Saturday, March 26, 2011

I've been slightly absent...

I realize that I have not posted here in a few months. But that's not because I've been lazy or anything! I decided at the end of last year to stretch my wings and learn something new. My husband is an amazing website designer/coder, and I wanted to help him with his work. So this gal has been learning a little CSS and HTML and all that good stuff!

I wanted to switch to Wordpress anyway, so it seemed like a good time to take the plunge and do it. (Attention all bloggers reading: Wordpress is ten time better than Blogger once you figure out what you're doing!) I also needed to clear my head and decided what I was really going to blog about. So I grabbed a free template and went to work making it my own. Can I just say that I am so proud of myself for learning something new. I never thought I'd learn something like web design, and it is tough! But it is so worth it and so much fun. Shout out to my amazingly patient husband for walking me through.

It took a while to build the site, and I have been posting over there for a little bit while tweaking things. I told a couple of close friends about it who've been able to give great feedback. The site is still being adjusted while I finish things up, and I'm trying to make more time to post over there. All that being said, I'd love to have you all join me on this new journey of webdesign and blogging.

It is named "Moments on our Journey" from the song by Chris Machen. The song is a favorite of mine. And really, that's what blogging is to me: sharing moments on my journey with you, my readers. I'd love for you to share your moments with me on Twitter or by commenting whether you live in Minnesota, Canada, South Africa or North Carolina! (Yes, I have readers from all of those places and more!)

Love you all!!

Please change your bookmarks and feed readers to:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Baltimore and Random

Amy answered my last "where was this pic taken?" correctly- the Baltimore Aquarium in the Baltimore Harbor.  Stephen, the Google Maps expert, agreed with her.  We visited the harbor right after my sophomore year of college, and is now on my top ten list of favorite places to visit.  My parents and aquatic-loving sister went to the over-priced aquarium while I elected to peruse the bookshelves at the local Barnes and Noble.  After I was done there, I spent an hour walking around the harbor and people-watching.  It was amazing.

Now, because I have nothing else at all to blog about- 30 random things....

1. I would like to live anywhere in the country except the southeast. (The irony of the fact that I reside in North Carolina right now has not escaped my notice, thank you.)  Having said that, if I had to move somewhere tomorrow I would move to the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio and live there happily for the rest of my life.  

2. I hate dumb drivers. You know- the ones who pull out in front of you and then go 10 mph under the speed limit...yeah those ones.  And I always drive 5 mph over the speed limit unless a cop is behind me. It runs in the family what can I say?

3. I have been known to be rather verbal with the dumb drivers listed in #2 above.  

4. Andrew and I were friends for a year before we started dating, but when I found out he liked me, I was so mad.  I was kinda anti-dating at the time.  Or maybe it was anti-guys, I can’t remember.  I had just gotten out of a relationship and was not ready for another guy to come along.  God had different ideas. 

5. I couldn't whistle or blow up a balloon if my life depended on it.  Blame it on the TMJ which I've had since I was in highschool due to injury and grinding my teeth at night. 

6. Mine and Andrew's dream anniversary trip: a tour of Europe. By current calculations, we'll be able to afford to go for our 82nd anniversary.

7. We were married on my parents' 28th wedding anniversary.  We had been dating for 2 years, 6 months, 2 weeks and 1 day.  We had been engaged for 1 year, 1 week, and 1 day.  (Told you this was a random list)  In case you care, we’ve been a couple for 3 years, 6 days.

8. I have always wanted to go on a missions trip, but my church never went on one when I was growing up, and I was too busy working to pay for college to go on one during the summer.  It’s my biggest regret from college.

9. I hate shopping for capris.  I'm too short.  

10. I hate shopping for my husband's shoes. His feet are too big.  We're quite the pair, let me tell you.

11. I have never gotten pulled over for speeding.  I know you read #2 and were thinking otherwise.

12. My dream car is a minivan.  Has been since I was really young.  I was born to be a soccer mom!

13. Having said that, I refuse to drive anything larger than a minivan (Dodge Caravan size), so we will not have more than 5 children.  No lie.  (And for everyone thinking that it was all my decision- Andrew doesn’t want more than 5 either.)

