Sunday, February 28, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Feb. 28- March 6

It's the first week of March already! I can't wait for warmer weather. This winter has been unusually cold here in the South. Bring on spring!

Last week I told you about our church's International Dinner that we have for our missions conference. I tried out some recipes last week and have one more to try on Monday to determine what I'll contribute to the dinner. Right now I'm leaning toward the mujadarrah, but I'm looking forward to the Ethiopian stew on Monday.

Here's this week's menu plan:

Out to eat

Doro Wat (Ethiopian chicken stew)
I found this recipe in Mary Ostyn's Family Feasts for $75 a Week

Speedy corn chowder, homemade bread

Deep dish pizza

Pasta with veggie sauce, cheesy garlic breadsticks

International Dinner at church

Hot dogs with homemade sauce

For more meal-planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snickerdoodle Bars

I like Snickerdoodle cookies well enough. But put that cinnamony goodness in a bar form, and I love them! I can't tell you how warm and inviting your kitchen will smell after you put these in the oven.

Best of all, there are no fancy ingredients. You probably have everything you need in your pantry. These will freeze well too. Just wrap individually in plastic wrap and put in a freezer bag. Pop in the microwave for a few seconds and you've got a warm treat that tastes fresh from the oven.

Here's what you need:

2 cups brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 eggs
1 TBSP vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour
2 teas baking powder
1 teas cinnamon
1/4 teas nutmeg
1 teas salt
2 TBSP sugar mixed with 2 teas cinnamon

In a bowl, beat brown sugar and butter together. Add eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla and beat until smooth.

In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmet and salt. Add to butter mixture and stir until well-blended. The batter will be thick like cookie dough. Spread into a greased 9x13 pan with a greased spatula or your hands.

Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the top, making sure it's all covered.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Check after 25 minutes to see if it's done. Gently press the surface with your finger. It will spring back when done. If you overbake these, they will be crumbly. So go with the shortest amount of baking time if you can. Cut into bars when cool enough to handle. Store in an airtight container.

A warm Snickerdoodle bar plus a cold glass of milk....ummm, delightful!

This recipe is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday over at Blessed with Grace. Head over there for some more yummy recipes!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Follow Blog Hop

I've never participated in a blog hop before, so this is new to me. The idea is to hop from blog to blog and find new ones to read and enjoy. It's also a way to share your blog with others so they can find inspiration from you. So, here goes.

Friday Follow

MckLinky Blog Hop

Hope everyone has a lovely Friday!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Natural Pain Relief - Arnica

Over the past few years my family has tried to decrease our dependence on prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines for the flu, colds, and minor illnesses. My dad recently gave me the book The Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know About by Mark Stengler. This book has 113 natural remedies using homeopathic and herbal therapies for a wide range of conditions.

I've been very impressed with the information this book contains in an easy-to-use format. All of the remedies are listed alphabetically and described in great detail, then the back of the book contains a quick remedy finder so you can look up possible treatments for whatever ails you.

My favorite "find" so far has been for pain relief and bruising. It's arnica. This is not the herbal form of arnica. It's the homeopathic form. Herbal arnica is used in gels or creams and should not be taken internally. Arnica reduces swelling caused by sprains and falls, helps alleviate muscle and joint pain, and is used effectively to treat concussions. It can also be taken pre- and post-surgery to reduce swelling and pain.

I bought some here and have been very pleased with how well it works. The pellets are small and dissolve easily. The Princess bumped her forehead and a bruise started puffing out right away. I gave her a dose of arnica and the swelling went down almost immediately. I gave her one more dose a few hours later. By the end of the day, I couldn't see where the bruise had been. I've taken it when I've awakened with a stiff neck and seen quick results, too.

I'm looking forward to trying other natural remedies listed in this book. I enjoy learning about alternative treatments for common ailments. However, I am not a doctor nor do I portray one on TV. Research these treatments for yourself and determine if they'll work for you.

I just know that arnica works for me!


I've wanted to make ratatouille since the Disney movie came out. I decided to make some for last year's International Dinner at my church's missions conference, and it was a big hit.

As I searched the internet for ratatouille recipes, I found out there are as many versions of this dish as there are days in the year. Some chefs insist it must be layered a certain way and that only certain veggies can be used. For others, it's the spices that count. It can be prepared in a casserole dish or a skillet. Baked or cooked on the stovetop. See what I mean?

So I gathered a little from this recipe and a little from that one and came up with my own version. My husband who doesn't care for eggplant or zucchini will eat it in this dish. It's very flavorful.

You can easily double this recipe, but the 8x8 size is just right for my family.

