March 31, 2011

Come, Spring. No, Wait.

I need spring to come. Here's my hope that it will:

Miss is growing carrots. She and her daddy check this pot faithfully every day to see if anything is growing yet. (I faithfully cover it with a bowl every night to make sure the cats don't ruin her plans by knocking it over or puking in it, or digging through it - for buried treasure? I don't know. Ask them.)

I need spring to come because it will smell like dirt outside, not just look like dirt, and I want to strap the kids into the stroller and use up the long afternoon by walking and walking and walking in the sunshine. And smelling dirt, obviously.

I need spring to come because last night, Miss wouldn't stay in bed and we had the closest thing to a knock down, drag out fight that you can have with a toddler and still be a parent. We. Need. To. Play. Outside.

I need spring to come because Kristy keeps posting pictures of her (hopefully balding) lettuce, and it's making me itch to get out to The Backyard that Time Forgot and whip it into shape without spending any money.

I don't want spring to come because that countdown widget on the sidebar has the disturbing - and entirely unexpected - tendency to count down. It used to look like this:

March 30, 2011

Cooking From the Pantry: Roasted Pepper Pasta

Okay, I've made this twice now,  and one of the days I made it was full to the brim of an impromptu vehicle purchase, four pee-pee accidents (not in my pants, in case you were wondering) and two poop accidents (also not in my pants. In the vault at the bank, as a matter of fact. Which was awesome, let me tell you.)

I can therefore assure you that it is not only a cheap and flexible recipe(a good thing, here at the end of The $34.27 Challenge), but it also will not make your brain explode at the end of a difficult day.

Like I said, this recipe is pretty flexible. There's measurements below, but essentially you need peppers (any colour but green), garlic, some kind of onion, butter, olive oil, half a lemon and some pasta.

Or, to be more official:

2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers 450 g pasta
2 Tbs butter 2 tsp lemon zest
2 Tbs olive oil juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 large clove of garlic, chopped 2 Tbs pasta cooking water
1/4 cup chopped green onions salt and pepper

Cut the peppers in half, take out the seeds and bash them with the palm of your hand to make them lie flat. Roast them under the broiler until they look like this:

It will probably take ten minutes or so. While that's happening, melt the butter with olive oil in a big, deep skillet, with enough room for the pasta you're using. Over medium-low heat, saute the onion and garlic until the butter is brown and the whole thing smells like the best garlic bread you've ever eaten.

Once the peppers are cool enough to touch, peel off as much of the skin as you can and roughly chop them. While you're at it, zest that lemon too. Oh yeah, and cook your pasta (don't forget to scoop out some of the cooking water before you drain it).

Now throw in everything else: the pasta, the lemon juice and zest, the cooking water, and the chopped peppers.

Mix it up together until it's all warmed through, and the pasta is covered with buttery goodness. Add salt and pepper, and more butter if you need it. Or olive oil, if that's how you roll.

Stop for a second and admire it.

Eat. (This could have served four adults. But it served two adults and one toddler. And she didn't eat very much)

March 29, 2011

The $34.27 Challenge: What We Started With

Because those who want to know want to know. (And, presumably, those who don't won't read it.)

In the freezers big and small:

No, wait. One is 3.6 cubic feet and the other is whatever size a fridge freezer might be, so I guess that should read:

In the freezers small and smaller:

strawberry jam maple syrup
1 bag peaches poppy seeds
1 bag strawberries sesame seeds
fruit juice freezies decaf coffee
3 bags applesauce ginger
cut apples wheat germ
pumpkin puree yeast
6 bags assorted Jr food 2 lb butter
½ bag mixed chopped veggies 3 balls pastry
chopped celery

pizza dough
1 pkg bacon 1 mini baguette
1 pkg chicken thighs & drumsticks ½ boule
1 whole chicken 1 loaf herb bread
1 pkg chipotle chicken breasts 1 mini loaf cinnamon swirl bread
2 chicken breasts 1 mini loaf pumpkin spice bread
1 sirloin roast 1 loaf thanksgiving day bread
3 pkg ground beef 2 ½ loaves honey oatmeal bread
½ pkg stewing beef 2 bags bread ends
5 haddock filets

