see how you could get tired of cooking.

Now here we are 4 years later. I am still not tired of cooking, but I am kinda tired of the dishes. Yep, that's where the hard work comes in. I enjoy trying new recipes, chopping, stirring, sauteing. But with a toddler in tow, the schedule gets a little dicey. My cooking tends to be in 5-minute bursts, or while the toddler is napping, or after he's in bed, or on the weekend. You see, we work during the week (though I only work 6 hrs/day). I tend to cook 2 or 3 items each weekend day, in addition to making dinner. This allows us to have tasty leftovers for lunch and dinner during the week.

But boy, by Sunday night, I am feeling a lot like a scullery maid from The 1900 house. For each of those 5, 6, 7 dishes that I cook comes with dishes. Even today, where cooking is "only" cole slaw and pizza, I used the food processor 2x (for the slaw and to make arugula pesto for the pizza), the bread machine for the dough, the salad spinner to wash the cabbage, the frying pan for lunch...and TODAY I'm only cooking dinner, not anything extra. AND I have a diswasher!

Compare and contrast this to Thursday night, when we had frozen mini tacos and frozen veggies. One cookie sheet and one microwave steamer. I can see why folks tend to cook this way after a long work day.

For us, in particular, the "hard work" comes by choice, in the form of the CSA. This past week was our last week for the year. From mid-Jan to mid-Nov, we enjoyed weekly fresh, organic produce. And each week I spent minutes to hours deciding what to make, then cooking, pureeing, freezing, etc. to make sure that almost none is wasted. I am actually looking forward to the next two months - when I can simply run down to the farmer's market, and be boring...buy broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, lettuce, and onions...and be happy for the week. But we're still signing up next year for our 9th year.

So don't beat yourself up about not cooking from scratch every minute. It's time consuming and can be physically exhausting. Today, I'd just started letting the water out from the dishes when I heard "daddy? mommy?" from under my son's door.

Here are some tips (okay, gadgets) that help you cook "from scratch":

Bread machine: we love this. We wore out our first one. I have to laugh when the truly cook from scratchers talk about how EASY it is to make bread and ANYONE can do it. You know, even the most basic bread takes 2 hrs to rise and an hour to bake. That math tells me that you have to have at least a 3-hour stretch to make bread...who's got that mid-week if you work outside the home? This machine can be set on a timer.

Crockpot: another wonderful gadget that you can set and forget. As we mostly eat vegetarian, this doesn't get very much use in our household. But it can be a great tool.

Rice cooker: Brown rice, less than an hour, don't have to watch it (can be playing with cars in the other room), what's more to love?

Pressure cooker: ideal for the near-vegetarian, can cook brown-rice and chickpeas in under 45 minutes. Soups in 10 min. Beans in 15 min. What's not to love?

Food processor: hummus, pesto, shredding cabbage, shredding cheese, chopping onions...

Immersion blender: it's soup season! And my son will eat anything if it's in a soup. So we make a lot of soup.

Anybody have tips to make cooking from scratch a little easier?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Weekly festivals

Check out the Festival of Frugality #152 at Financial Wellness Project this week. My "Staying Healthy" post is featured.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


A big part of any frugalista's shopping and eating strategy can be coupons. I say "can be" because it will depend a lot on what you eat, where you live, and the stores that you have.

I used to use coupons fairly frequently. Lately, however, it seems like there is very little payback for the amount of effort I put into it. I keep reading blogs that say how important coupons are, but I'm not seeing it.

