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Frugal Food – Gingerbread Men

December 10, 2011

I guess this is a combo post, part Frugal Food and part Christmas Tradition #1. I’m surrounded by the chaos of half unpacked Christmas decorations, half finished Christmas cards, a pile of gifts that need to be wrapped and I’m procrastinating. I made the dough for our annual Gingerbread Men baking session about an hour ago and I should tackle the kitchen or any of these tasks with a looming deadline but I’d rather write a blog post.

Just like last year I spent a good hour searching on the internet and through my recipe clippings. Why didn’t I just post it in my blog after I found it last year? I don’t know but now the search for the recipe is part of the tradition so I’m not going to post it here. Call me crazy.  I will give myself a hint for next year (C.L.R.B.).

This year I want to look at the cost of these treats.  Having a family tradition is priceless. I look forward to the time spent with my sister, Sandra, and Ainslie, just like I looked forward to making Sugar cookies with Granny when she came and spent Christmas with us or helping mom when she would let us!  I treasure those memories and I hope one day Ainslie will look back with fondness on these days spent with the women in her life.

It sure feels like the cost of EVERYTHING went up this year so I was curious to see what our actual ingredient costs were. I didn’t shop at the bulk store or buy the cheapest ingredients, and I will only use unsalted butter in my baking, so I wasn’t making shortcuts to make these appear less expensive.

Here’s the breakdown for one batch of dough:

Butter              2.42

Brown Sugar   .53

Eggs                .47

Molasses          2.22

Flour                1.98

Total:               7.09

I had ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, and salt in the cupboard so I couldn’t weigh them to get the exact cost but I think it would be fair to add .50 cents for the combined costs.

We’ll use two batches tomorrow for a total of $15.18 and we’ll get about 150 gingerbread men. (I promise I’ll count so I can update the cost per cookie!)

A batch of royal icing will cost .74 cents and we should only need one.

I splurged on the candy to decorate – holiday M&M’s – couldn’t find the minis and didn’t have time to shop around – they were a whopping $4.49! Yikes!

So for about $20 dollars we’ll make our gingerbread men as gifts for our family and friends.  The only direct comparison I can make is the bakery counter gingerbread men (not the factory produced ones) and they are about a dollar each. Or you could buy Walker’s shortbread starting at $3.99 a box but I’d like to think my friends and family would rather have home-made baking than store bought.  Wouldn’t you?

You can’t put a price on love but a home made gingerbread man will cost you about fourteen cents!

Happy Holidays!


Frugal Food – Lunch

November 27, 2011

I wanted to follow up on cheap breakfast with my routine for cheap lunch. First of all, you all know it is cheaper to bring your lunch to work than to eat out. I’m not even going to bother talking about all the reasons its wrong to eat fast food in the middle of the day.  Maybe you buy frozen heat-serve meals which sometimes go on sale for as ridiculously low prices like a dollar but on average they probably cost about $2.75.  You know those are often loaded with sodium right? Still if it’s once in a while it is a cheap and easy alternative. I don’t advocate those meals but I will use them as a comparison for take to work lunch as they are quite common.  There is no comparison in time.  Frozen convenience food is fast, probably takes you 30 seconds to grab it from the freezer section and another 5 seconds to put it in your freezer but my chill out routine for almost every Sunday is to make ‘Clean out the Fridge soup’.

Everyone has their own recipe for basic soup and good for you.  I give you mine because I’ve worked out the exact cost, not because it is the best recipe. I went to a green grocer to buy the exact portion of most of these items. Garlic and Onions I buy in bulk so pricing below is approximate. The value in the recipe below is not just the cost but the health value.  Every week my soup has the basics, and then I clean out my fridge of any bits of vegetables, fresh herbs or other leftovers that might work in the soup. This week I had a turnip and half a head of green cabbage. The week before was cauliflower and red pepper.  It is very versatile and you save money by not throwing food out.

2 Tbsp Oil – I like Olive or Grape seed          .14

1 Onion chopped                                            .20

Garlic 1 clove  – minced                                 .20

1 stalk Celery -diced                                       .10

1 Carrot           – diced                                     .31

Turnip  – cubed                                               .29

Cabbage – sliced fine                                      .33

½ cup dried lentils                                          .30

1 Tbsp Herbs deProvence                              .05

1 bouillon cube                                                .40

6 cups of water

Salt and Pepper to taste

Total cost of soup:                                          $2.32 for 5 servings or .46 cents each

It really doesn’t take very long.

Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté the onion, garlic, celery carrots and any other vegetables.  Add the spices. Stir to coat.  Add the lentils, water, and bouillon.  Bring to a boil. Simmer for half an hour or until lentils and vegetables are cooked.

I will usually eat this with a piece of toast and hummus or a few crackers so add another .50 cents to my daily costs but I think I’ve still got one of the cheapest healthy lunches going.

Slow down on Sunday. Make soup, save money, be healthy.

Frugal Foods – Ode to Oatmeal

November 20, 2011

The winter holiday season is approaching and if you are like me, you are watching your pay cheque slip away before it has even arrived.  It’s not just the gifts, my family has cut way back on trinkets, but it is also the events of the holidays.  Office parties, open houses, festive dinners and the like lead to extra expenses in clothes, food, wine, and taxi fares.  I try to offset these added costs by lowering my spending on my day-to-day costs.  It is time to cut out the $5.00 lattes, and convenient take out lunches. It’s time for brown bag lunches and tea bags from home.  Everyone knows all this stuff, its basic common sense.  This year we have a new addition to the family and I want to spoil him a little bit, just a little, so I’ve been looking at other household savings.

I’ve started with Breakfast.  We all know it is the ‘most important meal of the day’ and it can also be the cheapest.  I’m going to start with my ‘Ode to Oatmeal’.  I’ve lost half of you right now – you hate oatmeal or you think you hate it, but it might deserve a second chance.

First of all, it is fast.  My recipe for my microwave is 1 min and 20 sec.

1/3 cup oatmeal in a microwave safe bowl

1/3 + 1/6 cup water

Tiniest pinch of salt

Stir. Microwave then add brown sugar and milk to taste.

The cheapest place I’ve found for Oatmeal is Costco.  You may find it cheaper and for that I say, good for you!  Costco sells Quaker Oats at 8.49/ 5 KG – I happened to get it the week there was a $2.00 instant rebate so I spent $6.49/ 5 KG. For 1/3 of a cup of oatmeal (for the above directions) it costs 5 cents by weight.

Brown sugar was 3.79/2 kg that’s 1 penny, yes 1 cent per teaspoon (which is all I add).

Milk (1% – not at Costco because I can’t go through 4 litres) prices fluctuate marginally but average out at 1.90/ 1 litre works out to be about 3 cents per Tablespoon – you may wish to add more.   So following the recipe above the cost of a basic morning bowl of oatmeal is:

Oatmeal           .05

Water              Free

Sugar               .01

Milk                 .03

Our total is 9 cents Canadian – 9 cents!  So let’s do some rough comparisons. Seven days of Oatmeal for breakfast is 0.63 cents – that’s a weeks worth of breakfast.  A loaf of bread, the most basic cheap bread you can find is going to be about $2.00 and that is before butter, jam or any other topping.  The plainest, no-name brand, rice crisp cereal or basic corn flakes is going to cost you at least $2.00/ box plus you will use more milk than 1 Tbsp/ day – there is no comparison in cost – oatmeal is the cheapest breakfast you will find.

It is true that by switching to oatmeal you are only saving a minimum of $1.50/ week. But this is just the beginning.  By taking the time to really think about the cost of our food we can substantially decrease our cost to feed ourselves.

Save your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves!

Haiku Exercise

November 14, 2011

Red feather sparkles
Adorn a styrofoam ball
On my Christmas wreath.

Christmas Tradition #8

December 25, 2010

I know you think I forgot about you but I didn’t I just got a bit busy.  Thanks for waiting!

Christmas Tradition #8 is not an every year tradition but an every time it’s possible.  You need the right set of conditions. Condition one, Christmas in a small town called Salmon Arm.  Condition two, snow. Fluffy, big, beautiful drifts of snow.  Condition three, a reservation for a horse drawn sleigh ride in the snow.  I can’t think of anything more christmasy!  Can you think of all the songs that reference it? Here are a few:

Jingle Bells: Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh (our sleigh had two horses, Tom and Toby)

Sleigh Ride: Just here those sleigh bells jingling, ring, ting, tingling too

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas: ‘…and sleigh bells in the snow’

The first time we went a few years ago was right in Salmon Arm and great fun.  My sister brought song sheets and we all sang (except for Todd).  It was in the middle of the afternoon and pretty fun but really, really cold.

