Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Taco Stuffed Shells

Because I work for a school, I have had the last week and a half off and I have another 5 days before I go back to work. I'm really enjoying the break. But I know it is going to be over before I know it.

I love my job! I really, really enjoy going to work everyday. But there are some adjustments when you go from a "stay-at-home" mom to a working mom. Getting dinner on the table is one of them. I only work til 2:30 but by the time I get home, help with homework, return phone calls, etc, it seems like dinner time creeps up on me. I have done "mega-cooking" (or freezer cooking, or batch cooking or once-a-month cooking, whatever you want to call it) for years now. While I was going to school it saved me more than once! I haven't done it lately.

So, before I go back to school on Monday, I'm going to cook up a few meals to put in the freezer. One of those is "Taco-Stuffed Shells" one of my family's favorites. I have no pictures but I'll try to post some later. This recipe is for two meals worth, feel free to double as desired.

Taco-Stuffed Shells

Fry in a pan:

2 pounds ground beef (this time I'm going to try a vegetarian substitute)

When it hamburger is done, add enough taco seasoning to make it "taco-y" enough for you. The original recipe (from Quick Cooking- January/February 2001), they say "2 envelopes taco seasoning." That is too spicy for us, we use less.

Cook according to the directions on your taco seasoning. When it is ready, turn off the heat and stir in:

1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese (I use reduced fat),

stir until the cream cheese is melted and throughly mixed into the meat. Cool for awhile (while you boil the pasta shells).

In a big pot, boil:

24 jumbo pasta shells

When done, toss gently with butter (this will help them not stick together). When they are cool enough to handle, stuff each shell with meat mixture. The shells should be full but not overflowing. At this point I put them on a cookie sheet and put all the shells in the freezer until solid. Then I take the shells out and put them all in a freezer gallon bag.

When you are ready to serve, put the number of shells desired in a greased casserole pan. I usually use 2 or 3 shells per person. Cover the shells with salsa and/or taco sauce (about 1 -2 cups). Cover and place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Uncover and top with grated cheese and crushed tortilla chips. The best cheese is a mixture of cheddar and Monterey Jack but plain cheddar works fine, too. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes or until heated through and cheese is bubbly. One thing I do is buy a big bag of tortilla chips on cooking day and divide them up and put them into freezer bags and store them in the freezer. That way I actually have chips when I want to serve this meal!!

We serve these with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. Sour cream is really good, too. I almost always make Spanish rice to go on the side.

It is really good and super easy!

Enjoy!

Jill

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Snow Edition


Since the weather is so bad, and Christmas is on Thursday, this is going to be a weird week food-wise. Mostly eating out of the pantry and what we have on hand. In addition, it is Christmas break so the kids are home from school. I might be a little more organized in the lunch department, but I doubt it!

Breakfasts:
  • cereal
  • toast with jam
  • bagels
  • whatever else the kids can come up with
  • Christmas Morning: overnight waffles and sausages (our family favorite! We LOVE these!)
Lunches:
  • leftovers
  • ramen noodles with eggs
  • sandwiches
  • bagels
  • whatever else the kids can come up with
Dinners:
  • Lentil Rice Casserole
  • Wagon Wheel Chili
  • Soup and Bread (whatever kind of soup strikes my fancy)
  • Christmas Eve: pizza with the cousins
  • Christmas Day: Hubby's favorite potato dish - yum! (I don't have this recipe posted yet, but I'll post it, with pictures, after I make it on Thursday)
We will be having all sorts of appetizers at parties that we are having this coming weekend. All our parties got canceled this weekend. We have about 10 inches of snow with more on the way. Oh, and on top of the 10 inches is about a 1/4 inches of ice from the freezing rain we had. Such fun! It is driving us all to do strange things!

One of our favorite appetizers is Crab Buns.

1/2 lb of Velveeta Cheese
1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 can crab (I use the refrigerated "crab" that isn't really crab but tastes like it)
garlic to taste (we like lots)

Soften the cheese and butter and mix everything together. Spread on sliced baguettes and broil until bubbly. Yum!

If you want more ideas, check out Organizing Junkie!

Jill

Stir Crazy!

We are all going a little crazy here! It has been a week of bad weather here in the Northwest - something we are not used to. School was canceled three days last week and our Christmas parties last night and tonight have been canceled. We haven't been able (or willing) to get out much the last week.

It is starting to wear on us. Case in point, last night. We were playing a game of Clue as a family. People were, um, pushing each other's buttons. For the most part, it was in fun and the kids were fake fighting with each other. The screams and general loudness, however, were driving the parents nuts.

Finally, Hubby had had it! "The next kid who attacks someone is getting thrown out on the deck!"

Now, in order to truly appreciate that threat you have to see the deck:
That is a 18 inch snow drift covering the deck. Pair that with a temperature of about 19 degrees and suddenly being thrown out on the deck seems like a real punishment!

So what did they do? They stopped actually attacking each other and settled for screaming and yelling. So that was the new rule, "Anyone who yells, gets thrown on the deck!"

Kaden pushed the boundary just a little too far and Hubby picked him up and set him down in the snow drift. Upon which Kaden cried, "But I didn't do anything!" At that point, Jana decided it was time to post the rules:
(Have I told you all how much I love this white-board? It has almost never been used for messages - its intended purpose - but it has provided tons of entertainment for our family.)

After Kaden changed his clothes, we resumed our game but by the end of the night the board looked like this:

Can you tell what kind of night we had?

As much as I love the snow, please let it melt!!

Jill

Friday, December 19, 2008

Monkey Bread


Every year for the family Christmas brunch I am asked to bring two loaves of monkey bread. What is monkey bread, you ask? It is like bite-sized cinnamon rolls that are wonderful! My friend Kari heard that I was making monkey bread and said, "Will you please post the recipe on your blog?" Here at Jill's Crazy Life, we aim to please, so here, without further ado, is the recipe for Monkey Bread!

Monkey Bread
Dissolve in a bowl:

1 c. warm water
1/3 c. sugar
1 Tbs. yeast

Let sit until it becomes bubbly and foamy. (If you have never made bread before, you can get step by step instructions from my Bread Making 101 post. Just substitute these ingredients for the ones in that post.)

Add:

1/3 c. instant powdered milk (I mix mine with the flour so it doesn't get lumpy. I don't think mine is "instant" powdered milk!)
2 eggs at room temperature (I put mine in a bowl of hot water while I'm waiting for the first mixture to get foamy.)
1 tsp salt
1/3 c. melted margarine
5 1/2 c. to 6 c. of flour

Mix and/or knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, cover and allow to rise until double in bulk. This should take about an hour or so. Unless you put it in the refrigerator overnight - in that case you will need forever to get it to double in bulk. I made that mistake last night and was late for my party this morning because the stupid stuff wouldn't rise!!!

After you have let it rise, the hard part starts. Ok, it's not really hard, it is just time consuming and fussy. It's worth it though, trust me.

This recipe will make one really, really large loaf or two slightly smaller than normal loaves. I like to bake the smaller loaves because this bread typically gets done on the outside before it does on the inside. I'd rather have smaller loaves and no gooey insides than larger loaves and either undone insides or burned outsides.

So, divide your dough into two equal portions and set one aside. I take one half and cut it into small little chunks. I don't worry about equal sizes I just try to make them more or less the same size. You want to roll these little chunks into balls. Then you are going to roll them in melted butter and then cinnamon-sugar. This is my assembly -line all ready to go:

I haven't cut all the little chunks at this point, but you get the idea. After you have rolled them in the butter and cinnamon-sugar, place them in your greased loaf pan.
Look at those two lonely little dough balls. Don't worry, soon they will have lots more friends and a lot less space. In fact, look at them now:
I'm just starting the second layer in this picture, eventually they whole thing will have two layers. After you have all the balls in two layers, you set it aside and let it rise til it is puffy and fat. Then bake at 350 degrees until done. I use an instant-read thermometer, when it is 180 degrees or more on the inside it is done. I wish I could say "cook until golden brown" but it doesn't work that way. When it is golden brown outside it is sometimes still gooey inside. Instant-read thermometers are fairly cheap and useful for all kinds of things, you might want to consider one.


Here is one of the finished loaves all bundled up waiting to go to the party:
I try to get them to the party still warm. Doesn't always work but I try!