So I made a decision. For one month, I would go through the coupons in my paper and list them ALL, and note which ones we'd use and which ones we wouldn't. Great idea, right? Except there were more than 130 in today's paper. So maybe this week will be it. Here's what we had in the LA times this week:

Item Amount Use
Colgate toothpaste $1.00 yes
Suave haircare 1.00 on 2 yes
Country crock tub margarine 1.00 on 2 yes
Newman's own variety $0.50 yes (salsa)
lipton tea bags 1.00 on 2 maybe
Entemann's $1.00 maybe (hubby has a weakness)
Progresso broth $1.00 maybe, depends on price
Fresh express Salad $0.75 maybe, depends on price
Del monte vegetables 1.00 on 2 maybe, depends on price
Welch's dried fruit $1.00 maybe, depends on price
foil $1.00 maybe, depends on price
Del monte fruit, veg, tomato 1.00 on 4 maybe, depends on price
olives $0.50 maybe, depends on price
Ragu pasta sauce 1.00 on 2 maybe, depends on price
Star vinegar $0.50 maybe, depends on price
Da vinci pasta $0.50 maybe, depends on price
Lawry's mixes 1.00 on 3 maybe, depends on price
B&V wine $2.00 maybe, depends on price
Daisy sour cream $0.50 maybe, depends on price
Durkee seasoning 1.00 on 2 maybe, depends on price
Star Olive Oil $0.50 maybe, depends on price
Blue ribbon rice $0.25 maybe, depends on price
Quaker oats 1.00 on 2 maybe, depends on price, oats are $0.99/lb in bulk
Salad dressing 1.00 on 2 maybe, depends on price, processed though
Pam $0.35 maybe, store brand cheaper
Non-dairy creamer $0.55 no
Schick razors $1.00 no
Hershey kisses $1.50 no
Tone's seasoning $1.00 no
Simply saline mist $1.00 no
Balsam hair color $1.00 no
paper plates $0.35 no
Batteries $0.75 no
Dinosaur toy $3.00 no
lint brush $1.00 no
Scotch brite sponge $0.50 no
Colman's mustard $0.50 no
Dog hair remover $2.00 no
Sunsilk hair products 2.00 on 2 no
Lever 2000 soap 1.00 on 4 no
Wisk 1.00 on 2 no
Caress body wash $1.00 no
M&M premium $1.00 no
Sugar, raw $0.40 no
Suave men's haircare 1.00 on 2 no
Jello 1.00 on 3 no
Baileys Irish crème $2.00 no
Jetdry dishwasher cleaner $1.00 no
Delsym cough syrup $2.00 no
Delsym kids' cough $1.50 no
tums $1.00 no
Electrasol gelpaks $0.50 no
Jetdry $0.50 no
Blistex $0.25 no
Gaviscon $1.00 no
Tagamet $1.00 no
Target holiday photos various no
Phazyme $1.00 no
GM cereals $1.00 on 3 no (all sugary cereals)
Electrasol powder $0.35 no (buy generic)
Scott tissue $0.75 on 4 no (buy in bulk)
Scott paper towels 1.00 on 4 no (buy in bulk), but worth a try?
Frigo cheese $0.50 no (cheaper at costco by a few dollars a pound)
Sargento shredded cheese 1.00 on 2 no (cheaper at costco by a few dollars a pound)
Revlon tools $1.00 no (don't wear makeup)
Revlon makeup $1.00 no (don't wear makeup)
Uncle Ben's rice mixes 1.00 on 3 no (processed)
Country crock side dishes $1.00 no (processed)
turtles $1.50 no (processed)
Reddi whip $0.50 no (processed)
Poppycock caramel corn $0.50 no (processed)
Bahlsen cookies $0.50 no (processed)
Bisquick $0.60 no (processed)
Fiber 1 bars $0.70 no (processed)
Betty crocker cookie mix $0.40 no (processed)
White Castle burgers $0.50 no (processed)
Pillsbury biscuits $0.40 no (processed)
Betty crocker boxed potatoes $0.35 no (processed)
Pillsbury dinner rolls $0.75 on 2 no (processed)
chewy granola bars $1.00 on 2 no (processed)
Lipton soup mix 1.00 on 2 no (processed)
Knorr side dishes 1.00 on 3 no (processed)
Lee Kum Kee foil pack sce $0.75 no (processed)
Tyson cooked bacon $0.55 no (processed)
OreIda frozen potatoes $1.00 no (processed), Target only
Chuck E Cheese various no (restaurant not here)
Boston Market various no (restaurant not here)
Souplantation various no (restaurant not here)
Green Gnt Froz veg stmrs $1.00 no (store brands always cheaper)
Advil cold $1.00 no (store brands always cheaper)
Green Giant Froz boxed veg $0.50 no (store brands always cheaper)
True north nut snacks $1.00 no (too expensive, I buy nuts in bulk)
Meow mix $1.00 no pets
Purina dog snacks $3.00 no pets
Dog food $3.00 no pets
Pedigree dog treats $1.00 no pets
Suave deodorant 1.00 on 2 no, brand loyal
Vaseline lotion $1.50 no, brand loyal
Ajax dishwashing soap $0.20 no, brand loyal
Huggies diapers $1.00 no, buy in buik
cottonelle $0.25 no, buy in buik
Loreal hair color $1.00 no, don't color
Best foods mayo 1.00 on 2 no, it expires before we could go through that much
Vivid laundry detergent $0.50 no, Purex loyal
Earth grains bread $0.55 no, store brands cheaper
Lawry's spice $1.00 no, too expensive
Hillshire farms cocktail links 1.00 on 2 no, we don't eat this
Betty crocker frosting $0.50 only on a birthday
Beano $1.00 probably should!
Advil $1.00 rare
Oil of olay cleanser $1 to $5 sometimes (I'm getting older)
Mrs. Dash $0.75 this stuff is expensive, even on sale
Spice islands spices 1.00 on 2 too expensive. Buy no name.
Tabasco $0.50 we don't go through this very often
video game $10.00 we don't have any
Oral B brush heads $1.00 we use free toothbrushes from the dentist
Sugar 0.35>2 lb we're good on sugar for awhile

