Roasted veggies and playing in the kitchen

The weather is beginning to cool a little, especially in the evenings, turning my thoughts toward fall. I’m truly looking forward to the crisp, cool mornings of fall and to warming my home with roasted chickens and stew steaming on the stove. So it was no surprise tonight  that I roasted vegetables and fish for my lunch the next couple of days.

I had odds and ends of vegetables – some summer squash, zucchini, mushrooms broccoli and onions that I tossed with some olive oil and vegetable seasoning. The result was a colorful, tasty dish that is as nutritious as it is pretty.

This meal is much like many things that I make – no recipe and flying by the seat of my pants! I tend to forage in my cupboards and fridge for whatever may work together. I love using recipes, as is evidenced by my cookbook collection, but there’s something freeing about working without a plan and just playing in the kitchen.

I know your mama always told you not to play with your food but I would encourage you to view your kitchen as a playground rather than a workplace. You never know what you’ll create with a little imagination and a good attitude. Incidentally, this meal was the very definition of frugal cooking since I used items that were just languishing in the fridge and nothing went to waste!

Time to tighten up

Some unexpected household expenses are about to leave me feeling pretty poor. Things could always be worse but it is apparent that my frugal self really needs to reduce expenses or increase income soon.

It looks like increasing income is an option as the newspaper where I freelance is allowing me to do more work. So there’s a little good news.

But it seems cutting expenses may be a challenge since I already attempt to live as frugally as possible. No cable or satellite and just a basic phone line for my dial-up internet because that is all I can access here in the country. My mortgage and insurances are reasonably low and I keep the electric bill as low as possible. Almost everything that plugs into the wall is on a power strip so I’m never wasting electric on a tv or radio that isn’t being used.  I keep the thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer and no burning light is left behind.

I do spend a lot on gas because my home is 10 miles from the nearest village and 30 minutes from the nearest larger town. Mr Wonderful lives 90 minutes away and I put a lot of miles on the car visiting him. Because I travel a lot I did break down and buy a Hyundai Accent  this spring but the fuel savings is remarkable so that doesn’t hurt so much. But I organize errands and trips as efficiently as possible so I’m not backtracking or making special trips.

I’m not a wasteful person and am not prone to buying a lot of stuff I don’t need. Thrift stores and antique malls call my name but I try to keep my splurges in those places to a minimum. The one area I could probably improve is in the food department. I struggle to find the balance between eating a balanced, nutritional diet and saving money. My real weakness? Fresh produce. I love to keep it on hand and I love to have a variety. I just can’t seem to tell myself no.

But I already avoid eating out as much as possible and tend to bring leftovers for lunch every day. I do some batch cooking and try to be proactive about using up what I have or at least freezing what I can’t use today.

Things haven’t been so great this week. With the air out I haven’t really wanted to cook at home so I’ve been relying more on Lean Cuisines (purchased with a coupon, or course) and even a few fast food meals. Sigh.

My one shame is a small amount of credit card debt and a student loan that I alternate between paying down like a mad person and just throwing extra money at when I remember.

Anyway, I will begin my audit of home expenses tonight and see what I come up with.  What are your favorite ways to save money at home? Would you like if I start posting lists of ways to save in various areas of the home?

Easy peasy pancake mix

Do you love pancakes? Then I have a great recipe for you! In fact, I will never buy pancake mix again. This homemade mix is cheap, quick and tasty.  It can be whipped up in five minutes and it makes Bisquick taste like powdered cardboard.

Easy Peasy Pancakes

1 1/2 Cups Flour

3 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Salt

1 Tablespoon White Sugar (I substitute Splenda)

1 1/4 Cups Milk

1 Egg

3 Tablespoons Butter, Melted

1 Tablespoon Vanilla

In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingrediants. Make a well in the center and pour in the remaining ingrediants. Mix well. Heat a lightly oiled grilled over medium heat. Pour approximately 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

I like to get crazy with my pancake toppings using a cheap pancake syrup as a base. Some of my favorite flavors to add to the syrup are peanut butter, frozen blueberries or even fresh strawberries. I just bring the syrup to boil in a saucepan and then add fruit or peanut butter to taste. Sometimes I’ll just use a bunch of whipped cream with fresh fruit.

Do yourself a favor and whip up a batch of these pancakes this weekend. By the way, if you’re a singleton like me and think you can never eat a batch of pancakes by yourself, this recipe freezes really well. Just  place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer until they are solid. Then toss them in a freezer safe container until you’re ready for them. Zap ’em in the microwave and you’re ready to go!