Sunday, January 31, 2010

Garden Planning


Even though most gardens are still sleeping right now it is not too early to start thinking about this year’s garden.  If you plan to start any seeds you will want to do this in a bit.  I would love to do this myself, but seem to lack the space to make it happen.  My hubby had a few ideas for helping me make an area for this, so we will see how it goes this year.   

If you have never planted your own starters then you might find my friend Jennie’s article on this very helpful.  She wrote this for my newsletter a couple of years ago and I have it on my website HERE.   

If you purchase seeds online from the same place then you probably already have received catalogs in the mail.  I love looking through them and dreaming.  If you have not, then now would be the time to start ordering catalogs and making your seed lists.   

I thought it would be nice to have a page of resources on my website that listed garden seed companies. Aside from a few I know, I am sure there are more seed companies out there!   I prefer to know about companies that people have used and been happy with their seeds and service.  If you have a favorite seed company that you have used and feel good about recommending I would love to know about it and then add it to my up and coming resource page.  If you would leave the company name and link to their website in comments page or email the info to me I would so appreciate this!!  My email: 

For now I will leave you with my two favorite companies: 

Territorial Seed:  (their specialty is seeds for those who garden in the Pacific Northwest)

Henry Fields:  

Happy Garden Planning!! 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Budget Minded: Homemade Floor Cleaner


Part of my grocery budget includes non food items such as plastic wrap, foil, zip baggies, cat food, and cleaners. So looking for ways to save on some of these items is a help.  I have found that making my own cleaners is quick, easy and a real budget saver.   

Here is how I make floor cleaner… 

I start with a ½ cup of vinegar…


Add one gallon of water…


A couple drops of essential oil of your choice is optional, but does add a nice scent…


All this plus a little elbow grease equals one clean kitchen floor!

I have more homemade cleaner recipes on my website HERE..


Monday, January 25, 2010

Trim the Budget: Calculating the Cost


 After making tonight’s low cost meal I thought I would share how you calculate the cost of food items that are a little trickier to figure out.  I am referring to things like pasta, rice, beans, etc..  how do you determine what a cup of pasta or beans cost?  You will need a small scale to do this.  Having a scale in the kitchen is very handy.  I bought a small postal scale from ebay years ago and have put to good use! 

The first thing you need to know is the price you paid for your item and how much it weighs.  Let’s use pasta for this example (I had to do this today to calculate how much I spent on my dinner, so it is an easy one for me to share).   I bought a 10lb box of whole wheat elbow macaroni from my food co-op Azure Standard.  I paid $21.35 for it.   The next step is to find out is what 1 cup of dry elbow macaroni weighs.  I put it on my scale and it weighed 5.4oz. 

There are 16 ounces in one pound so I multiplied 10 pounds by 16 which is 160 ounces in 10 pounds.

Next, I take the price I paid of $21.35 and divide by 160.

This gives a price of 13.3 cents per ounce.

Now I weighed 1 cup of elbow macaroni and it weighed 5.4 oz.  So, I take 13.3 cents per ounce and multiply it by 5.4  and this gives me 71.82 cents which I round to 72 cents per cup.

There you have it!!  You can calculate the cost of basic food items easily to help you determine what you are paying for each meal.  This really allows you to “know” how much you are spending on a meal and if it’s a frugal meal.  I remember looking at a website of “frugal recipes” and was surprised to find how many of the recipes were not frugal at all, at least in my budget.  Knowing what you pay can vary greatly from what you “think” you are paying. 

Every frugal meal you can make for your family will have a big impact on your monthly food budget. 

Now for tonight’s dinner…

I made Quick Beef Stroganoff.  This meal is easy to make and tastes delicious!!  My family really likes it.  The recipe made one pot of stroganoff that was enough to feed us for dinner, but did not leave much in the way of leftovers for my family size and appetite.  But, it was very budget friendly and that is the goal.  If you have a large family you may want to double it.  It fed 6 of us (one of my daughters was not home).  I served it with green beans (from last summer’s garden) and buttered homemade bread. 

