Monday, September 29, 2014

This Week...Beyond Money 09/22 - 9/28

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

* Harvested: 2 tomatoes, 6 cups of mixed salad fixins (lettuce, baby mustard, Milkmaid Nasturtium flowers), 5 peppers, a dozen small carrots, 2 c mixed green beans.

* I have been trying to reduce our grocery bill. It had gotten a bit out of hand and I'll admit, I'd gotten lazy with my cooking creativity. It's easy to make good meals if you don't consider cost, but when trying to do it on a budget, it takes more thought. I've been putting a bit more thought into it, and our bill has dropped significantly. Main considerations: Meat as flavoring, not as bulk. Snacks should be healthy homemade things like popcorn, apple chips and homemade baked goods when we want a real treat rather than ice cream, chips and candy. I can buy a 2 lb bag of bulk popcorn for $3 or I can buy a bag of chips for $2.50, but the popcorn is healthier (a few squirts of oil from my spray bottle and only a light sprinkling of salt) and has 25 servings or so per bag, versus scarfing down a bag of chips during a movie. Drinks are not purchased prepared: no soda, no bottled teas or juices, etc. We drink lots of water kefir, lots of coffee (purchased at bargain prices), or home-brewed tea. Plan meals around what we harvest from the garden or forage.
* Cooked 5 lbs of ground beef from the freezer. I'd found it marked down 50% to $2/lb and bought two 5 lb chubs (The other was used for a family reunion). We made tacos one night and the leftover tacos went into burritos later in the week (along with leftover refried beans and random taco fixins). Half of the ground beef was divided into 3 containers and put back in the freezer for pulling out for tacos, chili or other dishes later.
* I made pop tarts from scratch. Very easy to do and fun! (Article coming soon, I'll link it here when it's published) I made Blackberry (using jam my mom and sister made from foraged blackberries) and peach, using the last of a jar of peach preserves.
* Made a pasta dish using a bit of bowtie pasta leftover from another meal with leftover grilled grape tomatoes, zucchini from my parents' garden, and some leftover onion with the last of a jar of pasta sauce. I served it with rolls from the garden. The veg made up over half of the bulk, so it was a relatively healthy meal, at least for pasta.
* Made enchiladas for dinner one night. Used up lots of leftovers: taco meat, refried beans, the last of a jar of salsa, the last of the sour cream, the last of a bag of cheese, a can of enchilada sauce from the pantry (purchased for $.50 at the salvage grocer) and a bunch of random bits of stuff that needed used up.
* A local grocery store had a sale for $.49/lb gala apples. I bought 12 pounds to dehydrate into apple chips (yummy!) and will go back for more another day (There was a limit on how many pounds you could buy per transaction).
* Grilled out one night. I made pizza. I made the crust from scratch and topped with tomato sauce, the last of a jar of black olives, bell pepper (clearance for $.33), the last of an onion leftover from another meal, pepperoni, mozzarella and fresh basil from the garden. I also grilled bananas split in half for banana splits (if you haven't tried this, you must! Best. Dessert. Ever.).
* Made BBQ chicken one day. We saved half of the chicken to use in meals later in the week. We saved the bones and bits of meat we couldn't pick off to use in stock making (I''ll pick through the bones after making the stock to salvage those little shreds of meat to use in soups or chicken salad sandwiches). Always challenge yourself by asking how much meat you really need to eat. Since this is an expensive ingredient, reserving some of the meat from a meal to use in a later meal can significantly cut back on your grocery costs.

Food Preservation:
* Dehydrated: 3 large tomatoes, 2 okra pods, 1 eggplant, a grocery sack full of green beans, a cantaloupe and 4 peaches (purchased on clearance for $1 total).
* Made refrigerator pickled peppers to use a couple dozen small hot peppers from the garden. These aren't the best tasting peppers on their own, but will be fine when pickled. I reused pickle juice leftover from a jar of pickled pepperoncinis. Just heat, fill the jar with sliced peppers and pour the brine over the peppers. Once cool, put in the refrigerator for a week for the flavors to mingle before eating. They will be good for a couple months (they may last longer, but I've never had them last that long before I ate them all).

