Saturday, August 19, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 7/24 - 8/13

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.
Gardening:
* I harvested more large tomatoes. I harvest a handful or two of cherry tomatoes each day. My garden is fairly well shaded, so I do not get a huge harvest. However, I get enough to provide a good supplement and I know once I get that "perfect land" with a "perfect plot" I'll have better results.
* I harvested a ton of basil. Okay, not a literal ton, but a fairly substantial harvest. I've also been harvesting bits of parsley, oregano, rosemary and sage.
* We are getting a decent amount of peppers, all of them small. Again, shade.

Cooking/Groceries:
* I went to the farm stand and got: purple carrots (both Dragon and completely purple varieties), lettuce (red and green loose-leaf lettuces, one head each) and zucchini. The second time I went, I got shishitos, lettuce and patty pan squash. They also had you-pick flowers so I picked a bouquet for Mom and another small one for Trucker.
* We made pork tacos with some ground pork we got at Kroger in the manager's special section. It was a whopping $.75/lb! We bought all three packages they had. We served them on hard shell tacos (from the pantry. I'd bought them for our anniversary party and no one wanted them. I don't care for hard shell tacos, but they were fine after we warmed them in the toaster oven for awhile). We also had sour cream (sale), lettuce (farm stand), tomatoes (my garden), pickled peppers (put up awhile back) and a pinch of cheese.
* We made yummy sandwiches for lunch one day: fried egg, bacon, pepper jack cheese, tomato (first large tomato from our garden!) and loads of basil (from the garden). It was marvelous.
* Trucker got some avocados on sale, so I made avocado toast for breakfast (Does this mean I don't get to keep my house?). I served with bacon, fried eggs and sliced tomato. It was amazing.
* Trucker made me breakfast in bed twice this week. Once it was french toast, fried sausage, banana, roll and coffee. The other time it was pancakes, eggs and banana. He is so wonderful.
* I made breakfast one morning. I made pancakes (Trucker had put half of the pancake batter into the frig. All it needed was a good stir and it was good as fresh), fried eggs, pan-seared cherry tomatoes and shishito peppers, and a little squash bake I made with sour cream, cheese and crushed crackers on top (simple and weird, but very good).

Fun:
* We went out for dinner my last night on first shift (since I needed to stay up super late to be ready for the next night). We went to Olive Garden with a gift certificate that a friend had given us for our anniversary. We paid just a little after the card, plus tip. It was a lovely evening. I always enjoy dating Trucker.
* We did a several coffee dates, using our travel mugs for a discount.
* We went out to my parents place for a fish fry. They had gone to Florida on vacation and brought back fish. They fried up the fish, along with some shrimp. I brought caprese salad, coleslaw and sauerkraut. My sister had bought some really good honey so she served that with some corn bread. We had a lot of fun talking with the family. We are all a pretty goofy group. It is kinda fun watching our family grow, now that we have a bro-in-law and another on the way.
* We went on the World's Longest Yard Sale. We only hit one state, but it was great fun. We found some fun items. I got some jewelry for $.25-1 apiece. We each got some books for $1 or less, including some fun books on our wishlist. I got a couple funky vintage containers to use for storage: an old cash box and a rusty old trash can with lid. I think that I will store *something* (unsure exactly what yet. Maybe yarn since I have way too much in my stash now) in the trash can in the bedroom and put one of my spilling plants on top of it. We found some decorative items for a room we are working on. I found some awesome houseplants. I got a giant canna plant for $4, 4 hen and chick plants for $.25 each, and elephant ear plants for $1.50 each. Trucker got some new loppers for $3.

Nature:
* We went hiking at a nature preserve about an hour away. It was an awesome day. We loved looking for mushrooms and checking out butterflies. We also got to walk around the old canal and through a tunnel.
* We went to a local arboretum. We walked through the half we haven't seen yet. There were so many beautiful gardens and interesting trees. They had a nature discovery center that they use for kids' programs and homeschooling events. There were lots of taxidermy animals, owl pellets, bones, feathers and a beehive that was set up so you could see inside. We also went to the arboretum history center to read dedications and speeches from famous people who planted trees there.
* We went to the living historical farm just outside of the city. We go a couple times a year and I always love it. There is something so reviving about being able to be on a farm, pet the animals, and see what projects they are doing, from butchering turkeys to making tomato juice.

Frugality:
* I signed up for a raffle at work for attending a farmer's market. I can sign up each time I visit one until the end of August. I also signed up for a raffle for doing some healthy practices each day. The company offers a lot of raffles and drawings for different healthy or community-driven activities. I plan to sign up for all of them. I won't win most, but eventually I might win something.
* I signed up for our insurance a couple days after I officially started. While I had 31 days to sign up, I was afraid something would come up and I would miss the deadline. The insurance looks great. For the rest of this year, it is completely free. Next year it will cost $6-46 dollars a month, depending on which plan I chose. Either way, it is much cheaper than the $105/month we were paying (after our subsidy)
* I signed up for my 401k. I get a 100% match up to 6%, plus my employer kicks in an additional 2-4% depending on how long I have worked for them. I got a letter saying that they are counting my time as a temp in determining how much extra they kick in. I also set it up so that every year on January 1 it bumps up my contribution by 1%. I invested in a target date account. All told, I'll be getting a good amount put away for retirement.

