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A slow-cooker full of pinto beans

I love, love, LOVE pinto beans!

I didn't know this until I tried some freshly cooked pinto beans made by my friend Candy's Mexican mom a couple years ago. I begged her mom to tell me HOW she made such delicious beans!

Beans, salt, and a little cilantro, she said. I bought beans at Costco the next week and have been in love ever since! Just look at these pictures and tell me you don't want some hot fresh beans in a bowl right now! ;)

Cooked pinto beans with toppings

I like to serve cooked pinto beans like a loaded baked potato. Cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, cilantro, fresh salsa, avocado -- load 'em up with whatever's in your fridge and suits your palate! :)

Crock pot with cooked pinto beans

Last year, Joshua's mom gave me this Hamilton Beach 6-quart slow cooker. It's perfect for taking to potlucks (which we do regularly) and beans & rice is one of my favorite meals to put in it!

I've also found that cooking dried pinto beans in the crock pot makes them super tender (maybe from the gentle cooking rather than harsh boiling?) as well as convenient!

My method for slow-cooked pintos:

Use about 1 cup of dried beans per quart of capacity in your slow cooker.

Soak beans overnight. Drain and replace water with fresh, to cover beans. Cook on HIGH for 6-7 hours or on LOW for 8-10 hours.

Or, place dried beans in slow cooker, fill with water, and cook on high for 10 hours.

Season with salt before serving.

Cooked pinto beans with toppings

Posts in my "Frugal Potluck Choices" series:

Our favorite beans & rice

Italian Cheese Bread (with price breakdown)

Using less butter

Soft butter spread on pancakes... one of many great ways to use this soft butter spread!

Here's a quick and easy soft butter spread recipe! Joshua made this for me, because he was tired of our butter always being too cold to spread on bread (we keep our house cold!).

This spread is really simple -- two parts butter, one part oil, and one part (this is where it gets... exciting!) water.

Yes, we're now spreading water on our bread! Now, if that isn't frugal, I don't know what is! ;)

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

Frugal Swim Diaper

Ruth (2), all done swimming and ready for lunch! :)

We've been going swimming at our apartment's pool this summer, and while we were out there today, I snapped a couple pictures so I could share my frugal "swim diaper" alternative.

Thirsties diaper cover

The disposable swim diapers are so pricey, and really they are useful just for containing any solid-type accidents, since they fill with water as soon as the child jumps in the pool, anyway.

Thirsties diaper cover

A Thirsties diaper cover does the job of a "swim diaper" quite nicely! For Ruth (about 30 pounds) I use a size Large, and it's still got room for her to grow. Since the chemicals in the pool water are hard on fabrics, I use the same cover for swimming every time, so as not to put excess wear on all my diaper covers.

Wrap tightly, secure with the velcro, and then put the child's swim suit on top. It's a perfect and very affordable swim diaper option! I've seen cloth swim diapers for sale online, but they were more expensive and not something I already owned. :) Since I already had the Thirsties cover from (thanks to SwagBucks), I didn't even have to invest anything new. The cover usually costs $11 -- about as much as a pack of swim diapers... but will last much longer! :)

Here's a video clip from today's swimming.

A few minutes after the video was taken, I looked back at Moshe and he was fast asleep. :)

Sleeping Moshe

Head over to Jessica's blog for more frugal tips! :)

Beyond baking soda: 5 easy frugal recipes for household products

Want to get away from commercial products but aren't sure where to turn beyond your box of baking soda? Here are easy recipes for 5 household products! Sometimes baking soda is enough... and sometimes you need something more. These are all recipes I have tried and used extensively -- with my honest opinion of them. :)

My homemade scouring powder

1. Homemade scouring powder. This takes just a minute to mix and works great. I haven't bought commercial scouring powder since trying this homemade version several years ago. If you use scouring powder, this one is worth making (unless you can get it for free somehow!). :)

My homemade laundry soap!!

2. Homemade laundry detergent. You knew this one was coming, right? :) Now, for my confession. Ever since we moved across-country almost 2 years ago, I have just used laundry soap powder in a big bucket from Costco. It's around $14 and my first bucket (which was actually a gift from my in-laws when we moved here!) lasted us 12 months! I use less than the recommended amount and it works great. No storing supplies to make my own. And for $1.20 a month? I do like 20+ loads of laundry every month!!

