Monday 29 October 2012

What We Spent October 22 - 28

Week one of our “no spend” challenge is behind us now, with mixed results.  We did very well with the grocery portion of the challenge but broke the rules elsewhere, spending money on both a gift purchase and on recreational driving.

The gift purchase was in the form of yarn, bought from a local thrift store.  My step-dad’s birthday is in late November and I’ll be making him a gift.  I’ll be posting the project later this month so you can see what I made. 

As for the driving, we have, rather arbitrarily, decided to change the rules:

My husband and I have a long-standing “date” to go on an outing together each weekend.  We have some strict rules about these trips - they're never more than two hours’ drive from our home, we never buy food or beverages while we’re out, and they must be to a destination or activity that doesn't cost money - but we’ve both come to enjoy them.  We look forward to them.  

Since our weekend outings can be made within our existing monthly fuel budget, we’ve decided to continue these trips even during our “no spend” month.

So… The new allowable spending guidelines are:
  • We can spend money on dairy products, eggs, and fresh produce. Otherwise, we’re eating from the pantry and freezer.
  • We can purchase necessary household goods and personal care items.
  • We can use the car for travel to and from work, and on our once-weekly outing together.
  • We'll finish and ship my step-dad’s birthday gift, but we’re standing fast on our resolution to celebrate my birthday without presents.

Here’s what we spent this week:

Oct. 22/12
1 bag veggie lover's salad mix
Oct. 24/12
4 liters skim milk
Oct. 25/12
thrift shop yarn
Oct. 26/12
tomatoes (.962 kg)

1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach
Oct. 28/12


Care to join us on this challenge?  If so, we’d love to hear from you.

image source:

What We Ate October 22 -28

The first week of our “no spend” challenge went quite well.  We ate mostly from the pantry and deep freeze, walked for our errands, and stayed close to home for most of the week.  (The wet weather was a help with this.  I usually want to cozy down on the couch when it’s rainy outside.)

Fall weather has us craving comfort food and this week was no exception.  Our slow cooker saw good use, and we made a pot of soup too.

Cooler temperatures provided me incentive to bake.  Besides our weekly bread, I made two cakes this week – an applesauce spice cake and bara brith (a Welsh tea cake) – two batches of muffins, and some cookies.  

The baking helped to warm the house up and also perfumed the air with lots of lovely scents.  Few things smell cozier than the aroma of something baking in the oven; a nice bonus when the house is shut up tight against the weather.

Here’s what we ate this week:

Monday, October 22:

Tuesday, October 23:
  • Breakfast – Boiled eggs, multigrain toast, homemade peach jam
  • Supper – Slow cooker roast chicken, potatoes and carrots cooked with the chicken, steamed cabbage, pears canned in brown sugar syrup with ginger

Wednesday, October 24:
  • Breakfast – Peanut butter, raisin, and marmalade sandwiches on multigrain bread
  • Supper – Leftover chicken breast heated in gravy made from Tuesday’s pan drippings and caramelized onions served over rice fried in sesame oil with onions, bell pepper, celery, and broccoli, leftover date and nut pudding cake

Thursday, October 25:
  • Breakfast – Oatmeal and applesauce
  • Supper – I was not feeling well so I had tea and toast.  My fella ate leftovers.

Friday, October 26:

Saturday, October 27:

Sunday, October 28:
  • Breakfast – Soft boiled eggs, applesauce bran muffins, left over canned peaches from Saturday’s supper
  • Supper – Neptune’s pasta, made with home canned salmon, coleslaw made with cabbage, carrots, onion, and red wine vinaigrette,  the last of the bara brith, cubed, toasted under the broiler and served with custard sauce

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Halloween Meals

Yesterday I shared some Not-So-Spendy Halloween links.  Today, I'm sharing links for a few out-of-the-ordinary Halloween recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  All good fun!

I don't know a single kid - big or small - who wouldn't love to start Halloween morning off with these pumpkin pancakes and black cinnamon syrup from Tidy Mom.

A Batman or Spiderman themed lunch like these from Bentorific would be perfect for Halloween

and I'm sure these monster sandwiches from My Own Road would go down a treat too.

These Halloween themed mandarin orange fruit cups  from Pimp My Dinner make a wonderful lunchbox surprise,

and these Jack-o-Lantern quesadillas from My Recipes would make a tasty lunch, or a good quick supper before you head out the door to trick-or-treat.

You can carve bell pepper Jack-o-Lanterns for Halloween supper and stuff them with all manner of things.  Modern Mrs. Cleaver stuffs hers with Mexican rice.

