A Common Life Lived with Uncommon Joy

Posts tagged ‘Aldi’

The Difference Between Frugality and Stewardship

kitchen

Like any true Southern girl, my favorite place to be is in my kitchen making something delicious to bless the people I love.  My cousin Beckie has always teased me about how little TV I watch.  Truthfully, the TV is just too far from the kitchen to suit me.  Standing in the kitchen, cooking or cleaning, wearing my apron and listening to a sermon or worship music while I work is my happy place.  Today I had the urge to go spend the afternoon in my kitchen, cooking and cleaning and prepping some freezer meals.  My hands needed hot, soapy water, my favorite dishcloths crocheted by my cousin Donna (I have a lot of cousins y’all), and something yummy simmering on the stove.  I do some of my best thinking and praying when I’m in my kitchen.  As I scrubbed down countertops this afternoon, I started praying about our finances.  I know we are just one of many families struggling in the current economy, and thoughts of how to feed my family for less occupies my mind quite often.  I’m always looking for frugal recipes, tips on when/how to buy in bulk, the best place to get fresh produce or bread, anything to make our dollars stretch a little further.  Today though, as I scrubbed and prayed, a new thought entered my mind.  What if, instead of worrying and planning for how to spend my grocery money more carefully, I concentrated instead on using everything God had already blessed me with to its full potential?  What if I focused on using all the things I had stocked up in my pantry? What if I actually learned to use my fancy espresso machine (one of my best Goodwill finds) instead of stopping by Starbucks once a week?  I looked around and surveyed my kitchen, pantry and cabinets.  Everywhere I looked I could see items in need of attention – cleaning, repair, organization, or just actually being used.  I shifted my thinking from what I needed to do to acquire what I thought I needed to thinking about how to best use what I already had.

As I continued praying and seeking God’s direction in this new train of thought, I resolved to spend the month of October focusing specifically on stewardship instead of frugality.  I’m great at finding good deals and making a dollar stretch.  I’m not so great at maintenance and follow through.  Sometimes this results in unnecessary waste or things that sit in my pantry unused for several months before being donated to a food bank.  I decided a few steps that needed to be made and planned how to carry them out this month.  I will share the things I learn through the month and maybe we will both be blessed.

Here are the things I’m going to concentrate on this month:

1.  Eat from my pantry/freezer before going grocery shopping.  Each month, as soon as I get my grocery money, I rush to the store first chance I get and stock up on everything I can think of that we may need that month.  I use coupons, search for deals, know the best price and which store to find it in.  But by the 20th, I’m out of grocery money and depending on money from our regular account to get us through until next month check comes on the 5th.  It’s a feast or famine cycle.  This month, instead of focusing on acquiring more food, I’m going to focus on eating what we have, using what’s already in our pantry and freezer.  That’s not to say I won’t be grocery shopping, but I don’t plan to go until I actually need to.

2.  Inventory and make a plan.  I can’t use it if I don’t know I have it, right?  I’m going to start with an inventory of my pantry and freezer and fridge and then make a written plan on how to use what I have.  This will also give me a plan for all my #10 cans of tomato sauce, extra loaves of bread, etc. that I intended to prepare freezer meals with.  I’m not a great menu planner but I can make a list of possible meals and list the ingredients needed so I don’t use them for something else, crossing off meals on my list as I cook them.

3. Learning to use and maintain what I already have. Two years ago, the week before my birthday, I found the ultimate Goodwill prize – a $400 Starbucks espresso machine for $10.  Happy Birthday to me, right?? I must confess that I still don’t know how to use it and only have espresso drinks when Michael is off work on a weekend morning (about once or twice a month) because he’s the only one that knows how to operate the machine.  This month, I plan to watch the same YouTube videos he learned from, practice, and learn to make some of my favorite Starbucks drinks.  I already have all the equipment I need – I just need to learn how to use it.  The same goes for the ice cream maker I bought to make special dairy-free ice cream for Georgia.  I’m sure I’ll find a few other things too as the month progresses.

