Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Puppy Chow for People

When my kids were just little we decided to eliminate all food colorings and many food preservatives from our diet. We followed the guidelines of the Feingold Diet for about a year. Of course, it was impossible to be 100% compliant all the time, but we sure did try. Life was more peaceful and we cooked up a lot of new recipes. My daughters favorite treat at the time (age 6) was Puppy Chow for People. She still loves it at age 12. It definately has a lot of sugar in it, but it's a great snack. I didn't have any peanuts today, so you won't see them in the picture. Here's how to make it.

4 Tbsp butter
1 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup peanut butter
8 cups Crispix cereal (or other chex cereal)
1 cup peanuts
2 cups powdered sugar

Melt the peanut butter, chocolate chips and butter together in small pan. Pour over the cereal and peanuts in large bowl and stir well. Pour the powdered sugar into a large paper bag and add the cereal. Fold the bag and shake well to coat evenly.

I usually just put the lid on the bowl and shake it up in there. You can store it in the messy bowl or pour it in a large ziplock bag. Enjoy!

Corndog Casserole

If you eat something too often, it gets old and boring. About once a month I make Corndog Casserole for lunch. The kids love it and even I enjoy it. Sometimes I put mustard on mine, just like a corndog. You can make this with two boxes of Jiffy Cornbread mix, one cup of milk, 2 eggs, one tablespoon of brown sugar and a package of hot dogs, but I like to make it from scratch. I used canned evaporated milk in mine today. I'm still trying to use up the twenty-five cans given to me!

Here is the recipe adapted from the back of the Quaker corn meal box.

Mix together:
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup veg. oil
2 eggs
1 pkg. hot dogs, sliced into rounds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 pan and pour mixture into pan. Bake for about 25 minutes or until fork comes out clean.

Making Donuts

Don't you just love stopping by and picking up fresh donuts from the donut shop. I would too, if there were one closer than 85 miles away. When we get a hankering for warm donuts, we have to make them ourselves. Yesterday was the day to do just that. We usually use cheap canned biscuits, but this time I used Mary Ostyn's recipe from her new book Family Feasts. You can use any basic yeast dough recipe, I'm sure. Just roll it out about a 1/2 inch thick and cut out with a glass. Then cut out the centers with a soda bottle lid or something of similar size.

Next, at about medium, heat 2-3 cups of oil in a medium size pot. Drop one donut hole in the oil to check the temp. If it gets golden brown in about 1 minute, it's ready.

Flip it over and give it about 30 seconds on the other side. Don't let the oil get too hot or the donuts will burn before the inside is done.
Drain the donuts on a paper plates or whatever you have available.

Finally, stir together about a cup of powdered sugar with a few tablespoons of milk and a couple drops of vanilla. Drizzle this glaze over the warm donuts and eat! Yummy. You can also frost them with chocolate frosting. Yesterday, we just added a little cocoa powder to the glaze. Not quite the same thing, but they were good nevertheless.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

10 Ways To Save Money

Oh, the many ways to save a buck. When you have very little money to spend, you learn real quick how to save a few pennies here and there. I'm still learning, but I think I've about hit the bottom of the spending barrel. I was born a cheapskate, but after several years of hanging around spenders I learned how to relax and have fun. Too much fun. So, after moving across country to be with my mom during chemo and then my husband taking a much lower paying job in our new location, we have learned to economize (along with everyone else in this shifting economy). It's not as fun as the spending days, but I'm always up to a good challenge. I'm sure the following ten ideas are not new to most people, but it's nice to have a refresher course now and then.

The Ten Ways:


The easiest way to save money is to not spend it in the first place. You can read many article about how to save fifty percent on purchases, but what they don't address is whether you actually need the item or not. Many purchases are are just impulse buys of the moment. But it's on sale! By staying home, you avoid all the temptations set out to part you from your money.

