Sunday, October 31, 2010

On This Week's Menu: The Stockpiling Time of Year

It's the final week of October and we are right on track for the grocery budget....sort of.  You see, at this time of year when the leaves start to change color and the air starts to chill and smell of campfires, some weird gatherer-instinct section of my brain kicks in.  It is then that I totally freak out if both the deep freeze and the pantry are not stuffed to the gills. (I have also noticed this happens for me around the seventh month of pregnancy.  Interesting.) 

Anyhoo, in the last two weeks I've worked the cereal deal that Mara told us about  three times, bringing 21 boxes of cereal into the house, bought up 8 huge cans of $6 sale coffee, and run out of beef, prompting a $165 order for 24 lbs of meat from Golden West Glatt (which I'll post about soon.)  The cereal should stretch to Passover and the beef and coffee get us through early spring, so it's not that it was inappropriate spending so much as untimely spending. Altogether, those stockups added just over $200 to the budget this month ( Originally $375 - yikes!) So, I'm adjusting our grocery budget down from $100/week to $75/week for the next few months.  I've been doing it ever since Sukkot and it's actually quite doable for us right now.

Here's what's on the menu at the Kopans bayit this week:

Sunday: Black bean and steak stew left over from Shabbos lunch with rice
Monday: Pierogies with sauerkraut and carmelized onions, with steamed broccoli
Tuesday: Vegetarian Chili we had stashed in our freezer over rice
Wednesday: David is out of town on business, so I will have cold cereal, scrambled eggs, or PB&J after I somehow wrangle the children to bed.  (Don't feel sorry for me - all three are guilty pleasures.)
Thursday: Same as Wednesday.   Yummmmm
Friday:  David's home for Shabbat!  Spaghetti and Meatballs, Fresh Green Salad, and of course fresh-baked challah.
Shabbat Lunch: Barbecued Chicken and roasted potatoes yummmmmmmmmmm
Saturday: David's in charge, I don't ask (this past week it was $5 falafel sandwiches from Holy Land Cafe (whose site helpfully informs us serves "middle easter cuisine."  So that's awesome.)

Who's coming over? :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Food Waste Fridays: Half Piece of Schnitzel

Food waste.  We all do it.  When I find something rotting, molding, or otherwise inedible in my fridge, freezer, or pantry, I guiltily slink it over to the trash can, chuck it in, and make a silent vow - "That's not going to happen any more."  Only one problem - I keep finding myself guilty of food waste. 

Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, recently stated in an interview that Americans waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl Stadium every. single. day. I don't know about you, but that makes me want to at least take my family's little plateful out of that sum.

On top of all that, to make a long (Jewish) story short, the mitzvah of bal tashchit (don't waste stuff) plus the Jewish value that G-d is HaZan et HaOlam (The One who provides enough food for all of His creatures) equals any food waste being a total slap in the face to both my tradition and HaShem.  Not okay in my book.

So.  I've been putting it off for awhile (honestly, because I'm just so embarassed) but I'm finally going to start linking up to the Frugal Girl's "Food Waste Friday" post.  Each week she posts a photo of the food she's wasted that week.  She figures the potential embarassment is an opportunity  to use every last bit of food in her fridge, plus her accountability to not waste food goes through the roof.  And I agree. 

So here it is: my inaugural "Food Waste Friday" post.

Please join me in a moment of silence for this half-piece of schnitzel that was left over from Erev Shabbat dinner.  David thought I was going to eat it, I thought he was going to "feed it to the kids" (translation: make it a midnight snack.)  You know how the sob story goes.  It was discovered on Wednesday morning.  I called my dad, whose job was food safety inspections for years.  His verdict?  I could either cook it down to chicken jerky and then eat it, or toss it.

You Yidden reading this post will feel the pain that much more acutely when you think of the price of kosher chicken cutlets.

*sob*  *weep*


I'm pretty sure every time a piece of schnitzel is wasted, an angel loses its wings.  Or something.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Frugal Recipes: Tuna Casserole

IMG_4416Tuna Casserole is one of those recipes, that, when most people hear is on the menu, say, "Tuna Casserole?"wrinkle their noses in disgust and fumble for some reason, any reason, why they will (unfortunately, hmmm, SO sorry) be out of the house at dinnertime.

