Thursday, January 31, 2013

Quick Tip For Filling Salt and Pepper Shakers

My husband came up with this one:

Put a piece of tape over the holes when filling salt and pepper shakers. This keeps the salt from spilling out!

Super simple but works really well!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lentil Soup

This lentil soup is perfect for a blustery winter day! It's frugal and healthy!

Unfortunately, I can't remember or find the blog I got this recipe from. It's been probably 5 years now. I've adapted it some over the years. We enjoy it and eat it regularly during soup season!

This is the only lentil recipe I make that I don't feel like I need to add meat to mask the lentil flavor. Of course, meat can be added and I do add meat to this soup from time to time. But even on it's own, it is just really really good!

This recipe does have a few steps to go through although this is a quick soup to put together. You may be tempted to ignore some of the steps and just throw everything in the pot to cook together. Don't do it! The extra steps really add flavor and depth to the soup.  Trust me--I've tried it the other way. :-)

Adding freshly grated Parmesan cheese to a hot bowl of this lentil soup takes it to the next level.

Lentil Soup
Serves 4-6

1 1/4 cups brown lentils
2/3 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves or dried minced garlic
1 cup finely chopped carrots
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 small can (6 ounce) tomato paste
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon pepper
4 cups hot water or chicken broth

Salt to taste--I use approx. 1 teaspoon.
Grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh chives for garnish, optional

Rinse the lentils, drain and put in a  large pot. Cover with cold water. Boil for 5 minutes. Strain, discarding liquid. Set lentils aside.

Wipe pot clean. Heat olive oil on medium-medium high heat, add onion and saute until translucent--about 7-10 minutes. Stir in garlic and as soon as it becomes aromatic, return lentils to the pot.

Add carrots, tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and pepper. No salt yet. Stir in the hot water.

Bring to a boil; lower heat. Cover and cook for 20-30 minutes until lentils are soft. Add salt and stir.

Serve with Parmesan cheese on top.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Frugal Five

Five frugal things this week:
  1. Cut off the top of the salt container to get the last bit out!
  2. We were going to eat a free breakfast at Chick-Fil-A on Saturday as part of a promotion they were doing. We arrived the morning of our reservation to find they were closed until 10:30 because of inclement weather. So no free breakfast! We ran to Hobby Lobby really quick to get a few needed supplies for Etsy sewing and headed home where I proceeded to make omelets instead of eating breakfast out.
  3. While at Hobby Lobby, I used a 40% off coupon. Nothing I bought was high dollar but 40% off is 40% off! I will say that having the Hobby Lobby app on my iphone is great--no need to print the coupon before heading to the store! Just pull it up on the phone and show to cashier. Saving is easy!
  4. Harvested a head of cabbage from my winter garden.
  5. Cooked up a ham on Monday and ate on it most of the week. Had a ham dinner the first night with sweet potatoes and green beans, then broccoli and ham casserole and ham and lentils (with the soup bone). Also added some chopped ham to eggs and still have a bag or two to freeze for later plus have had leftovers for lunch every day. We bought this ham at 79 cents a pound before Christmas, so very frugal eating!
What frugal adventures are going on in your home? 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pinned It, Made It: Moon Sand

 We made moon sand this week using the directions on this pin. Fun!

I'm not sure who enjoyed it more--me or the toddlers! They loved it! Toddler Boy (22 months) played with it for a whole hour one afternoon.

Seriously. This is awesome stuff!
Love those chubby hands!

All it involves is mixing 8 cups of flour with 1 cup of baby oil although I added more like 1.5 cups baby oil to get a good consistency. Mix well, using hands to combine.

This is messy--very messy. I have a vinyl tablecloth that I use for kid's projects; I put it on the little table to hold any spills. An old blanket was on the floor.  The toddlers also wore smocks.
I dug out a combination of sand and play dough toys.

This was soft enough to play with easily but packed well for making "cakes". And was great for digging and scooping.

We will be playing with this again!