You'll need:

olive oil for sauteing
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small eggplant, diced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
1/2 half an onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, sliced
grated Parmesan cheese
Herbs de Provence

A word about Herbs de Provence - it's a mixture of basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, fennel, sage and lavender. In my opinion, it is essential in this dish. The aroma from the lavender is divine.

In a saucepan, saute the garlic in olive oil for a minute or two. Add the diced eggplant and cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the pan and add more olive oil if needed. Saute the onions and peppers until softened.

In a greased 8x8 pan, layer the cooked eggplant. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, salt and herbs.

Layer the zucchini over the eggplant and sprinkle with cheese, salt and herbs. Next layer the mushrooms, followed by cheese, salt and herbs. The onions and peppers are next, sprinkled with the cheese, salt and herbs. Finally, cover with a layer of sliced tomatoes, finished with a the cheese, salt and herbs sprinkle.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. The pan might look full, but the veggies have a lot of liquid and will cook down during baking.

Doesn't that look yummy?

This recipe is linked to Blessed with Grace's Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays. Head over there for some more delicious recipes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It Happened Again!

Y'all know I don't like spiders. I posted about it here.

For the 4th time in my lifetime, I found a spider on my bath towel. While I was drying off in the shower!

Seriously, the 4th time!

The first time I was at college. I threw the towel out onto the floor of the bathroom I shared with 20 other girls on the hall. Nice. A girl waiting for a shower killed the spider for me. I dripped the whole way back to my room because I didn't want to use that towel to dry off.

The second time I was a counselor at camp. Okay, that's not too unbelievable since I was in the middle of the West Virginia wilderness, therefore technically in spider territory. But for four weeks of camp, I was the only person to have a spider on the bath towel while drying off in the shower. I know this because I asked around.

The third time was at my in-laws' house. My husband dutifully followed the screams and came into the bathroom to kill the spider for me. He also brought me an extra towel.

But this morning - in my own bathroom! Ugh!!! I'm blind as a bat in the shower without my glasses, so if the little varmint hadn't scurried up my arm I might not have noticed it at all. All I know is that swiping, dancing, gyrating and jumping out of the tub ensued. And I know it came from the towel because I always, always, ALWAYS check the tub and shower curtain for spiders before I get in. Always. And I usually check the towel too, but not today. See what happens when you let your guard down?

Somehow my towel ended up in the bottom of the tub and I just knew the spider was just waiting for me to peek under it so it could get me. And hubby had left early for work so I knew I had to take care of this myself. I got dressed, ran downstairs to the kitchen and got a pair of tongs so I could lift the towel up and see underneath it. I had a shoe in the other hand, ready to strike. When I lifted up the towel, I found this:

I guess somewhere in the midst of the swiping and gyrating, it got in the way. Too bad.

Am I the only one this happened to, four times no less? Could my dad have really been right, that spider families see when you kill one of their family members and take revenge?

But what I really, really want to do the spiders know which towel is mine?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - Feb. 21-27

Next week our church is hosting our annual Missions Conference. Each year we have missionaries from all over the world come and present the work that God has called them to do on the mission field. One of the highlights of the week is the International Dinner on Friday night. Everyone brings an international dish to share and a great time is had by all.

So this week, I'm going to try out some international recipes on my family and see how they go. I always try a test run before taking a new dish, especially one with which I'm not familiar, to a church fellowship. My guinea, family then give them their approval (or not) and I know if it's an acceptable offering to take.

Here's the plan for the week:

Herbed chicken, rice

Frybread tacos, corn

Mujadarrah (Lentils and rice with fried onions)
Syrian green beans

Black bean soup

Chicken taquitos

Spaghetti with Very Veggie Pasta Sauce, cheesy garlic breadsticks

Bonfire and weinie roast with friends (I'm bringing hot dog sauce and a dessert)

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays.

Very Veggie Pasta Sauce

I don't like meat sauce with pasta. I'm okay with meatballs, but I just don't like chunks of meat in my pasta sauce. When I was growing up, my mom would save some plain sauce out of the pot before she added meat to it because she loved me. Thanks, Mom.

I do, however, love veggies in my sauce. Why chunks of veggies but not chunks of meat? Maybe it's a texture thing, or maybe I'm just plain weird. I'm sure it's the former, since I'm perfectly normal in all other ways. Ha!

The beauty of this recipe is that you can add whatever veggies you have on hand. It's especially great at the end of the summer when you need to use up your garden produce. The sauce freezes wonderfully, so you can enjoy that fresh veggie taste all year.

You'll need:

1 TBSP olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced (1/2 teaspoon minced garlic = one small clove)
3 cups of chopped veggies - onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, etc.
1 26-oz can of tomato puree
1 6-oz can tomato paste
2 cups water
1 TBSP Italian seasoning
2 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese
1 teas sugar
2 teas salt

Saute the garlic in olive oil for a minute or two until golden. Add the chopped veggies to the pan and cook until soft.

