Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Winter Composting & Freezer Foraging -- My Frugal Wednesday Morning

Mid-week, time to press pause on life.  Tuesdays usually mean my "late night" -- the night I either meet with clients or give a presentation.  That means I am not home until nearly 9pm.  Knowing that Wednesday afternoon will bring another afternoon of back-to-back client meetings, I have learned to treat Wednesday morning as a lazy day at home.  And in our home, that means lots of frugal moves.

In an effort to keep laundry needs small, I stay in my PJs until just before lunch when I dress for the office.  It's comfy, and reduces the risk of yet another pair of pants going down the shoot.  It's not a clean morning at home.

First, the kids and I tackle laundry.  As I type this mornings load is line drying in the basement.  A few small items went in the dryer, which ran less than 15 minutes.  The rest dry and add moisture to our dry home.  This is also work for my son, work for which we pay him.  He is saving his money for a huge LEGO set.  It is a great way to teach life skills, provide financial education, practice basic math (counting money), and the relationship between work and purchasing -- when you work hard, you may be a little less inclined to spend without giving it some thought.

Upstairs I empty the counter compost bucket into the larger winter container.  Once a cat litter container, it now holds food scraps and paper, waiting for warmer weather before joining the heap in our backyard.  I love being able to compost during the winter.  I make a special effort to include as much "brown matter" for balance.  Think cardboard, egg cartons, toilet paper tubes, and the newspapers Sports section.  There is no need to toss food into the garbage.  The container sits just outside my kitchen door to the garage.  Cool and dry, it makes sure we get every once of value out of food (it will nourish gardens of the future) and minimizes items from the municipal dump.  I have filled up two of these containers, and another two empty ones wait in the basement.  In the summer they will be cleaned and saved for winter 2014.

And then there is the chest freezer.  Oh yes, you may remember -- the one I worked so hard to fill this past growing season.  And now I am working to deplete our reserves.  Sadly in mid-February I feel as though I have not made a dent.  I turned up the effort today and foraged for cooking inspiration.  My morning oatmeal was topped with blueberries that I froze last summer and a rhubarb compote I made in the Spring.  Delicious and sweet enough that no honey was needed.  Pancakes (actually made last night by our sitter) contained pumpkin and a bit of banana the kids had not finished earlier in the day.  I love asking the sitter to make pancakes and eggs for Tuesday dinner.  It makes breakfast on Wednesday a bit easier because there are always leftovers.  And even the yogurt did not escape my effort to use every last drop.....I took plain Greek yogurt and mixed in the juice from the frozen berries.

Before heading out for work, I threw together a cheese potato soup, which fit well with the other veggies in the fridge that have a short shelf life (celery, carrots, onion, and red pepper).  And dinner will be frozen chicken in the crockpot and curried veggies....from the freezer.  Eggplant and zucchini with onions, garlic, and curry powder took minutes to prepare.

From the looks of the freezer, countless soups, curries, and quiches will be appearing on the table as I work to use the freezer items.  April 20th is not far off, and that is when the farmers' markets start up here in Madison.  Time to get cooking!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

John Robbins' The New Good Life: Living better than ever in an age of less

On loan from the library, I have been reading a recent book by John Robbins.  A prolific writer, this is the second book of his I checked out from the library.  For context, his last name is Robbins, as in the ice cream company.  In his early 20s he left his family, and their fortune, on moral grounds.  And when he writes about living on less, wow, did he live on next to nothing.

Books likes these remind me of concept cars on display at annual car shows.  Way outside the norm, life on the fringe.  I enjoy this type of books, but at times they make me feel less than adequate.  Then I remind myself that a little here and a little there, incremental change, that is fine, it is sustainable.  Living on an island in Canada, growing all our own food, and spending $500 in a year....well that isn't going to happen in my life.  It might be possible, but it is not what I want.