For me, the biggest savings comes from the gas tank. I live about 30 miles from town and each trip costs me $8 just for the gas. Adding the cost of fuel to the price of the items I'm running to town to buy gives the true cost of the purchase. I try to take the kids on their errands after church on Sundays and I do all my grocery shopping and errands on Wednesdays after work. There will be other trips during the week to 4H or grandmas, but these are much closer to home and are limited. Plan your errand day to get the most mileage for your money.

When you stay home for days at a stretch, you begin to get into a groove of domestic bliss. Okay, maybe not bliss, but you do seem to settle down from the hectic frenzy of running the roads. I find that more cooking, baking and other projects get done. Dinner is fabulous vs. boring. Curtains get made instead of bought. The house is clean and I stop thinking it needs a remodel! The budget is current and no late fees or bounced checks surprise me. The chickens get fed and we continue to get eggs.


Planning ahead runs a close second to staying home. More money is spent on convenience than you think. Forgot your lunch at home? Now you spend $5-7 at the cafeteria. Tonight is your husband's birthday? A bakery cake and card alone will set you back $20.

First and foremost, make a budget and stick to it. Planning ahead for annual or quarterly costs, as well as monthly costs really helps. Knowing ahead of time that there are potholes in your road will help you navigate around them. The kids will need their teeth cleaned and gym shoes. The car will need it's oil changed. The propane tank will need to be filled and Christmas still comes every year.

Sit down with a calendar and list all the important birthdays and holidays in your life. Plan ahead and buy on sale or make appropriate cards and gifts. Also, if you have kids, begin to plan their birthday parties several months in advance. You can pick up party favors and decorations on clearance, or make them yourself. When my kids were younger we had so much fun making pinatas and cakes.

A monthly or even weekly menu is the only way to go. I'll talk more about that in the food section, but just wanted to mention it here. Dinner items picked up at the grocery store on the way home will cost much more than if purchased ahead of time on sale.

Not too many kids can wear the same pair of shoes or pants forever. We know they are going to outgrow them or wear holes in them, it's just a matter of when. There is never a sale on tennis shoes the day you have to have a new pair. Pick up an extra package of socks at 50% off and stash them away until your washing machine has eaten most of the others. I love going to Kohl's and getting clearance items for a few bucks, even if I have to wait several months to get to the right season to wear them.

We haven't been on a vacation in a few years, but our family was quite the travelling circus for many years. The price difference between hotels, car rentals and air plane tickets is amazing, so shop around. Don't forget to look into B&B's. Sometimes they can be quite reasonable. You can go online and find out anything these days. Check out things to do along your path of travel or in the city of your destination. Buy an entertainment book for any area you will be spending much time exploring. Our family is kind of educationally minded, so we bought a annual family membership to the Pacific Science center which not only got us many delightful trips to that hot spot, but it also got us in free to other places like the Rocky Mountain Museum (our favorite) in Montana and the St. Paul Science Center.


Do you know how much you spend each month on food. Once you have a good ball park figure, set a goal to lower it each month. Here are some ways to do that.

Make a price comparison book. Not all sales are equal. After many months of frugal shopping, you will laugh at the tricks people fall for in the stores. Many of the bright yellow sale tags hanging on the shelves will have the exact same amount as the regular price under it. Cereal stacked up at the end of the aisle for $2.75 is not a deal. Next week, it will be 2/$4. Know your prices. Start with the 10 items you most frequently buy and learn the prices. There are many great ways to keep track, but your own system will work best for you.

When an item has hit it's all-time low, stock up. Buy enough to last a couple of months. Buy in bulk at a warehouse club, if you know it is the best deal. I keep 25lbs of sugar, flour and rice on hand. Never again will I pay $2 for 4lbs of sugar. Plus, keeping a stock of commonly used items on hand will keep you from having to make another trip to the store.

