Archive for November, 2009

Get Your Money’s Worth Out Of Those Thanksgiving Leftovers – Frugal Challenge

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Autumn HarvestNow that Thanksgiving is over and our leftovers are disappearing… oh, they aren’t?

I see we have a problem.  I’ve been talking to many folks just like you who always make a lot of food for Thanksgiving and just get tired of eating it after about the third day.  Another plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole just isn’t going to make it past the family again.

My challenge every year is how do I disguise the leftovers?  I know I could probably cut down on the amount of food I make each Thanksgiving, but what’s the fun of that?  Besides, I’d rather cook once and have meals for a week than cook every day.  It’s more economical in the long run, although it takes a bit of imagination to re-create your Thanksgiving dishes into something brand new.

Here are just a couple ways that I have successfully served meals made from leftovers without too much trouble.

Turkey Soup – This, of course, is the simplest way to stretch your turkey dinner without a lot of fuss.  I always use my turkey frame, or carcass, to boil up a nice rich batch of turkey stock.  I’ve included a recipe to do this if you’d like to click here and see how I turn my turkey bones into soup.  Once the stock is ready you can add anything you like normally in your soup, like vegetables, pasta, and rice.  If you have leftover veggies from your crudite platter, throw those in, as well.

Creamy Turkey Soup – When the green bean casserole, stuffing, and mashed potatoes get to be too much, throw them all into your food processor with some of the turkey stock you made and blend it up.  The result is a very thick and rich base for a cream soup.  Mix and match your vegetables just like you would if they were raw, keeping similar vegetables together – like broccoli and cauliflower, carrots and sweet potatoes, etc.  When the cooked veggies are all blended nice and smooth, pour into a soup pot.    You can add milk or cream if you like, and even some cheese, even throw in a bit of diced turkey for a hearty chowder.  It tastes like Thanksgiving In A Pot.  If you have leftover pumpkin puree and sweet potato casserole you may want to experiment with a creamy soup that’s a little sweet.

Layered Casserole – Instead of putting plates together over and over again of the same three, four, or five ingredients, try layering them in a casserole dish.  Be careful not to overcook when you heat the casserole since everything was cooked once and you don’t want your vegetables to get mushy.  If you have a lot of leftover stuffing and gravy, try a dish with layers of stuffing, turkey, gravy, and fresh, frozen, or leftover broccoli, cauliflower, or green beans topped with a little more gravy.  This seems to be a favorite in our house.

Quiche – Add a little cheese to any leftovers and you’ll hear no complaints!  This is a great way to use up a couple leftovers; stuffing and turkey.  The way it works is the stuffing becomes a mock-crust when mixed with a beaten egg.  You press the mixture into a pie pan and voila!  A crust for your quiche.  If you’d like to check out the Thanksgiving Quiche recipe in full, just click here.

Those are a few very simple ideas.  Of course, you can get more complicated, but I like to keep it as simple as possible.  If you’d like to see even more Holiday recipe ideas click right here.  I know the holidays will be busy for you, so please take the time to plan your meals and your leftovers so you have more time to relax with your family.

Take Time Out To Count Your Blessings – Fuzzy Wuzzy Wednesday

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

pressure_cookerIt may seem almost impossible to take a few minutes out of your busy schedule the day before Thanksgiving, but when under extreme pressure, those few moments to yourself become even more important.

When our kids start acting up, what’s the first thing you think?  He or she must be tired, hungry, frustrated, or overwhelmed.  Well, it’s the same thing for you.  If you allow yourself to get tired, hungry, frustrated, or overwhelmed, you, too, will act up.  Normally, an adult will “act up” by getting a headache, sore back, or start snapping at the people around you.  The emotional erosion caused by a hectic day filled with expectations happens slowly, but the reaction to the stress may happen very quickly – before having a chance to even consider that you may have gone beyond your limit.

So, I’ll make this request for today short and sweet.  Take five minutes today to walk away from whatever chore you are doing, go into a quiet place and close your eyes.  Think about just one thing that you can be thankful for today.  Let your mind focus only on that one thing.  Then, go back to your chores and see if you can keep those good feelings going.

If you find those feelings slipping away later during the day, go through the same five minute exercise again.  Excuse yourself from whatever it is you are doing, slip away to somewhere quiet, even if that means sitting in your car, and focus once again on just one thing to be thankful for.  Then, when your good feelings return, go ahead and get busy again.

This little five minute exercise works well to relieve stress, but it is also a simple reminder to count your blessings.  Tell your family what you are doing and invite them to share in this method to reflect and unwind… of course in their own little quiet place!

Show your children by example that each and every one of us has pressures in our life that we sometimes don’t feel we can handle.  And, that a few minutes in “time-out” gives even grownups a chance to slow down and refocus our thoughts.  Share this with your children because focusing on our blessings is definitely a skill that will reap benefits for a lifetime.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving filled with all the blessings your heart can hold!

p.s.  Take a few moments with your children today to read together.  One of our favorite little stories is Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes and Doris Barrette.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

6 Tips For Easier Clean Up After A Big Thanksgiving Meal – Tidy Tuesday

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Dishwasher websizeDoes it take you as long to clean up after Thanksgiving dinner as it does to prepare your feast?  Being up to my elbows in greasy dishes and dirty pots and pans isn’t exactly my idea of the end to a perfect day.

However, a big meal does produce a lot of dishes.  What are some of the ways we can reduce this tedious chore at the end of the day?