* One night that Trucker was at work all evening, I called everyone in my phone book to catch up as I walked home 6 miles from his job. It was wonderful getting to talk with relatives and hear their stories. I have unlimited minutes on my phone so it cost me nothing.  Halfway through my walk, I stopped at a friends house and talked with her for an hour or so. We watched terrible (funny) videos on youtube and had a lovely time.

* I went for a 6 mile walk through the city and a couple parks. The weather was a perfect 78 and sunny, slight breeze, low humidity. Lovely.
* We went to a local park for a short, but strenuous hike. We took lots of fun pictures and wandered around the swamplands.
* We took a couple short walks through the neighborhood for exercise and talking. One was just after dusk and the clouds were wicked. I always feel happier after one of our walks, even if it's just 15-20 minutes.

* We avoided. We avoided going out to eat on busy nights by packing a meal to take with us. We avoided going to the grocery store. Instead of going out a couple of nights, we decided to stay in and relax at home. While there is nothing wrong with going out sometimes, we are trying to save up money for a new furnace, so we want to limit our expenses for the time being.
* Instead of turning on the heat or air conditioning (this week's weather has been fluctuating wildly), we regulated with extra or fewer blankets, tank tops or flannels as necessary.
* We planned errands around the park we visited to maximize our gas usage.
* We used the library for books to read and a few movies to watch.

Waste Reduction:
* Instead of throwing away the leftover brine from a jar of pickled peppers, I reused it to make a second-run batch of pickled peppers. I used fresh peppers from the garden, but it is also great to use to rehydrate dried peppers in pickle juice for very quick pickles (not really pickled, but you get the flavor).
* I used the last of a jar of peach preserves for pop tarts. With the last bit that I couldn't scrape out, I added some milk and swished around, then added the flavored milk to my tea. I didn't have to add sweetener to the tea and got every last bit of the preserves.
* Made a plan to use leftovers and didn't waste any. Enchiladas for dinner one night was the perfect excuse to throw in a lot of random things.
* I composted as much as possible-dryer lint, junk mail (plastic windows cut out of envelopes), receipts, and all kitchen wastes.

* I packed lunches for each of us each day so we didn't have to buy anything for meals. I used items from the pantry or freezer. My job provides free soda, hot chocolate, hot tea and coffee in the break rooms, so I enjoy the free coffee every day instead of buying it at the coffee shop on site. I don't drink the free soda ever. I know how easily I get addicted to soda, and so even though it is free, I don't drink it so I don't start liking/craving it again. There's way too much sugar in that stuff, so I don't bother.

* Put 1 jar of dehydrated fruit and 1 jar of dehydrated vegetables into the pantry.

How was your week?

Book Review and Giveaway: The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook

Years ago, I found a dehydrator at a rummage sale for $3.50. I'd heard a bit about dehydrating so I bought it, then it sat unused for a few years. I finally started making apple chips, but I didn't do anything else with it until I discovered Dehydrate2store on Youtube. There I found videos on dehydrating that gave me the courage to start dehydrating more things and now...well, anyone who follows my blog regularly knows how obsessed I am with my dehydrators (I have four!). So when I heard that Tammy Gangloff had released I book, I was thrilled!

The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook is just that: the Ultimate. It is 371 pages long and absolutely crammed full of dehydrating projects and 398 recipes. Its 18 chapters cover every aspect of dehydration and cooking with dehydrated foods, from making your own bread and crackers to desserts to breakfast items. The book layout makes sense and is easy to use. There are a generous number of sidebars throughout with little tips for success or fun little projects to try.

How Dehydrating Works offers the history and science of dehydrating as well as information on vitamins and how they are affected by dehydration, and the bacteria and mold to protect against. Your Dehydrator Toolbox offers tips on buying a dehydrator and the features you want it to have, as well as the other tools that make dehydrating easy and fun. Dehydrating 101 provides valuable information to get your started on dehydrating: rough estimates of time, temperature, tips for dehydrating sweet vs less sweet items, problem solving for common dehydrating issues, such as items absorbing moisture in storage. The chapters on dehydrating fruits and vegetables offer great details on preparation (a few different ways with each item), temperature, and how to store for maximum shelf life. They also cover dehydrating nuts, greens, and mushrooms. The chapter on powers and leathers is full of fun projects, like making your own baby food. This section alone could save you more than the cost of the book!

