My Pantry: A Black Hole of a Mess

There comes a season for all things and Spring has somehow been named the season to clean. Too bad for Spring. Instead of fun, its claim to fame is work.Overloaded pantry

Well, in keeping with the spirit of Spring, I decided it was long past time to tackle the chaos in my pantry. As you can see from this photo, I’ve managed to ignore this chore for too many Springs. No longer. This year is it.

First thing was to take a trip to the dollar store. There is always an interesting array of baskets and bins that are ideal for organizing untamed stuff. I picked up a dozen assorted items in a lovely lime green and brought them home with pride in accomplishing this much. Secretly, I hoped the elves would come at night and finish the job. They didn’t.

Armed with my new bins and baskets, I faced the pantry and froze. Where do I start? I just didn’t know. There was just too much stuff. I needed an answer for the miscellaneous small items that jammed the shelves, most of which were spices and seasonings. My spice and seasoning organizer was already full and the overflow had no where to go.

The next thing I did was hit the Internet for an over-the-door shelf unit to store those small items. Once that came, I could revisit the pantry. I took out all the loose, small items that were cluttering the shelves and put them on the door unit. Eureka! I Created space. From there, I could move forward.

The next items I addressed were the canned goods. They were sorted into usable categories and stacked into bins. More space freed. Baking supplies were the next to succumb. A basket corralled powders and extracts nicely. Dry beans found a home. Pasta had a place. Things were really coming together.

As things were sorted, I found things that had been pushed to the back and lost for some time. Four packages of dried chilies surfaced from the depths. Only one was opened. Apparently, I couldn’t find them so I bought more. Not a very frugal thing to do.Dried Chili Peppers

I took some of those chilies and made some great enchilada sauce with them. I adapted a recipe from A Dish of Daily Life.

Enchilada Sauce


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons flour
4 dried Ancho chilies
2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste

Chop the dried chilies into small pieces. (The food processor works well for this.) Set aside
Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add carrots, onions, and garlic. Saute until soft. Stir in flour.
Add water slowly, stirring until well mixed. Add the chilies, oregano and cumin. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Allow to cool. Puree the sauce in the food processor, a blender, or with an immersion blender until smooth. Season with salt.
May be frozen.

Pantry

My pantry isn’t completely finished but it is so much more workable now. I can find things and I’m working on using things I have on hand to further reduce the clutter. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. I faced this challenge with only a little fear.

DIY Stuffing Mix: Not Just for Thanksgiving

DIY Stuffing MixMy favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is the stuffing. Maybe the pumpkin pie, too but mostly the stuffing. The meal is simply incomplete without it. I make a big batch every year and there’s always plenty of leftovers. This is one time I don’t worry about it because not a crumb will go to waste.

Bread stuffing is just too good to only have once a year. There are alternatives to homemade but packaged stuffing mixes are just short of awful, in my never humble opinion. They are loaded with salt and little else. In their defense, they are convenient.

A weeknight dinner doesn’t lend itself to lots of time-consuming cooking in most households. Even in my retirement, when time is not at such a premium, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on dinner. There are simply too many other things to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t want good food. It’s why I love this mix. It takes a couple hours to make but most of that time is waiting for the bread to dry in the oven.

I use the French or Italian bread I find on the clearance racks at the store. It’s usually half the price of a fresh loaf and perfectly good for this mix. Cubing the bread is a little tedious, but worth the effort.

This recipe comes from the book Make-A-Mix by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward, & Madeline Westover. If you like DIY mixes, it’s worth the effort to find a copy. I have to admit that mixes fascinate me and I’ve written about them before:

Five Frugal Things I’ve Done This Month

The Baking Mix Scoop

The original recipe calls for adding dried onions to the mix. I made them optional in my version because, if I make it for stuffing a chicken or a side dish, I want to add fresh onions to it. If I use it as part of a recipe, then it’s easy to add a bit of dry onion.

