Monday, 11 July 2016

What's for Supper: July 11 - 15

Every Monday my Facebook friend Meal Planning Maven invites people to share their meal plans for the week on her page.  I've been participating in this conversation for a long time both because I love her page and the recipes she shares and because I find great inspiration from the other folks who post there.  This post was written with that conversation in mind.  I hope you'll share your plans and recipes on her page too.

Here's what I've planned for supper this week:

Monday, July 11 - Yesterday I made palak paratha (an Indian flatbread) using plantain instead of spinach.  I have some left over so tonight I'm going to use one to make a wee pizza with diced fresh tomato, finely diced red onion, diced zucchini, and shredded mozzarella and edam cheese as my toppings.

The recipe I used for the palak paratha came from Veg Recipes of India.  You can find it here.

If you'd like to learn more about plantain, check out this excellent post from Prairieland Herbs.

Tuesday, July 12 - Breaded, oven roasted chicken thighs, new potatoes boiled with a little fresh mint (both the potatoes and the mint were a gift from my friend Donna's garden), steamed carrots and sugar snap peas.

Wednesday, July 13 - A slice of cheddar, broccoli, and tomato quiche (from the freezer), brown rice cooked in vegetable stock, and a salad of romaine, chickweed, cooked sugar snap peas (leftover from Tuesday), diced pickled beet, and calendula petals, dressed with blushing beet salad dressing.

Thursday, July 14 - A chicken, rice, and vegetable salad.  Look for the recipe later this week.

Friday, July 15 - A portabella burger, and some carrot sticks, celery, and sliced cucumber.

Friday, 24 June 2016

How Living on a Limited Income Helped Me Go Green(ish)

When my husband died my household income declined sharply. Although I did receive the survivor's benefits from his Canada Pension Plan and superannuation, that amount was 50 percent of what he had been receiving. His full pension amounts were low enough that he had been entitled to an Old Age Security benefit but, being under the age of 65, I wasn't entitled to receive that top up. The harsh financial reality is that the total amount of pension coming into this household was reduced by about sixty percent.

Anyone who has lived alone can tell you that a household of one is not sixty percent less expensive to run than a household of two. My mortgage payment and condo fees remained the same, my home insurance went up, my car insurance and car maintenance costs were largely unchanged, and - because I'm not eligible for the senior's home owner grant - my property taxes more than doubled.  

I'd left work to care for my husband during the last months of his life and did receive a small unemployment insurance cheque for a while. but that ended four months after he died.  I found a new job but because of some on-going health issues of my own I chose to leave it, stay at home, and try to get by on solely on pension income. 

Tight does not begin to describe my budget.  

Just to be clear, I'm not complaining here. I'm doing okay. I have all of life's essentials, I'm surrounded by loving friends and family, and I'm gradually making a new life alone.  I did experience some big changes though, and I learned some good things along the way. 

These days I'm very clear about want versus need. I don't ignore every want - life is no fun without a few little treats - but I consider very carefully before I spend my money and I economize where I can. This is where the green(ish) part comes in.  It turns out that much of what I do to keep my budget in check is also good for the environment.

I don't buy stuff I don't need (or at least not very much of it), and it's amazing how many tchotchkes, shoes, clothing items, and dishes I don't  need.  If I don't buy it, I don't need to pay to maintain it, or store it, and I end up throwing far less away.

I source most of my craft materials and the fabric for my sewing projects from thrift stores.  It's far more affordable than shopping retail and it extends the useful life of items others have discarded.

I walk for most of my errands around town, only taking my car out if I'm going to be carrying something very large or heavy.  I'm not such a purist that I don't drive at all, but walking when I can reduces my fuel bills and car maintenance costs. It also reduces my carbon footprint.  

I buy plain, unprocessed food because it's less expensive.  It also usually comes with less packaging.  I do end up with some plastic, cardboard and tin to recycle, but much less than I used to.

Being vigilant about waste is the most important thing I do for both my budget and my impact on the environment. I can't afford to buy things and then not use them up. 

Unless I'm putting it by for future use, I don't buy more food than I can eat.  I try to use every edible bit of the food I do buy, including peels, cores, tops, leaves, skin, bones, shells, and fish heads.  It saves me money, makes respectful use of the energy required to grow/catch, transport, and package what I eat, and it produces some wonderfully flavourful stocks and sauces.

Whenever I can, I use rags made from worn out flannel sheets instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper, and glass jars and covered bowls instead of plastic wrap.  Freezer bags do have a place in my kitchen but I reuse them as many times as I can.  I also reuse the heavy zip closure bags that dry fruit and frozen goods come packaged in, and the liners from cereal boxes (awesome sandwich wrap!).

