Grilling & Chilling: Our favorite frugal summer BBQ meals + a BBQ scraper giveaway
This post is sponsored by BBQ Scraper. As always, all opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting TTBH.

Morning friends! How was your weekend? We were at a beautiful wedding on Saturday and rather than recovering from our super late night (think 3am) we were up and busy at 8am Sunday morning. After swimming lessons, a trip to the grocery store and a meeting with a potential daycare for Margsy we headed back to the house to get going on preparing some delicious food for our out guests who arrived at around place right around lunch time for a BBQ. I’m exhausted today but it was oh so worth it! Also, stay tuned for an awesome giveaway in honor of both Father’s Day and the beginning of the grilling season at the bottom of this post!

Grilling and chilling is probably our favorite summer activity. Seriously, nothing beats hanging round the fire pit, sipping cold drinks and grilling up a delicious meal with friends and family. When we lived in the apartment this sort of thing was pretty much impossible. Our place was small, we didn’t have a backyard and cramming a bunch of people onto our back balcony really wasn’t ideal. So, when we were buying our first home our priority was having an awesome backyard space that was inviting and would work well for big cookouts and BBQs.

Well, we got just that and we pretty much entertain every other weekend or so throughout the summer. As a frugal family that means that we’re spending a bit more money on grocery which if you’ve been reading for a little while you’ll know that we’re perfectly okay with because spending quality time with friends and family is important to us. Frugal living isn’t about deprivation folks (have a read of this post if you want even more clarification). I know I sound like  a broken record but frugal living gets a bad wrap when it comes to things like this and I’m all about demystifying those fallacies. Basically, if we feel that what we’re spending money on is important to us then we are perfectly okay with it! So, we entertain a ton because we love catching up with friends and family and spending quality time with them!

When it comes to preparing menus for our cookouts we absolutely apply frugal principles (If you’re interested in how we approach grocery shopping have a read of this post) We’ll never deprive our loved ones but we still try to be as conscious and frugal as possible when it comes to shopping for meals. So, today I want to share a few of our favorite BBQ meals that can feed a bunch of people delicious food on a pretty decent budget! They are all super easy to put together too which is a huge bonus!

Enjoy!

Marinated Chicken: We like to keep things super simple in these parts. Our go to marinade is actually no-name  Italian salad dressing. We marinate our chicken for approximately 24 hours in a zip lock bag in the refrigerator and then grill it up on our BBQ. The awesome thing about preparing chicken this way is that you can marinate any type of chicken: chicken legs, breast, thigh and even wings work really really well. The chicken is always incredibly moist and flavorful.

Grilled potato and red onion salad: After scrubbing potatoes clean I chop them into cubes. I then add some raw red onion and toss everything in a bowl with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Once they’re well coated I transfer the potato and onions to a tin foil envelop and pop them on the grill for approximately 20 minutes. When the potatoes are fork tender I remove them from the foil, allow them to cool off and season with some fresh parsley, balsamic vinegar and garlic.

Grilled veggies: Veggies are so versatile and cook up beautifully on the BBQ. When planning a cookout we usually buy whatever veggies we can find on sale: bell peppers, asparagus, broccoli, snap peas, green beans etc. Once they’re washed I toss everything into a bowl and season with a little olive oil. I wrap them in tin foil and pop them on the BBQ. Once they’re cooked and cooled off I season with some greek yogurt, garlic and olive oil – salt and pepper to taste of course. Delicious, cost effective and incredibly healthy.

Grilled fruit salad with Mint: We love grilling up fruits like strawberries, watermelon and pineapple. Making fruit kabobs is an incredibly easy twist to make fruit even more delicious. After I’ve cut the fruit into bite sized pieces I toss them in a little vanilla extract and fresh mint. To prepare I just layer strawberries, melon and pineapple and pop on the grill for a few minutes allowing the fruit to develop char marks and just warm slightly through.