1) Use an oven bag to roast your turkey. This works well for me for several reasons.  Soaking a roasting pan is a chore I’d rather eliminate and because the nice brown bits don’t stick to the roasting pan, they’re inside the bag, clean up is much easier.  Plus, the other upside to roasting my turkey in an oven bag is it captures the juices and browns itself right in the bag.  No basting.  Saves some of the fussing which wastes time, and saves a lot of the clean up, which also wastes time.

2) Make as many one dish items as you can. If you’re mixing together mushroom soup, milk, and sour cream for a dish, do it all in the casserole you’re using.  If when you’re preparing your dishes you see two or three mixing bowls lined up, re-examine your method and consolidate if you can.

3) Consider some disposable utensils. Your best dishes may be sacrosanct for your Thanksgiving dinner, but consider one tiny step to getting rid of a small portion of your clean up detail.  How about using small festive paper plates just for dessert?  And, don’t forget to remind everybody to hang onto their forks after dinner!  Your dinner guests love to accommodate this request, especially when they know dessert’s on its way!

4) Line every casserole dish with tin foil. This is a no brainer for me.  I’ve learned long ago to line those stuffing casseroles with tin foil because that stuff really stick to the sides of a dish.  You can eliminate a lot of soaking and scrubbing with this little trick.

5) Wash as you go. I must give credit to my Hubby for this one.  Before you even begin your chopping and mixing, fill the sink with hot soapy water.  Every thing you use goes in and as you move to the next dish, the first thing you do is wash up what you used and it’s done.  This is also a nice method especially when you have limited measuring cups, spoons, and mixing bowls.  Everything is ready for the next step and nothing piles up.

6) Prepare what you can ahead of time. Of course, anything you can make a day or two ahead of time will help the clean up process.  But, don’t forget that something as simple as chopping onions and celery and storing them in a zip lock bag will help, too.  Having your cutting boards and knives clean and ready on Thanksgiving morning for other tasks is a real time saver.

These are just a few simple ideas that I wanted to share with you.  I know you’ve probably developed some of your own easy clean up ideas and I would love it if you would share them with us here.  Have a restful and wonderful Thanksgiving Day!

p.s.  If long tedious house cleaning projects are not your idea of a good way to spend your time, check out some of the Spring Cleaning Tips For Mom to get your house sparkling clean, without all the hard work.

Simple Foods Save Valuable Time – Frugal Challenge

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Thanksgiving TableSaving time is just as important as saving money.  After all, time is money, right?

Standing over a hot stove all day to prepare a Thanksgiving meal may not appeal to you and it certainly is not saving you any time.  It may not even be possible if you have a busy schedule, perhaps have to go to work on Thanksgiving, or have other reasons that you need a menu that doesn’t involve hours of preparation and hard work.

A Thanksgiving menu can be very simple as long as you include a few traditional dishes from year to year.  Most folks don’t care if you aren’t serving the fanciest fare, as long as it’s memorable.  I’ll share a few wonderfully delicious, but simple foods that are easy to make with memorable results.

Turkey – The first, of course, is turkey.  Turkey is very inexpensive and really simple to make.  It’s no different than roasting a chicken.  The problem most people run into is the thawing time.  You can speed up the thawing process by letting the bird rest in a sink full of cold water.  It will usually thaw out overnight that way without the risk of becoming too warm.  Then roast according to instructions on the turkey packaging.  You handle it very little after that.

Green Bean Casserole – A traditional favorite in many homes and so very simple to make.  Use frozen green beans and don’t even bother cooking them if you don’t want.  Just throw them into a big bowl with all the other ingredients, mix well, and dump into a casserole dish.  My dinner guests look forward to this every year and it’s such a simple dish to make.

Cranberry Orange Relish – This is one of those dishes that everyone raves about, but no one suspects how simple it is.  Just wash a package of fresh cranberries and throw them in the food processor.  Then scrub a seedless orange and cut it into small chunks, skin and all.  Throw that in as well and start pulsing the food processor.  Sprinkle in a bit of sugar if it’s too tart.  Don’t let the relish get mushy; just nice small chunks.  Voila!  A sweet and tangy relish that’s delicious and beautiful… oh, yes, and did I mention easy?

Forget the Pies – If time is really working against your dinner plans, pies should be the first thing to go.  However, you want something to replace them.  How about some little individual pie-like desserts?  Buy pre-made pie crusts, cut them into circles that fit inside a muffin tin, and fill them with either diced apple with a little cinnamon and sugar sprinkled in, or any pie filling.  They’re simple, pretty, and are just as satisfying as a piece of pie… especially with a dollop of whipped cream on top!

These are all pretty classic Thanksgiving dishes that all look more complicated than they really are.  Simplify your Thanksgiving meal preparation this year to save yourself some time.  Then, take that time to enjoy your family and friends!  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

p.s.  If you really want to save time in the kitchen, pick out a dish that you can make in the crock pot.  Click here to get an idea or two for a time-saving recipe your family will love!  Or check out even more Holiday Meal Recipes you can turn into your own new family favorites.

p.p.s.   Check out the all new  Crock Pot Cooking Made Simple for even more crock pot cooking tips and recipes.

Cook Up A Little Pampering For Yourself – Fuzzy Wuzzy Wednesday

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

spa candle websizeAs you know, I’ve been talking a lot about cooking for the holidays.  We tend to take our feasting seriously as we celebrate our traditional holiday seasons.  Cooking up a storm can take a toll on the chef of the house.  There is a great deal of planning and preparation which often leaves us too weary to give ourselves a much needed break.  That’s too bad because we need to enjoy the holidays as much as the people we are feeding.

