On Being Cheap: PANTRY RAID

Whoops, I was posting at a good clip there, then the holidays happened (They were GREAT! How were yours?) and so on and so forth. Gotta get back in the habit. I’ll start by talking about one of my New Year’s Resolutions (I’ll post all of my resolutions tomorrow, because everyone is dying to know them, right?). Out of both desire and necessity, one of my resolutions is to stick to my grocery budget. It’s $60 a week, which I know we can do, because we have done it before.

But first, budgeting is hella hard.  I can’t bear to look at it on paper, which is doesn’t really bode well for a successful budget. So far, I’ve been going to the grocery store once a week with $60 cash. No  debit/credit cards. That works for me.  We’ve been trying to only buy staples, though Paul and I have differing views of what constitutes a staple. Me: Milk, eggs, bread- anything from that Sesame Street cartoon. Him: bagels, cookies, and beer.  I’m not saying I don’t help him consume his staples, just saying. Writing a list and sticking to it helps. Sending the adult who is most likely to stick to the list helps. Not ‘stocking up’ helps.

So, once I got the excess spending under control, I started looking at the convenience foods that we buy.  I stopped buying frozen lunches for Paul last year and started making my own. He usually just likes the pasta with red sauce or pesto kinds, so I just would make a big batch and freeze them. Much cheaper and (probably) much healthier.  What else could I cut out of the budget by DIYing? A pantry/freezer check and I realized we partake in more convenience foods than I realized.

So, what do I do here? How do I justify some of these things, which, while convenient, are either wasteful (both money AND packaging (I’m looking at you, apple sauce pouches)) or unhealthy/high in sodium? Here’s the goods. I’ve tackled some of these things already. Let me know if you have any advice!