**This post is part of Pinned, It, Made It Monday over at Country Girl At Home. **

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What's New In My Etsy Shop

Some etsy shop news:

1. For local folks: Use coupon code PICKUPYORKCOUNTY to waive shipping fees. This applies if you are in South Charlotte, NC or York/Lancaster/Chester counties of South Carolina. I will then make arrangements with you for delivery in a central location.This should simplify the process for local folks who want to pick up directly from me and not pay shipping!

2. Lots of new stuff in the shop including some fabric, Valentine's and baby items. Be sure to check it out!

3. I've recently added some older inventory to the SALE section so be sure and head that way for items at reduced prices.

As always, thank you so much for looking and shopping at The Gingham Cottage!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fabric Gift Bags

We've been wanting some reusable fabric gift bags for several years. I decided that this year I would make them my first project of the year while I'm thinking about it. That way, they'll be all ready for Christmas gift wrapping in December!

While we're happy about reducing trash and not spending money on gift wrap, we really are excited about simplifying when it comes to wrapping gifts! Stick a gift in a bag; tie it up and you're done!

Especially for my husband--he is really happy about these!

These will be mainly used for the gifts for our own little family--so we can reuse them each year! It could be awkward to have to ask for the bags back from other folks. :-) We will still use our simple wrapping methods for gifts we give away outside our home. Unless I make extra bags as part of the gift.

For these bags, I raided my Christmas fabrics and used a bunch of fabric I've had for a while. I kept these super simple; nothing fancy, so they were quick to sew up.

 Still need to add ribbon to most of them but otherwise, all ready for Christmas 2013!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Place To Create!

I've always wanted enough room to have a table in the living room--a place to work on projects, play games and create! A table other than the kitchen or dining room table where I'd have to clear the mess before we could eat.

When we moved into our home last summer, I noticed there would be space for a small table in the living room. I knew we were looking for a bigger dining room table so I tucked the idea in the back of my mind that when that time came, we could use our smaller table in there.

Instead of moving the loveseat back to it's place under the window after we took our Christmas tree down, we moved my little table into that space instead.

I love having a space to create! And I can leave my sewing machine set up there if I want to. I'm more apt to work on something for a few minutes here and there if I don't have to set it all up every time.This is great for nap time sewing too--where I had my sewing machine set up before was too close to sleeping little ones.

I'm not sure if this will be more of a winter set-up or not. I may want to use the little table on our screen porch once the weather warms up. We'll see...

Until then, this is working out really well!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Omelet Brunch Casserole

I made this egg casserole for the first time in December while I had a houseful of company--we all enjoyed it!

This is easy to make and great to serve to guests!

Omelet Brunch Casserole
Adapted from this cookbook.
Serves 6-8

18 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup green onions
1 cup chopped fresh spinach, optional
Handful of cooked bacon, ham or sausage, optional
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat eggs, sour cream, milk, salt and garlic powder. Fold in green onions and spinach. Pour mixture into greased 9 x 13 pan.  Sprinkle meat over top. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until eggs are set.

Immediately sprinkle cheese over top and cut into squares to serve.

**Can be frozen before baking. Thaw in fridge overnight and bake as directed. If still frozen, extra baking time may be needed.**

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Frugal Five

Five frugal activities from the past week:
  1. Went to the library. Would you believe I hadn't been in over a year? Hoping to make it a more regular occurrence this year. The littles are enjoying the new books we checked out. 
  2. Harvested broccoli from our broccoli plants. We've harvested all the heads of broccoli from our plants but now little broccoli shoots have been growing.  They've been around floret size--so yummy and tasty. Plan to cut some of the leaves and eat them like greens; have read that the leaves are very nutritious.
  3. Rock hurt his leg last weekend and after watching him for about a day, determined that he was getting worse instead of better. And he wasn't acting at all like himself. So we took him to the vet to see what was wrong. Turns out he had pulled a muscle which they gave him pain meds for. Going to the vet isn't exactly a frugal experience (although not astronomically expensive for this visit)  but we remembered to take our electric co-op's membership card which gave us 10 % off of his visit cost. Every little bit helps! They entered the info into their system so now we will automatically get the discount for each visit without having to show the card. 
  4. Stayed in budget with grocery spending for the 2nd half of the month. This is taking some extra planning and getting better about knowing my prices but so far, so good! We had been overspending in the grocery category the past few months due to poor planning and the holidays so we're buckling down and committing to sticking to our monthly budget!
  5. Worked on some sewing projects from my stash of scrap fabrics--more on that later! 
What frugal fun have you been up to? 

