Frugal Tuesday: Learn a New Skill!

The Little Hippie House had a couple of mature loquat trees on it when we moved in, and we have since planted nine other fruit trees on the property. The rest of our trees won’t bear fruit for another couple of years, but the loquats have given me an opportunity to learn how to can my own food. A lifetime of apartment-dwelling had left me without this particular skill, and figuring there’s no time like the present, I jumped right in.

As it happens, loquat jam turns out to be one of the easiest things I could have chosen to start with: loquats are in the same family with apples and pears, and are naturally high in pectin. To make the jam, I literally only needed to add water and sugar and leave it all on the stove for a few hours before running the stick blender through it and pouring into sterilized jars to self-seal as it cooled down! As a bonus, the fruit turns a gorgeous crimson color when cooked, and it tastes like plums. Super-yum.

Not everyone needs to know how to can their own food, but like me, you might be curious about how to preserve food and to control what goes into the things you eat. Or you might have always wanted to learn to do your own oil changes, mend your own clothes, or cook a favorite meal that you usually eat out. Find something this week that you’ve been wanting to learn to do, for yourself and decide to learn it. Like my canning experiment, you might end up having a lot of fun and saving some money in the process!

What money-saving thing have you learned to do recently, or what do you want to learn? 

 

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Frugal Tuesday: Use Dried Beans!

Beans are cheap. Dried beans are cheaper. Like 70% cheaper than canned. And with none of the pesky BPA that lines many cans. Cooked beans can  also be frozen, to make them nearly as convenient as canned beans. If you’ve been putting off using dried beans because you always forget to soak them overnight, you’ll be glad to learn that that requirement has been debunked: you can start with dried beans right from the pantry and have a delicious finished product in 1-3 hours on the stove, depending on the variety. Which happens to be just about the amount of time needed to do a load or three of laundry, so it’s win-win. Or you can use your slow-cooker and come home from a long day’s work to a delicious dinner that’s crazy inexpensive

The Internet abounds with recipes for cooking dried beans, but this past weekend, I used this Tejano Pinto Bean recipe from The Food Charlatan. Actually, I adapted the recipe to use some of the stock I made from our Thanksgiving smoked turkey carcass, which made the beans smoky and awesome, and amazing on nachos!

Do you have a favorite dried bean recipe? Please share in the comments!

 

Frugal Tuesday: Celebrate at Home

Mr. Vega and I celebrated our first official anniversary yesterday, having married on last Leap Year on February 29. We had high hopes for an exotic weekend away to celebrate this special day, but we couldn’t have predicted that our fourth/first anniversary would find him in school full-time, and me at a new job with no time off accrued.

Taking a page (literally!) from Gretchen Rubin‘s book, I arose earlier than usual to try my hand at my husband’s favorite breakfast: Eggs Benedict. Not only did Alton Brown’s recipe turn out beautifully in our little hippie kitchen, but Mr. Vega was sufficiently surprised and delighted that the day felt like a success despite our disappointment at not being able to make a bigger deal out of it.

I snagged some opening-weekend tickets to Batman v Superman at our favorite movie theater, and returned home at the end of the day to discover he had surprised me with a potted mini calla lily (my wedding bouquet was made entirely of those flowers!), and a very frugal but also meaningful-to-me gift.

Maybe for our second– or is it eighth?– anniversary, we’ll be able to pull out all the stops, but for now, learning to be happy with whatever life brings us helps us enjoy our special days no matter what our external circumstances are like. And that, more than having tons of money or time to blow, makes us feel richer than anything.

Frugal Tuesday: Juice It!

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The other day, we found ourselves with the quality problem of having more fresh fruits and vegetables than we could reasonably consume before they went bad.  Noticing that some of them had already passed the point of being super-delicious for eating, Mr. Vega brought out the juicer and made some delicious green juice for us to drink. Super-yum. Bonus points for finding other uses for the pulp (zucchini muffins anyone?), or at least composting it (we did).

What do you do with produce that’s about to go bad?

Frugal Tuesday: Freeze it!

