I am seeking to simplify my life, de-stress and live on less. But what is simple and how do you accomplish it? Please join me as I explore ways to save money, be frugal and have fun. I will tell you what I discover that works...and what doesn't work. I love comments and tips and encouragement. Don't be bashful. Join me on my money-saving adventures around beautiful Topeka, Kansas.
Honestly, it had been years since I had visited the museum. A couple of weeks ago on a cold, snowy day, my daughter suggested we take a couple of the grandkids to the museum. What I didn't know, is the museum offers a children's play area called the Discovery Center which is absolutely free. That's right, you do not have to pay the museum admission to visit the children's discovery area which is located inside the front door immediately to your right. The area is designed for children up to age 9.
And, the Discovery Center can be reserved between 9am-1pm for playgroups or parties. There is a charge for parties but you can visit during the public hours of 1:00-4:30 for FREE. How fabulous is that?
The Discovery Center includes a Laura Ingles Wilder inspired play area. My grandson was fascinated by the miniature cooking stove. The area also includes kid dress up clothes. What little girl doesn't look adorable in a prairie dress and bonnet?
A dollhouse, barn, farm animals and tractors provide a popular play area.
Or, put on your own puppet show....
Visit the tipi....
Play general store....
Have a Oz themed tea party.....
Play a carnival game...
Ride a Horse....
Conduct a train...
Or go inside the museum and visit the GIANT train (admission required)....
Or one of the many other Kansas inspired exhibits.
The Kansas Museum of History is a great winter activity and way to get the kids out of the house. I highly recommend it!!!
Lately, HyVee has just been blowing away the competition here in Topeka, Kansas. This week I spent $47.17 (pre-tax) at HyVee and earned 25 cents off per gallon of gas (up to 20 gallons). I only get gas about every two weeks. The last time I filled up, I saved 63 cents a gallon (two weeks worth of HyVee points).
Of course, the trick is to only buy items you really need that earn points. Don't buy something just because it will save you a small amount of money off gas. (And yes, I really needed Angel Food Cake!)
At Dillon's, you basically earn a dime off per gallon for every $100 you spend. This week, I earned 25 cents off per gallon by spending less than $20.00. Here's how I did it:
Bag of Onions ($1.89) earned 2 cents off per gallon (can always use onions)
HyVee Pizza ($6.99) earned 10 cents off per gallon (with small salad, entire easy supper)
Angel food cake $3.99) earned 8 cents per gallon (was delicious with fresh blackberries and whipped cream)
Tidy Cat Litter (not pictured, $5.49) earned 5 cents off per gallon (cents off gas made it about same price at the store brand litter)
Total: 25 cents off per gallon on up to 20 gallons or to put it another way: $5.00 off my next fill-up at HyVee or Casey's.
The only problem HyVee needs to work on fixing is that you must use your large loyalty card when purchasing the gas or else fill up, then take your key tag card into the store and get a refund. The key tag card apparently does not work at the pump.
Other great sales at HyVee this week include blackberries for $1.00 (they are 89 cents this week at Aldi's), Frozen vegetables for 69 cents a package (I stocked up and bought 6 bags), chicken of the sea tuna for 69 cents a can, Old Orchard Juice for $1.99 (on sale this week at Apple Market for $1.25, though I had coupons for some flavors Apple Market didn't have so bought two more), kiwi fruit-four for $1, HyVee tomato soup for 59 cents a can and canned tomatoes for 50 cents a can (I stocked up and bought 8).
Just a reminder, remember to always check HyVee's Topeka Facebook page before shopping for the deal of the day. If it's a deal you want to take advantage of, you have to tell the cashier you want the deal of the day price at checkout or it will ring up full price.
I only used one $1 off coupon (for the juice). Lately, I am saving more by shopping the sales, stocking up and of course, planning my meals around the sale items.
This week I went to Apple Market to buy some chicken breast. I thought Apple Market had advertised skinless chicken breast for $2.49 a pound but I found these two packages labeled for $1.68 a pound. One package cost $3.11 and the other was $3.48.
Just an FYI, hamburger seems to always to be cheaper at Apple Market than any other store in Topeka. This package was $2.99 a pound. Most other Topeka grocery stores are charging $3.99 up. The meat department at Apple Market is one thing that keeps me coming back.
I had to blog about one really good deal at Apple Market this week. With coupons, you can get some really cheap juice this week. How?
First, Old Orchard Juice is on sale for $1.25 a bottle at Apple Market this week which in itself is a great price. The same juice at HyVee this week is on sale for $1.99. It's not uncommon for name brand juice to cost $2.99 on up.
