Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Family Pictures

While everyone in my family was together for Christmas, we got our family picture taken at Portrait Innovations. This was our first family portrait since my sister and I both got married in 2004.We were all pretty pleased with how they turned out!

Stretching Maple Syrup

You know how you do certain things and never even think twice about it? This is one of those tips.

My family visited last week and I served pancakes with real maple syrup for breakfast one morning. One of our baby steps to a healthier diet included switching to real maple syrup.

I probably don't need to tell you how expensive real maple syrup is. We have been purchasing it at Costco in a large container which is a better price than the regular grocery or health food store, but still...it is costly.

We try to just use less on our pancakes but how do you do this when you're pouring out of a large container?

My husband's solution: Instead of pulling the seal completely off the top just tear or poke a small hole in the top instead. It makes it much easier to control the pouring and less comes out.

I hadn't even thought about it until my sister commented on what a good idea it was since they always have trouble with pouring too much. It's so simple but it really does work!

Some other ideas for making the maple syrup last longer or more frugal options for drowning your pancakes:

1) Use less.

2) Pour syrup into a small container or pitcher. Small containers will often help us to be more mindful of our consumption because it's obviously not an endless supply.

3) Use honey instead.

4) Spread pancakes with peanut butter and jam. We especially like apple butter.

5) Make a fruit syrup by cooking and thickening fresh or frozen fruit. My mom would make fruit syrup for us and it was a great treat! Stephanie makes a syrup that is very similar. This is especially frugal if you have fruit on hand! Strawberry, peach, blackberry and blueberry were always our favorites! Raspberry would be delicious, too, but not as much of a frugal option where I live.

6) FishMama sprinkles powdered sugar on her children's pancakes.

7) Pancakes made with fruit such as Banana Oat Pancakes may be sweet enough that they do not need syrup.

8) Make your own syrup. This will not be the same as real maple syrup but is an option. I use to do this all the time before switching to natural, unrefined sweeteners. I think it would still work with Sucanat or Evaporated Cane Juice Crystals but I haven't tried it yet.

9) Dip pancakes and waffles in the syrup instead of pouring it on the plate. This would especially work well for many young children who like to dip foods. This would eliminate the puddles of syrup left on the plate after the pancakes are eaten. Use small ramekins or little "dipping bowls".

How do you like to eat your pancakes and waffles?

**This post is part of Kitchen Tip Tuesdays.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Eat From The Pantry Challenge: My Plan

For the month of January, I'm joining in with Life as Mom and Money Saving Mom for their Eat From The Pantry Challenge.

Today Money Saving Mom is asking those of us participating to link up with our goals and plans.

I've never done this before, at least not to this extent, so I'm really not sure what to expect. I would like to do this for the whole month, but am definitely shooting for 2 weeks and then seeing where I stand food-wise.

My "Eat From The Pantry Challenge" plan will go something like this:
  • Plan meals from my freezer, pantry and refrigerator with very few new purchases. I still have around 10 meals left from my Freezer Cooking Day in November as well as a good amount of meat, veggies and grains so I will focus on using those things up. 
  • Spend no more than $50 on groceries for the whole month. This will be mainly fresh veggies and fruit, eggs and dairy products. I'm not sure if I'll be able to reach this goal but I'm aiming high. 
  • Save the remaining money and put it aside for bulk grocery purchases throughout the year. I was already planning to set aside $50 each month during 2010 to enable me to purchase more items in bulk such as grain, grass-fed beef,  local in-season fruits and veggies to can and freeze, coconut oil and other hard-to-find items that I cannot find at good prices locally, and maybe even help with some of the costs of garden plants and seeds.  We want to order a 1/4 beef this spring so that is a large sum of money coming up rather quickly. Saving  more money this month would surely help towards that purchase! A 1/4 cow would last us for about a year!
  • Be creative and stretch what we have to feed us for a month. I thrive on creating dishes out of what I have on hand and I love to try new recipes so this is the part of the challenge that I'm looking forward to the most!
  • I'll be posting each week on how it's going, what we're eating along with some recipes, and how much I've spent that week on groceries.
 Edited to Add: I went through and listed all the food in my house to help me with the challenge. If interested, you can see my pantry inventory list here
    Want to join me? Read all about it here!

    Sunday, December 27, 2009

    Menu Plan Monday

    Christmas is past and it's time to get back into the swing of things around here. November and December were very very hectic months for me and I feel as though life is finally settling down a bit.

    We had a houseful of family here for the week of Christmas.Our tiny cottage was jam-packed. But we had a wonderful time together. My parents and brother were here from Oregon and my sister and family visited from Upstate South Carolina. It is rare that we are all together so it was fun and we had our family picture taken(or made as they say down here in the South) while everyone was here.

    We had wonderful food to eat. My sister and I prepared a yummy appetizer dinner for Christmas Eve and then we had a delicious ham dinner on Christmas Day. I baked 2 small hams and we ate one and then nibbled on the other for leftovers. We'll still be eating off the 2nd ham this week. Yum!!!

    Money Saving Mom and Life As Mom are hosting an Eating From The Pantry Challenge in January and I plan to join in. I may only do it for 2 weeks or maybe the whole month. I'll have to see how it goes. I have plenty of food stocked up in my refrigerator, pantry and freezer so it only makes sense to take a little break from shopping and use up a lot of that yummy food! I'll probably still buy some things like dairy, eggs and fresh produce as needed. The challenge begins January 1st.

    Another fun twist is that I'm cutting eggs out of my diet for at least a month to see if I can clear up a pesky rash that keeps hanging around. I have no idea what is causing it. I've already changed to an all-natural soap and a different laundry detergent with really no improvement to speak of so far. Certain jeans have been a likely suspect(maybe the dye?)  so I've stopped wearing those. It could be caused by just about anything. In the past 3-4 years, I've had multiple "mystery outbreaks" of hives or rashes and have not been able to pinpoint the cause. Some come and go quickly and others, like this one, stick around for awhile. I had various allergic reactions to different foods, soaps, detergents, etc. as a child and teenager and it appears that it's returning again. I've noticed that this rash is noticeably worse on some days than others so it's likely that it is food-related.  After eggs, milk and wheat will be the next major food groups that I will eliminate, if needed. And after that, if needed, perhaps some allergy testing!

    Anyways, that's probably more than you wanted to know about my rash!!! I wrote all that to say that I will not be eating eggs for a little while.

    Here's our menu for the week. The menu items in italics are what I'll be eating if the other contains eggs and anything with ** indicates a prepared item from my freezer.

    B- Leftover biscuits, oatmeal, clementines
    L- Fellowship potluck- veggie plate and leftover pumpkin pie
    S- Ham and vegetables

    Ham and Vegetables: In crockpot: ham bone with a little meat still on, 3 potatoes, 3 carrots and 2 stalks of celery, half of an onion, all diced. Cover with water and cook on low most of the day. During last hour of cooking, I added 2 cups frozen mixed veggies. Remove ham bone; chop meat and return ham to the pot. Salt and pepper to taste and serve! This is a nice variation to ham and beans and can be made really any way you want it with what you have on hand. Can also be made in a pan on the stove.