These Mummy Dogs from Picky Palate never fail to make my fella grin,  

and, to go with dinner, here's some blood red punch from Whimsically Homemade.

What's for dessert?

Well, we'll talk about that tomorrow.  :)

Tuesday 23 October 2012

A Not-So-Spendy Halloween

I recently read an infographic that said our per capita spending on Halloween has more than doubled since 2001.  I'm not surprised.  Halloween's a huge deal these days, and not just for kids:  Grown ups have embraced the day in a big way too.  

Interestingly, 70% of those polled said that our current economic woes won't influence their Halloween spending.  I was not among those polled.  I can say with certainty that, when times are tough, I'm not about to pull money from elsewhere in the budget to pay for spooky celebrations.

Before you dub me the Ebenezer Scrooge of Halloween, I'll also assure you that we do still celebrate.  We just look for more affordable ways to do so.  

There are lots of fun ways to celebrate Halloween without breaking the budget.  A quick look on line provides a wealth of inspiration.  

Here are some of my favourites:

Make your own costumes using thrift store items or things found around the house.  

Premeditated Leftovers has shared some great advice on how to put together a frugal costumeThis was standard practice when I was a kid, and it made Halloween a lot more fun. We spent weeks planning and making our costumes and were so proud of the finished products.  We couldn't wait to show them off!

Look for free printables and projects on line.  These Halloween masks by Mr Printable are a great example:  Print them off, get out the craft supplies, and let the kids embellish the masks to their hearts' content.  

Printable coloring pages are also good fun.  You can find a good selection at All About Coloring.  

You can make your own Halloween cards using images cut from magazines and advertising flyers, or with printables like those offered on The Graphics Fairy website.

There are an abundance of Halloween decorating ideas out there.  I, of course, prefer those that are both simple and affordable. Thrifty Decor Chick shares some wonderful ideas in her  "So Cheap It's Scary" post,

and The Art of Doing Stuff shared instructions for this spooky Halloween wreath made from Dollar Store supplies.

That should get you started.  

Enjoy!   :)   

I'll be back tomorrow with some links for fun Halloween foods.

Title image info:  This photo was taken on my daughter Sue's front porch, in 2010.  Sue adds a few things to her stock of decorations every year and has, over time, built quite an inventory of items.  Spreading your purchases over time like that is a great way to be frugal when celebrating any holiday.

Monday 22 October 2012

What We Spent, October 15 - 21

October’s been an interesting month.  I’ve worked my way to the end of our canning budget and the cupboards are full to bursting but there’s still lots of delicious, locally grown produce at the farm stands.  I’m always tempted to bring home more than we need.  Avoiding kitchen waste is important to me so when we’re at the market I have to consciously hold myself back, making a concentrated effort not to over-purchase. 

It’s time to stock up on Christmas baking supplies.  Butter, flour, and sugar are all on sale in our area this week, as are some of the dried fruits and other ingredients I use for holiday baking. 

I do less special occasion baking than I used to so I don’t need to have as much on hand as I might have in previous years, but I have did spend part of this month’s food budget to stock up on the items I use for everyday cooking.  I tucked away two 10 kg bags of all purpose flour, a 10 kg bag of sugar, and 12 pounds of butter.  (The butter went into the freezer.)  These items made my weekly grocery bill considerably higher than it would usually be, but they should last us until after Christmas.

Starting today and continuing until the end of November, we’ll be doing a “No Spend Challenge” at our house.  “No spend time” does not mean we spend nothing at all.  We’ll still be shopping for household essentials when we need them, and for fresh produce, dairy products, and eggs.  We’ll still be paying for gas for my commute to and from work.  We’ll still be buying prescriptions.  What we won’t be doing is buying clothing, gifts, craft and hobby supplies, or gas for extra trips away from home. 

I’ll be posting our expenditures for food, household items, personal care items, and gas each week until the end of our challenge.  Want to play along?  I hope so.  I always learn so much from my on line friends. 

Here’s what we spent last week:

Oct. 15/12
pre-payment, eggs, through 
Nov. 30
Oct. 17/12
4 liters skim milk
Oct. 19/12
12 pounds butter

Oct. 20
2 spaghetti squash (3.185 kg)

.855 kg broccoli crowns

1.38 kg cabbage

.21 kg red bell pepper

1.65 kg yellow bell pepper

2 kg ambrosia apples

1.685 kg gala apples

20 kg all purpose flour

10 kg white sugar

800 gr old cheddar



image source:

What We Ate October 15 - 21

I’ve kind of fallen away from my routine lately.  I set aside my Facebook page and, for a time, luxuriated in doing very little writing at all.  It was refreshing to take enough time away from writing to actually do some of the projects I’ve been planning but it’s time now to get back into the swing of things.  I figured this post was a good place to start.

