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Friday, July 27, 2012

July's grocery money journal

July 20 -- We are way ahead of the game this month, in the grocery budget. Thanks in part to being too busy one week to shop, followed by the next week half the family sick, and me being too tired to shop. We're just eating up what we have in the pantry, fridge and freezer.

Last night, my two teen daughters did a superb job making a delicious and frugal dinner for the family. They made baked beans (from scratch, no less), cornbread, green salad from the garden with blueberry vinaigrette (using up last year's blueberry vinegar -- easy recipe, wow your guests, make it now for a great holiday gift), and topped off with Jayne's rhubarb custard pie (I'll post that recipe soon, it's a favorite around here). Sounds extravagant for a couple of teenage girls, doesn't it? All this came from the pantry, fridge/freezer and garden.

The previous night, I'd made a use-it-up casserole from all the broken pasta bits at the bottom of boxes, a little more "good" pasta, leftover barley and lentil ground-beef-substitute, cheddar cheese, chives I found in a container in the freezer, bratwurst sausage slices, also from the freezer, broccoli from the garden and seasonings. Did you know that in a pinch, you can use the inside of a cardboard food box, like a pasta box, as a make-shift cutting board? Double up the cardboard, and it should absorb the knife's impact well enough not to damage the blade (or anything else in your kitchen, such as a nice countertop).

Tonight I'll make a frittata with greens from the garden, onions, garlic, eggs and cheese, to have with a green salad (from the garden), and some rosemary focaccia bread on the side. Plus the other half of the pie my daughters made. (*note* We had a fun outing in the afternoon and didn't get back in time for me to want to do focaccia, so I made garlic buns with some leftover hot dog buns to have with our frittata, salad and pie.)

I did have one splurge this month. Earlier this week, I got nostalgic for circus animal cookies (the kind with pink or white frosting and multi-colored sprinkles). I had to go to the store for eggs (on sale) and iron pills for me, and for $2.50, I bought 1 bag of circus animal cookies. The sad thing about those packaged goods, is split 5 ways, there's never all that much. But they did satisfy my nostalgic yearnings.

So far, I have only spent 1/2 of July's grocery money. I needed some meat, but found some in the clearance bin at the grocery store. I bought a 4 pound beef roast on clearance and cut it up into 4 pieces for the freezer for future meals. I also found a package of 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, on clearance. I tossed that into the freezer for when I need some quick, lean meat for a main dish salad.  I also bought a very large bag of unroasted sunflower seeds for $1.49/lb, for making sunseed butter. We go through a lot of that stuff, and at $1.49/lb for the seeds, my homemade sunseed butter (recipe here) costs about $1.40/lb, once the brown sugar and oil are factored in -- all natural, and a far cry from the $2.79/lb all-natural peanut butter at Trader Joes.

I needed white flour and milk, which I picked up at the wholesaler when I was down that way. The white flour was in a 50 pound sack for $13.50 (27 cents a pound is a good price for white flour around here). The milk was a 2 gallon pack, for $4.40, or $2.20 a gallon. Not horribly high, I can find better, but I needed the milk and running around to find it cheaper would've used precious gas. That's about all I've bought since the first week of the month. We continue to eat a lot of beans and grains for our protein. And the garden always has something good and ready to harvest.

Then today, coming home from our girls adventure, we stopped in at the store to pick up some sale milk. Also found some "red band" bananas, still looking good, but labeled "baking bananas", and 1 marked down, small container of Yoplait vanilla yogurt (with live cultures). Whole milk + Yoplait yogurt = yet another attempt at homemade yogurt this weekend. Wish me luck! My previous attempts have been dismal to say the least.

Still we're sitting pretty with our grocery budget. 10 days left and we could easily go through the rest of the month without another stop at a store. We'll see!

And what will I do with the other half of the grocery money? I'll roll the surplus over into August's money. In autumn, many stores have such great deals on baking supplies, canned vegetables, and turkeys, plus the produce stand I frequent has a huge clearance on the 1st of November each year (I stock up on yams, carrots, apples, cabbage, garlic, celery and other veggies there), that I'll be glad to have that surplus then.

July 23 -- Made both dairy (see how it went) and soy milk (better than my wildest expectations!) yogurt on Saturday. Turned out great. I'll post what I did and how I got it to turn out just how I wanted later this week (making thick soy yogurt takes an extra step, but definitely doable). We had yogurt Sunday morning for breakfast, with muffins and fruit from the garden. Delish!

Saturday night we went down to the beach, got fish and chips from a take-out window, and sat on a log, with the water lapping at our feet (literally -- I had to move my cup of water, as the spray from the Puget Sound was coming too close!) Waterside dining! And no waiting for a table! To make our beach dinner even more affordable, we brought a couple of paper plates, some plastic forks, and stopped at the market and bought deli cole slaw ($1.75 total for cole slaw for the 5 of us from the market, compared to take-out cole slaw at the fish and chips place of $1.39 per person or what would've been $6.95 total for cole slaw alone!) Also, we bought 3 of the 5-piece fish and chips and divided up between 5 of us (hence the reason for bringing a few paper plates). By buying larger portions and splitting, we saved about $12 over the price of each of the 5 of us ordering 3-piece meals. Same amount of food, but saved some $$.