    B-Peanut butter toast, fruit smoothie(banana, pineapple, frozen blueberries and cranberries)
    L- Ham and vegetables, homemade bread
    S- Church meeting- plate of cookies

    B-Orange Juice Millet, sliced apples
    L-Ham sandwiches, veggies and dip
    S-Homemade pizza(crust is premade**),steamed broccoli

    B- Muffins**, toast, smoothies
    L- Leftovers
    S-Stir-fry with chicken**, mixed veggies** and rice**

    B-Oatmeal, fruit
    L-Hummus**, tortilla chips, veggies, sliced apples
    S- Baked Fish Chowder(new recipe), homemade bread, fresh veggies

    B- Pancakes**, leftover oatmeal, fruit
    L-Traditional New Year's lasagna, (made without eggs for yours truly) salad, garlic bread
    S- Football Snacks while watching the Rose Bowl: Oregon Ducks vs. Ohio State Buckeyes.
    Go Ducks!!!

    B-Cold cereal, fruit
    S-Tomato soup, ham bundles( Sooo good!!! I'll be using this egg-free dough instead and making them as crescents.)

    What are you eating this week? 

    **For more menu plan inspiration, head on over to Organizing Junkie!

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Christmas Survey

    1.) Have you started your Christmas shopping?

    Yes and it is all finished except for a few stocking stuffers.

    2.) Tell me about one of your special traditions.

    Andy and I bake our Christmas goodies together every year. Even though this takes place in November, another special tradition is packing our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.

    3.) When do you put up your Tree?
    Usually somewhere in the first or second week of December.

    4.) Are you a Black Friday shopper?

    Not usually. I sometimes go with my sister or sister-in-law since they love it. I wouldn't go by myself though.
    5.) Do you Travel at Christmas or Stay home?

    Both. This year we're staying home and my whole family will be here visiting. Since neither of our families lives nearby, we often travel for the holidays.

    6.) What is your funniest Christmas memory?

    Not sure if this is the funniest, but most certainly one of the most memorable! The Christmas that I was eight years old, our family went out to eat at an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. This was a great treat to us since we rarely ate out in those days. I was not feeling well that day but seemed to be well enough to go eat. By the time we were done eating, I was not feeling well at  all. The restaurant was very crowded and as we walked out, I threw up right between tables where people were eating their Christmas dinners! Mom took me to the restroom to clean me up where I threw up again. A very nice lady followed us to help out; she was so kind and very concerned for me. It was quite embarrassing and I remember very clearly now that one lady said, "Oh gross!' as I was throwing up near her table! Well, no wonder!!! What I remember the most though is that I cried and cried on the way home and Mom and my sister tried to console me that it was ok. But what I was most upset about was that I was wearing a brand-new coat I had gotten for Christmas-my first brand-new coat ever- and I was afraid the vomit stains wouldn't come out! As soon as we got home, Mom washed my coat for me so I could see that it would look as good as new! And it did. Apparently I was quite proud of that new coat!!!

    7.) What is your favorite Christmas Movie of All time?

    All three Santa Clause movies, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

    8.) Do you do your own Christmas Baking? What’s your favorite treat?

    Yes. Our very favorites are Chocolate-Peanut Squares, Chocolate-Dipped Pretzels and Chocolate-Mint Cookies. Recipes and directions for all can be found here.

    9.) Fake or Real Tree?

    Real. We cut our own at a local tree farm.

    10.) What day (as a Mom) does the actual panic set in to get it all done?

    Don't know. Not a Mom. :-)
    11.) Are you still wrapping presents on Christmas Eve?

    Not usually. We're not often home on Christmas Eve!

    12.) What is your favorite family fun time at Christmas?

    Holiday baking, driving to see the Christmas lights, picking out gifts for all the nieces and nephews.

    13.) What Christmas craft do you like the best?

    I don't really do a lot of Christmas crafts, per se. I do enjoy making many of my own gifts most years. I didn't make many this year, thus the reason for being done with my Christmas list so early!!!

    14.) Christmas music? Yes or No. And if yes, What is your favorite song?
    Yes, yes, yes. We love Christmas music. I don't really have one favorite. Two favorite albums are Veggie Tales Singing Christmas Tree and Denver and The Mile High Orchestra's Timeless Christmas. I do love Michael W. Smith's song Welcome To Our World and also Jingle Bell Rock  for some odd reason- maybe because Cherished Dog's name is Rock and it just cracks me up!

    15.) When do you plan to finish all your shopping?

    Either this weekend or early next week.

    Any blogger is welcome to participate in this meme, even if you haven’t been tagged yet. Just simply copy and paste the questions into your blog, and then answer them. Then tag 5 or more of your favorite blogs, and leave them a comment telling them they’ve been tagged.

    When you post your blog, please spread some Christmas cheer, and leave a link back to Heather's Top Ten Christmas Blog, and the blog that you were tagged by (I wasn't tagged, but I found this at In This Season.)

    Any bloggers who read this are tagged to do this survey if they'd like!

    Wednesday, December 09, 2009

    New Stuff In My Shop

    There's a new batch of fun stuff in my shop tonight!

    Here's a  sampling of what you'll see:

    Cute little wallets

    Drawstring purses

    Be checking back the rest of the week as I'll be listing more each day.

    **I will refund shipping to you if you're local and would like to arrange your own delivery. 

    Tuesday, December 08, 2009

    My First 5K !!!

     Welcome to the Reindeer Romp! Isn't that a fun name for a run?!?
    I'm excited to announce that I ran my first 5K this past weekend! It was so much fun and I met my personal goal of running the entire thing.

    Before the run!

    I wasn't concerned with my time but I surprised myself by running the entire 5K in a few minutes less time than I have done before in my regular routine! According to my time which started as I crossed the start line, I finished in 37:47.  According to their time which started with the gunshot, my time was 38:29. I was almost at the back of the pack to start so it took a bit for me to cross the start line. I finished about  middle of the pack.

    After the run!

    To run a 5K was one of my personal goals for 2009 and I am so happy to have accomplished this. For a while it didn't look like I would be able to do it, but I did! It has not been easy at all but over time I have built up some stamina and more endurance. It's exciting to look back at when I first started and to see how far I've come! God is so good!

    I'm definitely planning to continue running. Don't think a marathon is part of my future at this point, but you never know!

    We'd like to thank BB&T and Piedmont Medical Center for making it possible for this reindeer to romp!!!

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    Menu Plan Monday- Freezer Meals To The Rescue!

    We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends. We just finished eating all of our leftovers today!

    The turkey carcass is simmering on the stove as we speak, turning into yummy homemade broth. I got to bring it home since I was the only guest who expressed an interest in it.

    Imagine that.

    We have a very hectic week ahead. On Saturday, I'm running my first 5k and hosting a Gingham Cottage open house at my home. The open house will give some of my local friends a chance to see my products.  I've been sewing and creating up a storm and setting up at  area shows almost every weekend this fall. My little business venture has been successful so far, with many private orders and sales. Be looking next week for lots of new items in my Etsy shop! I have lots of fun and different things to post for sale there.

    We also need to get our tree and decorate the house for Christmas. We're doing a small tree again this year and we really don't go all out with the decorations; we both prefer the simple touches over the elaborate. 

    Thankfully, I still have a freezer stocked with ready to heat meals which will come in so handy this week! I really really love having all those foods prepared and at the ready. So worth the effort! I've been using several of the freezer meals every week; they have been great!

    Compliments of my freezer, here's what we're eating this week:

    Tuesday- Fish and veggie packets, brown rice
    Wednesday- Chicken Pot Pie, veggie
    Thursday- Cheesy Beef and Rice, veggie
    Friday- Chicken Fajitas, beans, possibly rice
    Saturday- Something easy or eat out

    If you're in need of menu planning inspiration, be sure to check out Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday for lots of meal ideas!

