Super Cheap Homemade Casserole Dinner

Let’s say math is not my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure I just made a tastey super cheap casserole for dinner.  I wasn’t setting out to make anything impressive, so I didn’t take pictures of the process, and am too tired to upload the photo of the half eatten dish.  But let me share the ball park figures:

4 italian sausages (part of a bulk package and frozen ahead of time — $2)

3 very big spring onions from farmer’s market ($1.50)

8 ounces of a twisty type pasta ($1?)

1 1/2 cups of homemade chicken stock (basically free as it was made from scraps that would have been thrown away)

1 cup of dehydrated mushrooms, also bought in bulk ($1?)

2 cans of cream of mushroom soup ($2?)

Breadcrumbs that I made from stale bread and froze ahead of time (free, as it would have been tossed)

2 pats of butter (pennies)

nutmeg, paprika to taste

Soak the dehydrated mushrooms in a cup of warm chicken stock.  Cook pasta in water till it’s al dente.

Meanwhile, take the sausages out of the casings and break into bite sized pieces into a large skillet.  Brown the sausage and then remove into casserole dish. (This has the benefit of greasing the pan without using extra butter)   Slice the spring onions thinly and sautee with a pat of butter in the same skillet that the sausage was in so as to pick up its flavor.  Add some worchestershire sauce to taste.  Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock and cook onions till tender.  Add the mushrooms with it’s stock liquid and add the sausage back in.  Add the drained pasta and the cream of mushroom soup.  Add paprika and nutmeg to taste.  Mix all together and turnout to casserole dish. 

Cover with breadcrumbs and break up pat of butter to sprinkle on top. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Then move to broiler to brown the breadcrumbs for the last five minutes.

This would easily serve 4 people and it cost under $8.


Paging a Computer Nerd

When I was in college and living in the dorms we used to yell out down the hall “I need a computer nerd” when something was going wrong with our computers.  Sure enough, someone would dutifully run into our room click a few things and walla, usually problem solved.

Well, my computer is acting super slow, the internet connection is all wonky and I’m starting to lust for a new model without all these complications. 

Is this when people typically call the geek squad?

How to Really Work a Sale

img_3190Like you all, I get a lot of email from organizations and stores.  Most of the time I delete them without reading them. 

Before the baby came, we signed up for a  parenting center because some of my friends with babies swore by it.  It’s a place where you can take parenting classes, buy all your baby gear, get references for lactation consultants, yoga, etc.  I don’t make it out to that center very often because I had a bad experience there with an overly pushy lactation consultant, combined with the fact that I found a better non-profit parenting center within walking distance. 

Earlier this week I got an email advertising 20% off at this store for member appreciation weekend.  Normally I would shrug this off.  However, I kept it in the back of my mind on the chance that I would need some baby things.  I knew that if I went there to peruse without a plan, I would buy a bunch of stuff that I didn’t absolutely need. 

Over the next few days, I took note of things that popped up that I needed and went to the store today.  Good news! I only got things on the list:  a pacifier, a clip to fasten the pacifier to Max, a wide brimmed hat to protect him from the sun, and a portable crib/play pen so that he can sleep at my folks’ house or in a hotel with us if we ever get to travel again.

Then it also occured to me that while I was reasonably well read for the newborn days, I hadn’t read a thing about what to do with the baby past 3 months.  So, I checked out a book from the lending library at that center.   This book covers the first year.  I already distrust the author because she’s preachy about breastfeeding and actually listed not breastfeeding as a risk of death for the baby (i.e. a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).    I’m not too mad, though, because I saved the $15 I would have paid had I actually bought the book. 

The flip side is that now I can’t use the book as fireplace kindling.  Just kidding, I don’t have a fireplace.


img_3229Couldn’t get to sleep last night and Max couldn’t really stay asleep.  I’m exhausted today.  Hoping to get some reasonable shut eye.  Yawn.