In a large pot, combine the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine well. Add the softened veggies and turn the heat to medium. Bring to a simmer. Cover and continue to simmer for at least an hour. Stir occasionally. If the sauce is too thick for your preference, add a little water until it reaches desired consistency. Adjust the seasonings to your taste as well.

Serve this over pasta or use as a base for vegetable lasagna. It's very hearty and flavorful, so there's no need to add meat to your sauce. If your family doesn't like chunky sauce, you can blend the softened veggies in a food processor before adding to the tomato base, or you can wait until the sauce is cooked and blend until smooth.

To freeze, place up to 4 cups in a gallon Ziploc bag. Lay flat on a cookie sheet and carefully squeeze out as much air as possible. Seal and freeze. To thaw, place in the fridge for a couple of hours. Reheat in a saucepan.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Homeschool Art

The Princess loves art. She loves to paint, draw, create with play-doh, you name it. Mr. Lego is okay with art, but he'd rather be reading or playing the Wii. I'm no artist, but I do love to visit museums and appreciate the talents of artists.

One of my favorite websites for art is Art Projects for Kids. I can always find neat art projects with easy instructions for the kids to do. It makes up for my lack of talent and art teaching abilities.

This week we tackled the Kandinsky Colorweaver project. Both children really enjoyed creating the diamonds of color with oil pastels.

Here is the Princess' version:

Mr. Lego's rendition:

Kandinsky was also known for his use of geometric shapes and bold lines. You can see a collection of his work at All Posters. I had the kids trace several shapes on paper and use a ruler to intersect lines on the paper.

The Princess used watercolor paints on hers. She titled it "Cave of Diamonds."

I joined in, too. This is "Bottle Rockets."

The Princess even talked her Daddy into participating. His creation, "Storm at Sunset."

I just love the creativity the whole family shared this week! We had such fun pointing out our favorite parts of each person's work. Who said you had to be a trained artist to create art?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Favorite Herbal Tea

I don't like tea. Sweet or unsweet. Hot or cold. Never have.

But I do enjoy herbal teas, which contain only herbs and no tea leaves.

I've been researching herbs and their uses for a couple of years now. I've tried several combinations and found one that works especially well for me.

I have low iron so an herb that works for me is nettles. Chamomile is another favorite for its relaxing properties and sweet flavor. Peppermint also adds some zing and a pleasant aroma.

I purchase dried herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs and create my own blends. I store the herbs in glass canning jars. I keep my favorite blend on hand because I drink a cup or two a day. It really helps my energy level stay balanced throughout the day.

My blend is simple: two parts chamomile, two parts nettles and one part peppermint. I put 2 teaspoons of this mixture into a mesh tea ball and place it in a mug. Then I pour 8 ounces of boiling water over it and allow it to steep for 10-15 minutes. I use the back of a spoon to press as much water out of the tea ball as I can. Then I add some raw honey to sweeten it.

I love drinking this tea and it has helped improve my overall health. I hate taking iron supplements so this is a great alternative for me. Please note that I am not a medical professional and am only posting about my own personal experience with herbs. Consult your doctor and or a knowledgeable herbalist for advice on your own health needs.

For more helpful tips, visit Works for Me Wednesdays at We Are THAT Family.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats

My husband is not a big fan of marshmallows. He doesn't like the texture or the taste. S'mores? Not his thing. He didn't like Rice Krispie treats either until a friends gave us a marshmallow-free recipe.

These come together very quickly. The only part that takes a little time is the chilling phase. You definitely want your chocolate layer to set up before cutting.

Here's what you'll need:

1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter
6 cups Rice Krispies
1 pkg chocolate chips

Melt the sugar and corn syrup together over medium heat. Use a large pan for this so when you add the cereal, it won't be overflowing.

Add the peanut butter and stir until melted. Remove from heat.

Stir in the Rice Krispies until well coated. Pat the mixture into a greased 9x13 pan.

Melt the chocolate chips and spread over the entire pan. I use milk chocolate chips, but you could use semi-sweet or even a combo of chocolate and butterscotch chips.

Chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes so the chocolate has a chance to harden. Let the pan sit on the counter for a few minutes before you try cutting them into small squares. These are rich and sweet, so small portions are good.

If you want to skip the chocolate layer completely, the treats are still very, very good. But who can resist a chocolate peanut butter combination? Not me.

For more yummy recipes, visit Blessed with Grace's Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays. You'll be glad you did!