½ loaf banana bread
rib drippings ½ sticky bun
beef trimmings for stock ½ bag misc. cookies
3 bags chicken stock raw doughnuts

2 muffins
3 mini quiche 6 pancakes
2 quesadillas
zucchini fritters

In the (evil) fridge:

4 oz sour cream 4 beets
½ cup whipping cream 3 lemons
½ block cream cheese 8 small peppers
1 block cheddar ½ bag spinach
4 cheese slices broccoli

¾ chopped onion
jus dip
10 eggs

In the pantry:

3 sweet potatoes ½ bag wild rice
½ bag yukon gold potatoes ¼ bag jasmine rice

½ bag calrose rice
1 can salmon
3 cans tuna 1 jar mixed dried beans
3 cans flavoured tuna (yuck) 2 cans mixed beans

1 bag split dried peas
3 bags macaroni-ish noodles
3 half bags spaghetti

So now you know. And can advise past me what to make, or present me what I should have made, or future me what I should never attempt again.

Snacks! Snacks! Snacks!

Yes, I need those exclamation points, just like I need those snacks.

We had a moment of what I kept calling "snack fatigue" over the weekend, except it was exactly the opposite, and I am clearly terrible at naming phenomena.

What I meant is that we were one week into The $34.27 Challenge and needing something sweet that wasn't going to mean spending money...and then we remembered.

We had maple syrup in the freezer.

Which means that I am - even now, at six in the morning - fighting the temptation to lock myself in the pantry and eat every single one of these babies:

Uh, oh yeah, Mr also made kettle corn. Also good.

Did I mention that I spent ten minutes painstakingly scraping out the maple candy pan so that not one scrap of maple deliciousness would go anywhere but in my mouth? 

I mean, only because I'm frugal, though. Right? It's not like I'm obsessed with maple candy or anything.

March 28, 2011

The $34.27 Challenge: Now You're Just Making Stuff Up

It's Day 10 of The $34.27 Challenge, and the eating's been good. Sort of.


Okay, there have been a few failures. Like the chicken two ways.

See, I'm not that good of a cook. I can follow a recipe (when I'm not being the It'll Be Fine Girl), but instinctive cooking without a recipe? It's Mr that you're looking for.

So you can see that cooking from whatever's in our freezer, fridge and pantry for The Challenge might stretch the old cooking instinct muscles a little, right? Or possibly sprain them?

Wednesday we had a whole chicken, sesame seeds and ginger in the freezer, so instead of the same old roast chicken with butter, salt and pepper, remade into the same old chicken noodle soup the next day, I had the brilliant idea to Asian it up a bit. (Mental note: never say no to butter.)

I don't think it was a total failure (I mean, the pictures turned out okay), but it wasn't what I had hoped it would be. There was some kind of failure in the translation from my brain to the food. That last picture, however, was a raspberry-ricotta-meringue dessert that my mom whipped up out of the leftovers from her fridge and dropped off at our house. I obviously have a nice Mom, who - like Mr - has no difficulties speaking the same language in her brain to her food.

I was cackling with anticipation on Thursday, though, because I thought the soup would be something special that could redeem the ho-humdrum-ness of the roast chicken. I even mentioned on Food Waste Friday - it was the chicken carcass in the pot, waiting to be transformed...

...transformed into blandness, that is. Pretty blandness, but blandness just the same.

Chicken carcass + green onion and ginger + over-complicated fat straining device made out of a sieve and a coffee filter = bland soup.

Now this, on the other hand, was a different story:

This is the best thing I've ever created. After my kids, obviously. This is simple, delicious, cheap and, if I didn't mention it already, delicious. It's Roasted Pepper Pasta, and I might post a recipe eventually.

It's possible that I might even choose - some days - to eat this instead of maple candy. (And yes, that was maple candy bubbling away on Facebook. More on that later, but I. Love. My. Husband.)

