Friday, February 26, 2010

Cleaning out closets - part four!

Today, you'll need to gather up the kids and do the same for the dresser drawers as you did yesterday! If you have un-normal kids, you could do these two days together but I've met very few kids who will allow you to do this all day long. I would need therapy if I attempted it!

Again, go through every piece of clothing and donate or toss. Tossing is generally reserved for my son's clothes, very few pieces get put in the donate or hand-me-down pile because they are usually too stained or worn out! Usually only church clothes get passed on to someone else!

Go through shoes also. I have them try on every pair they own including snowboots and sandals. My daughter has a lot of shoes. It's a female thing in our family. We like shoes. We would go without eating to buy a new pair of shoes. She doesn't like to part with any pair ever. A dog chewed one of a pair of flip-flops last year at her grandparents house and she wanted to keep the remaining flip-flop because she might need it! For what I will never know. Maybe if she grows another leg, or if a dog chews a different flip-flop pair.

Off topic, are you old enough to remember when we used to call them thongs? Well, that is another perfectly decent word that this younger generation has ruined for us. When I say thongs, my kids completely come unglued! Well, I wear thongs on my feet! Not in my bum! I'm ready for that trend to die a quick, painful death!

I also make them try on their jackets and coats. If I think they will be too small next fall, I put that on my get-it-on-sale list.

If you've made it this far without losing your mind...give yourself a break tonight and order pizza!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cleaning out closets - part three!

Today, I'm beginning to tackle the kids closets! Now, I have two children so this takes a while. I take a saturday or day off from school to start this project. The first thing I do is have the kid try on anything that I think will be too small next fall. This takes a special day, so plan a day when they are in a good mood, or promise them a trip to Sonic or an ice cream afterward! I'm all for bribery on this project!

Anything that is too small now or going to be in the fall needs to be donated or handed down. If it is to be handed down in your family, put it in a plastic container for storage. I label the size and season on the outside of the box and put it in my attic. That way, next fall, you can pull it down and see what you need before you shop!

That will probably take about half a day if your kids are like mine. Getting my daughter to try on clothes is no big deal, getting her to part with the outgrown stuff is no big deal when she realizes that she's going to go shopping for new stuff, getting her to get it done in a timely manner is a BIG deal because she gets sidetracked like her old mom and starts putting new outfits together!

Getting my son to do any of it requires threats, shouts and finally bribes. He doesn't like to try on clothes or shop so this is a sad day for him. He's totally happy to order things off the internet! It does help me though because I know what size he is moving out of and into. This helps me because I can shop the end-of-season sales for items he will need next fall.

After you accomplish this not small task, congratulate yourself, have a piece of chocolate and go lay down!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cleaning out closets - part two!

Today, I'm still in the cleaning out the closets mode. I'll tackle the kids closets later in the week. I don't like to do too much in one day, it stresses me out, so I just try to accomplish one small task and move on to something else. I think my attention span is so small that it's easier for me if I just do a little at a time. It doesn't seem so impossible!

Yesterday, I talked about purging your closet of old things you no longer use. Some people really have a problem with letting go of old clothes. They see them as memories or friends. I understand, I am in this category! I found a way for me to gently get rid of things without that withdrawal feeling. I hope it helps you if you're one of 'those people'!

I rotate my clothing between two closets. I am currently using winter clothes so my summer clothes have been placed in a spare bedrooms closet. This makes me responsible for moving the items two times a year, I take that time to go through and donate items. In a few weeks, I will begin moving the winter items back into the spare bedroom. As I do, I will look at my old things and get rid of things that have become too worn to wear outside of the house. I usually keep one or two fleeces or sweatshirts that I wear on Saturdays to lay around the house in. The rest of those things go in the donate pile. If I won't wear it out, I need to get rid of it!

I also donate any piece of clothing that wasn't worn in that season. This is a real eye-opener the first time you do it. You will realize that you really only wear a few pieces in your wardrobe. Forcing myself to donate anything I didn't wear this season actually makes me wear more of my clothing. This reduces the 'I don't have anything to wear' syndrome so you will actually shop less! I am wearing a shirt today that I haven't worn all season. I know if I don't wear it at least once, I have to donate it.

I work the same system on my shoes, purses and jackets/coats. Besides, purging my closet of unworn clothing, it gives me a good look at pieces that need replacing. I am currently on the lookout for a couple of specific sweaters because mine are probably only going to make it this season!

Tomorrow, I'll begin to tackle the kids closet!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cleaning out closets!

I am starting to think about spring cleaning this week as I've seen a story on the news about the Goodwill being really short on donations because of snowstorms, haiti disasters and generally most of us being too lazy to clean out the closets and drag our stuff down there in the winter. Well, it's time for my family to start putting away the things we no longer wear or use and cleaning out for new things!

It dawned on me about three years ago, that I could probably go the rest of my life without purchasing any piece of clothing again. Except underwear and socks, they actually get worn out. I guess it's because they get worn more often in the rotation, I don't have umpteen pairs of underwear like I do everything else! I have really been watchful the last couple of years to only try to replace things as they wear out.

