Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-For the Chocolate Lovers

If there is one thing that Doug and I have in common, it is that we both have a weakness for chocolate.  Recently I came across a recipe for Chocolate Syrup that I just had to try. To say it was great, would be an understatement.  Doug has dubbed this the “Better Than Hershey’s Syrup” Syrup It is very good on ice cream, and in milk, and a little dollop in my morning coffee makes it mocha-licious! Here is the the recipe:

Better Than Hershey’s Syrup

½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix the cocoa powder and the water in a saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve the cocoa. Add the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Boil for 3 minutes over medium heat, whisking constantly. Add the salt and the vanilla. Let cool. Pour into a clean glass jar, and store in the refrigerator. Keeps for several months, but trust me it will be gone before then.  Yields two cups. The result is very rich, so I only use a teaspoon for a glass of chocolate milk.
Another recipe that I have made a few times this summer was one my mother called "No-Bake Cookies." These were always a favorite when I was growing up, and you can whip up a batch in about 10 minutes. The best part, is that you don’t have to turn on the oven, so they are perfect for summertime!  

Mom’s No-Bake Cookies

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
2 cup Sugar                      
1/2 cup milk  
1/2 cup cocoa powder 

1/2 cup peanut butter (if you use crunchy, make it 3/4 cup)
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups of uncooked oatmeal
Bring the first 4 ingredients to a boil, stirring constantly and boil for 1 full minute, and take off heat. Immediately add the peanut butter and the vanilla, and whisk in until it is all incorporated. Finally, add 3 cups of oatmeal, and stir until all is mixed in, now drop by spoonful onto wax paper. Do this quickly, as it will harden up rather fast. Let cool.  You can store these in a covered container.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally- Our Farmer's Market Haul

One thing that I love about the summer, is going to the weekly Farmer's Market. My hometown of Omaha had a great one located in the Old Market area of downtown, on Saturdays and I was thrilled to find that the Quad Cities had an even bigger one on the riverfront in Davenport, also on Saturdays. We try to hit it a few times a month and I stock up on as much fresh produce as I can carry. This week we have been feasting on our recent treasure trove of goodies. Here are a few recipes I've made this week from our weekend haul-with phenomenal results!

Pasta and Summer Squash

1 lb box of whole wheat pasta of your choice (I love Ronzoni Healthy Harvest or Smart Taste Penne)
1 chicken breast diced
1 onion
1 green pepper
1 yellow squash diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 zucchini diced into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic
1 TBSP of prepared jar pesto
1/2 cup of olive oil
2 TBSP butter
salt and pepper to taste
feta cheese to top

Cook your pasta according to the directions on the box. While that is cooking, stir fry your onions and chicken in the butter and a little of the olive oil until the chicken is opaque. Add in the rest of the vegetables, when the vegetables are al dente add pesto and the rest of the olive oil.  Add the cooked and drained pasta and toss together until all pasta is well coated. sprinkle the top of the hot pasta dish generously with crumbled Feta cheese, or a cheese of your choice like Asiago or Parmesan. You can make this dish vegetarian by omitting the chicken, or you can substitute bacon, pancetta or ham for the chicken as well.

                  Zucchini Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 TBSP vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini (do not drain the juice from the grated zucchini!)

Sift the first five ingredients together and set aside. Mix the eggs, oil, sugars and vanilla together for about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture a little at a time until all is incorporated. It will be very thick. Stir in the grated zucchini. Divide the batter between two bread pans. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees.

     Honey Cinnamon Bread Topping (EXCELLENT on Zucchini Bread or toast)

1/2 cup of margarine or butter (I like country crock in the stick form)
2 TBSP of honey (I buy mine local at the farmers market
2 TBSP of brown sugar
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1 TBSP of ice water)

Whip the margarine or butter, with the ice water, until it is light and fluffy, add the brown sugar while it is still mixing then the honey and cinnamon. Refrigerate. Spread as you like

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Remembering to Breathe

So I am still in the midst of engagement euphoria, still upbeat and happy and starting to make plans. Once in a while I get this semi-flipped out feeling of "Oh My God! I have a wedding to plan! How are we going to pay for this!?" That is when I have to remind myself to breathe. I have had to remind myself of that several times this week