Pump and Circumstance

I am done with the pump and I am filled with more hope and pride than I did on my graduation day!  (get it, cuz of the title — it’s funny when you have to explain your jokes.)

While I still have to get up in the middle of the night to take care of feedings  (usually once a night but sometimes two), I feel a lot more rested.  I no longer have to set an alarm for some random hour like 2:30 a.m., but can be woken up naturally by a screaming baby … the way God intended.

I also only have 1 bag of frozen breastmilk left in the fridge.  So, after tomorrow, Max will be 100% formula fed.  I had felt a little conflicted about that but then I read an article that rocked my world: The Case Against Breastfeeding.   I wish I had seen this before I ever gave birth and I’ve been sharing this link with every new mother in my new parents’ group who has been beating herself up for having problems breastfeeding. 

J. suggested to me that I might want to bury the pump in the desert.  That sounds cathartic, but also a lot of work.  I’m going to look into whether I can get it sterlized and then donate it to a shelter or hospital that might make more productive use out of it.

Why the Sabotage?

I’m challenging myself on several fronts.  There’s the challenge of being a new mom and figuring out what I’m doing.  The Saving is Fundamental challenge.  Challenging to eat mostly organic, local foods.  Challenging to cook dinner almost every night.  And then there’s the one that’s seeming most insurmountable: trying to lose those last 10-15 pounds of baby weight.

It’s like…I’ll make all these good choices during the day and then sabotage myself at night when my resistance is low.  For instance: yesterday I started the day with a bowl of cereal for breakfast (not even a super sugary cereal).  My little sister came over for lunch and brought pizza, but I ate a homemade sandwich instead.  I walked in the neighborhood for at least an hour.  Then I went to my parents’ house for dinner and lost all control — I ate 3 not so mini brownie bites that had been kept in the freezer.  Who knew that they’d be so much more delicious frozen?

I need to figure out some better coping mechanisms at night when I’m exhausted so that I can overcome the chocolate cravings — and I never had a sweet tooth before I got pregnant.  I buy fresh fruit, but it doesn’t quite hit the spot.  Grr.

Eating on the Go

I knew today would be a busy day.  I go to a new parents support group on Mondays that goes from 11:30 – 1pm.  Then I had a chiropractic appointment 40 minutes away and needed to drop Max off with my folks before the appointment.  After that, I needed to pick up a few things to make dinner (beef enchilada casserole again), then pick up Max, head home & make dinner. 

So, in that schedule, where is there room for lunch?  For a split second I considered whether this is the day where fastfood is unavoidable?  I do have a not-so-secret weakness for Big Macs which I struggle with.  Is this my excuse to cave?  Another alternative I considered was a falafel wrap from down the street ($8).  I decided to pack a sandwich to eat after class, instead.

Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, my resolve was tested.  I thought we had pre-sliced salame but J. had used up the last of it on his lunch. (Go J. for being much better at packing a lunch that I ever was!)  We had a non-sliced salame, though.  But my internal voice started whining about not wanting to bother with slicing it and I even considered putting back the two slices of bread.  But no, I sucked it up, spent 20 seconds slicing the salame and after spreading some homemade mayo, we were in business with a sandwich which I enjoyed in the car.

img_3203 img_3205I even got to my chiro appointment 15 minutes early. I was tempted to reward myself for packing a lunch and being early by stopping at the starbucks near the office but I resisted.  Afterall, that would basically undo my savings and it’s not like this was some grand accomplishment.  I have no idea why I had that urge but I think this blogging experience will be more meaningful if I am honest about what I struggle  with including bad habits and slip ups.  So, today, no starbucks. Tomorrow, who knows?

Challenging Myself (and anyone who wants to join)

saving-challenge-grafficA few stories have set me off lately.  First, a range of stories of people dropping off their designer pure breed pets at the pound because they can’t afford to pay for their care.  Today CNN even ran a story about people abandoning their horses!   