Why do I spend valuable time on these frugal concept books?  Almost always I find nuggets I can use in my own life or receive motivation to make one small change.  In this case, I will be trying a tofu and chive spread that he recommends in the food section -- eating lower on the food chain is his mantra.  It will save money and put more whole foods on the table.  And tofu is not a regular guest in my grocery cart.  It used to be when I had babies (mash and serve), but in recent years it has faded.  Stay tuned for a review later on.....I have yet to make the dish.

And his section on electric dyers motivated me to hang dry the floor rugs I routinely wash on Sundays.  They are too heavy to go the drying rack (I learned that the hard way....found a heap on the floor the next day) so I used pant hangers and the shower rod to dry them.  Electric dryers (which we have -- installing gas will happen when this dryer goes) use twice the power.  And in the winter, in the upper Midwest where the forced heat is a constant, the air is dry.  Line drying is efficient and allows for a bit more moisture in the home.  Happily I have now reduced one regular dryer use each week.

I recommend this book if you are looking for options to mix into your frugal life.  If you are new to frugality, it might give you the wrong impression.  We do not all grow our own food and tend to miniature goats in our backyard.  Frugal can be quite easy and not require huge life changes.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Frugal - Even on Trash Day!

Thursday is our weekly day to haul trash bins to the curb for collection by the City of Madison.  Garbage is picked up every Friday, recyclables every other Friday.  In a house that aims to recycle as much as possible, there are weeks when the green bin (a.k.a. recyclables) is bursting.  Or at least it used to be.

Late last year I came across a great post on "trucking air" and blogged about our adoption of "stomp on in first".  Yes, simply by stomping on milk containers and other bulky recyclables  we can increase the amount of items that fit in our containers.  And as a result more items fit into the truck, requiring fewer drop offs at the recycling center, less gasoline, etc.  All from stomping on plastic.  Or stacking.  Yes, yogurt containers, cottage cheese bins, and the like now form a tower under my sink until they are too tall.  Gone are the days of tossing each one willy nilly into the bin.  The space saved is amazing.

Author and daughter stomping a milk jug before tossing it in the recycle bin

Whether you pay directly for refuse collection, or the cost is included in your property taxes, we all pay a price for throwing items out.  Reduce and reuse only take you so far.  Here are a few of my ways to reduce what goes to the curb, either as trash or recyclables:

  • Stomp and stack as described above;
  • Compost food scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, cardboard, newspaper, etc. (even in winter);
  • Feed the critters -- discarded food from our young children that is not suitable for the compost heap is tossed to the squirrels, crows, and other critters; and
  • Empty the contents of a small trash can, usually from a bathroom or home office, into the large kitchen container.  This allows me to reuse garbage bags, reducing plastic in the dump and reducing our expenditures.
How about you, are you frugal on trash day too?  Post a comment and share, I am always looking for inspiration.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Frugal Last Minute Gift for Valentine's Day

Has February 14th snuck up on you, and now you find yourself with a love you'd like to shower with a gift but have little time and or money?  Search no further.  Chances are your kitchen and bathroom cabinets contain the makings of a lovely homemade gift.  If not, a trip to Walgreens, a Dollar Store, or grocery store will meet your supply needs -- give your love the gift of pampering with a jar of homemade body scrub.

Longtime readers of Frugal Upside may recall my post from over a year ago, when I received such a jar as a holiday gift.  All you need is:

  • glass jar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon scented massage oil
Mix the ingredients, scoop into the jar, adorn with a ribbon and or a sticker.  Voila, you have a lovely gift that did not break the bank or severely deplete the Earth's resources.  The jar we made for a gift was given to the children's sitter, who can most certainly benefit from a little pampering after a week with our two little ones.  The part I love the most is the jar we used was one she had given us last fall, filled with strawberry jam.

This gift is perfect for holidays, birthdays, mother's day, etc.  Throughout the year keep small glass jars when the contents are gone (jellies, pastes, etc.).  It also helps to save ribbons that come with packages over the course of the year; neutral colors can work for different events.  The ribbon I used for this jar was saved from a holiday gift this past season.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Madison Area - Frugal Friday Night Option for Valentine's

Image credit: - free image

Attention those in the Madison area, if you would like a reason to break out the party clothes, but not want to break the bank, consider attending the Valentine's Day Fundraiser at Prairie UU (west side of Madison).  All are welcome, free child care from 7-9pm, suggested donation of $10/adult.  There will be dancing, wine, food and a chocolate fountain!