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    FREE Shrimp!

    If you live near an Earth Fare store, located in SC, NC, TN and GA, you can get a free pound of cooked shrimp with coupon this week. Go here for details!

    I just came back from getting my free pound; a $9.99 value!!! I don't know about you but shrimp is a great treat in our household!

    I'm loving the freebies from Earth Fare the past few weeks: a 3 pound bag of organic apples, 1 pound of fresh cranberries and now, a free pound of shrimp!

    Thank you, Earth Fare!

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Soaked Cranberry Muffins

    I made my first soaked muffins today! I used this basic recipe and added 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1 cup of fresh cranberries(FREE at Earth Fare) as my spices and add-ins. I used yogurt for soaking instead of apple cider vinegar or kombucha that was called for in the recipe and it worked great!

    They were delicious! I can see myself  using this basic recipe again and again and tweaking it to our tastes.  It's easy to follow and make. The only difference is planning for and adding the soaking step.

    Why am I "soaking", you ask?  Simply put, soaking grains and flours with an acidic ingredient before cooking breaks down the phytic acids, maximizes nutrition and makes them more easily digested. I've been making a soaked whole wheat bread since the first of the year and it turns out wonderful! I also am pretty consistent with soaking my brown rice, oatmeal, millet(for cooked cereal) and dry beans. We honestly have not really noticed that much of a difference with the taste of the finished product. I have found that brown rice and oatmeal cook faster when they've been soaked, which is an advantage.   These muffins are my first attempt at soaking a non-yeasted baked good.

    Next step: making soaked pancakes!

    You can read more detailed explanations of the benefits of soaking and sprouting grain here, here, and here.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Update: My Grandma

    Thanks to everyone who prayed for my Grandma. Her blood pressure finally came down last night and she was able to come home from the hospital today!

    Now you can pray for Andy's foot. He tripped over his foot this evening and in doing so, bent his foot up all weird and heard  loud "popping" sounds. Almost immediately a goose egg appeared on the top/side of his foot. X-rays  show no broken bones, thankfully, at least not yet. He does need to keep it iced and stay off of it for a bit to allow it to heal.

    I'm so thankful for our friends who are chiropractors and were able to do x-rays in exchange for some coupon lessons!

    Menu Plan Monday

    I survived my big cooking day last week! Having so many yummy meals in the freezer should make meal planning a snap!
    A freezer full of food is like having money in the bank. But just like our savings account, I don't want to use all the food right away if we can help it!

    I'm spreading it out and planning to use frozen meals about 3-4 times a week. Some weeks, I may use more or less depending on our schedule. This is a rather hectic time for us(as for many folks) which is why I chose to do the big freezer day and the meals are really going to help me out!

    I'm planning to do a baking day tomorrow which will stock our freezer with bread, pizza crusts and a few other baked goods. I hadn't done much bread baking in the past few months because I was waiting for my grain order to arrive, but now that I have plenty of grain on hand, I'm ready to do some baking again! This won't be a huge baking production; just some baked goods to keep us going for a few weeks.

    Here's what we're eating for supper this week. All frozen meals are marked with **.

    Monday- Cheesy Beef and Rice Casserole**, green beans

    Tuesday- Pinto Beans**, cornbread

    Wednesday-Fish and Veggie Packets**, homemade bread

    Thursday- Baked Potatoes (with cooked ground beef, cheese, sour cream), steamed carrots

    Friday- Chicken Fajitas**, Spanish Rice

    Do you have trouble coming up with menus each week?  Would you like to start  with meal planning? Head on over to Menu Plan Monday to read menus from hundreds of kitchens and get inspired!

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Pray For My Grandma

    Please pray for my Grandma. She was taken to the hospital yesterday and is in ICU. Her blood pressure is very high and they're running tests to see what is going on.

    She's 88 years old and is a believer and is ready to go Home to be with Jesus.

    But still, we're concerned for her health.

    Thank you!

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Freezer Cooking Day: Completed Meals and My Thoughts

    I survived my first Once-A-Month Cooking Day!

    Here's the list of completed meals and foods:

    • 2 Chicken Fajita Kits
    • 2 meals of Chicken Chimichangas
    • 3 quarts of Chili 
    • 3 meals worth of Fish and Veggie Packets : My first time freezing these so it's an experiment!  I don't see a reason why these wouldn't freeze well, though. 
    • 1 container of Hummus
    • 1 container of Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
    • 3 Chicken Pot Pies
    • 2 Spaghetti Pies
    • 2 Spinach, Mushroom, and Bacon Quiches
    • 2 Cheesy Beef and Rice Casseroles
    • 7 dozen Meatballs: 1 recipe; depending how I use them and how many people I'm serving should end up being about 6 meals. 
    • 3 quarts Spaghetti Sauce
    • 1 bag cooked brown rice
    • 1 bag cooked and cubed chicken
    • 2 bags cooked kidney beans
    • 5 bags cooked pinto beans
    Whew! That's  a lot of food!

    My thoughts:

    • The biggest hurdle to overcome when starting is to stop thinking about it and just do it. I dreaded making the lists and making it work with my recipes but once I got started it was not as difficult as I originally thought. I had read a lot about freezer cooking online and learned from my sister which helped a lot. I have also done a lot of freezer cooking in small increments over the years. Ultimately though, reading through Once A Month Cooking and seeing how they orchestrated the cooking days with their recipes and then following the tips in the book for adapting the process to your own recipes was my biggest motivation.
    • This didn't cost a lot of money. I planned the meals based on what I had on hand in the freezer and pantry and spent about $40 more to get the rest of the ingredients, which also included fresh produce and other things we needed that were not included in the cooking day.
    • Next time, I would like to plan ahead a bit better and have fresh meat to marinate and throw in the freezer, ready to cook. Some ideas would be roasts or whole chickens with a marinade or spice rub or any of these Dump Chicken recipes. ( The Lemon-Garlic chicken is good and I have the cranberry chicken in the freezer but haven't tried it yet.)The reason I would do more of this is that these would be less time-consuming than doing mostly casseroles. Because I used already frozen meat, I didn't want to thaw meat and refreeze it without cooking it.
    • All the planning was good. My personality loves checking items off lists and knowing exactly what comes next. Knowing this about myself, my list was made up of lots of small tasks rather than large chores, so I could cross things off more quickly. It was motivating to be able to cross things off relatively quickly. There's nothing more discouraging to me than working half a day and only crossing a couple of to-do's off my list!
    • While doing all the prep work the day before actually turned my cooking day into 2 cooking days, it was well worth it! My work space is quite limited and doing all the prep and cooking everything from scratch in one day would've been very overwhelming. Pulling prepared meats, veggies, rice, beans, ad cheese out of the fridge was wonderful! The assembly was pretty easy.
    • Next time, I will not plan to away from home the day before!
    • The Spaghetti Sauce is not my favorite. It has added cinnamon and cloves so is a sweeter type sauce. While good and certainly edible, I doubt I'll use this recipe again. Or if I do use it again, I'll omit the cinnamon and cloves.
    • This is not all we will eat for the next month. I have other meats in the freezer and I will still want to cook some nights to give a little more variety. That being said, I won't be surprised if this stash lasts us about 2 months. Most meals are enough for supper and lunch the next day for the two of us. My family will be visiting for Christmas and I would love to still have a few meals left by then to serve them! (If not, I'll have to make a few more.)
    • I'm planning a baking day for next week. I purposely did not include any baked items on the list because of previous attempts of making pizza dough, bread dough and casseroles at the same time. Too varied and time and space-consuming. The pie crusts for the quiche and pot pies was enough this time around!!!
    • As well as journaling my experiences here, I need to create a notebook or document on the computer with my recipes and lists that I used for reference for next time. Each time should get easier as I fine-tune the process to what works for me. 
    • If you're wanting to stock your freezer, do what works for you. You could do a  whole full-blown cooking day like I did, or simply double or triple your supper recipes for a week and freeze the extras. There's really no right or wrong way to do it. 
    • I'm not that terrrified of a little freezer burn, since we use stuff pretty quickly. My previous experience with freezer meals has been good. I do double wrap most items. All pans are wrapped in plastic wrap and then in foil. For Ziplocs, I use only freezer bags.
    • Standing a Ziploc bag in a quart jar and using a canning funnel is an easy and mess-free way to fill bags with soups and sauces. 
    • I laid all filled bags on cookie sheets so that they froze flat. After frozen, they can be stacked on the shelf or in a  basket.
    • I label everything. For pans, I just write the name, date and cooking instructions on the foil or on a sticky note which I tape to the pan. Labels are nice but I had run out of them. some day, I'll get all fancy and print some custom labels on my computer. Writing full instructions is important in case my husband is cooking the dish or if I use it for hospitality. I know where to find the recipe to see how to cook it but someone else may not. 
    For easy reference here are all my posts about this freezer day:

