The Concrete Serengeti ~ Part 1 on Frugal Mealtimes

Today at graftedvine we are going to observe the lioness as she stalks her prey.

As of late there has been a scarcity of food, and increase in hunting parties, crowding into her domain. She has to always be on guard.

Alas she see her prey! She stealthily moves on  padded feet careful not to draw attention to herself.

Then she waits for that opportune moment, settling her weight on her haunches. Muscles tightly coiled ready to spring into action.

That moment comes and in her full glory she pounces on her prey!

Satisfaction wells up within her as she carries her prize back to her cubs.

So does that happen in real life? Sure it does! The main thing missing is the lioness doesn’t hunt alone.  If you’ve ever watched a hunt, they always travel in a pack! Right now the headlines are trumpeting the drought that is happening in the US. The economists are saying that we are going to start feeling the effects of the drought in our wallets and our bellies. Have you started to feel that yet? Today we venture into the concrete Serengeti to try to figure out ways to effectively save money, while getting the most nutrition for our $$.

1. Coupons– well duh! Grafted you are a little behind the times here, super couponing has been the rage for a few years now! Or then I get the other side….well we only eat organic foods. Did you know that most organic companies have coupons on their website? Check it out! I love getting coupons from Applegate and other brands. The down side to couponing is that you can actually spend more with coupons if you aren’t careful….whoa…whoa! Wait a minute here! Back up the crazy train! Spend more using coupons? The whole point of coupons is to SAVE money. Well stop for a minute and look at that coupon that you just clipped for the razzle dazzle cereal. If you didn’t have the coupon would you have bought that cereal anyway? No? With the coupon is it cheaper than what you would normally buy?  I think as consumers, especially here in the states we are sometimes  make that a lot of times sucked in by the idea of getting a deal that we don’t stop to really think about the big picture.

2. Shop only the perimeter of the store.  You’ve probably heard this before, but the food on the perimeter of the store is a lot healthier for you. All that stuff in the middle? Cheap convenience food, which when you get right down to it, is not cheap. Say what?!?! You heard me, it isn’t cheap! If the vast majority of the world is able to live with out that food, and live healthy lives, can’t you? Yes it is yummy, but most of that stuff is full of non food items. Powdered coffee creamer…silicone with your coffee anyone? Um, no thanks I’ll pass! Most of the stuff you find in boxes or cans are filled with fillers. When you take out all those fillers and preservatives, there isn’t much left. So the whole crux of the matter is you are actually spending more money, while being led to believe that you are spending less. True there are exemptions to the rule i.e. rice, beans, canned tomatoes, rolled oats, nut butters. No I am not listing broth, cereal, or other canned veggies.

3. Manager Specials. So how else can you save by shopping the perimeter of the store? Most supermarkets have mark down bins/ shelves on the outside. Apples for $0.29/ lb? $0.99 for 4 LARGE russet potatoes, etc. Typically there is nothing wrong with these items. I spoke to the produce manager at my store, he said that there may be 1 bad or bruised apple in the bag. They can’t sell it that way, so they remove the 1 apple, repackage it and sell the rest for $0.99. So that bag of apples that way $1.99+ is now half price because of 1 apple. I’ve gotten bags of clementines for more than half off because the skin was slightly mottled. The fruit was still perfectly good, it just didn’t LOOK pretty. Of course you have the meat markdowns and markdowns in the milk and cheese section. Did you know that you can freeze all that stuff? Ask your manager when they do the markdowns, they’ll be happy to tell you what day they mark stuff down. After all they’d rather sell the stuff at a lower price than to have to chuck it, making no money at all. It economics people….supply and demand! I personally love the scratch and dent section at our local grocery store!

4. Bulk buy, but only when it makes sense! So you were hunting for those elusive mark downs that I was telling you about. Uh huh! Caught you, you savvy shopper you! On your hunt you found several bags of onions marked down to an irresistible price. What’s a savvy shopper to do? You know that you can’t use them all up right away, so what’s a girl to do? Well if you have freezer space available that is one option, depending on the produce you could can the item. Or even do it the old fashion way and ferment it. When in doubt it is better to pass up any items that you can’t reasonably use before they go bad. After all, it wasn’t much of a deal if you have to throw the food away.

