Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chocolate Pudding

In my last post, I mentioned making your own chocolate pudding.  I thought I'd share the recipe I use.  It's pared down from the recipe given in the United States Regional Cookbook. 

Chocolate Pudding

1 c milk
2 T cocoa powder
1 T corn Starch
3 T sugar
1 tsp vanilla (optional
  • Combine all dry ingredients in a small sauce pan.  I like to use a fork for this, because it breaks up the corn starch.
  • Add milk and vanilla (if using), and stir continuously over medium heat, taking care to break up lumps, scrape the sides of the pan, and dissolving the dry ingredients thoroughly.
  • When the pudding comes to a full boil (this only takes a few minutes, so don't go anywhere!) turn off the heat, and continue stirring for a few minutes to keep the pudding from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  
  • Allow the pudding to cool in the pan on the burner.  A skin will form on top as it cools, so you will want to give it a good stir before serving.
  • This recipe doesn't look like it makes much, but the pudding is rich, so small servings are a good idea.  Serves 4.
  • You can multiply the dry ingredients to make a big batch of pudding mix in advance.  Use 1/3 cup of mix per 1 cup of milk.
  • For a change of pace, add a little cinnamon and chili powder to the dry ingredients to make Mexican chocolate pudding.

This post has been linked to Busy Monday and MYHSM.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

22 Things Not To Buy

I recently ran across a list of twenty-one things that are a waste of money, most of which were financial products, but it got me thinking about the ways we can save money in the home.  All of the items below take very little time and cost substantially less than their store bought analogs.

1. Laundry detergent.  There are tons of online instructions for homemade detergent, both liquid and powdered.  Any of them cost a fraction of what the commercial stuff costs and has the added benefits of being less toxic and less likely to trigger allergies.

2. Bread.  Yeast breads are a little time consuming, but there are many recipes that are low maintenance.  Personally, I prefer quick breads.  I set aside about an hour every week to make my sandwich bread, and I get other baking done at the same time, since the bread takes longer to bake than anything else.

3. Biscuits.  Biscuits are quick and easy.  If you mix up the dry ingredients in advance, you can have your own biscuit mix on hand to make it even faster and easier.  There really is no reason to spend money on mix or canned dough, except as a treat.

4. Pancake mix.  Same deal as biscuits, and you can add leftovers to your recipe (crumbs, rice, pureed fruit, etc.) to help keep things in the fridge from going bad.

Quick breads, biscuits, and pancakes that call for milk or buttermilk can also be made with sour (spoiled) milk.  Not only are they inexpensive to make, but they can really help you stretch your groceries and save you from pouring money down the drain in the form of spoiled food!

5. Tomato sauce.  Tomato paste is much less expensive, more versatile, and takes less space in the cupboard than prepared sauce.  And homemade sauce is much healthier than the bought variety.  Make it in large batches, and freeze in meal-sized or individual serving units.

6. Catsup.  If you keep tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, and salt around, you can make your own catsup.  The result is both tasty and healthy, as well as cheap.  Make a batch, and split it between the fridge and the freezer.

7. Soup stock.  Don't buy bullion.  Don't buy canned broth.  Don't even buy special ingredients to make  stock.  Just keep and boil your vegetable scraps, beef bones, and bird carcasses.  If you don't want to babysit the pot, make stock in the crockpot overnight.

8. Soup mix or cans.  Once you have stock on hand (and even if you don't), fresh soups are incredibly easy and inexpensive to prepare.  I make soup once a week for my cold weather lunches, and frequently in warm weather for light suppers.  Whether you use th stovetop or a crockpot, the time invested is well worth it, and little bits of leftovers can almost always find a second wind in a soup bowl.  Find a cookbook with a good selection of easy soup recipes, and go from there.  I like The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

9. Bread crumbs.  Keep lonely or stale pieces of bread and biscuits in the freezer, along with cracker crumbs and bread crumbs scraped off the cutting board.  You can also glean crumbs off of baking pans with a table knife.

10. Pancake syrup.  If you save fruit parings, you can boil and strain them.  The resulting juice can then be boiled with sugar to make fruit syrup.  The same can be done with liquid strained from pumpkin or winter squash puree.  I haven't bought pancake syrup in ages, and my only expense in making it is the sugar used.

