Monday, October 20, 2014

Master Shopping List

I'm constantly looking for ways to live a greener, simpler and more frugal (frugaler?) life. One of the tools I've come up with recently to help me toward this goal is my Master Shopping List. It's something I've been working on for quite some time, and I've finally got it down to a system that really works for me.

Now before I tell you about this, let me just say that I have tried several phone apps for this purpose, but none of them have worked well for me. I have a way of doing things, and none of the apps were a good fit. I know several people who use grocery apps and are very happy with them, but they really just don't work as well for me. I found that having a physical list works better for me, so I created a printed out master list to take with me on my errands.

Prior to creating my Master List, I would sit down each Thursday and make my menu plan for the week (I still do that part) and then I would write up a shopping list of all the things I needed to make that week's dinners, along with any staples we needed. I realized I was spending a lot of time writing the same things over and over each week, as, like most families, we do have a good many items that we purchase every (or almost every) week. I decided it might be easier to type up a Master List of all the things we buy regularly, and then just have space to add special items I need to buy on occasion. I put the list in a plastic page protector, so I can cross items off with a dry erase marker, then wipe it clean for the following week. I put my list on a cute little clip board, which fits easily in my purse.

I do my grocery shopping at three different stores each week, as I've figured out over time that this is the best way to stretch my grocery buck. I am fortunate to live in an area where all the stores I shop at are close by and en route to places I end up in my day-to-day travels, so shopping at three different stores isn't all that inconvenient for me. (I understand that this might not work for everyone... back when my kids were little, and errands where a bit more of a project, I did one-stop shopping once a week at one store, as the convenience factor outweighed the extra expense.) Since I shop in several places, I set my list up by store, with a post-it note, if needed, to add any additional items. I wanted something small, that I could slip ealiy into my bag, so I formatted the list to fit on a half-sheet of paper, which fits perfectly on the small memo-sized clipboard I picked up from the clearance bin at Staples.

This Master List saves me oodles of time, and it saves paper, as I'm not writing up a whole new list each week. My whole shopping routine just feels much more streamlined and efficient now.

Next post: a little update on our Winter Gardening! In addition to preparing for a cold frame, we've also set up a little indoor gardening area. Pics and details, soon!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Homemade Almond Butter

I absolutely love almond butter. I eat it on apples, with bananas, in cookies and sometimes I even have some on  toast. I think of almond butter as being like peanut butter's sophisticated cousin. (though don't get me wrong... I love peanut butter, too!)

Today I was in the mood for some almond butter, but there was none to be found in our fridge. I did have some raw almonds, so I decided to try to make some. I am so glad I did. Not only is it crazy easy to make nut butter, it's also cheaper. Store-bought almond butter is about $8 for a 12-oz jar, or about $.67 per ounce. The almond butter I made today cost about $.46 per ounce. Cost will, of course, vary depending on where you buy your nuts. I paid $6.29/lb, which I think is about average.

There is no recipe, as such, as turning those almonds into almond butter doesn't take much. All you need is your almonds and a food processor. If you want to get fancy, you can roast and salt your almonds first, but I'm an almond butter purist, so I just used mine as-is. Dump your almonds into your food processor and start 'er up. Stop now and then to scrape down the sides, then keep going.

After a few moments, your almonds will look like this:
It may seem impossible that this somewhat powdery meal textured stuff could ever be almond butter, but trust me, it will. Patience! Keep processing, and scraping, processing and scraping. Soon it will start to clump together a bit, like this:
Keep going! You're almost there. Just keep processing and scraping until it's creamy. When it looks good, try out some of your homemade almondy deliciousness, then put the rest in a jar in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks. 


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Planning our Four Season Garden

This is the time of year when the garden starts winding down. We just picked the last of our green beans, dug up the last batch of potatoes and picked the last cucumber. Earlier in the month we brought in the last of the zucchini and summer squash. While we still have quite a bit left to harvest (like tomatoes, carrots, beets, some late lettuce and other hardy greens) it's time to start clearing away the faded plants and start prepping the beds for a winter's rest.