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

DIY Mario Kart birthday party

Mr. Lego told us a while back that he wanted a Mario Kart birthday party. We looked around town to find party supplies but weren't successful. Not suprising since we live in a small town. We searched the internet too but everything we found was expensive. We had decided at the beginning of the year that we would stick to a budget and the party supplies were going to go well over that.

So Charles, bless his heart, decided that we'd make what we needed instead of buying it. By that, I mean he would make what we needed. He's very creative and I stayed out of his way! My contribution was cupcakes.

His first creation was a pinata. If you've ever seen the Mario Kart game, you know there are tons of characters and objects that make up each race. Charles chose a Chain Chomp as the inspiration for the pinata. It's a round black ball with a huge mouth and sharp teeth that can chomp a racer and slow him down during a race.

He started with a plastic beach ball and blew it up to full size. He put three layers of newspaper mache over the ball using a flour and water mixture as the glue. A layer of black construction paper, black spray paint, a red construction paper mouth and white paper teeth finished it off.

After we filled it with trinkets and candy, Charles sealed the hole with black duct tape. We had all of the supplies on hand except for the candy. Pretty frugal, huh?

His next project was to make piranha plants. He took styrofoam balls and cut them half. Each half was painted red with white polka-dots. He shaped floral wire into stems and used the ends as prongs to hold the balls in place. Then he paper-mached the stems and formed leaves, painting them green when he was finished. The pots for the plants were old plastic planters we had in the shed with green aquarium gravel to hold the piranha plants in place. Plastic vampire teeth we had from trick-or-treats past served as the plants' teeth.

Not bad, huh? And we had all the supplies on hand, including the paint.

We used red and blue streamers to decorate our playroom, as well as some gold cardboards stars we found at the Dollar Store. We put gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins on the food table and in the pinata. Here's Mr. Lego taking the first whack at the pinata.

I made cupcakes and frosted them with blue, green or red icing. Then I took white M&M's to decorate the tops. The kids gobbled them right up. To get the white M&M's, I had to buy three bags of Valentine's M&M's, then go through each one and pull out the white ones. I don't know what we'll do with the rest. Wink, wink.

We used simple red napkins and blue cups for the icecream instead of spending tons of money on themed plates and tableware. The biggest expense for this party was the candy for the pinata. We only spent about $20 and had tons of fun!

Part of the entertainment included a tournament in which all the kids got to race each other on the Wii. The winner got a hand-held Mario Kart game we found at WalMart on clearance.

Mr. Lego was so proud to show off the pinata and piranha plants to his friends. He was thrilled that his daddy had taken the time to make them. I'm sure he'll never forget it, either.

Charles deserves the credit for how well this turned out. Paper mache is time-consuming and tedious, but he did it without complaint. Thanks, babe.

One word of advice. If you plan a DIY party like this with a theme, start planning and creating your decorations early. Charles started on the pinata two weeks ago to give himself plenty of time. We're so glad he did because he was out of town for work the week before the party.

Now the Princess is thinking ahead to her birthday. It's in July. Who knows what crazy theme she'll want! We'd better get started now!

This post is linked to Life as Mom's Frugal Fridays.

Menu Plan Monday - Feb. 14-20

Last week we celebrated two major events - Mr. Lego's birthday and snow! Yes, we had snow in Alabama. I adjusted my menu plan so I could make soup on our snow day. What goes better with snow than soup?

This week's menu plan has a lot of my favorite stand-by's. Easy and quick. Those are my favorite kinds of dishes to make. Have a great week!

Steak, baked potatoes

Chicken nuggets, homemade fries

Spaghetti and meatballs, cheesy garlic breadsticks


Cheeseburger soup

Roast, potatoes, and carrots


For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lego!

Nine years ago today you made your appearance, a little earlier than expected. You've brought such joy and laughter into my life. I'm so glad I'm your mom.

I love you, bud.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Frugal Friday - when you don't have a Food Saver

Use a straw! Seriously.

Food Savers are used to vacuum seal foods that are going into the freezer. Air is the mortal enemy of frozen foods since it causes freezer burns.

But you don't need a machine that costs $150 to remove air from a freezer bag. You need a straw. And the ability to inhale.

Here's a bag of shredded cooked chicken. I knew I wouldn't be using it for a week or two so into the freezer it goes. I sealed up the bag except for one corner and tried to squeeze out as much air as I could.

Then I inserted the straw into the little opening I left in the corner.

Pinch around the opening to get a tight seal. Then put the straw in your mouth and inhale deeply. Suck all of that air out of the bag! It will shrink around the contents of the bag. Carefully pull the straw out and pinch shut before any air gets in.

See how the bag squeezes the chicken tightly? Yay!

