Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Make your own Pop Tarts

I had to share this idea with you. Why? Because this recipe struck a nerve for me. I read an article recently about foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, and PopTarts, my kids run out the door with food in fist favorite was listed on there. Yeah, I DID know they were not good for you because they are full of sugar, but that's not all. They are full of HFCS. So is Shake and Bake, Stove Top Stuffing and CapriSun juice. I wasn't surprised about the juice, but stuffing?

This is one of the best reasons that make scratch cooking the best way to feed your family. There is no processed food out there that can't be made in your own kitchen, minus the additives, chemicals and fats. I will do my best to find, try and share these recipes with you. I promise you if they are too difficult they won't be making it to this blog.

If you are interested in why high fructose syrup is considered even worse than sugar go to this site. If you want to find out what items contain HFCS try Googling "foods containing high fructose corn syrup".

Here is a really good recipe for homemade toaster pastries. I bet they freeze just fine too.  Laura’s Healthy Homemade Poptarts come from a great blog called Heavenly Homemakers. Enjoy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Snow Day!!

We are home for the third time this week due to snow. You know you have had too many storms when your kids complain that they can't go to school for final exams. Go figure! Well, here are a few shots that tell a lot about what a "snow day" looks like at our house.

Steamer waiting to come in from the cold.

Steamer doing the Newfy Shake.

The floor after the Newfie Shake

Making the kids "to die for waffles"

Cheering up the very disappointed students with my "to die for waffles" (If I had audio on this blog you would here many moans of delight.)

Waffles are all gone. Now what do we do? Play with fire! 

In Maine we like plaid for the cold weather. Katie got all hers on. A fashion diva.

Well, there you have it folks. The kids have decided to go sliding and the house is quiet. Here is the recipe for.... 

2 -1/4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 Tablespoons sugar
2 beaten eggs
2-1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Stir together the dry ingredients.  Beat the eggs.  Add eggs, milk and oil to the flour mixture and stir.  Do not overmix, the batter will be slightly lumpy.
Cook in your favorite waffle maker.

I hear we are due for a BIG storm on Tuesday. Enough already!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

How is everybody doing on their Eating From the Pantry Challenge? Oh, didn't I mention that challenge? It is a blogger challenge from the good folks at Mrs Happy HomemakerFrugal Follies,  Shopper StrategyGoing Green Mama, and Midnight Maniac

Now that I have come out of the pantry, so to speak, I figured I should probably follow these gals and get the most out of my storage. It's important to rotate stock, as I mentioned, but it is also a good idea to get organized and get to know my pantry once in a while. This is a great idea for several reasons.

1. I want to "get over Christmas". I spent more than I planned AGAIN and need to tighten up the budget to clean that little problem up. Eating from the pantry allows me to cut my grocery spending way back in order to save, or pay back, the money borrowed from my budget.

2. Use what I have, or get it out of here! If I find some weird food item that I have no use for, I want to donate it before the expiration date. I honestly have a can of spinach. I thought I might eat it if I were starving, but that just doesn't seem to be something I am too worried about right now, so Popeye, this one is for you!

3. Incorporate more meatless meals into the weekly menus. A cheap and healthy way to eat, yet the first thing I always think about when planning meals is the meat. This week we are planning two meatless meals and the ingredients are all right in the pantry.

4. Making a conscious decision to think about preparing for emergencies and ensuring that we have what our family will need in the event of an unplanned event. Today is yet another "snow day". The kids are all home and they are calling for icy conditions later on in the storm. Ice for us is a problem. Ice weighs the tree limbs down over the power lines, which means that there is a good chance we will be without power later on, and we won't know when we'll have it again. 
During this month I will start an emergency inventory list and create a mini emergency box containing things like:
                       batteries, all sizes
                       playing cards
                       lamp oil
                       bottle of wine 

Here is how my first week on the "Challenge" looked. 
First I realized that I was low on spray cleaner, feminine products, cereal, dishwasher detergent and a few other things. With coupons I had on hand I purchased 8 bottles of Windex for less than $2 each, 16 pax of maxi pads which were on sale and I had coupons for bogo free, cereal was $2.00 each but if you bought 5 you got a free quart of oj, I got 15 boxes. I did buy a roast for $2.99 a lb, but received 5 lbs of potatoes and a bag of onions for free as part of the deal. I also bought 3 lbs of catfish for 2.99 a lb. even though I hadn't planned it. The price was certainly right and we haven't had fish for a while, so I just did. Oatmeal is also a great deal this week especially when you include a $1 off coupon and free oj. 

