Monday, December 03, 2018

Menu Plan December 2 - 8

I am here today to tell you that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WE'RE GOING TO EAT THIS WEEK!!!  AAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!  This is my "menu planning as I write this" post.  I've been so good for the last few months, planning my meals two weeks ahead, but life has suddenly become completely overwhelming and I've lost all my menu planning mojo.  I barely know where I'm supposed to be at any given time.  Seriously.  What day is it?

My daughter and I are TOO DARN BUSY, but that's a topic for another post.  I will say right now that I am not adding one more thing to our weekends between now and Christmas.  That's mostly because there's no room in the schedule to add anything else!

So, as I type this, I'm coming up with our plan.  And I'm grocery shopping with ClickList this week - that's the Fred Meyer service where you order your groceries online, then pull up to the store, call them, and they bring them out to you.  We just got it at our store a few months ago.  It's free this week but it would be worth the $5 even if it wasn't!  I've been shopping more at Winco than Fred Meyer to save money, but I think my sanity is more important this month.

Here's what we're eating:

Sunday:  My daughter and I went to see my niece in The Nutcracker a couple of hours from home.  We stopped at my parents' house for waffles and bacon on the way home.

Monday: My daughter has her piano lesson at 5:00.  Thank goodness swimming lessons are over, because those were at 7:00 for a few months.  We were eating QUICK dinners!  Tonight we'll have Trader Joe's Orange Chicken and rice with green beans.

Tuesday:  I'll pick up my grocery order on the way home from work.  I'll make Chicken and Bows - it's easy and fairly quick (and I think I have everything in the house for it already!).

Wednesday:  My daughter is in a play during the Sunday School service at church next Sunday, so she has play practice from 5:00 - 6:15.  Another quick dinner needed - we'll have chili dogs, chips, and carrot sticks.

Thursday:  My daughter has (are you sensing a pattern here?) youth group at church from 6:30 - 8:00.  Normally I work from home on Thursdays so I have some leeway with our dinners but we have a new person starting in our department today so my boss asked me to come in.  This all but eliminates my time to cook at home.  We'll have chicken strips, potato salad, and coleslaw

Friday:  I'm going out for dinner and to a play with a friend.  My husband and daughter are on their own!  They'll probably go to Panda Express.

Saturday:  I'm spending the day cleaning house and preparing for my daughter's birthday party on Sunday.  So I'll be home to cook but I won't want to!  We'll have pork chops and mashed potatoes. 

Hope your week is calmer than mine!  What's on your menu?

This is posted to Menu Plan Monday on where you can find lots of other menu ideas!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Instant Pot Spaghetti

My daughter is a spaghetti fanatic.  She'd probably eat it every day if I'd let her.  Unfortunately, the rest of us don't feel the same way!  So, to accommodate her desire, I've started making big batches and freezing them in thermos-size portions for her school lunches.  The easiest and quickest way for me to do this is with the Instant Pot.  I've tried a couple of recipes but none came out with thick enough sauce for her, and after some experimenting I've finally come up with a winner!

1 T. olive oil
1/2 to 1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. pepper
16 ounce package spaghetti noodles
1 24-ounce jar spaghetti sauce
1 24.5-ounce container crushed tomatoes
3 c. water

With the Instant Pot on the saute setting, brown the ground beef, onion, and garlic in the olive oil.  Once cooked, turn off the pot.  Carefully drain grease if necessary.  Add seasonings and stir with the meat mixture.

Break the noodles into desired length and sprinkle into the pot (don't put them in in solid handfuls or they'll clump together when they cook).  Pour the spaghetti sauce and crushed tomatoes over, then pour the water over all of that.  Make sure the noodles are submerged in the liquid. 

Seal the Instant Pot and cook on manual for 9 minutes.  After cooking, use the manual pressure release.  Remove the lid and stir thoroughly to make sure that everything is incorporated evenly.  Serve immediately, or freeze in single-serve portions to eat later. 


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Thanksgiving food 2018

In our house, we do two Thanksgivings.  Fortunately, I don't host either one and they're both potlucks, so I don't have to make too much food or make sure my house is presentable!  My husband's family gets together on Thursday and my family gets together on Saturday, at which time we also celebrate the five November/December birthdays in the extended family, including my daughter's, which is in early December.

There were a couple of recipes I tried for the first time that were definite keepers, so I want to be sure to make note of them here!

For Thursday:

I think there was something else but I can't remember what it was!

For Saturday:

  • Hot Double-Onion Cheese Dip (I'll admit I had doubts about this recipe - especially the lemon zest - but it was delicious!!!  I used Jarlsberg cheese because it was less expensive)
  • An assortment of veggies, crackers, and chips 
  • Ranch dip made following the recipe on the Uncle Dan's dressing packet  
  • Homemade Mini Strawberry Strudels, with homemade quick puff pastry using this recipe (this was my daughter's choice for her birthday dessert this year)

All in all, a delicious weekend! 

Monday, November 05, 2018

Menu Plan November 4 - 10

How'd everybody do on their menus last week?  I did a few switches but for the most part we stuck to it.  We ended up picking up Taco Bell on Tuesday because we made a last-minute trip to the pumpkin patch rather than getting our carving pumpkins at the store.  And, I switched Friday and Saturday's dinners because I didn't get the enchiladas made in the morning so I needed something quicker after Zumba class on Friday night. 