At our house, it's more like, "Tuna Casserole?  Nom, nom, drool, ohmyG-d what time is dinner again?!?"  Because we love it so much.  David grew up with it in the menu rotation, and so it's comfort food for him, and has become the same for me.  Comfort food on three levels - One, I love the hot, gooey, casseroley-ness, two, I know my husband is genuinely happy with this dinner choice, (that warms the 1950's-era portion of my little heart right up) and three, I know it's not going to kill my grocery budget.

So.  If you're strange like us or if you've always thought Tuna Casserole was gross but never actually tried it, why not make this part of your dinner rotation?  It's easy to prepare a day or two ahead and stash in the fridge to shove in the oven half an hour before dinner time.  It's frugal on two levels - One, the basic ingredients are inexpensive, and two, this is really a tour le fridge type of thing, where if you have some odds and ends (like veggies, or stale bread) about to go bad lying around, you can just throw them in and the Tuna Casserole won't be bothered at all.  "The more the merrier," this dinner says.

Boil up some egg noodles.  Be sure to cook them a little less than you normally would, because they're going to cook a little more in the oven.
Add 3 cans of "cream of" condensed soup.  We use 2 cans of cream of mushroom and one of celery.
Then mix in 3 cans of tuna.  Don't worry about draining them all the way - it's okay to have a bit more liquid in the mix.
Here's where you clean out your fridge.  Sauteed onions, cheese cubes, veggies, can all go in.  I added a bag of frozen peas because we didn't have any scuzzy  veggies lying around and David won't eat peas otherwise.
Now, mix everything up in a big pan.

I layered the top with mozzarella shreds and then bread crumbs.  (Some ladies, like my friend Mara, top theirs with potato chips which I think is awesome but David thinks is inappropriate, so I don't do it.)IMG_4415

A tangent about bread crumbs - I love it when I need bread crumbs because then I can use the heels of challah my little monsters won't eat on Shabbat.  They go right in the blender with some herbs and spices and come out beautifully.

In the oven at 350 (or so) for 30 minutes (or so.)
Here is mine ready to eat.  On my lap.  On the couch. Yes, I eat on the couch, okay?

Here's David's, more disturbingly, smothered in jalapeno peppers.  I think it's gross but he thinks it's probably what manna tasted like.  So whatever.

Enjoy!  Especially because there are lots of leftovers and now you don't have to make lunch tomorrow, hooray!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Frugal Jewish Education: Using the iTunes store to build your Jewish music library

The book of Proverbs teaches us, "Chanoch L'Na'ar Al Pi Darcho" - "Teach your child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."  This is one of the bases for the mitzvah (commandment) to Jewishly educate our children.  According to traditional interpretation, the commandment "P'ru Ur'vu" - "Be Fruitful and Multiply" is not only an imperative to have children if we are able, but also to raise and educate them. 

Throughout the life of this blog I'll be sharing some frugal tools and methods that I've found for Jewishly educating my children.  This is in no way intended to be a slam on formal Jewish education - I believe that formal Jewish education, such as Jewish preschool, supplementary religious school, Jewish day school, and Jewish camp - are powerful and important tools in educating and socializing our children in a Jewish communal context, among other things. 

As a Jewish educator myself, however, I understand that formal Jewish education doesn't tend to "stick" as well unless those ideas and lessons are somehow reinforced at home.  While I am an ordained rabbi and have an extensive education that allows me to someday (G-d willing) teach my children very in-depth and detailed lessons, you don't have to be a rabbi to instill a love of Judaism and Jewish learning and a sense of Jewish commitment in your children.  There are tons of great things you can do in your home that require little to no knowledge of Hebrew or Jewish anything to reinforce what your kinderlach (kids) are learning at school.  This series will highlight those as I encounter them myself.

My children are very young, which means that while they can't grasp detailed or in-depth lessons, their little brains are forming a mile a minute.  That also means that they respond to the most basic of lessons, internalizing things like language building-blocks and melodies to songs at an astonishing rate.  We have a CD of Jewish camp songs that we play in the car, and the first track is "Modeh Ani," a Jewish prayer said upon waking up.  I was astonished that, while Asher cannot read or speak Hebrew, he could sing back not only the tune, but most of the words to the song.  Little children learn through repetition, and while Judaism does not value rote recitation of the prayers without understanding the words, I think it's really good for my kids to know how to say the prayers and understand their basic meanings. ("We sing 'Modeh Ani' in the morning to thank G-d for another new day ahead of us.")  Now I know they're capable of learning to say a prayer like "Modeh Ani" even if it contains more complicated Hebrew and ideas.