March 26, 2011

Happy Naanday!

Yes, it deserves an exclamation point. Not because it turned out fantastically, mind you, but just because it was naan.

And I made it. At home. Four pieces of buttery naan bread for (and I'm just estimating here) about $0.63.

It started the way all these 200 (Non-Contiguous) Days of Bread recipes start: with the (revised) master recipe. But then it got interesting:

Oh, pardon me, that was meant to be this:

How embarrassing. I seem to have fallen in love with a bowl of melted butter. Whatever could have come over me?

Now, remember that I'm supposed to be following the rules, so my first two naans (seriously, what's the plural?) went in the oven on the pizza stone with the requisite pan of boiling water on the bottom rack. I had my doubts, because I think naan should be soft, not crisp.

Eight minutes later: crisp naan.

We ate it - obviously. I mean, it has butter on it for goodness' sake - but it wasn't what I had hoped for. So the next batch went in without the boiling water.

It was the best part of the meal. Hard beans in an almost sauce-less curry with wild rice (urgh) anyone? I didn't think so.

So I'm looking for a better recipe for this naan. Sorry, Judith.

Also, does that bean in the center foreground have a face? And is that face sticking out its tongue at me? That's what I thought. My food is now mocking me, along with my fridge.

March 25, 2011

Food Waste Friday: Gasp. I Never Saw THIS Coming.

You already know what I wasted this week:

Stupid mayonnaise, with your stupid bad taste. The fact that I beat the crap out of you when I made you doesn't make up for the fact that you beat the crap out of me when I ate you.

If it weren't for this, I would have had a waste-free week. Another reason to be mad at this failed excuse for a condiment.

On the plus side, there's still plenty of food in the fridge, despite being in the middle of The $34.27 Challenge. The beer even seems to have multiplied. 

Mr will be mortified when he sees that the Red Cap made it to the front of the shelf. We all know who drinks the cheap beer in our house, and it's not him. He has more refined sensibilities than I do.

That soup pot is for something exciting tonight. More on that in another post, if it turns out.

You know me better than that: more on that, whether it turns out or not. It's even better when I fail.

We're still working away on that sour cream, but - and this might be due to the fact that we're trying to spend next to nothing in the next week - I'm keeping a closer eye than usual on my evil fridge. I wonder if it's had a change of heart, and is now on my side.

When pigs fly.

March 24, 2011

200 Non-Contiguous Days of Bread: Over the Pizza Blanca Hump

Finally, I'm going to get past Pizza Blanca and move on to Naan bread. Dhal is on the $34.27 Challenge menu for Friday, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Why the excitement? You bake it with the butter already on it, that's why.

Sheesh. It's like you don't even know me.

And my (sometimes) tidy little mind just doesn't feel right about moving on to Naan (recipe 8) when I hadn't posted Pizza (recipe 9) yet. Although that didn't stop me for Boule (6) and Baby Baguettes (7). I really need to embrace my own flakiness with more gusto.

Garlic? Check. Parmesan? Check.

Oh, wait. It was supposed to be grated parmesan and I only have the other stuff? It'll be fine.

I need to use up some spinach? Also fine.

Some advice, from me to you:
  1. Use grated parmesan.
  2. Don't take the opportunity to use up some of your leftover spinach. Unless you like eating green litmus paper, in which case use away.

Lost and Found with One Eye Closed

Yesterday, I realized just how bad my eyesight must be (or possibly my housekeeping?). I've been looking for some of these things for weeks.


It's important to keep all your most essential tools together.

Nimmies have been a big topic at our house recently. And if you need one, and don't have one...well, you certainly don't "Do Without". You "Make Do". Thanks, Non-Consumer Advocate.

I you think you might have a problem finding your slippers later, file them under "S". 

One of these things is not the same...

I don't even know.

Ah-ha. This must be following some kind of toddler logic. No spoon? Jr can't eat. No nursing pad? Jr can't nurse. A surprising glimpse into the tangled omelette that is her mind.

And I found them all in one day.