Whew. As you can see, there are very few (4) coupons that we would definitely use. There are many more that I would consider - depending on the price. I'd say 80% of the time, the store brand is cheaper. And most of these items have unadvertised sales. This means I actually have to spend the time at the stores from time to time, and check on these items each time that I go. This takes quite a bit of time.

Also, only one of our stores double coupons anymore. Ralphs will only "round up" to one dollar for anything over 50 cents.

Much of the food coupons are for processed foods, which might be cheaper but are unhealthy with a lot of salt and preservatives. We don't eat those.

So is my time worth those 4 coupons? I'm thinking maybe not. Now I can cancel the newspaper.

Cabbage and Noodles

Ah, cabbage. I've had a lifelong hate-hate relationship with cabbage. It started by having to eat my mom's coleslaw, which I hated (something about the too-sweet dressing). It moved on to shredded cabbage with italian dressing (which was my parents' compromise), which I didn't like either.

Then there was the time I threw up after stuffed cabbage rolls, and don't even get me started on the green jello mold with shredded cabbage. About the only cabbage I liked was sauerkraut (and my brother in law now makes it from scratch - yum!)

Fast forward to 30 years later. I'm an adult and a CSA member, and we get a lot of cabbage. This week, we got a 4.5 lb cabbage. That's a lot of cabbage. I have developed a few acceptable cabbage recipes (slaw, cooked, etc.) but am always on the lookout for more - because that's a LOT of cabbage.

I did some web-surfing, found this recipe, and adjusted it a bit (a stick of butter? really?) I had a pound of tofurkey kielbasa (an impulse buy at the health food store) and voila! This was really really good. I can't wait to have the leftovers.

Cabbage and Noodles
2 lb, 5 oz shredded cabbage: $1.63
1 onion, sliced: 0.20
1 lb egg noodles: 0.75
2 T butter: 0.13
1 tsp salt: 0.01
1/2 tsp pepper: 0.02
1 tsp paprika: 0.05
1 lb tofurkey kielbasa: 2.99
Total: $5.78 for about 8 servings, 1.5 cups each. $0.72 per serving

Cook noodles according to package directions.

In a stockpot, melt the butter and saute the onions and sliced tofurkey until desired golden-brownness. Add the cabbage and 1/2 cup water. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 15-20 min, stirring occasionally.