    Freezer Cooking Day- Menu and list of prep work.  (Recipe links.)
    Freezer Cooking Day: Preparation
    Freezer Cooking Day: My List and Progress
    Freezer Cooking Day: Halfway Home
    Freezer Cooking Day: Done! 

    Food in the freezer is like having money in the bank. I can't wait to use it!

    Bob Evans Farmhouse Feast Giveaway

    $5 Dinners is giving away a Bob Evans Farmhouse Feast. We love Bob Evans! Wouldn't it be fun to win this? Go here to read all the details on how to enter the giveaway.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Freezer Cooking Day; Done!

    Three chicken pot pies, two spaghetti pies, and two spinach, mushroom and bacon quiches ready to freeze. Obviously, we like pie!

    The cooking day is over. I called it quits around 5 pm when I didn't have the energy to do another pot of anything! I got everything marked off the list except for the Israeli Spice seasoning blend and the mashed potatoes. I can easily do these another day.

    The kitchen is clean, except for the floor which is pretty gross, but it's cleaning day tomorrow so I'm leaving it until then.  For now, we're going to heat up some spaghetti sauce and pasta that I saved from the freezer today and then head out to shop for our shoe boxes tonight after supper. It should be a fun ending to a very busy day!

    I'll post a summary of the day and the final amount of meals tomorrow.

    Cooking Day: Halfway Home!

    It's 1 pm and I think I'm about halfway home.

    Here's what I've accomplished so far today. The freezer is filling up!

    1. Marinate chicken for fajitas.
    2. Start chili in crockpot.
    3. Start spaghetti sauce cooking.
    4. Saute chicken for fajitas.
    5. Assemble fish and veggie packets. **Foil packets in gallon Ziplocs. 
    6.Assemble Chicken Fajita kits. **Sandwich, quart and gallon Ziplocs.
    7. Assemble Cheesy Beef and Rice casseroles. **Pyrex pans.
    8. Make meatballs.
    9. Assemble quiches. **Quiche pans.
    10. Bake quiches and meatballs.
    11.Cook chimichanga mixture.
    12. Assemble chimichangas. **Tortilla bags.
    13. Make hummus. ** Plastic containers or quart Ziplocs.
    14. Mix Israeli Spice Seasoning blend. **Sandwich bags.
    15. Cook pasta for Spaghetti Pies.
    16. Assemble Spaghetti Pies. **Pie pans.
    17.Bag remaining spaghetti Sauce in 4 cup portions, keeping enough out for supper. **Quart Ziplocs.
    18. Dice potatoes for pot pies.
    19. Make sauce for pot pies.
    20. Assemble pot pies. **Pie pans.
    21. Peel and cook potatoes.
    22. Mash potatoes and bag. **Quart Ziplocs or Pyrex pans.
    23. Bag meatballs. **Gallon Ziploc.
    24. Bag chili. **Quart Ziplocs.
    25. Bag extra rice and beans.  **Quart Ziplocs.
    26. Clean kitchen and dining room.
    27. Admire prepared meals in freezer!

    The kitchen and dining room continue to look like a war zone!

    Meatballs are flash-freezing  now. I forgot that step on my list. :-) I've also baked two spinach quiches which are now cooling before they go in the freezer. Two meals worth of chimichangas are done as well as 2 containers of hummus-one regular and one roasted red pepper.

    We just got a call from some friends who are in the area and want to stop by so I'm bringing the food factory to a screeching halt for a bit so I can enjoy their visit!

    Coming up next:
    --Spaghetti Pie
    --Chicken Pot Pie
    --Mashed Potatoes
    --Israeli Spice Seasoning Blend

    Guest Post:: Veteran's Day Tribute

     **Thanks to my husband for writing this Veteran's day tribute to share with you while I slave away in the kitchen today! This post is linked to  Veteran's Day Tribute at The Happy Housewife, where you can read many tributes and stories or link up your own tribute. 

    Hello friends. I'm Andy, Mary Ann's husband and I'll be your guest poster today. I'd like to offer a Veteran's Day tribute from a personal perspective.

    My father is a Vietnam Veteran. He is not a war criminal, he is a proud American. My grandfathers were both World War II Veterans, and proud Americans. One of them is still here to talk about it. I am disabled from birth. Because of that I was ineligible to serve in our armed forces. I cannot say that I had any great interest in serving when I was 18 years old, but now 35, I can see where military service would have provided a great benefit to me personally.

    Over the years I have learned to deeply respect and appreciate those who make the choice or are chosen to serve. I do feel some sense of regret knowing that I will never be able to do the same. I am however, thankful that I now work with a company whose sole purpose is to generate funds for the families of wounded and fallen servicemen. I see it as a way to serve those who have served so bravely.

    If you know a Veteran or if someone in your family is a Veteran, please do two things today:

    1. Thank them for me.
    2. Thank them for yourself.

    So here is my tribute.

    I Am Not Like You 

    I am not like you.
    I have never served my country,
    Neither voluntarily nor at its request.
    My father and grandfathers did, but I am unable.

    I have never traveled across the world to face my enemy
    So my enemy would not,

    And could not travel across the world to face me.
    I have traveled across the world because I am free to do so.

    I have never taken up arms to defend my brothers.
    My defenders have done so for me.

    I have never left my family behind,
    To leave something behind for my family.
    Though because of what so many have left behind I am here today.

    I have never run to a fight when I should be running away.
    And though I am unable to run at all, I am alive and free to walk.

    I have never stood beside my fallen brothers.
    Though I do stand beside you in my heart.

    I have never given my life for my country and my friends.
    Though I am intimately acquainted with a Savior who died and called me friend.

    I am not like you, but in one small way I am.
    I am a proud, free American.
    Because you serve with sacrifice, dignity and honor
    Free I will remain. 

    Thank you all for your service.

    Cooking Day- My List and Progress

    It's cooking day! I woke up and got ready early, eager to get started. It's a blustery rainy day so it feels nice and cozy to stay in and cook.