House and Home:
* Trucker did some small projects around the house, such as adding a spring to the front screen door and putting in screens in windows.
* Trucker hung up some new art.
* Trucker fixed the patio door that was having trouble opening properly.
* In general, Trucker has been fixing a lot of things around the house. We are wanting to move within a year or two, so he is handling fixing up little things to make it easier to sell. We are saving a bundle by not paying a professional to do. We use Menards rebates when possible and buy items on sale.

Work:
* I started the new job this week (the first week of this post....sorry for yet another delay). I am so excited and relieved to be in a good, stable job. The first few days of the week were spent in classes and hearing different higher-ups speak. It was exciting to hear about some possible career paths and talk with people about steps to take. I feel hopeful.
* I got sent back to my old department, although now on second shift. I'm so happy. I loved the work I was doing and am so happy to continue. They say they try to keep you doing what you were, but it depends on their needs, so I got myself prepared to go elsewhere. When they told me I got to stay, it felt like I won the lottery. My new crew seems pretty nice too.
* Still a few weeks in, I like the crew and the work. I've also learned some new jobs, so now I get a lot more variety in my work day.

Future:
* Trucker's commercial came out. It is so cool to see him in a commercial!

Health:
* I got signed up for our new insurance. This is the first time I've had real benefits at a job (I had a job once that offered health insurance and it was twice as expensive as our previous ACA exchange insurance and had a huge deductible we had to hit before copays kicked in, whereas our ACA plan had a copay before deductible...in short, it had cost us way more for less coverage). I am amazed at how much coverage we get with the current plan. For this year at least, the company pays all of our (really generous) health, dental, vision, prescription, life, short and long term disability insurance. We will not have to pay a penny for any health care until after the first $2000, then we pay a small deductible, then have copays. I added accidental death and dismemberment and extra life insurance for each of us for a grand total of $35/year. Not too shabby for all of our health care needs. As I understand it, the costs will go up nominally next year, but this is still fantastic.
* Our insurance is free/super cheap only if we earn a certain number of points for healthy activities each year. In general, I support this idea. Yeah, the reason they do it is to save money on their expenses, but I do like adding that financial incentive to patients/clients to maintain healthy practices. Already, we each have 400 of the 1000 points I need for next year.
* We signed up for a membership at the health center my employer offers (3 locations, one is across the street from where I park for work). It costs $24/year, so $1/month each. I will obviously use it more than Trucker, as it is an hour from home, but he will use it occasionally. I get to work early each day since I drive to work during rush hour traffic now and a lot can go wrong. My dad suggested working out before work (I'd planned on doing it after work, but this saves me time) since I'd be there already. So now I park, walk across the street to the fitness center, get a run in and lift a little, then head back to work. This is going to be a great way to get back in the shape I want to be in. Trucker and I drove past the factory on the way to my parents place, so we stopped and went swimming for an hour. We didn't swim laps, but were active and got a good workout in.

Setbacks:
* We had some car trouble and had to take the car to my cousin to get repaired. It ended up being just a loose hose and it cost $20 to get fixed. Without him, there is no way we could afford to have a second car and I definitely couldn't afford to drive so far to work since the maintenance would be cost-prohibitive when commuting 500 miles a week. I don't know what we would do without him.

Community:
* Trucker volunteered at the homeless shelter.
How was your week?

Monday, July 24, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money THREE WEEKS 7/1 - 7/23

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.
Thanks for your continued understanding as my hectic schedule keeps me from updating as often as I'd like.

Gardening:
* I harvested tons of herbs from the garden.
* I harvested 75 heads of garlic. Some weren't huge, but overall I'm happy with my harvest. I have it curing on the patio and will bring it in when it is to rain.
* I'm harvesting a lot of peppers, mainly banana and Hungarian hot wax, but also some padrons and serranos. No bell peppers yet, but I wasn't expecting those to do well (I do regret buying bell pepper starts since my garden doesn't seem to grow large peppers well).
* I've been harvesting cherry tomatoes almost daily, just a few, but enough to enjoy.