  1. TRADER JOE’S SALSA VERDE–  This is my everything. I love this particular salsa verde. But today I made my own salsa verde. It was so easy that it’s actually embarrassing that I didn’t do this sooner. It took me maybe five minutes of prep and ten minutes of actual cooking and it yielded the equivalent of 2.5 jars of Trader Joe’s stuff. And it’s TASTY. I put some in the fridge and some in the freezer. Hoping the freezer stuff fares well. If so, I’ll make a double batch next time.
  2. CANS OF BEANS-We are a vegetarian family and use lots of beans and I’m not good at planning ahead so canned typically works best for us. I did make some dried chickpeas and freeze them a while back, which I just used. But yesterday, I made my own refried beans. It yielded TEN CUPS and probably cost me all of $2, plus it’s lower sodium. I made burritos with some of it and froze the rest. Other than the planning ahead (soaking overnight and having a few hours to cook them), it was pretty easy.
  3. HUMMUS– Used the aforementioned freezer chickpeas. Again, so easy it’s embarrassing. My family isn’t as huge of hummus eaters as I would like us to be, but maybe that will change.
  4. RAVIOLI– Planning on making my own ravioli this week. Will keep you posted.
  5. WAFFLES– Made a huge batch of waffles, froze them, and now just pop them in the toaster. Easy peasy, super cheap, all stuff I had on hand already. Plus, I know what is in them, they ain’t that bad. Super easy for busy mornings and if we nix the syrup, she can eat on the go. And I snuck some ground flax up in there.
  6. CANNED OR JARRED TOMATOES AND PASTA SAUCES– I use these to make my own concoction of sauce. Some pasta sauce or a can of tomatoes (I buy bpa free cans or glass jarred) mixed with fresh veggies and seitan, usually. Currently, I don’t know that it’s cost effective to make my own ‘base’. I plan on trying my hand at gardening again this year and hopefully will have a ton of tomatoes I can can. Haha, can can.
  7. MADERAS LENTILS– Tasty Bite brand. For some reason, my kids love these. Well, I know why. Because their sainted former nanny used to feed them lentils, so that’s ok. If she hadn’t feed them lentils, Ramona would have gagged on principle. I ain’t complaining. Yeah, I’ll get these going soon. Shouldn’t be too difficult, right?
  8. TRADER JOE’S BEAN BURRITOS AND BLACK BEAN TAQUITOS– Dude. I am so proud of myself.  I made 36 taquitos and 3 small bean burritos for the cost of one 8 pack of Trader Joe’s taquitos. It was super easy, they froze really well, they are baked, not fried like the TJ ones are (I think), and the ingredients were healthier.  It’ll be even cheaper next time, now that I’m making my own refried beans. I made ten rice and bean burritos with the homemade refried beans too, they were a hit with the kids and with me. And I still have seven cups of refried beans left over.
  9. BOXED MAC N CHEESE– Planning on making a big batch of homemade and freezing it…as soon as I have some more freezer space. Not sure if it will be a cost saver, but surely will taste better.  I need a good, cheap recommendation for a baked mac n cheese. The Martha Stewart one is amazing, but ends up costing $30!
  10. APPLE SAUCE POUCHES– WHY are these so flipping expensive? And they are finished in two seconds. I haven’t been able to justify the cost/time with the cost of premade sauce, maybe if we go apple picking in the fall, but I did buy reusable pouches. They are kind of a pain to fill, but whatever.
  11. VEGGIE BURGERS– I have a ton of these in my freezer, so once I’ve cleared them out, I’ll try my hand at making my own.  Any recipes or hints are welcome!
  12. SEITAN-Upton’s brand, either chorizo or Italian. I love Uptons and they are old friends of mine, so I will always support them, but I might try my hand at making my own seitan. I have gluten in my cabinet waiting for me to get up the nerve.
  13. MORNINGSTAR FARMS VEGGIE BACON– I eat too much of this. I’m certain that it’s not great for me, sodium wise. I haven’t found a veggie bacon that is as thin and crispy. HALP.
  14. GENERIC NUTRIGRAIN TYPE BARS– These have replaced fruit gummies as Ramona’s most whined for treat. Don’t know if that is good or bad. I have granola bar molds. I don’t know what I’m doing. Hi.
  15.  TOFU– I won’t be attempting my own.
  16. CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE/GREEK YOGURT/COTTAGE CHEESE– I won’t be making my own, but I DO buy the cheapish block of cheddar at Costco and shred my own.  Pre-shredded cheese contains anti-clumping stuff. Fresh shredded cheese melts better and tastes better and is just cheese. Also, even though I said that not stocking up is helpful- it’s not always. We buy our dairy staples at Costco, you can get organic for much cheaper. Did you know you can freeze dairy? We freeze butter and cheese if we have too much and are at the breaking point.
  17. VEGETARIAN BOUILLON– Upgraded from buying cartons, because I always ended up throwing away 2/3rds of it.  Now make it as I go. Someday soon I will try my hand at making my own.
  18.  PASTA– Doesn’t seem worth it. Am I wrong? I’m sure fresh pasta is great, but it’s the kind of thing I need to have on hand as a pantry staple, not a fresh thang.
  19. SANDWICH BREAD– We go through so much now that Ramona brings her lunch to school, and I just don’t know if making my own is in the cards. However, my sister gave me a great tip for the heels that no one wants to eat. Put the crust side on the inside. Why did I never try that before?!

Our freezer is full. I can’t wait to empty some of it so I can try some more of this stuff.  I dream of a chest freezer, but alas, no where to put it. So, where else can I be cutting corners? Help me, you amateur Dave Ramsey’s!

Christmas Cookies

IMG_1471Can you tell what our Advent Calendar activity was yesterday? (I mean, besides by the name of the blog post)

This is one of my favorite family traditions, though it exhausted me this year (I am lazy). I think next year, we will make the cookies a day ahead of time so that I’m not making cookies, making icing AND decorating in one day.  God, I’m pathetic. ANYWAY, can you tell who made which cookie here?


Ramona also used Wilton Food Writers on this unfrosted cookie, which turned out pretty cool.

Baking is not my thing, I don’t have the patience or precision for it, but we enjoy this project.  It’s just the Betty Crocker sugar cookie recipe with frosting made from butter/powdered sugar/a lil bit o’ milk.  I think we might make s’more cookies too. I will share that recipe if we get it together. What are your favorite holiday baking traditions?

