Frugality

How to make homemade yogurt (and why I'm not making it!)

Yogurt with fruit

About 5 years ago, I tried plain yogurt for the first time in my life, and I did not like it at all! When my friend Megan gave me some kefir grains 4 years ago, I started culturing my own kefir (which tastes similar to plain yogurt) and disguising it in smoothies and pancakes and stuff like that. ;)

I've acquired a taste for my homemade kefir AND plain yogurt over the years, and I'm actually drinking a glass of plain milk kefir right now -- without any maple syrup added, even! Although maple syrup is a great addition to kefir, it is also too expensive for me to consume as often as I'd like! ;)

Then, Joshua got an ice cream maker. He's been doing lots of experimentation, including making homemade frozen yogurts. (Look for his recipes in the next few months! If you're not already a subscriber, subscribe for free and you won't miss a thing!)

So with all my culturing experience (haha), I decided it was time to start making homemade yogurt as well. After all, so many people extoll the ease and yumminess -- not to mention the frugality! -- of making homemade yogurt, it's ridiculous that I waited so long to try!

Yogurt with fruit

Homemade yogurt seems to follow these simple rules:

1. Heat milk to ~180 degrees.

2. Allow milk to cool to ~110 degrees (but never above 120).

3. To the warm milk, whisk in some plain yogurt (this functions as a starter) from the store (2-4 tablespoons per quart).

4. Keep the milk/yogurt mixture warm (in jars) for 4-24 hours (in a warm crock pot, in a cooler with warm water, in a yogurt maker, in a dehydrator, etc.)

And voila! Homemade yogurt!

Except I still haven't been able to make a homemade yogurt we actually like very well.

I've gotten thin yogurt (runnier than my kefir has ever been!). I've gotten thick lumpy yogurt. I've gotten yogurt that had an aftertaste like vomit. (I know, nasty! We didn't eat that batch.) Even the best yogurt I made failed the blind taste test I gave to the children: yogurt on one spoon, kefir on the other spoon, and they all 3 said they liked the kefir a lot better!

And all that, ummm, yogurt? It took a lot of babysitting with the thermometer. I seriously invested hours and hours into trying to make yogurt!

Well, except for the batch that I made in the crock pot using a timer instead of a thermometer. The timer went but my milk was still 140 degrees when I added my yogurt starter! FYI, 140 degree milk doesn't turn into yogurt. I tried the recipe again, used a thermometer when the timer went off, and discovered what went wrong the last time!

Yogurt with fruit

If you love making yogurt, know that I am very happy for you. :) I will probably even want to eat some when I come over to your house! ;)

If you've been thinking about making homemade yogurt, here are some tutorials to get you started:

The Frugal Girl's homemade yogurt (Kristen has a photo tutorial, recipe, and lots of comments!)

Alicia from Alicia's Homemaking regularly makes yogurt in her crock pot! Alicia's post is the one that convinced me to finally try making homemade yogurt! :)

Frugal Granola's Homemade Yogurt (Michele makes it seem so easy!)

Katie at Kitchen Stewardship has a lot of information about how she makes her homemade yogurt. She has also experimented with culturing times and amounts of starter, so be sure to check out her site if you need to troubleshoot! :)

Lynn's Kitchen Adventures shares her secret for making homemade yogurt that her family will enjoy! Lynn uses a yogurt maker for her yogurt.

Finding Joy in My Kitchen also prefers to use a yogurt maker for her homemade yogurt.

Have you written a tutorial or recipe for homemade yogurt? Leave a link in the comments so I can consider adding it to this list! :)

Some people just love, love, LOVE their homemade yogurt, but I think I'm sticking to making kefir. 

Kefir grains, ready for fresh milk
Kefir grains, ready for fresh milk

Why I LOVE making kefir (and not yogurt!):

1. Kefir suits my clutter-free attempt at life. Kefir doesn't require a thermometer. It doesn't require a cooler, a crock pot, or any other appliance. A jar, lid, and some milk is all you need and ALL that you will have sitting on your counter! And who doesn't love more counter space in the kitchen?!

2. Kefir doesn't require babysitting. At all. You only have to think about it once a day or every other day. "Making" kefir takes about 5 minutes or less. If you want to take a break from kefir, you can take 2 weeks off by simply putting the milk and kefir grains in the fridge. Or just make as little as 1/2 cup of kefir per day.

3. Kefir is packed with probiotics! From what I've read, it beats out yogurt by 4-5 times the amount of beneficial bacterias. Maybe that's why a quart of kefir is over $4 in the store?!

4. Anyone can make kefir. It is THAT easy. And in fact, once you start making kefir and your grains are growing, you can give them to others to try and enjoy! 

A few weeks ago, I took a video of some of my thick, creamy homemade kefir. My kefir seems to go through varying stages. Sometimes it is more "stringy" or "ropey", like in this video. Other times, it is just a thick, yogurt-like consistency.

The grains themselves don't always look the same. It's fascinating! Some day I will take close up photos of my kefir grains, and maybe pop a few open and show you what's inside!