BBQ Scraper giveaway

When Mollen Living the awesome people behind BBQ Scraper reached out to me and offered to host this giveaway to one lucky TTBH reader in honor of Father’s Day and the start of grilling season I jumped on the opportunity because not only is their product eco-friendly but it makes cleaning your BBQ safe and easy .BBQ Scraper is 100% natural, as no chemicals or preservatives are used in the process allowing for a completely natural product!

The BBQ Scraper is awesome because it customizes itself to your grill pattern because of its soft wood which makes cleaning your grill a breeze. Once you use it on a hot grill a few times the wood takes on the shape of your grill and does an incredible job cleaning off all that messy gunk. After many many reports of BBQ brushes with bristles being unsafe Mer and I had actually abandoned our own BBQ brush in lieu of using crumpled up tin foil a few years back. In recent years, we were balling up a piece of tin foil and using long BBQ tongues to help guide the foil over the heated grills which although does the job semi-well, often results in singed arm hairs and skin burns. We tried the BBQ Scraper for the first time this weekend when prepping our grill for our friends and family BBQ and we’re hooked! The edge of BBQ Scraper is angled in such a way that grooves start to form into the scraper from it’s first use, quickly customizing to the user’s BBQ. The more it is used the deeper the grooves form until it perfectly surrounds the grilling surface and is able to perfectly clean the grill surface.

To enter the giveaway

It’s easy peasy.

  • Simply answer the question below to be entered to win a BBQ Scraper of your very own!
  • For extra entries tweet, pin and/or share this post on facebook and then post separate comments with the url to each of your shares in the comments below! Each share is an extra entry!
Like this post? Pin it to Pinterest!

 

Contest closes on Friday June 16th at 11:59 P.M. Winner will have a BBQ scraper shipped to them directly from Mollen Living! Open to U.S & Canada! Good luck!

What are your favorite BBQ recipe?

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Don’t niche yourself into a corner 

Morning folks!

I hope you’re all having a great week so far. The weather in these parts has been pretty crummy but the forecast is calling for a good amount of sun coming up so things are due to improve which is great! Nothing sucks more than being stuck inside with a toddler who has suddenly realized that doors lead to amazing outside places. Needless to say, Margsy is super grumpy and just itching to get outside and play. I’ll often catch her standing at the front window pointing outdoors and saying “go, go, go”. Here’s hoping that sun starts peeking out really really soon.

So enough about my endless complaining about the weather. Today I actually want to talk to ya’ll about blog niches. In the last few weeks I’ve gotten a couple of emails from readers asking about blog niches and how I chose mine and if I have any suggestions to create a “successful” blog. So, to address these questions I’ll break this post in two because ultimately there’s a belief that selecting the correct blog “niche” will somehow lead to blog success and that some niches are inherently more successful than others.

So, to start off let’s look at what a blog niche is roughly defined as per google:

A niche website is a site that focuses on a narrow group of people in a larger market with a common specific interest. While targeting a very specific term that people use on search engines, a niche site offers its visitors helpful and quality content that answers a question or solves a problem

With that in mind we can come to the conclusion that specific topics like beauty, fashion, parenting, travel, food, recipe development, tech and frugal living can be considered examples of “niche” blogs.

Interestingly, if you do a few google searches for things like “how to create a niche blog”, “tips for a successful niche blog” and “niche blog success” most of the posts that you’ll return will give you essentially the same information. They all seem to promote this idea that narrowing down your blog to a specific topic that you’ll focus on exclusively  will brand you correctly and put you in a position to garner the greatest amount of success. Some of these articles even go so far as to tell you to pick a profitable niche regardless of whether the topic interests you or not. In this scenario the focus is on the end result of “success” and not necessarily on the value you bring to blogging.

Let’s be honest folks, if you’re not passionate, knowledgeable and interested in the topic you are writing about you’ll never become successful because that “drive” that is required to blog consistently will eventually fade away. Being consistent and dedicated to blogging is hard work even when you love your topic so going that route is really not the best course of action. If you don’t truly enjoy what you’re writing about then you’ll never have the drive to keep going. So, my advice is to find a niche you are passionate about. Love to write about parenting? Go for it. Love getting creative in the kitchen? Share your recipes! Love to create crafts and do DIY projects? Well, start taking photos and tell the entire world about it! Don’t love technology? Well, don’t write about! It’s really that simple.

