Friday, February 17, 2017

Reading Challenge

I love to read, and I have since I was five.  Sure, I took a couple of years off after finishing each of my degrees, and I don't have time to read as much as I'd like to, I really love books.  The last few years, I've taken the Goodreads reading challenge, setting a number of books that I'd like to finish in a year.  The first year I failed miserably, but last year I far exceeded my goal.  This year my goal is 36 books, and I've already finished seven.

One day in early January, I ran across this reading challenge on Pinterest.  I decided to mix it up and little and give the 26 book challenge a shot! 

I have a Pinterest board where I track all the books I read, as well as marking them on Goodreads, but I'll also check in here from time to time to make sure I'm keeping up with this particular challenge.  Here's where I stand as of this morning:

The 26-book 2017 reading challenge

  1. A book you read in school
  2. A book from your childhood - On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  3. A book published over 100 years ago - Dracula, by Bram Stoker
  4. A book published in the last year - The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna Gaines
  5. A non-fiction book - In Cheap We Trust, by Lauren Weber
  6. A book written by a male author
  7. A book written by a female author - The Sage Stone Prophecy, by NS Wikarski
  8. A book by someone who isn’t a writer (think Paul Kalathani or Richard Branson)
  9. A book that became/is becoming a film
  10. A book published in the 20th Century
  11. A book set in your hometown/region
  12. A book with someone’s name in the title
  13. A book with a number in the title
  14. A book with a character with your first name
  15. A book someone else recommended to you
  16. A book with over 500 pages
  17. A book you can finish in a day
  18. A previously banned book
  19. A book with a one-word title
  20. A book translated from another language
  21. A book that will improve a specific area of your life
  22. A memoir or journal - Talking as Fast as I Can, by Lauren Graham
  23. A book written by someone younger than you
  24. A book set somewhere you’ll be visiting this year
  25. An award-winning book
  26. A self-published book

I'm off to a great start.   I have to laugh, because Dracula counts for several, but I'll be honest and just take it for one!  Took me a while to figure out how to find a book with a character with my first name, but I did a little creative searching on Overdrive and found one to check out that I will read soon!

What about you - do you like to read?  How do you feel about reading challenges?  Fun or too much pressure? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This week's menu plan

I am getting a late, late start on this week's menu!  Ironic, since this is the week we REALLY need a plan.  My daughter started swimming lessons again, so our evenings have become really busy (wait until next week when she and I start our cardio dance class and we have something four nights a week!). 

Swimming lessons start at 7:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which means from the time I get home from work I have 70 minutes to cook, eat, and be out the door.  That's not a lot of time for us!  So I'm going to have to be hyper organized and ready to go.

Last week we didn't really stick to the menu, so there are a few repeats here.

Sunday - Corn and bacon chowder (I used the recipe from this cookbook - loved it!), salad, rolls
Monday - fish sticks, popcorn shrimp, frozen fries
Tuesday -  Farro and sausage (recipe coming soon)
Wednesday - Grilled chicken and sauteed pasta
Thursday - Chicken stir fry
Friday - Sub sandwiches (we're doing a Girl Scout cookie booth until 7:00 so we'll just stop at our favorite sandwich shop afterward)
Saturday - out for a birthday party

Hope you all are having a fantastic week!  Have you visited Menu Plan Monday?  You should! 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Homemade Valentines

My daughter decided to make her own Valentines this year.  I didn't even know she was doing it until they were done!  They turned out really cute - like giant Sweethearts.  She was so proud of them she asked me to put them on Pinterest.  Even made the background pretty for the picture "because that's how they do it for Pinterest, Mom!"

They all say "Cool!" or "Wow!" or "Awesome!"



Super cute.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Revisitng January's Goals

So...we're more than a third of the way through February already (WHAT?????) and I haven't looked at how I did on my goals for January.  Better late than never, right?  Let's see...

