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Friday, April 29, 2011

Ok, ok, I finally did it

I joined Facebook.  :pauses for the earth to open up and the ground to swallow me:

I've tried to ignore it for so long, but whatever, it got me.  If you want to "like" or "friend" or whatever the hell it is called my blog, you are welcome to.

To be honest, it's a new medium for me, so please be patient as I figure it out! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A giveaway and a thank you!

First off, thanks so much to the people who responded to this request and didn't call me a dork...at least out loud.

Second, today is the first day that I've received more than 200 page hits!  As a big thank you for reading my blog, I'm doing a giveaway.  I'm buying the item using Amazon giftcards I've accumulated via Swagbucks.  If you're wondering WTF is Swagbucks, click on the "swidget" to the right of this blog for more details. 

Today's giveaway is a favorite of this little dude:

Don't let the sweater vest and sweet smile fool you.  He's always plotting something.

These things rock and making coloring fun for all ages.

To enter, you simply need to leave a comment saying you are interested.  That's it!  I'll do a random drawing on Monday morning for the winner.  I'd do it before then, but I'm moving this weekend and will be freaking busy the next few days.

Frugal girl's guide to going green: gas mileage

Gas mileage.  Blerg.

Gas is high right now, and it has been high before.  People freak out and do smart things to raise their miles per gallon, and then it goes down again and people rush out and buy Suburbans and huge gas guzzlers to cart around their 1 kid.

Do I think that hybrids and plug-in vehicles are a good idea?  Yes!  Are they the solution to the gas issue?  No, but they are a component of the answer.  Can I afford one?  HELL No!  If I had unlimited funds, I'd have a 2011 Subaru Outback PZEV vehicle (partially zero emissions and 34 mpg) for family trips, and a plug-in for my daily commute.  Alas.

Between work, daycare, running errands on the weekend, and having dinner with my side of the family every Sunday, I consistently log 180 miles each week.  I drive a 2002 Subaru Outback with 105,000 miles on it.  This beast is perfect for our lifestyle but crappy for gas mileage - about 22 mpg.  But, it is paid for so I do what I can to improve my mileage and decrease my overall driving:

1) I'm diligent about maintenance - oil changes, changing air filters, etc.  Timely maintenance keeps your car running at it's best.  It can also identify issues early on that are often cheaper to fix at the start as opposed to allowing an issue to continue.
2) Don't cart around a ton of crap.  More weight = lower gas mileage.
3) If tolerable, lower your windows around town when it is warm.  On the freeway it is more economical to keep your windows up and use the a/c intermittently.  Having your windows down while cruising at 60 mph creates poor aerodynamics that can lower your gas mileage.
4) I combine all my errands that are on the same side of town as much as possible.
5) I stopped driving like a drunken sailor on leave.  I LOOOOOVE speed, but with a little dude in the car and speed leading to lower gas mileage, I now keep it under 65 mph on the freeway.  If I'm not holding up traffic, I'll stick to the right lane and set my cruise to about 58 mph.  I do miss going fast though.
6) Don't gun it off the line.  I drive a stick, so if I'm stopped at a steep hill, I have to punch it.  But any other time, I try to gradually get up to speed.

And just so this post isn't just words, here is a photo of my cutie in the car.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

8 Cheap/free things to do with kids when the weather is crappy

1.  Go to the library
2.  Head to a pet store to watch the fish (this is a 2 year old tested activity in our house!)
3.  Spend time at the feed store when they get a shipment of baby chicks and bunnies.  There is a certain little dude in my house who adores this activity.
4.  Find a community center that offers playgroups.  In Seattle when it's raining oh, about every freaking day, going to the park isn't always a possibility.  There is a community center near my aunt's that offers 3 hours of play and activities for $3.
5.  Cover your table with a sheet, unwrap cheap bars of soap and give you kiddos butter knives.  We used to do this when it was pouring outside.  Soap carving was the coolest thing when I was little!
6.  Build a giant fort in the living room.  Have a picnic in the fort.
7.  Head in to a dark room with a flashlight.  Shadow puppets!
8.  Call up a friend with kids and invite them over/invite yourself over for a play date.

This has also been posted over at Frugal Tip Tuesdays.

Monday, April 25, 2011

An annoying request for readers of this blog

I apologize in advance for this request.  I feel like I'm soliciting votes for prom queen...

I've been attempting to solicit cool giveaways from companies for readers of this blog.  I'm often turned down because I have only a "normal" average number of followers.  I currently have 34 followers, but I see about 100+ people read this blog a day.

So, I'm asking you in a very humiliating way that if you read this blog and like what you see, would you consider adding yourself as a follower?  I will not generate revenue from this, but there is potential for me to receive awesome giveaways to offer to readers of this blog.

Thank you for your consideration.  If you need me, I'll be under a rock cringing from embarrassment.

Mostly Homemade Mondays

Welcome back to Mostly Homemade Mondays, week two!  It's a series for people who are striving for better food and a better lifestyle, but for whatever reason need a helping hand from a pre-made ingredient now and then.

The ground rules:
1) knock yourself out in being creative.  Want to share a new recipe?  Cool.  Want to post a photo of something you made?  Rock on with your bad self.  Want to talk about a dresser you bought from a thrift store and refurbished?  Back that truck up cause that is something I want to see!

2) Some part of your post should be "homemade".  While a post on the Hamburger Helper you made last night doesn't seem to cut the bill, making your own casserole from  meat and noodles that you didn't make from wheat you grew yourself is something to crow about!

3) If you want to, go ahead and note on your post that you're linking to this series.  And if you don't want to?  Well, that is no skin off my nuts.

My mostly homemade item this week is a chocolate sunflower cake.

Take 1 delicious chocolate cake.  Cover in awesome frosting.  Place 16 Peeps around the edge, and cover the center with chocolate chips.  No one in my family likes Peeps, so they were really only for show.



