Archives for April 2008

Works For Me: Taming the savage tent

Got one of those pop-up kiddie tents? You know, the spring-loaded kind that practically sets itself up, but incites all sorts of murderous thoughts in you as you try to wrestle it down and get it stowed away again? When you do get it flattened out, don’t let go or it’ll spring open again. And even if you actually get it put away, if your little kids are like mine they’ll feel the vacuum that the put-away tent created and immediately hunt it down and pull the thing out again.

The other day I was cleaning the pig sty that is my 3 and 5 year old daughters’ bedroom. For the third time in three days I faced my nemesis, the Disney Princess play tent. I sweated and rassled and tried not to cuss. When I finally battled my way to a tenuous victory over the thing, I looked around the room for something to hold it shut in the closet. A big bag maybe, or a Goliath-sized paper clip. That was when I realized I had the perfect solution lying right there in front of me on the floor.

And old-fashioned pants hanger.

Perfect. I closed it over the edge of the tent and was delighted to discover that it was plenty sturdy enough to hold the edges of the tent securely together. As I was crowing over the subjection of my enemy, I had an even more exciting realization. Now I could simply HANG the tent UP in the closet. Away. High. Out of sight. Yeah, I’ll get it out again. But outside on a nice day. Not in the middle of the bedroom and certainly not at bedtime.

It was a thing of beauty indeed, and it most definitely works for me.

Do you know? The facts about HIV

I have a friend named Erin whose family looks a lot like mine: a mix of adopted African and Asian kids along with several kids born to her. One difference, however, is that two of her precious Ethiopian children, Belane and Solomon, are HIV+. She asked readers of her blog to share these facts about HIV with two other people. Maybe some of you will consider passing on this information as well.

Today I have heard from several different parents of HIV+ children who are facing negative reactions to their adoptions based on the stigma and ignorance surrounding HIV. It is extremely frustrating to me that in 2008 there is still so much unfounded fear caused by a lack of education, that results in nasty, ugly and mean treatment of people who are HIV+ and their families. The reason people in the U.S. are not educated about HIV is that most people don’t care, because most people in this country are not affected by it. People still see it as the problem of homosexuals, drug users and people in Africa.

The reality is, HIV/AIDS is everyone’s problem. It is a devastating problem in Africa and many countries, but there are many, many Americans living with this disease as well. In fact, new cases of HIV in the U.S. are now being seen in the largest numbers in heterosexual women. HIV/AIDS is a HUMAN problem.

Living with this nasty disease is hard enough, but compounding that with the misguided fear and judgment of society is beyond tragic, and as the mom of two HIV+ children, it is sad and frustrating.

So, if you are one of the many who check in to this blog every day, I am asking you to do me a favor. I want you to tell at least two people about HIV.

Spread the word that…

– HIV can NOT be spread through causal/household contact.

HIV is not spread through hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing toys, sneezing, coughing, sharing food, sharing drinks, bathing, swimming or any other causal way.

It has been proven that HIV and AIDS can only be spread through sexual contact, birth, breastfeeding and blood to blood contact (such as sharing needles).

– HIV is now considered a chronic but manageable disease. With treatment, people who are HIV+ can live indefinitely without developing AIDS and can live long and full lives.

– People who are HIV+ deserve to be treated with love, respect, support and acceptance as all people do.

If anyone wants more info on transmission, there is great info on the Center for Disease Control website at http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/transmission.htm

Help me spread the truth about HIV, and take a tiny stab at the stigma against HIV. Tell your friend when you talk on the phone. Tell your spouse. Tell your parents. Post it on your blog and ask other people to tell their readers. Ask them to pass it on as well. I would love to see this spread beyond the adoption blogs.

Even if you have no real interest in HIV/AIDS, even if you are not involved in adoption, even if you don’t think you know anyone who is HIV+… education and knowledge are always a good thing. It is so easy to say to someone, “hey, guess what I learned today?” and it is even easier to put it on a blog or in an email.Do it for me. Do it for the other adoptive families and the HIV+ orphans that are waiting for homes. Do it for Belane and Solomon. Do it for all of the other people on this planet living with HIV. If everyone that reads this blog tells at least two people, that is a whole bunch of people we can reach and a little bit of difference we can make.

