Thursday, November 6, 2014

Where Have You Been?

Sorry Guys . . . I have not abandoned you . . . fear not. However, when you make next to nothing an hour, you have to work a lot of hours to make ends meet. You know . . . 57 hours a week or so. And what do you want to do when you get home from working 57 hours a week. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Definitely nothing that involves thinking or working of any kind. No cooking, no cleaning, no laundry gets done . . . also no writing. So again, sorry. I will attempt to be more consistent.

Good news! I got a raise! In the spirit of consistency, however, I'm not going to change the blog title to "How to Survive on $9 an Hour." I'll tell you that while that little bit extra helps, it was not life changing or revolutionizing. I'd need to get a much bigger raise to change the way I'm currently living.

So lets talk about living for a minute, rather than subsisting. Subsisting is what I'm doing when I'm telling you about a great recipe that costs only pennies a serving and only requires one pot and an hour. Sometime you need to live a little. I made a promise to myself when I moved to Orlando . . . go find it on my Facebook page from June of 2012 . . . it's there I swear. I promised that my house would always have croissants, chocolate and ice cream. I've not kept that promise, but it made me think about the little things that can make your life so much more pleasant. I will scrimp and I will save and I will buy Suave shampoo and Hunts tomato sauce, but I will not give up my Bath and Body Works shower gel. Nope, not doing it.

So let's talk about those croissants.

Relatively speaking, they are a pretty big splurge. I can get a loaf of bread for $1. I buy bagel thins at Publix when they are B1G1 free for less than $1.50 a package. That box of croissants set me back $2.98. However, they make me happy. As one of my managers recently reminded me, happy is important and happy in contagious! So I'm making an effort to do things that make me happy more often--it's even better if they are cheap or free, but $2.98 is not a huge expenditure.

Besides there are a ton of things that you can do with a croissant. I prefer them as breakfast foods.

You can go classic:

You can go French and add a slice of ham to that butter . . . no ham at my house right now, so I'm using smoked turkey.

I recommend leaving the butter out on the counter the night before for easy spreading. (You do know that you don't have to chill your butter at all--it's counter top stable, just invest in a butter bell--about $10 on

You can use it as a bagel substitute . . . yes indeed that is pumpkin spice cream cheese!

If you'd like something slightly more substantial I recommend good ol' PB&J. I just discovered, however, that my roommate consumed all of my jelly, so I'll be having cream cheese on my croissant for breakfast!

At any rate, the lesson is  . . . do things that make you happy. Even if they are little tiny things like buying croissants. On that note, I'm going to go have a margarita. Margaritas also make me happy.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I love Aldi and the Easiest Recipe Ever

      My Aldi shopping experience was the exact opposite of my Save-A-Lot shopping experience of a few weeks ago.  Everyone was friendly and polite and even asked if I needed help when I looked a little lost. I *almost* didn't need my headphones while doing this week's grocery shopping. Granted I didn't need much this week.  The deals on produce are outstanding.  Let's get specific. I went to Publix right after I went to Aldi.  I needed two items that Aldi didn't have cilantro and ginger. While in the Publix produce aisle I discovered the exact same head of butter lettuce I had just purchased at Aldi for $1.49.

      That's right it was $2.00 cheaper, two whole dollars! What can I do with $2.00, well I can make the southwestern style bean salad I'll give you the recipe for at the end of this. How does Aldi match up against Walmart? Well I've got last week's Walmart receipt in front of me. Bananas at Walmart were $.56lb and at Aldi today they were $.44. Then we've got last week's grape tomatoes which were $2.49. This week I only paid $1.49. How do they do it? Well for starters, make sure you have a quarter with you if you go to Aldi. You are going to have to put down a deposit for your shopping cart. You get it back when you turn it in, so no one is out there collecting shopping carts. Second, bring your own bags, Aldi doesn't provide them for free, but you can buy reusable ones there if you forget yours. Don't even think about buying name brands, you aren't likely to find any. Plus you know how you find four different brands of kidney beans in the canned veggie section at Walmart, you'll only find one brand at Aldi, but it's only going to cost you $.59, which is $.10 cheaper than the Great Value brand at Walmart. Last, don't plan on paying with a credit card, they don't take them. Your debit card, however, will work just fine.

      Will I stop shopping at Walmart? No, the Walmart is closer and it's open twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes I do my grocery shopping at 5:45am on Thursdays. Aldi doesn't open until 9am (10am on Sundays.) Look HERE to see where the nearest Aldi to your house is! However, I don't think going five extra miles once a week is a problem, especially since I've been eating lots of fruits and veggies, which are significantly less expensive at Aldi.

      On to the food. This is hands down the easiest recipe ever, because it involves absolutely no cooking.  You can open a can right?


1 can of black beans
1 can of corn
1 can of kidney beans
handful of cilantro
handful of grape or cherry tomatoes
3 T white wine vinegar
1 T olive oil
southwestern seasoning
salt and pepper

Dump all three cans into a colander. (I'm not going to lie, it took me three tries to spell colander correctly.) Rinse everything really well! Then pour the mixture into a plastic container with a lid. Cut the tomatoes in half and add them. Chop the cilantro and add it.