Sorry for the abrupt ending of the video... my camera battery died! I should get a second battery because it is constantly flashing red while I'm trying to get food pics before the sun hides again or the food gets cold!! :)

When it comes to my homemade kefir, I can't stop raving! It's just that good, that nutritious, and that simple! What else takes just 2 minutes of prep and is a quick HEALTHY on-the-go snack or hold-me-over?!

All about kefir

How to make homemade kefir

My kefir video tutorial (it's quick and painless!)

How to make smooth and creamy maple-sweetened kefir

Info, recipes, and Q&A about kefir from Cultures For Health

I recently discovered that Cultures For Health has a You Tube channel with some great videos about their cultures and starters. They have yogurt that cultures at room temperature (like kefir, only yogurt) and I think that might be more my style. ;)

Here is Cultures For Health's video about making homemade kefir (much more thorough and professional than my videos!):

And you can check out more of their videos on You Tube! :)

By the way, I'm super excited that Cultures For Health will be offering a giveaway to readers here next week! Stay tuned for your chance to win and start culturing something... like kefir, sourdough, or yogurt! :)

Full Disclosure: I get many requests for kefir grains, and had been directing you to a friend who sold live milk kefir grains. Unfortunately, she is no longer selling kefir grains. I decided to try to find another reputable source for kefir grains (NOT "starter").

While I think the ideal source of kefir grains is live, fresh grains (preferably given as a gift from a friend!), I am an affiliate with Cultures For Health and I feel confident directing you to them.

I wish kefir grains weren't so expensive to get started -- but remember, once you have them they will grow, and you can bless your friends and family by giving away your extras. :)

My freezer-friendly bean and rice burritos: Photo and video tutorial

I wrote about making bean and rice burritos for the freezer, but never gave any specific directions. I keep getting emails with requests for more information -- precise information! -- about just how I do my freezer burritos. Since I was already making some this week, I took pictures and a video of how I do it.

Here is my recipe for Freezer-Friendly Bean and Rice Burritos! Keep reading for a photo tutorial and video of how easy it is to make these! :)

Making burritos for the freezer is simple, but surprisingly delicious! We think the burritos are even better from the freezer than when freshly made, and since they can be baked without thawing first, it's really the easiest thing possible!

Freezer burritos
Burritos filled with chicken, rice, and cheese! Any combo works, really, though bean and rice burritos are our staple.

The last time we moved, I made these burritos and put them in the oven at our new house. I kept the oven on WARM after they were hot inside, and our friends/family who helped us move enjoyed hot burritos for lunch. It was much cheaper than buying pizza or other restaurant food, and allowed anyone to eat as they got hungry or had a spare moment. Definitely a frugal success! :)

I cook a big pan of pinto beans and a big pan of rice, usually the day before I want to make my burritos. This spreads things out so I'm not too busy all in one day. I plan ahead and buy tortillas and cheese in bulk at Costco!

Freezer burritos

Ingredients for bean and rice burritos: Burrito-size tortillas, hot sauce (optional), cooked pinto beans, cooked rice, and shredded cheese.

Freezer burritos

For preparation: Pieces of foil (large enough to wrap one burrito each), a big bowl, and a spoon. Also helpful: Freezer Ziplock bags (gallon size). Tip: foil pieces can be saved and re-used to wrap burritos for the freezer again!

Freezer burritos

Toss together the beans, rice, cheese, and hot sauce. Add salt if needed. (I don't add salt since I've already salted my beans and rice while they were cooking.) Tip: tossing everything together saves time and the cheese melts and hold everything together when it's heated!

Freezer burritos

Spread filling in a strip across the middle (approximately) of each tortilla. (See my recipe for measurements and more specifics.) Tip: use a 1-cup measuring cup to easily spread filling on the tortillas.

Freezer burritos

Fold tortilla in half, and then pull back on top layer to shape filling into a "tube" and hold it tightly. (This is demonstrated in my video below!)

Freezer burritos

Fold both ends in. Tip: if folding a burrito for immediate eating, you can leave one end open (start eating at the open end). This allows you to fill the burrito fuller!

Freezer burritos

Finish rolling up the tortilla. You now have a folded burrito!

Freezer burritos

Place burrito on foil.

Freezer burritos

Wrap foil around the burrito.

Freezer burritos

Then fold in the ends of the foil, squeezing shut.

Freezer burritos

Place the wrapped burritos in a freezer Ziplock bag for storage in the freezer up to ~6 months. (Foil-wrapped burritos can be frozen for a few weeks without the Ziplock.) Tip: remove excess air from the bag with a straw!

Freezer burritos

Seal bag and label with name and date. Freeze!

To re-heat burritos, place on oven rack (still frozen) and bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Yummy!! :)

Freezer burritos
Ruth (2) gets ready to help me make some chicken, rice, and cheese burritos! :)

Here is a video of me making the burritos (please pardon all the glasses glare!):

And instructions on how to fold a burrito (for those who wish to bypass my ramblings in the first video!):

Freezer-Friendly Bean and Rice Burritos recipe

Freezer-Friendly Bean and Rice Burritos (recipe)

More of my favorite homemade freezer meals can be found here! :)

Visit Jessica's blog for more frugal tips! :)

Soup, Salad, Rolls and Ice Cream (or, "Fine Dining on a Budget")

Gourmet bean blend
It's no secret -- I love beans!