4. Make mealtimes special.  Just because the grocery budget is tighter and our meals are less extravagant, doesn’t mean our table has to be.  I plan to make regular use of our special dishes, light some candles, use the cloth napkins and napkin rings, maybe even add some flowers or a centerpiece occasionally.  I have a large stockpile of things that I use when we host parties or have a family over to eat, but I rarely use them for our own family.  Again, concentrating on stewardship instead of frugality – using what I have to its full potential.

Stay tuned all month! I will be posting updates to my progress through the month and at the end of October, I will let you know how it affected my monthly grocery budget.  I’m excited to see what God will teach me about stewardship.

Freezer Management 101 Part 3

So far we’ve stocked our freezers with bargain meats, veggies and fruits and made a few big batch recipes to help us make quick dinners on busy days.  The next step in freezer management is to add some breakfast foods and snack items.

One of the quickest and easiest items to prepare for the freezer is french toast.  Go buy a loaf of thin sliced sandwich bread at Aldi for $1.  Bring it home and prepare french toast as you usually would, using up the entire loaf.  Then lay the slices out on a cookie sheet (used waxed paper and layer them if needed) and stick it into the freezer.  When the slices are frozen, drop them into a gallon-sized ziploc freezer bag and label it.  When you’re craving french toast for breakfast, simply toast in the toaster just like frozen waffles.  Speaking of waffles, there’s another fast breakfast that’s easy to stock for the freezer.  Take your typical waffle recipe and double or triple it, freeze the waffles individually, then bag up when frozen.

Muffins are a frequently requested breakfast at our house but most mornings it’s all I can do to make coffee, much less muffins.  My solution is to mix up a few batches of favorite muffin varieties, put the batter into cupcake liners and freeze.  Once frozen, put the “muffin pucks” into labeled freezer bags.  When your crew is begging for muffins, just pull out the number needed, drop them into your muffin tin and slide it into the oven.  You will need to increase the baking time by 5-10 minutes when baking from frozen.  The bonus of this method is that if your kids can’t agree on what kind of muffins to eat, you can still give each of them what they want.

Another favorite breakfast treat at our house is banana bread.  Banana bread is also great for welcoming new neighbors, bringing to friends when you visit and sharing with new moms when you deliver a meal (most people don’t think to bring breakfast items so this will be a welcome treat).  I have perfected an assembly line technique that makes it easy to bake four loaves at a time so when I see the bags of ripe bananas at the grocery store, I grab all I can and make lots of banana bread.  The recipe I’m going to share with you is from an old church cookbook I received from my mother-in-law at my bridal shower.  This cookbook is one of three I just can’t live without.

Banana Bread

*To make this assembly-line style , line up the ingredients in stations around your kitchen table.  Get the kids to help you by refilling each ingredient as you use it.  We’ve made as many as 20 loaves in one day using this method.

Cream together 1/2 cup cooking oil and 1-1 1/2 cups sugar.  Add 2 eggs beaten well and 3 mashed, ripe bananas; beat well.  In a separate bowl mix 2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp soda and 1/2 tsp salt into the mixing bowl along with 3 tbsp milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.  Stir in 1 cup chopped nuts if desired (I never use nuts since so many are allergic now).  Pour into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  (My oven does better at 325 for 1 hour 15 minutes)  In my experience, three batches of this recipe will fill four loaf pans as the recipe makes just slightly more than you need for each loaf and the excess from three batches is enough to fill a fourth pan.  Four loaf pans fit side by side in my oven so I can bake four at a time.   Cool completely before removing from pan.  Wrap cooled loaves with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.  Be sure to label and date before freezing.

NOTE: One reader asked me about the safety of using aluminum foil and plastic wrap in freezing foods, voicing concern about a link to dementia and chemical leaching in plastics.  I have done quite a bit of research online and cannot find any reputable sources that confirm either concern.  Plastic wraps and aluminum foils must meet FDA food safety requirements and are both considered safe for freezer use.  It has been proven that plastic wraps should not be used in microwaving due to chemical leaching through heating but this is not applicable to freezer use.  The Saran company website suggests that if foods will be frozen for longer than two weeks, it is recommended that you use freezer bags instead of plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.  I hope this answers any concerns you have about using foils and wraps with frozen foods.

