Friday, April 16, 2010

An easy, relaxing (non-frugal) meal

When I was a kid, every once in a while my family would have a meal of 'finger foods'. Mostly it would be meat, cheese and crackers. I loved that kind of meal. We all used our fingers and shared off of the same big plate in the middle. We seemed to talk more and have more fun. So, I wanted to do that with my husband. We made up the platters and sat on the floor in the living room and watched a movie. It was cute, it was fun, and best of all, no cooking on a busy night.

It's a little bit of an expensive meal because I have this love affair with certain cheeses and just HAVE to have them when I do a thing like this. Namely, smoked gouda. Mmmmm... So good. We got monterrey and colby jack, Laughing Cow spreadable swiss, smoked gouda, and a port and wine cheeseball. Turkey and ham were our meats. I threw in some carrots with the crackers so we'd have some kind of vegetable for this finger-food meal.

We tried Roasted Vegetable Ritz crackers and I LOVED them. I like them a lot better than the original flavor. I just think they have a lot more to offer, flavor-wise.
We also tried these babies. SO good! There's shredded cheese melted on top of the crackers, so they're super tasty. They're a little expensive for how much you get, but if you're treating yourself, why not? They're good!

I hope everyone has at least one fun, easy dinner in their repertoire!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I need a change

Obviously, I'm doing something wrong with the way I treat myself. I feel like crap. I am constantly hungry, never have any energy, I feel sick all the time, and I am so super lethargic. So, I MUST be doing something wrong. I believe that I'm just putting the wrong things in my body. If I believe the mantras 'You are what you eat' and 'Put good in, get good out' and I am feeling the way I do, then the logical answer to my problems would be that I am putting 'crap' in. When I examine my eating habits and my lifestyle, I can see that that is indeed true. I eat whatever I want, pretty much in whatever quantity I want, don't exercise enough, and don't take care of myself in the way I should. So, what's the solution? Start eating well! All the time! (Or most of the time, at least!) And exercise!

My husband and I so often eat fast food that we almost never get the veggies we need. We blame it on the 'no time' we have, but really, it's just a lie that we use so that we can be lazy. We've got to stop eating out so much, first and foremost. Secondly, we need to eat more vegetables! I started this last night with an AMAZING recipe which I will talk about in my next post. Third, we need to eat more fruit. Fruit is best for breakfast, by itself, because fruit tends to digest rather quickly on its own which means you will get the nutrients, fiber, and vitamins faster. If you eat fruit with other slower-digesting food, you'll have the fruit just sitting there for much longer than needed in your hot stomach. Yuck! Fermenting fruit=so not tasty! So, I want to eat raw fruit for breakfast and wait at least 30 minutes before eating anything else. That way, I'm guaranteed to get the servings of fruit I need. Take, for example, this morning. I ate most of a medium mango, a small kiwi, and 1/4 of a cantaloupe. Took me about 5 minutes to prep and cut up, but I stayed satisfied for a little under 3 hours, which is rather unusual for me (I'm ALWAYS hungry, even if I just ate a huge meal at a buffet.) I know that I started my day off with plenty of vitamins and enzymes and fiber and just... delicious. I should do this every day. See?
I'll post more about the vegetables and recipes I'm going to start adding to our diets soon.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Healthy Start

Everyone knows that they are supposed to eat lots of greens everyday, right? Sometimes, though, you just don't have the time to sit down and eat a salad. You should make this instead: I got the idea from Tasha at Clean Eating Mama blog (original post here) and I love it. I changed the recipe a bit, so here's what I did:

8 oz. almond milk
3 tablespoons flax meal
2 large bananas
3 large handfuls of greens (spinach, kale, mixed baby greens)
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled
1 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1 tablespoon agave (note about agave at the bottom)
drizzle strawberry syrup (optional, and shouldn't really be in this list)