Personal:
  • Set up a new journal (I'm looking at the bullet journal method).  I started this but it only lasted a week and a half or so.  I think I'm just not a journaler though it would be fun to have something to look back on in the future to see what the day to day was like. 
  • Read my Bible every day (after working my way through the New Testament twice last year, I'm starting over at Genesis). I'm almost finished with Leviticus.  I haven't ready every single day but I've only missed four or five days since I started.
  • Exercise 30 minutes at least three days per week.  Still working on this one.  20 minutes two days a week is more like it!
  • Blog something at least twice per week.  I had 11 posts in January.  And they weren't even all about menus!  It has been fun to get back to blogging. 

Household:
  • Mend my daughter's favorite hat (it's been on the pile for months).  No, but I did darn her Wonder Woman sock that got a hole in the toe after the first wearing.
  • Track every expenditure (I reworked our budget over the Christmas break so we are ready to go).  This I did.  And we stayed in our overall budget (the overages and the unders balanced each other out to within $1.11).  Was able to transfer almost $100 leftover to our mortgage principle. 
  • Menu plan weekly (you'll find those here on the blog!).  Done!  So helpful, even if we don't stick to it.
  • Plan our summer vacation (we're finally taking one this year).  Hotels are booked!!!!!!!  Working on deciding on activities as we go.
  • Order my garden seeds.  Not yet.  My daughter is taking over the garden planning this year.  She's picked out the seeds but I still need to review the list to make sure everything will work in our raised beds.  We need to get hopping though because radish planting season is almost upon us!

Work:
  •  Write at least six grant proposals. I think I only did four.  I had six on the list but we weren't ready for a couple of them. 
  •  Make my to do list more reasonable so I can actually feel like I'm accomplishing something.  Haven't done this, though it's still a good idea.
All in all, I'd say it was a successful month.  In addition to these, I've started establishing a more productive morning routine for myself, so I'm not just sitting there staring at a computer monitor for an hour before my daughter gets up every day, and that has helped me a lot.  Now, I just need to figure out how to squeeze more hours into my days so I can get more done!

What goals did you accomplish last month?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Menu Plan February 5-11

Here we are again, with another menu post!  I hope you all had a great week.  Our menu last week turned out to be...just a suggestion.  I think we ate half of the things I thought we would, but that's ok.  We never ate the chicken skillet or the chicken garlic noodles.  We went out to Panda Express one night.  I know I made chicken strips and roasted potatoes one night.  I don't remember when we ate what, but we ate well!

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


Sunday:  Beef and noodles with mushrooms (I used hamburger because that's what we had, and upped the mustard and horseradish.  Also I used this recipe for homemade egg noodles.  Delicious.  Definitely a keeper!

Monday:  Frozen chicken skillet meal

Tuesday:  Stir fried cabbage and pork

Wednesday:  Tamale pie casserole - using a recipe for tamale pie from an old community cookbook.  My family doesn't like the cornmeal topping (what's wrong with them?) so I'm going to mix cooked rice in instead. 

Thursday:  Sausage and farro (recipe from the back of the Trader Joe's farro bag).

Friday:  Garlic mushroom chicken (can't wait to try this one!)

Saturday:  Chicken garlic noodles (this one stays on the menu because every time I don't make it, my daughter asks when we're having it!). 

That's the plan, anyway.  Have a great week, everyone - and visit Menu Plan Monday for tons of great menu ideas!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Sauerkraut - Day 12

We have sauerkraut success!  I've got to admit, I fully expected my cabbage to turn into a slimy, disgusting mass on my counter over the last week and a half.  Instead, it held its shape, stayed crunchy, and tastes delicious!  We opened the jar yesterday and ate some off the top.  It wasn't very sour, but my daughter decided it was to her liking and asked me to put it in the fridge to stop the ferment.

Today, we ate some off the bottom of the jar.  Much more sour, but she still said she'd eat it (I'll eat it even if she won't!).  It's a little salty, probably because I didn't measure, but still good!