This motivated me to have even more Jewish music on hand to play for my kids.   With Chanukah just around the corner (at the beginning of December this year!  Yikes!) I wanted to employ the "listen to a CD over and over again" technique to help my oldest learn the blessings for the candles and some other songs (and my littler ones to become familiar with the tunes.) 

This is where iTunes came in.  I knew I wanted some specific songs, like "Maoz Tzur" and the Candle Blessings, but I didn't know which versions both my kids and I would want to listen to over and over and over again.   A quick search in the iTunes store gave me a list of songs I could sample.
Fullscreen capture 10252010 80115 AM

I really liked the sound of one version, so I clicked over to the whole album ("ShirLaLa Chanukah" RULES) and bought a bunch of songs I liked. 
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Pandora Radio is another great tool for this.  You can "create your own radio station" to listen to songs of a certain genre.   Type in "Chanukah" to listen to full songs.

Fullscreen capture 10252010 71859 AM.bmp

This is where the "frugal" part comes in.  iTunes lets you, in most cases, purchase one song at a time, so if you're looking for 3 specific songs, you pay your $3, your kids learn the prayers, and you're done.  I decided I really liked the whole CD, and I bought it (19 songs) for $10 - around $.50 a song, or a great bargain.  Or, if you're using Pandora, you listen to whole songs for FREE.

My kids are already listening to the songs in the car and learning about Chanukah.  Asher can tell you the story of the Maccabees and the oil that lasted for 8 days, and he knows the basic tune for candlelighting now.  I dropped $10 and I only have to spend as much time as I would spend in the car anyway on this little piece of their Jewish education.  It may be obvious - but I'm learning new tunes too!  This is a great way to not only teach your child, but learn together with him.

Stay tuned for more Frugal Jewish Education posts!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Baby Food: Make Your Own, Save Shekels, Feel Smug.

I figure babies are pretty much the easiest people to cook for, and here's why: They don't know how things are supposed to taste. So you can literally just cook some fruit or veggies, add a little water, blend it up, call it "baby food," and take a bow as Ima of the Year because hey! You love your baby enough to make homemade food for her! And she won't even know if it tastes like scud anyway! (When really your sole motivation is that you are too stingy to buy the prepackaged stuff when apples are $0.88* a pound, so much so that you will scrape the puree out of the depths of your blender with that skinny spatula you bought years ago and had completely despaired of ever using.)

And while some of us doting Imas have truly made an art out of baby purees (Yes, yes, Deb is a genius and we all love her,) my approach is as simple and non-gourmet as it gets:

{peeled apples for applesauce}

{pureed butternut squash}
{applesauce ready to freeze}
{butternut squash cubes ready to chuck in the freezer}
{cubes of pureed carrot artfully displayed on our counter}
{Nesyah, delighted.}

*Yes, I made about 48 cubes, or what would be around 20 containers, of applesauce for about $2.50. Can't beat that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

O Saver of My Shekels, O Bane of My Existence: Chopping Carrots and Onions

Sometimes we have to do things that we know are good for us, but that we hate, hate, HATE to do.

I know exercise is near the top of my list, right along with not eating cookies for every meal.
I also hate unloading the dishwasher.  No avoiding that.
And don't even get me started on scrubbing out the oven.

But, perhaps worst of all,
I hate, hate, HATE chopping vegetables.
No two ways about it.  It's messy, the little onion skins and clingy carrot peels always fall on the floor, the pepper seeds get everywhere, you can *never* get the celery clean enough, and I seriously cut my finger every second time I do it.

But whole, unpeeled carrots and celery are easily half the price of the pre-peeled and (essentially) pre-cut baby carrots.  And a third of the price of the pre-chopped variety.  Same goes for celery and onions.

So, what do I do?  I buy a ton, chop them all up (which takes me at least 30 horrible minutes, ugh, ugh, ugh.)

Then I freeze recipe-sized batches in (re-used) freezer bags, and wedge them between the kids' ice cream cones and imitation chicken.

