January 25, 2013

The Cost of Eating Healthier

This month my husband and I are making a conscious effort to become healthier.  I work out at Curves and before I go to my work out, I mall walk as fast as I can for 45 minutes.  Fortunately Curves is located in our mall which is quite convenient for me.

We started making a few subtle changes back in the fall but in December we began watching our sodium intake and we became diligent about reading those food labels.  I have posted about some of our food decisions here and under the healthy eating label.   What am I learning?  That I really need to be careful with grocery spending and put the money where the healthier food choices are such as fresh produce AND I need to make as much from scratch as possible. 

The pit fall to this is that if I take on too much all at once, I will become overwhelmed.  I am taking baby steps. 

Tonight I decided to try those indigo blue potatoes that I have seen in the produce section of the grocery store.  They were $3.99 for a 1.5 lb. bag.  Yikes.  I bought them because I wanted to have something different and frankly, they intrigued me.  I sliced these thin, tossed them with a little olive oil, sodium free barbecue seasoning and a smidgen of sea salt.  They were delicious and pretty.

We had ground chicken burgers for dinner also and I wanted to serve them with healthier buns than the normal burger buns.  The cost?  $3.69 for 8 buns that have 5 grams of fiber and 1/3 less calories than regular wheat burger buns.  Double Yikes.

I wanted ice cream for a treat.  I haven’t had ice cream in a very long time and I wanted chocolate ice cream.  Normally I would have purchased the on sale store brand 1/2 gallon of ice cream.  I am reading labels now and I ended up buying the name brand that comes in a 1.5 quart container and it only had 5 ingredients – all recognizable to me.  The cost?  $5.89.  Triple Yikes.

I would never have made these kind of purchases in the past, and I won’t be making these in the future.  Some people on a whim head to a restaurant, I on a whim headed to the grocery store and spent a high premium amount of money on 3 items.

So, what does this have to do with “The Path to Frugality?”  After all I made some high price purchases for three items today.  Well, I am going to be making my own ice cream from now on.  I am saving up for an ice cream attachment to my Kitchenaid mixer .  This special bowl will be kept in my freezer ready to be used.  Perfect for making ice cream and perfect for not taking up space in my cupboards.  I want to make ice cream that has things like blueberries and blackberries in it. 

I have baked my own honey whole wheat bread in the past but I am researching recipes for high fiber, multi-grain bread that I can bake in loaves, buns and rolls.  Making my own will be oh so much cheaper and again, I will know what ingredients will actually be going into the bread.  The same goes to researching recipes for healthier pasta.

And, I can save in other areas of our budget by making my own safer cleaners and soaps for our family.  I am still on and will continue to be on "The Path to Frugality."

January 24, 2013

Kitchen Sparkle - Declutter Lesson

Oh my goodness, last week and this week have been filled with “Kitchen Sparkle.”  I’m working that lesson but it is definitely taking longer because of the day to day interruptions.   One big interruption is our dog, Molly.  She will be one next month and she is definitely all puppy.  – but back to the Kitchen Sparkle lesson.  I have been taking the time to go through the cupboards and I am purging them of stuff I don’t need and of too many duplicates that I don’t need.  It’s freeing and it is so much easier to cook when you can find items easily in drawers and cabinets. 

I was going to post pictures but I decided against it.  Sometimes pictures tend to turn into brag sessions.  Just imagine that you have cupboards that are stuffed full with all sorts of gadgets, dishes, plastic storage items and such.  When you need something, especially a container for leftovers, it sends you on a hunt and it ends with frustration.  There is the bottom but no lid.  Ugh.

Now imagine that you have been able to give away about ¼ of all that clutter and now you have pretty shelf paper down on the shelves, everything is orderly and when you need an item, you can easily find it.  Putting clean dishes away is a breeze.

It’s a wonderful feeling to have that job done.  I have decluttered a little in the dining room as I had a set of fiesta ware style dishes hidden in the back of a kitchen cupboard that I moved to the dining room buffet; which meant I had to declutter the buffet for those dishes to fit into. 

I went through the standard “I better hang on to this as I may need it some time.”  One of those items was a gadget that peels and slices an apple.  It has sat in a box for a few years.  I always thought I would use it when I canned apple pie filling, but I found that when I turned the crank to peel and slice the apple, some grease would get on the apple.  It was a pain to store, an equal pain to use and I found that I could peel an apple and slice it up the old fashioned way in a short amount of time.  A vegetable/fruit peeler takes up a small amount of space compared to the box that gadget came in. 