Portable North Pole

Last night’s advent calendar activity was “Watch Video From Santa”. We’ve been making a video from Santa at Portable North Pole for the last four years. They are incredibly professional, tailored for your kid (they say your child’s name, show her picture in Santa’s nice list book, reference being a good girl or boy, tell her what she should work on next year, mention what she’s into, etc), and best of all…FREE! There are pay videos that are even more tailored, but we don’t need that yet (might need it next year since it would be nice to have a different video for Felix- the video would be the same for him, but with his info. I feel like Ramona might notice). Anyway, it’s a nice little holiday thing that, again, is free and takes you about 5 seconds to make. And check out how rapt with attention my kids were. 12347939_10205569001209986_2426459958244145425_n

Snowman Craft

Yesterday’s advent calendar activity was “Make a snowman craft”. I probably should have left this a little more open ended and said “Holiday craft” because, in typical Norah fashion, I didn’t actually HAVE any particular craft planned.  Luckily for me, I had some Elmers glue, some felt, and a Sharpie.

I had Ramona draw, and I cut, then we glued all the pieces together. It was pretty cinchy, and ended up cute.  I wrote “Ramona 2015” on the back because memories.


Ramona was still feeling crafty, so we worked on a project I splurge bought at Target.  I mean, how could I say no to 6 itty bitty glass bottles (WITH CORKS!*) of chunky glitter?! And wooden xmas trees? This wasn’t my most frugal purchase, I think it ended up being almost $30 with the two trees, the glitter, and the paint, but Handmade Modern, I just can’t quit you. IMG_1406

So, Ramona painted and I did glitter duty, with her picking out which glitter to use. I think it turned out pretty cute.



Once Ramona’s tree was done, I realized that I liked my tree the way it was. Cute, grainy, modern wood.  So, I left it as is. There’s enough glitter on that mantel anyway.


So far, art projects have been the real winner in the Advent calendar so far!

*These bottles are adorable, but the corks barely stay in them. Might look great in a grown ups craft room, but don’t let them fall into kids hands or you will look like the aftermath of a Ke$ha concert.

New House Numbers

One of the ugliest things on our very ugly house was the house numbers.  Easy enough to fix, once you get around to it.  The problem was getting around to it.  I bought the new numbers right away, when I stumbled upon them at Home Depot.  I always wanted the Neutra House numbers from Design Within Reach, but at $27 each, that seemed a little too lipstick-on-a-pig to me.  So when I saw similar at Home Depot for $6 each, I snatched em up. Then they sat in a drawer for two years.



AFTER (I know, they are a little crooked. We’ll fix it. Someday…)


I love it with the gray. We are pushing the modern on this place, even though it’s not particularly modern. I hope it’s working. I think it is. What do I know? NOTHING.

Now that it’s gray, I don’t even mind the weird green door like I used to. Should I do anything with that?

Playin’ Games

I LOOOOOOVE board games, always have. I am fortunate in that Ramona loves games too. It’s something that we like to do together and it makes me feel good to spend time with her in a constructive way that is fun for both of us and peels us away from our respective screens.
Starting at about age 4, the games started actually getting fun for me too, instead of just blah Candyland dumbed down stuff.

Guess what? I never let her win. She wins on her own often, and I will hold back if I am totally kicking her ass, but I never ever just LET her win. I can pretend that it’s a conscious parenting strategy to instill good sportsmanship (which is indeed a nice byproduct), but it’s really because I’m IN IT TO WIN IT.  It’s the little things that bring me joy.

Anyway, here’s a few recommendations from our stash, keep in mind Ramona is 5.5 years old, but we started playing most of these at age 4.


This is my #1 A+++++ recommendation for both kids and grown ups. It’s super fun, easy, and fast paced. I think Ramona was on the brink of turning 4 when we got this game, she might have been mid 3 even. She got the hang of it quickly and kicks my ass often.  We got the Family Edition, which has funny silly monsters.  The only difference between Kids addition and Family edition is Kids is all animals, so you don’t really have to read to know what cards you have. Family is totally age appropriate, we just had to memorize what things were called.  ruckus


Suspend Junior

This is a fun take on Jenga/Pick Up Sticks style game. I think we already outgrew Junior (my baby has a steady hand) and need to up the difficulty to regular ol’ Suspend, so consider yourself warned. suspend



You know how us old farts are always complaining about updates to classics? “In MY day…” type of thing? The updates to Operations are AWESOME! There is a timer, there are different ways to play, the bones and organs are better, it’s a lot more fun. Operation-Board-Game--pTRU1-22229029dt



Perfect game for driving home that whole “Don’t cry when you lose” point.  Cause you are always losing in Sorry until you win.