14. My favorite age groups of children to work with are infants and teenagers.  Stick me in a room with 20 9-year olds and I will freeze in panic.  

15. My favorite joke ever: What do you call a dyslexic atheist with insomnia?

16. I love looking at ideas for baby stuff even though we don't plan on having kids for another 2 years or so.  (Sorry to disappoint the potential aunts and uncles who read this.) 

17. My life Bible verses: Hebrews 12:1-2.

18. We can't wait to get a dog.  We will have to wait until we move though, because our landlords don't allow pets.  Sad story.

19. We want a small-ish indoor dog.  We love the Havenese breed for a ton of reasons (hypoallergenic- don’t shed at all, cute, don’t bark, cute, healthy, love company, cute, and live a long time), but they cost a pretty penny from breeders. (If anyone knows of an inexpensive Havanese or Havanese mix that needs a good home, you know who to contact.)

20. I strongly dislike all other kinds of pets.  

21. My dad owned beagles my entire life.  Duchess, Rosie, Lexie, Lady, Candy, Buckeye, Rusty, Trixie, Bandit, and I think that's it.  Currently it’s Candy and Buckeye.

22. Rosie was our favorite, sweetest, most obedient, and longest-living dog.  We had to put her down on Christmas Day.  Worst Christmas ever.  We all cried.  I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking of it.  Moving on…

23. I have never been outside of the US or west of Wisconsin. Until last month, the furthest south I had been was northern Georgia (not counting the Atlanta airport).

24. We have the names picked out for our first son and first daughter, with possibilities on the next two as well.  

25. NO! We're not pregnant!  And NO! we're not saying what the kids names are until they are born.  Sorry. We have our (very good) reasons for this.

26. My least favorite thing in the house to clean: the bathtub.

27. Answer to the joke in #15: A man who stays up all night wondering if there really is a dog.

28. Andrew does the dishes several times a week for me.  I don't know if it's because we've been married less than a year or not.  Ask me in 2 years.

29. I am a fan of Martha Stewart. And if my house ever looked as neat, decorated, and organized as hers I would die of happiness.  Good thing that will never happen.

30. I am beginning to care less and less what people think and more and more of what God thinks. It's a wonderful thing.  

For the two of you still reading- have a terrific weekend and a wonderful Sunday worshipping the Lord!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Food Bytes: Package, Package, What’s in the Package?

Part Three of my Food Bytes series about eating good food on a budget.  See the introductionPart OnePart Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

Most of the time, you don't want to know what is in the package.  High fructose corn syrup, artificial food coloring, high sodium and other yucky stuff lurks in many packages.  To clarify, I never want to give the appearance that I'm a food snob at all.  Part of the reason we avoid many foods is because I have blood sugar issues, and I have found that eating certain things either helps or aggravates the problem.  I would rather make foods from scratch many times simply because I can control what goes into the finished product.  This doesn't happen with pre-packaged foods.

Below are some of the packaged foods I buy as helpful cooking tools.  Yes, I know you can make many of them homemade, but in the 5 months I’ve been a full-time chef (LOL) I’ve discovered that everyone has different priorities in the kitchen.  Some people have the time, talent, and desire to make everything from scratch.  Others have no time, talent, or desire to do so, and they live on Hamburger Helper.  I think I fall somewhere in the middle, and that’s where the items below really come in handy. 

Soups:  I buy cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups from Aldi.  They’re cheapest there, and they work for me.  One of my “must have brand name” concessions is tomato soup.  My tomato soup must be Campbells, and has to be made with milk.  It’s one of my comfort foods, and you don’t mess with comfort foods. 

Salad dressings:  In our fridge right now we have Italian, Ranch, Raspberry Vinaigrette, and Creamy Parmesan.  Anyone want salad?  We do eat salad often, and go through Ranch dressing very quickly.  Ranch is actually on my list of “Learn to Make From Scratch Items.” 

Pasta Sauces:  I know, I know, if anyone makes anything from scratch it has to be tomato sauce right?  Well, I tried, and you know what?  I like store-bought better.  *gasps of horror* Our favorite is Francesco Rinaldi, and since the giant we-have-everything superstore sells it for $1.22 a jar (cheaper than the $1.50 Ragu, mind you) and I can pronounce and recognize every single ingredient on the label, we don’t mind a bit.  Our favorite alfredo sauce however, is Ragu’s garlic parmesan.