How about cooking up a little something for yourself this week?  As you go through your recipes for your holiday meals, why not sneak a recipe or two in for some personal indulgences?  I’ve got a few favorites that I’d like to share right here:

Milk Lotion

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup dried chamomile (can use pure chamomile tea)
  • 4 Tablespoons honey
  • 6 to 8 teaspoons wheat germ

Pour milk into double boiler over low heat.  Add chamomile, cover, and allow to simmer slowly over low heat for 2 hours.  Pour through a strainer to remove any remaining dried chamomile.  Add wheat germ and honey to liquid, and mix well.  Use as a soothing, moisturizing, lotion over dry skin. Lotion stays fresh in the refrigerator for one week.  It feels good when it’s cool, too.

Oatmeal Body Scrub

  • 2 Tablespoons rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons aloe vera  (substitute honey if you can’t get aloe vera)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Put rolled oats in blender and blend into a very fine powder. Place oats in small mixing bowl. Add brown sugar and lemon juice.  Mix well.  Once mixed, add aloe vera and stir into a paste being sure there are no lumps. Dampen the skin you will be applying paste to and massage paste onto skin. Rinse with warm water.  Feels especially good on dry legs, knees, and elbows.  This scrub does not keep well so only make what you’ll be using. Double the recipe to use over more of your body.

There are many little potions and lotions that you can create in your own kitchen.  Click here to find even more delightful luxuries.  Then, take a little time out of your cooking and whip up a batch of pampering potions just for you!  Enjoy your day!

Holiday Recipes All In One Place – Tidy Tuesday

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Recipe box webA few months ago I started sorting my recipes.  Not only was I sorting them, but I began to put them into old photo albums that I found at the thrift stores.  You can read the thought process I used to create this system of tidying up recipes by clicking right here.

This was going quite well, although I must admit it is a work in progress.  There is no way I can sit down at one time and organize all my recipes.  It was, and is, a massive project.

Then the holidays started sneaking up on me and I began, once again, to dig through both my organized and my loose recipes.  That’s when I realized that my project of tidying up my recipes was a bit flawed in some ways.  Although I designed a page in the photo albums for my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, I realized I should have started an entire picture album for holiday recipes.

So, this is my project for today and probably tomorrow, and maybe even next week, too.  I’ll be creating one picture album for just those recipes that I will be cooking over the coming holidays.

There are two reasons to do this:  1) The recipes are all in one place, where I know I can get them every year; and 2) When it’s time to pass on my family recipes, I can do so by handing over a whole book.

Don’t forget to ask for the recipes for dishes that are traditionally brought to your dinner by members of your family.  Most folks will be likely to share their recipe when they know it will appear in your “Holiday Cookbook.”

Now is the perfect time to get your own personal Holiday Cookbook together since you’re already piling up your recipes.  A quick trip to your family dollar store or thrift store should get you at least one or two of those sticky pages style of photo album, or even some of the plastic sleeve style.  Either way, you’ll find a few of the old style photo albums to your liking at reasonable prices now since the craze for photo albums is scrapbooking with acid free paper.

This time next year, I will not have to dig in my box of recipes or page through my recipe books in search of those holiday dishes.  Instead, I will reach for my very own personal Holiday Cookbook and be all ready to get cooking!  Hope you get your recipes organized and enjoy a pleasant holiday cooking season!

p.s.  Once the holidays are past, you’ll probably get the urge to get things ready for Spring.  With just a few Spring Cleaning Tips For Mom you’ll be all set to tackle the winter dust and dirt when Spring fever takes hold!

Holiday Meals Stretched To Fit Your Budget – Frugal Challenge

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Thanksgiving TableWith Thanksgiving right around the corner, I seem to be focused on cooking.  I’m gathering my favorite recipes and looking for some new ones that could become family favorites.  One of the challenges for many families, especially this year, is creating a feast on a limited budget.  Even though turkey prices are usually reasonable, like most families, I’m looking at a variety of side dishes to round out the table and fill up our tummies.

Last week I talked about making dishes that are more creative for your guests who are vegetarian.  If you’d like to read about serving beautiful meatless main dishes, click here.

The same theory applies to the side dishes served with a turkey as the centerpiece of your meal.  Just because you’re looking for frugal dishes to make doesn’t mean those dishes have to be sparse looking or tasting.

What are some of the classic side dishes you enjoy at Thanksgiving time?  If the famous Green Bean Casserole is on your menu, you’re in luck.  There are many variations to this dish that will spruce it up a bit, making it more of a centerpiece in the meal.  Add extra crunch with water chestnuts or almonds.  Spice it up a little more with a dash of soy sauce.  You could stretch this classic dish out a little further by adding flavored croutons to give it more of a casserole appearance and texture and less of a green bean side dish.  Think of your Green Bean Casserole as more than a side dish – think of it as a guest of honor on your table.

Don’t forget to make extra stuffing when you stuff the bird.  A bit of extra stuffing cooked in a casserole dish adds a lot more mileage to your feast.  Kids especially will love filling up on this inexpensive side dish.  Pass some more gravy and you’ve got another full plate, and full tummy!