3 Reasons why you don’t have to niche yourself into a corner

So now that we’ve gotten into this whole niche blogging thing I wanted to talk a little about why I personally believe that sticking to one niche is unnecessary and that you can become a successful blogger without necessarily limiting yourself to one area of “expertise”. My blog is relatively new and I’m so incredibly grateful to have gained traction and momentum when it comes to building a solid readership and following both here on This Tiny Blue House and on my social media platforms. My blog is somewhat successful because I believe that writing about things that I’m passionate about comes through in my writing (I hope). Now, because I’ve seen a small amount of success in a relatively short amount of blogging time doesn’t really give me any klout but, I’m sharing my opinions because I was asked to. Beyond this it’s up to you fine folks to take my advice for what it’s worth. This is where I stand with regards to blogging and clearly there will be other more or less successful bloggers who wholeheartedly disagree with me and that’s perfectly okay. This is just one opinion about situating yourself within this vast internet space we call the blogosphere.

So enough about that!  Let’s take my blog as example. I blog about a few different things, don’t I? I’ve written about financial stuff, frugal living, high risk pregnancy, parenting, minimalism, food, gardening and even blog tech stuff. I’m all over the place right? Well, all these topics interest me and fall within my interest profile. I truly enjoy writing about all these things and so I somehow manage to weave my posts in and out of these very different topics.

As a result I’m a mom blog, a frugal living blog, a simple living blog, a blog tech blog and miscarriage survivor blog all rolled up into one very messy package. I’m all of these things both offline and online and these are the topics that make me tick. So, I write about them – a lot.

Based on the information I presented to you above, I probably shouldn’t be seeing any success right? I don’t fit neatly into any one niche because I never blog exclusively about frugal living, parenting, simple living or blog tech. Instead, I try and find a balance between writing about all of them since in many ways my interests are fluid and very much overlapping.

In a nutshell and to summarize you shouldn’t niche yourself into a corner because

1] Chances are you are not solely interested in one “niche”. Instead, you’re interests are likely varied, different and overlapping. Use your blog as a way to find an intersection of the many different interest profiles that dominate your life. Not only will you be providing your readers with varied content I bet you’ll have an easier time coming up with fresh content because you’ll have so many awesome categories and interests to pick from.

2] Readers aren’t exclusively interested in one niche either. It’s perfectly okay to have readers who pop in and out to read your frugal living posts but not your parenting posts! You don’t have to appeal to any one specific category of reader at all times. Offering a varied menu allows for different groups of readers to make their way over to your blog and share their ideas which in most cases can offer interesting and fresh perspectives.

3] Niche blogging limits your opportunities as a blogger. Again, totally my opinion but narrowing down your blog and packaging it up to fit into one very specific category really limits your potential. When blogs start to take off and blogging requirements include consistency it’s difficult to draft engaging, original and well thought out content day after day. So, leaving your possibilities open because you enjoy writing about different topics and themes can really help you stay on top of your blogging game. When a blog starts to generate revenue, niche blogging can go one of two ways. Take TTBH for example, when it comes to sponsored posts my varied content has allowed me to connect with a bunch of very cool companies that don’t necessarily fit into the same category. Had I blogged exclusively within one niche then I highly doubt I’d be presented with the same possibilities and variety. Having said that, niche blogging is known for generating a ton of revenue because of the very specific readership that comes with it. Despite this, I’m really of the mindset that it’s better to leave your options open (if that’s your thing) and give yourself as many opportunities as possible.

Like this post? Kindly share it to Pinterest to spread the word!

So tell me, are you a niche blogger? What are your thoughts?

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Say that 5 times, fast! ha!

