Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Frugal Ima Thanksgiving Recipe - Perfect Pareve Cookies

FIFrugal Recipe copyWow! I can already tell that Rami's birthday falling during Thanksgiving week is going to catapult me to a new level of crazy-multitasking Ima.  If you're like me and already spend weeks planning Thanksgiving dinner, complete with menus and cooking schedules, you can imagine what birthday planning adds to the list, even for a tiny 2-year-old (Please tell me Rami still counts as "tiny!" I am not dealing well with his growing so fast.)

So I'm not going to be turbo-blogging this week as I'd like to.  But I would be remiss if I didn't share my perfect pareve cookie discovery from a couple weeks ago.  Those of you with kosher households where meat and dairy are not served in the same meal can appreciate the weekly dilemma Shabbat presents - you're going to cook a delicious meat dinner, so what dairy-free dessert will give it an appropriate finish and leave Shabbos bellies happy? 

Well, obviously, Thanksgiving presents the same problem.  We have a gorgeous turkey and brisket, mashed potatoes enriched with schmaltz, not to mention the rest of the smorgasbord, and....uh oh!  What's for dessert?

Well, I recently hacked my favorite chocolate cookie recipe to be pareve and let me just tell you I. Am. OBSESSED. with these cookies.  There are so many variations, too!  Prepare to be amazed at how easy these are and then, once you eat them, how DELICIOUS they are.  (Then be prepared to deal with how many you actually ate before you realize it.)

1 cup shortening
1 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp vanilla extract
2 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Cream the shortening, sugar, vanilla, and eggs together until fluffy.  Sift together dry ingredients and mix into shortening mixture just until combined.

Form the dough into 1-inch balls and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes (they will look underdone but they're not!!!)

and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes (they will look underdone but they're not!!!)

Find something around the house you can use to make a circle-sized indentation in the middle.  I use a large vanilla extract bottle's top.

Now let them cool.  Watch out, because they will get snatched!

Now here's the fun part.  Make a pretty thick mixture of confectioner's sugar (about a cup?) and water (about a tbsp?)

Now, here's where the possibilities become endless.  You can drop it in there plain and cover it with sprinkles:

Or you can mix it up with coconut (this is my greatest weakness.  Ever.):

In the past, I've also mixed it with mint extract to make mint-filled chocolate cookies, and orange extract for an orange flavor.  I've been meaning to try raspberry extract as well.
The confectioner's sugar filling takes on food coloring beautifully, so these can be colored to match literally any theme.  When you chill these cookies, the filling takes on the consistency and taste of Oreo creme - INCREDIBLE!

Layer these in a food storage container with parchment paper and stick them in the freezer. If you pull them out right before you serve dinner, they will be perfect for dessert. 

I'd love to hear all about your tried-and-true pareve desserts - share them in the comments! 

Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Food Waste Friday: Another Shameful Trio.

Every Friday I post a photo and little story about food my family has wasted in the past week. Why do I do this? 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. This is my self-imposed accountability.

Hey everyone, remember last time I posted three food wastes in a week?  And swore it would never happen again.  Um, yeah.  Easier said than done.


1. Roasted potatoes from Shabbos. These poor little roasted potato-lets never got eaten....lesson learned: I need to roast the potatoes in larger chunks. They are much tastier that way (I did that Monday night) and they go like hotcakes.

2.  Honey cake muffins, circa mid-September.  These were from a batch of about two dozen, most of which were quickly gobbled.  These got shoved to the back of the freezer at some point.  They looked okay, but tasted sad.
3.  Hummus (ACK!!!)  This is the worst.  The expiration date is from two months ago.  Clearly I need to quit buying and make my own a la Mara, so that I can make hummus in the quantities we'll actually eat before forgetting about at the back of the fridge.

Thanks for another week of keeping me honest, everyone!  Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Frugal Ima's Home Maintenance Commandments

Some of you seem to have finished reading my last post on home maintenance scheduling convinced that I am some type of super-energetic, Donna Reed-type Ima.  I am not.  We maintain our home with these Home Maintenance Commandments in mind to keep the cleaning easy and the process and the cleaners a little more sane. I'm going to take a moment to list them here, so that you can nod your head in agreement and find a bit of calm in your cleaning schedule.