We'll definitely be doing this again, and we've decided to experiment with some other fermented foods.  This afternoon I'm starting a ginger bug, and next time we get a fresh bag of carrots we'll try some fermented carrot sticks.  We're having fun with it! 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Not Quite Minestrone Soup

I made this soup for dinner the other night and everyone thought it was delicious.  I think my daughter (the zucchini hater) is even planning to take the leftovers in her thermos for lunch today. 

It's not quite minestrone, since I'm pretty sure minestrone is always vegetarian, and I put meat in it (my family requires meat in almost all things).  Not a lot of meat, though, just a little.

I started with this recipe and tweaked it to suit our tastes.



Easy Meaty Not Quite Minestrone Soup

2 links sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1 small onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced (I didn't bother to peel them)
2 celery ribs, diced
2 T. minced garlic (or four cloves)
2 c. shredded zucchini
2 c. diced tomatoes (I actually used six whole frozen tomatoes, peels removed)
4 c. chicken broth
1 12-oz bag frozen spinach
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 T. dried Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c. dried orzo pasta
shredded parmesan cheese, for serving

In a six-quart pot, break up sausage.  Add onion, carrots, and celery, and cook five minutes over medium heat until sausage is cooked through and vegetables are soft.  Add remaining ingredients except orzo and parmesan.  Bring just to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes.  Add orzo pasta and cook an additional 10-12 minutes or until pasta is cooked.  Serve topped with shredded parmesan cheese.

Makes six large servings,



Monday, January 30, 2017

Menu Plan January 29 - February 4

Once again, we basically stuck to the menu plan last week!  I'm always thrilled when I can say that. I did switch Thursday and Friday's menus, because my husband ended up taking broccoli beef for lunch on Thurday (he takes a frozen entree every day so that happens sometimes.  I also have an uncanny knack for planning the exact same thing my daughter has for hot lunch.  Because great minds think alike).

Saturday night my daughter and I had a Girl Scout activity that involved pizza, so we haven't had the garlic noodles yet.  Other than that, we were right on target.


And here, courtesy of my handy-dandy white board, is this week's menu!

Except I've already changed it up...we had macaroni and cheese for lunch yesterday so I made Wednesday's minestone instead of noodles for dinner.  Still has pasta but it wasn't a focus (and actually I might leave it out next time).

Sunday:  Minestrone and rolls

Monday:  Chicken skillet (the frozen kind that you just dump in the pan and add water)

Tuesday:  Meatloaf and potatoes

Wednesday:  Chicken garlic noodles

Thursday:  Tuna casserole (we're getting awfully pasta heavy this week - this may become creamed tuna on biscuits)

Friday:  My daughter and I will have dinner at church.  Hubby will fend for himself.

Saturday:  Chicken paprikash

That's the week's plan!  Visit Menu Plan Monday for more great ideas, and have a great week, everybody! 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Why I'm Not Buying Books This Year




Since before I could read, I have been a lover of books.  I love to read them, I love to collect them.  I feel a great comfort in life, knowing they are there.  I suspect this has something to do with the fact that I am the daughter of two librarians.  Well, my mom didn't come to be a librarian until later in life, but she was an elementary school teacher before she was a librarian, and I grew up in a house that had wall to wall bookshelves in the living room.  And they were FULL.  As a young adult, I had wall to wall bookshelves in my spare room, also full.  I was surrounded by books. 

Now that I'm older, with a family and a fairly small house, my space for physical books has been greatly diminished (all I have left is the bookcase you see above, which has five narrow shelves, plus a few small piles here and there).  But that's ok, because I have almost completely made the shift to digital.  Back in the fall of 2009, I got my first iPod touch, and discovered the Kindle app.  Then I discovered the websites that notify you about the free Kindle books.  And I was hooked.  A year or two later I got an actual Kindle and I never looked back. 