This week's Eat From the Pantry/freezer menu for our family is:
Monday, boneless pork chops, frozen beans, and rice pilaf
Tuesday, lemon pepper catfish fillets, roasted potatoes, mixed vegetables
Wednesday, bean and rice burritos, corn 
Thursday, beef stew, biscuits (using the roast for stew meat)
Friday, homemade Shake and Bake chicken fingers, salad, cantaloupe
Saturday, left overs, side of baked beans, canned peaches
Sunday, egg strata, homefries, fruit crisp

We will also be using quite a bit of oatmeal, flour and baking mixes this week. I got ahead of myself during the holidays with those products. 
How are you doing with your pantry? For more ideas take a look at the blogs I included above and tell 'em I sent you.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Make Your Own and $AVE the Difference

Mmmmmmmmmm, Pancakes!

There are plenty of ways besides couponing that can save you lots of money on your groceries. Sure it may be a great deal to combine a sale on Bisquick with a coupon that can double. But what if, by spending just a few minutes, and using ingredients you already have on hand, you can make your own for just pennies. This is where you can see the biggest difference in your grocery spending habits. The added benefit of making your own products is knowing exactly what is in the product. I have been doing this with some of my groceries for a while. This recipe is one I use often. With a family this size you need to use convenience foods to make life easier. You just don't need to use THEIR version. The recipe makes a couple of months worth of baking mix and can be used for dozens of recipes. You can go to the Bisquick site to get them all. I store mine in an airtight container in the darkest and coolest section of my pantry.

Homemade Bisquick Mix

8 cups flour
1 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
1/4 cup baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups shortening

Combine flour, milk, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening. Store in tightly closed container in cool place. Use anywhere Bisquick or other biscuit baking mix is called for

I suggest using your electric mixer for this recipe. My refurbished Kitchenaid works great with this.

You can find lots more of this type of do it yourself recipe here. You'll find recipes for things like sweetened condensed milk, whipped cream substitute, worcestershire sauce, cake flour, Shake and Bake, blender sour cream and butter, and plenty more. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sustainability and Self-Reliance

“The world is busy with its own cares, sorrows and joys, and pays little heed to
you. There is but one great pass-word to success,—self-reliance.”
William George Jordan
(1864 - 1928)

I am an admitted LDS blog stalker. LDS or Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) have been teaching their members about self reliance for over 100 years. I became interested in becoming self reliant once I began expanding the family. Living on the outskirts of town, we tend to be the first ones without power during an ice storm, or wind storm, or breeze for that matter. We have been without power for up to four days. This may not seem like a significant amount of time to you, but consider our circumstances; there are eight or ten people and two dogs that would need shelter from the freezing temperatures; finding food for ten people is not an easy task when the grocery stores are empty due the rush on food prior to the storm, and, although I have some good friends, I doubt they like me well enough to have all of us weather the storm in their house. So, for this reason, I felt that the responsible thing to do for this family was to plan for the worst. Today I am opening up my doors to you in order to share what our food storage looks like and why we couldn't live without it..

The name for such a plan is called stockpiling, and we have become very good at it. Until now I have been hesitant to share about my stockpile publicly. For those who are not familiar with the practice it may look more like hoarding. Trust me though, it is nothing like that. I regularly weed out things that our family is not likely to use and give it away to those who can use it. 

I save quite a bit on groceries by shopping and storing food that I purchase at it's rock bottom price and then stack that with a coupon or two. I try to achieve a 50%+ savings off my bill at each grocery shopping trip. Here is an example of how I might do that. Let's say Kellogg's cereal is on sale at Shaw's for $2.00 a box, I have 6 coupons for $1.50 off two boxes, and there is a store Catalina of $5.00 back when you buy ten boxes. On a deal like this I will buy 12 boxes. This makes the price of the cereal, originally priced at $3.29, only .96 a box. At this price it only makes sense to buy several and store them. Cereal goes fast around here so I look for deals like this often.