Funny story - I told my husband we were supposed to have enchiladas Friday night and he said he didn't like those (which I know isn't true).  I said I was making the creamy kind, not the red sauce kind (I've never found a red sauce that didn't taste like a can so I don't make that kind).  I asked if he liked those and he couldn't remember.  I said (with a smile on my face) "well I'll just make them and you can tell me how gross they are."  He ate them, and then ate the leftovers for lunch yesterday, so I think they were acceptable, LOL.

And so, without further ado, here's this week's menu (also posted to Menu Plan Monday at

Sunday:  White chicken chili (I used this as a base recipe)
Monday:  Leftover chili
Tuesday:  Bean and Cheese Burritos (something like this)
Wednesday:  Chicken Divan over rice 
Thursday:  Rice ball casserole
Friday:  Boboli pizza
Saturday:  movie night at my sister-in-laws means a bunch of junk food for dinner!

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Menu Plan October 28 - November 3

I've been to the grocery store twice this weekend, and spent a ton of money, but did I get the food I need for my meal plan?  Naturally, no...I was focused on Halloween festivities (and substitute festivities as we missed the family party due to illness). 

Fortunately I did a quick switcheroo on my running meal plan (that thing is a godsend - why didn't I do it years ago?) and all I need to do is run and buy bananas while my daughter is at Sunday School this morning and then I don't need to REALLY shop until my day off on Wednesday!

So here's the current plan...and I should note that we're going pork heavy in the upcoming weeks as we've entered the USE UP ALL THE PORK time of the year, as the new pigs will be ready soon.

Sunday:  Sausage hash
Monday:  Leftover pizza roll-ups
Tuesday: Chicken divan over rice
Wednesday: Sausages and Tater Tots (quick Halloween food!)
Thursday:  Pork and Cabbage Stir Fry
Friday:  Chicken Enchiladas (maybe.  If I get my act together and can make it ahead of time)
Saturday:  Sausage and Pepper Sandwiches

What's on your menu?  This will be linked to Menu Plan Monday at

Have a great one!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Party Food Oct. 27

Tonight is our annual pumpkin carving party with my sister-in-law's family.  Not sure who else is coming (if anyone) this year, but it will be a great time! 

Last night I went to start preparing food, and Pinterest was down.  Now THAT is a Halloween horror story if ever I heard one!  How on earth would I get my recipes???  Fortunately, through the magic of Google, I pieced it all back together.  But it reinforced that I need to be saving tried and true recipes on my computer, not just out in Pinterest-land. 

Normally I try to go all out and make some fun Halloween-themed food for this party, but the funeral for the father of a couple of my friends is today, so I'm keeping it simple.  Here's the plan (my sister-in-law is also cooking a bunch of things so this isn't all we'll be eating!):

Pimento cheese with crackers
Spinach Dip with bread (tip - use the Spring Vegetable soup mix instead of the regular vegetable - it  is so much better in this dip!)
Pizza Roll-Ups (just pepperoni and cheese this time)
Veggie Tray with Ranch dip
Chocolate Chip Dip (I use this recipe but I don't make it into a ball) with Scooby Snacks

Carb heavy and delicious - just the way party food should be! 

What are you cooking up for Halloween?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Menu Plan October 14 - 20

I realized a couple of days ago that I totally forgot to post the menu for this past week!  Wouldn't have mattered much because we deviated a bit...but here's what we did eat!

Sunday:  Ham and Broccoli Impossible Pie
Monday:  Chili Dogs
Tuesday:  Panda Express
Wednesday:  Skillet fried pork and potatoes
Thursday:  Chicken and rice
Friday:  Leftovers for the win!
Saturday:  Instant Pot "roast" chicken with mushroom risotto

A note about that risotto - I'm totally out of white wine, so I substituted apple cider.  It was DELICIOUS!  I also made that in my Instant Pot.  I made Instant Pot spaghetti for lunch today (and now have five lunches' worth of leftovers for my daughter to take to school!). And I'm cooking dinner tonight in my Instant Pot...normally I just make ingredients with it - beans, rice, stock, stuff like that.  But apparently I'm in a meal-making mood these days.

My daughter made the chicken and rice.  She's been working on her "Simple Meals" badge for Girl Scouts.  She was tired and cranky and didn't want to make it and I said "look.  It literally takes TEN MINUTES to put chicken and rice together.  You can do it!"  So she did it.  And then she remembered she doesn't like the chicken in chicken and rice.  Sigh...

Today I went to THREE grocery stores.  I have a new routine - on Sundays I drop my daughter off at Sunday School and then have about an hour to myself before I have to pick her up (yes, I could go to adult Bible study, but I don't, for reasons which are my own).  I used to just go to Starbucks and drink coffee and read my book, but I'm trying to scale back on all forms of eating out, so the coffee had to go (and I just realized I'm a cup short on my coffee drinking today, so maybe that's why I've been cranky all afternoon, but I digress...).  Last weekend I decided to check out Grocery Outlet and wow, it's so much cleaner than it used to be!  I haven't been in ages.  So I went back again today.  I took my list and grabbed a few things that I knew I needed plus a few things that were too good to pass up.  Then on the way back I decided to check out the Super Mercado, which I also haven't been to in a long time.  Then this afternoon I went to Fred Meyer (where I completely blew my grocery budget and bought very little that wasn't on my list - I really need to be shopping at Winco).  But, we are stocked up for the week and just about out of money for the month so I'll be getting creative moving forward!