Cooking/Groceries:
* We got more free sauerkraut. This time it was kimchi. I love this perk.
* I made shakshouka for dinner one day. I can't believe I waited to make this. It is basically just eggs poached in tomato sauce, but oh my goodness. I had some tomato sauce in the freezer from last year (free tomatoes from the farm, cooked down without seasoning and frozen) that I cooked down further with half a large onion, sliced thin and sauteed with a small head of garlic. I added Worcestershire, a healthy pinch of paprika, some chile powder, salt and pepper. Once it was cooked down enough, I added some oregano, thyme and marjoram from the garden and added the eggs. Once they were poached (I did overcook them a little, so the yolks were firm, but in my defense it was my first time poaching an egg), I added a healthy handful of basil from the garden. While it is traditionally served over toast, we had it over spaghetti since I didn't have any decent bread. It was phenomenal. It will definitely get into the regular rotation. I've been trying to use more seasoning in cooking and this well-seasoned tomato sauce explodes with flavor. The eggs provide plenty of protein for a great vegetarian meal that is cheap and hearty.
* I hit the motherload. Awhile back a coworker of mine told me about this wholesaler at the airport that sold to the public. The schedule didn't really line up with mine, so I just got around to hitting it and I'm so glad I did! In addition to a decent selection of produce, meat, cheese and imported goods, they also had a clearance section. These were items that were intended to sell to restaurants, but that were slightly past their prime. They were already cleaned and in some cases prepped. There were also less-pretty items at a steep discount. I got a half gallon of half and half ($1), a half gallon of heavy whipping cream ($1), several pounds of broccoli (cleaned and cut into florets) for $2, a giant bag (10-15 pounds) of green beans for $.99, local tomatoes at $1.49/lb, 4+ lbs of jalapenos for $1, and several pounds of celery (cleaned and cut into sticks). I also got jumbo brown eggs from a local Amish farm for $2.50/dozen. Some other goodies I saw but didn't purchase: a giant bag (probably close to 5 lbs) of cilantro for $.99, lemons for $.10, oranges for $.20, grapefruit for $.33, mangoes for $.50, giant butternut squash for $1, canner tomatoes $5/15 lbs, and onions $15/25 lbs. I do plan on going back for some onions to caramelize for the freezer.
* I made stock with produce scraps and some bones from the freezer. I used strained and frozen tomato juice from last year when I made tomato sauce. That added a lot of flavor and was perfect for beef stew. I used the bones in a second batch of stock with fresh veggie scraps. The second (and third and forth) batches of stock with bones aren't very flavorful, but there's still some nutritional value as the bones continue to break down. Often for later batches, I'll add some bouillon cubes for flavor.
* I used my first batch of stock to make a beef vegetable soup. I seared some beef with onions, then added garlic, garlic scapes, carrots, celery and patty pan squash. It cost around $3.50 and was enough for 6 meals.
* I made shrimp scampi. How have I not been doing this before? (This seems to be the question of the week). I didn't really use a recipe, but it turned out great. I found frozen shrimp for $4 at Aldi, added half a box of angel hair pasta (manager's special for $.50, so $.25 for the recipe), used half a stick of butter ($.65), half an onion ($.15), a small head of garlic (free from the garden; next time I'll use more), parsley (free from the garden). basil (free from the garden) and 1/3 bottle white wine. The wine was one we got on vacation. (Once you factor in the coupon, it cost $5. However, once we got home, it just didn't taste right. Slightly vinegary. Not unbearably bad, but not pleasant to drink. Rather than dump it down the drain, I used most of the bottle in stock making in place of vinegar.) It worked really well in the scampi, although using a Niagara wine in a Italian dish was far from authentic. So, since the wine would have been dumped if I didn't decide to use it in cooking, I'm not factoring the price in (I made scampi as a way to use the wine instead of throwing it away). The cost was a hair over $5 and was enough for 5 meals.
* We had popcorn as a snack.
* I made roasted chicken (manager's special) with roasted veggies (beets, carrots, potatoes, garlic and onion) for dinner one night. We pan seared shishito peppers  as our appetizer. It was amazing.
* On "National Ice Cream Day" we bought half gallons of ice cream for $.99.

Food Preservation:
* I froze some half and half in ice cube trays to use small amounts to add creaminess to soups, colcannon, mashed potatoes or other dishes.
* I froze all the remaining celery and garlic scapes. I sliced the celery and froze on cookie sheets before bagging. The scapes were simply chopped and bagged.
* I chopped too much basil for the scampi so I put it in a small container, covered with water and froze. That will get chucked into some soup at some point.

Fun:
* Vacation week!!!
* We took a weekend trip to Niagara falls. We stayed on the American side because I didn't want to spend the extra money on passports. It was a wonderful time. We used hotels.com to reserve our room and earned a free night to use later. I used the Entertainment book to save money on dinner and outings. We went to the Aquarium of Niagara using a BOGO coupon and got to see a sea lion show. We went on a lot of hikes and got up close and personal with the falls. We'd thought about going on the Cave of the Winds tour, but neither of us felt like getting wet. We explored the ruins of the Schoellkopf power station and rode the elevator down. We also went on the Niagara winery tour and sampled some yummy wines (Niagara is my favorite grape, so I was happy). Our entertainment book got us some BOGO coupons on tastings and bottles, which dropped the price considerably. We went cherry picking and paid about the same price as cherries cost at the store, but they were super fresh. On the way home we stopped at a farmers' market on the Seneca reservation. I got banana bread, a mini rhubarb pie and sour cherries. It was a nice little trip and short enough that I still got ample time to have fun at home as well.
* We went to a billiard hall and used a BOGO coupon to get two hours of play for $8. I'm terrible at pool, but determined to learn and Trucker is patient as he teaches me.
* We earned a bunch of coupons for participating in our library's summer reading program: BOGO movie theatre, BOGO burritos at Chipotle, free cookies, coupon for a local pizzeria and a bbq joint, and a free book from the Friends of the Library sale.
* I'll definitely continue to purchase entertainment books. Whether for a vacation destination or our home city, we get our money's worth every time.
* We had a beer tasting with a few friends one evening. Everyone brought a few beers that we all sampled and some snacks. We had a lovely evening of laughing and talking.
* We used one of the Chipotle coupons for dinner while out one day. We get the bowls and a tortilla on the side so we can make the size burrito we want (restaurant portions are way too much). We had enough leftover to make enchiladas the next day and that provided another 3 meals.
* My family was on vacation for longer than we were. My grandpa stayed home and we knew he would be lonely since he usually goes to my mom's house for dinner every night. We drove out and took him out for Bob Evans for dinner. Trucker had a BOGO coupon and Grandpa was excited to get a chicken pot pie. I just wanted a salad. Trucker ordered a meal and it cost $1 extra to get a second side and $.50 to upgrade it to a salad, so for $1.50 I got the $3 salad I wanted. We were all full and content. Afterwards, he took us on a tour around town to show us where he grew up and all the buildings he had built in the area (He was a brick mason for 50 years because he is amazing). It was a perfect evening. We brought him gifts: sauerkraut (free as a job perk; he LOVES sauerkraut), banana bread (from our trip) and a DVD set of 50 war movies that Trucker got for $.50 at a garage sale. Grandpa is a big history buff and was so excited about the set and kept exclaiming the titles of the movies and said he was going to put a disk in as soon as we left and have the banana bread with some milk. It just goes to show that you can make someone's whole day without spending much; thought and care is the important thing.
* We went fossil hunting, using a BOGO coupon, $9 total. We found a ton of crinoids, corals, brachiopods and trilobites. It was such a fun day and I checked something off my bucket list!
* We spent a day with my parents, sisters and bro-in-laws at the lake near my parents house. We had a wonderful picnic, fished and swam. It was marvelous.