So, let's get started!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Meal plan for April 24-30

Sunday - Easter at Troy's family and then off to my family for elevensies.

Monday - Breakfast for dinner.  I have an abundance of eggs, and some leftover ham.  I'm going to make hashbrowns, and we'll bust out the bacon in the freezer.  And home canned fruit.

Tuesday - Tortilla soup in the crockpot with sliced avocado.  Garlic bread on the side.

Wednesday - Making enchiladas that I never made last week.  Paired with homemade spanish rice and black beans in the crockpot.

Thursday - Shepard's pie from the freezer, a veggie (crosses my fingers that asparagus or artichokes are on sale), and home canned fruit.

Friday - Super classy boxed Annie's mac and cheese.   Paired with the leftover veggie from Thursday.  Cleaning out everything ahead of the pantry and freezer.

Saturday - the big move! 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sustainable easter basket "grass"

Before you go out and spend money on plastic Easter grass that is made of yucky chemicals, costs money, clogs your vacuum for months, AND can kill your cat...look for alternatives around the house.

In our household, I use paper from the shredder!  It's free, it's from a recycled source, and I can put it in the compost when the bunny has left the building.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Helicopter parents, free-range kids, and other verbal diarrhea

Before I get off on a tangent and climb up on my soapbox, Happy Earth Day everyone!

And this post is NOT written for people who live in actual dangerous neighborhoods.  I get that fear.

I recently picked up Last Child in the Woods from my local library and I've had a hard time putting it down.

The book is well-written and has wonderful scientific data to back up my personal belief in that we are smothering our kids by keeping them indoors, within an arm's reach, and therefore "safe".  Technology, heavily scheduled play dates, and our own fear of the unknown is not doing our children any favors.

Growing up in my town I was considered a free-range kid from about age 7 and on.  Verbally telling my parent's a loose agenda for the day was considered checking in, and my bike and I were requested home by dark.  A typical summer afternoon schedule would be something similar to the following:

6 or 7 am - wake up and watch Matlock or Law and Order reruns.  I was super cool from an early age!  Eat breakfast.
7:30 am - pick out which pair of awesome leggings or sweatpants I would be wearing that day.
7:31 am - head out to the best toy in the whole neighborhood - the ditch in front of our house!  We lived on a steep hill with wide ditches on either side.  After a rainstorm all neighborhood kids would gather at the ditches.  We would proceed to spend the remainder of most of the day damning the ditch, making boats from sticks, straws, and leaves to race, and generally just getting in to a ton of dirty fun.  Stupid city eventually put pipes underground to act as ditches.  No fun!
After lunch, I would fill up my water bottle, grab my helmet and head out for a long bike ride.  I may have chosen to bike (unsupervised) to a friend's house a mile away, down to the beach (sans floaties and life jacket), or to a state park about 4 miles away (on a 2 lane road with no shoulders- gasp!!).  A helmet was worn though.

My pink bike was a replacement for my mom's gorgeous old kelly green racing bike that met its demise when I was hit by a car 3 blocks from home.  Was it the car's fault?  Yes.  Did we sue?  Nope.  Why?  Cause a) I wasn't hurt and b) I should have known better and done a better job of watching for cars.  Lessons in personal responsibility come in all forms - including flipping over the hood of  red Toyota Tercel. 

My hot pink mountain bike and I were besties.  We went everywhere together, had loads of adventures, and multiple close calls (personal responsibility is one thing...learning to not be a moronic kid is another).  My bike offered me freedom away from my "boring" house, my parents, and my sister who was hell bent on making sure I didn't live to be 10.  Love you sis!

In the 80's we didn't have parental GPS tracking devices for my mom and dad to keep tabs on me.  We didn't have cell phones, so I couldn't call my mommy to come pick me up if I rode too far from home and was tired (again, TONS of hills in my area).  I learned to ride within my own limits and then learned that pushing those limits could be so rewarding.  I also learned very quickly that I was going to be away from home all day, I needed to pack my own snacks and water. 

A story that comes to mind that would make current helicopter parents gasp: one day after church my sister and I asked my mom if we could walk home.  She said "sure, I love you", and drove away.  She didn't ask if we knew the way home or when she could expect us to return.  She said sure and drove away.  That is faith in your kids and also faith in yourself in knowing that as a parent you've taught your children to be smart, not accept rides from strangers, and to make somewhat educated decisions.

30 minutes in to the walk we realized two things: we were wearing Sunday School clothes that weren't made for hiking, and didn't exactly know the route home.  We eventually made the 5 mile trek in probably 2-3 hours, and had multiple adventures along the way.  That story sticks out in my mind much more than staying indoors and playing computer games (Win Lose or Draw on floppy disc anyone?).

Mr.Frugal by Force also has multiple childhood stories about taking off in the woods at his cousin Scotty's house and the 2 of them disappearing for hours.  Troy has fond memories and many scars to remember his childhood.

So, why do my crazy childhood adventures and verbal diarrhea matter?  To some people reading this, they don't and that is ok.  But I suspect a lot of parents out there long to give their children the childhood they had, but don't out of fear.  To that I say, stuff that fear in a sack missy (or mister)!  Look up crime statistics for your area.  I'll wait...ok, you're back.  What did you find?  For most people I'm guessing they found that violent crime has actually dropped in their area since they were kids.  Hmmm, ok then what has changed to prevent you from letting you kid roam freely?  A few guesses on my part:

1) fear is a powerful motivator
Fear of the unknown lurks within all of us.  There is a really tall slide at a park near our house.  Jack is obsessed with it.  I've always climbed the stairs behind him, made him wait at the top while I adjusted myself, put him on my lap and slid down with him.

Two weeks ago we were at the park.  When he said "no no mommy, Jackie do it", my heart was in my throat.  Did I want my 2 year old going down a probably 12 foot slide without my protective arms around him?  No!  Did I want him growing up thinking he always needed me to be there to try anything new?  No!  So, with great angst I let him do it. 