And, what about those mashed potatoes?  They’re yummy with just a bit of gravy, true, but you could turn them into a glorious creamy casserole instead.  By whipping in some sour cream, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, half-and-half, some chives, or whatever else you can think of.  Your once plain ol’ mashed potatoes are now ready for their close-up!  These potatoes take center stage on any holiday table when topped off with a little butter and a sprinkle of paprika.

Serving dinner rolls to help stretch your food budget is smart, but putting cranberry muffins or pumpkin muffins on your table is even better.  I know many people who will pass up a regular dinner roll but will help themselves to a couple flavorful muffins when they are passed around the table.  Muffins are easy and inexpensive to make and will stretch your food budget without anyone noticing – or caring!

Pumpkin pie is a classic, but you really can’t stretch it very far.  If your dinner guests are dessert fanatics, try a pumpkin cake in addition to your pumpkin pie.  You can serve quite a few people with one cake, stretching that food budget even further.

When you plan your Thanksgiving or other holiday meal, keep in mind that you can stretch your budget by serving side dishes that are economical, but more importantly, that are a feast for the eye and the tummy!  If your guests can’t resist helping themselves to more of your side dishes, you will accomplish what you set out to do – serve a glorious and plentiful meal at an affordable cost.  And that’s something to be thankful for!

p.s.  If you are looking for a recipe for a perfectly roasted turkey click here.

p.p.s.  You may want to review a whole list of recipes to find even more side dishes to stretch your holiday food budget.  Just click here for some tasty holiday recipes that could become your new family favorites.

Honor Your Vegetarian Guests At The Holiday Dinner Table – Fuzzy Wuzzy Wednesday

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Autumn HarvestNutritious and delicious meals are important to everyone when feeding a hungry family.  However, food is more than nutrition for many people.  If you’re like me, cooking a beautiful meal is one of the ways that I show love.  Cooking makes me feel good.

Our holiday meals feature a traditional stuffed turkey as the centerpiece of the meal.  Then we surround the bird all the fancy fixings.  I’ve shared some thoughts last week about how to choose your holiday turkey – if you’d like to read it just click here.  Then come on back and I’ll tell you what that post got me thinking about.

As I was writing about choosing a turkey, I thought back on several holiday meals at which we had guests who were vegetarian seated at our table.  These guests were wonderfully polite and dug into all the vegetable dishes we had available, and there was quite an array.  But, here’s my thought – why should our vegetarian guests be limited to eating our standard side dishes?  Why can’t we create dishes that are more appealing, make more of a statement than a plate of, for instance, green bean casserole and mashed potatoes?

This year I am dedicating myself to making ALL my guests feel as special as I feel having them around my table.  I’m working on some “bountiful” dishes that will qualify as fancy vegetarian main dishes for our holiday meals.  I’ll share what I have so far with you so you can start developing a plan for your own vegetarian dishes.

Lentils & Pumpkin Curry with Apples

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp. Canola oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced

Cook lentils in water gently over medium-low heat for 45 minutes.  Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.

Heat oil in large sauce pan, add onion and cook over medium-low heat until onion starts to get transparent.

Add the following ingredients to large saucepan with onion:

  • 1 small can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 3 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper

Now, stir in the drained lentils and add 2 1/2 cups of the reserved liquid.

Add the following list of ingredients and continue to cook over low heat until vegetables are just fork tender, not mushy.  This should take around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how low you let this simmer:

  • 2 cups of diced pumpkin (make sure it’s the cooking kind and not the jack o’lantern kind) or other winter squash that you like will be good too.
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes or may like to use red potatoes.  Just scrub the potatoes, do not peel, and coarse dice.
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, just the florets only cut into bite size pieces.
  • 1 or 2 carrots, peeled and diced.

Now stir in the following ingredients and let cook for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Be sure you don’t let this cook too long.  You want the greens to be just wilted and the apples to be just fork tender, and not turn into applesauce.

  • 2 tart crisp apples that are a good size.  Wash but do not peel.  Just core and coarse dice.
  • 2 cups fresh chopped greens (kale, spinach, or what have you).  I like kale because it stands up better than spinach does.

Serve in a pretty serving dish on a bed of brown and wild rice.

Here’s how you can make this dish even prettier.  Serve it in a baked pumpkin or other winter squash “bowl.”  Bake a pumpkin by cutting off the top to form a “lid” and scooping out the seeds and stringy stuff.  Set the pumpkin in a baking pan and put a little bit of water in the pan.  Place a sheet of foil over the opening in the pumpkin and place the “lid” on the top of the foil.  You may want to wrap the “handle” with a little foil to keep it from burning up.  Bake your pumpkin in a 375 degree oven for about an hour, but check it at 45 minutes by sticking a fork inside to see if the flesh is soft. Keep the pumpkin bowl warm until your dish is completed.

Here’s another spin on a traditional dish, especially for Thanksgiving.

First Thanksgiving Succotash In Butternut Squash Boats

Wash and cut lengthwise 2 medium butternut squash.  Scoop out the insides and bake cut side down on a baking pan with a drizzle of canola oil covering the bottom of the pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes or until fork tender.  Remove and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and saute these ingredients until the onion just starts to get transparent:

  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced small
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced

Now, add to the large saucepan the following ingredients, and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally:

  • 2 cups frozen baby lima beans
  • 2 cups frozen corn.
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of nutmeg

When the baked squash has cooled down, carefully scoop out some of the flesh from the skins, being sure to leave the shells intact for filling.  If that means you have to leave some flesh in the shells, that’s okay.  Chop the flesh that you’ve removed and add to the saucepan.  Mix together, then scoop the mixture back into the baked butternut squash shells.  Top with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Place the stuffed squash underneath the broiler (about 6 inches) away and allow to brown, about 4 or 5 minutes should do it.