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Why am I humming “I got you, babe” and thinking about smashing my alarm clock

I happen to be one of those wierdos descriminating movie viewers who has watched the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray at least half a dozen times. After a particularly frustrating day of parenthood last week, I realized that there are a number of similarities between the movie and parenthood. When re-reading what I’d written I almost decided it was too cranky to post. But, hey, there are moments when all of us feel that way. We might as well know we’re not alone, right?

So here are my top three reasons
Why Parenthood is Like “Groundhog Day”

1.  Because you can’t believe it is morning. Again.

2. Because you’ve been at this long enough to predict when the kid is going to fall, but you still can’t manage to catch him without (someone) getting hurt.

3.  Because the people around you act like the words coming out of your mouth are brand new. Every darned morning. (“But mom, you didn’t tell me to do my math/empty the trash/wear my shoes!”)

4. Because the only person who seems to be learning a thing is you. and yet you still don’t seem to be having a measureable impact on the chaos around you.

Your turn. What’s the most frustratingly monotonous part of your day?

(And for those of you too young to have seen this movie, see it. Just do it. If for no other reason than to better understand this post. :>) )

3 ways to save money on food

I’m still trying to get over the whole CNN interview thing. It was surreal to be sitting there in the van at a soccer game clutching my cell phone to my hot cheek answering questions live on CNN. I was prepared for the time to be brief– I think it was all over in 4 or 5 minutes. But when the anchor lady wrapped it up and said goodbye, I still was left with my mouth open, clutching a page containing some key points that I had REALLY labored over. I thought I might as well put them up here. Many people are sure to already know this stuff. But when I was early on my journey towards frugal living, I appreciated hints from more experienced folks. So, for those of you who are new to frugal shopping, I offer:

3 First Steps Towards Saving Money on Food

1.) Clarify your own ‘big picture’. What are your goals? If you had $100 or $200 or $400 more each month, what would you do with it?
–Pay down the credit card?
–Sign your daughter up for music lessons?
–Save for a family vacation?
–Buy a new minivan?
–Save money towards becoming a one-income family?
If you have your goals clearly in mind, it is so much easier to avoid the ‘poor me’ feeling when it is time to skip pizza delivery and instead crank up your oven and pull out your own flour, yeast, and pepperoni. It’s about much more than an easy meal– it’s about giving yourself the ability to reach long term goals that are more important.

2.) Tally your actual food expenses. Most people have a general idea, but the exact figures may surprise you. Don’t forget to add in your restaurant meals. Even if you can look at your previous month’s records, I’d encourage you to save your receipts for the coming month as well. It will make step 3 easier.

3.) Chop at your top 10 list. Obviously it would be ideal if you could buy everything at the lowest possible price. But when you are just beginning to try to save money, keeping track of a million prices can be overwhelming. It is much more doable to begin by picking the 10 categories on which you personally spend the most money. Common ‘big’ categories include meals out, convenience food, snacks, meat, milk, cheese, fruit, and diapers. Whatever your Top 10’s happen to be, add up those totals for a month or two. (Look at last month’s receipts if you can.) Then focus on those ten areas. There are two ways that you can save money. Either you can buy less of the item, or you can spend less per piece ON the item.

Use Less
For example, in the restaurant category you could decide to go out to eat once a week instead of three times. In the snack category you could limit your family to a bag of chips a week and cut your cola consumption in half. If disposable diapers are draining your budget, you may decide it is worthwhile to invest in cloth diapers, which will pay for themselves in just a few months.

Spend Less
Obviously there are some categories that you don’t want to cut back on, such as the food your family needs to stay healthy. To save money on fruit, good options include limiting your purchases only to in-season fruit, which is more affordable. You can also aim to buy fruit where it is cheapest.

Currently we are eating lots of oranges, because one store in town is selling them for $0.48/lb. Yesterday I found Braeburn apples for $0.98/lb and bought a bunch. On the other hand, most likely we won’t buy watermelon til June, and it has been awhile since I’ve seen grapes at a low enough price that I’ll buy them.