When he landed at the bottom with an enormous smile on his face he looked at me and said "mommy, JACKIE did it", and I knew I had made the right choice.  While I don't want him to fall and break his arm, I also never want him to ask me to call his college advisor to figure out what classes he should take the following quarter.  Jackie did it is something I want to encourage and nurture.

Now that I am a mother, I realize that my parents weren't just sitting at home enjoying the quiet time while I was out and about on my own.  They were likely worrying and had concerns about my safety.  And also enjoying the quiet time...I was a talkative little bugger!  They probably were tempted to hop in the car a few times and drive by my normal haunts to see if I was being lured in to a van with some candy and a puppy.

2) too much damn information! 
So with the evidence that crime is down in most places, why do we think that a kidnapper is lurking behind every bush waiting to snatch our kids?  Because the news and the internet do a wonderful job of scaring the shit out of us.  Childhood abductions remain around the same numbers as 20 years ago, but with a 24 hour news channel and oh so obnoxious people like Nancy Grace being all up in our faces all the time, we get the feeling that kids are stolen from their own homes at a rate of 15 a minute.

3) the idea that kids need structure, rules, and a rigid extracurricular schedule as soon as the diapers come off. 
Not providing in-utero Mandarin lessons to your developing fetus means they will NEVER get in to a good pre-school.  And you may as well sign them up for a life of fast food if they don't get in to a good preschool.

Growing up I played soccer, softball, basketball, and so much more, but I did it because I WANTED to.  Choosing my activities because they interested me never made it seem like a chore.  I had enough time to get damn good grades and still go be a kid.

Kids need direction, yes.  They need well-defined boundaries so that they grow up to be good members of our society and not the Unibomber.  They also need freedom and independence to nurture creative play.  They need a ditch, some sticks, and some mud.  They need to be outside in the sun, rain, and snow to know that life is much bigger than Facebook and the Disney Channel. 

As soon as we are settled in our new place, I'm cruising freecycle and craiglist for mountain bikes and a kid bike carrier. We already have helmets for all 3 of us. Jack will be outside and he will get to experience nature and my version of childhood. I want that for him, and I'm committed to allowing him to be a child and not a home bound Nintendo-playing little person.

My responsibility as a parent is to help nurture him and teach him right from wrong. HIS job as a child is to make his own mistakes and learn from them. Hopefully we'll do a good enough job in teaching him right and wrong that he will make smart and safe decisions.

Eventually that child carrier will come off the bike and I'll give him a kiss and tell him I love him and to be home before it is dark. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Super delicious chili

With a title like that you, you HAVE to give it a try!

Last week I bought some locally made hot dogs from our neighborhood butcher and immediately got a craving for chili dogs.  I whipped up a batch on Sunday in the crockpot and it couldn't be more simple, healthy, or cheap!

Sarah's BBQ chili
1/2 cup each of dried pinto, kidney, and small white navy beans.  Soak in water overnight
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 lb of grass fed stew meat (or ground turkey)
1/2 lb of pork sausage (our butcher makes their own w/o casings, but if you use sausage with casings, remove them)
5 strips of bacon
1/2 cup of prepared or homemade BBQ sauce
3 TBLSP of chili powder (use less if you like less heat)
2 TBLSP of smoked paprika (find this in bulk and invest.  It kicks regular paprika's ass)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2.5 cups of beef broth or water
1 cup of tomato paste (I used leftover homemade pizza sauce)

1) drain the beans and transfer to crockpot.
2) cook bacon separately, drain, and crumble.
3) dump everything else in.  Cook on high for 1-2 hrs and then reduce to low.  Cook another 5-8 hours.
4) prior to serving, remove stew meat and shred.  Return to crockpot
5) if you want the consistency a bit thicker, mix cornstarch or flour with a little water and THEN add to the crockpot.  You will eliminate lumps that way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Frugal girl's guide to going green: electricity & power

You would think that come spring, heating your home wouldn't be such a hot topic.  Well, considering it snowed at my house on Friday AND Sunday, we're still battling the chill here in the great Pacific Northwest.

Our apartment is old and drafty.  Even with ALL of my heat and energy Nazi tactics, our average power bill is still about $175.  OUCH.  Our upcoming move to a more solid house will help in that aspect; thank god!

Heating
-As we could afford it, we outfitted our huge windows with blackout/thermal curtains.  I purchased the Eclipse brand from Target and they run $12.99-$19.99 per panel.  They keep heat in during the winter and keep it out during the summer.  That is big for us as our giant windows face southwest and during the summer it is downright toasty inside.

No money for new curtains?  Check out thrift stores like Goodwill or garage sales for thick curtains and drapes.  Side note: is there a difference between curtains and drapes?  I've seen other people using plastic sheets over windows to further insulate their homes.  It's not pretty, but when you're trying to keep the drafts out, aesthetics can be the last of your worries!

We received one of those little fireplace heaters as a Christmas gift this past year.  It is cute, but most importantly Jack can't burn himself on it AND it keeps our place warm at a lower price point.  We have this one, but check craiglist, garage sales, and home improvement stores for end of season sales.   It doesn't heat up our room, but once the room is warmed using our inefficient wall heaters, I turn those off and fire up this bad boy.


A few months ago we turned our cable off as a money saving measure.  I purchased a $8 cord from Amazon that connects our computer to our TV.  Wendy from Surviving the Apocalypse in Suburbia asked me why we just don't watch TV on the laptop instead of connecting it to the TV.  Well, we made that move and saved on average $20 a month in utility bills.  Plus, having the laptop on my actual lap helped keep me warm in our freezing cold apartment.

To avoid paying to heat our place at night, after 7 pm, we only heat Jack's room.  We double up on the comforters in our room to beat back the chill.