These dishes are pretty and festive, yes, but more importantly they are main dishes, not sides.  These dishes are not an afterthought; they honor your vegetarian guests just like your vegetarian guests honor you by accepting your invitation to share a special holiday meal.

Choosing harvest vegetables, beans, lentils, and colorful brown and wild rice, will give you plenty of opportunities to create dishes that will not only please your guests, but will make you feel good about feeding them!

That is why I chose this topic for Fuzzy Wuzzy Wednesday, because the holidays are all about making our family and friends, and ourselves, feel good inside!  I hope you have a great day today and a warm and wonderful holiday season.

Perfect Time To Clear Out The Toy Clutter – Tidy Tuesday

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Legos websizeYesterday I talked about creating a strict budget for Christmas gifts.  That got me thinking about the toys in our house.  Spending money on more toys when the toy room is already full-to-overflowing seems rather foolish.  When I stop to think about it, some of those toys never see the light of day anymore.  Because I’m starting my gift list, I thought this would be the perfect time to reassess the toys in the house.

Before you start making your gift budget and list, it seems wise to figure out what toys you have that your child is not playing with, and question why the toy is not being used.  The following are general categories that I find most toys fall into.  Start in the toy room by sorting all the toys into these four categories:

Broken Toys – It can be difficult to fix or repurpose broken toys.  However, if you have the creativity to use the leftover pieces of a long lost game or puzzle, then by all means go ahead and create!  You can make very cute picture frames out of puzzle pieces, for instance.

Batteries Missing – This is a common reason that a toy may be discarded, especially if a child is not old enough to know that the toy quit working because it needs a battery.  As you clear out the clutter in the toy room, check each battery operated toy that is in good condition and see if it needs fresh batteries.

Ignored Toys – If a toy is in good condition but has lost its appeal it could be for several reasons.  The child may have outgrown the toy, the child may have changed interests, or, if the clutter in the toy room has gotten out of hand, the child may simply not be able to find the toy.  In this case, clearing out the clutter in the toy room can reap some real rewards!  New toys… well at least newly discovered.

Unopened Toys – These somehow got missed during gift giving time I presume.  For whatever reason, you have just hit the jackpot, as long as your children have not outgrown them entirely.  Hide them away safely and you’ve got some extra gifts.

Once you’ve sorted the toys into these groups, grab some boxes.

Starting with the broken toys, make a decision about whether you want to save any of the pieces for craft projects, etc., and discard the rest in an appropriate manner.  Broken toys are not welcome by charities as they can be dangerous and, basically, no fun.

The toys that are battery operated should be sorted to see which ones you want to keep, and which ones should be sold or donated.  For the toys you keep, add up the batteries you need, listed by the type of battery, and add that to your shopping list for the next time you run an errand.  Keep in mind that if you’re going to be selling any of the toys either at a garage sale or on an auction site, you may need to buy new batteries to guarantee the toy works.  Depending on where you donate your toys, you may need to prove the toy works before they take it.  In that case you’ll need fresh batteries for those donated toys.  In other circumstances, you may be able to donate toys without proving they work, in which case you would just want to be sure you remove the dead batteries from those donated toys.

The ignored toys need to be sorted as to whether they were outgrown, lost interest, or couldn’t find.  You can simply reintroduce the child to the toys that were just buried among the clutter.  If the toys have been outgrown they should be boxed up and either sold or donated.  You may want to set the toys aside that your child has lost interest in and bring them out again in a couple months.  If the child still has no interest, then box up those toys and get rid of them.

Unopened toys should be hidden away quickly.  This is your secret toy stash to use for Christmas time or anytime you need a gift for your child.  You can also re-gift if you’re careful and don’t give it back to the person who gave it to you.  This may be touchy, so just keep that in mind.  If your child has outgrown the toy that is unopened, you may consider selling it on an auction site or donating it to a hospital or other charity.

Now that you have a good idea of what is actually in your child’s toy room, you can help Santa plan for his Christmas shopping!  Clearing out the toy clutter before Christmas may produce some pleasant surprises, saving you a lot of money and headaches by eliminating those duplicate toy purchases.

I hope this project not only helps you clear out the toy clutter you’ve been accumulating, but also helps you with your gift list, and budget, for Christmas.

Start Planning Christmas Gift Shopping – Frugal Challenge

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Christmas Wrapped Gifts websizeIt may seem a bit early to be thinking about shopping for Christmas gifts, but, if you’re like me, trying to save as much money as I possibly can, you should probably start today.  Planning a more affordable Christmas this year doesn’t have to mean cutting out all the gifts, decorations, food, and fun.  You just need to start early, use your creativity, and base your shopping on good judgment.

Christmas time is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration.  If you are burdened with debt because you overspent on gifts, your heart will not be light and full of good cheer.  Those expensive gifts can become a burden that strips away the joy of the season.

Let’s look at some basic strategies for slashing the overspending that can occur at Christmas time.

Plan Your Gift Budget – This is so basic you would think that most people already do this, but many don’t, and that is where the trouble starts.  Don’t start with a gift list, start with writing down exactly how much you can afford to spend on Christmas gifts this year.  Don’t forget that you’ll need to budget for the rest of your Christmas expenses, too.  Things like decorations and food need to be budgeted for, so keep the total expense in mind.

