Friday, April 18, 2014

The Easiest Béchamel Sauce You Will Ever Make

Béchamel is quite simply a French white sauce frequently used with pasta and is also a fantastic sauce for a white pizza.  I make a simple low fat version of this when I make my broccoli lasagna but it is also wonderful as a base for macaroni and cheese or to go with gnocchi, ravioli or any pasta for that matter.

Easy Béchamel Sauce

2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup water
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
1/4 cup grated parmesan

With a whisk thoroughly combine all ingredients, except the parmesan, in a large saucepan.  Over medium heat bring to a low boil stirring constantly.  Once bubbles begin to form remove from heat and stir in parmesan. 

That is pretty much it.  Delicious and extremely versatile.  Pretty thrifty too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Really Needed A Productive Weekend

After sitting on my butt all week at my desk job I was really itching to do some stuff around the home front this past weekend.  I started out my day with a hot cup of coffee to sip while I got caught up on all the great posts my fellow bloggers put up over the past week.  It is becoming my Saturday morning routine.  I just love all the wonderful ideas they have and hearing about their latest adventures.  Getting to know people as far away as England and Australia.  Bloggers are just a great group of people.  I love it!

Next I turned a half gallon of whole milk into a gallon of "half milk" and got it in the refrigerator to chill.  I then sliced up the last of the loaf of homemade wheat bread I made last week for toast and jam for our breakfast.  Nothing tastier than a nice thick slice of toasted homemade bread with real butter and homemade raspberry jam.  I also had milk and orange juice for the girls.

I baked a potato, that was a little soft, in the microwave to give to our neighbors chickens.  After breakfast the girls took it outside and fed it to them.  They loved it, of course.

I started a new loaf of bread dough going and then started a new batch of beer to ferment in the keg.  It takes four weeks to complete a batch (two weeks in the keg and then two weeks in the bottles) so by the time it is finished the weather will be warm and perfect for enjoying a cold brew outside with friends.

After washing up the dishes the girls and I made homemade yogurt.  We haven't had any for a long time so we were excited about finally getting to make some and have it on hand.  Like bread I hope to keep this going and part of our regular stock.

Yogurt getting ready to set up.
Another round of dishes and time to do a load of laundry which actually turned into two.  I got my work clothes washed and hung to dry first and then a load of darks washed and hung to dry.  While each load of laundry was washing I helped my oldest daughter go through our craft supplies and get set up at our folding table outside to begin a huge fundraising craft project she is starting.  It is a big undertaking but I know once this girl is determined she'll make it happen.  I'll let you know more about what she is doing in a separate post.  I'm really proud of her.

The youngest grabbed her Nintendo and headed outside to keep her big sister company which left me all alone in the house.  What a perfect time to get their Easter baskets assembled.  I have been acquiring and stashing items for their baskets since February so I was excited to get them put together.  

While I was at it I repurposed the bottom of a clear round deli container I had saved to make a mini basket out of for a friend.  I used a hole punch to make two holes near the top, then twisted two pipe cleaners I already had together to make the handle attaching them to the container through the holes.  Super easy.  I also used glue and spring themed foam cut outs I had leftover from a previous project to decorate the container.  Next I carefully wadded up a piece of mint green tissue paper up and tucked it down into the bottom of the basket.  Then I placed three Russell Stover candy eggs inside.  It turned out much cuter than I envisioned so I'm thrilled.  Total cost of my little project was $1 for the candy I bought at Walgreens with a coupon.

That pretty much was the end of my productivity for the day.  We cleaned up our respective craft messes and then headed over to our friend's house to have dinner.  I took the loaf of bread with me, much to their delight.

Sunday morning I was up and at it bright and early.  I started laundry once again and then made a list of all the things I needed to get done.  It was a bit longer than I actually had time for I'm afraid.  I get rather ambitious with my lists.

I made breakfast and washed dishes, washed windows, then we finished up the laundry and I dropped my oldest off to work a lemonade stand with her friend.  They made over $20!  While she did that the little one and I headed off to pick her up a new mattress and since we were out I grabbed up a few sales items at Albertsons and Fred Meyer.