Place the almond milk, flax, and bananas in your regular old blender and blend. Add your greens and blend until smooth. Add in all your strawberries until completely smooth and taste. If you think it needs a bit of sweetness, add some agave nectar (or maybe a simple syrup if you don't have/don't like agave) and taste again. It should be thick, cold, and taste like strawberries with a hint of banana. You won't be able to taste the greens at all. (I accidentally pu too much flax in mine and the flavor of it over powered the drink so I put in some strawberry syrup. I realize this was a silly thing to do since I'm drinking this for the ton of healthy stuff in it, but oh well; we can't be perfect all the time! =D) Pour it in a tall clear glass, and garnish with a strawberry. It's pretty, tasty, and healthy. You'll have several servings of fruit, a couple servings of vegetables, healthy fats from the almond milk, and plenty of Omega-3s from the flax. Not to mention plenty of fiber from the strawberries and flax. Very tasty.

And look who else liked it!

She mostly just wanted the strawberry, though.
Now, about agave nectar: If you've never tried it, you must! It's amazing stuff. The agave is closely related to the lilly and amaryllis, and the nectar is a delicious sap called aguamiel (honey water.) It is sweet and delicious, and healthier than processed white sugar, especially if you get raw agave nectar. It is a great vegetarian replacement for honey, and some tequila is made with agave. I use it in sweet tea, on pancakes, in coffee, to sweeten up vegetable shakes, etc. It's cheaper than honey, and lasts me a long time. Try it out!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Top Ten

Everyone wants to save money, right? There's a blog I like, Life As Mom, that offers lots of ideas for keeping things manageable, and I enjoy applying the tips I find there to my own life. There's another blog I like, Is It Naptime Yet?, that talks a lot about green lifestyle, knowing where your food comes from, buying organic, and frugality. Heather, at Is It Naptime Yet?, taking example from the Life As Mom blog, has posted her Top 10 ways to be frugal at the grocery store. (The original post is linked here: Frugal Friday.) There are 10 tips that are easy to follow that make a big difference in your spending. Below, I've listed Heather's tips, but added my own commentary. To view her comments on each tip, view her original post.

#1 Keeping an inventory of what you have
I am bad at this. There are so many times I go to the store and think 'Do I have this? Do I have that?' I usually end up buying more than I need to. Having a list helps me with that. I like to use, simply because I can log into the website from anywhere and have a copy of what I have at home. Also, if you take pictures, evernote will make the text in the pictures searchable! How awesome is that?

#2 Meal Planning
This is a very good thing to do. You may think it takes too long, or is too difficult, but it's not. It is very worth it. You don't feel rushed at the end of the day because you already know what you are going to eat and you already have the food in your pantry. The peace of mind from that is worth any amount of work. Heather says she sits down and writes a number for each day of the month (1-30 for example) and then writes down that many meals and allows the family to pick together what meals to make each day. I like to plan each day so that I can incorporate leftovers into new dishes (since my husband hates leftovers), and use the other half of that onion or ground beef, or whatever it is. I end up buying less and getting a lot more out of each item I buy.There are meal planning templates over at Money Saving Mom and $5 Dinners.

#3 Always have a grocery list
I'm keeping Heather's commentary for this one. I couldn't say it better!
"Research shows that 60-70% of what ends up in your grocery cart is unplanned!
Make a grocery list.
If you've done numbers 1 and 2 then this one should be a cinch! Never, ever go into a grocery store without a list. Statistics show that you, on average will spend $1 for every minute you're in a grocery store... IF you don't have a list. People who have grocery lists made spend significantly lower amounts on money on groceries... It pays to be a little more organized sometimes!"