Weirdly fun! Any set will do, we have both a Disney Princess set and a super cute vintage one (as pictured below)



Connect 4

This one is starting to get a little old for me, but it’s still a fun game for Ramona. Pretty sneaky, Sis!

connect four

Mille Bornes

Full disclosure, haven’t played this with Ramona yet, but I think she’s ready for it. This is one of my favorite games of all time! I read somewhere that the White Stripes would bring this on tour with them and it made me immediately go out and buy all their records.


PRO TIP #1: Buy the majority of your games at the thrift store/garage sales, especially if you are experimenting. It’s so much cheaper and you will lose a bunch of pieces at some point (if your household is anything like ours).  Our thrift store has a HUGE games section and I always come home with a vintage Ravensburger game or two. Check and see if they have enough of the pieces to play. Most instructions are available online.

PRO TIP #2: If you are going the ‘buy it new’ route, befriend your local toy or game shop. Besides all the great things that happen when you “Shop local”, these people have played the games before and know which ones are good and which ones suck.  I like to get recommendations from the toy shop in my parents town, (it’s called Child’s Play and its amazing, hit it up if you are ever in Sturgeon Bay, WI) because I think we have the same taste in games. In Evanston, Oliver’s Toys and Trains has a great selection. Do you have a great game store? Leave ’em in the comments!

PRO TIP #3: Get one of these bad boys.  It’s been super helpful with Ramona in helping her hold her cards. It’s the Gamewright Little Hands Card Holder. I got Ramona’s at Oliver’s.


I still have a bunch of games sitting in the closet waiting for Christmas, so I will probably trot out a few reviews once those have been played.  Do you have any games you would recommend? Leave em in the comments! Someday I will do an adult game round up too, if you want.


On Wednesday, our Advent calendar activity was to go to Christkindlmarket, the German Christmas market in downtown Chicago, check it out, see Santa, the whole nine. Ramona had a half day of school, so it seemed like a good day to do it. While we were down there, I thought we could stop by the Merchandise Mart and say hi to my former co-workers. Plus, of course, Ramona wanted to go to Pauls store to say hi to Daddy.

WELP, BEST LAID PLANS, PEOPLE. First, there was a big art fair at the Mart, so parking was impossible. Finally found a spot, bundled the kids up, went to the showroom, the kids were nuts and running around and terrifying me, so we made a quick escape. Decided to walk from the Mart to the market, but, of course, went the wrong way for a bit.  Got to the market, looked around at some nutcrackers and went in search for Santa (I like to get that stuff done immediately, so that we can make a hasty exit if need be).  SANTA WAS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND! Turns out he is now at Millenium Park.  While only two blocks or so away, Ramona had to make the choice of going to see daddy at work or Santa. She choose Daddy.  So, we spent $8 on a stale pretzel (note to self: check prices before promising treats), headed off, into the freezing freezingness (JUST KIDDING, WE WERE IN THE FREEZING FREEZINGNESS THE WHOLE TIME), and went the wrong way, again, for a few blocks.  Finally got to Paul’s store and it was SWAMPED.  We said a quick hello, and made our retreat back to the car.  Felix was crying because his hands were cold but wouldn’t keep his mittens on, Ramona wouldn’t stop whining, and the walk was taking FOREVER. annnnnd I made those poor kids walk over 2 miles.

Lesson learned. We had kind of a crummy experience there two years ago. Now with no Santa, we don’t need to go there again (I might go there, with grown up friends, to drink hot wine). Wish we had gone to the aquarium instead. IMG_1267

Don’t touch, don’t touch, please please please for the love of God, don’t touch!!!!


smart boids


The $8 pretzel.


Our new Santa.

Three Things Thursday

It’s time for another installment of Three Things Thursday.  This is harder than I thought, so don’t just me if the things seem dumb. I’m just riffin’ here.  Otherwise it would all be tv shows.

