Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Dish: February Groceries Part 3

After factoring out the Costco diapers and furniture that left me with $21.37 to spend on groceries for the rest of the month. Could I do it? Probably not, but I would certainly try. The day before the big blizzard I went to The Country Store to pick up some necessities which set me back $21.73...ouch! I bought two dozen free-range eggs, 2 lbs. buckwheat flour, natural hot dogs (these were really interesting), pine nuts, 3 lbs. garbanzo beans, brown sugar and 4 lbs of sweet potatoes for .49/lb.! I went a bit crazy buying a bunch of things that we didn't really need.

On Saturday I bought 3 lbs. of crab legs from a local fishmonger for our traditional Valentines Day crab fest: $18.93 I have always wanted to say I went to a fishmonger. I don't know if I will go back there again because the owner was really rude to her employees showing a complete disregard of them or the customers, and that is very uncool in my book. Maybe she was having a bad day though, and as I learned from the Veggie Tales movie that I saw recently, "Everyone deserves a second chance."

Already I was over the budget by $19.29 and there were still two weeks left in the shortest/longest month of the year.

My last trip to the grocery store set me back only $69.29 and that was only food. Oh yes, and we needed dessert for one of our dinner parties, ice cream floats with 7 different kinds of "root" beers to choose from, and that total came to $16.27. Our grand total spending on groceries for the month: $304.85 which is $84.85 over budget. I think I need to do a little tinkering.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Little Dose of Ravenna: The Aunt Jemima

When I don't feel like spending time battling with my willful hair I just cover it up with a scarf or bandanna. Andrew, however, is not a fan of the look and started calling my hair covering, "The Aunt Jemima." Undeterred, I almost daily wear my "Aunt Jemima" head-dress and apparently Ravenna took notice:

Check my baby girl out! She totally did this one herself with a bandanna I had forgotten to untie. How awesome is this?! Notice the mittens? Her fashion sense is really taking off!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Love: S.S. and Green Tongues

Today I got a lovely package in the mail from my secret sister, Stacy! I have never met Stacy but we both belong to the Natural LDS Living Forum where we do secret sister's quarterly. My package included homemade apple butter, chocolate toffee peanuts, Burt's bees soap and chap stick, cozy socks, and a scented soy candle. Love it!

I really needed this after I opened my electric bill that was over $100! This really breaks my heart because I have been trying so hard to keep our usage down. I wonder if PA has the highest electricity prices in the nation? Nope, that is Hawaii. While I don't feel as bad knowing that, we moved from the state with the LOWEST utility prices so the shock is having a hard time wearing off.

More love: green tongue twins! Like father, like daughter. Ravenna received a FunDip valentine at the party that we went to this morning and she decided to share with her daddy. Can you guess what flavor it was?

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Little Dose of Ravenna: Snow

These pictures were taken after the first big snow storm and before the blizzard that dumped another two feet on top of the 20 something inches we got the first time.

Ravenna is not sure how she feels about the snow,
especially when it is so deep.

One thing she does love about the snow is dressing up in snow gear.
She also loves her Grandma Whitlock.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Broth vs. Stock

Look at that broth!
This is from the bones of a whole chicken and a turkey breast.

Do you know the difference? The terms are used pretty much interchangeably, but there is a difference. Stock is made by boiling meat, vegetables and/or herbs and broth is made by boiling only the bones, usually slowly at low temperatures. Nutritionally, broth is the way to go because by boiling only the bones you can access the marrow, which according to the Weston A. Price Foundation:
...contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily—not just calcium but also magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons--stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.

I learned how to make my own bone broths from my friend, MommyBee who has a great tutorial on how to do this. The only thing that I might add from my own research is that if you want to cook chicken bones for more than 2 hours you need to do it at a super low temperature, as in a slow cooker. It is also important to skim off the fat to get rid of impurities and toxins.

Making a stock is pretty similar to making a broth, but you don't simmer it for as long; usually less than two hours. It is really easy to make a vegetable stock, and just as you save the bones from meat, you can save your vegetable scraps/peels and even less-than-fresh produce for a great stock. The best veggies to use for your stock are:
...onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, celery, mushrooms, peas, corn (empty corn cobs can also add lots of flavor to veg. stock), parsley, green beans, beets, bell peppers, scallions, green onions, shallots, fresh basil or other herbs, etc., etc.
I will usually just save my scraps in a plastic bag in the freezer and when I get a bag full, I cover them with water, throw in some whole spices (like a bay leaf), cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Then strain and you have a lovely stock to use in any recipe calling for it or broth. Easy! Be careful to use any scraps from the cabbage family, such as broccoli, very sparingly because they have an intense flavor. Apparently you can also can stock/broth if you have a pressure cooker.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

P.J. Pant Pajamarama

As part of my resolution to sew something for me I am making pajama pants from Amy Butler's In Stitches. Things are going well so far, but I have met with some annoying things in the book that I don't like, mostly having to do with her terminology and when she says to do something and doesn't explain why. I guess I don't NEED to know, but I want to, because I am learning. Here is one for my seamstress friends: Why is it necessary to press a seam allowance a certain direction?