#4 Check to see what's on sale, and clip coupons
Checking for sales seems to be the obvious thing to me, but since I like to plan in advance, this can sometimes be tricky. This is where the freezer comes into play. If I see that chicken breasts is 50% off, but I haven't planned many meals that have chicken in them, I'll buy it anyway and put it in my freezer. Then, next month, I'll plan for more chicken meals. Overall, I'll spend less per meal. I don't clip many coupons (mostly because I'm lazy, and I can't print them off the internet because I haven't bothered to put ink in my printer for months and months) but I wish I did. It seems so silly to me that I don't take the free money that's being handed to me through coupons. Heather says, "...there are so many places online where you can find coupons. Anymore it seems as if you can go to any company's website and print off coupons for their products. Here is a great guide for starting out in the coupon world, and here are some of my favorite blogs where I get my coupon info..."
MoneySavingMom.comSurviving the Stores Organic Deals - Helping Moms Go Organic Without Going BrokeCoupon Saving Game Button

#5 Watch for manager specials (markdowns)
I have no problem going to the bakery cart and buying bread that will expire in a few days. It's usually 50-70% off the sale price, and if I freeze it or use it in the next day or few, no one ever knows the difference. My favorite way to use Italian Bread loaves from the bakery cart is to cut them into thick slices, top with pizza toppings and bake. Everyone gets their own 'pizza', it's super cheap, delicious, and takes 5 minutes to make. Yummy, and easy. Use your judgment, of course, in determining if a food is good. Just don't turn down food just because it's 'Sell-by date' is in three days.

#6 Don't take the kiddos
This is a no-brainer to me, but sometimes you just cannot help it. If I have to bring a kid to the grocery store, I make them stay in the cart (or they're going to grab all the goodies the stores place in their reach) and bring a book or maybe an iPod and headphones. If a child is occupied (and full!) they won't beg for food or treats as much, I find. Or, if they are old enough to understand money, give them a 'task'. Show them two identical products, and the prices, and have them show you which one is a better buy, and try to get them explain why they think so. Teach them about the 'price per ounce' part on the price tags and have them pick the cheaper product. Maybe you could keep a record of how much money they 'save' the household by picking the right product, and reward them for a job well done. They'll take pride in making the right choices and helping their family. And you'll be setting your children up with a frugal mindset!

#7 Premade mixes are not your friend
Heather says, "Cake mixes, cookie mixes, bisquick, ect... sure, they might make things a tad bit easier, but in the end you're just wasting money. You have to make a decision on which is more important... convenience or price. Usually you can make all of those handy little mixes for under half the price (usually more than that)
Check out this post at Life As Mom for a how-to on making your own mixes." I want to make my own mixes!

#8 Don't grab the first thing you see at the store
Heather says, "Stores will try and trick you into buy a more expensive item. They are very tricky in this way. They make sure to put the eye candy and things are more of an impulse buy right at eye level. Also, stay away from end of the aisle displays. Make sure you go ahead and shop for whatever it is IN the aisle, so that you can do a side by side comparison of the other brands. Just because it's on sale does not mean it's a bargain."

#9 Go to the grocery during off hours and never go hungry
If I have coupons with me, and the store is busy, I usually just won't use them. I know it's annoying when someone in front of me is taking forever to dish out all their coupons, so I always assume I'm going to annoy others around me, so I just keep my coupons to myself. If I go at a time when the store isn't very busy, usually around early morning, I'll be more relaxed in my shopping, I'll use my coupons, and I'll be able to make the right choices when choosing foods. The most important part of this rule is the 'never go hungry' part. Seriously. When I'm hungry, I walk down each aisle and say 'Oooooh, I should make that. And that. And that. And that...etc.' I end up spending much more money than I had intended, ignoring my shopping list, and making my husband mad, ha ha.

#10 Bulk shop during great sales
Heather says, "If you see that a store is having a fabulous sale on something that your family eats regularly, then stock up! You will save a bunch of money in the end. Meats, cheese, canned goods... these are all good things that if on sale, you should buy more of. Stick it in the freezer and you'll not only guarantee that you'll have enough throughout this month, but maybe over the next couple of months." Use your freezer, people! =D

So, there you have it. Ten ways to save money while shopping. Check out both blogs up there. You'll find lots of neat stuff.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Projects! So many projects!

Well, I started on my quilt. I made the front of the pillow, and the top and bottom strips of the quilt. It's going rather well, although I had to pull the seams out a few times to get it perfect. I'm very excited about it, and I cannot wait to finish it, but at the moment, I'm working on a new project, and I have several more in mind.