  • Just Get it Done - Don't stew over a dirty job that needs to be done, or it will just get dirtier. 
Simple Mom says this beautifully, and every bit is true.  Often, a job quickly done now is a job that doesn't have to be laboriously scraped or scrubbed at later.  This goes for most spills (think kitchen floors, high chairs, toilets) and pickup jobs (snag that piece of laundry or trash on your way out of the room, or toss a toy in a bin as you pass by.)
  • Simplify - Make your cleaning process simple, quick, and easy.
Just 5 cleaners - Toilet cleaner, glass cleaner, all-purpose cleaner, bleach, and disinfecting wipes - clean everything in our home each week.  Glass cleaner or a bit of bleach in water can be used in place of all-purpose cleaner in a pinch.  Some home managers even clean their toilets and sinks with baking soda.     This means almost no surface goes without cleaning because of a lack of cleaning product. 

Keep a set of cleaning supplies in EVERY ROOM that needs to be cleaned.  All you need to do is reach under the sink or on top of a cabinet, grab the supplies, spray or douse the surfaces, and wipe or brush them clean.  This eliminates the excuse of putting the cleaning off because you would have to schlep supplies.  My bathrooms take no more than 10 minutes to clean because we obey this commandment.  Keep a tub of disinfecting wipes next to each toilet and eliminate your spouse or child's excuse for not cleaning up after themselves and leaving a mess.  Simple cleaning = cleaning that gets done. 

  • Go Easy on Yourself
If you clean one thing in your house, it is better than cleaning nothing.  If you didn't scrub one toilet or swipe one bathroom floor, it will get done next week.  That's the beauty of creating a home maintenance schedule!

One home manager I spoke to told me that her mantra of late was, "Better Than Nothing."  This has really helped me relax a little bit.  See this lotion container in my bathroom sink?  You can see that it's a little schmutzy.
 This photo was snapped moments after I cleaned my bathroom for the week.  The lotion has a little schmutz on it, but I know the sink and mirror and toilet are clean.  So what if there is a little schmutz on the lotion?  No one will die.

  • Hakol Haveil ("Everything is Futile")
This famous line from Ecclesiastes reminds us of the saddest truth of home management: If you have consciously decided to let gremlins invade your home for the next 18 years are raising small children, your house is destined to get cluttered and messy again. Let me say it again - Your children will destroy any and all cleaning you've just done.  Don't freak out when they do. It will get cleaned again next week, or the next time you Just Get it Done.  This photo was snapped this very morning.  You can see that the couch cushions have been strewn all over the living room, and that Rami is stark naked, bouncing up and down on the couch frame.  I didn't freak out because I knew that, before bedtime that evening, the living room would be picked up, (and that in the next few minutes, Rami would be getting dressed.)

About five seconds after I took that photo, Rami pishied on the carpet.  I then made the epic mistake of saying, "At least he didn't do #2 on the carpet," WITHOUT saying "kein ayin hara," shortly after which Rami did #2 on the carpet.  Because I had disinfecting wipes and cleaning rags closeby, it was quickly taken care of according to the Just Get it Done commandment and we went about our day.

In another fun incident, the boys dumped every single one of their clothes drawers on their bedroom floor.  I didn't freak out because the next day was laundry day and I decided to sort the clothing back into its place (with the forced help of some miserable boychiks) then.

I hope these Home Maintenance Commandments help you maintain a relatively clean house and relatively sane persona.  I am constantly having to remind myself of them, especially, the "Go Easy on Yourself" principle, but when I abide by them I always have a better week.  For example, here is a shot of my dining table and kitchen island RIGHT NOW:

You can see that there are misplaced cleaning supplies, sippy cups in need of washing, and pantry supplies to put away among other things.  But I'm sitting here typing a blog entry because it's what keeps me sane, and also because I know that 1. my house is baseline clean and 2. it's Better Than Nothing.

What are the Home Maintenance Commandments that help you maintain a more sane household?  I'd love to have some more to add to my arsenal!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Super-Frugal Recipe: Baked Ravioli

FISuperFrugal Recipe copy
Helloooooo Frugal Ima readers!  Sorry I ditched you for a full WEEK (oy, oy, I know) but I was pouring all my free time and energy (ha!) into using my family blog to create a year-in-review keepsake for my three sweeties.  There was a super-fab deal at Picaboo that gave us buy-one-get-one-free that expired yesterday and it wouldn't have been frugal of me to miss the deadline.


