Saving Money on Gas

Raise your hand if you make a point to drive an extra few blocks out of your way so that you can save 4¢ per gallon when you fill up your car with gas. (You can put your hands down, I can’t really see you…but thank you for your enthusiasm.)

I usually kick myself (okay, not literally, because kicking while driving would be dangerous) if I’ve filled my tank with gas, then right down the road as I drive on my way, I see a station with a less expensive gas price. Read the rest of this article over at Deal Moon…

It’s Not in the Budget

We have a new Christmas shopping tradition at our house. We’ve done it for two years now, so that makes it a tradition, right?

We take a day (and believe me, it does take an entire day) for our kids to Christmas shop for each other, one boy at a time. This means that everyone else stays home playing games with Dad while I take one boy to the store to pick out gifts. The two of us finish, I drop off that boy at home, pick up another, and head back to the store. I do this four times. It’s the best. Not only does each boy get to have one-on-one time with Mom, they get to go to the toy aisle too. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The boys get to spend their own hard earned money on these gifts; what better way to learn about budgeting and spending. Our five year old still doesn’t quite understand that a $119.96 price tag is a bit over $5, so even though his brother would surely love it if he were to purchase the very large and exciting box of Star Wars (trooper, fighter, land speeder, warship, yada yada…) Lego Set, it just costs too much and he’ll have to pick out something else. 

The other boys have a little bit better understanding of how to read a price tag. Usually, as we drive to the store, the two of us talk about how much they plan to spend on each gift and what amount would be wise. 

This is always such a heart-fluttery time for me, as I love spending rare one-on-one time with each boy. Listening to them plan for how they’re going to spend and what they want to get for their brothers (“because I think he’d really, really like it”) makes me get all melty inside. 

And then, my eight year old….oh my eight year old. He was beside himself with excitement during his shopping trip, feeling so grown up with his wallet in his pocket and his list prepared. He was all smiles, but oh so serious about what he had come to the store to do.

As he was picking out a toy for his little brother, I jokingly pointed out a big ticket item and said, “Hey Bud, I think you should get this for him, what do you think?” Looking at the triple figure price tag, his eyes got big and apparently not catching on that I was just kidding, he shook his head and said, “Oh boy. I’d sure like to, but it’s just not in my budget.”

The little cutie. I could have given him a big fat wet kiss right there in front of all the shoppers and Buzz Lightyear for his grown up and wise statement. I resisted and instead snuck in a quick peck on the top of his blond head. He finished his shopping, staying well within his budget and finding fun presents that he was proud to pay for with his own money.

May we all be like the eight year old shopper this year as we make our holiday purchases:  Set a budget. Stick to it.

It’s surprisingly uncomplicated.

How to Store Bulk Grain

Remember that 500 pound order of hard white wheat I ordered and brought home a few weeks ago? (Yeah, like you could forget.)

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You may be happy to know that I’m down to only 447 (give or take) pounds of wheat now. And you were worried that I wouldn’t use it all up quickly…

Anyway, many of you asked how I would store all my bags of grain…and several of you suggested that I “critter proof” it. Yes. Very, very good advice. If it’s one thing I can count on having at my house…it’s critters. {shudder}  Although I don’t think snakes or birds should care too much about my wheat…we do see our fair share of bugs and the occasional mouse. Eeeww.  I do NOT want mice getting into my big stash of wheat. That would just be maddening.

And so, ever since I brought home all the wheat in February…I’ve been on a quest for big huge buckets for my grain storage. I needed some with lids that seal very well (obviously). The fabulous buckets with gamma seal lids I found online are pricey! Great quality, no doubt…but I needed around 20 buckets. I could have spent at least $80 for what I needed, and that was JUST the lid…not the bucket! Ouch.

Instead, I began asking around at my local grocery stores. Did you know that the frosting used in a bakery often comes in big five gallon buckets?! Yes indeed. That’s a lot of frosting! Did you know that most bakeries go through several of these big five gallon buckets in a month? Yes indeed. That’s a lot of frosting! And did you know that bakeries generally don’t want to keep their empty buckets after they’ve used the frosting out of them? Yes indeed. That’s a lot of empty, unwanted buckets.