I went through my husbands closet about the same time I had this epiphany and realized he was in the same boat. We had enough t-shirts with adds and sports team logos to outfit the Duggers, they're the family that has nineteen kids and still adding more daily. I donated about half of them to the Goodwill and still had enough to fill two dresser drawers. Now I choose one or two to wear all summer and throw them away at the end of the season because even the Goodwill wouldn't want the rag!

I challenge you this season to get in those closets and get rid of things that don't fit, don't look good enough to wear out, and you don't wear. Donate those items to a charity that could use them. Keep a running total for your taxes and make room in your closets!

Monday, February 22, 2010


I never participated in Lent when I was a kid. I didn't even really understand it because Baptists usually don't go in for all the 'high' church stuff. When I graduated from a Catholic College and began working at a Lutheran school, I got an education in the church year and it's special days.

The first time I participated in Lent, I gave up Dr. Pepper. I lasted about a week. It was quite embarrassing to not even be able to keep the fast for over a week! And all it was was a Dr. Pepper! The next year, I told an older teacher that I was thinking about giving up chocolate! She pointed out that for everyone around me that would be dangerous! I gave up Dr. Pepper on Monday-Wednesdays. I made it the entire Lenten season.

I somehow didn't feel like I had really accomplished anything. I mean, Jesus gave his life for me and I just gave up Dr. Pepper? I thought long and hard about Lent and the committment that year so I was really ready the next year. I decided that instead of giving up something, I would add something that I felt would benefit my walk with Christ. The first year, I added a morning bible study. The next year, several of the other teachers decided that they would add instead of take away like I did and so we met forty-five minutes before school started each day for a bible study and prayer. We enjoyed it so much that we kept it up until the end of the school year, except we only did it three times a week. They laughed about how they were long-time Lutherans and here was a Baptist changing it all around! We had such a good time teaching with each other!

This year, I have really struggled with what I would do. It hit me this morning in Sunday school. We are watching a Beth Moore dvd bible study on Daniel. She was talking about our Babylon and keeping yourself from giving into the excess of our Babylon. I decided that I would donate my coupons savings this month to a local foodbank. I think this will keep me mindful of giving to others while giving up my savings to someone else instead of to our vacation fund. I am excited to see what I can save during Lent!

Friday, February 19, 2010

One thing I can control!

I have long ago given up trying to control the things around me. I stopped setting long term goals because I realized that my goals were not necessarily God's goals and sometimes I just got too ahead of myself! I have also stopped trying to be little miss perfect in my housework. I used to kill myself attempting to have a perfect house and I have decided that sometimes, good enough is good enough!

A good mentor friend once told me that 'if you want it perfect, do it yourself; if you want help, learn it doesn't have to be perfect'. Teaching children, and sometimes husbands, is a good example of this in action. So what if the bed is not made with hospital corners, is it tucked in? Then that's good enough. So what if the underwear is not exactly folded, yes I fold underwear, as long as it is somewhat folded, who cares?

After saying all this, I will say that there is one thing I do try to control in my life. I like a clean kitchen sink! I do not like dishes sitting around the sink, I do not like stains and gross gunk in my sink. When I worked full-time, I cleaned my sink before I went to bed and then again in the morning. That way, when I got home to start dinner the area around my sink would be clean and ready to go.

I also look outside at my sink often. It is so nice for me to go look out and see a sparkling sink. Even if the rest of my world is cluttered and dirty, the sink is clean! I know it's not much but I'll be there is something that you do to maintain order in you're mind! That's about the only place where there is order now days!

Give yourself a break today and stop nagging yourself!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I get asked a lot about saving money by couponing. Most women ask me because they know I have couponed for years and almost never shop without a list and my coupons. Now that the internet is posting so many coupons, it is almost silly that more people don't use coupons as a viable way to save money.

Since I am currently a stay-home mom, I really jumped back into couponing and budgeting a few months ago. It wasn't that I was just throwing money around like I was rich or anything, I just had gotten out of the 'if we don't have a coupon, we don't need it' mantra that the kids so often hear me utter. I would buy cereal even when it wasn't on sale and I didn't have a coupon! Now that is something I never do!

It didn't take but just a few weeks to rebuild my coupons once I started looking at websites. You really don't even need to buy the sunday papers anymore to use coupons! I take the local paper just because I actually like to read the newspaper. I use a few rules for my couponing because I have known people who actually end up spending more money after they coupon.

1. I only purchase things my family will eat. It's not a good deal if no one in the family will eat the item and it ends up being thrown away. I will try new things one time if I think we may eat it but I'm pretty picky.

2. I keep a stockpile of certain things like cereal, coffee, soups, general pantry items that we eat very regularly. I have a set limit of how many of those items I will allow in the house. Most of us have a limited amount of storage space and a thousand rolls of toilet paper just doesn't fit into my storage closet no matter how cheap they were!

3. I don't buy prepared cookies and junk food (unless it's free with a coupon!) OK, I do have a few rules I break! I just got two free oreo's cookies because I had free coupons for them, normally, I wouldn't even buy them on sale!

4. I won't buy something with a coupon if the store brand I usually buy is still cheaper. There are some items, like canned tomatoes, that are still cheaper to buy without coupons most of the time.

With smart shopping, I can normally cut $30-$50 off my grocery bill every two weeks. If you do the math, that's almost $100 a month, off of things that we use and eat! That type of saving can really add up over the course of a year.

