Thursday, June 24, 2010

On this Week's Menu - Saba, Savta, and Uncle Steve Visit!

The frugal and homemaking blogosphere is abuzz at the beginning of every week with "Menu Plan Monday."  It's the brainchild of Laura over at "I'm an Organizing Junkie" - basically, hundreds of bloggers link up with their weekly menus to share and swap ideas.  I'm among the menu planning crowd, but I'm going to be posting on Thursdays, because Shabbat - on Friday night - is the real beginning of our food week.  (I'm doing my shopping, etc. on Fridays.)

Why plan a weekly menu?  Well, you can head over to Laura's site for a full explanation, but here's the basic rundown:  It saves you money -When you know exactly what you're planning to cook and eat during the week, you don't buy any groceries you don't actually need.  This, of course, also prevents food waste - no food purchases on a whim that are later forgotten about and go spoiled in the fridge.

Personally, the #1 reason that I menu plan is because I hate - HATE - the nightly "what are we having for dinner?" panic refrain.  If I didn't menu plan, we'd either have spaghetti or takeout every. single. night.  By 5:00, my creativity and motivation are sapped, and if something wasn't planned, I would either not make the effort or have a nervous breakdown trying.  

So, without further ado, here's what we're having for dinner this week at the Kopans Bayit.  My mom and dad ("Saba and Savta" on our family blog) and my brother Steve are all schlepping in for the weekend, just to hang out.  So this weekend's food is all something I can make ahead or throw together in just a few minutes.  It also can feed a crowd.

Shabbat (Friday night) - Spinach Lasagna and Challah.  I'm baking a double batch of challah because Steve LOVES his bread. 

Shabbat lunch (Saturday afternoon) - Sweet and Sour Crock Pot Chicken over Rice.

Saturday -  We'll probably go out for dinner since my parents are in town - I got $50 worth of gift certificates for $9 to a local pizzeria at, so I'm planning to use those towards dinner for the seven of us.  Later that night, David and I are scooting out to a party for associates at his firm, and I'm sure there will be some tasty things there, too.

Sunday - Vegetarian Chili served with baked potatoes.

Monday - Whole grain spaghetti served with broccoli.

Tuesday - Raviolis served with peas.

Wednesday - Black bean quesadillas.  These are made-to-order or our panini maker.

Thursday - Whole Wheat Pizza (Thursday is always pizza night.)  I make this pizza dough in my bread machine and it is better than any pizza we've ordered!

So, who's coming over for dinner?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kosher Hacks - Basar V'Dagim edition

Another series I'd like to introduce is called "Kosher Hacks."   It will be about maintaining a kosher kitchen and cooking healthy, nourishing, kosher food in a frugal way.  I'm planning to include everything from what a fully functional kitchen really needs to recipes and strategies for stretching your kosher meat and your dollars.

Keeping kosher and eating Jewishly is one of the biggest challenges of living a Jewish frugal lifestyle.  On an average day, kosher meat is about 3 times the price of non-kosher meat.  In the midwest (both Ohio and Kansas) boneless, skinless chicken breasts run around $7 a pound, as does ground beef.  Less expensive cuts of chicken and beef are slightly less.  A holiday brisket can run up to $15 a pound.

The book of Isaiah asks us in chapter 58 (thanks, Dass!) to honor Shabbat, and to "make it a delight."  Of course, many Shabbat traditions have come down out of this concept.  One of them is to eat meat and fish (basar v'dagim) on Shabbat.  Why was this important, historically?  Meat and fish was expensive.  If you went out of your way to cook really nice food for Shabbat, clearly you were doing your best to honor the day, at least food-wise.  As the Talmud says, "There is no joy without [eating] meat" (Bavli Pesachim 109a).  The association between meat and Shabbat happiness is strong - The Rambam tells us that eating meat (and drinking wine) is part of the commandment to "make Shabbat a delight," (Hil. Shab. 30:10) and the Torah Temimah says the same thing (Bereishit 2:3) Later, it was even ruled that, while everyone else really should be eating some meat on Shabbat, if you were in mourning, you didn't have to take a single bite of meat on Shabbat.