First, you will have to join the Old Orchard Fan Club. Go to the companys website at www.oldorchard.com. You will see the link in the upper right hand corner labeled "Fan Club". Once you have joined (only takes a couple of minutes), go to the link labeled "Promotions" at the top of the page.
Under current promotions are several coupons you can print. I was able to print a coupon for $1 off two bottles of Healthy Balance Juice and one coupon for buy one, get one free. All together the four bottles of juice pictured above cost a whopping $2.75 or an average of 68 cents a bottle. The coupons were only good for the "Healthy Balance" juice, not the regular juice. Coupon or not, I am thinking of returning and stocking up on some $1.25 a bottle juice.
There is also a link on the website to enter a giveaway. The company is giving away 2,013 free bottles of juice. These are the kind of contests I frequently win. I received coupons for several free items last year.
On the website, you can also accumulate reward points to earn free products and swag. You earn points by playing games, taking surveys and entering codes off specially marked products. I have already earned enough points to earn a coupon for a free can of frozen concentrate. You can't beat free!
This recipe holds special meaning to me. It was my Grandma Summer's Pumpkin Pie Recipe written in her hand and well used over the decades. It is a cherished possession.
The funny thing is, what my family called "Pumpkin Pie" was not Pumpkin Pie at all. It was "Green Striped Cushaw Squash" Pie. Whenever I ate Pumpkin Pie at someone else's house, I thought it was just terrible...heavy, thick, overly spiced and not sweet enough. It wasn't until I was almost an adult that I finally learned what I had been eating all those years was not pumpkin pie, but squash pie. My reaction was probably similar to how most people react when they learn Santa is not real...shock, initial disbelief and a little anger. The only difference was I was about 16, not 6.
Grandma called it simply "Crookneck Squash" and I have since learned Green Striped Cushaw is indeed one variety of crookneck squash. You cannot buy canned Green Striped Cushaw Squash. You must buy the whole squash and work it up (see my previous post on working up squash).
Working up your own squash, pumpkin or sweet potato (basically the all the same process) and making your own crust (see my previous post on how to make pie crust) is really what makes a good pie. It's the same difference as buying hard preservative laden store bought cookies versus soft, warm made from scratch sugar cookies straight from the oven. Or using sweet, melt in your mouth butter over the plastic concoction commonly referred to as margarine. It's the difference between sun ripened berries you personally plucked over a rubbery processed fruit roll up.
Yes, buying a frozen Mrs. Smith pie is easier but is it really worth it? When was the last time someone praised you extensively for going the extra mile by wheeling your grocery cart over to the bakery section of the grocery store and hefting a pie into your cart?
"Oh my goodness, Marge! Did you push that cart by yourself? And picked up the pie off the shelf, too? I wish I had your ability!"
Here is my Grandma's no fail pie recipe:
My Grandma always made this pie in her blender. I use my food processor. Begin by adding 2 cups squash (or pumpkin or sweet potato if you insist).
Add 1 cup sugar.
Add 3/4 cup milk.
Add the following:
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon flour
Ready to mix.
It's never too early to teach the fine art of cooking.
Once blended, the pie filling will look like this. It is not thick.
Pour into a prepared unbaked pie crust. Bake at 425 degrees for about 50 minutes to an hour. Pie is done when a knife inserted into middle comes out clean.
You can buy a fancy pie crust shield for about $5. I have no idea why I never have done so. I am cheap but usually not that cheap. So, I always put aluminum foil around the edge of the pie to keep the exposed crust from burning. By this point in my life, I have probably used about $200 in aluminum foil for this purpose instead of investing $5 for a shield. Sometimes being too cheap costs you.
The finished product was delicious. Add a dollop of whipped cream. This pie is worth the effort!
I struggled for years to make a decent pie crust. My crusts were never flaky, they were always thin and tough.
Growing up, I spent summers on my Grandma's farm. Grandpa usually had multiple young, sweaty farm hands who came back to the house for a noon meal. Grandma often made 3 or 4 pies each morning. I spent a lot of time primping for the farmhands arrival and none learning how to make pie.
If I had been slightly smarter, perhaps I would have discerned men are more attracted to women who smell like pastry and are friendly, than those doused in Jovan Musk perfume who think ignoring them makes you alluring. Though I never attracted any men, I do believe there was probably more than one muskrat in the county who would have jumped at an opportunity to invite me back to their lodge to view their gnawings.
Girls, learn from my mistakes. It's time to learn to make pie crust.
Begin by measuring three cups flour and one teaspoon salt into a bowl. Mix together.
Next, add 1 1/2 cups LARD to the flour. Do not use vegetable shortening. NO CRISCO. NO BUTTER. NO MARGARINE.