I use envelopes and any blank paper that comes in the mail for drawing, art projects, and making lists.  I cover both sides of the paper before I send it to recycling.  

I don't buy clothes unless I absolutely need them and when I do buy them, I usually buy second hand.  I mend my clothing and wear it until it's worn out, then use the salvageable fabric, buttons, and zippers to make new things.

All of these things are kind to the environment.

My new, very simple life works well for me. I can take quiet days, and rest when I need to.  I spend time outdoors every day.  I know exactly what I can afford and what I can't, and I can plan for that. My stress levels are greatly reduced.

Isn't it nice that many of those changes benefit the environment too? That's a win/win.

Do you have any frugal green living tips you'd like to share? Please feel free to comment here, on my Facebook page, or on Google+.  I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, 10 June 2016

How to Get Rid of Unpleasant Odours in Your Dishwasher

This is my dishwasher.  It's nice and shiny but it's old. The springs on the door are broken so I have to prop the open door up with a footstool to keep it from opening so far that the hinges break.  If I use it every day for three or four days in a row, it arbitrarily stops working and won't start again until I've given it a week's rest.  It's not worth fixing and I can't afford to replace it.

Now that I'm on my own, I don't have as many dirty dishes as I used to so I mostly wash them by hand but, despite its many faults, my dishwasher is still of use to me.   I use it once a week to sanitize my cutting boards and wash whatever dishes happen to need cleaning on that day.  I also use it when I have company, and extra dishes to wash.

Perhaps because I use it less often than I used to, I recently began to notice an unpleasant, garbage-y odour coming from my dishwasher.  It was pretty awful and, if I left the door propped open, it pervaded my entire apartment.  I had to do something about it.  

Pinterest is my go-to place for all things housekeeping, so I did a search to see if I could find a tip for de-stinking the dishwasher.  I came across a post by Today.com that suggested using vinegar and baking soda.  I use baking soda for cleaning my stainless steel sink, and vinegar and baking soda to keep my sink drains clear, so it seemed to be something worth trying.

I put a cup full of vinegar, upright, in the top rack of the dishwasher, poured an approximately equal amount of baking soda onto the bottom deck of the machine and then ran the dishwasher for a half cycle on the "sanitize" setting.

It worked really well.  My dishwasher is sparkling clean inside and smells nice and fresh.  

Cleaning my dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda cost me a lot less than it would have cost to buy a commercially made dishwasher cleaning detergent, and it was kinder to the environment too.  That's a win/win in my books.   

Do you have any housecleaning tips you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Refresh You Clothes and Reduce Your Ironing


Every fall, I pack my summer clothes into Rubbermaid bins and store them away in my storage locker, down in the basement of my apartment building. They stay there for almost 9 months before warm weather encourages me to bring them out again. 

The bins do a great job of keeping my clothes clean, dry, and moth free but, when I unpack them, my clothes come out smelling not bad exactly, but storage-y: kind of musty and not fresh.  Also, because I pack the totes tightly, everything ends up creased and wrinkled.  

On the scale of domestic challenges, I figure this barely registers at all but, still, getting those clothes ready to wear does make for a tedious chore. In past years I've re-laundered all my clothes after taking them out of storage, and then ironed them all before putting them away in my dressers and closet.  It was a lot of work. This year I wanted to simplify the process.  

I'd washed them before storing them in the bins, so my clothes were already clean. I decided to try a little experiment.  Instead of laundering them again, I hung a few of my T-shirts on hangers along the shower curtain rod in the bathroom and used a spray bottle to dampen them all over with water.  After that,I did nothing at all but leave them alone until they were dry.

The photo above shows the results.  It worked very well.  Not only did my T-shirts regain their freshness, but most of the wrinkles relaxed right out of the fabric.  They weren't perfectly smooth like they'd be if I ironed them but, hey, they're T-shirts.  The results were good enough that I'd wear them without pressing them first.

I repeated the hanging/spraying/drying process with the rest of the clothing from my bins and the results were good throughout.  I still chose to press some of the dressier items but, having removed so many of the wrinkles from the fabric before I ironed, the job went much more quickly than it would have with clothing straight from storage.

So there you have it:  Simple, work saving, and free. Housekeeping tasks don't get much better than that.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Busy Night Eggs


I'm sure that I've mentioned before how much I enjoy the "What's for Dinner" conversation at CanadianBudgetBinder on Facebook. It's always lively, in part because there's a new question to discuss each day.  