    Here's my kitchen ready and waiting for some activity at 7 am this morning.

     Here's what my kitchen and dining room are looking like at 9:30:

    I already have 7 meals in the freezer: 2 pans of Cheesy beef and Rice, 3 meals of Fish and Veggie Packets (what you see on the foil above), and 2 Chicken Fajita kits.

    Here's my complete list of order of assembly and operations for the day. I've crossed off several completed items already and have already have done a few things "out of order'. It's hard to tell just how everything will play out when you make a list. I'll be making notes as to what does and does not work to have for my next cooking day!

    1. Marinate chicken for fajitas.
    2. Start chili in crockpot.
    3. Start spaghetti sauce cooking.
    4. Saute chicken for fajitas.
    5. Assemble fish and veggie packets. **Foil packets in gallon Ziplocs. 
    6.Assemble Chicken Fajita kits. **Sandwich, quart and gallon Ziplocs.
    7. Assemble Cheesy Beef and Rice casseroles. **Pyrex pans.
    8. Make meatballs.
    9. Assemble quiches. **Quiche pans.
    10. Bake quiches and meatballs.
    11.Cook chimichanga mixture.
    12. Assemble chimichangas. **Tortilla bags.
    13. Make hummus. ** Plastic containers or quart Ziplocs.
    14. Mix Israeli Spice Seasoning blend. **Sandwich bags.
    15. Cook pasta for Spaghetti Pies.
    16. Assemble Spaghetti Pies. **Pie pans.
    17.Bag remaining spaghetti Sauce in 4 cup portions, keeping enough out for supper. **Quart Ziplocs.
    18. Dice potatoes for pot pies.
    19. Make sauce for pot pies.
    20. Assemble pot pies. **Pie pans.
    21. Peel and cook potatoes.
    22. Mash potatoes and bag. **Quart Ziplocs or Pyrex pans.
    23. Bag meatballs. **Gallon Ziploc.
    24. Bag chili. **Quart Ziplocs.
    25. Bag extra rice and beans.  **Quart Ziplocs.
    26. Clean kitchen and dining room.
    27. Admire prepared meals in freezer!

    I'm back to the kitchen. I'll do another update  around noon. See you then!

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Freezer Cooking Day- Preparation

    Well, I've completed my list of prep work for my cooking day tomorrow. I'm beginning to question my sanity in this undertaking but am still hopeful as I march onward, moving ever closer to a fully stocked freezer!

    My refrigerator is packed full to the gills with prepared ingredients. I filled the produce drawer because I needed extra space and the prepared pie crusts had to be stored in the freezer overnight. There was simply No. More. Room In The Inn Fridge.

    I scrawled a tentative plan of assembly and operation for tomorrow, a carefully choreographed dance of pots on the stove, hands on assembly of dishes and the crock pot. Most likely, I will switch things around as I go to make it as efficient as I can.

    We were gone a good share of the day today to pick up our grain order(mine plus two other ladies' orders). After supper, I did not want to work in the kitchen. I just wanted to rest! But I pushed myself to finish the list and now I'm so glad I did! Having so many little steps completed will help the cooking day to run more smoothly and hopefully, not be quite so overwhelming.

    Check back tomorrow for periodic posts and updates throughout the day!

    Monday, November 09, 2009

    Menu Plan Monday and Freezer Cooking Plan

    Welcome to another week!

    I have big plans for doing a freezer cooking day on Wednesday. While I've done some extra batch cooking and helped my sister with her cooking days, I've never attempted a "once a month" cooking day before. It takes a lot of planning and seems like a good amount of concentrated work but should be a nice trade-off for about a months worth of meals. I wasn't able to join in with Crystal's big cooking days last week, so I'm doing my own this week!

    Before I delve into my freezer plans, here's a simple supper menu plan for this week. Because of other plans, I only needed to plan for 3 suppers.It's a busy week with being gone most of the day Tuesday, cooking all day Wednesday and then babysitting Thursday and Friday.

    This Week's Supper Menu
    Tuesday-Breakfast-in-a-hurry, bagels, tangerines or grapefruit

    Wednesday-Pasta with spaghetti sauce(from cooking day), salad

    Thursday-Salmon patties, rice, green beans

    The freezer was overdue for a defrosting and cleaning, so that is in progress as we speak. What a pleasant dripping sound! I began pulling odds and ends out of the freezer last week to use things up. For breakfasts, we've been eating pancakes that I'd forgotten about and I took a bag of bagels out this morning to use.

    Freezer Cooking Day- The Menu

    I'm not sure exactly how many meals I'll have of each item, so I'm just listing the amount of batches/recipes that I'm planning. many of my recipes will make more than one meal for the two of us.

    1. Chicken Chimichangas- (1)
    2. Chicken fajita kits-(2)
    3. Chili (x2)
    4. Fish & veggie packets (x2 or 3)
    5. Spaghetti sauce (x3)
    6. Cheesy Beef and Rice Casserole (x2)
    7. Meatballs (1)
    8.  Quiche (x2)
    9. Spaghetti pie (x2)
    10. Chicken pot pie (1)
    11. Hummus
    12. Israeli spice seasoning blend(1)
    13.Brown rice for recipes and extra to freeze
    14. Kidney, pinto and garbanzo beans for recipes and extra to freeze
    15. Mashed potatoes(1 -10 lb. bag potatoes)

    Time will tell whether my plans are overly ambitious or not! And whether I ever want to even think about cooking again!

    Freezer Cooking Day- Prep Work

    Between today and tomorrow, I'm working on this list of things to do before the cooking day. Hopefully having at least some of these items crossed off by Wednesday will help my cooking day to run more smoothly and help with the lack of space in my kitchen.

    1. Make menu. 
    2. Take inventory of items on hand.
    3. Grocery shop for needed items.
    4.Take stock of foil, pans, bags and containers.
    5. Defrost and clean out freezer. In progress!
    6. Make plan for Wednesday(order of prep and assembly).
    7.Make chicken broth. In progress!
    8. Defrost meat. In progress!
    9. Cook and chop chicken. In progress!
    10. Brown ground beef.
    11. Shred cheese.
    12. Soak and cook rice. Soaking in progress!
    13. Soak and cook beans. Kidney beans and pintos are soaking!(I'll soak the garbanzo beans tomorrow and cook them Wednesday morning.)
    14. Cook bacon.
    15. Chop veggies and onions.
    16. Make pie crusts for quiche and pot pie.

    Update: It's 4 pm on Monday. I'm about ready to call it quits in the kitchen for the day. I feel like I've made a lot of headway on the prep work and now I'm tired!!! I plan to put the rice and beans on to cook first thing in the morning before we leave for the day. Hopefully, I'll get to the cheese, veggies and pie crust in the evening if I'm not too worn out. Otherwise, I'll do that first thing Wednesday morning. Right now, I'm off to make a dessert for tonight!!! Be back tomorrow!

    So that's my plan for the week. What's yours?

    For more menu planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie, the home of Menu Plan Mondays!

    Wednesday, November 04, 2009

    Harris Teeter Triples Trip!

    Harris Teeter is running another triple coupon event starting today!

    So this morning, I went out tripling.  Tripling. It should be an Olympic sport.

    I still needed to organize some of my coupons so instead of going first thing, I got up and cooked breakfast and got a few things done around the house, and then sat down to quickly pull and organize the coupons I thought I might use.