Last Friday I made a dinner that was:

Easy
Frugal
Beautiful
Healthy (mostly...)

What was on the menu?

Gourmet Bean Soup, which is a new recipe I recently tried, and it has met rave reviews from all family members, including the bean-cautious husband. ;) I'm just teasing there, as Joshua is not afraid of beans -- he just doesn't want to eat them as often as I do! Meaning... once a week, or even more often if added into a recipe... but not beans every day for lunch! (Like I have been doing.) :)

The soup recipe includes instructions for making your own bean blend (pictured at top)!

One Hour Dinner Rolls. Now, truly perfect rolls take a little more than an hour, in my opinion, so don't allow this recipe title to trick you into rushing around at the last minute. ;) I made the ones in these pictures in about an hour's time, and as you can see they are not as fluffy as they could be!

This dinner roll recipe is from a family cook book. The original recipe has 6 lines of instructions and is rather vague. It's fine for an experienced baker, but I always tend to err on the side of helping the novice learn new things in the kitchen... and the instructions for my recipe got just a little out of hand.

Rest assured, however, that if you have never made yeast bread or dinner rolls or rosette/Kaiser shaped rolls, my instructions will tell you just how to do everything -- from dividing the dough into equal pieces (really, I think everyone knows how to do that but I detailed it in Step 5 just in case...) to shaping the roll (which was inspired by Kristen, The Frugal Girl!).

I made a video for that part. I know. Information overload! I'll be lucky if anyone even makes the recipe after how difficult I've made it sound!

One Hour Dinner Rolls and a side salad

Salad. This was a simple salad of Romaine lettuce, green pepper slices, and Ranch dressing. It complemented the Gourmet Bean Soup very well!

Kefir ice cream

And for dessert, homemade Kefir Ice Cream. I don't have this recipe posted yet, but it WILL be featured here before too long! :) You can go here to see how I make my homemade kefir. :)

Visit Jessica's blog for frugal topics and posts!

More of my frugal tips and musings can be found here. :)

Make soft butter spread and conserve your butter!

Have you noticed the price of butter these days? I keep seeing "sales" that are 2/$5 (1 pound packages) and a limit, at that! Thankfully, our butter from Costco was still 4 pounds for about $9 last week.

When I mentioned the rising price of butter to Joshua -- and how we can use a whole stick of butter just making toast for the family on the weekend! --  he promptly got out some butter, a mixing bowl, and the hand mixer.

We've had this recipe for soft butter spread on our website for years, but had stopped making it. Now, I have a nice big bowl of spreadable butter that will also make my sticks of butter last a lot longer!

Not only is there air whipped into the butter, there's some oil added (use olive oil if you're health conscious, or for a better flavor) and some water.

That's right -- for every cup of butter, there is 1/2 cup of oil and 1/2 cup of WATER! And we don't even notice. It wets the toast nicely. ;) Actually, you really won't notice the water on your toast. Seriously. :)

Soft butter spread recipe

What to use this soft butter spread for:

Buttering bread or toast

On top of pancakes or waffles

To make grilled cheese sandwiches (they'll be extra crispy!)

On top of baked potatoes

In mashed potatoes

What NOT to use this soft butter spread for:

Greasing cookie sheets (the oil will bake on and could be hard to remove)

In baking recipes -- which are scientific formulas (Your cookies most likely WILL notice the 1/2 cup of water!)

So next time you cringe at the price of butter... make this soft butter spread! :)

You can read more of my frugal tips here!

And, visit Jessica's blog for lots of frugal tips! :)

My latest Papa Murphy's pizza recreation: Gourmet Chicken Garlic Pizza

When I wrote about frugal and healthy Friday night pizza, I mentioned wanting to recreate Papa Murphy's Gourmet Chicken Garlic Pizza. I had no idea it would be easy to recreate this, so I was pleasantly surprised when the first try was super close to perfect!

This knock-off version of Papa Murphy's Gourmet Garlic Chicken Pizza tastes amazingly just like Papa Murphy's! If you love Papa Murphy's Chicken Garlic Pizza, you've got to try this homemade version. I am in love! Really. It's so good I can't think of anything to say except that it's REALLY GOOD and you should make it yourself. Soon. :)

What else is there to say? Papa Murphy's Gourmet Chicken Garlic Pizza is my favorite of their pizzas. Creamy, crispy, cheesy, and permeated with the fragrant aroma of garlic, homemade pizza doesn't get much better than this. Or easier. Or cheaper, really. (Just don't try to buy tomatoes off-season and without a sale like I did! Oops!)

If you read the recipe notes, you'll notice that Joshua and I have a difference of opinion as to the amount of garlic that should be used in the sauce for this recipe.