One store asked me to “fork over” an entire dollar per bucket with lid that I took from them. Big buckets with lids for a dollar each? Okeedokee!

The other store practically threw their buckets with lids into my cart and wouldn’t let me pay one penny for them. They were almost giddy about the fact that I was so happy to take the buckets off of their hands. For free. Yes indeed.

And so…long story longer…I came away from my grocery store bakery departments with 20 buckets with lids for a total of $6.00.   Yes, that was SIX dollars. Total. 

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I washed and dried the buckets thoroughly, then got busy scooping all of the wheat into them. I found that it took two – five gallon buckets for each 50 pound bag of wheat. 

I now have a big stash of white frosting buckets full of hard white wheat just waiting to be turned into bread, tortillas, muffins, pancakes, cakes, pies, cookies, pretzels, donuts, buns, bagels…the possibilities are endless!

And the critters? They can go pick on someone their own size. 

Huh. I’m suddenly remembering another time I bravely and fearlessly used big buckets to defend myself from attack. Wow. Who knew buckets such as these would be such a helpful aid for a wimpy woman such as I. Between big buckets and cottage cheese containers…I’d say I am well protected. What do you think?

12 Tips for Planning a Memorable Frugal Family Vacation

The following is a guest post from Jeri who writes a frugal family travel blog where she shares family travel tips like airplane games for kids. Having flown over 75,000 miles either pregnant or with kids, she has some experience in the field of family travel. 
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‘Tis the season for gearing up and trying to figure out what the family will do to entertain the youngsters while on summer vacation. If you want to plan an  amazing family vacation, these tips will help get you on your way.

How to Plan a Memorable and Frugal Family Vacation

1. Consider your budget.  So, maybe you can’t fly your family of 12 to Europe this summer, but surely there are more options. Look at your family budget, decide on a number, then continue with the planning. Make it a challenge: where can we go and what can we do with this much money?

2. Ask for input. Even if you have young children, ask the family for their ideas. I know my 4 and 2-year-olds love to be involved in our travel conversations. Sometimes I’m amazed at the ideas they have in their minds.

3. Create anticipation. In our home, we read books and play a game we invented called “Airplane, Airplane” where my husband pretends to be a flight attendant and we all practice being passengers. Even very young children can learn words like “departure”, “arrival”, and “rest area.”  Get the kids (and yourself) excited about the adventure ahead  -whether it’s a road trip or someone’s first flight. Count down the days or months together.

4. Tell stories from past travels. My two-year-old son still loves us to tell the story over and over and over again about how he ate buffalo food at a Bison Ranch in Wyoming last year. He doesn’t remember it, but he loves to hear all about it. And it breeds more anticipation for future travel. My children also love to hear about all of the countries they’ve been to and the modes of transportation they’ve taken.

5. To save money, be flexible with your dates and destinations. (And, just be flexible in general.)  Make sure you do all you can to book cheap travel and start planning in advance! (That’s why I’m telling you now.)  Also, depending on your lodging, consider cooking meals instead of eating out.

6. Be ready and willing to entertain the kids. After all, it is a FAMILY vacation. Yes, it takes more energy, but it is worth it. I notice that when I pay attention to my children and go out of my way to spend time with them (at home or on the road), I have a lot fewer behavior problems. It’s even possible to keep kids entertained on flights.

7. S-L-O-W down!  Is it really necessary to visit every museum in Washington DC in a single day, go out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and enjoy the latest viewing of the latest movie that was released, and stop for ice cream on the way home? (Phew!)  To enjoy a vacation with children, make it simple. Make time for naps – that is, if you’d like your 2-year-old to be good-natured at dinner. Fewer activities = fewer dollars, too. We try not to plan more than one “big” activity per day for our young family.