I thinned the beets the other day and put the thinnings into a bag in the fridge. I used them in a large pan of fried rice for dinner Sunday evening, along with some carrots and peas, and egg for protein. Salad to go with it was lettuce from the garden, with a dressing made from soy sauce, vinegar, pinch of sugar, ground ginger and oil -- easy and tasted wonderful with the Asian fry.

I baked sourdough bread bowls last night. They are bagged up (sealing them in a bag overnight helps the crust to soften a bit), and I'll use them in tonight's dinner to fill with chili.

July 26 -- Still doing great on the budget and here we are in the last days. After several months of overspending by $10 or $20, you just won't believe that we're under by a whopping $105, so far!!!
How have we done this? We've been living off what we have at home, in the pantry, the freezer, and using every last bit from the garden. I just have not made many trips to the store this month.

We've been careful not to waste a single thing. For example, we had this strange, and sickly sweet marshmallow cream/cream cheese dip bestowed upon us. It sat in the fridge for 10 days. Then we thought to turn it into frosting for a cake, adding homemade powdered sugar and cocoa powder, and my girls baked a sheet cake for it. We even used the whey from straining homemade soy yogurt as liquid for the cake.

Summer beverages can either be costly (sodas) or very frugal (iced teas/coffees, lemonade, good old water). I do a couple of things with fruit juice, some of you probably also do. I personally don't like fruit juice full-strength. I always add more water than called for, when reconstituting frozen stuff. I also add some water to bottled apple juice. It tastes better, I think. Well, we had this 96 oz. bottle of apple juice in the fridge. I poured about half of it into a freeze-able plastic pitcher, and added water to that, then popped it in the freezer. I'll be taking it with us on our little getaway later this summer. It'll be both a beverage to have there, and ice in the cooler. With the other half of this jumbo jug of apple juice, I added water to that, too. Too much sugar all at once, even if it's fruit sugar, just isn't a good idea.

Tuesday, my daughters wanted to come with me to map out a vintage/historic home tour. So before we left, we rummaged through the freezer and found a container of split pea soup (perhaps 6 months old?). We weren't even sure what it was at first. Could be pureed zucchini, pureed green tomatoes (I save some every harvest to add to chocolate cake), or (and we were crossing our fingers), could be something we could just eat right then and there. (I really need to start labeling things that go into the freezer. I always think I can remember what it was.) We also found some slightly stale crackers to go with it.

Then Wednesday, my teens took over the kitchen. I had a group of ladies I was taking on that historic home tour, so didn't have time to cook a full dinner. Daughters to the rescue! They did great! They made homemade tortillas, which they then turned into chips, also some homemade bean and vegetable soup (using veggie stock from the freezer, affectionately called Garbage Soup in our house), and dried beans from the pantry, plus garden veggies, and they picked berries from our patches, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, for a dish of fruit each.

I did another baking of sourdough bread (here's a recipe that uses both sourdough starter and yeast) yesterday and will make another batch of yogurt this morning. Just 4 days left to this month, and we still can find plenty to eat within our own stores of food. I'll need eggs and soy milk before August, but still, we're way under budget.

July 27. Blueberries are ripening, but not enough for a large batch of blueberry muffins. So I picked a stalk of rhubarb and chopped that finely to add to the berries in the muffins. We had those and yogurt this morning for breakfast.

Last night I had no idea what I was going to make for dinner. I'd been out in the garden and noticed some broccoli that needed picking. In the fridge I had some cooked rice, to which I added cheese, eggs, milk, the broccoli, some minced onion and a couple of cups of cooked noodles. It made a very good casserole. That with sourdough bread and green salad, and we had a good, filling dinner.

It keeps amazing me just how much food we still have in the house. Oh, and I found another one of those mystery containers in the freezer. We thought it might be canned tomatoes. Once it thawed, we could see that it was the rinsings from a large ketchup can. I'll have to find some way to incorporate that into dinner today or tomorrow. Note to self -- start writing on the containers what's inside!

I hope your budget is holding out for this month. Some months are tighter than others. What's been your best money saver when it comes to groceries this month?


  1. I love how you saved up your whole month's worth of eating into one post. What a great idea and filled with so many wonderful, frugal ideas. Such a great post! :)

    1. Hi Belinda,
      Thanks! I try to update it as the month goes. That helps keep me motivated to stay within budget. And it helps me identify areas I could pay more attention to -- like marking containers for the freezer. That appears to be a problem for me! Oh well, always something to work on, right?
      Thanks for dropping in!

  2. I'm quite impressed. Your garden must be doing better than mine. I fear the heat & drought have really taken a toll on it this year - not only because it's hard on the plants but because we've had an epidemic of bugs - flea beatles, sow bugs, aphids, even the earwigs eating things!

