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Monday, November 25, 2013

Homemade laundry soap

One of my favorite ways to save money is to make my own laundry soap.  It is so easy to do and it seems to work good.  Mac, who is 12, is an ice skater and a cheerleader, so lots of dirt there and Michael is 17 and, well, a boy and you know what teenage boys smell like.  We have been using this laundry soap for about 9 months with no problems at all.  It costs less than $9 initially to make and it tends to last us around 5-6 months.  Not too bad since just looking at the price under a container of Tide almost caused me to have a stroke.  I will never again pay that much for laundry soap.

All you need is a box of Borax, which is also good for killing fleas in your carpet by the way, a box of washing soda, and a bar of soap such as Fels Naptha, Zote, or Kirk's Castile. In my area, the Castile soap is hard to find.  I bought some at Meijer and it worked fine but the Walmart by me has both the Fels Naptha and the Zote so I buy a bar of each.  They cost $1 and the Borax and Washing Soda are each less than $4.

You are supposed to use 1 cup of Borax, 1 cup of washing soda, and 1 bar of the soap grated.  You can also add some drops of essential oils if you'd like but I like the smell of the soap so I don't. They aren't that expensive since you'd only use a few drops but I prefer not to use them.  To each his own. Anyway,  Zote soap is BIG so I count that as 2 bars and I grate it and the Fels Naptha on my big cheese grater.  My hand gets tired after a while but it probably only takes me about 10 minutes to do it.  Word of caution..DO NOT get the bright idea that your food processor would be perfect for this step.  It's not pretty.  Since I grate the 2 bars, I count that as 3 since the Zote seems like a double bar to me.  So for 3 bars I mix the grated soap with 3 cups of the Borax and 3 cups of the washing soda.  I put mine in a big ice cream bucket and keep it by the washer.  You just need 2 Tablespoons per load.  I keep a little 1/8 cup scoop in my bucket with the soap.

It will dissolve in cold water, eventually, but I start it on hot and swish it around then switch it to cold.  Oh -  the repairman told me once that you shouldn't just change from hot to cold without pulling the knob on the machine first and stopping it because that will ruin your washer!  He said it's like shifting your car into gear without coming to a stop first and we all know how expensive transmissions are. I don't know if that's true or not but I do it and my old washer is still going strong!

So that's it!  Homemade cheap laundry soap that works!  For me anyway!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Scrimp Now, Feast Later

Thanksgiving is almost upon us.  And even though I have to work at 5:30 p.m. that night I'm still cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us.  So in order to be able to afford the turkey and all the fixins, we have to scrape the bottom of the barrel this week.  For dinner, I had 1 pound of ground beef to work with.  I never make burgers because a pound of ground doesn't make a very filling burger for 4 people in my opinion.  They shrink and then you eat it and boom, done.  So I decided to make a meatball stew.

No recipe for the meatballs.  I just took the ground beef and threw it in a bowl.  I put the end slices of my loaf of bread in the food processor and added the crumbs, an egg, some grated parmesan cheese, and my "seasoning".  I keep a little bowl next to my stove with a mixture of 3/4 cp of coarse kosher salt, 1/8 cp of black pepper, 1/8 cp of seasoned salt, and 1/8 cp of garlic powder and I use it to season everything..well almost everything.  Anyway, I mixed it all together with my hands and made about 32 meatballs using a little 1-inch scoop and baked them for 15 minutes.

Because it was a busy day of going to the neurologist and also because I happen to be sicker than a dog with bronchitis, I pulled out the crock pot.  Peeled 4 potatoes and cut them into chunks, then 4 carrots, then about 1/2 cup of onion chopped and 2 cloves of garlic minced.  All of that went into the crock pot followed by the cooked meatballs.  Then I added a cup of ketchup, 3 cups of beef broth, and a teaspoon of sugar (we don't like the tartness of the tomato stuff so I always add a bit of sugar).  Gave it a little stir and I flipped it on low and we headed out the door.  Easy peasy.

As soon as we got home 6 hours later I thickened the liquid in the crock pot while we made a batch of biscuits and supper was done.  We each had a good size bowl and there was one bowl leftover so it made 5 servings instead of 4 sad lonely little burgers.  We all thought it was pretty tasty..a nice warm stew on a cold night.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I have a confession....