My grandma always used Lard when she made pie crusts and I now know this is what made her crusts so light and flaky. It's also what made her fried chicken so good. It is getting harder and harder to find lard. Here in Topeka,Kansas, it is sold at Apple Market. Trust me, use lard. It was your Grandma's secret weapon.
The hardest part of making pie crust is "cutting" or mixing the Lard into the flour. The strange contraption pictured above is called a pastry knife and was designed for the task. If you don't own a fancy pasty knife, you can just use a large fork.
Mix until the lard and flour combine into globs about the size of marbles but no smaller. The globs of fat above are what will make your crust flaky. If you mix until it looks like sand, your crust will not be flaky.
Beat one egg in a small bowl, then pour into the mixture.
Next add about 1/4 cup (around 5 Tablespoons) water and 1 Tablespoon Vinegar. When flour is mixed with water, gluten forms. The acid in vinegar will keep the gluten strands from getting too long and keep your crust flaky. Some people actually use vodka instead of water but I have not yet tried this method. Somehow, it just seems like a waste of good vodka.
Mix all ingredients. Pay attention, this is very important, as important as using lard: Do not over mix the ingredients. Stir just until combined and stop. Overworking the crust makes it tough.
I always use a pastry mat to make clean up easier but it's not required. Flour the surface where you plan to roll out the crust. Flour your hands and flour your rolling pin. I also have a plastic and a marble rolling pin. In my opinion, the wooden pin is the best. Form the dough into two balls with your floured hands. This recipe will make at least two crusts.
The second half is going in the freezer for another day. This recipe will make at least two, if not three pie crust,s depending on how thick you like your crust.
Slightly flatten the round dough with your hand or the rolling pin. Begin rolling out the dough. Roll from the center out. Take your time. If it starts to stick, sprinkle more flour on the dough and the rolling pin. If you use a baking mat, it has circles to guide you as to the size to roll your crust. I usually roll mine to about 1/8 inch thick but you can make yours thinner or thicker depending on your own preference.
Transferring the crust to the pie pan can be a little tricky. I fold mine in half then bring the pie pan close. I gently lift the crust on the pan about half way then flip the other half over the rest of the pie pan.
Don't freak out. It probably will tear a little and not look very pretty. Push the crust into the pan and start pinching together any tears.
After repairs, it will look like this. I could have skipped the above picture and made you think I was a much better baker than I am. Aren't you glad I am honest?
Take a knife and trim off the excess edges. It's easy. You can take the trimmings and make a pretty edge if you like. I didn't this time.
Take all the crust you trimmed off and lay flat on a baking sheet. Usually there will not be this many trimmings. I made extra for a separate dessert.
My favorite treat as a child, OK who am I fooling, my favorite treat now is leftover pie crust sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and eaten warm.
I made an excellent little separate dessert with these pie crust pieces. Simply take a scoop of vanilla ice cream and sprinkle with baked pie crust pieces and fresh blackberries (or your berries of choice). It is like an easy fresh fruit cobbler.
If you are baking the crust alone, you will need to use a fork tine to prick a few tiny holes in the crust or use pie weights to keep it from rising and bubbling. See my next post for the actual delicious squash pie recipe.
When I am asked what my favorite pie is, I usually respond, "Cake". I don't like cooked fruit and when most people think pie, they think apple or cherry. If you were to ask my husband the same question, he would respond, "Round". But to be fair, I do like some pies...chocolate cream, coconut cream and squash. Yes, you read correctly. I love me some Green Striped Cushaw Squash Pie.
A lot of people like pumpkin pie. If you like pumpkin pie, you will love Cushaw Squash (Cucurbita mixta). Cushaw Squash has a much milder, sweeter taste than pumpkin. In the south, this squash is often referred to as Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash. But believe me, it makes a much better pie than sweet potato.
Green Striped Cushaw Squash
Begin by cutting the squash in half and scooping out all the seeds. I like to save my seeds to use in the garden next year. Cut the squash into chunks or slices and peel.
If the rind is difficult too peel, microwave the chunks for 2-3 minutes to soften, then peel.
Place the peeled chunks of squash into a pot of water. Boil until tender.
To save the seeds, begin by rinsing, then separate the seed from the flesh.
Lay the seed out on a paper plate to dry. I always stir the seed a couple of times to keep it from sticking to the plate. Once completely dry, store in a dark, dry place until spring. The seeds are high in protein and can also be roasted like pumpkin seeds.
Boil squash until tender.
Pour cooked squash into coriander to drain. Stir squash to promote draining. Let sit until all liquid has drained off the meat.
A large amount of water will drain off the squash and only the pulp will remain.
I freeze my squash in 2 cup batches, the amount needed to make a pie. See next post for the actual pie recipe.