Sunday, December 30, 2012


As the new year approaches, I've been thinking a lot about whether or not I want to actually make a resolution this year.  Yes, it's always good to start fresh with new goals for a new year, but at the same time it feels like so much pressure.  And I never finish them once I start them, so what's the point?

This year, however, I am inspired.  It came to me the other evening, when my daughter and I were on our way back from a day of skiing and sledding with my dad.  All the way home, she begged me to climb into the back seat of the car and snuggle up with her.  I couldn't do it, as there was no place for me to sit.  Then, when we got back to my parents house, she begged me to snuggle up with her again.  But dinner was ready, and we didn't do it.  That night at home, as she was watching a Fresh Beat Band episode I'd already heard about a million times (at least it feels that way most days), she begged me to come and watch it with her.  I told her no, I could hear it fine from where I was (at the computer, playing my silly little Facebook games). 

Late that night I was lying in bed when it suddenly hit me.  All she wanted, all afternoon, was to be close to me.  And I didn't give her that.  My heart sank.  I crept into her room and watched her sleep for a bit, tears in my eyes.  Then I gave her a gentle kiss and went to bed.

There's a lot of negativity in the world today.  Every time we turn around, there's another horrible and heartbreaking story in the news.  I can't do much about that.  But I can do everything in my power to make my little corner of the world a little brighter, a little snugglier, and a lot more pleasant.  And that is why my resolution for 2013 is to be more present.  To pay attention more.  To focus less on what's happening on this screen and more on what's happening in my living room. 

To start a gratitude journal here on this blog, and encourage my little one to think about what she's grateful for on a regular basis.  To let her help me more, even if it means a ton more work for me.  To play more games, and watch more mind-numbing cartoons - without a laptop on my lap or an iPod in my hands. 

To really listen to my husband, and be more in tune with his moods and needs.  To make what he asks for for dinner, as soon as possible, even if it means more prep work in the mornings (because he likes the foods that take hours to make).  To make more one-on-one time for us during the week.  To do more of the little things that make him happy.

To make more time for myself outside of the internet.  To focus on becoming the best, healthiest me I can be.

I don't have to resolve to clean my house, or to be more budget conscious, or to lose weight.  Because if I am simply more present in my every day life, these things will fall into place on their own, right where they should be.

And now I have a little girl who just got up after a 13 hour sleep and needs dry sheets and a snuggle. 

What will you do to change your little corner of the world in 2013?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Collecting Recipes

It's been a heck of a long time since I've done a formal menu plan.  I've re-entered the "I'm pulling into the driveway, what are we having for dinner?" stage of menu planning. 

It's time to refocus and remotivate myself.  I have lists of meals on my computer to refer to, but I'm also collecting recipes from around the internet that I want to try.  I've been gathering them on my Pinterest "What's for Dinner" board.  Here are some standouts that I can't wait to try:

Fiesta Lime Rice from Skinny Taste - I think this would be fabulous with grilled shrimp or chicken, and as a cold salad for lunch the next day.

Crockpot White Beans and Sausage from Deliciously Organic - so simple, but sounds so delicious!

Creamy Avocado and White Bean Wrap from - would be great for a weekend lunch.

Greek Chicken Pasta - not new, but definitely one I should make again.

Chicken Tikka Masala from Can't Live Without... - Always on the lookout for Indian food my hubby might like, and I think this might just do the trick.

So there you have it - just a few ideas to try out in the coming weeks.  Of course, the old standards are always welcome in this house.  I'm about to re-join Weight Watchers - maybe I should start blogging our daily meals...

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Asian-Inspired Pork and Noodle Soup

A while back I ran across this recipe.  Ever look at a recipe and know, in your heart, that it's just not going to work?  That was this one for me - I knew from looking at it that it would be way to bland for my family.  I mean really - if nothing else, where's the garlic???  Why not cook the noodles in the broth and impart some extra flavor in them?  So I put my own spin on it and it turned out splendidly.

I don't think this actually needs all the flavor enhancers I used.  It became a sort of "everything in the fridge" broth for me.  You could easily increase the amount of one or two of them and leave something out. You could also play around with the vegetables - carrots, celery, kohlrabi, whatever you have on hand would be great. 

Asian-Inspired Pork and Noodle Soup

For the broth:
1 1/2 quarts chicken broth (I used homemade)
2T white miso paste
2T low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 t. sriracha sauce (or more to taste)
1 t. fish sauce
2 t. fresh ginger root, minced
4 cloves garlic, sliced

For the soup:
6 oz. spaghetti, rice noodles, or other thin pasta
4 cups cabbage or bok choy, thinly sliced (I used Napa)
1/2 cup sliced green onion
2 cups white mushrooms, thinly sliced
8 - 10 ounces cooked pork, sliced thin (I used some leftover grilled pork I had in the freezer)

In a medium pot (I used a 3 quart), bring the broth ingredients to a boil.  Add the pasta (I broke my spaghetti into 2 - 3 inch lengths), return to a boil, and cook for 6 minutes.  Stir in remaining ingredients and boil for 5 - 10 minutes more, until vegetables are wilted and pasta is cooked through.

Serve with extra sriracha sauce on the side for those who like to spice it up a little!

Sunday, November 04, 2012

2012 Garden Wrap Up

Each winter, I dream about my garden and the beautiful bounty of vegetables it will bring.  Each spring, as we turn the soil and prepare it for the coming season, I can almost taste the peas popping out of their pods, the tomato and basil salads, and the juicy, ripe blueberries.  Each summer, usually sometime around early August, I grow weary of the whole thing and leave it to its own devices, venturing out to pick something but not spending too much time worrying about the weeds and overgrown bean tendrils. 

This year was different.  Very different.  We had one weekend of gung-ho enthusiasm in late February, where I got the late winter/early spring vegetables planted.  It was far too early, as we had snow just a week or two later, but some of the hardiest seeds survived.  Good thing for them, too, because that's basically all we planted.  Only half the garden, and most of it went right to the compost pile.  In the end, we mainly ate kohlrabi, onions, and carrots.  The tomatoes had end rot, the greens had leaf miners, and the lettuce bolted faster than I ever thought possible.  Our water usage was about 10% lower this summer than in summers past, and I realized it's because I think I only watered four times. 