Off-brand Macaroni and Cheese:  When I make mac and cheese,  I make it from scratch, but when I make one of my most favorite meals in the whole world, I use store bought mac and cheese.  (See below for the recipe.)

Snack foods:  Popcorn.  No, that is not a typo, or me forgetting to finish the category.  We seriously don’t buy snack foods.  Not only does it saves us a bunch of money, it’s also healthier.  We’d rather have a piece of zucchini bread than a handful of chips any day.  We’ll eat chips and store-bought cookies if we go out to eat, or if we’re at a church function, we just choose not to buy them for ourselves. 

Bits and Pieces:  Some other things we buy are Bacon Pieces, not Bacon Bits, mind you, but bacon pieces for mashed and baked potatoes, as well as one of the macaroni and cheese recipes (the “from scratch ones”).  I love, love , love French Fried Onions.  I use them in a ton of things- hashbrown casserole, the amazing mac and cheese recipe below, smashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and more.  Can’t live without these, really.  By the same token, Dried Onion Soup Mixes can be found in my pantry often.  I love to make French dip sandwiches with these.  I'm sure I'm forgetting some others, but these are my basic, go-to convenience foods. 

Do you make any of the above items from scratch?  Care to share any recipes or tips?

Mac n Cheese Plus

1 box mac n cheese (plus 1/4 c. milk and 4 Tbs. butter)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup chopped onion
Veggie Options: slice carrots, broccoli, red peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.
(We usually add carrots and broccoli, but feel free to add more favorites!)
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 cup+ french fried onions

Preheat oven to 350. Make mac n cheese according to directions.  Meanwhile, in a skillet cook garlic and onions until tender.  Add chicken and veggies and heat through until veggies are soft.  Mix the completed mac n cheese with the chicken and veggies in an oven-safe casserole dish.  Add french fried onions on top (as many or few as you want) and cook for 10 minutes.  

Photo credit: Tomato Soup

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Food Bytes: Going Against the Grain (or Buying Whole Wheat and Loving It)

Part Three of my Food Bytes series about eating good food on a budget.  See the introductionPart One, Part Two, and Part Three

I didn’t grow up on whole wheat anything.  I ate lunchmeat sandwiches on store bought white bread my entire life.  It’s a wonder I have lived to be this old.  Just kidding.  But now that I am “Master of the Kitchen” I’m doing things a tad differently. 

Bread:  We are super lucky.  A discount store in the town I work sells bread for $1 a loaf.  So I buy Natures Own organic honey wheat bread for pennies a slice.  I will probably cry when we move and I have to buy bread for $3 a loaf.  Or, I might start making it myself, but considering my bad history of using yeast in baking, I should stick to buying.  We shall see. 

Bagels:  My one success with yeast breads came a couple of weeks ago when I made homemade bagels.  They didn’t turn out horribly, but I will definitely try them again with whole wheat flour.  We buy our bagels from Walmart.  I used to buy them at Aldi for $1.39 a bag (6 per bag) until I discovered these ones by the cream cheese section of Wally World for $1.00 a bag (5 per bag).  And they had my favorite- Honey Wheat.  Win-win.  I converted.  I won’t tell you how many bags we go through a month, you might think I was addicted or something. 

Rolls:  On our first shopping trip as husband and wife, Andrew and I discovered these amazing sub-like rolls from Walmart.  At $2.50 for 10 of them, the price is great, and they are delicious!  We use them to make sandwiches and garlic bread all the time.  When I get home from the store I stick them in ziplock bags, and pop them in the freezer.  We just get out what we need as we need it so they don’t go to waste in the southern humidity. 

Tortillas:  These are amazing.  We use them for our favorite chicken tortilla recipe, making quesadillas, and other quick meals.  They are perfect for on-the-go meals.

Pasta:  I buy our whole wheat pasta at Walmart for $1 a box- you can’t be that.  A new favorite one we found is orzo; it tastes so much better than rice.  You should give it a try sometime.  It can be found lurking by the pasta. 
We have several nights a month that are pasta nights here at the cottage.  It definitely saves money in the meat department. 