Quick Beef Stroganoff

1 lb. Ground beef
½ cup chopped onions, opt.
1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked—whole wheat if possible
Liquid mixture ( These ingredients need to come to a total of 4 cups):

½ cup plain yogurt or sour cream
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
Beef broth (or bouillon and water), filled up to the 4 cup mark
1 T. Italian seasonings
Salt, pepper

Brown the ground beef in large cooking pot, adding onions if desired. Drain beef and return to pan. Layer uncooked elbow macaroni over beef. Pour liquid mixture over beef and macaroni. DO NOT STIR Bring to boil and cover. Turn down heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add green beans or salad and bread for a complete meal. This goes together very quickly and tastes very good!


Cost for beef stroganoff  

2.79 ground beef
1.08 for pasta

.275 yogurt

.80 for one can organic tomato sauce

$4.95 total

You could round this up to $5.50 account for the cost of the spices, onions and so forth.







Sunday, January 24, 2010

Updates from the Homestead



Well I think I have enough weddings for awhile!    My friend Sarah’s son Aaron was married yesterday. The wedding was beautiful!  I am so happy for Aaron and his new wife.. she is just the sweetest nicest young lady.   

I was going to be a helper in the kitchen during the reception.  The lady in charge of kitchen organization and all the food for the reception got sick that morning with the flu..  Sarah called (a bit in a panic) and asked if I could handle that job.. “sure”.. I said..    Well..  let me tell you.. there were about 140 people there  (maybe more) and it was a sit down dinner that we served.  I had some helpers in the kitchen to dish up plates and my girls and a couple more girls from Sarah’s church did the serving..  but that still left me in the kitchen the whole time.. coffee making, punch making as it ran out, dishes to wash (thankfully the church we were using had a commercial dishwasher that washed a load of dishes in less than 2 minutes..  I will have to say one thing..  I want one of those.. LOL!!!  )..  None the less it was a huge undertaking to just walk into.. and be in charge of..  whew..  I spent the whole day on my feet with no time for breaks..  But, I will have to say that Sarah was so thankful..  and I was so thankful to be able to help her out in a real time of need..  But now it is back to my regularly scheduled programming, sore feet and all, and I am very happy about moving on!!  

As we near the end of January I am always excited..  I think that spring will not be far off!  January is my least liked month of the year and it always seems sooo long.  One thing about both of these weddings is that it has made the month go by quickly!  This is also the half way point of our school year.  So far, despite all the busyness the kids are on track and will be at the half way point in their books by end of the month.  That always gets the kids excited too..  Summer break is just that much closer. 

I have also been working on one of my New Year goals.. making soap!  I got 30lbs made so far, and still have that much and maybe more to go.  So this week I will be gearing up for another 30lb batch of soap.                      

Well that is all the updates for this Sunday evening..  I will be back this week with more “Trim the Budget” posts!!   Hope you have a great evening on your homestead! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Trim the Budget: The Cost of Healthy Eating

  The cost of some very basic items can really vary.  I am thinking of things like milk, eggs, butter, cheese, canned tomato products, etc..  I buy a lot dairy from Costco, except for my eggs.  I buy them from my food co-op Azure Standard.  This is where health vs budget comes into play.  You ultimately have to make choices in areas that are the most important to you and maintain your grocery budget.  If we make compromises to much in the area of food to save money we end up with health issues which could lead to other types of costs and in the end we really have not saved much.  Also I feel like the nutritional quality of so much refined food is so bad that in reality even those cheap prices are way too expensive for the bad quality that we are getting.  In the end the choice of how much you spend on better quality food and how much you save will be up to you.  I think we have to be good stewards of our money.  Shopping and spending wisely and living within our means must be a paramount.  Sometimes the reality is that you only have so much money to spend on food and you have to make it work!  

One of the ways I have been able to stay within my grocery budget and afford some better quality foods is to cook at home and not eat out (we rarely eat out), make a huge portion of our food from scratch and cook with lots of low cost basic foods such as beans and grains.  This savings has allowed me to make better quality choices when buying other foods.  Sometimes we make compromises.. I could say that “this” food item would be the very best quality but I will have to buy the less expensive alternative that is not quite so healthy to stay within our budget.   

You have to decide what areas you will compromise on and what areas you won’t.  For me, I stay completely away from any foods that contain hydrogenated oils.   I also do my best to avoid MSG in any form. I make my own bread because it is healthy and low cost.  I use better quality sweeteners (like organic sugars and honey) as often as I can.  If my budget is tight, I may use sugar occasionally and just a whole lot less of it.  Every step I do make towards healthy eating I look at as moving my family’s health in a positive direction.  