I'm about to knock your socks off with one of our all-time favorite recipes.  It is super-frugal and super-easy.  I'm not kidding - this recipe costs right around $4 (yes that's FOUR DOLLARS!!!) to make, yields lunch leftovers, and takes less than ten minutes to put together.  Remember, friends, when I say "easy," I mean EASY, because you know how I hate hate hate standing over a hot stove for any amount of time. 

Get a bag of frozen raviolis.  We are a kosher-by-ingredient household, so we can get away with the Great Value brand three-cheese raviolis frrom WalMart for $2.27 a bag.
Line a pan with aluminum foil (just to aid in your cleanup) and pour some spaghetti sauce into the pan.  Spread it around to cover a thin layer.  Then line up the frozen raviolis in a neat row.  Cover those with another layer of spaghetti sauce and another layer of raviolis.  Do that until you run out of raviolis - depending on the size of your pan, you'll get two or three layers.

Top the last layer with sauce, then a liberal sprinkling of shredded cheese.  I was thinking you could also put some bread crumbs on top of this and it might come out with a "toasted ravioli" feel.
Throw it in the oven, then turn the oven on to 350 degrees.  (The raviolis will be fine in there while the oven heats up and it'll save you a bit of energy too.)  Leave the pan in there for as long as it takes you to get your insane monsters children in and out of the bathtub, into their pajamas, and into bed thanktheLord.  (anywhere from 35 to 50 minutes, I'd say.)  Here's what you'll get:

Serve it with steamed broccoli or whatever else you can throw into the microwave using your last ounce of energy. 
(Here is the handsome David serving me dinner, on the couch of course.)

This is also an awesome make-ahead meal.  You can throw it in the pan in the morning and keep it in the fridge all day long for your husband, or wife, or very obedient child to put in the oven while you work late.  It won't be any the worse for wear and you'll come home to a hot meal.  Put your feet up and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Managing the Chaos: Creating a Household Maintenance Schedule, Part 2

If you missed my first post in the series, you might want to head over here to check it out.

In my last post on creating a household maintenance schedule, I highlighted the benefits of such a schedule for our family. In this post, I'll tell you how we came up with a schedule that works for us.

First, I wrote down everything that needed to be done each week. When you do this step, take care to balance your visions of a sparkling house with reality. If you're a fan of The Flylady, you know that her method touts a whole house basic Cleaning once a week and deep cleaning once a month, meaning that you should not be scrubbing grime out of your windowsill with a toothbrush as part of your weekly cleaning.
What needs to be done weekly:
Bathrooms cleaned
Grocery shopping done
Kitchen cleaned
Couch wiped down
Living room dusted
Vaccuumung baseboards, under carpets and under living room table

What needs to be done twice weekly:

What needs to be done daily:
Tables and counters wiped clean
Carpet vaccuumed
Living room picked up
Dishwasher unloaded, loaded, and run again

Then I moved on to the actual scheduling part. Pick a day that, in you ideal world, the house is at its most perfect possible state of clean. For us, it's Shabbat, but for you it might be Saturday night for your date night with your spouse, or Monday morning so you can start the week off on a clean foot. Now, all your cleaning efforts will be working towards a that one day.

Then I sketched out a chart so I could see the big picture right on front of me. If you know me, you'll know that my day-to-day sanity relies heavily on post-it notes, so of course I put one post-it note on the wall for each day I had to clean - 6 in all since we're skipping Shabbat.

I need my house to sparkle by Friday afternoon. I asked myself: what would I feel happiest to have newly clean as I celebrate Shabbat? Friday also involves some mad-dash cooking and other Shabbat prep atypical of other weekdays, so is cleaning tasks can't be too heavy or time-consuming lest I collapse into a puddle of exhausted tears right after I light Shabbat candles (yes, it's been known to happen.)

So I marked Friday as a wide-range surface cleaning day that would include couches being wiped down, a quick sweep of the baseboards, a detailed vaccuuming (along baseboards and under carpets and coffee table, and trash can and a general pickup and dusting of the house.