When I bake, I try to bake at night.  That way, Jack is asleep when I'm done with the oven and I can leave the oven open door to utilize the "free heat".  We don't use the dry function on our dishwasher, so, I also use the heat from the oven to air-dry the larger dishes after I wash them.  

I also line dry all our clothes.  Year round.  In Seattle.  So yeah, it can be done!  Details here

Lighting
Pros: CFL bulbs are loads better than regular incandescent bulbs.  They save energy and they don't give off nearly as much heat which can be big during summer months.  Cons: they also cost more and can't be thrown away in the garbage.  


Disposal - Home Depot will take back the bulbs for safe disposal.
Cost - yep, they're more expensive upfront, but they pay for themselves over time.  You can also usually get some for free from your local utility company.


LEDs are even better than CFL bulbs, but cost quite a bit more.  They too will last a long time and lower your bills enough to recoup the costs, but it is the initial investment that can get you.


And it goes without saying, turn lights off when you're leaving a room for more than a few minutes.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Free shipping on coconut oil today

I loooove coconut oil, but it's pretty expensive if you buy it at the grocery store. I use it for everything from making cakes to popping popcorn.  Vegetable oil is darn icky, and coconut oil is a healthful replacement.

I've been on the hunt for a bulk purchase location, but buying a gallon of oil tends to be fairly pricey when you have to ship it across the country.  Tropical Traditions has a great sale on packages and if you buy by midnight tonight, you get free shipping.  Enter code 41118 prior to check out.  It is a savings of about $15, and their coconut oil is very high quality.

I am not a Tropical Traditions affiliate, nor do I receive anything for posting this.  It's a good deal, so I wanted to share it!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mostly Homemade Mondays

Postscript: So I drafted this post yesterday and scheduled it to post on Monday (tomorrow).  Whoopsie, got the day wrong.  So, this week it's mostly homemade Sunday AND Monday! ;-D

A few blogs/sites that I like to read have days when people can post things and it's all linked up in 1 cool post.  Most of these blogs I pursue are food blogs.

This week when I went to read them I saw many had some new rules, one of which that if you're posting a recipe it shouldn't contain processed ingredients, white sugar, etc.  It is their site, and I'm more than happy to abide by their rules, but my problem is usually every recipe I made has some ingredient that comes from a can, box, or a jar. 

I make a lot of homemade stuff like bread, vanilla, yogurt, cleaning supplies, crackers, etc., but still I often have to rely on things purchased from a traditional grocery store to round out a meal.  Comparing myself to someone who makes cheese and sourdough starter from scratch accomplishes nothing for me.  Am I impressed by those who can do all that stuff?  Absolutely!  Do I wish I had time to make more stuff from scratch?  Yeppers!  But, I can't do it all, so instead I choose to pat myself on the back for what I can accomplish

So, if you're out there in the blogsphere (man that is an obnoxious term!) and are in the same boat as me, I welcome you to post a favorite recipe or tip/trick to Mostly Homemade Mondays*.  It's a series for people who are striving for better food and a better lifestyle, but for whatever reason need a helping hand from a pre-made ingredient now and then. 

*And because I find Sandra Lee oh so annoying, this is in no way related to her series.

The ground rules:
1) knock yourself out in being creative.  Want to share a new recipe?  Cool.  Want to post a photo of something you made?  Rock on with your bad self.  Want to talk about a dresser you bought from a thrift store and refurbished?  Back that truck up cause that is something I want to see!

2) Some part of your post should be "homemade".  While a post on the Hamburger Helper you made last night doesn't seem to cut the bill, making your own casserole from  meat and noodles that you didn't make from wheat you grew yourself is something to crow about!

3) If you want to, go ahead and note on your post that you're linking to this series.  And if you don't want to?  Well, that is no skin off my nuts.  Awesome saying courtesy of a junior high friend.

So, let's get started!

Churn baby churn

Last week I read this post by Ashley English and knew I wanted to try my hand at making butter. Apparently butter making is not something that takes place too much these days.  I found this out when I sent a friend a text saying "Jack and I are going to make butter this weekend"!  She responded with "you mean like with a churn"?  My answer "bwahaaa, no with a cuisinart".

Ashley has great instructions on the particulars.  Basically take 2 cups of heavy cream and let it come to room temperature or about 72 degrees.  Our place is wicked cold, so after  3 hours, I had to help out the "room temperature" aspect with 15 seconds in the microwave.

Step 1: ask your assistant to add the cream to a food processor:

 Step 2: whip for 5-8 minutes:
Step 3: place butter mass in a sieve and allow it to drip for a while:

Step 4: rinse butter in a bowl in cold water until the water runs clear:
Step 5: If you want salt added, do it now.  With butter on a cutting board, press it with your hands or a spoon to remove moisture.  This part took the longest for me and my right arm got very sore.  I'd love to make butter again, but will definitely look for an easier way to remove the moisture in the future:
Step 6: ask your assistant for an official taste test:
Homemade butter on homemade bread?  "More pwease mommy"!
My 2 cups made about 8 oz.  I transferred to jelly jars, covered with a paper towel and lid, and then turned them upside down overnight to drain off any excess moisture.  The results is gorgeous whipped butter:

This post is also posted on Frugal Tip Tuesdays, Real Food Wednesdays, Simple Lives Thursdays, and Pennywise Thursdays

Meal plan for April 17-23

I hope you may be able to glean some ideas from my menu.  Happy meal planning everyone!

Sunday - homemade chicken salad sandwiches, sliced avocado, home canned fruit, and tomato soup

Monday - Grilled chicken and apple sausage, grilled artichokes, and homemade mashed potatoes

Tuesday - Turkey ham, peas, and homemade garlic bread

Wednesday - Enchiladas, spanish rice, and crockpot black beans

Thursday - I'm working late and Troy is is at his internship.  I ain't makin' nothing.  In laws will feed J, and I'll probably make some eggs when I get home.