Monday, January 21, 2013

First Freezer Cooking Of The Year

I received this cookbook for Christmas.

Needless to say, it was one of my very favorite gifts---full of freezer cooking wonderfulness! I could hardly wait to get home and start cooking!

I've long been a fan of Jessica Fisher's blogs--Life As Mom and Good Cheap Eats. Mostly for the recipes! We have enjoyed every recipe that I've tried from her sites. She's frugal but still a foodie--kinda like us!

The cookbook is even better! It's full of recipes, tips and tricks for successful freezer cooking. This cookbook takes freezer cooking way beyond canned cream soups and casseroles. One aspect of the book that I really like is that most recipes call for frugal ingredients I would normally have in stock with some special ingredients thrown in here and there.

I've already had a lot of fun with this cookbook and highly recommend it!

Last week, I worked on a list of freezer cooking. It took most of the week to complete--I had one day off so I spent that morning doing the bulk of the list--then the rest was completed one or two recipes at a time during nap time the remainder of the week.

Not everything was from the new cookbook but those are marked with ** below.

  • 2 carrot cakes. A 9 x 13 recipe divided into 2 smaller pans.
  • 4 meals pancakes. Using this brown rice pancake mix that I got for cheap at a salvage grocery store.
  • 3 meals carnitas.** Using a pork roast from the freezer.
  • 10 bags cooked brown rice. Frozen in 2 cup portions.
  • 11 bags shredded cheese. Frozen in 1 cup portions. It would be easier to buy it pre-shredded, yes, but using the block cheese tastes so much better! And doesn't have the additives that pre-shredded does. Call us cheese snobs--hahaha! It's not much of a chore to shred using my food processor.
  • 1 pound cooked bacon.** For recipes. I baked it in the oven while cooking other things at the same time--similar instructions can also be found here
  • 3 jars spice blends. Taco seasoning **, Onion soup mix and Rotisserie chicken spice mix. 
  • 5 containers seasoned pinto beans.** Frozen in 2 cup portions. 
  • 7 servings smoothies. Frozen berries, crushed pineapple, and coconut milk.
  • 3 meals meatballs.
  • 3 meals Catalan meatballs**. Used my recipe for the meatballs then used her sauce recipe. 
  • 3 jars chicken gravy**. Chicken gravy served over rice is one of our favorite frugal meals around here! I added some diced chicken to this recipe. If we like it after it's frozen, I'll make a big batch of turkey gravy using turkey broth and turkey that was frozen after Thanksgiving. 
  • 2 pans Sweet and Sour Chicken.  Divided one recipe into two smaller pans.

Love having  my freezer full of ready to eat foods!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Putting Scrapbook Paper Scraps To Good Use

What to do with a large pile of scrapbook paper and card stock scraps that rarely get used?

Turn them into scrap paper for notes and shopping lists, "index" cards and Christmas gift tags!

I use index cards for my daily to-do lists. Instead of running out to buy more index cards right away, I'll just use these colorful pieces of card stock instead! In order to minimize waste, the pieces vary in size.

I cut the Christmas papers into gift tags for next year and saved a few bigger pieces for wrapping small gifts.

Other patterned papers were cut into scrap paper for notes and such. If the design is too dark to write on, I'll just flip it over and use the white side. 

The  remaining small scraps are in a bag to use for collages and kid's projects.

I feel good about turning these scraps that I hardly ever use into something useful!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

She Gets Tickled By The Simplest Things

Andy gave me a set of spatulas for Christmas. Aren't they pretty and colorful?

I got so tickled when I noticed one of them was nearly the same shade as my smoothie!

It really doesn't take much...

**If you're interested, the spatulas are Michael Graves brand from Target. I like spatulas that aren't too soft or plastic-stiff and these are just right! Spatulas get lots of use around here; they're an awesome tool for the frugal cook!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Today I sat down and did some mending.