Fast forward to today.  I still pick up a few physical books each time I work the library book sale (I serve on the Friends of the Library Board), but really I only read physical books when I'm camping.  There's something so relaxing about sitting by the river with a book and a cold drink, and I don't have to worry about getting sand in my Kindle.

A month or two ago, I was scrolling through my book list, and I took notice of how many unread books I have.  You guys, I have more than 2,600 books/short stories for my Kindle, and I've probably only read a few hundred of them!  Then I thought about how many unread books I paid actual money for - probably only a few hundred of those, and most of them only cost a few dollars each, but if I don't read them, that's money down the drain.  I still get tons of books for free - I get daily emails from Bookbub and pick up the ones that look interesting, plus I get a free book each month because I'm an Amazon Prime member.  And, I realized that most of the time now, I'm reading books I've downloaded from my fabulous library's Overdrive service, and not books I've purchased (free or otherwise) through Amazon. 

After thinking all that through, I made a decision - I'm not going to buy any new books this year (exceptions:  I'll need to buy whatever we're reading in Bible study, and I may pick up a souvenir book or two on my summer vacation, as that's the kind of souvenir I enjoy most. I'll also buy a few books as gifts for children), but other than that, I'm not paying money for books.  No new books, no used books, no e-books, no cookbooks (gasp! that idea just fully hit me).  I'm going to read what I have and try to catch up a little.

There will be times of temptation, for sure - Lisa See has a book coming out in March, but I've already recommended the e-book to my library which automatically put it on hold for me.  I'm sure they'll get it.  If not, it'll go on my Amazon wish list and I'll get it in 2018.  I'm hoping Kate Morton, my other favorite author, doesn't have one come out because two in one year might be too much temptation! 

So there it is.  My no-book-buying pledge. 

Have you stopped buying anything this year?  If so I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Sauerkraut - Day One


Sauerkraut - Day One (someone really needs to clean that light switch!)

I love sauerkraut.  For the longest time, I was alone in my love of sauerkraut in my house.  My husband can't stand the stuff (other than dill pickles, he doesn't like anything pickled/fermented/vinegary).  A year or so ago, I introduced my daughter to it, and she LOVED it.  So I started buying the stuff in the natural foods section at my local grocery store, because it has more probiotics and, in my opinion, tastes better than the other kinds.  However, it costs about $6 a jar.  I'm always on the lookout for things I can make at home with fairly little effort.  I've been making yogurt for a while now, so I decided to step up my game and try my own sauerkraut.

I bought the kit from Cultures for Health during their big sale after Christmas, picked up some two-quart jars at our local agriculture supply store (they always have a great selection of canning supplies!), and this morning I finally got started. 

I didn't measure.  I probably should have measured.  But we'll see what happens.

It was really easy and took all of about 10 minutes.  I just sliced my cabbage, salted it (a few giant pinches for a whole head of cabbage), pounded the heck out of it for a few minutes, and put it in my jar.  I dropped in the glass weight (I have no idea how I'm getting that thing out of there without breaking my jar), put on the special top (it burps itself!), and now it's sitting on my counter, doing its thing.

In three weeks, if all goes well, we'll have sauerkraut!  I'll keep you posted...


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Menu Plan January 24 - 28

We did well at sticking to the menu plan last week!  I don't think Sunday's calzones were as big a hit as I wanted them to be, but everyone ate them and I had leftovers for lunch for three days.

On BBQ sandwich day, my daughter informed me (in 8-year-old dramatic fashion) that she HATES BBQ sandwiches.  I had been looking at this recipe, and I had almost everything on hand already for it (we used sesame seeds instead of poppy and slivered almonds instead of sliced), so I made that up and set some plain chicken aside for her.  So the hubs and I had BBQ sandwiches with no chicken on the salad, and she put her chicken on her salad.

Fajita night I discovered that I had no fajita seasoning.  Then I found this recipe and used her seasoning recipe - delicious!  I think I'll be using this one from now on!