Nature:
* One day we went to a local arboretum. We had a lovely time walking around the gardens. They had a canopy tour that was amazing. Afterwards we climbed an 8-story tower for some spectacular views.
* We were in awe at the falls and loved walking up and down river to see the multitude of smaller falls. It was great getting to see new flowers that don't grow in our state.
* Trucker has been loving the bird feeders by the office window.
* We enjoyed a walk at the audobon. We loved watching turtles by the river.

Frugality:
* We bought some allergen protection covers for our pillows, but once we opened the package they were really loud and uncomfortable. We returned them and had the money put back into our account. That saved us $9. We returned them when we were already going to be next door to the store.
* Trucker signed up for the loyalty program at Meijer. We already got $7 off purchases and have coupons for $1 off a future purchase and a free head of lettuce.

House and Home:
* I reorganized my clothes. I don't really have a good system (and never have found one that works since we moved in), so I'm trying again. Without a good system that works for me, my clothes live on a chair until I wear them again and the drawers/closet are just filled with the things I don't like as much. I took everything out of the dresser, got rid of a good 1/4 of those items and separated out the items that fit but are too worn to wear in general or to donate. I'll have a drawer dedicated to chore clothes and will wear them til they fall apart.
* Trucker tackled the scary tupperware cabinet. It was terrifying, really. He separated out each type of container and then I went through everything and threw out food containers we didn't need (I had a ton of large yogurt tubs that I used to save back when I didn't have a tupperware set that included large containers) and items without matches (I still had 3 containers from my old tupperware set, but 12 lids!).
* I put all of our fossils from our adventure and put them in a pretty bowl in the entrance. I had previously had a bunch of pine corns and acorns in the bowl, but I moved those into a little metal bucket that now sits on a shelf.

Work:
* It's summer break from work, so I have been enjoying some much needed time off. I go back for a couple days and then get another long weekend. We get a break in July and another for the winter holidays. So basically about the time you are burning out, you get a nice, long break to revive.
* The countdown is on for starting second shift. Two more weeks.
* Friday was my last day with my coworkers. It was a really sad day. They are really amazing, just some of the best people you could ever hope to know, let alone work with. I'll miss them a lot.However, I do know that I am making a smart choice and am looking forward to the new job next week.

Future:
* Next week I start my new job! I can't wait. This will give us security and a future, so I'm happy.

Health: 
* We have gotten back in the habit of hitting the gym regularly. I'm mainly concentrating on my arms and cardio. Trucker didn't go while we were on vacation, and then got a cold, so he had to ease back into it.
* I got a cold the weekend before I start the new job! Oh no! While I usually try not to use medicine unnecessarily, I will definitely use something to make training tolerable (and me less gross to my new coworkers!).



Community:
* Daisy is an absolutely amazing friend. When we were out of town, she took care of all of the fur babies. It was comforting to know they were alright (and the house wasn't burned down!). I am continually thankful for her (and her hubby's!) friendship. Making friends as a grown-up is awkward and more than a little hard which makes it all the more special that we found them.
* I left her a few little goodies: sauerkraut, garlic scapes from the garden, some extra cukes from the farm stand, sriracha ketchup and a basil transplant. I potted up the basil into a little pot I already had. I also brought her a goody from our trip.
* Daisy left me a few little gifts for when I got back: a candle with a lovely quote about friendship, some teenage mutant ninja turtles stickers (Because she knows me well!) and a trash can for the bathroom. Daisy has one of the best eyes for decor and is my inspiration when it comes to crafts and decor. I've been decorating my main bathroom in a sunset on the beach theme. Everything was looking pretty nice and I considered it almost finished, other than wanting to replace bathtub knobs and the sink. The only problem was that I still had the terrible kokopelli trash can we got when we first moved in together. Daisy bought a basic white trash can at the dollar store and wrapped it in twine. It ends up being a beautiful, simple trash can that oozes beach charm. I love how she can take basic materials and make a fantastic piece that is exactly what you needed.
How was your week?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pepper Poppers

Pepper poppers are one of the cheapest and easiest appetizers you can make. They are also incredibly popular and go well whether you are serving a taco bar or having a party for a sporting event. They don't take long to make and can even be assembled in advance and tossed into the oven a little before guests show up. My garden is producing loads of peppers this year, and this is a great way to use up a bunch. The farm stands also have them pretty affordably as well. When peak pepper season is on, I like to core whole peppers and freeze them.

Jalapenos are my go-to, but I also use small hungarian hot wax, large padrons or shishitos, sweet banana, mini bells and lunchbox or other small sweet peppers. Depending on the size of the pepper, ease of removing the seeds and desired presentation, I'll either core them out and shake out as many of the seeds as possible or cut in half longways and scoop out the guts. Reminder: Don't forget to wear gloves if handling hot peppers.

