Category Archives: Frugal

Ideas for frugal living

Pantry Cooking- Mexican Restaurant Style Rice

I can’t believe it hasn’t occurred to me to share this recipe before now.  I literally tell someone how to make this at least once a month.  The conversation goes something like this:

Friend:  I would eat white rice at home, if only I could make it like the Mexican restaurants do.

Me:  It’s really easy, I’ll show you how.  (I’m super helpful that way 😉 )

You’ll need two secret weapons to complete this task; a pan with a tight fitting lid, and Knorr brand Caldo de Tomate.  You’ll also need white rice, but I don’t suppose we can call that a secret.  (I am not affiliated with Knorr, but I do recommend this specific brand.  We love it, and eat it far more often than we should considering it’s sodium/msg content.)

First, brown one cup of white rice over medium heat.  We usually use butter or cooking spray for this, but dry works too.

When the rice is nicely browned, add 2 Cups of boiling water and 2 tsp of Caldo de Tomate.  Give it a quick stir to incorporate the caldo, then reduce heat to low, and put the lid on.

Allow it to cook with the lid on for about 20 minutes.  Resist the urge to check it by taking the lid off, and whatever you do, DO NOT stir it!  Stirring it will cause it to become sticky.

After 20 minutes you can check it.  It will likely be done, but occasionally I find that I need to add more water.  If this happens, pour a little boiling water in the center of the rice, Do Not Stir It, and put the lid back on for a few more minutes.

After the water is all absorbed, fluff the rice and serve as a side dish to your favorite Mexican entrée.



This recipe has been shared at The HomeAcre Hop, The Homemaking Link Up, and No Ordinary Blog Hop. and The Homestead Barn Hop.

Sweet Pickled Jalapenos

We’re big fans of Mexican food around here.  While I don’t usually go for too much spice myself, I try to keep a can or two of pickled Jalapenos around so my husband can spice up whatever “bland Americanized Mexican” food I try to feed him.  That’s a direct quote. 

In the past I’ve just bought them at the store and kept a few cans on hand.  But when our jalapeno plant made a heroic push to put on a big crop right near the end of the garden season, I figured I’d give pickled Jalapenos a try.   Now, I can’t speak from experience since I don’t like the spicy stuff, but my husband and his buddies love them.  

I used the small 4oz jelly jars because it’s closest to the size we use at one meal.  I don’t like to have opened jars of stuff in the refrigerator because we inevitably “lose” it in there and it ends up going to waste. 

If you have a friend or relative who is a spice lover, these make nice gifts too.  In fact we just gave out a bunch for Christmas. 

You will need

  • 10 or so medium-sized Jalapeno peppers, sliced, with or without seeds
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T pickling spice
  • 2 C distilled white vinegar, 5% acidity
  • 2/3 C sugar

This is not a tested recipe from a book.  I’ve simply borrowed the brine recipe and processing time from my favorite cucumber pickle recipe. I was a little paranoid about trying it at first, because as home canners we are always warned about the dangers of untested recipes.  However, I did a lot of looking around and it seems you truly can pickle anything, and for many recipes canning is optional.  In fact a manual put out by the OSU extension office gives advice for how to use an untested recipe on page 7.  I choose to can mine because I’m a paranoid mom-type. 

Begin by gathering and setting up your canning supplies.  Sterilize your jars by scalding them and then hold them hot until you are ready to fill them.  This recipe will yield around nine of the four-ounce jars.  Simmer your lids.  Fill your canner and start it heating.  The prep on these only takes a few minutes, so you’ll want your canner nearly ready to boil. 

Add your vinegar sugar and pickling spice to a large sauce pan and start heating.  While it heats you can chop your vegetables and mix them all together.  When your brine boils, add the vegetables and let them boil for just a minute or so.  

Spoon the vegetables into your hot sterilized jars and cover with boiling brine, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Run a chopstick (or any clean utensil that won’t scratch the glass) around inside the jars to release any air bubbles. 