I sewed a button on some pants and fixed the handle that was coming loose on a tote bag.

I had this shirt I purchased at a thrift store last summer. I really liked the shirt but after wearing it a couple of times, I noticed the neckline was a little lower than I cared for.

Since I'm super high-tech and cool and all--hahahaha--my first thought was to discreetly safety pin the placket together right above the top button so that it wasn't quite so low.

But instead, I remembered there was an extra button on the inside tag so I simply added another buttonhole to the shirt and sewed the button on.

Of course, it took me only a couple of months to get around to this project which took me less than 10 minutes to complete!

I've only known how to make buttonholes for a couple of years now and it is a handy little skill! Although, I don't know if it could be called a skill, since my sewing machine does all the work. But it's a good thing to know how to do.

Sometimes it's tempting to forgo the fixing and mending and just get rid of the item and buy another one. But I feel that a big part of frugality is taking good care of what you do have. If it's worth fixing and repairing, then repair it and keep using it! Doing this helps to slow the buying cycle and saves money in the long run.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Frugal Five

Five frugal activities from the past week:

  1. Went to the dollar theater to see a movie with friends. Tickets are $2 on weekdays and $2.50 on weekends. Much less than the regular theaters where tickets are around $10 each! You do have to wait a while for new  movies to get to the dollar theater but the savings is worth it in most cases! Non-frugal- we bought popcorn and a drink. Frugal- It was "Stimulus Tuesday" when most concessions are discounted. Unfortunately, our Sprite was missing the Sprite; it was only seltzer water. They were out of Sprite when we went back to replace it, so gave us a bottle of water and refunded our money for the drink. So in the end, we only spent about $6.50 for movie tickets, a bottle of water and a large bag of popcorn.
  2. Sam's Club has bags of small cucumbers that I really like. They're tiny and skinny and taste much better than the fat cucumbers normally found at the supermarket. The downside is that they go bad really quickly and I would end up throwing at least a quarter of the bag away! This month I was determined to not let that happen! I cut a bunch of them into a cucumber salad then a few days later added the rest to the salad bowl as well. Yeah for no waste!
  3. We've been needing a shower caddy to store shampoo bottles and such. We used to have one but it must've gotten yard saled or donated when we didn't need it at our last house. I really need to have a talk with the person who keeps decluttering around here! LOL! Anyways, we needed a shower caddy. I looked at Wal-mart last weekend and the least expensive option they had was $10.! Especially considering that our last one came from a  yard sale for 50 cents! This week, I popped in to Dollar Tree for a few other things and noticed they had shower organizers for $1. It's a little smaller and perhaps not quite as sturdy but it does what we need it to do!
  4. Did an online survey(about 15 min.). These only pay $3 each but it all adds up. We add this money to our Christmas envelopes!
  5. Did some mending-- sewed a button on a pair of pants, fixed the handle on a tote bag and put a buttonhole and button in a shirt. More on that in a later post.

If you're interested in more frugal reading, The Cultivated Nest has a wonderful post with 21 Frugal Tips To Try This Year. Lots of good ideas to consider if you're looking for more ways to save money and live frugally!

What are your latest frugal accomplishments?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pinned It, Made It: Fabric Scrap Letter

 I pinned this fabric collage letter  from this site a long time ago. While it would make a great kid's art project, I was immediately inspired to do something similar with a chipboard letter 'C' I had on hand.

I've had this 'C' for a LONG time--maybe 4 years? It's one of those inexpensive letters from Hobby Lobby.

Anyways, I was in the mood for some crafting the other night, so I pulled out the letter, my overflowing scrap bags--seriously, they're so full I can't get them shut!- Mod Podge, and scissors and got to work.

This was a quick and relaxing project! I trimmed all the edges the next morning after it was dry. Added some buttons, stapled on a  ribbon hanger and it was ready to hang on the door.

I love the red and aqua color combo right now so that's what I used for this project! I hardly made a dent in my scrap collection so stay tuned for more Scrap Busting projects coming up!

**Thanks to Tammy for hosting Pinned It, Made It Mondays!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago today, I was meeting my husband for the first time!