This is a great option for those looking for a special night out, but not one that will costs loads of money.  Assuming we all stay healthy, my frugal family of four will be there to enjoy the festivities.  Details are on Prairie's web site.  If possible, an RSVP by Thursday is requested to get an accurate count so that the right amount of food and beverages are purchased.

For those not able or interested in attending, how do you celebrate a frugal Valentine's Day?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Adventures With Homemade Ice Cream, and Other Ways to Spend a Frugal Saturday

Saturday, a day when I am with the children all day.  No husband (off working), no nanny (no legal work for me), just mom.  Many women might head to the mall or other venues that suck dollars from your wallet.  Not me.  Frugal living allows my husband the freedom to create our own businesses, so the inspiration to have a fun day without breaking the bank is quite high.

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and we wanted to put Happy Heart Day notes in the mail to family.  No prepackaged cards for us this year.  Friday (my other day off, usually) I set the kids up with blank cards and paint.  For close to an hour they unleashed their inner Renoir.  We ended with seven cards, an exhausted finger paint supply, and some rather messy children.  Today we finished off the creations with some stickers and messages written by mom.

 M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2013
Cooling rack used in baking is working overtime -- drying the cards

Before heading out the door to the post office and a few other stops, I had a chance to hang a load of laundry.  In this house we use a drying rack and laundry line as much as possible.  Many may associate line dried clothes with summer weather, but winter time is great for air drying.  It adds extra moisture to the dry winter climate in our Midwestern home, keeps the energy bill low, and extends the life of our clothing.  Give it try.  Even in an apartment you can air dry: hangers on a shower rack; put a drying rack in the bathtub to save space, etc.  It worked for me the 8 years I lived in a college apartment.  And saved lots of quarters!

First stop out of the house was dropping off leftovers for the above mentioned husband.  Healthy food, no cost, no need to drive to the fast food storefronts near his office.  Dropped the cards in the mailbox, and then it was off to Verona, a nearby town.  To the children's annoyance we had to first stop at our accountant's office.  It's tax time, and for reasons you probably don't care to read about (it involves an s-corp election) the tax materials were needed ASAP.  The drop took five minutes, and then we arrived at our adventure destination....the Verona public library.  An hour and half later we left with a bulging grocery bag of books (the list was nearly as tall as my 2.5 year old!).

At home we read, watched a DVD from the library, and mom whipped up some more food in my frugal kitchen.  While two pieces of beef tenderloin (purchased in bulk at UW Provisions) thawed, I turned mushrooms, leeks, rice, and onions into a marvelous creamed soup.  Shredded zucchini from the chest freezer was transformed into a bread, which we will take as our "dish to pass" at a birthday party on Sunday.  And the final creation was pumpkin ice cream.

Adventures with homemade ice cream fits the bill tonight.  Not thinking, I pulled the frozen insert out of the chest freezer and put it in the machine (on loan from a friend, see yesterday's post).  Working too quickly I dumped in the ingredients.  Problem one, I did not mix them first.  Problem two, they started to freeze to the side, meaning the mixer insert would not fit.  In an effort to avoid a total loss I poured the ingredients into a bowl.  Cleaned the insert, put it back in the freezer to freeze, and gave it another whirl (after mixing in the bowl and putting the mixer in first).  Salvaged the batch.  Because of the delay, it remains to be taste tested yet.  But I have my fingers crossed that I have a new recipe in which to use all that pumpkin I froze last fall.