Here is another budget dinner to share with you.  Leanne made Sausage and Gravy over Biscuts for us tonight. 


Sausage and Gravy

2 lbs sausage (such as Jimmy Dean brand)
6 cups milk
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook sausage.  Sprinkle flour over sausage and stir.  Add milk.  Stir. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened and continue to simmer for a couple minutes to cook flour.  Add salt and pepper to taste.   

The following biscuit recipe is my favorite!  These biscuits always come out so good! 



6 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2T baking powder
2T cane juice crystals or sugar
1t baking soda
2t salt
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup butter
2 ¼ cups cold milk or buttermilk 

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Cut in coconut oil and butter until it resembles cornmeal.  Add milk (or buttermilk) and stir until moist.  Knead 4 or 5 times (try not to handle the dough any more than necessary, it will make lighter biscuits).  Cut with biscuit cutter or glass.  Bake at 450 for 15 to 17 minutes.  This recipe makes approx 3 dozen biscuits. I served this meal with orange slices.   

**NOTE** Both of these recipes are doubled.  It fed us (7 people) dinner with leftovers for another meal.     

I did not do a price breakdown due to time!  Sausage was most likely the biggest expense ($4.00 for 2lbs).  I have not taken the time to figure out the cost per cup of coconut oil.. so I will have to do that to get an accurate price breakdown.  You can sub all butter in the recipe if you don’t have coconut oil.  I am currently paying  about $1.75 for a pound of butter, which would make the cost of butter in the recipe .44 cents (double that if you used all butter).  But if I guessed I would say about $7.00 and to me that is not bad.  Feeding 7 people which includes hubby, me, daughters (ages 19,18, 14) and sons (ages 16, 12) for two meals makes this recipe budget friendly and pretty healthy as well!   


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy Birthday to Jacob!!


Yesterday we celebrated my son Jacob’s birthday. Jacob is my 6th child and second boy.  He turned 16 years old.  The years just move by so quickly and I find it amazing to remember my sweet little baby boy who is now growing up into a wonderful, responsible young man. We are very proud of him!  

Jacob enjoyed a sleep over at our house over the weekend with a couple of his good friends. And yesterday we had pizza and cake and ice cream for his celebration.  Richard and Doneza came and so did Grandpa.  It was a very enjoyable evening and here are a few pics to share…




Monday, January 18, 2010

Sewing on the Homestead: Make an Easy Table Runner

I have wanted to make a table runner for awhile now and with all of life’s busyness as of late I did not have the time. I looked at stores and on ebay to see if I could buy something and did not really want to pay the prices I was seeing. I knew I had lots of fabric around that I might be able to put something together. I liked the idea of “shopping at home” for my fabric! Something just feels good about being resourceful with what I already have in my hand.

So I had a calm easy going afternoon over the weekend (have not had one of those in awhile! LOL) and I looked through my fabric, found some scraps that would work and came up with a plan. Here is what I made (all seams were ¼ inch):

I had a fat quarter (the green farm fabric) and I cut it to 10 ½ inches wide (and left it 18 inches long).

I had another red fabric that has black outlines of chickens on it. I used this for the boarders. I cut 2 pieces of fabric 4 ½ inches wide and 10 1/2 inches long. And the other 2 I cut 2 ½ inches wide and 27 inches long.

I sewed the 4 ½ inch pieces to the short ends of the main green fabric and pressed my seams open…

I then sewed the 2 ½ inch pieces to the long ends and pressed my seams open…

I cut a piece of interfacing the same size as my runner. If you use fusible interfacing you can iron it on. Mine was not fusible.….

I cut a piece of fabric from my red chicken fabric the same size as the table runner for the back. I put this on top of the table runner, right sides together…

I sewed around the runner leaving space to turn it right side out. When it was done I turned it right side out…

I ironed around the edges, turning the seam allowance for the unsewed area in. Then I top stitched all the way around the table runner, closing the open space in the process.

Then I put it on my table and enjoyed my creation..