Chapter 7 not only covers dehydrating different parts of herbs, but provides some recipes for yummy tea blends you can mix at home. Jerky making is one of the reasons people first get into dehydrating, and the chapter on jerky provides tips and recipes for almost any jerky craving, as well as information on making yogurt in your (box) dehydrator and even for dehydrating tofu. The chapter on Backpacking and Camper Food isn't just GORP (good ol' raisins and peanuts): it provides fantastic ready-to-rehydrate meals for camping out. This chapter is a must for any prepper as these recipes would also be great in a SHTF situation.

Chapter 11 is a really fun one! It has recipes for flavor boosters, snacks and instant soup mixes. The flavor rubs and flavored salts and sugars are a fun and easy way to add a flavor blast to your dishes. The soup mixes are perfect for busy families or for kids who are home alone since the cooking is simply to add boiling water (this could even be done in the microwave) to the mix, stir and enjoy. The Instant Mushroom Soup is to die-for and I can't wait to try the Instant Bean Soup. The gifts chapter is perfect for the coming holiday season with instructions for crazy-fun flavored popcorns, meals in jars, candies, ornaments, wreaths and soaps. Who knew there were so many fun things to make with a dehydrator?

The recipes chapters are an absolute treasure when it comes time to start actually cooking with the foods you dehydrate. It's easy to get caught up in dehydrating a ton of different foods when the garden harvest comes in or you find a bargain at the farmers market, but sometimes it's hard to figure out how to use these valuable foods. This book is the solution. Breakfast and Brunch offers smoothie ideas from the typical (Strawberry-Banana) to the awesome (Orange-Creamsicle!) to the intriguing (Hot Tomato with habanero peppers), parfaits, flavored cream cheese (You'll never need to buy those expensive tubs at the grocery again!), omelets and casseroles as well as dried-food standards like muffins and granola bars. Soups are the easiest way to get started cooking with dehydrated foods, and the chapter on Soups, Stews and Chili is the perfect crash course with recipes for Cheesy Broccoli Soup, Cream of Mushroom and Full of Beans Chili. Main courses of  Zucchini and Mushroom Lasagna, Sloppy Joes, Pineapple and Bacon Focaccia and Cranberry BBQ Chicken are sure to please your family. For the busy family, the slow cooker recipes are a god-send with 47 recipes to toss into your slow cooker and go. There are recipes for gelatins, side dishes, dips, salsas and pickles. This all takes us to everyone's favorite chapter: Desserts. Cranberry-Orange Sugar Cookies, Pumpkin Spice Cookies (now is the time to get those bargain pumpkins to dehydrate and powder for a winter's worth of awesomeness!), Sweet Potato Brownies, Fruit Leather Jelly Roll Cake, pies and puddings...You can bake up a storm all winter and never run out of fun new desserts to try!

This book is a must-read for anyone who owns a dehydrator or is curious about getting started in the wonderful world of dehydrating. This book is great for those who are nervously just getting started on food preservation with all the information needed to successfully preserve food for later. It is also perfect for those who are moderate dehydrator-users already as it supplies exciting ideas to experiment with. I use my dehydrators frequently and consider myself a moderate to experienced home dehydrator and as I read this book I found countless ideas that blew my mind. As you know if you've watched her youtube videos, Tammy is incredible creative and inventive in her dehydrator recipes. She even offers ways to use "waste" products like apple peels (dehydrate and powder to add to teas and smoothies). This book is definitely going to be my go-to for any dehydrating questions as well as a good shot of new things to try whenever I get in a dehydrating rut. This book can help you reduce your food waste, enrich your diet and save money.

You can buy The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook on Amazon as a paperback or as a kindle book. Remember, if you don't have a kindle, you can download the free Kindle app to read kindle books on your computer, tablet or phone.  Make sure to visit her website for recipes and videos.