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Years ago, Nigella Lawson blew my mind when she suggested freezing the rest of any wine still left in the bottle, to use for cooking later. Poured into a freezer bag and tossed in the freezer, it makes a sort of slush that is easily measured for use in recipes. I tried it, and I haven’t looked back! You can freeze all sorts of things: bread, milk, grated cheese, casseroles, Chinese take-out… even fresh herbs in olive oil or broth, poured into ice cube trays. Do you like iced coffee? Coffee ice cubes are a game-changer!

Frugalista extraordinaire Donna Freedman has mastered the art of freezing food scraps in a “boiling bag “to be reincarnated as broth later. If you like soup even a little bit, this practice will ruin you for canned soup forever. Luckily, soup freezes well, too.

If you’re not freezing your leftovers, or your little bits of ingredients that are left after using what you need for a recipe, not only are you wasting food and money, but you are depriving yourself of the enormous convenience of having just-enough tomato paste, pesto, or other fantastic things to take your weeknight cooking from adequate to awesome.

What’s in your freezer?

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Make Your Own!

A few years ago, in one of those hip-but-quaint coffeehouses, there were bags of cello-wrapped handmade marshmallows hanging out by the cash register. $7 for a bag of four didn’t seem like too much to pay for something that would delight Mr Vega so much. And they were fantastic… Fluffy, light, nothing like the half-eaten bag of stale jet-puffs that always seemed to be in the cupboard but no one remembered buying it… Or eating any

Imagine my delight when I came across Alton Brown’s homemade marshmallow recipe. The same $7 I spent on four perfect marshmallows will make me over a hundred of the very same ones at home, and they are just as delicious as the expensive ones.

And even though it’s dead simple, people think you’re kind of a badass when you make the stuff they’re used to buying.

Think about the ways in which you indulge yourself and question whether you might try making it yourself. Around here, in addition to marshmallows, we make our own kahlua, cherry liqueur, cold brew coffee, hot cocoa mix, peppermint bark candy, hot buttered rum batter, and just recently, I’ve graduated to basic body-care products, including a grapefruit salt-scrub and a whipped body butter. All for a fraction of the cost of store-bought, and we think the quality is better when we make it ourselves.

Why not give it a shot? The worst that could happen is that you don’t like it, or you find its not fun. But you’ll never know until you try!

Frugal Tuesday: Grow Your Own

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I always thought I had a “black thumb,” but it turns out that gardening just takes practice! I’m not even close to being a Master Gardener, in fact I’m still very much a novice, but the more you do it, the better you get.

If you are new to gardening, know this: You will kill plants, and many of them! It’s okay. The planter pictured above cam with strawberry plants in it. We didn’t do a great job with the berries, and have re-purposed the pot as an herb garden. Each plant you kill adds to your list of Things Not to Do, and it will start to happen less and less.

Find out your gardening zone, look up the best times to plant in your region (hint: there are several ideal times each year, not just one), experiment with seedlings and try growing things from seed. If all you have is a balcony or patio, get some containers. If all you have is a sunny window, try growing some herbs. If you don’t have that,  consider joining a community garden, or try what my friend does and Stealth Garden! Seriously, she’s got a culinary herb garden hiding in plain sight among her apartment building’s landscaped shrubbery… some of her more astute neighbors even help themselves– with her blessing– to a trimming now and then! There may be an overlooked bit of soil on the property where you live or work where you might be able to plant a small Stealth Garden (or Stealth Plant) of your own.

Grow what you like to eat (or to make herbal tea out of, or to smoke, providing that it’s legal to grow where you live). To get the most bang for your buck, figure out which fresh fruits and vegetables you pay the most for, then try growing them yourself. It’s so much nicer to walk outside with a pair of scissors to get fresh herbs than to pay $3 for a plastic-wrapped sprig of already wilting thyme, oregano, or rosemary.

Give it a try. In a world of over-processed, over-packaged, nutrient-deficient food products, gardening is a revolutionary act. And a delicious one at that. Why not try it?