Eating good quality, tasty, healthyish and budget friendly food is such an important part of our lifestyle here at This Tiny Blue House. Mer has a big appetite – he’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy while although I enjoy my meat and potatoes I tend to prefer more savory combinations of protein and vegetables. Our meal plans are often a mix of both and after some trial and error we’ve settled on a few recipes that satisfy both our palettes and make repeat appearances week after week.

I don’t create recipes – I modify them. So, I take absolutely zero credit for the base recipes I’m providing below. What I am offering is a few frugal hacks to reduce the cost of each dish without sacrificing the quality and taste.

I generally prepare and cook all these dishes on Sundays. I then store them in our fridge and pop them into the oven to reheat as we need them throughout the week. I cannot tell you how much easier this makes life – not only is dinner prepared but there is virtually no clean up.

Mediterranean Chicken from The Clever Carrot

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[Source: 1]

First, we omit the bocconcini altogether. I’m not a fan of melted bocconcini and quite honestly this dish is incredibly tasty and satisfying without it. We then substitute 1 can of artichokes for a can of marinated artichokes (price difference is roughly 2$), using our own oil and spices to marinate the chicken. Chicken thighs are weirdly more expensive than chicken breast in this area so to save a couple of bucks we use breast. Finally, we use frozen herbs from our summer garden instead of fresh.

It produces approx 6 servings so plenty for dinner and leftovers for lunches. It’s Margs approved too. Frugal math tells me that it comes our to roughly 3$ per serving.

Cottage Pie from BBC Good Food

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[Source 2]

This is probably our current favorite since it’s so savory and has such great depth of flavor. I actually found this recipe by accident, decided to give it a try and have continued to make it ever since. To save a a couple of bucks I buy the economy size container of ground beef so I can make two pies at the same time. I also use frozen mixed veggies instead of fresh and sometimes omit the cheese in the potato mash altogether. Frugal math tells me this runs about 2.20$ per serving.

Unstuffed Cabbage Role Casserole from Give Recipe

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[Source: 3]

This is a great recipe that can be eaten as a side dish with a meat protein or by itself. I usually make this once a week and we use it many different ways during the week. It’s great for a quick lunch or to go along side roast chicken for dinner. To frugalize the recipe we often omit the beef altogether and add frozen white beans from our garden instead. Frugal math tells me this runs around 1.00 per serving. Also, we omit the mint because we just don’t do mint in this house.

Pasta e fagioli con Proscuito– due amiche in cucina

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[Source:4]

I actually grew up eating this at least once per week and until very recently I hated it. With the cold weather and lack of time to prepare more complex meals during the week Mer and I have really started to appreciate a hearty bowl of pasta and bean soup. To save some cash we use bacon instead of prosciutto – honestly, prosciutto just tastes funky when cooked so we prefer the bacon. We use frozen garden beans and our own homemade tomato sauce. This recipe essentially costs us a half bag of pasta and a few strips of bacon. Frugal math tells me this sets us back roughly 0.60 cents per serving.

What are some of your go to favorite meals? I love trying new recipes so I would greatly appreciate any that you have to share!


Giving credit where credit is due
[1] http://www.theclevercarrot.com/2013/05/dinner-tonight-mediterranean-baked-chicken/
[2] http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/775643/cottage-pie
[3] http://www.giverecipe.com/unstuffed-cabbage-casserole
[4] http://www.dueamicheincucina.ifood.it/2015/04/pasta-e-fagioli-con-prosciutto-di-parma-e-croste-di-parmigiano-reggiano.html

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First, I’d like to say a big thank you for all your kind words about how we got our butts out of credit card debt. I was a little hesitant to write that post and actually asked Mer if he thought it was a bad idea at one point. He told me to go with it because when we were looking for advice on how to handle our debt we weren’t really able to find any concrete answers because more often than not the true numbers were never discussed.

I guess I didn’t want to be judged for our repeat bad financial choices (I know I shouldn’t care but I do to a certain extent) but more importantly I was a little scared to talk about the numbers because I’ve always been told that it’s in bad taste to talk about your income. But, I value transparency so I felt it was only right to put all the information out there.