Now for the giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a free paperback copy of The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook. Visit our Facebook page and go to the official contest post. Like the post for one entry into the drawing, and for a second entry, comment with your favorite food to dehydrate, favorite dehydrator recipe or what you'd most like to learn to dehydrate. Entry will be open until Friday, October 3, 2014 at midnight at which time entry will close. I will announce the winner on Saturday at noon on Facebook. The winner will have 24 hours to respond; if they haven't at that time, I will draw a new winner. Entry is restricted to residents in the US.

Update 10/27/14: The giveaway was fun. Linda won the book and received it last week. She said: "I received my book last week. It is awesome!! The best ever! Thanks so much! I highly recommend it!!"

Disclaimer: This review is my honest personal opinion of the book. I received a free digital copy to read and review, but no other compensation.

Monday, September 22, 2014

This Week...Beyond Money 09/15-9/21

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

* I had a large planter that was empty after I removed the spent tomato plant that had been growing in there. I planted it heavily with red sails lettuce, spinach and tendergreen mustard. I'll allow it to grow outside for awhile, until the frosts come, then it'll come indoors to supply our winter salads. They germinated well and it should fill out nicely.
* Harvested a baby radish and one turnip.
* Foraged 1 lb crab apples.
* Harvested 2 1/2 c Dean's Purple Podded Pole beans, 34 hot peppers, 2 Jimmy Nardello's peppers, 2 Crystal Apple cucumbers, 1 Casper eggplant, 2 Jubilee tomatoes.

* At the grocery store, I found grape and cherry tomatoes on sale for $.50/8 oz container. These usually sell for $3 each. I bought 7. I will use some in cooking and salads this week and the rest will be halved and dehydrated for winter.
* Yuban coffee was on sale at Meijer for $2/11 oz container. That makes it the same price per ounce as buying the Aldi brand. We bought 8 containers. This should last us until the next sale or whenever we get to the salvage grocer (There, we get specialty coffee for $2.50/12 oz container).
* New job gives me 10% discount on groceries. Not huge, but it's something, and it all counts towards fuel discounts.
* One day that we both worked, I knew we'd be too tired to want to mess with cooking. I pulled a container of chili out of the freezer and we had chili and rolls for dinner. It was ready within 5 minutes and was still frugal and healthy.

Food Preservation:
* Dehydrated 4 lbs of cherry tomatoes (Clearance rack for $.50/8 oz container), 2 lbs of tomatoes from the garden, 1 small eggplant, 1 okra pod (just to fill in I the only one weird enough that I have to make the best use of every square inch of the tray space?).

We are having a mini vacation. This week I have 4 days off in between jobs, and Trucker had 5 days off in between his old store location closing and the new store location opening. We decided to make it fun and enjoy our extra time together, since this is such a rare treat. Usually we wouldn't spend as much on entertainment, but since this is a mini vacation, spending $6 on mini golf isn't expensive. I love to travel, so was kind of wanting to take the four days to get out of the state, but with us both having job transitions, we thought it more prudent to have a staycation. Staycations really are the bomb though. You don't have as much transportation costs, no lodging costs, and you can bring food from home and save a bundle. Our entertainment book expires at the end of the year, so we decided this would be a good excuse to use some of them up. All told, we're looking at a staycation that costs less than $50 all in.
* Mini golf with Trucker. BOGO coupon from the entertainment book, so it was $6 for our outing. I told him that I wasn't bad at it, I was just trying to get my money's worth. He didn't believe me.
* Went to a living historical farm and took so many photos that the camera died. Walked through the garden, orchard, barns, house, smokehouse, root cellar and pastures. Beautiful. I don't want everything about my life to be exactly like the 1880s, however, there were more than a few things that I definitely want to implement. There were several sets of piglets that were really just too cute for words. A calf had been born 2 weeks prior, and when I scratched him on the head, he leaned into my hand, just like my cat. Too cute. They had bacon curing and leather breeches drying from the rafters.
* We went out for coffee at a little cafe we like that was on the way home from the park where we walked. I had a BOGO latte coupon from the entertainment book. Total cost for two: $4. He read a book from the library. I read a book I bought at the world's longest yard sale.