To make the dressing add the rest of the ingredients to a small mixing bowl and whisk. Use as much or as little southwest seasoning as you like--careful, it's hot! (If you need to make your own seasoning try a blend of chili powder, cayenne, onion powder, and garlic powder.) You can leave out the mustard if you like, I put some kind of mustard in most of my dressings.

Add the dressing to your salad, put the top on and shake to distribute the dressing evenly over everything.

Here's my lunch for tomorrow!

I lined the bowl with the butter lettuce, added the bean salad, and topped it with already grilled southwestern style chicken. (Yup, I did zero cooking. I was feeling tired so I bought the prefab chicken.)

How easy was that? Now . . . What did it cost? The bean salad, by itself . . . oh about $2.00 for about four servings. So my lunch tomorrow when you add in the lettuce and the chicken comes to $1.75. You can definitely just have the bean salad as a meal!  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Saving Money on Shampoo

Shampoo and Conditioner You Can Afford

When I moved to Florida my hair drove me insane. The water here is crazy. My usually oily hair went from needing to be washed twice a day to being so dry it was crunchy. Yes, crunchy. I was making more money then so I went immediately to the Aveda store at the mall, where they quickly sold me about $48 worth of stuff they were sure would fix my problem. Guess what? They were wrong. Not only that but I had a skin reaction to their super-duper, didn't work at all, heavy duty once a week conditioner. It didn't work if I used it once a week or once a day. So I set off on a quest to find something to fix my hair.

I read every beauty magazine article I could find and filled my shower with all of the products on the best conditioners--I didn't buy any more designer conditioners after the Aveda mishap. I only bought things I could find at the drug store/Walmart for less than $10.  At one point I had at least five different conditioners in my shower. Lets run through them really quickly--just for a cost perspective. Keep in mind that none of these worked really well--unless I left them on my hair for twenty minutes or so, every other day. Also keep in mind that in most of these cases I also bought the shampoo that went with the conditioner for continuity's sake.

Organix Teatree and Mint Hydrating Conditioner: $5.94. Smells awesome, doesn't hydrate.
L'Oreal Total Repair Damage Repairing Balm: $5.97. 
Neutrogena Triple Moisture Deep Recovery Hair Mask: $6.27.
Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser: $4.97
Pantene Pro-V Repair and Protect: $3.97 and  Overnight Miracle Repair Serum: $4.97. Trust me, not a miracle, just a mess!
Aussie Three Minute Miracle: $2.97. This one actually helps, if used in conjunction with Aussie Hair Insurance Leave in Conditioner: $2.97. 

You get the idea right (The list is actually longer than this)? Well after ditching lots of bottles and tubs of stuff when I moved the last time, I eventually ran out of shampoo. I also now make $8.15 an hour, so inexpensive was now the order of the day. I *might* have spent thirty minutes in the shampoo aisle at Walmart. Well I decided to take a chance and go with the least expensive possible option. I bought 12.5oz bottles of Suave Humectant Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner for less than $2 each. 

It's a miracle. 
Really truly. 

In just a few days, my crunchy, dry hair was back to "normal." Now that summer is in full swing here, my hair needs less moisture on a daily basis so I switched to Suave Rosemary and Mint.

Rosemary & Mint    
I'll tell you another secret. I finally found an anti-perspirant that mostly works. I work outside in the sun, I sweat. After years of swapping products. Degree Motion Sense actually does it's job. It doesn't work for 48 hours like they say it does, but it will get you through work. It costs about $3.88 at Wally World. The active ingredient is Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex Gly18.2%
Expert Protection
 Bigger secret, Suave 24 Hour Protection works almost as well, for less than half the price at $1.50. I haven't decided if almost as well is good enough for me.  The active ingredient is Aluminum Chlorohydrate at 20%.
Interestingly enough . . . both products are made by the same company: Unilever.  

Contempo Cafe at the Contemporary

The Contempo Cafe is located on the main concourse of the Contemporary Resort. (That's the fourth floor folks.)  It's right next to that Disney dinner powerhouse: Chef Mickey's.  I have a new favorite sandwich, but I'm on a diet, so this beauty from the Contempo is now out.

Yup, no buttered, which was made with apple butter, Challah Texas toast for me anymore. What else was on the sandwich? Arugula, green apples, brie, turkey, and honey mustard dressing. It was actually a pretty healthy sandwich until they made it large enough to feed a small country and put it on buttered Texas toast. (It was, looking back, a little on the greasy side.)  Can I make a healthier, even Weight Watchers friendly version? 

Sure I can, but my sandwich just became a salad--there was no way around ditching the Texas toast, unless I made croutons and croutons are not plastic fork friendly. This was kind of a no brainer because the sandwich came with nice bitter arugula instead of lettuce. Wally World stocks 4oz bags of organic arugula for less than bags of romaine lettuce. (Organic baby carrots are also cheaper than conventional baby carrots at my Walmart.)  