March 23, 2011

The $34.27 Challenge: Making Do and Making Mayonnaise

It's only a few days into the first week of our two week challenge to spend only $34.27 on groceries, and already we've had to make a few compromises.

The (overly-detailed) menu called for tuna melts on Monday night, to accomplish the triple goal of:

    A) eating cheaply from the pantry,
    B) using up a leftover tomato, and
    C) feeding my kids tuna out of a can, just so I can get over it and stop using it as my one joke.

Of course, this meant making English Muffins. Using Kristen's recipe.

 It also meant having to do one of the scariest things I've ever done in the kitchen (cue ominous music):

Make mayonnaise. (Bah, buh, BAAAAHHHHH!)

Ordinarily, I would never attempt any recipe that includes the instructions: "Don't try to make if a thunderstorm threatens or is in progress", but Mrs Tidy-Numbers over here just couldn't bear to use up her last few grocery dollars on a whole jar of something she only needed a few tablespoons of.

So, I give you (drumroll):

Looks like real mayonnaise, doesn't it?

Doesn't taste like it.

I've got my fortune-telling turban on, and I can just about make out what's going into the trash on Food Waste Friday...

Yesterday was Spinach Pasta night, which also let me use up the whipping cream (left over from a chocolate caramel pecan tart that Mr made for our Buffy Party a week ago).

 It will not be a contender in this week's Food Waste Friday. That is all.

March 22, 2011

The Cheapskate Ethos

This is Jr, in baby jail

Baby jail is an ugly Pack & Play (that is ugly). It hurts my one good eye and makes the bad one close automatically in self-defense. I sometimes wish it was brown, and had an adjustable mattress and a change table attached.

It was free. (But did I mention that it is ugly?)

Let's start at the very beginning (I hear it's a very good place to start):

I like budgets - as you well know - but we have this budget for reasons that go a little beyond my personal entertainment.

We pay close attention to our money now because:
  1. We didn't used to, and are paying off the tail end of our youthful inattention to detail
  2. We are self-employed, and it would be nice to have money available even if work isn't
  3. We someday hope to not have to pay such close attention
  4. I am personally entertained by it
Which means that wrestling our grocery bill to the ground is important enough to spend my time on. So is turning off the power when we're not using it, wearing slippers and (almost) Bob Cratchit gloves in the winter, and doing our laundry in what feels like the middle of the night.

And although I secretly wish that all my baby gear matched, that it was new, and that I had more of it, I'm glad that I didn't get my way and that it doesn't, it isn't, and I don't.

Not because of any underlying minimalist, non-consumer philosophy. I like new things. I like the newness of them, and I like the thingness of them. I just happen to not like the cost of (some of) them, right now.

Maybe later.

Guest Post: A Day in the Life of Lannis

I'm such a peeper - and desperately curious to see how other people use up their day. So my friend Lannis (she of the marble run, still one of the most popular posts here at The Mrs) has graciously offered up her life for my inspection...and yours. 

What can I say? I read vicariously through her, and she blogs vicariously through me. Enjoy.

Oh yes, and I want to know about YOURS too. Someday, I hope to have a whole collection up here that I can page through.

Yes, I know how creepy that sounds.

* * *

Howdy folks, Lannis here (again). The Mrs hollered for day-in-the-life posts, and once I stopped procrastinating remembered, I scrawled my day onto a scrap of notebook paper for your perusal. Hope you’re excited by tedium... it’s long. And I have no shame -- hence it’s all here. (By the way, it’s your turn next.) Cheers!

7:11 - Wake; lay in bed and praise Daylight Savings -- it’s both sunny and after 7am and I’m still in bed!

7:31 - Hear boys whining; must get up now; wash face, brush teeth, get dressed, put on invisible referee jersey.

7:40 - Start kettle for tea; get boys juice; feed everyone (including cats, excluding myself). Turn on laptop.

7:46 - Pour kettle water into teapot; field shapes discussion with almost-four-year-old (yes, yes, stars are cool).

7:49 - Check email and Facebook newsfeed; begin the blog trawl.