We first met online via this site and then met in person at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. You can read a bit more about that meeting here.

So tonight, we celebrated 10 years by dining at Cracker Barrel!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thinking Ahead To Christmas 2013

Every year, I have these grand plans of getting my Christmas gifts and projects done way ahead of time. And every year, I'm scrambling at the last minute.

We live away from all of our family so either we ship gifts or travel; usually both, since there's no way we can get to everyone over the holidays. Since it's highly unlikely we'll get everyone together in one place.

This past Christmas was the first time we didn't ship or find creative means of "shipping" gifts to everyone! My family was here from the West Coast and then the day after Christmas we traveled to Andy's parents to be with his family which isn't as far away as the West Coast, thankfully!

Anyway, it can be a hectic time getting everything and us ready to go!

So I'm thinking of a bit different strategy for this year--possibly working on a couple gifts each month?

I could at least try it.

Our Christmas list is fairly short. We don't give gifts to everyone we know. We have 16 family members (parents, grandparents, siblings and spouses, nieces and nephews) that we give gifts to. We keep things fairly simple here, usually in the $5-$10 range per person. I like to make a lot of my gifts if I have time. Some gifts will cost $0 because of having the supplies already and then for some one else, we may purchase something that costs $15. It all shakes out in the end!

This year I enjoyed giving small bags of goodies to our neighbors and mail carrier. I also usually give something small like that to my childcare families. I don't usually give Christmas gifts to the children I babysit. I do however help them make a little something for their parents! These gifts are very inexpensive.

At Christmas this year, I started taking notes of some things that would be good gifts for family members, including some favorite candy or snacks. I knew I would forget by next Christmas if I didn't write it down so I immediately started a list on my phone which I can transfer to my notebook later.

This week, I've been working on some fabric gift bags for us to use each year. I've wanted to make them for several years and then would wait until the last minute when I didn't have time! So that's my first project for the year.

Time to get moving!

Have you started to plan for next Christmas yet?

**I already had this post written when I read Monica's post for today! Apparently, I'm not the only one who is already thinking about Christmas!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Keeping Track Of Napkins

When my parents and brother were here visiting in December, I used a tip I learned from Thrift At Home to keep napkins separate.

I wrote each family member's name on a clothespin and clipped the clothespin to the napkin.

Super easy and I have plenty of clothespins!

We use our cloth napkins for a few meals unless they're in need of washing so this was a great way to keep track of everyone's napkins!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Frugal Five

Five recent frugal things:

1) Stayed in budget with my grocery spending for the first half of January. Hope to keep going with this-- I'm getting back into the habit of knowing my prices so I can figure up roughly how much everything is going to cost before going to the store!

2) Chose to stay home and watch a movie we had (a Christmas gift!)  vs. going out.

3) Made a freezer cooking plan based on what we already had in stock. Pinto beans, pork roast, carrot cake, pancakes from a gluten free mix, etc...

4) Accepted garden seeds saved by family members: pumpkins, zinnias, marigolds and another pretty yellow flower that we don't know the name for. Excited about this!

5) Cooked a roast and saved the cooking broth and bone for a yummy soup base later. 

How have you saved money recently?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Pinned It, Made It: Hanging Christmas Cards

It's once again time for Pinned It, Made It Monday and I'm sharing the super simple way we hung our Christmas cards this year!

The idea came from this pin and this blog: Tie ribbon around the cabinet door like this:

Then hang your Christmas cards and photos on the ribbon like this:

I used clothespins to clip the cards and it worked great!

Pretty sure we'll do this again next year!

**If you have a minute, head over to Country Girl At Home to check out the other Pinned It; Made It posts!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Spring Cleaning 365

Have you heard of Spring Cleaning 365?

When you sign up for their email list, you'll receive a daily email with that day's cleaning task. Most tasks can be completed in 15 minutes or less.

I received my first email on New Year's Day and so far really enjoy it!

Well... enjoy may be a stretch but for someone who really doesn't like to clean and doesn't have long stretches of time to devote to deep cleaning, I think this will be very helpful in staying on top of things! And a nice addition to the basic cleaning I do each week already.

