Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So much to do, so little time . . .

The other day I was talking on the front porch with my husband and neighbors and I mentioned that I was upset at how less energetic I had been feeling. They all were surprised (except for my husband) as they thought I was one of the most energetic people they knew. I guess in retrospect I can handle and do a lot, but there is definitely a slow down . . . and maybe that's a good thing. Maybe instead of thinking about all the things I'd like to do, I should be concentrating on what I'm doing now and accept that I can't do everything but instead should do a few things "better." Make sense?

I have a ton of ideas in my head . . . projects I'd like to start, "improvements" on my home, myself and my family life . . . changes in our eating, health, living . . . the list goes on and on. It's hard to decide where to start - what is most important?

To help myself focus, I've decided to make a list of my top priorities and then determine ways I can work on/with them each week. Hopefully this will keep me from attempting everything at once and create some meaningful changes versus just a bunch of new short lived trials.

Since I love a good project . . . here we go . . .

Monday, August 30, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Friday ended up being quite the night. I knew I'd have my family and a friend and his kids to feed - ended up being our next door neighbors, their parents, and another set of neighbors. Amazingly I had plenty of food - not a bit of leftovers however! Just goes to show that being ready to entertain can lead to some fun and stress free times!

This week is an unusual menu plan since it's a holiday weekend and the kids are going to stay with my in-laws for a few nights:


Monday - grilled chicken, grilled veggies (whatever is left in the fridge!)
Tuesday - "snack plate" (hummus, pita, roasted red pepper, bruschetta, leftover grilled veggies, feta, etc.)
Wednesday - brat patties (from Farmer's market - yum!), grilled peppers and onions, baked potatoes
Thursday - homemade pizza
Friday - burgers on the grill, homemade buns, corn, potato salad
Saturday - out
Sunday - pulled pork in crockpot, salad

Breakfast -

Monday - cereal/ fruit
Tuesday - eggs/toast/ bacon
Wednesday - smoothies/ waffles
Thursday - cereal/ fruit
Friday - eggs/ toast/ bacon

HOT DEAL THIS WEEK - Whole Foods is having a one day sale Friday on grass fed beef $3.99/lb. Since it'll be a few weeks until our cow is here, I'm going to stock up on enough to last us until then!

Check out their blog for the details: Whole Foods Blog

For more great menu plans, check over at Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Entertaining on a budget

How I love to entertain! I really enjoy having friends over for food and drinks. The kids get to play, we get to connect and have fun with our friends. It's just a good time all around. Now that it's fall, we actually tend to entertain more often. The weather is nice to be outside, so everyone comes out to watch their kids play and before you know it, I have a spontaneous party on my hands!

It probably does seem spontaneous to most of my friends, but actually, there is a bit of planning involved on my part - that's what keeps it easy and frugal. A few things I do:

1. Menu Plan - Early in the week, I'll see if we'll be home for the weekend - if so, when I do my menu plan, I plan something for Friday and Saturday that can easily be expanded to feed extras.

2. Have kids food on hand - I also stock up on typical kids food when they go on sale so that I can feed picky kids with ease (I have an amazing supply of mac and cheese and Capri Sun on hand even though we don't eat those items ourselves often). This can stretch a meal to feed extras and the kids prefer it anyway.

3. Prepare appetizer food ahead of time - salsa, dip, etc. nice to have on hand for your family for the weekend, and a plus if people drop by.

4. Signature drinks - I'm known for my fun and different drinks, but in reality I simply keep my eyes open for a simple (and budget stretching) drink recipe and then make a pitcher or two - much cheaper than different drinks for everyone and I can typically keep the ingredients on hand.

For example, it's a beautiful day today, so as I was prepping for dinner, I made up enough to feed some extras - we are having cuban sandwiches, so it's easy to expand the fixings and I'll present it on a platter so everyone can make their own. If we don't eat it all, no sweat, I have lunch prepared for tomorrow or Sunday!