Try some monkey bread, your family will be glad you did!

Jill

See Jenny? It Really is Snowing!


This picture is for my sister who doesn't believe that it is snowy here at my house. She lives about 5 miles away and it isn't snowy at her house. These were taken at 11 am on Friday. The forecast is for 6 - 10 inches tomorrow - I'm sure she'll get some then!!

Jill

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Baby Bunnies!


Please welcome the newest additions to the Crazyville household - three little baby bunnies! We bought our two youngest children pet bunnies back in May for their birthday. I told the pet store guy "I need two males or two females -I don't want baby bunnies." I was assured that the two we got were two boys.

"If we get babies, I'm bringing them back to you." I said. He just laughed, "Don't worry, it's two boys."

Three months later, our "boy" named Thumper gave birth to three stillborn babies. We were surprised (although I had seen some "behavior" - ahem - which made me think twice), and my children were heartbroken that the babies didn't survive.

Because I am a wimp, and because I was as disappointed as the kids, we decided to let them have one more litter and then take a trip to the vet to make sure it doesn't happen again.

It took a lot longer than we thought but a week ago we were surprised with three baby bunnies! The mom is grey and the dad is all black and the babies are one white, one grey and one black. They are SO cute! They are tiny and still in their little nest. Their eyes are closed until about 10 days old so they are blind right now. We are trying to only look at them once or twice a day because it seems to stress the mom out a little bit (although she was less stressed today than she has been, maybe she's over that "new mom" panic stuff!).

The plan right now is to keep the white one (which Tali has named Buster - even if it is a girl!), find homes for the grey and black ones, and get them all "fixed" so we stop at three bunnies! I work for a school district so I'm hoping some elementary teacher is looking for class pets and will take the other two.

If not, I'm going back to that laughing man at the pet store. Ha.

Jill

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter Wonderland!


It doesn't snow very often here in the Northwest. You can tell that by the fact that the TV stations in the area have pre-empted regular shows to talk about the weather all day. Reporters posted on every overpass in town, shots from ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation) cameras of area roads, press conferences from the mayor of the city and the head of Tri-Met (our local bus/light rail). You'd think the world was coming to an end!

We got 2 inches of snow.

Yes, all that for two inches of snow. My kids' schools are closed for tomorrow, as are most of the schools in the area.

The problem is that Oregonians have no idea how to drive in snow. It really isn't safe to be out and about because there are a lot of really stupid people on the roads.

Which leads me to why I love snow in Oregon. I love it because everything stops when it snows. Schools get closed, people stay home from work, stores close early. People just stay home and play in the snow. The hill by our house fills up with all the neighborhood kids and their parents - and their sleds! It is so fun!

We only get snow once or twice a year here, I'm sure if it came more often we would have to learn how to cope and it wouldn't be nearly as much fun. People who move here from "snow areas" laugh at us, but we don't care. We just love the snow!

Jill

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this day of thanks, I thought I would list a few of the many, many things I am thankful for.

My home - it isn't always the neatest, cleanest place on earth, but it is warm and full of love.

My family - I am really, really, really thankful for my family. They are so amazing and I love them so much.

Food to eat - as we get ready to stuff ourselves, I'm thankful that we have food all year long.

My job - I get to get up every day and go to a place I love to work with people I enjoy and help kids I adore. How much better can it get?

My country - we live in America, it isn't perfect, but I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

My safety - with the news of what is happening in India right now, I'm even more thankful for my safety. My heart and prayers go out to all the people in India.

My pets - my cat is sitting on the desk next to me right now and my chickens have already laid me two eggs today, and my bunnies spend a few hours inside snuggling with us last night. I love my pets.


There are so many more things, but just let me say I'm so blessed and thankful on this day of thanksgiving. I hope I remember to "give thanks" more than just once a year.

What are you thankful for?

Jill

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book Review - Cheap Eating


Many years ago I took a trip to the beach with friends. It was all girls (we called ourselves the "Beach Babes") and we had a fabulous time going out to lunch, poking around in the shops, walking on the beach, curling up with good books and, of course, talking - a lot! On one of our trips into town, we peeked into a small bookstore. I, of course, went straight for the cooking section. This little book caught my eye - Cheap Eating - How to Feed Your Family Well and Spend Less, by Pat Edwards. At the time, my husband was just starting out in his career and we had two small children. I was working at the time but wanted desperately to quit my job and stay home with my girls. I was looking for anyway possible to cut expenses to allow that to happen. A book that could teach me to cook and eat cheap? For only $9.95? I'll take it!

Not long after that trip I was finally able to quit my job and stay home. I wish I could say this book was responsible, but it was not. However, it did give me some great ideas.

The first 130 pages of this book aren't recipes, but rather strategies and ideas to help you shop smarter and cook cheaper. If you are a hard-core frugal shopper, most of this information is nothing new. There are some tips and tricks you might not have thought of, but nothing earth-shattering. If you are the "don't make a list, throw whatever in the cart, convenience is the name of the game" type of shopper, you will learn a lot from this book. In fact, if you are that kind of shopper, some of these ideas may seem extreme and unrealistic. Let me assure you, lots of people shop and cook in exactly this way and it doesn't feel extreme to us!

The last 150 pages or so are recipes. Let me just say this, these are bare-bones, no frills recipes. An example is the recipe for lentil rice casserole on page 140. The ingredients are: lentils, rice, water, onions, salt and pepper. That is it, you don't saute the onion in oil or butter, there is not flavoring in the water, you put it all in a casserole pan and bake for 1 hour at 350. She lists "optional" ingredients as curry and grated cheese. I'm not sure if she's talking about curry powder or not, and she doesn't say how to add it. She recommends serving the cheese at the table to sprinkle on top. I'm not sure my family would go for this one. Her version is listed as only costing 73 cents for the whole casserole (not including the "optional" cheese).

However, these recipes can be the basis for some really cheap meals if you make modifications that don't send the cost skyrocketing. For instance, we do a variation on the lentil-rice casserole with chicken boullion added to the water, sauted carrots and onions and cheese melted on top. Mine is still really cheap but has enough flavor that my family gobbles it up.

One such "changeable" recipe is "Breakfast Muffin Cake" Here is the original recipe:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix in a bowl:

2 eggs
4 Tbls oil
1/2 c. molasses
2 cups water

Mix in a separate bowl:

1 c. dry milk
2 c. dry oatmeal
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
(optional ingredients are raisins or a couple Tbs of marmalade; 1/2 c. applesauce, cooked squash, or carrots)

Blend dry ingredients with wet, stir just until moistened. Bake in 9 x 12 pan for 15 minutes. Should last for two breakfasts. Cost: $1.65. (The book was printed in 1993, I'm sure prices have changed).

I made some modifications: I added 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 c. sugar, 1 tsp of cinnamon, and 1/2 c. dried cranberries. I used part whole wheat for some of the flour. I drizzled a powdered sugar glaze on the cake when it came out of the oven. It took almost 25 minutes to bake and I used a 9 x 13 pan (who has a 9 x 12???). My family liked it and I would definately make it again. Next time I would add the 1/2 c. applesauce (my family's one complaint was that it was a little dry), I would do raisins instead of cranberries, and I would blend the oatmeal (I used whole oats and they were a little crunchy).

So, it was a really cheap recipe, I made modifications that didn't break the bank, and I came up with a healthy, cheap recipe that my family likes. That's a winning combo!

If you don't like playing with your recipes, but want flavorful food, this is probably not the cookbook for you. If you have fun being frugal and don't mind tweaking a recipe to make it fit your family, you would probably enjoy it. In addition, I did a search on Half.com and on Amazon.com and found copies of this book for as low as 75 cents! Hey, for 75 cents you can't go wrong, right?

Jill

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Thanksgiving Edition


For more menu ideas, check out Organizing Junkie!

I am hosting Thanksgiving on Thursday here at my house. I love Thanksgiving! I think it is my favorite holiday. I love the food, I love the feeling, I love having family over, I love the idea of a day to sit around and give thanks. I also love that it signals the start of the whole "Holiday Season."

Because I'll be doing LOTS of cooking on Thursday, the rest of the week is pretty easy meals. And of course, Friday and Saturday (and Sunday?) will be something with turkey in it!