Over the weekend we went out of town for our annual "siblings and spouses weekend getaway".  For about four years now, my brothers and I and our spouses have sent the kids to various grandparents' houses and gone away together for a weekend.  We rent a house, explore whatever town we're in, and eat way too much.  That's why I didn't plan my Friday/Saturday menu.  And it took me a while to get this week's menu together (in fact I'm still not sure it will actually end up this way!).

Sunday:  We stopped at the store on the way home and picked up chicken strips, macaroni and potato salads, and coleslaw.  This is one of my husband's favorite "pick something up" meals.

Monday:  Chicken pot pies (of the frozen variety)

Tuesday:  Fish sticks and oven fries (I told you those fish sticks would make an appearance!).

Wednesday:  Jambalaya (I use Zatarains)

Thursday:  Broccoli Beef

Friday:  Pork Chops and rice pilaf

Saturday:  Garlic noodles with chicken

Have a great week everyone!  Have you visited Menu Plan Monday?  So much good stuff there!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ice Cube Trays - Your Frugal Friend

A few years ago we got a new fridge with a built-in ice maker and water dispenser.  It's the first time in my life I've had that feature, and I use it every single day (I'm a big water drinker - I probably drink close to a gallon of water most days).

After the fridge was installed, my husband, who is one of those "get rid of it if you're not using it right now" kind of people (i.e. the total opposite of me - yes I drive him up a wall sometimes) wanted to get rid of the ice cube trays.  Now, granted, we had about eight of them.  So I let him donate six, but I kept two.  Why?  They are useful for so much more than just making ice from water!





I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of tomato products from a can.  Besides the issue of BPA in the lining, to me the tomatoes always coming out tasting like the can, instead of that sweet tomato goodness.  Then, I discovered these Hunt's tomato sauce Tetra Paks.  The sauce is delicious!  At 33.5 ounces, though, it's rare I would use a whole container of sauce in one day (or in one week, for that matter).  Sure, I could stick the whole container in the freezer and then thaw it out when I'm ready to use it, but sometimes I only need a little bit of sauce.  What to do...what to do.  Out come the ice cube trays!

Each divot in my trays holds two tablespoons of liquid, if I fill them right to the top.  So two cubes = 1/4 cup of liquid.  Easy to freeze, easy to pop out, easy to measure for recipes!

Over Christmas, I bought two pints of heavy cream for a couple of dishes that I thought I was going to make but then didn't.  I'm not one to let cream go to waste, but we REALLY don't need to be eating anything cream-laden right now, so I froze that too.  Here are the cubes after I popped them out of the tray.  Beautiful dairy popsicles. 




I've read (though I haven't tried it yet) that once they're thawed, they'll whip up like they've never been frozen. I can also just drop a cube into soups that need that creamy edge, or, if I'm feeling really decadent, thaw a cube for my coffee (one cube would probably last me four days in my coffee - it doesn't take much!).  

What else can you freeze?  Anything that freezes well that you want access to in small portions.  I've frozen:

  • sliced green onions that were going bad (great in soups and sauces where they'd be cooked thoroughly anyway)
  • diced bell peppers, celery, onions, garlic (these and the green onions go in with a little bit of water in each divot)
  • broth or stock, for those recipes that only need 1/4 cup or less (I usually freeze my stock in two cup portions)
  • Erupting Ice Chalk (my daughter had so much fun with these a couple of summers ago!)

Basically, if you can think of it and it's small enough to fit in an ice cube tray, it's perfect for this.

Do you use ice cube trays in your frugal kitchen?  I'd love to know your thoughts and ideas!

Happy Freezing!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Menu Plan January 15-21

Another week has come and gone - I can't believe we're halfway through January already!  Since it hasn't gone above freezing since it snowed (and some days, it was well below freezing  - it was 4 degrees Fahrenheit on my drive to work on Friday, which is almost unheard of around here), we're still covered in the white stuff.  Fortunately, the main roads are mostly clear, but the side roads in the neighborhoods are still mostly solid ice (and seriously rutted in some places). 