I’m not really sure how much fabric you would need if you were to go out and buy what you needed… but my guess would be, 1 fat quarter and a yard or maybe less of the contrasting fabric for the sides and back and some interfacing.  But if you do a lot of sewing you (like me) most likely have scraps left from projects and fabric that you bought and never used..  this is a great project to use up some of that fabric and making something pretty for your home.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Low Cost Basic Foods to Lower the Grocery Budget


The best way I know how to reduce the amount of money I spend on groceries and still feed my family healthy meals is to utilize low cost basic foods.  Those basic foods are typically beans and grains.   

When I plan a meal I think grains and/or beans first, not meat.  The grains and beans are full of nutrition and the meat adds flavor to the meal.   

Last nights dinner is an example.  I made tuna patties.  I used brown rice instead of bread crumbs(as I usually do) because I had cooked rice in the frig.  On Wednesday night I made a big batch of brown rice.  For dinner on Wednesday I combined some leftover meatballs (leftover in the freezer from the wedding) and added cooked rice and homemade bbq sauce with them.  I put them in a 9x13 pan and sprinkled with a little bit of cheese and baked this until everything was hot.  I served the meal with a salad. 

Last night I took about 3 cups of leftover rice and combined this with 4 cans of tuna fish (drained).  I added 4 eggs, 1 cup of milk, and about 1 cup of flour.  I also added salt, pepper, seasoning salt, dried onions and a little soy sauce to season.  I fried about ¼ cup of the mixture per patty in olive oil.   

This meal was very inexpensive.  The tuna was about .45 cents a can ($2.00 rounded up), and the rice was about .20 cents and then there were eggs and milk.  I think $3.00 or less would cover the whole meal, depending on how much you spend for eggs and milk. 

I served this meal with corn on the cob and green beans (from my garden.. had it in the freezer).  This meal could also be served with a salad or canned green beans.   

  Now onto breakfast! This morning’s breakfast at my house prompted me to share this with you.  

 Oats are another low cost basic food, and the cheapest breakfast I know is oatmeal.  I serve it a lot.  The one thing that bugs me is leftover oatmeal.  I usually end up making more than we need.  Sometimes I make the leftover oatmeal into muffins.  Sometimes I put in the fridge and the next morning heat it up in the microwave and serve it again.  I really hate wasting it.  I have come up with another way to use it that is super easy…  I make fried oatmeal mush.  I take the leftover oatmeal and while it is still warm I put it in a loaf pan (I spray with Pam first).  Then cover it and put it in the fridge.  The next morning remove the loaf from the pan and slice it.  Fry it in butter and serve with a bit of maple syrup (homemade syrup is another way to cut costs).  

The price on this breakfast will vary depending on how much you pay for oats.  I buy my oats from my health food co-op Azure Standard.  Currently organic quick oats are costing me .16 cents a cup (that is $16.40 for a 25# bag.  The non organic oats are $10.45 making the cost per cup of dry oats about 10 cents a cup).  If I make my kids oatmeal using 4 to 5 cups - dry - of oats the cost is .80 cents for the organic oats, and it stretches over two mornings that is .40 cents a morning in oats that are filling and nutritional.   I call that a very healthy and inexpensive budget trimmer! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Year Goal: Trim the Grocery Budget!


Well now that the wedding is behind me I am on to thinking about my new year goals.  One big goal is to cut the grocery budget.  I still have 5 children at home and with the rising cost of food I am really refocusing on how to save money on groceries.  I am not implanting anything new here..  just a major refocus.  It is so easy to get distracted by the things of life and end up buying more than I would like, or buying foods that are marginally healthy but still expensive.  In order for me to save money I trade my time..  I think it is a worthwhile trade!  LOL..  hubby trades his time for money and I in turn trade my time to be a good steward of that money.   

So what are my plans?  They included utilizing healthy, low cost basic food items to create some yummy and delicious meals!   

Here is what I served for dinner last night and cost breakdown for the meal.  I need to update all the prices of my basic ingredients since I did this last.  When I updated the cost of my pinto beans I was shocked to see that I was paying $7.39 for a 25# bag in 2005 and now Azure Standard is charging $19.85 for a 25# bag!  I have updated the costs of last nights dinner for this calculation.   

