Sunday, January 31, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Feb. 1-6

It's the first week of February already! Hope you're staying warm and dry wherever you are. I'm trying out some new recipes to shake things up this week. I'll post recipes and pictures as I make them.

Here's the menu plan for the week:

Tori No Kara-age (Japanese deep fried chicken nuggets), rice

Rice and bean burritos (new), chips and salsa

Philly cheesesteaks on flatbread

Venison stew, homemade bread

Coconut chicken and rice (new)

Meatloaf, mashed potatoes

Chicken taquitos (new), corn

For more great menu plans to jumpstart your meal planning, head over to Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Tori No Kara-age (Deep-fried chicken nuggets)

Years ago when I taught junior high geography, I had each of my students choose a country to study. They wrote a report, gave an oral report in class, and created a posterboard display to show the class. They were allowed to submit test questions to me based on their oral reports and displays, too.

But their favorite part of the study (and mine) was International Food Day. They each brought a food from their country to share. We invited parents and siblings to come, too. Former students still talk about it!

I've collected several recipes from students over the years. This dish is from Japan. Hope you enjoy!

You'll need:

2-3 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 TBSP soy sauce
1 TBSP fresh grated ginger root
1 TBSP minced garlic
dash of salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup corn flour (NOT corn meal)

In a bowl, mix the soy sauce, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper together.

Add chicken bites and stir to coat. Marinate for 30 minutes, then give a good stir so all the pieces get covered well. Let marinate for another 30 minutes.

Combine flours in a resealable plastic bag. Add a few chicken pieces and shake to coat. Place on a tray and repeat with remaining chicken. Let the chicken sit for at least 10 minutes.

While the chicken sits, heat oil in a pan over medium heat. You'll need about an inch of oil so the chicken pieces get covered. When the oil is hot enough, put in 7 or 8 pieces. Fry for 5 minutes, turning once to make sure all sides are getting cooked. The chicken pieces will be golden brown when done.

Drain on paper towels. Serve over rice.

The marinade gives these chicken nuggets a wonderful flavor. The corn flour helps add a little crispness, too. I don't typically fry food often, but this yummy chicken is an exception I don't mind making!

Lost in translation?

Every other Sunday I play the piano for junior church and help with the lesson, but this was my week off. So at the dinner table this afternoon I asked the Princess how junior church went.

Her: "Mama, one of the boys went over to the snack machines and I told him not to."

Me: "Were there any grown-ups around?"

Her: "Yeah, but they didn't say anything to him, so I told him again not to go over there."

Me: "Even though he shouldn't have gone over there, you have to let the grown-ups handle it. They're in charge, not you."

At this point I noticed she was studiously eating her meal and not looking at me.

Me: "Did you hear what I said about letting the grown-ups handle things?"

Her: "Yes."

Me: "Really? What did I say?"

Her: "You said that grown ups are bossier and can tell kids what to do."

Charles and I got a big chuckle out of what I said versus what she heard. It's all in the interpretation, huh?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cheesy Garlic Breadsticks

Nothing goes better with pasta than breadsticks. Make the breadsticks with garlic and cheese, and you've scored a home run for dinner! I make these whenever I make pizza too, because the Princess won't eat pizza. But she will eat cheesy garlic breadsticks. Strange child.

Here's the recipe.

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP yeast

Mix these together and let the yeast get all foamy. The sugar feeds the yeast, helping it to grow. This will take about five minutes.

Add 1/2 teas salt and 3 1/2 cups flour. Knead well. Add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky. Let this rest for about 10 minutes. While it rests, make the yummy topping. Mix together 1/4 softened butter, 1/4 cup mayo, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1 teas garlic powder, 1 teas coarse salt and 1/2 teas Italian seasoning.

Stretch the dough onto a greased 15x11 cookie sheet. Spread the topping over the dough. With a pizza cutter, slice the dough lengthwise, then across into smaller strips. Do not skip the cutting step. It makes separating the breadsticks so much easier after they're baked.

Let rise for 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese and return to the oven until cheese is melted and breadsticks are golden brown.

Sometimes I brush on a little more melted butter after taking them from the oven. The topping can be slightly crunchy and the butter softens it a bit. But even without the extra butter, these breadsticks are positively delicious! They take about an hour from start to finish. And they beat those refrigerated and frozen breadsticks all to pieces.

This recipe is linked to Life as Mom's Ultimate Recipe Swap.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Seed starters the easy way

Last fall I started saving cardboard toilet paper tubes. We had guests for Thanksgiving and guests for Christmas, so we went through a whole lot of toilet paper. Which means I have a whole lot of toilet paper tubes.

I thought I might save them to give to the kids for crafts later. Then I stumbled onto this idea - using them to make seed starters!

You can purchase trays to start your seeds, or you can use material you've already paid for when you bought toilet paper. I know which one I'd rather use.

It's really very simple. All you need are toilet paper tubes and a pair of scissors.

Start by cutting the tube in half width-wise.

Then make four 1-inch .cuts around the tube.

Fold the cut cardboard down like you would to make a box.

