Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tis the Season

With the holidays quickly approaching, we are all working to get everything ready in preparation for a wonderful time with our families.  I know I'm running around like a crazy person trying to work, finish my semester in school, prepare for Christmas and 412 other things that are on my to-do list.  I also know I am not alone in this.

As I was going through my son's 'take home folder' from school, there was a flyer in there reminding us that his school was sponsoring families through the Servant's Heart pantry in Beech Grove, where my son goes to school.  They are a wonderful organization, they do great things in our area.  HERE is the link to Servant's Heart if you'd like to learn more about them.  They always welcome volunteers as well, my son's first time volunteering there was when he was 5.  We worked in the store room and he sorted canned goods by item.  So, even the young people are welcomed to help!

Back on topic.....we are blessed to have enough for the holidays.  Not everyone is as fortunate.  I would encourage you to donate to your local food pantry, shelter or other organization that helps families in need.  They need food, clothing, presents for children, money and manpower!  

Regardless of where you live, please find an organization that assists those in need.  Consider helping an organization that works with families.  Even if you can't give anything but your time, please consider giving something.  Every little bit helps.  

We're all in this together!

Did-ya-know

Good morning all!  I hope everyone is enjoying this very unseasonably warm weather we're having.  How often, in Indiana, do you get to have your windows open two weeks before Christmas?  I won't lie, it's making me a bit nervous about February's weather...LOL

I was talking with some Mom-friends about getting the kids to discuss school.  We all know how asking "How was your day?" works.  The only answers I ever got from my kids to that question was "Fine" or "OK".  Getting information from them was like pulling teeth.

That's when we came up with "Did-ya-know".  After school, my kids have to give me two "Did-ya-knows".  This simply means they have to start the sentence with "Did you know..." and tell me something about their day that they think I might not know.

Sometimes, my Short Dude will get cute and try something like "Did you know for lunch we had pizza and it's my favorite?"  Yea, he knows that won't work yet he will try it.  He's cute...LOL

But most of the time, I get to really know about what he's doing in class.  He'll share what is happening in the novel they're reading.  Or that in Math, he got an 80% on a quiz and it would have been a 100% but he forgot to simplify.  Just last week, I got a Science did-ya-know that was a very detailed breakdown of how a popcorn kernel has a small drop of water in it and the process that happens when that kernel is popped.  He also described the differences in reactions in cooking.  That cooking involves a physical change and baking involves a chemical change in the foods.

I learn far more about what my child is doing in school from him with the "Did-ya-know" system.  There are even days where he can't wait for me to say "Lay some did-ya-knows on me"!  

It took us a week or so to get in the habit of doing this daily and a little while longer for the kids to really get into the spirit of doing it.  But several years later, and it has become a great way to initiate a conversation with my son and really allows us to spend some time just talking about his day.  

I love how excited he gets when he is discussing something like a Science experiment they're doing.

And some days, I get things like "Did you know that (insert friend's name here) farted during Math?"

Oh, the joys of boys!

Anyway, try it, ask your kids to give you a couple of "did-ya-knows" about their day...you never know what you may learn!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fried biscuits and apple butter

This morning in Indiana, we have our first snow flakes falling of the season.  November 21st and we're just now seeing snow, not anything accumulating but a few flakes here and there.  We're lucky we've gotten this far into the season without seeing more!

In our home, there are only a couple of things that truly say breakfast comfort food, biscuits and gravy and fried biscuits and apple butter.  We find there are a lot of people who haven't had the wonderful luck to experience fried biscuits and apple butter.  If you are one of these people, you should correct that situation, immediately!

The best thing about this, besides the warm & fuzzy childhood memories, is that it is quick and easy and the kids absolutely love it!

Usually, I make homemade biscuits for everything except fried biscuits and monkey bread.  They both seem to have a better end result if you use the canned biscuits.  And usually, the cheaper the can of biscuits, the better.  

I generally get whatever is cheapest, I had a coupon so I started with these biscuits today.


That is apple butter that I make, you certainly can use store-bought apple butter but, honestly, if you can get your hands on homemade apple butter (even if it's not Gram's Jams), please do so!  You'll thank me.

Other than oil, that IS the ingredient list.  Biscuits, Apple Butter and Oil.  You don't even have to measure.  You do have to cut the biscuits into little pieces.  Well, you don't have to, but there is more crispy surface to the biscuits if you do.



You can use a deep fryer and I do if I have mine out but a skillet will do the same job.  As always, I highly endorse cast iron, but any skillet will do.  Place about 1/2"-3/4" oil in the pan.  Be careful doing this, if you have a shallower skillet, go with the smaller amount of oil.

Before you start frying, get a plate or I use a pie pan, with a paper towel in it to drain them on.  You can use a sheet pan with a cooling rack on it to drain the oil if you like.  I do both, depending on the mood.

Start heating the oil in the skillet, get your tongs, spider, slotted spoon, whatever you want to use to pull them out of the oil when they're done.  Get all this together before you start frying as it will move quickly once you start.