Make Your Gift Recipient List – Write down everyone you normally buy a Christmas gift for.

Remove Some People From That List – This may seem a bit difficult, but you are almost guaranteed that after you go through your list, you’ll find someone that you really don’t need to buy a gift for this year.  If it makes you more comfortable, just move their names to the bottom of the list so you can remember to do something for them, even if that doesn’t involve buying a gift.

Plan Dollar Amount For Each Recipient – Write a dollar amount behind each name that you now have on your list, then add it up.  Are you outside your budget for gifts?  You’ll need to go back then and rethink each amount and adjust the figures until it fits within your gift budget.

Make Your Gift List – Now you can go through your list of names and start jotting down ideas for each person.  Because you’ve created a budgeted dollar amount for each individual, your ideas now have a limit.  The problem most people get into when they shop for gifts is that they create a gift list with gift ideas first instead of dollar amounts first.  To save your budget, always start your gift list with the dollar amount to be spent for each gift recipient.

Start Your Shopping Early – Yes, there are some great bargains to be found as you get closer to Christmas, but the panic that sets in usually ends up costing us more than we planned.  Last minute shopping narrows your choices.

Re-Think Gift Shopping – Consider more inventive options for at least some of the names on your list.  Shop smart and thrifty by looking through bargain basements and resale shops.  Yes, even a trip through the second-hand stores may prove to be rewarding.  You’ll never know what kind of fun and funky finds you’ll come across.  For instance, you might find great vintage jewelry that would be just right for a teenager.  You may even stumble upon some antique books.  And, what little princess wouldn’t like a big box of sparkly gowns to play dress-up in?  You’ll find racks of bejeweled, lacy, and shimmery dresses on the bridal and special events racks in most larger thrift shops.  Check it out before you head to the mall.

Homemade Gifts – If you are creative, if you can follow a pattern, if you can cook, or if you just have a desire to make something nice, put your skills to work and make a gift.  Something as simple as a pretty jar filled with bath salts can be just the right gift to give a friend in need of a relaxing moment. Gifts made from the heart are always appreciated.

Leave Yourself Off Your Gift List – If you’re tempted to buy yourself stuff while you’re shopping for gifts, you’ll need to give yourself a stern talking to!  There are so many lovely things out there in the store aisles and they all seem to be calling your name.  That is what is called “marketing to the impulse shopper.”  If you have no control, give your list to someone else who has more self-control and is willing to do your shopping for you.  Know yourself and avoid this pitfall.  Your budget can’t take it!

This is my frugal challenge to you.  Hold onto the joy of Christmas gift giving by setting your gift budget within your means.  Don’t go into debt in order to give gifts that you cannot afford.  Your family and friends would not like it if they knew their gift caused you a hardship.

How To Make A Candy Wreath – Frugal Fun Friday

Friday, November 6th, 2009

If you’re heading to the stores right now, you’ll see all sorts of Halloween candy on sale. Grab a few bags and turn then into a beautiful Christmas decoration (or gift for that matter).

Tawra and Jill from Living On A Dime put this video and free report together for you. Scroll down below the video to download your pdf report with plenty of pictures on how to make this cute wreath. You’re welcome to share the report with family and friends.

Pretty, isn’t it? Here’s your free report with step by step instructions on how to make this wreath.

Candy Christmas Wreath (pdf)

To save it to your computer, right-click on the link above and choose “Save As” or “Save Target As”.

Don’t forget to visit LivingOnADime.com for more frugal tips and ideas. While you’re there, take a look at their extensive collection of frugal living ebooks. I own every single one of them and am a big fan. By implementing what I’m learning from these girls, I can ususally make up the ebook price in savings in about a week.

Ditch Your Debt - Save Money and Get Out Of Debt! Living On A Dime E-book Extravaganza package- Retail Price – 11 e-books for $45.00

The Living On A Dime E-book Extravaganza package – 11 e-books for $45.00. The e-books included in this offer (Money Management, Grocery Savings, Cleaning Cents, Kids Cents, Debt Free Holidays, Menus On A Dime, Quick Dinners, Plan Ahead Leftovers, Pretty For Pennies, Moving On A Dime and Gifts In A Jar) are also available separately and are described below.

Click Here to learn more about The Living On A Dime E-book Extravaganza package.

Shop Goodwill On The Internet – Fuzzy Wuzzy Wednesday

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Goodwill websizeDoes it make you happy when you shop at thrift stores and find really great bargains?  Do you especially feel good when money spent on those bargains help provide services for people in need?

Charity and non-profit organizations like Goodwill Industries do just that.  When you shop at a Goodwill store, your money goes directly into programs like job training and job placement for folks who need help finding work due to disabilities or other barriers to employment.

I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a vital service, one which benefits everyone in a way.  Working folks are happier, healthier, and feel a sense of purpose and connection with their neighbors.  Our communities thrive when the population is productively employed.

This all sounds great, but what if you don’t have a Goodwill thrift store in your town?  How can you shop and contribute?

Here’s how… Goodwill Industries has their very own auction-type website.  It’s called ShopGoodwill.com and is operated by Goodwill of Orange County, California.  Participating Goodwill stores from all over offer a wide variety of items for auction; items from antiques to housewares to clothing.  New and nearly new items are pulled from their inventories of donated goods and placed on the auction site to sell.  Because Goodwill is so large, the resources for these items is enormous.