A big contributor to clutter in our house is laundry. I knew I didn't want to spend Shabbat stewing over a mountain of dirty clothes, so Thursday became laundry day. With 3 children under 4 years old b''H we do something like 7 loads of laundry in any given week. No matter how hard we try, that simply cannot get entirely done in one day. So Monday became laundry day as well, being about halfway across the week from Thursday.

So far that gives us:
Monday - laundry
Thursday - laundry
Friday - general whole-house surface clean

Since my part-time job takes me out of the house on Tuesday afternoons, we decided that day was a wash for housework (har har, pun intended). There are simply too many other things to accomplish between daily cleanup, caring for the children, and getting them to and from preschool (a 2-hour total trip each day!). I still don't have clean bathrooms or a kitchen, so I put that on Wednesday since it is reasonably close to Shabbat and I certainly can't enjoy a Day of Rest with a grimy toilet, sink, and kitchen floor.

So now we have:
Monday -  laundry
Tuesday - (otherwise occupied)
Wednesday - kitchen and bathrooms
Thursday - laundry
Friday - general whole-house surface clean and Shabbos food prep.

That leaves us with Sunday open. Since David is usually home Sundays and work takes me out of the house on Sunday mornings, it is the perfect day for me to grocery shop without the children to slow the cart and to do any meal prep for the week without rugrats tugging on my ankles amidst heat from the oven and kitchen knife hazards. 
See how that all fell into place?
Now the final schedule:
Sunday - grocery shop and food prep for the week
Monday - laundry
Tuesday - (otherwise occupied)
Wednesday - kitchen and bathrooms
Thursday - laundry
Friday - general whole-house surface clean and Shabbos food prep.

Remember!  Every day also includes the "Everyday" tasks I listed above: Tables and counters wiped clean; Carpet vaccuumed; Living room picked up; Dishwasher unloaded, loaded, and run again.

Hopefully, seeing how this all played out in our house will help you sketch out your own realistic, custom-fit-for-your-household maintenance schedule.

Stay tuned for the third and final installment in this series, where I'll break down each day's cleaning into individual tasks, tell you how I keep track of it all, and give you some of my favorite tips for making the weekly cleaning as painless as possible.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Frugal Jewish Education*: Learning Alef-Bet, Pretzels and M&Ms Edition

This week in Frugal Jewish Education: Learning Alef-Bet.

Since he turned two, Asher's been demonstrating an ability to recognize letters and, in most cases, the sounds they make.  Accomplishing recognition of letters and their sounds is the first step on the path to reading readiness. 

Even though it's not typical to start children learning alef-bet until they are much older and have completely mastered the English alphabet, usually around second grade, I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a go with Asher.  (We have been reading to him in Hebrew since birth and doing casual letter recognition like "Alef is for Asher" for quite awhile.)

I decided we'd focus on learning one letter per week, mostly on Mondays, when Asher doesn't have preschool, and then follow up with review the rest of the week.  I purchased an excellent pre-primer workbook, which Asher LOVES working with.  We keep each sheet in a binder and Asher is really proud to look back on what he's done and show Abba all his hard work.
(Asher "circling" the letter that matches the one at the top)

In addition to a classic worksheet approach, however, I'm looking for new and creative ways to engage Asher (and, by extension, Rami) in learning his letters.  I want him to look forward to each lesson as a fun activity that offers something new and exciting each week. Hopefully this will direct his attitude towards learning throughout his childhood and his whole life.

It is a custom to have children eat cakes or cookies decorated with Hebrew letters on the first days of their Jewish education, so that words of Torah will always be sweet in their mouths.  I thought it'd be fun to start our Hebrew letter learning by making the shapes of each letter out of something edible and sweet.  Pretzel sticks and M&Ms fit the bill!
(learning the letter gimmel)

Asher had a ton of fun with this and asks for "pretzel alef bet" on many days.  In particular, this exercise helped him remember that "bet has a belly button" because the "belly button" (dagesh, or dot in the middle of the letter) is made out of an M&M!

What fun (and maybe tasty?) ways have you found to teach your children their letters?  Please share in the comments - I'm always looking for new ideas!!!

*About the Frugal Jewish Education Series:
(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.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

On This Week's Menu: Buckeyes for Shabbos!

Oooh, is it ever looking like an awesome menu week at the Kopans bayit!  We are particularly excited that we get to host some fellow Buckeyes stationed in the KC for Erev Shabbat dinner.