Once the oil is hot, I cook just one just like when you make pancakes and make that one little one first.  This is just to make sure the oil is hot enough but not too hot.


Once this is done and your oil is good to go, carefully put the biscuits in the oil.  Be careful to not overload the pan.  They'll cook quick enough without having to put too much in the skillet.


They will cook quickly


.
While they cook, put the apple butter in dishes that let you dip in them.  You can heat the apple butter a bit in the microwave.


Let the first batch drain while you cook the second.


Then just plate and serve.


The amount of pictures make this seem time consuming, but it really isn't.  I made these for breakfast in about 10-15 minutes. 

They are sooooo yummy!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Prepping for AFTER-Thanksgiving!

No, I don't mean Black Friday!  LOL  I mean the leftovers!  

We take such care in planning every dish that hits the Thanksgiving table...so much food!  And yet, few think of the leftovers.  Let those leftovers become planned overs!  It just takes a little planning.

Let's just talk about the turkey itself for the moment.  Everyone loves that turkey sandwich on a dinner roll for lunch the next day, no doubt about it!  There's much more that you can do though.  First, obviously, slice as much of the turkey off of the carcass as you can.  After you slice up you can, it's time to pick the rest of the meat off.  You know those little bits that you can't really cut but get as much as you can.

Then I take the carcass and put it in a large stockpot.  If you don't have a big stockpot, break the carcass down to smaller pieces and use part of it in whatever pot you have that it fits in.  I put an onion and some carrots and celery and some peppercorns in the water.  I'll bring this to a boil and then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.  And I let it simmer for a good while, until the liquid reduces.  Once the stock has reduced and it tastes wonderful, turn off the burner and let it cool.

While you're waiting on the stock to cook, portion out the turkey into good Ziploc freezer bags.  Think of the meals that your family likes to eat and portion the meat to fit that meal.  Around here, turkey Manhattans are a must!  So, portion out what you need for each meal until you run out of the sliced turkey.  When you seal up the Ziplocs, try to get as much air out of the bags as you can.  Be sure to label the Ziploc with what it is, what meal it's portioned for and the date. 

With the shredded, or picked over, turkey, again, portion it out into Ziploc bags.  You can use this for turkey soup, turkey & dumplings, turkey salad, etc.  We interchange turkey with chicken but I know a lot of people who don't like to substitute it but use your imagination.  Then portion, label and date the bags of shredded turkey.

Once the stock is cooled, strain it well.  I put it in gallon Ziploc bags as well.  Again, label and date it.  If you have a bit left (or plan on it) I put a small amount, maybe 2-3 cups in a bag separately to use to make Turkey gravy for the Manhattans.  It makes it extra yummy!  I don't think I need to tell you to be sure it is sealed well!  You can use freezer safe containers if you'd like, I just prefer Ziplocs.  As I always say, if you're going to use freezer bags, get good quality ones.  I prefer Ziplocs, they cost a bit more than store brands (use a coupon to offset that!) but it's protecting your food in the freezer, so get good ones.

I always pack the bags in such a way that they lay flat in the freezer.  You'll get more in the freezer if they will lay flat on top of each other. Be sure things are cool before you put them in the freezer or they will stick together in terrible ways!

So, even if you think your family ate all the turkey, you can still get a meal or two or three from what's left on the carcass.

If you have extra rolls, you can freeze those too and reheat later.  If your family is anything like mine, it doesn't matter how many rolls you make, there will be none left over...my brothers usually make sure of that.

Extra gravy can be frozen, I don't necessarily like the gravy thawed (that's why I put some stock up to make fresh gravy) but you can add the gravy you froze to stock for extra flavor.

Extra mashed potatoes can be used for potato pancakes or as a thickener for cream based soups.

Extra veggies that aren't creamed or sauced, can be put up in the freezer to add to vegetable soup later.  In fact, I will keep a Mason jar in the freezer and add that extra corn or green beans or whatever that is left after meals and when the jar is full, it's the perfect amount for a pot of veggie soup.  Side note...I'll also chop or shred and freeze left over beef or steak for veggies soup too.

So, use your imagination.  Plan now.  When you think of what dishes will be on your Thanksgiving table, think also of what you can do with any that you have left.  Make sure you have some Ziplocs on hand to put things up.  

In my mind, this is more than just saving money.  The amount of food that is wasted in this country on holidays is shameful.  I'm not by any means saying that one should not have a feast to celebrate our holidays with our loved ones, but try to plan so that you aren't wasting food.

On that same train of thought, please, PLEASE consider donating something, anything, to those who are helping the less fortunate.  There are families that wouldn't have a holiday meal without the help of a food bank, shelter, church, etc.  If you are unable to donate cash, even a can or two of veggies, a jar of gravy, or other canned goods will help.  Every little bit helps.  