Herbed Stuffing Mix


30 slices firm-textured bread, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
2/3 cup cooking oil
3 tablespoons instant minced onion (optional)
3 tablespoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons garlic salt
3/4 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Put bread cubes in two 13×9 baking dishes. Toast the bread in the oven, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
Drizzle oil over bread cubes. Add onion (if using), parsley, garlic salt, sage, and pepper. Toss to combine.
Store in an airtight container. Use within 3-4 months.

The following is straight from the Make-A-Mix book. I’m sure you would only need half of this recipe to stuff a chicken.

Supper Stuffing


3/4 cup water or broth
7 cups Herbed Stuffing Mix
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 onion, diced
4 large stalks celery, chopped

In a large bowl, moisten stuffing mix with liquid.
Melt butter in a medium skillet. Saute onion and celery until tender. Combine with stuffing mix and toss lightly.
Mixture can be baked in a lightly buttered casserole for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

What mixes do you like to have in the pantry? Please leave a comment.

If It’s Expensive It Must Be Better

If It's Expensive, It Must Be Better

Check out any frugal living website and you’ll see that buying generic is the end-all way to go to save money. But is it? What if it’s awful and it gets tossed? How much have you saved buying that product? This doesn’t mean that buying more expensive products is the answer either. A name-brand product is not necessarily better. It might be but it might not.

According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, you can save about 30% per week on the average shopping trip buying generic or store brand products. That’s a significant savings and why wouldn’t everyone do this simple thing to save money?

Sometimes we justify buying more expensive products by telling ourselves that we get what we pay for. With enough thought on it, I’m sure we can convince ourselves of almost anything that will justify our actions. I read an article recently (without the foresight to bookmark it for reference) that stated that buying over the counter medications on sale reduces the effectiveness of the drug. Somehow, paying less translates in our head to lower quality even on identical items. I don’t agree. I feel fortunate when I find something I need on sale when I need it.

Probably the most dangerous position to our budget is telling ourselves that price equals quality to justify a purchase we can’t afford. Then, after spending more than we should have, we adopt a smug attitude and pat ourselves on the back for our shopping savvy. What a trap that thinking is!

If price does equal quality, then when something is in short supply, and the price is higher, it should be of higher quality. How could it? It’s the same item that is suffering some hiccup in supply and demand has increased the price. Yesterday, when the price was lower, it wasn’t a different product. Today, it’s the same product with a different price.

There are some products that you can be assured are as good as national brands because they are regulated. The Food and Drug Administration regulates things like medications, baby formula, and sunscreen. It is assured that these products are identical to the more expensive items next to them on the shelves. No one needs to question the quality and effectiveness of these products because it’s been done for us. Sometimes government intervention is a good thing.

So, what’s the answer about generics? Try them. Try them from different stores. Not all generics are equal. I learned decades ago not to buy the bargain canned tuna. It may be much better now, but it was so bad then (can you say inedible?) that I never bought it again. It’s not worth the savings for me to try it. I’m going to be stubborn on this.

There are some things that I just prefer the national brand. It’s not that the generic is so awful, like the canned tuna. It’s just that I prefer the taste of some products to the generic brands. Peanut butter is one of those products and, surprisingly, oatmeal and oat O’s cereal. Neither of those generic products taste as good to me as the national brand. If I was feeding a family, my attitude might be different and the savings would outweigh my personal tastes.

Where I find little difference is most canned items. Things like canned fruit, tomatoes, beans, and vegetables are close enough to their more expensive counterparts that I buy them almost exclusively. (OK, I have to admit that I rarely buy canned vegetables. I prefer frozen but there are some in my pantry.) I look for the low-salt or low-sugar varieties, and if the generic meets that qualification, it makes its way into the cart.

