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Martha Stewart Doesn't Live Here...

December 7th, 2006 at 04:23 am

This is me flipping off Martha Stewart, Trading Spaces, DIY, and every department store holiday window mock-up that has made me feel my tree is crap for the past several years.

You know what I'm talking about: big beautiful bushy trees with firmly attached needles and no bald spots. And decorations: do I even need to go into detail? Gorgeous sculpted imported from Umbosloveckia where they're hand-wrought by peasant children earning a decent wage to buy mom a new babushka for Christmas. Big, tasteful, beautiful ornaments. The kind that hang on the tree with a silky ribbon, not an el cheapo wire hanger.

Every year I see these trees and yearn for one of my own.

Every year I refuse to put the several hundred dollars into it, and every year I wind up secretly disappointed that I've fallen short of Martha's dream.

Well, pardon my French, but screw Martha Stewart!

When my husband asked when we were going to put up our tree, I silently sighed. Bluh. Another bluh tree... We bought a 6.5 ft pre-lit fakie tree 3 years ago, and it does the job. Not big and beautiful, mind you, and definitely doesn't smell good. And, as an aside, does anyone have a decent way to CLEAN a fakie tree short of vacuuming it? DH had never had a real tree, so I've bought one once (9 ft!) for our first Christmas together when we were dating. Ever since: el fake-o.

So there I was, staring at my piddly li'l 6.5 ft tree and my pile of decorations. Actually, they weren't all my decorations. See, when it came time to clean out the office right before the lay-off, my manager gave me all of my department's Christmas ornaments. So now I have a hodge-podge of my stuff, their stuff, and even some stuff I'm not really sure where it came from.

No way I can pull a Martha-tree off with this. There's more than one shade of red in that pile, for Pete's sake!

So, in a fit of holiday peevishness I decided to put a bunch of junk on my tree. By 'junk' I mean 4 stockings, 2 stuffed figures, plushy country-time ornaments, silver jingle-bells, and a Santa Hat. There's some other stuff on there, too, like my tasteful silver, gold, and frosted globes which clash ever so nicely with the red wooden feaux-berry garland.

Believe it or not, it ain't half bad!

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No, I don't have a 'Battle of the Bulge' ornament on my tree! Big Grin Appears I've been struck by the photo-upload bandit!
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Giving Disappearing Gifts

November 27th, 2006 at 06:07 pm

Don't remember where I stumbled across this concept, but I know it was last summer or fall at some point. I was reading up on environmental conservation, and one of their suggestions for the holidays was giving 'disappearing gifts', or gifts that typically don't come in a lot of packaging and don't wind up cluttering up your house. As soon as I read it I heard the echo of my mother saying "Please, don't give my anything I have to dust!" and I knew I had found my calling!

I don't take the disappearing gift concept too literally: if I find a 'thing' that will be absolutely perfect, I will of course get it. But more often than not, I will purchase the ephemeral. Here's what I mean.

* My parents: gift certificate to their favorite restaurate, a Black Friday deal flash drive for dad and a cert to her favorite stylist for mom
* DH's parents: car rental and gas money so they can make a trip to see family in the middle of December (otherwise they weren't going to go)
* My sister & her DH: a bottle of their favorite tequila and a cert to their favorite sushi restaurant
* DH's sister and her boyfriend: a neato knife block and a cert to the new natural foods store

Lots of things can fall under the heading of a disappearing gift, some more obvious than others.
* gift certificates of all sorts
* food and beverage
* candles
* bird seed
* animal treats (for pet owners, obviously!)
* subscription to a cleaning service/yard service/garbage service, etc
* a weekend getaway at a hotel
* subscription to NetFlix (or similar)

I'm trying to find more and more ways to bring the 'disappearing' concept into the rest of my holiday celebration. I've found Christmas cards made on recycled paper impregnated with wildflower seeds. After the holidays, simply toss the card in your yard and in the spring you have a patch of wildflowers! Don't know if I'll buy some yet, but I like the thought. Wish I could find wrapping paper that did the same!

Thanksgiving Saga: The Finale!

November 24th, 2006 at 02:03 am

I have proof!

DH cleaned up the den. Not just his chair, but the whole den! Even the 14 ft. canoe made it outside!







This is my kitchen in its 'retro' splendor. Notice counter space is a premium, and the big gaping hole where the oven should be (currently houses the microwave).



The next 2 pics show a total of 2 kinds of stuffing, 3 kinds of cranberries, 3 dessert pies, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, roasted potatoes and onions, asparagus pie, cheese biscuits, black olives, deviled eggs, and stuffed celery. The 'table' under the red cloth is a corner desk we got free from a friend about a month ago. The table under the ivory cloth is from the kitchen, a 4 ft round we got free from a previous boss of mine.





And here's the turkey! Rather, turkies Big Grin



Bird came out 30 min ahead of schedule at 2:30, and we didn't eat until 4 b/c folks were late. Didn't matter, it stayed warm in it's aluminum foil blankie. The turkey was FANTASTIC and DH is a convert: says it's how we'll do every turkey. Even Dad ate some of the skin, which he apparently rarely if ever does.