11. Apple cider mix or mulling spices.  If you save some orange peels and keep cinnamon and cloves on hand, you can just buy apple juice and make it yourself.  And a cinnamon stick can be used for multiple batches before it loses its flavor.

12. Hot chocolate mix.  When I make my boys hot chocolate, I heat milk in the microwave and stir in a little cocoa powder (about 1/2 tsp per cup of milk) and a little sweetener (sugar or stevia).  If you like having something a little more grown up, try adding cinnamon and chili powder, some vanilla, almond extract, or instant coffee.

13. Lemonade or mix.  Why buy separate product when all you need is lemon juice, sugar, and water?

14. Dish soap.  I stopped buying dish soap about six months ago.  Now I just buy the big jugs of liquid hand soap to fill all our soap bottles.  The dishes are just as clean, but my hands are happier and my shopping list is shorter.

15. Baby food. When baby is ready to start eating soft foods, you might as well make them yourself as spend money on the watered down version in those little jars.

16. Canned beans.  Buy dry beans, cook up a big batch, and freeze in useable portions.  It's cheaper and healthier than the alternative.

17. Jams and jellies.  I've started making jelly from boiled fruit scraps, but making jams when you find a good deal on fruit can be very inexpensive, too.  Corn cob jelly is another option, although I have yet to try it.

18. Stuffing mix.  Do you have bread crumbs?  Basic herbs and spices? Salt? Stock?  Congratulations! You can make your own stuffing from scratch in about the same amount of time it takes to make it from the box!

19. Pudding mix.  Whether it's plain vanilla or chocolate pudding, bread pudding, or rice pudding, puddings are easy to make and can actually be fairly healthy when made from scratch.  Vanilla and chocolate pudding only take a few minutes to make on the stove, so the time savings of using a boxed mix is really limited.

20. Pie crust.  Hot water crust is easy, cheap, fast, reliable, and low maintenance.

21. Salad dressing.  Most salad dressings take only a few ingredients and a few minutes in the blender or food processor, and the results taste just as good as the bottled version.  Caesar, Ranch, and Vinegarette are my favorites.

22. Orange zest.  When you buy citrus fruits, you can always use a grater to grate the zest off of the washed rind before you cut open the fruit.  With lemon, lime, and clementine peels, you can also cheat by drying the peel and running it through a coffee grinder.

Making things from scratch can be a wonderful way to stretch your grocery budget.  While some things might be more time consuming than others, many involve a minimal time commitment or only demand your time on an infrequent basis.  Knowing how to make things from scratch and how to use things that others might throw away is also empowering and educational.  The things you make are often healthier than their store bought equivalents, and they bring none of that extra packaging into your home.  If you make something out of a waste product, you are also reducing the amount of waste you produce, and anything that makes use of leftovers prevents food spoilage.  Making it yourself reduces the trash your household produces, and that saves money on garbage bags (if not on paying for a larger can).  Best of all, cooking from scratch provides you with the opportunity to teach valuable skills to your children.  Not only does that enable them to save money in their adult ives, but it's time that you don't have to pay for their amusement or worry about what they might be destroying.

This post has been linked to WFMW and Hip Homeschool Moms, Buusy Monday, and MYHSM.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chores for the New Year

As birthdays roll around, so does a reevaluation of chores.  I find that the hardest part of assigning chores to the boys is my remembering not to do the work myself.  Half the time I remember that someone else was supposed to help about ten minutes after I finish the job--not good for instilling new habits.  Still, I try.

Here are the jobs I'm attempting to delegate these days:

  1. The Bat is learning to wipe down the kitchen floor.  He is also responsible for folding and putting away his own laundry.  In the kitchen, he is learning to help put away clean dishes.  This year, as part of school, he will also start learning to cook.
  2. The Eel helps me with the vacuuming, generally just one room.  It's a lot of work for a 4yo otherwise.  He also folds and puts away his laundry.
  3. I'm starting to teach the Elephant to get out and hold the dustpan for me when I sweep.  He also helps put things in the trash when asked.  When his brothers put their laundry away, I put all their socks and underwear in a basket, and he pours those into the correct drawer.
  4. Back when the Bat was 3, he learned how to do laundry.  Since then, we have not had a washer at home that he could reach.  He and the Eel have both enjoyed helping at the laundromat, but soon we will be able to do laundry at home again (at the end of the month).  When that happens, they will both learn to do their own laundry (working together), and will have an assigned day for that task.
  5. I used to have the older two clear the table, too.  But it's been a while since we've had a dinner table.  I hope to remedy that situation soon as well.  When we have a table again, the Eel and Bat will once again learn to bus the table after meals.
This post has been linked to WFMW and Hip Homeschool Hop.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The McGuffey Primer

I'm using the McGuffey Primer as the Bat's primary source for learning to read, and I thought I'd share what we do with it.