So, you might ask if there’s a point to all of this? Well, yes. In our pursuit to live well and still save money, generic products can help us along. They can also stop us short. Frugality is a lifestyle and, sometimes, it takes a bit of effort to find the frugal way that works for us. If it doesn’t work, we don’t do it and where are we then? Back to square one? Back to overspending?

Do you buy generics? Be sure to leave a comment.

5 Frugal Things I’ve Done This Month

5 Frugal Things I've Done This MonthLiving frugal is a lifestyle and I have been doing this a very long time. When I look back at things that I’ve done, it’s sometimes hard to remember frugal activities because they are so much a part of my everyday living. Here are just 5 of the things I’ve done this month.

1. New mixes for the pantry

Three mixing spoons

Mixing spoons

I love mixes. I love homemade mixes even more.

The first mix was for ranch dressing. Yum! It’s really good and so easy to do. I found this same recipe on several websites, so I can’t say for sure where I first located it.

Ranch Dressing Mix

Ingredients

1/2 cup dry buttermilk powder
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1 teaspoon dried chives
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together until well combined. Store mix in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To use: Mix together 1/4 cup ranch dressing mix, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk. Blend thoroughly.

The second mix I found Cooperative Extension Department at Utah State University. (This link will open a pdf file) I have used the SOS mix several times instead of canned soup and the recipes have come out very well. The cool thing is all the recipes that come with the basic mix. It really shows you how to use this mix.

Soup or Sauce Mix

Ingredients

2 cups powdered, non-fat milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon
2 tsp Italian seasoning (optional)

Directions

Combine 1/3 cup of dry mx with 1 1/4 cup of cold water. Whisk until thoroughly blended.
Cook and stir until thickened. (Stovetop or microwave)
Add to recipes as you would a can of cream soup.

2. Remembered the dollar store

I started giving my daughter a Valentine card when she was a little girl. She’s well into her thirties now, and I still get her a Valentine. We all know how expensive greeting cards can be but not at the dollar store. The savings is worth the trip. Plus, there’s a lot of other cool things at that store worth investigation.

3. Made broth

Bowl of homemade broth

Homemade Broth

I’ve made chicken broth many times but not with any regularity. A few months ago, I bought and Instant Pot. Of course, I read all kinds of things online about using my new gadget and one of the things I found was making broth. Now, I purposely make broth. I buy whole chickens, roast them, pull the meat from the bones and make broth from the carcasses. The leftover rotisserie chicken can also be used for broth. Of course, beef, pork, or turkey all make excellent broth.

Also, I’ve started saving vegetables in a freezer bag for vegetable broth. I’ve made one batch so far, and I’m pleased with the results. I put leftover vegetables, peels from carrots and potatoes, and little bits and pieces that result from preparing vegetables for a meal. It all goes in the pot and comes out wonderful broth. I bought 2 cup freezer containers (at the dollar store) to store my broth. The Instant Pot makes it easy to use frozen. Just thaw enough to remove from the container.

How to Make Instant Pot Broth

Put chicken or turkey carcass, beef or pork bones, or 4 to 6 cups of vegetable scraps into the Instant Pot. Fill with water to the 2/3 line. Set time for 1 hour at low pressure. Use natural release. Refrigerate broth overnight and then skim off any fat before storing.

4. Started my garden seeds

Seed Starting in Newspaper pots

Starting seeds for spring

Garden plants have become expensive. Spending $3 or more on a plant for the garden makes it more difficult to save money by gardening. I will still buy a few, but some are so easily started that it doesn’t make sense not to do it.
I first posted about starting seeds in Fearless Gardening. Make these useful seed-starter pots with these instructions here and here.

5. Shared a no-cost solution

I’m including this even though I didn’t save money by doing it. Someone close to me was paying a subscription site for audio books to listen to while she was jogging. I pointed her to her local library which has audio books available to borrow. This is about a $10 per month saving for her and a warm and fuzzy feeling about helping someone for me.

How did you live frugally this month? Be sure to leave a comment.