Wipe the rims of the jars and add previously simmered lids.  Screw on the ring to fingertip tight. 

Place the jars in your canner, and process for 10 minutes at a full rolling boil.  Check your canning manual for the correct processing time depending on your elevation and the size of jars you choose.

At the end of the processing time, remove the jars from the canner, and put them in a draft-free place to cool. 

After they’ve completely cooled you can check the seal by pressing down the middle of the lid.  If it doesn’t flex it’s sealed.  If it flexes, either put the jar in the fridge to eat soon, or reprocess it with a new lid. 

These can also be made refrigerator style, in which case you don’t need to water bath them, just put them into the fridge and wait about a week to start eating them.

I’ve linked this recipe up at No Ordinary Blog Hop, stop by for more fun ideas!

Happy Pickling!


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Homemade Laundry Detergent and Fabric Softener

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time now.  I feel like I’m a little mentally foggy after work, but it’s worth the extra effort to keep the blog updated.  I’m still trying to find time and energy to balance it all.  Seriously, if any of you work-outside mamas are also “keeping it all together” at home please tell me how you do it. 

Last time I told you about my love of the Homestead Drying Rack.  Today I’d like to share my recipes for laundry detergent and fabric softener.   Both of these recipes are simple and inexpensive.  My kids love to help me make them both.  Since the ingredients are all fairly mild, my biggest concern with letting children help is the heat from the stove when melting the ingredients for the detergent. 

The detergent is easy to make, economical, and seems comparable to the commerically available brands I’ve purchased in the past.  It is low to no suds and is generally considered appropriate for use in HE machines. I still occasionally have stubborn stains, but that happened with the name brand products I’ve used too.  It would probably help if I treated stains promptly and washed clothes regularly instead of letting them pile up during the week.   The fabric softener works as well as any I’ve used without the heavy perfume smell.  Clothes smell fresh coming out of the wash, but I can’t really discern a particular scent after drying.  I like this since many of the commercial brands make me sneeze.


Shred 1/2 a bar of Fels Naptha into six cups of warm water over medium heat.  When the soap shreds have all melted add 1 C washing soda (not baking soda) and 1C borax.  Continue to stir until the ingredients have all dissolved.  Allow the mixture to cool then put it into a larger container.  I use an old 1.5 gallon dispenser from the laundry detergent I used to buy.  Then just top it up with cool water and stir to incorporate the ingredients well.  Use 1/8 cup for a medium load, a bit more for a large or heavily soiled load.  You may need to re-stir or shake the jug before each use as the solids tend to glob up.

Fabric Softener

Start with a gallon jug of white vinegar.  Store brand is fine.   After it is about half used up add one whole bottle of cheap conditioner like White Rain or Suave.  Stir gently, do not shake as it will foam.  Then, again, top up with plain water.  Use as you would store bought liquid fabric softener.  To make your own dryer sheets dilute the solution to 1/2 strength with more water and soak pieces of a ratty old tee shirt in the mixture.  I keep some solution and tee shirt squares in a lidded “tupperware” type dish.  Ring out a tee shirt piece and toss it into the dryer with wet clothes. 

Both of these are eco friendly, and economical solutions for your laundry needs.  The ingredients for either can be found at the grocery or big box store and should cost less than ten dollars.  Each batch of detergent lasts me 4-6 months, and each batch of softener lasts me about one month.  It would last longer if I used it solely for making dryer sheets, but I like to hang clothes out to dry so I mostly use it in the rinse cycle. 

Does any one have a good recipe for a spray on type stain pre treater? I’m thinking of filling a spray bottle with diluted dish soap and spraying it onto stains before clothes go into the hamper,(Ok, honesty check.  They usually go into a pile on the mudroom floor.  Shame.) but I would love to know what has worked for you. 

Happy Homemaking!