I went to the library, and checked out every book they had on frugal wedding planning. We have already decided to go with a church wedding, and having the reception at the church hall, which is less expensive than going with a more elaborate venue. The downside, which is also the upside, financially, is that our church does not allow alcohol on the premises, so it will be a dry wedding. Which means that we won't have to pay for an open bar. That doesn't matter that much to me, but it might not be the big party atmosphere I had imagined having. I have no doubt it will still be really nice. My nephew Jim has generously offered to both videotape the wedding and also DJ for us, which REALLY helped with the wedding budget. Those were things I thought I would just have to scratch off, and I am happy that is no longer the case. My good friend Eric, who is a printer and graphic designer, offered to do our invitations. SCORE! That made my day. The fact that I've seen his work and it ROCKS, just makes it even better. And last, but not least, my wonderful sister offered to take care of the cake. YAY! I graciously took her up on that offer (after doing the Dance of Joy, of course!). Ok-so thanks to my friends and family and their over the top, generous offers of assistance, my day after the engagement panic attack has abated and I can see that somehow, we will pull off this wedding without going totally broke. I can breathe a little easier.

Today I made a list of every wedding related DIY project I could think of. I came up with 17 projects. I do not know if that is a low number or not. I suspect that as time goes by, I will add more things to that list. Our wedding date, barring any catastrophy, is May 5, 2012. A little less than 10 months away. So the count down begins. It is going to be a busy year!  So I tell myself again, just breathe...

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Some Splurges are Worth It :-)

On Friday, Doug and I celebrated the three year anniversary, of our first date. Weeks ago, Doug told me that he wanted to take me to Duck City, which is the nicest restaurant in the Quad Cities for our big anniversary night. So, we scrimped a little more than usual over the last few weeks, and had our big night out. Neither of us had ever been there, but it was a truly spectacular evening. I have to admit, that when they handed us our menus, and there were no prices listed, I had a real moment of panic. The old adage, "If you have to ask how much it is, then you probably can't afford it" popped into my head. Doug promptly told me not to worry about it, so I did my best to put it out of my head. We had an amazing appetizer of crab cakes, braised portabello mushrooms and chicken satay with peanut sauce. Doug had the Duck Confit and I had the New York Strip over risotto. Being from Omaha, I thought that no steak could compare with the streaks served in my hometown, I was mistaken. It was beef perfection. The only thing better were the two bites I had of Doug's duck. If we ever go back, I am getting that! We had some wine, and talked, and let the staff wait on us hand and foot. The restaurant owner and the head chef even came out to talk to us, and that was pretty neat. Overall it was a really perfect, blissfully romantic evening.

As we were leaving the restaurant, Doug just reached out his hand, the way he usually does, when we are out walking, and I placed my hand in his, the way I usually do-except this time, his hand wasn't empty. He had a little square satin box in his palm. So, there we stood, on the sidewalk, in front of Duck City in downtown Davenport, and Doug pulls me around to face him, and tells me that he knew he wanted to marry me, within 30 minutes of meeting me, on our first date three years ago, and he said many other things-most of which are a blur now, because I have to admit, as soon as he opened the ring box, my brain melted. I did hear "Will you marry me?" and I know that I was crying because it took me a couple of tries to form a coherent answer. In my mind, when I thought that this moment would happen, my answer was much more eloquent. Finally I just squawked out "Ok!" and that was that. He slid the ring on my finger, and now we are officially engaged.

A lot has happened to us over the last three years. Two years of long distance dating, traveling back and forth, and finally taking the leap and moving to the Quad Cities to be with Doug. These last several months living together, and figuring out who we are as a couple, and what we want out of life. It's been hard, but at the same time, it has been incredibly easy. Doug is, and will always be, the greatest man I have ever know, and the love of my life. If I have one regret, it is that I didn't meet him 15 years sooner. But at the same time, I think the timing was just right. The perfect guy for me, at the perfect time. At a point in my life when I can truly appreciate what I have. I feel blessed.

So how does this affect our year of living frugally? Well, our original plan of buying a house within a year is still in place. Now, we have a wedding to plan for. We are hashing out the details. I have a feeling it is going to be very DIY, and that I will be enlisting the help of anyone and everyone to pull it off. It may not be extravagant, but it will be very special and wonderful, because at the end of the day, Doug and I will be together, forever. Some splurges are worth it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-The Staycation Vacation

This year, we are sticking pretty close to home. We already know that next summer we have a big vacation planned, which is sort of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This summer, we are having a few visits with relatives, and attending a family reunion, but that is the extent of our out of town traveling. We are having a few staycations, however. Weekend day trips to some of the sites and attractions in the area. Most of these are either free, or we are using entertainment book, or coupons.  Regardless of where we go, we always have a good time.