I don't use a recipe, I just guesstimate based on what I have that needs used up. I will use sour cream, cream cheese or cottage cheese, as I have it. Sometimes if I have a little bit of a creamy dip I'll use that as all or part of the creamy addition. I'll also use up little bits of salsa or hot sauce. Sometimes I'll mince onion in. If the filling needs some oomf, I'll use either a packaged seasoning blend or just add some black pepper, salt, chili powder, onion powder and granulated garlic. Blend all well, then put into a piping bag or sandwich bag and cut the tip. Squeeze the blend into the pepper. If you are using frozen peppers, you don't need to even thaw them. Just fill when frozen and bake a little longer than you otherwise would.

I place them all in a baking dish, overlapping some. Sometimes I cover them all with enchilada sauce or cheese. Sometimes I leave them plain. I bake at around 350 until the peppers are soft, around 30-40 minutes. I often use the toaster oven to keep from heating up the kitchen.

These are always popular and disappear fast. If I do have any leftovers, they are great for my work lunches and I think are even better chilled.

What are your favorite frugal and easy appetizers or sides?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Basic Galette, Pie, or Tart Instructions


When I teach someone to cook, I like to teach a skill rather than a recipe. If you learn a recipe, you know how to make one dish, but if you learn a skill, the whole world opens up. When teaching a newbie to cook, I often make Goldenrod Eggs. That teaches two important skills: how to hard boil an egg and how to make a bechamel. From those two skills, you can make a wide variety of dishes for a wide variety of circumstances.

When I teach someone to bake, I aim to do the same thing and galettes are the perfect intro to baking. Even for someone who has been baking for years, the endless variations make this one of my favorite dishes to bake. The hardest part of this recipe is making a good pie dough, but even if you take the cheater's way out and buy a pre-made crust, it will still turn out good. (Moment of confession: I did use a store-bought crust once because I was doing my last-minute grocery shopping for company coming over in a little over an hour). The recipe is super flexible and can be modified in a nearly infinite number of ways.

First, make a nice pie crust. I always use the King Arthur recipe: 2 c AP flour, 1 T sugar (leave out if making a savory dish), 1 t salt,  2 sticks of butter cut into pats, 1 egg, 2 T milk. If it is really hot, you can toss the ingredients into the freezer to prevent the butter melting (which would result in a tougher, less flaky crust, which no one wants). Sift together AP, sugar and salt, then cut in butter just til it holds together if you squeeze it, but you still want to see little lumps of butter as this will result in a flaky crust. Gently mix in the egg and milk just until moistened and no more. Divide in two, shape, wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least a half hour or up to 2 days. You can freeze if desired. I've found that this batch of dough will make several galettes, so freezing the extra can make it much easier to whip up a dessert later.

Generously flour your work surface and roll out your dough to roughly 1/8 inch thick (it doesn't have to be perfect). When making galette, I usually pull off a chunk of dough and roll it into a really rough circle, about 8-9 inches across. Once I have the dough rolled, I put it back in the refrigerator to rest while I make the filling.

I use a basic cream cheese filling for a lot of my fruit galettes. I can't remember where I found the recipe originally, but most recipes are just variations of this recipe: 1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened, 1/2 cup sugar (leave out if making a savory dish), 1 egg and a tsp of vanilla. This recipe is pretty flexible. You can use a little less cream cheese or a little more egg or reduce the sugar and it will still turn out. Beat together well. If you do it by hand, it will feel like it is taking forever, then all of a sudden it is ready. It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth and it will still bake fine. This recipe is enough for 2-3 galettes and it stores well for a few days in the refrigerator. If you want to make a smaller batch, just halve everything and you can either use the full egg (I've tried it and it works fine) or use about half the egg and use the other half as an egg wash (which makes for a great color and allows you to sprinkle the crust with some grainy sugar). This filling is really forgiving which is why I love it.

I spread a layer of filling over the middle of the dough, leaving about an inch around the edge. You can do a thin layer (makes for a less filling dessert) or thicker (cooks up fine and you can serve smaller slices). Layer on some fruit. Basically use whatever you like that you have on hand. I love to use apples or peaches. Sometimes I mix a variety of fruits, placing in a pretty design. Whatever you do, either slice thin (pears, apples, peaches, plums) or cut in half (larger blueberries, cherries) if needed so they cook through. Smaller berries can be left whole.

Fold over the extra dough around the edges. Don't make it too pretty. I like having some variation. Some slices of galette have less crust, others more so everyone can get a piece they like best (I like the extra flaky crust). Plus if you try to make it perfect, you really need to make it perfect. If you aren't trying to make it perfect, there's less pressure. Every little "mistake" just gives it more rustic charm.

If you'd like, you can brush some egg wash onto the edges and sprinkle with some grainy sugar. The egg wash will give a nice shine and color to the crust, but left bare it has more ruggedness.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. You want the bottom to be nicely golden as well.

Beef Pot Pie is an easy way to give
life to leftover beef stew.
I love how flexible this recipe is. If made free-form and flat, you have a galette. You can make a rustic pie by quickly placing the dough in a pie plate and coarsely folding the excess pie dough back in. You can make a large tart or little tartlets. Put the filling on just one half, then fold over, crimp the edges and you have a hand pie. Roll dough into a rectangle, cut into smaller rectangles, put filling on one and top with another rectangle and you have pop tarts. Put into a pie plate and add a savory custard for a great quiche. Put in a pie plate, add some leftover beef stew and cover with another layer of crust for a quick beef pot pie.
I placed some curly garlic scapes
on top of this quiche for great
presentation as well as flavor.