I also have to say goodbye to the full fat, creamy, honey mustard dressing. Instead I'm going with a honey, dijon mustard vinaigrette made with white wine vinegar. I swapped the brie for a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese with herbs. Add in some diced deli style turkey (I used Great Value Mesquite Smoked) cube half a granny smith apple, chop some celery and toss! Just to up the freshness I always add some herbs from my mini garden to my salads. I topped this one with mint and thyme. Three points for the turkey and two points for the dressing and two more for the cheese and you've got a Weight Watchers friendly lunch! 

If you wanted to you could take that side of sesame green beans and add them to your salad. Just blanch some beans, chill and add in with the rest of your salad and sprinkle in some toasted sesame seeds. 

The original sandwich cost $9.19. Here's what I spent for enough for 4 lunches:
2 apples: $1.47
Celery: $1.58 -- and I'm not using the whole thing--plenty of snacks in that $1.58
Arugula: $2.48
Turkey: $2.50
Total: $8.03  (I had everything to make the dressing in the pantry, but if you don't add about $5.00 in shopping costs, but the ingredients will last you awhile.)    

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette Recipe:

1t honey
1t dijon mustard
1T white wine vinegar
1t olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Just whisk it all together and toss with your salad!

More Resources and Shopping Updates!

I just wanted to let everyone know that in addition to the blog you'll be able to find timely updates for shopping deals and other cheap/interesting things on my community Facebook page here:

Not everything is worthy of a whole blog post . . . like which buy one get one frees are good stock ups this week! I'm going to put those things on the FB page instead. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dieting on a Budget

I don't usually plug specific products in my blog, but this week I'm going to be doing a whole bunch of it. I don't have any relationship with any of the companies that produce the products I'm plugging. I just thing they are great--and can save you money. I just wanted to let you know before I started this blog for real.

I am on a diet. It's really hard to diet on a budget, no more $.99 packages of hot dogs for me! Before I left New Orleans and moved to Orlando I lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers.  Since then, I have put 9 of those pounds back on. Right now I feel like I've put all 30 back on. I decided the slide had to stop and I started looking at going back to Weight Watchers.  I very quickly discovered that the plan that includes face to face meetings that got me through that first 30 pounds was out of my price range. That plan costs $43 a month. So I looked at the online plan. The sign up fee is $29.95 plus a monthly fee of $18.95. Well I know eating well costs more than eating hot dogs, so that's also out of the price range because I would have had to take the money out of my food budget, which I knew was about to go up!

I did a little research online and in the App Store. I found an App that tracks just like the Weight Watchers App. It's called Pro Tracker and it cost me $1.99. It does exactly the same thing the WW App does. It takes my points for the day and subtracts from them as I tell it what I've had to eat.

If you aren't familiar with the Weight Watchers plan, this might not be for you. However, if you already know how the plan works, it's perfect. Here's how my day goes. I start the beginning of the week with 26 points a day and 49 flex points to use through the week. At breakfast I log in what I ate and the App subtracts the points from my daily total. The same thing for snacks, lunch and dinner. I also log in my exercise and it gives me additional points to use during the week.

I'm going to be very honest with all of you. I don't ever use my flex points or log my exercise points. I use them for my wine consumption and I don't count them. I stick to 26 points a day and 26 points is plenty!

I'm also going to give you some tips! Fruits and veggies all have a zero point balance, but not all fruits and veggies are created equal. When you start out you can eat as many fruits and veggies as you want, all of them! However, if you find yourself sliding or your scale is stuck, you might need to consider which fruits and veggies you are eating. Try to eat fruits that have lots of fiber: berries, papaya, citrus. Try to avoid fruits that have a high sugar content . . . things like watermelon. The same goes for veggies. Go for a high fiber content like raw greens or a high water content like cucumbers. Avoid veggies that have a high sugar content like carrots and corn! Remember that things like potatoes count as starch not veggies!

Good luck and I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Whole Chicken?

Yes, You Can!

A whole chicken? I can't do that . . . what the heck do you do with a whole chicken . . . and can I afford a whole chicken? Well the good news is that yes, you can afford a whole chicken. A whole chicken costs about the same as a package of chicken breasts or between $5 and $6, as long as you pick a small one, not one of those giant family roasters. (Those cost $9-$12.) However, there are so many more uses for a whole chicken than a package of chicken breasts. Yes, you can buy a whole roasted chicken at the grocery for about the same as a raw one, but there are two reasons to cook it yourself. First, you get to decide what herbs and spices you are using with your chicken. My grocery offers two or three kinds: regular, lemon pepper and BBQ. Yes, I love lemon pepper and I'm going to use it in this blog, but I also want fresh herbs, garlic, etc etc etc. Second thing it's that little word that starts with a P . . . yup pride. The satisfaction that you cooked it yourself, and can now brag that you made winner winner chicken dinner, chicken salad, chicken soup and whatever else you decide to do with your left over chicken. I'll come up with some more ideas before I get to the end of this.

Ok so now you have a chicken. It's in a plastic bag right? Get it out of the plastic bag in the sink. There's a lot of messy stuff in there. I rinse my chicken once it's out of the bag. I don't know if you need to or not, it just feels like the right thing to do. Then I put it directly in a foil covered roasting pan (this makes the cleanup easier and the cooking seems more even) and wash my hands. I grab the butter, herbs, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon pepper and prep those things up. Slice four tablespoons of butter, quarter the onion, smash a couple of cloves of garlic, wash the herbs and you are all ready to go. If you are going to cook immediately, preheat the oven to 350. 