In some cases you can use both these strategies. To save money on meat, serve smaller portions and incorporate a vegetarian meal into your rotation each week. Also make sure to buy the meat for as low a price as possible. Currently I have about 15 lbs of hamburger and 25 lbs of chicken in my freezer, all bought on sale for less than $1/lb.

Once you have gotten your personal top-10’s chopped down to size, pick another 10, check prices, and start chopping away on those.

Chances are, doing only these first three steps will allow you to save some money, which will give you the momentum and encouragement you’ll need to gradually make even more changes in your budget.

Click here for the Frugal Cookin’ Carnival.

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Sunday

plum tree
Song of Solomon 2:11-12

Frugal Cooking Carnival (updated)

Welcome to the Frugal Cooking Carnival! I hope you’re all set to share three days worth of menus, costs, pictures, and recipes. Guidelines can be found here. But even the recipes from one or two meals will be helpful, so please participate at whatever level you feel able. Before I share my own three days worth of food, I want to get Mr. Linky up so that those of you who are raring to share can get your own link posted first. Once you’ve signed in with the EXACT link to your post, you can scroll on down and see how the three days of cooking went at my house. And just a note– you have to actually CLICK on the Mr. Linky to see the links that people have posted.

(Update: Here are the actual links of the people who participated, since it seems Mr. Linkie is not showing up in some browsers)

1. Keren ($20 Menu, Shopping List, and Recipes)
2. Untraditional home
3. Linds
4. Anne (vegetarian)
5. Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home
6. daycare girl
7. Amy@Experience Imagination
8. Joanne
9. Tina
10. Carrien@She Laughs at the Days
11. Melissa Darling (A Darling Life)
12. Shana
13. Sonya
14. Another Oatmeal Idea
15. Ali BG (vegetarian)

(Lynn, diane, and Suzyq: Please resubmit your links– they didn’t show up on Mr. Linkie)

3 Days of Food
This first picture shows most of what I bought to use over the three days. A few odds and ends are missing, and there are a few things there that I didn’t end up using. But the picture gives you a pretty decent idea of what I used over those days. I will be adding recipes in the next day or two. This post has taken a ridiculous amount of time to write– I want to thank all of you who decided to join me in this effort, because it really has been a lot of work.

Breakfast on day one was migas, toast, orange juice and coffee. I used 18 eggs, but since I found eggs for $1.50 a dozen, it wasn’t too expensive. I only give the kids coffee once a week or so, in tiny Ethiopian cups, and when I do, they really enjoy the treat. The whole meal with juice and toast cost about $6.50, which came out to about $0.65/person. This is a favorite breakfast at our house.

Beef stew with dumplings
Tuesday for lunch we had a nice vegetable beef stew with dumplings. The stew was very hearty– I could have used a bit more liquid, I think. It contained hamburger, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, onions, and canned tomatoes. The thing the kids liked best was the big dumplings on top.Next time I’ll make more stew, since the stew ran out while there were still plenty of dumplings. I served this with orange halves and a slice of banana bread for dessert. This meal came out to about $6.00 or $0.55 per person.

Peanut chicken and rice

Tuesday’s dinner was another favorite. West African Peanut Chicken is a dish that we discovered a year or so ago, and now make a couple times a month. I used the meat from 3 chicken breasts that I’d bought for $0.98/lb, so this also was a fairly affordable dish. I made the sauce with plenty of homegrown pureed tomato and pureed onion (the kids like onions just fine when I puree them) and served it over rice with fresh broccoli and orange slices. Total cost for the meal was $6.25, which came to about $0.57/person.

cold cereal
Wednesday’s breakfast was as easy as you can get– cereal, milk, juice and fruit. I generally don’t pay more than $1.50 a box for cereal, but Albertsons had a great deal a few weeks ago. A sale combined with ‘preferred customer rewards’, store coupons and manufacturers coupons brought the cereal down to $0.60 a box. I bought 10 boxes. With half a gallon of milk, half a gallon of juice, and a couple pounds of bananas, the total cost of the breakfast was about $4.60, which is about $0.42/person.