My 16-year-old-going-on-30 sister, Krystal, is going to be moving in with my husband and I (if everything goes according to plan), and I've been working on some presents to make her move much more pleasant. When I am done with that project, there are a few more things I'm longing to get done. I want to try my hand at selling a thing or two on or

Since my passion is children, and I love to make things, I thought I would try and make just one or two baby things, put them up on Etsy, and see what people think. The thing I want to make most is an adorable little baby girl's pinafore with matching bloomers. I want to make it reversible (because who doesn't love 2-in-1 outfits?) but I'm not QUITE sure how to go about that. Also, I don't know if there are laws concerning fabrics. I don't know if it is legal for me to go to, say, JoAnn's, buy fabric, make something out of it and sell it. I don't think there would be laws like that, but I need to be on the safe side, so I am going to research that. I cannot wait to get something up for sale and see what happens!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Man, I want this!

Kim at The Nourishing Gourmet often induces cravings for healthy delicious foods in me, but today... it's all I can do to stop myself from running to the store to get the ingredients for this now. Since I haven't made it (I just REALLY want to) I'm not going to say much about it. I'll let her post do all the talking.

Here is her original post (but don't forget to visit her blog. It's wonderful!)

Rich, Dark Hot Cocoa (Dairy and Refined Sugar Free)

by KimiHarris on January 18, 2010

I’ve had a sudden fixation on dark chocolate. Long time readers here will know that I’ve always loved chocolate but I’ve been going weeks on end without having chocolate. Well, no longer. To satisfy my chocolate tooth, I started turning to hot cocoa. This version is dark, creamy, and delicious. I find it a perfect treat to have mid-afternoon (or an almost mid-night snack, which we did last night). And it’s pretty guilt free too, sweetened with a drizzle of maple syrup, full of the healthy fats from the coconut milk and unsweetened cocoa powder too.

Chocolate (without all of the yucky other ingredients added to it in most candy bars) is actually considered a very healthy food by many. Like cranberries, apples, onions, tea and red wine, chocolate is loaded with flavonoids. According to The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Jonny Bowden, the particular flaonoids called flavanols found in chocolate “prevent fatlike stubstances in the bloodstream from clogging the arteries. When you reduce the blood’s ability to clot, you also reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.” The author also mentions that chocolate is high in magnesium (which, by the way, is why many crave chocolate when they are low in magnesium). I’ve also read of several studies connecting chocolate to a healthy blood pressure.

Because I use coconut milk powder (I ordered mine from Wilderness Family Naturals), this is dairy free, though you could easily use whole milk instead. I’ve sweetened it with maple syrup, but honey would work too. I wanted to use a liquid sweetener because it would dissolve more easily, but use rapadura or coconut sugar if you are willing to do a little mixing. Feel free to use canned coconut milk too. Maybe half full fat coconut milk with an equal amount of water for a rich taste, or more water for a less rich taste.

Rich, Dark Hot Cocoa

See notes above for ingredient substitutions.
    2/3 cup of coconut milk powder (see notes above)
    1/4 cup of full fat cocoa powder
    Scant 1/4 cup of maple syrup or honey
    4 cups of water
    1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

French Press Method: While water is being brought to a boil, add the coconut milk powder, cocoa powder and sweetener to the french press. Add the boiling water and with a gentle motion, use the press to help mix everything together (I use an up and down motion in the top half of the french press). Add the vanilla and serve.

Regular Method: Place the coconut milk powder, cocoa powder and sweetener in a four glass pyrex measuring cup. Add just enough boiling water to moisten this mixture and whisk to form a smooth paste. Add more water to a bit over the four cup mark. Add the vanilla and serve.

*I’ve labeled this recipe vegan and dairy free, but do note that their are trace amounts of milk in the coconut milk powder. To be completely vegan and dairy free, use canned coconut milk.

Smothered Pork chops

This is a delicious meal. I really enjoy mushrooms, and I especially enjoy creamy noodle dishes, so this dish is a win-win for me. I got the original recipe from and altered it, and I'm pleased with the final product.