* Went for a walk around a nature preserve wetland 20 minutes from home. Beautiful. Loads of frogs to watch.
* Went for a 2 mile walk to a crab apple tree on public land. I harvested 1 lb of crab apples. They were a smidge underripe, but I have an experiment I want to try with crab apples. If it goes well, I'll go back and harvest the rest of them (as well as begging everyone in the neighborhood for permission to harvest their crab apples!).
* Trucker and I went for a walk around the neighborhood to talk and scout for apple trees to forage.

* Trucker and I had a lot of errands to run and fun to be had on Monday. We planned our route to reduce our mileage/gas consumption. I knew that we would be tempted to have lunch out since we'd be gone so long. I packed a lunch for us to eat instead: sandwiches on bread from work with leftover bacon and tomatoes from the garden, apple chips, a couple of baked goods, and a bottle of juice that his boss had given him for free.
* Trucker cleaned out the furnace and replaced the filter.

Waste Reduction:
* I found a great deal on cherry tomatoes and bought a ton. I dehydrated them before they had a chance to go bad.

 * As I mentioned earlier, my new job gives me a 10% discount on all groceries/wares that are store brand or not labelled. So...All store brand hygiene/cleaning products/food, bakery items, meat (except for certain sea food items), prepared foods, cheese/dairy, produce, etc. I discovered a store brand that is the "bargain" brand, but still gets the 10% discount. This makes the price lower (very slightly) than the grocery store I used to shop at. Also, every dollar spent earns a point and those points add up to cents off per gallon of gas.
* I've started writing during my second 15 minute break. There are computers for us to use in the break room, so I've taken the opportunity to work towards my goals. I have averaged 350 words per day, which if I continue this habit, will be 1750 words a week or 91000 a year.
* Trucker's boss sent him home with a giant can of pineapple juice that they didn't need at the new store. I love pineapple juice but never buy it. This will be fantastic.
* My boss at my new job insisted that I had to try one of the pumpkin donuts that was too small to sell. Darn it.

* 2 jars of dehydrated tomatoes went into the pantry.

Shared on:
From The Farm Blog Hop

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Crazy Easy Tomato Soup

I can't believe that I ever bought tomato soup in a can. It's so delicious when made with garden fresh produce and is one of the easiest recipes ever. It's also very quick, less than a half hour from ingredients to table. I made it for the first time last week, and I've made it three times since then. It's that awesome. I don't have a set-in-stone recipe, I just go with the flow, tweaking it based on what I have on hand. Here are the basics:

* Tomatoes, any sort is fine, roughly 3-4 lbs
* Peppers, as mild or spicy as you'd like, 3-5 optional
* Onion (1 medium) and/or garlic (3-4 cloves)
* Cream, milk, or half and half (1/2 c)
* Butter or oil (3 tbsp)
* Flour (6 Tbsp)

* Soup pot
* Sieve or strainer
* Blender
* Ladle

First, clean your tomatoes well and chop roughly into a pot. If you'd like, you can add a few peppers or other veggies that the garden has given you. Allow to cook for 10 minutes on medium heat.

Meanwhile, chop an onion or mince some garlic.

Pour the hot tomatoes into the blender and blend thoroughly. Pour out of the blender into the sieve or strainer. Work the tomatoes through the strainer. Compost the seeds/skins that are strained out.

Heat the butter  in the soup pot until melted. Add the onion and cook til translucent (If you have more time, cook til carmelized). Add flour and stir to combine. Cook until the flour is a light golden color. Slowly add the milk, whisking to combine thoroughly. Slowly add in the strained tomatoes, whisking as you add. Allow to cook a little longer, 5-10 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste and add fresh basil, if desired. Top with sour cream, cheese or croutons. This stuff is incredible with grilled cheese, quesadillas, or thick slices of a good artisan bread.

You can add other veggies from the garden if you'd like, or you can add cooked, chopped veggies after blending and straining the tomatoes for a chunky garden veg soup.