7:57 - Get five-year-old a second helping of breakfast.

8:04 - Pour first mug of tea (giant mug); and put on kettle for second pot (if you’re a squeamish-short-steep-tea-drinker, I apologize--this post will torture you).

8:06 - TV on for kids... DVD: I Spy

8:10 - Get paper, stickers and markers for boys -- craft time starts early today -- TV off. (See trend? They’ve already abandoned the TV because they know they can watch it anytime... muahahaha!)

8:13 - Argue with almost-four-year-old that, no, he’s doing a pee pee dance, not a boogie dance.

8:15 - Realize I still haven’t finished the blog trawl, or the first tea; turn TV back on at boys’ polite request.

8:16 - Sit, morbidly mesmerized, by almost-four-year-old attempting to memorize every word from the movie by anticipating lines from the characters -- his success thus far is impressive (and more than a little disturbing).

8:23 - Hand out more construction paper (keep the masses happy); second mug of tea; start second pot of tea steeping; grab banana for breakfast.

8:32 - Remind cat she shouldn’t be drinking water out of the container in the sink. She disagrees. Remind her Mr Lannis hates her drinking from sink. She is unimpressed with my arguments, as only a cat can be.

8:34 - Sit back down at laptop; listen to almost-four-year-old sing the ABCs; scan the Twittersphere.

8:38 - Begin listening to a new episode of Writing Excuses; immediately pause podcast to referee kids at craft table. Final warning. Next is the dreaded Time Out.

8:39 - Start playing mindless game online while listening to podcast (and kids).

8:40 - Pause podcast to listen to almost-four-year-old tell me about his picture (“The R is Princess Leia, and the three is Skywalker, and the eight is Dark Vader”); restart podcast.

8:48 - Pause podcast; listen to five-year-old discuss his sticker art (“it’s a monster eating walnuts”); restart.

8:49 - Pause podcast; field almost-four-year-old’s annoyance with episode two of I Spy being watched instead of episode three (picture him: huddled, ready to unleash The Ugly Cry -- my response? “If it’s that upsetting, go upstairs and cry on your bed, or we can just turn the TV off.” No. He’s fine. Of course.)

8:51 - Get juice for boys; have cats perform for treats; get third mug of tea; wash a couple of dishes leftover from last night (hubby did cleanup--he lets things soak, I let him let things soak, the alternative -- dried-on resentment --is worse).

9:05 - Finally finish the podcast. They have a great slogan: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” Yes. These men have children.

9:07 - Email my cousin; tell boys to stop running in the house (cars are racing); turn off TV (nobody’s watching); tell boys to keep their hands to themselves.

9:13 - Finish email to cousin (we’re chatty); attempt to finish blog trawl.

9:15 - Bargain with boys to clean toy area in exchange for getting out Lego bin (read: ginormous tub full); go to bathroom to discover a zealous little man has managed to pee all down the side of the toilet; clean entire bathroom (it’s a 2 piece).

9:38 - Pour fourth tea; ready third pot; eat banana; check to see just how long The Mrs’ day-in-the-life post was... oy...

9:40 - Get boys the Lego bin for successfully tidying up; pray I’ll understand my day-in-life shorthand later...

9:41 - Begin email of book recommendations at the request of a friend.

9:51 - Find broken menu links for reviews on Post Whatever. Email admin.

10:05 - Almost-four-yr-old waited too long to go pee. Get him cleaned up and new clothes, wipe down bathroom (again); referee naked boy in living room (read: naked Time Out for not listening).

10:15 - Fifth tea; send email of book list; copy and paste list into sticky on desktop.

10:17 - Help boys with their Lego building. Offer to read book -- nope. Lego too addictive.

10:40 - Open windows/blinds for sunshine throughout house; find basket of clean (unfolded) laundry in closet (hidden from generous babysitting grandparents last weekend); fold and put away; go on laundry hunt to ambitiously do load at night during cheap time to keep up (read: to prevent laundry backlog on weekend -- yes, we have the same Time of Use schedule as the Mrs).