Recently, the "What's for Dinner" discussion was about our go-to dishes for busy nights.  Eggs immediately sprang to mind. They're wonderful things to have in the fridge:  Quick to cook, nutritious, and inexpensive. They're versatile too.  A little imagination is all it takes to cook up something really quite wonderful.

There are some egg dishes show up on my table with great regularity.  Busy Night Eggs are one of them. Busy Night Eggs are changeable things:  Based on what I have on hand and different almost every time. They all have one thing in common though: They're all made with Spike seasoning.* 

Spike's been around for a long time. I first learned about it in my maternal grandmother's kitchen.  It remains one of my very favourite ways to season eggs.  

Spike contains no chemical additives to keep it from clumping so you'll need to use a table knife to give it a good stir in the jar each time you use it. It's worth the effort.

Here's the version of Busy Night Eggs I'll be eating for supper tonight.  For each serving you'll need:

  • 1 Tbsp. of oil, or butter, or other fat (I'll be using pork fat I rendered myself, from a whole pork leg.)
  • 1/2 cup cubed cooked potato
  • 1 thinly sliced green onion (scallion), divided
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • Spike seasoning
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • black pepper
  • Grated cheese (I used manchego but whatever you have on hand will do)
Melt the pork fat in a frying pan over medium high heat, then add in the potato and the white (root) part of the green onion.  Don't rush the cooking of these.  Let them sit until they take on a little colour, then stir and let them sit again, repeating the process until they're nicely browned.

Add in the tomato and a generous amount of Spike. Continue cooking and stirring until the tomato is heated through and softens up a bit.  It won't take long.

Add in the beaten eggs and move them around in the pan until they start to set up, forming soft curds.  Take the eggs off the heat while they're slightly undercooked.  They'll continue carry over cooking on the plate, and you don't want them to be dry.

Season the cooked eggs to taste with freshly cracked black pepper, then grate some cheese over top of the dish. Garnish with the chopped green tops of the scallions.  

Easy Peasy, right? Enjoy!  


*I am not being paid or provided with promotional considerations by the company that makes Spike.  I've included it in this recipe because I really like it a lot.  I think you will too.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Tandoori Cod


Tandoori Cod combines a very Indian flavour - tandoori masala - with a very North American ingredient:  Pacific cod. Like most of my meals these days, it's easy to prepare and quick to cook. 

I use a store-bought, pre-made curry paste to season this dish. I want you to know that the company who makes it (Patak's) didn't sponsor my post, nor will I receive any payment or promotional goods in return for sharing it with you.  I just really like their product a lot.

Around here, Patak's tandoori paste can be found in the "ethnic foods" aisle of most grocery stores. If you can't find it where you live, you can still enjoy this wonderful flavour by making a dry spice mix yourself from Ruchi's Kitchen recipe for Tandoori Masala.

For each serving of Tandoori Cod you wish to make, you'll need

  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons Patak's Tandoori Paste or homemade dry tandoori masala and a little cooking oil
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cod fillet, skin removed


Mix together the tandoori paste and yogurt, stirring until well combined.

If  you're using the dry spice mix linked above instead of tandoori paste, mix it into the Greek yogurt a little at a time, tasting as you go, until it reaches a level of flavour that suits your taste. (I would use about 2 teaspoons, or maybe a little more, for each 1-1/2 Tablespoons of yogurt.)

Place the cod fillet on a baking sheet that has been brushed with oil, then spoon the seasoned yogurt over the top of the fillet.

Bake the fish at 400F until it's almost opaque - in my oven that takes about 15 minutes - then put it under the broiler for just long enough to give the topping some colour, maybe 3 to 5 minutes more. Watch it like a hawk and take care not to overcook the fish.  It should be opaque and should break apart easily with a fork, but you don't want it to taste overcooked and dry..

I served this over a bed of mixed greens but a more traditional accompaniment would be basmati rice, a cooked vegetable dish of some sort and a chutney.  Any way you choose to serve it, it's delicious.

Related post:  Making Yogurt in a Thermos

Thursday, 14 April 2016

ReVision: Making the Most of Thrift Shop Fabric Finds

Home sewing used to be commonplace. Before we could simply pop down to the store and buy things it was the way we provided our families with clothing and household linens. Even after retail goods became accessible, it remained the frugal and practical choice for a very long time.  Home sewn clothing and linens were less expensive than those made commercially.