8. Take pictures.  You’ll want to remember what you did on your vacation, and this is an easy way to do it.

9. Check out free activities. I was amazed when we found a FREE museum in Brisbane, Australia on one of our vacations. Also, it’s often the simple things that matter most. Hanging out at the beach or a local park for a picnic can be just as memorable as paying big bucks for Universal Studios. 

10. Stay with friends on vacation. Sometimes I’m afraid to ask because we might be intruding, but we’ve always enjoyed staying with our friends on vacation. (And I think that deep down they like it, too!)  The best part is that after you put the kids to bed, you can hang out with your friends. The days can be spent doing something with your own family, and communicating this with your host family is important. It saves you money, and gives you some time to invest in a relationship that maybe you’ve neglected over a few years. Conversely, we would always welcome our friends to “vacation” in our home. Speaking of which, anyone up for a South Pacific vacation this summer?

11. Pack light. Even if you’re taking a road trip, there’s no reason to take the whole kitchen and bathroom sink with you. As you pack, ask yourself, “Can I survive a week without this?”  If the answer is “yes”, leave it at home. This one is tough for me since we’re missionaries in Papua New Guinea and travel for months at a time. But, I can tell you firsthand that it is no fun having too much luggage! Besides, now it is costing more and more on flights for extra weight. More weight often means more wait in many circumstances.

12. Preserve your memories.  I keep a travel scrapbook for our family, in which I make one page for each trip we take. If you’re not into scrapbooking, consider making a short slideshow to view with your kids days, months, or years later. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

For us, family vacations are important. They have knit us together in a way that every day life can’t. 

What are your vacation plans for the summer?

This post is linked to Frugal Fridays.

Frugal, Cheap or Poor?

Heya…just wanted to edit this post to clear up any unintended miscommunication about my use of the word “poor”. I am very sorry if any of you found this offensive. I in NO way want to communicate that I think being poor is a bad thing or that I look down on people who are poor.

The thoughts from this post really just came from the fact that my family has a lot of people in our lives that love us, but don’t always understand our frugal lifestyle. If we aren’t careful about how we communicate our “lack of spending” to people, they take our actions as meaning that we “don’t have enough money” and they feel sorry for us or go buy things for us (things that we were intentionally not buying, not because we don’t have the money but because of choices not to spend). 

Does that makes sense, or did I just make it worse?! ;)

Recently my husband and I were talking about my torn jammies

Great conversation piece, huh? 

It’s just that in this post I had mentioned that I *only* had two pairs of jammies and one of them was literally falling apart. So, I finally bit the bullet (yum) and bought a new pair. And then I wrote, “When Malachi saw my new jammies he exclaimed with happiness then asked why I got new ones (cause it’s a big day when anyone gets something new around here).”

This led Matt and me to talk about how that may have sounded.

Does that sound like we’ve been too poor for me to buy new pajamas for myself? Does it sound like buying things we need, like new jammies, is just a far off dream? 

Oh that poor family. Can’t even afford to get new pajamas for the missus.

I really and truly hadn’t bought new jammies for myself because for Pete’s sake, we are a throw-away-society and I don’t feel the need to throw away the old and buy new things until I really, really need them. That’s why I hadn’t bought new jammies for myself.

Do you ever feel like, because you are carefully watching your pennies and working hard not to spend money on things you don’t need, and trying to get a good deal on the things you do need…that you come across to others as looking…poor? Or cheap?

If we aren’t careful, we might come across that way. Are we the poor family with the stay-at-home-mom who has to make all of their food from scratch and cut every one’s hair herself and put her kids in hand me downs and grow a garden? Are we the poor family who can’t afford  family cell phones and frequent eating out and new furniture and new vehicles?

I think it is super important for anyone who is frugal minded to come across to others as people who are happy, cheerful…downright FINE! 

Avoid using the words “can’t afford” or “not enough money for…”. You truly may not be able to afford the subject you’re talking about, but those words portray a “poor me” attitude, literally. That attitude will not encourage others to want to spend wisely…it may instead cause others to feel sorry for you and try to avoid being in the state you’re in.