The book itself is gorgeous and I do really appreciate the handy drawings. So far in this adventure I have learned a number of things that I would like to share with you, so be attentive:
  1. When going to JoAnn Fabrics with a 50% off coupon, be sure to double check that a fabric isn't already on "sale" before getting it cut. JoAnn's is pretty tricky about listing which fabrics are only a measly 10-20% off. I think they do this on purpose.
  2. Don't make that same mistake twice in one trip because you brought your spouse along with another coupon and both of you were equally clueless.
  3. Cellophane tape isn't a special fabric tape; it is regular, clear tape of the gift-wrapping sort. Thanks, Amy Butler for being so clear on that one. Real beginners like myself, have absolutely NO clue, apparently neither did the experienced seamstress helping me at JoAnn's.
  4. The basement floor is not conducive to laying out, cutting and pining fabric. Also, not conducive to happy sewing is having to repeatedly walk up and down two flights of stairs to sew (in the basement) and press/pin/cut in my bedroom. I need to figure out a solution to this one.
  5. I am much happier sewing when I am listening to music (particularly to The Swell Season). One of my college art teachers told me to always paint while listening to music in order to turn off the logical side of my brain. I didn't think the same thing applied to sewing, but apparently in my case it does.
Tomorrow I move on to the dreaded BUTTON HOLES! Doesn't that just make you shiver in anticipation? For me, it is mainly anticipation of failure, but as this is a necessary step in learning how to use my machine, I will forge on!

Oh, and when this project is over and done with, I am moving onto super simple and easy draft dodgers for my front door and a felt birthday crown for Ravenna, which will look something like this but probably cuter (one can always hope).

Sunday, February 7, 2010


COSTCO! I shake my fist at your wide aisles and free samples! You blind me with your $1.50 Kosher hot dog and soda; you break my resolve with your decently priced "green" and organic items. Gah!

Needless to say I blew it at Costco to the tune of $176.06. Before you think I am bonkers, let's deconstruct the experience, shall we? First we saw a folding chair on sale and since one of ours broke last week, into the cart it went: $12.99. Oh, and we REALLY needed storage shelves and I wasn't able to find any used ones for a decent price: two metal storage shelves $53.98. Then the actual stuff on my list: organic tortilla chips, 4.59; milk, 3.59; butter, 6.99; bread, 3.99; totaling to $19.16 which would have put us right at our budget, but NOOOOOO I had COUPONS! Into the cart went Glide Floss, 9.99; and Oxiclean 13.49. Then add two more impulse buys: ECOS Laundry detergent, $12.59 and poptarts for work, $8.79. I almost forgot the diapers, $39.59. We only buy diapers every four to five months, so this isn't really factored into the budget. Add all that together and 6% tax on the non-food items and we have $176.06.

Even if we remove the diapers, shelves and the chair, we went way over budget on everything else. Sigh. We will use all of these things, no problem, so it is not like I bought things just because they were on sale and they will never see the light of day. I won't have to buy floss or oxiclean for a year and our basement and garage looks much nicer thanks to the shelves. Wow, I feel like such a loser though. I was totally taken in by the Costco siren AGAIN.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

This Week's Kitchen Winners

If I had a more than decent camera and some photography skills I would take gorgeous photos of my favorite recipes in all their glory, BUT I don't so you will just have to take my word for it.

Carrie's White Chicken Chili
This one wins the food storage award and it is the perfect fall/winter dish with a side of cornbread. I adapted this from Delene Bullard's "Super Simple White Chicken Chili" recipe in Gillette 1st Ward's "Lunch Club" cookbook but changed it enough that I am going to call it my own.

1 lb. of Great Northern Beans, soaked and cooked or 5 cans rinsed and drained
3 cups chicken broth or 2 cans
2 cups chopped chunk chicken (I used 2 cans of chicken); Can use two chicken breasts cooked and chunked.
2-3 small cans of green chilies
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. of taco seasoning (I used a spice blend with no MSG)
2 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in cold water to thicken, if desired

In a large pot combine all the ingredients except cornstarch. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Thicken with cornstarch, if desired, and boil for one minute. This should serve 6-8 adults.