I made up a batch of salsa last night, and will also make up some guacamole while the pork roast is on the grill.

Finally, I found a fun, festive latin drink that is made by the pitcher - so, if enough people come over I'll whip up a few pitchers. If not, I have the ingredients on hand for next time. Easy, peasy!

Since the work day is about over and I hear the kids playing outside, I'm going to go put some music on and start prepping the guac - I'm sure a fun time will follow!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chance to join Pinecone!

Pinecone is currently accepting applications for females. This is a great site that I've been a part of for years. The surveys are very easy, and you get paid $3 in your paypal account very quickly - usually within a few days. They also sometimes send products to review which is always fun. I typically do a few surveys a month, so it keeps my paypal account in a bit of cash - perfect for online deals that use paypal or ebay purchases!

They don't accept applications all the time, so I was excited to see that they are now!

Pinecone Research

Fun and inexpensive date night!

Last night was date night - we haven't had regular ones this summer, but now that schools in full swing, we have one of our moms watching the kids a few days each week - that means date night without the sitter costs!

I needed to go to Trader Joe's for a few staples - I know, not the most exciting evening, but a whole lot more fun with just my spouse than the whole family! It's a bit of a drive, but luckily I had a gift card in my stash for Bonefish Grill. Plus, on Wednesday nights they have $5 Bang Bang Shrimp (YUMMY!) and $5 drink specials.

So, we sat in the bar, ordered two Bang Bang Shrimps, a drink for me, and water for both of us. Including tip, our total was $20. My $25 gift card covered the cost with $5 left for next time!

I keep a stash of gift cards in my car and we often look at them first when we feel like going out. It saves a lot of money and since most of them were free or discounted to start with, makes for cheap or free outings.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Movie Ticket for $4 thru Fandango

Today only, head over to Groupon and snatch up a $4 Fandango ticket. Go to Orange County as the city. I love to go to the movies, but can't bear to pay full price, so this one was right up my alley! I might have to drag my hubby to the movies for date night next week! Or maybe take my daughter out for a mommy and daughter date night this weekend. Either way, it's a good deal - note the fine print, ticket has to be used by February 2011.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fun & Easy Surveys

I do a few surveys here and there for extra cash or prizes. My requirement is that the survey has to be fast and easy - I don't have hours to spend on the internet for a minimum return. HCD surveys fit that bill - they tend to be only a few minutes and typically require a short video which is interesting and a different format. The points add up pretty quickly and tend to be around 50 points each. 1000 points is equal to $10. So, if you start now and do a survey or two a week, you should easily have some extra cash by Christmas!


Free Sample of Cheetos

I'm not a big fan of Cheetos, but my son is - and though I'll avoid buying him a big bag, he'll certainly enjoy getting a small sample in the mail. Moderation is my mojo, so as long as we eat well 80% of the time, a few unhealthy items won't kill us!

That being said, if you like Cheetos, Walmart has a free sample right now - it'll go fast, so hurry on over:


Monday, August 23, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

That time of the week again! Actually, I did my menu planning last night. I sat out on our new front patio while the kids played with a few recipes I've wanted to try and a few cookbooks for inspiration. The weather was perfect and it was a great way to wind down a Sunday evening while planning for the upcoming week!


Monday - fish tacos (picked up some fresh wild caught Pacific Cod today)
Tuesday - Vegetable panini on homemade sourdough bread
Wednesday - date night - no plans yet!
Thursday - "fried" chicken legs, potato salad
Friday - Cubano sandwiches, fried plantains, slushy mojitos
Saturday - homemade pizza
Sunday - chicken curry

Good variety, and I didn't have to spend much at the grocery today.