Homemade:  Some things I make from scratch are zucchini bread, bran muffins, corn bread, and buttermilk biscuits (does making them with buttermilk and a baking mix count?).  We will eat all of the above for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  It sure saves a lot of money!

Speaking of homemade, here is my mom's recipe for zucchini bread.  Fast, easy, and yummy (and best of all, no yeast needed!!)  Bon appetit! 

Zucchini Bread

3 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
2 ¾ cups flour
2 ¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350
Mix eggs, sugar and oil together well. Fold in zucchini and rest of ingredients. Grease and flour 2 bread pans. Bake 1 hour.

Photo Credit: Orzo

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Food Bytes: How Does Your Garden Grow?

Part Three of my Food Bytes series about eating good food on a budget.  See the introductionPart One, and Part Two

We don’t have a garden (but it's on the "To Do Someday" list!!), so we head to the produce department of the store and our farmer’s market to get our fruits and veggies.  Ingles has great produce- lots of organic stuff.  Walmart is ok, their grapes have been all sorts of nasty this year though- anyone else have a problem with that??  Our farmer’s market leaves much to be desired (still missing the farmer’s market near my grandparents’ house- they know how to do farmer’s markets in southern Ohio!).  I never buy produce from Aldi- I choose life, thank you.  And if the CEO of Target happens to be reading this, please build a Target store in Shelby, NC.  Thank you.

Now, on to our “rules” of produce buying…

Rule #1: We don't buy canned goods.  I've heard bad things about BPA in can lids, and I think fresh and frozen taste better anyway. 

Rule #2: I buy what's on sale.  I try to get a couple kinds of fruit per shopping trip, so if grapes and apples are on sale, that's what I get.  We just went apple picking last weekend and got a whole box of apples for $15.  

Rule #3: The only exception to Rule #2 is our lettuce.  After throwing out enough lettuce to feed Kenya for a year since we got married (A family of two can only eat so much salad, ok?)  I tried an organic mix of several different greens, including our favorite: spinach.  We love it!  It's the Walmart Marketplace brand, and I don't know if it's the organic part or what, but this mix lasted two and a half weeks- no lie. Look for it by the prepackaged Dole lettuce that you don’t want to waste money on.  It comes in a plastic container, and it tastes amazing. 

Rule #4: We try to buy organic produce from the “Dirty Dozen” list. Just reading that article makes me squirm.  Ew, ew, ew.   And, for the record, I am so tired of the argument: organic costs more.  Would you rather pay $2 more per pound for strawberries now, or $200,000 for cancer treatments later?  I’m just sayin’. 

Rule #5:  We use the produce we buy to make homemade foods to save money.  I make homemade hashbrowns, applesauce, twice-baked potatoes, pies, some tomato sauce, and other things.  (See the super easy way that I make applesauce below.)

Rule #6:  I am not opposed to convenience food.  I just discovered frozen chopped onions in the freezer section.  I hate chopping onions (even though it doesn’t make my eyes water chop them), and I never use a whole onion in anything.  The little bag of frozen onion is cheaper and easier for making “2 people” meals.

Homemade Applesauce in a Crockpot

1.    Peel, core, and slice the apples.
2.  Put apples in the crockpot. (I try to fill it to the rim, since apples cook down so much, but just use what you have.)
3.    Add brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.   You can add all of that, or pick and choose; don’t measure, it takes all the fun out of things.  My typical applesauce has a few scoops of sugar, some cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg or ground cloves (Don’t put whole cloves in. You don’t want to pick cloves out of your teeth when eating applesauce.)
4.    Cook on high for 3-4 hours, or low for 7-8 hours, depending on how many apples you have.
5.  For  chunky applesauce- mash with a potato masher while they’re still warm in the crockpot.  For smoother applesauce, scoop into a blender, and blend them.  Either way, when you’re done, scoop the applesauce into mason jars and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Food Bytes: Getting to the Meat of the Matter

Part Two of my Food Bytes series about eating good food on a budget.  See here for the introduction and here for Part One.

