Freezing our Assets (off)

Yep, it’s damn cold here in Ottawa, leading to a lot of staying indoors and cooking. Which is leading, somewhat ironically, to some good use of my freezer. My hubby is out, and the kids are miraculously both asleep, so I thought I’d write a little post about how things have been going with that particular new appliance.

First of all, I will reiterate just how happy I am that I bought it back in August. I probably haven’t put it to ideal use, but it has been a wonderful tool for organizing meals. With the freezer, I can cook when I have the time, and put stuff away for when I have less time. It’s been a wonderful way to save money and time, not to mention the brainwork involved in planning meals.

Over these past few months, I’ve learned some things about what freezes well and what doesn’t. I’ve discovered it’s true: potatoes don’t freeze well. They turn sortof mealy and mushy and unappentizing. Beans also go a bit weird in the freezer, acquiring a strange spongy texture. I’ve also discovered that anything dry in chunks tends to get drier and freezer burnt.

But there are many things that have been great in the freezer, especially meaty saucy things like spaghetti and chili. Chicken broth is great because I usually make big quantities and then freeze in 2-3 cup packs. When I need some for soup or a sauce, I just defrost what I need. For all of these liquidy things I’ve fallen in love with Zip-Lock baggies. Just fill up and squeeze all the air out, then lay flat on top of one another and they take up so little space. Not very eco-friendly but you can re-use the baggies.

I was surprised to find out that my pizza packages worked really well. I made pizza dough and sauce the other day and decided to make one and put 2 in the freezer. So I portioned out the dough and slipped the 2 extras into baggies with a little oil in them. I then put 1/2 cup of sauce in a baggie for each pizza. For the cheese, I shredded a whole 500 g block of mozzarella and divided it into 3 portions. For the 2 extra pizza packages, I put the 3 smaller baggies-dough, sauce and cheese-together into a larger zip-lock. The other night I tried one of the pizza packs, which I had placed in the fridge overnight to defrost, and was thrilled with the result! Tasty crust, fresh-tasting sauce and melty yummy cheese, just like day 1.

Another good find was regarding the tomatoes I froze in the summer. Late in the summer I got a big bunch of heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market. I used some and froze some whole in zip-lock bags. I had read somewhere that all you do to skin them is dunk the frozen tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds and the skins peel right off. Tonight I realized I had no canned tomatoes for my veggie chili, so I grabbed a bag of frozen ones. Luckily it worked like a charm!

Some other slightly stranger things I’ve got stowed away in there include crabapple juice and pulp which I intend to make into jelly and butter respectively; spinach and blueberry puree, sweet potato puree and acorn squash puree, waiting to sneak their way into some food  some day soon; baggies of wine which I will use for cooking . . .

But the strangest item of all requires a word of warning: If you come over to my house, don’t get tempted by that ice cream container sitting in the freezer. It’s not ice cream. It’s a placenta.

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And then there’s the breastfeeding

The other day I wrote about my many frugality failures, and a few of my wins, over the last month or so, leading up to and following the birth of our son. One key thing I forgot to mention–probably because it is already so much a part of my life–is the breastfeeding.

From a frugality standpoint, there is no question that breastfeeding is the best choice for feeding your baby. No powders to buy, no bottles to buy & sanitize, no containers to throw away, no water to heat, and it’s often a fantastically effortless way to lose the weight you put on during pregnancy. What a miracle worker that Mother Nature is to design such an elegant system!

But there are also benefits for my nursing daughter who turned 2 1/2 just before Nicholas was born.

Having “mokies” calms her when she’s having a meltdown; it puts her to sleep, and back to sleep in the middle of the night; it allows us to keep our physical closeness, even when the new baby is attached to my body for 90% of the day; and most of all, I can see it helping her to start bonding with the little guy as her little hand (big in comparison to his) plays with his foot, strokes his belly, holds his hand.

While this isn’t strictly about frugality, continuing to nurse my girl is helping me keep things together in these crazy newborn days. And that is a cornerstone of keeping the house running well.

I’m back!

So sorry about the long absence, my loyal readers, but there have been some things keeping me busy these last few weeks. Number one is the arrival of number two: our adorable new baby, Nicholas. He was born at home after just over 2 1/2 hours of intense labour on Oct 3, the night of the full moon. We had some marvellous grandma care for more than a week afterwards, and are just now on our own–the four of us–to figure out how life has changed with Nicky’s arrival.

Before the birth, I had a terrible cold that laid me up for over 2 1/2 weeks, and which included a sinus infection and a pulled chest muscle–from coughing! How wimpy is that?! But the baby kindly waited until all was healed to make his arrival, thank goodness.

In other words, I haven’t had much time or energy for blogging these last few weeks. But now that things are more or less settled, I’ve been feeling the urge to fill you in about how our frugality collapsed over these last few crazy weeks.