Monday - cereal, strawberries
Tuesday - eggs, bacon, fruit
Wednesday - soaked pancakes, maple syrup, frozen blueberries
Thursday - oatmeal, fruit
Friday - eggs, bacon, fruit
Saturday - farmer's market (pick up something there)
Sunday - homemade cinnamon rolls

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Another amazing savings opportunity

Well, just after I mentioned Groupon yesterday, what do they do? Go and post an amazing deal today - it seems to be in all cities. I haven't purchased any of my kids back to school clothes yet, but after today, I'll have a good place to start. Today only, you can purchase a $50 certificate to GAP for $25. That's 50% off! Best of all, the fine print mentions it can be used on sale items (although not combined with other offers). Expires November 19, 2010. So, you could probably end up with a pretty sweet deal. Run over to Groupon today and pick one up!

Also, if you missed the Nutty Guys promo yesterday at Eversave, it seems to be valid today also. I just placed an order for a pound of dried pineapple, a pound of dried bananas, 8 oz. of dried cantelope and 8 oz. of yogurt covered cranberries. My total with shipping and the Eversave deal was $6.49. Add in the Eversave purchase price of $1 (minus the $5 new customer deal), and I paid $7.49 for all that fruit - pretty good and will make some nice additions to granola and trail mix for the fall!

As with any other deal, make sure you read the fine print and decide if the deal will work for you before you purchase!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eversave - cool new $$ saving program!

I know I've mentioned Groupon before as one of my favorite money saving sites, but today I found another one - and they have a terrific deal today in my city. It's a web based deal, so even if you don't live near Indianapolis, you could take advantage:

Have you heard of Eversave? They feature 50 Percent -90 Percent off on
restaurants, spas, local activities and online deals. Its free to get their
email, and first time buyers get $5 to use towards their first purchase. Click
the link to signup for Eversaves daily newsletter: Eversave

Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting into the groove!

This has been a good start to our school year. I have been able to keep a nice, easy flow to our days and haven't overbooked us. The house has stayed fairly clean, and we've had some fun.

Now that things are moving along well, I need to get myself back into my routines. I started today with a new yoga class - it felt terrific! I also took a quick 20 minute walk after lunch. If I could incorporate some yoga and a short walk each day, I think it would help my state of mind immensely. I also found a terrific resource for massages! Call your local hospital or woman's health center and ask if they offer massages - one of ours does, and a thirty minute (heavenly) back and shoulder massage is only $30. Plus, you can't tip (I tried!). It made me feel so relaxed and content I booked one every other week for the next month.

So, in conjunction with eating better, I'll hopefully begin to add in some easy exercising and stay healthy for the remainder of the year!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Here come the tomatoes!

Well, our tomatoes are finally starting to ripen! My husband tried growing them by seed this year, and since they were very small when he was ready to move them, he bought a few more to supplement - now they are ALL ripening! I've already been through jalapenos (bumper crop!), cucumbers and basil (I have enough pesto in the freezer for the whole winter!).

Last year I dried a ton of tomatoes - we use them on pizza, with pasta and in dips. I actually still have plenty of those, so this year I'm concentrating on sauce. I make a super simple, generic sauce and I can use it on pizza, in place of canned tomatoes in soups, and with pasta. I'm afraid to can (really need to get over that!), so I typically make batches and freeze it. It comes out of the freezer a little watery, but still tastes terrific.

Here's how it goes:

Preheat oven to 250.
Half or slice (big chunks) tomatoes.
Place into a 9x13 glass pan.
Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle salt, pepper and any herbs you like over top.
Add onions or garlic chopped finely if you'd like.
Put in the oven for an hour and a half or until the skin slides off and the tomatoes are soft. Take the skins off and discard (or use for compost).
Cool, put in blender and blend until smooth.
Use or freeze!

How simple is that? I have a couple pans in the oven right now!

Any good ideas for jalapenos? I have frozen more than we will ever use, and given away a ton, but there are still more coming!!!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cranberry Zucchini Bread

I used to only make this at Christmas - because of the pretty green and red colors, but it is actually my favorite zucchini bread, so now I keep cranberries and shredded zucchini in the freezer so I can make it year round.