That is not the case any more.  Store bought clothing has become so inexpensive that it is now considered by many to be an almost disposable item, while fabrics, patterns, and sewing notions have steadily increased in price.  Fewer and fewer people are learning to sew. What was once an essential life skill has now become a luxury pastime.


I like to sew - a lot - but I'm on a very tight budget.  I'm also very mindful of the environmental and social costs of all of this "throw away" clothing so, for me, the best way to satisfy both my desire to continue sewing and my wish to reduce waste is to make my projects from fabric sourced at thrift shops.  

Here are a few of the fabric items I buy at thrift shops, together with some suggestions on how they can be used:

  • Sheets and pillowcases.  These are my favourites.  They come in all sorts of nifty prints and they provide a lot of fabric for very little money.  One full sheet will provide enough fabric to make a dress for an adult, or a lining for a jacket, a backing for a quilt, the fronts for three or four baby blankets, or numerous children's garments.  A single pillowcase will make an adult sized skirt, or an apron, or a small child's dress, or a shopping bag, or a couple of tea cozies.
  • Towels.  Frayed or faded towels are still useful.  They make excellent filling layers for pot holders, oven mitts, hot pads for the table, ironing board covers, and hot water bottle cozies. Towels in good condition can be used to make bath robes, bed pads, bibs, or hooded towels for babies.
  • Jeans.  Denim is super durable, easy to work with, and fashionable.  The upcycling possibilities are endless. There are far too many to list here but if you pop over to Pinterest and do a search, I'm sure you'll find projects enough to last a lifetime.
  • Pure wool items.  Look for coats, suits, blankets, and sweaters. I felt (shrink and thicken) almost all of the pure wool items I find.  Felted wool can be used to make new garments, handbags, slippers, tea cozies, mitts, children's toys, table pads, place mats, and rugs.
  • Linen.  It's getting harder to find pure linen these days because it's less commonly used for household items than it once was. If you find good quality linen intact, you've found a treasure.  If it's stained or has small holes in it, buy it anyway.  You can still use it.  I often use linens just as they were originally intended - sheets table linens, and runners - but I also make them into summer garments and christening gowns.  If they're damaged or stained beyond repair, I'll dye them or tea stain them and then salvage the usable pieces to make baby clothes, or cushions, or to use in piecework.
  • Hand embroidered and crocheted goods.  Knowing as I do how much labour goes into making them, it always makes me a little sad to see these items in a thrift shop. Saving them makes me feel like a superhero.  :)   I use even the stained and torn ones, incorporating the usable parts into baby dresses, baby blankets, cushions, and piecework.
  • Knitwear.  Thrift shops are full of commercially made sweaters that are in good condition but no longer fashionable.  Don't be afraid to buy them and cut them up.  They can be made into hats, scarves, mitts, arm warmers or leg warmers, and restyled into vests or incorporated into new sweaters or coats.  They can also be used to make tea cozies and mug cozies.


Once you've purchased your thrift store fabrics, you need to prepare them for use.  Because bed bugs are becoming increasingly common, I keep a box of black trash bags in my car trunk.  Before I carry my thrifted items home, I transfer them directly into a trash bag and knot it tightly shut.  From there, you have a variety of options:

  • You can leave them in the tightly knotted trash bag for 6 weeks or so to ensure that whatever might be on the fabric has suffocated.
  • You can wash them in hot water and dry them on your dryer's hottest setting.  This is the option I most frequently choose.  It ensures that the fabrics are clean and that my finished product can be safely laundered. Fabrics that don't survive the laundering process can be used to stuff pillows or toys, or they can be dropped off at many recycling depots.
  • You can pack them in individual plastic bags and put them in the freezer for 3 weeks.  This may seem very odd, but there are some things that do need this special care.  I recently bought a length of beautiful silk at the thrift store.  It would never have withstood the hot wash/hot dry treatment I give most of my fabrics.  Putting it in the freezer is a gentle way to kill any critters that might be lurking within its folds, and faster than the black plastic trash bag method.
  • It's important to note that if you use either the knotted trash bag method or the freezer bag method, your fabrics will still need to be washed and dried before you use them.  Hand washing and line drying are fine.

If you're like me and buy a lot of materials, you'll need to sort them once you've prepared them for use.  I store mine in plastic totes that are labeled by material type.  This keeps like materials grouped together, keeps them dust free, and makes them easy to find.

Now that I've learned to source and prepare thrift shop fabrics, I can sew to my heart's content.  The biggest challenge now is to find projects for all the material I have on hand.  ;)  Care to share suggestions for upcycling projects in the comments?  I'd love to hear from you.