So, dear internet reader you now know the intimate details of my financial past!

So back to what’s been going on around here. Bad weather is what’s up!

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View from my living room. We’re getting an unusual amount of precipitation this winter.

Winter has been hitting us exceptionally hard this year. It started to really cool off in early November and by the first days of December we were already seeing significant amounts of snow. The weather has been hovering well below freezing for weeks and we’re getting treated to a good amount of snow and ice on a daily basis. Although beautiful- the icy and snowy conditions make it really difficult to head out with a baby in tow and get stuff done. When we first bought this house we never considered what the winter situation would be since we visited in the spring time and winter weather was the furthest thing from our minds.

Living in this roundabout is awesome because it’s super quiet but on the flip side snow removal and street salting is basically non-existent here which was really common and effective when we lived in the city. Clearly, there’s a reason why all our current neighbors have snow removal contracts with companies (evidenced by the sticks plunged into the ground at the top of each driveway). Basically, you’ve either got a company coming to dig you out or you’re shoveling it yourself (which is what we’re doing because we’re too cheap to pay someone to move our snow).

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Free art from my mother. There are 3 paintings in this collection and they date back to 73′.

Since we’ve basically been housebound since Tuesday I’ve used up my time working on re-framing these awesome paintings my mother kindly gifted me. She knows I wont spend money on art and when she found them laying around she figured she’d check with me to see if I could give them a new home. Done!

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Hung! Crappy photography though.

There are 3 paintings in the collection – each one represents a different season in the Canadian north east and I love how they add a little character to our living room.

I’ve also been baking.  I pulled out our bread machine and got going on a few loaves.

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Freshly baked bread!

Oh bread machine, you’re so sneaky!

This time, I decided to bake the loaves myself because we needed bread and the roads were awful so heading out to the grocer was out of the question (I walk everywhere because we’re a one car family – total distance to the grocer is probably a little over 2 miles). I guess I could have hauled Margs in her sled but after watching 3 neighbors wipe out I decided to keep my clumsy butt home. Mer doesn’t really enjoy bread machine bread – he complains that the crust is too thin so after my friends Mum suggested I bake it myself I figured I’d give it a go. I’m not really a big fan either because I always thought that the cost involved in making it would actually be higher than buying once you factor in the flour, yeast, oil and salt required to make one tiny loaf.

Well, folks, our bread machines are lying to us.

After using the machine on a dough cycle and allowing the dough to rise once I split it in 2 and allowed it to rise for another 2 hours on an oiled pan in my oven with the warmer on. What I found waiting for me in blew my mind.

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Part way through the second rising process! 2 loaves!!

The one tiny loaf I used to get by using the bread machine start to finish was now replaced with two larger loaves. Stretching my use of 4 cups of flour to make 2 loaves instead of 1.

With that in mind I got working on crunching some numbers because 2 loaves is a game changer when you’re talking about cost efficiency of making your bread versus buying it.

Geek alert,  frugal math coming up.

10 kg bag of bread flour – $17.99

10 kg = 80 cups of flour (1 kg ~ 8 cups)

80 cups of flour/4 cups = 20 batches of 2 loafs of bread = 40 loaves.

40 loaves of bread at $2.99 (what we approximately pay at the grocer) = $119.60

Potential Savings $119.60 – $17.99 = $101.61 (minus a couple of bucks for dry yeast, oil, sugar and salt which I didn’t bother calculating when I saw how impressive the savings were)

So tell me, do you use a bread machine? If so, do you let it run a full cycle or bake it yourself?

Also, because I’m curious how much is bread flour in your neck of the woods?

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Let me preface this post by telling you quite honestly that Mer and I were the biggest food wasters ever. It’s shameful really. We’d buy so much food unnecessarily because we were awful about eating leftovers, cooking our food wisely and being frugal.  I cannot even tell you how many times I threw perfectly good food in the trash because I was too lazy to cook it and it expired. Like I said, we were just awful.