Breakfasts
  • Muffin cake (a recipe I found in my "Cheap Eating" cookbook)
  • oatmeal with berries
  • toast with jam or peanut butter and honey
  • left over pan rolls with butter and honey
Lunches
  • hummus with pita chips and carrots
  • lunchmeat sandwiches
  • lunchmeat and cheese sticks
  • leftovers!
Dinners
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Stir fry with pot stickers and veggies, rice, fruit
  • pesto pasta, foccacia bread
  • brown rice and bean crockpot meal (I've had this on the menu for three weeks and I'm actually going to make it this week!!)
  • TURKEY, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, corn, relish tray, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, berry pie, etc etc etc. YUM!
  • leftovers!
I'm excited for this week. However, other than just reheating the turkey, gravy, potatoes etc. and of course, turkey sandwiches, I'm not sure what to use my leftover turkey in.

What are your favorite things to use leftover turkey in?

Jill

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Whole Wheat Pan Rolls


We have a few recipes in our house that are family favorites. Recipes that we turn to again and again. Recipes that people request on special occasions and when we just need comfort or familiarity. One-eyed Egyptians and ham fried rice are two of those such recipes. Whole wheat pan rolls is another.

These rolls are really easy and make a whole bunch so there are always leftovers. Fortunately, they are fabulous toasted the next day with butter and honey on them. These rolls are the perfect partner with a big bowl of soup. Here we go.

First, a caveat. These pictures are not very good. In fact, they are really bad. I need serious help in the photo department. I also need more natural light in my kitchen. In the interest of better blog pictures I really think I need new skylights in my kitchen. I could write the expense off as a business expense, right?

Whole Wheat Pan Rolls
makes 2 dozen

Dissolve together in a big bowl:

1 1/2 c. warm water
2 Tbs. yeast
1/4 c. honey

Let the yeast dissolve and get foamy then add:

1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. melted butter
3 eggs
2-3 c. whole wheat flour
2-3 c. all-purpose flour

Knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Or, do what I do, put it in your stand mixer and let the mixer do the work! The amount of flour is something I struggle with. The original recipe says 4-5 c. whole wheat flour. We prefer it half and half and it definitely needs more than 5 cups. I just keep adding a 1/3 of a cup at a time until the dough comes together and isn't sticky.

Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch it down and turn it on to a floured surface.

Divide the dough in half. Then divide each half in half. Now you have four equal pieces. Take each piece and divide in in half again (I promise, we are done with the "divide it in half" stuff!). Each of these new little pieces will be divided into three equal parts. What we are trying to do here is make two dozen rolls that are all the same size! If you can come up with a better way, be my guest, but this works for me.

Take each of those little pieces and mush it in your hands (kind of a mini kneading session) then form it into a ball. Place the balls in a big pan. I use a half sheet cake size pan. You could also use two 9 x 13 pans. Here is what they will look like when you get to this point:
(At this point I want to remind you of my earlier confession. These pictures are really bad. But the food depicted in them is really good. Trust me.)

Cover the pan and set it someplace not too cold. Let it rise until the rolls are twice as big. They should be touching each other and starting to push against each other. Like this:
Put it in a 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. They should be nicely browned and have an internal temperature of over 180 degrees. They will look like this:

When you pull them apart they look like this:

This picture is better. Maybe I'm learning?

You split these babies open and spread butter on them and Wow! You can really go crazy and drizzle honey on it. Help me, I'm addicted. I have some of these on the counter from dinner tonight. I think I need a midnight snack.

Yum!

Jill

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Nov 10 - 15


I'm excited to be cooking without the restraints of the month of nothing but some things remain. We are keeping the soup and bread night each week and I'm going to continue to cook with beans at least once or twice a week. Beans are so good for us (as well as economical), so it just makes sense to eat them more. And my family likes them, too. I have lots of Italian sausage in the freezer so I'm going to use some of that this week, too. So here we go.

On Monday I'm off work so I'm doing a baking day to fill the freezer with snacks and breakfasts.

Monday Baking:
Dinners
  • Our favorite potato dish (sometimes called funeral potatoes because it is the dish often taken by church women to the funeral)
  • Brown rice, beans and cheese crockpot thing (leftover from last week)
  • Chicken, homemade rice-a-roni and veggies
  • Polenta with Italian sausage and mushrooms (I'm making this one up as I go along, I'll let you know how it turns out)
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Bean and sausage soup, pan rolls
Breakfasts and lunches will be free-for-alls with whatever is here and available.

It is supposed to rain here all week. Wish me luck on my walking to work every day!

To see lots more menu ideas, jump over to Organizing Junkie!
Jill

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What I Learned from My Month of Nothing

Before I began my Month of Nothing I hoped that I would change my perception of money and my definition of "need." I didn't expect to actually learn anything that I didn't already know. And while most of the things I "learned" this month are actually just reminders of things I knew once upon a time but had forgotten, I actually learned a few new things. So here, in no particular order, are the things I learned from my Month of Nothing.

1. We don't actually need all that much.
I expected to have to really think about what was a "need" versus a "want." It actually very easy. Tali's coat? A need. Those shoes on sale? A want. Ten pound bag of potatoes? A need. That bag of potato chips? A want. I was surprised at how little I really needed. Food for my family and a few other things (laundry detergent, cat food, straw and feed for the chickens, a new coat for my kids, and some school expenditures that couldn't be avoided) were the only things we really needed. I hope that I'm able to take this new vision of what is a need vs. want into the future - especially with Christmas coming. What gifts will they still be enjoying a year from now and which will have lost their appeal and be in the "give away" bag?

2. I can feed my family very well for much less than I routinely spend.

This was one of the most eye-opening things I learned this month. I expected to really have to be creative (and I did, sometimes), and bake from scratch all day long. I expected to have to ask my family to sacrifice in the food area (and they did, sometimes). But overall? We ate really, really well this month. I fully expected to clean out my freezers and use all the meat I had stashed away, I didn't. I hardly touched my freezer stash.

As I mentioned in my Menu Plan Monday post this week, we ate a lot healthier during the month. We ate veggies and fruits instead of crackers and chips and cookies for snacks. We very easily got our servings of whole grains. We ate lots of oatmeal (a new favorite), brown rice, homemade whole wheat bread, and homemade muffins with lots of whole-wheat flour thrown in. We ate a lot of beans this month, and liked it. We ate a lot of soup and bread (at least once a week, most weeks twice). Soup can be very cheap and nutritious and bread is too. We will be keeping the once-a-week soup and bread practice.

Up until the last week I didn't really feel deprived at all. The last week was harder, mostly because I was tired of baking and my life was crazy with outside activities. If I would have baked more earlier and thrown it in the freezer for those busy times, I would have been fine. Lesson learned. Which leads me to my next point:

3. Cooking from scratch really does save me money.

Making biscuits from scratch instead of Bisquick, making muffins for snacks instead of chips, cookies, and crackers, making bread to go with our meals instead of buying bread or buying something else to go along side our meals, all this really did save me a bundle. Making soup from scratch instead of buying canned helped, too. Cooking my beans from scratch instead of buying canned wasn't that much harder and saved money. Eating at home instead of eating out obviously saved us tons. And it wasn't really that hard. Sometimes life got busy, but if I would put a little extra work into making extra when life isn't busy, I'd have some already made when life did. Good lesson learned.

4. My children are willing to forgo material possessions - for awhile.

My kids were very willing participants in this experiment - for the first two weeks or so. Then they started to whine a little. It was a novelty at first but the excitement wore off fairly quickly. They wanted treats for their lunchboxes, they wanted to go to Taco Bell, they wanted to buy popcorn at the Saturday kids matinee movies (that we bought tickets for in September). They didn't want to go without. But they really didn't whine all that much. They were fairly good troopers.

This taught me two things. First, that I have done a fairly good job of raising them without a sense of entitlement. They didn't really express the thought that they "deserved" these things, just that they wanted them. The second thing I learned was that small treats go a long way to making people not feel "deprived." If I hadn't have been doing the month of nothing, I would have bought them one thing special for their lunches or made one trip to Taco Bell. These single things would have left them feeling satisfied. If they get those things all the time, the trip to Taco Bell is expected. If they get them occasionally, then the trip is special.