Our garden died a sad death of neglect.  As I thought about how different this year truly was, I realized that a few things happened.  First, this was my first year of trying to balance full time work with motherhood.  I went back to work full time in January, no longer having my mornings free to weed, plant, and pick.  Which, in theory, leaves the weekends, but somehow this summer ended up our busiest ever, with activities scheduled nearly every weekend and little time to focus on the home front. 

As I look ahead to the spring and next year's garden, a few things are obvious. 
1.  I have enough seeds in the freezer to last a couple of years.  I think the only thing I may need to buy is carrot seeds. 

2.  Gardening time is time that needs to be scheduled.  A few hours each weekend and maybe one or two 15 - 20 minute after dinner sessions should be sufficient, but it has to become a priority. 

3.  I need to scale back to the easiest of crops.  I may not have time to stay on top of the pests, which means no greens or cruciferous vegetables (we also have a serious aphid problem).  Also, hubby won't eat much of what I plant, so only "mainstream" veggies that I know we all eat. 

Basically, next year's garden will likely look something like this:


We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

23-Day Menu Plan

If you read my post just prior, you're probably laughing right now that I said "maybe I'll blog and maybe I won't" and then immediately turned around and wrote another post.  I would be shaking my head and saying "silly Karen..."  I just like to keep you guessing!

I have been in a serious menu rut for the past couple of months.  We've been eating so much chicken, I think we're growing feathers.  I haven't been menu planning as religiously as I should, so I come home, tell my family I have no idea what to make for dinner, and if we don't go out, I throw some chicken tenderloins in a pan.  This happens, oh, maybe four nights a week!!?!  At the same time, our big freezer desperately needs a defrost, and we've only been eating out of the front of it for a long, long time, so I have no idea what's in the back (if you put enough stuff in it, an upright can be almost as bad as a chest freezer).  And, we're trying to follow a pretty strict budget in the hopes of having enough saved up to buy a toy hauler and take a trip to Yellowstone next summer. 

So, yesterday I sat down with my big binder of recipe printouts and started flipping through, looking for recipes that I had the majority of ingredients for already in the house (in planning for hubby's layoff, I stocked us up really well).  By the time I was done, I had all the planning for 23 days worth of menus (only one of which involves just "throwing some chicken tenderloins in a pan").  We had the majority of the non-perishable and meat ingredients for all of these, and I was able to do a big grocery shop yesterday and fill in the blanks.  For the next few weeks, I should be able to get by with just buying bread, milk, eggs, and fresh produce each week. 

I could have kept going but I decided to stop there for now and re-evaluate in mid-August.  I've only worked 21 of these into the actual plan, keeping two in reserve for days when I'm too tired to cook or I get home late and just need something super quick.  I've tried to include a mix of meat types, as well as meatless meals one day a week.  As I build up my collection of meatless recipes even my carnivore hubby will eat, I'll probably try to up this to two meals a week, but for now one is better than none.

For home use, I've plotted these out on a monthly calendar that I downloaded here.  I love these calendars - I've been using them at work for about six months to track my grant submissions.  They're completely fillable and customizable. 

Here's the plan (I've also roughly planned out a veggie for all the meals that aren't "all in one" but I'm not putting those here - it's salad about four nights a week, with a hot veggie the other three):

  1. Buttermilk Chicken, mashed potatoes
  2. Taco Salad
  3. Stuffed Peppers
  4. Pad Thai
  5. Zucchini Bean Casserole
  6. Pork Fried Rice
  7. Pork Skewers with Pineapple Scallion Rice (found this one in a magazine years ago)
  8. Homemade pizza, salad
  9. No Crabs Allowed Cakes
  10. Aussie Chicken, pasta
  11. Impossible Veggie Pie
  12. Hamburger casserole (hubby's family's recipe)
  13. Corned Beef Cabbage Bake (remind me to blog about my riff on this one)
  14. Rotisserie Chicken, baked potatoes
  15. Shrimp Scampi over pasta (I don't have a recipe for this, but I really should write one down)
  16. Beefaroni (I have no idea where I got this recipe so I can't give credit)
  17. Wiener Wraps (hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls then baked), Tater Tots
  18. Chicken Taquitos (I'll post this one when the time comes - it's a good one!)
  19. Grilled steak salad
  20. Chicken Fried Steak, mashed potatoes (saving this one for hubby's birthday dinner - it's his favorite)
  21. Buffalo Chicken Strips, oven fries
And my meals in reserve:
  1. Spaghetti and meatballs
  2. Grilled (or pan-fried) chicken tenderloins. 
So there you have it - 21 days of meal planning.  And I'm already thinking of things I can make for the next round!  I feel more organized already.

I'm a pretty lousy blogger

Two months since my last blog post?  That's no good at all.  What excuse do I have for being such a lousy blogger?  None, really.  I just don't feel like I have much to talk about lately.  Ever since I started back to work full time in January, my daily routine is exhausting.  And mundane.  It goes something like this:

  • Get up
  • Work out (at least 2 - 3 days a week, but I'm working on gradually increasing that)
  • Eat breakfast
  • Get my daughter up and let her watch a cartoon before we leave for daycare
  • Pack my lunch
  • Get dressed
  • Take daughter to daycare
  • Come home, get my stuff together, go to work
  • Work
  • Come home, make dinner
  • Put daughter to bed
  • Do dishes
  • Pack hubby's lunch
  • Give myself half an hour of "me time"
  • Go to bed

 There's not really any time in there for creativity, or experimentation, or much extra of anything.  My garden is a disaster - the weeds are bigger than the plants.  Blogging is pretty much at the bottom of the list (but I'm not sure anyone actually reads here anyway - if you do, would you just drop me a line and let me know?).  Overall, I feel like my psyche is suffering.  I'm losing ME.  And it's showing - in my marriage, the way I parent our daughter, my work, and the way I feel about myself. 