October’s a transitional month at our house.  In the kitchen, it’s a season of warming foods:  lots of soups, and stews, and casseroles on the dinner table.  I finish putting by the last of the harvest and retire the canner to the top of the cupboard.  (It’ll still find its way to my stove from time to time; just not as often as it does during late summer and early fall.)  I start thinking about food for the holiday season.  I start wanting to sew and to make craft projects.  I plan my Christmas cards. 

Our cupboards and deep freeze are full to bursting with food I’ve put by the past few months so, in the face of some unexpected upcoming expenses, we’ve designated the rest of October and all of November “no spend” time.  It’s a good exercise for us.  With my return to work we’ve both become a little lax in our approach to managing the household expenses.  The “no spend” exercise will allow us to reset our expectations and encourage us to return to more frugal habits. 

Just to be clear:  “No spend time” does not mean we spend nothing at all.  We’ll still be shopping for household essentials when we need them, and for fresh produce, dairy products, and eggs.  We’ll still be paying for gas for my commute to and from work.  We’ll still be buying prescriptions.  What we won’t be doing is buying clothing, gifts, craft and hobby supplies, or gas for extra trips away from home. 

Want to play along?  I’ll be posting a review of each week’s menus on “What We Ate” and I’ll be posting “What We Spent” too.  I’d love to hear what you’ve been doing too.

Here’s what we ate last week:

Monday, October 15:

Tuesday, October 16:

Wednesday, October 17:
  • Breakfast – Poached eggs and whole wheat toast
  • Supper – Bangers (English style pork sausages), roasted potatoes, carrots, and rutabagas (leftovers from Tuesday), pear and blackberry crisp

Thursday, October 18:
  • Breakfast – Apple slices and cheddar
  • Supper – Our once-a-month dinner out

Friday, October 19 :
  • Breakfast – Boiled eggs, oranges
  • Supper – Leftovers from Thursday’s restaurant dinner, apple slices and caramel dip

Saturday, October 20:
  • Breakfast –  Oatmeal and applesauce
  • Supper – Savoury bread pudding made with onions, home canned tomatoes, broccoli, cheddar, and whole wheat bread.  Cookie sandwiches for dessert, made with coffee cookies filled with cocoa buttercream.

Sunday, October 21:
  • Breakfast – Applesauce bran muffins, sliced cheddar
  • Supper – Home canned pork ribs with chili apricot glaze, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, canned peaches

Friday 19 October 2012

Beet Risotto

We see a lot of potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, and beets on our dinner plates between October and March.  If you live in our part of the world and try to eat what's seasonally available, these root vegetables form a big part of your diet in the fall and winter months.  The glory of spring's tender asparagus spears and fresh spinach become a fond memory.  Vine ripened tomatoes are but a distant dream.


Although they are tasty in their own way, it's easy to tire of the more limited selection of produce available during the winter months.  It can feel like you are faced with an endless repetition of the same few dishes, all nutritious but - after their twenty-seventh appearance on your plate - all spectacularly boring.  

I work hard to avoid this.

I'm always on the lookout for new ways to serve root vegetables, so when a friend served us beet risotto at dinner one evening, it knocked my socks off.  I mean, really, the colour alone was enough to add excitement to the plate!  

I didn't get a recipe from my friend that evening but, after some tinkering around, I've come up with my own beet risotto, flavoured with the zest and juice of an orange.  The orange adds a little bit acidity, offsetting the earthiness of the beets beautifully. 

To make beet risotto, you'll need:

  • 2 medium sized beets
  • 1 small-ish onion about 2 inches in diameter, cut in a fine dice
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil (I used extra virgin because it's what I keep on hand)
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • The zest and juice of a medium sized navel orange
  • About 4 cups of stock (I used store bought this time but prefer homemade)

Put the stock in a saucepan and heat it to a low simmer. 

While the stock is heating, prepare the beets.  Remove the stem and root ends, peel them and then grate them on the fine side of a box grater, or with fine shredding disk in your food processor.

(Peeling and shredding beets is a messy business.  The beet juice will stain your skin.  I keep a box of disposable plastic gloves in the cupboard for chores like this one.  Using them keeps my hands presentable for work.)