5. Having chickens is very helpful.

Got to love having that constant, free source of eggs. You can always make scrambled eggs or one-eye egyptians, or pancakes, or waffles or crepes. With a well stocked pantry (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, etc ) I can always make muffins or quick bread with my eggs, too. It was really nice to walk up and get my free food for the day.

6. Going vegetarian can save you tons at the grocery store.

We didn't eat all vegetarian this month, but we did eat a lot of meatless meals. Partly because of the vegetarians in my family, and partly because it is cheaper. Beans cost way less then beef! Brown rice costs very little compared to chicken or pork. I'm not ready to go completely vegetarian but I am more than willing to do meatless a few times a week. And vegetarian doesn't have to be some weird frou-frou sounding food either. Homemade mac and cheese, bean and cheese burritos, toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, Good ol' rice and beans, a bean and vegetable soup with bread, spaghetti with marinara sauce, cheese fondue, pancakes, waffles, crepes with berries - all of these are vegetarian and are SO yummy. Better for our health anyway - well, as long as we don't go overboard on the cheese.

7. There is a certain freedom in "not being able" to spend money.

I mentioned this before but there was a real freedom in being able to say "no" to things. Sometimes we feel obligated to buy things when we really don't want to. Like when your friend's kids are selling overpriced candy bars and beef jerky for their softball team fundraiser. During the month of nothing I had an excuse for saying "no." I need to come up with something new that sounds legitimate. I hate to just say "no" because I feel so guilty, but the reality is that spending money on every opportunity that comes in front of me is a really quick way to go broke!

8. I use far too much gas in a regular month.

Do I really need to elaborate on this one? I got through the whole month with one tank and $10.00 worth of gas. Why can't I do similar to this most of the time? I feel very fortunate that we live where we do. I can walk to work, we can walk to church, we are within walking distance from the elementary, middle and high schools, we can walk to Safeway, Dollar Tree, Walgreens and Taco Bell. What more could we want? (Ok, I never shop at Safeway except for the emergency stuff that we forgot - it is just way too expensive.) The only place I really "need" to drive to is Winco for food, because it is the cheapest place around. I just need to stay home more, plan my trips better and walk!


9. We are
so incredibly blessed.

This is the thing that I learned the most profoundly this month. We are not at the top of the economic ladder, by any means. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself that I don't have a house as nice as so-and-so, of cars like those guys, or go on vacations like those other people. What I learned this month is that we are really lucky. We have enough to buy food. We are in no danger of losing our house. Our cars are paid for. We have a well stocked pantry should anything weird happen. We are healthy. Hubby and I both have good jobs that we like going to everyday. We live in a free country. We have clean air to breath and clean water to drink. I have nice clothes and plenty of them. My kids are getting a good education. I have friends and family near by to support me.


Sadly, sometimes it takes us having "nothing" for awhile to realize how much we really do have. If for no other reason, I'm really glad we did the month of nothing. I'd encourage you to try it, in whatever form works for you family.


Jill

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Quickie Biscuits

(It turns out that writing about what I learned from my Month of Nothing is harder than I thought it would be. Just so much, and hard to articulate it all. In addition, it is election night and I'm addicted to politics and can't pull myself away from the TV. I'll try to get it up tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy this recipe which saved me many times during the Month of Nothing.)

I love biscuits. They are my go to when I need something quick to add to meal that really seems to be missing some kind of bread. I pretty much always keep a box of Bisquick in my pantry (actually I pour a box of Bisquick into a Tupperware container in my pantry, but whatever).

When I started my Month of Nothing I figured that I would be making a lot of bread and biscuits to round out my meal. Then I ran out of Bisquick on day number one. How great of planning was that on my part? So I had to come up with an alternative. I turned to my trusty Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. I love this book and it has some of my favorite bread recipes. I found a recipe for "Mother's Biscuits" and thought I would try it. Man, I'm glad I did. This recipe is really quick, easy and cheap. I added a few ingredients to make it like the Red Lobster biscuits - cheese and garlic butter.

Here we go:


First, grind your own wheat.

Ok, you don't have to grind your own flour. I do, but only because I'm really trying to add more whole grains to our diet and because I have wheat in my food storage. But not everyone does that and that is fine. This recipe is written for all white flour so I'm sure it's great. Just know that it works with some whole wheat in it also. So let's start over:
First, combine:

2 c. all purpose flour (you can use part whole wheat)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Mix them all together and then cut in:

2 Tbs. butter (yes, only 2 Tbs., although I usually use a "generous" 2 Tbs.)

You want to cut it in with a pastry cutter (pictured in the photo above) or two knives, or the mixer attachment on your stand mixer. It should look like course cornmeal when you are done. I took a picture of this but you really can't tell what it looks like so I'm not posting it. Email me if you really need to see it!

At this point the original recipe has you add some milk, I'll get to that in a minute, I add 1/2 c to 3/4c. of shredded cheeseDoesn't that look good? Ok, then you mix that all in, so the cheese is coated in the flour mixture.

Then you add: 1 scant cup of milk. That is what the recipe says. I usually use about a cup minus 2 tbs. or so. You just have to kind of see how much you need. It needs to be a soft dough and not terribly stiff. But it needs to not be batter. It should look something like this:Then you drop it on to the cookie sheets. I use a Silpat (silicon baking sheet). This recipe makes about 17 biscuits. We have 6 people in our family and I try really, really hard to get 18 biscuits so that we can all have equal amounts. You can do it, but they all end up really small, so I just do 17 and one of us gets less. I know it sounds ridiculous, but just try it for yourself.

I use this recipe and make drop biscuits, but the recipe calls for rolling it out and cutting it into biscuits. I don't like to fuss with it and besides, when I roll biscuits I always end up with tough biscuits. Unless I want to serve them with jam, which requires them to be rolled so that you can cut them open, I always do drop biscuits.

Put them in the oven and bake them at 425 for 12 to 14 minutes. When they come out, brush them with melted butter that you have mixed with some garlic powder:

Doesn't that look good? Believe me when I tell you, it tastes even better than it looks!

Put them on a plate and step out of the way. I even made these for snacks the other night, and they were gone in seconds.

Try them. Really. They are good. Trust me.

Jill

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - Nov 2-Nov 8

Check out Organizing Junkie for more menu ideas!

Menu planning this week was going to be fun because we can have whatever we want!! If I don't have something, I can go to the store!

But then I sat down to plan and I ended up with a bunch of meals that are pretty cheap anyway. The one exception is we are having cheese-beer soup which takes a lot of cheese! And by the way, we are using non-alcoholic beer. The soup ends up tasting somewhat like fondue, and it is really good. Since it started raining here, I'm now in the mood for soup and bread. Big, hearty bowls of soup with warm loaves of homemade bread. Yum!

One of the things that I realized as I was shopping yesterday was that during our month of nothing we ate a lot healthier than normal. We ate oatmeal for breakfast, lots of brown rice and beans. We snacked on fruit and oatmeal and homemade snacks (made with whole wheat flour). And I just ate less than usual because there wasn't crackers, cookies and chips laying around. Maybe I should go back to spending less?

Menus for this week:

Breakfasts:
  • oatmeal (we've become addicted to this homemade "instant" oatmeal, so good and healthy)
  • bagels
  • toast with jam
Lunches:
  • egg salad sandwiches
  • lunch meat sandwiches
  • lunch meat and cheese sticks (me)
  • fruit, crackers
  • hummus with pita chips
Dinners
  • brown rice, beans, chili's and cheese crockpot (a new recipe, I let you know how it works out)
  • cheese-beer soup and bread (or biscuits)
  • chicken enchiladas, rice, veggies
  • polenta with red sauce, french bread, steamed broccoli
  • spanish tortilla
I can't wait to get cooking. And stay tuned, tomorrow I will post my "What I learned during my month of nothing" post.

Jill

Friday, October 31, 2008

Day 31!! Wahoo We Made It!!

As if to mourn the end of my Month of Nothing, the weather turned gray and rainy today. This is what my walk to work looked like. It was very wet. In fact, I stopped to roll up my pant legs because I didn't want to work all day with wet pants! But I did walk to work, and it wasn't so bad. My goal is to keep walking. After all, I only live 6 blocks from work, it seems silly to drive.