We have a lot to do this year, to be prepared for next spring. Some of our raised beds are finishing their 6th year in use, and need to be rebuilt. We also have to take some steps to replenish the soil for next year. We'll do this by tilling the soil and planting some winter rye in the beds as a winter cover crop.

But there will be one bed that we will not be tucking in for the winter. We're going to try an
stack of old windows, just waiting
to be turned into a coldframe.
experiment this year... Winter gardening! We're going to reserve one bed to build a cold frame around, and we're going to try growing some hardy crops, like kale, cabbage and collards. I've been planning to do this for years, but just haven't gotten around to it! We have a whole stack of old windows in our garage that we're going to use to build the cold frame. It will be interesting to see how this experiment goes, as The Farmer's Almanac is predicting another really cold winter. With that forecast in mind, we may not keep it going through the whole winter, but I will be happy to just extend our growing season as long as possible.

In addition to the winter bed we'll have outside, we're also going to try to grow some things indoors, as well. We're planning to repeat our past Indoor Potato Experiment, though hoping for more success this time. I'm also trying to start a windowsill herb garden, though the cats seem determined to have their way with it.

I'm plan to have most of our set-up done in the coming weeks, before the first frost sets in. I'll be posting pics and updates on this project, so stay tuned!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Totally Indulgent Vegan Pumpkin Bread

Last post I gushed on about my love of pumpkin. What better way to indulge in this delicious Autumn flavor than with some warm, sweet, moist and delicious pumpkin bread?

My favorite recipe for pumpkin bread is not exactly "health food" as it does contain a good amount of sugar, but for a special treat this time of year it's just perfect. I use white whole wheat flour, but if you prefer to avoid wheat you could try substituting the gluten-free flour of your choice.

Totally Indulgent Vegan Pumpkin Bread

1-3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup pureed fresh pumpkin
3/4 cup raw sugar (I usually use either turbinado or sucanat)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/4 cup almond milk (or any non-dairy milk)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a loaf pan and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spice and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add in the oil and milk and stir until well combined. Add in the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Don't over mix. It will be a pretty thick batter. Scrape it into your prepared loaf pan, and smooth it out a bit with a spatula. If you want, you can sprinkle the top with a tiny bit of sugar. Bake in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanish, (as in, no wet batter, just moist crumbs)

This batter can also be used to make pumpkin muffins! Just spoon into muffin tins (3/4 full) and bake 15-20 minutes, for standard sized muffins.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Tis the Season for ALL Things Pumpkin. Everywhere you look, you'll find pumpkins spice this and pumpkin that. Even things that ought never be pumpkin flavored are jumping on the pumpkin wagon (Pumpkin spice GUM?!?)

While I would agree with those who say that folks do get carried away with Pumpkin Everything there IS a pretty good reason to get psyched about Pumpkin this time of year. Pumpkins are in season, cheap, plentiful and, when done right, absolutely delicious. Here are a few of my favorite ways to do pumpkin:

Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin Bread/muffins
Pumpkin butter
Pumpkin spice oatmeal
Pumpkin pancakes
Pumpkin ravioli

When pumpkin is in season, I usually get one or two pumpkins each week, and roast, puree and freeze them in pint jars. Then, whenever I need pumpkin for a recipe, I can just pull out a jar and thaw. While this is definitely a bit more work than just buying canned pumpkin, fresh pumpkin tastes so much better, and you'll save a ton of money prepping your own. As an example: a 14 to 15 oz can of pumpkin costs upwards of $3 or more for the organic brands. Today I cooked up two good-sized organic sugar pumpkins, which I paid $5 for. I ended up with two and a half quarts of pureed pumpkin, which is roughly the same as 5 or 6 cans. Such a bargain!

Coming soon... I'll be sharing a few more recipes of what to do with all this delicious in-season pumpkin!

Soon-to-be Pumpkin Bread

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Filling the Cabinet

Before I quit my job, I kept thinking about all the free time I would have once I wasn't working full time. But a funny thing happened, which is that since my last day of work I have been busier than ever. I get up between 5:30 and 6am, and I'm going-going-going all day long. I was talking about this with my friend Kristen, and she said it's like when you find yourself with an empty cabinet... you always manage to fill it up with stuff. I thought that was a perfect comparison!