If you are not able to donate cash or items, consider donating your time.  Even an hour can help to sort and organize the items in the food pantry to make things easier for distribution.  My son was 5 the first time he did this, they'll appreciate your help, trust me.  We're all in this world together, we need to remember this and to help out those who aren't as fortunate as we are.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Closing the Garden

Hello everyone!  

Before we get into how to close your garden up for the Winter, I want to take a minute to ramble...

I've struggled a lot this Spring/Summer with the fact that I can no longer have a big garden.  My Asthma has gotten so bad that I just can't devote the time outside that the garden needs in the Summer time.  I won't lie, at first I was pretty angry about it.  I'm not a perfect gardener but I loved it.  It was awesome to watch the garden grow and progress over the months from seedling to produce.  Add to that the money saved at the grocery, the quality of fresh produce and the added benefit of fresh air and sunshine and it didn't get much better.  It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow.  My husband, bless his heart, planted some tomato plants for me to be able to just go grab some fresh right before dinner.  

With my jam business, I was spending time at different Farmer's Markets a couple of times a month.  I would take a few minutes and wander around checking out things and talking with the other vendors.  I found wonderful produce, local cheese, flavored dried pastas as well as some other pretty amazing things.  We tried things that we wouldn't necessarily have tried had I been gardening and not taking the time to explore the various Farmer's Markets.  It took me a while to figure out how to "make the lemonade when I got the lemons handed to me" but I finally figured it out.  Talking to, and getting to know, the farmers helps you to figure out who really grows their stuff and who acts as a middle man for someone else.  You can learn about how things are grown, the processes used (organic or not, pesticide free or not, etc.) and where your food comes from.  It's fun, try it at the next market you visit.  You ARE visiting them, right???  LOL

Back to the garden...

A lot of people think that once your garden stops bearing produce that you're done.  You could be but if you take the time to "put the garden to bed" for Winter, you not only make your garden healthier but it sure does make the Spring easier to deal with.  Around here, it very well can be quite rainy and muddy in the Spring.  It's no fun to have to sludge through all that to pull last season's plants and get the soil ready for new plants.  There have been years where it is quite late before you can till the ground up.  Taking a little time right after the first good, hard frost will make the next Spring much, MUCH easier to deal with.

It's really not that hard to do either.  To start, just simply pull up any plants that remain in the garden, these will be great additions to your compost pile if you have one.  If you do have a compost pile, lay these spent plants aside for now, you'll add them to the compost pile later.  

Next, add some compost to the garden.  If you don't have a compost pile, you can buy it in bags or in bulk if you have a truck to haul it in.  This will add nutrients to the garden now and save you a little work next Spring.  Now, run the tiller and get the compost worked into the soil well.  This tilling also helps to eliminate some weeds in the Spring.  Personally, I'd go through at this point and rake it somewhat flat, if you're using border free raised beds (see the pic of how I used to garden in this blog post to see what I mean), rake the beds back into place.  At this point you can put the plants and things you pulled up into your compost pile, if you have one.

Then, you could plant "cover crops" like rye, clover, etc., but I have never done that.  I'll admit, it seems like a lot of extra work to prep the ground and plant something that I'm simply going to till under next Spring.  Since I've added compost to the garden before tilling it, I do something a bit different that does double duty in my opinion.  I cover the garden with straw, it's cheap and easy to toss on the garden.  In the Spring, you can rake it off the beds (or area you're going to plant in) and use it to cover walkways for the muddiness that tends to be Indiana Springtime.  Once Spring comes, it's nice to be able to go to the garden and rake away the straw and the garden is pretty much ready to start.

One final thing that I do is to review my Garden book.  If I haven't slacked over the course of the growing season, I've made notes that include what and how much of something I planted where (because crop rotation is important), what worked well where, if I had enough or too much of any one item.  I'll review these notes and make any additional notes or reminders for next year.  I know the book (just a spiral bound notebook for me) sounds silly, but I sometimes don't remember what happened yesterday let alone what happened with my tomatoes two years ago when they were planted near the fence.

Have a great day!


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Farmer's Markets and Blackberry Scones!

Even back when I had a huge garden, I still loved going to Farmer's Markets.  You can always find something new to try whether that is something you don't grow yourself or some yummy goodness that a vendor made.  A nice bonus is that you're never 100% sure what you'll find until you get there!  

Since my health won't let me have a big garden anymore (Asthma truly sucks), I've grown to love the Farmer's Markets even more.  I pay a little more than it cost for me to grow my own, but in the big picture, it's worth it as I still get fresh, local produce.

This past weekend, the hubby and I visited a market on Saturday morning before we had to pick up the Short Dude from summer camp.  The particular market had a coffee vendor, so my morning was even better!  Hubby found a vendor who had blackberry scones.  He bought a couple and liked them so much that he went and bought the remaining 3 they had left.  

So I searched and found a recipe for them.  I'd never made scones before and surprisingly, they were much easier to make than I'd realized.  They're really nothing more than fancy biscuits!  I used this recipe, and I think it turned out pretty good.  