Shared on:
From The Farm Blog Hop

Monday, September 15, 2014

This Week...Beyond Money 9/8-9/14

I posted on A Life Beyond Money's Facebook page asking if readers would like a weekly recap of what we did here each week towards frugality, freedom, nature-based and simple living, cooking/gardening/food preservation and related topics. Since I just decided to do this yesterday, I know I'm going to forget to include certain things, so future weeks may be more inclusive. I'm still figuring out what format I want this to be in, what topics I want to discuss and tasks to include. If you have any questions or suggestions, comment below.

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

* I planted radishes in between the few kale, swiss chard, and carrot plants that had managed to germinate in summer. They are all still small, but I'm hopeful.

* I harvested loads of Dean's Purple podded pole beans, some tomatoes, a dozen jalapenos, several okra pods, a single squash, a few small cukes, several cups of lettuce/baby mustard greens, and lots of basil. I harvested some young dandelion leaves from plants that had popped up in the shade garden. I thinned the carrot bed and used the baby carrots in salad. Seriously, gardening is one of the best ways to improve your life. You can spend $2 on a head of terrible romaine lettuce at the grocer, or spend $1.20 to get a packet of seeds that will supply all of the greens you eat for the entire warm season. You can garden wherever you are, even if you don't have ideal conditions.

* I grow Milkmaid Nasturtiums in the front garden. They are very pretty and go well with the house. They are also edible and delicious. They have a delicate spiciness to them that is incredible in salads and sandwiches. Day lilies are also edible (although not in season now) and grow all over our property. In season, they make up 1/2 of our daily salads.

* For my birthday, my parents gave me a basket (the basket is beautiful and will be used for holding mail on my desk) and a box full of food (do they know me or what?): 3 lbs green beans, a dozen large tomatoes, a half dozen ears of corn, a large zucchini, 3 cucumbers, 2 large jars of jam, 2 quarts of tomato sauce, and 2 quarts of canned green beans. So exciting! I love practical gifts. The jam is from my favorite farm. I never justify spending a lot on jams and jellies even though I love them, and my mom knows this.
* I made tomato soup from scratch using several tomatoes from the garden and a few from my parents that had gotten damaged in transit. I added 5 jalapenos from the garden, some leftover onion and some tomato-infused olive oil I made earlier this year.
* I made stir fry using an assortment of veggies from the garden and a leftover pork chop. I cooked the rice in a container of homemade chicken stock. It was out of this world.
* We made good use of leftovers. Leftover mashed potatoes were mixed with flour and seasoning before being fried as a side dish. Leftover pork chop in the stir fry. Random veggies were tossed into stir fry or salads.
* Trucker and I use a few coupons here and there, but only rarely. We found that we aren't using them as much as we used to (it used to be our primary method of savings on groceries) because we are mainly eating from the garden now.
* I have been brewing water kefir for several months now. A coworker gave me some cherry syrup he made (I got him into home fermenting kefir and gave him his first kefir grains. He just gave me some extra milk kefir grains, so I'm getting started on that). It is absolutely fantastic. We've been drinking a glass or two each day. If you haven't heard of water kefir, check out this article on the basics. Water kefir is an incredibly refreshing fizzy drink and is fantastic for the digestive system. It is also really frugal. You buy the grains once, and as long as you don't kill them, they will produce kefir beverage indefinitely. They also reproduce, so you can ferment more, give them away, sell them, or dehydrate/freeze them in case you kill your grains later. Other than the initial purchase of grains and supplies, the only costs are a tablespoon + sugar per quart and something to flavor it with (dried/fresh/frozen fruit, syrups, extracts). Much cheaper and healthier than soda.

Food Preservation:
* My parents had given me 6 pounds of beans from their garden (separate occasion from birthday gift). Some were really big and tough, others were perfect. I cut up all of the decent sized ones into bite sized pieces, blanched and dehydrated them. For the larger tough ones, I popped them open and harvested the beans. The beans were of various sizes, but I'm drying them all together. All told, I got a cup and a half of dried beans. For the large pods, I cooked them a little longer and dehydrated them. I may make a green bean veggie powder out of them, or may try using them as a side dish or in stews.
* My parents also gave me some overripe cucumbers. They are a bit too bitter to eat as a snack or in salad, but they are fine when added to soups or casseroles. I seeded and sliced them and dehydrated 5 of them. I seriously love my dehydrator.
* I harvested basil leaves from all of the plants and dehydrated it at room temperature. Once fully dry, I packed it into a repurposed glass jar for storage.