And, without further ado, here's the menu for this week:

Sunday:  Cube Steak and Gravy over mashed potatoes
Monday:  Pasta Salad
Tuesday:  Irish Sundaes
Wednesday:  Tuna casserole
Thursday:  Chicken Lazone, maybe with cornbread or biscuits.  I haven't decided.
Friday:  Chicken strips and salads
Saturday:  Beef and Noodles (made with ground beef)

What's on your menu for the week?  Remember to visit Menu Plan Monday at for tons of great ideas!  

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Menu Plan Sept. 30 - October 6

I made it through one of the busiest weeks of my year!  Woo hoo!  Last week's menu showed that my daughter and husband would eat out on Thursday.  Instead, my daughter made dinner (I was working at a fundraiser) as part of a Girl Scout cooking badge she's working on.  So there was that money saved! 

Here's the plan for this week (which is another busy one at work but at least I get to leave on time every day): has so many amazing menu ideas!

Sunday:  Sausage and potato soup
Monday:  Hamburgers/Pork burgers (leftover patties that I froze) and fries
Tuesday:  Barbacoa soft tacos (also leftovers that I froze)
Wednesday:  Jambalaya (Zatarains)
Thursday:  Garlic noodles with chicken
Friday:  Shipwreck
Saturday:  Swedish Meatballs and Spaetzle

What's on your menu this week? 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Menu Plan September 23-29

We are entering one of the two busiest weeks of the year for me at work.  I'm thankful for my meal plan because that's one less thing I need to think about!  Since I had it done well in advance, I was able to grocery shop on my lunch hour last Thursday, the day I work at home, which was fantastic because I was gone most of the weekend on a Girl Scout campout with my daughter.  Like last weekend when I was out of town, I got to come home and actually stay here instead of having to run back out to the grocery store!  Planning for the win!

Later in the week there are two meals out.  I'm noticing from the budget that we're starting to eat out less and less.  This is great because we're definitely saving money and eating healthier food.  But, I'll still rely on it when we need to!  I'm in fundraising and we have an auction Thursday night.  I'll see if my daughter wants to cook (she's working on a Girl Scout cooking badge), but it's just as likely that they'll want to go to Panda Express because I don't like it as much as they do, so they're happy to go when I'm not around.   Friday is Grandparents' Day at school, and my parents always have dinner with us afterward so they don't have to sit in rush hour traffic for two hours to get home.  But...I have to be at a conference downtown, so I'll be home late. parents will bring my daughter home, my husband will stop and pick up take-and-bake pizza on his way home, they'll cook it when they're ready, and I'll eat some whenever I get there!

Here's the plan for this week:

Remember to visit for many more ideas!

Sunday:  Chili and Cornbread
Monday:  Sausages and Tater Tots
Tuesday:  Chicken Taquitos
Wednesday:  Skillet meal
Thursday:  Take-out, most likely
Friday: Papa Murphy's

What's on your plan for the week?  

Monday, September 17, 2018

Menu Plan September 16 - 22

I may have mentioned that I'm now keeping a running list of menu plans on my computer.  It goes out a couple of weeks, and I note recipes that I have most of the ingredients for, that sound good to me, or that my family requests.  Because I'm working into the future, I can easily rearrange and adjust as requests are made or as I encounter ingredients that need to be used up.  Well, that menu list totally saved me this week!

My daughter and I left after school on Friday and spent the weekend with my side of the family at a lake cabin that my grandfather built.  The cabin is no longer in the family, but my parents made arrangements with the owners for us all to go spend some time there to celebrate my nephew's birthday. 

Corner of the cabin with the lake behind

Having a menu plan already made up for the week meant that I could do my grocery shopping for this week on Thursday when I bought the food I'd be contributing to the weekend.  It was such a great feeling to get home at 5:00 last night and not have to unload the car, turn around, and go back out to the grocery store! 

I was also able to throw together a quick and simple dinner with some of the leftover ingredients from the weekend.  One of my contributions was flat bread pizzas for lunch on Saturday (I also made a fruit salad for Sunday), and I had a mixture of green onions, peppers, and mushrooms already all chopped up and ready to go.  I got a small package of chicken sausage out of the freezer, cooked and sliced it, cooked some rotini, and sauteed the leftover veggies with some more onions and mushrooms added.  Then I mixed it all together with a little pasta water and added a few red pepper flakes for kick, topped with shredded parmesan cheese, and called it dinner!  It's something I call "pizza noodles" because it has all the flavors we like on pizza.  I used to put tomatoes in, too, but my daughter doesn't care for cooked tomatoes.  I also left out the pizza seasoning this time because those flavors were in the chicken sausage.  It was delicious! has so many great menu ideas!

Here's the menu for this week:

Sunday:  pizza noodles (see above)
Monday:  pot pies (frozen - hubby will cook these while we're at my daughter's piano lesson so we can quickly eat before her swimming lesson)
Tuesday:  pork and cabbage stir fry
Wednesday: chicken paprikash over baked potatoes
Thursday:  sour cream pork chops with noodles
Friday:  beef and broccoli lo mein (this recipe is new to us but sounds great!
Saturday:  My daughter and I will be at a Girl Scout campout so my husband is on his own.  He'll probably go out. 

What's on your menu this week?  Have a great one!

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Menu Plan September 9 - 15

I know it's only the 9th but it already feels like September is flying by.  Now, if only the fall weather would hurry up and get here! 

I have to say I am quite impressed with how good we've been at sticking to the menu plan lately.  This week all the after school activities start, plus my daughter and I are leaving town next Friday for the weekend, so I've lined up some quick and easy favorites for the week ahead.

Visit for Menu Plan Monday and tons of ideas!