Once at home we got busy and completely overhauled her bunk area, organized the storage area underneath, sorted through all her clothes and made a pile for donations and did the winter to summer clothing switch.  I washed the walls in her bunk area, washed her curtains, repaired her almost broken curtain rod, and then we put the freshly washed cover back on to her new mattress and put her bunk back together.  This time with much less stuff to clutter it up.  She pared all her things down to fit into one plastic bin and is now much happier.

We organized her closet and drawers then ended up going through my closet and drawers to add a few items to the donation pile.  We bagged up the donations and carted them out to the car and then rolled up the old mattress and tied it up for the trash.  After giving the trailer a quick once over to tidy everything back up we folded two loads of laundry and before we knew it it was time to big up Big Sis.

After dinner I had the girls quietly do a project while I filed my taxes (they were done, just not filed yet) and wrote a check to the IRS, grumble, grumble.  Then I checked my list and found I had only done about half of what I had hoped to accomplish.  Typical.

I plan to work on the rest of the things over the coming week.  This is what I had left:

Make salad dressing.
Make another loaf of bread.
Put beans in the slow cooker for freezing.
Write a quick note and send out Easter cards.
Trim my bangs.
Write two posts.
Plant lettuce.
Set up pots and solar lights.
Update grocery and spending totals.
Start next month's grocery list.
Start next month's meal planning. 

Lots of little things to do that shouldn't take a whole lot of time.  I think I can get them done in time to make a whole new list for next weekend!  Yep, I am a little nutty that way.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Baskets On A Tight Budget

When we got ready to move I kept the girls plastic Easter themed buckets I bought for them several years ago.  They are pretty sturdy and I knew they could be put to use when it wasn't Easter.  I have been storing my onions and potatoes in them.  I put the onions in a paper bag and we finished off the potatoes for supper last Friday so I gave them a good wash up in warm soapy water and they were good as new.

I began to collect things for the girl's Easter baskets beginning in February by taking advantage of loss leaders and using coupons along with those sales to purchase items for nearly nothing.  Primarily I found most of the candy at Walgreens and the rest of the stuff at the dollar store.

This year I managed to get all of their candy and two packages of sugarless gum for less than $5.  I then spent $7 at Dollar Tree for a few additional items - each got a package of colorful hair bands, a three pack of Colgate toothbrushes, a three pack of emery boards and bubbles.  You are never too old for bubbles.

In addition I ordered a violin music book for my youngest and a cushioned thumb rest cover for a clarinet for my oldest through Amazon.  Each item was around $6 and I was planning to get them anyway so I thought why not give them to them for Easter? 

All items are a combination of things they want and need so I think they'll be pretty happy.  How do you fill your children's Easter baskets?

You may also enjoy revisiting this post about Easter Egg Dye on a thrifty budget.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Something Weird Happened To Me Last Week

Every Tuesday night throughout the month of April my oldest has honor band practice for an hour and a half.  Because the school she goes to for honor band is quite a distance from our home it is up to her sister and I to find something to do while we wait.

The first night was easy.  We went to the grocery store.  Last week, however we decided to kill time at a Big Lots store.  I hadn't been in a Big Lots for well over a year so we dropped off Big Sis and Little Sis and I headed on over, as the youngest put it so eloquently to "buy stuff we don’t need".

As we trolled the aisles we found tons of crap nobody needs, she was right about that, and as it turned out we didn't buy anything we didn't need.  I bought two packages of Crystal Light lemonade for a dollar each, a small bottle of Pantene shampoo & conditioner for 65¢ and a hair brush for $2.50 to replace the one belonging to the youngest.  She accidentally sat on it and broke the handle off last month.

My daughter was quick to point out the electric hard boiled egg maker.  I agreed with her that it seemed a little silly to buy an entire appliance that is only good for making hard boiled eggs.  She then picked up a strange looking tubular device that we figured out was used for uncorking wine.  She didn't think it would fit in any of our drawers and she was correct.  My wine corker fits in the palm of my hand.