Last night, Christmas Eve, we made our way out to Notch Hill to the Watter’s Farm. Now this family does it up right. Our reservation was for seven pm so it was dark but as we turned down the drive the barns, houses and a little log cabin were all lit up with Christmas lights.  The sleigh was beautifully trimmed with red ribbons and bales of hay covered in colourful blankets.  We remembered how cold we were last time so we’d brought out own just in case.

Tom and Toby are the oldest horses on the farm and are big, beautiful white Percheron draft horses.  We were joined by some cousins of the sleigh driver and a family who has been coming for a Christmas eve sleigh ride for five years.

The youngest member of our party was a cousin to the driver, about 4 years old.  As the horses pulled out we asked him what songs he knew and got everyone singing, Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph.  Our driver had some stories to tell us of the farm, the horses and past sleigh rides.  As we stopped to take a break we could hear the coyotes yipping in the hills and we all looked up to watch for Rudolph’s red nose.

As we finished our trip and pulled into the yard we were welcomed into the old log cabin, toasty warm and heated by a wood-burning stove.  Home made cinnamon buns and hot chocolate warmed us all up and then we went to meet Jack, the six month old and newest member of the stables.

You have to make your own Christmas Spirit sometimes but in these conditions it is so easy to find the joy of the season.

Happy Holidays and a Joyous New Year to you all,

Christmas Tradition #7

December 17, 2010

I don’t know if this is a tradition or a chore.
I’m listening to you. Watching ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, drinking eggnog and eating gingerbread while I wrap.

I remember going to Eaton’s department store after Christmas to buy our wrapping paper for the next year. 

I remember mom teaching us how to wrap a present. The secret of measuring and how to fold the corners.

I remember, ‘Save the wrapping paper!’, folding it carefully to use over, and over, and over. 

When gift bags started to show up on the market I remember reusing them too.There was one with a beautiful cat in the foreground and a frosted window and perfect winter wonderland in the distance. Even gift tags were reused or made out of old Christmas cards. If you were born after 1975 you have no idea what I’m talking about.

So now the big debate: Wrapped Parcel or Gift Bag

I admit, I do love the look of a parcel under the tree and I know some pretty amazing gift wrappers. I have been privileged to receive a parcel or two that I really didn’t want to ruin by opening – they were works of art.

I wish I loved wrapping. I admit that I now lean towards the gift bag. Easy to store and a beautiful variety available, often with matching tissue!  Best of all, very, very easy to reuse. There is a particularly good Loonie Plus at Brentwood with an excellent selection.

So what’s your vote? Parcel or Bag?

P.S. I can’t believe I’ve never watched ‘Miracle on 34th Street’!  It was sooo good!

Christmas Tradition #6

December 16, 2010

The Great Balancing Act
It’s the middle of December, you’re trying to wrap up work, shopping, gifts, cards plus find a little time to actually get inthe Christmas Spirit when it hits you. There is life after Christmas. Particularly the kind of life that requires bills to be paid.
Time to reel it all in, hold the reins and take charge of your charges.
I’ve received that little email reminder that my statement is ready, best not to ignore it.
It’s not as bad as I feared. I have really tried to re-focus the gift giving and the holiday is just as wonderful and January is better than ever with no big bills showing up.
I’m still in good shape for the best kind of giving – charitable giving.
I’ve been doing pretty good with that too – giving a small amount each month to Aunt Leah’s and my Alumni Bursary fund is so easy and I don’t even notice the amount coming out of my account. Kiva and Welcome Home are also part of my regular routine.
I always make sure to budget for a ‘Hope in Shadows’ calendar,and some change for the Salvation Army bells.

With charitable giving I can get that Christmas feeling all year-long.

What about you? Which charity are you giving to this season? I’d love to hear about it.

And if you’ve never made a donation before I challenge you to give this season – even if it’s only $5.00 to the food bank. Every little bit helps.

Tis the Season for giving!