Sometimes we fall into the trap of owning too many kitchen gadgets when a simple old fashioned kitchen tool will do the job just as well.  A nice knife can chop and dice vegetables, it fits nicely into a drawer versus having a hand chopper that yes, can do the same job faster, but it takes up a lot more space. 

The same holds true of a lot of pots in different sizes and several pans.  I have come to realize that at one time I can only have 4 items on the four burners on my stove.  I don’t need 3 large skillets.  Two is plenty.  I don’t need 3 large pots, two will be fine.   How many sets of dishes you do need?  If you ever really have that potluck for 36 people don’t you think that you could use disposable plates or better yet, ask the people to bring their own plates?

Those just in case times never seem to come but if they do, I can call my daughter in law and borrow a pan or a pot and that will be fine OR I can improvise. 

We fill our houses with gadgets that we really don’t need.  They are like a new car that loses its thrill after a couple of weeks.   They cost money, they take up space and most of them take a lot of time to clean and maintain. 

My challenge to you is to look at those gadgets and think about how long it has been since you used them.  Treat them like clothes.  If you haven’t used them in a long time, maybe it is time to give them away.  Clean out those cupboards and drawers and get your kitchen in order so you can cook with ease.  Better yet, so you can quit eating out and eat home more. Save money, time and frustration beginning this year.

I am enjoying this first step of getting my house in order.  Next up with the Kitchen Sparkle lesson is to deep clean the kitchen.  This will be so much easier to do with less stuff in the room.

January 14, 2013

Oatmeal Muffins, and living with less sugar

My daughter in law gave me this recipe.  She suggests having one of these for breakfast with a hard boiled egg.  I agree.  These are very delicious and a healthy alternative to the sugary, almost cupcake like muffins, that are served a lot.

3 mashed bananas
1 cup low fat milk (can use almond milk if there is a good sale)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 cup oats - quick or old fashioned
1 teaspoon vanilla
Fresh or frozen blueberries

Mix together, except the blueberries.  For the muffin cups, I line muffin tins with paper liners but you can grease the muffin cups if you don't have the paper liners.  Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full.  Then top the batter with some blueberries - I topped each muffin with 5 large blueberries.  

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  These muffins are very dense as they don't have added flour nor oil, shortening or butter.  The bananas sweeten them just right, at least for me, and I like a dense a muffin for breakfast.  If you find that you need these to be a little sweeter, you could sprinkle a very small smidgen of some sugar (raw or granulated) on top or a little honey after baking.  Also, you can add a little cinnamon to the batter.

I am finding that as I change our diet to one with less sugar, I need some time for my "taste buds" to adjust. I am giving this time.  Our diets are so laden with sugar that I think we forget what real food, such as the taste of oats, is really like.  But in saying that, I still plan to bake good ole fashioned cookies.  Instead of having 3 dozen on hand from a recipe, I will hold back 6 and give the rest to our friends and neighbors as a gift of hospitality.  

I will still have a treat that may have a lot of fat and sugar in it, but it will be 1 treat and I won't sit down and eat several.  

January 13, 2013

Chocolate Chiffon Cakes

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
3 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup raw or granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water
4 large egg whites
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together first 5 ingredients.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the next 5 ingredients.  Slowly combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until incorporated and batter is smooth. 

Beat egg whites on medium until foamy.  Slowly add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and continue beating on high until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it.  Fold in remaining whites.

Divide batter evenly among 8 - 6 oz. ungreased ramekins and bake for 15 minutes.  Let cakes cool completely before unmolding.

Dust lightly with powdered sugar and serve with a few blueberries or raspberies.  

I found this recipe in a People magazine.  This is a delicious, sweetened just right cake.  

Chicken Fajita Soup and Taco Seasoning Mix

1 box of low fat/low sodium chicken broth (or 3 - 15 oz. cans)
1 to 2 packs of taco seasoning (recipe follows)
3 to 4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1 onion chopped
5 to 6 stalks of celery, chopped
3 cans of Rotel tomatoes with chilis (I used mild)
1 to 2 cans of low sodium black beans, rinsed
1 bag frozen corn
1 teaspoon minced garlic

Dump everything into a crockpot and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours.

I had a bowl of sharp cheddar that I lightly shredded, more like shaved thinly, to garnish on top of the soup.  I served this with some brown rice that you can add to the soup or eat on the side.  I also served a nice tossed salad.

Taco Seasoning Mix

1/4 cup dried minced onion
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon crushed dried red pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon round cumin

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.  Measure out 2 tablespoons of this mix to use a substitute for commercially prepared taco seasoning mixes.  This is a low sodium seasoning mix.