The first two slices of butter and 1/4 of the herbs, today I'm using fresh rosemary and thyme from my balcony garden, get stuffed in between the skin and the breast meat. Just stuff them under the skin and push them all the way forward--you could add a clove of garlic in there if you wanted. The next two slices of butter and 1/4 of the herbs go in between the skin and the thigh meat. 

Inside the chicken I stuff the rest of the herbs, the quartered onion--whatever fits, and some garlic. If you have other veggies around like carrots or celery you could add those too! I usually run out of room too quickly--so this particular chicken only got three onion quarters. 

Next I coat the skin with a combination of salt, pepper and lemon pepper seasoning. Then cover the whole thing with foil. If you want to, before the foil, you can tie up the legs with butcher's twine or foil. I usually do, but today, because I wanted to see if it made a difference, I didn't. 

 Then the whole mess goes into the oven. Chicken needs to cook for about 20 minutes per pound at 350. My chicken is just over 5 pounds so it needs a total of 117 minutes or almost two hours. That's what the chicken people say. Reality is . . . it probably doesn't need that long. I'm going to cook it for about an hour with the foil on and then another 30 minutes with the foil off and check it. If I think it needs more time. It goes back in. 

So what can you do with your chicken once it's cooked? Well start with roasted chicken for dinner. Then harvest the rest of the meat from the bones and throw the carcass in a pot of boiling water and let it simmer into chicken stock . . . now you've got stock to make chicken soup from some of the left over meat. Just add veggies and you are all set! Chicken salad is super easy once you've got a cooked chicken. Cut the meat into chunks, add mayo, celery, relish, maybe some apple or grapes and salt and pepper and you are set for a couple of lunches. I like to make a basic spinach salad and top it with the roast chicken. You could also make pot pies, tacos, or anything else that calls for cooked chicken. The possibilities are literally endless. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner Canned

Canned Food Challenge Meal #2

Thanksgiving dinner is my favorite meal. I thought it would be interesting to make a Thanksgiving dinner casserole from all canned products. This stroke of genius came when I discovered that I had thrown a can of whole berry cranberry sauce into my cart. It was maybe the second easiest meal I've ever put together.

First I made a box of stove top cornbread stuffing. Just follow the directions on the box. The box calls for half a stick of butter, but you can actually make it without it if you need/want.  I also preheated my oven to 350. Why 350? It's my default temperature when I'm not working from a recipe.

As far as building the casserole, I started out with canned sweet potatoes, which I rinsed because they had added sugar and I didn't want it to be too sweet. I dumped them into the bottom of a 9 x 9 Corning ware dish. 

Next I drained a can of mixed seasoned greens really well. I mean REALLY well! Looking back the preseasoned greens had an awful lot of vinegar in them, and if I do this again I'll use plain greens or spinach. Then I spread about half the can on top of the sweet potatoes.

I added a can of chicken chunks next. I drained and rinsed this again. You could completely leave out the chicken if you wanted to do a veggie dish, or to cut costs. This was by far the most expensive item at $2.30. I put half of the can of cranberry sauce on top of the chicken.  I should have used the whole can! 

I topped everything with a thick layer of the stuffing and covered it with foil. I put it in to bake for 30 minutes. Then I took the foil off and let it go for another 30 minutes to crisp up the top of the stuffing. I topped it with canned turkey gravy. 

It was absolutely fantastic and I ended up with two lunches and two dinners and, don't laugh, one breakfast. Yup it was so good that I ate the last small portion for breakfast one day . . . cold. 

So here's what I used:
1 can of sweet potatoes: $.88
1 can of greens: $.99
1 can of chicken: $2.30
1 can of cranberry sauce: $.50
1 box of stove top stuffing: $1.00
1 can of gravy: $1.00

The casserole cost a total of $6.67 to put together and I got five meals out of it so . . . $1.33 per meal. Without the chicken this is a real bargain at $4.37 or $.87 per meal. Just so you know I didn't add salt or pepper to anything because the greens were heavily seasoned and I didn't want to add to that! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Great Northern Beans

Canned Food Challenge Day 1

I'll be honest. I skipped breakfast this morning. I was out getting the oil changed and my hair cut. Right now the first meal is on the stove: Italian style Great Northern Beans!

So what's in the pot?

4 cans . . . salt, pepper, and shelf stable "Parmesan" cheese.  See you can cook too! (My new can opener works great, but I really want an old school swing line. Anyone know who still carries them? Wally World does not.)

No really, what's in the pot:

1 can of Great Northern Beans
1 can of Spinach
1 can of Diced Tomatoes-the Basil, Garlic, & Oregano flavor
1 can of Chunk Light Tuna in Oil
1/2 cup of "Parmesan" cheese--it came from the Dollar Store . . . it's not real
Salt and Pepper

Drain and rinse the beans, drain about half the oil out of the tuna and dump everything in a pot. Simmer until the consistency is where you want it.  You can eat this one as is . . . or you can stretch it from 3 meals to 6 by adding a half pound of pasta. Your choice! I personally like this one with pasta--so I've got water boiling for penne right now!