* For my birthday, we met up with my parents and sisters halfway between their house and ours. We bought pizza from a local joint with a BOGO coupon from our entertainment book.  Afterwards, we went for a hike through the woods. Total cost for dinner and an evening out for 7: $15.
* Trucker signed up awhile back for a text club for a local comedy club. They had a contest and he won 4 free tickets ($100 value). We invited two of our good friends to go with us. We each got a drink and with tip spent $12. Not too bad for a night out, and we don't do it often. It was a really fun night. We love finding frugal ways to hang out with friends.
* We had one of my childhood friends over for dinner on Saturday. He's a farmer and came by after the market and brought some veg with him for dinner. I made BLTs with bacon from the freezer (purchased when it was on sale for $2/lb), lettuce from the garden, bread from my job and tomatoes he brought with. We also grilled corn on the cob (he brought with), and kebabs with onions ($.33/lb at Aldi), orange bell pepper (clearance rack at the grocery), and zucchini from my parents. We had watermelon for dessert. We sat around and talked for 4-5 hours and had a great time. Total cost for dinner for three, $2.5
* We've been using the library a lot. We each have several books checked out and a few movies. We never rent movies anymore. Our library system is fantastic and has access to pretty much anything we could possibly want.
* Trucker has a basic kindle, and likes to read free ebooks on it.
* One of our favorite outings is to go out for coffee. We bring our laptops for writing or books to read. We sit for hours and talk, read and write. We bring our travel mugs and get $.50 off each drink, so it costs $3. 18 for our outing. We use the free wifi and there are free refills. On scorching days in summer, we go there to enjoy the air conditioning.

* I went for a couple short runs. Health and mood improving. No gym membership required. Gets me out for fresh air and sunlight. I run barefoot, so I don't even have the cost of shoes, so this is truly free.
* Trucker and I took a couple walks around the neighborhood for exercise and talking. That is always fun.
* We both spent a lot of time out in the garden this week. Weeding, watering as needed, and just enjoying it.
* For my birthday, Trucker gave me a bat house. I adore bats and hate mosquitoes, so I'm hoping this works itself out. :) We hung it up in a tree near the property line.

* I avoided shopping this week. I didn't walk around the market or go to any stores whatsoever. A lot of saving money comes from just avoiding walking into a place that would tempt me to spend. Menards had a sale on a few items I could have used, but they weren't dire needs, and I knew that I would be tempted to spend on other things, so I didn't go. I will continue to check out their sales papers however. There are a few projects we want to do around the house, and I have $60 in rebate checks to use there, so whenever I find a good price for materials for a project, I'll use those. This winter we plan to dedicate a lot of time to home improvements.
* A couple days that we had lots of errands to run as well as jobs, we planned the route to minimize our mileage.
* I paid extra onto two bills. We are close to paying off two debts and will use that freed up money to pay down other bills.
* I paid extra onto the mortgage. We specifically purchased a house that was less than we could afford and have paid extra onto the principle every single month. Each time we do this, we save a crazy amount of interest and cut the number of months we'll have to make a payment.
* We got out the comforter already. It's been getting into the lower 40s at night now. By piling on a comforter, we can avoid having to run the furnace quite yet. I have a blanket at my desk so if I'm chilly in the morning, I can wrap up in that instead of turning on the heat.
* While driving through a neighborhood near us, we found a beautiful desk sitting at the curb. We asked the woman sitting on the porch if it was free. She said it was. I fell absolutely in love with it. For now, it is in the kitchen and holding several bowls of herbs that are drying. Later, it will be moved up to the craft room to house my sewing machine. Currently, my sewing machine is on a card table (gift from Trucker's grandfather when we first got together), but the table is so large it takes up most of the room. We will store the card table behind a shelf for when company comes over.