Friday - homemade Hawaiian pizza, peas, and home canned fruit

Saturday - chicken fettuccine, a veggie, and homemade garlic bread

This is a menu that helps clean out my freezer and pantry.  The only things I'm buying for this week are 2 chicken breasts, fresh veggies, fettucine, and avocado.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Crispy brussel sprouts

Raise your hand if you love bacon!  Wow, that is a lot of hands up!

Raise your hand if you love brussel sprouts!  Anyone?  Bueller?  Bueller?

Growing up we never ate brussel sprouts because my mom didn't like them.  As a result, I always assumed they were pretty nasty and as a member of the vegetable family they were already enemy #1 in my eyes.  I finally had them a few years ago at a fancy pants restaurant when I was throwing a big corporate event and wow I was shocked they could taste GOOD.

Yesterday I found some of the last sprouts of the season at our market and thought I could attempt to recreate the ones I had eaten at the fancy restaurant.

Crispy brussel sprouts ala Sarah

Ingredients
4 strips of bacon...we're off to a wonderful start!
1+ lbs of brussel sprouts washed, trimmed, and halved
1/2 tsp of sea salt
1/4 tsp of black pepper
Olive oil for drizzling

In a 400 degree oven, cook the bacon in a cookie sheet with edges or in Pyrex baking dish.  After 10 minutes remove bacon from the pan and set aside.  Toss the sprouts in the bacon grease and drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top.  Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.  Return to oven for 15 minutes.

In a frying pan on the stove, cook the bacon until crispy.

After 15 minutes, stir sprouts and make sure they are all cut side down in the pan.  Cook for another 5-7 minutes then broil under a watchful eye until you see leaves crisping up.  Toss with now crispy bacon and serve immediately.

This is also posted on Real Food Wednesdays.

Friday, April 15, 2011

So yeah, I have ads now

Troy got laid off again this week.  The company eliminated his position company-wide, so it affects quite a few people.

So, I have an ad now.  I didn't really want to get one, and feel free to completely ignore it!  And just because it is there doesn't mean I necessarily endorse the product or anything like that.

xoxo,
Sarah

Let me cut to the Chase

JP Morgan Chase, you're fired.  I want you and your fees out of my life.  I want your big mega-bank rules and regulations to hit the road.  Don't look back, because I'm not.

I know you'll cry foul and say that the Dodd-Frank bill has "tied your hands" and forced you to charge me fees for the "privilege" of having an account with you.  But, I can't abide by you crying poor and still making $4.8 billion in profits in the 2nd quarter of last year.  And you're also getting rid of reward checking.  I don't agree with you, but I respect capitalism and think you have every right to run your business the way you see fit.

As a consumer, I too have a right to run my family "business" however I prefer, and $120 a year in fees is not a practice we embrace.

I buy my milk, eggs, honey, and meat locally.  And now?  Now I'm adding banking locally to my repertoire.  I've joined a credit union that will reward me with doing my business there.  There are plenty of local branches, and if for some reason I need to use another bank's ATM, they will reimburse me for those fees.  And when I call them with a question, they pick up the phone.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I have garden envy

I need to stop reading some blogs because I have a wicked case of garden envy.

We've been apartment dwellers for 7 years now, and our place in LA had some gardening space.  Our current location has a patch that I took over and cultivated, and I've taken advantage of our deck for pots in the past.

This year however, we're moving in 2 weeks and then moving 2 months after that.  I'm beyond thankful for our new housing situation, but I'm totally missing out on the summer gardening season.  I'll be in time to take advantage of fall planting, and plan to cold frame my ass off to extend the season.  Next week I will also plant 2 big pots full of peas and will convert one to a tomato pot at some point.  I'm also getting 2 blueberry bushes in a whiskey barrel because I told Troy what I wanted and where to buy it hoping to be gifted something garden related for Mother's day.  This will have to carry me until next year. 

Next year...look out, for I will be garden balls to garden wall.

Not for the faint of heart

Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese.  SO GOOD, but so bad for you.  I firmly believe that you need fat in your diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but this recipe pushes that idea to the edge...and then punts it over the side of a high cliff. 

This recipe makes A TON, so going forward I will make a batch, but put it uncooked in to 3 or 4 separate freezer-proof containers to store for future meals.  If you freeze it, add the topping when you thaw it out later.

For this recipe, I actually followed things very closely, but substituted Gorgonzola in lieu of blue cheese, used gouda instead of pepper jack, used dried parsley instead of fresh, and used 2 cups of panko.

Ingredients

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup hot sauce (preferably Frank's)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 pound yellow sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 1/2 cups)
8 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
2/3 cup sour cream
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and garlic and cook 2 minutes, then add 1/2 cup hot sauce and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 more minute.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and mustard with a wooden spoon until smooth. Whisk in the half-and-half, then add the remaining 1/4 cup hot sauce and stir until thick, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, then whisk in the sour cream until smooth.

Spread half of the macaroni in the prepared baking dish, then top with the chicken mixture and the remaining macaroni. Pour the cheese sauce evenly on top.

Put the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave until melted. Stir in the panko, blue cheese and parsley. Sprinkle over the macaroni and bake until bubbly, 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shame on you Chicago Public Schools

Warning: my soapbox is going to be stacked on other soapboxes for this post.  And I'm pissed, so expect run on sentences.

Chicago Public Schools has banned students bringing lunches from home. Yesterday I was alerted to this issue via a friend, and I've been pissed off ever since.  How.freaking.dare.you.Chicago.Schools. 

I "get" that the root of the matter is an effort to have kids make healthier eating choices, but this is going about it all wrong.  Forcing a child and therefore a family to purchase a public school lunch is no more a healthy options than the soda and "flaming chips" you wish to ban.