Being stuck at home for a couple of days meant that we did a good job of sticking to the menu.  Until Friday, when my family rebelled against the fish sticks I had planned.  I bought them because my daughter PROMISED me she'd eat them, but whatever, the fish sticks' day will come.  We ended up getting Panda Express that night. 

Saturday, I intended to make beef stew, but my daughter begged for chow mein, so I made that instead.  I used this recipe, though I substituted cashews for the almonds (because I had a can in the house from my niece's Girl Scout sales last fall and I figured it was time we used them up!), and I didn't actually measure any of the sauce ingredients, I just dumped them in.  I  did have to add some salt because my homemade chicken broth was seriously underseasoned.  It was delicious! 

Other than that, we stuck to the menu last week.  And here's what's coming up for this week:

Sunday:  Meaty Calzones (hubby wanted pizza for dinner on Saturday, but then we went out for lunch, so this was my compromise). 

Monday:  Swedish meatballs and spaetzle (a family favorite!)

Tuesday:  BBQ chicken sandwiches (except I think we're low on barbecue sauce - anyone have a good recipe?)

Wednesday:  Chicken fajitas

Thursday:  Hamburger casserole

Friday and Saturday are BUSY so we'll be eating those out. 

Have a great week everyone!  And remember to check out Menu Plan Monday if you need more inspiration!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's a Winter Wonderland


Here we are, on our sixth snow day of the school year.  When we went to bed last night, it looked like this. 

  

When we woke up, it was a whole different story! 
 

We topped out at about seven inches, which is light for the Portland metro area today - I have friends who had more than 14!  After breakfast, we headed to our sledding hill, and admired the snowy trees.


My office is closed today, but my deadlines don't take snow days, so I'm spending some time working this afternoon while my daughter plays with a neighbor friend.  All in all, a beautiful, fun day!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Menu Plan January 8-14

I'm going to make a concerted effort to post our weekly dinner menu here.  I found when I was getting back into the habit that it was great to look back at our old menus on the blog for ideas and notes about what we liked and didn't like (especially if we were trying a new recipe).  Here's the schedule for this week:

Sunday:  "roast" chicken (it's actually steamed - I cooked it in the Instant Pot since it was frozen solid), rice pilaf  (I actually made this with some of the turkey broth I cooked last week and it was delicious), salad, and steamed broccoli.

Monday:  Trader Joe's orange chicken, brown rice, steamed mixed veggies, salad.  Mondays are piano night and we don't get home until 6:15, so dinner has to be quick or my daughter misses her bedtime.  This usually means something frozen that I can put in the oven while we're gone or heat up quickly when we get home!

Tuesday:  Kielbasa and Cabbage, salad

Wednesday:  Hamburgers, oven fries, salad

Thursday:  Irish Sundaes (can't wait to break into the sausage from the pig we just got!).

Friday:  Fish sticks, mashed potatoes, and steamed hot veggie.  Probably also a salad.

We're eating a lot of potatoes this week - I bought 10 pounds over Christmas for a dish I ended up not needing to make, and they're all sprouting (I buy organic when it's affordable and they sprout quickly!).  So I'm peeling them and using them up before they turn into full blown potato plants right there in my pantry.  Fortunately, potatoes are versatile!

Have you checked out Menu Plan Monday?  So many great ideas there!

Have a great week, and happy eating!

Monday, January 09, 2017

What's in the freezer?

Over the weekend, I picked up my order of half a pig.  My sister-in-law have a farm and raise meat and we buy pork, chicken, and for the first time this year, turkey from them.  We love knowing how our meat was raised, and it always tastes fantastic! 

I have a medium-size upright freezer, and it gets FULL.  It's far easier to keep track of things in an upright than a chest freezer, but still things tend to get pushed to the back and forgotten.  For example, I thought we were out of bacon long ago, but when I was cleaning things out in anticipation of the new pork I found a lonely little pack buried in the far back corner.  So this time, when I was loading things in, I kept track of what I was putting in so I would know when I ran out of things.  Then I made it into a spreadsheet (pardon the terrible picture - I could never get the lighting right so I just held it in my hand!). 