Crispy Potato Chicken
This recipes wins the "Best use of Potato Flakes" award. Andrew's aunt Diane submitted this one in the famous "Purple MFR (Montgomery Family Reunion)" cookbook. I don't generally try many of the MFR recipes (there are 3 MFR's) because of the high sugar and dairy content of many of the recipes, but there are occasionally jewel's such as this one that fit our dietary needs.

1 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese (I omitted this)
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
10 bone-in chicken pieces, legs and thighs (I just used 4 large chicken thighs and it seemed the perfect amount. If I were doing more I would want to double the amount of spices)
2 eggs
2 tbsp. water
1 c. mashed potato flakes (I used less)
1 stick of butter, melted (you can use 1/2 if you do less chicken)

Preheat oven to 375. In a large bag combine spices and cheese and shake chicken in two batches (again I only did one because I was using less chicken) until they are coated. Pour the butter into a 9X13 baking pan and coat the bottom well. In a shallow bowl, beat eggs and water. Dip chicken into the eggs mixture and then coat with the potato flakes and add to the pan. Bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, turn the chicken; bake for 15-30 minutes longer. Check the temperature to see if the chicken is done at 15 minutes. How long you bake it depends on your oven and how thick the chicken is. I would check the done-ness after no more than 35 minutes in the oven.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A little dose of Ravenna

I can never get her to smile for pictures anymore; she is way too busy having fun.

Cooking in her play kitchen with her tutu. How fancy is that?
Edit: The cute tutu was a gift from Aunt Lauren, how we love her.

I realize that her eyes look seriously weird in this one. I tried fixing the red eye with Gymp software and couldn't figure it out.
Edit: There is that tutu again! Awww thanks, Aunt Lauren.

"Leave me alone, Mom, I am IM'ing with my BFF"
Edit: Proof that the flower is still on, Lauren.

Ravenna the fashionista. I admit I am a horrible parent for even taking this picture when my daughter was so obviously in distress but check out what she did with her tutu! How is that for fashion sense? Oh and the bare midriff is a special touch, thanks to Aunt Lauren for the inspiration.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Two Weeks of Meals with the Whitlocks

What do we eat for two weeks with those groceries? Here is my menu for the first two weeks of February. I am not sure if you can read it in this format but notice how I divide up our meal plan: Sunday, easy; Monday, meat; Tuesday, vegetarian; Wednesday, poultry; Thursday, vegetarian; Friday, seafood or dining out; Saturday, new recipe or leftovers. This menu isn't totally inclusive because I really stink at side dishes and usually just cut up some fruit or steam some veggies. I try to include a protein, starch, fruit and veggie at every meal, though I usually fail because I really don't like veggies unless they are hidden in something.

For lunches we do some combination of fresh fruit and/or veggies, eggs, peanut butter concoctions, hummus, guacamole or salsa and chips, green smoothies, and sometimes left overs. My favorite lunch is chipotle sweet potato fries and I make them about once a week. Breakfast for Ravenna is almost always either cold or hot cereal and homemade applesauce or a banana. She is pretty picky these days. For me, I make own oatmeal or homemade granola with soy milk. I bake about every other day. Usually I make granola, quick breads (pumpkin, zucchini, banana, apple etc.) and once or twice a week, cookies or another treat.

As I commented before, I stock up on enough animal protein to last about 2-3 months. Last month I stocked up on fish. This month I got ground beef. We still have a lot of chicken left so we might not have to stock up until the middle of March, or whenever it goes on sale. Occasionally I will throw in a steak to keep my man happy but usually I stir-fry it so we don't need very much.

If anyone is interested I will keep up with the "what we eat" posts pretty regularly. I definitely want to do the "how we spend our budget" posts because they help me to not fudge the budget. Eventually I would like a budget conscience to be ingrained, but until then, your opinion matters! Oh, and if you are following the "Food Storage Made Easy" plan, I am still trying to figure out a month of meals that I like enough to keep in my cooking repertoire. Most of the meals that I have planned I have never tried before. Eventually I would like to settle down, but I will probably need to have 3 different menu's depending on the season. Gah! I think too much.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Dish: Grocery Spending

