Monday, April 30, 2012

Monthly Meal Planner - May


Over the weekend I posted our monthly meal plan on the side of our refrigerator giving our family a glimpse into their culinary future.  I thought I would go ahead and share it with you as a source of inspiration, if nothing else.  I enjoy checking out other’s meal plans to give me ideas too. 

I may not get everything made depending on how the leftovers work out.  Here is a list of what we will be enjoying next month: 

·         Spicy Romano Chicken
·         Taco Soup
·         Chicken Fried Rice
·         Quiche
·         Macaroni & Cheese
·         Pizza
·         Salmon & Rice Pilaf
·         Chicken Alfredo
·         BLT Sandwiches
·         Soup, Salad & Bread – soup from freezer
·         Bean Burritos & Spanish Rice
·         Spaghetti
·         Creamy Tuna & Biscuits - aka SOS
·         Lemon Chicken
·         Pork Verde
·         Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Tomato Soup
·         Pan Fried Noodles
·         Corn Dogs & Tater tots
·         Quesadilla Casserole
·         Pasta Marinara
·         Broccoli Beef
·         Corned Beef Brisket
·         Chicken Pesto Pasta
·         French Dip
·         Reuben Sandwich
·         BBQ Ribs
·         Hamburgers
·         Chili Dogs
·         Grilled Steak
·         Roasted Chicken
·         Quesadillas
·         Eggs Benedict

I’ll be posting some of the recipes later on.  It all sounds pretty good to me.  What are you having this month?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Very Busy Week!


It has been exactly that.  A very busy week and an extremely productive one too! 

On Monday and Tuesday I got a lot of yard work done.  The weather was perfect and I was able to get the lawn mowed, trimmed and re-seeded, more weeds pulled, the pond cleaned out, the raised garden beds amended and turned, flowerbeds cleaned out, start the set up of our hoses and above ground sprinkler system, seeds started in peat pots, the clothes lines put up and a lot of laundry done and hung out on the line to dry.  I also managed a job interview and a trip to the thrift store for two pair of summer shorts for my oldest. 

Wednesday started out early when I cleared out our upstairs second bedroom, took the girls to school, then headed to Lowes for paint and a new roller.  I then came home to paint the bedroom all before noon.  This is the last room in our house that needed painting – thank goodness!  I hate to paint. 

After a quick clean up and change of clothes I headed to the store for a set of bunk beds on sale plus I had a $10 store coupon.  I decided to use the proceeds from our yard sale for this purchase.  I knew how disappointed my girls were that we weren’t moving and I had promised them bunk beds once we did.  I thought this might help ease their disappointment. 

I then headed home to shampoo the bedroom carpet and put the bed together.  I almost had it done by 3:00 but had to stop and pick the girls up at school.  I made them stay downstairs until the bed was done.  After vacuuming the carpet I let them upstairs for their surprise.  They were so surprised and thrilled!  My oldest nearly cried.  I’m glad she didn’t or else I would have too. 

For the past year they have had their room in our converted family room because it is bigger.  Now that they have the bunk beds they are going to be more comfortable in their bedroom and we all get our family room back. 

I was glad to have their help hauling up their mattresses and bedding.  They moved their clothes and things in and I set up their computer for them.  I helped them remake their beds and they helped me haul my things downstairs.  Although I was pretty pooped out, I somehow managed to keep going until midnight! 


I have spent the rest of the week putting our family room back together, unpacking and putting things away that I had packed up for our move, super cleaning everything, re-organizing and purging additional items (it’s amazing what you find) to take to the thrift store. 

I even got to go on a school field trip with youngest Thursday morning.  It is the first time I have ever gone on one with her.  She was so happy to have me along.

I still have both bathrooms and the laundry room to do.  My bedroom will be last as it has been my dumping ground and sorting station this week.  Once those rooms are done our entire house will have been completely gone through and I will be ready to start life anew.  I am excited about it too.  It feels really good. 

I expect to be finished by the end of the weekend, hopefully.  I’m not entirely sure where all my energy and motivation is coming from but, I’m sure happy for it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Gardening - Seed Starting


The other day we started some seeds as an after school project with my girls.  We are lucky this year as this project didn’t cost us a dime.  My mother cleaned out her greenhouse last fall and we were the recipients of her overflow items.  Including a drip irrigation system – For Dummies!  I am pretty excited about that.  When it comes to growing things I fall right in that category. 