After going up and down all the aisles, some more than once, we went over to the furniture department and tried out all the beds.  I didn't find a single one that convinced me I'd get a better night's sleep if I bought it.  We checked out the leather bound recliners and huge sofas with all their coffee and end tables and lamps.  I began to feel ill.

I sat down on one of the couches and surveyed the vast expanse of floor space crammed full of wonderful home décor options and furnishings.  All I could think about was how heavy everything would be to move to vacuum under or rearrange.  How it would take more than one strong individual to pick up that sofa or king sized bed and move it into a home or apartment.  The thought that I couldn't pick up and move most of this stuff myself was a harsh reality.  I literally felt nauseous.

I need to be able to maintain my independence and not be hampered by large heavy pieces of anything.  In my mind those large and heavy pieces not only represented a physical burden but an emotional one as well.  I think it will be important for me in the future to remember that if I can't pick it up and move it myself I probably don't want it.  I'm sure I can furnish a home that way. 

We paid for our few little items and got back in the car.  We had only killed an hour but we decided to go back to the school parking lot and have a conversation instead.  We also decided to bring the Farkle game with us next time.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Last Week's Thrifty Moves

I made homemade asian vinaigrette.

I baked two loaves of whole wheat bread.

I made four and a half pints of vanilla yogurt for a total cost of $1.75.  The next batch will cost less because I will only have to buy milk.  This time I had to buy a small container of yogurt to use as starter.

Sunday afternoon the girls went outside with a pair of hammers and a big bag of walnuts, given to us by a friend, and returned with four pint jars full of walnut chunks.  They thought it was a lot of fun shelling them with hammers.  I put two pints in the freezer.  We used some of the nuts in a salad that night.  They are delicious.

I added a cup of water to an empty laundry detergent bottle, shook it real good and had enough super soapy water to wash two more loads of clothes.  I did all of my laundry the rest of the week using two of the three free samples of liquid laundry detergent I was given at the grocery store a few weeks ago.  Each packet was enough for two loads so three packets equals six loads of laundry.  Nice!

After cleaning, reorganizing and restocking the bathroom I collected all the mini sample bottles of soap, shampoo and toothpaste together and we decided to seriously work on using them up.  While I really appreciate a free sample I'm finding that it has created quite a bit of clutter with all those little tubes and bottles.  I took a tube of hand lotion to work so I can use it up there.

Our foaming hand soap dispenser in the bathroom conked out and stopped pumping.  I know they aren't meant to be refilled and reused but I did get six months of use out of it.  I replaced it with a regular liquid hand soap from the dollar store.

I added a little water to the last little bit of soap in the dispenser at the kitchen sink so we could use it all up.  I've decided not to replace that one as we don't really need one there and it just takes up precious space.  It gave me the idea to refill it however by adding half of the soap from the new dispenser and fill it up with water.  I also added water to the new dispenser and now have two bottles of hand soap for the price of one.  The watered down soap works very well too.  I tucked the kitchen dispenser away under the bathroom sink for later use.

We gave our kitchen scraps to the neighbor's chickens.

We watched The Dog Whisperer and an episode of Dr. Who online and listened to music on Youtube.

Since my tenant has no intention of putting in a garden I went over to the house and collected all of my tomato and cucumber cages.  That saved me $3 each to replace them.

A friend of mine told me I could have my flower pots back because she had decided not to use them.  When I showed up to get them she also had another ceramic pot she no longer wanted and gave it to me as well.  I arrived home from my friend's house to find our landlady had set out two huge pots for us to use.  I won't need to buy anymore pots this year.  Lucky me!

My friend also gave me her coupons and ads from the Sunday paper.  I was able to clip several coupons to use for groceries.  I also clipped nine coupons for free items from Harbor Freight, no purchase required.  I'm thinking it is probably time to redeem some of these.