Waste Reduction:
* I composted some veggie scraps, corn cobs/husks, and a lot of junk mail. I tore out the plastic screens from envelopes before shredding. I want to compost everything that I possibly can so that I can reduce the amount of compost I'll need to buy in spring. Eventually, I'd like to not need to buy any compost, but my soil needs a lot of amendment.
* Trucker saves all coffee grounds and tea bags in a separate container. These can be worked straight into the garden without composting. I worked 3 gallons worth into the garden beds. I separated out the bags and coffee filters and put those into the compost bins.
* I used up the last of a loaf of bread. I cut the heel up into bite-sized pieces and added it to my stuffing/bread pudding/bread crumbs container on the counter. I allow pieces of bread to dry and then use them in a variety of recipes.
* I thinned out the carrot beds again (I pick every other one as they grow, giving them more space as they need it). The leaves would usually be thrown away, but were dried at room temperature. They will be used as a parsley substitute in winter.
* When we made bacon, we saved the grease to use in cooking.

* I packed Trucker's lunch so he didn't have to buy it at work. I made him a deli meat sandwich on bread from my job with dehydrated tomatoes from the garden (TIP: Place slices of dehydrated tomato next to the mayo on a sandwich. They rehydrate and keep the sandwich from being soggy). I also sent him with home-dehydrated apple chips (working on the last gallon jar of them from last year) and a granola bar that we bought at the scratch-n-dent grocer for $.05. I have a variety of main dishes and side dishes for lunches that are frugal and healthier than eating out.
* I had orientation at a new job. They sent me home with a goody basket of pasta, pasta sauce and a few snacks. They also supplied a snack and beverages, which replaced my dinner than night.

* Two jars of dried food put up into the store room for winter/emergencies.
* Trucker put a set of tools in my truck and his car so if we have car issues while driving, we can fix it ourselves. This summer we had car troubles while out of town and were fortunate to have a friendly car parts store worker that let us borrow some tools, but it could have been bad. He shopped at thrift stores for the extra sets of tools to put into our cars.

What did you do this week to be frugal?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dandelion Coffee

I love the real stuff, but there are plenty of benefits to brewing caffeine-free dandelion “coffee”: It’s a great tonic; it uses something that is otherwise considered an invasive weed; it’s an easy DIY project; and it’s free! It’s also as local as you can get, since you can dig dandelion roots right out of your yard. And unlike coffee, you can make it almost anywhere.

You'll need:
* in-ground dandelion weeds
* trowel
* veggie brush
* skiller
* coffee grinder

Dandelion roots are best dug in either early spring or late fall. Whenever you dig, be sure you’re doing so in a chemical-free yard or green space. Dandelion roots go deep, so dig deep down before firmly pulling up on the root, using the top of the plant as a handle. Whenever you are breaking sod on a new garden bed or weeding an existing bed, set aside the dandelions as the hard part is already done.

Once you have a large quantity dug, cut off the entire top part of the plants. (If you harvest in early spring, the leaves are awesome as a salad or a cooked green.

The roots are very dirty, so you need to take care to clean them thoroughly. They will be easier to clean if you let them soak in water for a half hour. Run the roots under cold water and use the veggie brush to clean them well. Repeat until the water runs clear. Dry them on a towel.

Chop them into small pieces. Allow them to air dry for two weeks. When the roots have thoroughly dried, roast them in a dry skillet, stirring frequently, until they are a dark, rich brown—about 10 to 15 minutes. Then grind them in a coffee grinder.

You can brew a "coffee" straight from the ground dandelion roots or you can mix the ground roots 50-50 with coffee. If you’re going roots only, use 1 Tbsp roasted dandelion roots per cup of water. I usually do the 50-50 version and brew it in my coffee pot, although you can also simmer the ground roots in a saucepan on the stove top until the liquid is a rich brown and then strain out the roots.

Either way, the brew is earthy, nutty and slightly sweet—perfect as is, or you can dress it up with cream and sugar. (It does have a slightly sweet flavor on its own, so I skip the sugar.) Dandelion roots have no caffeine, so dandelion coffee is ideal for evening sipping or for those who are trying to cut back on the hard stuff. Enjoy.

I originally published this on Homegrown.

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