When cabbage is cooked (don't over cook! it just gets stinky), add spices and stir. Add noodles and serve.

We ate this with a little sour cream and shredded cheddar, which takes the per serving value to $0.87.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Turkey Stock

My husband did a dry run of the Thanksgiving turkey this past weekend. We've decided to cook turkey "parts" not a whole turkey this year.

In any event, I made stock in the crockpot afterwards. It's rich, brown, and you can see it cooking away here...we got about 12 cups.

Granola (again)

Granola is something I've posted about before (see here). I tweak the recipe each time based on what I've got in the cupboard. Here's the latest installment. I love the stuff:

4 c oats (approx 11 oz, 0.99/lb): $0.68
1/2 c coconut: 0.14
1/2 c chopped almonds: 0.88
1/4 c wheat germ: 0.38
1/2 c sunflower seeds: 0.22
1/3 c dry milk powder: 0.14
3/4 t. cinnamon: 0.06
1/2 t. salt

1/4 c. brown sugar: 0.05
1 T. honey: 0.07
2 T. water
1 banana, mashed or pureed: 0.19
1/4 c. canola oil: 0.09

1/2 c. raisins: 0.22

Total: $3.12 for about 8 cups, or $0.20 per 1/2 cup serving. Add 1/2 cup milk and it's a nice cheap breakfast that really sticks with you. It's pretty high calorie. For a lower-calorie snack, add a couple tablespoons to 1/4 cup over some yogurt and fruit.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl (oats through salt).

Mix the brown sugar, honey, water, and canola oil in a small saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Add mashed banana and mix well. Pour wet over dry, mix well. Spread in a cookie sheet and bake at 300 to 325 for 30 min to an hour, until your desired brownness. Stir every 15 min.

When cool, stir in raisins.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Amy's Cilantro Cream Sauce

I have a need for Cilantro recipes. We frequently get bunches of cilantro from the CSA. My fave recipe is Sesame Cashew Pasta, but sometimes I need something different. This is where a search found me this recipe.

This is very good. I like it with tortilla chips. I had the cost breakdown written down all nicely and then lost it (the perils of scrap paper in a household with a toddler). I'll try to recreate it here:

8 oz cream cheese: $1.79 (this time, I do find it on sale for $1.00 occasionally)
1/2 large bunch cilantro: 0.50
7 oz salsa verde: 0.58
1 tsp pepper: 0.05
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin: 0.05
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder: 0.05
1 T. sour cream: 0.05
juice of 1 lime: 0.25
Total: $3.32 for about 2 cups, or $0.41 per 1/4 cup serving.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Coconut rice

This was pretty good. I'd cut down on the coconut next time, because my husband thought there was too much. I got this recipe from recipezaar, but heavily edited it.

Coconut Rice
3 cups cooked brown rice: 0.62
1/2 c. toasted macadamias (leftover from our last trip to Hawaii??): $1.50? If I didn't have them, I'd use something else
1/2 c. toasted coconut: 0.25
2 T. canola oil: 0.08
1 carrot, diced: 0.08
1/2 cup frozen peas: 0.25
juice of 1 lime: 0.20
2 cloves garlic: 0.10
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin: 0.02
1/2 tsp cinnamon: 0.02
1/4 tsp cardamom: 0.05
total: $3.27 for four 1-cup servings, or $0.82 each

Pre-cook the brown rice, 'cuz I'm lazy.

Dice carrot and microwave with peas for 3 mins to cook.

Saute garlic, peas and carrot in oil for a couple of minutes. Add spices & saute 30 sec. Add rice & saute until heated through. Toss with lime juice, macadamias, and coconut.

Later on we mixed this with diced chicken for leftovers.

Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

Staying healthy throughout the cold and flu season is a very frugal thing to do. I know personally, when I'm sick I have less energy to cook from scratch, keep up with the house, and do more frugal activities. Also, a fair number of workers these days have limited (or zero) sick leave, so a sick day means loss of $.