I love garlic and enjoyed having a heaping packed tablespoon of garlic in the sauce. YUM! It wasn't too garlicky for me at all. At Joshua's request, I have also made this recipe using 1/2 that amount of garlic, which Joshua says is just perfect and closer to the Papa Murphy's flavor. So, take your pick and tell me what you like! :)

Are you a Papa Murphy's fan like I am? If so, tell me which of their pizzas I should attempt to recreate next! :)

How to make your own lactose-free milk for $2.67 per gallon

Lactase enzyme

Okay, that is a cruel teaser as many of you may not be able to purchase normal milk for less than $3.00 per gallon. Around here it varies from just under $1.90 on sale up to $2.50. Lately it has been about $2.00. The cost to convert the gallon to lactose-free milk is only $0.67 per gallon. If you want to know how to do this right now and don’t care for a lot of details click here and scroll down to the section, “How to make your own lactose-free milk.

Over the last decade my husband Joshua has realized that he is lactose intolerant. At first we didn’t know why he was having digestive issues (he denied even having a problem!) but over a period of time we began to realize his cramping and other symptoms were typically after consuming milk. After some experimentation we determined that when Joshua would forgo the consumption of milk products containing lactose the symptoms went away.

Joshua tried some of the lactase pills, both the daily and meal-time solutions, with unfavorable results. Due to the cost of lactose-free milk, Joshua decided to avoid consuming milk in general and when indulging ice cream to buy the Breyer’s brand lactose-free ice cream. This worked for a while, but over the years we began including more milk products into our diet and we began buying lactose-free milk -- especially as Joshua started enjoying a homemade mocha frappuccino most mornings!

Our food budget cried.

While it was nice for Joshua to re-introduce milk into his diet, lactose-free milk is about $8-$9 per gallon in our area. This is compared to $2 per gallon for normal milk! The 4-fold mark up is ridiculous!

Leave it to my husband: he started researching a way to make his own lactose-free milk!

The following is some background information on lactose, lactose intolerance, and the lactase enzyme.

Note: Statistics for the following were obtained from the Wikipedia’s article on lactose intolerance. Please consult that article or a trusted resource for a fuller overview of lactose intolerance.

What is Lactose?

Sugars are the basic building blocks to starches and carbohydrates. Familiar sugars include sucrose (common table sugar), fructose, and glucose as well as sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol. Lactose is another common sugar and is often called “milk sugar” because it is most often found in milk products. Cow and goat milk are about 5% lactose whereas human milk is about 9% lactose. Fermented products like yogurt, kefir, and some aged cheeses have significantly less lactose than milk has.

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Before discussing lactose intolerance it is helpful to understand how the body usually processes lactose sugars. When a person ingests dairy products the dairy enters the stomach and small intestine. It is here where the body releases the lactase enzyme that breaks the lactose sugars down and they are absorbed into the blood stream for utilization.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to properly digest lactose. This intolerance is due to the lack of sufficient amounts of the lactase enzyme in the digestive track to break down the lactose sugars in the small intestine. The undigested lactose sugars pass into the colon where the natural bacteria digest these sugars which causes the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance is an interesting condition because it becomes more common as people age. Scientist believe it is a “weaning” mechanism where the body gradually stops producing lactase as a person’s diet changes from milk to solids. In some countries lactose intolerance is very rare (5%) among adults while in others it affects over 90% of adults.

It is worth noting that lactose intolerance is not equivalent to a milk allergy where the body’s immune system reacts to the milk proteins.

How does Lactase help?

Someone who is lactose intolerance is unable to produce enough, if any, lactase by themselves. The introduction of the lactase enzyme into foods prior to consumption or at the time of consumption aids in this process, avoiding the side effects of lactose intolerance.

Nutritionally, dairy products that are lactose-free are identical to the non-processed forms. Lactose-free products are slightly sweeter because the lactase enzyme breaks down (“pre-digests”) the lactose sugars into the more digestible forms (like glucose). While there is no additional sugar in the product it tastes sweeter because glucose is nearly five times sweeter than lactose

Lactase enzyme

How to make your own lactose free milk:

Let’s do some simple math:

1 gallon of milk is about $2.00

1 gallon of lactose-free milk in the store is $7.98 ($8.98 for the national brand)

We can buy 4 gallons of “normal” milk for every gallon of lactose free milk. Ouch.

The good news? You can cut that cost in half — if not more — by making your own lactose-free milk. Here is how:

Materials:

1 gallon of milk

Lactase drops, extra strength

Instructions:

1. Open fresh milk carton / container.

2. Add lactase drops. (This brand requires 56 drops.) Replace lid and shake the carton of milk.

3. Place milk carton back into the refrigerator.

4. Allow to process. (This brand requires 24 hours.)

5. Enjoy!

Savings: How to cut your lactose free milk budget in half, or more!

We were able to purchase the lactase drops for $16 on Amazon.com. It is recommended to use 56 drops to make 1 gallon of lactose free milk after 24 hours of time. Following these instructions we are able to produce at least 12 gallons of lactose free milk. To a $2.00 gallon of milk we add $1.33 worth of enzymes ($16.00 of enzymes makes 12 gallons), resulting in a total cost of $3.33 per gallon of lactose-free milk.

$3.33 a gallon for homemade lactose-free milk is significantly cheaper than paying $7.98 - $8.98 at the store. In fact, our homemade lactose free milk is cheaper than a single half gallon of the store bought stuff!

