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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:

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!

Read more: How to make your own lactose-free milk!

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, 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! :)

Smooth and creamy maple-sweetened kefir

Ruth (2) drinking some kefir

How to make kefir: Video tutorial

All about kefir

How to make your own kefir

We have been busy making and enjoying lots of kefir at our house! :)  I first started making dairy kefir about 4 years ago. The boys were younger (ages 3 and 1) and I ended up consuming most of the kefir I was making myself. Before Ruth was born, I decided to take a break from making kefir. After moving from Ohio to Seattle 2 years ago, I kept intending to get more kefir grains. I finally did so this summer, and we have had a grand time making and drinking our kefir!

I bought my kefir grains from Brandy, a long-time reader here. I have been really super impressed with the quality of her kefir grains! From the very start, they have produced thick, creamy, YUMMY kefir! This kefir is better than any I have had before (though the grains do look like my previous ones). (NOTE: Sadly, Brandy is no longer selling kefir grains. I now recommend Cultures for Health as a source for purchasing real kefir grains!)

Ruth (2) had been asking for a glass of milk for snacks or at meals, and would love to drink several cups of milk each day. I didn't want her to drink that much plain milk, but I'm much more comfortable with her drinking a generous glass of kefir instead. Milk is an affordable food (usually $2/gallon at Costco), and with my own kefir grains I can serve fresh kefir for about $0.12 cents a cup!

kefir grains
Kefir grains, ready for fresh milk

The children all love kefir. For an extra-delicious treat, I stir in some maple syrup. The resulting kefir tastes similar to Trader Joe's Maple Cream Line yogurt (which costs about $3.70 for 32 ounces).

Milk kefir is easy to make, taking just a couple minutes' time, and no special warming, stirring, etc. When I ordered my kefir grains, Brandy sent about enough to make a cup of kefir each day. The grains have quickly multiplied and I'm now making 2-quart batches! :)

kefir grains

We use our kefir for smoothies or drinking (instead of milk). I sometimes blend a banana with some kefir for a morning drink, and the kids like kefir with strawberry jam stirred into it. :) Brandy suggests making a "smoothie base" where you blend some fruit and store in the fridge to mix with kefir for a quick smoothie throughout the week. Really, fruit-flavored kefir tastes like a drinkable yogurt, and my kids love getting to use straws (we buy straws at Costco for about a penny each). :)

So anyway, aside from this being a simple "I love kefir!" kind of post, this is one of the ways I've been combining frugality, health, and simplicity in the kitchen. Having affordable but nutritious snacks and breakfasts is crucial for a modest food budget (something I'm constantly striving for but still don't feel I've accomplished!), and homemade kefir has been a step in that direction. :)

How to make kefir: Video tutorial

All about kefir

How to make your own kefir

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") and just signed up as an affiliate with Cultures for Health.

Cultures for Health sells dried milk kefir grains, which they culture and dehydrate themselves. The grains are shipped in organic milk powder and will rehydrate within 5-7 days and then will continue to grow and make kefir.

While I think the ideal source of kefir grains is live, fresh grains (preferably given as a gift from a friend!), Cultures for Health is a good company 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. :)

Cultures for Health


More frugal tips from Jessica's blog! :)

Celebrating with homemade Sparkling Juice

When we've got something to celebrate, we like to do it with some sparkle. We like wine on occasion, but with 4 young children, we like to include them in the celebration!

In the past, we have gotten sparkling grape juice on sale, and were even given a bottle of sparkling grape juice and a bottle of sparkling cider after the birth of little Moshe! I loved that extra thoughtfulness and fun on such a happy occasion. :)

Joshua decided to make a homemade version of sparkling grape juice and cider, and his version is excellent! I think it tastes just like the bottles of sparkling juice that are sold for at least $2-3 for 750ml (about 25 ounces), only ours is a lot cheaper.

And, a huge plus is that it can be made with 100% juice, for a truly all-natural beverage without extra sugar!

The players? Club Soda (carbonated water) and juice concentrate!

Price breakdown of the homemade sparkling juice:

Club soda: $0.75 for 2 liters (or less, if on sale; you will have some left over)

Frozen juice concentrate: ~$1.25 (depending on the kind and sales)

60 ounces of homemade sparkling juice: $2

60 ounces of commercial sparkling juice: $5-7

Savings: $3-5 for a few minutes of work! :)

You can use any juice concentrate you wish. I like the clear juices best, like grape or apple, rather than orange -- although we've served sparkling orange juice to guests and the children all devoured it! Of course, the quality of juice you use will make a difference, so don't use a can that's been freezer burned or isn't otherwise delicious! ;)

Check out the recipe for measurements and more info on making sparkling grape juice! Your family will love it if you make this for them!! :)

For more frugal tips, visit Jessica's blog! :)