Chicken: I could seriously eat chicken for every meal, but Andrew has more varied taste buds, even though he will eat it any way I cook it. (Isn’t he sweet?) That being said, I still buy chicken much more than I buy anything else.  To quote The Father of the Bride: We'll take the "chipper chicken."  
I'll buy whole fryer chickens, and cook them in water on the stovetop for a few hours. Then, I peel all the chicken off the bones, put the bones and other gunk back in the water, and let it cook for a few more hours.  At the end, I have several cups of chicken broth, and 4 meals worth of chicken per fryer.  I sometimes buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts, if they're on a really good sale, and I buy chicken legs for our favorite crockpot chicken recipe (see below). 

Cow:  Contrary to the commercials, at the Minion cottage, we say, "Beef, it's not for dinner tonight."  I buy one package of beef every two months or so, and make it stretch over several meals.  We had Philly Cheesesteak on a Stick the other night, and it was super good! (I got the recipe from the September issue of the Rachel Ray magazine, and just may have to post it here sometime.)
I only buy ground beef when I absolutely have to- for lasagna or tacos.  (For those of you who've only known me for about 3 days, I don't eat "ground" anything- even hamburger. Yes, I'm an American, why do you ask?  It's a texture thing, ok?)  

Other:  Hoping try out some pork recipes next time it's on sale, I'll have to let you know how that goes. 

Chicken in a Hurry Recipe

2-3 lbs skinless chicken drumsticks (I've used thighs as well)
2/4 cup ketchup
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 package dry onion soup mix

Arrange chicken in slow cooker.  Combine remaining ingredients and pour over chicken.  Cook on high 4-5 hours or on low 7-8 hours. 

Photo Credits: Chick fil a Cows and Beef Logo

Monday, October 11, 2010

Food Bytes: Dairy Queen

Part One of my Food Bytes series about eating good food on a budget.  See here for the introduction. 

Milk: We go through one gallon of milk a month, so we don't spend much on it.  I'm hoping to switch to unpasteurized milk soon.  It costs about twice as much, but we don't go through it that fast.  I just discovered a wonderful, easy biscuit mix that uses on buttermilk as it’s only other ingredient, so I’ve begun to buy a half gallon of buttermilk every week too.

Cheese: We eat cream cheese like it's goin' out of style. We eat bagels and cream cheese every morning (I have since I was in Jr High, with a brief, torturous break while in college- so don't try to tell me it's unhealthy; I'm not listening....), and it can add up pretty fast.  I did use a rare $5 off 5 Kraft products coupon last week, pairing it with a Food Lion sale, which scored me 5 tubs of Philadelphia cream cheese for zero dollars.  Do I hear an "Amen"?  
The other cheese: mozzarella and cheddar-  I pretty much buy in blocks or pre-shredded bags at either Aldi or Walmart.

Yogurt:  Since I make my own granola (easy recipe below!), and Andrew eats that many mornings for breakfast with yogurt, we go through this rather quickly as well.  I usually get the 32 oz containers of vanilla at Aldi, but every once in a while, one of the stores will have a good sale, or I hear of a printable coupon that I use on Dannon or Yoplait 32 oz containers.  

Ice Cream:  Yes, it's dairy, not dessert.  Moving on...  Ever since reading this post about the evils of store bought ice cream, when we aren't making our own, we buy Breyer's Natural ice cream.  It's on sale pretty often, and we get it every 4-5 weeks or so.

Sour Cream, Half and Half, Whipping Cream, Butter, Etc- I only buy these as I need them for cooking/baking.  Note: I only buy salted butter, no margarine here.  How do I get over sticker shock?  Close my eyes and grab the butter.  

Do any of you have a good (read: easy) recipe for yogurt? I would love to make it at home, but have yet to find an easy way to do it.  I’d love input!

Peanut Butter Granola (adapted from this recipe)

6 cups cooking oats
1 cup chunky peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
Other ingredient possibilities: 
raisins, coconut, dried cranberries, pecans,
almonds, other dried fruit and nuts.
Mix the first 4 ingredients (plus any additional ingredients) together in a 9X11 baking pan.  Place in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.  After the time is up, take the pan out, drizzle with honey, and stir so everything gets mixed together again.  Bake for 10 minutes more.  Remove from oven, and wait for it to cool.  Slap husband's hand when he tries to eat the peanut butter clumps.  Store in jars or a ziplock bag. Enjoy!

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