Press the folds down firmly.

Here's what it looks like on the inside.

If you're going to make several of these, do each step for all the tubes at one time. Cut all the tubes in half, then cut slits in all the tubes, then fold them all down. It saves so much time instead of doing each one individually. In no time at all, you'll have a pile of seed starters.

Now you're ready to fill them with potting soil and get those seeds started! Spring will be here before you know it, so now is the time to get ready.

I'm going to start some tomatoes, peppers, beans and sunflowers this weekend. And the kids are going to help. It's just that easy to get seeds started.

For more helpful tips, head on over to We are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hot Fudge Cake

I'm not much of a cake person. Never have been. I prefer cookies, pastries and pies. But this cake is so much more than cake. It's gooey chocolate goodness baked in a pan. And you mix it up right in the pan too. How's that for convenient?

I once made two pans of this cake for a youth activity held at our house. I thought some of the teenage boys were going to cry from the deliciousness of it. Seriously, some of them were scraping up the remains from the pan with spoons. And I can't blame them. If they hadn't scraped it up, I would have after they left. Selfish boys.

Here's the recipe:

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 TBSP cocoa
4 teas baking powder
1/2 teas salt

Mix these dry ingredients up in an ungreased 9x13 pan. A fork or whisk works best for this.

To this add:
1 cup milk
4 TBSP oil
2 teas vanilla

Stir until smooth. Add 1 cup chopped nuts and spread evenly in pan.

Over this sprinkle 1 1/2 cups brown sugar and 1/2 cup cocoa

Pour 3 1/2 cups hot water over all.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. The cake will pull away from the edges of the pan and the wonderful hot fudge sauce will bubble up on the sides. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

This is what the cake looks like after you've dug into it. The water seeps through the batter and forms the most delicious fudgy sauce you can imagine. It's simply wonderful over vanilla icecream.

My mom made this for special occasions as I was growing up. But you don't have to wait for a special occasion. You probably have the ingredients right in your pantry. So whip up a pan of this warm delight now. I mean it. Don't wait.

This recipe is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday over at Blessed with Grace. Hop on over there and check out some more delicious recipes.

Menu Plan Monday - January 24-30

I can't believe this is the last week of January already! One month of the new year gone. So far I've been doing pretty well with my New Year's goals, so I'm happy. How about your goals? Has this first month been a good start to the year?

Here's the menu plan for this week:

Pork roast, potatoes, mac and cheese, green beans, honey wheat sandwich rolls

Here's what I do for my pork roasts. Place the roast in a crockpot and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, until easily shredded. Use your favorite barbecue sauce and serve on buns or mix with pork gravy and serve over rice or potatoes. When shredded, the roast will feed a LOT of people.

Cheeseburger soup, bread

Baby back ribs, corn, cole slaw

Deep dish pizza, breadsticks

Chicken and rice soup, rolls

Bratwurst sandwiches on flatbread, red potatoes

Homemade chicken nuggets, fries

For dozens of menu ideas, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays. You'll find great new ideas and stumble across some interesting blogs, too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Frugal Friday - Mineral make-up for less

I posted about my simple facial care routine here, but now I want to share my make-up routine.

Liquid make-up has always caused problems for my skin. It clogged my pores, despite its claims to the contrary. And it was messy and hard to blend into my hairline/jawline. Not to mention it felt heavy. Ugh!

I was so glad to find mineral make-up several years ago. On the recommendations of friends, I tried the Bare Escentuals Bare Minerals. Let me tell you, that stuff is expensive! But it was a dream to use. Buff, tap, swirl! I loved it. It wasn't hard to blend and it felt so light on my skin. The only product that I couldn't use was the eye color. It made my eyes itchy and watery. Since then Maybelline, Avon and other name brand cosmetics have marketed their own lines of mineral make-up, but it was still a bit pricey.

Then I found Everyday Minerals. Compared to Bare Minerals and the other brand names, it was positively cheap! For example, the Bare Minerals foundation is $25. I can get the EM equivalent for $9.50. The EM eye color doesn't bother my eyes at all. I compared ingredients and found that Bare Minerals contained bismuth while EM didn't. Maybe I'm allergic? The EM price is $6 while the Bare Minerals is $13. From brushes to concealers to kits, EM is cheaper.

And the best part, you can try them out before you buy. Everyday Minerals offers various free kits for foundation, concealer, eyes, and cheeks. You can find the perfect colors for you without investing a lot of money. All you do is pay shipping, and unless you choose a quicker method like Priority Mail, it's less than $3. You are limited to one free kit per order, though. But you can return as many times as you like to try other colors.

What's better than free?

Oh, they also offer samples of almost every make up product for $2-3 if you don't want to try a kit. So you don't have to spend a lot to find the perfect make up for you.

If you've ever considered switching to mineral make-up, give Everyday Minerals a try. If you don't like it, at least you haven't spent a fortune finding that out.

For more frugal ideas visit Life As Mom's Frugal Fridays.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Simple Facial Care

I'm a simple kind of gal.