11am - Write dual belated-thank-you/birthday card to my uncle (belated thanks for housewarming gift weeks ago, not belated birthday); find manilla envelope for organizing income tax stuff -- fill with paperwork left on counter to die (sorry, Mrs, not everyone is as excited as you are for tax season!).

11:15-11:50 - Make lunch for boys; put frozen turkey breast plus onion soup mix into slow cooker (voila! dinner’s almost done); nuke can of soup for my lunch; sweep kitchen to clear aftermath of craft time/sticker party; empty dishwasher; put on new pot of tea; eat soup.

12:05: Boys are playing Lego (again); finish tidying kitchen and pour tea; read.

12:21 - Read story to boys -- two kids squeezed into my lap.

12:30 - Clip boys’ fingernails and toenails; gather gear to give boys haircuts.

12:45 - Get five-year-old into the haircutting chair.

1:20 - Praise almost-four-year-old for industriously cleaning up water he spilled. 
1:21 - Get almost-four-year-old into haircutting chair.

1:58 - Change out of house clothes; get boys ready to go to store for gummies (AKA: the bribery reward for sitting well for haircuts).

2:08 - Finally get in van.

2:08- 2:57 - Buy gummies (also: sour cherries, fuzzy peaches, gummy worms, gummy snakes, and salt water taffy--who stupidly decided to go to Bulk Barn?); take van for automatic car wash (while eating candy, naturally); get home; attempt to get kids to play outside (no chance); change back into house clothes; turn on laptop.

3pm - Check email; do survey from hotel stay last weekend; do online survey for research company.

3:14 - Read while kidlets play Lego.

3:35 - Mr Lannis is home from work! Yay! 
3:43 - Mr Lannis takes boys for a walk; I go for a shower - a nice, long, undisturbed shower!

4:10 - Begin the rest of dinner (peel potatoes and squash, cook frozen peas, and boxed stuffing); talk to my auntie on the phone.

5pm - The menfolk return! Get five-year-old to clear table and put out water for two boys.

5:10 - Sit to eat.

5:45 - Boys clear their plates from the table; I wash most of the dishes; let some soak.

6pm - Sit down at laptop; write notes for this post; read; listen to Mr Lannis playing Lego with boys. (Yes. Lego. Yes. Again. There’s a reason we have a giant tub.)

6:35 - Mr Lannis leaves for Karate.

6:45 - Tidy and vacuum living room.

7pm - Cut pears for boys’ bedtime snack, turn on TV to wind down for bedtime.

7:06 - Check Twitterverse and FB newsfeed (and sneak some salt water taffy pieces).

7:26 - TV off, brush teeth, PJs, story, bed time! Yay! 
7:47 - TV on (grownup shows!).

7:49 - Shut down financial rep who calls following up the Welcome Wagon visit (we’re new to the area). I’m not a Tele-marketer’s friend. What part of “if I wanted your product, I’d already have it” is hard to understand?

8pm - Watch TV (nothing decent is on -- boo); attempt to decipher my day-in-the-life shorthand.

8:50 - Mr Lannis is back from Karate!

9pm - Disappointment with what’s on cable TV, turn it off to read. Mr Lannis turns it back on.

9:40 - Bedtime; wash face, brush teeth, change into PJs. Relax into my awesome body pillow (which Mr Lannis has dubbed my “boyfriend” -- Mr Lannis is not a snuggler. I am a compromiser.)

9:41 - Realize I have to decipher the rest of the shorthand for this frakking post. Realize it’s for the Mrs. I heart the Mrs... it’ll be okay. Probably. Of course. Never mind.

Occasional poster at The Mrs, I'm Lannis - or Leslie, depending on which circles you're swimming. A while ago I decided that I don't care anymore, hence my general standards for life are lower than The Mrs' (but she still loves me.) [Editor: I do]

I live in a small town with my favourite people: my husband, Mr Lannis, and our two boys, along with two cats and one hamster.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might witness my issues with linear thought, road rage, spending more money on food than books, and potty mouth. Be warned.