I saw this tip demonstrated over 10 years ago on an HGTV show and have used it ever since. Your frozen foods will stay fresher longer and you'll avoid the dreaded freezer burn.

But, please, whatever you do....don't try this with meats in a marinade or any other item with lots of liquid. Unless, of course, you'd like a mouthful.

Find some more frugal ideas over at Life As Mom's Frugal Fridays.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Healthier Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love chocolate chip cookies. My husband loves chocolate chip cookies. And the kids - they LOVE chocolate chip cookies! We especially love the Toll House recipe that is printed on the chocolate chip package. The problem is, once you eat a cookie, you want another. And another. Before you know it, almost the entire batch is gone!

So I came up with a healthier version of the Toll House recipe. And believe it or not, they last longer. The whole wheat flour makes them more satisfying so we don't eat as many in one sitting. There's less sugar, too. So the kids aren't bouncing off the walls. As much.

Here's what I do. I cut down the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup each white and brown. The Toll House recipe calls for 3/4 cup of each. So I've eliminated 1/3 of the sugar.

I use one cup of white flour and one cup of whole wheat flour. If you want to use whole wheat pastry flour, which is finer than regular whole wheat, you can do so. But I like the graininess of the whole wheat in this recipe. I also mix in 1/4 cup wheat germ. The Toll House recipe uses 2 1/4 cup white flour.

As much as I love chocolate, there's really no need to use the entire bag of chips like the Toll House recipe says. I use only half the package and the cookies have plenty of chocolate. Milk chocolate chips taste sweeter, so use those in place of semi-sweet for more of a sweet chocolate taste.

My recipe looks like this:

1 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teas vanilla

In a bowl, cream the butter and sugars together. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.

In another bowl, mix 1 cup white flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup wheat germ, 1 teas baking soda, and 1 teas salt. Add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in 1/2 bag of milk chocolate chips and 1/2 cup chopped nuts, if desired.

Drop by teaspoonfuls on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Eating healthier chocolate chip cookies definitely Works for Me!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sweetheart Bookmarks

I found a cute Valentine's Day idea in the February issue of Family Fun magazine and decided to give it a try. The best part was I had all the supplies on hand. This was quick and easy and so cute.

You'll need:

Felt, coordinating ribbon, clear-drying glue, and scissors. I used a pencil and ruler too, so I could get some straight lines.

First, cut a strip of felt about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide and 6 inches long. I used a pencil to mark the lines. I am completely straight-line challenged.

Then cut a piece of ribbon a few inches longer than the felt strip. Glue it down the middle with the clear-drying glue.

Then cut a square from the felt and fold it in half.

Now cut half a heart shape, like you used to do in elementary school when cutting out paper hearts. Unfold and see the pretty heart!

Glue this to the top of your felt strip. How easy is that?

You've just completed a cute bookmark, so go grab and book and start reading!

Here are a couple more that I whipped out quickly in different colors. All three took maybe ten minutes total because I stopped and took pictures.

These would make sweet little gifts for your child's teacher or friends. Grandparents would love to receive one of these, too. Be sure to keep one for yourself and your little readers, too.

Luscious Lemon Coffee Cake

After making a batch of homemade lemon pie filling, it seemed only natural to make this delicious coffee cake. It's light and decadent at the same time. The tartness of the lemon filling blends beautifully with the sweetness of the cake.

You'll need:

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup oil
4 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teas baking powder
1/2 teas salt
1 batch homemade lemon pie filling (you can use canned pie filling, but it isn't as good)
1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1 teas cinnamon

Combine the sugar and oil. Add eggs and beat until light and lemon colored. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the egg mixture and mix well. Spread half of the batter into a greased 9x13 pan. Spoon pie filling over the batter. Carefully top with remained batter. I drop small spoonfuls of batter all over and try to connect them. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

You can add a simple glaze of powdered sugar and milk if you want. Combine about 1/2 cup powdered sugar with a couple of tablespoons of milk until you have a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over warm cake.

For more delicious recipes, visit Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays over at Blessed with Grace.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Menu Plan - Feb. 7-13

This week we're celebrating Mr. Lego's birthday, so we're having a special dinner out at a sushi restaurant in Chattanooga. Yes, sushi. The kids love it. I'm okay with it, but it's not my favorite. But then it's not my birthday either.

We're also attending a Valentine's Banquet at our church on Saturday, so this will be an easy week for the cook.

Here's the plan for this week:


Pancakes and bacon

Grilled chicken, rice

Cheeseburger rice, green beans



Chicken nuggets and fries

Valentine's Banquet

If you don't plan menus for the week, let me encourage you to start doing so. It is such a time saver and stress reliever. The wonderful thing about it is that you can be flexible. If you don't feel like hamburgers on Monday, cook them on Tuesday instead. But at least you know what to get when you shop for groceries. Once you have it on hand, you can rearrange your menus as you see fit.