As we talk with others about what we have or don’t have and about what we do or do not spend our money on…I think it is important for us to share in a way that inspires others to want to be wise with their money also. Share your frugality in a way that sounds exciting and attainable! Say things in a way that lets people know that a frugal lifestyle is in no way boring

Saving money, spending wisely, being frugal…it’s a joy! It’s fun! It works!! 

Spread the love!
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This post is linked to Frugal Friday.

Don’t Buy Stuff

That’s it. My title is my post. Don’t buy stuff…that’s all I have to say.

 When asked what my favorite frugal tip is…Don’t Buy Stuff is the best thing I can come up with.

When you buy stuff, you have to pay for it with money. And then you have to find a place to put it once you bring it home. And it won’t stay where you put it because someone will get it out and not put it away. And then it will get lost. Or broken. Or forgotten.

Buy food. You need to eat.

Splurge on toilet paper. It’s very useful.

Invest in soap…using soap is good.

But don’t buy stuff.

You’ll save a lot of money.

And…if you didn’t really need it in the first place, you won’t even miss it. ;)

Swagbucks!

I’m sure most of you have heard about Swagbucks by now. But if not…

When you use it…you earn “bucks” that can be redeemed for Amazon gift cards…and lots of other stuff. I’m just in it for the Amazon gift cards!! Bring on the books!!!

I was skeptical at first…but Swagbucks just uses the same search engines that Google uses…and there’s no catch. Each time I need to “google” something…I “Swagbuck” it instead. Each time I earn 450 Swagbucks…I can turn them in for a $5 Amazon card. 

Let me say it again…BRING on the books!!

Or, should I say it this way…Bring on the FREE books!

Good grief…I need to search things online all the time anyway. I may as well use Swagbucks and earn some curriculum and fun reads.

If you follow this Swagbuck link to get started, you’ll earn some automatic swagbucks…and I will earn some swagbucks too. Then…when you tell people about it…you’ll earn swagbucks when they earn swagbucks. It’s a regular swagbuck party. Swagbucks all around!

What will you/do you use your Swagbucks for? 
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Feeding the Family: Eating Out

Throughout the Feeding the Family series that I’ve been doing (and before I even started it) I’ve had many of you ask if our family EVER eats out since you never see it on my menu plans.

As I’ve mentioned before, our food budget for our family of six is between $500-$550 each month. That amount includes everything we eat for the month…so there really isn’t any room in there for eating out. 

Yeah, we’re pretty sad and deprived around here.  Instead of eating out, we are forced to choke down steamy pot roasts with carrots, potatoes and gravy…or homemade popcorn chicken with ranch potato wedges…or delicious homemade pizza, made to order. It’s a tough life, but somehow, we’ll try to deal with it. :)

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YES, there ARE times that I’m worn out, tired and JUST DON’T FEEL LIKE COOKING.  I know, you’re shocked. The Heavenly Homemaker doesn’t always feel like putting on her happy little apron and cooking a delicious meal for her adoring family. 

Even when I don’t feel like cooking, grabbing fast food for our family is just really not an option. Even “cheap” fast food can cost $25-$35 to fill the boys’ hollow legs (and yes, that’s without drinks, and with coupons).  

WHEN I don’t feel like cooking, we scrounge around for leftovers…or throw some  peanut butter and honey on a tortilla, eat an apple, drink a glass of milk and call it a meal. Or I just quickly make a batch of pancakes and scrambled eggs (which everyone feels is a treat at night anyway!). 

OR every once in a while, we’ll grab a couple of take and bake pizzas from Walmart for $7 each. 

Our kids do enjoy eating out and get excited about the possibilty when the opportunity arises. That means that when we actually do go to Pizza Hut to redeem their Book It coupons…our time out with them is a treasure.