    I've gotten so behind on clipping and organizing my coupons in the binder method, that I've decided to try keeping the whole inserts and then just clip when I need it. I can see that there are a few disadvantages to this system but so far, I'm liking it. It saves so much time!

    Anyways, I went through the inserts, clipping the coupons I wanted and then organized them in my binder to take to the store. That way, I could go down aisles with my binder open to the appropriate page and see immediately if there was something that might be a good deal.

    This took me less than 30 minutes and I was on my way!

    There were already some items that were cleaned off the shelves. No Heinz Ketchup or Scrubbing Bubbles in the sizes and prices to make a great coupon deal!  But overall, I think I did pretty good.

    I scored some marked down organic chicken and also some marked down organic mushrooms. Yum! So that added $8 to my total.

    Most items were free or nearly free, but a few things like the chocolate chips were a really good price with the sale and coupon. $1 a bag! And I need chocolate chips. Yes, I do. 

    Now is the time to be thinking ahead for holiday baking. Baking supplies are starting to go on sale and there are many coupons out there, too.

    My total before coupons was $49.37.

    I paid $15.44 for everything  in the picture below.

    Not my best trip ever, but considering that I still saved roughly 70%, I think I did very good!

    Plus I got things we really needed and buy regularly,  like organic chicken, baking powder, pepperoni  and chocolate chips.

    **Southern Savers has a list of coupon match-ups for the Harris Teeter triple sale here.

    Tuesday, November 03, 2009

    Maximizing Your Savings With Coupons

    One of my friends on Facebook recently asked me this question,

    "Are there any tips you can give me regarding couponing? I cut coupons and go to Bloom when they are running triple coupon sales...but I feel like I am still not saving as much as I could be."

    That's a great question and follows another question from another Facebook friend who wondered why she was actually spending more on groceries since starting to use coupons.

    Coupons are a great way to help to reduce your grocery costs.  There is a bit more to it than just clipping them and handing them over, though. Of course, you can do that and still save a few dollars here and there. 

    But if you want to start seeing a significant savings on your grocery bill each week, there are a few guidelines to follow that will help you save BIG!

    1) Know your target prices. This is the cheapest price you've found in your area for specific items. This is the price you are willing to pay. I keep target prices for basic items in a small notebook in my purse since the old gray matter just aint what it used to be!

    I will not pay more than $.49 for a can of tomatoes, $.99 for a 16 ounce bag of frozen veggies, $.99 a pound for fresh fruit and my target price for grocery store meat is $2 a pound or under, depending on what it is. Most of my target prices are based on Aldi' s low everyday prices. If it's more than what I'd pay there, I don't buy it. Of course, time and gasoline is worth something too, so if you really need a can of tomatoes and they are a few cents more at Stuff-mart and Aldi is across town and you're really behind schedule, then pay the extra cents! We all have limits when it comes to bargain shopping!

    Since starting to coupon extensively, I have also set some target prices based on coupons and sales. I know that with coupons and good sales, it is totally realistic to not spend more than $1 for a box of cold cereal, $.25 for a tube of toothpaste(often free at drugstores) and frozen vegetables and condiments are often free or nearly free.

    2) Base your grocery list on store sales. Whether or not you want to use coupons, buying stuff only when its on sale will save you bundles of cash. If you have coupons to bring the price even lower, it's just icing on the cake!

    Almost everything goes on sale eventually. By buying at its lowest price, you'll easily save 40-50 % on your groceries each week.

    3) Match coupons with store sales. Do not use a coupon just for the sake of using a coupon! You need to make sure it really is a good deal before you fill your cart. Look through the sale ads, taking note of really good prices(see #1), and matching coupons you have to the sale items. There are many coupon and saving money blogs out there help us with this. Southern Savers is the very best for the stores I shop at. There you will find weekly sale ads for various stores along with what coupons to use and how much the price will be after coupons. Only items that are really on a good sale are listed, so you know it's a pretty good deal if it's on the list. This is the site I use to make my grocery list each week; she does all the work for me! I just click the items I want, gather the coupons and head to the store!

    4) Start a stockpile. When items are at their lowest prices, buy as many as you can and stock your pantry. A good rule of thumb is to buy as many as you'll need for 6-8 weeks, since that's the typical sales cycle. Most items will come on sale again so you don't need to go overboard. Some items have the best sales at specific times of the year, such as ketchup and mustard around summer holidays and canned pumpkin and fresh cranberries in the fall . You'll want to keep that in mind if you use a lot of something and maybe buy more than 6 weeks worth if it's a really good deal and has a long shelf life.

    Once you start stockpiling, this is where you will start seeing the biggest savings. Because you already have food at home, you won't need to buy everything each week; only the sale items. And your stockpile will grow as you continue to buy stuff at its lowest prices. The time will come where you may even be able to take the week off from shopping and eat from your pantry!

    Most weeks, I shop at Aldi for any basic items I need and then hit Bi-Lo or Harris Teeter for sale items. My cart is usually filled with the oddest combination of groceries. But that's ok, I'm not planning meals from my grocery list each week. I buy what's on super sale and plan meals from what I have on hand in my pantry and freezer.

    5) Find a store with good coupon policies. Here in the South, we are blessed to have a few stores that double manufacturer's coupons every day. In my area, Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter both double coupons up to $.99 face value. If the coupon is for $.75 off, it will double to take $1.50 off. If the coupon is for $1 off, it will not double but still only take $1 off.

    As you can guess, if a store doubles coupons, many good deals can be had when you are able to match a coupon with a sale! And even more good deals abound if your store occasionally offers triple coupon events!

    6) Get Your Hands On More Than One Paper. Multiple coupons means multiple savings and will help you to build a stockpile. I typically buy 2-3 papers every week. You can also ask your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to save the Sunday coupon inserts for you.

    Tips For Triple Coupon Sales

    Before I wrap things up here, I did want to share a few tips for a successful triples shopping trip.Say that 5 times fast, would you?

    First of all, follow the guidelines I listed above. Check prices and make sure it really is a good deal. Match coupons with sales. Some stores have very high regular prices, so much though, that even with a triple coupon, the price is still way higher than what I'd normally pay.

    Most stores only triple coupons $.99 or less. Focus only on using the coupons that triple and leave the $1 coupons alone unless you really need something that's at a good price. Southern Savers will often have a triples list up with items that are FREE or nearly free for the store that's tripling. Here is a list for Harris Teeter triples this week!

    There is usually a limit on 20 coupons tripled per customer each day. Follow the rules so that they will continue to offer triples! I usually ask if I am allowed to do a  second transaction while I am there and at some stores, this is usually ok. Harris Teeter is more strict and is linked to your VIC card so that you can only do one transaction for triples per day. You can make a trip every day during the event, if you'd like.

    For triple sales, I focus on buying only what is free or nearly free. On my last triples sale, I needed pasta and had lots of coupons for that which I knew would be a good price. I also needed brown rice. This was not free, like the white rice would've been, but around $.90 for a 2 pound bag. That is a great price for something I would buy normally!

     Now I know someone is going to ask if I buy stuff I do not need just because it's free. Well, it depends what it is, but yes, I usually buy what's free! Chances are that I know someone who can use it!  Food pantries and shelters are always grateful for donations of food and personal care products and sometimes I know a friend who can use a particular product, even if I don't.

    In Conclusion:

    I hope that these tips will be useful and helpful to my friend and anyone who is trying to save a bit more money on groceries these days.