To put it into perspective, using the lactase drops, we pay $39.96 for 12 gallons of homemade lactose-free milk. We were paying $95.76 for the store brand lactose-free milk. That is a savings of $55.80. Joshua was going through about 12 gallons every 3 months, so the annual savings are over $200.00!

And it gets better. We emphasized “at least” above because, depending on the time the enzyme is allowed to work and your tolerance level, you may be able to make significantly more lactose free milk per bottle of lactase. This is because enzymes are not “used up” in the process converting lactose to other sugars. This is why there is a processing time, as this is not a direct chemical reaction/conversion of lactase to other sugars. Instead, the lactase enzyme slowly converts the sugars. The speed by which this occurs is dependent upon temperature, acidity (pH), concentration, and other factors.

You can stretch your lactase enzymes by adding fewer drops to your milk and allowing more time for the enzymes to work. It is as simple as that.

Lactase enzyme

Furthermore, many people aren’t outright lactose-intolerant but don’t produce enough lactase to digest all the lactose they consume. You may be able to add less lactase to meet your specific needs. Many people report slowly lowering the amount of enzymes added over time and when symptoms appear go back to the level they were comfortable with. (Only do this if you are able to tolerate the side effects; this is not recommended to those with severe symptoms.) We are in the process of reducing the amount of enzymes we use but due to the difficulty in directly testing lactose it is difficult to relate whether the amount of time is sufficient to remove all lactose or the amounts left is tolerable by Joshua. This means you will have to do your own testing to see how much enzyme your milk will require.

That said, so far by allowing the enzyme and milk to work additional days Joshua has cut the lactase enzymes in half (28 drops per gallon). Our current cost for making homemade lactose-free milk? $2.67 per gallon.

I cannot believe we used to pay $8 per gallon... and had no idea that this "homemade" option even existed!

Making our own is also convenient, as Joshua can now use non-fat milk, 2%, or whole milk., in whatever amounts we wish (a cup, a gallon, or anything in between!). He usually uses non-fat but on the rare occasion he eats dry cereal at home he likes whole milk. But what if none is made ahead? Not a problem, as you add enough drops for “immediate consumption.” Ditto ice cream. And he loves ice cream. He only needs to take a handful of drops and he is set to consume normal ice cream. He had a hard time with the lactase tablets but the drops have been a much more enjoyable experience.

Some final notes on using lactose-free milk:

Beyond being sweeter, we have found that lactose-free milk is foamier when mixed and blended. Some report this makes for great espresso products where foamed milk is used. We have had a couple blender recipes not turn out because of this. Blueberries and lactose-free milk (in a smoothie) seem to be a bad combo for us.

It is also worth noting that various lactase enzyme products contain different concentrations of lactase enzyme. The one we purchase is listed as “extra strength” and has almost 2000 IUs per serving size. This will be important to note when switching products.

Finally, some desperate folks use the lactose-free milk to convert their normal milk. As the milk still contains the enzymes used to make it lactose-free, the lactose-free milk is used instead of drops, as the source of lactase enzymes. If lactase enzymes are unavailable to you, this may be a way to save a little money. If you can tolerate some lactose, try mixing equal proportions and allow it to sit for a few days and give it a try.

Lactose-free milk

Note from Tammy: Many thanks to Joshua for his research and help with this article! A year ago, we didn't know this option existed. If you or someone in your family requires lactose-free milk, making your own will save you substantial amounts of money at the grocery store! :)

Visit Jessica's blog for more frugal tips!

How to make dairy (milk) kefir -- video tutorial

Kefir in jars on counter

All about kefir

How to make homemade kefir

Maple-sweetened kefir

Where to obtain kefir grains

Kefir is a cultured milk product, similar to yogurt. It contains healthy bacteria along with all the goodness of milk (protein, calcium, etc.). I first heard of kefir 3-4 years ago, when a friend decsribed it to me and gave me some of her extra "kefir grains" -- the culture used to make kefir.

At the time, I didn't particularly care for the taste of plain kefir (it's very similar to the taste of plain yogurt) but loved adding it to smoothies! I've also made kefir pancakes, and kefir can be substituted for buttermilk in many recipes.

With the busyness of baby #3 (Ruth), I stopped making kefir for a while. Six months ago, I got some fresh kefir grains and started making kefir again. The children are older now (ages 6, 5, 3, & 1 rather than 3 &2!) and have been helping me consume the kefir with no problem!

Why I love making kefir:

It's healthy. (Better than drinking plain milk!)

It's affordable: a one-time cost to purchase the culture, called "grains", and then the only expense is milk. Even better, find a friend who makes kefir and is willing to share the extra grains. (Or start your own, and be that friend for others.)

The kids love it. Plain, sweetened with maple syrup, in a smoothie, or stirred with some jam -- the kids love having kefir for a snack or breakfast!