Here's what's involved:



Oh, I forgot this in the pic....



I had the blackberries in the freezer (forgot to get a pic of them before) but the recipe called for putting some flour on the frozen berries, mixing them and putting them back in the freezer until later.  Thawed berries will not only get mushy but turn the whole recipe purple.





It starts easy enough with the dry ingredients and cutting in the butter.  Now, my Gram was amazing in the kitchen and could use her hands to cut the butter in, I'm not that good.  I also never got the hang of using a pastry cutter.  It should be easy but I just can't...LOL.  I use two knives to do it.  It's easy and I don't need extra gadgets in my kitchen.



This next step is what makes the dough so rich and yummy!  You mix the half and half with vanilla.  I use Vanilla-Bean paste for anything that calls for vanilla now, it's so yummy.  I get it on Amazon, click here to find it!  I buy it in large bottles for my jam business but you can get it in smaller quantities.  






Gently mix the half & half/vanilla mixture into the flour.  Don't over mix it!  It will look like this, it doesn't look mixed well but trust me here.


At this point, use your hands to gently mix in the frozen, floured berries.  Flour your hands, it won't prevent any of the mix from sticking but it will help.




Once the berries are mixed in, somewhat, again, don't over mix it!  Turn it out onto a floured surface.  Don't knead it, just kinda pat it into a square.



Cut the square into fourths.  Then, cut each fourth in half diagonally.  



I put them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  You don't have to use parchment, but I didn't want to have to scrub the berries that will inevitably ooze out of the scones and bake onto the sheet.  



Then you take the last tablespoon of butter and cut it into 8 pieces and put each little piece on top of the scones.




Bake them for about 15-17 minutes at 425 degrees.  They come out looking like this


I set the cooling rack over a sheet of wax paper 



The glaze is so simple.  It was just a cup of powdered sugar and the juice of a lemon whisked together.



I just used a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the still-hot scones.  You could use less if you like or even make more and for a heavier glaze but I think this was just the right amount.  This is where the wax paper under the cooling rack comes in handy to avoid a messy clean up!  



Once they cooled, this is how they looked



The next time I make them, I'll probably cut the triangles in half again as I'd like them to be a bit smaller.  They were flaky like biscuits and the lemon in the glaze plays off the blackberries well.  In the background is that hint of vanilla.  All together, they are delicious!  Hubby and the Short Dude gave it two thumbs up and asked what other fruits I could make them with.  I'm thinking it would work with any berry, and the glaze can be made with lemon or even just milk (or more half & half).  My son wants me to make them with chocolate chips...LOL

Enjoy!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

I'm still here!

Hello everyone!  I'm still here!  I got through the end of the semester and graduated with my Bachelor's.  I guess I'm a glutton for punishment as I am going back for Grad school.  Yikes!

I have had to come to face the fact that I can't handle the garden with my health.  By the way, Asthma and allergies suck a big one.  I was not going to plant a garden at all, but my wonderful husband did the work to get a small one ready.  He tilled the smaller of my two big beds and we planted a few tomatoes, some broccoli and cauliflower, cucumbers and we're using the containers again this year for lettuce and salad things.  It's not large by any means but we'll eat fresh stuff at meals.

I still intend on canning.  

This is where one thing I always tell people is going to come in handy.  When you go to Farmer's Markets or U-pick places, get to know  your farmers and produce vendors.  Make friends with them.  They'll be able to tell you how to pick the best produce, new ideas on how to use it and even leads to where you can find things they don't sell.  The farmers know each other, know of each other.  They can be great resources.  

We've met some wonderful farmers and vendors while visiting the various markets and I'm going to get produce from them.  I know their farming practices, know how they grow things.  I know where they grow them.  I will still be able to get quality produce in quantity to can, I just won't have to do the extra work in the garden.  I enjoy gardening, I just enjoy breathing a little more...LOL.

So, even though it is a little early for Farmer's Markets to have a full selection of produce in central Indiana, still visit them.  Meet the people.  Make friends.  You may find some baked goodies or some craft items while you're there!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Don't take things for granted!

Hello friends.  I haven't been here in a bit, as generally happens at the end of a semester, I get super busy.  This semester is no different and in fact, might be a bit worse because it is my last semester before I earn my Bachelor's degree.  I'll get that on Mother's Day.  

I won't lie, it's been a rough semester.  I started working part time as a tutor at the Ivy Tech Community College's TRiO program.  So working during the day, classes at night, working on things for the business, Gram's Jams, it's been challenging.  Compound that with my husband who, in addition to his regular teaching duties, took on an evening class and an all-day Saturday class to teach.  These all had to work in such a way that allowed one of us to be here for our son so we passed each other a lot.

I thought things were rough.  I was thinking I never get to see my hubby or my kids and grandkids.  I was up to my ears in papers and research, dirty dishes and laundry and the normal chaos of life.  I only thought things were rough.