Sunday: Paninis (we have some Feta cheese that MUST be used up to avoid shame in this week's Food Waste Friday)
Monday: Raviolis and marinara with steamed broccoli
Tuesday: Lentil Soup with baked potatoes
Wednesday: Spaghetti and marinara with steamed peas
Thursday: Whole Wheat Pizza with carmelized onions and goat cheese (yes, we eat the same thing every Thursday)
Friday:  Shabbos guests!  Schnitzel, Israeli salad, roasted potatoes, fresh-baked challah, hummus, and whatever our Buckeye buddies feel like bringing.
Saturday:  David's in charge, I don't ask.  Though I have a hankering for some guacamole from Chipotle. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Food Waste Friday: Moldy Chickpeas and Pumpkin Pie

Every Friday I post a photo and little story about food my family has wasted in the past week.  Why do I do this? 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.  This is my self-imposed accountability.

Woe and shame, shame and woe.  Three separate food wastes for three separate reasons.  Let's examine and learn the lessons they have to teach...

Kiddie Pasta. 
 I cooked this for the boys one night and they barely touched it.  I served it to them for lunch the next day, and noses were upturned. I put it back in the fridge one more time so I could put it in front of them the requisite third time (I have a three-times-then-throw-out rule,) but totally forgot about it.
Lesson learned: Next time, cook less pasta.  This waste probably only amounted to $.50 or so, but it was still unnecessary.

Moldy Chickpeas.
I cooked an entire pound of these a couple of weeks ago for inclusion in a chickpea-and-orzo dish and didn't use the whole pound.  David will usually snack on these, but for whatever reason these remained languishing in the fridge.  I wouldn't be surprised if they were waiting to become a snack for a month.
Lesson learned: Cook only half a bag of chickpeas at a time, or freeze them for hummus.  Again, about a $.50 waste, but still a shame.

Pumpkin Pie.
This is probably without a doubt the saddest of the bunch.  Asher had some idea that he wanted to eat pumpkin pie after trick-or-treating, (yes, we trick-or-treated, and I don't think we're cofers, so let's just nip those comments in the bud right now!)  so I grabbed a frozen one since it was so much cheaper than the bakery version.  Turns out that it's tougher to cook a frozen pie appropriately, and it takes a lot longer, than I thought.  An hour and 15 minutes later we had a hot pumpkin pie (yuck!) and a disinterested boy.  The next morning, my rogue fork revealed a disgustingly undercooked crust.  I resolved to at least eat the outside edges and felt better.  The next morning, however, precarious food-stacking practices in the fridge landed this sucker on the floor, which marked its final pathetic end.
Lesson learned:  Just buy the pie from the bakery.   This one was a doozy - $5.79.  Oy, oy, oy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Managing the Chaos - Creating a Household Maintenance Schedule

How many of you household managers, when asked to describe in one word how you feel most often, would answer, "Overwhelmed!"?  Whether we are full-time household managers, or have another job in addition to that profession, most of us probably nodded our heads.  We are overwhelmed.  I don't know about you, but I am constantly looking for ways to streamline, simplify, and organize so I don't feel quite so frantic all the time.

