Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Story of a Frugal Dinner

By Elizabeth Prata

I scored this week on the Free Friday Download.

Kroger grocery store has a program where they have one item for free every Friday. Usually it's a small bag of candy, or chips or other snack food. Occasionally it's real food like yogurt, or this week: Queso Fresco, fresh cheese.
Queso blanco, with similar cheeses including queso fresco, is a creamy, soft, and mild unaged white cheese, commonly used in the Iberian Peninsula, several Latin American countries including Mexico, and many parts of the United States. The name queso blanco is Spanish for "white cheese", but similar cheeses are used and known throughout the world. ... It is similar to (if slightly more acidic than) pot cheese and farmer cheese.
Queso blanco is considered one of the easier cheeses to make, as it requires no careful handling and does not call for rennet or a bacterial culture. Wikipedia
Hmmm, what can I do with fresh cheese? Googling this query brought me to a recipe for cheesy enchiladas.

Being gluten free, I've tried corn tortillas before but they always taste so bad to me. Then a few weeks ago having dinner at a friend's house, corn tortillas were part of a make-your-own taco bar. I added really juicy tomatoes to my plate and when the juice mixed with the corn tortilla, it was transformed.

Seeing the recipe for enchiladas, the explanation section called for heating the tortillas, which I always did, and then giving the tortilla an oil bath or dredging it in enchilada sauce! Remembering the tonato sauce transformation, I thought Bingo! Let's do this!

I followed the recipe and added enchilada sauce to the bottom of my baking dish while my tortillas were heating on the griddle. I dredged both sides in additional enchilada sauce, and added the now crumbled fresh cheese. I placed these babies seam side down, and added chopped onion to the top, then the rest of the cheese, topping with the remaining enchilada sauce.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or so. You can top with avocado and sour cream, both ingredients I had on hand. A gluten free, inexpensive dinner! Win-win!

The take-away: I started with the free ingredient and made it the main ingredient. I built the dish around the cheese. Then looked for recipes featuring that ingredient where I also had most of the other indgredients on hand. The avocado, sour cream and onion were in my pantry and fridge. I only had to buy the enchilada sauce. It took a minimum of effort and time toput it together. I did it on a school night. It took 20 minutes to assemble and 25 minutes to heat through in the oven.


Fresh Cheese: $0.

Tortillas: A packet of 30 of them is $1.50, so 6 tortillas would cost 3 cents each, or for the 6 I cooked, 18 cents.

Enchilada sauce, $1.50. I used the whole can.

Onions: negligible. I  used a bit of one large onion. Shavings, really.

Avocado: on sale for .77 cents each. I used half of one with my meal.

Sour cream: on sale for 99 cents.

My serving was three enchiladas. So the cost for this meal was roughly $1.50. You can add Mexican rice to the meal as a side dish, but I figured the tortillas with the cheese and avocado were rich enough, and I had a pot of tea going on the side, so, I cut it off there. For Friday night's meal of the remaining three enchiladas, I might add rice to the festivities, but for now, it's time to eat (frugally)--

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Errands are fun when you have scenery like this

By Elizabeth Prata

I am no fan of errands. When I finish work or school, which are the only regularly scheduled activities that draw me away from my home, I like to scuttle back ASAP. But being alive means you have to sustain yourself, and that means an occasional trip to the bank, mechanic's, hairdresser's, Dollar Store, grocery store and so on.

It's been raining non-stop here for a good few weeks. And cold. A cold rain with temps in the forties is just chilling. But I see that the rain is helping the blossoms grow. We have forsythia and dogwood and some fruit trees blooming already. We also have greened-up grass and some buds on the trees.

As I was driving home yesterday after school, I had to stop at the Bank. Although the day was a bit gray, the scenes around weren't. I love my little town and the county I'm living in. Here are a few charming scenes. I got a huge kick out of the no trespassing signs. Looks like they mean it!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Frugal Cooking: Cherry Tomatoes, the Tightwad Gazette style

By Elizabeth Prata

I've mentioned before that Kroger has a policy where they reduce some produce items and put them in a special spot for sale. Anything in the red mesh bag will be 99 cents. These items might be a bunch of oranges that are a tiny bit soft, brownish bananas, eggplants with one wrinkle, or a sealed pint of cherry tomatoes with one cherry tomato gone moldy. Normally the items are still at near-fresh capacity. Or at least they seem good enough to me. If I can buy a $4 cauliflower for 99 cents by shaving away one pinpoint of brown spot, you better believe I'm going to do it.

I learned about thrifting in the 1990s. I'd bought into the 1980s culture of 'more is better' and 'greed is good' rhetoric. Well maybe not the greed part but the prevailing position of Americans that upward mobility is a given and that accumulating more is always better.