Then last Friday made me re-think all of that.  That day, my dear friend Susanne got a frantic call at work from her children that her husband was having a heart attack.  It was massive and he was unresponsive when help arrived.  They rushed him to the best hospital in the city but he was in rough shape.  

I went to the hospital to take her and the kids some lunch on Saturday and it was heartbreaking to see such a strong woman being so stoic for her children.  But you could see the intense pain in her eyes.

Today, my friend had to say goodbye to the love of her life and her beautiful children and grandchildren had to say goodbye to their beloved father and grandfather.  I can't imagine.  

My friend Sheila put it beautifully when she said, 


"Reminded today that life is short and tomorrow is not a guarantee.  Please spread love to your family and friends today.  Hug your babies and kiss your spouses.  Be kind.  Do extra.  My thoughts are with a fellow Mom who has to say goodbye to her husband today after an unexpected medical emergency.  I can't imagine the pain.  My prayers for her strength and comfort."


We've been reminded how precious life is and how unexpected turns can change someone's world.  So please, take Sheila's advice.  Hug your babies.  Kiss your spouses.  BE KIND.  Love one another!


EDITED TO ADD:

There will be a Yard/Garage sale to help with expenses, if you are interested or int he Carmel, Indiana area, please stop by and say hello!  (click HERE for link)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tornado Season

I know it is a little early, Winter isn't even totally gone yet but, tornadoes do happen this early in the year.  My home was destroyed on March 10, 1986.  Thankfully, no one was hurt in our area and we were insured.  We weren't even home but it made me very aware that had we been home, we had no clue what to do.  We weren't prepared.  

Tornadoes happen so randomly that we tend to take it for granted that we are safe.  But if those sirens go off and there is a tornado on the ground, are you ready?  Do you know what to do?  Where to go?

I am not an expert by any means, but do some checking.  Find the safest spot in your home.  Obviously, a basement is the best but if you don't have one, find somewhere that will offer you the best protection.  This site from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a great section entitled "During a Tornado" that has wonderful tips.

You should also have an emergency kit.  Ready.gov has a "Build a Kit" has a great list of things you should have.  This kit is good for more than just tornadoes.  We keep our kit in the basement with our camping stuff so I have a way to cook, a tent, etc. with it.  I also have a couple of those little flashlights that you power by shaking them for the kids.  They feel better with light when power is out and this doesn't drain batteries.

Something else that is necessary is a weather radio.  You can get a relatively cheap one.  I have one on an app on my  phone as well but I don't depend on that.  When they start going off, they'll drain your battery quickly.  Whether you have an app or the actual radio, everyone needs a weather radio!

You also need a plan so the whole family knows what to do.  Everyone in the house knows what to do during a fire, they should also know what to do during a tornado.  It's about more than just where to go.  My family knows when there is a tornado "Watch" that we get things ready.  

**That's also something to know...the difference between a "watch" and a "warning".  A "Watch" means conditions are favorable.  A "Warning" means there is a tornado spotted whether visually sighted or 'radar indicated'.  Either way, don't ignore it.

Back to getting things ready, even though I keep the kit in a plastic tub with a lid in the basement, there are still things to get ready.  When things go to a tornado "Watch", I put a laundry basket at the top of the stairs.  In it goes a pair of shoes for everyone and a coat, the dog's leashes, my insulin and other meds, cell phone chargers, the weather radio and our family household book.  The household book is another post but it contains a lot of valuable information about our doctors with phone numbers, complete medicine lists, emergency contact numbers, and more.  With all of these items in the laundry basket, it makes it easier to get it to the basement if we have to go.  One of us will grab the dogs on the way down too.  It's a plan and we all have our parts.

We also have all of our information on a memory stick that is kept somewhere else with someone trusted.  That has copies (front and back) of our driver's license, social security cards, credit cards, birth certificates, marriage license, etc.  If your home is destroyed by a tornado, you may not have the physical cards and documents.  Imagine trying to replace these documents without having any way of proving you are who you say you are.  At least this gives you a place to start.  

Please take a moment to prepare your family and get a plan.  You don't want those sirens going off and wondering "what do I need?"  Plan now!  Be safe.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Do the right thing!

Bear with me while I drag out my soapbox for a moment.

I often remind everyone in the Winter to check on their elderly neighbors and shut-ins to make sure they are safe, that no one needs anything, etc.  It's the right thing to do.

Last night, the family and I were coming back from a meeting, it was dark and extremely cold.  My car's gas gauge is messed up so I watch the trip meter and gas up accordingly.  I failed to take into account that sitting, waiting on my son in the car rider line does NOT add miles to the trip meter.  

Yes, we ran out of gas.  In the dark.  On the highway.  The temperature was around zero.  We got to the side of the road with our flashers on.  Thankfully, our nephew was just getting off work and could come and help us so weren't stranded.  