 The basic cream cheese filling goes brilliantly with a variety of fruits, or you could leave out the sugar and make a savory galette. It would be perfect to mix in some fresh herbs or scallions before layering on some roasting tomatoes (especially heirlooms in a variety of colors), caramelized onions, bacon, ham or asparagus. Garlic scapes or fern fronds would make unbelievable presentation.

You don't have to stick with cream cheese filling. I like to use a goat's milk caramel when I make apple galettes. Try real maple syrup, honey, jelly or jam. Spread nutella on the dough under strawberries.

Use fresh fruit. Use frozen fruit. Cook down some overripe fruits into a lovely compote. Add nuts. Make a streusel topping. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper if making a savory dish or sprinkle some cheese around the edges.

Make it your own. Make it for breakfast, brunch, a light lunch, appetizer, dinner entree or dessert. Make it tonight!

Have fun baking!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money June 2017

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.

Life has been a little crazy for a bit, so I'll be scaling back this post a little. I'll stick mainly to highlights in each category, rather than the journal-type entries I'd gotten in the habit of writing.
Gardening:
* I planted more goodies and have started harvesting bits of greens and peppers. It looks like it will be a good pepper year. The basil is going gang busters. I transplanted lots of plants into containers that I have growing all over the house. I foresee lots of pesto and caprese in our future, so life is good.

Cooking/Groceries:
* A few times I made galettes using fresh fruit (either from the farm or Aldi), a basic cream cheese filling and my pie crust. I used half an egg as a wash over the crust. They turned out fantastic each time. They are sweet enough to count as a dessert for me, but not too sweet to make a lovely breakfast. I love how easy it is to pull together while still having some "wow" factor for entertaining.
* I hit the farm stand a few times. Mainly, I've been scoring little cukes and carrots. We love having fresh veggies on hand, chopped and ready for snacking.

Fun:
* We took my parents out for my dad's birthday. He generally likes boring meat-and-potatoes type meals, but absolutely loves hibachi. The Japanese steakhouse near us is pretty pricey, but we bought a $60 Groupon for $30 which lowered the price enough. We all ate half of our meal and took half home for lunch the next day. Afterwards, we took them to a local garden park and laughed a lot as we walked around. We finished off the evening getting frozen yogurt at a local place. It was a really fun evening.
* We caught a blues concert at a coffee house near us. We used a BOGO coupon for our coffee, so it ended up being a pretty frugal date.
* Daisy came over once for crafting and she and hubby came over for dinner and movies another night.
* We went out with one of my coworkers and his family to the drive-in theatre. We brought snacks and drinks from home. He brought sports stuff so for a couple hours before the movie started, we played football or catch. When dusk came, I broke out some sparklers I bought at the grocer for $2 and the kids had a blast.

Nature:
* We went hiking several times. The best one was a park about an hour away. It seems like just a normal little park, but hidden in the park is an osage orange tunnel. Farmers used to plant osage oranges as a living fence. It was a positively magical hike.


Work:
* I finally got the phone call. I got hired on for full time at my job. For the last six months I've been a temp. I interviewed 5 months ago. Sometimes people would wait several years for an interview and a couple years between interview and getting hired on, so I'm really happy with the timing. This job will pay significantly more, provide extensive benefits and will eventually give me 7 weeks of paid time off a year. They generally try to keep you in the same area you are currently working (which would be ideal), but could move me anywhere in the company, as needed. The main change will be switching from first shift to second shift. I am a little nervous about it, but I think I will adjust okay eventually. I will miss my current coworkers desperately, but am glad that we will become a lot more secure now. My dad has worked for the company for going on 35 years, and I believe it will provide a good life for my family as well.

Community:
* I can't remember if I included this in an earlier post or not. My dear friend's partner was gifted some items from his client's parent's estate. They couldn't use all of it, so they gave us two beautiful bar stools and a ridiculously gorgeous lamp. These are very high-end pieces that we would never, ever be able to afford. I am super excited because I've been passively looking for some bar stools for the island since we bought the house five years ago.

How was your week?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Frugal Fun in the City

City living comes with a lot of high costs, but the city offers a lot in the way of entertainment. At times when we had little money, we were able to fall back on lots of free sources of entertainment to keep us from being bored while we were trying to stabilize our finances. Small towns offer some of these things too, so even if you live in a small town, look into some of these options.
 

* Go to any free festival you find interesting. Over the years, Trucker and I have gone to countless festivals and have never paid a penny to get in. Big cities often have fantastic festivals, and rarely charge admission. In my experience, mid-sized cities are more likely to charge admission, although there are free festivals to be found. I love going to art festivals or blues festivals. Sometimes, I go to other festivals just to broaden my horizons and experience something new. It's a great way to have fun without spending a ton of money. It can even be free if you eat before you leave and bring beverages from home.

* We love to get out deep into the woods for an all day hike, but sometimes car trouble or gas prices keep us from making the journey. On those days, we make a day of walking and exploring in the city. We'll pick a direction or a street and venture out. I pack a snack and a couple water bottles for the journey and we'll usually have a bit of spending money, although we leave the cards and big bucks at home, just in case. A couple of weeks ago, we walked to an ice cream shop to get $.50 cones before walking home. Other times we'll walk to get coffee and then walk home, foraging for wild berries as we go.