One thing that attitude did for me was instill a hard work ethic and a savings mentality. My husband and I bought a house with 18% down, at age 24. In those days putting 20% down was expected, none of these loans with no percent down. We filled our brand new three-bedroom raised ranch with furniture, stereo equipment, large screen TV, and golf clubs, and two cars in the garage of course, one new and one used, and felt we were living the American Dream. And that was the dream, then.

The husband left a few years later, seeking another, better, American Dream, as Ecclesiastes says we vainly do. I was left paying the mortgage in a beginning teacher's salary.


It was a struggle. A life that had seemed shiny and new and appropriate was now a millstone, a burden, and a terror. The first of the month with the mortgage payment was enough to give nightmares. I took on a second job, then a third, then a roommate. A mini-economic downturn happened and the real estate crashed. I was stuck with a house that wouldn't sell, tired of working 7 days a week, and wondering if this was what life was all about.

Eventually I sold the house for what I'd bought for it, barely, and decided to pursue another mind-set. Frugality. I'd tracked on the American Dream of husband, house, career with no thought, because that is what you did, after college. Now I was older and wiser and decided to make more thoughtful decisions about my lifestyle, sans pressure from society.

That's where frugality entered.

From 1990 to 1996 A Maine woman named Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced like decision) wrote and published a little newsletter called The Tightwad Gazette. The sub-hed to the newsletter was: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle.

This was news to me. You mean accumulating stuff was not part of an upwardly mobile lifestyle? Buying - or not buying - into the spendthrift economy was a choice? Living with what you have, and making do was a real thing?

Her newsletter was revolutionary, literally. I was living in Maine and so was she and her family, the proximity made me curious, the useful tips hooked me.

Being thrifty was good. Being frugal left me open to spending what I wanted to spend on, not having to spend on a credit card debt and not paying a mortgage, but travel, books, and this new thing called the internet.

Here is the Amazon link to Amy Dacyczyn's Gazette and she also wrote three other books.

So anyway, what a long introduction to my dish about tomatoes!

I look for marked down produce and the other day I found these pints of tomatoes. Normally $4, $3 if on sale, these were marked down to 50 cents each!

The commitment one makes if buying these items, is to actually use them (thus NOT denying another person their opportunity for a favored fresh vegetable) and to use them right away so they don't go bad. So I halved all of them.

I was going to roast them which would have been great, but I didn't feel like turning on the oven. I use it for storing cookie sheets, muffin tins, griddle, huge saute pan, and three baking dishes, and I just didn't feel like hauling them all out of the oven. I chose to grab a large stock pot and do the cherry tomatoes on top of the stove instead.

Vegetable oil, salt, and pepper and we are good to go. I let them cook, covered, for a while till the tomatoes were soft and there was a lot of juice. I added some mushrooms I had on hand, also a frugal buy.

At the end I threw in some fresh basil, also a frugal buy, and now I have a large stock pot of tomatoes and mushrooms in sauce. If I ate pasta, I'd have boiled some penne and used it for a sauce. Also can toast a baguette hard and put some on top with a bit of cheese. But instead gluten-free me made some quinoa and used the tomatoes as a side dish. Can also add rice, or any other grain you like. Or simply have with a bit of cheese for a side dish sans grain, veggie only.

Were there any bad tomatoes in the 4 pints I bought? Yes. But only 1 or so in each pint. This was the waste:

Not a bad deal at all! I've eaten this dish every day this week. I had it with fish, with shrimp, with cheese, and with quinoa. And all for $1.98. Thanks, Amy Dacyczyn!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Tree bones

By Elizabeth Prata

Don't you think that in winter, with the leaves fallen off and exposing the trunk and branches, that the skeleton frame of the tree is beautiful? The leaves and foliage are, too, of course, but it's not often we get a naked glimpse of the infrastructure of the majestic tree. Its bones, so to speak. So pretty! They make a starkly beautiful landscape against the sky. Here are a few from my yard:

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Three-Day Weekend

By Elizabeth Prata

How wonderful are the occasional three-day weekends! They come along every few months for the person working and living in a school-year calendar. I love it.

My plans today are to organize my computer folders, work with my photos to make two weeks' worth of Bible pictures and quotes. Tomorrow, to catch up on my systematic theology lessons and Bible reading plan, and Monday, to read some of my other books, (EM Forster's The Machine Stops) and craft. That's the plan, anyway.

Soup this week is going to be split pea with carrots and onions. I will also make some granola, smoothies with pineapple and apple juice, and some kind of casserole - I haven't decided yet. it's still early on this weekend-a-palooza.