So it stands to reason that my facial care regimen is simple too. But it wasn't always that way. I have large pores and oily skin, so buying a whole regimen of products designed to solve all those oily skin issues was the norm. The harsh astringents burned, the moisturizers didn't moisturize as much as they dried, and the make-up made my skin itch. I put up with it because all of the commercials said these products worked.

Then I started taking a closer look at the ingredients in these products and realized I was probably doing more damage to my skin than good. And the fact of the matter was, I still had large pores and oily skin. I was throwing money at products that didn't work for me.

So I simplified. A lot.

For an astringent I use witch hazel. I add a few drops of lemon essential oil to 4 ounces of witch hazel. It doesn't burn or dry my skin out like name brand astringents did.

My cleanser is castille soap with peppermint and tea tree oils added to it. I put 8 ounces of castille soap in a flip top container, then add 10 drops of each oil. Peppermint is invigorating and uplifting, while the tea tree oil has antiseptic properties. I shake the bottle well before each use and only use a tiny amount. Castille soap is very foamy and a little goes a long way.

Coconut oil is my favorite moisturizer. It goes on easily and soaks in quickly. As with the cleanser, a little goes a long way. The coconut oil solidifies at temperatures below 76 degrees, but as soon as I dip my fingers into it, my body temperature melts it so it can go on smoothly. If there's any excess left on my hands, I simply massage it into my cuticles for a quick moisturizing treatment.

Since I've simplified my facial care routine, I've noticed an improvement in my skin. It's actually less oily than before, even though I put oil onto it each morning and evening. My pores have been reduced and the number of skin eruptions has decreased.

Oh, speaking of skin eruptions, here's a simple zit treatment....dab on a drop of tea tree oil before bed. It works!

I'm so happy to have found a simple skin care routine that works for me.

For more helpful tips, head over to We are THAT Family's Works for Me Wednesday.

Cake Mix Cookies

If you've ever had unexpected company call and say they're dropping by later and find yourself without a snack to offer them, you need this recipe. It takes about 5 minutes to mix up and about 30 minutes for the entire batch to bake. It's so easy!

You'll need:

1 cake mix
1 teas baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 oil
1 cup of "mix ins" (chocolate chips, nuts, dried fruit, etc)

In a mixing bowl, stir the cake mix and baking powder together. Then add the eggs and oil and mix until well blended. Stir in the mix ins. Drop by rounded spoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheets. (I use a Pampered Chef scoop for this). Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then remove to wire racks.

Here's the beauty of this recipe. You can use whatever cake mix and mix ins you have on hand. For this batch I used white chocolate chips and dried cranberries. Yum!

Chocolate cake mix with peanut butter chips is delicious. Yellow cake mix with toffee bits and pecans is simply scrumptious. Red velvet and white chocolate - oh my goodness! You can create your own combination and have a tasty snack warm from the oven in 30 minutes. Pour a glass of milk and enjoy!

This recipe makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

For more tasty recipe ideas, visit Tempt My Tummy Tuesday over at Blessed with Grace.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Menu Plan for January 17-23

Another week has passed and it's time for a new menu plan. If you don't plan your meals for the week, let me encourage you to start doing so. It makes grocery shopping so much easier and gives you confidence that you do, indeed, have something to fix for your hungry family each night. I can't tell you how much stress a menu plan saves me.

Now on to the menu.

Cheeseburger rice, broccoli

Lentil tacos

Beef stir-fry, rice

Sausage & veggie calzones, homemade fries

Grilled steaks, baked potatoes

Pasta, breadsticks

Turkey and rice soup

If you need more inspiration for planning your own menus, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays. You'll find tons of ideas there.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ten Random Things

I did a scrapbook layout once about random things. So I decided to share some random things about myself with you so you can get to know me better. If you want to.

1. I hate spiders. I just do. They look evil to me. I know they eat the "bad" bugs, but to me they are bad bugs. And yes, I know they're arachnids, technically not bugs. But they crawl and creep like bugs. They freak me out. I also don't like killing them. One time I asked my dad to smush one for me and he told me that he couldn't because the spider's mom or dad or brother or sister might be watching and they'd come back and get him. More freaking out. Thanks, Dad. Until the past few years my husband dutifully killed them when I asked. Asked as in screamed my head off. But since I've had kids, I've had to rescue my offspring from the clutches of evil spiders a time or two. But I always keep my eye out for the spider relatives who might be watching.

2. I almost never follow a recipe exactly. And often, I don't make a dish the same way I made it before. I rarely measure out ingredients exactly unless I'm making bread. Bread needs exactness. My grandma cooked this way, and I'm told I cook like her. I'm glad to be compared to her because she was an excellent cook.

3. I was a cheerleader in high school. I attended a small private Christian school, so it wasn't like I had to beat out 50 girls for a spot on the squad. More like 10 girls. I wasn't the most athletic or graceful cheerleader, but I was enthusiastic and spirited. While I enjoyed cheering, I did not enjoy the uniforms. The sweaters were hot and itchy. The skirts were made of polyester and were uncomfortable. But it was a fun experience.