Once the beets are ready and the stock heated, take out a medium sized, heavy bottomed saucepan in which to prepare your risotto.  

Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to your risotto pot and heat the oil over medium-high heat.

When the oil is hot, add in the chopped onion and the rice.  Sauté them, stirring constantly, until the onion softens, is transluscent, and has begun to take on just the tiniest bit of colour around the edges.

The rice should take up some of the oil during this process.  The grains will become translucent around the edges but remain white in the center.

Add in the beets, orange zest, and orange juice, stirring until the ingredients are well combined.

Begin to add in the stock, a ladle-full at a time.  Stir the rice and stock mixture until most of the stock has been absorbed into the rice before adding more liquid.  The pan should be dry enough before each addition of stock that the liquid boils up with a rushing sound when you ladle it into the rice.

When you are nearing the end of your stock, taste the rice.  You are hoping to achieve a slightly al dente texture that still has some tooth to it but is not hard or chewy.  If it seems the rice needs more moisture to achieve that texture, put on the kettle and boil some water.  Add it to the mixture just as you've done with the stock; adding, stirring, and tasting until you achieve the texture you're seeking.

You'll know by both appearance and texture when your risotto is ready to serve.  The rice will be al dente, the shredded beet and onion will be so soft that they almost disappear into the dish, and the risotto will be suspended in a creamy sauce.

Risotto should be loose enough to move a bit on the plate if you tilt it from side to side, and it should be served immediately because it sets up very quickly.  In the time it took me to take this picture, my dish had set up more than I would have liked.  Even so, it tasted wonderful.

I'm so glad my friend introduced me to beet risotto.  It brought some welcome variety to our winter-time table and tastes so good that even my fella - who has been known to sigh heavily before saying "Beets again?" - looks forward to having it for dinner.  I hope you'll give it a try too.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Holy Canning Batman! That's a Lot of Food!

Canning is an important tool in managing our food budget.  All year 'round, we put aside money so that during the harvest months we can buy food at its seasonal best - and most affordable - and put it by.  

Our well stocked pantry has stood us in good stead over the years.  When I was ill and unable to work last year, it was especially useful.  Without our well stocked pantry, we would have found it much more difficult to weather those trying months.

A near-empty pantry and predictions of rapidly rising food prices in the months to come have added a sense of urgency to my canning projects this year.  I used up my entire canning budget this season and also put some of each month's grocery budget towards restocking the pantry with staples.  I canned meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruit, soup stock and soup, jams and jellies, pickles and relishes, chutney, HP sauce, and mincemeat.  It took 109 quart jars, 551 pint jars, and 110 half pint jars to contain it all.  

I've reached the end of our canning budget (and of our room for food storage) now, so I put the canner away this weekend.  It was not without relief that I said goodbye to it.  My tiny kitchen is always very cramped during canning season and, when taken on top of my full time job outside our home, the work of putting food by can be very tiring.

Even though I've retired my canner to the cupboard for now, I'll continue to do some canning throughout the fall, winter, and spring months - just not in the volume I can during the harvest months.  

I'll be putting by any fruit or vegetables we're given, canning carrot pudding for Christmas, and marmalade in the late winter months.  I'll be replenishing our stock of beans as we use them, canning meat from manager's specials, and putting by small batches of soup and stock as I use up leftovers.

Why bother putting by all this food?  

Lot of people ask me that, and several have suggested that I'm hoarding food, so I thought I'd set the record straight.  

This is why I put food by:

Canning fruit and vegetables when they're in season ensures that you preserve them at their best, and that you purchase them at their best price. 

Canning meat, poultry, and fish allows me to take advantage of gifts (of fish) and sales (on meats and poultry) even though we have limited freezer space.

Having a well stocked pantry helps to ensure variety in our diet even when our food budget is very limited.

We eat from our pantry on an on-going basis, especially during the winter months.  It doesn't take long to work your way through a large quantity of canned goods when you "shop" your pantry before heading to the grocery store.  

Canned foods require little additional preparation at serving time, making them a convenient meal option on busy work nights.  Although I do have the means to supplement my supply of canned goods with fresh meat and produce this year, it's not uncommon for us to use a jar of meat plus two pints of vegetables to make supper, and a jar of fruit for our dessert.  

Finally - and most important of all to me - putting food by provides us a hedge against hard times and an assurance that, should the unexpected happen, we will be able to eat - and to eat well.  That assurance provides me peace of mind.

Peace of mind, my friends, is worth any amount of hard work.