1. Spontaneanation With Paul F. Tompkins podcast

I’m a Luddite, a very late adopter to all new tech. Yes, podcasts are new tech to me.  I’m still trying to decide if I want to try Spotify.  So, I recently learned how to download and listen to podcasts (which, I know, is laughable) and I’ve gone on a bender.  Spontaneanation is by far my favorite. Paul F. Tompkins, who you probably remember from VH1s Best Week Ever, Mr. Show, et al, has a brief chat with his guest, and that chat is the impetus for an improvised story played out by PFT and 3 improvisers. It’s hilarious, he’s charming, and he wears good suits. It’s radio, so you can only tell that last part by the sound of his voice.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Check it out here or download with whatever you use.

2. Smartwool Socks

They aren’t itchy, they aren’t thick (necessarily, anyway, you can buy thick ones if you prefer) and they keep your feet warm and non-sweaty.  I bought knock offs at Costco because Smartwool socks are stupidly expensive, but….I had to throw the knock offs out because they wore out insanely fast. I still have socks from 8th grade, people, I don’t throw out year old socks. (this is not a sponsored thing)

3. Ditching Cable

The Hulu/Netflix/Amazon trifecta is so much cheaper than cable (for us, we saved about $125 a month, and we just had the most basic cable ever)  and for someone like me who doesn’t watch things in real time ever anyway, it’s perfect.  Sure, you don’t get current seasons, but I’m usually so behind anyway and that makes it perfect for binge watching (my favorite!). And now that all three are offering original programming (excellent original programming, btw), it’s even better.  If you are looking for a way to slash your budget, this is theee first thing you should do! Thinking about adding HBO Now too, but that might be overdoing it.


Easy Advent Calendar

Last weekend, we made our Advent calendar.  I go for an experience based calendar, versus little gifts or candy (because, seriously, who needs more shit in their house or sugar in their kids? Got enough of both, thank you very much!). It’s just a simple construction paper chain with a number on each link, the activities written on the inside.


I gotta admit, I stole this idea from my friend Jennifer.  I know we’ve DONE advent calendars in the past but I can’t for the life of me remember what they looked like.  All the Pinterest ideas I liked would take some prep (like finding 25 toilet paper rolls). I liked this idea because it was something Ramona and I could do together, I drew the lines, she cut the strips and numbered them, I wrote in them, and we both taped them into the chain.

It did take a little brain power, I had to sit with the calendar and figure out dates that would work with the activities and not to put too overwhelming things on school nights, etc. For example, I work on Thursday and Friday evenings so, to be fair to Paul,  who  didn’t ask to be born really know anything about this, I set the activities for those evenings to be things like “Watch a Christmas movie”.  Some examples of things in the calendar are “Go to Zoo Lights” “Dance Party To Christmas Music*” “Visit Santa” “Write Christmas List” “Make Cookies” “Do a Christmas Craft”

Last night’s activity, which I had intended as a kind of throw away, was to make paper snowflakes. Dudes, Ramona LOVED THIS.  And it’s been a million years since I have done it, and I had a blast too.  Here’s a few of ours.


I tried to be fancy.


One of my favorites of Ramona’s. It looks like a bunny skull.


This one is a collaboration. We took turns making cuts. I love it.

So, we made a ton and hung them up and had a blast and Ramona even decided to forgo bedtimes stories, she was having so much fun. It was a veritable Winter Wonderland up in here.

Do you do a calendar? Do you have ideas for activities? Leave em in the comments!


*This went over like a lead balloon, btw.

Scaredy Cat

You guys, I’m scared of everything. It’s only recently, but the last few years, I am terrified of everything. This year is particularly bad. I’m afraid of pesticides, I’m afraid of guns/mass shootings/school shootings/police shootings, I’m afraid of cancer, I’m afraid of my kids being molested, I’m afraid of Donald Trump, I’m afraid of Ben Carson, I’m afraid of Isis, I’m afraid of the polar ice caps melting, I’m afraid of running out of fresh water, I’m afraid of EVERYTHING. I never was like this before.  I blame my kids and I blame social media and whatever it is, I hate it.

My mom told me that my dad’s mom told her how scared she had been when my father was born, she was scared of bringing a baby into this screwed up world.  That was 76 years ago.  So, I guess you never escape it.

Do you guys feel like this? Tell me everything is going to be ok.