4. My husband was the first man I kissed. Seriously. I met him when I was 26. It's not that I had made a commitment not to kiss any man until I married him. I just hadn't dated anyone who was worthy of being my first kiss. You know that saying that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince? Not true. I'm glad I didn't go around kissing frogs. And I didn't wait until we got married to kiss him. We had to get in some practice, you know?

5. I have a secret desire to run for public office. I think I'd make a great president! Ha ha! I taught high school government for several years and one of my favorite sayings was "When I get to be president...." Most of my students said they would vote for me, so if I ran for president, I might garner a hundred votes or so. Most people in public office start in a smaller local arena, though. Maybe school board or county commission?

6. John Wayne is and always will be my favorite actor. My husband is amazed at my ability to watch a few seconds of a John Wayne movie while he's channel surfing and identify the movie, the character John Wayne is portraying, and year the movie was made. I love that he always played a good guy. Or a bad guy reforming to become a good guy, like in Angel and the Badman. I have two favorites, The Horse Soldiers and The Searchers. I can watch them over and over again. Nobody did westerns like John Wayne. Nobody. He's not called the Duke for nothing.

7. I'm not a girly-girl. Shopping isn't my thing. I don't spend money on shoes, except walking shoes. I rarely wear make-up and when I do, it's mineral make-up that doesn't cause my skin to break out. My favorite brand is Everyday Minerals. I've gotten my nails done once, for my wedding 11 years ago. I don't like putting nail polish on, so I don't. My husband is perfectly happy with the low maintenance woman he married. When he tells me the barn needs painting, then I'll paint it. Until then, I'm just plain ol' me.

8. I always wanted to be a teacher. And that's what I became. I taught junior high and high school social studies and English for 7 years. Now I homeschool my children so I'm still teaching. I plan to do this until they graduate highschool, so I've got 10 years to go. Some people say I have a gift for teaching. I don't know that I'd go that far, but I do enjoy the teaching part of it. The preparation and grading, not so much. In other words, I'm gifted in the art of talking. Ha ha!

9. Football is my favorite spectator sport. My husband hates it. But he does graciously let me watch it on the hi-def screen TV so I don't miss anything. My favorite team is West Virginia, of course. Alabama runs a close second. My favorite pro team is the Steelers. When I'm watching any of these teams, I find myself jumping up and cheering or talking to the players as if they can hear me. I don't realize I'm doing it. It's like an automated response or something. And I'm told it's funny to watch. Unless you are our dog. She doesn't like loud noises, so she often leaves the room when I'm watching football.

10. I've always wanted to go on a mission trip to a foreign country. My church sends out teams every year, sometimes every other year. But it seems like every time, I've had other responsibilities, mainly kid-related, that I had to attend to. But I'm praying about a mission trip in the future. I even have my passport ready to go. The kids will be grown up soon. All too soon. And then I'll go on a mission trip. Maybe to Africa. Do they have big spiders there?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Frugal Friday - Make a price book

I recently purchased the book Family Feasts for $75 a Week by Mary Ostyn to help me find ways to cut my grocery bill. She is a mother of 10 children, so she has some experience in pinching pennies. She also has a blog, Owlhaven, where she shares many of the tips and recipes in the book, but I've found it convenient to have everything in book form.

One of her strongest recommendations to start a price book. I've thought about doing a price book in the past, but talked myself out of it by telling myself I shopped enough to know prices. But Ms. Ostyn makes some good arguments for documenting prices, so I gave in and tried it.

The challenge is to start with the 20 things you buy most often - milk, bread, juice, meat, pasta, etc. Make a chart and visit the grocery stores in your area. Write down the prices of your oft-purchased items and compare. We're not talking about sale prices, just the regular price you would pay on any given day.

So far I've compared prices at WalMart, Target (not a Super Target, but with a decent food section), Winn-Dixie and a locally owned store called Big B's. I still have to visit another small local store and Aldi. Aldi is the farthest away from me, so it might be awhile before I get a chance to shop there.

Talk about an eye-opener! I've shopped at our Super WalMart for years and just assumed I was paying less for everything. Isn't that what they advertise? Then I visited Big B's and saw how much I was overpaying on some things at WalMart. And this little store is only 3 miles from my house. WalMart is 7 miles away. While it's true that Big B's didn't have a big selection, I see how I could easily save $10-20 a week on the basics. I can make fewer trips to WalMart for the things I can't find at Big B's. Target also had lower prices on some items.

Winn-Dixie was the most expensive on almost everything. I do watch their weekly sales and can sometimes find good deals, but generally their prices are higher. But just two blocks from my house, it is the most conveniently located store.

Here's a look at what my price books looks like right now.

I wrote down the 20 items, then the brand, the price, then calculated the price per unit. I also made a note of the date so I can see later on if prices increase. And since they always do, I'll be able to tell by how much.

When I've finished collecting my data (doesn't that sound all scientific and stuff?), I'll make a master list of each item and the price at each store so I can tell at a glance which is the best price. Then I can make my shopping trips more efficient and frugal. As I purchase items not already on the list, I'll add them too.