I'm gradually working on turning this around.  I've only recently added working out into my routine.  It's hard as heck to haul my butt out of bed at 5:15 (and I think I'm going to move this to 5:00 to allow for longer workout videos) and put my shoes on instead of just plunking myself down in front of the television, but I've noticed that, when I do, I'm energized for almost the whole day, with a lot less caffeine needed, and I have a much more positive outlook on things. 

Last week, after just about losing it at work over seemingly minor things, I took a day off.  My daughter still went to daycare, and I had eight hours, in the house, all to myself.  It was heavenly.  And I was so much more peaceful when I went back to work the following Monday.  So this is definitely something I'll be working into the schedule on a regular basis. 

Turned out I don't have to work full time - we were so blessed in that my husband started a new job just five weeks after he was laid off from his old one.  Unfortunately, the nature of my ability to increase my hours at work means that I won't be able to decrease them for three years.  I'm not looking to quit, so I need to figure out a way to make things work.  After being with the company nearly 11 years, I get something like seven weeks of PTO a year.  I need to focus on utilizing this as fully as possible to make sure that I'm meeting my needs, and the needs of my family, as well as doing the best job possible. 

So this is my focus.  Me.  My family.  Making things work.  Positivity.  Peace.  Calm. 
And maybe blogging will fit into that, and maybe it won't.  We'll see how it happens.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Finding my healthy living mojo

I started on a new healthy living track a couple of weeks ago.  It came about in the usual manner - I realized one morning that I now weigh even more than I did the day before my daughter was born.  My knees hurt and I feel like a complete buffoon getting up and down off the floor to play with my daughter.  Then, I went clothes shopping one day and all the adorable summer dresses made me look fat and frumpy.  It doesn't help that most of my weight is in my stomach, so lots of the current plus-size styles just make me look pregnant.  If I had the money, I'd hire a designer to make normal styles look cute on me.

Proof that life is not fair - it is SO MUCH HARDER to lose weight than it is to gain it!  I'm a bit of a foodie, living in a fast food loving family, with no time or desire to exercise (because, seriously, if I had the desire, I'd make the time).  Yes, I'm losing, but only because I'm lucky enough to be at the beginning of this particular venture.  I know what I need to do - eat tons of fruits and veggies, cook at home, plan-plan-plan, and actually eat what I take for lunch, instead of pooh-poohing the lentils (which I really like) and going down the street for a French dip turkey sandwich instead (which is exactly what I did yesterday, though I did substitute a salad for the tater tots).  Oh, and use some of the two hours I have in the morning (now that I don't have to get my daughter up and ready for day care) to exercise.  Even if it's just 20 minutes.  Even I can do that.

I'm not much of an emotional eater, though I do crave fattening sweets in times of great stress.  I just love food - the flavors, the textures, the colors.  And if I let myself get too hungry, I'm in serious trouble, because I start feeling like my stomach takes up the entire mass of my torso, and it must be appeased. 

So I'm re-training myself to do everything I already know to do - take a ton of healthy food to work so I can satisfy any craving without resorting to the vending machine, eat really light breakfasts (have to say I *love* Trader Joe's High Fiber cereal!) so I can splurge later on in the day, and buy lots of fruits and veggies - and then actually eat them. 

I'm tracking my eating and activities on  I've used it before, with great success (until I stopped using it, of course).  It's completely free, pretty much fully customizable, you can track just about anything in the universe, and they have great message boards. 

For me, this venture doesn't require a lot of drastic dietary changes.  I've learned from past diet attempts that I don't do well with lots of restrictions.  If I want to eat something, I want to EAT IT.  I just need to plan for it, and work it into my day.  I need to be able to stop at Taco Bell on the way home and pick up dinner if I don't feel like cooking, and know what I can get that I like, and is healthy (fresco steak soft tacos, please!).  I need to eat some chocolate every day.

It's not all about weight loss.  It's about living more healthfully, and I know the weight loss will follow.  It's about breaking routines, and convincing my daughter that dessert isn't a requirement of every dinner, unless it's a piece of fruit or a small square of dark chocolate.  It's about paying attention - focusing both on what I'm eating in a day, as well as savoring the bite that's in my mouth.  New habits are hard to acquire.  I heard somewhere that willpower is like a muscle - you must use it, or you lose it.  I completely believe this to be true.  Off to exercise it.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Menu Plan May 6 - 11

At long last, a menu plan.  Yes, it's been a while.  No, we haven't been eating very well.  Yes, we've been eating out WAY too much.  Yes, my husband just got laid off so I have to start acting like a responsible, budget-following adult again.

I had a few menu ideas in mind when I left for the store today, and then I figured out the rest while I wandered the aisles.  We need to make a concerted effort to eat out of the freezer more - there's some really old stuff in there and I need to defrost it anyway.  So here's what's on tap for this week:

Sunday:  Popcorn shrimp and Tater Tots (straight out of the freezer section at the grocery store!)
Monday:  Grilled Chicken Fajitas (BBQ season is upon us!)
Tuesday:  Hamburgers and grilled potatoes
Wednesday:  Broccoli Beef
Thursday:  Pad Thai
Friday:  I have to go to a dinner for work, so I'm guessing hubby and child will go to Taco Bell.  :-)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pizza...semi-healthy style

Uh..Blogger went and totally reformatted things on me.  So if this post looks a little weird, it's because my whole posting screen looks a little weird!

My daughter asked me for pizza today.  "Sure!"  I said.  After all, we often pick up a take-and-bake on Sundays.  Then I remembered the crap I've been letting her eat the past few days.  On Thursday, I asked my coworker "does it make me a bad mom if I serve my kid hot dogs for dinner two nights in a row???"  "Nah, it just makes you realistic," was her reply.  This is how life has been lately.  Normally I'm all about getting my family a decent meal for dinner, but I've just been flat out exhausted the last few weeks, and they're lucky to get anything made at home at all (in my defense, we ALWAYS have our vegetables.  We're big salad people around here).

