Comfort Casserole

I’m calling this comfort casserole because it’s not healthy in the slightest, and there are too many ingredients for the name. I don’t want to call it chicken rice soup veggies cheese casserole.

When I was pregnant, I may have stocked up on a few too many cans of soup. Now that I’ve had the birth, the cans are sitting on shelf, staring at me, wondering where that pregnancy craving went.

So I thought to myself, we use condensed soups in casseroles all the time, why not the ready to eat kind? Presumably, there’s too much liquid in them, but that’s where the instant rice comes in. You mix it in uncooked, and it soaks up the broth and cooks in the oven! Hooray! 

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You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cup instant rice (uncooked), or about 2 1/2 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
  • 2 cans of ready to eat soup (not condensed)
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cooked chicken thighs, cubed, or 2 cans salmon or tuna, drained
  • 2-3 cups cooked veggies (I used cauliflower)
  • Optional: 1/2 cup shredded cheese for top, bacon crumbles, green onions

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I mixed everything together in a bowl, then spread it in the baking dish, and baked it for 30 minutes at 350. I then added the cheese on top and baked it another 15. You can taste the rice periodically to make sure it’s done before pulling the casserole out of the oven. Hubby really liked this casserole, which didn’t surprise me because it’s filled with cheese. But, it did trick him into eating a bunch of cauliflower, which he usually hates. Plus I used up those soup cans which made space in my pantry!

March 31, 2014. Tags: , , , . Cooking. Leave a comment.

Simple Organization

Hubby has this electric hair trimmer that was driving me nuts. It came in a box, but the latch on the box was crap-tacular. Every time you’d try to get it out of the cabinet, it would fall open:

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Scattering clipper parts hither and yon:

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Making me curse the box designers and their descendants for eight generations:

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Rather than continue to sacrifice my sanity, I bought a plastic bin to hold the stupid clippers:

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Now everything is contained, and I can even put the hair gel in with the clippers!

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One less hassle in life is always an accomplishment.

March 27, 2014. Tags: , , . House Stuff. 2 comments.

Money Basics Part 8: Value vs. Price

A friend recently had an issue arise on a work trip that illustrated the difference between value and price. Let’s call him Aloysius. Aloysius was booking the cheapest hotels he could find, without reading any reviews online. One of those said reviews literally had a photo of a rat in the swimming pool. Unfortunately he was booking for ALL the coworkers. My friend ended up with a roach in her room, and who knows what other horrors.

I don’t ever stay somewhere fancy like the Hilton. There’s just no point to me, but I don’t look for the cheapest place available. We live in an age of information, so do your research online, and find a decent place at a reasonable price. Aloysius was only looking at the bottom line, and not considering other factors. If he had put me in a roachy room, I would have come completely unglued, and rained curses on him and his descendants, for eight generations.

Let’s take a more concrete example. You want a new stereo (is that what the kids are buying these days?), so you comparison shop your heart out and buy the cheapest thing available. It breaks in six months, and of course there’s no warranty, and it’s too late to return it to the store. Well you might as well have thrown that money in the garbage, which is all you can do with your cheap stereo.

Part of being frugal is getting the most bang for your buck. You want the things you buy to last as long as possible. There are several different ways to judge value:

1) Larger quantity – this one is pretty basic. Buying in bulk can reap huge savings (always do your math and comparison shop, though). Besides, I take comfort in knowing I have enough toilet paper for the next 5 years stored away, and I got a good deal on it.  

2)Better quality – when you’re buying a car, for example, you want something that will last, hold its value, and not break down frequently. You could buy a really cheap clunker, and then spend thousands on repairs, insurance, and gas, or just buy a less junky car, and have something more reliable. Of course, as with any purchase, do your research, and if you’re a mechanic, you use the example of…buying a purse.

Or with the hotel room example, you won’t end up sleeping with the lights on, and bringing bed bugs home with you.