For more frugal ideas, visit Life as Mom's Frugal Friday.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Delicious Venison Stew

I grew up in rural West Virginia. My grandfather, dad, uncles and brothers were hunters. We ate a great deal of venison, and I loved it. But it had been a long, long time since I'd had any. This year one of our dear friends got a deer and he graciously gave us some meat. My husband put in a request for deer jerky too. That man loves his jerky.

You can treat venison like beef most of the time. You can grind it up into venison burger, you can make sausage out of it, you can cut it into steaks. But my favorite way to prepare it is making stew.

You'll need:
1 lb of venison, cut into chunks
1/4 cup flour
1 teas salt
1/2 teas pepper
4 cups beef broth
2 cups water
1 TBSP worchestershire sauce
1/4 cup pearl barley (not quick cooking barley)
4 potatoes, cut into cubes
2 carrots, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped

Put a little olive oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add venison chunks. Pour flour over the meat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir to coat all the meat. Cook until the meat is browned. Pour the beef broth and water over all and stir well. Bring to a boil, then add remaining ingredients. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer until vegetables and barley are tender, about an hour. Stir occasionally. I usually let mine simmer longer because the stew will thicken the longer it cooks. You can add more water if it's getting too thick.

This can also be made in the crockpot. Just brown your venison with the flour, salt and pepper as directed above before putting all ingredients in the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Of course, you can substitute beef for the venison. And you can add more vegetables like peas if you wish. I'm not a pea fan, so I'm content to leave them out. It's better than picking them out later.

I like to serve stew with homemade bread or breadsticks. Have to scrape up that delicious broth with something, you know!

For more scrumptious recipes featuring veggies, head on over to the Ultimate Recipe Swap at Life as Mom.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jello Cell model

In science we've been talking about cells and how our body is made up of millions of them. The building blocks of life, something Mr. Lego can relate to. As part of our study, we made a Jello cell mold today and the kids want to do it again tomorrow. I think they just want an excuse to make and eat jello.

Here's what we used: a glass pie plate, a box of lemon jello (so you can see inside the cell), a hardboiled egg, and various beans, pasta and nuts. We left out the Teddy Grahams, though. They got too mushy and fell apart in the jello. I fished the crumbs out with a fork.

We mixed the jello according to the package directions. The jello represented the cytoplasm inside every cell. We sliced the egg in half and place it yolk side up in the dish. This represented the nucleus of the cell. Then we poured half of the jello into the pie plate and added some beans and pasta to represent the organelles in the cell. The hardest part was putting it in the fridge and waiting for it to set.

When the jello was soft set, we took it out of the fridge and added more organelles to it. Then we poured the remaining jello on top and returned it to the fridge to set again.

It turned out well, and the kids were very proud of their work. I wish we had used another box of jello, though, because the nucleus didn't get covered all the way. But it did reinforce in their minds the make-up of cells and how intricately each one works.

This poor cell was devoured by hungry bacteria, er...children, shortly hereafter.

Healing Lip Balm

Chapped lips are in season, I'm afraid. It doesn't help that my kids have the habit of licking their lips, making the chapping worse. So I make lip balm and give them each a container of it to use. And I keep one in the kitchen so I can put it on them when we're heading out the door. There's one in my purse. And another on my vanity table. The one stashed in the van is empty, so I need to refill it soon.

Most commercial lip balm products contain alcohol which has a drying effect on the lips. Burt's Bees is one that I have found does not contain alcohol but it's pricey at $3 a tube. I have a frugal alternative that is very effective and only takes minutes to make.

What you will need: 2 TBSP jojoba or sweet almond oil, 2 teas beeswax pellets and essential oil. I use peppermint oil for its healing properties, but lemon might be more palatable for kids.

Measure the oil and beeswax into a microwave safe measuring cup. Heat for 30 seconds, then carefully remove and stir well. The beeswax will still retain its shape.

Return to the microwave and heat for another 30 seconds. Most of the beeswax should be completely melted.

Stir until all the wax is incorporated. Add 10 drops of the essential oil and stir until combined. Pour into clean containers or tubes. I get three .5 oz containers of lip balm from this recipe.

This balm doubles as an effective cuticle treatment, too. It softens and nourishes that dry area around your nails very nicely. You can't be a two-for-one beauty treatment, lips and nails all soft and pretty!

For more helpful tips, take a peek at Works for Me Wednesday.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - January 10-16

This week I'm trying to use up some leftover meat in the freezer, as well as trying to work in some more soup. The weather has been so cold lately that soup really suits my fancy. Thankfully, my family's fancy must be suited too, because they're happily eating it up!

Corn chowder - I mixed in some leftover Christmas ham I had in the freezer. It added a whole new level of yum!

Chinese chicken and rice

Beef and broccoli

Venison stew

Pizza and breadsticks

Cheeseburger soup


If you don't plan out your menus each week, let me encourage you to start doing so. It makes grocery shopping so much easier and really helps avoid the 5 o'clock panic of not knowing what to make for dinner.