So I decided to make pizza at home.  That way I know I can dump a ton of veggies on it.  I also decided to seek out a new crust recipe.  I've been using the one from The Complete Tightwad Gazette for years, but lately I haven't been so enamored with it.  It's simple, and quick, and doesn't take a full yeast rising, which makes it appealing most days.  But today, I had time, so I decided to make a full-on yeast crust.  I pinned this recipe a while back, and decided to see if I could substitute some whole wheat flour and make it a success.  I was quite pleased - it was a good mix of chewy and crunchy, and my hubby didn't pick up on the fact that it was half whole wheat.  I'd call that a success!

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust
Adapted from Sugar Cooking

1 3/4 cup warm water, divided
2 1/4 tsp. (1 envelope) active dry yeast
3 T. olive oil, divided
2 c. white whole wheat flour
2 c. bread flour
2 t. kosher salt
1/4 cup cornmeal

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over 1/2 cup warm water.  Let stand five minutes, or until it "blooms".  Add remaining water and 2 T. of the olive oil.

Meanwhile, put the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  While running on low speed, slowly add the liquids.  Once it is mixed, switch out the paddle for the dough hook.  Knead on low speed for five minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Pour the remaining oil into a deep bowl.  Pull your dough out of the mixer, form it into a ball, and swirl it around in the oil until it is completely covered.  Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about two hours.

Once your dough has fully risen, preheat your oven to 475 degrees, making sure your rack is in the bottom third of the oven.  If you're using a pizza stone or cast iron pizza pan, make sure it's in when you turn the oven on.

Divide the dough into two pieces.  If you need two pizzas, work with them one at a time, keeping the other covered, or just freeze the second piece if you only want one pizza.  Form dough into balls and let rest 10 - 15 minutes.

After resting, spread the cornmeal on your pizza peel (if you're using a regular metal pizza pan, you can forgo this step and roll out your crust right onto the pan. Whatever you're used to doing).  Take one piece of the dough and press it out into a circle right on the peel, checking occasionally to make sure it doesn't become stuck to the peel (there's nothing more frustrating than trying to get a pizza from the peel to the pizza stone when it's stuck tight!).  Add your toppings, and bake until the crust is brown and the cheese is bubbly - about 10 - 14 minutes.  Remove from the oven, let rest a few minutes, slice and serve!

Now, usually when I make pizza at home, I make barbecue chicken pizza.  Today, I wanted something different.  So, our toppings were:

tomato sauce
Italian seasoning
sliced garlic
sweet Italian chicken sausage, cooked and crumbled
red bell peppers
Italian-blend cheese

Best pizza I've had in a long, long time.  I'll definitely be making it again!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Greek Chicken Pasta

Over the weekend, I suddenly got a bee in my bonnet to look up some Greek recipes.  I have no idea why - I like Greek food but it's never really occurred to me to cook it.  Anyway, I did a little googling and came across this recipe.  Is it really Greek? I have no idea.  It sounded good, though, so I made it for dinner tonight - with a few tweaks.

Next time I might try it with tuna - I think it would go really well.

Greek Chicken Pasta

1/2 pound uncooked pasta (I used cavatappi, just because I think it's cute)
2T olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove elephant garlic or four cloves regular garlic, chopped
6 chicken tenderloins, diced
1 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 t. sherry vinegar
2 t. Italian seasoning
Juice of 1 large lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente.

While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onions, garlic, and chicken.  Saute until the chicken is cooked through.  Add remaining ingredients and cook until heated through.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and stir into the chicken mixture.  Serve with lemon wedges and extra feta sprinkled on top, if desired.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Garden Update

Better late than never, I suppose...I finally got back into the garden this weekend!

I planted:

  • lemon verbena
  • stevia
  • strawberries (we have two small strawberry beds, but last year we didn't get a whole lot so I supplemented them with six new plants)
  • onion starts (the ones I started didn't do much (old seeds) so I bought some starts at a local nursery)
  • leek starts (mine)
  • kohlrabi
  • more lettuce
  • more chard
  • more radishes
  • carrots
  • endive
  • beets
Tonight, in the house, I'll start from seed:
  • tomatoes
  • ground cherries
  • parsley (though it appears I have 50,000 self-starting parsley plants out in the garlic patch, so this might not be necessary)
  • basil
  • Thai basil
Love gardening season!

Do You Like Bento? - Link to a Giveaway

Meet the Dubiens is having an AMAZING giveaway of adorable bento supplies.  Go here for your chance to win!

Closes April 24, so don't delay!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Eggs

We are on vacation this week.  We were supposed to go to the beach, but my daughter got sick, then my husband got sick, then the weather got crappy and we decided to cancel our reservations and just stay home.  We'll go later this spring, when the weather is better.

This has actually worked out pretty well.  We've had time to relax, done some "tourist at home" things, and made chocolate covered marshmallow eggs for Easter.  Not something we'd likely have time to do otherwise!  I adapted the recipe a smidge from the one at Houseful of Handmade, and it worked out swimmingly. 

Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Eggs
adapted from Houseful of Handmade
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
3/4 cup warm water
1 c. corn syrup, divided
2 c. evaporated cane sugar (this gave the marshmallows a nice caramel flavor)
2 t. vanilla
Food coloring of choice (optional)

egg (real or plastic)

4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 T. shortening
Sprinkles (optional)

Mix the gelatin in the cold water. Set aside.

Combine warm water, 1/2 cup corn syrup, and sugar in a large saucepan (make sure you use one big enough to accommodate its expansion when it boils).  Using a candy thermometer, cook to soft ball stage.

Pour mixture into stand mixer bowl.  Beat in remaining corn syrup, then add gelatin mixture.  Beat over medium-low speed until it starts to thicken (2 - 3 minutes), then increase speed to high and beat an additional 7 minutes.  Add vanilla and food coloring, if desired.  Beat an additional two minutes.  It will go from this:

To thick and fluffy, like this:

While it is mixing, make your egg molds.  Just pour a thick layer of flour in a pan (don't worry, you'll be able to reuse it later in cooking), and dip an egg in it (real or a plastic Easter egg) to make your egg molds.  