Meals today:

Breakfast was cereal for everyone except me. I had leftover mashed potatoes, fried. Yum.

Lunch was whatever people could find. We don't have much left and I haven't baked. I took the last frozen burrito, a banana, and a homemade granola bar. Then I had WAY to many "treats" at work. I work at an elementary school and the staff got all the leftovers from the Halloween parties. All 19 of them! I ate doughnuts and candy. Ugh.

Dinner was trying to make up for all the junk we had all eaten (and had still yet to eat). I made brown rice (tossed it with butter, lime juice and salt), heated up some black beans and added a little garlic and cumin to them, grated cheese, sliced the last of the cherry tomatoes from the garden, chopped up the last little bit of lettuce from the fridge, set out salsa and sour cream. People made "burrito bowls" ala Chipotle (my favorite Mexican restaurant - their burritos are to die for!). It was very, very good. And so easy! Everyone raved about it and we ate it all (and could have eaten more if I'd had it!). This is a keeper recipe. On those nights when I don't know what the heck to have - burrito bowls it is!

Halloween was fun. The kids went trick-or-treating, Hubby got in a car accident, we saw my Dad . . . OH wait!! Did you see that whole part about Hubby getting in a car accident? Yup, it really happened, on the way to go visit his mom. He never got there. He's fine, the car is fine. He was at the front of a line of three cars when number four car slammed into the back of car number three. Car #3 was pushed into the back of car #2, which was pushed into the back of car #1 (Hubby). Thankfully, by the time it got to the front of the line, there was very little force left and we can't see any damage to his car. But the other cars were badly damaged and the police came and they had to exchange info, etc. etc. etc. An hour later, he decided that he would just go back home instead of going to his mom's house. The worst part is that the driver that caused the whole thing doesn't have a license and was driving his mom's car. He was not a happy camper.

So that was the fun end of our Month of Nothing. In the coming days I'm going to be posting about some things that I have learned. I'm also going to be talking about the recipes and tips that saved my bacon this month. Stay tuned!

I want to give a great big virtual hug to everyone who has followed my adventures this month. I've been so thankful for the encouragement, pats on the back, and just general support from everyone. Thanks so much!

Jill

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Day 30

Last day of sunshine. It started raining this afternoon. *sigh* Somehow I'll survive. When we have the first really good NW rain storm, I'll be enjoying it. I really do love the rain.

Today was good. We had oatmeal with berries for breakfast (I'm sure someone had cereal, probably Hubby). Lunch was buying for the little kids, yogurt, granola bars, bananas, crackers for the big kids. Leftovers for Hubby and bread, cheese, fruit and granola bars for me. I made another batch of the homemade granola bars and we've really been enjoying them. It is amazing how they fill you up so much better than the store-bought ones.

Dinner was Parmensan chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked beans and applesauce. For the Parmesan chicken I just take boneless, skinless chicken breasts (purchased for $1.69 a pound), pound them between two pieces of waxed paper til they are about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Then I cut them into thirds or so. Dredge them in flour, then milk, then dry bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese, basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Then fry them in some olive oil. I made the gravy (from a packet) in the pan I fried them in so it picked up all the flavor. It is really good and my family loves it. My veggie girl will eat chicken so this is one of the few meat meals we can all eat. In addition, this meal doesn't take that long to make and is pretty inexpensive. Because we aren't big meat eaters even when we do eat it, I use two chicken breasts, cut into thirds, for my family. We just fill up on beans, potatoes, applesauce veggies (I usually serve steamed broccoli with this but we don't have any right now).

I made biscuits for bed-time snacks tonight. It just sounded good to me so I made them. We ate them in about two minutes. I kid you not. I took pictures while I made them, so I'll do a post about them soon. This recipe has been a wonderful discovery this month.

Tomorrow is Halloween and I still have a few costumes to pack for school tomorrow. Yes, our school "does" Halloween. We do a costume parade and the everything. We are old-school! And we love it.

Jill

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Days 28 and 29 - Almost there!

Oh my gosh! I'm so excited! I only have two days left!

Oh man. I'm so bummed. I only have two days left!

Ok, so that's how I'm feeling. I'm really torn. I want to keep spending mindfully, rather than mindlessly. I want to save money and save the planet and teach my kids to respect money and to value and appreciate what they have. (Do you think I used the word "and" enough?) But I'm also am so excited to get my hair cut and go buy groceries!

I am thinking of all these things I've learned and I'm going to post a "What I Learned" post when this is all done.

The weather continues to be beautiful but it is supposed to start raining on Friday - just in time for Halloween - oh goody! I normally love the rain, I am a true Oregonian in that regard, but I've been enjoying the sunny, cool, beautiful days SO much! I'm going to continue to walk to work and the bad weather will be the real test of my commitment.

Meals yesterday were "I don't remember" for breakfast and lunch. And a pasta bake and french bread for dinner. I was going to take the pasta leftovers for lunch the next day, but my ravenous cross-country runner daughter ate them!

Meals for today were:

Breakfast was leftover french bread toasted. So yummy.

Lunch was leftover pasta for Hubby. Since Tali had eaten mine I went for option two, I'm glad I did. I took a couple of slices of french bread, some cheese, some fruit, and a homemade granola bar. It was so good. I hid the last two slices of bread so I can take it again tomorrow. The little kids bought lunch. I sent $10.00 for each of their lunch accounts. I'm deducting the $20.00 from my grocery budget for this week.

Dinner was soup and leftover bread. I put the soup in the crockpot early today. I worked at the concession stand at the high school today from 3:45 to 6:00. My family ate without me.

After I worked at the high school, I went grocery shopping. We were out of milk and fruit for lunches. I only had $30 to spend but I only spent $21.00. I only bought enough to limp through the next couple of days - until I can go shopping without a budget! I'm going to add up everything I spent for this month for food. I'm pretty sure I spent about $200 for the month. Not too bad.

Jill

Monday, October 27, 2008

Day 27

I baked today! Yeah me! Of course, we ate it all and I have nothing left. That's not exactly true, I made two loaves of bread and gave one away (we ate the other one) and I made homemade granola bars and I have those left, too.

I was thinking today that this whole baking thing has been my hardest part about this eating cheap. I know that I could feed my family for less if I would bake and make things from scratch. We could snack on muffins, bread, crackers, and lots of other things if I would just take the time to make them. I used to bake and make stuff from scratch all the time. Then I went back to college and got out of the habit because I was so busy. Then I got a job and stayed out of the habit. I only work four hours a day and I can't get it together enough to make some muffins! How hard must it be for a single mom who works full-time and raises her kids herself to take the time to make stuff from scratch! I know that I would probably make more time and force myself to do it if I had to. But to do it day in and day out for years on end? I think I'd go crazy.

So here's what we ate today:

Breakfast was leftover cinnamon rolls and cinnamon twists (that I tried to make for my dad but burned - we cut the burned part off.)

Lunch was bits and pieces. Lunch has been the hardest meal for this month of nothing. Since it has to be portable it limits my choices. None of the kids have access to microwaves so it has to be something that doesn't need to be heated. We've done lots of yogurt, cheese sticks, applesauce and graham crackers, apples, kiwis, and PB&Js. I really need to come up with better brown bag lunch options. Any ideas?

Dinner was soup and french bread. The bread was so good! I haven't made that recipe in awhile and I forgot how good it is. Think I'll have to make it more often.

It is supposed to start raining here in the next day or so and I'm bummed. I'm really enjoying this sunny fall weather. I guess it just means more soup and bread meals and some crockpot meals. And hot cocoa in the evenings. Hey, this might not be so bad!

Oh, on a sad note. Dilbert is dead (Dilbert is my laptop). Hubby will take the poor thing to the Mac store after the month of nothing is done. If it is something fixable (that doesn't cost a fortune) we will get it fixed. If it is the logic board (which costs $600 to fix) we will just wait and save my paycheck and buy a new one in December or January. I can use Hubby's computer until then and Hubby did manage to back up all my files and save all my pictures, music, etc. So I can wait until I have enough money saved to buy the computer and still have money left in the savings.

Hey! Maybe I have learned something from this month of nothing after all!!