I think the best times that I remember, growing up, were our family vacations. Keep in mind, my parents were rich in children, not in money. They would pile all the kids in the station wagon, and head off to exotic places, like South Dakota, or Missouri, or Colorado. We traveled with an ice chest sloshing around in the back of the car, and it was always full of drinks and food to see us through several days. When it was time to eat, we'd stop at a rest area and my mom would make up peanut butter or lunch meat sandwiches for us. We always camped-for six days out of seven. The last night of vacation, IF we were good, we would get to stay in a Motel 6 with a pool! My parents held that pool over our heads for the entire vacation, to keep us in line. We dreamed of that motel pool like it was an oasis in the Sahara Desert. Pure nirvana. 

Nothing says togetherness like seven people sharing a tent, after being in the same car all day long. This was way before the electronics age. We had no DVD players, no cell phones, no iPods, no internet. Our car had an AM radio, which didn't even work half the time. We entertained ourselves on the long drives by playing the usual car games and singing. I think our family theme song was "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."  The evening entertainment was sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows and telling stories and jokes. During the day we would drive around, and check out every free attraction there was, in whatever area we were in. I can honestly say, I've been to every free museum in the Midwest. I've seen miraculous things, like the world's largest ball of twine, two headed taxidermy animals, Indian relics, and giant fake dinosaurs. To me, the vacations weren't so much about the place we were going to, but concentrated family time. For all of us kids to have our parents undivided attention for an entire week was heaven- and sometimes hell. But mostly, it was pretty awesome.

Not that these vacations were all fun and games.Sometimes it seemed like disaster followed us like a lost dog. We chronically had issues with the wildlife on these trips. Once, a skunk got into our tent, and we ended up having to sleep in the station wagon. Then there was the time my mother got trapped in an outhouse by a bear. Another time, our campsite was attacked by a crazy squirrel that kept pelting us with acorns. This squirrel had a particular hate for my sister Vicki, she got pelted so many times she refused to come out of the tent. We were once trapped on a mountain road for hours when a herd of buffalo surrounded our car, and wouldn't budge. We lost a brand new fishing pole, to a particularly determined trout, one time. Another time our campground was flooded and we had to spend the night sleeping on top of washers and dryers in a laundry mat. Last, but not least, was the time the luggage rack on top of our car, came loose, and all our clothes were scattered down a 10 mile stretch of interstate. You do not know internal struggle until you have had to decide if your favorite pair of jeans is worth rappelling down a 100 foot ravine. At the very least, these vacations taught us resilience and how to work together. They definitely taught us how to laugh at the obstacles life throws at us.

I know that these trips weren't all completely glorious, and I'm sure that we had lots of backseat arguments and I do recall my mother threatening us all with death, on more than one occasion, if we didn't behave. We didn't get to stay in fancy hotels, or eat at 5 star restaurants, but we had fun. The money wasn't important, being together was. I try to keep that in mind when we are planning our little vacations and staycations now. It isn't how much money we spend, but the people-or person, we spend the time with, that matters the most.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-The Only Thing Better than Dessert... free dessert! Hot summer nights almost demand something cold and delicious. Doug and I were both craving ice cream. We had a couple dollars to spare, which unfortunately, does not buy much. I decided to take a chance, and see if Dairy Queen offered any coupons on their website. I thought, even $0.50 off on a cone would be great. Well, I came across an even better deal. If you joined the Blizzard Fan Club, you got a Buy One-Get One coupon for a Blizzard. Score! It took a few moments to enter my email info, and I received an email coupon, which I printed out. We went off to our local Dairy Queen, and for under $3.00 we both had yummy Blizzard treats. If you go to, you can sign up for this special deal.

Another little tidbit that many people don't know about is Pie Rush Wednesdays at Village Inn. On Wednesdays, you can go in and receive a free piece of pie with a purchase (and that purchase can be a cup of coffee!) This can make for a cheap date night. A couple can go in, buy 2 drinks, and get 2 pieces of pie for under $4.00. I can honestly say that free pie is muy delicioso! For more information on this special deal, you can go to

You can also always find free dessert, and sometimes free meals on your birthday, if you sign up for them online. I came across this website that lists dozens of restaurants and their birthday giveaways at  On your birthday you could eat breakfast at Denny's, a lunch at Steak and Shake, and free burger for dinner at Ruby Tuesdays, then head over to TCBY for free dessert. Totally dining free on your birthday! Unfortunately, this year I will be out of town on my birthday, but I hope to take advantage of at least one of these deals. I gotta say, free taste's pretty good!