I used a real egg and would have had around 34 or so, but I wanted to make some gluten free to take to one of our Easter gatherings.  I didn't have enough powdered sugar to make gluten free egg molds, so I just put some parchment in a small pan, put a layer of powdered sugar in it, and poured the rest of the mixture over it.

Using a small ladle, fill your egg molds.  Don't worry if they're not perfect - you can trim them later (I certainly did!).

Let them sit for several hours until set (I left them overnight). Once they are set, trim them if necessary.  I trimmed the edges off the eggs and cut the gluten-free ones into chunks.  This will be a lot easier if you keep a glass of powdered sugar on hand to dip your kitchen shears into.  They'll get awfully sticky!  Keep your hands sugared, too.  Trust me on this one. Powdered sugar is your friend.

To dip them, put your chocolate chips and shortening in a microwave-safe bowl (measuring chocolate chips is a good job for a small helper).

Microwave in one minute intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate is thoroughly melted.  Mine took about three minutes, and I had to heat it an additional 30 seconds toward the end of the dipping because it was starting to get a little thick. 

Use a fork to dip the eggs, then set them on a parchment-lined baking sheet to harden.  Don't worry, I dipped the gluten-free ones first so I wouldn't contaminate the chocolate!  Add sprinkles, if desired, once they're on the baking sheet (though wouldn't it be fun to completely cover them in sprinkles?  Or coconut?  Hmm...maybe next time).


 When you're all done dipping and you have chocolate left, dip your trimmings and enjoy the fruits of your labor!  :-)

 Truth be told, I was surprised how easy these were.  I've toyed with the idea of making my own marshmallows for years but hadn't taken the plunge.  I'll definitely make these again (maybe ornament shapes for Christmas?), and I'll probably make some actual marshmallows for the upcoming s'more season!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Menu Plan March 19 - 23

I had a menu plan last week, but I didn't post it.  We even mostly stuck to it.  It was easy because I'd prepped a chicken over the weekend, so we had a breast for pad Thai and shredded meat for chicken and dumplings all ready to go.

My freezer is, once again, stocked to the gills.  Yesterday I picked up two corned beef roasts at $1.88 a pound.  I discovered that, in my area, canned corned beef is now up to $5 a pound, where I used to be able to get it for $1.89 just a couple of years ago.  Hubby doesn't care for the fresh roasts, but if he wants hash he's going to have to suffer through, because I'm not paying $5 for a can!  Once I get it all mixed up in the pan, I'm guessing he's not going to notice much of a difference. 

Here's what's on the menu for this week:

Today:  Corned beef hash
Tomorrow:  Lemon Brown Sugar Chicken (this was on the menu a couple of weeks ago but I didn't get to it).
Wednesday:  No-Crabs-Allowed Cakes
Thursday:  King Ranch Chicken
Friday:  Grilled steak and baked potatoes

Have a great week!  And remember, as always, to visit for all your menu planning needs.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Late March Garden To-Do List

It's been a couple of weeks since I last thought about the garden.  This morning I had a few extra minutes, so I flipped through my current favorite gardening book to see what should be happening at the moment.  I made myself a little to-do list, so I could check things off as I go along.

Start seeds inside:
 - parsley
 - kohlrabi

I may also start a couple of other herbs to have a small indoor herb garden, but my house isn't conducive at all to house plants so I'm not sure I'll actually do that.

Plant outside:
 - carrots
 - onions
 - spinach (now that I think about it, I'm not sure if I have any spinach seeds.  I'll have to check on that).

Prune raspberries

Clean out the dead plants from the strawberry beds, and supplement with new ones.

Call my local nursery to see if they're going to have bay laurel plants this year (I really, really want one of these!!!).

My gardening goal for this year is to pay attention and stay on top of things.  This past week I had the pleasure of taking raspberry puree from last summer out of the freezer to make real raspberry Italian sodas.  It's little things like that that remind me that all the hard work is definitely worth it.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Vegetarian Butter "Chicken"

I don't know what to call this.  In my never ending quest to find a meatless meal that my meat-loving hubby will accept, I took a Butter Chicken recipe and made it vegetarian.  My daughter took one bite and declared it disgusting.  I thought it was wonderful, and hubby said he'd eat it again, but it would be better with chicken or something, LOL.

Now, I've never had butter chicken (or any variation thereof), so I don't know what it's supposed to taste like, but this worked for us!

Vegetarian Butter "Chicken"
Adapted from a recipe from the Stone Soup Virtual Cookery School
Serves about 6

Vegetarian "Butter Chicken"

2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 large head cauliflower, chopped into small florets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tsp. red chili flakes
1 26-ounce box chopped tomatoes, undrained (I used Pomi brand)
 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
chopped nuts for garnish, if desired

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add potatoes, and cook five minutes.  Add cauliflower and cook an additional five minutes.  Drain and return the pot to the stove.  When all the water has evaporated, add the olive oil and warm over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and saute until soft.  Add curry powder and chili flakes and saute for one minute.  Stir in tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower and chickpeas.  Simmer 15 minutes or until potatoes have broken down and thickened the sauce.  Reduce heat.  Add butter and cream, stirring until butter is melted and combined.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot topped with chopped nuts, if desired (I used cashews).

Menu Plan March 4 - 9

Been a while since I planned a menu, and I must admit I've missed it.  I'm taking a menu planning class over at Stone Soup Virtual Cookery School and it is inspiring me.  I love the cookery school - if you have the cash and can sign up, everything I've seen from Jules has been completely amazing. 

This week's menu was easy - I found a new recipe I really want to try, took a chicken out of my over-stuffed freezer, and found some produce that needs to be used up.  Voila - four meals planned in less than five minutes!

Today:  Vegetarian "butter chicken" (a recipe from Stone Soup, but I'm using potatoes, cauliflower, and chickpeas in place of the meat.