Public school lunches are subsidized at the rate of about $.75 per meal by the USDA which in turn purchases disgusting fried surplus food.  20 years ago a chicken nugget was made out of chicken.  Now it's packed with 14+ ingredients that are a) NOT GOOD FOR YOU and b) merely an outlet for factory farms to unload crops they can't sell because the US government gives them too much money to grow it in the first place.  Corn and soy are not "health" food, and corn production alone is one of the top polluters of our waterways in this country.

So, now Chicago schools is inserting themselves in to student's homes and telling me that instead of the sandwich that I would send to school with my son made from homemade bread, homemade jam, and organic sunflower seed butter, I now have to shell out money each and every day so that my kid can buy processed chicken parts fried in corn oil and french fries.  Or perhaps you would instead serve him CAFO beef that has been fed a steady diet of corn (not a natural food for cows which results in sickness which then results in them needing antibiotics), chicken manure, and god knows what else.  Yeah, that is SO MUCH HEALTHIER than the sandwich, fruit, and cheese slices I would have packed for my child.  And could you imagine if I had the balls to also include a homemade chocolate chip cookie in his lunch?

Sure, a lot of kids out there are bringing crappy lunches, and yeah I get that the district is trying improve nutrition, but this is not the way to do it.  Instead of forcing a family to try and find the $2-3 per day required to purchase a lunch, how about opening a dialog about healthy eating?  And don't talk to me about budget cuts and state standardized testing resulting in no time for talk about healthy eating.  I come from a family of teachers and know 10 minutes at some point during the week can be found to address nutritious choices.

I'd love to see school lunches made more nutritious, but I understand that right now the cost of doing that is prohibitive. And if someone chooses to buy school lunch every day, that is their choice and I won't stand in the way of them making a choice that works for their family. The issue here is choice. What you feed your family is none of my damn business. Do Americans eat too much processed fatty foods? Yes, no one doubts that. But asking them to not bring chips to school so that you can in turn feed them fatty foods is NOT THE SOLUTION.

Growing up we packed our lunches most days, but buying school lunch was an occasional treat.  And field trips were so much fun because we got to take super crappy food that was never allowed in the house like Lunchables and kool aid type drinks. 

Thankfully, Chicago Schools have given parents an "out" if they still want to send a lunch to school with their kids.  All they need is a doctor's note saying that their child has a medical reason that requires them to bring their own food.  Attention Chicago parents, if you can find a doctor in your area, I have drafted a note for your doctor to sign:

Dear school official:


Please excuse (child's name) from purchasing school lunch each day this school year.


(child's name) is allergic to GMO bullshit food that is grown with chemicals that are shown to cause harm to people and the environment.  (child's name) prefers to eat real whole foods that are not overly processed and have actual  flavor provided via spices and healthy fats in lieu of MSG and artificial coloring and flavoring.


Sincerely,
awesome doctor who gets it
M.D.

New Wednesday series!

Just when I think I will run out of crap to spew at your guys, I think of something new!  Introducing...

The Frugal Girl's Guide to Going Green aka Sustainable because I hate the term "green"!

Phew, kind of a mouthful!  But it is true, I hate the term "green" because green has been so washed out in the media that people associate it with celebrity ass clowns who like to tout stupid things like they're "so green they brush their teeth in the shower".  Side eye to you Jennifer Aniston.  Brushing your teeth in the shower is SUCH a waste of money and resources.  When brushing your teeth OUT of the shower you're not (or shouldn't be) running the water for the whole 2 minutes.  So, how is standing under a stream of water while brushing your teeth a sustainable practice?

It is now to the point where I hear the term "green" or see it in print and cringe because I'm sure it is turning people off.  Instead of focusing on a great idea to live your life in a more sustainable fashion, people assume they have to have expensive gadgets and retro fit their house with $20k in solar panels in order to make a difference.  This new weekly Wednesday series is targeted to anyone out there who wants to incorporate changes in to their lives that will both make a difference AND help them save money without spending too much. 

Week 1: "Green" your cleaning
Spend $20 and invest in products that will clean almost anything in your whole house for about a year.  You heard me correctly - $20 will clean your house for 1 entire year.

When you go to the store to buy cleaning products, you're faced with 2 options:
1) buy cheap products that are harmful to your house, family, and environment - OR -
2) buy trendy environmentally friendly products with cutesy names that require you hold a bake sale in order to afford the purchase

I say, vote for option 3 - make it yourself.  Click the links below to view my recipes.

Toilet, shower, and sink scrub
Surface spray
Laundry detergent

For wood or tile floors, hot water and vinegar makes a great cleaning solution.

And now you're all set to clean your house safely, cheaply, and if you insist on using this term, in a "green" manner.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Pantry Challenge results!

Thanks all for participating! I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope we all have some barer shelves and freezers as a result.

To determine the winner, I made a list in order of appearance of all the comments on the posts and people linking their results on their blogs. I numbered that list and then used a random number generator. I'm having issues linking the widget, but the program chose #11 which is KEQ.  Congrats Kori on winning a sweet microplane grater. I will contact you to arrange shipment.

I'll do some more contests in the future as I store up enough swagbucks to be able to afford more giveaways!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Frozen pizza, the ultimate convenience food

When you've worked all day and are wiped when you get home, who wants to cook dinner? Not me! When this happens, most people order takeout, or run through the drive thru. When you're on a budget, this usually is not an option for you.

So, what is to be done? Why not consider making a stash of your own frozen pizzas to have on hand in the freezer? All the convenience without the take out prices.

Sarah's gourmet frozen pizza
Step 1) batch of homemade pizza dough. Make, roll out on pan sprinkled with cornmeal, and bake for 4-7 minutes. Allow to cool. Place on a cooking sheet that you're ok with not using for awhile, or use some cardboard.

Step 2) cover with toppings

Step 3) Freeze

Step 4) When frozen through, cover with plastic wrap or foil. Place back in the freezer.