Today:  Cube Steak, baked potatoes, tomato salad.
Monday:  Chicken strips and cold salads
Tuesday:  Chicken stir fry
Wednesday: Baked Penne
Thursday: Instant pot "roast" chicken
Friday:  Out
Saturday: Family dinner

What's your go-to when time is tight and you need to feed your family a healthy dinner?

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Homemade Yogurt in the Cooler

My current grocery shopping goal is to plan two weeks ahead and shop once.  I did a big shop over the weekend but got home and realized I forgot the yogurt for our smoothies.  Then I remembered that I used to make the yogurt all the time!  It's so easy - it takes 10-11 hours but just a few minutes of hands-on time here and there.  So, I made a half gallon for about half the cost of buying it in the store (I've been buying milk from a local dairy - if I'd used milk from the grocery store it would have been even cheaper).

To make half a gallon of yogurt:

You need a half gallon of milk and 2 T. of plain yogurt. Your starter yogurt should just be made with milk (or milk and cream) and live cultures - don't use anything sweetened, flavored, or with gelatin.  It won't work right.  

1.  Put milk in a lidded bowl (I use the Pampered Chef Batter Bowl). 

2.  With the lid off, heat in the microwave to 180 degrees (Fahrenheit). This takes about 12 minutes in my microwave, but I do in three minute bursts so I can stir it regularly and check.  You can also do this on the stovetop in a large pot but I don't want to babysit it that much.

3.  Let cool to between 110 and 115 degrees.  Stir regularly (every 10 minutes or so) to prevent a skin from forming at the top of the yogurt (no need to remove it, just stir it back in).  This takes about an hour. While it cools, get your starter yogurt out of the fridge to come to room temperature.

4.  Stir a few tablespoons of the warm milk into your starter yogurt to thin it out, then stir that into the bowl of milk, mixing thoroughly.

5.  Put the lid on the bowl and put it in a cooler.  Pour enough hot water in to go 1/2 - 2/3 of the way up the side of the bowl.  Your hottest tap water should be fine for this. 

6.  Put the lid on the cooler and cover it with blankets (I put it on a twin size blanket so that it can wrap all the way around, then put another small blanket on top).  Let stand for 8 - 10 hours, until thick. Keep refrigerated.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Easy Creamy Mushroom Soup

We accidentally bought four pounds of mushrooms this week.  Accidentally, because when I told my daughter to go pick out "a bag of mushrooms," I was thinking of the mushroom bags at Fred Meyer, but we were shopping at Winco, which offers actual small shopping bags for mushrooms, and they're about twice as big as the Fred Meyer bags.  She dutifully filled the bag (no wonder she took so long!) and I didn't have the heart to make her put them back since she did exactly what I asked.

So...we're using mushrooms this week.  I already had two recipes that called for them, and I'll saute some in butter and freeze them for future meals, but she also asked me to make mushroom soup.  I found a recipe online that sounded good, but, as you know if you've read this blog for any length of time, I'm not capable of leaving well enough alone.  And so I tweaked it.  Significantly.  Beyond recognition.  And it's delicious. 

Easy Creamy Mushroom Soup

4T butter
3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (if the mushrooms are very large cut them in thirds and then slice)
1/2 c. onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme (I actually used three that were each about 3" long)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 c. chicken broth, divided
6 T. cornstarch
1 1/2 c. half and half

In a 3 quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, onions, and garlic and saute until the onion is soft and mushrooms are tender.  Add thyme, salt, pepper, and 2 1/2 cups chicken stock.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbling.

Combine the cornstarch and remaining 1/2 cup of chicken broth, stirring until smooth.  Stir into soup mixture.  Continue stirring until thickened.  Reduce heat to low; stir in half and half and simmer, stirring occasionally, until heated through.

Makes three servings.

And now I have to go make another batch because there are no leftovers for a certain 9-year-old's lunchbox thermos this week.  😀

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Game Night Menu

Every few months, we get together with my sister-in-law's family for game/movie night.  We almost always have "snacky dinner," which is basically just appetizer-type stuff and desserts.  I try a lot of things off of Pinterest and Allrecipes for these get-togethers, and I can rarely remember later exactly which recipes I tried.  So, I'm going to do better about writing down the menu with links.

For tonight, my sister-in-law said she was probably going to make nachos, so I came up with some things that fit the theme.  We've never made any of these before, except the fresh salsa.

We're taking:

  • Beef and cheese empanadas, using this recipe for the filling and this recipe for the dough, plus I added some shredded cheddar cheese because I wasn't totally thrilled about the filling when I tasted it before we stuffed them.  We have enough filling leftover to freeze for another time. UPDATE:  These tasted great but were a little dry.  Next time I'll serve a sauce with them.

  • 7-layer dip, using this recipe, except the guacamole is just avocado mashed with lime, cilantro and a pinch of salt.    UPDATE:  This recipe was DELICIOUS!  I will definitely make it again.

  • Fresh salsa, made my my hubby, with homegrown tomatoes and peppers!

  • And Caitlyn made Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookies, without changing the recipe (unlike me she's perfectly capable of following a recipe as written!).  Can't wait to taste them.  She set aside a few extras to make ice cream sandwiches for a Girl Scout patch she's working on.  UPDATE:  This is an excellent recipe and is on our keeper list for sure!

Early on in the process I burned the *#(#@)! out of my hand, forgetting for a moment that the cookie sheet I was picking up had just come out of the oven.  So, while I whined and cried and rocked back and forth for a while, Caitlyn took over and made the dip, most of the empanada filling, and rolled the dough for me while I filled and sealed them.  She's so great in the kitchen and I'm so happy that I got her started cooking at an early age (she was stirring things on the stove at age two and just went from there).  She saved my tail today!  