First of all, when I got sick I basically stopped planning meals, which meant every day at around 4 pm we’d ask, “What’s for dinner?” and frantically rush out to Hartmann’s to buy ingredients, or, grab the phone and order a pizza. We had some wonderful help though–my sister-in-law made us a scrumptious dinner of risotto one night and brought it over, and my mom made quite a number of dinners (she came a few days before my due date, and stayed on for nearly a week after Nicky was born–six days late!), including a fantastic huge stew and a delicious mac & cheese, each of which lasted us more than 2 dinners.

I’ve cooked dinner the last two nights though, which has made me feel so good–like I’m really back on track and fully recovered (despite still wearing clothes that are as close to pajamas as clothes can get, and not venturing more than a few blocks from my house). I’m thinking I’ll do a meal plan for the rest of this week and see how that works out.

Another failing point was my cloth tissues and cloth wipes: during my cold, and especially during my sinus infection, I blew my way through about 7 boxes of tissues that I had previously picked up at Costco. The cloth supply just couldn’t keep up with my tap of a nose, but I still stand by them for day-to-day use.

Also, I haven’t been making bread. The bread from the grocery store is great-tasting, but so expensive!! And despite the cost, we still go through a lot of bread. Now that I’m back, I plan to put on a batch today.

So, within these failings, is there anything that we’ve kept true to? Surely there are some wins among the fails?

Well, although we did buy one box of disposable diapers for the little one, we are now starting to use the cloth diapers I bought (for a fantastic deal!) from a friend. There are several kinds we hadn’t tried before, and we’re just getting our groove with them (babies go through SO MANY DIAPERS!!!), but I feel good that we’re starting off right. With our daughter it took us 11 months before trying cloth.

And overall, we really haven’t bought very much stuff for this baby. In fact, we got rid of a few items that weren’t really necessary. Once our little girl started climbing up the changing table, we got rid of it and started to change her on her bed or on the floor. That has not changed with Nicky, and it’s just one less piece of furniture to worry about.

We also sent our crib to my sister, who is expecting in February. We didn’t use it much with our first, and with a bassinet borrowed from my co-worker, we haven’t missed it with this little guy.

We did, however, buy a single mattress, which will go into the new bed that my family so kindly bought for our girl. We haven’t set up the bed yet, but the mattress is now on the floor of our bedroom, where my husband has been sleeping while I am up on the big bed with the 2 kids. For now, whatever allows the most of us to get the most sleep, is the winning situation! Eventually we’ll hope our little girl will spend more time in her own new bed, but we don’t want to impose too many changes on her all at once during this already-crazy time.

And another win was that we scored a bunch of furniture from our basement “free-cycle” in our apartment building: a virtually new Poang chair and ottoman, and an Aneboda chest of drawers which is now housing all of the new tiny diapers and receiving blankets.

Also in that find were some useful and pretty wooden boxes and a huge butcher-block cutting board that fits right on top of the freezer (both also Ikea). Thanks neighbour!

So that’s it! My frugality update for the  last month or so. I’ll try to post as often as I can, even

Buy Nothing Fail: I got me a freezer!

So, after MONTHS of deliberation, I finally bought my tiny chest freezer today from the Rideau Loblaws. It was definitely not an impulse buy: I’ve been weighing the pros and cons, and several times I’ve gone to bed having decided not to get one, only to wake up thinking about all the food I can freeze before Tiny Baby arrives.

So I will confess my sins on Crunchy Chicken, and move on to this new world of freezer meals . . . which is crazy! There are so many websites out there dedicated to “Once-a-Month Cooking” or OAMC as they are calling it on the interweb, but I think I need these last 2 months of pregnancy to slowly build up a supply of prepared dinners for the fall.

To be honest, I don’t even know what freezes well and what doesn’t. I’ve never been a very good freezer-user, so this lifestyle shift is going to require some training. My plans for the freezer include:

– a lot of home-made stock, in small packages (great for sauces)

– a bunch of local organic meat, especially ground beef

– cheese sauce (is it okay in the freezer??)

– pizzas: I’m planning to freeze dough that’s been rolled out, and separate baggies of pizza sauce in one-pizza sizes

– shredded cheese for said pizzas (Cheese is on sale this week at Loblaws for $4.99 for a large block): just shred cheese and lay it out on a cookie sheet to freeze in individual shreds, then sweep it into a baggie for storage

– a basic tomato-meat sauce that I can use as a base for either chili, spaghetti or lasagne by just adding different spices/ingredients

– some tomatoes if I can get some nice ones cheap at the farmer’s market. I’ve heard if you run a frozen tomato under hot water, the skins slip right off–great for sauces!

– 2 or three organic chickens

Not sure if I’ll have room for all this stuff, or if I’ll have room for more, but I think if I get these put away, we’ll be pretty well set-up for the first couple months of Tiny Baby’s appearance.  I’m glad I have some time to build up my stash. Next challenge will be to make sure we use all the stuff we put away!

Any other suggestions for freezable meals are very welcome!

Buy Nothing Challenge — Day 1

I blogged a little while ago about answering Crunchy Chicken’s call-out to folks to buy nothing for the month of August.  I wrote about being slightly worried about it, and having to use the last couple weeks of July to prepare . . .