When you go to use it, try and let it thaw out a bit (maybe an hour?) before baking, but it will bake fine if totally frozen. Bake at 450 degrees until the cheese is bubbling and looks toasty. Place it in the oven while the oven comes to appropriate temperature. This will give it a little bit of chance to thaw before it has to cook through.

Spend a few hours one afternoon and make a ton of these to have on hand. If you have various pizza tastes in your family, consider making "personal sized" pizzas.

Variations just prepping the dough:
Bake the pizza dough for 7 minutes. If you're making multiple, pies freeze with waxed paper separating the dough.

I buy mozzarella in bulk and then grate it with my food processor. I store it in quart sized Ziplocs in the freezer. We always have toppings stored in the freezer as well.

If you have pizza dough and toppings ready to go, you can always make your own pizza the day of, instead of premaking the whole pie. This is a great option if you're a fickle pizza eater and can never decide on toppings ahead of time! ;-D

Friday, April 8, 2011

Psst...

:ring ring:

"Hello".

"Hi, is this the month of April?  Yes, April this is Sarah.  Is everything ok?  Are you sick or something?  Oh, you're not?  Well, um how in the hell do you explain this"...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sprinkles of Beverly Hills strawberry cupcakes

I lived in Los Angeles for 4 years, and was often caught up in the "cupcake craze" of the mid to late 2000's.  People would stand in line for 20 minutes at Sprinkles on Little Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills just to buy a cupcake for $4.  You heard me right.  $4.  For 1 cupcake.

I worked for a big corporate company that was less than 1 mile from Sprinkles.  Birthdays and other special occasions would have us running there for a dozen cupcakes at the low low price of ~$32.  It was like crack.

So, last year when I was looking for a cupcake recipe, and my friend Maura sent me a recipe that was advertised as just like Sprinkles, I quickly made them and have not looked back.  These cupcakes are divine and are fairly simple. 

WARNING: these cupcakes can and will insight mischief and thievery.  My father in law and my husband's uncle co-conspired to steal and hide some at Jack's birthday party on Sunday.  Shameful! ;-D

I've tweaked the original recipe that Maura gave me to better suit our tastes.

Strawberry cupcakes

Makes 1 dozen

* 2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
* 1 1/2 cups bread flour, sifted (original recipe calls for all-purpose)
* 2.5 heaping teaspoons baking powder (original recipe calls for 1 tsp)
* 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
* 1/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature (original recipe calls for whole milk, but we prefer buttermilk)
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (try homemade!)
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1 cup evaporated cane juice crystals (original recipe called for white sugar)
* 1 large egg, room temperature
* 2 large egg whites, room temperature (buy some cream and use the leftover yolks to make ice cream!)
Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.

2. Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.

4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.

5. With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.

6. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

These are amazing with my homemade cream cheese frosting.
Pin It

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Now I have this amazing cake...what do I do with it?

So, you baked my awesome chocolate cake, and now you need to snaz it up, because let's be honest chocolate cake is simply a useful vehicle for getting frosting in to your mouth.

Allrecipes.com again saved the day.  I seriously need some advertising funding from these people because I pimp them hardcore!

My go-to cream cheese frosting recipe

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream the cream cheese and butter together in a mixer on high until light and fluffy.  Slowly add in sugar and vanilla.  If you want to use this to decorate, add more sugar for a stiffer frosting.  Add a pinch of salt in this case to counteract the sweetness.

And a great chocolate frosting recipe

2 cups butter (no substitutes), softened
9 cups confectioners' sugar
2 1/2 cups baking cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Cream the butter in a mixer on high, and slowly add in the other ingredients.  This recipe makes A LOT, so I cut everything down to 8 servings:
1/2 cup of butter, softened
2 1/4 cups of powdered sugar
3/4 cup of cocoa
1/2 tsp of vanilla
1/4 cup of milk

Out of powdered sugar?  Try making your own!  And for shits and giggles, make your own vanilla as well!

Jack's dino cake was made courtesy of this cake pan.  A great friend who decorates amazing cakes sent me a cake decorating kit, and recommended I use Wilton food gel coloring.  The colors were awesome!  The cake pan and gels were free using Amazon giftcards I've accumulated using Swagbucks.

Cake:

Orange scales:

Yellow tummy:

White claws, teeth, and a blue eye:

Happy boy:

Bonus party photos
A Super "J" cape my sister got him:
A dino tail my mom found on Etsy (look at that belly?  I loooove that belly!):
You know what happens when you beg people to please keep in mind that you don't want your child to have a ton of plastic toys and then you remind them you need to move twice in 2 months?  They completely ignore you:
And some gratuitous Jack shots.  You know how many of those toys we bought?  3.  My mom and MIL may need to tone it down...:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pantry Challenge - final week!

Well, this week the budget went right out the window.  We had Jack's party and there were probably 30 people there.  As far as this week goes, I didn't purchase much.  We needed milk, eggs, a few veggies, and some meat.

Monday - Jack's birthday dinner!  I picked some of his favorite things and we had blueberry "cakies" (pancakes), bacon, and "eggies".  I purchased the buttermilk for the cakies, and the blueberries were from the freezer.  I bought bacon, and eggs came in our milkman delivery.

Tuesday - Tonight we're having oven fried chicken, coleslaw, and crockpot baked beans. I  bought 1 more chicken breast and cabbage.

Wednesday - Chinese chicken salad with leftover chicken and cabbage from Tuesday.  The dressing is homemade and leftover from Jack's party.  I'm pairing it with lumpia that a coworker made for me.

Thursday - Shepard's pie, Asian sugar peas.  I purchased the peas for this.

Friday - I'm working late, so I'm making a pizza on Thursday and freezing it.  We're having homemade "frozen pizza".  Leftover salad from Jack's party.

Saturday - I'm making mac & cheese and we'll have some random veggie from the freezer.