And, um, here's my 20 POUND TURKEY after 7 people ate dinner and took home leftovers. WHAT THE FOO?!??? Guess they weren't lyin' when they said it was yummy!

Thanksgiving Saga: Part 2

November 23rd, 2006 at 07:17 pm

OK, are you ready for this?

I'm done, except for a shower. That's right, 45 minutes ahead of schedule! Woohoo!!

Thermometer says the turkey is at 170 at the thigh, so only a little bit more to go. The den is AMAZING; I don't think it's looked this good since we moved int. DH was productive while I did dishes Wink

Table-like areas are all staged in the dining room, and I rolled my buther block island in there for us to carve the turkey on. Seriously, this bird is so big I don't have a platter that'll hold it. My roasting pan barely held it!

I just stuffed the celery, DH added potatoes and onions to the roasting pan about 20 minutes ago, and now it's a waiting game.

If the turkey tastes half as good as it smells, I'll be in hog heaven all weekend log!

Hope everyone is having a very merry!

Thanksgiving Saga: Part 1

November 23rd, 2006 at 01:22 pm

Alright, the marathon has begun!

Because of my odd situation for this TG, I'm going to try and post updates in here as the day progresses, rather than dump it all into one large post. We'll see how it goes!

So far TG has cost me just over $15. Woohoo!!! DH and I went to the store last night and got onions, garlic, celery, and stuff to make stuffed celery. Since the turkey was free, and that is my only other contribution, things are looking fiscally fine so far.

We took the turkey out for a 'test drive' on the grill and buddy did we get lucky! One roasting pan + one rack + one 20 lb turkey = just barely fits onto my grill.

Ability to cook the meat: CHECK!

DH and I decided to turn the water on in the downstairs bathroom to make the toilet function for the day. The water is off b/c the toilet is leaky and damaging the subfloor, but one day of use isn't going to cause more damage than what's already there. We also went to Home Depot to get a shower curtain rod for the tub down there (as the cat box currently lives in that tub and isn't very pretty). Since we needed the rod anyways, I'm not counting that as a TG expense.

Ability for folks to, um, take care of business: CHECK!

DH replaced the light fixture in the kitchen last night. Took longer than it should have b/c the wiring in our house is older than we are. It was nice of him, since we've had the light and the bulbs for it sitting in the dining room floor since July. After the light fiasco, we cleaned up/cleared out/created organized piles in the living room and dining room.

Ability to walk in the house and easily find one's way to the food: CHECK!

All that's left so far as making the house presentable is washing what's left of the dishes and cleaning the den. That'll be fun: the den is the home of THE CHAIR (and it's entourage of cans, dishes, papers, etc). I think I'm going to be busy in the kitchen while DH works on that!

Other items on the agenda include setting up a table like apparatus in the dining room and covering it with a table cloth so that we may graze the food as we see fit. Folks can eat wherever they sit, party style. I figure since we're not eating anything that requires a knife to cut, it shouldn't be an issue. As for the heat: I'm going to start a fire in the woodstove in a few minutes to knock the chill off, and raise the blings/curtains to take advantage of today's sunshine. Once folks get here, it'll warm up fast.

Ability to stuff our faces in relative comfort: CHECK!

Otherwise: it's now almosr 8:30 EDT. I need to start turkey prep about 9 and have it on the grill by 10 in order to have it off the grill between 2:30 and 3, and ready to eat between 3 and 3:30.

So far, so good. We'll see how it progresses!

Ideas for Homemade Gifts

November 21st, 2006 at 03:33 pm

'Tis the season for gifting and such
If you're like me, you might buy too much!

So here's a small list of nice things to make.
Since I have no oven, there's nothing to bake! Big Grin

Microwave Peanut Brittle
http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,167,147166-231203,00.html

Cream Cheese Mints (think butter mints)
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/cream-cheese-mints/detail.aspx

Chocolate Dipped Whatever (pepermint sticks, pretzels, store-bought butter cookies, spoons)
I use a chocolate glaze recipe whenever I dip stuff
http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Chocolate-Glaze-I/Detail.aspx

No-Bake Cookies: These are p-nut butter, and can be dipped or spread with the chocolate glaze above
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/no-bake-peanut-butter-cookies-i...

Spice Mixes:
Jerk Rub
http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Jerk-Seasoning/Detail.aspx
Rice Seasoning Mix
http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Rice-Seasoning-Mix/Detail.aspx
Cajun/Creole Mix
http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Cajun-Seasoning-Mix/Detail.aspx

Infused Oils
http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Infused-Olive-Oil/Detail.aspx
http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Italian-Herb-Infused-Olive-Oil/...
http://homecooking.about.com/library/archive/blcon3.htm

Herbed Vinegars
http://homecooking.about.com/cs/atozfoodindex/ht/herb_vinega...
http://www.giftsfromyourkitchen.com/vinegar/perfect-herbed-v...
http://www.mealsmatter.org/recipes-meals/recipe/23699
http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/recs/5/Herbed_Vinegar45396....
http://www.homemade-gift-basket-ideas.com/herbed-vinegar-rec...