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Oven Roast Chicken

I think one of the best frugal eating foods is a roasted or rotisserie chicken. I try to buy a roasted chicken at least once a month. It's great for a good meal, and the best part is the leftovers! I love to make chicken salad with leftover chicken, and the chicken carcass makes delicious chicken soup. Yesterday I went to the store with the intention of buying a pre-roasted chicken from the deli. Often, they have these on sale for around $5.00. Since Doug and I can usually get at least 2 meals out of one chicken, I consider that a bargain. Unfortunately, roasted chicken was not on sale and was at full price of $6.99. I will admit that I am cheap. It was just $2.00 more than what I liked to pay. Still, $2.00 is $2.00. So I went over to the meat counter and was pleasantly surprised to find whole chickens for $0.79 a pound. I found a decent chicken for $3.50. Suddenly my inner Julia Child kicked in and I knew that I could make something spectacular.

I went home and found my favorite roasting pan. I scrounged in the fridge and came up with a few carrots, an onion and some garlic and some of my beloved Trader Joe's Pesto in a jar. I pulled some olive oil and salt and pepper out of the cupboard and I was ready to go. I diced up the veggies and put them in the roasting pan. On top, I placed the chicken. I wiped the whole chicken down with paper towels, then salt and peppered the inside and out generously. Then I mixed a TBSP of the jarred pesto with 1/4 cup of olive oil and smeared this mixture over the whole chicken. Placing it in the roasting pan, I then trussed the legs together (cuz that's what Julia Child would do!) and placed the chicken breast side down in the roasting pan. This went into my oven at 350 degrees. I roasted it like this for an hour, then pulled it out, and turned it over. and added some diced potatoes to the pan,  and returned it to the oven for another 45 minutes. I double checked with the meat thermometer that it was done, and pulled it out. I scooped out the veggies and half the drippings-aka the luscious chicken nectar, for use later. The rest, I used to make a yummy wine sauce. Chicken drippings, 2 TBSP of butter and a cup of white wine (I had Charles Shaw Pinot on hand, but you can use any wine, really).  I let this little mixture bubble away while I whisked it on the stove, until it was a delectable saucy texture. The chicken was very moist and tender, and falling off the bone. The wine sauce tasted yummy over the meat and roasted veggies. Doug declared it was one of my best dinners yet. I had to agree. I think we did the whole meal for around $5.00, and had enough leftover chicken for a second meal. A frugal success!

Here are my two favorite recipes for left over roasted chicken.

Chicken Carcass Soup.

All bones and skin  from leftover roasted chicken, as well as any the chicken drippings from the container or pan.
2 quarts of water.
2 TBSP OF Chicken Soup Base (I like Orrington Farms, found in the soup aisle in the grocery store)
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic.
1 tsp of pesto OR 1 tsp poultry seasoning
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetable
1 cup of uncooked pasta of your choice

Bring everything except the frozen veggies and pasta to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for an hour. Go through the broth with a slotted spoon and pull out the bones and skin pieces. If you really want to skim off the fat on top you can, or you can leave it. It is good either way. Now add the frozen veggies and pasta, and bring the heat back up to a low boil, until the pasta is done. Serve.

Fruity Chicken Salad

2 full cups of shredded roasted chicken
1/8 of cup of slivered almonds
1 small  (6 oz) can of crushed pineapple
1/2 cup of mayo
2 stalks of celery chopped.
1/2 cup of seedless grapes sliced or quartered
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the above ingredients and then refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. This is great on a croissant or on top of a lettuce salad. YUM!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-A Hairy Tale

Since I was a kid, I have always had a healthy head of hair. I've worn it just about every length, from waist length to close cropped. The last few years, I have been keeping it about shoulder length. This seems to be the most practical length for me. I can pull it back if I want to, or wear it down. Despite being inordinately proud of my hair, I have never been one to spend a lot of money on it's upkeep. I know I am suppose to trim it every six weeks, but I usually stretch this out to once every 3 months. When I do go in to get it trimmed, I usually have them take an inch more than I would consider ideal, this gives me a few weeks more between cuts. That is a savings right there.

I have lived in this area for less than a year, and still have not found a stylist that I want to make a commitment to, so I am taking advantage of any discounts I can find with the various salons in the area. I received a coupon in the mail for Great Clips for a $7.99 haircut. I tried them out, and was actually very pleased with the results. I notice that a salon near our home offers a Tuesday Evening Discount, which is a $12.00 haircut (normally it is about twice that). I am hoping to take advantage of that soon. I have also found that the local beauty schools in the area offer discounted services. The stylists work under the watchful eye of an instructor. The downside is that these haircuts may take a long time. Last time I went to the local beauty college, my 20 minute haircut took about 2 hours. Still, they did a good job and I was pleased with the results. Plus it only cost me $8.00. Not bad, in the long run.