The above is a vignette scene from a funky cafe-art gallery-store I took last summer.

Our weather is just as turbulent as it is for the rest of the country. Our version is predicted to be rain-rain-rain. Up to half a foot or more over the next week. It's raining already this morning, lightly. I'm longing for sun but the wet outside means I can stay inside doing crafts, reading, and cooking guilt free.

vignette 2
American Front Porch

Aside from attending church services Sunday, I don't have any plans to go out and do anything. There is plenty to do right here.

Currently my cat Murray is squealing and squeaking, vocalizing in his way. I call him Squeakers sometimes, because his vocalizations are so tiny like a mouse, and cute.

Here ae a few scenes of the wetness outside:



vignette 3

vignette 6

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Saturday, February 09, 2019

What happened to Mount Spinach?

By Elizabeth Prata

Saturday! Saturday! I love getting home on Fridays, putting the car in the garage, closing the door, and getting inside the apartment. I change into comfy clothes, make tea, and settle down for 30 hours of alone time. Friday night and Saturday is the time I use to recover, rest, and replenish. I am not open for business.

I had wanted to do some crafting. Today I decided to make 19 corner origami bookmarks for the kids at school, for their Valentine's packet. We still give them a paper bag, they decorate, and then on the day they go around and put a Valentine or a sweet into each bag. They have fun opening the cards, and they really read each card, lol. "Look! It says "Be mine!" they giggle and laugh.

Here are the bookmarks I made. They are of card stock because I know they will take  beating right away, and likely get unfolded immediately too. So I made something a bit hardy to withstand fumbling fingers and passing them around. While I made them I watched Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Its sad that in all my searching to find a "nice" TV show or movie to watch n an adult level, I could not. I finally went to the kids' section and tuned up the Wimpy Kid. Sometimes you just want an Up or a Princess Bride or a Big or Splash...hey wait a minute, I should look up movies starring Tom Hanks.

I made boy ones for the boys and girl ones for the girls.

Now I'm having some quiche with rice and spinach. I was so happy to buy the huge and I mean YUGE container of spinach because I love spinach and I want a lot of it. I dumped a large pile into the pan and enough to my heart's content, and thought, NOW I'll have a lot of spinach for my side dish!

Wait, wut?

I finished watching Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The movie was well done and seemed true to the book. However, never having read the book, I didn't know that the main character was a jerk. Wimpy is OK. Jerk is not.

I think Harriet the Spy (the book) is a better representation of kid-life.

I am going to cut up a fresh pineapple and have it for a snack, then settle in to finishing my book on Amy Carmichael. Have a good rest of the weekend!

Friday, February 01, 2019

The Special Store yields treasure once again

By Elizabeth Prata

My favorite store is called The Special Store. It's a vintage/antique/estate re-sale store. They acquire lots from estate sales and re-sell them. The prices are incredible, low enough for me on a limited budget to afford to shop there.

Since the inventory rotates, it's always interesting to go there, because you never know what you will find.

I write this way to let you know that no matter your budget, you can feel like a champ and not get left out of shopping. Everyone likes to find a cute little something to buy for themselves once in a while. Even though the bulk of our budget is dedicated to paying bills and charitable endeavors, with a bit of creativity and patience, you can find sweet little things to buy that charm you.

Today I found lots of cool things and didn't spend more than $5.50

I'm excited about the Bird Identification book! The Guy De Maupassant is in French. The pages within will be used for crafting. The Scott book is a compilation of his poems, and has a no publication date marked inside, but it's old. The spine is blue with gold gilt wreaths.

The Household Words was a fun find. It's the compilation of the weekly journal 'conducted by' Charles Dickens. It was published in 1857 and the front features red leather three-quarter binding with marbling. The spine is raised with bands. So cool, said this ole bookbinder. I bet the stories inside are good too!

Note paper! All of it for $1. I will use half the large ream of white paper at home for printing and the other half I'll take to school for the kids to draw on. The others are just handy to have around I really bought the pile for the doodle faces pad. I'll bring that to school also, for the kids.

The teapot is Noritake china, pattern Chatham, produced between 1954-1964, so it is mid-century. I found the teacup today among others, but no saucers. I got the cup for fifty cents. I have a saucer with the iconic silver line around the rim just as the Chatham has so I'll use that saucer when I use this cup.

A friend and co-worker gave me some tea from Forte, very fancy! It is black currant tea, and I brewed some to sip while I dug into the research on the books.

The ride to this store from school isn't long, about 7-8 minutes, and I pass pastures and hills and cows. The sun was shining brightly and despite the frigid temps earlier this week, today was 62 degrees. It is a very nice way to end the day.

Hope you all have a nice weekend. :)