Finally, we need to stock our freezer with a yummy snack that all kids love – cookies!  Practically any cookie dough can be frozen – just mix up the dough, scoop onto a cookie sheet and freeze.  When your kids ask for a snack, put a couple scoops on a cookie sheet and bake, adding a couple extra minutes to the baking time.  Here’s a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies that makes a large batch and freezes well:

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Combine 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp salt and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, blend 2 sticks unsalted softened butter, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until creamy.  Add 2 beaten eggs and 1 tsp vanilla extract and beat well.  Slowly add in dry ingredients and mix until smooth.  Mix in 3 cups uncooked oats and 1 cup raisins with a spatula until evenly distributed.  Chill dough for 15 minutes.  Use an oiled teaspoon or cookie scoop to measure out 2″ diameter balls of dough onto cookie sheet.  If freezing, transfer frozen dough balls into a freezer bag until ready for baking.  If baking, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown (longer if cooking dough from frozen).  Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Makes 3-4 dozen.  Optional bar cookies can be made by pressing batter into an ungreased 9×13 baking pan and baking for 30-35 minutes.

As always, I welcome your comments!  Feel free to ask questions or share your ideas or recipes as we learn about freezer management together.

Freezer Management 101 Part 1

Today’s post is moving us in a new direction.  So far I’ve shared adventures in my faith walk and in trying to exercise and lose weight.  Now I want to start to share a new adventure with you – the adventure of homemaking!  We will start in my favorite room of my house, the kitchen!

Many of my friends and family have asked me a lot of questions about how I manage my kitchen, from grocery shopping to meal planning to pantry organization to freezer management.  I’m going to start with freezer management because it generally gets the most questions.  There’s a lot to share so this will be the first in a series of posts.  If your question isn’t answered today, be sure to ask me in the comments area so I can be sure to cover it in a future post.

Freezers are generally used for two things:  keeping frozen items like ice and popsicles  frozen and preserving other foods like meats and vegetables until we are ready to eat them.  Freezer management is just using the functions of your freezer in the most frugal and efficient ways to make meal times easier to manage.  We will start with the preserving function of the freezer and at the end of the series, I will share several recipes for frozen treats so you can stock your freezer with yummy stuff to keep you cool this summer.

I started out small in freezer management, using my freezer as a storehouse for meats when I found a great deal.  When I shop for meats, I go to the grocery store searching for markdown stickers.  Grocery stores will lower the price of fresh meats when they are close to the sell by dates in order to move them out the door.  You can buy these markdowns at a great discount and stick them right into your freezer until you are ready to cook them.  For example, on my last meat shopping trip, I found one pound packs of ground chicken regularly $3.69 each with $3 off markdown stickers.  There were nine packages marked down and I grabbed them all at $0.69 each.  Later I will show you how to bring your meats home and prep them into a meal or main dish before freezing (I’ve got an 1/8 of a cow coming in a few weeks!), but for now just focus on adding to your freezer stock.  Once your freezer is stocked with markdown meats, you can plan your meals based on the meats you have on hand and start lowering your grocery bill.