In an effort to accommodate the Bat's energy levels and my own obligations, I dedicate one day of every week to each subject.  On Tuedays he practices writing using worksheets copied from a Dollar Tree workbook, and I read aloud an article for our letter of the week.

On Wednesdays I have the Bat read through a lesson from the Primer.  There are 52 lessons in the book, so my weekly lesson works out well.  In each lesson, I point to, read out, and have the Bat repeat the new vocabulary words, including word combinations.  We also discuss the diacritical marks included with the vocabulary words. When the Bat can identify the words without my reading them first and can identify them out of order we move on to the reading assignment.

As the Bat reads the assigned sentences, he sometimes has trouble recalling words, especially new ones.  When this happens, I silently point to other instances of that word on the page.  If there are none, I have him sound out the word--a concept with whch he still struggles.  If that still doesn't work, I point to the relevant part of the included picture and ask a leading question, but that is a last resort, as I do not want him to grow reliant on pictures for reading comprehension.

As he finishes reading each sentence, I repeat the sentence at a normal speaking pace. The pace of reading and level of comprehension are connected, so this step is important for helping him derive meaning from his reading, especially if he has decided to dawdle during the lesson.  Once he has read the whole lesson, I read the whole thing to him at a normal pace to connect the sentences.

At the end of the reading assignment, I allow him a few minutes to examine the picture.  He often develops a narrative based on the picture or asks questions about the motives of each "character" illustrated and discussed.

Finally, while McGuffey does not provide copy work for every lesson, I do require it.  I choose one sentence from the lesson, and have him copy it on paper ruled for early writers (purchased at Dollar Tree).  Right now, he does his copywork in capital letters out of personal preferene (I require lowercase in his writing worksheets), but we will add in lowercase as he grows comfortable with the work.  As he works, I take the opportunity to explain punctuation to him.

All told, the assignments don't take very long, especially if the Bat is feeling cooperative, and I can see real progress every week.  Thus far I have been thrilled with the McGuffey regimen and the flexibility it affords me as the teacher.  I am also using the printed alphabet in the front as the basis for teaching the Eel his letters.

This post has been linked to Busy Monday, WFMW, and Hip Homeschool Hop.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Chicken Soup

I've written several times about cooking frugally with whole chickens, but sometimes certain cuts are less expensive than whole birds.  I recently bought a flat of chicken legs and thighs, because they were priced twenty cents less per pound than fryers.  There five legs (including the thighs) in the package.  I roasted four, but the fifth did not fit in the pan.  The fifth I used to make chicken soup.  Here is what I did:

Chicken Soup

1 chicken leg and thigh
1 small onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c rice
1 bay leaf
~1 tsp salt
~1 tsp curry powder
Ginger, to taste
1 c frozen peas

  • Combine all ingredients except the peas in a crockpot, and cover with water, filling the pot most of the way.
  • Let cook on "high" overnight.
  • Remove chicken leg and thigh from pot.  Remove skin, debone, and shred meat.  Return meat to pot.
  • Add peas, and lower heat setting to "keep warm" until ready to eat.
The same result could be achieved on the stovetop by boiling the meat and salt for at least an hour, adding the remaining ingredients (minus the peas), cooking for another half hour, processing the meat, and adding the peas.

This is lunch for the four of us this week (plus biscuits or crackers). A little meat can really go a long way.

This post has been linked to Busy Monday and WFMW.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Eating on the Road and Other Travel Tips

I just returned home from a road trip to California from our home in Oklahoma.  As always, our road trip was educational.  For me, it was instructive on how to travel with kids in tow.

