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Blog: Balancing Thrifty And Fun

This blog will ramble on about raising two boys while working full time as an editor for ThriftyFun. I'm really lucky in so many ways. I have a loving, hardworking husband, a not too heavily mortgaged home, and two healthy and bright boys. But it is still hard, despite my blessings. I thought I'd share my challenges and my techniques (or lack thereof) for staying ahead of the wave of chores, responsibilities and financial problems.

Showing 4 posts in the Food Tips and Info category for this blog.
Grocery Shopping Twice A Month
Thursday, April 30, 2009

My family is trying to take charge of our finances, across the board.  One of the hardest areas to track is grocery shopping and meals.  We don't eat out a lot but we like to get the occasional Starbucks or pizza slice.  It feels like we go to the store every few days for something or other that we need.  Or we will have the opposite problem and have way too much to eat through before it goes bad.  This happens often with onions and potatoes.  So my new plan is to go grocery shopping after every paycheck. I'm going to make a monthly Costco run for specific things, like dog food and laundry detergent,  that I can save money buying in bulk. And I'm going to hit the farmer's market every weekend, for fresh fruits and veggies.

A problem with the bi monthly shopping trip is that you have to plan ahead. This is trickier than you might imagine.  This week (our first full week), I realized that we were entirely out of TP.  My husband cashed in the cans and bottles we had been gathering in the garage to pay for that extra trip.  I also had him get lemons for tabouli because I am no good at following rules, even my own. But I'm trying!

I also forgot to plan for Cinco de Mayo, which is next Tuesday.  Normally we would go to a local Mexican restaurant, because it is a fun holiday and I love Mexican food. Or, if we were feeling less flush, we would make fajitas and margaritas at home.  But this year, I have no fajita meat, no peppers, no tequila; so no way to make my own Cinco de Mayo feast. The saddest thing (to me) is that we just had tacos for dinner this week and I could have certainly rearranged meals to accomodate this.  I have an enchilada casserole in the freezer from some leftover Mexican food earlier in the year so I will defrost that and it will have to do.

One week to go before I can stock up again. Perhaps doing without will sharpen my planning and help me appreciate what I have, when I have it.

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Eating Locally
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I just finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  It is a really interesting account of how the family challenged themselves to eat locally for a year, mostly with what they grew themselves.  She is the author of The Bean Trees and Pigs In Heaven, some of my favorite novels, and has a gift for expressing herself.  The chapters are broken up in months and each includes recipes with seasonal ingredients and information about the social impacts of eating locally vs buying food that had been transported thousands of miles.  It starts in April, with the first asparagus, which is just what time it was when I started reading it. At first, I thought it would be fun to read each section throughout the year, but I couldn't wait to find out what happened.  It really made me think about local and seasonal food in a different way.

I have a garden, visit my farmer's market and have organic produce delivered every other week.  I don't use a lot of convienece food in my cooking and we don't eat out much, especially not for fast food. Still, I buy bananas for my boys (flown from around the Equator), buy Italian olive oil, coffee (which grows nowhere near Oregon) and tons of produce from California.  I haven't really stopped to think about my carbon footprint, from that traveling alone.  Plus, I would like my money to stay here, in my community. I like to think about buying something directly from the farmer. And fruits and veggies have to be fresher if they were grown here.

When I was in college, I saw a video about the tomato harvest and how they pick them green and then spray them with a chemical to turn them red.  Red, not ripe.  I have always preferred homegrown tomatoes and grow them every summer, with varying results. Last year, I could barely keep up with the tomatoes before they got mushy, especially the cherry tomatoes.  Animal, Vegetable, Mineral has some good instructions for preserving tomatoes by canning them and drying them.  I'm going to try both ways and see if I can use all my Classico jars that I have resisted recycling to good use.

Another thing I might try to preserve is berries. You get these beautiful baskets of berries at the Farmers Market, they are better than candy.  But we always seem to overbuy and then can't use them up in time.  I'm going to try freezing some and drying some.  We have a cherry tree that is covered with blossoms, a peach tree which is doing better than last year and an apple tree that suggests applesauce is in my future.

I love the spring, everything is full of potential.

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Cleaning Out The Freezer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

Since the first of the year, I have been trying to eat our way through all the random stuff I have frozen.  I want to be able to start fresh when it is time for summer berries and cookouts.  I have been surprised at two things:  how much I have kept and how poorly it was packaged and marked.  Sometimes I have had to defrost the item to find out if it is spagetti sauce, chili or some other tomato based item. Still, you can put about anything in a soup and make it taste good, even if it is has a little freezer burn.

I have taken to planning the week's meals on a chalkboard near my kitchen.  First I look through the fridge and freezer to see what needs to be eaten.  If a meal suggested itself (like if I have ground beef, sour cream and salsa, I might plan to make tacos), I write it down. If there are leftovers or items that don't lend themselves to obvious meals, I just write those items.  For example, I have a lot of frozen pumpkin that I saved out around Thanksgiving.  So I plan to make some pumpkin muffins for my boys soon.

I try to go to the store only once a week, after I do my fridge clean out. Sometimes I need an item or two for a planned meal. I get organic produce delivered every other week. It is $33.00 for a large box of seasonal fruits and veggies.  This week I got a leek, rainbow chard, an orange cauliflower, lettuce, garlic, onions, mushrooms, apples, pears . . . It is like a present every time.  However, it is hard to eat my way through all of it in two weeks, sometimes.  This has encouraged me to plan my meals from the veggie out. 

Here is an example: I had a bunch of ruby chard that needed to be eaten. I often make a sausage and potato soup (like the Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana) with chard but I didn't have sausage or potatoes and we had been eating a lot of soup lately. So I decided to saute the chard in a bit of oil and garlic.  This left me the middle ribs to use up.  I cut them up like celery and used them in much the same way in a mushroom stroganoff over rice.  The kids turned their noses up at the "yucky green stuff" but didn't even notice the reddish bits in their stroganoff.

I am planning on using my freezer more wisely this year. I'm going to keep track of what I freeze better and utilize it more in my weekly menu planning. I also think that I need to invest in a food saver as ziplocks and tupperware don't seem to be cutting it. I don't want my freezer to be like a black hole where food goes in, only to be thrown out in months to come.  I keep a pretty well stocked pantry of canned and dried goods, like pasta, beans, canned tomatoes.  This is where I can go if I am out of food. I will use my freezer as an extension of my fridge, for food to be eaten within weeks, not months.

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Juggling in the Dark
Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hi, I woke up before the alarm went off today and couldn't go back to sleep.  It is so dark during the winter!  Even though it is just about six am, it feels like I am the only one in the world that is awake.

The holidays did me in!  I love to cook but I'm just starting to recover from all the special cooking tasks I took on this year.  I'm still trying to find my balance between watching Ethan, keeping the house tidy and working enough to justify not having a 9-5.  It should be easier to juggle all the responsibilities in the spring.  Lately, when my husband gets home, instead of making dinner or doing something constructive, I just turn off.  I'll read or do the minimum housework so I can stand it.  We got a couple of new items for our house recently, but that means that furniture and such gets moved around, making even more chaos.

Well, the alarm clock is about to go off and the whole day is starting again. I think I will go and beat the rest of the family to the shower.

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jess (Contact)
Hillsboro, OR USA
About Me:

I'm a 39 year old . . . what? Mother, college graduate, housewife with a full time job, mostly unpublished writer, the list just goes on. I'm spiritual, but not religious; lazily liberal; frugal but with a love of pretty, shiny things. My mother, Susan, was the founder of ThriftyFun and scrimped all her life to have enough for her kids. I try to do her proud but sometimes stumble along the way.

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