Fried rice and egg rolls
This lunch was particularly yummy: fried rice, egg rolls, apples, and peanut butter cookies for dessert. I made the fried rice using leftover rice from yesterday’s dinner and leftover migas from yesterday’s breakfast. I also added a bit of chopped-up pepperoni, onion, garlic and carrot. I fried it all in a few tablespoons of sesame/canola oil. Near the end of cooking, I added about 1/4 cup of soy sauce. The egg rolls were filled with cabbage, grated carrot, fresh ginger, minced onion and garlic, then fried in oil– ya know, you can’t beat deep fried food for taste! With that fat content it was a good thing the meal was practically vegetarian! We rounded out the meal with apple slices and homemade peanut butter cookies for dessert. Total estimated cost for this meal was $7.50, or about $0.68/person.

Beef Stroganoff
Wednesday’s dinner was an old standby at our house: beef stroganoff. Usually I make it with egg noodles, but tonight I just had macaroni and that was fine. I served it with mushrooms on the side since many of the kids aren’t thrilled with mushrooms. For side dishes we did some frozen corn from last year’s garden, fresh broccoli with salad dressing, and a cookie for dessert. (Cookies don’t last long at our house!) This meal cost about $7.50, which was about $0.68/person.

Oatmeal and ice cream
Thursday morning’s breakfast idea came from some friends of ours. Oatmeal is the ultimate in affordable breakfasts, but it can be a little dull taste-wise. Unless you top it with ice cream, that is. Even kids who aren’t in love with oatmeal will eat it happily if you top it with a scoop of strawberry ripple ice cream. One other tip: we cook our oatmeal in our rice cooker, which totally avoids the ol’ boil-over problem we always used to have with oatmeal. It requires absolutely no watching, which is a plus on busy mornings. Just pop in your regular amount of oats along with twice that amount of water, turn the cooker on, and walk away. The rice cooker turns off automatically, and keeps it warm til you get to the table. We served this breakfast with a link of sausage, toast, and orange juice, for a cost of about $6.00 altogether, or $0.55/person.

Our third lunch was another easy meal: leftovers from previous days. At least once a week we have a leftovers meal at our house, which consists of pulling everything from the last few days out of the fridge and letting kids go through picking what they want then microwaving it. This time around we have leftover peanut chicken, dumplings from the beef stew, and fried rice. Since I already added the costs of those items into the previous meals, the only ‘new’ costs were for the oranges and carrot sticks we served on the side, which cost about $1.25.

Chicken enchiladasOur final meal for the three days was chicken enchilada casserole. While I was making one casserole, I went ahead and doubled the amounts so I could have another casserole to stick in the freezer for a different day. Along with the enchiladas, we had a green salad made with swiss chard from my husband’s greenhouse, and the last bit of cabbage. The younger kids turned their noses up at the chard– it does have a slightly sharp taste– but I really liked it, and so did most of the bigger kids. The enchiladas turned out great and were met with rave reviews. I’m really glad I made two! For dessert we had more cookies– I’m afraid this batch is almost gone. The total on this meal was a little higher than some: meat AND cheese, you know! It was around $11.50 for everything, which comes out to about $1.05/person, and we even had some leftovers for my husband to pack next time he goes to work.

The grand total, for 9 meals for 11 people? $57.10. That’s 99 meals for about 58 cents a meal.

I am so glad I’m done with this post. I am now going to bed as my hubby is literally tugging me by the hand. I’ll be back with more recipes tomorrow, people! So come back, OK? Welcome to the people visiting after seeing the mention here and then on CNN this morning. If you look in my sidebar under ‘Techie Stuff’ you’ll see several different ways to subscribe to this blog. I hope you’ll all be back and please feel free to leave a comment!

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Book giveaway winner. And CNN.

It is not too often that I toss out so many posts in one day, but this has turned out to be an interesting day. First I wanted to announce the winner of the book “A Mother’s Heart Knows“– Lainey of Blog in My Eye.