Is it dinner time yet?  My house smells GREAT!!!

Menu Plan September 2 - 8

I think maybe, just maybe, fall has arrived!  I'm certainly ready for big sweaters and pumpkin spice.  Now, if we could just get some rain...

Last week's menu was a resounding success.  I discovered a fantastic new pork steak recipe (I need to post my version because, as usual, it was changed up a bit from the original and it was so good!).  Always looking for ways to use up the pig we buy every year! 

I've actually planned two weeks' worth of menus at this point.  I'm keeping a running list in a Word document on my computer.  As I realize we need to use something up, or if someone requests something or it strikes my fancy, I add it to the menu.  My goal is to try grocery shopping every two weeks and see how it goes.  I think it may save us money in the long run.  Definitely will save me time!  We'll see how it goes.

Here's the menu for this week:

Posted to Menu Plan Monday with tons of other menu ideas!

Tonight:  "snacky dinner" at my sister-in-law's (it's game night)
Monday:  hamburger casserole
Tuesday:  buttermilk chicken
Wednesday: turkey tetrazzini 
Thursday:  ham hock and cabbage soup
Friday:  taco salad
Saturday:  out

What's on the menu at your house?  Have a wonderful week!

Friday, August 31, 2018

A New Budget Month is Upon Us

Note:  this blog post contains no affiliate links.  I just really, really like these sites.

It's the last day of August (how did we get here already???), which means that another budget month is coming to a close, and a new month is upon us!  I'm a bit of a geek about our budget, and when I actually follow it, it works really well and we are able to save some money!  I've switched things up in the last month to make it even easier for me. 

This is the way I used to budget.  It was long and complicated and involved way to much moving of money during the month (it was all automated, but still, lots of money moving around).  Also, because I worked off of my pay dates, my month didn't follow a calendar month, which tended to confuse things just a bit. 

One of my favorite blogs is Six Figures Under.  I love how transparent she is about finances, and they have used their budget to do amazing things to pay off their debt!  She often talks about how they live on last month's income.  This intrigued me, but I never thought I needed it because we don't have the irregular income that her family does.  We get regular paychecks that are usually the same amount, unless my husband works overtime.  That and his occasional third paycheck (he gets paid every two weeks) were the only variances. 

Then, I started listening to the YNAB podcast (available here).  He also talks about living on last month's income.  Then, suddenly, one day I realized that it would make sense for us to live on last month's income.  And we had enough in savings to be able to do that and still have a nice cushion. 

So, last month I switched.  And it was glorious (hey, I'm a budget geek.  I can say glorious!). 

Here's the new system.  A few days before the end of the month, I transfer a budget month's worth of expenses from our general savings account to our online checking account (we have a local checking account and two savings accounts, and an online checking account and 11 savings accounts - more on that in another post!).  From there, the amount we need for spending is forwarded on to our local checking account, and the rest is divided up among our "sinking fund" accounts.  By the first of the month, when our mortgage is automatically withdrawn from our local checking account, all the money is there. 

As we get paychecks or any other extra income throughout the month, I transfer them directly to our general savings account, to be used the following month.  I record that income in an Excel spreadsheet so I can see exactly how much we have to work with the following month.  

Tracking expenses is, of course, key to the success of a budget.  I find that if I stay on top of it, it literally takes me less than five minutes a day to accomplish this.  When I get up in the morning, I get my coffee, sit down at my computer, open my bank accounts online and pull up my budget spreadsheet.  I record any expenses or income we had the day before.  Voila.  Tracking done.  With few exceptions, all of the actual moving of money between accounts is done automatically, so I also make sure this happens on schedule and then track it accordingly.  If it's a payday, I set up those transfers to savings.  Easy peasy. 

This month, the expense tracking will be made even easier.  I have switched our budget from Excel to the free version of EveryDollar.  It's essentially the same as my spreadsheet, but it has an app so I can track spending on the fly with my phone.  I like to have redundancy when I'm trying out new systems, so I'll still keep my budget in Excel, but I won't track daily expenses - I'll just go back at the end of the month and put down the total spending in each category.

There you have it - our (very long) budget update.  What's your favorite budgeting tip? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Apples Apples Everywhere!

Fall is nearly upon us, and at our house, that means one thing - the apples are falling off the tree! We have a decent size tree with the weirdest apples I have ever encountered.  First, they are normally HUGE, but this year's are about half the usual size.  Here are a couple next to a pint-size Mason jar for comparison.  

Second, they are the mushiest apples I have ever encountered.  They have a strangely astringent flavor, and (in my opinion) are terrible to eat raw, though my daughter claims to love them (though she won't eat more than a few bites at a time).   If you try to put them in a pie, they basically dissolve.  I can fill an 8x8 pan to make a crisp, and by the time it's done cooking it's totally flat (though delicious once cooked!). 

We're actually going to cut this tree down after the season, because we're going to plant several different varieties of dwarf fruit trees that will be easier to prune and give us more fruit varieties than just the one apple tree.  So this year, we're going all out on the apple usage and preservation.

So far, I've made about nine quarts of applesauce, with about six and a half currently in the freezer, and another pot is on the stove as I write this.

I bought some Clear Jel to make apple pie filling.  Yes, the apples will cook down to mush, but this is my husband's favorite waffle topping, and I haven't made it since I found out you're not supposed to can with cornstarch (yes, I canned with cornstarch, and no, we didn't die, but no, I'm not going to do it anymore now that I know it's not safe).  This will probably happen next weekend.