I put a checkbox in for every package of that particular type of meat, and this list is now hanging on my fridge.  As I pull a package out of the freezer, I will cross out one box so I'll always know what I have left, and can go digging if something seems to have disappeared.  I left a few empty spots in case I buy other things (though that won't happen for a while because there's absolutely no room out there!).  I can also add extra boxes if necessary. 

I've tried a few other pantry inventory systems but I think this one will work out well.  I saved it on my computer so I can edit and reprint whenever I need to.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Goals for January

It's the new year, a time when many people make lofty resolutions, then abandon them a few weeks later (new habits are hard!).  I am no exception - I've given up on more than I care to think about.

This year, I've decided to take it one month at a time, and I'm breaking them out into categories.

Personal:
  • Set up a new journal (I'm looking at the bullet journal method).  
  • Read my Bible every day (after working my way through the New Testament twice last year, I'm starting over at Genesis).
  • Exercise 30 minutes at least three days per week.
  • Blog something at least twice per week.

Household:
  • Mend my daughter's favorite hat (it's been on the pile for months).
  • Track every expenditure (I reworked our budget over the Christmas break so we are ready to go).
  • Menu plan weekly (you'll find those here on the blog!).
  • Plan our summer vacation (we're finally taking one this year).
  • Order my garden seeds.

Work:
  •  Write at least six grant proposals.
  •  Make my to do list more reasonable so I can actually feel like I'm accomplishing something.

I think that's enough to get started!  I'll check back at the end of the month and see how I've done.

Happy January, everybody - remember to let your light shine through the winter darkness!

Ham and White Bean Soup

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope your holidays were happy and healthy ones. I'm looking ahead to 2017 and making some changes.  First and foremost, We're making over our eating.  I've been working with a health coach all fall and she's given me some great advice on incorporating healthy grains, and reminded me of the importance of fruits and vegetables at every meal.  My daughter has had a conversation with her doctor about the importance of healthy eating, and we are fired up!

In other food news, we're getting half a pig any day now (I buy half a pig, several chickens, and, for the first time this year, a heritage turkey from my sister-in-law's every year - her family raises them on their farm), so in preparation for that I cleaned out the freezer during my Christmas break.  I discovered that we managed to eat most of last year's pig - I only found one slice of ham, a pack of cottage bacon (yay - love that stuff!), and a couple of packages of ham hocks.  The only thing I know to do with ham hocks is make white beans, so that was our New Year's Day dinner (always refreshing after a week of eating holiday leftovers and not-so-healthy New Year's Eve food!).  As always, I started with a basic recipe and made it my own...here's what I came up with.

Ham Hock and White Bean Soup
Serves 6

1 pound ham hocks
2 c. dry small white beans, sorted, rinsed, soaked and drained (I used a quick soak method)
2 T. olive oil
3 carrots, chopped
3 ribs and all the leaves from one head of celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp. dried summer savory
2 tsp. dried thyme
3 dried bay leaves
2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 cups low-salt or salt-free chicken stock (I use homemade)
salt to taste

Heat olive oil in a 4 quart stock pot or dutch oven.  Add carrots, celery, and onion, and saute until just beginning to brown.  Add ham hocks, beans, garlic, spices, and chicken stock.  Add enough water to cover the beans by 1 1/2 inches.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are nearly tender, around 90 minutes.  Return to a boil, uncover, and cook until beans are cooked to desired tenderness (we like them a little thick, not too soupy).  Remove ham hocks from the soup, remove meat from bones, and return meat to the soup, stirring to combine.  Serve hot with crusty rolls.

It was delicious and I can't wait to eat the leftovers in my lunch today!

Happy 2017, all - hope it's a great one for you.