Cost?  About $2.09 without the pasta and $2.59 with the pasta!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Cans Aquired

My Last Visit To Save-A-Lot Ever

So today I went to Save-A-Lot, and it will be my last visit there ever. I walked out with my cart of cans and realized the checkout girl hadn't given me a receipt. I walked back in immediately, I had literally gone 10 feet. I asked the girl for my receipt and she asked me what I bought. I said, it was your last transaction. She looked at me with a blank stare and said, "I don't remember." Then she turned and went back to checking out her next customer. I was going to throw a fit, thought better of it and walked out. Prices for the canned food challenge will be approximate. I know I spent $28 and some change and that the most expensive thing I bought was canned artichoke hearts at $2.49 and the least expensive thing I bought was vienna sausages at $.35. (I've never eaten them before, but they do come in a can . . . they may sit on the shelf forever.) So what is in the canned inventory? Lets see!


Sweet Peas
Seasoned Mixed Greens
Artichoke Hearts
Sweet Potatoes 
Small White Potatoes
Diced Tomatoes (Garlic and Basil)


Chunk Pineapple
Fruit Salad


Black Beans
Great Northern Beans
Canned Chunk Chicken
Vienna Sausages
Corned Beef Hash


Chicken Broth
Sausage Gravy
Whole Cranberry Sauce

So what's on the menu this week?

A canned Thanksgiving using the sweet potatoes, greens, cranberry sauce and chicken, Italian style white beans, Some kind of pasta with clams, artichokes and mushrooms, and maybe a spam and pineapple fried rice.  That corned beef hash is for breakfast, so are the biscuits and gravy. 

Pictures and recipes will follow as the week progresses . . . 

Oh and I bought a new can opener. See the fancy looking one on the left. Yeah. It doesn't work at all. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Canned Food Challenge

      I was watching Chopped on the Food Network and frowned when I heard a competitor say that she, "never uses any kind of canned product in her kitchen." First, I find that hard to believe. Lots of things come in cans. Using stock that comes in a box instead of a can doesn't count, it's still a packaged product. Skirting the issue doesn't mean you aren't using "canned" products. Second, lots of great products come in cans. Where would we be today without canned tuna fish? Hungry for mayonaisey goodness, that's for sure.  Those of you know me well know that I'm a big fan of the show Chopped. I have even been known to "play" Chopped with the contents of my fridge on my Facebook page. What you might not know is that I am frequently frustrated by the holier-than-thou attitudes of the contestants. Just because you wouldn't use it in your restaurant doesn't mean that those of us watching at home aren't stuck with a canned version of something because it's easier to get, more cost effective, and shelf stable.

      Have you ever been in a situation where you didn't have a heat source or a source of fresh meat and produce? No? If you don't think you can do it, I suggest you stay clear of areas that are prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or any other kind of natural disaster. I'll be honest, after 2006, I never want to see another can of Hormel Chili ever again.  
      I wondered if I could cook for an entire week using only canned ingredients. I'm not talking about pre-made canned items like Chef Boyardi Ravioli or Hormel Chili (anyone can open a can of soup for a week!) I was thinking more along the lines of things like beans, veggies, fruits, and proteins that can be purchased in canned form and creating complete meals. Why would anyone want to do that? Well  . . . I think I already told you; canned foods are easy to find, cheap, and last forever.

      I'm going to try it. I'll be taking a trip to Save-A-Lot or Aldi on Thursday (I have to figure out which one is closer) . . . home to the cheapest canned ingredients one can buy--yes even cheaper than Wally World. I have one caveat to the challenge: dried rice and pasta will be used to fill out the experiment. In addition, my regular pantry is available--things like milk, eggs and butter

What would you cook with only canned ingredients?

Here's my favorite canned food recipe--it's also the easiest recipe ever:

Hawkeye's Black Beans

1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of Rotel style tomatoes, don't drain!
1 can of corn, drained and rinsed
Add a protein: 1 can of chicken, yup drained and rinsed. (I'll be honest I usually use a frozen chicken breast for this recipe, but canned works just as well.)

Combine all of the ingredients in a pot and simmer until the liquid from the tomatoes has reduced. Serve over rice.
Bonus ideas: top with a fried egg for breakfast, load into tortillas for tacos, serve over chips for hearty nachos

It should be an interesting week!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

$1 Store Veggie Spring Rolls.

I love Chinese Buffets. Mostly because no one judges the fact that I have a bowl of hot and sour soup followed by as many egg rolls, spring rolls and dumplings as I can comfortably consume in one sitting. I pretty much ignore everything else. 
Right now I can't really afford to eat out or the $12 minimum for delivery. I was kind of excited when I found a package of spring rolls in the freezer section at Dollar Tree.

There were ten spring rolls in the package, but they were slightly smaller than veggie spring rolls from the delivery guy. (Those cost $1.10 each!) 

The package indicates that these could be fried, baked, or microwaved. Believe me if I had a fryer I would have used it, instead I baked them at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, turning once in the middle. They came out nice and crispy. I think if they were microwaved they would have been a soggy mess. 