I don't use coupons.  It's out..I've said it.  I've watched TV shows about extreme couponing and I'm impressed that they can get so much for so little.  But they spend a LOT of time doing that.  Also I just don't see it working out for me and I'll tell  you why.  Living in a small rural area, we don't have Jewel, Kroger, and all of those big national chain grocery stores.  We have the Walmart, an Aldi, and a couple other little grocery stores and then in my tiny town, we have a little bitty 4 aisle supermarket.  We don't have double coupon days or rewards cards or anything like that.  When I worked in a large city, I adored shopping at Kroger.  I could spend hours traipsing up and down the aisles, looking at all the cool stuff.  I am a grocery store geek!

Another reason I don't use coupons is that I rarely buy name brand items.  I see people in the store who have Campbell's soup, and Tostitos tortilla chips, and Starkist tuna and things like that and I watch their total go sky high.  I was a brand name snob once but tough times call for tough measures and generic is my go-to brand now. Buying generic is usually, but not always, cheaper than buying name brand, even with a coupon. My final hold out was on things like shortening and flour but I've broken down and now buy generic or get it at Aldi's.  I bake a mean pie and it's just as mean with generic flour and shortening as it is with Crisco and Pillsbury.  No complaints here!  

Another trick that I use in the grocery store is that I buy mark downs.  I work at Walmart and usually I work until 10 p.m.  I get my groceries after work and their meat is just being marked down at that time of the night.  What is marked down is generally what makes the menu for the next week.  The other night I bought a 6 1/2 pound chicken for $4.31.  I buy a whole chicken every week and I boil it then shred the meat.  That gives us 2 chicken meals and a potful of chicken stock.  It also gives the outside stray cats a plateful of warm chicken stuff and bones which they love.  You can get 20-30% off meat by buying mark downs and they go straight to my freezer.  I have never had a problem with spoiled meat by buying mark downs. 

Sometimes you can even get boneless skinless chicken breast or tenderloins for pretty cheap.  Which leads me to my most requested recipe from the children....Hot Wings! I sometimes use actual chicken wings for my Hot Wings but more often than not I use boneless breast cut into strips or chunks.  I played around with my recipe quite a bit before settling on it and we think these taste very much like the wings you get from Hooters.  You can adjust the amount of hot sauce to your liking.  This isn't necessarily an inexpensive dish to make..that's why marked down chicken and butter from Aldi's helps!  And yes it has to be Crystal Hot Sauce!

Carol's Chicken Hot Wings

3 pounds chicken wings or BSCB cut into chunks
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon Tony Chachere’s®Creole seasoning (can be ordered here!)
3 eggs
 ½ cup milk
1 teaspoon Crystal® hot sauce (can be ordered here!)
Enough canola oil to fill a dutch oven 2/3 full (approximately 1 ½ quarts)
1 cup of butter (2 sticks)
½ cup Crystal® hot sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Pour the oil into a deep kettle or dutch oven and start heating it over medium-high heat.  Cut the wing tips off the chicken wing and discard.Cut the remaining wing into 2 pieces, the drummette and the wingette using a kitchen shears or knife.  Here's a handy picture so you know what I'm talking about. 


In a large bowl mix the flour, salt, pepper, and Creole seasoning. Set aside.  In a medium bowl mix the milk, eggs, and  teaspoon of hot sauce.  Put the butter, 1/2 cup of hot sauce, and garlic powder in a 2 qt saucepan and heat it gently, whisking occasionally, for 20 - 30 minutes.  Dip the chicken pieces into the flour mixture, then into the egg mixture, then back into the flour mixture.

When your oil mixture reaches 360° and it MUST be that temperature to cook the chicken properly, you can begin frying the chicken.  I cook 4 - 6 pieces at a time, depending on how big the chicken is. Cook until the internal temperature of the chicken is at 165° F.  The temperature of the chicken can be checked by putting the cooking thermometer probe into the meaty part of the chicken making sure it is not touching the bone.  The chicken will have a golden brown color.  The frying process takes approximately 8 to 10 minutes.

      Remove the chicken from the hot oil with a tongs and drain well on paper towels. When you've fried all the chicken, put them into a serving bowl. By this time your wing sauce will be piping hot and yummy so just pour it over the chicken pieces and stir them around a bit so the sauce hits all of them.  This is what mine look like in my extra fancy green plastic bowl. 

You can serve them with Bleu Cheese or Ranch dressing but the kids just like them plain.  This may not be the most budget friendly meal but it's definitely cheaper than eating them at the actual restaurant.  And if you wear your tightest shirt and tiniest shorts while cooking them, the atmosphere is the same too!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Plan Plan Plan

I think the biggest money saving thing I do is plan our menus!  If I don't, things go to pot in a hurry.  When I don't have a menu in place, I'm stopping at the store every couple of days and trying to find something to cook for supper or searching through the freezer trying to find something  and hoping that we have other ingredients that might also work with it.  I plan at least a week at a time...only dinner though.  The kids are at school for lunch and I don't eat lunch and breakfast is a do your own thing.  The 12 year old girl usually has eggs or waffles and the 17 year old boy will eat whatever meat we had the night before or a frozen burger or breakfast sandwich.  He pretty much eats nothing but meat.  Vegetables do not willingly pass his lips.  I have become pretty good at sneaking them into our meals lately.

