Wednesday, August 31, 2011

30 Day Challenge - Round 2

We're going to be doing the 30 Day Challenge again for September.
June went really well, July was decent but August we were really careless.
We came into extra money, and Jon had several large projects, but we also spent quite a bit, we didn't keep track of groceries, we bought takeout a couple times, and treats, and internet shopping and McDonalds. We're still substantially further ahead of where we were financially just two months ago, but we still need to be careful. We barely posted on the blog and I didn't make anything new to add to my Etsy shop. There were also quite a few days when nobody went outside and no chores got done.

So it needs to be done again to get us back on track. The rules of the first challenge (which we didn't strictly follow) are being adjusted in the following ways
  • The grocery allowance is going to go up to $250 from the $200 that we've been previously going for. We always went over a bit and now that Alice is fully into solids we need to have a good supply of fresh fruits and veggies at all times for her (and us) to have. 
  • The occasional treat is allowed, maybe a small item once a week such as a pop or chocolate bar. 
  • No more bakery items. It's cooling down a bit now so baking is bearable, I should once again be able to provide bagels, buns, breads and treats. 
  • We need to get out every day even if it's a short trip around the block. Once a week is fine to spend the whole day inside as long as it's a productive day such as getting the whole place cleaned up, doing a project or some bulk cooking and portioning. 
  • I'm using the washers in the building again, it was just getting too rough on my hands doing the laundry in the tub. Some stuff just wasn't getting as clean and smelled musty since I couldn't wring it out enough. I'm still hanging everything to dry so our laundry bill is still only half of what it had been
 So on the agenda for tomorrow:
  • Dishes
  • Laundry
  • Clean bathroom
  • Clean pet houses (just a quick poop-scoop and wipe down)
  • Bulk Groceries (large items like rice and sugar that we're out of)
  • Sweep floor
  • Go through Alice's clothes and get some stuff ready to go to consignment shop
  • Craigslist ads
We'll be posting every day this month to document our challenge.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Coconut Macaroons (of failure)

    I'll start out by saying that this recipe was a semi fail, the resulting macaroons more closely resembled meringues than macaroons. Is it because my bag of coconut only had 2 3/4 cups instead of the 3 cups the recipe called for? Maybe my eggs were too big and there was therefore too much liquid added? Whatever happened the cookies still tasted really good even though they looked weird and spread out. The cookies on the the recipe I found looked just fine.

    I would try it again since my normal recipe calls for sweetened condensed milk which costs about $4 a can here and I wouldn't use for anything else. I normally have all the other ingredients around, I'll have to tweak it a bit and see how it turns out.

    • 3 cups coconut
    • 2 egg whites
    • 1/2 cup white sugar
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

    Preheat your oven to 325. Whisk together the sugar, egg whites and vanilla. Stir in the coconut. Scoop out teaspoon sized balls and heap onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

    Bake for 20 minutes.


    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

    I am always out of vanilla extract. I never remember to pick up a bottle when I do the rest of my groceries since I don't need to go down the baking aisle for anything else. A little bottle of the fake stuff will cost you over $3 while a teeny bottle of the real stuff runs around $10. I think the bottle is under 100ml. You might get a dozen uses out of one just using 1/2-1 teaspoon per recipe. I've been using a splash of vanilla flavored soy milk when I bake but it's just not the same.

    I remember seeing a post on Punk Rock Domestics where someone made their own vanilla extract but it was a few years ago and I couldn't find it. Google came through, there were tons of posts on how to make it, lots of different ways. I picked the method that seemed easiest and closest to what I remember seeing on PRD.

    This is super easy, you just need a little patience. So here's what you need:

    Cheap Vodka
    • Mickey of Vodka, 375ml. I bought the cheap stuff since I wasn't going to be drinking any. This one cost me about $13.
    • Vanilla beans. I didn't shop around for these because I had to walk down Hastings with booze and a baby, I just grabbed the first ones I saw and got outta Dodge. These cost me $6.99 and are Madagascar beans. I saw them later at my local market for $3.49. I'll know for next time, if I ever manage to run out of vanilla again.
    • Cutting board
    • Sharp knife. This is my cute little fruit knife.