As for taste, they were a little bland. That was easy to remedy with dipping sauce. I made a honey, ginger, soy, mustard mixture after I discovered I was out of little packets of duck sauce. 
These actually ended up making a pretty satisfying lunch. I would definitely buy these again. They would also go great alongside a ramen noodle dinner! 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ouch My Back Hurts!

Dealing with Aches and Pains

If you make $8.15 an hour, chances are pretty good that a lot of those hours are on your feet. You might be bending, lifting, or just standing on a hard surface for a long period of time. Once upon a time I could afford visits to the chiropractor. He wanted to see me three times a week. Even at my highest paying jobs, that was pushing the envelope on what I could afford and what my insurance was willing to pay. I settled for once a week or once every two weeks depending on my schedule. I also made sure to visit the massage therapist once a month. Those days are over. I've had to come up with ways to help with the general aches and pains and my really nasty shoulder problem. I've got four different ways to help with these problems in four different price ranges. Hopefully one or more of them will help you.


Go buy a tennis ball or a racket ball and a pair of tube socks. Fill the tube socks with uncooked rice. Keep one in the freezer. Keep the other near the microwave. When you have a pain area nuke the sock near the microwave for about two minutes and then place it on the pain area--don't put it directly on your skin--it will be too hot--I wear a T shirt. After 15 or 20 minutes remove the heat and use the tennis ball against the wall to roll out the knot. Then grab the sock from the freezer and apply cold for another 15 or 20 minutes. Repeat as necessary.


I have an acupressure mat. You can find them on Amazon ranging in price from $20-$60. It's a foam mat covered in metal circles that have metal spikes sticking out. Sounds painful? Well it is a little bit when you start out--so start with five minutes laying on the mat. Increase the time as your tolerance goes up. You may eventually find that you can sleep on it. It stimulates blood flow to the back, hips, or wherever you are using it. It doesn't really do much for leg issues--so skip this one if your calves are the problem. 


I bought a home TENS unit. That stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It's a little electronic shock machine. They use them in chiropractic offices, but I bought a home unit. I got mine on sale for $20, but they regularly run $40-$100, depending on the unit. It has little gel pads, which have to be replaced fairly regularly, that you attach to the pain site and then you determine what type of electronic pulse you would like and at what intensity level. You can use it just about anywhere on your body--I've found it particularly effective for my lower back and calves. 

Not so Cheap

I joined Massage Envy. It's just like joining a gym. They charge me $59 every month and I get one massage. Additional massages are $39. This does require a one year subscription--so don't just dive in unless you know you can make the payments. They do allow you to put a hold on the account if you need to, but the frozen months don't count towards your year commitment. The prices vary by market, so if you live in a big city you may find that the monthly charge is higher. You may also be able to find better deals on local massage therapy on sites like Groupon, but they aren't consistent so I went with a sure thing. It's one of the things I look forward to every month. An hour, relaxing, with someone else working on my "problem areas."

Completely Free

Stretch! At my last massage I was in pain everywhere. I couldn't figure out why I was hurting so badly. My therapist informed me that I wasn't stretching enough before or during work. Take the time and stretch all your muscles before you start your work day. That means legs, arms, shoulders, back and neck! Just do it--you'll feel better all day because of it. Now I have to go get some icy hot for my shoulder!  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My Favorite Sandwiches!

Everyone knows I love burgers. I do, I REALLY do. However, I also love good old deli sandwiches. I have two favorite sandwiches. One is pretty simple: ham and cheese with coleslaw and mustard. It's also my Dad's favorite sandwich. Probably where my love came from as he made all my school lunches when I was growing up. There is no mystery in a ham and cheese sandwich--although we could discuss types of ham and types of cheese all day and I have gotten pretty picky about my slaw. The premade stuff from Walmart doesn't cut it--it's chopped and I much prefer julienned slaw. It is also far to wet for successful sandwich making. Lately I've been buying precut slaw and making my own dressings. (In a pinch I use Kraft's Poppy Seed Dressing.)

My other favorite sandwich is found at Columbia Harbor House at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. There it bears the name the Lighthouse Sandwich. I found a recipe for said sandwich on AllEars. The bread has changed, though, since this recipe was published.  It now consists of hummus, broccoli slaw and tomatoes on multigrain bread. Along with a side of chips it costs $9.49 for one sandwich--no drink. This week I decided to try and make said sandwich at home. I made hummus from scratch, you can find my recipe in the previous post (About $.75).  I bought preshredded, but not yet dressed broccoli slaw from the produce section at Walmart ($1.98). I found a workable multigrain bread in the bread aisle, but I think I'll be buying bread from the Whole Foods bakery from now on. I'm using The Need for Seeds made by Cobblestone Bakery this week. I bought Roma tomatoes because they were significantly better looking than the slicing tomatoes this week (and less expensive).

My only fault with the original version of this sandwich is that it is a bit dry, so I have found myself dumping mayo on top of it. In an effort to be more health conscious I'm subbing plain yogurt for mayo this week.

The broccoli slaw recipe for the original sandwich called for Ken's Honey Dijon dressing, which is now only available in the "lite" version and has things I cannot pronounce in the ingredients so I didn't buy it. Instead I made my own dressing.