One thing that women spend a lot of money on, is hair coloring. It can cost between $25.00 to well over $100.00 to have your hair professionally colored. I admit, in the past, I have spent this money, and to be honest, I really did not notice much difference from when I colored it myself. Right now there are some excellent products on the market for hair coloring. One that I love is John Freida Hair Foam Color. This is basically an idiot proof hair coloring. It gives even coverage, very professional results and does not fry your hair. I had gone on the John Freida website and signed up for their promotions and was sent a coupon for a free box of coloring. I saved myself $12.00 by doing this.

There are so many hair products on the market, right now, it is difficult to know what to choose. Expensive is not always better. I find that I get the same results with Samy Shampoo and Conditioner, that I use to get with Biolage, at a third of the price. Also, shampoo and conditioner are both rather concentrated. I usually water these products down, with 1/3 water to 2/3 product. This does stretch it out, as well as makes it easier to apply to my hair.

One thing I also do, once a month, usually a few days before I color my hair, is a vinegar rinse. It's very simple. 1 TBSP of vinegar (white or apple cider) to a pint of warm water. , just massage into your hair after washing, and rinse out with clear water. It seems to get out any residue left over from hair sprays and gels, and primes the hair for coloring.

So as you can see, you  can still maintain great hair living a frugal lifestyle. A little more self maintenance will save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. It's well worth it!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Trader Joe's

One of the very sad facts about living in the Quad Cities, is that we do not have a Trader Joe's. This is sad because I LOVE Trader Joe's. Good Stuff at good prices, who can ask for more? Luckily, we have family in St. Louis, that we visit once in a while, as well as family in Omaha, Des Moines, and the Chicago area, and every few months we will head in one of those directions. We always make a side trip Trader Joe's to stock up on some essentials. Here is my Trader Joe's shopping list:

1)Coffee-I have a serious craving for their dark french roast coffee, it's just so smooth. Exactly the way I like it. It's $5.99 for a pound of beans. Well worth it.

2)Olive Oil-No one can beat the quality or the price of Trader Joe's Olive Oil. Almost half the cost of what I see locally. I usually buy at least a liter, on every trip.

3)Basmati Brown Rice-This is the rice that converted me to a brown rice lover. It has a great taste and I now serve this instead of white rice exclusively. $2.99 for a 5 lb bag is a bargain.

4)Asiago Cheese-I have a thing for really good cheese. Trader Joe's has fantastic cheese.  Asiago is such a strong tasting cheese that a little will go a long way. I can get a good lb sized wedge, which will see me through several meals, for just under $5.00. Love it!

5)Pot Stickers-I usually don't buy much frozen food when I go to Trader Joe's, because we always have at least a 3 hour drive home. However, my own exception is the Chicken and Pork Pot Stickers, because I can't find them anywhere else, and I love them. I have a thermal bag to bring them home in. We usually buy at least 2 or 3 bags. I love them because they are so tasty, and it is a quick meal. Throw them in a hot skillet with a little oil, then when they are browned on one side, add a little water and throw on a lid to steam. It really is literally a 5 minute meal. I make a little dipping sauce with some apricot preserves and rice wine vinegar, and serve with my basmati rice. Perfect meal. $3.99 a bag, and we can usually get 2 meals (for the 2 of us) out of one bag.

6)Slivered Almonds-I love almonds. I especially love Trader Joe's almonds. I buy these for chicken salad, for baking, to throw in my oatmeal (which I also buy at Trader Joe's!) and muffins and quick breads. $2.99 for a 1 lb bag is a remarkable price, and it's a great product.

7)Pesto-I love the pesto in a jar available at Trader Joe's. An easy dish is some pasta tossed with olive oil and pesto, and some parm. Served hot or cold, it's yummy. Also great on grilled bread, better than garlic bread!  I put it on chicken, even use it as a condiment on sandwiches.

8)Last but not least, Charles Shaw Wine. AKA  "Two Buck Chuck" Actually, it is now $2.99 a bottle. It is worth going to Trader Joe's for this alone. Don't let the cheap price fool you, this is very good wine. I love to cook with it, and drink it. You can buy a case for just under $36.00. Not bad. I am particularly fond of the Pinot Grigio. Doug is all about the Cabernet. At this price, we can both afford to get what we like. No arguing.

There are many other things that I prefer to buy at Trader Joe's, but these are my on my "Must Get" list every time we are near one. I have heard rumor that the Quad Cities will be getting their own store in about 1 1/2 years. I sincerely hope that is true. I will keep my fingers crossed that it happens. In the mean time, shopping outside the area gives us a reason to visit our loved ones more often.