Our family follows this custom - we eat either meat or fish, or sometimes both, on Shabbat.  Kosher meat is so expensive, though, (sound familiar?) that we only eat meat meals during Shabbat.  We get our protein in other ways - beans and cheese, mostly - throughout the week.  I've read some frugal bloggers advocate eating one meatless dinner a week to cut the grocery budget - we have six meatless dinners.  The Mishnaic sage, Eleazar b.Azariah, said a middle-income family (earning about 50 manehs each week, to be exact) really should only be eating meat on Shabbat.  There was a recognition that money was better spent elsewhere.  We just happen to agree with Rabbi Eleazar.

Do we feel we eat well during the week?  Absolutely.  But on Shabbat?  Our food is incredible.  Even if it's meatballs, or cholent, or chicken soup, (or some other meal where the meal has been "stretched") we really appreciate the taste of that meat meal.  It brings a smile to our faces.  We linger over it.  We sit back and pat our bellies in satisfaction - which is exactly what you're supposed to do at a Shabbat meal. 

So, my first "Kosher Hack?"  If you keep kosher, and you also keep a small grocery budget, save your meat-eating for Shabbos.  Your  wallet will thank you.  And you just might appreciate that meat meal - and Shabbat - so much that it's worth skipping it the rest of the week.

How do you save money on kosher meat?  Do you spend more for Shabbos?  Why or why not?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Frugal Torah: Parshat Balak

This week's Torah Portion is  is Parshat Balak (Numbers 22:2 - 25:9).  It contains a rather famous story about Bilaam, who was hired by Israel's enemies to deliver a horrible curse.  When he reached the top of the mountain from which he was to curse the people, he saw their community and out of his mouth flowed the famous praise:
"How good are your tents, O Jacob, and your sanctuaries, O Israel!"  This curse-turned-blessing is recited at the beginning of morning prayers every day. 

It centers us, and reminds us that our homes and the places that we call our own are one of the greatest blessings in our lives.

This teaches us that one of the most important ways to bring joy to our lives and to stay grounded and grateful for all that we have is to invest a lot of energy into whatever place we call home.  That could mean our school, our synagogue, and, of course, our family home.

Here are some ways that our family invests energy in our home:
  • We enjoy mealtime together.  I don't eat meals at the same time as the boys (David and I like to eat during later, calmer times of the day) but I always sit with them or stay in the same room and talk to them about their day.
  • We keep the house (generally) uncluttered and clean.  This contributes to my sense of calm and happiness while I'm in my house. 
  • We decorate with things that make us happy.  Our walls are covered with photos, Jewish art, our ketubah, and other things that make us smile whenever we see them.
All of these things  are not only cost-free or inexpensive, but actually have the happy side effect of saving us money.  When we eat together, it means we're not spending money eating out and on-the-go.  When we keep our house clean and uncluttered, it means that we know what things we have, what we need, and we're not tempted to buy new things because we take care of what we have.  And decorating with photos and homemade art (I'll do a more in-depth post about that) is much less expensive than buying things to put on the walls, and much more personal to boot.

How do you invest energy into your "home"?  How does it add value to your life?  Does it have the happy side effect of saving you money?

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Frugality: Why is Frugality Important to Me?

I'm going to start a "My Frugality" series on Mondays.  It will address a different way in which our family has chosen to spend - or chosen not to spend - and how that reflects our value of frugality.  Before I launch into that, I want to do a post explaining what frugality means to me and why frugality is an important value to me as a Jew.

What does "frugality" mean to me?
The concept of "frugality" is very simple - making the most of what we have to build the best life we can.  Money, like anything else, is not unlimited.  Frugality is about putting each dollar to its best possible use for my life.  A simple example:  I am not a "foodie."  To me, some of the best, most enjoyable meals are comfort-food-style, made-in-the-crockpot, beans-and-rice type foods.  I also don't really like to eat out - I'd much rather curl up on my couch with a bowl of something delicious.  So I don't spend a lot of money on food, because that would be a bad use of those dollars for me.  If I spent my dollars on fancy groceries and eating out, I wouldn't be able to spend them on other things I really value and enjoy.  Not only does that not make sense, but it's deplorably wasteful and irresponsible.  Which brings me to....