Monday:  Broccoli beef

Tuesday: Roast Chicken 

Wednesday:  Stuffed Peppers

Thursday: Leftovers, if we have any, otherwise spaghetti and meatballs

Friday:  Lemon Brown Sugar Chicken

Have a great week!  Be sure to visit for many more menu planning ideas!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Garden 2012

This is the time of year when I am at my most eager (and most obsessive) about the garden.  For some reason, I get the biggest thrill out of getting those first seeds in the ground.  If only it would's typically all downhill from here, and by mid-July I'm just tired of it. 

This year, I'm counting on my garden more than ever, since my hubby only has two months of work left and we're not sure what will be next for him.  This means I have to be more attentive to it than ever, and focus on finding new and creative ways to use our bounty. 

Today, we got our garden started for the year. Well, technically I started last weekend, because that was when I started the lettuce, onion, and leek seeds on the window sill, but today we got out in the dirt.  We pulled the last of the kale, cleared out the weeds (every year I tell myself I'm going to plant a cover crop!), tilled up the dirt, and planted peas, lettuce, chard, and radishes.  Mission accomplished, garden started.

I realize it's supposed to snow on Tuesday, so I'm not sure how much will grow, but I've had luck with all of them in the snow in the past, so hopefully we'll be good to go. 

Happy gardening!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Menu Plan January 30 - February 3

Ok, first of all, can someone please tell me what the heck happened to January?  I mean, there we were, enjoying a nice relaxing week after Christmas, and now, all of a sudden, BOOM!  It's practically February.  Time really needs to slow down - I can't keep up. 

I'm learning a few things now that I'm getting back into the whole "working full-time so I get up at 5:30 a.m. every morning" thing.  For instance, I'm completely exhausted by Wednesday, and by Friday I'll fit right in when the zombie apocalypse hits.  Which means that while it's all fine and good to plan somewhat involved, make-it-when-I-get-home meals for the beginning of the week, by the end of the week I really need to be planning super-simple food or I'm just going to stop at Taco Bell on my way home.  I'm not ready to surrender to a completely processed food diet yet (which is funny, considering that Taco Bell is the alternative), but I also have to accept that I may not be cooking from scratch every night. 

So, that said, here's the plan for this week:

Monday:  Bacon Cheeseburger Biscuit Cups
Tuesday:  Tuna casserole 
Wednesday:  Taco Salad
Thursday:  Cranberry Chicken
Friday:  Jambalaya

Have a great week, everyone!  And remember to visit every week for tons of great menu ideas!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cooking and freezing dried beans

There are lots of ways to save a little here and there on grocery money.  One of the best, in my opinion, is cooking dried beans instead of buying canned.  Canned beans tend to have a lot of salt and also typically have BPA in the lining of the cans, which is something I'm starting to avoid when I can.  I keep a few cans of beans on hand for nights when I need something REALLY quick (and canned chili beans to feed my child's addiction - she loves them straight out of the can), but I also try to keep a good selection on hand in the freezer. 

At the moment, I have a batch of black beans simmering on the stove.  The house smells great because I add a few extra ingredients to the pot to give the beans a little extra kick of flavor (more about that in a minute).

Beans are so easy to prepare.  They take quite a bit of time, but it's almost entirely cooking and soaking time, with very little hands-on needed.  You can cook any amount, as long as you have a pot big enough to handle it.  I usually buy in bulk, so I tend to cook two cups of dried beans at a time.

First, put your beans in a dish (I use a pie plate) and pick through to remove any small rocks or bad beans.  I remember watching a Food Network show where the host was picking through a dish of beans and found three rocks in it.  I found it odd, because I have NEVER found a rock in my beans.  But I always check, just in case.  Rinse the beans in a sieve and put them in a pot (I use a two-quart stock pot).  Now, you have two options:

Option one:  Add cold water to cover with at least two inches of water over the top of the beans.  Set aside and soak overnight.

Option two:  Add water to cover with at least two inches of water over the top of the beans.  Put on your stove and bring just to a boil.  Turn off (do not drain) and let the beans sit for two hours.

At the end of the soaking time, drain and rinse your beans.  Put back in the pot, add water again to cover by two inches.  Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer.  I find that if I cook the beans too hard, the skins fall off, so keep it at as low a simmer as possible. 

If you want to add a little flavor oomph to your beans, add a bay leaf, a few cloves of sliced garlic, and a couple of onion slices to the cooking water.  If you have a specific recipe in mind, you can also add the same seasonings called for in your recipe to help bring an extra layer of flavor to your dish.  Be careful, however, not to add any salt or seasoning including salt, or your beans may not soften.  Always salt at the end, when your beans are fully cooked.

After 90 minutes, start checking your beans to see if they're done.  I usually taste one or two, and then add five or 10 minutes to the cooking time before I check again.  Keep going until your beans are fully cooked. Be careful not to overcook them, though, or they'll just get mushy.  Drain, saving the liquid if you're going to freeze them, remove any large pieces of seasoning (such as the bay leaf and onion slices - I usually leave the garlic), and let cool. 

If you aren't using the beans right away, they freeze beautifully.  I usually freeze them in two-cup portions, which works for me for most recipes.  Just put the cooled beans in a freezer-safe container, add cooking liquid just to cover (this will help keep the beans from drying out in the freezer), and pop them in your freezer. 

Enjoy your beans! 

Menu Plan January 23 - 27

I didn't write out a menu plan last week.  I kind of regretted it.  I had a rough plan in my head, but I didn't really follow it, both because whatever I was thinking about just didn't sound good (like the day I was planning on stir fry, and it poured down rain and I just wanted comfort food), and the day when hubby said "can we have Pad Thai?", which wasn't even on my radar screen (but I had everything in the house for it, which is rare, so I made it.

I also had three days of just not so good cooking last week.  It's strange for me. I'll never be a chef, by any means, but I consider myself to be a pretty darn good cook, and I just couldn't get it together this week.  The Pad Thai sauce tasted weird (I think I accidentally put too much fish sauce in it).  I tried using coconut oil instead of butter in my biscuits, and they tasted weird (would have been fine in a sweet setting, but not with creamed tuna).  The kielbasa and cabbage turned out more steamed (and soggy) than fried.  Ugh.  So when hubby sent me a message on Thursday and said "let's have Taco Bell", I was happy to oblige.