  1. The food hamper:  I bought a cheap laundry hamper at the Dollar Tree and filled it with picnic-type foods for lunch time.  We had dried and fresh fruit, bagels, spread, peanut butter, jelly, bread, string cheese, canned sardines, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, and individually packaged applesauce, along with some cheap spoons and knives.
  2. The jug: I bought a gallon of water and some flavor packets to put in it.  We used that to fill our water bottles at various points on our trip.
  3. The motel:  Our means are limited, so I tend to look for low-end places to stay.  I also prefer chains, so that I know what to expect.  This time, I skipped Motel 6 in favor of places ike Super 8 and Days Inn.  The price isn't much greater, but the rooms were generally nicer, and a simple breakfast was available at no extra charge.  Between that and the hamper, I only had to buy a meal once a day.
  4. School: Before we left, I photocopied all the work the Bat needed to accomplish during those two weeks and gathered the sources from which I needed to read to him.  I also gathered pens, crayons, and a clipboard.  I keep his workload deliberately light anyway, both to accommodate his short attention span and to make school fit into our lives more easily.  Having that work be both light and photocopied in advance meant that school could continue on the road without taking up too much space.
  5. Amusements:  When I bought the hamper at Dollar Tree, I also purchased some coloring books, educational workbooks, two dry erase boards, dry erase pens with eraser lids, and laminated work booklets designed for use with dry erase pens.  The dry erase stuff was a huge hit, once I laid some ground rules.  I'll post separately about that another time.  I also bought a plastic box to put all these amusements in, along with pens, crayons, the boys' favorite books, and the Bat's school work.  On the way out to California, this box rode shotgun with me, and I was able to distribute items as needed.
  6. Space:  I deliberately kept a little space available in the trunk.  While Caifornia is generally expensive relative to Oklahoma, its thrift stores are far superior--both in selection and price.  I wanted to be able to stock up on clothes for the boys while in the Golden State.  That plan didn't work out as well as I had hoped (wrong time of year), but I did buy a few things.  Knowing things like that and planning one's space accordingly is invaluable.
This post has been linked to Busy Monday, WFMW, and Hip Homeschool Hop.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Development of a Literary Omnivore

There was a time when the Bat hated books.  He burst into tears at the suggestion that I read to him.  The subject matter was irrelevant.  The length of the story didn't matter.  The illustrations held no interest for him.  Stories were an interruption to his own train of thought, an alternative world foisting itself on his own narrative.  They were noise.

I, meanwhile, wanted to introduce him to the wonderful imaginary places created in story books, eye catching illustrations, and the beauty of well written prose.  I wanted to read classic children's stories to him.  And I wanted him to discover the wonderful things that can happen when you stop to observe a story blossoming.

Part of the difficulty was that the Bat is a creature of the present moment.  He has little patience for the abstract.  He is also the quintessential boy:  he does not sit still,and he does not do quiet.  Another problem was that I introduced storybooks as part of the bedtime routine, and he quickly grew to associate books with that most hated time of day.

By eliminating the bedtime story and replacing it with a little reading around lunch and focusing on stories that played to his interests, I was gradually able to build in him a tolerance for certain books.  We went through a seemingly endless cycle of Thomas the Tank Engine, Little Toot, The Little Engine that Could, and eventually Harold and the Purple Crayon, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site.  We reintroduced bedtime reading.  We encouraged him to incorporate his favorite stories into his play.  We made those stories part of his learning about the heavy equipment that so interests him, often playing him YouTube videos of operating engines before bed in lieu of a story.

Then, one day, as if under magical influences, the Bat brought me a book with a dustjacket that intrigued him, and asked me to read it.  He climbed onto my lap, and we spent the next half hour bathed in the children's poetry of A. A. Milne's When We Were Very Young.  Since at fateful day, we have made regular sojourns to the Hundred Acre Wood, reading both Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, and we frequently cavort with woodland and meadow creatures as we explore the world brought to life by Beatrix Potter.  Ben and Me was also a wild success.  Just as it ought to be, each reading session ends with pleas for "just one more." And the Tailor of Gloucester is the Bat's newest imaginary playmate.

The introduction of nonfiction has also been welcome.  Reading about a variety of topics --mostly scientific--has worked wonders in expanding the Bat's range of interests and his patience for texts he doesn't quite understand.  He has also begun flipping through books to see if they contain anything of interest.