    Please feel free to ask any questions you may have regarding coupon and sale shopping. I'm sure there's something I've forgotten to cover here. I don't have all the answers but chances are that there will be someone reading this that can answer your question if I cannot.

    If you are just starting out with using coupons, it can be so overwhelming! My advice to you is to start slowly. Do the best you can and give yourself a lot of slack. It get easier as time goes by and you gain experience. Before long, you'll be teaching others how to do this!

    Happy coupon shopping!

    Monday, November 02, 2009

    Harris Teeter Triple Coupons

    It's time to get your coupons out and sorted!  Harris Teeter is tripling coupons for a week starting this Wednesday!

    I love triples!!!

    **Stay tuned for a post on Maximizing Your Coupon Savings this week!

    Sunday, November 01, 2009


    I'm so excited to announce the opening of my Etsy shop--The Gingham Cottage .

    There you will find purses, bags, aprons and crayon rolls as well as anything else that I decide to create. I love to recycle and repurpose fabrics so many of the items you will find here are one-of-a-kind.

    I still have more items to list for sale in the shop so come back frequently to see what's new! As of right now, I only have a few items listed and not a wide variety but I will have more up in the next couple of days.

    Along with the opening of my shop, I've also started a new blog. The Gingham Cottage blog will be where I will post shop news and updates and show what's happening in my sewing room.This will be in addition to my regular postings here at Mary Ann's House.

    Feel free to stop by The Gingham Cottage shop and blog to browse the work of my hands!

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig!

    We're back from our weekend jaunt to Georgia! We had a great time.

    Andy enjoyed his song-writing seminar which was hosted by Babbie Mason and then we had a nice visit at his parents for several days.

    We drove home through pouring rain yesterday, which made the drive interesting, especially through Atlanta! About an hour from home, we were stopped on I-85 for an hour because of an accident. We drove 3 whole miles in one hour.  Such fun. Yes.

    Finally we made it home around 5pm. We hurried and unpacked the car, filled up with gas and rushed to the kennel to pick up Cherished Dog before they closed at 5:30.  Thankfully, we arrived at 5:27, right before they closed. Honestly, we weren't sure we would make it there on time because of the delay! But we did.

    We're glad to be home. I've been busy catching up on laundry and housework, preparing for a Dove Chocolate home party I'm hosting tomorrow. There are apples waiting to be made into applesauce and my goal is to get my Etsy shop up and running this weekend.

    All that to say, I may be scarce here in the next few days!

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    On The Road Again

    Photo from freefoto.com

    We're heading out in the morning for a long weekend away. First to a songwriting seminar for my husband and then on to spend a couple of days with his parents.

     The sewing machine is packed along with enough fabric, patterns and ideas to keep me well occupied. My coupon bag is also by the door with several weeks worth of inserts to clip and organize. In addition, I'll have the laptop with me and possibly something to read.

    I wouldn't want to be caught with nothing to do, you know! I'm looking forward to the weekend!

    Be back next week. See ya later alligator!

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009


    Mom would make us egg-in-a-nests for breakfast when we were kids. It was always a special treat when we saw these on our plates.

    Mom's were always cooked perfectly with the egg yolks runny like a "dip" for the toast.  I would always eat the outsides of the slice of bread first with the egg yolk, then eat the egg, saving the cut-out piece of toast for last. It was always my favorite and still is. It's bread, fried  in butter; what's not to love about that?

    Most times, Mom would cut the hole for the "nest" with a cup. But on occasion, like for Valentine's Day, she was known to use a heart cookie cutter. I loved it!

    Cracker Barrel calls this "Egg-In-A-Hole", I've seen it called "Egg-In-A-Basket". My mom always called it "Egg-In-A-Nest".

    My husband had never heard of them before I came into his life and rescued him from his deprived state introduced him to the simple goodness of buttered and fried toast with an egg in the center. Now it's a favorite of his, too.

    Egg-In-A-Nest is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. Yum!! And best of all, they're quick and easy to make. And did I mention they're also very, very cheep?



    Butter both sides of bread. Using a cookie cutter or drinking glass, cut a hole in the middle.

    Pan fry on medium heat and flip once for even cooking. You will want the bread to be at least lightly browned. Don't forget to fry the cut-out piece of bread alongside!

    Serve hot!

    Do you have a fond breakfast memory? Please share!

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Aunt Lydia's Amish Pumpkin Bread

    This is our family's favorite pumpkin bread from my Great-Aunt Lydia! I like to make this delicious bread all year long but especially in the fall. It smells so good when baking! This recipe comes from the Amish cookbook from Kalona, Iowa which is where my dad's family is from.

    Pumpkin Bread

    Here's the recipe just as it appears in the cookbook. Of course, I have tried to "healthify" it a bit. You'll see my notes at the end. 

    This recipe makes 2 regular bread pan-sized loaves, 6 mini loaves or oodles of muffins! You can half the recipe if you like; I just make the whole recipe and freeze whatever we can't use right away! It freezes wonderfully and also makes nice gifts around the holidays. 

    3 1/2 cups flour
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    3 teaspoons cinnamon
    3 teaspoons nutmeg
    3 cups sugar
    1/2 teaspoon ginger
    1 cup oil
    4 eggs
    2/3 cup water
    2 cups canned pumpkin

    Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Make a hole in the center. Add the 4 moist ingredients. Mix well. Pour into greased pans.

    Bake at 350 degrees.

    **If using large pans, bake for about 1 hour.
    **For mini loaves, bake for 40-45 minutes.
    **Muffins are usually done at about 30 minutes.

    Pumpkin bread is done baking when a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

    Serve plain or spread with butter or cream cheese.

    **A handful of two of cranberries can be added to the batter, if desired.

    My Healthy Variations:
    --Instead of white flour, I use all whole wheat pastry flour.
    --Instead of white sugar, I use evaporated cane juice crystals which is an unrefined sugar. I reduced the amount of sugar from 3 cups to a scant 2 cups. Since the cane juice crystals don't dissolve as well as refined sugar, I powdered it by whirring it in my coffee grinder. This worked great!

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Have You Turned Your Heat On Yet?

    It's finally getting  a bit cooler here in the South. I do realize that our cold weather is nothing like that of my Northern friends!

    You can always tell a thin-skinned Southerner. They talk about how very cold it is at 50 degrees. I had to laugh one year when a lady I worked with was certain that it was going to snow in October because the temperature had gotten down to 55 degrees. She was freezing!

    Now I am cold-natured, so I really don't have much room to talk. However, I do know how to dress warmly and the layers come on if I am cold!

    What I'm wondering today is: Have you turned your heat on yet?

    We have not so far. In fact, we would like to hold off until November 1st if at all possible. The possibility of one more $5 gas bill for the year-what we pay through the summer when not using heat- is very appealing to us. At the same time, since we are not using the A/C right now, one would hope that bill would be lower as well. One would hope.

    So far we're good. We've been wearing sweatshirts and long pants-not shorts- around the house. My slippers are extra cozy too! I threw an extra blanket on the bed last night and we were nice and warm. As the temperature drops, I'll be replacing our cotton sheets with the flannel ones.

    But we are not too stubborn about this not turning on the heat idea. If it gets much cooler before November 1st, the heat will come on. We just know that here in the South the weather is very fickle! Cold one day and so warm we need A/C the next!

    So what about you? Cold enough for you?

    Feel free to also share your frugal and money-saving ideas for staying warm on a budget!