Then, when we decided to really focus on paying down our debt (post about that coming Wednesday so stay tuned) we gave ourselves a 75.00$ grocery budget each week. Beforehand, we’d spend at least 100$ weekly and then also spend over 100$ on take out because we were big food wasters and constantly felt we had nothing to eat. Absolutely ridiculous and so incredibly wasteful.

So back to the grocery budget thing. By lowering our grocery budget we had to become far more savvy about what we bought. Not only did we slash our grocery budget but we also cut out restaurant food so that 75 bucks had to feed us 3 meals a day – 7 days a week with NO exceptions.

What worked for us was meal planning every meal and snack we’d eat so we knew exactly what we needed to buy. We’d also look at our weekly grocery store flyers to see what was on sale  before we sat down to discuss what we’d be eating that week because 75$ doesn’t get very far around here unless you buy things on sale (We live in a high COL area and food prices  often reflect it). We never did without fresh produce, fresh meat or dairy. We simply bought those items on sale and made meals around them. We tried new vegetables because they were on sale and fell in love with things like Okra and Yuca which was something neither of us had ever eaten before. Moral of the story, it is possible to slash your grocery costs if you’re okay with experimenting with cooking and eating new and delicious foods.

Reducing our food waste happened by consequence. With less food in the house we had to get creative and not waste anything because wasting just wasn’t an option anymore. We were very much aware of how much individual items cost and we became far more vigilant about how we treated food. Respect all the food!

Here are a few techniques we use to keep our food waste to a minimum. The biggies in TTBH  are bread and vegetables and these are a few things we came up with that prevent us from wasting and also provide us with extra meals at no cost. Win win situation.

Bagging up vegetable “scraps” to make soup stock and then make delicious soup

This is amazing because it makes a delicious and FREE soup stock from vegetable “scraps” you’d otherwise throw in the trash.  I have a freezer bag in my fridge at all times and every time I have uncooked veggie scraps (peels, stems, tough outer leaves) I put them in the bag to make soup. On Sunday nights  I put all my veggies in a large stock pot, cover them with water and let them boil for an hour or until tender. Strain out the veggies and you’re left with a delicious and healthy stock that you can use fresh or freeze.

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This batch had garlic, onions, carrot  ends, carrot peels, potato peels, broccoli rab stems and the other leaves of the broccoli rab that were too tough to cook.

I’ve also made stock with eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, corn, green beans. Almost all veggies work really well.

The batch I made yesterday will be used to make a minestrone this week with minestrone veggies I harvested and froze from our garden over the summer, frozen garden beans and frozen tomatoes. The entire meal is FREE.

Using Stale Bread Two Ways

Bread is the second biggest potential form of food waste  here in TTBH. We’ve always got chunks of hardened stale bread laying around. In the olden days  (ha! only 7 years ago) I’d just put it in the trash without much thought – now, I use it up in two different ways.

Sliced bread and hard crust baguettes get stored in a zip lock in my freezer. Every Friday night I pop them out of the freezer and let them thaw, chop them into chunks and prepare an amazingly delicious French toast bake to eat on Saturday morning.

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I follow this recipe, except I use old bread and I sometimes double the egg mixture depending on how much bread I have to use.  Also, I always soak it over night to sort of rehydrate the bread. It never fails and it’s always really delicious and such a treat on Saturday mornings. Margs loves it too. You can also add dried fruits like raisons, plums or apricots.

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With softer breads with less crust we make bread crumbs. Have you seen the price of bread crumbs or panko lately? Absolutely crazy considering you can make it yourself for free at home. The thing with breadcrumbs is that you need softer bread with less crust so loaves and Italian breads are perfect options. Leftover breads from dinners and such are stored on top of my fridge in a plastic tray where they dry out. Once the tray is full and the chunks are sufficiently dry I grind them up in my food processor and pass them through a colander to remove any larger pieces. I then store them in an air tight container in my pantry and season them as needed. (Salt, pepper, dried parsley & dried oregano are our go-to favorite seasonings).

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After midnight on NYE as we were walking/sleding home from a friends house!