Your Own Personal Coffee Shop

November 9th, 2006 at 05:16 pm

You might not know this, but I like coffee Big Grin Hey, I even managed to keep a straight face while I typed that!

Anyways, I wanted to share some easy ways to have coffee-shop coffee right at home. Unless you're anywhere near I live, in which case you need to come by my dad's coffe shop Wink

First things first, buy coffee you like and know you will enjoy. Just my opinion here: non-flavored will be your better bet because it will give you more options when it comes to adding flavor later. Coffee stays fresher if you buy it in bean form and grind it yourself, but we all know that's not always an option. Instead, keep ground coffee in an airtight container in either the fridge or freezer (this will also work for your beans, too, BTW).

OK, first tip for interesting coffee: mix cocoa powder in with your grounds before you brew. One tablespoon per full pot should work, more or less depending on your taste. MIX IT UP WELL, as the powder just sitting on top of the coffee may result in your coffee not dripping properly and over-flowing onto the counter!!! You can of course try this with any ground spice you like (cinnamon comes to mind, or a bit of ground vanilla bean). Experiment.

For an at home mocha: keep hot cocoa mix at home, and make the cocoa as directed but use coffee instead of milk or water. Even yummier: mix the liquid up in a measuring cup or something you can pour from. Take a coffee cup and fill it about 3/4 the way with whipped cream (real stuff from a can works great). Pour the hot coffee mix over the whipped cream, and you have a mocha cappucino! YUM!!!

Another thing to try: extracts. A drop or two of peppermint oil, almond extract, vanilla, etc can do wonders for a cup of coffee.

Try making your own flavored creamers: get a container of half 'n' half and try making vanilla creamer, cinnamon hazelnut, buttered almond, etc. Extracts and spices are all fair game here, but if you use spices you may want to LIGHTLY heat them in the half 'n' half to get more flavor.

Make your own Chocolate Spoons (great for company or gift giving). Buy spoons from a dollar store, otherwise you'll use up all your regular ones! Carefully melt chocolate chips in the microwave (follow the directions on the bag), swirl the spoon in the melted chocolate and place on wax paper to harden. VIOLA, something chocolatey to stir into your coffee!

Search online for a biscotti recipe: there are oodles. Make up a big batch and store them in an airtight container so they stay crisp.

What about all of you? How do you make coffee-shop coffee at home?

Frugally Festive: It's Only October!!!

October 29th, 2006 at 07:57 pm

** UPDATED ENTRY W/ A HEADLESS COSTUME PHOTO! IT'S A PIC OF A PIC, SO NOT GREAT QUALITY**

Yes, it's only October but that means the holidays are here. Part of the whole commercialization thing, in my book, is the fact that all holidays now begin at least 2 months early. Drives me batty.

At any rate, all the holiday hubbub has gotten me thinking about things that are frugally festive, and I decided I wanted a category just for this topic. Frugally festive can be any event, not just Christmas et al. It's about getting the juices flowing and thinking 'outside the box'. Or, in my case 'outside the wallet'. Big Grin

So, here are my ways of being Frugally Festive for Halloween

1. Costume: get an old prom/wedding dress from the thrift store or yardsale of your choice. Many options here: princess, fairy godmother, bridesmaid, Bride of Frankenstein, dead whatever.

2. Costume: My all-time favorite and one I wear year after year since I can't top it. Guaranteed to make drunk people scream! Get a trench coat from the thrift store or yardsale of your choice. On either the right or left side remove the lining from the pocket, and carefully rip the seams on both the top and bottom of the slit for the pocket. Stuff some gloves with whatever you have on hand and pin them inside the arms of the coat. Stuff the arms and torso of the coat, leaving room near the pocket you have altered. Make yourself up to look all dead from the neck up, slip into the bottom of the trenchcoat and poke your head out through the pocket. Wrap one of the stuffed arms around your head and stick the hand in the pocket. TADA: you are now a 7ft tall headless guy!!! Tip: the top half of a Swiffer handle works well to hold up the torso, so you don't have to.


3. Entertaining: I don't do candy (I mean, I eat it, but I won't buy it for a party, too pricey). I make peanut butter eyeballs, witch finger cookies, breadsticks shaped like bones with 'blood' (marinara) dipping sauce, and *chuckle* kitty litter cake. EEEWWW!

4. Drinking (hey, I'm young!): I make jello shots with pineapple off-brand gelatin and set them up in little Dixie plastic bathroom cups. They look like urine samples. Again: EEEWWW!

5. Decorating: If I'm having a party, I'll do up the bathroom (it's cheap!). Buy a clear plastic shower curtain ($1), 2 white handtowels ($1 each), and a small bottle of red acrylic paint ($2). I also add a strobe light since I already have one. Take shower curtain & towels outside, lay them on the ground, and splatter with the red paint. Hang up shower curtain and toss handtowels around. Since I have the strobe light I also rig up man out of stuffed clothes, hang him from the shower head, and put the stobe in the shower pointed at him. Even more effective is to disable the rest of the lights in the bathroom! All of this decor at $5 is reusable year after year...

And that is my Frugally Festive Halloween!