And that is how this frugal household spent its Saturday.  How about you?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Frugal Kitchen -- Adding an Ice Cream Maker to the Mix

Ice cream, it's a common staple in our grocery cart.  Or I should say it was a common staple on grocery runs.  Thanks to a loan from a friend, we were able to give the Cuisinart 2-quart ice cream maker a whirl.  And we haven't turned back.  Store bought ice cream has become a thing of the past.  As we prepare to return the loaner, I will be ordering a model so that it is a permanent feature in our frugal kitchen.  The model I plan to invest in runs about $70 on Amazon.  I have a prime account, so the shipping will be free.

Upon telling some people about making our own ice cream I received puzzled stares.  It sounded hard and expensive.  Thanks to Cuisinart it is neither.  And once they taste it, it is a huge hit.

One downside would be for kitchens that do not have lots of freezer space.  When preparing to make a batch, you have to freezer the insert.  And 2 quarts will take up space.  Possibly a bit too much for the standard kitchen freezer.  We however have a chest freezer in the garage, and it is perfect.  Once used and washed, we immediately put it back.  It keeps the freezer more full (which saves on energy costs) and the insert is ready to go if the urge to make a batch hits.  If not prepared, it takes two hours or more for it to fully freeze.

The one waste I've experienced with this process is whole milk and whipping cream.  I have yet to perfect the right size to buy at the store so as to minimize the amount leftover.  I can tell that on the days ice cream is made, I will also be more likely to make a cream soup or quiche.....something that requires whole milk and or cream.

Even with a bit of imperfection, this homemade ice cream costs far less.  Now we have organic dairy ingredients, and the ability to add local fruits to the mix.  Pure, tasty, and delightful.  My husband, who adores ice cream, declared it the best he has ever had.  Given that he had a "country club" childhood, I know that he has eaten some of the most expensive brands on the market.  His declaration is quite a testament.

And oddly, we now eat ice cream less often.  One reason is that it takes time to make.  Another is I am now fully aware of just how much sugar goes into ice cream.  We've played around with using honey as a substitute, but still -- wow, that is a lot of sugar!!!  It is more of a rare treat than a standard dessert.  And I think that is probably how it ought to be.

A last comment on the model we use -- it is loud.  So if you plan to run it (usually takes 30 minutes) while eating dinner, beware.  You may have to shout at the dinner table.

2013 starts out with removing one processed item from our grocery list, yeah!  Next up, getting rid of frozen waffles.  Anyone with tips on a waffle maker, feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Leftovers Transformed Into a Frugal Lunch -- Chicken, Rice, Cranberry, and Walnut Salad

Thursday at noon marks the end of my legal work for the week, and today I rejoiced in my fortune to have a home office.  After spending a few hours in my home office, my commute to domestic life was quick and easily.  Not the case for many of my fellow Madisonians, who are braving the icy and snow on our roadways.

With the computer in sleep mode, it was time to figure out lunch. The kids had already eaten and were engrossed in Lego play.  Hungry and wanting to put leftovers in the fridge to good use, I decided to try something new.  Inspired by a cranberry walnut bread we'd enjoyed at playgroup earlier this week, I whipped out a salad with the leftovers.  Paired with one of the many tangerines on the counter it was a simple, healthy and frugal lunch.

Cranberry, Walnut, Chicken and Rice Salad -- toss together:

  • chunks of leftover chiken;
  • remaining rice mix (various rices, Trader Joe's Brand)
  • dried cranberries
  • chopped walnuts
  • scoop of mayo
Mix and eat.  Add fruit and you have a tasty lunch.  I also think this would have been nice topped on a bed of greens.  It made a large portion, and half remains.  I may just add it to greens for Friday's lunch.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Frugal Kids via Book on Thoreau

"Oh, oh, can we read another book Mama?"

"Sure, how about this one - If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond".  I love this one!"

"Again?  How about another Lego book Mama?"

And so goes the debate between mother and children as we work our way through stacks of books, most from the library, others from our own shelves.  Recently I checked out the above mentioned book, written b Robert Burleigh, and it has been a delight.  Yes, this is another post about frugal and or simplicity parenting.  I dare you to read this aloud to children and not earn for life with just a bit less stimulus.