If you need motivation to start, begin charting how much you save when you shop. Set a goal, like dinner out or a family get-away when you save so much. It will suprise you how fast those coupons add up!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spicy beats cold!

At this time of year, I feel like eating spicy foods. I guess because it's so cold, I figure eating spicy foods warms me up from the inside and out. My family will eat almost any tex-mex dish and as my kids have gotten older, they will almost out-spice their mama! It warms my heart to see that in more ways than one!

Taco night is super easy at my house because the meat is already cooked and frozen. Everything else is just chopping and shredding. One thing that my son has to have at every tex-mex night is guacamole. One must plan ahead for guacamole because if you try to buy an avocado for the same day you are going to use it, you will be really disappointed. An avocado needs to be soft to the touch and at this time of the year it's sometimes difficult to find. Usually they are as hard as baseballs when you buy them. Put a hard avocado in a brown paper bag for a few days and it will ripen up nicely.

The stores around me occasionally have avocados for cheap. I buy a bunch and make a pot load of guacamole. If you make guacamole often you know that it turns brown in just a few hours. To keep this from happening, I put a little lemon or lime juice in my guacamole. I then line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and drop by cupfuls the guacamole. It will look like gross green cookies! Place the cookie sheet in the freezer overnight The next day, take the guacamole blobs off the waxed paper and place them in a large freezer bag for storage in the freezer.

Now, when it's tex-mex night at your house, you can take as many as you need out, place them in a bowl for a few hours and you'll have fresh guacamole!

Here's my recipe for guacamole. Many people have their favorite so use yours if you like it.

2 ripe avocados- cut in half and squeeze the insides onto a plate. Throw away the seed.
1 T chopped onion, if you like less, use less
Juice of one lemon, about 2 T.
garlic powder, paprika, salt, red pepper to taste- add a little at a time
I use about 1/2 teaspoon each
1-2 T mayo, do not use miracle whip, it is sweet
If you want, add 1-2 T salsa

Mash avocados and mix in all the other ingredients. It always amazes me that those high prices mexican restaurants charge about $6 for this!

I'll be posting more tex-mex recipes this month. I figure if it's cold outside, I'll be sweating inside!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dreary Time of Year

If I could get rid of one month of the year, I believe for me it would be February. Sorry to those who celebrate wedding anniversaries or birthdays this month but I just have never liked February. For me, it seems a lot longer than the normal twenty-eight days because the days always seem dark and grey. Even here in Oklahoma, it is usually colder than December with more snow and usually an ice storm thrown in. As a teacher, it is the one month that we usually don't get a break because we're making up snow days lost in December or January. That makes for long school days with cranky teenagers! Not fun for anyone!

I seem to suffer from that seasonal disorder from lack of sun. It used to not bother me as much as it does now but I get down in the dumps in February. Maybe it has to do with the fudge I ate in January! I just wish I could jump from the new beginning of January to the longer and warmer days of March!

Since we're almost half way through February, I guess I'll make it again this year. I started pumping vitamin D and exercising more, outside if it's sunny. I'm also starting seeds for spring, that makes me feel like spring is just around the corner.

Another project I always save for February is bulb forcing. I buy bulbs after they are marked down in the fall and store them in the fridge over the winter. Bulbs need a cool time so they will bloom again each year. That is why extreme southern states do not have daffodils or tulips. In order to get them to bloom down there, you have to dig them each year and store them in the fridge every winter and who has time for that!

I am forcing paper white narcissis this year. I set them in a shallow glass bowl filled with pretty stones. I put little twigs around the edge so they won't fall over. I check it everyday for water and growth. It's so exciting to see those little bulbs come to life and fill my home with blooms!

Maybe March isn't so far off!

Monday, February 15, 2010


In our morning devotional at breakfast this morning, we read about God answering prayers. As I read Hebrews 11:1-10, I began to think about how we go about praying. The devotional was about how God sometimes answers our prayers by giving us the ability or strength, that He doesn't just make a miracle happen. Like God giving doctors the ability to diagnose and treat people instead of just doing what we would call a miracle.

I think back to the joke about the man on the roof in a flood. He was praying for God to save him, but when a boat and a helicopter both offered, he waved them off saying, 'God would save him'. Well, he died and when he asked God why He didn't produce a miracle to save him, God answered, 'Man, I sent a boat and a helicopter, what more did you want?'

In our modern age, I sometimes forget just how blessed by God we are in our everyday lives. So many of the things I take for granted would be miracles to those alive hundreds of years ago. We can replace corneas, knees, veins and parts of the heart. We replace skin, put hair where it wasn't and suck out fat. We save children that were born too early and people who lived far too reckless by destroying their bodies with substances. How many times a day do I witness God's miracles and never once say 'thank you'? It would embarrass me to know.

I remember when I was in a developmental biology class in college. It became apparent to me that it was a miracle everytime a baby was born. To start with one cell and end up with over a million cells in the human body working perfectly, each doing the job it was purposed for, well if that is not a miracle then what is?

Miracles aren't just found in parting the seas or bringing the dead to life. Sometimes the greatest miracles are found around us, using those around us and if we are tuned into Him, possibly us.

Tune into God today and be a miracle for someone!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Too old for valentines day!