While purging the garage this year I came across a shoe box full of seed packets.  I’m hoping they are still good.  We’ll find out.  Most of the seed packets only cost about a dollar, originally.  So if I need to buy new ones in a week or so it won’t be too expensive. 

We started out by writing on the outside of each pot with a Sharpie marker so we would know what was planted.  Then we filled them about 2/3 with soil, added the seeds, topped off the soil and gave them a good drink of water.  I used an old baking pan and a drip plate from a flower pot to put them on for the time being. 

So far we have planted: 

·         Pickling Cucumbers
·         Yellow Summer Squash
·         Zucchini
·         Sugar Pumpkins
·         Dill
·         Basil
·         Cilantro
·         Parsley
·         Chives 

We’ll keep them outside on the porch as long as the warm weather holds and bring them inside if it gets colder.  The key for me will be to keep them watered without drowning them. 

Since I am getting a late start this year I plan to purchase Roma tomato and bell pepper plants at the store with one of my gift cards.  We will also be planting lettuce, corn, carrots, beets and green onions directly into the ground. 

Mother gave me one of those strawberry pots for my front porch.  I’m turning it into an herb garden.  I put some broken bricks in the bottom for drainage and filled it up with Miracle Gro Potting Mix.  Once the herbs we planted in the peat pots are ready I’ll be planting them in there.  I am excited about having a pretty and also very useful pot of plants on my front porch this summer. 

I usually do my planting the weekend of Mother’s Day.  By then the frost risk is usually past and the weather is warm enough.  In the meantime I am going to get my beds ready and figure out my drip system.  It appears pretty straight forward.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Composting


As most of you know by now I am passionate about recycling, reducing waste and reduced consumption.  Composting is a perfect example of waste management and recycling. 

A few years ago the city of Boise decided to switch all curbside trash pickup to designated bins.  I was excited about this because instead of a recycle bin the size of a laundry basket I could order one the same size as the trash bin I was going to be assigned.  That is exactly what I did. 

What I wasn’t excited about was the thought of all those trash cans that we had been using heading for our city landfill.  I had four of my own to contribute if I chose to.  I kept mine and decided I’d find other uses for them. 

The first thing we did was turn one into a compost bin.  I drilled five holes in the bottom for drainage and several on the sides along the top for ventilation.  We began throwing our food scraps, lawn clippings, leaves, garden waste, dryer lint (yes, very compostable!), and all approved items on the list. 

After one year we dumped it out on the ground and used the rich black part to amend our flower beds and pots.  What hadn’t quite composted down completely, the stuff at the top went back in the can and we started again. 

This year our can is full all the way to the top.  I shoveled out the top third into another can and the remainder will be added to our new raised garden beds this year.  I think what excites me most is that composting really works just like they say it does. 

It looks like over the next year we’ll have two compost bins going as we are adding more yard waste to ours than we have in the past.  By next year we should end up with a full 32 gallons of compost to add throughout our garden and bedding spaces. 

There are several types of compost bins available at home improvement stores and online.  Or you can do what I did and make your own.  You can also search online for directions to build your own out of wood.  It can be as simple or elaborate as you like. 


I keep a small compost collection bin lined with a plastic produce bag under my kitchen sink to collect the kitchen waste.  When it is full, out it goes to the big bin in the backyard. 

To get started put a 2 inch layer of dirt in the bottom of your compost bin, add 4 inches of leaves and lawn clippings.  Pour in 1 gallon of water.  Begin adding additional organic items such as: 

·                     Coffee grounds & filters, tea bags

·                     Stale cereal, crackers, pretzels, bread, pasta

·                     Shredded newspaper

·                     Dryer lint

·                     Fruits and vegetables, peelings

·                     Egg shells

·                     Sawdust

·                     Wood ashes – make sure they are cold

·                     Lawn trimmings, leaves, pine needles 

Every couple of weeks add a little of water and use a shovel to toss and mix.  If your compost is nice and moist don’t add water.  You don’t want a soggy mess, just damp.  Keep your compost loose so it can breathe and do its thing. 

It makes me feel really good to know that I am giving back to the earth instead of always taking from it.  Do you compost or have you ever thought of starting?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Grocery Shopping – Meat


I think meat is the most expensive item one can buy when it comes to grocery shopping.  I am constantly looking for bargains when it comes to that particular item. 