But, today begins a new week, so let's put the past behind us and move on, shall we?

Here's the plan for this week:

Monday:  Teriyaki chicken with sesame rice
Tuesday: Spaghetti
Wednesday:  Chorizo black bean soup (crockpot, using canned beans this time).
Thursday:  Beef stroganoff
Friday:  Corned beef hash

Have a great week everyone!  Remember to visit Menu Plan Monday at for amazing menu ideas!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pasta Fagioli

Today we got our first snowfall of the year.  Not much to speak of (it melted about half an hour after it hit the ground), but enough that a big pot of soup and a fresh loaf of bread sounded like just the ticket for dinner tonight.  So, my daughter and I whipped up a couple of loaves of 30-minute baguettes and I made a pot of this soup.

Pasta Fagioli

1 T. olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, removed from casings if necessary (I used chicken this time, because it's what I had in the freezer)
2 cups kale, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 quart chicken broth
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
2 cups uncooked small pasta (I used bow ties)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
1 can cannelloni beans, drained

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat.  Add the sausage and cook until browned.  Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, and garlic.  Bring to a boil. 

Stir in pasta, half of the cheese, seasoning, and beans.  Cover and simmer until pasta is tender (between eight and 20 minutes, depending on what variety you use). 

Serve with the remaining cheese sprinkled over the top. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Things I'm learning about the grocery budget

I'm halfway through my first month's attempt at sticking to our grocery budget.  So far I've gleaned a few bits of knowledge, mostly things that I already knew but have definitely been reinforced.

1.  I need to stop buying organic milk.  This is a tough one for me, because I love organic milk and all that it stands for (the brand I buy, while not technically local, it at least regional; it tastes fresher; and I believe in supporting the organic farming community).  But really, my little family goes through at least two gallons a week, usually three.  At more than $5 a gallon, that's typically 1/4 of my weekly grocery budget.

2.  I spend more when I bring the coupons along, no matter how great I think the deals are.  It is virtually impossible for me to stick to my budget when I have the coupons.  My $60 a week budget is basically enough for us to buy the fresh food we need and whatever few pantry staples we are out of.  I would do better to leave the bulk of the coupons at home and only use those for the things we actually need that week.

3.  When I can shop kid-free, I need to shop at a different store.  It's true, I go to one of the more expensive grocery stores in the area.  Not the MOST expensive, by any means, but certainly not the cheapest.  Why?  They have two beautiful features - they bag the groceries, and, most important of all, they have PLAYLAND.  Playland is like a mini-Disneyland to my daughter.  They have amazing toys, she always meets someone new, and she LOVES the girl who works there. So, when she's with me, I either have the benefit of dropping her off there if she's healthy, or if she's not (or if Playland's closed), at least I don't have to worry about trying to bag my own groceries and keep an eye on her.  These are things I'm willing to pay a little more for.  Also, our inexpensive grocery store has TERRIBLE meat and produce, but I could be shopping there for other things. 

4.  I lack list discipline.  I've known this for years, but when you're trying to stick to a limited budget, it becomes a bigger issue.  Case in point - I went to the meat market this morning, to buy hamburger and maybe a package of chicken sausages if they had any.  I came out with hamburger, chicken sausage, pork sausage, and chorizo.  And spent $7 more than my budget.  I need to keep reminding myself that the list rules - if it's not on the list, it waits till the next shopping trip.

Life's a process, right?  These are things I know, and so they are things I can work on.  In the meantime, I'll be interested to see how we come out at the end of the month, if I continue to be honest with myself and on top of things.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Strips

I was in the mood for something spicy for dinner tonight, and this fit the bill perfectly - quick and easy, with plenty of heat!

Buffalo Chicken Strips

1 pound chicken tenderloins (cut lengthwise if you like a skinnier strip)
1 cup flour
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce (we like Frank's Red Hot)
1 cup panko bread crumbs

For serving:  extra wing sauce (mix with a bit of melted butter if you'd like), ranch dressing, or blue cheese dressing, as desired.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.   Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.  Set up your dredging station - in one bowl, mix your flour with the garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper.  Put your wing sauce in a second bowl, and the bread crumbs in a third bowl.

Take a tenderloin and dredge it in the flour to coat.  Dip it (completely) in the wing sauce, then roll in the bread crumbs.  Place on the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining tenderloins.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until cooked through.  If desired, serve with extra wing sauce and ranch or blue cheese dressing.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

What to eat, what to eat.

Gah, here it is, Sunday again, and I need to plan a menu.  The stomach flu paid us a visit last week, and food still isn't sounding too good right now.  And can someone please explain to me how a three-year-old with the stomach flu can be bouncing off the walls, while a 37-year-old with the exact same illness can barely get off the couch???

Fortunately, though, we didn't eat much from the menu last week (hubby, who won't cook for himself, basically subsisted on leftover pizza and Burger King all week), so I can pull from that again.  I made the turkey tetrazzini on Tuesday, and that was it.  So here we go...

Monday:  Chicken casserole
Tuesday:  Pork fried rice
Wednesday:  Crockpot ham and potato soup
Thursday:  leftovers
Friday:  Cabbage roll casserole

I'm also happy to report that I'm doing REALLY well in the grocery shopping arena.  So far we've spent $121.22 at the grocery store, $8.99 at Costco, and $25.32 at Trader Joe's.  I think the rest of my Costco and Trader Joe's money for the month will probably be spent on a trip I'm planning to Bob's Red Mill with my friends next week.  I love this store with all my heart - it's a cook and baker's paradise! 

But enough about my budget.  Have you planned your menu for the week yet?  If not, why not?  Need ideas?  Click on the pic above to go to Menu Plan Monday at, for a ton of great ideas!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Changing the Game Plan

For nearly three years, since I went back to work after maternity leave, I've been working part time. Until September, this enabled us to always have someone home with our daughter.  This was always my goal - even if I had to go to work, I really wanted to make sure that she spent maximum time with one or the other of us.  With my husband's impending layoff, though, we knew we needed to start changing things to ensure that we can stay financially stable.  Health insurance is now a must for my hubby, and, no matter how we buy it, it's EXPENSIVE.