Second, CNN has also been writing about rising food costs. They mentioned the Frugal cooking carnival on their morning show today and have asked to interview me live via phone tomorrow. If you happen to catch CNN sometime between 2 and 3 pm Eastern time on Saturday, and happen to hear a woman with a very shaky voice yakking away about grocery shopping, say a prayer for me. I have plenty to say on this topic. But getting it out intelligibly over the phone– eek.

Oh, and if you have an affordable recipe or two to share, please feel free to add your blog– it’s not too late to join this carnival!

West African Peanut Chicken

This is my tweak on a recipe from the Congo Cookbook. According to their recipe, homemade peanut butter is often used. If you’d like to do it that way, you can grind your own at the grocery store, or whirl some roasted peanuts in your food processor if you happen to have them. But most of the time I make it with regular peanut butter and think it turns out fine.

West African Peanut Chicken
Peanut chicken and rice

Ingredients

1/2 cup peanut oil (or any cooking oil)
4 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (or equivalent dark meat)
3-4 onions, minced or pureed in food processor
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups pureed tomatoes (or 3 c. tomato sauce and 1 c. water)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup water
cayenne pepper or red pepper, black pepper, salt

Directions

Heat oil in a deep pot or very large heavy skillet. Add the chicken and fry on both sides until it is nicely browned. If your pan isn’t quite as wide as mine, you might do better frying half the chicken at a time, to keep the pieces separate and to let them get nicely brown. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Fry the onions and garlic in the same pot. When onion is soft and starting to brown, stir in tomatoes and water. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Return chicken to pot. Stir in peanut butter. it will look clumpy for a minute but will mix in nicely once it heats up. Add red pepper, salt, and pepper to taste. Simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes.

Serve with rice.

This dish isn’t especially good looking, but it is great tasting. My husband and teenaged boys especially like it.

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Chicken Enchiladas


This recipe is a favorite at our house. It is sooooo easy to make a second one to freeze that I went ahead and listed amounts for two 9×12 casseroles. This freezes beautifully and is also great as leftovers. Even if your family will only eat half a 9×12 dish at a meal, remember that you can serve it again in a day or two.

4 lbs boneless chicken
2 T. vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic
3 cups corn
1 minced onion
4 c. pureed tomato
2 packets of taco seasoning
20 flour tortillas
5 cups grated cheddar

Directions
Start by chopping 4 lbs of chicken. I used boneless thighs that cost $1.19/lb. Cook that in a large skillet on medium high with a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil. Don’t stir the meat until it gets a nice lovely brown color on one side. Then stir and cook the rest of the way. Once the meat is mostly cooked, add 4 cloves of garlic, 3 cups of corn, and one minced onion. Continue to cook a few minutes til onions are soft.

Now you are going to need about 4 cups of pureed tomato. You can puree fresh whole tomatoes in the blender, or if you’d rather just use regular tomato sauce, you’ll need about 3 cups of tomato sauce mixed with a cup of water. Once you’ve done that, pour 1/2 cup of sauce into each of two casserole pans and spread it around to coat the whole bottom of each pan. At that point you should still have three cups of sauce remaining.

Dump the rest of the tomatoes into your skillet full of cooking chicken (I told you that skillet needed to be large, right? Add 2 packets of taco seasoning and let it simmer for a few minutes.

While that mixture simmers, put a double layer of flour tortilla into the bottom of each of your casserole pans. Tear the tortillas as needed to make them fully cover the bottom of each pan. Once your chicken has simmered for a few minutes, layer 1/4 of the mixture into each of the two casserole dishes. Sprinkle each dish with about a cup of grated cheddar cheese, then put on another layer of flour tortillas. (20 tortillas should be plenty for two casserole dishes.) Divide the remaining chicken mix between the two dishes, and top each dish with 1 or 1-1/2 more cups of cheese.

You’ve just made two meals and spent probably only five extra minutes for that second meal. Cover one casserole tightly with foil and freeze for up to 6 months. Cook the other casserole at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until casserole is bubbly and the cheese on top is nicely browned. Let sit 10 minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream and more salsa if you wish.

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Gearing up?

3 Days of Food Frugal cooking carnival tomorrow! Here’s a preview of my food!