Another way to stock the freezer is with fruits and veggies.  First, go through your fridge and pull out any fruits or veggies that are just slightly past their prime.  These are foods like limp celery or apples that aren’t as crisp or very ripe berries that need to be eaten quickly before they spoil.  Instead of losing these foods to the garbage disposal, save them while they are still viable and get them in the freezer.  I chop things like onions, celery, carrots,  mushrooms, and bell peppers into very small pieces (usually with a food processor – I’m all about working quickly!) and then spoon them into ice cube trays.  Put the trays into the freezer until the veggies are frozen solid, then pop them out and put them into freezer ziploc bags in the freezer.  When you are making dinner and you want to add a little something to a sauce or rice, grab a couple cubes from your freezer stock and toss them in the microwave for a minute to thaw, then it’s ready to add to your recipe. You can also slice veggies and freeze to add to pizzas or stir fry – just slice and place on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen, then remove and put them in freezer ziploc bags.  The same procedure can be used for fruits like apples, peaches, berries, even bananas – just peel, slice and freeze on a cookie sheet then bag them.  Berries, grapes and pineapple chunks make a great frozen snack – they taste like bite-size popsicles and they’re healthy too!  Once your fridge is cleaned out, head to the grocery store and scope out the markdown produce.  Many grocery stores will pull bruised or very ripe produce off the shelves and bag it up to sell at a deep discount.  Just take it home and process it for the freezer right away and you can enjoy lots of produce for really low prices.  You can do the same thing when you find a great deal on in-season produce like a bushel of peaches.

The last way to stock up the freezer is with baked goods.  Most grocery stores will markdown breads, cookies, bagels, and pies that are nearing their sell by dates.  Once you get them home, wrap each item in foil before placing in a freezer ziploc bag.  I will often separate things like bagels, pies and cookies into individual serving sizes and put each serving in foil then a sandwich bag and then put all the sandwich bags into a larger freezer ziploc bag.  Then I can easily pull out a bagel or dessert to add to my hubby’s lunch, make a quick breakfast or serve to a visiting friend.  The rule of thumb here is to not just throw the baked goods into the freezer in their original packaging.  The packaging is meant to keep it fresh but isn’t designed to protect against freezer burn, so be sure to wrap it then bag it before you freeze it.

A few important things to note here:

1. Use name-brand freezer ziploc bags.  This isn’t the time to cut corners with off-brand bags or using storage bags instead of freezer bags.  You’re preserving food so use the best quality stuff to do it and you will get a better result.

2.  Don’t skip the ice cube tray/cookie sheet step!  This allows the food to freeze in separate pieces before you bag it so the pieces don’t stick to each other.  If you skip this step and throw it all into the bag and then freeze it, you will end up with a big frozen chunk that’s only useful if you are going to use it all at once and have the time to thaw it.

3.  Be sure to label and date everything.  If you are going to go through the effort of preserving the food, make sure you can identify it later or you won’t ever use it.

4.  Organize your freezer.  Keep all your meats in one section, your fruits in another, your veggies somewhere else, etc.  This is easier to do when you have a full-size upright freezer but it can still be done if all you have is the freezer above your fridge.  When you keep like items together, it’s easier to see what you have and find what you need so you can use what’s there and not forget about any of the frozen treasures waiting to be eaten.

The next post in the series will cover utilizing big batch cooking and #10 cans to stock your freezer.  As always, comments make my day!  Be sure to leave your questions in the comments so I can cover them in future posts.

 

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Adventures in Grocery Shopping

My adventure started out as a routine trip to Aldi during Gracie’s dance class.  Because the littles were at home napping while Ross did his schoolwork, I was driving my shopping cart solo.  I whizzed through the little store, systematically grabbing groceries, throwing them in the cart and checking them off my list.  In less than 15 minutes, I was finished and standing in the checkout lane.  It’s amazing how fast I can shop when I don’t have Georgia poking her finger into my produce, Amber constantly asking if we can go to Harris Teeter (because they have cookies, Mommy!), Gracie being the little mommy to both of them while simultaneously trying to read my chicken scratch grocery list, and Ross asking me what HFCS is and why we don’t want it in our food.

I guess everyone had decided it was a good day to buy groceries because the store was busy.  I had already seen two other moms whose daughters were in dance class too.  The line to checkout went halfway to frozen foods.  I pulled out my smart phone (instant entertainment while waiting!) and tried to avoid looking at the big box of Snicker bars calling my name from the nearby empty checkout lane.  And then I saw the flowers.