Well, I didn’t do much preparation.  I mean, I didn’t get my hair cut or buy the blush I’ve needed for months now, or even buy any nail polish to make my toes look cute now that the flip-flops are out.  I’ve bought next to nothing the last 2 weeks, and now am heading into August with a good track record, but a bit of a want list.

On the top of my want list is a chest freezer.  I’ve been debating (with myself mostly) the purchase for a few months now, but a recent weighted pro-con list tells me that this will be a good thing for us for the coming months.  Mostly because it will mean I can cook ahead and stock up on meals so that when tiny baby arrives, we’ll have a few “convenience” items stashed away that are cheap, nutritious, and close-at-hand.  I’d love to get a bunch of local organic meat, and some organic chickens to freeze for busier times, and put up some chili and spaghetti sauce and even some pizzas.  Yep, I’ve got this freezer filled up already, in my mind.  Did I mention I’m probably getting a 3.5 cubic foot model?!

Anyway, this weekend seemed like the perfect weekend to get it.  We ended up not going on our trip to Sudbury so I thought, “I know, I’ll get the freezer and start my cooking this weekend–perfect!”.  Except . . . the Buy Nothing Challenge.  I KNOW the rules allow for “preserving” tools, and I KNOW we are free to confess our purchasing sins, and I also KNOW it’s just a fairly random set of self-imposed rules . . . but still!

I guess the kicker is that we are still paying down debt, and while this is a purchase that will need to come (if it is to come) before the end of September (otherwise, Tiny Baby will be here, and my chance to stock up beforehand will be long past!), we still don’t really have the money for it.

So, I have not yet rushed out to buy the freezer.  I don’t know if I will, or perhaps I’ll wait until the cooler days of September, when I’ll be home pre-baby for a couple of weeks.  The Buy Nothing Challenge has reigned me in.

One other purchase that didn’t happen . . . we walked by a yard sale on the way to the park today and there was a GORGEOUS Mikasa set of a serving bowl and platter–pale yellow around the rim, and a seventies-era floral pattern in the middle, with one bright red poppy in the design.  Beautiful.  And I didn’t even ask the price, because it is Buy Nothing month, and do I NEED a serving platter, beautiful though it may be?  Nope.  I will survive just fine without it.

Anyway, it’s still day 1 . . . is it really true that August has 31 days?????

When tiny baby arrives . . .

A friend of mine said to me yesterday, “I’ll be interested to see how you are able to maintain your frugality when the baby comes.”

Ahem, yes.  I’ll be interested in that myself.

I certainly won’t be able to bake as much.  I remember that when my girl was smaller–it was next to impossible to have 10 minutes to do food prep without her wanting mommy.  It was as if the very act of putting my attention toward something else made her want to be with me MORE!

So, the same goes for meals.  How many meals will I be able to make from scratch compared to now?  Right now it’s close to 100%, but I’m sure it will change with 2 kids clamouring for my attention.

Also, home made gifts will probably fly out the window.  

And forget about canning or preserving.

Hmmm . . .

But on the other hand, I’m sure there will be things I can hold on to.  For one, once we stop paying the babysitter and my Mat leave starts, my income will go up somewhat, which should help to accelerate the debt reduction.

Another frugal change with 2 will be less travel.  MUCH less travel, I hope!  When our daughter was born we headed down to Toronto with her 3 or 4 times and it was always much more costly than we thought it would be.  We cut that out when we started our belt-tightening, but it was a cost in those early days that I know we won’t have again.

And I’m planning to cut back on entertaining.  Not that we do it often, but it always costs a extra to put food on the table for 6 and a half intead of 2 and a half.  Or if we do entertain, we can stick to breakfast and lunch dates, which are always cheaper and easier, and interfere with schedules a whole lot less.

Some other strategies I will consider:

– getting/finding a bread maker.  Then all you do for bread is stick the ingredients in and press “go”.  I know this is one item that most people end up getting rid of after a couple years of not actually using it.  But, to paraphrase Tobias and Lindsay, “Could it work for me?”  “You know, I think it just might!”

– using the crock pot, especially for things like veggie chili and veggie curry that require little-to-no extra prep (browning of ingredients before adding)

– not moving apartments.  When our daughter was born, we had only really been here for about 7 months.  We still had boxes to un-pack and much of the space was simply not optimized.  When Tiny Baby arrives, we’ll have been here for just over 3 years and our use of the space is much more refined.  We have much further to go, but the rule still applies: a more efficient home is less costly.

– continuing our low-key lifestyle.  Basically this means, we stick around home a lot.  We go to the park and use the library.  We invite my brother & his girlfriend over.  We take neighbourhood walks and check out what’s going on in the outside venues.  We don’t go to the mall any more than we have to, we don’t shop as a hobby, we don’t visit expensive theme parks, etc.  By keeping things simple we save a lot of money.

I know that once the end of September rolls around, things are going to change–big-time–and I’m sure we’ll end up ording in for pizza and buying grocery store barbecued chickens more often than we plan for.  But if we can maintain some of the essentials of frugality, I think we can get through #2 without too much of an additional strain on our budget.