In the 45 minutes between the car stopping and our nephew getting us going again, the highway was well traveled.  Yet, not one person stopped.  Four police officers passed us and not one stopped.  Now, I'm not advocating that you stop at night on the side of the road for strangers, that's not safe.  But, if you have a cell phone, call the police or whatever highway helper program is near you, notify someone.  We were ok, but what if it had been an elderly person?  Someone who had had a medical emergency?  Someone who didn't have a cell phone?  Someone with small children?  There are a lot of places without cell service.  Do the right thing, call it in.  

Along the same lines, is your car prepared for this weather?  I don't just mean the windshield washer fluid, oil & tire pressure.  Had we been stuck for a while, I do keep a heavy blanket in the trunk, some bottled water and I have a battery stick to charge the cell phone if needed.  I know there is more that I should have in there but like a lot of people, I take it for granted that I live in the city now and not the country.  I take it for granted that there is a gas station, quick mart or some other type of business nearby.  Although technically, I was still in the city, I was on dark stretch of highway with no businesses in sight.  It's too cold to take those chances when you have children in the car.

Oh, and make sure the gas tank doesn't get below a half tank!  LOL.

I'll get down off my soapbox and put it away if you will please, check on your neighbors.  Not just those who live next door.  If you see someone in trouble (or who could be), don't just shake your head and say "I hope they're ok".  If it's not safe for you to check on them, call someone who can.  That goes for our furry friends and family too!  

When temperatures are this cold, we have to remember that, as my Mom used to say, we're all in this together!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Changing routines!

So much has been going on around here!  Overwhelming doesn't begin to describe it.  The short version is that I have been in school to become an English Professor at the college level and am in my last semester of my Bachelor's degree.  I have decided (with my family's support) that I will continue on to pursue my Master's Degree. I was offered a job at Ivy Tech Community College.  Although it is currently part time tutoring in the TRIO program, it is still 20 hours a week.  I am also going to school during this semester so, in essence, I will still be gone from home almost as much as if I were working full-time.  

But the frugal part of me sees this as an opportunity to have the part time job pay for my Graduate classes.  It will take me a bit longer to get through my Master's courses but, cross your fingers, I won't end up with a mountain of debt when I am done.

This brings me to figuring out how to make this all work.  Although I have worked, it's been a very long time since I had full time out of the home hours.  I will work during the day and go to school a couple of evenings a week.  Plus my husband teaches late one night a week an on Saturdays.  Add to that, we are responsible for transportation for our son to and from school and all of his activities.  This should be interesting.  I know when I was a single Mom, working full time I had a system that worked well for us.  It's been over a decade since then so I'm working on tweaking that to make it a habit again.  Lord knows, without it, we'd eat out half the time and I'd have to devote every weekend moment playing catch up.  The first part of that is too expensive and the latter part I'm just too old for.  LOL.

To make things a little easier, I already do menu planning each week so that's not an issue.  The difference now will be taking some time on Sunday to do any prep work that I can do to save time through the week.  Since I do have two nights a week that I have classes, I have to factor in that those nights need treated differently as one of them is busy for my husband and son too.

Prep work would include browning any meat for the week's menus, chopping any veggies and portioning them out.  Casseroles can be made and put in the freezer, just make sure and take them out the night before.  Roasts can be browned for the crock pot and put in the fridge until needed.  If you cut potatoes, be sure to put them in a Ziploc full of water so they don't discolor.  You can brown hamburger for chili, tacos, sloppy joes, etc.  

The crock pot will be our friend on nights that I have class.  One of those nights, the hubby gets off at 5 downtown and our son has Scouts on the far south side at 7.  He's gotta get home, feed the short dude and get to Scouts.  The first week wasn't exactly a successful experiment with me starting the meal before I left and them finishing it.  So to the crock pot we go!  Many crock pot meals can be put together in a Ziploc baggie and frozen until ready to use.  Again, set the bag out the night before to thaw, then just pour into the crock pot and go.  

I also make a salad bowl (see a previous post) that lasts for several days and they'll eat it if it is ready.  I also cut up carrot sticks, celery sticks and put them into a Tupperware type bowl in the fridge with cherry tomatoes and whatever else you like on a veggie tray.  I keep a bowl or Ranch dip in there too, if it's easy, they'll eat it instead of something less healthy.  

I don't always make them eat only healthy, on Sunday, I'll also make the snack of the week.  Whether that is a batch of cookies, a pan of brownies or whatever.  This week I took some bananas that were turning and made banana bread and a couple of dozen banana nut muffins.  I toss them in a Ziploc and freeze them so they're easy to grab and toss in lunchboxes or to warm up for a snack.

There are more things but I'm still trying to remember what I did way back then and how to make it work now.  I'll add more to that later, as I remember.

I do know that the family calendar is a lifesaver!  I received this one for Christmas and I am loving it so far!