Why is living frugally important to me as a Jew?
I believe that, as a Jew, I am commanded to do or not do certain things.  These commandments - or mitzvot - encompass my relationships with God, with my fellow human beings, and with the world around me.  (I will address/refer to these mitzvot in much greater detail in other posts.)  In short, how we handle our money touches on each of these relationships:.
  • My relationship with God:  I believe that God provides us with everything we have and everything we need.  To be wasteful, or to abuse the things that I have, shows that I am not grateful for or mindful of all that God has given me.  
  • My relationship with my fellow human beings: I believe that we have a responsibility to care for our fellow human beings.  From supporting our family to the best of our abilities to giving tzedakah (charity), what we do with our money shows how seriously we are taking those responsibilities.
  • My relationship with the world around me: Our planet has finite resources.  Jewish tradition, from the Torah all the way down through Jewish legend and contemporary commentary, has stressed the importance of caring for our environment and stretching those resources as far as they can go.  Wasting those resources flies in the face of thousands of years of deeply held Jewish values.  The mitzvah of bal tashchit ("Don't waste stuff") is, at its origin, an environmental value.
 Now that I've given a basic rundown of my relationship with money as a Jew, I'm interested in hearing from you.   
How do your values, religious or otherwise, influence how you choose to spend?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Celebrating Moments: A Frugal Father's Day

Over the past couple of weeks, we've been in the midst of a big move to Kansas City.  Between the costs of selling our house (thousands of dollars, Idon'tevenwanttotalkaboutit) and moving (although David's firm generously covered the cost of The Move itself, there were the trips upon trips to Target for essentials and basic groceries) the occasions for which we've given gifts lately have been few and far between.

However!  Father's Day is a holiday that's really, really important to our family.  David is one of the greatest fathers I know, and I'm really excited for the opportunity to celebrate that with the kids.  Now, I know that some frugal bloggers feel that days such as this are little more than the invention of greeting card companies, a way to trick American consumers into spending way too much money on yet another gift for yet another occasion.  They say that celebrating holidays like Mother's Day is meaningless, since "you should treat every day like it's Mother's Day/Father's Day."

I agree that we should show our fathers appreciation, gratitude, and respect every day, but because of the mitzvah (commandment) of kibud av v'em - honor your father and your mother.  Observing this mitzvah every day, however, is no stand-in, in my opinion, for taking one special day a year and really heaping on the adoration.  For all the fathers in our lives do for us - from working to provide a living to rough-and-tumble playing to giving hugs after nightmares to being a shoulder to lean on when we're all grown up- I don't think one special day a year is too much to ask.

Gift giving, however, is about more than spending money.  It's about considering what object, experience, or gesture would be especially appreciated by that person and then taking the time, energy and effort to make that happen.  This is not only a value I hold especially dear, but one I also hope to instill in my children.  There's no better way to do that than to involve them in the process.  So, without further ado, our frugal Father's Day gift:

David's absolute favorite cookies are peanut butter blossoms.  The total cost to make these cookies was under $5 (most of which was the $3 bag of Hershey's Kisses.) I made sure the boys were involved with every step of making this gift:

Then I cleaned out an old cottage cheese container, covered it with some scrapbook paper left over from framing, and had a really nice looking package for the cookies:

David's just moved into a new office space, that, while offering a gorgeous view of downtown Kansas City, lacks any personal touches.  We wanted to make sure that he had some photos of the kids around to glance at during breaks or show off as appropriate.  The boys picked out a basic black photo album and painted the cover with acrylic paints.  Then they picked out photos of themselves with Abba for us to print.  Some stray scrapbooking letters personalized the album.  Total cost for this project was under $10, including album, paints, and photo prints.

Of course, we didn't buy a card or wrapping paper - a little bit of marker-and-packing-paper creativity from the boys and we had custom package trimmings that Abba loved.  He knew that it took more time and planning than buying pre-made paper would have, and made a big show out of praising the boys' "art."  In fact, pretty much every aspect of this budget-conscious gift took a lot of thought, time and effort - and I'm pretty sure that's what David appreciated most of all.

What frugal ways have you found to celebrate Father's Day?  I'd love to get some ideas for next year.
And to all you fabulous Abbas out there, I hope someone took the time and thought to make the day extra special for you - you deserve it!
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