Three more:

Tips for Frugal West Coast Living

Walk essentials
Walk essentials: Water bottle, picnic lunch, and diaper bag

On the weekend, I branch out from cooking-related posts and write about my family, answer reader questions, or just blog about what's on my mind! If you have a question or topic you'd like me to tackle, send it my way! :)

Rebecca writes: 

I'm a fan of your blog and have been following it for some time now. My family is soon moving from Kansas to Tacoma, WA and we couldn't be more excited. I have heard a lot though that the area has a much higher cost of living than Kansas. I was wondering if you would have any west coast tips for this Kansas girl.

This site has great charts and statistics for various areas! I especially love looking at weather charts. :)

We've found that housing prices are the biggest difference from living in Ohio. We moved from renting a 2-bedroom house with a garage and yard in Ohio to renting a 2-bedroom apartment north of Seattle and our rent almost doubled!

We've read (and found) that utilities are slightly cheaper here. We live in a 3rd-floor apartment and combined with the milder climate here, our heating costs are a lot less than they were in Ohio. The same goes for cooling -- since we use a fan instead of air conditioning like in Ohio! :)

Our picnic at the park
Our picnic at the park

Food is slightly more expensive here overall BUT there are still great sales and quite a lot of stores to choose from! I like to get my groceries at Costco to keep things as simple and affordable as possible (having 4 young children, only 1 vehicle, and the weekend traffic being NOT fun!), but there are so many stores and farmer's markets and the options are virtually limitless!

I love that the weather here is conducive to getting out a lot more (no freezing cold winters or blazing hot summers), and there are beautiful parks and places to go for FREE! We've only scratched the surface when it comes to parks and trails and beaches!

Kids playing at a park

Gas prices are higher here, but traffic is more of a hindrance to travel than gas prices. ;) Traffic is one of the downsides to this area. Aside from freeway congestion (and most north-south travel requires the use of I-5 or I-405), the stop lights are just plain LONG if you're trying to get anywhere during rush hour. So while everything is so close, it's not like driving the "2 miles to the store" we did in Ohio. We measure distance in minutes. "Two miles" seems a lot further when it's called "15 minutes"... or even more! :)

Car insurance is a lot higher here than it was in Ohio. I think our insurance nearly doubled when we moved! We still just have 1 vehicle, and we don't travel/drive a ton (to work, church, and the grocery store once a week!).

Overall, we really love living in the PNW! Aside from housing prices, I think everything else (utilities, gas, insurance, food) pretty much evens out and we get to enjoy the beautiful cool summers, mountain and Sound views, and woodsy trails! :)

Does anyone else have West coast tips to share??

I appreciated this guest post at Money Saving Mom about frugal living in high cost-of-living areas. And I know Jessica lives in the San Diego area, and blogs about frugal living there. :)

Walk essentials

10 Fabulous Foods We Make at Home (Not Buy!)

I thought it would be fun to do a compilation of our favorite homemade versions of either convenience food or restaurant items. Here are 10 fabulous foods that we make at home!

Homemade mocha frappuccino

#1. Homemade Mocha Frappuccinos! These taste remarkably similar to Starbucks, but for a fraction of the price. We like to add unflavored whey protein to ours when using as a morning pick-me-up. Joshua has drank one of these every day for the past year! (Save money by purchasing your cocoa powder at a bulk foods store.)

#2. Papa Murphy's Specialty Pizzas. I started out by creating what we considered the perfect homemade pizza, which surpasses any take-out pizza we've ever eaten. Now, Papa Murphy's keeps sending us advertisements in the mail, so I got inspired by their ads to create my own homemade versions of their pizzas. YUM!

Papa Murphy's pizzas I've created thus far (another one coming tomorrow!):

Thin-Crust Bacon Artichoke Pizza

Mediterranean Herb Chicken Pizza

Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal

#3. Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packets. This was a fun project, and the kids loved all the flavors we made! I'm picky and prefer old-fashioned rolled oats cooked on the stovetop, fresh that morning, but this is a simple and frugal convenience food. :)


Summer from-scratch favorite: Whole wheat sandwich buns!

Whole wheat buttermilk sandwich buns
Whole Wheat Buttermilk Sandwich Buns

I absolutely love Joshua's grilled food. Chicken, burgers, or fish -- he makes such healthy YUMMY food and I get out of cooking a main dish, too! :)

When it comes to burgers or other grilled meat sandwiches, Joshua likes buns rather than plain bread. And when it comes to buns, I'm picky. I don't like the $0.99 packages of white buns from the grocery store... I like the $3+ whole wheat buns.