For more tasty menu ideas, check out Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Chinese Chicken

Okay, I know. Frying isn't the healthiest way to prepare food. But seriously, our family likes this chicken so much, I'll break out the electric skillet and vegetable oil every once in a while to satisfy our craving for it. This is not a quick and easy meal either. But it's well worth the time and effort that goes into it.

Start by cutting 3-4 chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks. I sometimes will buy chicken on sale and cut it into nuggets, then freeze it so I have it on hand. I can use the nuggets for this recipe or to make homemade chicken nuggets.

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1 teas baking soda, 2 teas baking powder and 1 teas salt. Whisk in 1 1/2 cup cold water and stir until there are no lumps. Add chicken and stir to make sure all pieces are well coated.

In a wok or deep skillet, heat oil to 375 degrees. I don't measure the amount of oil. I just want it to be deep enough to fry the chicken pieces. To test to see if the oil is hot enough, I drizzle a little of the batter into the skillet. If it pops up to the surface right away and starts sizzling, I know it's hot enough. Add 8-10 chicken pieces at a time. Any more than that will crowd them, and they'll all stick together.

Turn occasionally to make sure all sides are getting cooked. When the nuggets are golden, remove and drain on paper towels. It usually takes the chicken about 5 minutes to cook. Of course, if your nuggets are big, it will take longer. Remember, you want bite-sized! After the chicken drains, place on a greased cookie sheet or shallow pan and place in a 300-degree oven. This will keep the chicken crisp until all of your nuggets are fried.

Now you can make your sweet and sour sauce. I'm the only one in the family who likes this, so I make a small amount. You will most likely need to double this recipe of your crew likes sauce.

In a small saucepan, stir together 1/3 cup white vinegar, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 TBSP soy sauce, 3 TBSP ketchup and 1/2 teas garlic powder. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. This sauce will thicken as it stands.

Now put some rice in a bowl. Place several pieces of chicken on top of the rice. Then pour on some sweet and sour sauce. Yum!

My kids eat this with chopsticks, as does my husband who grew up in Hawaii and is proficient at eating sushi, rice, and all manner of Asian food with chopsticks. I prefer a spoon so I don't miss a drop of the delicious sauce. And I'm no good with chopsticks. At all.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cheeseburger Soup

Winter is soup weather to me. For years I've stuck to making chili and potato soup. Oh, I'd try a new soup recipe here or there, but I was right back to chili and potato soup. Now, there's nothing wrong with either. But just like any food, the same old stuff can get boring.

So this winter I've branched out a bit. And I'm glad I have. Not only that, I've added the new soups to our menus more often, much to the delight of my husband and kids. I don't even remember the last time I made chili! I think it was when my parents visited in early November! The Princess and Mr. Lego absolutely love Chicken and Rice soup. Actually, it's been more Turkey and Rice soup with both Thanksgiving and Christmas leftovers getting used up. It's so yummy and versatile.

Then along came Cheeseburger Soup. It gives new meaning to yummy! The kids ate this right up. It's great warmed up for lunch the next day too. Charles said if we're ever traveling somewhere in cold weather, we're taking this soup along in a thermos to keep us warm! And then he ate some from a huge mug to show me he meant it.

So here's the yummy recipe.

1 lb ground beef, browned and drained (I left out about 1/4 lb of beef and replaced it with cooked lentils)
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 stalk celery, diced
2 potatoes, diced
1 teas minced garlic
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 teas parsley
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine these ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Melt 3 TBSP of butter in a pan. Add 1/4 cup of flour and stir until smooth. Gradually stir in 1 1/2 cups milk, making sure there are no lumps.

Stir the milk mixture into the soup. Return the soup to a boil, stirring constantly. Then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese until melted.

This can be made in the crockpot, too. Combine the beef, veggies, broth, water and spices in the crockpot. Cook on low until veggies are tender, about 4 hours. Stir the milk mixture into the crockpot and let thicken for 20-30 minutes. Right before serving, stir in the cheese until melted.

For more tasty recipes, visit Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Frugal Friday - Stretch your ground beef.

When ground beef is on sale, I'll buy 10 pounds or more and freeze in one-pound portions for later. I can just pull out what I need and thaw. Now I've discovered a way to make that ground beef stretch further. I replace up to a cup of ground beef with the same amount of cooked lentils in my beef recipes. Simple, frugal...and very good for you!

Lentils are cheap and easy to prepare. If you can boil water, you can cook lentils. You can even make them in a rice cooker if you have one. Cool the lentils and freeze in one cup portions to add to your ground beef dishes. This week I've added lentils to meatloaf and cheeseburger soup. This weekend I'll be making chili and adding lentils. And I will have only used 2 pounds of ground beef for the 3 dishes instead of 1 pound per dish.

Here's a pic of the yummy cheeseburger soup we had for supper tonight. On this cold wintry day, warm cheesy soup really hit the spot!