I am always scanning the grocery ads for really great prices and I get very excited when I can score a really good deal like I did on chicken last week at $1.59/lb for boneless skinless breasts.  I am regularly checking the markdown bin at our grocery store too. 

Today all I needed this week in the way of groceries was a bunch of green onions.  I could have totally done without them but I also wanted to peruse the markdown bin at the meat department.  It has been awhile since I’ve gone “trolling for meat”. 

Today I scored a huge meaty 4 lb. pot roast for $11.69 and two corned beef briskets on sale for $1.59/lb.  I really wanted a corned beef last month for St. Patrick’s Day but the prices weren’t low enough to suit me so I decided to pass on it.  Mostly I was dreaming of a Reuben sandwich.  Well now I will get my sandwich and several other great meals to boot. 

I know that pot roast is going to make a lot of meals for us as well.  I can hardly wait.  Along with a nice roast with veggies, I love to use a pot roast for shredded beef tacos or enchiladas, Bolognese sauce for pasta, beef barley soup, all kinds of things. 

Anytime you can stock up your freezer with a good buy on meat you’ve done good.  Needless to say I am really excited about my purchases today!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Soup Week


A great pot of soup, a fresh tossed salad and homemade bread is one of our family’s favorite meals.  Over the years we have amassed quite a collection of delicious soup recipes.  Since I usually only serve soup once or twice a month we don’t get to eat our favorites very often so we decided to have a Soup Week.  My girls helped me make a list and picked out their favorites. 

Monday – Cream of Asparagus & Cheese Quesadillas

Tuesday – Egg Drop Soup & Chicken Fried Rice

Wednesday – Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Thursday – Minestrone, Homemade Bread & Salad

Friday – Thai Curry Soup & Noodles

Saturday – Taco Soup, Cornbread & Salad 

This hardly touches our list of favorites but it’s a start.  I am planning to freeze some of the leftovers for future meals down the road.  So not only are we going to have some great meals but I’ll be able to stock up my freezer too.  We should have plenty for lunches this week as well. 

What are some of your family’s favorite soups?

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Recipe Book


I love my recipe book.  It holds all my favorite recipes that I found in magazines, online or received from my friends and co-workers.  It is my go-to book whenever I need a menu planning idea or a quick dessert or side dish for a potluck or a family dinner.  I would be lost without it. 

My recipe book began nearly twenty years ago as a way to organize a lot of little pieces of paper.  I had an old binder and some magnetic photo sheets in a box so I decided to put them to good use.  I have it divided into two sections – savory and sweet. 

Over the years I have added additional pages to it.  I now glue my recipes to card stock and slip them into sheet protectors.  I love that I can wipe off the pages with a damp cloth whenever I splatter on them. 

Along with all the great recipes inside my book I have a ton of memories of the people who have shared their favorites with me.  That is a bonus I wasn’t really expecting when I decided it was time to get organized. 

My recipe book is stuffed with pages and I most likely will need to upgrade to a wider binder in the not too distant future.  That is just fine with me. 

Do you have a recipe book like this?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Yard Sales


We had our yard sale this past weekend and it was a fabulous success.  The weather was perfect, we couldn’t have asked for better!  We ran it on Friday and Saturday from 8am to 2pm which was the right amount of time.  Today I will attempt to recover.  Yard sales are a lot of work! 

Our plans for our yard sale began when we were purging and preparing to move.  Even though we are no longer moving we decided we definitely wanted to go ahead with the yard sale anyway.  My parents took a queue from me and decided to do some purging of their own and cleared out a lot of stuff as if they were planning to move themselves.  They said it helped them a lot with the decision making. 

If you are planning a yard sale in the not too distant future I have some tips for you to make it a great one.  I did a little research and found these tips are right on the money – no pun intended. 

Price Your Items while You Purge – this tip I found extremely helpful because I wasn’t overwhelmed with pricing items for the sale. 

Price Your Items To Sell/Be Willing To Accept Offers – this was a great tip too.  It helped us to set low prices when we decided whatever didn’t sell was going to be donated to the thrift store.  We were definitely willing to wheel and deal in the final hours. 

Be Organized – this is a really good tip.  We set up “stations” on our drive way.  We had one for toys, one for books, one housewares, one for tools, one for Christmas stuff, one for home d├ęcor, and one for miscellaneous. 