I suppose that continuing on with our efforts to reduce food waste is one of my new years resolutions. I know I said I wasn’t setting any mostly because when I set goals I tend to fail miserably but I think we’ve really found our groove with handling food in this house so I want to keep on keeping on.

I hope you had an amazing New Year and that you’re creating awesome plans to reach your goals, resolutions and intentions for 2017. (Thank you for sharing them with me by the way, I seriously enjoyed reading them).  We were over at a friends place until far too late but we had an amazing time, were treated to a delicious meal and got to tow our kiddo in her sled because we opted to walk. Can I just tell you how peaceful the streets are at roughly 1am when you’re hauling a tiny kid in your sled? It was an exhausting but perfect night.

Now tell me, what hacks do you use to reduce your food waste?

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Holiday preparations are in full swing in around here. Weeks ago, I wrote about our holiday traditions and how we’re choosing to keep things simple this Christmas. What I didn’t discuss though is our holiday food traditions which are a huge part of our celebrations. Our food choices during Christmas are probably the most important part of our holidays- even more important than presents and the menu has been the same for the last 30-something years of my life.

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We refer to Christmas Eve as La Vigilia – the night before Christmas. On that night we eat the seven fishes. This tradition was brought over by my grandparents from Italy some 60 years ago. They’ve both passed now but our family continues to honour the age old tradition of eating only fish on La Vigilia.

Traditionally, we eat cured salted cod both bone-in and boneless, octopus, smelts, shrimp, eel, scampi, lobster and mussels. Different families have different preferences but we usually tend to keep our meal the same year after year. In addition to a large spread of various fish dishes we eat a pasta made with breadcrumbs and walnuts which is native to my mothers home town in Italy.

My contribution this year are vegetarian arancini (rice balls) which are basically rice balls stuffed with a peas, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Each ball is then coated in egg and breadcrumbs and deep fried until crispy. A spicy marinara sauce on the side for dipping.

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In addition to the arancini, I’m responsible for desert this year and so I’ve prepared a hefty amount of lemon drops, zeppole and chocolate crinkle cookies to munch on. Additionally, we prepared a homemade Tiramisu cake which is a family favorite.

On Christmas day we try to keep our food choices simple. Had we opted to visit family we would have likely been served delicious lasagna, roasted lamb and spiedini but since we’re staying home we’ve decided to celebrate Christmas with a large brunch. On the menu, eggs, pancakes, French toast and ham.

What are your food traditions? I’m always curious to see what other people are eating during the holidays.

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When we started looking to buy a house and move out of our apartment we were floored at the hidden costs of owning a home. Property tax, insurance and school taxes were far more expensive than we ever thought possible. On top of our mortgage we were looking at an extra four to five hundred dollars monthly to cover these “extra” costs. Who the hell has that type of money just laying around? We surely don’t. We’re a one income home (by choice), I stay home with Margs and Mer works full-time. Our decision to live this way is long story (in a nutshell, getting Margs here was hard as hell- but more on that another time) but it’s what we decided was best for our small family so we needed to brew up a plan to be able to pull off buying a home, providing for a baby and still living a  comfortable lifestyle. Now,when I say a comfortable lifestyle I’m talking about essentials here. We don’t vacation, we don’t splurge on stuff . I guess comfortable in our eyes means, eating good food, having enough cash to cover our monthly expenses and putting a little aside in our rainy day fund. We’re pretty simple people in that way.So here goes…

1. Babies are expensive.  When Margs was first born and we were living in the apartment I bought everything new.  I was a first time mom to a rainbow baby (baby born after pregnancy loss) so I had this intense need to get her the “best” of everything. Soon enough, I realized that baby items – clothes and toys especially are an enormous waste of money. This idea that I needed to get her the “best” of everything was my own issue and not at all related to my parenting (Intense mommy guilt with a whole lot of post partum depression and anxiety mixed in). As soon as I accepted that it was okay to buy used I started working with a local consignment shop and boom everything sort of fell into place. Now, I buy anything and everything I can used assuming that the items are in good condition and safe for Margs and we are all okay about it – happier even.