Sunday - Family dinner at my parent's house.

Last week's "bonus" point goes to Tree Huggin' Momma for a freezer/pantry beef dish and coconut rice.

The world's best chocolate cake

Well, at least according to me and a few people at Jack's birthday party on Sunday.

I used this recipe from allrecipes.com but tweaked it to make it a little "healthier" and to use less processed items.  It's also easy enough that you can make it with a two year old kitchen helper.

Chocolate cake a'la Sarah
1/2 cup of organic evaporated cane juice (It's basically really coarse sugar you can buy at Costco)
3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa, plus however much Jack snuck in when I wasn't paying attention
2 cups of all purpose flour...but I think I used bread flour
1 tsp of salt
2 tsp of baking soda
1 heaping tsp of baking powder

Mix dry ingredients.  Add 1 box of chocolate pudding mix (5.9 oz), 1 cup + a lil extra sour cream, 4 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup of warm water, and 1 cup of oil.  I don't like vegetable oil.  At all.  I made a "test" cake 2 weeks ago to prep for the party and used walnut oil.  It gave off a weird fish taste, so I do not recommend walnut oil!  This time I used enough melted coconut oil to yield 1 cup plus a little extra.  Mix all of this stuff.

Then add ~ 2 cups of chocolate chips.  Mixture will be extremely thick.  It was almost like brownie batter.  Spoon in to a buttered and floured baking pan of your choice.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 47 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack.  Allow it to fully cool in the pan. 

Tomorrow - frosting and decorating!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Green Goddess dressing

From my fridge to your salad.

In honor of Jack's birthday, this week will be focused on foods I made for his birthday party last week.  I had multiple requests for various recipes, so I'll post one per day.

For the salad yesterday, I made my homemade ranch, Asian Sesame, and Green Goddess dressing.  For the Green Goddess, I stole this recipe from allrecipes.com but tweaked it to what I had on hand.  My version is below.

1/3 cup of white wine vinegar, plus a few splashes of apple cider vinegar
3 bunches of green onions finely diced
2 tsp of dried parsley (if you had fresh, use 1 bunch.  That is what will give it the "green" color)
2 tsp of anchovy paste
1/4 tsp of salt
Juice from 1/2 of a lemon
2 cups of mayo
1/2-1 tsp of tarragon

Mix in a container and allow the flavors to "marinate" for 24 hrs in the fridge.  Then try it and see if you need to tweak anything.

Two YEATS!

Errr, that would be two years. TWO YEATS is what you hear from Jack when you ask him how old he will be on his next birthday. Well, that birthday has snuck up on us, and I somehow find myself being the momma to a two year old man child.

Oh Jackie Jack, you are a delight. You keep your Poppy and I laughing so hard that sometimes I fear we'll collectively pee our pants. Your Poppy says that having you around is like having a tiny Bill Murray living in our house. You have your father's comedic timing, and your momma's love of all things mischevious.

It is so hard being two, but you are doing your best to be so good. Things can get frustrating for you, but you always take a deep breath when momma asks you too and that usually calms you right down. You wake up in the morning and the second you're done nursing you say "play" and rush off to the livingroom and the waiting arms of your proud Poppy.

You know so many words and speak in such great ESL sentences that sometimes I have a hard time remembering you're only 24 months old. I love that you love learning and choose books over almost anything. Your imagination has me wishing I could live in your creative little head because it must be so fun and happy there.

Every momma is proud of their kid, but somehow you've made me push the acceptable limit and I'm often bursting at the seams with pride. You are such a kind boy and are so polite; "please" and "thank you" are words that we rarely have to remind you to use. You were fully potty trained by 23 months, and you still are so excited each and every time you go "pee pee on the potty".

You love with a kind of love that eharmony.com wishes they could bottle and sell. Even though you don't know how to be super gentle with cousin "Parkah", you're often tackling him to try to hug him, rather than out of spite.

This isn't just a mother's pride speaking - you are seriously one of the brightest little munchkins I've ever met. I was so impressed with you when you told the 8 year old boy on the airplane that his dinosaur was an "Iguanodon" and it uses it "claw to jab foe". And you had to tell him this information because he didn't know. You surprise me every day with what you pick up, and are a constant reminder that I need to watch my language least you tell an errantic Lil Tykes car driver to fuck off some day on the playground.

You have your father's unconditional kindness and I hope you never lose that. You also have his calves, and well, let's just say that leg modeling could potentially be in your future. The two of you have the same little furrowed brows when you're thinking, and I love watching the wheels turn in your head while you try to figure out something new.

Speaking of your Poppy, he loves you so much and it makes him so happy that you guys are besties. You may not understand this now, but many daddies and sons out there in this world don't have the type of relationship you two have. Your father will never allow someone to say he is babysitting you, because a real father doesn't babysit his own child. You are the first thing on his mind when he wakes up, and the last thing he thinks about when his head hits the pillow. When he's had a long day at the fire station, he comes home and will watch you sleep in your crib for up to 20 minutes.

When the two of your hang out alone at home, I know that I will be greeted with a completely trashed house completed with a giant fort and every toy you own on the floor. But your laughter and smile from playing with your Poppy makes it worth it...even when I'm cleaning bubble residue off the TV, or prying a ninja sword out from under the bookshelf.

From me, you've gotten your love of adventure, your desire to collect as much information as you possibly can, and a strong core belief that you can do things on your own. Unfortunately, you've also seem to have developed my bossiness. We'll work on that together.

I adore that you love helping me cook and bake. Even though it takes 4 times as long to make something, and 10 times longer to it clean up, I look forward to turning around from the counter and seeing the chair you've brought over as you declare "Jackie help".

These next few years will be huge for you as you continue to learn, gain independence, and expand your world. Poppy and I can't wait to be there with you to hold your hand when you ask for it, and give you little nudges when you need it.

xoxo,
Mommy
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