Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Works For Me Wednesday: Menu Planning

I really like planning my menus ahead. Not only does it save me money, it also saves time thinking about what I should cook each day. But I found that I was having trouble thinking up things to cook when I sat down to make up my menus.

It really helped me to come up with a plan for dinners for each day of the week:
Monday-Cook's Choice(Most Mondays we eat at our small group Bible study.)
Tuesday-Soup, Salad, or Sandwich
Thursday-Crockpot or something from my freezer
Friday-Cook's Choice
Saturday-Breakfast for dinner
Sunday-Snack-type "fun" foods

To get me started, I wrote down all of the foods we like in the different categories. Now when I have trouble coming up with a meal plan, I consult my list. I also get ideas from looking at what ingredients I have on hand! This isn't set in stone; a lot of weeks, I won't follow this plan exactly. After all, there is no rule stating that I can't switch things around! Since I love the creative outlet of cooking and trying new recipes, Cook's Choice is my favorite day to plan.

Other ideas are having a pasta night, pizza night or casserole night. You can plan whatever works for your family and unique situation.

Using this method to plan my menus has been a real time-saver, so it definitely works for me!

As always, many thanks to Shannon for hosting WFMW! Be sure to check out Rocks In My Dryer for many more great tips and ideas!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Keep Your Gift Box Filled!

I love to give gifts, but often my funds are quite lacking in that area. So I do what my mom and many other frugal ladies do- I keep a gift box going all year long. Many of these items are bought on sale, from the clearance rack or yard sales. The dollar store is also a great place to find little gift items. I try to keep my selections pretty generic so I can use them for more people! I thought I would share some of the items that I like to keep ready for gifts:

1) Baskets and other little containers- I often do little theme baskets so these come in handy and are found easily at thrift stores or yard sales.

2) Candles and/or potpourri

3)Books- mostly inspirational, poems or devotional types that I have found very cheap($1 or less) at a discount Christian store in a neighboring town. I also find some nice small cookbooks at yard sales that are great for a kitchen-themed basket.

4)Coffee Mugs-to fill with tea bags or drink mixes.

5)Coloring books, bubbles, notebooks, art supplies for the kids.

6)Journals, stationary and cards- I love these so I figure other people do too!LOL!!

7)Bath soaps and lotions

8)Baby items-I try to keep this for either boy or girl unless I'm buying with someone specific in mind. Murphy's Law states that if I have adorable girly outfits in my gift box, then all of my friends will have boys in the next 2 or 3 years or vice versa!!!!:-) Lately, I have been making flannel receiving blankets to give as baby gifts.

9)Christian CD's out the wazoo- Now these are not the most inexpensive items to purchase, but when you have a bunch given to you like we did, they make great gifts! My husband won a whole brick of CD's on the radio one Christmas and then a month or two later a friend gave us another different brick of CD's. We had a lot of those already, so we've taken to using them for gifts. Unless the recipients read this blog post, they will be none the wiser!!!LOL!

10)Homemade cookies or other baked goods-Now I don't keep these in my gift box, but I do give a lot of my own baked treats as gifts. I try to keep my baking center stocked well, so I can easily whip something up! So few people cook and bake from scratch these days, so these items are usually quite well received! I also give some of my own cooking and baking mixes for a thoughtful gift.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Works For Me Wednesday: Stir Fry Tips

During the summer, I love making a yummy veggie stir fry with all the great garden produce that is so readily available. Here are some tips that I have learned to make my stir fries really good!

I learned this tip on how to make sure all the veggies are evenly cooked in a stir fry:
Get out a shallow pan, such as a pie plate. As you chop your veggies, layer them into the pie plate, starting with the shortest cooking veggies on the bottom and ending with the longest cooking veggies on the top. The veggies will be all ready for you to put in to the skillet with the longest cooking ones going in first.(You can do this the night before and keep in your fridge.) Here are lists of the different groups of veggies, with Group 1 needing the longest cooking time, Group 2 being the medium group and Group 3 veggies needing only a minute or so.

Group 1: potatoes(sliced thin), celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, eggplant, winter squash, asparagus(if thick)

Group 2: mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, summer squash, asparagus (if thin)

Group 3: greens(spinach, chard, escarole, etc.), scallions, bean sprouts

Heat your wok or saute pan alone, then add a little oil. Add chopped onions now if you are using them. Then add whatever Group 1 veggies you have and saute until partially done. Then add Group 2 veggies and cook until everything is almost done. Put Group 3 veggies in at the very end, since these cook pretty much on contact with the other hot veggies.

The more thinly a vegetable is sliced, the more quickly it cooks.

Good Things To Do:
1)Hover over the wok as you cook: Stir very much.
2)Have everything ready before you start and within arm's reach of the stove.
3)Keep the heat high, and keep the veggies moving in the wok. Work quickly.

These ideas are taken in part from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen and Emilie Barnes and Sue Gregg's 15 Minute Meal Planner: A Realistic Approach to a Healthy Lifestyle. I hope these tips will help you, too!

Be sure to visit Rocks In My Dryer for more Works For Me Wednesday tips!

Monday, August 14, 2006

In My Sewing Room- Flower Pincushions

Thanks to Tori for sharing the instructions on how to make these cute little pincushions!

I love finding projects that use supplies that I already have on hand. I already had fabric, buttons, stuffing and thread, so the only thing I needed to buy was felt for the backing. Taking into account that I used scraps of fabric and buttons I had on hand, my cost for each of these is about 12 cents! These take, literally, only about 15 minutes to make. I am making a bunch of these to give to all my sewing friends.

Tip: I used a small dessert/salad plate (about 6 inches in diameter) as a pattern to cut out the circles.

OOPS!!! After making these, I realized that the "flowers" don't have enough petals! Oh well, I'll make sure the next ones are done the right way! I still think they are cute though. :-)Be sure to look at Tori's pincushions to see how they are really supposed to look!!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fun Bookmarks

I was playing around with magazine pictures and making bookmarks not long ago when I came across a stack of paint color cards that I had gotten when in the mood to paint everything.

Suddenly, they looked like bookmarks to me, so I glued two together, back to back and covered them with clear contact paper. I punched a hole at the top and put a ribbon through. Voila!!! Instant and almost free bookmark. :-) I am sure there are many ways I could embellish these with stickers and charms to make them even more artsy looking.

Not that I am advocating grabbing stacks and stacks of these from your local home improvement store, but they are free for the taking if you are thinking of doing any kind of painting projects. I also use these for cute scrapbooking borders.

I have given some for gifts and my friends just love these!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Works For Me Wednesday: Stamps In Your Mailbox

Recently, I have started getting my postage stamps delivered to my mailbox. Call the post office or ask your postal carrier for a stamps-by-mail form. Just fill out the form, include a check for payment, put it with your outgoing mail(no stamp required) and you will receive your stamps in a couple of days. There is no shipping cost for ordering your stamps this way.

I love this since I have limited errand running time these days and it always seems that the post office is not on the way to any of my other stops. This really works for me!