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Darn This Frugal Life! ( Or How Pizza Tastes Now)

My family took me out to for dinner for my birthday last night (it was a week later than my day since our schedule hasn’t really allowed for it any sooner). We went to one of our favorite places in town to try the pizza we’d been threatening to try for a while. We don’t go out very often. When we do it usually involves special occasions for us. We shared a really nice large salad and the pizza that we’ve been meaning to check out for a while. It was good.  It was lovely to be treated to a night off from the kitchen by my husband and my boys.

As we were leaving the restaurant it hit me. This frugal life has killed pretty much all restaurant pizza for me! It was good. It wasn’t great. It didn’t hold a candle to my homemade pizza at home, which, frankly is super easy to make and really inexpensive. I’m not sure how I feel about this! I’m now too aware of how much money we spend on restaurant pizza that is a far lesser quality than what I can produce in my own kitchen.

Our pizza adventures began back when my husband left the military. In spite of all our planning, saving, and preparing, we still experienced five full months of being without an income and living off of our savings. It was a trying time and it pushed my frugal living skills to a whole new level. One night, a couple of weeks into his unemployment, our oldest son said “Mom, can we please, please have pizza? Just once? It’s been a long time.” It broke my heart to have him missing such a simple delight. It was very difficult for him to understand our financial situation since he was only four at the time. I decided to make it into a fun DIY project for us. With a little quick online research I found a great recipe for dough and pizza sauce. We were on our way. As we measured and stirred our recipes I kept telling him how this probably  wouldn’t taste like “real” pizza from a restaurant, that the important thing is how much we were having fun doing it. When it came out of the oven and onto the table, each of us bit in. We all looked up to see a look of pleasant surprise on each others faces. This wasn’t just good. This was better than restaurant pizza. Why the heck had we never tried this before? And it was so easy (granted, I own an old Kitchen Aid mixer and this helps-but really-I’d probably still do it if I didn’t have one). These days I’ve perfected my sauce to our preference by tweaking the recipes here and there. I’ve also graduated to making a double batch of dough and sauce so I can freeze one set. This give us a super easy Friday night pizza on occasion since the work is mostly done.

So, while we had a lovely night out to dinner last night and enjoyed our meal a great deal, I’ve realized our frugal life has changed our enjoyment of pizza permanently. I’ve realized I’ve ruined us for restaurant pizza for good. We all got in the car and heartily agreed on one point: Moms’ is better.

If you’ve never tried homemade pizza before, trust me. Try it. It’s fantastic. You don’t need to go out and buy a pizza pan or stone-just use an old cookie sheet for now. It’ll work fine. Be warned though: this might just ruin restaurant pizza for you too.

Homemade Pizza:

Kitchen Aid Crusty Pizza Dough Recipe (note: I prefer to use whole wheat flour with this recipe and it works great. I also sprinkle cornmeal on my pan because I like to. But that’s a personal preference thing.)

Homemade Pizza Sauce (note: I actually use only the can of crushed tomatoes in this recipe so it intensifies the flavor and makes a nice thick sauce. I figured this out when I only had a can of crushed tomato on hand. I don’t alter the other ingredients at all. If you look at the comments below the recipe you’ll see that fresh tomatoes can successfully be used as well so if you have a garden full go for it!)

The Cheese: We hand grate ours and use a combination of 2/3 mozzarella and 1/3 cheddar. I get a pound block of each and then just eyeball it to suit us. Once you’ve grated your cheese add in 1 tsp of dried Italian Herbs. It’s much better this way.

Toppings: This is up to you! Go for it!

Our first homemade pizza. We've come a long way since then!

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Do you DIY? 7 Questions to Ask Yourself First

I’ll admit it. Back when I had cable, I was seriously addicted to any channel that smacked of Do It Yourself kinds of projects. I loved This Old House. I loved TLC’s Design on a Dime. I loved HGTV. I was very fond of anything fix it associated with the home. It was so easy and natural to assume that what they made look so simple actually was! And being practical minded, who wouldn’t want to have some great stuff on the cheap?

I remember my first DIY project: to spruce up an old dresser in the white Shabby Chic style that was popular at the time. Did it go well? Well. It’s still white. But looking back on it, no. Not particularly. I learned pretty quickly how miserable hand sanding an old dresser can be in an Alabama summer (since that’s where we lived at the time) and how humidity can make paint take days and days to dry. Not to mention the “kit” I bought to make it easier on myself was, as I’ve learned all these years later, basically junk. Flat paint on any furniture is not a good idea. Later we bought a home in Tennessee knowing we’d need to pull down ugly wallpaper and paint some of the rooms. The Design on a Dime crew made it all looks so easy. I could do that! And of course, our realtor enforced this with the “it’s only cosmetic” mantra I’ve heard many realtors espouse. We loved our house. We really did. But by the time I was on the third room of hideous wallpaper,and had made several trips to the store I was really sick of DIY’ing and we still had to prime and paint!!

Now you may be curious. Does she still DIY? Yep. I still do. I’m happy to say that I’ve come a long, long way in my expectations and my approach to DIY projects and I’ve gained a great sense of humor about it. I’ve learned to ask myself a few things before I begin the process:

1.) Do I have the patience to see this through? (in other words, the cool factor of the item in question)

2.) Will it really save me money?

3.) Can I find this already made for about what I’d spend to make it?

4.) Am I willing to invest in the tools and supplies if I don’t already have them? Can I even find them locally? (or does this use some obscure item that can’t be substituted easily?)

5.) Have I done enough research to be reasonably sure I’m going to make only one, maybe two trips to the hardware store?

6.) Am I ok with this occupying my garage if it takes longer than I expect (which it almost always does)?

7.) Am I willing to laugh at this experience if and when I come up against something goofy about it or if it plain old doesn’t work out?

I’ve done a few great DIY projects in the last couple of years. My favorite was not actually a piece of furniture or painting a room but actually fixing an old riding lawn mower we’d purchased used that was a must have for our home in Tennessee. My husband was gone on a military deployment and I had an infant. And I needed to keep my grass cut. It took a lot of patience and about two weeks (which is an eternity for the lawn going un-mowed in a wet Tennessee summer) since I only worked on it during nap time. I’m happy to report that it was a great and practical success and cost me less than $10. I was actually sad when I ended up selling it with the house for an extra couple hundred dollars a few years later. But it gave me some serious confidence in my resourcefulness. And it taught me that DIY’s can be great, practical and save money too. You just have to be aware that it may not go as fast or as easily as you expect. And you have to be willing to laugh along the way.

So dear readers, do you DIY? Why or why not?