Cooking Lunch in a Solar Oven

solar lunch finishedWhen I first purchased our solar oven, my husband was a tad frustrated. “What will you cook in it?” he asked. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it at the time. I just knew I had to try solar cooking for myself.

We started slowly, cooking single items, such as rice or eggs. Gradually as we became more comfortable with the solar oven, we relaxed and just started cooking. Although cooking in a solar oven does take a bit of adjustment and more watching than a regular oven, it’s not difficult to do. And once you get comfy-cozy with solar, then the sky’s the limit!

This morning I decided to go ahead and put us some lunch in the solar cooker. One nice thing is that you can use a solar oven pretty much like a slow cooker, allowing you to “set it and forget it.” I put our lunch in this morning, turning the oven once or twice during cooking time, and our lunch was hot and ready for us by noon.

solar oven SaturdaySo what did I put in the pot? All leftover stuff that we needed to use up! It was a frugal meal that didn’t heat up the house. Here are the ingredients:

  1. Progresso Fire-Roasted Tomato Recipe Starter
  2. Simply Balanced Sausage (2 hot dogs)
  3. 1/2 Bag of Fingerling Potatoes
  4. 1 can of black beans

I first poured a bit of olive oil in the pot and then came the tomato soup. We like things spicy, and so I next added assorted spices. Everything else got thrown in the pot and stirred around. And that’s it!

Keep in mind that cooking times will vary, and so I can’t give you an exact time for cooking. However, we allowed it to cook several hours, which resulted in a nice, thick chili. Also, don’t feel confined by my ingredient list. If you’ve got something else on hand, then that’s fine! This is more to give you an idea of what’s possible than a strict guideline.

Do you solar cook or want to learn more about solar cooking? Let me know! And feel free to share your own tips and tricks for cooking in a solar oven.

So What’s So Crunchy About Me?

whatssocrunchyaboutmeYou may have been wondering what could possibly be so crunchy about someone like me. I don’t ask you to buy only organic products or clean only with baking soda and vinegar. I am not a vegan. And I don’t have a mini farm in my backyard.

And yet I call myself crunchy? Well, perhaps I am redefining the term. Supporting my family on a part-time job, I realize how tough it can be to buy food, pay the bills, and generally keep things going. The pressure to buy expensive products on top of that can be too much. And yet we are pressured to do just that by society and media. Going “crunchy” is now seen as a higher calling, one that is moral and almost spiritual in nature.

However, you can incorporate some of the natural ideals while still staying in budget. That is the true focus of this blog.

Does this mean that I will always cook with whole, organic ingredients? No, it sure doesn’t. But you will see posts on whole wheat usage, solar cooking, LEDs, and the like. You will see that being frugal doesn’t necessarily mean destroying the environment and ordering freebies in the mail. Indeed, it instead means to use your resources wisely.

At middle age, I realize that I’m never going to be perfect, and I understand that life is harder than it should be. By telling the story of my progress and the lessons learned along the way, I am hoping that perhaps you can benefit, gleaning the general lessons of my approach in the process:

  • Do without.
  • Make your own.
  • Use it up.

So grab a cup of coffee and sit back. Feel free to comment, ask questions, and provide any guidance or suggestions that you might have as well. Being frugal can be a community experience, one in which we learn from each other. I welcome any knowledge that you might have to share!

Lighting Your Home with LED Holiday Lights

lightingyourhomeSeveral years ago, my husband decided that we would purchase holiday LED lights and use them for general lighting purposes in our house. He knew that it would be a cheap way to utilize the efficiency of LEDs without purchasing what were then extremely expensive LED bulbs.

I was less than enthusiastic about the idea. “What?” I asked. “Holiday lights for every day? Isn’t that a bit too festive?”

Still, we proceeded with his plan. He hooked up some lights in our bathroom and elsewhere in our house. I admit that I was immediately impressed. Although you could not read by the light of the LEDs, you could easily maneuver through the house and do most tasks. Too, one thing that I particularly appreciated was that they did not destroy your night vision, and so nightly trips to the bathroom were made much easier by LED light.