Here are a few of my thoughts on eating out…or not eating out:

  • Food from restaurants is addicting. That’s because it’s often loaded with MSG and sugar, which makes you think that the french fries you’re eating are SO the best thing in the world. The next day…you’re likely to be craving more. That’s how I felt when we used to eat out a little more often. The more we ate out…..the more I wanted to eat out. Now that we practically never go out to eat, I don’t even want to anymore. (It did take me a while to get to that point, though.)
  • In my opinion…by the time we get our kids ready and out the door, into the van, buckled in, drive to the restaurant, get everyone out of the car and safely through the parking lot, find a table big enough for all of us, sit down, figure out who gets to sit by Daddy (since there are only two sides of him), figure out what we’re ordering, wait for the food, try to sit patiently while we wait for the food, try to keep everyone from spilling the food, (do I need to go on, because I’m getting tired and flustered writing this)….we may as well have stayed home and cooked a simple meal. It’s far less work.
  • Very rarely (if ever) do I walk away from a restaurant and say, “THAT was the best meal I’ve ever had”. Instead, I’m usually bummed out that I just spent $12 on a plate of something that will likely make my stomach hurt later.
  • Our boys think it is SO much fun when I decide to open “Mama’s Kitchen” for the night. That’s usually on a night we have hamburgers and onion rings or homemade chicken nuggets and fries. Justus, my assistant chef, gets out a tray and puts straws in our water (or homemade chocolate milk shakes!) and delivers them around the table. They pretend they’re getting a kids meal from “the best restaurant ever”. (I do not pay them to say that. On the contrary, usually I charge monopoly money for the meal.)

Sooo, I hope that helped to answer your questions. What are your feelings on eating out? I know some people really do enjoy it. It just doesn’t work for our family. How do you handle eating out?  What are some of your “I don’t feel like cooking but everyone needs to eat” solutions?
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This post is linked to Frugal Fridays.

P.S. Be sure to join us on Saturday for The little Green Project…and a GIVEAWAY!

How to Make Fresh Butter

If you recall, last week when I showed you how to make mozzarella cheese, I mentioned that if you’re making it from raw milk, you skim off the cream and save it to make butter. HERE is one way to make butter!

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Fill your food processor 1/3 full of heavy cream. Be sure not to fill it more than 1/3 full…it will probably not turn into butter if there’s too much in the container.

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Turn your food processor on high…and then flee the room. (It’s really loud and annoying!)  The food processor will whip and whip and whip the cream until it turns it into butter. It should take somewhere between 8-15 minutes.

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Once the fat has been “pulled out” of the cream, it should look something like this…and you can turn off the food processor.

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Pull all the solid pieces and squish them together. 
Place the solids in to a clean bowl.

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 Run some clean COLD water into it.

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Clean the butter with the cold water by squishing it with a wooden spoon until all the liquid comes out of it. Repace the cold water 2-3 times as you clean it.

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Squeeze the excess water out of the butter and shape it with your hands.

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Ah, look…a lovely little butter ball.

You can add salt to the cream if you want salted butter…this will also be a preservative, making the butter last longer.

OR…if you don’t have a food processor and want to have a little family fun…put your cream into a jar and shake it like crazy. Pass the jar around, and take turns shaking it. (I’ve tried shaking it all by myself once when no one was around to help…and I thought my head and arms would fall off from shaking the jar so much all by myself. I don’t think I ever got butter out of that jar.)

Have you ever made butter before?  Isn’t it COOL to see the butter form out of the cream!? 

I LOVE how with just one little gift from a cow (or goat or whatever) you can make SO MANY great yummy things!

P.S. Even if you don’t have fresh cream…go buy some heavy whipping cream at the store and try making butter. It’s just…cool.

Next week…RICOTTA CHEESE! :)

(Join us Saturday for the little Green Project!)
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This post is linked to Frugal Fridays.

How to Make Mozzarella Cheese

Want to know what makes me excited (besides little plastic drawers)? The fact that with only two gallons of  milk…I can squeeze out THREE great dairy products. With the two gallons of raw milk you see pictured below, I was able to make three eight ounce balls of mozzarella cheese…a half pound of butterand about a cup of ricotta cheese

Talk about milking something for all it’s worth! (Whoa…very cheesy joke.)  (Which I feel is appropriate because this post is about making…cheese. Cheesy-ness abounds.)  Anyway

Even if you don’t think you’ll ever make your own mozzarella cheese…you may still have fun reading about how it’s made!