Kitchen Clean up and Healthy Living

This week I spent a lot of time going through my homemaking mentor lessons and getting them sorted, organized and put into plastic sheet protectors and into notebooks.  Many of these were in the form of pdf downloaded files and for many people just looking them up on their computer would be fine; but not for me.   I wanted them in notebooks, organized and indexed for quick reference.    You know when you think something will only take you a certain amount of time?  Well, I thought it would take one evening; but it took several evenings of interrupted time.  Yeah, I was constantly chasing our 70 lb. labradoodle puppy, Molly, around the dining room table when she would jump up and grab paper.  This is her favorite game and I am always an unwilling participant.

This project is not entirely complete in that I still  need to index the lessons, but at least they are in notebooks and divided into categories such as Cleaning/Organization, sewing, and  gardening/canning.   

First of all, if you want to know a little background about these lessons, go to my previous post.  Basically Martha Greene wrote these lessons with the help of other homemakers with the intent of mentoring other like minded women.  These lessons are all copyrighted so I won’t be able to actually show you the lesson except for a picture of what the front of the lesson looks like. 

I have always needed help in the homemaking department as my mom didn’t show me how to keep house.  My mom was busy with a lot of her volunteer activities and she never really mentored me.   It was a case of it was easier for her to just do it than spend time showing me how to do it.  I can be guilty of this myself. 

For years it was easier to excuse the fact that I couldn’t keep house as I was working 50 hours a week outside the home.  That was a great excuse.  I’ve been home 3 ½ years and still can’t quite find anything that works for me.  So I am beginning at the beginning and acknowledge that I need training and education.

I have chosen the lesson “Kitchen Sparkle” to begin my journey.  This lesson comes in two parts with each part being divided into daily tasks.  It is suggested that each part will take one week.  This appeals to me as I work better on a large project by breaking it down into smaller jobs.

I decided that I had to tackle my kitchen first as it is time to clean out cupboards and give a lot of items away.  We are now “empty nesters” and I don’t need as many pans and baking dishes.  Also, it is time to take a hard look at those kitchen gadgets and really decide if I need them.   

These Kitchen Sparkle lessons are basically a very thorough deep cleaning of the kitchen from the ceiling to the floor along with going through the cupboards, cleaning them out and decluttering.  The lessons are divided by days so it helps you stay on track. 

I will post how I am coming along on these lessons and what is working and not working.
Lastly, my husband and I have become quite committed to making some changes in our life as it affects our health.  Both of us are fairly active, but as you age, ahem, things can still catch up with you and for us it has been the foods that we have been eating.  We have been making some changes but are now stepping up to the plate and becoming totally committed to a healthier lifestyle. 

We are making sure that we get in plenty of time to exercise and we are changing our diet.  I have set a goal to lose weight (10 lbs.) but not by dieting.  I cannot bear to go through another diet which is totally going against what I have believed in the past.  Instead, I am becoming totally committed to eating “cleaner” foods.  We are limiting processed foods and trying hard to push them out altogether.  A priority to our diet will be eating whole grains; less fat and sugars; less sodium; more fruits and vegetables and leaner proteins.  When we are planning on a meal where the meat may not be as lean, we will eat smaller portions of that meat.  Our goal is to eat as much of our food in its natural form.   I am reading a lot of labels these days. 

However in saying all of that, we are not gourmet type people.  We don’t eat weird things.  So I am researching recipes that we will like and I am taking our old family favorites and making them over into healthier versions.  Gone are the canned cream soups for casseroles and now I am making my own cream soup mixes which are lower in sodium.

These meals must not only be healthy, but must fit into the frugal category. 

Today for lunch I made crock pot chicken fajita soup.  The soup was seasoned with a taco 
seasoning that I made which is lower in sodium than its store bought counterpart.  We also had a nice tossed salad of romaine lettuce, carrot and red pepper.  For dessert I made individual chocolate chiffon cakes baked in ramekin dishes, sprinkled with some confectioner sugar.  This dessert  was only 190 calories. 

Yes, I will post recipes under a new label entitled “Healthy Eating.”

January 04, 2013

Homemaking - My Continuing Education Plan

Okay, I’m back with a delayed start to my New Year.  We put our 12 ½ year black lab to sleep on January 2nd.  We were with her when she died.  It was beautiful, she was given the meds and she put her head down on her paws and went to sleep.  That was that.  It was a beautiful end to the life of a wonderful companion that brought us much joy.