I'm not going to pretend that I have a streamlined, simplified, or organized life.  But in pursuit of the holy grail of Having It All Together (ha!) I have run across some things that work for me as a household manager.  Of course, as my children grow, things will change and need to be adjusted, but a couple of things have helped me feel like my head is hanging on by a thread (a little Harry Potter shoutout for you there) as opposed to falling off completely.  One of those things is keeping to a cleaning schedule - or more accurately, a household maintenance schedule.  Each day has its own tasks to be completed on that day of the week.  (Monday is laundry day, Tuesday is bathroom cleaning day, etc.) I actually started doing this almost a year ago, when I was working full time. It worked just as well for me then, albeit a bit differently, as it does now that I'm only working part time. This is also a really good idea if you are a student - you are juggling so many things between classes, jobs, and extracurriculars that I imagine a scuzzy apartment is easy to find yourself in.
A household mainteance schedule is born from the same concept as menu planning, and offers many of the same benefits:
  • It saves time. Scheduled weekly (or bi-weekly) maintenance of any task means that things will always be in a state of relative clean. When you take the time each week to wipe out your fridge shelves, sanitize the sink, scrub toilets, or swipe dust off of baseboards, things don't even have a chance to get grimy. That means that any time you go to clean, it will be easy-peasy and very quick, as opposed to requiring buckets of elbow grease and hours of your precious time. A twice-weekly cleaned toilet takes 2 minutes to clean; whereas a neglected one could take an hour to clean (don't ask me how I know that.) Take a few minutes each week to wipe down your range top and never scrape at built-up grease again.
  • It reduces stress. You always know when the last time you did something was.  This keeps things cleaner in general - it's easy to forget that it's been an entire week since you vaccuumed along the baseboards.    This way you know that your enviroment is always at a base clean level.  I don't know about you, but I can only relax if I know I'm not kicking up my heels amidst grime. 
  • It encourages whole-family participation, and reduces fights about "helping out around the house."  David knows that Monday is laundry day, so he works really hard to run the laundry machines on Sunday so that I can fold and put away by the end of Monday (he HATES folding laundry.)  On Wednesday morning, he often wipes down the bathroom mirrors or runs the toilet brush around the bowl because he knows that Wednesday is bathroom cleaning day.  Knowing which tasks need to be completed on which days eliminates the guessing game as to what household work is the top priority, and enables family members to work together towards a well-maintained home (and eliminates the oft-used excuse that "I didn't know what needed to be done!") 
  • It helps manage clutter.  We all know how quickly stuff can build up.  Doing a systematic, once-weekly whole-home cleaning means that any unnecessary stuff has to be dealt with every. single. week. - significantly slowing things down.  I am much more inclined to pitch stuff that I don't need if I know I'm going to encounter it again and again till it drives me crazy.
  • It is healthier.  The basic reason we need to keep clean homes is because it is unhealthy to live amidst dirt and debris - period.  If you can't say for sure when the last time you disinfected your sink was, how do you know it was recently enough?
  • It saves money.  I swear to you, I am so overwhelmed with things as they are that if I let the household maintenance get away from me for even a couple of days, things would be such a mess that I would eventually throw my hands in the air and hire a professional cleaner.  I'm never tempted to do that using this system.
A brilliant resource for getting started with making your own (realistic!)  household maintenance schedule is The Flylady.  I can't say enough good things about her.

I will probably share our household maintenance schedule next week, including the steps it took to come up with a plan that makes the most sense for our household, just so you all get a sense of how things run and how my head is still on.  In the meantime, do you follow a home maintenance routine?  Why or why not?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Super-Frugal Recipes: Lentil Soup

FISuperFrugal Recipe copy

Topping the Kopans comfort-food charts right next to Tuna Casserole is this sweet gem of a recipe.  It has a lot of the same pluses: David grew up with it, it is hot and comforting, and it is super, super cheap.  In a few ways, though, it is even better: it is a crock pot meal, meaning I don't have to schvitz over it at all (and if you  know me, you know there's nothing I hate more than standing over a counter and especially an oven to prep meals),  AND it's what I'm going to call a super-frugal mealThat means it costs $5 or less to prepare, and it stretches into lunchtime for the next day or two to boot. An extra bonus is that my 2 and 3-year-olds devour this meal, so it does double duty in our house.

So, let's get started.  Here's what you'll need:
1 bag of dry lentils
1 can of crushed tomatoes
chopped onions, carrots, and celery (I'd say around a cup of each - I'm using a bagful I chopped and froze)
some chicken broth if you have it
salt, pepper, garlic, and Italian seasoning to taste
3 c water

Wash your lentils. (The directions say to wash and sort, but I am totally guilty of skipping "sort.")
lentil soup

Dump everything together in your crock pot.  Ours is a 6-qt model, to give you an idea of what you're looking at.

For extra frugal bonus points, use your tomato can to add water so you get every last bit of tomatoe-y goodness.

If you have 6 hours or less, put it on high. If you have more than 6 hours, you can safely set this on low and the lentils will still cook to perfection.

Serve it with some bread you threw into the bread machine or got day-old for $.90....

Or over rice....

This also freezes well, so it's a great meal for portioning into freezer containers for on-the-go lunches.  Especially in the winter time, it's nice to have a hot meal from home that you had to do next to nothing to prepare.
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