Again I'd recommend this as a gift for parents of children, but older this time, probably 3 and up.  There is a simple story followed by more advanced information on Henry David Thoreau.  And my favorite, quotes!

I'll leave you with a favorite.  Once again I think it might be time for me to pull my copy of Walden from my shelf and settle in for a few hours of Thoreau wisdom.
"Our houses are such unwiedly property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them". - Henry David Thoreau
Agree, disagree, feel free to leave a comment and thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Frugal Parenting: Reading Young at Art

Last weekend a book was mentioned in my book club (it has a twist, we talk about what we've been reading, not just one book.  Great way to learn about new authors, etc.), and I went home and requested it from the library.  If frugal parenting, or simplicity parenting appeals to you (or if you have nieces/nephews or grandchildren) I recommend taking a look.

Young at Art: Teaching toddlers self-expression, problem-solving skills, and an appreciation for art by Susan Striker was described as follows by my fellow book club member. "It's judgmental, opinionated, and I loved it!"  And so did I.  Over 13 chapters she gives direct advice on how to instill creativity in children via drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.  It ends with resource lists, etc.  My only dislike was that it stops at age 4, and my children are already 4 and 2.

Reading it made me feel rather proud.  Apparently my frugal parenting techniques align with her technique for building creativity.  For example:

  • We framed two huge cardboard paintings our children completed this last summer -- they hang prominently in our dining room.  And several people assumed they were "modern" art.  Nope, just a frugal mom wanting something for a huge wall;
  • Using kids artwork for holiday and birthday cards.  We've been doing that for several years!  Cuts costs, maximizes use of supplies, and is unique; and
  • Taking children to museums, allowing them to look around and tell you what they see.  A personal favorite of mine is the Milwaukee Art Museum, where we are members.  An annual fee of $79 gets our family of four in for free.  There are three major exhibits a year, which we make a point to drive down and see.  We spend 15 minutes looking at art.  A bit of my life pre-parent returns to me, the kids learn how to conduct themselves in an exhibit, and we only bother serious viewers for a little amount of time.  Afterwards we go to the Kohl's Art Center, in the museum, that is staffed and has several hands on art projects for children.  Hands down, a much better experience than the amazing Children's museums we have in Madison and Milwaukee.
So, if frugal and creative are your goals with young ones, check out this book.  I won't buy it for our own shelves, but it is nice to know it is free from the library.  It might make a nice gift to an expectant parent.  There is a lot of advice on really little babies and one year olds.....ages that are in our past now.

M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2012, -- writer's family enjoying the Kohl's Art Studio

Friday, February 1, 2013

Frugal Food - Tackling the Freezer Foods

Longtime readers will remember all of those farmers' market trips I made last season.  Most of the purchases were prepared and placed in our chest freezer in the garage.  And this week I've been pulling out packets, from which dinner emerges.  It is a great way to eat local in the winter, keep life simple, and put healthy food on the table.  And when you are as sick as I have been this week (age 39 with an ear infection, as does our son), healthy, simple meals are essential.

Thursday's dinner was cream of asparagus soup, couscous, and turkey burgers.  The asparagus had been pureed this past Spring.  All I did was melt butter, add flour, add in 2 bouillon cubes, 3 cups of water, diced scallions (also from our freezer), simmer, and then add 1 cup whole milk.  I was out of boxed broth and very pleased with the water bouillon substitute.  I opted for whole milk because I had it in the fridge for making homemade ice cream (more on that in later posts).

Dessert was pumpkin scuffins (think a scone meets a muffin).  Pumpkin (from the freezer), leftover oatmeal, and almond meal make these suitable for a quick breakfast as well.  I've blogged about my recipe in the past; hit the link for previous posts.

Battling sickness in our family for the past three weeks has thrown our grocery and meal preparation totally out of wack.  Sadly, some items have went from fridge to trash or compost.  I am doing the best I can to salvage what we have to minimize the waste.  And that freezer of ours is way to full.....lots more meals to come before the new market season starts in April.