Although my days are really busy, my life is vastly different than it was before. Prior to quitting my job (a very demanding, high-stress job) I felt like I was constantly being pulled in all directions. I was always worried that my kids weren't getting enough of my time, I hated that I didn't have time for creative pursuits and that I sometimes couldn't keep up with home tasks the way I'd have liked to. There were ALWAYS things I was supposed to be doing, whether it was stuff for work, stuff for the kids homeschooling or stuff around the house. I just couldn't ever seem to get everything done, no matter how early I got up and how many hours I worked. Because I felt so stressed, I was often short and grumpy with those I love, and that was not something I felt good about. I had a tremendous amount of guilt, that I was not "good enough" at my job, as a mom or as a partner.

Since quitting my job, there is a huge, noticeable absence of stress in my life. While I was working full-time, the stress was constant and menacing, and now, stress is but an occasional, temporary annoyance. I think there are several reasons for this. First of all, I no longer feel like I'm short-changing my kids. That was the hardest part of my former job... that it took so much of me, that there was little left for my family. I wanted to give more to my kids, and now, I can. In less than a month, I'm already feeling a big difference in my relationship with my kids.

So what am I doing to fill up my days, now that I'm not running a daycare? Well...

I've become much more active in my kids homeschool group.
I'm spending more time helping the kids with their schoolwork.
I'm driving my kids to lots and lots of classes, field trips and extra-curricular activities.
I'm making time to write, every single day.
I'm teaching an art class, and making plans to teach more classes in the future.
I'm taking care of my home and family, mindfully and happily.

Yes, I'm busy,  but mostly I'm busy doing things I WANT to do (like actively parenting, writing every day, making and teaching Art) and not things I HAVE to do (like endless tedious daycare paperwork and payroll taxes) Such a difference.

I think there is a lot of truth in the old saying, "If Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy." And right now, I am Happy. I feel SO incredibly Blessed and lucky to have been able to do this.

Life. Is. GOOD.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Autumn! (and a recipe!)

Wee pumpkins on our mantle, for Fall
Last night at 10:29pm was the Autumnal Equinox! That means that today is the first full day of Autumn. I really really love this time of year. I picked up some mums for the porch yesterday afternoon, and we celebrated with an Equinox Feast last night: Apple Cranberry Salad, Pumpkin soup, 13-grain bread and baked apples for dessert.  I meant to take a picture of our table, which we set with our fall-ish table cloth and some candles, but we were all STARVING after a super-busy day, so I totally forgot to take pics until we had already finished eating and the table no longer looked so pretty. Oh well.

But this brings me to the recipe I want to share! I had been planning to make my favorite creamy vegan pumpkin soup for our feast, but we had a full day of homeschool classes and such which had me out of the house until 5:45pm, so I feared I wouldn't have time to make it. So I decided to try making the pumpkin soup in the crock pot, immersion blender, added a can of coconut milk and it was good to go. It took me another five minutes to toss together the salad and slice the bread while the kids set the table, and dinner was ready by 6. I'm pretty sure that the combination of the crock pot and the immersion blender are going to change the way we make dinner here at the homestead. I'm imagining myself making all sorts of delicious crock pot soups and stews to get us through the winter.
and I'm SO glad I did! It really worked out well. I just tossed everything into the crock pot in the morning, and it simmered all day while we were going about our day. At dinner time I just pureed it right in the pot with my recently-acquired

Crock Pot Pumpkin Soup

2 medium onions, chopped in chunks
1 Tbsp olive oil
Good-sized sugar pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons curry powder (add more or less, depending how spicy you like it)
1  can of coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the crock pot on high, and toss in the onion and olive oil. Let cook until it starts to soften, stirring every so often while you prepare the pumpkin. Add the pumpkin, broth and spices, and set crock pot to low. Simmer for 6-8 hours, or until everything is soft.

When it's time for dinner, use an immersion blender to puree the soup (or you can puree it in a regular blender, in small batches) Add the coconut milk and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Serve with a big salad and crusty bread.