Make a menu plan. Start with a weekly plan and work up to a monthly plan. I have a six week plan with a corresponding grocery list. This is a loose plan. I like the freedom to cook whatever I'm in the mood for or have the time to make. The plan helps me more with the shopping aspect. If I know what I'll be needing over the next six weeks, I can pick up whatever is on sale each week. Most sales tend to repeat themselves every 6-8 weeks. Knowing I always have the ingredients on hand for several different meal choices is very freeing.

Cooking from scratch saves so much. Set a goal to learn to make something from scratch each week. Foods you can try are yogurt, granola, breakfast foods, breads, desserts, pot pies, cinnamon rolls, dips, french fries, and pizza. Some of our favorite homemade items are pizza, bagels, dinner rolls, french fries and smoothies. There are great online helps like Supercooks recipe search engine that allow you to search for recipes according to what ingredients you have to work with.

Slowly cut back on the amount of meat in your dishes, convenience foods in your freezer or used for lunches, and canned or bottled drinks.

Grow a garden. Start simple and learn what grows well in your area. If you have lots of space, grow vegetables that you use the most. We like to grow lots of potatoes and tomatoes. I use a lot of cabbage, broccoli, onions and peppers when I cook. I can save quite a bit when I have a large harvest. Grow cilantro in a pot and make your own salsa. Canning and freezing will get you through the winter until the garden is producing again. Last year, I made and canned spaghetti sauce, salsa and diced tomatoes. I also canned lots of jam and, for fun, strawberry lemonade. I frozen green peas for pot pies and soup. Gardening is work, but great fun and very rewarding.


My family and I live way out in the country, but even in town there is little to do. We end up having to entertain each other. Maybe that is why we have all of these animals around here!

We are big readers in this house, so the library keeps us well supplied in books. It is also a wonderful source of movies and audio books. Anything you would like to learn to do or make has a book written to instruct you. Ask the librarian to help you find one.

Most major cities have lots of museums and most of these have a free day each month. Check them out. When we lived in Seattle, we would go to the Living History Museum and the Glass Museum on their free day. See if there is a theatre where you can preview a play or work as a greeter in exchange for a ticket.

Invite friends or family over for dinner or dessert and play games or watch a movie. Make it a project party where everyone pitches in to help hang Christmas lights or build a chicken coop. All you need to do is provide good food and the project supplies.

Share the cost of fun with friends. Buy sports equipment, camping gear, or a row boat together and take alternate weeks to use it. Rent a big condo where you can all go skiing together and only have to pay for half to rental cost. Invite the girls over for stamping cards or scrapbooking and have them bring items to share or swap.


I really dislike paying these bills every month. To save on electricity I try to use the oven for several items at once or in a row. I keep cookie dough in the frig and after dinner comes out of the oven a batch of cookies goes in. In the winter I try to boil items on top of our wood stove. It works nicely as long as you don't boil over!

Try hang drying your clothes when you can. I like to start them in the dryer for a few minutes to soften them up before they go on hangers in the mud room. You can wash your clothes in cold water if you dare. I only use hot water for the dirtiest.

If you have to option at all, using a wood stove to heat your house is a big savings. Especially if you can get the wood free by cutting it yourself. We saved about $1200 on propane last winter and will do so again this year. Try closing off doors of rooms you don't use so you are paying to heat or cool them. There is so much written on ways to save on heating and cooling, I won't even try to do it here.

Shop around for propane/gas prices. Get to know your propane guy and ask him what the price trends for your area are. Find out if your electric company has peak and low time price differences. In some places they will come install a special meter that allows you to save by using the majority of your power in the non-peak times.


Every location has different options when it comes to phones. Where we live there is very little cell phone reception. We decided for the little use we get out of a cell phone we could make do with a trac-phone. I pay about $20 every three months for minutes. It's mostly for my kids to get ahold of me if I'm in town. If you have great reception in your area, you can have your regular home phone turned off and just use the cell phone. Phone companies know how to get your money though. Here, in order to get Internet service, you have to have a phone line. By the time you pay for a phone line and Internet service, it's cheaper to get the package deal which in includes unlimited long distance. This is one expense I've been trying to figure out how to reduce for quite awhile. It seems to be all or nothing for us. If you live in the city, competition will keep prices down, but in the small town areas, there's usually just one choice.