3) You like it more – let’s say you need a new belt. You’ve done all your comparison shopping, and it comes down to two choices, a brown snakeskin-style belt, and a normal brown leather belt. The snakeskin one is on sale, but it’s just not quite right. You prefer the smooth finish on the other belt that costs a few bucks more. Will you wear the smooth one more? If you buy the snakeskin, will you be right back here in a couple months because you hate it? Only you can decide that, and your preferences are obviously important. Just don’t use that as an excuse to go buy a Lexus instead of a Toyota (FYI: they’re both Toyotas; one just costs way more).

Keep in mind that just because something costs more does not mean it’s a better value. I know someone with a Mercedes the same year as my Honda, and he’s had just as many (and more expensive!) repairs on his vehicle. For big purchases especially, always do your research, and weigh the costs and benefits.

March 23, 2014. Tags: , , , , . Thriftiness is Cool. Leave a comment.

Money Basics Part 7: Reusables

There are certain items that we habitually buy, use, and throw away, that could easily be replaced with something reusable. These can be a great source for savings. Here are a few examples, and some tips on how to decide whether or not a reusable is a good value.

1) Paper towels – I admit, most of the items on the market to replace paper towels are not great. I too have had a problem finding something that is both absorbent and cost effective. BEHOLD cloth diapers! Not the super fancy ones that look like actual diapers, these are the old fashioned grandma-used-to-boil-them-in-a-cauldron type, aka prefolds.

I use these as burp clothes for my son, and used them to clean the house growing up. They are tough and absorbent, but don’t take forever in the dryer. *Note: I’m using Amazon to show you what I’m talking about, but that doesn’t mean they have the best price. Always comparison shop!

There are some times when you will have to use paper towels, like for cat vomit, and I totally understand that, but you can pay ~$15 for a 10 pack of the diapers, or ~$12 for 12 rolls of paper towels. How fast will those paper towels be gone?

Keep in mind you should NEVER use fabric softener on these or any other towels. It coats them in grease and ruins absorbency. If you’ve done this to your towels, wash them in hot water and vinegar to clear off the gunk.

2) Coffee cups – When I saw disposable coffee cups for sale at the grocery store (like the kind from gas stations) my first thought was “People are literally buying garbage”. That might be harsh, and obviously people might buy them for some kind of picnic or brunch thing, which I understand. However, if you buy those for your house, I think that’s pretty ridiculous. Travel coffee mugs are cheap and very easy to care for.

3) Coffee filters – coffee filters are fairly cheap, but are yet another item that can be replaced with a permanent version. They even make them for those fancy, over-priced Keurigs. Why worry about adding one more thing to your shopping list?

4) Plates and utensils – I really hope that you aren’t using paper plates and plasticware at home. Seriously, use grown up dishes. If you get Correlle you don’t have to worry about them breaking (seriously, I dropped a bowl once and chipped the kitchen tile, but the bowl was fine), they’re compact, and you can slowly collect them at thrift stores.

5) Bathroom items – this maybe a no-go for some people, but ladies, there are certain things that women use every month, then throw away. We have a couple different options, however. Some people even use cloth instead of toilet paper, but I’m not personally willing to go that far.

6) Baby stuff – we use cloth diapers, and wipes, and I mentioned our burp cloths previously. For the wipes we use baby wash cloths that come in packs of 10 (we have 3 packs). I have 3 Tupperware that I cycle through for batches of wipes. I put a small amount of baby shampoo in the tub, add water, shake it, and add a dash of vinegar, then add the washcloths. When we use them, we just stick them in the dirty diaper, and wash everything together.

7) Water bottles – I’m fortunate to live in an area where the tap water tastes great, and I also live in the US where tap water is highly regulated, so I know it’s clean and safe to drink (unless you live near a fracking operation). If you live somewhere with terrible water, use the analysis below to decide if buying bottled water or a filter is more cost effective for you. For the rest of us, get a reusable bottle.