It's super, super easy. It's probably the easiest thing I do in the kitchen! :)

I asked Yehoshua (6) to take a video of me one day when I was ready to "make kefir". As you will see, it took just a couple minutes. I love Yehoshua's enthusiasm when I am describing how one can eat kefir and he chimes in with his favorite ways to eat it. ;)

Kefir grains

To make kefir, you need the culture ("kefir grains", pictured above) and some milk. I use regular whole milk from the store, but you can of course use organic milk, raw milk, etc. A tablespoon of kefir grains will make a cup of kefir daily, and the grains will grow fairly quickly, so you'll soon be making as much kefir as you could ever wish for -- and have grains to give away to friends! :)

Making the kefir

Add some milk (cold, from the fridge is just fine!) and allow the milk + kefir grains to sit at room temperature for 24-48 hours. The result is what you see in the video above: thick, creamy kefir! Remove the grains, add fresh milk, and wait another 24 hours for more kefir! :)

Kefir grains

These are the same grains as the photos above -- 8 days later, you can see the grains have probably grown by about 50%.

More about kefir:

Podcast about how I started making kefir (4 minutes, mp3)

All about kefir

How to make homemade kefir

Maple-sweetened kefir

Where to obtain kefir grains

Healthy and frugal homemade Friday night pizza

Homemade pizza

I love making pizza for Friday night's dinner. It's an easy meal for the conclusion of what is usually a very busy day, and the leftovers are perfect weekend lunch food. :)

I did a price breakdown of my homemade pizza recipe here... concluding that my 16-inch turkey pepperoni extra-cheese pizza costs just $3.25 in ingredients!

To make pizza night into a healthy dinner, I serve it with fruit or vegetable side dishes. It's totally okay to serve easy side dishes, like applesauce or fresh veggie sticks or a salad.

The healthy stuff helps round out the meal, and I can feel full with just 1 or 2 slices of pizza rather than 3 or 4... and skip the heavy greasy feeling of having pizza and only pizza for dinner... and the guilt. Am I the only one who feels guilty about a meal without veggies? :)

Pizza with sides

One way we make sure we actually eat the fruit and vegetables is for us to pray and start eating before the pizza is out of the oven.

We're usually quite hungry at dinner, and want to just start with pizza... and not stop eating pizza... until we're too full to want carrot sticks. ;) Eating the healthy stuff first ensures that no one skips out!

Taco pizza

Another way to serve pizza with vegetables is to make taco pizza. Personally, taco pizza is my favorite kind of pizza! I love the spicy taco meat under the cheese, and the crunch of the toppings!

These slices of taco pizza are bursting with flavor, but wouldn't be very filling by themselves. So...

Taco pizza, served

I really pile on the lettuce, sour cream (hey, that's healthy, right?) and whatever other taco toppings we have on hand: fresh tomatoes, black olives, avocado, or salsa.

I will confess... I do really like Papa Murphy's take-n-bake pizzas! But, homemade is so much cheaper, so I've been working on creating my own versions of their pizzas! So far I've done:

Thin-Crust Chicken Bacon Atrichoke Pizza

Mediterranean Herb Chicken Pizza

Taco Grande Pizza

My next project? Recreating their garlic chicken pizza. Oh, my, is that one yummy!! :)

Tips for perfect homemade pizza

Visit Jessica's blog for more frugal ideas (like birthday cakes you can make and decorate yourself)! :)

Frugal budget considerations: More ways to spend less

Strawberry shortcake stack

At the beginning of this new year, I re-evaluated our household budget. On paper. It had been too long since we'd done this, and I knew we had added "extras" without truly "counting the cost".

Our van (which was a necessary upgrade from our car!) gets good gas mileage, but it still uses more gas than our car did. This new (and bigger!) house not only comes with an increase in rent but an increase in utilities. And when my sister Bonnie came to visit, we definitely splurged outside our normal budget!

We are blessed to live debt-free (as we have for most of our marriage, praise GOD!), but yet it's not enough to be living within our means if we're not saving for emergencies, an eventual vehicle replacement/repairs, or able to keep our health cared for. After delaying for several years, I had a root canal and crown done this month which cost us MORE than $1K -- with insurance, and spread over 2010/2011 for maximum coverage!

I'm realizing just how important it is that we focus more on saving for expenses like this. Because we CAN. Joshua has steady work with health insurance, and I'm able to earn money from this website (a HUGE thank-you for ordering from Amazon through my links, clicking on my ads, and signing up for SwagBucks!).

We've had times in our marriage where we budgeted as tightly as possible, just to get by. One income, under $10/hr. with a family to support is not easy! We skimped on lots of things, not to "save money" but to stay out of debt!

Our income has increased since those years, and we feel blessed to be able to afford the "extras". Now, the part comes where we have to decide which "extras" we can plan to afford without living paycheck-to-paycheck! :)

Moshe explores the pantry...