If you need some more menu ideas, visit Menu Plan Mondays at Organizing Junkie.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Homemade Lemon Pie Filling

I love lemons. Lemonade. Lemon cream. Lemon pudding. I'm a little tart, I guess. Wait a minute....that didn't come out right. I like tartness. That's what I meant.

So I simply adore lemon pie. Not lemon meringue pie. I don't care for meringue and scrape it off if I can. It's okay, because this lemon pie filling is so good, it can stand on its own without meringue. And you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen already.

Here's what you need:

1 1/2 cups sugar
3 TBSP corn starch
3 TBSP flour
Dash of salt
1 1/2 cups hot water
3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 TBSP butter, melted
1/3 cup lemon juice (I use the concentrated stuff in the green bottle)

Mix the sugar, corn starch, flour and salt in a saucepan. Slowly add hot water and whisk together, making sure there are no lumps.

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When the mixture starts boiling, cook for 2 minutes while stirring. Dip out a small amount of the mixture and stir into the egg yolks. Add the eggs into the saucepan and boil for two more minutes. The mixture will be thick.

Remove from the heat. Stir in butter and lemon juice and mix well. I didn't melt the butter; I just threw it in. And while it melted eventually in the hot mixture, it would have been easier to melt it beforehand.

Let this cool, then use it to make a lemon pie or lemon coffee cake. I'll post the coffee cake recipe soon. Or you could just eat it with a spoon. I mean, you want to taste it before you go any further, right? Just to be sure it's good. You might need another taste for verification purposes, too.

This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days if you aren't going to use it right away. Just be aware that the temptation to eat it might ruin your future pie. You might have to make more.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Frugal Friday - shop at home first

In the past when we've needed or wanted something, we've run out to the store and purchased it. This year, however, hubby and I have made an effort to make do with what we already have.

The best way to do this is to KNOW what you have. And the best way to know is to get organized. So you know where you're storing what you have. So not only does organizing save your sanity when you're looking for something you need, it can also save you money.

Let me confess right now that I'm not the organizer in the family. Charles is. And he does a great job of it! If I want to know where something is, I ask him. The kitchen is the only room in the house that I keep track of. And that works well for us.

For instance, when I wanted to paint the schoolroom after Christmas, I decided to paint it yellow. It's such a cheerful color. But a gallon of paint would cost $15-$20. When I mentioned to Charles that I wanted to paint the room yellow, he said he had some yellow paint in the storage area. He took me right to it. There was about 3/4 of the can left, plenty to paint the room. The paint had been purchased in 2001 when we were decorating Mr. Lego's room. So we basically painted the schoolroom for free!

If you need a storage container, do you look around the house first and see what you can use instead of buying a new one? Do you check your pantry to see if you have ingredients shoved to the back that you can use in recipes instead of purchasing more? Do you need to buy a new pack of pens or can you round up the dozens of pens in all the nooks and crannies of your house and put them in one central location for everyone to find?

Organize a little, find a place for things...then go shopping at home!

For more money-saving tips, go to Life as Mom's Frugal Friday

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fresh Salsa

It hasn't been that long ago that I didn't like tomatoes. Really, I just didn't like them.

I don't know why. Maybe they were too squishy. I'd pick them out of green salads and pasta salads. I'd give them to my husband. But then one day I decided to give them another try. I'm so glad I did. Although I still don't care for sliced tomatoes on sandwiches. What's up with that?

This is my favorite way to enjoy tomatoes. They taste so....fresh. I can't wait to plant some this spring and enjoy homegrown tomatoes. Cause they're the best!

But for this, I had to settle for store bought tomatoes. They'll do for now.

Here's what I use:

4 or 5 Roma tomatoes
1/2 of a green pepper
2-3 green onions (scallions)
1 TBSP lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
garlic powder and salt, to taste

I start with the tomatoes. I slice off the core end and stand them up. Then I slice down lengthwise.

Then I rotate the tomato and slice down again to quarter it.

This makes it easy to scoop out the seeds. I don't like the seeds.

I do this to all the tomatoes until I have a nice pile of seedless tomato quarters. Now it's time to dice them.

Let me stop right here and say that when I first started making fresh salsa, I had a Vidalia Chop Wizard. I used the smaller dice blade and liked how it made the tomatoes a uniform size. But I did have to cut the tomatoes up as I've done in the above pictures, so it wasn't a huge time saver. Then I dropped it and the plastic container broke right where the lid snaps on. It became useless and I never got around to replacing it.