Other things we stock up on are pasta, peanut butter, soups, beans, vegetables, fruits, spaghetti sauce, oil, condiments, coffee creamer, coffee, juice, gravy, jams and jellies, some convenience foods, salad dressing, syrup, spices, powdered milk, toiletries, bathroom supplies, cleaning supplies, toothpaste, toothbrushes, feminine products, water, baking supplies, rice. These are things we use on a regular basis. The key to making this a money saver is to keep an inventory of what you have on hand, and rotate your stock. After a while you will only shop for fresh milk, produce and bread as well as the things you are getting low on, and then only when they are on sale and you have coupons for them. Our budget for 8 was usually around $250 a week or more. Now it is $100 a week and that includes dog food, cleaning products, and over the counter drug store products. I try to only shop twice a month unless there is a really good deal. Then I will only shop for that item in bulk and not stray from the list.

There are other good reasons to stockpile in your home. One of the easiest to relate to is the ability to have all of the ingredients you need for a meal right in your pantry. I used to live in town and a five minute jaunt to the grocery store was no big deal. Now that we live on the outskirts, that is not such an easy thing to do. I've also learned that those last minute dashes to the grocery store, especially on my way home from work, are extremely expensive. I go in and shop aimlessly and, at that time of day, EVERYTHING looks good. I have no impulse filter when I shop like that. 

Another reason that having extra food and other necessities on hand includes a sudden unexpected loss of income or a medical emergency that prohibits you from getting to the store. Two years ago I experienced both at the same time. I was so grateful to have my stockpile to turn to and it sustained us for weeks. 

If you would like the peace of mind that owning a stockpile can give you, and are thinking that you should get serious about stockpiling things for an emergency, here are some guidelines you should consider.

  1. Make sure you have the room to dedicate to your stockpile. You may have more room than you think. Ours is in the kitchen, hall closet, bathrooms, and down cellar. You may find space under beds, in closets, or in the garage. You want to take care of your storage space, making certain that it is vermin and bug free, things won't freeze etc. Don't start stockpiling until you have a dedicated space for it or your family will be tripping over your great deals.
  2. Start off slowly. This isn't something most people can afford to do in a hurry. Make a list of things you know you use, and run out of, frequently. Start looking for sales and coupons for those items. Dedicate 10% of your grocery budget to add to your stockpile. This will get you started and you should be able to have a healthy stockpile within 6 months. 
  3. Have control over your stockpile. If your kids or husband are anything like mine they could go through a stockpile of cereal in a week. Either find a storage spot that the most tempting things can be hidden away in or keep them on the top shelves of your pantry so that they are out of view and less accessible. 
  4. Keep track of expiration dates. Many things can last a long time on the shelf, but others, like flour, and baking mixes can go bad and actually make you sick. Don't take chances with those things.
  5. Rotate your stock. Watch how the stock boys do it at your grocery store. They are continually emptying the shelf, putting the newer dates in back and returning the older dates to the front. If you find you have several things that are close to expiring, and you know you can't use them soon enough, box them up and take them to your local food pantry.
  6. Keep an inventory of your items. When you are running low on an item make a mental note that you can start looking to replace it soon with a sale item. Once you get really good at couponing you will find that you won't pay more than $1 for a bottle of detergent, canned vegetables will cost less than 50 cents, toothpaste and toothbrushes will be free. Learning to shop well with coupons will help get the stockpile growing and is essential to making sure you have what you need, when you need it
Here are a few of my favorite food storage blogs

I hope that by revealing  sharing this information with you, it will inspire you to think about how your family would fare in the event of a natural or personal disaster. Being prepared is not just a motto. It is the first step towards living your life with planful intention. Having enough available; enough money on hand, enough emergency supplies, enough food is like having money in the bank. It may not be the way you live now, but consider the benefits if crisis were to hit your family.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thank you for your generosity. You know who you are.

This was a most rewarding Christmas. I want to share a little of the generosity I was witness to this year. As you know I serve our schools as the outreach worker for children and families from k-6th grade. During the Christmas season I tend to spend a lot of my time helping families who are experiencing financial difficulties, and there are many, find ways to fulfill their children's Christmas wishes. This year the local Toys for Tots program served over 1,400 families in southern York County. It was fun to bring a car full of Moms to their pick up appointment and see how happy they were coming back to the car with arm loads of toys for their children. This year our church was the distribution center for Toys for Tots and they did a wonderful job of welcoming these families and making the experience a joyful one.