I love fresh flowers.  I think they make a house look so fresh and pretty.  It’s really one of the few really girly things about me, this love I have for a fresh bouquet in a pretty vase – a thing of beauty in the middle of the chaos that is my kitchen.  I’m also not above buying them myself instead of pouting and waiting for Michael to be inspired to bring them home.  I  wandered over to the floral display and looked past the daisies and carnations, eyeing my prize.  The first sign of spring in my book is tulip bouquets and here they were, brightening up their corner of the dingy little grocery store.  And they were on sale! Only $3 for a little spot of sunshine.  I chose some pale pink blooms and went back to waiting in line.

All of a sudden I heard the one sound you can never truly get out of a store without hearing at least once – a wailing child.  Her mama was trying her best to stay calm and comfort her preschooler, fully and uncomfortably aware that all eyes were now on her.  Her daughter had decided to help mommy put the groceries onto the conveyor belt and dropped her jar of pickles.  Glass shattered, pickle juice oozed, girl wailed and mama was somehow calm through it all.  The cashier helped her take her groceries to the next lane, voided her order and started over scanning everything.  Meanwhile, the lady in line behind the wailing little girl high-tailed it to the pickle section in the back of the store, grabbed a new jar and thrust it toward the mama.  But the little girl was well past hysterical by now and even baby kosher dills wouldn’t console her.  The mama kept repeating “It’s ok, almost done, the pickles are in the cart now.”  I wasn’t sure if she was talking to the girl or to herself but the stress of the whole situation was all over her face.

Finally I paid for my groceries and went to bag them on the counter by the door.  There was the same little girl, still sniffling and whining about her pickles on the floor.  And there was that mama, still repeating the same phrase, shoving groceries into bags as fast as she could.  We both went to our minivans and proceeded to unload the groceries from cart to car, all while the girl continued to whimper and cry about her precious pickles.  This child could test the patience of Job, but this mama somehow remained calm.  As I put the last bag in the car and reached for my beautiful tulips, I felt the Lord nudge me.  “Those tulips would really encourage that stressed out mama.”  Really Lord??  My tulips, my little bit of sunshine – You want me to give it away?  I don’t even know her Lord! She’s gonna think I’m crazy, giving flowers to a stranger.  “You want to live life loud don’t you? Step outside your comfort zone? What about those prayers for boldness?  Do you really want it? Show me.”

I returned my cart to the corral and stood there holding the tulips, feeling like a fool, just standing there waiting on the mama to return her own cart.  But when she finally walked up, courage surged up in my heart and I couldn’t give her the flowers fast enough.  “I want to give you a gift,” I blurted out.  I walked up to her and pushed the tulips into her hands.  “Sometimes, us mamas have really hard days and we just need someone to encourage us and let us know we are doing a good job.  I’m amazed at your patience with your daughter.  You’re doing a great job.”  Before I knew what was happening, I had my arm around her shoulder and I was hugging this stranger, this fellow mama, in the middle of the parking lot while she held my tulips.  I looked at her and saw tears in her eyes.  “Thank you so much. I saw these in the store and I thought they were so pretty,” she said.  And then she stunned me.  “You must have really been listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice.”

And now the tears are in my eyes too.  I have no way of knowing what that mama is going through or how those simple flowers will impact her life, if they do at all.  But the God who hears my prayers asking for boldness in sharing Him with others is the same God who knows the needs of a mama with a crying preschooler and a broken pickle jar.  It was all I could do to walk back to my van and not run into the store to buy every bouquet they had, just to give them away to other mamas.  We need to remember we aren’t alone.  Other mamas struggle with sleep deprivation and potty training and moody preteens and husbands with long work hours.  In the midst of our struggles, we can look up and see those around us who are struggling too.  Then we can reach out (maybe with some flowers in hand) and remind them they aren’t alone either.  We can spread the little bit of sunshine.  This praying for boldness, this desire to live life loud for Jesus, is pushing me and stretching me.  I never know what adventure will come next.  But I’ve had a taste of the excitement and joy that comes when I push past the fear of being a fool and I want more!!

Comments make my day!  Let’s share our adventures together – whether it’s a spiritual adventure like my grocery store experience, or something new you are daring to try.  I want to cheer you on!

 

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