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Pantry Cooking Series, Whole Wheat Pancake Mix

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? But so easy to skip if you get out of bed at the last possible minute, like I do.  I find having “instant” options on hand makes breakfast more of a sure thing, for my whole family.

After you try these whole wheat pancakes, you’ll find the mix you’ve been getting at the grocery store bland and disappointing.  When you first make the mix, it seems like too much.  You’ll think it looks like a year’s supply, but you might find you’re eating pancakes more often than you used to.  They’re really that yummy.  I can’t wait for the Huckleberries to come on.

Thoroughly mix the following ingredients in a large bowl, and store the mix in an airtight container.

  • 12 C whole wheat flour
  • 4 C powdered milk
  • 1 C dehydrated whole egg powder
  • 1 C dehydrated butter powder (yep, it exists and it’s a miracle)
  • 1 C baking powder
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 T salt
  • 2 C wheat bran, optional, I usually don’t add it to the mix, but rather to individual batches when I feel we need it.

Mix with enough water to make a pourable batter, and cook as you would store bought pancake mix.

I found my dehydrated ingredients at my local Walmart, but they are also usually available at restaurant supply stores.  If you can’t find the dehydrated ingredients locally, a google search will yield about a zillion results.


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Yet Another New Use For An Old Tin

We recently traveled to attend a friend’s wedding and knew we’d need to keep the kids happy on the plane.  We stocked up on fresh coloring books, crayons and snacks and put together kits for their backpacks.  Placing crayons in old Altoids tins ensured that they wouldn’t be broken in the airport shuffle.  I’m glad to report we made it home with all of our crayons intact. 

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Back To The Grind

Today was my first day back at my seasonal fish and wildlife job.  As much fun as the job is, I’m so sad that I’m letting someone else have all the fun of being with my kids all day.  If I could strap them to my back and carry them along with me, it would be the perfect job. 

Each spring I tell myself this is the last year.  The last year I’ll sell my kid’s childhood in exchange for 120  television channels, brand name coffee and  crummy convenience foods.  The last year we only get the benefit of half my earnings because the other half takes care of gas and childcare.  The last year I’ll tread water as a wife and mother, because family will forgive half measures where employers will not. 

This is a huge struggle for me, because I was raised to be independent, and such a huge part of independence is having one’s own money.  Prior to having children I always worked and had relatively well paid jobs.  I grew accustomed to having a lot of extra money.  When I found out we were expecting our first child we were between work seasons and I fully inteded to stay home instead of returning to work.  But when I got the invitation to return to work all I could think about was how much we could use the extra income in our down-payment-for-a home-fund.  I told myself it was just a few months and after we found (and qualified for the loan on) a home I’d quit and stay home to be a frugal mama.  Well, it took three more years to find the home, by that time there was another child, not to mention a bunch of pay increases which make that income all the more gripping.  With each new season I tell myself it’s just until we pay off…whatever.  But there always seems to be another whatever waiting behind the first. 

I don’t know that I have a real point with this post, I guess I’m mostly just venting.  I’m feeling very motivated to find another way to contribute to my families financial well being.  I’m feeing motivated to cut costs so that this can really be the last year of my kids childhood that I miss out on.   I’m not sure how I’ll do it just yet, but I know that there is a will so, there has to be a way right?

Do you work outside your home?  What was your deciding factor?

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Linked up at Homestead Barn Hop.




Lotion Bars, And Another New Use For An Old Altoids Tin


My hands have gotten seriously rough-side-of-the-velcro dry from all the yard work we’ve been doing, and we got a lull in the good weather, (snowing big fat nasty flakes) so I figured it was a good day to take a deep breath and do my dishes, catch up on some laundry, and make lotion bars.

While I was digging through my craft supplies to find my soap molds, I found some old tins I saved when my husband started tying flies.  I thought I’d see how the bar lotion worked in the tins.  It works great! I was so impressed in fact that I delivered four tins to neighbors as soon as they set up.  I also made four bars, and have enough supplies left over to make another batch soon.   I couldn’t resist tinting the small bit that was left in the bowl after I poured all the molds.  It makes a nice lip balm, but the color doesn’t really show. 