So here are my tips to staying healthy, as well as the cost associated with each, denoted by $, $$:

1. Wash your hands. Frequently. What you need: Soap and hot water, and about 30 seconds of your time. What may also be helpful: a good hand lotion. Frequent hand washing has the disadvantage of drying out your skin. Two lotions that work well for me are "Udder Cream" and "Circle of Friends Mom's Little Helper Hand Creme" (the latter was a free gift when I ran a 10k). Cost: almost free to $

2. Get a flu shot. What you need: about $15 (although some places it's free). What may also be useful: acetamenophen for the pain from the shot. My arm was sore for several days. The advantage to the flu shot is that it can prevent the flu or lessen the severity if you do get it. I had a mild case of fever after my flu shot this year. Cost: $$

3. Wipe down public surfaces: What you need: Clorox (or other brand) of disinfecting wipes. These things claim to kill the flu virus or norovirus. We bought these last year when we were expecting houseguests but had a stomach bug. We ended up putting our family up in a hotel for a few days, and used these guys to disinfect the house before they moved in. Cost: $ (about $2 to 3).

These can also be useful at work. Most people I know come to work sick. And if they don't, they were probably contagious before they started feeling the effects. I have these at work, and if someone is sick, I may take extra time in the morning and afternoon to wipe down doorknobs, the fridge door, and other public spaces.

4. Sleep. What you need: A bed, pillow blankets. What might also be useful: a dark room and some white noise (a fan?) This cannot be underestimated. When I am feeling tired and stressed out, I often will just crawl into bed right after (or even before) my toddler. I'd rather have that extra hour of sleep than get any extra chores done. Even if it means I'm going to bed at 8 pm. It also may mean my body stays strong enough to fight a cold. Cost: Free.

5. Exercise. What you need: low-end, a good pair of shoes. High-end: a gym membership. Regular exercise keeps your body strong. Strangely, if I am feeling overtired and I overexert myself with a hard workout, I am more likely to get sick. So if I'm feeling weak, I dial back my workout a bit. What might also be useful: more wipes. I have gotten into the habit at the gym (thanks to a friend), of wiping down the equipment I use BEFORE getting on it. You never know what other gym-goers are carrying with them. Cost: $ to $$$.

6. Healthy diet. What you need: Fruits. Vegetables. Whole grains. Lots of water. What might also be useful: a multivitamin. If you aren't doing so well on the diet. Cost: well, you need to eat.

7. A special "anti-cold" regimen. A lot of people have these. Based on discussions with friends and various practices, here's mine:

If I feel like I'm getting a cold - scratchy throat or stuffy nose (unfortunately, these symptoms match my allergies, which are bad during the wet winter months - mold allergy), I start my regimen: Every 3 hours (5x a day) I take Zicam (or a store brand of the same). This is a zinc supplement that is supposed to reduce the effects of a cold and shorten it. When Zicam first came out, it was in a nose-gel, and there were concerns about losing your sense of taste.

Now there are several different ways of taking it, including chews (yuck) and pills that dissolve (not bad). You can save money on these several ways: coupons (I see these regularly), sales (I purchased my last set buy 1 get 1 free), store brand. If you find yourself buying it without the benefit of a sale, you will probably pay $8-12 for a bottle, which is about one "cold's" worth - 5 days. When I am diligent about taking this at the onset of a cold, this stuff really really works. I started using this last year and my sick days have reduced both in number and in severity.

It certainly isn't cheap, but it's better than using all your sick days, or feeling miserable for a week.

I also take a 500mg vitamin C tablet once per day, and be sure to drink lots of water and take my multivitamin.

Other alternatives include echninacea, Cold-Eeze zinc lozenges, etc.

Cost for my regimen: $$ (about $10 each time I start feeling sick).