I'm trying my hand at apple cider vinegar from scratch.  I took some of the apple cores and peelings and will follow these instructions.

Cores and peels, just waiting for the water.

I'll cook some of the applesauce down to make apple butter.  I love it on toast in the winter time - so warm and cozy!

We also love apples in baked oatmeal (this is a great recipe), and these apple walnut butterhorns (minus the walnuts, as I'm not a fan). 

And, of course, we eat lots of apple crisp.  It's one of my husband's favorite desserts - with or without ice cream! 

Are you a fan of apple season?  What's your favorite recipe?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Menu Plan August 26 - September 1

It's finally here!!!  The first week of school!!!  Our summer of chaos is officially over!  It's been a fun summer but I'm ready for my schedule to return to normal.  Bonus - I still have two weeks before evening activities begin so not only do we get back to a normal daily schedule starting on Wednesday (Tuesday's the first day but it's only three hours), we don't have to rush to be anywhere after dinner for a bit.  So nice!

Visit Menu Plan Monday for more great menu ideas!

I have exactly $5.90 left in the grocery budget for the month, and I'm trying really hard to stay within it (that would be the first time ever, I'm pretty sure!).  So I've planned the menu around what I have in the house.  We're a little shy on fresh fruit for general eating but the apple tree is full and ready to pick, so I'm planning to make applesauce, and we have some canned fruit that we didn't eat on our camping trip.  Only thing I might run out of is onions.  I have one left in the pantry and about six little ones in the garden.  So...I may be taking a lunch hour walk down to the store one day to buy a couple.  We'll see.  Can't cook without onions! 

Here's the plan for this week:

Sunday:  Back to School Picnic (school is providing the meal)
Monday:  Irish Sundaes
Tuesday:  Pork chops and potatoes (I have some Trader Joe's frozen potatoes I'll probably use)
Wednesday:  Tuna Casserole
Thursday:  Pork and Cabbage Stir Fry (this is my base recipe but I add a few things to it)
Friday:  Fried Rice
Saturday:  I don't know where we'll be (we have a few plans for the weekend but no schedule set yet), so I can't plan.  If we're home I'll probably roast a chicken but I'm guessing we won't be.

Have a great week, everyone!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

I'm feeling so on top of things!

Now, let's see if I can keep it up!

Lately I've been trying to do one small thing every day to help my life be neater, more organized, and less cluttered.  Some days, those things are smaller than others.  Some of the things I've been doing:

  • Clearing off one corner of the kitchen table at a time.  Someday, we'll see the top of it again!
  • Doing the dishes every single night (for two weeks!), and slowly getting through the backlog of pots and pans that were sitting on the counter (all caught up!).  
  • Clearing counters during non-active cooking moments (i.e. when I'm waiting to stir something).
Slowly, gradually, things are starting to look better.  My husband is noticing, too.  I've started running the dishwasher every night, even if it's not quite full (it's amazing how quickly the dishes accumulate around here!), and he has started unloading it before he goes to work in the morning.

I've also given our budget an overhaul (more on that later) and have been diligently tracking our spending.   It only takes a couple of minutes each day and has really helped me figure out where we're spending and how we can ramp up our savings. 

I've been meal planning and sticking with it!  My meal plans start with things in the house (believe me when I say I cannot put one more thing in our freezers, so we're eating out of those!).  Then I just shop for things I need to fill in what I don't have, and things I can get on deep discounts with coupons and sales. 

School starts next week, and the chaos of summer will transition into the chaos of the school year.  I'm going to work toward maintaining these new habits and developing others that will help us navigate my long, busy days of school, work, and driving my daughter all over creation! 

What are you doing this week to make your life more organized?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Menu Plan August 19-25

This is the last week before school starts!  Yippee!  My daughter has been going to camps all summer long and she is exhausted and ready to be back in the classroom.  We're coming up on week 10 of what I've been calling "The Summer of Camp."  This week it's just a four-day, half day clay camp at the local arts center.  She's excited for the break!

Here's the menu for this week:

Tonight:  burgers (pork or beef, diner's choice) and oven fries
Monday: Chicken BLT Tacos (trying a new recipe)
Tuesday:  Corned beef hash (note to self - get the corned beef out of the freezer and cook it!)
Wednesday:  Sweet and Sour Chicken
Thursday:  Kielbasa and Cabbage
Friday:  Broccoli Beef

Saturday my daughter is having a girls' day with my sister-in-law, so it'll just be hubby and I for dinner.  I imagine we'll call it a date night but we'll see...

Have a great week everyone!  This post is linked to Menu Plan Monday on

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Chicken Gravy

I think I liked this better than my family did.  Ok, I *know* I liked this better than my daughter, because her definition of "gravy" is the pepper gravy that comes in the little yellow packets - you know, the powder you mix with water?  She loves that stuff, adds a ton more pepper to it, and would eat the whole batch out of a bowl like soup if I'd let her.  What can I say...she likes what she likes. 

Anyway, I read a couple of Amish blogs and I ran across this post last week.  I was intrigued by the recipe for "Dixie Chicken Shortcake."  Looking at it, I knew I would have to make a few changes to suit my tastes.  I'm glad I did - it was delicious!

I did serve it over cornbread.  I used some cornbread mix that I had in the pantry, and it was way too sweet to handle the gravy.  I was thinking it would be fantastic over homemade noodles (the thick kind), or biscuits.  If I was going to do cornbread again I'd make my own and leave out the sugar.  My family ate their cornbread on the side, so they didn't have the same experience with it that I did. 

