Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Frugal Summer Beverages

It is ridiculously hot today, and one of the best ways to relieve the heat is to sip on a cool drink. Here are some of my favorite frugal drinks to help you cool off on hot days.

Water is practically free if you drink it from the tap. On days that you sweat a lot, you need to make sure to replenish the fluids you lose and having a glass or reusable bottle filled with water is a great way to stay hydrated. If you don't like the taste of plain water, add some fruits or veggies to the water for homemade "vitamin water". Add slices of cucumber, apple, peach, or berries. It adds a bit of flavor with negligible calories.

Iced tea is incredibly refreshing. I make a gallon of tea at a time by pouring a gallon of hot water over 8 tea bags and letting it steep for 5 minutes. I remove the tea bags and add sweetener sometimes. Just a hint of sweetener is all I need. I've noticed that the colder I drink the tea, the less sweetener I need to use. Mint tea is especially refreshing. I buy boxes of store-brand tea bags (that are just fine in iced tea) for $2.39 for 200 bags. So using 8 tea bags and no sweetener, I can make a gallon of iced tea for around a penny. This is a huge savings over $5 a gallon pre-made iced tea.

Iced coffee is easy to make at home if you plan a head, and much cheaper and tastier than what you can buy at chain fast food joints. The night before, pour a gallon of cold water over a cup of coffee grounds. Cover and let sit on the counter overnight. In the morning, strain it through cheesecloth or a towel. You can add sweetener and creamer if you like, but it's more refreshing without it. Also, with the cold-brew method, iced coffee is significantly less bitter than hot-brew iced coffee.

Milkshakes are a summertime staple, but I find that ice cream makes me miserable in the summer. Instead, I make chocolate banana shakes. I keep bananas and one-cup portions of yogurt in the freezer.  To make a banana shake, I place one of each in the blender, add chocolate syrup or a hot-chocolate packet and just enough milk or soy/almond milk to blend. If I want to drink this for breakfast, I add a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter for protein. It is delicious and refreshing, rather than bloating and fattening.

Make your own chai tea to serve over ice with milk, almond/soy/coconut milk. Nourishing Simplicity has a great recipe for chai concentrate.

Light fruit juice is great on a hot day. Full-strength fruit juice contains a lot of sugar, and costs a lot too. I buy full-strength juice and dilute it at home. I usually mix the juice and water 50-50 or 60-40 depending on the particular juice. Making homemade lemonade is another great way to get a bit of vitamin C while cooling off. Just make sure you go a little light on the sweetener.

If you get a hankering for a nasty, calorie-laden summer drink such as a frozen blended coffee, make it yourself for the most cost and calorie savings. Save leftover coffee/iced coffee in ice cube trays. Put into the blender with milk and your choice of sweetener/syrup. Top with whipped cream if you like. You can easily make this for less than a dollar at home, compared to $5+ at a restaurant, and it's likely to have fewer calories. (Note: A certain chain restaurant I worked at sold frozen blended coffee drinks. The "recipe" included a small amount of espresso concentrate with high-fructose corn syrup and a full 6 ounces of half and half).

Karen Voisinet on Facebook said she adds lime and a pinch of salt for a natural Gatorade.

 I do water, lime, and a pinch of salt. Natural Gatorade.
Have a favorite summer drink I didn't list here? Share your recipe below!

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Use it Up: Cake Pops!

Many things are tossed into the garbage can when they still have lots of good life left in them. Use It Up is a section on how to use this "trash" to make new, useful items for your home or to re-purpose items to avoid a purchase.

My sister's graduation party is today and I wanted to be able to bring some kind of dessert. I didn't want to spend a bunch of money, but I wanted to bring something nice. I am also taking a Use-it-up challenge with some online friends to try to eat from the freezer and pantry to use up items that have been taking up space too long. Also, it's a terrible thing to have to throw away cakes, cupcakes, muffins or scones that get dry or stale before you use them. Solution: Cake pops!  These cheap, easy desserts are delightful and give new life to lifeless sweets.

I had tons of icing in the pantry that I got awhile back for $.20 per tub using a sale and coupon. I had lots of different sweets in the freezer. When I make a batch of cupcakes or scones at home, I always end up making more than Trucker and I can possibly eat between the two of us. I tend to put them in the freezer and forget about them.

I dug out a lot of those sweets: orange scones, toffee ginger scones, chocolate cake, and white cupcakes. Once they thawed, I crumbled them up. I mixed in just enough icing for it to all stick together into one mass. I rolled small amounts into little balls and popped them in the freezer overnight (they really just need to be frozen for at least two hours, but if you have plenty in the freezer, you'll have a quick and easy snack on hand). I stuck each one with a toothpick.

I took a bag of chocolate chips and melted it in the microwave. I added about a tablespoon of veggie oil. This made the chocolate a lot better for dipping, as otherwise it is really thick. I dipped each cake pop into the chocolate and then placed on a piece of waxed paper (in this case, a repurposed cereal bag). After dipping each ball, decorate if you'd like with sprinkles or other decorative bits. For the orange scone pops, I topped each with a tiny piece of dehydrated orange zest.

They are delicious and I think they're going to go over very well at the party this afternoon. Better yet, it used up items I had in the freezer and pantry, so the only out of pocket cost was for the chocolate.

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