Jill

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Days 25 and 26

What a fun weekend! Yesterday we did almost nothing of importance. Made a trip to the feed store (chickens needed feed and straw), cleaned house, made cinnamon rolls, finished reading my book, and slept in - not in that order, of course. I spent $20 and change at the feed store - food for chickens, one bale of straw, and some timothy hay for the bunnies. Can't let the animals starve!

Today we slept in again (did I mention that this was a fun weekend?), made some treats, and went to a family birthday party at my sister's house. We celebrated several birthdays and had WAY too much yummy food. Now I'm home and getting everyone ready for bed.

On a sad note, my laptop (that I do all my blogging on) is critically ill. Thankfully, I have an IT doctor in the house (Hubby) who is working hard to save the Dilbert's life. Dilbert is my computer, yes, we named to computer. Hubby's is Fred. I guess we don't have enough boys in the house so we had to name the computers boy's names.

I can use Hubby's computer until Dilbert is fixed or replaced - but man, I really didn't want to spend $$$ on a new computer!

Meals for yesterday:

breakfast was free-for-all. Whatever you could find, you could eat. Come to think of it, lunch was the same.

Dinner was Gardenburgers on buns with lettuce and tomatoes, home-fries (what I call oven-fried french fries), and applesauce. It was really yummy. We had cinnamon rolls for dessert.

Meals today were very similar. Carina and I had potato pancakes for lunch (using the extra peeled potatoes from last night that I didn't end up cutting up for french fries). Then we all went to the party and had baked potato bar (with chili, cheese, broccoli, etc), and salad. Then cheese cake for dessert. Oh man, do I love cheese cake!

I was trying to be very frugal this weekend and bake goodies for my Dad for his birthday. I over cooked the first batch of cinnamon rolls and burned half of the second try. *sigh* No good deed goes unpunished. (kudos to the first person who can tell me what musical has a song about that!)

Jill

Friday, October 24, 2008

Day 24 - and Why I Love Oregon

This is the view out of my front window. I love that tree. Every fall it turns this amazing shade of red. Of course, in the spring, the pollen off of that tree makes me miserable for a month! But I forgive the tree every fall as its leaves turn a beautiful shade of crimson.

Today was another beautiful day here in the great Northwest. I walked to and from work - I needed gloves in the morning and needed to take my sweatshirt off in the afternoon. Makes it hard to know how to dress but for a fabulous day. Here's the view I get walking or driving down my street back to my house:You have to admit, we live in a pretty area, right?

I broke down and bought gas today. I put $10 of gas in my tank and I am going to make it last! Sadly, the $10 only bought 3.66 gallons of gas. More than it would have bought three weeks ago but still . . .

Food today was good.

Breakfasts were bagels and English muffins. Those should be gone by tomorrow but I'm planning on baking muffins tomorrow so we will have those for a few days.

Lunch was PB&J's for the little kids, Hubby had company lunch at work and I had bits and pieces supplemented by the snack table at work. Big kids were home (no school) and I have no idea what they ate - probably Top Ramen!

Dinner was homemade mac and cheese and sliced tomatoes from the garden. I'm thinking I have maybe one or two more meals from the tomatoes from the garden and they will be done.

Tomorrow I don't have to go anywhere! I'm so excited to spend time at home and bake, clean, etc. It is a sad commentary on how busy my life is that I'm excited to have time to clean! I hate house cleaning! But my house needs it and I'm excited to have time to do it. *sigh* I need a more exciting life!

Jill

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day 23 - In Which We Go to a Play

Tonight we went and saw a play at a local high school. My cousin's daughter was playing the part of Gretel in "The Sound Of Music." It was so fun and the kids did such a fabulous job. I love to go see local high school plays. I was in several plays when I was in high school and watching those kids sing and dance and act their hearts out just takes me back in time.

Unfortunately, the school was a long ways away and now my gas tank is on empty. I have to go to a family birthday party on Sunday and I don't have enough gas to get there. But I guess I should be happy that I made it until the 24th of the month. Three whole weeks on one tank of gas!!! That's nothing to sneeze at.

Meals today:

Breakfast was bagels, English muffins and cereal.

Lunches for Hubby and I were leftovers from dinner last night. Yogurt, graham crackers, fruit for the little kids, and I'm not sure what the big kids had because they had a half day of school and ate lunch while I was at work.

Dinner was toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup and applesauce.

Tomorrow is Friday and Friday is my favorite day!

Jill

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Day 22

It is late, and I am tired so I'm going to dispense with the "chit chat" and just get on with it.

Meals today were:

Breakfast was bagels and English muffins all around. Oh, and orange juice.

Lunch was lunch meat and cheese sticks, carrots, Cheezits, and an orange for me. Bagels and cream cheese for kids (with oranges, etc), leftovers for Hubby.

Dinner was baked beans over rice with the last of the ham. We had sliced apples, carrots and ranch dip, and home made grape juice that I canned a few weeks ago. Man, oh man! That grape juice is good stuff. It makes all the hard, sticky, messy, tiring work worth it! Wish I had done more (of course at 8 pm that night I really, really, really wished I'd picked far less grapes than I had!)

Tomorrow I'm going to post some pictures of the beautiful scenery that makes me love this time of year!

Jill

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Day 21

I love fall in the Northwest. Today was such a beautiful day. It was cold and foggy in the morning and sunny and beautiful in the afternoon. What did I do on this beautiful day? I cleaned out a chicken coop! It needed it and it is all clean and sparkle-y! Happy chickens = many eggs!

I was almost out of food in the house so I went grocery shopping. As I suspected I used all my $50 (plus 1.78, somehow I miss added while I was shopping, sigh.). I also bought $12.00 worth of laundry detergent which we desperately needed but I didn't count that in my food budget even though I bought it at the grocery store - sue me if you must. I got lots of good stuff - some snack stuff like Cheezits, oranges, apples, and bagels and cream cheese. My family was very happy when I came home.

I made an unexpected trip today and used more gas than I wanted and now I'm back to thinking I might not make it. It was worth it, though. Tali and the cross-country team went to Olive Garden for dinner to "carbo-load" for their district meet tomorrow. Tali and two of her friends needed a ride home and I offered to do it. The mom of one of her friends has picked up and taken Tali a million times this season and I really wanted to return the favor. We'll see, I don't have many places to go this week so maybe we'll make it. On the plus side, gas is $2.89 a gallon here right now. So if I do need to get gas, at least it won't cost a fortune (just a half fortune!).

I'm off to soak some beans before I go to bed. We are having baked beans, the rest of the ham, and veggies with ranch for dinner tomorrow night. Should be yummy!

Only 10 days left of my month of nothing. I find myself flip-flopping between making lists of all the things I'm going to buy once Nov. 1 rolls around, and being sad that it's almost over and hoping we don't just slip right back into our old ways. Mostly it has been fairly painless and has sure opened my eyes about how much money I spend on stuff I don't really need, I just really want. And that was really the point, right?

Jill

Monday, October 20, 2008

Day 20 - There's a Light at the End of that Tunnel

Mondays are so hard. I did not want to get up this morning and it was torture to get out of bed and get going. It was sunny when I got up but an hour later it was raining and windy. I just wanted to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over my head.

But, no. I dutifully got ready, and went to work. I spend a long time straightening my hair. But this morning it wasn't worth it. It was raining and windy but I walked to work anyway. By the time I got to work my hair was crazy to say the least! I should probably just embrace the curls and forget the whole straightening thing, but I just can't.

I went shopping with the two oldest girls at Target tonight. Tali needed something for her last cross country meet. She also needed a coat. It is cold in the mornings here now and her old coat was much too small. We found a really cute gray pea coat which was only $27.99 and she really likes it. It was definitely a necessary purchase.

It is the 20th of the month and I'm thinking I may make it to the end of the month on one tank of gas! I'm really seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

The hardest part of the whole food thing is finding snacks. We actually resorted to oatmeal for snacks tonight! Unless I bake more I'm going to be in trouble! With working it is so hard to find the time (and the desire!) to bake some muffins or cookies or whatever. But that is what I need to do!

Meals today:

Breakfast was oatmeal with berries and cereal

Lunch was leftovers for Hubby and I, bits and pieces for the kids.

Dinner was croquettes and salad and fruit.

Tomorrow is scalloped potatoes day and I'm really excited about it!

Jill

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Meal Plan Monday - Two weeks to go!