Last week, my daughter wanted to buy a book she saw in a horse catalog. It was listed for $16.95 plus shipping. Of course, my first suggestion was to check the library. They didn't have it. Next, we tried paperbackswap.com to see if it was available. No luck. So, our last stop was amazon.com where we found it for $6 plus shipping. That saved my daughter $7 just for the trouble of a few minutes of comparison shopping.

Check around on-line and see what the average price seems to be. Look at ebay and amazon. Try sites like mysimon or retail-me-not. Don't for get craigslist and freecycle.

For food, like I said before, make a price book.

Read the sales fliers and check out the classifieds.

8. DIY

Why pay someone else to do what you can do yourself. All it takes is a little practice and learning. After a few attempts, you will wonder why you ever thought it was so hard.

Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking about what you can do yourself:
Change the oil and filters on your car
Cook your meals from scratch
Chop your wood
Paint your walls or attempt small remodels
Sew things like PJ's or curtains and mend your clothes
Make your own coffee and treats
Do your cleaning yourself
Prune your trees and shrubs and cut your grass
Cut your kids hair (I cut my husband's hair too)


Here are some swapping ideas to mull over:
SwapaDVD.com or paperbackswap.com are great places to swap books and movies
Freecycle and Craiglist are great websites to find many things you need
Gardening and other foods (our neighbors swap sheep cheese, berries and garden greens for our eggs and chicken)
Kids clothes and toys
Coupons - Online swap sites like afullcup.com or with friends
Time and Talents


Have a garage sale. You can let your trash become someone else's treasure.
Save yogurt or sour cream containers for planting seeds.
Use scrap wood to make raised garden beds, for kindling or to make a sidewalk by screwing old garden hoses to the backs of short scrap 2x4's set close together.
Use clothes napkins.
Use old photo doubles to make gifts by cutting out small circles and taping them back to back with a tea bag tag between them. Put them back in the tea box and wrap.
Reuse paper by printing on the back side for things like recipes and rough drafts.
Wash and reuse zip top bags and foil.

I hope you've gotten at least one good idea from my list. Please post some of your ideas. I love learning something new. Especially if it saves me money.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pattern: Sunshine Afghan

Yellow is such a cheerful color. This afghan I'm making is like sunshine in winter. It is going to be a Christmas present for a family member, so I hope it brightens their day. This is a pretty easy pattern. Once you get the first row done, you don't have to really pay attention to counting stitches. That means you can hold a conversation or just zone out completely like I do. I will post another picture when the afghan is complete with border. In the meantime, here are the directions for you.

SIze: 46 x 56 inches

You will need:
Size H/8 afghan crochet hook
17 skeins Peaches and Cream' cotton yarn (2.5 oz per skein) yellow #10
Yarn needle

3 dc mesh pattern rows = 1 3/4 in.; [dc, ch 1] twice and 1 dc = 1 inch

Shell stitch: 5 dc in indicated st.

Row 1 (right side)Ch 188, dc in 6th ch from hook, ch 1, skip next ch, dc in next ch, [skip next 2 ch, shell in next ch, skip next 2 ch, {dc in next ch, ch 1, skip next ch}twice, dc in next ch] repeat across, turn.

Row 2 Ch 4 (counts as first dc, ch 1 throughout), dc in next dc, ch 1, dc in next dc, *skip next 2 dc of shell, shell in next dc of shell, skip next 2 dc of shell, [dc in next dc, ch 1] twice **, dc in next dc, repeat from * across, ending last repeat at **, skip next ch, dc in next ch of turning ch, turn.

Repeat Row 2 until afghan measures 55 inches from beg, ending on a wrong side row.