I have seen it all now. My daughter texted me yesterday to tell me she no longer believed in Santa Claus! To make it worse, she was sitting beside me as I was driving Susie Q down the road. Susie Q is my Nissan Quest minivan. I guess I need to start at the beginning, because I'm kind of jumping all around.

I get attached to things. I'm probably one of only three women in the United States who hates to shop. I don't like to clothes shop, furniture shop, grocery shop and I really hate beyond all else to car shop. To be honest, the only shopping I don't really mind is shoe shopping. If I was as rich as Oprah, I would change my shoes about ten times a day. I'd also have an entire barn filled with dishes, I like those too. I don't like to shop for dishes, they are too expensive and I don't have the room to store them! Anyway, I hate, hate, hate to car shop. I also am pretty cheap so the idea of spending all that money on something that is going to end up being worth nothing is not to appealing to me.

A few years ago, my green minivan, Bessie was pushing ten years old. Now this was fine with me. She was still pretty on the inside and outside. She still got me from point A to point B. And she got pretty good gas mileage. My husband started getting the new car bug and decided to take it out on Bessie. Bessie didn't help matters because one day when the kids and I were leaving school, she decided to stop working. Something about a starter giving out. That made my husband decide that I needed to get rid of Bessie and get something sporty and cool looking. Bessie had a sun-roof! I didn't need anything more sporty. After all, I was a science teacher, soccer mom.

He wanted me to get an SUV so I'd look like all the other moms around. I'm not a showy person and my basic personality is, 'if everybody else has one, leave me out'! I finally succumbed to a new vehicle as long as it had sliding doors and was a Nissan Quest. I figured Bessie did me right for 10 plus years why go reinventing the wheel? After much wrangling, silver Susie Q came to live with us. We sold Bessie, much to the sadness of my daughter, she wanted to bury Bessie in the backyard! Well, she was a part of the family. My husband shuddered thinking the whole he would have to dig! Susie Q is short for Susie Quest and we have developed a pretty nice relationship!

To get back to the Santa thing! I couldn't believe that she no longer believed! She's only almost twelve for goodness sake! When she point blank asked me, I had to give it to her straight. I said, 'it's ok if you don't want to believe but I still believe and it will break my heart if Santa doesn't come on Christmas Eve so if it's alright with you can we just pretend?' She started laughing hysterically at me because I was almost crying!

I love Santa Claus! I love hiding the presents and seeing them all out of Christmas morning. She decided it would be ok to just keep pretending. She also wanted to know how I managed to always use the same Christmas paper from Santa for her whole life. I didn't tell her that when she was two and my son was four, I bought an entire case of Santa paper so they'd each have their own paper and I wouldn't have to right their names on the gifts. I still have several rolls! I just told her that was something she'd have to ask Santa in her letter next year!

I hope she's not to old for Valentine's Day! Cupid will really be upset!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Power to the People!

I've got to vent today so I hope no one minds! I had a rather unpleasent shopping experience and I left the place so upset that my stomach was upset. I have shopped my last shop at the Walmart in my town. I am tired of getting treated like I am a criminal everytime I go in and try, and I say try, to use a coupon. Low prices, I don't think so. I find that most of the time, my local grocery store has cheaper or as cheap a price. And don't even get me started on customer service! There is none.

Somewhere, as a nation, we gave up our right as consumers to be treated with respect to save a dime. I am not a thief, I am not dishonest, I am not out to scam the business. I am an honest, hard-working, stay-at-home mom, who happens to want to watch her budget by using coupons. I do not expect to be treated like a second-class citizen because I would rather save a little at the grocery store than other people.

I worked at a grocery store in college and understand the that the stores actually make a little money on each coupon being redeemed. I also know it does take a little work for the store to package the coupons to send to the companies. I know all this because I did that job at the store I worked at and I know that I still treated customers as customers! I actually thought they were smart! Who doesn't love saving a little money!

As of today, I am exercising my right as a consumer to only shop at places that treat me with respect as a customer! I am woman, hear me roar! I have decided that I'd rather pay a few cents more and be treated like a paying customer than maybe save a few pennies and leave the store feeling like I was just interrogated by CSI!

If more of us stopped shopping at stores that had nonexistent customer service, I guarantee that someone in high places would decide that it should be a priority again! I have made a choice and I have decided that I am important, I have a choice and never again and I going to let a store treat me like I am not important!

Shepherds Pie

I promised a recipe for shepherds pie today using leftovers. First, let me tell you a little something about me that you have probably already guessed. I like to eat...suprise! No really, I like to eat. I think in order to be a great cook, one needs to really enjoy the experience. I'm already thinking of my next meal by the time I am preparing to eat my current one. I also like to experiment with food. Now, I'm not one of those people who mix strange things together and call it 'blending' flavors. No, most of my experimentation comes from an existing recipe that I can tweak and make it a bit better in my mouth. Remember for me, it's all about eating the finished product! The last secret I'm going to divulge today recipe for shepherds pie! Ha! Ha! You really thought I was on a secret divulging roll!

Ok, here need to know that this is a fluid recipe. Meaning it changes depending on what you have that you need to eat out of the fridge. This is about using up leftovers that would otherwise get tossed or in my house given to the large german shephard that thinks she's my lap dog! She gets well fed as it is, she doesn't need my leftover pot roast!