Extras we plan for:

Rent (we upgraded from a 2-br. to a 3-br.)
Regular dental care for all of us
Dental care for Joshua (braces and jaw surgery)
Increased medical bills (Joshua was diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia a couple weeks ago)
Healthy food
A visit with my parents/siblings in Ohio

Things we can do to have those "extras":

Continue having 1 vehicle
Continue having only basic phone service (no cell phones or long distance)
Continue having Netflix (no TV, no movies, and no other movie rentals or purchases)
Continue menu planning
Discontinue restaurant/take-out eating (none, vs. the 6-8 times per year for the past couple of years)

Go to Costco every 2 weeks instead of every week
Spend only $420/month on food/household/toiletries*
Continue to keep the heat at 64 or lower
Wash towels and whites in cold water instead of hot (use a few drops of bleach instead)
Take shorter showers (this is a hard one for me!)
Get Ruth potty trained (she's in Pull-Ups)
Go back to cloth diapers for Moshe (used disposables during December)

Take a year-long break from buying stuff (we have so much already!)
Shop around to see if we can get a cheaper car insurance rate
Recycle anything possible
Call trash service and downgrade to smallest, customer-provided can (saving $7/month)
Get landlord to fix dripping faucet in bathroom
Figure out how to pay bills online to save stamps
Continue blogging
Get my recipe e-book finished!!!

I am very grateful that by doing most (hopefully ALL!) of these things, we will not only continue to stay debt-free, but actually be able to afford our "extras"! :)

A note on education:

One of the things I am doing this year is teaching our children piano and violin. My parents paid for many years of quality instruction for me, and so teaching our children is one of the "extra" things that we can afford (since I can do it!). Yehoshua (6) especially shows an interest in pursuing music. We certainly can't give "everything" to our children, but our hope is to do the best we can in ways that we can! :)

My new laundry system:

It's been much too rainy and wet to hang laundry the past few months, so I have been using the dryer. (We do try to re-wear clothes, especially on days when the children don't go outside and get dirty!)

Joshua suggested doing laundry once a week, and I had my doubts at first, but now I am a convert!

One great part is that I now can do a load of towels/washcloths/bibs and a separate load of socks/underwear. (Do I need to tell you how time-consuming it is to fold a load that contains towels, washcloths, dishrags, dish towels, bibs, cleaning rags, and socks and underwear for 6 people???!!)

The other great part is that I seem to be spending less time and doing fewer loads of laundry. Each Monday, I wash:

1 load of Joshua's clothes (w/some of mine)
1-2 load of kids' clothes (w/some of mine)
1 load of towels OR 1 load of socks/underwear (alternate weeks)
1 load of sheets (alternate between kids' and ours)

So this is usually 4-5 loads each week, and the sheets I can hang indoors instead of using the dryer (since they're so thin).

So... those are my latest ramblings on frugality, and how we manage to make ends meet each month. YHWH is so good to supply our needs, and my intent is to maximize the GOOD things and, as much as possible, prepare for future (and present needs). If you have suggestions for my list(s), I'd love to hear! :)

More of my ramblings about frugality

More frugal ideas and posts can be found over at Jessica's blog today! :)

*Does that sound like a lot for a family with 4 young children? I may do a future post about some of the more affordable (but still healthy) foods I've been trying to incorporate into our diet more regularly. Any suggestions for lowering the grocery bill even more while still eating lots of fruits and veggies and whole foods? :)

Big Berkey Giveaway with Waterview Spigot!

Ruth drinking water by the Royal Berkey

We've had our Berkey water filtering system for almost 3 years now, and we LOVE it. I wrote a review of the Berkey water filter a couple years ago, and have been priviledged to host discount codes for 10% off at MoreThanAlive.com, the Christian-owned company where we purchased our Royal Berkey.

This week, I've got something more: a Berkey discount code AND a giveaway! More Than Alive is offering a Big Berkey with a Waterview Spigot to one winner of this giveaway. I'm honored that they would offer this for readers of my website, and I'm thrilled that one of you will be blessed with a Berkey water filter for free! (See the end of this post for giveaway details.) Note: This giveaway is now closed. Future discount codes will be available on this site. Subscribe for free to be notified of future discounts and giveaways!

For 5 years of our married life, we had been buying and refilling jugs of drinking water at the grocery store each week, and it was a lot of work to fill and transport all that water. Even at $0.37 a gallon for a refill, I was spending $4-5 each week on drinking water.

The jugs took up a lot of space in my cart, a lot of space in our car trunk, and a lot of time to fill. And then the inevitable would happen... "Honey, it's been 8 days since we went to the store, and we only have 2 gallons of water left..."

Ruth filling a glass from the Berkey

Our tap water was horrible, and all the filtering systems we had looked into were expensive and/or slow. When I found out about the Berkey water filters, I practically begged Joshua to help me research their efficacy and buy one! :) He readily agreed and we purchased the Royal Berkey from More Than Alive in 2008.

We're still using the original filters (which should last 3 more years!). In fact, we love the Berkey so much, we gave Royal Berkeys as a wedding gift to my brothers who got married in May and July of last year. We couldn't think of a more useful gift than clean drinking water that's convenient and affordable! :)

I tend to ramble when I talk about our Berkey water filter, because I'm just so thankful and blessed to have one in my kitchen! :)

On our countertop: Berkey water filter, glass, water bottle, and jug for filling

Why we love the Berkey:

The water tastes EXCELLENT!

Berkey drinking water is affordable. Over the life of the filters, the water is only $0.016 per gallon! In 12 months' time, our savings would completely purchase a Royal Berkey water filter.

Having a Berkey water filter is convenient. The water filters quickly (4 gallons per hour for our Royal Berkey) and it's right in my kitchen. The tank holds several gallons of filtered water at one time, and the children can fill their own cups of drinking water.