Up next….getting cultured! Great DIY foods that you can make at home and save $!

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Sweet and Spicy Irish Sauce

My husband and I love going to this Irish (chain) restaurant near us. The food is fantastic!

However the price, not so much in our budget. When

you are trying to save money it’s important to make it as painless as possible.

One of my favorite tips is to find/ create copy cat recipes, serve them on our best dishes or outside for an al fresco meal.

Small touches like that, flowers (that you’ve picked!), or candles can make a huge difference!

So here’s is a favorite of ours, serve over grilled, baked, or fried chicken.

Sweet and Spicy Irish Sauce

1 stick of butter

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

2.5 Tb honey

.5- 1 Tb green Tabasco sauce * the amount depends on how spicy you want it!

juice of 1/2 a lemon

1. Melt the butter on medium heat. When completely melted add the rest of ingredients. Whisk to incorporate. Turn on low and simmer until ready to pour on cooked chicken.

Enjoy!

This post participates in:

Prairie Homestead Barn Hop
Morristribe Blog Hop
Hearth and Soul Blog Hop
Pennywise Platter

$$$ saving tips

Ok, so by now there are about a million posts out in the blogosphere about how to save money at the grocery store.

Yeah. This is not one of those posts…

If you aren’t open to thinking outside the concrete maze. Or the card board box.

This post probably isn’t for you….then again, maybe it should be.

By now you’re extreme couponed to death. I know the grocery stores are!

Ha! My local grocery store is now putting limitations on coupons.

I guess they got tired of owing people money! ROFL

And it’s not new news that you can purchase meat on clearance that needs to be frozen,

same with veggies and fruit. Yes, even those bananas that are turning brown.

Throw them in the freezer (peeled, wrapped, and then sealed in your vehicle of choice)

Then when you want a smoothie, throw that bad boy in there! No need for ice or really

sweetener for that matter. It defies logic, but for some reason bananas are sweeter when frozen!

Any who, back to what I was saying…. this is not one of those posts.

Here’s my tips:

1. Become a farmer. Uh, well maybe not really. But I venture to guess that most people have a window that gets some sunlight. A few small pots and some seeds can get you started. Oh and don’t forget the water! Depending on space and sunlight there are a variety of things that you can grow. If you don’t have a ton of space, but are very excited to get started check out pinterest. There are a lot of great ideas to maximize space to grow food indoors.  Say what? You’ve never grown anything before? Not even in elementary school for earth day? Oh well. Start with something simple, say a herb or even lettuce. I highly recommend butter crunch for lettuce, oregano, or thyme for herbs. I’ve killed a lot of stuff over the years and those seemed to have held up well despite the blunders that I have made while learning. This coming from the girl who grew up in a family where a vegetable garden was the norm. If I wanted a snack, I went out back for berries, or to the front yard for apples. Yeah. I still killed stuff despite my “experience”. Enough about me, back to you. The nice things about the butter crunch lettuce is that if you leave say an inch on the plant when you cut it, it’ll grow more. But keep up on cutting it so that it doesn’t go to seed.

What does go to seed mean? Basically the plants at the end of its life cycle and is going to “reproduce” by providing more seeds. It’ll send up a tall(ish) shoot (on lettuce) and flower. The flower thing is the same for herbs btw. You don’t want to eat it once it has done that, tastes very bitter. blech! Even if you can’t use it right away, don’t throw it away! Give it to someone else 🙂 Which leads to…

2.  Be a good steward. All right, I’ve got the first point down pat. Don’t believe me? Scroll back up! That pic at the beginning was all produce that I grew! But back to reality. I may grow all that stuff, but I’m not necessarily a good steward of it. So according to some article on Yahoo!, yes Yahoo! Americans are terrible about throwing their food away. This is where I. AM. GUILTY! Sigh. Ever since reading that article I have been *trying* to do better. Hold on a minute…….