If you plan your meals smartly, you will have everything you need for this meal already in the fridge by thursday night. Can you tell which night we usually have this? Pot roast and carrots on sunday, mashed potatoes from tuesday or wednesday. Assorted veggies from earlier in the week. I look forward to this meal when it's on the menu, I can even make it in the morning or the night before and store it in the fridge until I put it into the oven.

I make this in a round casserole. For large families, a 9x13 baking dish would also work.

Leftover meat - can be beef, pork, chicken, ground beef
Cut into bite size portions and place on the bottom of the pan.

Place veggies you have on top of meat. Carrots, corn, green beans, peas, whatever you have.

Liquid - This also varies for me. I sometimes have the roast liquid that I have placed in the fridge to harden off the fat. If I don't have that, I'll use beef broth or french onion soup. Mix 1 cup of brown gravy, this can be from a mix or a jar or homemade to the other liquid to make about 2-4 cups depending on the size of the casserole. You want the liquid to cover the meat and veggies in the pan.

I sprinkle a little cheddar cheese on top of all this.

Leftover mashed potatoes. Double the normal amount you make when you make them earlier in the week. In a pinch, I guess it would be alright to use instant! I just don't happen to like instant so for me only the real deal will work. Place them on top of the stuff in the casserole and make sure the potatoes seal the edges.

Place uncovered in a 350F oven for about 30 minutes until gravy begins to bubble up through the potatoes.

Serve by dishing up onto plates so the potatoes end up on the bottom with the meat, veggies and gravy on top. One of my son's friends loves this dish. I've never told him that it's leftovers! What he doesn't know won't hurt him!

You won't need a side with this but I am a salad queen. If we don't have a salad, I don't think the meal is complete, so I serve a salad! I'll cover my issues with salads on another day...maybe I'll need a full week.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New life for old leftovers!

I hear people say 'I don't do leftovers!'. Well, I don't either! I will take them in my lunch but I do not like eating the same thing over and over again! BORING!!!

When I was first married, I went to auctions a lot to buy furniture for our home. They were held in the afternoons and since I was in college, I would schedule my classes so I was off on in the afternoons. We are still using some of my auction buys. I also found that at many auctions, there would be a table of old cookbooks. Since I love to read, I enjoyed reading the tips from those old books. I began collecting them and have quite an assortment today!

One thing I realized when reading those books is that years ago, women cooked so there would be leftovers to repurpose into meals later in the week. Almost like Big-Batch cooking on a small scale. In those books lay recipes for using leftovers in new dishes that no one would know about but me! Since it was just my husband and me, we had a lot of leftovers. I began to try out the recipes and he didn't realize he was eating a recycled meal.

One such meal is roast beef hash. I'm not talking about the stuff you find in a can at the grocery store. I've never purchased it but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't touch my mouth with a ten foot pole! I'm not into mushed up stuff! I'm talking about using last sunday's pot roast on thursday night as a wonderful casserole filled with chunks of beef or pork, diced potatoes, carrots and corn and mixed veggies! I've even served it to guests and have been asked for the recipe!

This is one of those recipes you can size to fit your family. I usually use a round casserole type dish with tall walls.

Dice up leftover roast removing any fat- don't like fat!!!
Dice up leftover potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, anything left from the pot roast.
Add 1 cup of mixed frozen veggies, corn, whatever you like. Canned also works but drain first.
Place all that into the casserole.

Take the juice from the roast(first skim off the fat - don't like fat!!)and either make gravy from scratch or use a brown gravy mix(use twice as much water to the gravy mix). You will need about 2 cups of gravy, you want it runny. Pour over the ingredients in the casserole.

Cover and bake at 350F until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for about 10 minutes more. I sprinkle with cheddar cheese before serving. Serve this with crusty rolls and a green salad. It is a meal in itself if you're pressed for time.

Tomorrow, I'll give you a shephards pie recipe using leftovers!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Meatless Meals

Saving money on meals is important to most families. Being healthy is important to most families. Balancing these two things is what is hard in most families! I have found one way to save money and still put a nutritious meal on for my family is to serve meatless meals as often as possible.

One of my family's favorite meatless meal is spaghetti with beans. I had it a lot when I was a kid and always liked it. What I didn't know, was it was a way for my mom to stretch the budget by using homegrown pinto beans thus saving money! Now, I don't grow pinto beans in the garden but I can purchase a can or cook a pound pretty cheaply for my own family's budget. I serve spaghetti with red sauce, either store bought or homemade and top it with parmesan cheese and pinto beans. This is my daughter's favorite meals, it's up there with steak and shrimp!

Another favorite is tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches or grilled quesadillos and salads made with beans as ingredients are always enjoyed! I sometimes have a spare grilled chicken breast to throw on top of the salad but it is served at a topping, not as a main dish.

You can also skimp on the meat by serving it as a side dish. Breakfast night is popular at our house. I serve whole wheat pancakes, fruit - which is usually blackberries because they are free at my house, and sausage or ham as a side. I also serve a fritatta on sunday nights to use up the leftovers in the fridge before the new week begins. Eggs are a cheap source of protein that can stand on their own against meat. Breakfast burritos are also something you can whip up using very little or no meat.