It doesn't require electricity to filter the water. The Berkey water filter is part of our "emergency preparedness" mindset. It can even filter rain water (but not sea water).

The stainless steel Berkey even looks beautiful... although here in the Seattle area people who see it usually first ask us "How much coffee do you guys drink??!!" :)

Berkey water filter

What's not to love about the Berkey water filter?

Honestly, I have trouble thinking of dislikes about this product! :)

I will say that if I am filling a large cooking pot with water (like when I cook pinto beans), I like to pull a chair up to the Berkey and set my pan on the chair to fill instead of holding it. :)

Another possible issue is that the Berkey water filters are fairly tall (you can see dimensions on the website), and may not fit on counters with cupboards above. We have had our Royal size Berkey while living in 3 different rentals now, and have always found a spot for it without purchasing a stand of some sort. :)

Royal Berkey with Waterview Spigot

What is the "Waterview Spigot"?

One of the free items More Than Alive offers with their Berkey water filtering systems is a waterview spigot. (When we ordered our Berkey, we chose the additional fluoride filters as our free gift, since we're filtering city tap water. For those filtering well water or rain water, the fluoride filters are unnecessary.)

The waterview spigot is a spigot with a tall glass tube attachment that shows the water level in the stainless steel Berkey tank of already-filtered water! No more guesswork or accidentally filling an already-filled Berkey and causing a flood. (Umm, yes, I have done this a couple times in the time we've owned our Berkey!)

In conjunction with this giveaway, More Than Alive sent us a waterview spigot to try with our Royal Berkey. I had heard rave reviews of the waterview spigot from some friends of ours who have one, but hadn't purchased one myself since I'm a tightwad and was accustomed to just looking inside to see how full the tank was. :)

Joshua put the waterview spigot on our Royal Berkey a couple weeks ago, and I love having it!

One perk is that the water runs out faster (it must have a bigger opening than the original spigot did), and you know me... I love to chug my water! :)

And of course, the other perk is that I can keep the Berkey full without any trouble! :)

Royal Berkey with Waterview Spigot

We "hacked" the Waterview Spigot!

Well, kinda. :)

We filled the bottom tank nearly to the top, and then took out 1 gallon of water. Joshua marked the new water level on the waterview tube. Then, we took out another gallon of water, and Joshua marked that level on the waterview tube as well. This gives me a concrete way of determining how many gallons to put in at any time! I used to wait until the bottom tank was almost empty before filling, but that's not nearly as convenient as knowing I can put in 1-2 gallons, for sure, with no risk of overflowing. :)

Ruth drinking water by the Royal Berkey

Why order from More Than Alive?

All Berkey systems have FREE SHIPPING --and More Than Alive ships quickly in my experience!

All Berkey systems come with a FREE GIFT! (Update from 2012: More Than Alive no longer offers a free gift with Berkey purchases.) I highly recommend the additional fluoride filters if you have city tap water, as in our experience it does make a difference in the water quality. A friend gave me one of the chlorine shower filters when we lived in Ohio, and it was very nice as well. I was unable to use it at our apartment when we moved to WA, so I passed it on to another friend when we moved. And now I've tried the waterview spigot as well, and it's just great! So, you have a hard decision ahead if you're buying a Berkey and need to figure out what free gift to choose. ;)

The discount code:

This week for 5 days only (January 3-7, 2011), get 10% off any order by using this code at checkout: TX2Q4

If you've been waiting to purchase a Berkey water filter, this discount will give you $20+ off your purchase price! :)

Big Berkey with Waterview Spigot Giveaway:

More Than Alive is giving away a Big Berkey water filtering system with a waterview spigot to one winner! To be entered in the giveaway, please log in and then leave a comment on this post saying you'd like to be entered. (No need to leave your email address in the comment, since I can see the one on your account.) The drawing is open today (Monday, January 3, 2011) through Sunday, January 16, 2011. One winner will be randomly selected and posted on Monday, January 17. Giveaway is open to U.S. mailing addresses.

Note: This giveaway is now closed. Scroll down for more info, or watch videos and view Q&A about the Berkey at More Than Alive's website.

Ruth drinking water by the Royal Berkey

What if you already own a Berkey? Well, go ahead and enter the giveaway, if you wish! I personally think a Berkey water filter would make a perfect wedding gift, new home gift, or a gift for a needy family. I can think of several families who I would love to bless with a Berkey, and you probably can too! :)

What if you have more questions about the Berkey? Read the comments about the Berkey water filters here. Check out this post with Q&A about the Berkey water filters. Watch videos and view Q&A about the Berkey at More Than Alive's website. Or, leave a comment here with your question! :)

Am I about done talking about the Berkey? Yes. For now. :)

Full Disclosure, as always: After purchasing our Berkey water filter and being thrilled with its performance, I signed up as an affiliate with More Than Alive. If you purchase from them using my links, I receive a commission on sales. The discount code is valid with or without using my links. :)

I am really choosy when it comes to product promotions. In fact, most everything I've ever reviewed or mentioned here is something we purchased ourselves and loved enough to want to tell others about it... and that most certainly includes the Berkey water filters! :)

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