1 lb. thinly sliced boneless pork chops
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 10 3/4 oz. can of condensed cream of mushroom soup with roasted garlic
1 c water
1/2 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
8-12 oz. egg noodles, cooked

Cook chops in large skillet on medium high heat for 4 minutes on each side. Set aside.
Heat canola oil in pan and add onions and mushrooms. Stirring constantly, cook until onions start to get tender and mushrooms start to get lightly brown. Deglaze the pan with the water, being sure to get all the tasty 'bits' from the bottom. Add soup, soy sauce, sage, thyme, and pepper and stir well. Return chops to the pan, and bring to a boil, uncovered. Allow to simmer until pork chops are cooked through and the sauce has reduced. Add sour cream, mixing well. Serve mixture over egg noddles.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nacho Bake

My mother-in-law makes a fast Nacho Bake that I really enjoy. When my husband requested it a few days ago, I asked her for her recipe and made it last night. I used lean ground turkey instead of ground beef. (If you've never used lean ground turkey, I really would like to encourage you to try it. Where I buy meat, ground turkey is usually cheaper than ground beef, especially the very lean ground beef. Besides being very economical, lean ground turkey is lower in fat and calories than ground beef . It requires a bit more seasoning than ground beef, so it is perfect in dishes that are heavily seasoned, like chili or tacos. Anyway, I digress.) My mother-in-law seasons the meat with chili seasoning (in the packet, which you can find with the gravy mixes and taco seasonings) and taco sauce. It is very good this way. The chili powder adds a great depth to the meat. With the chili seasoning and the taco sauce, I think the dish has a more mid-west flavor, as opposed to a neo-mexican taco flavor, which I tend to gravitate towards. Next time I make this dish, I am going to replace the chili seasoning with taco seasoning, and the taco sauce with chunky salsa. I think it will be wonderful! Oh, and I'll use ground turkey again. I promise: if you don't tell your family that it's not ground beef, they will never know!

Nacho Bake
1 lb. ground turkey (or very lean ground beef)
1 packet chili (or taco) seasoning
12 ounces taco sauce (or chunky salsa)
1 12 ounce bag of nacho cheese flavored chips (I use Doritos, but using a store brand doesn't change the taste of the dish much)
8 ounces mexican cheese
Sour cream

Brown the ground meat (if using turkey, use a tablespoon of two of canola oil; this is not needed for fatty ground beef), drain if needed, add the entire packet of seasoning and the taco sauce. Allow the meat to simmer for a couple minutes so that the sauce is absorbed. Crunch up all your chips and put a little less than half in the bottom of a 13x9" baking dish. Spread half the meat evenly in a layer, top with half the cheese, and repeat the layers. I like to top the dish with a little bit of chips (instead of just cheese) and it comes out looking cute. Bake for 8 minutes at 350 degrees, or until cheese is melted. Top with sour cream and enjoy! I hope you try this!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I'm making a quilt!

A couple years ago, I bought some beautiful fabric to make myself a costume for a renaissance fair. In pure 'Debbie' fashion, I never got around to it. (To be fair, one of the reasons I never finished it is that I messed up a cut, and would have had to buy another yard.) So for a couple of years, I've had this large bundle of beautiful dark rose corduroy and a light rose silky fabric. I decided a few months ago to make a quilt out of it and actually started to, but soon found out that I NEEDED a rotary cutter and mat to make everything even. Well, I finally have them, and I have been cutting out my squares. I'm going to make a lap quilt and a pillow or two. Here are my plans, and a picture of the actual fabric. Each little block is 4" by 4" so the final lap quilt will be 3' by 5'. I'm going to keep a large part of the blanket simple, and just put the corduroy in large blocks. I'd like to do the whole thing patchwork, but I know I'd never finish that! =D So, I'll make it a little easier on myself, and it'll still be stunning. I'm going to make the back of the blanket entirely out of the silky fabric. It'll be so cozy and wonderful, like a large child's blanket. I love it! Here's a (poor quality) picture of the actual fabric:
I can't wait to get sewing!