Heather's Honey Dijon Dressing

2T honey--locally produced if you can get it!
2T Dijon Mustard--look for the one with the fewest ingredients--I actually bought the Great Value version. Grey Poupon has some unnecessary additives. I couldn't find Golden's or I would have bought that one
2T Cider Vinegar
2T Olive Oil
1T Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper

Whisk everything together adding  more oil or vinegar as necessary. Dress the slaw mix and allow it to rest in the fridge overnight before using. (It just gets better as the week goes on)

I bought a bag of salt and vinegar chips to go with my sandwiches--they were buy one get one free.

I think I have enough ingredients to make four sandwiches, lets do the math!
Hummus = $.75
Slaw = $1.98
Dressing = $.50
Bread = $1.25 (only using half the loaf)
Tomatoes = $.84
Yogurt = $.25
Chips = $1.25

Total = $6.81  Each sandwich and side of chips made at home costs a total of $1.70!

Dear Columbia Harbor House,
I'm sorry but our love affair is over. It's me, it's not you. I'm so sorry. However, since no one has a published recipe for your tuna salad, I'll be back shortly.

When I finally get around to buying a deep fryer and can make my own potato chips--that number will drop even more! (Don't talk to me about baked potato chips--that's not a real thing!)  Of course if someone would like to buy me a fryer . . .lets talk!

Web Links
Columbia Harbor House Menu

Two Things You Should Know About

It's Thursday, which is both shopping and cooking day in my house.  My morning shopping trip reminded me of two things that everyone on a limited shopping budget should know about: buying from bulk bins and price matching.

My day started with a trip to Whole Foods.  Wait, What??? Yes, indeed, there is another reason to visit Whole Foods. Buying in bulk. Now I don't mean buying huge quantities of things so that your pantry is stocked. I'm talking about being able to buy exactly the amount you need for a recipe from a bulk bin.

 Here's how it works. You decide to make couscous salad this week, but the grocery only stocks mixes or big 2lb bags of the stuff. 

You don't want a mix with lots of added salt and ingredients you can't pronounce, but you also don't want to spend $7.00 on a 2lb bag. Your recipe calls for two cups of couscous. Two cups of Israeli couscous is about 1/2lb. I know because I took my plastic measuring cup to Whole Foods with me--PRETTY PLEASE DON'T PUT YOUR MEASURING CUP IN THE BINS! (Cross contamination is BAD!) Use their plastic scoop to fill your measuring cup and then dump it into the plastic bag. Instead of forking over $7.00 for something I may not use again for weeks, I paid $1.92. There are tons of things you can buy this way: rice, flour, sugar, beans, lentils, dried fruit and nuts. I personally think that the dried fruits and nuts are over priced, but the other things can save you a ton of money! I also purchased sesame seeds to make tahini. Sesame seeds at the grocery come in tiny spice jars for about $3.99 each. I bought about 3T and spent a mere $.39.

Just so you know, my attempt at tahini was a total failure before I even started. I attempted to toast the sesame seeds. You can't forget about them for even fifteen seconds. Yum, burnt popcorn smell all over my apartment. I just made hummus sans tahini.

Next thing you should know about is price matching. The weekly grocery ads usually come out on Thursday and I look through them mostly for buy one get one free deals. I actually use both the Publix and Winn Dixie Apps on my iPhone. Then I look at my shopping list and see how I can adjust it to use some of the deals. Then I take myself to Walmart and pick up all of the Publix and Winn Dixie deals that I've worked into my meal planning. Walmart will match the advertised price of their competitors. You don't need to have the ad with you. You just need to let the cashier know that such and such items are on sale elsewhere. I always try to put the items at the end of my order so that I can just tell them that all of the items I have two of at the end are buy one get one.

This week I cashed in on baby carrots, cantaloupes, Lays potato chips, and Hormel Naturals sliced turkey breast. 

Sadly Wally World didn't have any quarts of strawberries--they only had the enormous containers. Strawberries are buy one get one at Winn Dixie. It's good for all of the other types of sales as well--but most of the time Walmart's prices are lower than the 2 for $5 or 2 for $7 deals at the regular grocery.

Quick and easy recipie: Homemade Hummus

1 can of chickpeas drained
1T lemon juice
olive oil
salt and peper
2 cloves of fresh garlic

In your blender combine chickpeas, garlic and lemon juice. Turn the blender on and slowly drizzle a combination of olive oil and water into the blender until you achieve a creamy consistency. You can use all olive oil or all water (don't do this unless you absolutely cannot spare the calories or the oil), but I like the way it comes out using a little of each! This recipe takes about 5 minutes and costs about $.75. A huge savings over $4 store bought hummus--and people will be impressed when you tell them you made it yourself!  

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ramen Noodles Every Night

I know you've all see the Allstate commercial about Emily and her ramen noodle every night budget. In case you haven't:

Ramen noodles aren't a bad thing . . . especially if you are on a budget and somewhat kitchen challenged. They are about the easiest thing in the world to cook at $.17-$.20 a package, they are also almost the cheapest thing to eat. It is, however, possible to make your ramen experience more enjoyable.