There is a line for each one of us plus a spot for notes.  It helps to keep things straight.  I'm playing with a calendar on my phone that supposedly you can share among family members, but I don't know how to share it yet.  My son ended up with it on his phone (I have no clue how) and he thought it was just on his phone so he started deleting things.  This, of course, deleted them on my phone too.  That was a nightmare so for now, we're sticking to old school and this calendar!  LOL

The other thing that really is helping a bunch is our message center that we created on the fridge.



Our thoughts are the top dry erase board is for "To-Do" list type of things.  Load the dishwasher, pack a lunch, etc.  The bottom one is reminders.  The Calendar says that Scouts are on Wednesday but there is a reminder note here for the hubby that Scouts are at 7 and where the meeting or drop off is (it's not always in the same place).  It has my son's nightly reminders as well.  

There is also a magnetic notepad for items needed from the Grocery.  There is also a magnetic clip for anything else that we need to make sure the other one sees.

I know it's hard to read in detail but the list under the pen cup is our weekly checklist for each room. This list is here because the men in my life are the "can't see the forest for the trees" kind of men.  So if they have a few minutes time to help me, they can see what's on this list and pick one.  Ideally, by the weekend, the list will have all items checked off.  Here is that list:
WEEKLY CHECKLIST
Kitchen:
1.    Sweep floor
2.    Mop floor
3.    Clean out fridge
4.    Clean counter
5.    Clean stove & hood

Bathrooms:
1.    Clean mirrors
2.    Clean counter
3.    Sweep floor
4.    Mop floor
5.    Empty trash

Bedrooms:
1.    Vacuum carpet
2.    Dust
3.    Change sheets
4.    Clean TV screens

Living Room:
1.    Dust
2.    Vacuum
3.    Bag newspapers for recycling
4.    Straighten book bag area
5.    Return ‘strays’ where they belong

Dining Room:
1.    Clear Table
2.    Vacuum
3.    Straighten Jam area

Paperwork & Miscellaneous:
1.    Plan menus for next week
3.    Water plants
4.    Clean out vehicles & check fluids
5.    Check freezer stock
6.    Check pet food supplies

    This isn't a perfect list, but it's a start.  I am thankful that my guys are willing to pitch in and help out.  They know that we're a team and the goal at the end of this adventure will benefit all of us.  I know that I have to accept that they won't do things the way I would do them but they will be done.  And, theoretically, we should still have some time for us that doesn't involve catching up for the week.  I'll keep you posted on how it's working out!  LOL

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Super Bowl Food!

Next week is the Super Bowl and we can't wait.  I will say it's sad that there is so much controversy going on this year with "DeflateGate" and all.  My own personal opinion is they should be harshly punished for any cheating regardless of what team, Super Bowl or not.  It's as if these grown adults are currently only seeing money and fame and are forgetting that there are a lot of children who love the game and look up to these people.  And they example they set?  Cheating.  Now before I get blasted I know it was only one team in the media doing this right now but people aren't going to remember what happened in the first round of the playoffs, they're going to remember this cheating scandal.  And that's sad.  So come on people...remember the kids are watching!

We never go to Super Bowl parties because we have kids at home who have school the next day. My kids are not the type of kids that can stay up late and have a good day the following day so we've just always stayed home for the big game.  You can still have a Super Bowl Party at home!

Now back to the best part of the Super Bowl (if you're not going to the game that is)...the food!  I love watching football, so I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen cooking during the game.  There are a lot of fun foods that go beyond chips and dips that you can prepare ahead of time and are so yummy.

Our menu this year (and I will try to remember to take pics next week as I am preparing it) will include hot wings, taco dip, sloppy joe cups, lettuce wraps, cookies, hand pies, and I'm sure there will be add-ons as my guys think of more.

I know that sounds like a lot for our family of three but here's the secret.  Part of that is made with planned-overs.  When we had Tacos, I put the leftovers in a Ziploc and tossed it in the freezer, same with homemade sloppy joes.  The lettuce wraps are also starting with leftover baked chicken.  Even the hand pies are starting with pie dough I had left over after a Christmas order I had for the pies and I tossed it in the freezer.

Here's how it all comes together.  I bought frozen, uncooked chicken drummettes when they were on sale.  I know the drummettes cost a bit more, that's why I wait on a sale but for the amount of meat, I think it's more cost effective to get the drummettes.  I have a deep fryer but you can certainly do this in a dutch oven of oil, just be really careful.   I don't even thaw them.  I have the deep fryer set at 350 degrees and I fry the frozen drummettes for 12 minutes.  Don't over fill the pan and they'll cook better.  When they are done, I immediately coat them in the sauce.  I can't eat overly spicy stuff so, I mix Frank's hot bbq sauce with our favorite bbq sauce (for us, that is Sweet Baby Ray's) I mix it to taste.  I put it in a big bowl and using tongs mix the fried wings around it in.  I am not talented enough to toss them in the bowl...LOL.  I then put them on a cooling rack that is set on a sheet pan and put them in a warm oven to hold while I cook the rest.