LED light strings might utilize as little as 4 watts of electricity. This is about as much energy as would take to power an old incandescent night-light and yet still provide significantly more light. Additionally, solar-charged, battery-powered lights could be used if there is an available window nearby, thus providing light even in an emergency when the power is out. Those holiday light strings are therefore much more useful and efficient than you might have thought.ledsolarlights

With the fall and winter holidays coming up, this is a perfect time to begin looking for LED holiday lights in the stores. By purchasing them on sale, you can be frugal, green, and smart. I will caution, though, that we have found it difficult to buy them after each holiday as the stores often remove them from the shelves the next morning. Too, they are becoming more popular and so harder to buy in quantity. Still, if you are eager for some LED lighting, you can almost always find them in stores during this time of year.

ledglassblockAlthough they may be a bit unconventional—at least for old fogies like myself—LED holiday lights can be a positive way to light your home year round. They provide good general lighting while consuming far less electricity than other bulbs. Too, if they are bought on sale, then they can be a frugal purchase with long-lasting benefits.

Weird Ways to Save Money

Weird Ways to Save Money

Click on the link above to access an article that I wrote; it includes some tips on saving money in ways that are also environmentally friendly. I will most likely go into these more in depth on this blog, but this will provide you with some initial information on some additional methods of living frugally.

What’s Bugging You?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmong all of the summer fun, bugs emerge to join in on the festivities. Whether gnats, fruit flies, or mosquitoes, they’re bugging us in our homes. Here in Kansas, with such a cool, wet summer, this seems to be even more true this year. Some cities are spraying standing water and other areas to deal with the little suckers. But what are we to do in our own homes? Luckily, there are frugal and natural ways to keep bugs at bay.

A fan of The King of Random, my husband discovered in one of Thompson’s recent videos a great tip for dispatching fruit flies. You simply need a container filled with bait and a covering, such as plastic wrap. Poke a tiny hole in the covering, and you have the perfect trap. The bugs can get in, but they can’t get out. It sounds like a horror movie for flies, right? And yet it’s true, very true. Their horror is your benefit. Using everyday kitchen ingredients, you can get rid of those little pests.

Too you can also entice gnats to an early death using apple cider vinegar. This method is simple and effective. To create this trap, squirt a little bit of dish soap in a bowl and then add a mix of water and apple cider vinegar. Stir it up and then make sure that the bowl is placed where you are seeing the gnats. After a day or so, you should find that the gnats have succumbed to the temptation of your trap. Again, all easily available elements can be used to make a frugal bug trap.

When it comes to flies, well, I have an all-natural means for killing them as well. I have cats. The cats enjoy chasing and playing with the flies, but the cats don’t always kill them. The thrill of the hunt is often enough for them. Not quite as effective as I would wish, but it is entertaining. Also the cats get some needed experience in hunting prey, even if it is a little fly. Everyone benefits in that the cats get some exercise, and we get rid of the flies.

So if something’s bugging you in your home, then you might want to try one of these methods for getting rid of the little pests. They’re cheap and effective, but also very safe for you and your family. Don’t let those flying bugs bug you!

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Homemade Coffee Syrup

homemadecoffeesyrupIn our home, coffee is more than a drink. It’s a ritual. We love everything about the process of making our cup of coffee, including grinding the coffee beans, preparing the coffee maker, heating the milk, and adding our favorite flavored syrups. Homemade specialty coffee can be rewarding in its own right and is certainly much cheaper than purchasing a drink at your favorite coffee place.

However, we have found that coffee syrup can be quite expensive, especially when you’re drinking multiple cups of coffee per day. Although we enjoyed the convenience, we couldn’t justify the expense. But do without it? Not unless the end really is near. Living frugally doesn’t mean that we have to do without all of life’s little pleasures.

And that is when my husband decided that he would make our coffee syrups. I thought it was a bit of a wacky idea at first, but then many of our best frugal endeavors have started out in the same fashion. He found a couple of basic recipes, including one from Paula Deen and a selection of recipes from Food & Family. These became starting points for our own syrups.

While the flavorings and spices may vary among the recipes, the same basic ratio of water to sugar seems to apply to all. Once you have discovered this, you realize that you can easily alter the recipes based on your own needs or tastes. Too making the syrups isn’t very difficult, just mix together and cook for a while. Although making these syrups at home takes a bit of effort, it really is much more frugal to do so.

vanillacoffeesyrup

One green idea of my husband’s was to heat the syrup in our solar oven. While the syrup didn’t thicken as much as it might have on the stove, it actually made the process of making it that much easier. We didn’t need to worry about it boiling over in the pot; we simply set it in the oven and forgot about it for a few hours. As with any solar cooking endeavor, though, always be aware of the outside temperature and your oven’s capabilities so that you don’t have a solar oven mishap.

Whether you’re making the coffee syrups for yourself or as a gift, it’s worth the little effort needed for the preparation. It is much easier on the budget and allows you to make your homemade specialty coffee especially for you.

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