Here's my recipe for the frittata, we had it Sunday night and I used a leftover sweet potato from earlier in the week. My daughter loved that I used a carrot in the frittata! I didn't tell her until after she had two servings as she doesn't like sweet potatoes! Oh, one day, I'll be on Oprah explaining why I lied so much to my children! Ha! Ha!

Sunday Night Frittata- this will make a 9X13 pan, it can be cut in half for a small family. We use leftovers as breakfast during the week!

10-12 eggs depending on your family size

Some sort of potato- this can be a baked potato, mashed potatoes, sweet potato, hash browns, cooked potatoes from this mornings roast,etc. You will need at least one. Chop and place on the bottom of a greased 9X13 pan

Here's where it gets interesting: if you want meat, dice and sprinkle cooked meat over the potato. Ham, sausage, hamburger, polish sausage, chicken, pork chops, I've used them all! Use what you have, it doesn't have to be a lot of meat for the family to think they had meat for dinner!

Veggies: these must be cooked before placing in the pan. I change this up everytime I make this because I use what I have. Diced peppers, onions, garlic, tomato(seeded and chopped), frozen spinach(must be squeezed dry), fresh spinach(saute and squeeze dry), corn, carrots from this mornings pot roast, you get the point. I try to go with a theme. I used a sweet potato and a bit of diced red pepper and onion for this last sunday night. I use spinach, tomato and olives for a greek theme.
Place all this over the meat and potato.

Cheese: This doesn't have to be included but I usually do. Cheddar, monterey jack, colby, pepper, feta...theme the cheese with the ingredients. Only 1/4-1/c for the entire 9x13 pan.

In a seperate bowl, beat the eggs, 1/4-1/2 cup milk and a 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard. When this is mixed well, pour slowly over the 9x13 pan. This mixture should mostly cover the stuff in the pan. If you got carried away filling your fritatta, you will have a frittata that has some of it's ingredients not covered with egg. It will be fine, this isn't rocket science!

Cover and bake at 350F for about 20-25 minutes. Uncover and let cook until a knive inserted into the center comes out clean, this will be about 10 minutes more.

Cut, serve with salsa if desired. I usually serve with toast and fruit salad.

Let me know your ideas on this recipe. I'd love to try your variations!

Have a blessed day!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Time to menu plan!

I am a seasonal eater. I guess it comes from growing up eating what was in season in the garden. I don't tend to crave a peach in february and I do not want an orange in July! At this time of year, I am into eating citrus salads and hearty soups and stews with homemade bread. That doesn't mean that I don't get the desire to have some of that wonderful springtime weather that I know is just around the corner!

I cook seasonally partly because I get tired of the same old things year round. In the summer, we eat mostly salads and grilled things and in the winter, we eat casseroles and soups. It gives me something to look forward to and saves me money because I am buying produce in season.

I also think if we ate more seasonally we would be a bit more in tune with our bodies and our climate. Since most of us spend our days in a climate controlled world, most of us think nothing of having meatloaf and mashed potatoes on the hottest day of the year. If you have been out in a hot world all day long, your body will not want to put that much food into your system. I think our climate controlled worlds is part of our weight control problem. We need to get outside and be hot!

I am planning my meals for the few weeks today. I looked on my monthly meal planner guide and next week is almost empty! That's enough to strike fear in my little heart not to mention my stomach! I don't like repetition so I try not to have many meals alike in the same month. There are those that get requested over and over like spaghetti and tacos but I usually end up deciding what we eat and when we eat it. This month, I am beginning to say goodbye to some of my favorite soups and winter casseroles. I know by March, I'll be ready to start cooking with spring fever!

One of my favorite winter soups is potato chowder but it is a chore to make. All that peeling and chopping when all I want to do is eat! Thank heavens I was given this recipe by mom a few years ago. When she gave it to me, I just stared at it thinking it would be the worst chowder I ever tasted. It only had three ingredients! Needless to say, I got sick and she fed me the chowder. It is easy, quick to make and has as many variations as you can dream up. It's a great leftover soup too!

Quick Potato Chowder
1 bag frozen chopped hashbrowns - you could use o'brien potatoes but my husband does not like peppers!
1 package white gravy mix, like pioneer - I buy mine at Sams so it's 3/4 cup.
1 large can low-sodium chicken broth or 4-6 cups of homemade(I have this sometimes in the freezer from big batch cooking a chicken)

Dump all three ingredients into a large pan and cook on low until the potatoes are tender. OR Dump all three into a large crockpot on low for 4-6 hours.

After cooking, I use a potato masher to make the soup thick. Now comes the fun part! The different variations! I add something different each time to use up leftovers.

Variation 1- add crumbled cooked bacon (2-3 slices) and 2 cups frozen corn for corn chowder
Variation 2- add chopped polska keilbasa and cheese(1 cup)
Variation 3- add chopped celery, clam juice, and a can of clams
Variation 4- diced cooked chicken and leftover rice(add this at the end of cooking)
Variation 5- add frozen chopped broccoli or cauliflower when adding the potatoes
Variation 6- chopped leftover steak, add grated cheese after serving.
I could go on and on with the variations so you can see that this soup is very versatile. I have one child who loves clam chowder after our Maine trip and one who does not so I usually cook the potato chowder as is and then split it at the end into two pots. Then I make clam chowder with one and something else with the other.