I don’t know how we survived in the 80’s, going from place to place without a beverage immediately at hand at all times. It’s a miracle society didn’t crumble. There are a million varieties of bottles out there. A couple criteria I use are: dishwasher safe, wide open mouth for easy cleaning, no straws (hard to clean), clear so I can make sure it got clean, holds a decent amount, and hopefully fits in a cup holder.

Analysis: How do you decide if a reusable item is a good value compared to a disposable? Let’s use the paper towels example. I personally use very few paper towels, but that’s because I never clean anything. I surveyed several friends to find out how long one roll of paper towels lasts them. They said from 3 days to 2 weeks.

Let’s assume that one 10 pack of towels will substitute for one roll of paper towels. If we assume that one roll of paper towels lasts for 2 weeks, a 12 pack will last 24 weeks. (I did that math right, right? Guys? Where’s my math minion…) One 10 pack of diapers costs about the same as a 12 pack of paper towels, so if they last longer than 24 weeks, you’re saving money. So far, mine are doing just great. When I was a kid, we used cloth diapers for all kinds of cleaning around the house, and they lasted for years.

Obviously for any reusable item, there will be maintenance, such as washing and possible repair. Take this into account when analyzing which option is the most cost effective.

Buying something reusable instead of disposable usually saves you money, is generally better for the environment (though everything we do has an impact), and means you have one less thing to remember at the store. Driving down your monthly costs gets you that much closer to your financial goals.

March 19, 2014. Eco Stuff, House Stuff, Thriftiness is Cool. 4 comments.

Vegetarian Moussaka

My friend Sara-of-the-long-red-hair made this recipe for us once, and it TOTALLY changed my view of eggplant. I had never been much of a fan before, but in this dish I can’t get enough. In fact, I have some of this as leftovers for lunch today! This dish is tomato-y, a little sweet, and creamy, and has great flavor complexity.

This recipe is the one I used, but that one is vegan and mine is vegetarian. Basically, I used regular cream cheese and milk instead of the soy versions. Sara makes it vegan, and I honestly can’t tell a difference, flavor-wise, so it’s your choice. If you’re trying to introduce someone to either eggplant or vegan foods, this is a good recipe to use. Sara also throws in some pre-cooked lentils to thicken the sauce and add protein.

I’m going to be incredibly lazy and just let you use the link above for the details of the recipe. I want to share some blog hits with someone whose website I find very useful! So I’m really being lazy out of the goodness of my heart.

True to form, I did not follow the recipe exactly. For some reason, I seem incapable of that. So use the above recipe for reference, and here are my changes:

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I didn’t actually broil the eggplant. I know my oven has a broiler, but I have no idea how it works. I just put the slices in the oven at 400 until they looked like this:

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I believe I left out the red wine, because I didn’t have any in the house. I have also used fresh tomatoes when I had too many in the fridge.

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Sara serves this over pasta, but I just eat it straight. It can be a little saucy, so some rice, lentils, or textured vegetable protein would work in it. If you wanted to add extra of the creamy topping it would taste amazing, but of course make it much less healthy. This recipe also freezes well. I’m going to eat my leftovers right now!

March 15, 2014. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Cooking. 1 comment.

Reusing Baby Clothes

A friend of ours, Sara of the Long Red Hair, hand made us this adorable baby pirate outfit. Unfortunately, I gave birth to a behemoth, and he never fit into it. We decided to use it to revamp one of baby Nacho’s stuffed animals.

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Here is Hobbes, a gift from Hubby in years past, when he was still Boyfriendy, which doesn’t have a great ring to it. He agreed that Hobbes would probably enjoy the new outfit. The bow simply came untied, and a seam ripper detached the heart easily (that is a grotesque sentence).

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Fortunately, Hobbes is MUCH easier to dress than Nacho:

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Now we have another pirate to join Nacho’s crew! You can do this with any really special baby outfits. When I was growing up, my clothes got handed down to my sister, Beans, and then to my Cabbage Patch doll.

For the bulk of the clothes, since small kids generally outgrow things before they’re messed up, hand them down to friends and relatives kids, or donate them to thrift stores (assuming you aren’t saving them for your next kiddo).