This is not a small charity or a small auction site.  Goodwill’s presence extends to five continents, and in 2005 alone, Goodwill Industries International and its affiliates served over 846,000 individuals.

Just like shopping at a Goodwill store, the money you spend at ShopGoodwill.com supports programs designed to help people with disabilities and other barriers to employment who are otherwise left out of society – programs like education, training and job placement.

How does the ShopGoodwill.com auction website work?  Similar to eBay, but your money is going to charity.

Start by scrolling around the items you are most interested in just to whet your appetite.  I guarantee you’ll see something that appeals to you.  For me, it was the wonderful cast iron Dutch ovens, griddles, and skillets.  There were even a few enameled cast iron casserole dishes.  Once I was sufficiently impressed, I just clicked on the “Sign-in” button, clicked on “I’m a New User”, and followed the simple instructions to register.

Of course, you’ll see some expensive antiques, art work, and jewelry, but you’ll also find things like a $10 Sunbeam Mixmaster, a $9 Pampered Chef baking dish, and even a vintage wedding gown for under $20!

The shipping should be factored in as you know, but seems to be what you would expect to pay.  But, it may be worth the cost to ship if you find something that you haven’t been able to find locally; maybe a missing piece from a set of dishes that you would like to complete.

Take a break from your busy day, click on ShopGoodwill.com, and start with a little window shopping.  When you see something that interests you, go ahead and register.  It will only take a minute or two and you’ll feel good the rest of the day, knowing the purchases you make are doing more than supporting a business… your purchases are supporting a community.

p.s. If you’ve gotten the urge to visit your local thrift shops now, before you start click here to read a few tips about when to shop and what to look for when you go.

10 Steps To Get Your Freezer Ready For The Season – Tidy Tuesday

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

sponge and rag websizeOur freezer is somewhat ignored all summer.  With the exception of popsicles and ice for slushies, we don’t see the inside of our freezer very often during the lazy days of summer.  We are more likely to be eating right out of the garden than out of the freezer.

Then, when winter approaches, we start “putting by” a bit more and cooking big hearty soups, stews, and casseroles.  We normally start cooking for the freezer just as the last of the garden crops are being harvested.

The harvest just happens to coincide with holiday cooking time, and my plans very often involve making meals specifically to stock the freezer during the holidays.  I want a stack of casseroles ready to grab and cook when our family gets busy with the holiday festivities.  It’s also nice to have your freezer ready for baking and freezing bread, muffins, cookies, and other treats.  And, you know you’ll need to have your freezer ready for those big turkeys!  And, of course, I’ll be planning for lots of leftovers so we’ll need to prepare for that, as well.

This is a good time, then, to give the freezer a thorough cleaning to get it ready for the season.  Here are the steps I’ve found work best for me when I clean my freezer before the winter “cooking season.”

Step 1 – Plan ahead to eat anything you can fit into your menu plan before you begin.  The less food you have in your freezer the less stressful this project will be.  If you have delicate items, things that will melt quickly, you will want to eat those items or give them away rather than let them melt during the time you are washing out the freezer. You may need to give yourself a week or so to clear some of the food out, or you may be looking at an already fairly empty freezer.  Either way, this planning stage will make your task go quite a bit easier.

Step 2 – Gather your cleaning supplies.  You will want a bucket, some good clean rags, some old towels, a shallow pan like a cake pan, and possibly a plastic paint scraper if you are trying to remove ice build up.

Step 3 – Grab your coolers, boxes, newspapers, or old blankets to store any food you have in the freezer for the time this project will take.

Step 4 – Unplug your freezer and start removing the food items, putting them into your short-term storage solution; your coolers or boxes.  If you know someone who can store your food items in their freezer, that helps to ease some of the pressure to hurry and get the job done.  But, you’ll still need to put the food into something in order to transport it.  Remove the baskets and set those aside.

Step 5 – Even though this isn’t really a separate step, I like to highlight the importance of this part of the process.  As you are filling your temporary storage boxes and coolers with frozen food, you’ll be culling out any food that is damaged somehow; freezer burned, frost coated, opened, and the inevitable “mystery packages.”  Better safe than sorry – if you don’t know what it is or how long it’s been in the freezer, you don’t want to feed it to your family.

Step 6 – If you don’t have much ice build up on your freezer, just leaving the lid open will get things started pretty quickly so this shouldn’t take you very long.  However, if your freezer has a thick coating of ice, you may want to take your bucket, fill it with warm to hot water, and just gently trickle the water over the sides, melting the ice as you go.  You can use a plastic (notice plastic) wide paint scraper to encourage the ice to let go of the sides.  NEVER use an ice pick – you will puncture the wall, rendering your freezer useless.

Step 7 – Once the built up ice has been dislodged from the sides of the freezer, you can then drain the water out of the bottom of the freezer.  You’ll see a drain with a plug in it.  Once you find that, you’ll want to put some old towels or rags around the floor to catch any spills.  Then, set your shallow cake pan under the drain to catch the water, and then remove the plug.  If you have a lot of water, you may need to put the drain plug back in, dump the water, and keep doing the same thing until the bottom of the freezer no longer has a lot of sitting water.  Some freezers have the fitting for, and suggest the use of, a hose attachment to quickly and easily drain the water.

Step 8 – Fill your bucket with warm, soapy water.  Take your clean rags and gently wash down the sides and then the bottom of the freezer.  You may want to drain the freezer again, and then repeat washing, depending on what condition the freezer was in.  Do this washing as often as necessary, draining the bottom of the freezer after each time.