Get creative with what you have and see what you can come up with!

Man, I will miss this soup this summer!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Springtime gardening dreams

I'm thinking about spring and gardening. Between the snows, I went outside and my daffodils are already breaking through the soil. It always amazes me to see those little green shoots reaching for the sun! It also jars me into the realization that soon, I'll be digging in the dirt planting my gardens, OH JOY!!!

I love to garden and be outside. I'm not too proud to say that my housekeeping gets pushed to the side when the days begin to get longer and warmer. I am already planning my outside chores. February, for me in Oklahoma, means starting my tomato and pepper plants. I usually plant around Valentine's Day and begin to set them outside during the day starting in March to harden off before puttin them into the garden in April. I am busy gazing at the seed catelogs and buying my favorite seeds. To save money, I do save seeds from year to year. I probably have enough zinnia seeds to seed all of my county! But zinnias bring butterflies and I love butterflies!

I plant a food garden, a butterfly garden and generally have lots and lots of flowers. Green things calm me and pulling weeds actually keeps me sane. I pray, sing and talk to the plants and living creatures in the garden. I have introduced my children to the love of science and the love of God's wonder looking at my garden. I learn that even when I try to control everything perfectly, sometimes things happen and it doesn't work out. I learn that sometimes it doesn't work out for me but something else is benefiting from the failure I feel. I learn that learning from failure will lead to future successes. I learn that the world is not always centered around me and those around me. I learn that prepartion is key. I learn that hard work is sometimes rewarded and sometimes being in the right place at the right time is being rewarded. Most of all, I learn that I am not in control!

If you are still snowed in for the winter, it's not to early to begin planning for spring. It sure makes the day seem less gloomy when you're inside dreaming of those sunny days in the garden!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Special Weeknight Cake

Since I started January with my rant about fudge, I'm thinking February ought to start on the same sweet note! Not everybody likes chocolate, although I seriously doubt someone's sanity when they say that, so I thought I'd give you a favorite cake recipe we have often at my house.

I know reading this blog, you think all we do is sit around and eat, especially sweets! That's not really true. I just don't keep a lot of sweet store-bought foods around so I have an arsenal of recipes to create treats for my family. Some are healthier than others. I don't want my family to think any food or category is 'off-limits's. After working with kids for most of my adult life, I realize telling someone it is 'off-limits' harkens back to the Eve effect and then guilt and then out-of-control, I-give-up kind of eating! I want my kids to understand control and serving size.

I serve this cake with fresh, frozen fruit that I picked last summer. Usually, it's blackberries. This year, I had a bumper crop so I have bags and bags to use up and my family is more than happy to help!

Jello Cake
1 pkg. lemon cake mix - or from scratch
1 small package jello, can be lemon or something else tart
1/4 Cup oil
1/2 cup applesauce
3/4 cup water
4 eggs or egg substitute

Mix all but eggs together. Add eggs one at a time and beat well. Pour into greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350F for 35 minutes until done. While baking, mix 2 cups powdered sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice. When cake is done, punch holes in top using a toothpick or spoon. Pour lemon juice and sugar mixture over while cake is still hot.

Today, I'm making a lemon cake with rasperry jello and serving it with blackberries! This is equally good with strawberry cake and strawberry jello(serve with strawberries) or a lemon cake and orange jello(serve with mandarin oranges). You can also change up the juice that you mix with the powdered sugar. I have used lime, pineapple and blackberry juice. It's all good!

I got this recipe from an old cookbook I bought at a church sale. Some recipes never get old!

Have a blessed day!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Valentines Day Traditions

I was blessed to grow up around all of my grandparents. We all lived in the same small town. One set lived across the cow pasture, the other lived in 'town'. That meant that they lived on a paved road! Because of living so close, I got to spend a lot of time with them. As a kid, I took it for granted. I thought everybody could walk across the field and eat a second dinner or find sympathy when I was mad at my parents! Now I realize how truly lucky I was.

I wasn't raised with a lot of extra money laying around. My dad was an educator and my mom was a stay-home mom and then an aide at the school. I never really realized that we didn't have as much money as everybody else until I began to be a teenager. It didn't bother me much because I had what a lot of others didn't have. I had two parents who spent time with me and my siblings and that counted much more than what we 'had'. I also thought everybody else's parents were off the entire summer too! We spent days working in the garden and swimming and going camping and generally having fun but working hard.

One thing my family did better than anybody else I knew was celebrations. We celebrated everything. Birthdays, holidays, presidents day, you name it and we had a special meal for it! One of my grandpa's actually made a cannon to shoot off for Fourth of July! It was his favorite holiday and we had and still have a big family get-together. We no longer shoot bottle rockets at each other, that stopped when I was still a kid. I never could figure out why the grown-ups thought that was fun. Now, we play crazy party games and usually someone gets hurt and has to go to the doctor because they pulled something!

I carry on this tradition of celebration at my house by making special meals for just about any occasion. I read somewhere that families need traditions to stay together. Well, if that's true, my family will always be close! One of the most important days of our family's celebrations is Valentines Day and guess what? It's almost here!