* Find out about free access to museums. In Chicago, you can check out passes at any library branch to get into different museums for free (up to 4 people). In my current city, there is no such option, but most of the museums have some option. One museum is free one (very crowded) day a year, another is free every Sunday (with free concerts in the summer!), and a few small museums are free every day. The summer reading program at the library offers a couple one-time free passes for two small museums after you read 4 books during the summer. These are great options for the curious city-dweller, with or without kids.

* Sign up for newsletters with local events. One trendy local site sends out a newsletter with every kind of event going on each weekend. Many of these are way beyond my price range, but there are almost always a few free events going on. Sometimes the events aren't up my alley; sometimes they are the perfect thing for a fun weekend.

* Enjoy the arts. Go to a gallery opening or hop. Watch an art demonstration. Take a long stroll through a neighborhood with a lot of galleries.

* Check with your local theatres. One theatre near us has free symphony performances a few times a year. Another had a free documentary viewing and a meet and greet (with free gourmet ice cream) with the local actor who made it. Yet another has $10 symphony tickets for several shows each year.

* There are likely more movie options in the city than in a small town. You have several theater chains to chose from, so call around for the best matinee prices. Maybe you even have a discount theater. Our's charges $2.25 admission; on Tuesday's it is $1.50! The fancy theatre downtown has a summer movie program. When you buy a strip of 10 tickets, it is only $2.50 each for a really nice experience. Lots of local parks have drive-in movies, so there are lots of movies to chose from. Bring your own popcorn and beverage.

* Art in the park. Many cities offer concerts and plays in the park. These can be fantastic. At one park in my city, it's an all-out thing. People bring short tables and pile them with fine food and pop open a bottle of wine. It's fantastic and costs nothing to get in.

* Find some coffee house culture. Poetry readings or concerts at coffee houses are incredibly frugal events. Often there is no cover, and you can sip your coffee while you enjoy the entertainment. Cost out can be as low as $1.50 a person.

* Go to the library. Not just for books, movies, CDs, magazines, internet, and ebooks (although, certainly check these out while you're there!), the library can be a fantastic source of entertainment. Ask about concerts, movies, lectures and classes at your branch or nearby branches. In one city I lived in, there was a month of financial classes for free at various branches around the city. We bused it out to several events to learn as much as we could. Made for an educational night out and gave us things to talk/dream about on the bus ride home.

* Go to book releases at coffee houses or book stores. These are great fun, depending on the type of book. The best book release I ever went to was for a true-crime mafia book (Trucker and I are obsessed with Mafia movies, so the real-life stories of people we'd heard about was fascinating).

* Take a walking tour of your downtown or a historic neighborhood. Do your research before hand, then venture out. Make sure you know some good trivia to impress your date/interest your kids. Try to hit places with fascinating stories, intricate architecture, or vibrant street art. Stroll around interesting little stores (unless you've got kids that would get bored or destructive) or maybe hit a tiny, very localized museum. If you'd like, take a bit of pocket money to pop into a candy shop or grab ice cream cones if you'd like.

* Visit an ethnic neighborhood for fantastic grocery shopping. I love to visit Chinatown to stock up on my favorite herbal teas. The prices are great, and it's fun. This can also help to kick you out of a cooking rut. Since you're just grocery shopping, it doesn't really cost anything out of the entertainment budget and if you do it right, can save you on your grocery bill.

Even if your expenses are high in other ways, city living does offer some great ways to economize in other areas.

Share your favorite frugal city fun tips in the comments.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money TWO WEEKS 5/22 - 5/28

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.
Gardening:
* I got some collard, onion and scallion transplants from the farm stand and popped them into my garden.
* We have lots of lovely growth in the garden. Overall, everything is looking good.
* I harvested some mulberries from the garden and also foraged some when we went out hiking.
* We stopped at the farm stand twice. The first time I just got a head of lettuce, bunch of beets and some sugar snap peas. The second time I got collards, kale, lettuce and peas. All but the lettuce from the U-pick. I harvested some sugar snap peas and some that were a bit more mature. I figured that leaving them on the vine would reduce future yields, and I would love to have some fresh peas to serve this week.
* I harvested the largest garlic scape harvest yet.
* Trucker whacked down some of the Japanese honeysuckle. It will surely be back with vengeance, but at least he keeps it from overtaking the house. Japanese honeysuckle is by far my least favorite plant right now.

Cooking/Groceries:
* I made an epic brunch one day. I made fried eggs (free from mom; she got them in exchange for watching a friend's chickens while they went on vacation), Brussels sprouts ($.99/lb on managers special), collards (from the farm), toast ($.50/loaf from aldi) and grits ($.10/box at salvage grocer; used 1/3 box and added herbs from the garden). I served hot grape gelatin to drink (never had it? It's an Amish drink for when you aren't feeling well. We use it to get extra gelatin in our diets).
* I made a wonderful quiche for lunch one day with enough leftovers for each of our lunch the following day. I made my own pastry and filled with leftover Brussels sprouts (manager's special), collards (from the farm stand), sliced sugar snap peas (from the farm stand), sauerkraut (free from Trucker's job) and garlic scapes (from the garden). I used 3 eggs (on sale for $.69/dozen), the rest of a container of spinach artichoke dip and milk for the custard and used both mozzarella and romano (manager's special) cheeses. It was amazing the first day and better cold for lunch the next.