Sorry ’bout that! Thinking about that article reminded me I picked a bunch of basil today to make/ freeze pesto. Had to take care of it before I needed to toss it 😉

Try to be very deliberate about what you purchase or grow. Make sure it is something that you will eat quickly or stores well. Found the deal of the century on onions? Chop those suckers up (don’t cry on me now!) and portion it out to freeze. Veggies looking like they are almost on their last leg? Don’t look at me all crazy.  You know what I mean, those ones that were hiding in the back of the fridge that you forgot about 😉 Don’t throw them out, make a soup! Bought chicken breasts in a pack of 5 but there are only 4 in your family? Cook them all and immediately put up the largest. Sweet mother of pearl, I have been able to take 1  large chicken breast  and turned it into shredded chicken tacos for my entire family too many times to count! Actually it’s one of my family’s favorite meals 🙂

3. Prep not plan. I know the big push is to meal plan. Sorry not going to happen. At least not for me, I’m not a meal planner. I may be a sahm, but I’ve got 3 little kids and I home school the oldest. Anyone that has had children knows stuff comes up. It’s getting close to dinner time, I’ve started getting things together. Then WAAAAHHHHH! Little fruit decides it’s milky time, and she likes milky time. It takes her a while, not because she’s a slow eater, but because she eats so much! Or middle fruit didn’t tell me he needed to go potty, so now he needs to be changed. Big fruit decides to pick a fight with middle fruit. Screaming and yelling then ensues. I have to put down a now crying little fruit (who wants her milky back) to stop the argument between big and middle fruit, before there is blood…er juice.

You get the picture, life happens. You just gotta learn to roll with it. In a matter of minutes or hours your meal plan goes flying out the window because something happens. Keeping a well stocked pantry and freezer can help with that. Buying items that use frequently in bulk can help with this. Some other good ideas is to have pre-cooked rice or beans in your freezer. It’s much cheaper for you to buy these dry and cook them yourself, then freeze. Although if you are not one of those people, you by all means can buy the rice that way in the freezer section and can beans. Keeping items on hand that you can quickly throw together with the few spare minutes you have is key. Go through the recipes you have under your belt. Which ones do you make well? Which ones take the least amount of time? Make sure you keep the ingredients always in stock at your home. Try to do any prep work that might save you time, i.e. frozen chopped onions, cooked rice, etc.

The last and quickest way to keep from picking up the phone for pizza, is to make sure you have completely cooked meals in your freezer. Making chili this week? Double the recipe and freeze it. Grilling chicken? Well you get the idea. In a pinch I have been known to fall back on scrambled eggs, pb&j, or pasta. I try not to make a habit of it, so when it does happen I refuse to feel guilty.

4. Get out of that concrete maze! Farmer’s markets are a great resource. 1st of all, the longer a fruit or veggie sits before it gets to you, the less nutrition and flavor it has. Local farmer’s market (not all but most) consist of produce that was grown near you. Most of which was probably picked that morning or the day before. You may discover you have a love of carrots. I’ll never forget the day I served big fruit a raw carrot from our garden. She thought it was cooked because she hates raw carrots. This carrot was good! So it had to be cooked! It took a while to convince her that it wasn’t. Her question…why don’t all carrots taste like this? Good point! There’s the obvious: different varieties of carrots. However nothing beats a carrot just pulled from the ground or a tomato just plucked from the vine. The flavor is incredible! My hubby hates apples bought from the store. He claims that they must suck all the flavor out of them before they hit the store. Why and how the stores does this he doesn’t know, but he wants his apples from the local orchards. Which means eating seasonally, that also helps lower costs. Do you realize that the tomato you bought in Decemeber doesn’t grow here in winter? It had to be shipped (typically) from another country. Before it was ready to be picked? Also that because it isn’t local that is why it is so expensive?

Another benefit of farmer’s markets? The people and the wealth of knowledge. Don’t know what to do with those little ity bity green cabbage like things called brussel sprouts? Chances are the farmer can give you several good recipes to try. After all they more than likely eat what they grow! See an unusual fruit or veggie? Farmers love to share that kind of thing. If it’s something that can be eaten raw, they may even give you a small one to try right there. At the end of the day markets will start marking down their produce. Typically stuff that they don’t think will sell well the next day. You can save a lot of money this way! Now please note not all markets allow their sellers to do this, why I don’t know. So try to contact whomever is in charge of organizing it before you go. I’d hate to see you get your hopes up for nothing.