Pinto Bean and Sausage Soup (recipe below)
Cornbread (I made a 9x13 pan, the recipe I linked to is for making an 9 inch pan. I doubled this recipe)

Total cost for this meal was approx. $7.75 

Here is a quick breakdown (this is for 7 people (4 adults, 2 teenagers and 1- 11yr old): 

Soup Costs
Pinto beans $1.28
1lb sausage $2.00
Rounded costs: $3.75 ( I rounded up to include cost of onion and seasonings) 

Whole wheat pastry flour: .45
Cornmeal: .28
Milk: .46
Olive oil: .80 

Rounded Costs ($1.99 as listed above, I added extra for the remaining ingredients) $2.50 

Salad Costs:
Salad is hard to break down..  so I am estimating $1.50 .. the price varies depending on what you put into a salad.  In the winter the least expensive veggies are cabbage and carrots.  I like to use romaine lettuce with chopped read cabbage and grated carrots.  The salad is nutritious, inexpensive and looks pretty!    I make my own salad dressings to cut costs.  I will be working up a price breakdown for those soon.   

I have soup leftover to feed for lunch today and will serve that with oranges and homemade bread.   

Pinto Bean and Sausage Soup
4 cups dry pinto beans
16 cups water
4t salt
1lb sausage (such as “Jimmy Dean” brand)
1 onion chopped
salt and pepper to taste
A few dashes of Tabasco for anyone wanting a little zip to the soup 

Early in the day begin cooking beans.  Combine the pinto beans, water and salt.  Bring to a boil, slowly reduce heat over 5 minutes.  Put lid on and reduce heat all the way to low.  This process helps prevent the beans from boiling over after you put the lid on.  Simmer the beans for 2 ½ hours or until nice and soft. 

When the beans are almost done cook the sausage and chopped onion in a frying pan until the sausage is no longer pink and the onions are soft.   

Drain some of the water out of the beans.  Add the cooked sausage and if needed you can add back in some of the water to get the soup consistency you desire.  I always add about ½ teaspoon pepper.  Taste and add more salt, if needed, to suit your taste.  Add a few dashes of Tabasco for a little zing..   


I will be posting more menu ideas and cost breakdowns as I work on this for my grocery budget.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Laundry Soap Kits are back in stock at Crystal’s Country Store!



I am happy to say that my little country store is restocked with Orange and Lemongrass Laundry Soap Kits.  The Tide-like scent will be in stock very soon.   Thanks for your patients and understanding!  Click HERE for more info! 



Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Wedding!!!


Wow! What a day!  Lots of planning and prep from so many.  Details, lists, stress, and more details.. but then the big day comes and it all is worth the effort!  Yesterday my son was married to the most beautiful, sweet woman!  I could not imagine a more perfect woman for my son.   The wedding was small… a few close  friends and family .. but was sooo nice, intimate and beautiful.    The reception was at my home after the wedding.   I did not get as many pics of the reception as I wanted.. but it was so much fun!  I had 30+ people here.  We served lots of food…  I made lasagna, meatballs in bbq sauce, ceaser salad and Lolot made chicken adobo, noodles, clams and shrimp.   I had punch and coffee.  My friend Debi came to my house while we were at the wedding and set up the whole buffet.. I really don’t know what I would have done without her.. I had originally planned to come home and set it up myself.. that would have been a real tough job!  So I was soooo thankful for her help!   There was just so much good fellowship, fun and enjoyment … it was all a huge blessing to us.   This was also the first time in YEARS I had all my children under my roof at the same time.... I can’t tell you what a blessing that was..   so much good for this mama’s heart.     My friend Sarah was also my biggest blessing once again …  I told everyone that I do not know what I would do without her for all of life’s major events.. she is my faithful loving friend who is always by my side (she is the one that helped me deliver my grandsons too)..  she is as close to me as any sister could ever be and I love her dearly..  she did hair, decorated the church and directed everything I could not be there to direct.. and all this just two weeks before her own sons wedding ( her son, by the way,  was my sons best man.. Richards best and closest friend).. Below are pictures of the wedding, pics of our family and more.  Thank you so much for sharing in our exciting joyous day!

My Family

My children!!!!  :)

Me, Doneza, Richard and Tobin

The wedding party..  Leanne and Emily, Joelle (the flower girl), Doneza, Richard, Aaron (the best man and my friend Sarah's son), Jacob and Matthew (the ring bearer)


I will be back now..  it is time for me to go back to normal.. get my family back to a regular routine and living my homestead life and sharing life with you all!!