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To make Mozzarella Cheese you will need:

  • Two gallons of milk (I use raw, organic) (As far as I understand, you can use pasteurized and homogenized milk too…although you won’t get the butter and ricotta out of it since the cream doesn’t rise to the top.)
  • 2 teaspoons citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup cultured buttermilk
  • 30 drops vegetable rennet mixed with 1/4 cup water (I get my rennet from Azure Standard or Wilderness Family Naturals.)
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1/2 cup sea salt
  • Large stock pot
  • Long knife
  • Food thermometer
  • Strainer
  • Tea towels

Okay, ready to make cheese? You’ll need to block out about two and a half to three hours of time…but most of that time is wait time, not work time!

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First, if you’re using raw milk…skim off the cream. You know I’m usually big on leaving in the fat…but the fat separates itself out of the cheese while you’re making it for some reason.   So, skim it off, put it into another jar and save it for making butter!

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Pour the milk into a large pot (I use my big stock pot). Stir in the buttermilk and citric acid mixed with water. Heat to 91 degrees. Remove from heat, put the lid on and let it sit for one hour. 

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Add the rennet mixed with water to the milk. Allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes, or until the milk solidifies slightly and it able to be “sliced”.

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Use a long knife to “cut the curd” into one inch squares. 
Let the curd sit about five minutes.

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Heat the curd to 91 degrees. Remove from heat, place the lid on the pot and allow it to sit for one hour. After one hour, the curd and the whey should have separated.

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Place a strainer into another large pot and cover it with a tea towel.

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Pour the curds into the strainer/tea towel…straining out as much whey as you can. Save the whey!!

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Rig up something fancy like this to hang your curds, making sure you have a bowl underneath to catch more whey that will drip out. I usually leave mine overnight as it takes several hours for all of the whey to be removed.

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In the morning…remove the tea towel. Wow, a big hunk of cheese! Now…the fun part begins!

In your large pot…heat one gallon of water mixed with 1/2 cup salt. (Hint:  I use Redmonds Real Sea Salt and it can be too chunky if I don’t try to dissolve some of it first. Therefore, I put my water and salt into a jar and shake it well, then pour it into the pot. The residue from the salt remains in the jar, leaving only salty water…without chunks!

Heat the salt water to 170 degrees. Meanwhile… 

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Cut the cheese (oh, my boys think it’s SO FUNNY when I say that…) into 1-2 inch squares.

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Once your water reaches 170 degrees, remove it from the heat and dump in your cheese. Kind of stir it around for a minute or two until the cheese softens and begins sticking together.

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Use a big wooden spoon to catch the cheese from the water. It should start sticking together and forming a blob on your spoon. Stretch the cheese.  This part is SO COOL!! Dip it down into the hot water every once in a while to reheat the cheese so that it will continue to stretch, but try not to keep it in the water too long. Keep on stretching and dipping the cheese until it is shiny. This stretching process will take about 8 minutes. (Every once in a while I get a batch of cheese that just won’t stretch. It’s a bummer. The cheese still tastes fine…it just doesn’t look as pretty, shred as well, or melt as nicely. We eat it anyway!)

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After you’ve stretched your cheese and it has formed a big long shiny wad, take it out and put it onto a plate. 

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I divide my cheese into three blobs. Squeeze out the excess water and shape the cheese into nice balls. 

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Place the balls into a bowl of cold water. This will take out the heat and help them hold their shape.

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Tada!!! Mozzarella Cheese! 

I’ll take time during my next two Frugal Friday posts to share how I make butter with the leftover cream…and ricotta cheese with the leftover whey!  

So…have you ever made cheese before? Do you think this process looks like something you could do? You wanna come over and make cheese with me some time? (Then we can say “cut the cheese” together and laugh like we’re really funny.)

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