Food Preservation:
* I froze some garlic scapes, diced up. I'll add these to soups, casseroles, tacos, and whenever sauteing a mix of veggies as a base.

Fun:
* I had one particularly rough day. We decided to stay in and relax. Trucker went out to pick up pizza (we had a BOGO coupon in our entertainment book, so we got two mediums for $10 with plenty of leftovers). We cuddled and watched movies all evening.
* We had a couple coffee dates.
* We went fishing one day at a new place. We went a little too early in the afternoon, so they weren't biting well. I caught two, but nothing big enough to keep. Trucker caught no fish, but did catch a turtle. We were able to get the hook out without hurting him.
* We went to another gallery hop. It was one of the nicest evenings I can remember.  There were just a lot of good shows. Lots of hope in spring. My favorite shows was one in which the artist had painted each and every one of her possessions. It definitely makes you to take pause to consider the Tyler Durden quote about what you own owning you. The weather was perfect. The company was perfect. I guess that makes for a perfect night.
* A theatre troupe in our area does Shakespeare in the Park. We went one evening to see Julius Caesar. It was my first time seeing it live. We packed a lovely picnic from home: manager's special seafood salad, manager's special crab and jalapeno dip, manager's special beer cheese, store brand crackers and drinks from home. Total cost for the food was around $6 and was comparable to the cost to prepare dinner at home (In general, I tend to make nicer dinners on the weekends since I don't have time to cook at all during the week). I always love spending a nice evening outdoors, watching talented actors, eating good food and hanging out with Trucker.
* In planning our vacation, we decided to buy an Entertainment book for the city we were staying in. For Memorial Day they had a $10 sale with free shipping. At that cost, using it for one meal or museum would pay for it. They had a 25% off promo code if you bought two or more books. I called my parents and asked them if they wanted in. They got one as well, bringing our cost to $7.50 each. They are going as a big group (My parents, all three sisters, plus 1 husband and 1 boyfriend), so the BOGO coupons at most restaurants won't be a great deal for them. However, they plan to use a lot of pizza coupons, as they can order whatever size pizzas needed to feed them all. For us, BOGO coupons will make up whatever meals we will need to buy (We plan to use gift cards for 1-2 meals, eat breakfast at the hotel and get no more than 1 meal out a day). Also, a lot of the area museums have BOGO coupons, so we will be able to have affordable options if it rains.
* After a long day of working on the house, we went out for pizza. We went to a place just down the road that had a special since it was Sunday ($10 pizza and one of the best in the city). Whenever we knock out a big project or spend a day doing work we hate doing, we take a little cheap date afterwards to relax and reward ourselves.

Nature:
* We went for a couple mile walk at the Audubon. There is an obstacle course which I of course ran. I love seeing all sorts of less-common birds. Next time I need to bring my field guide.
* We went for a 4 mile walk at the park. It was a nice, warm day. We didn't see a lot of wildlife, but we did see loads of pretty plants. I loved seeing that the blackberries are coming along nicely.
* We went hiking a few more times.

Frugality:
* My mom's cousin looked at both our cars. Trucker's exhaust was broken in two places and he needed spark plugs changed. He charged $40 for all. I had him look at my car to make sure everything was looking good for our vacation. He replaced the radiator cap and charged me $10. We would be in so much trouble without him.

House and Home:
* We are still line drying clothes. I enjoy it for the most part. I've only once had to go to work in (slightly) damp work pants, which is pretty good when you consider how often it has rained, how high the humidity is and how much we work.
* Trucker made an online query to get some quotes on our electric work. We will get several quotes before we decide on a particular person.
* When we were at the gallery hop, we found a store going out of business. They were selling everything for really cheap. I got some little boxes to use for storage for $.50 each.

Work:
* I worked overtime several days. I took one day off (without pay but without using a call-off day) and we had the day off for the holiday so I got a 4-day weekend. It was so needed.

Health:
* We went to the gym several times between the two of us.
Possession
* I went for a run out in the real world!
* Trucker got a sty on the inside of his eyelid. It was causing him a lot of discomfort so we went to the Little Clinic at the grocery store to be prescribed an antibiotic eye drop (free with our insurance since we asked for a generic). We definitely wanted to get it looked at since his uncle died from not treating the cancer he thought was just a sty.

Setbacks:
* One day as we were getting ready for bed, Trucker noticed that my tire had gone flat. This was particularly frustrating because his car was in the shop over the weekend. The plan had been for him to ride with me to work the next morning, drive my car home and my mom would meet me with one of their cars to borrow (We could have borrowed it earlier but I didn't want them to be short a vehicle, especially since we didn't really need it if I was off work). We tried to get the tire off, but we couldn't (torqued too tightly). We called our insurance and they sent someone out who was able to replace it for us. The next day Trucker took it to the tire shop, where they replaced it for free since we had a warranty.
This is my favorite piece from the gallery hop.
Community:
* My sister sent me a text and said that at her job they were throwing away the items that had been in the lost and found box for a long time. She said there was a really nice black coat and asked if I wanted. It was a black Dockers brand heavy-duty coat in great condition.  Trucker has been needing a nice, black coat and had just asked me two weeks ago to look out for one for him. This one fits him well.
* When I stopped by the farm stand, my former coworker said that the volunteer she was supposed to meet hadn't showed. She had no one to run the farm stand, but had needed to do some deliveries for her business. I ended up running the farm stand for a couple hours. It was really nice to see some of my clients.
How was your week?
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