Monday, September 22, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: Favorite Cool Weather Cooking

This week has turned cool for us up here in Montana. The leaves are starting to turn yellow, my hardy cilantro plant wilted from the cold, and I had my first hot chocolate since winter yesterday evening. I always crave hot chocolate when the weather's cool, and I've been planning other cool-weather favorites for this week. Take a look below, and feel free to share your own cool-weather recipes!

Monday: Beef enchiladas with homemade enchilada sauce

Tuesday: Indian Tomato Chicken--a staple around here!

Wednesday: Cambodian Chicken Soup
You may remember this recipe from several months ago. We tried it and really enjoyed it--pineapple chunks and coconut milk put an unusual spin on a chicken and rice soup.

Thursday: Homemade pizza with Italian Cheese bread
I make my pizza crust with this recipe, which doesn't require letting the dough rise. It goes without saying that this is one of my husband's favorite meals!

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

eBates Review

There are many good mom blogs on the web that thoroughly cover current deals, freebies, and online promotions, which for me, means that I get to sit back and let those talented ladies do all the hard work of matching coupons and scouring the web. But occasionally, as a public service, I will mention and link to some especially good deals, or share about an excellent deal I've personally done.

Since I am one of those crazy people who enjoys making detailed lists and packing (and repacking, and re-repacking!) weeks in advance of a big trip, I've been working on finishing up my Christmas shopping this month. I had heard about eBates before, but I never remembered to sign up, and it seemed like a lot of trouble to use. But I saw it mentioned again last month, and since I knew I'd be doing a fair bit of shopping online in August, I took the plunge.

eBates is one of the best-known cash-back sites on the web, and sign up is free. All you have to do is use their search function to find the store you'd like to shop at, and follow their link to earn a percentage of your purchase back (usually about 3%), which is credited to your account. Most of the large online retailers participate, and a surprising number of smaller ones, too. Every three months, if you've earned $5.01, they will either mail you a check or add the money to your PayPal account. If you've earned less than $5.01, the money carries over until the next quarter.

As an added bonus, they offer a choice of several $10 gift card as a thank-you for signing on. The catch is that you have to earn $10 in cash back within 30 days of opening your account, which is hard to do unless you're planning to make a large online purchase since the percentage of cash back is usually small. All the same, I've been very happy using the site so far. It's very simple and straightforward to navigate and only adds a few seconds on to my shopping routine.

If you'd like to sign up through Arlecchina's Doves, you can use the link here and I'll receive a small $5 bonus. If not, head over here to sign up. The small percentages of cash back hardly seem worth it at first, but if you're like me and like to scout for deals online, they'll add up. Even if you only get back $0.50, you've only spent a few seconds of extra time. I hope this review helps you save a little extra next time you're shopping online!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: Dinner from the pantry

This week's menu plan has gone through several permutations. The menu plan that was percolating in my head over the weekend has changed due to an unexpected budget crunch that has left me digging through the pantry, so this plan is still rough around the edges! Here goes:

Monday: Homemade pepperoni pizza and garlic toast

Tuesday: Meatloaf and this purslane recipe (more on purslane when I'm not in a rush! Let's just say I was amazed.)

Wednesday: Hubs is cooking!

Thursday: Miso soup or Avgolemono (thanks, Siempre!). This one's going to depend on my mood and the level of birthday leftovers. :-)

That's it for this week. In honor of my younger sister, I'll be sharing some frugal meal ideas that (mostly!) don't involve beans, although next week I might have to bust into my supply! Tell me, what are your "go to" pantry recipes when your grocery shopping budget takes an unexpected hit?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Frugal Friday: "No-Poo" Hair Care

Welcome to my first Frugal Friday! Thanks to everyone who's visiting for the first time; I hope you'll find something you enjoy.

Today I'd like to share with you one of the oddest frugal and eco-friendly things I've ever tried. I'm not talking Family Cloth, but for me this was radical. The cleverly dubbed "no-poo" alternative consists of using apple cider vinegar and baking soda to care for you hair instead of using drying, chemical-filled commercial products. The theory is that your hair overproduces oils to compensate for the drying effects of shampoo, which is why your hair will be greasy if you stop using these products for just a day or two. If you go off shampoo for a longer period, though, your hair will eventually adjust and find a natural balance, supposedly making it healthier and more attractive.