This bugs because I believe that if you take on a pet, it’s a huge responsibility and not a handbag accessory to be dumped and put down when it’s no longer new or fashionable.  If you are living paycheck to paycheck or anywhere close, perhaps a $2,000 puppy is not your best choice.  Likewise, wasn’t there a time when only super mega wealthy people owned horses as pets? (not talking about work horses, here) 

Second, CNN ran a story about a formerly “rich” yuppy banker from California who is now down and out and has to live with his mother.  He tells of his former life of fancy cars, extravegant vacations, and how his young daughter would ask to go to Vegas every year for her birthday.  (SURE, I’m sure little 6 year old pumpkin wanted to go to Vegas with no prodding from her dad who likely spent time at the craps table at night).  Now, how much did this “rich” banker make to afford such a lavish lifestyle where money is no object and little princess is never told “no”?  $70,000 a year.   

Maybe I’m going to sound crazy here, but I don’t think the problem is that this schmo got laid off.  I think the problem is that he considered $70,000 a year to be so rich that he was entitled to live like Paris Hilton and not save a dime.  This man was a California banker.  Cost of living anywhere in California that has a bank (i.e., he must be in a metropolitan vs. rural community where that money could go farther) is quite high.  $70,000 is nowhere near enough to support such a lifestyle but these people are incapable of ever saying “no, I can’t afford it” until every last credit card is max’d out, all equity is drained from their houses, and there is no visible source of money on the horizon. 

This is insanity and people need to feel the harsh consequences of their actions (or learn from others) in order to reverse this insane situation.

I choose the ‘learn from others’ route.  I want to honor and encourage the art of saving money.  The idea is that you save money while you HAVE it, so that when a rainy day comes, you still have some means to support yourself till you figure out plan B.

As such, I’m crafting a challenge where for the next 3 months, every week I’ll write about at least one event where I took an active step to save some money by doing something different than I normally would have done.

This is an open invitation for any readers to join, and if there are any takers, I can write summary posts once a week of what people are doing.  Let me know by March 27 if you want to join (and I’m sure I can take stragglers if you are reading this late) and we’ll challenge ourselves to make savings fun!

(note: everyone should use their own discretion regarding choices they make that affect health and safety — i.e., please don’t skimp necessary medicine, or whatnot.)

Herblings #4

img_3141This is actually from a few days ago.  All the herbs are doing really well and I even harvested some lovely and strong basil yesterday.

Spring Has Sprung!

As part of my quest to get out of the house, I wanted to make today a field trip day since J. didn’t have to work today.  Initially, we were thinking of going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I have never been that into aquariums; as a kid I found it kind of boring.  But, I thought it might be fun to introduce Max and see if he has a reaction.  We scrapped the plan, however, when I realized that admission is $30.  So, that’s $60 for the adults and Max doesn’t even know where he is.  It’s also an hour and a half away from where we live.  I could imagine us trekking out there, buying a ticket and then Max blowing up and turning around and going home.

So, instead we decided to go to Ardenwood Historic Farm.  While it’s only 20 minutes away, we learned that this is an event best saved for a weekend.  The place was deserted, but we did get to see baby lambs just born in the last 2 weeks.  img_3168Next month come the baby goats and something called “bunnypalooza”.  

Part of it was sad because parts of the farm really need some attention.  There were herb gardens that looked more like herb cemeteries, with weeds overgrowing most signs of what used to be behind the markers.  But I guess for the $2 admission, we’re not in a position to complain — but still, it would be nicer to see a place like that thrive.

We had fairly low expectations but we had fun together.

In other news, I’m thrilled to report that Michelle Obama broke ground today on a veggie and herb garden on the White House grounds.  This is the first such garden since Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden during WWII.  I feel particularly proud because I advocated for this a few months ago.  Sure, this was likely in the works irrespective of my little blog post seen by 10 people — but I still feel like I was part of a movement that made it possible.

Did I mention that I love our new president and first lady?

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