Step 9 – Now, fill the bucket with clean warm water, and using fresh rags, give the inside of the freezer a good rinsing.  Repeat this as many times as necessary, draining the water in the bottom of the freezer after each rinse.  Some folks like to add a little white vinegar to the final rinse water to freshen up the freezer.  Baking soda works well, too.  Either way, decide on your final rinse, and drain the freezer for a final time.

Step 10 – Dry the inside of the freezer with clean, dry rags or towels.  Be sure you dry the freezer thoroughly to discourage ice from forming immediately when you plug in the freezer again.  Wipe down the baskets if you need to with clean water, then re-install.  You’re done!  All you need to do now is get your frozen food back in the freezer and plug it in.

Now, doesn’t that feel great?  You know what you have in the freezer;  you know the freezer is as clean as a whistle; and you are now ready to cook up a storm.  I hope your “cooking season” is a great success!

p.s.  Some folks freeze water in milk or juice jugs before they clean their freezer.  These big blocks of ice help a less-than-full freezer reach the temperature required to keep the food frozen after the freezer is plugged back in after it has been cleaned.  It also helps a somewhat empty freezer operate more efficiently.  Running an empty or next-to-empty freezer is not economically sound.  Give this some thought when you develop your strategy to clean your freezer.

I know it’s a long way from spring, but I’m sure once you get your freezer smelling all fresh and clean you’ll want some more ideas.  Click on Spring Cleaning For Mom and see what we’ve got in store for next year!

Plan Wisely When Investing In Your Holiday Turkey – Frugal Challenge

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

TurkeyAccording to information from the folks at Butterball, about 90% of Americans cook a turkey for Thanksgiving and about 50% of Americans cook a turkey for Christmas.  That’s a lot of turkeys being consumed over the holidays to say the very least.

Turkeys are normally a very frugal choice for holiday meals.  Price per pound is typically very attractive so you can feed a lot of people for very little money.  But, how do you know what size turkey to buy?  You don’t want to plan too small and feel like you passed up a real deal, but you don’t want to plan too big and end up being stressed out about wasting leftovers.

Enter our friends at Butterball.com.  With a little help from their turkey experts, we’re going to give you some guidelines as to the size of turkey you should consider.  For simplicity, we’re going to assume that everyone would like to have leftovers.  Here are just a few examples:

  • For a guest list of 4 adults and 2 kids, you’ll want to cook about a 7 pound turkey, using around 5 cups of stuffing.  If you are big eaters, go up to a 10 pound turkey and stuff it with about 7 cups of stuffing.
  • If you are serving 4 adults and 6 kids, and there aren’t really big eaters in the bunch, you’ll be looking for a 10 pound bird and stuff it with about 7 cups of stuffing.
  • What if you have a house full with 6 adults and 12 kids, and you’re all big eaters?  You’re looking at a whopping 24 pound turkey with about 18 cups of stuffing.

You also may want to consider alternatives to cooking one large bird.  If you have the oven space, you can choose two smaller turkeys and cook them together.  The advantage is more drumsticks, more thighs, more breasts, more wings… well, you get the idea.  If you choose this method, be sure you have two roasting pans that fit side-by-side in your oven, leaving room around the sides for the heat in the oven to move around freely.

Once you decide what size turkey or turkeys to buy, your frugal planning continues.  If you bought a turkey with leftovers in mind, it’s time to get out your recipes and lay out your plan of attack.  Cooking a 24 pound turkey and not having a strategy for leftovers means turkey sandwiches for weeks.  This is what produces that dreaded moment when you have to throw away food.

To prevent the “leftover panic” start by taking all the leftover meat off the bird and put it all into nice zip lock bags and set in the refrigerator.  Once the good meat has been packaged up, scrape all the leftover fat, skin, bones, and the entire carcass into a big soup pot.  Set that in the refrigerator if you don’t have time to boil it for stock right away.

In order to keep on track with this leftover turkey, get busy as soon as possible boiling the bones for stock and separating the meat into packages for recipes.

I’ve included a very simple stock recipe so you won’t have to put that off too long!  Here it is:

Classic Turkey Stock

  • Put turkey carcass and all leftover fat, skin, and bones, in big soup pot – cover with fresh cold water.

Add to soup pot:

  • yellow onion or onions – scrubbed clean but not peeled – cut in half
  • celery – 1/2 a bunch – use leafy tops
  • peppercorns – 8 or 16 depending on size of bird

Bring to boil, then immediately turn down to simmer slowly, gentle bubbles rising to the surface.  Put a lid on the pot loosely, tipped.  Let simmer for at least a couple hours, the longer the better.

Place a colander or large sieve in another big pot and pour through to strain off bones, vegetables, etc.  Pour stock into small containers and place in FREEZER to cool quickly.  If you want, keep some in the freezer and put some in the refrigerator, but not until the stock has been cooled completely in the freezer.

And, to help keep you on that frugal path, some simple recipe suggestions to use up the meat from the bird are listed here:

Turkey Veggie Stir Fry

Barbecued Turkey Oven Bake

Turkey and Swiss Calzone

Turkey Jalapeno Quesadillas

The frugal challenge when planning a holiday dinner is budgeting not only money, but the size of your meal.  You can do that if you plan the size of your bird ahead of time AND plan a strategy to use every last ounce of those leftovers.  You can get a lot of mileage out of a holiday turkey with a good plan of attack!