Row 3 (right side) Ch 4, dc in next dc, ch 1, dc in next dc, *ch 2, skip next 2 dc of shell, sc in next dc, ch 2, skip next 2 dc of shell, [dc in next dc, ch 1] twice **, dc in next dc, repeat from * across, ending last repeat at **, skip next ch, dc in next ch of turning ch, fasten off.

Rnd 1 (right side): Attach yarn in any st, ch 1, sc evenly sp around entire outer edge, working 3 sc in each corner st, sl st to join in beg sc.

Rnds 2 & 3: Ch 1, sc in each sc around, working 3 sc in center sc of each corner, sl st to join in beg sc, fasten off.

There you have it. Let me know if you have any questions.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Apple Cranberry Crisp in the Crockpot

We still have one more bushel of apples to go through. The dehydrator has been going constantly for the last couple of days. My mom promised to make Fried Apple Pies with one load. Can't wait!

I found this wonderfully easy Apple Cranberry Crisp recipe that you can make in the slow cooker. I making it again today. I served it with homemade whipped cream and boy was it good. Cranberries are one sale this time of the year, so you can get fresh ones cheap. And with free apples around here, it's a deal. Here is the recipe.

Apple Cranberry Crisp

Start by lightly greasing the bottom half of your slow cooker.

Mix together and dump in crockpot:
4 cups peeled, sliced apples
2 cups of fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
1/2 cup of sugar (or more if your apples are tart)
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbs. lemon juice

Cut together:
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. butter

Stir into butter mixture:
1/2 c. rolled oats
1/4 c. flaked sweetened coconut (if desired, I leave out)

Crumble mixture on top of apple mixture.
Place two tea towel, each folded in half to make four layers, over top of crockpot and cover with lid. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, until hot and bubbly. Watch out, the steam that comes out when you peak is extremely hot! I should know!
Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

If you don't have cranberries, you can increase the apples to six cups.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Taco Seasoning

Here is one of my favorite money saving recipes. We eat tacos in our house at least once a week, so it's nice to be able to whip up the taco seasoning from spices I have on hand.

Taco Seasoning

1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp minced onion
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp ground oregano

Combine ingredients in small bowl. Add to 1 lb of cooked and drained meat. Add 2/3 cup of water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 7-10 minutes.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pork Carnitas in the Crock Pot

This was the first time I've ever made Carnitas. They were soooo yummy! My husband and daughter just loved them. I stuffed myself both the first night and when we had leftovers the following night. The recipe I used is linked in the title above. The only thing I did differently was to omit the corriander and substitute water for the chicken broth because I didn't have either on hand. Many of the comments following the recipe at allrecipes suggestioned double up all the spices except the cinnamon. I think I will try that next time, but it was delicious just as it was. To go with the pork, we had tortillas, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, hot sauce, cheese and sour cream.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Frozen Rhubarb

After playing around on Supercook's recipe search, I found a few ideas to use up some of the twenty cans of evaporated milk a friend passed along to me. I decided to see what I could do with a little of the frozen rhubarb I have in freezer and I found this Rhubarb-Fool dessert (linked in the title). I'm going to try it out tomorrow. I can see that I could spend quite a bit of time searching Supercook's site, so I should hold off until I have a little more available time. Maybe I'll be able to use up some of the odd ingredients in my cupboards!

Christmas Gifts

What are you all making or buying for Christmas presents this year? I'm trying to work gift ideas around to fit in my very small budget. I'm really hoping for some great sales in the next few weeks.

My first project is an afgan for my mom. It has 12 blocks and each one is cross-stitched with a different flower. I would love to make four more afgans for my sisters and sister-in-laws, but I'm not sure I can pull that off in less than two months. Besides, yarn is so expensive. My dad and husband are not so easy. I would love some great ideas for men!

I've come up with a few ideas for my kids. Magazine subscriptions are a big hit in this house and so are iTune cards. I'm planning to make some room accessories for my daughter and also sew a few skirts for her. My son wants a video game for his xBox. Maybe some new tennis shoes? Help me out here!