Now on to a more upbeat topic – my plan for the year.  I posted this week that I had subscribed to some homemaking lessons back in 2008 and I had never really put them to the test.  In fact, at one point I had forgotten about them.  This is the year that I pull it together.  This is the year that I work on my skills to becoming the homemaker that I want to be.  Now, what does that mean to me? 

I have always thought of myself as a traditional homemaker wannabe, with some modern girl twists.  I want to sew everything that I can, clean my home til it sparkles, bake bread and have a garden.  This all appeals to me just as much as shopping at the mall would appeal to many women.  So what was holding me back from going for it when I was done working?  I find it hard to answer that question but when I searched within myself for the answer I came up with this.  I have been too busy taking care of everybody else to concentrate on what my goals were for our home and my true passion for being a homemaker AND (this is the biggest one) – I get side tracked pretty easy.

Does this sound familiar to all of you?  We put everyone ahead of ourselves and we never get around to doing the things that bring us joy.  Yes joy.  Sewing and keeping a neat, organized and almost clean house would bring me joy.  In fact it makes me feel a little giddy.  Having someone stop by and be welcomed into a homey, clean and almost neat house would bring me joy.  I am looking towards the eras of homemaking in the 1930’s through the 1950’s as inspiration.  This is what I mean by being a traditional homemaker wannabe.  And as to the modern girl twist – I plan to use modern day gadgets to help me get the job done. 

And as to the side tracked problem – one phone call could derail my day.  Yep, it’s true.  One call from church could send me into a whole different direction and before I knew it, I had accomplished nothing for the entire day.

I have close to 36 lessons in pdf file format that came with my subscription to the Homemaker’s Mentor.  These subscriptions were gift subscriptions from my husband.  Now, he didn’t go out there and buy these for me on his own – I asked for them.  I had to keep saying – yes, this is what I really want for Christmas or for my birthday or for Mother’s day. 

Why these lessons?  They inspire me and they are immensely detailed. These lessons are true mentoring lessons.  I plan to follow these lessons as they will give me the direction that I need towards my homemaking goal.    

In the work place many professionals such as doctors, lawyers and accountants are required to take continuing education courses every year in order to keep their licenses.  I consider these lessons as my homemaking continuing education courses.  Why shouldn’t homemaking be put at the professional level that other occupations are?  Why don’t we value homemaking when we all enjoy a clean home, good food and beautiful home crafted handiworks?

Here is a long list of most of those homemaking lessons (continuing education classes):

Kitchen Sparkle – Deep cleaning your kitchen
Making curtains
Cakes from scratch
Machine sewing
Starting a garden from scratch
Bathroom basics
Knitting with Frames
The Medicine Cabinet
Making Candles
Homemade noise makers – New Year’s.
Cooking with beans
Sewing pillowcases
Baking bread bowl
Making kitchen scrubbies
Coffee Delights
Gingham Napkins
Hand sewing lessons
Keeping a Pantry
Cleaning Master Bedroom
Clothing Storage Solutions
Embroidering Pillow Cases
Making candy
Baking pizzas at home
Making sausage and salami
Making Stromboli
Fruitful delights – blackberries
Vintage Embroidery Patterns
Canning Green Beans
Olive oil Emergency Lamps
Organizing Closets
Making Skirts
Herbal Remedies
Bringing order to your home
Crocheted Edgings
Perfect Pies
Long Term Food Storage
Water Storage
Making granola
Growing and using fresh herbs
Cake Decorating
Canning Meats
Sourdough lessons
Making Aprons
Cheese recipes
Learning to Mend
Home haircuts
Rag quilts
Baby clothes
Making a wedding dress
All about cinnamon
Dehydrating foods
Fruit leather
Crib toys
Lotion Bars
Uncanned soup
Make your own mixes
Jelly from scraps
Detail cleaning each room

I deliberately listed the majority of these so you could see the wide range of topics.  My goal is that by the end of 2013 my house will be totally decluttered, kept consistently cleaned, a housekeeping schedule will be tested and established.  I will have learned new skills such as how to crochet, hone my sewing skills, and learn to run my household in a manner that I will be proud.  Yes, proud.  Perhaps I have been ashamed a little because I haven’t worked a full time job in over 3 years and my home doesn’t reflect a woman that is home full time.  I’ve procrastinated and been side tracked.  Now I am motivated. 

Please realize that the main reason I can do this now is because my kids are grown and have moved out.  I don’t have the added work of caring for young children nor do I work outside the home.  I find that it is now possible for me to spend the time learning and perfecting homemaking skills

This appeals to me and honestly, it is my passion. 

Now which lesson should I choose first . . . . I will let you know on my next post.