Mommy Bee brought up a good question about budgets: How much do groceries cost in your area? That should really be the determinate for how much you spend, right? Lucky for you, I just went grocery shopping today so here are some things that I bought and how much I paid for them.
  • Milk: Around here the price of milk is set by the government and it is usually about $3.25-3.50/gallon. If we go to the Amish and get it raw, we pay $3/gallon. Andrew is the only one who drinks milk in the family so we usually only go through 1 gallon every two weeks.
  • Eggs: If you buy regular, large Grade A eggs you are going to pay about 1.50/doz. We buy local free range eggs from a small grocery store for $2.50/doz.
  • Bread: We get ours from Costco and it is about $2 a loaf.
  • Bananas: .59/lb.
  • 80/20 Ground Beef: Today was on sale for 1.99/lb. I am looking into buying a quarter of grass fed beef this year as soon as I get a chest freezer. A side should last us a year. We only go through about 5 lbs. of beef a month, if that.
  • Chicken breasts: Usually on sale for 1.79/lb in bulk.
  • Butter: We buy ours from Costco for $1.79/lb. It would be lovely if we could find a local source for butter, but I haven't seen anything yet.
Wouldn't you like to know how I did with shopping on a budget? This is our shopping for two weeks:
  • $38.43 was spent on produce: 2.5 lbs bananas, green onions, 2.6 lbs. sweet potatoes, 5 lbs. Gala apples, 1 spaghetti squash, 2 heads of organic lettuce, 2 bags of organic carrots, celery, cantaloupe, 3 lbs. broccoli, 6 kiwi (Ravenna wanted them and how could I say no to a child asking for fruit?) and 3 avocados.
  • $20.84 was spent on meat: 6 lbs. Turkey breast, 4.5 lbs. ground beef (we will actually only use 1 lb. of ground beef, but I was stocking up).
  • $5.58 was spent on dairy: Kefir and soy milk
  • $8.69 was spent on grains/legumes: 1.5 lbs of organic jasmine rice, .5 lb. peanuts, pumpernickel bread
  • $7.49 for cereals: Organic cereal for Ravenna, and generic big bag coco crispies for Andrew
  • $19.30 for canned/jars: jalapenos, green chiles, mayo, sesame oil, salsa, 4 cans tomato sauce, imitation maple syrup (for Andrew), agave nectar, baking powder
  • $25.28 for Misc.: chocolate and organic fruit snacks for my secret sister, cheesecloth, muffin cups, wipes, packing tape, baking powder and two boxes of kleenex with lotion (the best!).
My total: $125.61 including tax. Not great considering my budget was for $100 or under, but this is more of an experimental month and I also bought a bunch of things that I don't normally buy, like the gifts, wipes and packing tape, for example.

Update: Andrew had to bring food for two days straight for potlucks so guess what? 4 Avocados, a bag of tortilla chips and two sweet potatoes (because they looked lovely): $9

So we are left with $65.39 for the rest of the month, plus $20 for Costco. I think we can make it, but I will probably be tweaking next month. It is a good thing we have our food storage!

Monday, February 1, 2010

January: Resolutions in Review

January was an eye-opener as we began to live our resolutions. The first struggle that became evident was that Andrew would often forget our resolutions, especially when it came to dining out. Another thing that I realized, since it is primarily my responsibility, is that I have not been very good about managing our budget. After moving in with the in-laws I got out of the habit of budgeting because we really didn't need to, but we probably could have saved a lot more money while living with them if I had been more diligent.

As the budget goes I need to set some limits otherwise this whole resolution/experiment of buying local won't work. I want to show that it IS affordable to do it, and that it does not take that much work. I ran into a snag however when trying to decide how much to allocate in the budget for groceries such as which items to include; just food, or also personal care products, etc.? Another question was how much the average American family of our size spends. Through Google I discovered that the amount varies widely but tends to be between 5-15% sometimes 20% of the annual income. Here is the budget that I ended up figuring out, but I am definitely still open for input if you think it is too much or too little.
  • $200/month for groceries including personal care and household items.
  • $20/month for food storage
  • $10/month for clothes for Ravenna (Andrew and I each have a monthly allowance which we use if we want to buy clothing or whatever our hearts desire).
  • $30/month for eating at local restaurants and participating in Borough events
  • $495/season for our CSA share; our grocery budget will be $100/month from late May-mid October.
  • $250 to start our garden which includes supplies, buying a composter, seeds etc.
Obviously our household budget is more expanded than this but this covers what we will mainly focus on for our resolutions. As far as our garden goes, the large amount needed to start the garden is only a one-time expenditure. As soon as we get our composting going, the only thing we will need to purchase for our garden every year is mulch and seeds.

We didn't do great this month with buying local and I blame it on my Costco exemption. I LOVE Costco and I did a bit of impulse buying this month. We bought a paper shredder because we have needed one for a while but the rest was food expenditure. If I were to calculate the amount I spent on food this month, it would probably be about $250 including food storage items.

Here is where I need your help, dear reader:

-What do you think of my budget? What can be changed/modified and suggestions on how to do it?
-Recommendations of a composting bin. I would like one that spins.
-Ways that you save money on your groceries keeping in mind that we buy mostly organic produce and rarely buy processed food.
-Share your recipes for low-cost meals (especially helpful if they are dairy/gluten free).

The whole reason that I am writing this on my blog is for accountability and ideas, so PLEASE help me. Also, if you want to ask questions, do that too, that way we can all help each other.