I started dicing tomatoes the old fashioned way (i.e. with my own knife) and came to enjoy doing it. I don't know why, but it's slightly therapeutic to dice those tomatoes. I'm not sure what that says about my psyche.

I start by making long narrow slices lengthwise. If they're not uniform, oh well.

Then I slice across the other direction and voila! Diced tomatoes!

Now I dice the pepper the same way as the tomatoes. Narrow slices lengthwise, then across the other way.

Thinly slice the green onions.

Combine all the veggies in a bowl. Sprinkle with lime juice and garlic and salt. You don't have to go heavy on the salt because usually you're eating chips with salsa and the chips are salted. Of course, if you just eat this with a spoon like I sometimes do, you might need a little more salt!

Now add your cilantro. I hate to chop cilantro. It sticks to the knife, my hands, everything. In a pinch I use this product that I found at Winn Dixie. It's pricey but tastes just like fresh-chopped cilantro. And a little goes a long way. I only use about a tablespoon of this. Plus, it keeps in the fridge much longer than the fresh stuff.

If you can't find it or don't want to pay the price, use the chopped cilantro. But whatever you do, you must use cilantro in some form.

Stir all of this together until well-blended. Allow to sit in the fridge overnight so the flavors can marry. Isn't that a funny way to say "blend well"? "Do you, tomatoes, take the peppers...." Ha! ha!

Doesn't that look yummy! It's so fresh-tasting, too. It will get a little watery as it sits, but that's okay. You can drain this in a mesh colander to get rid of the juices or just give it a good stir.

I know, I know. This salsa doesn't have any spicy peppers in it. That's how I like it! I'm a wimp when it comes to heat. I'm hoping to plant some of these peppers in the spring so I can have the jalapeno taste without the spiciness.

The beauty of homemade salsa is that you can use whatever ingredients you like. You can add black beans to this with wonderful results. If you don't have green onions, dice a white onion instead. Or a red onion. Toss in a jalapeno if you can't live without it in your salsa. Experiment until you come up with your favorite combination.

For more tasty recipes, visit Life As Mom's Ultimate Recipe Swap. This week's theme is Super Bowl recipes. You're sure to find something easy to make for the big game!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Works for Me Wednesday Blogging tips edition

I'm a relatively new blogger and I'm not very techo-savvy to start with. So what wisdom would I have to share with fellow bloggers? But the theme of this week's Works for Me Wednesday is blogging tips, so here goes.

I'd been reading blogs for quite some time before I started blogging myself. And I learned pretty quickly that when an idea for a blog post came to me, I needed to WRITE IT DOWN!

See, I used to have a good memory. I could remember names, faces, dates (I was a history major, after all), places, details. In college I mentally kept track of all my assignments and papers and never kept a day planner. I could make a grocery list in my head and get everything on the list when I went to the store. I was the first person chosen when Trivial Pursuit teams were divided up because of my ability to remember obscure things. How nerdy does that sound?

Did you notice all of that was in the past tense?

Because let me tell, when I had kids, all of that wonderful memory ability went right out the window. I think from the very moment I found out I was pregnant, the brain cells took a hit.

Of course, it could be that once I became a mother I had so many things to juggle at one time that the memory was the first thing to go. And of course, I am getting older.

So if I don't write down my blogging ideas when they come to me, chances are I will forget about them. I keep a small notebook in the kitchen (that's where I spend most of my time) within reach so I can jot things down when I think of them. I'm going to get a notebook for my bedside, too, because sometimes as I try to fall asleep I think of ideas or recipes. By the time I wake up, know what has happened.

I make grocery lists, too. And lists of ideas for birthday presents. Lists for meals to prepare when company comes. I'm now a list queen!

It seems so elementary, almost insulting, to advise people to write things down. And not on a scrap of paper, either. In a notebook. It will make your life so much easier. For me, I had to swallow my pride. I'm not in my twenties anymore, after all.

For more tips on blogging, head over to Works for Me Wednesday.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Duggars Special Delivery = Bittersweet Memories

Did you watch the TLC special last night about the birth of Josie Duggar, the 19th of Jim Bob and Michelle's children? Josie was born 15 weeks early back in December. Her due date was March 18, still 17 weeks away. She weighed only 1 pound and 6 ounces and still has a long road ahead in the NICU.

As Josie's parents talked about their experiences thus far, memories of our own time in the NICU came flooding back. Our son was born prematurely, 9 weeks early. I remember the feeling of helplessness. I remember the hope I had that God was in control. I remember the ups and downs, the wondering if we'd ever bring our baby home. I remember the last day at the hospital, hardly believing our stay there was coming to an end after ten weeks.