Don’t Toss It – Eat It

Don't Toss It--Eat It

Stop feeding the landfill

You are standing in front of the open door of your refrigerator when you spy a container near the back and you pull it out. Inside is a hairy, foul-smelling mess that was once food but now doesn’t resemble anything edible. We’ve all been there.

According to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), 30-40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. Astounding! Wasted food is also the single, largest component of our landfills. All of this waste costs approximately $165 billion each year. Imagine what we could do with that money.

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit organization, the average American throws away 300 pounds of food each year which costs us about $2200. That is almost $200 per month of loss. Imagine what we could do with that money.

If food takes up 10-15 percent of our household budgets, it just doesn’t make sense to throw so much away. In the coming weeks, I’m going to offer some solutions I have used for taming the leftover monsters.

One of the ways to get started using leftovers is to notice what you always have left over. I know, obvious. In my effort to cook for two, I sometimes end up with a third serving. This usually is the result of using a whole can of something instead of a partial, which would just spoil in the refrigerator, I’m sure. One of the things I have done is to take that leftover serving to work as my lunch. Since I am now retired and I’m watching my calories, I don’t eat much for lunch anymore. So there the container sits.

To get started, here’s my recipe for Stuffed Pepper Soup. It seems I always have a little bit of rice leftover and it’s not very good reheated. It does work very well in soup. This recipe is also a good use of a green pepper that is a little wrinkled and, instead of canned tomatoes, over ripe tomatoes peeled and diced would work very well.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: ”Easy”
  • Print

Ingredients


½ pound ground beef
½ cup diced onion
1 green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14 ounce can beef broth
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/8 teaspoon Allspice
¾ cup cooked rice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Brown ground beef. Add onion, green pepper, and garlic. Sauté until tender. Stir in tomatoes and beef broth. Add seasonings. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until flavors have blended. If you have an Instant Pot, 5 minutes on high pressure is all you need for this soup. Add in rice. Cook another 1-2 minutes to heat and soften rice.

What’s your favorite way to use leftovers? Be sure to leave a comment.

Fall’s First Chore

We started on the first of our fall chores this weekend by tackling the windows. (See Cleaning up for Fall) It’s truly a chore because you just can’t wash the windows. You have to move any furniture, plants, and all other things that are placed in front of the windows on the inside. The screens need to be removed, cleaned and repaired if necessary. After all that, you can wash the windows. Of course, they are two-sided so the work is doubled.

I saw this formula several months ago and vowed to try it whenever we got around to the windows. It’s promise was to lessen the work, which I’m all for, and it did. The water sheeted off the windows and didn’t require wiping or the use of a squeegee. It’s important to hose off the windows prior to cleaning to remove as much dust and dirt as possible. Once the solution gets dirty, it doesn’t rinse off as well and leaves the windows smeared.

 

window

 

Here is One Good Thing by Jillee’s original recipe. I made mine loosely based on this, but simplified it by adding 1/4 cup of everything to the 2 gallons of water. It worked. I’m sold.

Homemade Streak-Free Window Cleaner

1/2 bottle of Dishwasher Rinse Aid (the bottle I bought was just under 7 ounces so I measured out 3.5 ounces)
4 Tablespoons isopropyl alcohol (I used 70%)
1/4 cup ammonia
1 handful of powdered dishwasher detergent (which depending on the size of your hand could probably vary quite a bit! I used a “handful” which looked to me to be about 1/4 cup. Give or take.)
2 Gallons of hot water

We Are In Good Company

I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out
–Jeff Bezo–

Frugality is founded on the principal that all riches have limits.
–Edmund Burke–

Without frugality none can be rich, and with it very few would be poor.
–Samuel Johnson–

“There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means.”
—Calvin Coolidge–

“The way to wealth is as plain as the way to market. It depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality: that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both. Without industry and frugality nothing will do, and with them everything.”
― Benjamin Franklin —

“He who will not economize will have to agonize”
―Confucius–