5. Go directly to the source. So by now you are (hopefully) getting excited about checking out your local farmers market. Your taste buds are tingling in anticipation that they will finally know what foods are supposed to taste like! How about taking it a step further….go to the source. If you have a deep freezer, or have room for one (space and budget wise) you may want to consider this. While your mouth is doing a happy dance over all the new produce, there is another world waiting for it to discover! Do your research, get to know the farmers. Some of them also offer meat and dairy products. While I haven’t found the dairy products cheaper, the meat can be. This is where your deep freeze comes in handy.

Wow! A lot of beef huh? To be precise it’s a 1/4 of a cow. Which will keep my family well fed for the year. How much does it cost? Well there are a lot of factors that figure into that. Location, conventional vs. organic, grass-fed vs. grain fed etc. This beef is organic and grass-fed. So it’ll be more $$ but it still beats buying organic grass-fed from the store. Where I live 1/lb of this ground beef would go for $6. I got every cut for $4/lb, every cut (yes that includes sirloin, new york strip, and filet mignon). So with that kind of savings on organic grass-fed you can imagine the kind of savings for conventional, since it’s always costs less. 1/4 cow too much of an investment? Find someone to go in with you to split the beef and the cost.  Just please, please research the source if you decide to go this route.

Don’t know where to start? Check out www.localharvest.org

More tips coming soon! What are some ways that your family tries to save?

Coconut Rice

I have to admit that I cheated on my coconut rice. I’ve been very tired and busy with last-minute prep before the baby is born. Here is my quick and easy cheat for coconut rice. You can still make this with regular rice, just wait until the rice has almost absorbed all the liquid before adding in the shredded coconut.

Ingredients:

2 Tb Coconut Oil

1 pkg of pre-cooked frozen jasmine rice

1/4 c shredded coconut

Salt

 

1. Melt coconut oil in a pot.

2. Add frozen rice, tossing in the oil, coating all the rice.

3. If your frozen rice has any directions to add water do so now. I add 1/4 c water and cook for about 6 minutes.

4. Just before the water is completely absorbed  add the shredded coconut in and continue to cook until all the water is absorbed (another 2-6 minutes).

5. Add salt to taste and serve!

Warm Asian Bacon Salad

Please excuse the paper plate. With being due any day I am trying to cut down on chores. Last thing I want is to come home to a sink full of dishes! I love this dish as it is naturally sweet…..but no sweeteners are added in it! Here is it shown served with Coconut Rice for a nice filling meal.

Dressing:

6 Tb sesame oil

3 Tb Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar

2 Tb Soy Sauce

1/4 tsp ground mustard

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp powdered ginger

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cumin

1/4 cardamom

1. Combine ingredients and set aside

Salad:

2 large bunches of Tai Soi or bok choy~stems finely chopped and leaves in 1 ” slices

2 small/ medium carrots shredded

1/4 c diced onion

1/2 c bell peppers cut into strips

1 c frozen pineapple chunks

1 pkg of bacon (I used beef bacon)

1. Cook bacon in a large skillet and set aside on a paper towel lined plate.

2. In the same skillet add in frozen pineapple, bell peppers, onion, tai soi (bok choy) stems, and shredded carrots over medium heat. Stir until the onions are soft and the pineapple is heated through.

3. Add in the Tai Soi (bok choy) leaves and continue to stir until the leaves are wilted about 5-8 minutes.

4. Chop bacon, add back into skillet, pour dressing over salad, toss, and serve!

This is apart of the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop on the Penniless Parenting at www.pennilessparenting.com

This is apart of the Homestead Barn Blog Hop #64 on the Prairie Homestead at http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2012/06/homestead-barn-hop-64.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ThePrairieHomestead+%28The+Prairie+Homestead%29&utm_content=Yahoo%21+Mail

Greek Kale Chips

So if you are even a slight bit of a health foodie, chances are you have heard of and probably even tasted kale chips. Recipes are out there all over the internet, but the most basic is kale, olive oil, and salt. Which in my opinion can get kinda bland. You can obviously change-up the seasonings, make it spicy, sweet, etc. Lately I have been trying to use this greek seasoning that I bought at a local farmers market on everything. I absolutely love it! I put it on everything from fish, chicken, potatoes, and now kale!