Still in our Month of Nothing and so planning cheap meals this week. I'm starting to run out of the things I stocked-up on. I'm sure I will spend the whole $50 this week, unlike the last two weeks.

Meals for this week:

Breakfasts:
  • Homemade instant oatmeal. I'm so glad I learned this because my son LOVES this! On Tuesday of this week he had it for breakfast, after-school snack and asked for it for bed-time snack, too. It is so easy. Put 1/3 c. oats in a bowl (I use old-fashioned oats), add 2/3 c. liquid (I use 1/3 c. water, 1/3 c. mik), put it in the microwave for 1 minutes 30 seconds or so. Stir and serve. I put out brown sugar, maple syrup and frozen berries. I let Kaden add his own. I read a study once that said that if kids put their own sweetener on something, they actually add less than if you bought the pre-sweetened kind.
    I like this oatmeal with dried cranberries and slivered almonds in it. Yum!
  • cereal. It is inevitable, no matter what I plan, someone always has cereal. I don't even fight it anymore.
  • Homemade bread toasted with jam.
Lunches:
  • yogurt, cheese sticks, fruit, crackers, leftovers, PB&J's, etc
Dinners:
  • Chicken and homemade rice-a-roni. Fruit, jello
  • Homemade Mac and Cheese, sliced tomatoes
  • Wagon Wheel Chili, biscuits, veggies and ranch
  • Soup and rolls (whatever kind of soup strikes my fancy that day)
  • Baked Beans over rice, veggies and ranch, fruit
  • Toasted Cheese sandwiches and tomato soup
  • Gardenburgers (from the freezer), home fries, fruit or veggies
So that's what we are eating this week. Tonight for dinner we had fried potatoes with ham. We scrambled some eggs into the potatoes and then served them with ketchup. Kind of breakfast burritos without the tortillas. It was really good and we ate every last bite!

For more menu ideas hop on over to Organizing Junkie and check out Menu Plan Monday!

Jill

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Day 17 and 18

I'm sorry I didn't post last night but I got home really late and I was really tired. I was at a woman's conference last night and I got home late and had to get up early.

I needed to get some dinner last night and I was really mad that I didn't pack one to take with me. I had to leave 20 minutes after I got home from work and I needed to change my clothes and get a few other things. Half way to my destination I realized that I didn't bring anything to eat. I figured I would have to bite the bullet and buy something to eat. When I got there, one of my jobs (I was volunteering at the event in exchange for free tickets) was to recycle the leftover lunches from earlier. She said, "Keep the chips, cookies, and apples, but you can throw away the salads and sandwiches - unless you want them." Yeah! Free dinner. I never actually had time to eat the sandwiches until almost 9 pm(by which time I was a little worried about eating a ham sandwich that had been sitting around since lunch) so dinner ended up being chips, a cookie, and three or four bites of pasta salad at around 7:30. But they were good chips and it was free.

I did end up driving and paying for parking - I gave my MIL and my sister-in-law a ride home.

So I did pretty well on Friday - then came Saturday and everything fell apart.

I had planned on buying lunch on Saturday, which I did. But then I really needed chocolate. You know when you really, really need chocolate? That was me this afternoon. What's a girl to do? I know! Buy chocolate! So I did. And honestly, it was worth it.

Then our really good friends, whom we haven't seen in awhile, invited us out for dinner. I should have said, "I'm sorry, we are in our Month of Nothing and we won't be able to do that." But I was weak and we love our friends so we went. In our defense, we all split meals and drank water. But we still spent $34.00. It kills me to know that I spent $38.00 for my whole week's groceries last week - and we spent that in one meal!!

So it wasn't a great day today. Somebody (sorry I can't remember who and my computer is not letting me go find it right now) asked me who I was feeling now that the month was half over. For the most part, I'm feeling pretty good. We are eating great stuff, I'm enjoying walking places, I'm feeling good about not spending mindlessly. Every now and then, though, I feel like I want a "treat." An I-deserve-it treat. I deserve to go out to dinner. I deserve some potato chips. I deserve some new shoes. I deserve some chocolate (ok, that was more I need some chocolate).

Thankfully, we have enough money that sometimes (in my real life) I can afford an occasional treat. But the less treats I buy, the more money I can put in my savings. That is what I want to gain from this experience - the ability to say "I may deserve this, but I don't need this!" And then put the extra money in savings.

Tomorrow is Sunday. I love Sundays because they are the day of rest, and I really need a rest!

Jill

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Day 16


Tonight I made one of my family's favorite dinners - Ham Fried Rice. Everyone loves it. Even my veggie kids, they just pick out the ham and give it to someone else who does like it. It is a really easy dish, super cheap, and uses up leftover meat and veggies. We traditionally make it with ham but I got the recipe from my mom and we always had with with pork when I was growing up. We use peas but you could use any mixed vegetables you have on hand. The rice works best if is is cold so make it early in the day or use leftover from last night.

Here's how it goes:

Heat oil in a non-stick skillet. We use sesame oil but you could use canola, vegetable or what ever. Throw some beaten eggs in the pan and cook them. You can cook them all in a flat pancake kind of thing then cut it in strips later or you can just scramble the eggs. When the eggs are done, remove them from the pan and set them aside. Putting them on a plate would be good, too. Add more oil to the pan if needed.

Add some chopped cooked meat (ham, leftover pork roast, pork tenderloin, chicken, shrimp, whatever) and a couple of chopped green onions. Cook and stir until the meat is heated through. You can add your veggies here if they aren't cooked already. Stir them until they are done enough for your liking.

Add a whole bunch of cooked cooled rice, however much your family will eat. For my family that is a lot! Stir the rice and break up any clumps. Stir the rice until it is coated with the oil and the meat is mixed in.

Add some soy sauce. You want to add enough that it turns everything that nice shade of brown that says "fried rice" but not so much that it is overwhelmingly soy sauce-y. It all really depends on how much rice you have. Start small. You can always add more but it's really, really hard to remove it once you've added it in!!!

Next, add your veggies if they are already cooked. I add frozen peas and then cover the pan to let them steam.

Lastly, add the egg back in and stir everything together. Serve with soy sauce at the table. Enjoy! I figure this meal costs me about $3.50 for my whole family ($2.00 worth of meat, .20 for the rice, .25 for the peas, .25 for oil, .25 -.50 for the soy sauce, my eggs are free but I only use three so maybe another .50 for those?) I add some canned or fresh fruit to the meal, usually mandarin oranges they seem to fit. So the whole meal is less than $5.oo for my whole family.

And the best part? My family loves it.

The rest of our meals were pretty standard today.

Breakfast was banana muffins for all and chocolate milk or juice.

Lunch was bits and pieces for all. Kaden and Carina bought lunch for the last time this month. Hubby took leftover soup from last night.

Dinner was fried rice and oranges.

My family is on their own for dinner tomorrow night as I will be at a conference. Not sure what they will do!

Jill

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Day 15 (and I'm starting to feel better)

I haven't had a cold - a real knock-down, drag-out cold - in a long time. But man, this thing has been rough! Finally today, day six, I'm starting to feel somewhat human again. It's about time!

I walked to work today and learned something important. I will not be wearing skirts to work this winter - my legs were frozen by the time I got to work! And it's only October! I guess I could invest in some tights that would match with my skirts and wear them but I'm not really a tights kinda gal.

I was weak and drove to my daughter's cross country meet, even though it was at the high school and it is only three blocks away. In my defense (very weak defense) I was worried about being late and missing her event. But I should have left earlier.

Meals today were good.

Breakfast was homemade oatmeal with brown sugar and frozen blackberries for Kaden and I (Kaden had another bowl for an after-school snack and asked for another one for a bed-time snack - I guess he likes it), toast for Carina, one-eyed egyptian for Jana (she took the PSAT today and needed brain food), cereal for Tali and Hubby.

Lunch was a slice of ham, cheese stick, carrots, graham crackers for me, leftovers for Hubby, bits and pieces for everyone else. Kaden took applesauce and graham crackers, yogurt, pretzels for snack. I'm not sure what everyone else took.

Dinner was ham and bean soup (really yummy) and garlic cheese biscuits from scratch. I'll have to post this recipe. I'm amazed at how easy and good these are. My family goes crazy for them.