The taco dip is so easy.  Basically, you take everything you like on a taco and layer it in a cake pan, sheet pan, whatever.  I start with refried beans (I mix them with a little taco sauce to thin them a bit) on the bottom, then taco meat mixed with black beans, cheese, sauce (if you didn't use some in the refried beans), tomatoes, shredded lettuce, avocado, sour cream, etc.  You can add jalapenos if you like.  Just use tortilla chips with this.  Easy.  I should add that you can serve this with the refried beans and taco meat hot or cold.

The sloppy joe cups are so easy.  I take cheap, biscuits in a can and put one biscuit in a muffin cup that's sprayed with non stick spray.  Kinda push them in so that they fill the tin and make a cup, add in a spoon or so of the sloppy joe mix.  Bake until the biscuit is done.  When they come out of the oven, you can add cheese on top.  Done.  It's nice that you can make these ahead of time and warm them just before the game.  

The lettuce wraps are leftover baked chicken and a packet from the grocery to make lettuce wraps.  Again, these can be made a head of time and warmed.  Just put the bowl of hot chicken mix out with some fresh cold leaf lettuce.  

The hand pies are something I began making because my husband and nephew are from the south and they love them.  It took a while to get the dough just right because I like a thin pie crust and that doesn't translate to hand pies well.  But, now I have it thanks to those guides you can buy for your rolling pin to prevent me from rolling it too thin.  Anyway, I have this neat little hand pie cutter thing that I got from Walmart, it's by Wilton.  it not only cuts out the top and bottom but then you can fill it and it crimps the edges too.  


So, for the filling you can use pie filling from a can or make your own.  Devon loves chocolate or butterscotch pie so you can even use pudding.  Just make sure the pudding is cook pudding and not instant or you'll have a liquidy mess.  I will use apple pie filling for most of them and make a few butterscotch ones for Devon.  I'll be using my Gram's recipe for the butterscotch filling and since it only takes a little bit, I'll put the rest in a graham cracker crust that I have in the freezer (also bought on clearance, I think you can freeze almost anything) and we'll have a pie for later in the week.  I do bake these instead of frying them.  Since the filling is done and they're eaten cool, just bake until the pie dough is done.  Once done, I put them on a cooling rack.  When cook, I sprinkle with powder sugar.  You could easily glaze them with a powder sugar/milk mix but it's all about easy for these!  LOL

Finally, the cookies will be whatever my son decides that he wants for the week.  We bake a treat on Sunday that is for the week.  So, I'll just set some of these out for the game too.

Drinks can be anything from water to soda to juice.  We don't drink very often at all here.  I'll have to see if hubby wants a beer for that night.

So you see, you can have a Super Bowl party at home and eat well even if you can't really go out because kids have school the next day.  So think and prepare now so that you know what you want for the big game and you won't be stuck in the kitchen the whole time!  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Make a Salad Bowl!

Hello everyone!  Our new semester has started at school, the last of those needed for my Bachelor's degree.  My husband and I have talked and I've come to the decision that I am going to go on and begin working on my Master's Degree.  It's such a scary decision but I'm going to do it!

In the past, I have always made salads up as I needed them thinking that they would go bad if I didn't.  I tried something a few weeks ago and I won't lie, I was surprised at the results.

I prepped a salad bowl for the fridge.  I put the salad greens in a big bowl, I prefer Mesclun mix but used Romaine as it was on sale this week.  I went ahead and put some thinly sliced carrots, celery, radishes, sweet peppers and mushrooms.  I bought some mixed salad tomatoes, grape tomatoes would work too, I just found these on sale (of course...LOL).  They are a mix of cherry tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes and chocolate tomatoes.  My husband prefers the lower acid tomatoes so I wanted to make sure to have some yellow ones.  Anyway, in little bowls, I'll put some diced up boiled eggs in one, some shredded cheese in one, some cucumbers in one.  You get the idea, if it is wet or will make the salad soggy, put it in a little bowl.  

I did this one Sunday evening thinking that I would have salad for the week since I'm trying to get more veggies in me.  I was shocked when my husband and son went to town on the salad.  Two days, TWO, and it was all gone.  So now, once or twice a week, I put together this salad stuff.  The whole family is eating more salads with more veggies.  If I would have put the celery, peppers and radishes, etc. separately, they wouldn't have added them to the salad.  They're getting more variety in their salads and not even noticing.  Even my son is now eating lighter dressings and not just Ranch!  I'm stunned and loving this.  

It's also saving money as I don't have produce hiding in the lower crisper drawer going to waste.  

I also have to add that if you have a Fresh Thyme Market near you, you really should check them out.  They will have awesome sales on a few items a week and the produce is phenomenal!  If  you can brave the crowds, go on Double Dip Thursday.  They will honor prices from the prior week's ad and the new week's ad both!  The last trip I was there, I left with 4 1/2 bags of produce for right at $19.00.  If you are near one, give them a shot.  Sometimes they will have great meat prices too!

Have a great week!