8. Segregation. What you need: a separate place to sleep. It's not popular, but our rule is that the sick person gets the bed, and the healthy person can risk it or not. It is not uncommon for one of us to bunk on the couch or the floor to avoid getting sick. With a toddler, it's harder. Cost: $ (for an extra pillow, mattress)

9. A follow up to #8. Stay home. It seems that any time I try to fly to visit family over the holidays, I get sick. I either get it from someone on the plane or from my family at the other end. Sometimes I'm so stressed out before leaving that I get sick before I even get on the plane. Cost: free - this saves you money!

10. If all else fails and I get sick anyway, here's how I try to get over it faster:

Drugs - the kind that help you sleep and treat the symptoms. If I am better rested and can breathe, I get better faster.

Exercise - after the first day, which is generally the worst, it helps to move around a bit - I just get stiff if I sit on the couch all day. Short walks. Free.

Saline drops to help clear out my nose. Or steam (hot shower).

Chicken soup and tea for my sore throat. Cheap if you use your homemade stock. About 5 cents for a cup of good tea.

Any other good tips out there?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Does it make me a bad person?

Does it make me a bad person that I get ticked off when the cleaning lady eats my food?

I mean, really. I can afford a cleaning person (we've had one since July), in part because we are very frugal. We are, in particular, very frugal with food. Cooking from scratch, rarely eating out, etc.

The first time I came home to find an avocado missing, I called the boss. I got an apology. I had a bunch of avocados, but I had planned to use the one, big ripe one for dinner, and it was gone.

Problem solved, right? Nope. The pizza we ordered on Sunday... came home yesterday to find a few slices missing. My husband didn't eat it. This is really good, really expensive pizza. $2.50 a slice. She eats $7.50 worth of my food that's a total treat for me. Why doesn't she sneak the 50 cents worth of cashew pasta?

I'm trying to get over this. She did reorganize and clean out my cabinets, my spice drawers, and my son's clothing yesterday (very nicely). But I'm starting to think she's not going to get a Christmas bonus if she keeps eating my food. I figured paying $75 every two weeks for the work was enough. I didn't realize that I had to provide food too.

Should I cancel? You know, we've never hired anyone else before. The few people I know with cleaning people have either women who have a LONG waiting list OR have people who "don't do deep cleaning". Seriously, I want the deep cleaning.

I'm just going to have to be careful to hide the good stuff. Go ahead, eat the chocolate! But not my pizza. :(

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Flu and Persimmons

Ah, I had all the best intentions. I decided to try a challenge over at Frugal Fu to not eat out in November. There were a couple of caveats- I would not deny my husband his Friday Lunches out (this is my goal, not his), and we would likely set aside 1-2 meals out with friends who are visiting for Thanksgiving.

And I blew it. On Nov. 2. I came down with a bit of the flu, spent all day in the couch feeling feverish and achy. And had my husband order pizza for dinner. I'd already defrosted the food, but didn't much feel like cooking (or eating) it. And worse, we ordered EXPENSIVE pizza ($40 for two mediums). It *is* our favorite pizza place, my son loved it, and we hadn't ordered pizza from there in more than a year though.

I'm feeling fine today. I'm guessing though it's not common, I probably just had a reaction to my flu shot on Friday. Better that than a 5-day flu event.

Ah well, back on the horse. I did an inventory of my pantry and freezer and figure I can feed my family for the entire month of November and then some. Not counting the Thanksgiving day needs. Tonight will be the orange chicken and rice with coconut and macadamias - which was supposed to be last night's dinner. I still have an unopened can of macadamias from our last trip to Hawaii (in April of 2007).

On to persimmons. This is a fruit we get this time of year from the farm. And I never know what to do with them. You have to wait until they are very soft. And then what? Persimmon cookies, persimmon bread - these are "sweet" things, and I really would prefer healthier options.

So this weekend, I decided - hey, they are mushy, I bet they'd make a perfect smoothie. And they did! I was glued to the couch, so my hub made smoothies with persimmon, apple juice, and some frozen tropical fruit (purchased in the 6-lb bag from Costco). Yummy!

Anybody have good persimmon recipes?