For more frugal tips, visit Life as Mom's Frugal Friday. And post a tip yourself if you have one. I love getting frugal ideas from others!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Works for Me Wednesday Backwards Edition

Every Wednesday, readers of We Are That Family's blog share tips that work for them. But this week, it's a Backwards Edition. We're supposed to ASK for help instead of sharing our advice.

So here's my dilemma. I got a tortilla press for Christmas. I want to make awesome homemade tortillas (part of my New Year's goal of making homemade food instead of buying). But I need an awesome recipe to make awesome tortillas. And any other little tips and tricks expert tortilla makers can share.

So what's your recipe for homemade tortillas?

This post is linked to We Are That Family's Works for Me Wednesday.

Brighter days ahead in our newly painted schoolroom

When we were considering buying a new house last spring, one of my wish list items was a schoolroom. We had homeschooled for two years at the dining room table. We had one little corner to store our things and everything had to be put away so we could eat at the table. So we didn't eat at the table often.

The Lord answered my prayer in this house. We have a little schoolroom that serves us quite nicely. And it's right beside a bathroom, so when the kids have to take a bathroom break, they're not running all over the house.

The room was the right size - not too big, not too small. But it was the most boring shade of taupe you've ever seen. And worse, the paint on the walls was a flat paint, hard to clean but easy to peel off, especially when putting posters up with sticky tack.

Last week I mentioned to Charles that I'd like to paint the schoolroom before we started the second semester. Yellow was what I had in mind. I needed to head to Lowe's or Home Depot to check out some colors. Instead, Charles told me to take a look at some paint cans he had in the storage shed. This man does not get rid of paint, let me tell you. In case we need to match a color later on, he'll keep the can.

Lo and behold, there on the shelf was a can of yellow paint. It was the color I'd had in mind, too. Funny thing, we used that color in our old house to paint the top half of Mr. Lego's room (the bottom half was dark green with lighter green grass blades painted on to go with our jungle theme). The date on the can was 2001. That's when he was born. And the can was still 3/4 full! We took it to Lowe's and had them shake it up for us. Then Charles graciously took time out of his busy schedule to paint the room for me. He's a much better painter than I am.

The room looks great! It's so bright in there instead of drab and dull. That's especially important this time of year when it seems so cold and dreary. The posters can be stuck to the wall now and the paint won't peel off.

But the best part, the most exciting part....the paint was FREE! We saved ourselves at least $18 by reusing 9-yr-old paint. Now isn't it funny that I wanted yellow for that particular room? And I had no idea we had any of that old paint left?

Want to see some pictures? I don't have any before pics to compare, unfortunately.

Yes, I now the map is a little crooked. I'm a little short. I couldn't reach over the bookshelf and get it straight. We'll live.

This is my desk and the first thing you see as you come through the door. It will not stay this neat and clean for long, I assure you.

This is one of my favorite things about having a schoolroom - a dry erase board! This was free, too. The lady who lived in this house before us was an artist and used these boards for stability while she painted. She left several in the house when she moved, so we've put them to good use. It's simply white shower board that you'd find at a home improvement store. Charles took one that didn't have any paint on it and mounted it to the wall for me. I love it!

This is the view from Mr. Lego's corner of the room. My mother retired from teaching kindergarten a few years ago and gave me a lot of her bulletin board stash, including the dry erase calendar beside my desk. I just change the month banner at the top and fill in the correct days each month. The kids take turns marking off days so they know how many days are left in the month.

And what would a tour of the brightened up schoolroom be without the brightest part of all, the students? Goofy smiles and all, they are the reason homeschooling matters to me.

I'm so grateful to my dear husband who painted for me. He actually enjoys painting. And well, I do not. So thank you, love. Our lives (and schoolroom) would be so dull without you.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Good Granola!

I started making my own granola several years ago. I played around with some recipes until I came up with one I liked. So this is based on my preferences. You can change it based on yours. Basically you need 7 cups of dry ingredients, most of which will be oats. You need a cup of liquids and a cup of dried fruit. It's that simple.

Here's my recipe:

4 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup chopped nuts (I use pecans and almonds)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 honey
1 cup dried fruit (I used cranberries and dates)

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, except for the fruit.

In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add honey and stir to combine. It should be the color of, well, honey.

Pour the honey mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Get in there and get the dry stuff on the bottom of the bowl, too. This may take a few minutes, but make sure it's all coated. Spread onto a greased cookie sheet. My cookie sheet is rather large and all of the granola will fit onto it. You might need to divide it up between two cookie sheets.

Bake at 200 degrees for an hour, stirring gently every 15 minutes. This will make a slightly crunchy granola. If you want a little more crunch, bake a few minutes longer. But watch it carefully and don't let it get too brown. It should be golden and the edges will be a bit darker.

Let the granola cool for about 30 minutes. Add the dry fruit and mix in as you break up the granola. Store in an airtight container. Then, because it's a healthy snack as well as a breakfast cereal, pour yourself a bowl and enjoy. Don't wait until morning!

This recipe is linked to Blessed with Grace's Tempt My Tummy Tuesday.