I used up the very spotted bananas tonight and made banana muffins for breakfast tomorrow. There should be enough for everyone for breakfast and two people for snacks. Unless people are pigs before I wake up. Hey, it's happened.

I'm very jealous of everyone's gas prices. I was so excited that ours are $3.15 and everyone else is below $3! I want to move to were you live! Well, except I love this part of the country and my whole family is here and I'd miss them. And except my husband's job, that he loves, is here, and all my kids' friends and my job that I love. But hey, we'd have cheap gas!

Jill

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Day 14

Today I went grocery shopping and I'm proud to say I did really, really well.

Total: $40.38!

That gives me $9 and change for the rest of the week. On Saturday I'm going to a conference and I will need to eat out at lunch (we aren't allowed to bring food into the conference center). So I'll have to spend less than $9 won't I?

Meals for today:

Breakfast was the last of the homemade bread with cinnamon sugar (not on mine because I had the cheese bread and that would just be gross!)

Lunch was yogurts, cheese sticks, apples, graham crackers, leftovers for Hubby.

Dinner was ham and cheese toasted sandwiches, vegetable beef soup from a can and fruit. I bought a black forest ham at the store today and we will be making meals from it all week. Tomorrow will be ham and bean soup and bread. I better go put those beans on to soak right now.

On the gas front, I have almost exactly 1/2 tank of gas and tomorrow is half way through the month. Maybe I'll make it! I was driving home from groceries and an Arco station near us is selling gas for $3.15 a gallon! I haven't seen it that low in ages. And that price is SO close to under $3.00 a gallon. Think we'll get there?

What are gas prices like in your neck of the woods?

Jill

Day Thirteen

I should have posted this last night but this cold finally caught up with me and I went to bed early. After watching "Chuck" of course, and skimming through "Dancing With the Stars." After all, we have to have priorities.

Yesterday was a good day. The sun was shining, the crisp fall air is here in force, and for most of the day I felt really good. I walked to work - the car didn't move all day. I had put spaghetti sauce in the crockpot before I left for work so I came home to my house smelling yummy. And I'm almost half way through the month.

One of the nice things about this Month of Nothing has been the way it has freed me up to say "no" to things. Want to order books from the school book order? Sorry, no, it's our month of nothing. School fundraiser selling vats of chemical tasting cookie dough? Sorry, no, it's our month of nothing. These are all things which are "optional" but which, sadly, I usually cave in to when the sweet little faces of my children turn to me and plead, "Please?" But they are things that I probably should say no to more often, or at least be more selective. Maybe let them buy one book from the book order instead of a set. Buy one thing from the fund raiser instead of many, or don't buy from this fund raiser but spend a little extra on bingo night when the whole family is together having a good time.

I guess this is what I wanted out of the Month of Nothing - a fresh look at what I spend money on and why. Do we need books from the book order or could we check those same books out at the library? How many fund raisers can we really support? (I've been the PTA president for three years and been involved for 11 years so don't yell at me that we need to support our schools! I know how underfunded our schools are and fully recognize the need to fund raise. But when we get hit with three different fundraisers in one month I question whether we are going about it in the best way.)

Hopefully, when this month is over I won't go back blindly to my old ways. Hopefully I will have a new awareness of what is actually need vs. what I just want. And hopefully my family will also.

Meals today were:

Breakfast was homemade bread toasted. For the cheese bread I used my Bread Making 101 recipe, rolled it out after I punched it down after the first rise, brushed it with melted butter and sprinkled grated cheddar cheese. Then rolled it up and put it in the pan seam side down. The only change I would make would be to use less sugar in the original recipe. The slightly sweet bread with the cheese is a little odd. If you use 1/4 c. sugar instead of 1/3 c it should be fine, though it might need to rise slightly longer.

Lunch was bits and pieces. I had a cheese stick and the last of the lunch meat, an apple, a yogurt and a homemade granola bar. The little kids had yogurt, apples, graham crackers. I'm not sure what Hubby had.

Dinner was the afore mentioned spaghetti sauce over tortellini, sliced tomatoes from the garden, fruit cocktail from a can.

Jill

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Menu Plan Monday (and Day Twelve)

I'm still in my "Month of Nothing" and going strong. I only spent $35 last week on groceries and I'm on track to do about the same for this week. I baked today so that we would have snacks for the week. I made another loaf of cinnamon swirl bread and then, because I have one kid who swears she doesn't like cinnamon, a made a loaf of cheddar swirl bread. It turned out pretty good. I just rolled the dough out like I would for a cinnamon swirl loaf and then brushed it with melted butter then sprinkled grated cheddar cheese, rolled it up and put it seam side down in the pan, let it rise then bake. It is good. Yum. Probably what I will have for breakfast tomorrow (if there's any left, that is).Doesn't that look good? I really need to work on my photography skills, they are not the best.

Meals for today were:

Breakfast was toast as we were running out the door to church.

Lunch is our big meal on Sundays, we had overnight waffles with jam and it was so good.

Dinner is whatever you can find on Sundays. I made apple oatmeal bars and a big bowl of parmesan popcorn. Some of us at only that. And I make no excuses. So there.

Here is the menu for this week. I'm going to buy a chunk of black forest ham and I'll make it last for several meals.

Breakfasts:
  • Homemade bread toasted
  • oatmeal with berries
  • muffins
  • cereal
Lunches:
  • leftovers
  • yogurt with granola
  • various bits and pieces
Dinners:
  • Ham fried rice, fruit
  • scalloped potatoes and ham, salad and/or veggies
  • ham and bean soup with bread
  • croquettes (we call these croquettes but they are really rice balls filled with mozzarella cheese and chunks of ham. The balls are rolled in bread crumbs and then either deep fried or, what I do, baked. The Italians call them arancini which means "little oranges" because they look a little like oranges when they are finished. Here's a recipe for arancini but I don't use the peas), fruit
  • Funeral Potatoes (a scalloped potato type thing, I know, I know, two scalloped potato things in one week. I pointed this out to my family when they suggested it but they didn't care. Whatever, potatoes are cheap. Fish Mama posted an almost identical recipe this week. Check out her Cheesy Potatoes)
  • Leftovers or pancakes
I should only have to buy the ham, some fresh fruit and veggies, sour cream, milk, yogurt, and a few other things I'm out of. I won't shop for this week until Tuesday night or Wednesday so for the rest of the week we'll be having the rest of last weeks menu (I'm off because I started my "weeks" when the month started and October started on a Wednesday).

I'm excited for this week's menu - most of these recipes are family favorites and so everyone should be happy at the dinner table all week. Weeks like this make a momma proud.

If you want ideas for how to make your crew happy at the dinner table, visit Organizing Junkie for more menu ideas.
Jill

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Day Eleven

Free grapes are great, unless you go crazy and bring home 70 lbs of them that you have to do something with today!

That is what I did today. Stupid girl. We went out to a beautiful farm on Sauvie Island and we could pick as many grapes, apples or asian pears we wanted. There were tons of apples, but I'd already done applesauce for this year so I just got enough for lunchboxes for the next week or so. There were very few asian pears so I just got a couple.

There were TONS of grapes! Purple concords, white concords and some that looked like champagne grapes. I got lots and lots of purple concords - 70 lbs worth!
Here they are all lined up on my counter. Here's what they looked like 6 hours (and a really sore back) later:
That is 25 quarts of grape juice. Supposedly, this is concentrated juice and I should be able to water it down and get a half gallon from each quart. I'm excited. I've never done grape juice before, it is a lot of work but I'm thinking it will be worth it. Especially since these 25 quarts cost me nothing except a lot of work!

Meals today:

Breakfast was an English muffin and chocolate milk for me. I left and was gone until 1 pm (picking grapes) so I don't know what everyone else had.

Lunch was leftovers for everyone. Roman Rice and beans wrapped up in tortillas.

Dinner was one-eyed Egyptians. I got three eggs today from my chickens! That means it is safe to start eating eggs because the chickens will produce enough to cover our use. Yeah!

Oh, I did buy a bottled water today. I took a Sudafed before I left to go picking and then forgot to take a water bottle with me. Sudafed dries me out and I was so thirsty! So I caved. Only 99 cents though.

Tomorrow I'm baking, for sure!

Jill