So that I never have to do this ever again.  Or at least not for a few more weeks.

What do you absolutely dread doing but slog through anyway just to save some shekels?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On This Week's Menu: Halfway through October and right on track!

Hey folks, everybody shout a warm Welcome Back to me and my menu plan!  I know we've been gone for two weeks after I came on this blog and said all kinds of gorgeous things about how I was going to start using this blog, actually using it, for real, and hey, look, it's two weeks later now and not only have I not frugal blogged (and only baby blogged once) but I also have hardly gotten any sleep. 

So, awesome for both you and me.  Not.

The good news is that, in addition to "Slow and Steady Wins the Race," We are also *more* than on track for our decreased grocery budget for October (cue angels singing!)  For week 1 I dropped just $50 on groceries and last Sunday's trip (week 2) was $71.  I made a pre-Shabbos stress trip on Friday and picked up a good amount of stuff, which may or may not have included gorgonzola-stuffed olives (but also squash! and yams! for the baby!) for $16.  Still, for all three trips, coming in a few bucks under on average for each week.  I splurged on Chipotle tonight, adding $13 to the mix, so we are right on track. 

This week will be another cheapie, as we're still working our way through our freezer stash and eating super-frugally.

Sunday:  Pasta with spicy peanut sauce, green peas, and poached chicken breast (we have a lonely piece of chicken stashed in the freezer from a few Shabbats ago just longing for this sauce)

Monday: Tuna Casserole (I sneak veggies into this so it's a full meal)

Tuesday: Vegetarian chili from our freezer stash over rice

Wednesday: Spaghetti with Marinara and steamed broccoli

Thursday: Whole Wheat Pizza with carmelized onions and goat cheese (yes, we have this every week, nom nom)

Shabbat Dinner (Friday night): Schnitzels, Israeli Salad, Orzo with seasonal veggies

Shabbat Lunch (Saturday afternoon): Tuna Salad, Egg Salad, Bagels, and green salad

Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night): David's in charge.  I don't ask any questions.

Shavua Tov everyone - Have an awesome week!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On This Week's Menu: Recovering from the Holidays

Well folks, long time no see (blog)! Turns out that mothering 3 under 3, getting settled in a new place, and starting a part-time job with almost zero childcare leaves little time for blogging. Over the past few months, I've prioritized our family blog since it's the keeper of memories for my ducklings. At least that blog has seen a handful of posts since the summer.

There's nothing like meeting up with a kindred spirit to re-inspire frugal blogging pursuits. I was fortunate to find myself in the same sukkah as Mara from Kosher On a Budget for dinner over the holiday. Before I knew it we were talking kosher meat prices, emergency savings accounts, and our Jewish love for the Christian Dave Ramsey like old friends. She told me about her hopes to monetize her blog and that got me thinking that it would probably be good if I could manage to at least post to mine, given that it's just sitting around using up perfectly good cyberspace otherwise, and other blogs not only have posts but also work hard enough to make some money, goshdarnit.

So, enough rambling. Between our trip to Pennsylvania (where we ate out a lot and also filled Gram's fridge and freezer for her) and all the chagim with their fancy meals, our grocery budget was 50% more than usual ($600) in September. This month I'm cutting back the weekly budget (which is normally $100) to $75 to try to compensate, but since there are 5 weekly shopping trips, not 4, that still adds up to nearly a regular month's budget (5x$75=375.) *sigh*. We'll be eating a lot of beans and cheap meals and cleaning out our deep freeze to make it happen. (Just like my new friend is planning, yay!)

Sunday: black bean quesadillas

Monday: whole wheat goat cheese and carmelized onion pizza (with salad, if I can get a good sale)

Tuesday: split pea soup with whole wheat jalapeƱo rolls

Wednesday: whole wheat spaghetti with challah garlic toast and steamed peas

Thursday: pierogies with Sauerkraut and onions with steamed broccoli

Erev Shabbat: roasted chicken breasts with chickpea orzo and challah

Shabbat lunch: egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches

Saturday night: spinach-and-four-cheese lasagna with steamed broccoli

I already have most of these ingredients on hand, so I'm planning on a cheap shopping trip this week! Shavua Tov!
(Head on over to my original menu plan post to see why I plan a whole week's meals at a time!)
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