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I started off by dropping off a few items that we no longer used. Namely, a breast pump, floor play mat and a high chair. Soon enough I had enough store credit that I could replenish her wardrobe and toy needs without spending any money at all. Now, I drop off bags of Margs clothing and toys when she outgrows them and continue to build my store credit. When Margs needs something whether it be clothing, toys or other accessories I pass by the shop and have a good look around. Often, I can find exactly what I’m looking for – if I really can’t find it there I will buy at other stores but more often than not the consignment store satisfies our needs.

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Margs’ new shoes. Picked up yesterday along with a bunch of new outfits pictured above using my store credit.

2. Selling our clothing and things we don’t wear online.  Mer works in an office setting so he needs a pretty substantial wardrobe so that he can look presentable on a day to day basis. I tend to wear the same things day in and day out (stay at home mom life anyone?) but do like to replace certain items from time to time. We used to hoard our clothes assuming (hoping?) that at some point we’d start wearing certain items again. When it came time to pack we realized just how much clothing we actually had but more importantly how much of that clothing we never wore. We brought it all with us and slowly I’m sorting and selling it online. It  helps earn us a couple of extra bucks every week that I use towards grocery or stocking up on essentials. I would have started a consignment system with our stuff if there was a local one that dealt with adult clothing – but, no such luck.

Doing this does take a little effort since you’ve got to photograph everything. I’ve joined some local online garage sale sites via facebook where I post lots of our clothing for sale on a weekly basis. Some weeks we sell more other weeks less but every little bit helps.

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Here’s a recent lot I posted for 20$.

3. Stockpiling essentials.

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This might sound counter intuitive because you’re essentially spending money to save money but we’ve discovered that it really does save us a ton of money in the long run. We’re pretty picky about our laundry detergent but hate paying full price for it. When it goes on sale we stock up. Usually, this involves visiting multiple locations of the same store to stock pile the sale since in this area most stores put a limit on how many items you can buy. Those Tide detergents for example were 50% off costing us 4.99 per box/jug instead of 9.99$ last week.

Other essentials that we keep an eye on regularly are : toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, fabric softner and dish soap

4. Saving /clipping coupons.

I went through a phase when we first moved where I was obsessed with coupons. I’d literally scour the internet looking for coupons which not only drove me crazy but made the whole experience really really stressful. Half the online links don’t work and a good  portion of  coupons are not available to us Canadians. So, I stopped couponing that way and just stick to manufacturer coupons that come with products we buy or coupons that come by mail with our weekly bundle of store flyers. I know I can do more but honestly couponing isn’t easy. It requires an enormous investment of your time and often it’s for products we don’t even use.  My system is pretty simple. I’ve got a zip lock on top of our microwave where I put my clipped coupons. Most are for baby hygiene items like diapers and wipes but from time to time some coupons for other household essentials make their way in.

5. Growing our own produce.

This is a really big one for us. We’re very fortunate to have a substantial piece of land where we can grow our own vegetables in the  summer. We share the work with Mer’s parents and ultimately stock up our freezers with a ton of fresh produce that sustains us pretty much through the winter. I’m not sure if the situation is similar elsewhere but since moving further outside the city the cost of fresh vegetables and fruit has really gone up. We were shocked to find out that apples can cost anywhere from 2$ to 4$ per pound only 20 minutes further from the area we used to live.  We clearly have to fill in the gaps because you can’t preserve things like lettuce or fresh fruit but we do a pretty good job of sustaining ourselves with tomatoes, squash, beans, peas, corn, spinach, peppers and broccoli which is a huge help to our grocery budget every week.

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Our freezer is currently overflowing with frozen veggies. On our current wish list is a chest freezer. We’ve got a little cash stashed away to buy one but we’re waiting until a second hand one in decent condition pops up for sale locally.

So these are a few of the things we’re doing to help us save a little extra cash every month. They may not be suitable options for everyone but it works out quite well for us.

What things do you do to save some cash? I love reading about how other people work their budgets.

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