Set Clear Dates And Hours – be open when you say you will be open.  Don’t close up early if you posted specific hours.  I watched my neighbors close up early on theirs a couple weeks ago and there were a few unhappy customers.  Some were pretty vocal about it. 

Advertise – I posted our yard sale on Craigslist on Thursday.  I also highlighted some of the items in the ad that would draw customers like furniture, tools, a stereo, houseware items, etc.  I add a line about our excellent prices.  Also, I put in directions so they could find us easily. 

Post Signs That Point The Way – especially if you are a little off the beaten path like we are.  I put up signs at the entrance of our subdivision facing both directions of traffic and then additional signs pointing the way to our house within our subdivision. 

Consider A Free Box – we set up one of these and people really seemed to like it.  We stuck all kinds of odds and ends inside of it.  Kids really liked it too. 

Be Able To Make Change – apparently this is something a lot of people forget about and I almost did too.  I was so wrapped up in all the other details I almost overlooked this one.  We managed to scrounge up enough loose change and dollar bills to set one up in a plastic divided container with a lid. 

Accept Cash Only & Keep It Secure – we didn’t accept checks at ours and we kept ours tucked out of the way inside the garage. 

Engage Your Customers & Say Thank You – saying thank you seemed obvious to me but it was a tip I read over and over so apparently it is worth stating.  I did welcome people that came by and asked how they were doing when they arrived and I hope I thanked everyone.  I certainly intended to. 

When all was said and done we loaded up the leftovers after inviting one of my neighbors to come over and pick through and take whatever she wanted for free.  Then we headed to the thrift store and gave them all of our remaining treasures.  They were really happy to get what we had left and we made sure we didn’t give them any junk.  No point in donating something they would just have to throw away. 

It was a lot of work and a lot of fun.  We met a lot of neat people and some real characters too. 

My personal tip is to Stay Hydrated.  You don’t realize how much you are moving around and on a warm day you forget to stop and drink water until all of a sudden you don’t feel so great.  Drink lots and lots of water. 

If you are planning a yard sale this summer I hope it is a great success and that you have a lot of fun with it as well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Homemade Yogurt


I bought the ingredients to make yogurt.  I had never done it before but I found the recipe and technique over at thefrugalgirl.com and it looked like a simple straightforward process.  I was very excited to give it a try.  Yogurt has become so expensive and we eat it nearly every day.  As a result yogurt consumes a large portion of my grocery budget every month.  I try to take advantage of coupons and markdowns to help offset some of the expense but if I can make it myself it will really save me a ton. 


Well guess what?  It worked!  I am thrilled and I think it rivals any Yoplait vanilla yogurt you can buy.  My girls were really impressed and loved having it for their after school snack.  My oldest put some of our home canned peaches on it and said it was fantastic.  I plan to try that myself soon. 

My mother wants me to make her a quart as well as a batch of my homemade granola to take on her big month long trip they are going on next month.  I definitely need to make some granola to go with this yogurt. 

I made a half recipe because I wanted to make sure it worked and I wasn’t sure how fast we would eat it before it went bad.  Well, I plan to make another batch soon.  A half batch made 4 pints plus a half pint to use as my starter for the next batch.  Not bad!  I’m just really impressed with the flavor.  It is delicious. 

I did the math and this half recipe made the equivalent of 10½ containers (6oz.) of yogurt.  Right now regular price on Yoplait is 60¢ each so $6.00.  I spent $1.75 for the ingredients I used.  I’d say that is a significant savings. 

We are also planning to make some homemade ice cream this week.  We love ice cream.  It is my favorite dessert, hands down.  Several years ago I bought an ice cream maker with the base that you put in the freezer.  I love it! 

Do you make homemade yogurt or ice cream?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal



I love to make a nice hearty breakfast to really get us started, especially on the weekends.  One of our favorites is oatmeal, in particular, flavored oatmeal.  Here is a recipe for one I make quite often. 

Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal 

Bring to a boil: 

1¾ c. water
tsp. salt 

Add:

1 c. quick cooking oats 


Bring back to the boil, turn off burner and stir for 1 minute.  Remove from hot burner, add: 

2 Tbs. raisins
¼ c. loose packed brown sugar 

Do not stir.  Cover pan with lid and let sit 5 minutes.  Add: 


½ tsp. cinnamon 

Stir and serve.  