My first Blogging Award!

Lookee here! My sweet friend CopMama gave me my first blogging award. I have to list 10 things that make me happy, then name 10 sweet friends who deserve this award.

Hmmm....I have so many reasons to smile that it's hard to list just 10. But I'd rather have an overabundance of blessings than none at all. These are in no particular order.

1. Family time. Last night we played Sorry. The Princess won. It was fun. Loved it!

2. Answered prayers. God is so faithful. Even when His answers aren't what I want, He still answers.

3. Homeschooling. One of the biggest blessings I've ever experienced.

4. Movie nights with hubby. Netflix has become our friend.

5. Cooking. Especially trying out new recipes and having the family like them!

6. Reading. I love expanding my horizons through books.

7. White chocolate mochas. Homemade are best cause they're cheap!

8. Blogging. Who knew this could be so much fun?

9. Scrapbooking. I'm trying to make time to do this more.

10. Music. Playing the piano is my therapy. I'm sure the people who know me think I could use more therapy! Ha!

Now for the 10 sweet friends, I just can't narrow it down! So I'm going to cheat a little and not name 10 more blogs because it wouldn't be fair. Everyone deserves this one!

Thanks, CopMama!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - first week of the New Year!

The holidays are over, the decorations are put way, and we're getting back into our normal routine. But I'm kind of sad. Our home looked so cozy, all dressed up for Christmas. We spent time with family and made special memories. A new year has begun and I'm finding it difficult to refer to 2010 instead of 2009. That's one habit I need to break! Until next year.

Now on to this week's menu.

Turkey and rice soup (waiting when we got home from church. YUM!)

Sausage and veggie calzones

Meatloaf, roasted potatoes

Cheeseburger soup (recipe to come later this week), bread

Pasta bake (didn't get to this last week), garlic bread sticks

Dinner with friends - don't know what I'm bringing yet

Chili, corn chips

Hope you all have a blessed week! For more great menu ideas, check out Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Goals

Happy New Year! It seems like just yesterday the Y2K panic was in full swing, but here we are, ten years later, celebrating the start of a new year. I rarely make New Year's Resolutions, but this year I am setting some goals. Of course, I want to be a better Christian, a better wife, a better mother. Don't we all? But this year I'm setting some specific goals. Some spiritual, some financial, some personal, some health-related.

1. Read through the Bible. I love to read the historical books in the Old Testament. The prophets can get tedious, though. No matter. This year, I'm reading them all and asking the Lord to show me new insights and lessons. I want to deepen my relationship with Him.

2. Start and keep a family household planner. I've kicked around this idea for awhile, but this year it needs to become a reality. We moved into a bigger house and with all the space comes the need to keep it clean and organized. A cleaning schedule has become a necessity. I'm also going to keep better track of important papers and business cards. A household planner will help me stay organized.

3. Stick to a budget. This one is actually for me and hubby. He set up an expense tracker and it's been eye-opening to see where our money goes. We've started keeping all receipts so we can keep track of those little things that drain our finances. So far, it's working. We don't just run out and buy something because we want it. We weigh the importance of our purchases. Do we really need this or that? Can we make do for another month or year without it? Our Sunday School teacher shared this little tidbit with us - Use it up, wear it out. Make do or do without. So simple but so wise.

4. Plan for a garden. I've already started this one. Last year we had a tiny little garden that didn't do very well. Mainly because we moved and didn't get things planted in time. I'm better prepared this year. I purchased seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery and will start them later this month indoors. I chose Nichols because they are a family-owned business that doesn't use genetically modified seeds.

5. Buy locally. Later this spring, Charles and I want to purchase a side of beef from a local farmer who doesn't use antibiotics or growth hormones. When the local farmers market starts up, I'll purchase fruits and veggies that I haven't grown myself, as well as locally produced raw honey. I'll get up early on Saturday morning to get the best selection. I will get up early on Saturday. I will get up early on Saturday. See how serious I am about this?

6. Drink more water. I rarely drink soft drinks anyway, so this one won't be too hard. I just need to remember to fill the water bottle and keep it handy. I need to drink water even when I'm not thirsty.

7. Make more from scratch. This is a financial and health-related goal. It's been a while since we've bought a takeout pizza. I've started making my own. I have a great granola cereal recipe that I need to make more frequently. I want to make homemade snacks and treats more regularly. I got a tortilla press for Christmas, so I'm on a quest to find the perfect tortilla recipe. I like knowing what is in my food without all the added sweeteners and preservatives.

8. Make time to scrapbook. I don't consider myself to be creative, but I do enjoy scrapbooking. I need an outlet to express myself constructively. I've slacked off for various reasons, but now I have a dedicated craft space as well as a stash of supplies. I don't need to purchase the latest and greatest, I just need to use what I have. (insert hubby's loud AMEN here) I also want to start a monthly scrapbook night with some friends for creativity and fellowship. More girls' nights! Yay!

As this New Year starts, I pray God's blessings on my friends and family. I pray for growth and peace for all. May we all see His mighty hand working in our lives this year.