I made a mini Easter basket for our little lady staying at the nursing home out of a clear deli container I had saved for this purpose.  I decorated it with items I already had on hand and filled it with candy I purchased at Walgreens with a coupon.  It turned out really cute.  My whole purpose for buying things as inexpensively as possible is so I can easily afford to give things to more people more often.  This is a prime example. 

What wonderful things did you do last week to save money?  I love hearing about it!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Getting Our Garden Started

After getting rid of so much in order to make our "great move" we pretty much had nothing to start with as far as gardening is concerned.  Not so much as a hand trowel or a pair of gardening gloves.  But thanks to a couple trips to the dollar store and a stop at Walmart we have carefully acquired enough things to get started.

The dollar store provided us with garden gloves, a hand trowel and a half dozen packets of seeds for 25¢ each.  We also picked up various bowls, buckets and containers we felt would make great pots for container gardening.

A stop at Walmart provided us with a large bag of potting soil for $2.96, a cute greenhouse seed starter and the rest of the seeds we needed for 20¢ and 50¢ each.  I wanted to plant a specific type of pumpkin that I love for cooking and baking so I had to splurge and pay $1.88 for a packet of sugar pumpkin seeds.  The girls were quick to point out that the seeds were still less than one large can of pumpkin puree.  Exactly! 
We came home and the girls were excited to get started.  We filled the seed starter with soil and carefully planted the seeds so as not to waste any.  While they planted I cut the cardboard sleeve that had been wrapped out the starter into strips to use as plant markers and labeled each one with a Sharpie marker.

We also got out all the containers we'd collected lately and filled those with soil and planted chives in a peanut can and a can that held some of my beer brewing ingredients.  We used a punch and hammer to put a drain hole in the bottom of the cans and the plastic lids were snapped on to catch drips.  My kids thought this was pretty clever. 

A large margarine tub a friend gave me was put to use to house our leftover seeds and keep them dry and protected.  I planted some Roma tomato seeds my oldest collected last week from a tomato she sliced up for a salad in a sour cream container.  I am hopeful they will sprout.

Our landlady lent my oldest a container so she could plant a potato she had pulled from the pantry with eyes sprouting on it.  She is super excited to see if she can grow her own potatoes.  She has a couple more potatoes left so I'll be on the lookout for more containers she can use.

Right now my kitchen table looks more like a shelf in a greenhouse but I'm totally okay with that.  The thought of growing our own food is exciting and we are hopeful that we'll be successful this year.

Do you plant a garden?

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Do you remember Zoom?

As a kid I was a tough one to feed breakfast to.  I didn’t really like to eat breakfast because my stomach was never ready to accept food first thing in the morning.  I am still that way.  In fact, I usually take my breakfast to work with me and eat it around 10:00.

Getting me to eat hot cereal was next to impossible.  I also have texture issues and most hot cereals are grainy to me.  I will eat oatmeal, however and as a kid I would also eat Zoom which has the same type of texture and a pleasant nutty flavor.  In my opinion, most hot cereals have no flavor.

When we moved to Idaho in the seventies the stores did not stock Zoom so I was left with only one choice - oatmeal.  By this time my mother pretty much had given up on me and if she made cream of wheat I went hungry which was fine with me.

A couple weeks ago I found myself reminiscing about my second cereal choice.  Remembering the flavor and texture and trying to recall what it was called.  I was thinking about seeing if I could locate it online and ordering some.

The last time I was in the grocery store I had a "holy crap" moment when my daughter and I headed down the cereal aisle.  There it was!  I couldn't believe it.  How weird?!  I think my youngest thought Mommy had lost her marbles but I told her how I had loved that cereal as a kid and just recently had started thinking about it.  And now here is was!

I grabbed a box and we each enjoyed a bowl of it on Saturday morning.  We even commemorated the event with brown sugar and half & half.  It was exactly as I remembered.

Now after forty years I am back to having two hot cereal choices.  Oatmeal and now Zoom.  Life is good! 

And I'm a little silly. J