    Edited to Add: We just turned the heat on tonight!  It's expected to get down in the 30's overnight so it would be really chilly in here come morning ! My husband was starting to feel cold so we knew it was cold as he is not cold-natured. haha

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    The Headless Dog

    Oh where, oh where, has my little big dog gone? 
    Oh where, oh where, could be be?
    With his head chopped off and his legs so long,
    Oh where, oh where is he?

    Please excuse the unmade bed. It was the maid's day off.

    Just When I Think....

    ...That the garden is done producing for the year...

    I find all this!

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Menu Plan Monday and New Meal Rotation

    I've finally taken the time to make my new fall and winter meal rotation. And guess what? I'll share it with you today!

    Having a meal rotation really helps to simplify meal planning for me. Even though we eat very similar dishes from week to week and we most certainly have our favorites, I am a bit too creative of a cook to just make the same things over and over such as spaghetti on Monday, hamburgers on Tuesday, etc.

    What I do instead is to give each day of the week a theme. This is for suppers. I have a meal rotation for breakfast too, but just make the same thing over and over. It's just easier that way! For lunches, we eat either leftovers or something quick and easy such as grilled cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, quesadillas, etc.

    Just because every day has a specific theme, doesn't mean that I don't change it up every so often. Sometimes, things just need to be used up or I need a faster meal on a certain day. Having the rotation makes for a better balance of meals, since I like to plan at least one meatless meal a week and then one meal where meat is the star instead a casserole. This really helps me to cook frugally as well.

    Fall/Winter Meal Rotation


    Monday-hot cereal


    Wednesday-hot cereal


    Friday-hot cereal

    Saturday and Sunday- A variety of pancakes, muffins, baked goods, cold cereal, yogurt or cottage cheese, etc.


    Sunday- Leftovers or salad or quick and easy

    Monday-We are usually at a church meeting. If at home, Cook's Choice!

    Tuesday-Skillet dish/casserole/stir fry


    Thursday-Ethnic Night. This will include such themes as Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Mediterranean, maybe even Southern comfort foods or good home cooking from my Mennonite and Amish heritage.

    Friday-Snack or fun foods. Think appetizers. I'd love to turn this into movie or game night as well. We'll see!

    Saturday-Breakfast for supper.

    So now that we have all of that down. let's move on to this week!

    We were very busy this weekend as well as part of last week. I think we ate out 8 times in one week. That has to be a record for us! Some were just small things such as a McDonald's biscuit on the way to the game on Sunday, but we ate out nonetheless.

    After a junk food filled weekend, we're ready for home cooked and healthy meals!

    Sunday- restaurant

    Monday-church meeting

    Tuesday- Monterey Beans, brown rice, salad

    Wednesday-Beefy-vegetable soup, toast

    Thursday- Italian Night- Homemade pizza, salad

    Friday-Loaded Tostados

    Saturday- Pancakes, scrambled eggs

    For more menu plan fun, visit the home of  Menu Plan Monday!

    Fall Giveaway Winner!

    I'm excited to announce that the winner of my fall giveaway is:

    Manuela@ The Pleasures Of Homemaking.

    She wins this sweet little basket. Manuela has a real knack for beautiful and creative decorating on a budget so I know she'll put this basket to good use!

    Thanks to all who entered!

    Friday, October 09, 2009

    Our Anniversary Dinner

    Instead of going out to eat for our 5th anniversary, I opted to cook a special dinner at home.

    Shrimp isn't often seen on the McFrugals grocery list, but an anniversary calls for celebration. The occasional splurge makes living the frugal life more worthwhile, I believe.

    Because my pantry and freezer shelves are pretty well-stocked, I was able to devote a good share of our weekly grocery budget to buying some special items for the celebration.

     The Menu:
    --Shrimp Scampi served over spaghetti **
    --Whole-Grain French bread**
    --Spinach salad with grape tomatoes, olives and feta cheese
    --Sparkling white grape juice

    **Recipes at the end of this post.

    I found a 12 ounce bag of cooked shrimp for $3.49 and a bottle of sparkling white grape juice for $2.49 at Aldi. While there, I also picked up a bag of spinach for $1.99 and a pint of grape tomatoes for $1.49. I had everything else on hand.

    This made a very nice dinner for around $10.00, give or take. Obviously, we did not eat the whole bag of spinach at one setting. :-) If I do say so myself, this was every bit as delicious as eating at a nice restaurant and was a fraction of the price!

    Shrimp Scampi

    This was a new recipe that I received from my sister. Since we have similar tastes and I know she is a fantastic cook, I trusted her when she said that this was really really good! And she was right. This was awesome!!

    I used one 12 ounce package of already cooked shrimp instead of the 2 pounds raw shrimp the recipe calls for. We liked the extra sauce which we used for dipping  the homemade crusty French bread.

    1 c. butter
    2 T. prepared Dijon mustard
    1 T. lemon juice
    1 T. chopped garlic
    1 T. chopped fresh parsley or 1 t. dried parsley
    2 lbs medium raw shrimp, shelled, deveined, with tails attached

    Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
    In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine everything but the shrimp, and remove when the butter is melted.
    Put shrimp in a shallow baking dish, and pour the butter mixture over the shrimp.
    Bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until the shrimp are pink and opaque.

    Serve over pasta or as an appetizer with toasty bread. I used the above mentioned bag of already cooked shrimp so instead of baking it for 15 minutes, I baked it just until the shrimp were heated through, about 10 minutes.

    Makes 4-6 servings

    Whole-Grain French Bread
    If you're new to baking bread, I suggest you start with French bread. It's easy to make and you don't need any bread pans, just a  cookie sheet.

    Here I've updated my favorite French Bread recipe from the Not Just Beans cookbook to include freshly ground whole wheat flour. If you don't have access to a grain mill, you can use store-bought whole wheat flour.

    This recipe makes 2 small loaves or 1 large loaf. You decide. 

    1 pkg. or 1 tablespoon yeast
    1 tablespoon sugar or honey
    1 cup warm water(110-115 degrees)
    2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
    1 teaspoon salt
    3 cups freshly ground whole wheat flour. I used Hard Red wheat for this batch and it turned out great. Hard White wheat would work well, too.
    1 - 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
    4 teaspoons Vital Wheat Gluten or other dough enhancer, optional

    In a bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Add oil and salt and enough flour and the gluten to make a stiff(a little sticky though) dough. Knead 10 minutes on a floured board. (If you have a heavy duty mixer, dissolve yeast and water in mixer bowl. Add oil and salt and mix at low speed for a little bit. Then add flour and gluten to make a stiff dough(for best results, dough should be relatively easy to handle but still a little on the sticky side.) Mix on medium to high speed for 5-8 minutes or little longer until dough is mixed well.)
    Place in a greased bowl, turning once. Let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 -2 hours. Punch down and let rest 15 minutes. Divide dough in half. Roll each half on a greased surface into a 15-inch long log. Place on greased cookie sheets and make 5 slashes with a sharp knife diagonally across tops. Let rise until double, about 1 hour.

    Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.

    Optional: Mix a beaten egg and 2 tablespoons milk together to make an egg wash. Brush this mixture over  the unbaked loaves before the second rising. This gives the bread a "shiny" finish when baked.

    I often will skip the egg wash and just butter the tops of the loaves after baking or leave them plain. Either way is good!

    **For more Frugal Friday reading, visit Life As Mom!

     **Thanks for visiting my blog today! Please enter my giveaway while you're here. It's open through midnight tonight, Friday, October 9.