    However, I have nearly succeeded in drinking my way through my backlog of random teas by making gallon upon gallon of sun tea! Do you have a method for making stock/soup in the summer? My freezer is fast filling up with veggie scraps and chicken bones because I just can't bear the thought of letting anything simmer on the stove for several hours in this heat! I've thought about trying to do it in my solar oven, but my solar oven pots are relatively small... maybe I'll try smaller batches and see how it goes.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Enemy No. 1 in our garden is slugs! They've been eating everything, and I'm having to refill traps constantly! Some years are tough for gardeners. All that work and so little, it seems, to show for it! We'll be lucky to get one single vine-ripe tomato from our 8 plants. We'll probably have many green ones, however.

      For making stock in summer, do you have a crock pot or a portable hot plate? I know a lot of folks set their crocks or pots on a hot plate, on a porch or in the garage in summer, so as not to over heat an already too hot house. Otherwise, with veggie stock I only simmer it for about an hour, then turn off the stove. I think I let meat stock simmer for a couple of hours. You could just resign yourself to wait till cooler weather to do the chicken bones, and do the veggie stock now.
      Now a solar cooker, that sounds interesting! You could do very small pots of stock in the solar cooker.

      I'm trying to use up odd teas mixed in with my fruit and herb tea. I'm really not a big green tea drinker, but people keep giving it to me telling me its good for me. Into the big pot of iced tea it goes!

      Good luck with the continuing process of cleaning out the pantry. I thought about what you said, all that cream of mushroom soup leftover as a sign that your eating patterns have changed for the better -- that's really a good point! I can picture it now -- what you're bringing to the next potluck, a rice and lentil casserole smothered in cream of mushroom soup!

      Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Crock pot on the porch is a really good idea! Actually, given the foxes and raccoons around here it might be problematic... but I could certainly put it in the garage - although I'd have to do some serious de-cluttering first. But perhaps this will give me the incentive I need to get my rear in gear on that project!

      Thanks so much for the suggestion!

  3. I have the same problem with labelling things for the freezer! My other freezer problem is ending up with lots of random single portion leftovers that never get eaten because there's rarely a call for a one person only meal in this house...any tips?!

    And I also have EcoCatLady's problem with a non-flourishing garden, all rain and no sun (until now) makes for many slugs...despite the rain yours sounds very fruitful!

    1. Hi Sarah,
      You want to hear something funny? The container from the freezer that we first thought was canned tomatoes, then deemed to be ketchup can rinsings. Well, we went to add some to a pot of soup, only to find out it's crabapple juice (from last summer's harvest for me to turn into jelly sometime). It's a really good thing we tasted it before adding to the soup! But now, I have to make it into jelly, as it's thawed. I really do have to do something about this not marking containers bound for the freezer!

      With single servings of leftovers one thing we do is have s'morgasbord night. I open lots of these little containers up, heat them all and everyone gets to have a few bites of whatever they wish. I'll usually add a salad to these, and bread or crackers. Always a hit with my kids, especially when they were younger, as this was the only time they got to choose what went on their plates!

      The rain and cold has taken its toll on our garden as well. The heat-loving vegetables are just not doing anything. Remember my cucumbers? I was down to 3 plants. I lost one more. The remaining two are in a large trough style pot on my deck, and barely staying alive, despite all the attention I'm giving them.

      But I'm hopeful. Weather can and does turn around. Slugs do retreat back to wetter places when the sun comes out. And my fall vegetables will give us something! At least we aren't subsistence farmers trying to raise everything we had to eat for the year! Squirrel pot pie would be sounding pretty tasty about now, if that were the case!

      Thanks for visiting! I imagine everyone over on your end of things has Olympic fever about now!

    2. I'm chuckling at the idea of slugs... wondering if one could even survive in this dry climate!

      Just wanted to chime in on the single portion leftovers - not sure if anyone in your household ever takes a lunch to work, but they're wonderfully suited for that.

      Oh, and Lili - your crabapple juice story totally killed me! I finally put a roll of masking tape and a pen in my kitchen utensil drawer, that way it's always on hand to label stuff as it goes into the freezer.

    3. Hi Cat,
      I'm in the kitchen right now making that crabapple juice into jelly, before it has a chance to morph into anything else! (I know, serious lack of logic on my part -- we may just end up with ketchup jelly here!)

      I'm thinking of tying a grease pencil to the handle of my garage freezer.

  4. regarding labelling items destined for the freezer -- a Sharpie pen works best. I always have a couple in my utensils drawer (plus some labels to make it easier. the other option I use (especially when my children have run off with the Sharpies) is to write the item on a piece of paper (also handy on the counter) and any necesary instructions (such as cookie dough -- I include oven temperature and baking time)and just throw that into the freezer bag. Only through too much experience have I learned to label on a regular basis. Good luck to everyone!

    1. Hi Jayne,
      Sharpie it is -- getting tied to the freezer handle tomorrow (so it can't walk off). This not knowing what's in the containers, while a bit of a problem for me, is now multiplied 3-fold, as my two daughters are taking over some of the cooking. I will sometimes remember what something is, by where I put it in the freezer. But now that they're needing to get things out, and moving things about, there's no telling what I'll think something is. (You know how when things are frozen, they have very little aroma.)

      Thanks for the tips, Jayne.


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