Here is my revised recipe:

Chicken Gravy

2 T. fat (chicken fat, butter, oil - it all works)
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. flour
1 t. ground black pepper
2 c. chicken stock (I used homemade, and half my fat was the chicken fat I pulled out of the stock as it thawed)
4 c. cooked, shredded chicken
cornbread, biscuits, or cooked noodles for serving

Heat the fat in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and mushrooms, and cook until the onions are soft, about five minutes.  Add garlic, pepper, and flour and cook for two more minutes.  Add stock, bring to a boil, and cook until slightly thickened.  Add chicken and continue to cook until heated through.  Add salt to taste and serve over hot cornbread, biscuits, or noodles.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cranberry Beans with Onions and Celery

I made this for dinner last night to go with fried ham and zucchini fritters.  It was DELICIOUS.  It was one of those times that I wish I measured my ingredients as I'm cooking, because I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Here's my best approximation:

1 1/2 cup sweet onion, cut to 1/2 inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut in 1/4 inch slices
2 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3 cups cooked, seasoned cranberry beans (I cooked these from dried with bay leaves, onions, and thyme - if you're using canned, drain the liquid, and you may want to up your other seasonings to taste)
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, saute the onion and celery in the oil until the onion is soft.  Add remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly.  My beans were slightly overcooked and they almost had a refried bean consistency.

Simple and delicious!  There were no leftovers.  I wish there were.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Menu Plan August 11 - 17

Happy to report we totally stuck to the menu last week!  This is rare, but since my daughter was away at camp the schedule was a bit calmer than usual.  That and we've basically decided that all but a couple of the restaurants around us are either rapidly declining in quality or way too expensive for what we get, so we're staying closer to home, eating much better, and saving some money.  We did pick up dinner at our local teriyaki place yesterday for my hubby's birthday. It's still a good bet, and since the portions are huge my daughter and I always share a meal and I have enough leftover for a workday lunch!

The highlight of the week for me was the fried rice. I always forget how quick and easy it is, especially since we almost always have rice in the freezer.  I cook up a big batch in the InstantPot or microwave rice cooker and freeze the extras.

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

Tonight:  Meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  Caitlyn asked for this before she went to camp and actually still was thinking about it when she came home four days later!

Sunday:  Grilled marinated chicken (I am loving marinating with Goddess Dressing from Trader Joe's right now), tomato/basil/mozzarella salad, crusty bread

Monday:  Sausage and pepper pasta

Tuesday:  Ham and Beans

Wednesday:  Chicken gravy over cornbread (the "Dixie Chicken Shortcake" recipe here)

Thursday:  Potato leek soup, salad, bread

Friday:  Korean Beef Rice Bowls

Have a great week, everyone!  And remember to visit Menu Plan Monday for tons of recipe inspiration!

Monday, August 06, 2018

Camping 2018

My family spent last week on our annual camping trip in the Tillamook State Forest.  We lucked out and got one of our favorite spots, right where a creek runs into a river.  It's beautiful and there are crawdads galore for the kids to find! 

We "primitive" camp, which means we haul in our own water and dig our own toilet hole, but we have also collected enough camping gear over the years that it's not really roughing it.  This year we used part of our tax return and added a huge camp kitchen and two XL cots from Cabelas to our supplies.  We also got a little pop-up tent to go over our toilet (which my husband built out of plywood and black plastic). 

I spent most of the week reading.  I read two whole books and finished four others.  Most were great, one not so much.  I love to just sit by the river and read!  My daughter practiced lots of outdoor skills, made swords out of sticks and rope, and got to do a little target practice with her BB gun.  My husband spent most of his time dozing by the campfire. 

On Thursday my sister-in-law showed up with her family.  This is our tradition - we go first, spend two to three nights on our own, then overlap for two to three nights, and then we go home and they stay on their own for a few nights.  This year we had two nights together and it was not enough!  The kids ride their bikes around on the logging roads, hunt for crawdads in the river, and generally have a fantastic time together. 

Here are a few pictures of our adventures!

We love the river!

Staking down the pop-up.

Our tent by the river - nature's white noise.

This book was AMAZING.

No, we didn't eat him!

In the swimming hole.  COLD WATER!

My Girl Scout got lots of outdoor skills practice!

We were lucky to get a spot where we could have a campfire!

In the firelight.  I love this picture.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Menu Plan August 5 - 10

It's been a while since I've posted!  I've spent the spring and early summer working on getting a few things under control - budget, my eating, my health (nothing serious, just working on eating better and moving more), and menus.  I've still been menu planning somewhat faithfully but I haven't been posting them, and I must say I miss being able to look back at what we've eaten in the past for ideas!

This week, my daughter will be away at her last sleepaway experience of the summer - three nights of Girl Scout camp.  Last month she did a five-night camp and in June she spent a week with my parents.  I think she's ready to be home in her own bed for a while!  So meals will be somewhat simple, since it's just my husband and I eating.  I'm definitely planning some leftovers for my lunches though!

Here's the plan...

Tonight:  Leftover pizza (we got home from a week of camping yesterday and hit Papa Murphy's on our way into town).

Tomorrow:  Taco salad

Tuesday: Sheet pan chicken and vegetables with sweet potatoes

Wednesday:  Fried rice (I found some leftover roast pork in the freezer and we already have rice frozen so this one will be quick to put together!)