Our family received a very generous surprise from a relative and her family who have enjoyed reading this blog and wanted to contribute to the work we are doing here. The gift card they sent came in so handy when, at the last minute, I got word that one of the families I work with had not been able to get anything for their children. I am particularly fond of one of these children, an 8-year-old boy, who loves GI Joe and Techdecks. His sister, 14-years-old, needed some teen girlie things, and one of the teens that I work with told me she just wanted a hair straightener as hers has broken. Her family also needed food. So, armed with my gift card, I was able to shop like Santa and deliver all of those gifts. What fun! Thank you so much to my cousin and her family for helping me spread Christmas around to some wonderful kids. I wish I could have shared some of the hugs I received. I still have one gift card and I am saving that one for an emergency. I'm sure it won't be with me for long.

The Bathalon Barkers on Katie and Keith's Adoption Day

One of my favorite "You made my Christmas" moments this year was when one of the families I have worked with the longest called me to tell me how they were doing. This family has come such a long way in the three years I have known them. The mother mentioned that she was trying to come up with enough money to give her two children their wish for Christmas. I usually have no problem finding toys, clothes and food for families in need, but that wasn't what her children were asking for. What they wanted for Christmas was to be adopted by their mother's husband who had raised them since they were very young. They loved this man and all they wanted for Christmas was to be adopted. Mom had been able to have half of the filing fee waived but she still needed to come up with $180 for the court fees involved with an adoption.
    My first response to her request was admittedly a defeatist one. I was about to wish her well and let it go, but I knew how much the kids wanted this. And I certainly knew how important our family's adoption experience was. I had an idea that I wasn't the only one who would know how important it was and I reached out to a woman who knew one of the kids through a supper club program that her church put on for local children the year before. I let her know of the children's desire to be adopted and hoped she might like to chip in to make it happen for the child she knew. She didn't hesitate to say that her church would be happy to sponsor both children to be adopted. I think I danced when I heard this.

This was the first year that we gave a Christmas Jar to a family that we have known for a long time. Times have been hard for this family, especially recently. My daughter had so much fun decorating our jar full of change, collected over the year, and then placing it along with a copy of the book, Christmas Jars, on the front step of the family's home and then lighting a candle so they would discover it there. She then knocked on the door and ran away, right past my car and, up the road in order not to be discovered. We watched as someone came outside and found what we left for them. It was so much fun to share this project with her. I'm sure the money helped this family out, but I have no doubt that the two of us got more out of doing it for them. We call Katie "007" now.

I am so incredibly fortunate to have opportunities to witness many Christmas miracles through my work. From the school secretary who asked me for five families that needed a Christmas tree that she and her husband could bring one to, to the youth groups that asked to adopt a family for Christmas and provide them with food and gifts for each member, to the church that sponsored a family who was homeless with, not only food and gifts for Christmas, but has continued to assist them in finding affordable housing that they have so generously paid to get them settled in to. The church has also committed to supporting them as they get back on their feet.

I think this may have been my best Christmas ever. Not because of the material gifts I received, but because of the generosity and compassion that I was so blessed to have been a part of.  Thanks to all of you who have  helped others this season and all year long. You may never know how much it is appreciated. But I can tell you that from my experience, it truly is.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

After Christmas sales. Hold on to your pocketbooks!

Are you out in this miserable cold looking for great after Christmas deals? Many people are lured out of their warm houses with the promise of incredible savings on things that can be used next year. They are stocking up on wrapping paper at great prices, cards 50% off, Christmas cookies that are still fresh enough to sell, etc. Target has great deals on bubble wrap, decorations, chocolate, etc. It's a Christmas wonderland of clearance savings. In the past I was certainly one of those shoppers. I loved coming home with bags full of things I would not need to look at for a whole year. However, many years I would tuck my prizes away so successfully that I never found them again. Hmmm, no savings there.

Here is my strategy for saving big in the next few days. Since I really only needed two rolls of wrapping paper this Christmas, due to the decrease in holiday spending, I won't buy anymore. That will free up storage space for items I really do need and use throughout the year. Since I plan to go on a weight loss plan this year, the cookies and candy will have to stay there too. And since I already have way too many holiday decorations that never even see the light of day once a year, I will weed some out and resist replacing them.

Little did I know this would be my most frugal post yet.

My total for after holiday clearance deals $0.
More storage space...free!! You can't beat free.