The recipe is loosely based upon a standard zucchini bread recipe from a Taste of Home magazine, but I've made so many changes over the years . . .

Cranberry Zucchini Bread(makes 2 loaves)

3 cups of flour (I use whole wheat)
2/3 c. sugar
2-1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. nutmeg
3 eggs
1-1/2 cups shredded zucchini
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. oil (I use coconut)
3/4 c. applesauce
1 T. vanilla
1 c. chopped fresh or frozen cranberries

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. In another bowl, beat eggs; add zucchini, oil, applesauce and vanilla.
3. Stir wet ingredients into dry just until blended.
4. Fold in the cranberries.
5. Pour into two loaf pans, bake at 350 for 50 - 60 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

I've always planned our menus - helps me eliminate that 5:00 "what do we have for dinner" rush! I've found that with the changes I've made in our eating habits, planning is even more important. So, I've added another element to my weekly plan - "prep" - this helps me remember to soak beans, take meat out of the freezer, etc.

School starts this week, so having breakfast planned helps the mornings run smoothly! Lunches always consist of leftovers, sandwiches or something from the freezer (I freeze lunch size portions of larger meals).

Here's this week's "newly improved" meal plan:

Monday - brkst: zucchini-cranberry bread (YUMMY! I'll post the recipe tomorrow)
dinner: Milanese turkey cutlets, garlic zucchini & tomatoes
prep: thaw turkey breast for Wed night, make cupcakes for teachers lunch

Tuesday - brkst: eggs, smoothies
dinner: pork stir-fry (leftover pork from Sun/veggies/brown rice)
prep: soak batter for biscuits

Wednesday - brkst: whole wheat cinnamon waffles
dinner: turkey breast, green beans, potatoes, biscuits
prep: soak beans and rice

Thursday - brkst: eggs, biscuits with honey
dinner: beans and rice (w/ lettuce, cheese, sour cream, salsa)
prep: soak oatmeal

Friday - brkst: cereal/oatmeal, yogurt
dinner: turkey noodle soup
prep: soak batter for pancakes

Saturday - brkst: pancakes
dinner: leftover buffet
prep: make dish for church picnic tomorrow

Sunday - dinner: brats with peppers and onions, homemade buns

For more great menu plans, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Improving our eating

Since January it seems that we have had a run of health issues - nothing serious, just annoying colds, infections, etc. I can't help but think that by improving our eating we can improve our overall health. I've slowly been making steps to eat more whole foods, cook better quality foods and just overhaul our diet.

However, with a husband and two kids I can't do it all at once - I'd have mutiny on my hands. So, I've been taking little steps. A few things I've done so far:

- Cut back on buying processed food, and when I still buy it, find a healthier alternative.

- Found a local source for farm fresh, free range, pastured eggs.

- Switched to whole wheat flour (started at half and half, then 3/4 to 1/4, now full).

- Started soaking grains to aide in digestion (still working on this one)

- Replaced most oils with coconut and olive oil

There are still a lot of changes I want to make - I'm looking for a source for grass fed beef and organically fed pigs. If I can find that, I plan on buying 1/4 to 1/2 for our freezer. I did just find a source for pastured, organically raised chickens at a good price and I'm picking up 5 for the freezer Monday. I'll attempt to start using those instead of boneless, skinless breasts from the supermarket.

My plan for the rest of the year is to make one small change a week. This week it has been soaking grains. I made the best soaked whole wheat pancakes this morning - my son asked for seconds. Tonight I'll attempt soaking brown rice for dinner tomorrow night. The soaking only takes seconds, but it does require some advance planning. Eventually I hope to eliminate most (if not all) of our processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, msg, etc. I hope that by this time next year, my pantry and fridge will look dramatically different and we'll be well on the way to a healthier lifestyle!