I recommend a trip to an Asian grocery store. You can get the basics for a much more reasonable cost than at a regular grocery--and in much larger sizes.
Asian Grocery Shopping List:
Soy Sauce
Fish Sauce
Sambal (ground chili paste)
Hoisin Sauce
Lemon Grass
Bean Sprouts
Shrimp flavored ramen

Other things you may want to add:
Basil/Thai Basil
Green Onions

I've already got most of those ingredients on hand, so this week I left out the bean sprouts and picked up the ginger, mushrooms and lemon grass at the regular grocery. I also bought frozen salad size shrimp. I managed to find some at the dollar store, but you can usually buy the really tiny shrimp in large size bags at Walmart--the big bag will last you a couple of weeks because you only need to add a couple of them!

Boil two cups of water on the stove and grate (or slice really finely) your ginger and lemon grass into the pot. Add four or five shrimp--remember you bought tiny ones! Then add your mushrooms. Add a dash of soy, fish sauce, sambal and hoisin sauce. Let the mixture boil for about two to three minutes and then add your ramen noodles and cook them according to the package directions. You may want to use only half of the seasoning packet because the sauces all have salt in them.  After your noodles are cooked you can add your fresh herbs and a squeeze of lime.

"Fixing" chicken flavored ramen is pretty easy as well. I just add small amounts of whatever frozen veggies I have in the freezer, some fresh onion, carrot and garlic as well as the soy and sambal.

I don't usually add sriracha to my ramen, unless I've got a stuffy noise, but feel free to add as little or as much as you like before serving!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

This Week's Shopping Trip

Just wanted to let everyone know that Publix has some really good BOGOs this week: Bertoli Sauce, Quaker granola bars, Mueller's pasta (bonus if you have the coupon from last week's paper!), Arnold's sandwich thins and kitty litter!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Storage Wars

Storage Wars: Small Space Solutions

My bedroom is pretty small. I could probably squeeze a dresser in, especially one of those tall skinny six drawer numbers you can find at IKEA. Problem: the one that fits in my room costs $179. The one that might fit in my room runs $149. At $8.15 an hour that's twenty-five hours of work to pay for a dresser. I needed to find a quick storage solution for my clothing that wouldn't break the bank. The one shelf in my closet is too high up to be functional for me, so I keep things like luggage and seasonal items up there.

I'm in Spring Cleaning mode and it was time to get the clean laundry out of the laundry bags and off of the table/foot board and the floor.  I also realized that I still haven't finished unpacking from my last move and it's been eight months. I'm guessing there are a lot of things on the floor of my closet that I don't actually need, use, or wear. It's probably time to throw some things away.

Back to the issue at hand, I returned to my trusty IKEA catalog and looked through the bedroom and closet organization sections and discovered a solution to my problem: hanging closet organizers. On my day off I went over to IKEA and found there were two options, both in my price range! I bought one of each to try them out.

 The larger model on the left has six cardboard reinforced shelves and is available in white, black and purple. It attaches to your closet bar with heavy duty Velcro straps. It costs $6.99 and it appears that it is sturdy enough to hold heavier clothing items like jeans. They also sell box organizers that fit inside the shelves like drawers, but I decided to save the money since no one but you is looking at my closet. Those fancy boxes cost more than the storage unit. The version on the right only has cardboard on the bottom shelf and no support on the other three shelves. It ties to your closet bar and since I'm not convinced that my little bows have a ton of holding power, I'm only using it for T-shirts. This one, however, only costs $2.99.

I also picked up a hanging shoe organizer for over the door for $4.99.

Other inexpensive storage ideas include plastic drawers like these, which I use for socks and unmentionables.

  You can buy these at Walmart, Target or Kmart for about $20.  This one is about to move inside the closet to free up some more floor space in the bedroom. I used to have several under the bed storage boxes, but I realized when I moved two years ago that the things I was storing in those boxes hadn't been used since I put them under the bed. Out of sight, out of mind, out with the trash when I moved! If you live in a four season climate you can use under the bed storage boxes for your out of season clothing and bedding. My winter wear takes up so little space in my closet that I don't bother.

My bathroom area also has a tiny little linen closet that I store my sheets, towels, and bathroom items in. I had a huge problem there . . . the shelves are wire . . . nothing would stand up on the shelves! All of my bottles of this and that were constantly falling over and then rolling out on the floor!

I posted the above photo on Facebook, knowing I had tons of crafty friends who would come up with a solution for me! I knew that I wanted to be able to see what was on the shelves, so those fancy boxes were once again out, although your local Dollar Store probably has a more affordable version. Someone else suggested contact paper, but I didn't think it would hold up, nor did I want to stick anything to the shelves, they aren't mine to keep. IKEA came to the rescue again! I bought four square plastic place mats. (I don't know why place mats are square in Sweden, but apparently they are, but you could definitely cut rectangular ones to fit your space.) It worked like a charm and they only cost me $1.49 each. Plus IKEA changes their selections pretty often, so if I suddenly decide I don't like green with yellow polka dots any more I can swap them out for something else!

Good luck with your space and let me know if you've got any great ideas to share!

Today's bonus photo:
The new daytime parade at Magic Kingdom is amazing!


Festival of Fantasy Parade