I used Smockity’s recipe, which was easy to follow and took approximately half an hour once I had all the supplies gathered.  The ingredients were expensive, but the end product is well worth the investment, especially when I can give some as gifts.  I was able to get everything I needed at my local natural foods store, but I suspect one could find better prices online. 

My hands, lips and legs feel very happy!

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Pantry Cooking Week One- Whole Wheat Biscuits

One of my personal goals has been to learn how to cook from my pantry.  It really helps us to be able to shop less often, which cuts out many impulse purchases. It also helps us eat fewer box and bag type meals.

I thought it’d be fun to share some of the recipes I am able to make from my pantry and long term food storage.  So for the next few weeks I’ll be doing a pantry cooking series.

I thought I’d start with my recipe for Whole Wheat Biscuits.  Breads are a nice way to round out a lighter meal, and biscuits will even double as dessert if you add a little jam, or mashed fruit and whipped cream.

  • 2 C whole wheat Flour
  • 3 tsp baking Powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C shortening – Ive also substitued butter, or shortening powder (add extra liquid)
  • 1 C (generous) warm milk – fresh or reconstitued dry milk work equally well, or substitute warm water

In a medium bowl mix dry ingredients, then cut in shortening to small pea sized chunks. Over working the dough will result in stiff biscuits.  Stir in milk to make a sticky dough and drop by spoonfuls, or spread entire dough into greased pan.  I use my 10 inch cast iron skillet.  Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for around 15 minutes until golden brown.

These biscuits turn out light and fluffy.  If you prefer to roll out and cut biscuits you can add just a tad less milk, and roll out and cut.  I just spread my dough out in the pan and cut it like cake when it’s done.  This recipe will also make nice fluffy dumplings, just drop by spoonfuls into simmering chicken soup and cover for 7-10 minutes.

Yummy with soup, as breakfast, or to round out most any meal.

I think next week we’ll make that chicken soup.

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Dehydrating Celery

It seems our family rarely uses and entire bunch of fresh celery before it turns limp and yucky.  I’m not sure why this happens, but I think it has something to do with the clutttered state of our refrigerator.  As a result, I started dehydrating any fresh celery I have left after I use it for a veggie platter or recipe.  It’s a snap to dehydrate, requiring no blanching, and it rehydrates beautifully in soups, casseroles, and pilafs.  If you have never dehydrated it’s a perfect place to start.

First wash the celery and chop it into quarter inch pieces.

chopped celery

Place it in the dehydrator trays making sure pieces aren’t too crowded.  Ideally they shouldn’t touch, but I don’t stress this too much since they shrink so fast that if they are touching they won’t be after an hour or so.

celery on dehydrator tray

Dehydrate at 135 degrees for about 8 hours.  I leave it in the dehydrator overnight.

dehydrated celery

One bunch, minus two or three stalks we used fresh, makes about half a pint.  If you don’t have a dehydrator you can use the oven on the lowest setting with the door propped open with a wood spoon handle, and check and stir the pieces now and then.  You know it’s done when its hard and the pieces are tiny.  I put mine in a closed canning jar for a couple hours to check if any moisture forms in the jar, if no moisture forms it’s ready for the pantry.  If it does (has never happened to me) you can put it back in the dehydrator for another hour or two.  To use it you just add a handful to any moist cooked recipe that calls for fresh celery.  Yummy!

New Use For an Old Altoids Tin

Green, Frugal and Useful!

I’ve heard of people using these tins to put together mini sewing kits, but I thought it would make a good place to quickly drop my straight pins as I remove them from my fabric when it feeds under the presser foot.  I placed a business card style refrigerator magnet in the bottom and voila!  I believe the word for this is “upcycling”.  Green, frugal and useful.

Do you have a clever use for this kind of “trash”?