In September, I was given the opportunity to add an addition eight hours to my work schedule.  At that point, my daughter started going to day care at a neighbor's house two days a week.  It's been an adjustment for all of us, but she's having a good time being around other kids, and has learned some very valuable lessons about sharing and getting along that would be a lot harder for her to learn, being an only child.

Once again, an opportunity has arisen at work.  Week after next, I will once again be working full time.  My daughter will go to day care five days a week.  This is not at all how I envisioned our life, and there was really no decision to make, in spite of my stress and tears as I agonized over the situation (I'm not exactly dry-eyed as I type this).  I know that we have been blessed to be home with her as long as we have, and have had an opportunity that many families never dream of.  We can bank some extra money now, and afford health insurance when the time comes.  And, once my husband loses his job, he'll be able to be home with her until we figure out what's coming next (he's planning to go back to school).

Now I have to rethink a lot of my cooking and organizing strategies.  Rather than making dinner every morning, I'll be back in the 5:30 rush as I make it when I come home from work.  Weekends will be spent doing laundry and preparing for the week to come.  I'll have to force myself to go to bed at a decent hour, and figure out when I'm going to have time for myself, since it will no longer come at 10 p.m.!

It'll take some adjustments, in mind and attitude, and I'm sure it'll be a little rocky at first.  But we'll do it together, as a family.  Look for some posts here about my trials, successes (and hopefully not too many failures) as I approach these changes.

Starting a book list

A few months ago, I bought two beautiful journals from Paper Coterie.  Both of them have my daughter's picture on the cover.  When I bought them, I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, but I knew they'd have something to do with Caitlyn.  I keep thinking one of them will be for writing down the funny and amazing things she says, but I seem to always forget to actually write them down (though I'd get several if I spent some time combing through my posts on Facebook). 

A while back I read a really great memoir by a daughter whose father who made the commitment to read to her every night.  It started when she was in fourth grade, and didn't stop until the day he dropped her off at college.  The Reading Promise intertwines the stories they read with the events that were happening in their lives at the the time.  I consider it a must-read.

One of the things that disappointed me, though, was that they didn't keep a list of the books they read together.  I think that would be such a great resource to have - something she could build on someday when she has her own children.  I remember several books my parents read to me when I was a child, but not all.  I remember Mom cringing, and eventually refusing, every time I asked her to read Fox in Socks.  I know they must have read Flip at least a hundred times, because it was the first book I remember actually "reading" on my own so I must have had it memorized. 

So, I've decided that one of those journals will be used to keep a running list of all the books Caitlyn and I read together.  Most nights, we only have time for one or two books, but some days we read more.  We've been reading Walter the Farting Dog for 13 days straight, ever since she got it for Christmas, but I'm sure at some point she'll go back to wanting a little variety in her nightly reading selections! 

Monday, January 02, 2012

Menu Plan January 2 - 6

Another year, another menu plan.  I have some leftover meat that really needs to be used up this week, so that's going to be the main focus for the menu. 

Today:  Pizza (last night of vacation, so we picked up a take-n-bake)
Tomorrow:  Turkey Tetrazzini
Wednesday:  Crockpot ham and potato soup
Thursday:  Pork fried rice
Friday:  Chicken casserole (I'm going to just throw something together with leftover buttermilk chicken and noodles.

Have a great week, everyone!  And click the graphic above to visit for many more menu ideas!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Grocery Challenge Recap & A New Challenge

Last month, I challenged myself to only buy fresh food for our regular meals, leaving the rest of our budget for all the extra food we always buy during the holidays and other special December celebrations.  I did...ok.  I was really, really good at the beginning of the month, only truly buying what I intended, but somewhere along the line I strayed off course and ended up failing miserably by the end.  Case in point - my husband and I were off work all last week, and we decided we were going to get out the smoker and smoke some meat, something we haven't done in far too long.  So off I went to the grocery store, to buy full-price roasts on a whim.  Something I normally wouldn't dream of doing.  Then we got lazy and didn't get the smoker out.  So I added two more roasts and another pack of chicken thighs to my already-overflowing freezer. 

Then, I got the brilliant idea to start couponing again.  Nothing wrong with this, really, except when I used great coupons that were about to expire and were combined with a sale price, every item I bought went straight into the pantry.  Kind of defeated the whole purpose of using the stockpile, right?  Sigh.

So, this month, I'm going to try a new tactic.  I'm going with the cash system.  I'm going to take the money out of the bank at this week, and that's going to be it.  We don't have any parties or celebrations planned this month, but I'll hold back a bit in case something comes up (we sometimes want candy or ice cream for "movie night" at home, or we'll get snacks for impromptu get togethers with family).  Here's how it should break out:

Total budget:  $350
Regular grocery store @ $60/wk:  $240
Meat market:  $20
Costco:  $30
Saved for unanticipated activities:  $20
Specialty stores (Trader Joe's, Asian market, etc):  $30

Obviously, we're still well stockpiled, so we won't need much more than fresh food at the grocery store this month.  I'll need to pick up a bag of chicken tenderloins and a bag or two of chicken strips at some point during the month, and the rest of my budget can go toward taking advantage of coupons and loss leaders.

I will need to pick up some ground beef at the meat market.  It's a small meat processing plant a few blocks from my house.  All the beef is grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free, and raised not too far from my town.  Costs a bit more, but it's worth it.  They also have pork - I just wish they had chicken! 

We don't need much at the specialty stores this month.  My mom goes to Costco for me, and I only need one or two things, so if I don't spend it all, I'll save the remainder for a future month when I need more.  I really want to go to the Asian market, but I can't think of anything I actually *need*, so I'll probably skip it and avoid temptation.  I will pick up some things at Trader Joe's, and I may organize an expedition across town to Bob's Red Mill - we'll see. 

That's the plan!  Stay tuned for updates!