So here is how I made mine!

2-3 large bunches of kale (I used baby kale from my garden)

juice of 1 lemon

olive oil

salt

Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning

1. Wash the kale, removing the stems. If you are using full size kale (not baby kale) tear it into chip sizes pieces. Place kale in a large bowl. Squeeze the juice from 1 lemon over the kale.

2. Drizzle kale with olive oil and toss, making sure that it is evenly coated.

3. Sprinkle kale with the greek seasoning and salt (to taste). Toss again.

4. On a parchment paper lined baking sheet evenly spread kale out in a single layer. Working in batches, bake kale in a 350 deg preheated oven for about 8 minutes, flipping kale half way though.

5. After taking kale out of the oven to cool taste to see if it needs more salt. Enjoy!

On the Home Front

So I have been very busy lately…and I won’t lie, I don’t know when things will slow down. So please bear with my sporadic posts. My garden is in full swing! We have harvested the carrots, but most of them ended up woody and tough. I have gotten some tips on how to make the soil more conducive to growing them. So I will give it a go one more time, but probably not until the fall. I had my first picking of sugar snap peas this weekend. Which I promptly blanched and froze. As there were so many little ones that will be ready in a few more days (plus many more blossoms) it just made sense. I also did the same with my lovely summer squash as well, and of course it wouldn’t be that time of year without me burning myself while draining the squash! My dear hubby insists that I purchase oven mitts that go up to my elbows since this seems to happen every year 🙂 Next on my agenda it to grate, steam, and freeze zucchini…..hmmm I can already taste the zucchini bread I will be enjoying this winter!! Also the cucumbers are coming in like crazy 🙂 I am excited to make relish and try out a few new pickle recipes as well.

We have been enjoying the lettuce from the garden, eating more salads than normal. It makes for a happy belly and wallet 🙂 The kale is plentiful and I find myself craving this yummy leafy green. There are so many recipes out there to make use of this wonderful veggie, but I have so much of it that I need to start freezing it as well 🙂 The tomato plants are turning out better than I hoped. I can wait until the tomatoes get big enough to ripen. I can almost taste the sauce and salsa that they will make.

On the homeschool front, we have finally found a reading program that works for Vivian. Of all things it is Hooked on Phonics. Who knew?!?! I was able to get all 5 levels on Amazon for under $70. Once I teach her to use the cassette portion on our stereo system she will be able to do everything herself and I can just oversee it 🙂

On a more personal level God has been really stretching me out of my comfort zone. I am heading up a MOPS group at our church this fall. MOPS in Mothers of Preschoolers and it is a wonderful program for mothers of infants to ages 5/6. My problem….asking for help. Not that I don’t want it, I do! It’s the asking part, mainly out of fear of rejection. But God is doing amazing things!!! We need at least 1-2 more Moppet volunteers to help with the amount of children we anticipate on having. However we can use as many as possible because the more volunteers we have means the more children, and the more mothers. It’s the 1st Thursday morning of every month from September to May for a few hours. Even if you know you can commit to every month we can fit you into the schedule or use you as a back up! It is a wonderful way to reach moms in that critical time of their life and help support them. The children’s program has become my passion, as God is really teaching me in this. But that it another blog post for when I have time….I’ll share what God has been working in my heart about that subject. It probably won’t get posted until I can do it without ranting but out of love 🙂 So if you would be willing to help out please contact me. Also we are chartering this week, so hopefully we will be able to take registration by the end of the week. If you are interested in joining let me know as well so that I can get a registration form to you 🙂

New Adventures in Food

So since the last time I posted there have been some changes that I have made in my life. I have been soda free for several weeks now (yea!). I found that drinking cold water helps wake me up. I have also been drinking tea, herbal coffee, and lemonade as substitutes when I really just want a soda. I want to reduce the amount of sugar in my diet, but first comes first. I’m not the kind of person that can tackle several new challenges at once. Now that I have got the soda thing under my belt, the next big thing is to go gluten-free.

So what is gluten you may ask? It is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, spelt, rye, etc. Where can it be found? Well obviously bread, bakery items, pasta, soy sauce (unless labeled otherwise), some salad dressings, marinades, and basically most pre-package food. These grains are considered great “fillers” so you have to watch it, even if it says that it has no wheat, it may have dextrin in it, which is a form of gluten. Unfortunately it can also be found in makeup and medicine.