I have not eaten out on Valentines Day since my son was born thirteen years ago. Finding a sitter was impossible, we didn't live close to family and the restaurants were expensive and busy! I just started cooking a special dinner. After my daughter was born, it began to take on a life of it's own. Now, we plan weeks in advance the menu and eat off the crystal and china. My son says he'll bring his dates here instead of eating out! He doesn't want to miss our special dinner!

This years dinner will be very similar to the last few years. The kids get to plan it and they have pretty much settled on this menu:
appetizer: shrimp cocktail
salad: tomato salad with olives, feta cheese and balsamic vinegrette
main course: grilled steak and baked potato (one year I cooked lobster tails but my son was so full by then he couldn't eat it!)
dessert: probably cherry cheesecake - this is still being negotiated! I'm voting for chocolate molten cake!
I buy fizzy grape juice to drink out of the fancy glasses and we eat by candlelight.

I fix everything in advance and have it served on fancy plates like in a restaurant so I can relax too! I put the grilled steak in the bottom of a crockpot on low and place the baked potatoes on top. The salads are pre-made and refridgerated so I just take them out.

I don't miss eating at a busy loud restaurant because at this restaurant quiet music is playing in the background and we can linger as long as we like. It's a memory I hope my kids remember all their lives!

I challenge you to start a tradition at your home, it doesn't have to be Valentines Day. Did you know in January there was a pie day? Well, guess who had pie? You may not have time to make a special dinner but you do have time to have a little something special. It may just be a cherry pie for Presidents day. But I warn you, once you start a tradition, you own it. You will be expected to continue! After all, that's what brings a family together!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Kicking out January!

Well, it's time for a new month! It is amazing to me that we are already one month into the year 2010. My grandpa used to say that time went faster as you got older. Well, now I see what he was talking about. When I was a little kid, a summer school break seemed to go on and on without end. Now a summer break is but a blink, marked with too many to-do's and not enough laying in the hammack contemplating the leaves on the old pecan tree and hacking off the bluejay who's nest is directly above me.

My favorite family vacations are visiting national parks. I thank the people who had the forethought to set aside those lands across our country for people like me to visit and explore. My most favorite was a visit several years ago to Maine's Acadia National Park. I wrote a teachers grant and was able to go for 10 days and study. My family traveled with me. When I say 'my family', I mean MY FAMILY. As in my mom and dad, my sister and daughter, and my husband and kids. I was the only one who had the dream to visit Maine but my excitement caused the rest of the family to want to come along.

We had a time getting to Maine from Oklahoma, including getting dumped out in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the middle of the night by an airlines who will remain to be used by me today, renting a panel van and driving across lower Michigan to get to Detroit before sunrise taking with us two stranded naval officers who were going to be awol if they didn't get where they were going! We did finally make it one day late to Maine. The trouble we had to overcome getting there only made me more resolved to experience Maine's coast to the fullest. We spent two days driving along the coastline from New Hampshire to Acadia, stopping and gawking at the raw power of the Northern Atlantic Ocean like little kids.

As we hiked up Cadillac Mountain and strolled along carriage trails, I began to realize how much more creative I would probably be if I allowed myself to just be still and wait. To open myself up to just experiencing God's gift of nature. Waiting is not something I do well and being still is even harder for me. Besides learning about the varied ecosystems of Acadia National Park, I think the most valuable lesson I learned was that when you are still, you can see things that typically get lost in the day-to-day. The beautiful sunrise or sunset, the loon gliding on the lake or the fog rolling in or the wonder in someone's face at the awesome power of the oceans waves.

Traveling with three generations to a place that was completely foreign to all of us was an awesome experience. My parents were as filled with wonder as my children at some of the sights we saw. We have collective memories that we can share with each other for all the rest of our years.

And we all learned that a vacation doesn't have to include a theme park or a large city. Sometimes, we need to let God's theme park leave us in awe!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mom's healthy hamburger helper

Here's the recipe I promised. Oh look! It calls for 1 pound ground meat! Imagine that, now this recipe is under 20 minutes! Yipee!

Healthy hamburger helper

1 lb. cooked, seasoned ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, buffalo) yes, we have ground buffalo around here!
2 cups uncooked pasta - this is a what you have noodle, I use mostly whole, wheat macaroni but have used whatever noodle I have around. I have even used a jumble of leftover pastas before to use them up! Broken up spaghetti also works.
1 16 oz can diced or whole tomatoes - I use my home canned. If you use whole tomatoes, cut them up.
1 cup frozen corn or one can drained corn - used mixed veggies if you like
2 cups water
dash salt and garlic powder
sprinkle with pepper
1 to 1 1/2 cups diced velveeta cheese or 5-6 slices of american cheese - do not use the singles that are in plastic wrap, this won't melt well

In a skillet, crumble the meat and cook until hot. Add the pasta, tomatoes, water, corn and seasonings. Bring to a simmer, place the cheese on top. Cover and cook on simmer for about 15 minutes until the pasta is al dente. Uncover and simmer for about 5 minutes until the sauce thickens a bit. It will continue to thicken after you remove it from the heat.

Serve with a green salad or a fruit salad and you have a very healthy, low fat meal for just a little money! Better than the drive-thru!

This will serve about 6 very large servings. You can cut in half if you have a small family by just cutting the pasta and water by half or you can double but use a very large skillet.

It makes great leftovers for lunches.

Have a great day!