Saturday, December 30, 2017

Things you can get for $1

When you are self-enforced into a $19.55 week at the end of the year, you learn to be creative.

Creative with what you have left in the fridge and freezer (which is a good thing).

Creative with shopping.

Here's a list of things that you can get for $1 at the 99 cent store.  For the record, most things at the 99 cent only store are actually $0.9999.  So, $1.

2 bell peppers
2 lb carrots
3 pack Romaine hearts
6 oz mushrooms
1 lb persian cucumbers
3 lb potatoes
1 lb tomatoes
small pkg of liverwurst
30 corn tortillas
10 flour tortillas
1 lb dry beans
small can sardines
small tube pringles
1 can tomatoes
3 cans tomato sauce
2 cans tomato paste
24 oz can spaghetti sauce
1 lb pasta
3 lb onions
1 lb grapes
1 lb strawberries
1 pineapples
1 butternut squash
1 cake mix (but not a very good one)
4 bagels
1 lb frozen mixed fruit
1 lb frozen vegetables
6 oz sliced cheese

How did I spend my last $19.55?  So far:
$0.50 - 2 limes from a neighbor
$1 - 1 lb cucumbers
$1 - 2 lb carrots
$1 - 1 lb strawberries
$1.99 - 3 lb pink lady apples
$1 - 1 head cauliflower
$1 - 10 flour tortillas
$2.99 - strawberry jam
$2.99 - gallon milk
$2.29 - dozen eggs
$0.95 - 5 bananas

Leaving $2.84.  I could have spent it, but decided I needed to keep it as a backup, ha!

Sunday, December 24, 2017


Remember January, and earlier this year?  I had these goals, inspired by Mavis' goals at  I had food goals, craft goals, fitness goals.  Somewhere along the line, I got tired of checking in on my goals, which means... I sort of lost sight of them.

There are a lot of reasons for that.  I got busy running half marathons and up mountains.  Layoffs.  New responsibilities, a horrible 2017 filled with...ugh, politics.

Then when I thought it couldn't get any worse, December said "Hold my Beer!" and we were faced with the largest wild fire in CA state history.  Terrible air quality, cancellation of the last 7 days of school before the 2 week winter break, cancellation of the winter camp for the little kid.  Two unplanned and unforced evacuations, 7 days in hotels, a nasty head cold and chest cough. A 5 year old barfing in the hotel room.  Finally returning home and losing water due to a water main break for 24 hours.  Then a 48 hour boil water advisory.

But it's Christmas Eve.  We've been back home and settled in since Monday.  Back to "normal" since Friday.  Yay!  Today I gathered up the various grocery receipts for the last week at hotels and put them into my spreadsheet.  Then I looked up my goal for the year.  What do you know?

My goal for the year was $7000, about $134 per week.  I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to hit it, as these later months were expensive.  But funny that, a week in hotels = eating out more, shopping less, and cancellation of our produce box.

Our total as of today, with 7 days left in this year? $6980.45.  That means if I want to hit my goal, I have $19.55 for the rest of the week.

Can I do it?  Do I even want to try?  I've decided: yes.  Why not.  The fridge, freezer, and pantry are full.  I should be able to get through the week on what we have.  The little bit of $ left in the budget can go to eggs, and maybe fruits and veg if we run out.  The only important thing is to be better at planning for the week.  I can do that, right?  We are home more this week anyway.  I am dangerously low on rice and beans though.

On the menu:
Christmas eve: Vegan chili from The New Fast Food and corn bread
Christmas day: Chicken legs, mashed potatoes, roast brussels sprouts and green beans

Rest of the week: leftover rice & chicken, more chili, probably a quinoa and lentil dish, lots of quesadillas with guac for lunch.  I think I'll be eating a lot of oatmeal for breakfast and salad for lunch.  Husband is getting sandwiches!

We have leftover fruit salad from this morning's pot luck.  Next week's potluck I'll make scones and an egg dish.  Instead of doing something for New Year's (who am I kidding, I go to bed early), we are attending a NYE party up the street.  Last year we did the same and one adult and all the kids came down to our house.  So, we can provide popcorn! 

So wish me luck.  Assuming I didn't lose a receipt here or there (and if I did, too late!), $19.55 left.  Let's do this!

Obligatory photo of peanut butter balls I made yesterday.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Hotel room eating

So, unless you are living under a rock, you've heard of the Thomas Fire currently raging (for over a week now) in the Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Southern California.

It's now only 35% contained and is the 4th largest fire in CA history. 

And it's blowing up a crap ton of ash.

We are no novices to wildfires.  There have been many since we've lived here.  Generally they burn in the mountains, which are rugged, have a lot of fuel, and are hard to get to.  As we are in the midst of a many year drought, they are also dry.

A benefit to regular wildfires is that they slow, or stop, an existing one.  So the Thomas Fire has been virtually stopped in the back country, where it has come up against the 2007 Zaca Fire area (the 5th largest fire).