My pregnancy had been uneventful. By the book, Charles said. By that he meant if the book "What to Expect When You're Expecting" said certain symptoms would appear at so many weeks, I starting having those symptoms at precisely that time. He finally asked me to stop reading the book!

I didn't gain much weight, but I was huge. I mean it. I know all pregnant women say that, but from 24 or 25 weeks on, I was measuring really big. My OB thought I had gestational diabetes. I took that awful glucose test three times and each time it came back negative. At my 30-week appointment, she scheduled an ultrasound just to be sure the baby wasn't getting too big to be delivered naturally.

I left her office with an ultrasound appointment for the following Wednesday. The baby was born on Monday so there was no need to keep the appointment.

My water broke as I was getting ready to leave work. I gushed fluid for an hour. I'm not exaggerating. I had so much amniotic fluid that when Charles finally got me to the ER, I left a trail on the way up to the maternity floor. The OB on call decided to send me over an hour away to the University of Alabama hospital in Birmingham (UAB) to deliver since they had a NICU. But when I started bleeding, he decided an emergency C-section was the best option. The baby could be transported to UAB and I would stay at our local hospital. Not the ideal situation, to say the least.

Mr. Lego was born at 6:32, weighing 3 pounds and 7 ounces. He was 17 inches long. Very large for a preemie. But still so very, very small. I had to wait to see him until I got out of recovery. He was so tiny in this huge, huge bed with tubes and monitors all around. I stroked his tiny hand and then a special team from UAB whisked him away. I wouldn't see him for another two days.

A friend drove Charles to Birmingham to be with the baby. I slept. When he returned at 2 am, he very soberly told me there was something wrong with the baby. His esophagus wasn't formed correctly and he couldn't eat. He'd have to have surgery, but no one knew when. I was under the influence of pain killers and cheerfully nodded. If he had told me the baby needed a brain transplant, I probably would have reacted the same way.

Then the realities of the NICU hit on Valentine's Day, the first day I visited my baby. He was stable and breathing room air, which was a good thing. But he wouldn't be able to grow and be healthy until the esophagus was repaired. He had a tracheoesophageal fistula. The top part of his esophagus ended in a blind pouch. The bottom part of his esophagus that came from his stomach had wrapped itself around his trachea and grown into it. This diagnosis helped explain why I had so much amniotic fluid. He was unable to swallow in utero. This is one way amniotic fluid is regulated. But mine just increased and increased until I popped. Like a balloon. Seriously. That's what the doctor said.

The TEF repair would be a highly delicate surgery because he was so tiny. So many things could go wrong. The surgery team decided to go ahead and try the repair. So at 5 days old, my baby became one of the smallest babies to have this type of surgery.

After the surgery he endured the typical NICU problems. He had issues with keeping his body temp up, so I didn't get to hold him until he was 10 days old. And then I could only hold him for 10 minutes because Charles needed a turn. He had graciously let me be the first to hold the baby, and I will be forever grateful for that.

While his lungs and bowels developed well, his upper digestive tract did not. The TEF repair had shortened the length of his esophagus so the muscles that keep the food in the stomach had no motility. They were stretched too far to work properly. Everything that went down came right back up. A j-tube was inserted through his nose down his throat and directly into his intestines, bypassing his stomach altogether. While this helped, he still wasn't able to keep down all the nutrition he needed. And even though he was so tiny, his fingers would get caught up in the tubing and he'd pull the j-tube out. The nurses remedied this by putting socks on his hands. Doesn't he look like a boxer?

The surgery team decided he needed a Nissen fundoplication. Basically, the top part of his stomach (the fundus) would be wrapped around the bottom of his esophagus to form a collar. The collar would hold the stomach contents in. He also had a gastrostomy tube placed at the same time so if he didn't want to eat orally, he could still receive nutrition while recovering from the surgery.

Two weeks later, he was able to come home! He was roughly six pounds. One of our neighbors bought him a GAP bear. We put it beside him to compare sizes. The boy wins by a foot!

It's very difficult to condense ten weeks of a NICU stay into a few paragraphs. There were good days and bad days. Fear often got the victory over faith. But through it all we had each other and we had the Lord. It wasn't easy and many times throughout the experience, I thought I wasn't going to be able to make it one more day.

But here we are, almost nine years later. Next Friday is Mr. Lego's birthday. He is healthy and happy. He has no memories of his NICU stay. I'll never forget it.

I'm so thankful for the good outcome our family had. As I watched the Duggars last night, I prayed for grace and strength for them. I prayed for wisdom for the doctors. I prayed for health for little Josie. And I remember. And pray harder.

This posted is linked to Heavenly Homemaker's Gratituesday.