The raisins plump right up and it is the perfect blend of sweet and spice.  Top with a little whole milk or half & half to make it a little more decadent if you’d like.  Serves 3.  To serve more people simply double the recipe.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sticking To The Grocery Budget


One of the keys to the success of my minimal grocery budget is that I am constantly replenishing the items that I use.  Despite the fact that there is a lot of food in my house I know that I need to replenish the items I am running low on or use a lot of to make sure I’m not stuck running out and at risk of going over budget later down the road, either to replace those items or make an unplanned purchase. 

My current budget is $100 + $25 to stockpile sale items.  I also budget $25 for non-food items such as toiletries, cleaning supplies, pet food and litter, etc.  It will be more important now than ever to make sure I am successful every month at staying on budget and keeping my pantry full. 

As we all know planning is key to success so I got busy with a meal plan, did a food inventory and created a subsequent shopping list.  I dropped the kiddos off at school and hit the grocery store for my “big monthly grocery trip”.  I know I may be weird but I love to shop for groceries. 

After all was said and done I was able to get most of the items on my list plus an extra pantry item.  Canned chicken that was on sale and I had a coupon for $1.00 off.  Final price for 2 cans came in at $1.72. 

I also got my frozen skinless chicken breasts on sale for $1.59 per pound so I bought two packages.  That was my ? mark item.  I was only going to buy them if I found them for a really good price.  And I did!  That will make a lot of meals for us. 

Funny thing.  I’ve noticed at this particular grocery store is that the 5# bags of flour are less expensive than the larger 10# bag.  If I buy 2 of the 5# bags at $1.54 each or $3.08 for both it is much less than the $3.54 they charge for a 10# bag.  It pays to do the math! 

Name brand spaghetti was on sale this week and I found I could get 2 of the 2# packages for $3.56 where a 3# package of store brand pasta was $3.18.  I got an extra pound of pasta for 38¢.  Love it! 

Current totals:

Food = $77.13                                                Non Food = $22.41 

This week’s meal plan is as follows: 

Sunday – Tuna casserole, green beans & tossed salad

Monday – Egg salad sandwiches (have to use up those Easter eggs) & tossed salad

Tuesday – Tacos, lettuce & tomato, cheese, salsa

Wednesday – Soup, salad & bread

Thursday – Spanish rice, corn, tossed salad

Friday – Pizza, spinach salad

Saturday – Lasagna, garlic bread, tossed salad 

Leftovers will get used up for lunches and breakfasts will be cereal, fruit, eggs, toast or pancakes. 

I’m going to do weekly menu plans and then I’ll get back on track with my monthly meal planning again in May.  In fact, I am already working on it. 

What is on your plate this week?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

It Has Been Quite A Week!


My week is ending far better than it began and I think I’m gaining a whole new perspective.  I know things happen for a reason and I know the path I was traveling was not the path I am supposed to be on. 

The enormity of what I was prepared to do in order to improve my work life and alleviate some of the stress I was experiencing is mind blowing.  With the encouragement of my employers I was going to completely uproot my life and move closer to work.  Take my children out of the only school they have ever attended, sell the only home they have ever known, bear the enormous expense of the move itself….

What was I thinking?! 

The only stress I would have eliminated would be that long commute in heavy traffic and the stress at the gas pump every week.  The stress at work wouldn’t have changed at all.  Truth is I don’t think moving would have improved a my quality of life much at all.  I think I was just desperate to do something. 

So this week: 

·         I have gained a new perspective
·         Slept at night
·         Attended two of my daughter’s school programs
·       Got a much needed haircut (hadn’t had one since October) and some highlights to conceal my grays
·         Got my resume ready and checked out the job boards
·         Completely went over my finances.  We are good!
·         Went to the grocery store – during the day!
·         Had a date night with my girls – out to dinner with a gift card and then home for games
·         Cooked and cleaned
·         Learned who my friends are.  They always show up when you are down. J
·         Worked on getting ready for a Yard Sale 

Probably not as productive as I could have been but in all honesty I literally stumbled around for a couple of days trying to figure out how to get started. 

I am truly comfortable with where I am at right now and the number one reason for this is because I am sleeping at night.  That alone speaks volumes.


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