Unfortunately it is still burning on the east side and the west side.  On our side (the west), it still hasn't reached the burn area from the Tea Fire, so there's quite a bit more than can burn.  This is distressing for many reasons, including that I have friends in that area who have been evacuated.  Most of the time, these fires don't make it far into town (Painted Cave fire of 1990 being an exception).  It all depends on the winds.  The Santa Anas and Sundowners (strong winds out of the mountains towards the ocean) cause the fire to spread to populated areas.

Just yesterday, we had the first fatality of a fireman.  He leaves behind a pregnant wife and young daughter.  RIP.

So there's your little primer on So Cal wildfires.  As our house is nearer the ocean, we are reasonably safe.  A fire would either need to start in the city or burn through most of the city to get to us.

The ash and smoke is the major concern right now.  It's very hazardous, and officials have been giving out free N95 masks as protection.  People are told to stay indoors and wear masks when out of doors. Schools have been canceled since last Thursday - that's 7 days of school being cancelled completely, right before a two week + one day break.

That has left everyone scrambling. Scrambling for emergency childcare, scrambling for hotel rooms to get out of town, scrambling for "things to do" to get their kids to burn off energy indoors, scrambling for day trips to fresh air.

Last week's air quality was very very bad. I was home with the boys, working, on Thursday when they cancelled school on Friday.  My neighbor and I immediately made the decision to leave town.  She found an inn in Morro Bay (Morro Shores Inn and Suites).  I got the last room.  I texted the hubs, we packed the car with important papers, the computer hard drives, clothes, kids, and food.  And left.

I booked the weekend and then we played it by ear.  All told, we stayed away for 5 days.  We changed hotels on Sunday, and that day, unfortunately, the smoke and ash blew all the way to us up north (95 miles).  We had to spend much of the day indoors, in a hotel room.

For five nights and days, we ate out of hotel rooms, only eating out 5 times (which was plenty, my poor stomach just can't handle that). 

Eating out of hotel rooms can save money.  It can be healthier.  At first, it's like camping.  But eventually, it's a pain in the ass.

At the inn, we had a good sized mini fridge and microwave, and a small table with 2 chairs.  No free breakfast.  The table was great for food prep and letting the kids eat there.  We subsisted on bread with peanut butter, fruit, sandwiches, and leftovers from dinner (chicken fingers, pizza).  I took whatever we had in the fridge with us, so we also had some lettuce and carrots, fruit, peanut lime dip, leftover rice and broccoli, leftover chicken, avocados, and leftover roasted cauliflower.

We then made the move to a Hampton Inn.  There we had free breakfast.  There was a fridge but no microwave.  We had to use the microwave in the lobby.  There was ample desk space but only one chair.  That meant we prepped food and ate in shifts - giving the kids the chair. I pretty much ate on a bed all week (and worked on my laptop in bed one day too).

While this was a big money-saver - we spent about $55 on groceries that week but $280-300 eating out (a typical meal out for 4 was $60.  At least every meal had leftovers for lunch/ dinner the next day), it got old.  Washing dishes in a hotel room sucks.

We've done it enough to have it down to a science.  We have a picnic basket that we got as a wedding gift.  We filled it with plastic cups, silverware, our camping plates, and 3 plates and 2 bowls that are microwave safe.  We also had salt and pepper, paper towels, a wash cloth for washing dishes, dish soap, and 3 dish towels - one for letting the dishes drain on and the other 3 for drying.

We've been back home for a few days now.  My tummy is happier.  My sinuses are not.  The air quality is still bad (though not as bad as it was before).  The fire is getting closer.  We have child care for our little guy and the big kid is going to work with daddy or we are alternately working from home.  All in all, that little trip cost about $1000, so Merry Christmas to us.

I expect we will be making big use of the YMCA pool this week, and probably taking the kids to the trampoline place, the bowling alley, and the ice rink to burn off energy.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Gluten free banana berry muffins

So, I bought some gluten free flour from Trader Joe's.  And I bought some from Bob's Red Mill.  I wondered if I should look for a "gluten free" recipe, trust the bag of mix that you can directly sub it for AP flour or...???

In the end, I decided to make the recipe on the Trader Joe's bag.  Sort of.  Because I didn't have everything.  And the Bob's Red Mill bag said to use Xanthan gum.

So, here's what I did:
1 cup TJ's gluten free flour (the rest of the bag)
1 cup Bob's red mill gluten free flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp Xanthan gum
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
A little less than 1/2 cup sugar (because I didn't have agave)
1/4 cup maple syrup (to make up for the lack of agave)
1/2 cup safflower oil
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup mashed banana (because I didn't have applesauce)
1 cup frozen mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)

I think that's it, but I threw the bag away.  I'll check next time I buy the stuff.  I found the recipe here, so I think I'm good.

So: mix dry ingredients (flour, soda, salt, Xanthan gum, cinnamon)

In separate bowl, mix eggs, oil, milk, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla.

Add wet to dry and mix until just blended.  Fold in mashed banana.  Fold in berries.

Bake at 350F for ...??  In my oven, which runs cold, and using the silicone liners, it took about 25 minutes.  The two that were in paper liners cooked faster.

These were amazing.