March 11, 2014. Tags: , , , . Baby Stuff, Eco Stuff. 5 comments.

Fresh Veggies with Quinoa

Back when I was still pregnant, I wanted some really fresh, flavorful veggies. Well I certainly wasn’t going to deny that craving, so here’s what I made:

I used the mandolin slicer attachment for my cheese grater, and damned if it didn’t slice up that zucchini real nice. I also cut up (the boring, old-fashioned way) about 1/2 a cauliflower and one broccoli crown. I sauteed all of this in olive oil, and used a ton of dried basil and a little garlic salt to flavor it. I cooked everything very lightly so that the veggies were still crisp. 

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I cut some grape tomatoes in half and threw them in just long enough to warm up. If you cook them too long they turn to mush, and you basically made a tomato sauce on accident.

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I put this over some quinoa, but you could also use any kind of rice or pasta. You could also add some Parmesan or feta cheese if you like.

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This was so healthy and satisfying, I wish I had a big bowlful right now! 

March 7, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Cooking. 4 comments.

Crafty Painting

 

 

 

Sometimes a well-meaning friend or family member will get you a gift of some kind that really doesn’t reflect your aesthetic ideals. But maybe you still want to keep said item around for when this person stops by. There are ways to alter the item in question so that it fits into your decor, but it still recognizable by the Gifter. For example, if someone gives you a hideous throw pillow, you can simply recover it, and remove the cover when the Gifter comes to visit.

Here we have a painting:

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It obviously took a lot of skill to create this, but since I’m going for more of a pirate/pin up/Bohemian look in my house, it really doesn’t match. This particular piece was not a gift, it was thrifted, but I’m just using it as an example.

Step 1: Turn it over and screw in picture hooks:

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I have no idea what these are called. They came in a “picture hanging kit” I have. They’re little squares with a short screw shaft. I just screwed them in by hand, no drilling or anything.

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Step 2: I then painted the whole thing black. It’s best to do a uniform color as the background so that you don’t have any weird shapes or colors showing through the front painting. If you’re worried about the colors showing through, coat it with white first and let that dry.

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Step 3: While that was drying, I sketched out what I wanted to paint (and took a blurry photo of it). If you’re a great artist you can probably skip this step, but there’s a reason I didn’t complete a degree in art.

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Step 4: Cut out the main shape and use it as a stencil. Mine was very simple, but you can see a more complex stencil here. Trace it in pencil.

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Step 5: I filled in the whole thing with white. I’ll be painting the other colors on top of this, so the white underneath them will really make them pop, as opposed to painting directly on the black. I tried to free-hand my little scroll at the bottom, and you can see that didn’t work out great. I was able to fix it, however.

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Step 6: And you’re done! Just kidding, I hate it when “how to” shows do that. They show the first, easy steps in minute detail, then the host says “next you simple recreate the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1/8 size on the wall, and you’re done!” And you think “I hate that lady, but now I’m compelled to do this!”

I used my original drawing to sketch pencil guides onto my big white blob, then painted that. I used shirt paint for the eye lashes and script, because I find it much easier to use for fine lines than paint brushes. It’s just my personal preference. I use Liquitex paints, but again, that’s just a personal preference. They come in all kinds of colors, or you can get the basics and mix your own. They aren’t paying me or anything, but I would TOTALLY take it if they would.

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A couple things to remember about painting: acrylic paint dries slightly darker than when you mix it, so if the shade is really important, mix some, let it dry, then see if it’s what you want before you use it on the final product. Also, I used glitter nail polish on the lips, but nail polish WILL melt acrylic paint if you aren’t careful. Dab it on, don’t run it around, and DON’T touch it once it’s in place. Let it dry for a disgusting amount of time.

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I added some fake flowers I had laying around, and then added this to our wall of artwork. If this were an actual gift, I could just flip it over on the hook when the Gifter stopped by. This was a fun project that only took a few hours (with drying time) to complete.

March 3, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Arts and Crafts. Leave a comment.