Yesterday I was stressed about a sick pet so I was in cooking mode. (Update: Sick pet was cat, Rocky and he was put to sleep earlier today. RIP Rocky)  We did stick to the menu which was Chicken Divan (very tasty..borrowed the recipe from Paula Deen! Food Network Paula Deen's Chicken Divan ) But I also made pasta salad with some tuna, orange jello with carrots and mandarin oranges, Brussels sprouts, and because I'd bought some whole mushrooms that were on sale for .99 and I had too many soft bread crumbs I made stuffed mushrooms.  I didn't have a recipe so I pulled the stems off of about a dozen mushrooms and chopped them with 1/4 cup onion and 2 cloves of garlic, minced.  Then I cooked two pieces of bacon and sauteed the stems, onion, and garlic in the bacon grease.  I added in my excess 1/2 cup of fresh soft bread crumbs, the 2 pieces of bacon, chopped, 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper, and about 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese and stuffed it into the mushroom caps then added a few pieces of shredded cheddar and shoved them in the oven for 20 minutes on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray.  Wonder of wonders, the boy decided to try them.  He HATES mushrooms..not the flavor, just the texture...he's an Aspy so textures bother him.  He ended up liking them.  I almost fell off my chair when he had another!  I didn't blow our budget and there was enough for lunch today and there is still more pasta salad for lunch tomorrow!

I just use a notebook to plan my menu and I pull out all my recipes that I'll be using (if I use them!) and keep them all together so I can make my grocery list.  There's a lot of free menu planners here if you would rather have one printed out.  But the important thing is make a plan and stick to it.  I have a list of everything the kid's like so if I'm stuck on a day, I can just pull out my list and pick something that I know will be pleasing to everybody.   Happy budget cooking!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


If you don't know me, and you probably don't, I'll give you some background of how we got where we are today.  I live in a tiny town in Illinois, in the same house I've lived in since I was 4 years old.  It's my mom's house.  I have an older sister, Cheri, and I have 3 half siblings as well.  My dad died when I was 3 so my mom moved here to be closer to her family.  My whole life it was just Mom, Cheri, and me.  After I went to college, I moved back in with mom.  She didn't like being by herself and so I just paid her rent.  It worked fine...she never remarried and I never found anybody either.  My sister had moved out and gotten married and had 2 kids, my nephew Michael, and my niece Mackenzie.  Cheri's marriage ended in divorce and in 2010 she and the kids moved in with me and Mom.  A month later, Mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  Six months later, she was gone.  When she died, half of the household income was gone and I also got stuck with quite a bit of debt.  I was working in mental health and my sister was going to college.  A  year later I lost my job and the bottom fell out from under us.  I went back to school briefly.  I want to be a nurse but since I already have a degree, I can only use a student loan to pay for my classes.  Unfortunately you can't use your student loan to pay for prerequisite classes, only "degree seeking" classes.  I find this rule to be extraordinarily stupid but there's nothing I can do.  I need a chemistry class to even be able to apply for nursing school.  My sister's van died so now we just have one vehicle which my sister takes to school and I work evenings and weekends at the local Walmart.  Recently my sister had to take a medical leave from school because of strange headaches and dizziness.  She sees a neurologist next week to try to figure all that out.

Life has been tough here lately.  Our plumbing above the kitchen sprung a leak and we are now missing 1/4 of our kitchen ceiling.  Possums got into our furnace over the summer and broke it and we have not been able to get that fixed. It's just been one thing after another!  We don't have any choice but to make due with what we have..or don't have as the case may be.  So we got signed up for food stamps which has helped although they were cut this month.  We also signed up for a program that would help us to weatherize our house and repair our furnace.  Thankfully our furnace was looked at yesterday and repairs should be coming shortly.  November in Illinois is pretty cold!

Hopefully I'll be able to share some of what we do to get by and maybe it can help other people who might be in the same boat.  I have learned to stretch my food budget by getting creative with our meals at times.  In the past year we've been without electricity, gas, and heat at various times and I can honestly say that I do not take anything for granted now.  Welcome to my blog.  I'm glad you stopped by!