Now why am I going gluten-free? No this is not just a fad, it is going to be a lifestyle for me. I have rosacea, migraines, and some digestive issues. When I started researching what could cause all these things, there was a common theme that I found throughout all of these things and it is gluten. I am not saying that I have celiac disease, because I don’t believe that I do. I do believe that I have an intolerance to gluten.

So now I am embarking on a new adventure learning how to cook with new flours! For pasta I am buying tinkyada or sometimes deBoles (rice). Now I have to warn you there are a lot of rice pastas that are out there and they don’t taste very good and get gummy. These pastas (when cooked to al dente) are great. I have been using them for over a year now as I have a friend that has already made the switch to gluten-free. I am currently working on a new recipe for lemon coconut muffins. I have a few tweaks that I need to make, but should hopefully be posting soon!

Savory Popcorn

I was feeling a little hungry after dinner so I decided to make popcorn. As I was getting ready to make it the semi-old fashion way (air popper) I decided to jazz it up a bit. What I came up with is a sophisticated little snack.

1/4 c unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried rosemary, finely chopped
6-8 cups popcorn*

1. In a small sauce pan place rosemary, salt, and butter. Melt over medium heat about 5 minutes.

2. Pour over the popped popcorn, toss, and enjoy!

*I personally like just a light coating of butter, so I usually use 8 cups of popcorn.

Grocery shopping challange

This is just some of the pantry items on hand, the grains are in 5 gallon buckets, and the canned produce from last year’s garden is in another pantry in our basement.

I am more than a little embarrassed by the amount of food I have on hand in my house when I think about all the people in the world that are starving. I am making a grocery challenge. This is something that I have been wanting to do for over a year now, but I am finally taking the plunge! I am going to see how long I can go without purchasing food from the store. Now I am not taking into account my hubby’s tv dinners for work. He is a very picky eater so I will not push this off on him. Also not included will be the milk that I get from my milkman. The milk comes every week because of my milk share which is paid for at the beginning of every month.
I went to the store this week to purchase some produce, that will hopefully help us through. Although no meat has been purchased since last week. So it will be interesting to see how far this can go. The below is a rough estimate of what I have on hand.
In my freezer I have: 1lb ground beef, 1 chuck roast, 1 flank steak, 1 soup hen, 2 tuna steaks,chicken breasts, lots of green beans, spinach, carrots, peas, fruit, nuts, etc.
In the fridge : turkey kielbasa, sun-dried tomato chicken sausages, hotdogs, eggs, turkey bacon, cheese, a wide variety of condiments, applesauce, chicken stock, broccoli, carrots, celery, apples, pears, avocados.
In the pantry: whole oat groats, spelt, hard white wheat, hard red wheat, pastry wheat, rice, beans, lentils, pasta, canned tomatoes, greens beans, pasta sauce, coconut milk, sugar, stevia, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolled oats, coffee, tea, cereal, raisins, cranberries, honey, olive oil, palm oil, coconut oil, macoroni & cheese, powdered sugar, coconut flour, millet, quinoa, corn, olives, ancho chiles, applesauce, crackers, baby puffs, baby cereal.

I am sure I have forgotten some of what I have in storage, but this is what I have to the best of my knowledge. I have yet to determine if I will include baby food in the challenge as well or not. The challenge is going to be a test of my frugality, my creativity, and force me to look into portion sizes. It will be interesting to see how long I can last. I’m hoping to last at least 2 weeks. I will be extremely happy if I can make it the whole month. Yet with hosting a playdate and a bible study this week, I’m not sure I will make it a whole month. I shudder to think of how large my grocery bill will be when I finally do go to the store again. How long have you gone in between shopping trips? Do you have any tips on how to make things stretch?

Today: breakfast- cereal w/milk
lunch- leftovers from the Superbowl party & carrot sticks,
dinner- spanish rice w/ 1/2 keilbasa, beans, & spinach.
baby- oatmeal w/applesauce, homemade baby food-acorn squash, peas, & chicken, dinner- carrots & rice