Whole wheat buttermilk sandwich buns

Which is why it makes sense to make my own Whole Wheat Buttermilk Sandwich Buns -- especially when I have a nice bread machine to knead the dough! Hands-on time is really only 15 minutes or so, and that's well worth it for these delicious and healthy homemade sandwich buns!

This recipe is from Donna, and it is SO good! :) I changed it to be 100% whole wheat flour (the instructions and photos are my own, as always). Be sure to check out her original recipe on her blog and see what hers look like, too! :)

Whole wheat buttermilk sandwich buns

What did we use these buns for last week? A delicious grilled salmon sandwich! I just made another batch of these buns this morning, and we'll have grilled chicken sandwiches for dinner. Yummy! Now, maybe Summer will finally warm up here in the Pacific Northwest! :)

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

Is Costco frugal?

Joshua and I have enjoyed discussing this question which was left in a comment yesterday:

I've been reading your blog for a few years so I know you are a frugal shopper and homemaker. Do you find you get a good price on the items at Costco? We shop there, too and have noticed our grocery bill rising and I'm trying to figure out if it is because of the items that we buy there or elsewhere (usually Walmart). We aren't able to get everything we need at Costco and find some of their things to be more expensive than Walmart.

The short answer to "Is Costco frugal?" would be... it depends! :)

What you purchase, how far you have to drive, how large your family is -- these are a few of the things that determine whether Costco is saving you money or costing you more.

I do feel that we get a good price on the things we buy at Costco. However, not everything there is a good deal, of course.

Here are some of my favorite frugal deals at Costco:

Romaine lettuce, organic carrots, spinach

Bananas, apples (some kinds), pears

Frozen strawberries, blueberries, organic veggies (green beans, peas, and corn)

Butter, plain yogurt, mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese

Pinto beans, 50# bags of bread or all-purpose flour

Mission tortilla chips, corn tortillas, Rotisserie chicken (pick out a big one; they're all $4.99!)

Bottled water ($0.09 per bottle, which is a good deal if you use bottled water; we drink Berkey water though), some spices, vanilla extract

Why we do most of our grocery shopping at Costco (at least for now):

We go through a lot of food. Our boys eat a lot, we have dinner guests almost weekly, and we pack lunches or eat at home for all our meals. (Or church potlucks.)

Costco is 3 miles from our house.

This year's Costco membership was a gift from Joshua's parents. (They know I'm crazy about Costco!)

With 4 children ages 6 and under, I don't like to shop at more places than necessary, and weekly sale-shopping involves more than 1 stop. We go to Wal-mart/Target/Fred Meyer type stores about 3-4 times a year, and I've found that those types of places are my weak spot when it comes to spending more on stuff we wouldn't normally buy, including food.

Food also happens to be sort of a hobby for us. Joshua enjoys creating cheesecakes and loves to grill. I love baking bread and trying new things. We both appreciate the quality of the foods we buy at Costco. I realize that I am not "saving" any money when I spend $5 on Costco's organic frozen green beans vs. buying canned green beans from Aldi, or generic frozen green beans on sale. We just enjoy them a lot more. (Maybe that's why we go through so many vegetables!) :)

Read More for The dangers of shopping at Costco:

Making homemade instant oatmeal packets

Cinnamon Raisin Instant Oatmeal

We were given a box of pre-packaged instant oatmeal from the store as a gift after Moshe was born, and the kids loved it.

I did too, actually! No pans to wash afterwards and yummy (though really too sweet), along with the whole instant factor... :)

So, I set out to make our own homemade version of instant oatmeal!

Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal


Update on how our garden *really* turned out

After I re-posted about our learning experiences with trying to plant way too many plants in a small plot in the mud, several of you asked me how our garden actually did that year.

So, here's a re-cap:

A photo of our growing plants, as we waited for something more exciting to happen.

Unfortunately, the more exciting thing that was about to happen was... squash bugs. No, not squashed bugs. Bugs that ate our yellow squash plants!

But it gets worse. While the bugs were munching away on the leaves, a wilt had settled in and killed the cucumber and squash plants. I ended my post with dreams of next year's garden, which never ended up happening because we moved across the country and now live in an apartment in the Seattle area. Someday... :)

My parents have a huge (and mostly successful!) garden each year. So inspiring! :)

I especially miss living near them in the summer, when many of our meals were full of fresh garden produce! (And the kitchen sink, too!)

We did get to pick blueberries and blackberries here in WA last year, which was a lot of fun. :)