I took the plunge by accident. I had read about this alternative, but thought that the adjustment process (at least a week of oily hair, depending), sounded a little iffy. Some women reported weeks of icky hair until they found a good balance. But then came the first weekend in August, when Hubs and I were doing the headless-chicken dance thanks to too many social engagements and poor planning. I ended up not having time to wash my hair for three days.

Then I thought to myself, well, I've already gone through two days of yucky hair, so I might as well keep going and see what happens! I also keep my long hair pulled back in a bun almost every day during the summer, so the extra oiliness wasn't (I hope!) too noticeable. It's now been almost three weeks since the last time I washed my hair, and in the past few days, I've discovered this fabulous land of healthy, all-natural hair.

My hair is fine and straight and has always been prone to split ends, but now it's salon-treatment shiny and not splintering off the way it usually does. I was disappointed to acquire more waves, like some straight-haired women have, but my hair definitely has more body and is much silkier.

All you need to do in the shower is mix some baking soda with water (the proportions are up to you) and rub it into your scalp. Then follow by an apple cider rinse, diluted in water. The baking soda absorbs excess oil, while the vinegar conditions and adds shine. These are the proportions I use, although I'm using less baking soda now that my hair has finally evened out:

1/2 T baking soda dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water
2 cup of vinegar in 2 cups of warm water

I mix up the baking soda from a bag I keep under the sink. I made a big container of the vinegar mix earlier this month, and because I have long hair, I just dip my hair in and gently squeeze out the excess. I also added a few drops of hair-friendly essential oils to the rinse, which makes my hair smell yummy to the point that Hubs makes me lie closer to him in bed so he can smell my hair as we're reading.

Here are some essential oils to try, from The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy:

Normal Hair:

Dry Hair:

Oily Hair:

Keep in mind that a mix of all or several of these essential oils might not necessarily smell very good! Try sniffing them in sequence to determine which scents complement each other well. I use rosemary and lemon with just a bit of lavender. It isn't necessary to add any EOs to the vinegar rinse at all, but I do enjoy the smell and they should improve your hair's condition. Keep in mind that the vinegar smell will fade from your hair in just a few minutes. For more about the chemicals in shampoos and the benefits of the no-poo alternative, try the excellent articles here and here.

Has anyone else tried this hair care option? What have your experiences been? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sticks and gravel; or, REALLY frugal decorating

Am I the only one who thinks twigs and branches are just as attractive as flowers? Hubs and the dog and I were out for a walk this past week when I noticed this beautiful branch lying by the path. There's just something about smooth, nicely-shaped branches that I find sort of architecturally satisfying. I scooped it up, took it home, and rigged up one of my famous "stick in a vase" arrangements.

We do something similar to this for our "Easter tree" every year, but we embellish it with little hanging bird and egg ornaments and a bit of dried grass or greenery in the base. This picture is a little dark, but you get the idea.

Just find a not-too-fancy glass vase (straight vases with smaller necks work best) and dump in some gravel. Or decorative stones, if you have a bigger budget. I collected all white rocks from our gravel driveway, which worked surprisingly well. Fill the vase about 1/3 full and then push the base of your branch or branches in as far as you can. Keep dumping handfuls of rocks around the "trunk" so it doesn't shift. This is one vase that your cat won't be able to tip over!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Paint-palette wildflowers

Seeds picked up for $0.05-$0.10 per packet months ago and planted right next to the porch. Result? A colorful bouquet that won't wilt or disappear into the belly of an overzealous cat. Is our cat the only one with a "plant-dar" that tells him to attack every pretty bouquet we bring indoors?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm ba-ack!

After much nagging by various relations, I have returned to the blogosphere. We had a very busy July, which included a trip back to the Midwest to see our families, and I started neglecting things around here. I'll try to do better!

Hopefully all of the busy-ness will be paying off soon. I can't wait to tell you all what Hubs and I have in the works! To our two moms: it's not that! :-)

On the plus side, I've been storing up lots of ideas and things I'd like to share with you, so you'll be hearing from me plenty in the near future!