Thursday:  Beef fajitas

Friday:  Out for my hubby's birthday

Saturday:  My daughter's choice, since she'll be gone Tuesday - Friday.  This typically means spaghetti.

What's on the menu at your house this week?

You can find menu inspiration and more at Menu Plan Monday!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Menu Plan January 28 - February 3

How have we reached the end of January already???  Where did the month go?  The pantry challenge I've been participating in ends at the end of the month but I'm carrying on... We have three freezers.  One is in good shape, but the other two are still a giant mess.  I know the fridge freezer in my kitchen just needs to be cleaned out and most of it thrown out because it's too old, but the deep freeze still has serious piles of meat to be eaten.  So, we keep plugging away...and I keep looking for fresh ways to use ground pork (though apparently my family is perfectly happy with pork and cabbage stir fry and I don't REALLY need to keep looking!). 

Here's what's on the dinner menu this week...

Sunday:  Hubby wasn't hungry (late breakfast and lunch), so I made french toast and bacon for my daughter and myself. 
Monday:  Crescent roll hot dogs and chips.
Tuesday:  Sausage and farro
Wednesday:  Jambalaya
Thursday:  Chicken and orzo soup
Friday:  Picking up Carl's Jr. 
Saturday:  I'm hoping to try ribs in the Instant Pot, but we'll see how the day goes.

My daughter's schedule is about to become overly full.  This week, she has something four out of five evenings.  She's either overscheduled or underscheduled - there is no in between!  So I'm focusing on quick dinners for the most part (except Thursdays, when I work from home and have a little more flexibility).  

I've decided to designate Friday as our take-out day, at least for the time being.  My daughter and I take a family Zumba-type class from time to time, and the new session starts this week.  It's on Fridays at 6:00 p.m., which makes it tricky to actually cook dinner.  Plus, we are huge fans of fast food in this house, and if I designate a day, it makes it far less likely that we'll just run out and get it whenever.  So...Fridays (for now) it is. 

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Menu Planning and Pantry Challenge

This month, I've been participating in the Pantry Challenge over at Good Cheap Eats.  There are a couple of reasons for this - one, my grocery budget is out of control.  I tend to be more than a little bit impulsive when I go to the store.  I know a lot of people hate grocery shopping, but I actually love it.  It's one of my favorite things to do.  And when I see something on a serious sale or closeout, I always want to grab it!  The result is the second pantry and freezers are bursting at the seams.  We'll be getting our annual order of pig soon, and I need to get the big freezer cleaned out and defrosted, so this challenge came at the perfect time! 

You get to make your own rules during the challenge.  Since it's our first time, I decided I would just buy dairy, fresh and frozen produce (we don't keep much canned fruits and veggies on hand), and bread products (I rarely have time to make them these days and I'm not sure my family would eat them if I did!).  The only exception to this rule was last weekend when we went out of town with my brothers and sisters-in-law, and I bought ingredients for one breakfast, plus LOTS of snacks.  We came home with much of what I bought, so we have plenty of snacking to do!

One of the key elements (for me, at least) of the challenge is menu planning, to make sure that you are really using up the things you need to.  Now, I could probably do this challenge for two months or more (and we probably will) before I see the back of the pantry.  And I'm up to my eyeballs in ground pork products (plain and breakfast sausage), so it's been a challenge to keep things varied and tasty. And, to be honest, I bought about five pounds of ground beef just before the challenge started (we were out and it was on a good sale), so it wouldn't be all pork all the time.'s what's on the dinner menu this week:

Sunday:  Chicken strips, macaroni and potato salads, coleslaw
Monday: Orange Chicken (frozen from Trader Joe's - delicious!), green beans
Tuesday:  Steak and pepper sandwiches
Wednesday: Pork Shepherd's Pie
Thursday: Ham hocks and beans
Friday: Pork fried rice
Saturday: I think we're getting takeout because it's going to be a crazy busy day!

What are you eating this week?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Closing out the 2017 Reading Challenge

I'm not going to lie...I really stopped tracking my reading challenge.  Turns out I'm still resistant to being told what to read!  I did read end up reading something like 70 books during the year, they just didn't all fall into neat little categories as suggested here.  But here's what DID apply (and now that I'm actually writing it out, I hit most of the categories!). 

The 26-book 2017 reading challenge

  1. A book you read in school - Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  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 - Stranger than Fanfiction, by Chris Colfer
  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) - Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick (and I think this is a strange choice, because, if you've written a book, doesn't that automatically make you a writer???)
  9. A book that became/is becoming a film - Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly
  10. A book published in the 20th Century - On the Way Home, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  11. A book set in your hometown/region -
  12. A book with someone’s name in the title - Caroline: Little House, Revisited, by Sarah Miller
  13. A book with a number in the title - One for the Money, by Stephanie Plum
  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 - Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
  17. A book you can finish in a day - Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  18. A previously banned book -
  19. A book with a one-word title - Ghosted, by J.M. Darhower
  20. A book translated from another language - A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
  21. A book that will improve a specific area of your life - 10% Happier, by Dan Harris
  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 - Black Hills, by Dan Simmons
  25. An award-winning book -
  26. A self-published book - 

So, I'm not going to do another reading challenge this year.  I will, however, continue to track my books on Goodreads.  I'm also going to give myself permission to not finish books I'm really not enjoying.  Case in point - Fire and Fury.  I was able to get it from the library within a few days of its release date.  Read a couple of chapters, and decided I didn't want to give the subject that much of my time and attention.  So, I returned it.  Someone else will enjoy it far more than I would, I'm sure...

Happy reading in 2018!