One positive aspect of this project is the fact that I can participate when I can and skip when I can't. I like that it's possible to just jump in where you are without feeling like you're way behind.

Today's task was to clean the refrigerator, which I'd already planned to do this week before grocery shopping. We were out of town all of last week so we had eaten up most of the food in the fridge before we left. So the fridge is pretty empty.

My sister is probably twitching right now--she always comments on how empty my fridge is! And this is even emptier than usual.

No worries--the pantry and freezer are fairly well-stocked so we've been eating very well. But I really do need to grocery shop this weekend!

This was an easy task--take everything out and wipe shelves down with soapy water. I cleaned my produce bin as well; it needed it. Refill fridge.

Total time: about 15 minutes!

For my January habit, I chose to work on my office/sewing room for 5 minutes each day. In 30 days, I hope to see a huge improvement! But already, I can see my sewing table again!

Would you like to accomplish a cleaner more organized home this year while only investing a few minutes each day? Sign up for Spring Cleaning 365!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Cash Envelopes

New Year's Day was not only the start of a new year but a new financial month. We do most of our bill paying on the 1st of each month. To get things started off right, I replaced our tattered cash envelopes with new ones!

I've seen some very nice fabric cash envelopes out there and have even thought about making something, but for now, plain white envelopes work really well for us. During the past year, I started  keeping them in a zippered pouch which keeps them all together very nicely.

I've written about our cash envelopes before, but time has passed and we've changed a few things and do more in envelopes than we did then.

When preparing to purchase a home, we got a credit card. While we don't want to rely on using credit cards and we were very hesitant to go this route, this was a way to build up our credit and make it a bit more current. So we started using the credit card for gasoline purchases and then paying it off each month with money we had set aside in that category. To be honest, I've gotten really used  to the ease of paying at the pump and it would be hard to go back to using cash to pay for gas! But we would if needed.

I don't take all of our envelopes with me when going out; only the ones I plan to use. This has saved us a good bit of money when we realize we don't have the right envelope with us and making the decision to just not purchase rather than borrow from another envelope and reimburse once I get home. Sometimes, we will just borrow from another category but not always. That takes a lot of brain work, people, and a lot of times it's just simpler to say, "I don't have enough cash for that today" rather than try to remember all the borrowing and reimbursing!

There's been the occasion where I forgot the cash envelopes all together only to arrive at the grocery store with no money! It's not fun to have to go back but it is what it is.

Our current cash envelope categories are:

Groceries (food, paper and cleaning products, personal care)
Play Money (our small monthly allowances that we can use however we please)
The Gingham Cottage expenses (supplies for my Etsy shop and keeping receipts for taxes.)
Vitamins/Supplements/ Non-prescription Meds
Eating Out/Entertainment (I include gift cards and Groupons in this envelope.)
Clothing and Shoes ( I use this when shopping at yard sales too.)
Hair (Hope to learn to cut Andy's hair myself soon; I get maybe 2 haircuts per year.)
Home (Small repairs, furnishings, decorations)
Office (Office supplies, stamps, printer ink--this is mostly used for buying ink!)
Childcare (Stuff for the kids as well as keeping receipts for tax purposes.)
Dog Food and Treats

**Indicates categories we don't fill regularly but only when there is a little extra money.

There are also some categories where we don't always need money every month. Dog food is one of these. A 50 pound bag of food from Sam's Club lasts us about 2 months so we can skip some months on that!

And of course, as life happens, we make decisions on a monthly basis if we really need to add money to certain categories. Sometimes unexpected expenses come up and we choose to cut back in certain areas to allow for them.

We haven't really sat down and talked about specific financial goals for 2013 yet. A personal goal that I hope to implement is staying within my grocery budget. I've gone over a lot in the past few months and feel I can do better with some careful planning each month. I am also trying to be even more careful with my purchases not only to save money but to reduce the clutter and the amount of stuff that goes in and out of our home.

We love our cash envelopes and feel that they are a great tool to helping us stay on track financially!

**This post is part of Frugal Friday over at Life As Mom!