     You need to slice down the middle of your vanilla beans so that you expose the innards and so that all the nice little flecks of vanilla bits can get into your vodka. I left the ends attached so that there are less big pieces to worry about when I go to use it.
    Slice the beans through the middle

    Now open your vodka and add the vanilla beans. Now give it a good shake. If you don't have room to shake then you know what you have to do, pour yourself a shot.

    Grab a sharpie and write the date on the bottle, I peeled off the label to make this easier and so that nobody accidentally takes a swig of vanilla extract thinking it's some fancy vodka. That would probably be pretty gross.

    Now comes the hard part. You have to wait at least 2 months until you can use this stuff. I was bad and used a bit today for some coconut macaroons. I only made it a week ago, it smells like vanilla booze but thankfully the boozeyness baked off in the oven. It didn't have a really strong vanilla flavor yet.

    The color after 7 days
    If you're an avid baker you can have a couple of these on the go, maybe a month apart so that you always have one ready. If you don't go through it that fast you can keep topping the bottle off with more vodka! I'm not sure how many times you can fill it up before it starts to get weak, you could probably just taste it every so often.

    So there's 1/3 litre of pure vanilla extract for $20! ($15 if you shop around for the best price)

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    What We've Been Up To

    Well, we've certainly been slacking in the posting here! We've been bad and have been slacking in the budget as well. July added up to about $240 for groceries not including the $30ish that Jon spent on bulk nuts and seeds (I'll get him to write a post on that). We may have to up the grocery allowance to $250 just to make sure we have enough fruit and whatnot on hand for healthy snacks, especially now that Alice is having meals and snacks along with us.

    I'll just divide this post up into Good/Bad categories!

    The Good

    • The apartment is fairly clean all the time because Alice will put anything she finds into her mouth
    • Alice sleeps in her own bed! I've managed to get her to sleep by 9 most nights too! This gives us some much needed time to ourselves to either relax or try to tackle some things that we can't get done while she's into everything
    • I've got my Etsy shop open
    • Work has been very busy for Jon, which means more $$$
    • We have a payment schedule planned out for the credit card
    • Still sticking to the meal plan
    • Still spent a little over $200 on groceries, we got extra meat, boxes of cereal and I splurged on cherries while they were only $2.99/lb
    • I'm finally caught up on laundry and now do a reasonable amount in the tub every 2 days
    • I had nearly $50 in credit at the baby consignment store, I got Alice some really cute things!
    • I learned how to knit so I'm working on a scarf for myself for winter
    • I forgot about our HST rebate, an extra $400!
    • I bought Jon a Kobo Touch E-Reader as a late birthday present since we already made our VISA payment 
    • My Canadian Child Tax Benefit went up, I get an extra $90
    • I had $13 credit in my BAF account so I used it on a pair of hematite plugs that were on sale. Only ended up having to pay $4ish
    • We sold the jumperoo! The money will go back into Alice's account where it originally came from and will go towards the next big expense, probably a toddler bed in a year
    • Bedroom has been organized and I did another decluttering. I have more stuff to auction and consign.
    • My basil plant is still a trooper, growing almost 2 feet tall and still producing really good tasting basil!
    The Bad

    • We got takeout this week, it was pizza
    • I've gone to Value Village 3 times this month ( everything I bought was on the list of what we need for winter though!) The last time I had a 25% off coupon that needed to be used in a certain time frame, we got toys, baby clothes and Jon ended up getting a good pair of jeans for $7.50
    • We bought pop a couple times
    • It's been too warm to bake so I've been buying bread (and nanaimo bars and coconut buns)
    • Still no word on what's holding up my EI, it's been over 2 months now since I won the appeal. I called and was assured that I would receive it by the end of July and it would probably be a lump sum for the entire 12 weeks.
    • I did a bit of shopping online assuming that I would be receiving my EI cheque on time. Oops. Never a good idea to do that. You should never spend on the assumption that money is coming.
    • Really low on gecko food so I had to order that online as well
    • No sales on the Etsy shop and I haven't managed to get anything new listed
    • My tomato plants seem to be dying after only producing 2 small tomatoes each. I may have to get them some more soil. There are a few more flowers but they don't seem to be doing anything.
    • We've been running the AC so the power bill may be a bit higher than usual
    I think that's about it for now. I'll try to get a recipe up in the near future, I have to have a look at the meal plan to see if anything interesting is coming up.