Friday, January 07, 2011

2011==Holy Smokes!!

2010 was a big year for changes and growing..I am back in school to work on an art degree and decided that in 2011, I am going to work towards less clutter in my life, both physically in my body / environment and in my mind. I stumbled on a couple blogs about the minimalist lifestyle and while I am not sure I am a formal minimalist, I really hung on the concept of LESS. So the first week of 2011 was spent going through mounds on unfinished projects, unread books and magazines and just generally clearing out. I had not realized just how much I had accumulated. We sent a LOT to recycling and a lot to the trash can that couldn't be recycled or donated, and did a lot of cleaning. I hate to say it, but we are far from done. I will continue to work on this over the next month...or seven...

My goal is to completely ride myself of all the old baggage that keeps me tired and jumbled. I am changing the way we eat, little by little, since the reality is I am not getting younger and need to take serious steps to change my lifestyle before it turns bad. We are going to move our food choices more towards grains and whole foods, and away from processed foods and meats. This is a big step for someone who was raised in a meat and potatoes home. The teenagers are Ok with this since they are both in sports and tend to prefer a healthier menu. My oldest son is going to have a little trouble with it, I'm afraid. When he lived on his own, he lived on a steady diet of boxed mac/cheese and frozen pizzas, capped off with huge amounts of pop. We don't serve any of that here. I will work throughout 2011 to convert him slowly. I'm pretty sure this is a shock to his system! LoL!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Post

Yep--that's all I could think of to call it since I seem to have completely faded away from this sight lately. Life has this silly way of not slowing down...

So here is what has been happening: I went back to school to work on an art degree, hubby is graduating with an engineering masters degree in May, kids are busy in every sport and school activity known to man, and I have been the taxi...How's that in a nutshell? LOL.

Plus, the chickens have morphed into super big girls seemingly overnight and the outside coop is still not built. I am starting to get a little aggressive about that since they really need to be outside eating bugs in my yard and enjoying being chickens! Word of advice: no matter how tiny and cute they are, DO NOT bring chicks home until the coop is built and ready to function! That said, chickens are probably the most entertaining creatures you will run across! I love my chickens. And the eggs a wonderful too!

We have been really busy putting in raised beds in the backyard since we have such uneven and poor soil. Raised beds allow us to level out the soil and not have to till. We did have them come out and mark the underground power lines, and were really surprised at the odd layout of criss-crossing lines across the yard. Raised beds will alleviate that too. We have 4' by 8' bed already filled with rhubarb, strawberries, asparagus, and tomatoes. Another one is waiting to be filled. We used cinder blocks and made some smaller raised beds along the fences that hold 4 boysenberries, 4 fall gold raspberry, 2 loganberry and 3 regular blackberry bushes. It is my goal to be able to grow enough produce that we do not have to buy it at the store, plus grow it organically. I am also hoping to have enough at the end of the summer to be able to can quite a bit for the winter months. It would be great if the only thing we have to buy is meat, dairy and some of the fruits, veggies and mushrooms that we can't grow. Wish us luck. This will hopefully bring the food bills more in line with my goals of cutting them in half or more. The initial outlay of the gardens is a little bit more than I had hoped (wood and cinder blocks for the beds, topsoil and bags of peat...etc), but I am confident it will even out over the next season or two and pay for itself. Especially with the berries. The price per pound at the store is usually pretty darned expensive.

In keeping with the hopes of lowering food costs, I am happy to say we have been really good at eating meals cooked at home. I am learning to make ravioli lately. Sometime this week I will try my hand at making fresh pasta, then move on to the ravioli. One of the twins and I are going to take a sushi class this summer. I had the opportunity to learn to make homemade crescent rolls recently at a cooking class and the boys absolutely love them. The premise behind the class is that you make them and can freeze them for later. I'll post the recipe later. It makes a huge amount and the recipe can easily be cut in half. However, these freeze beautifully and taste wonderful!! Well worth the effort of making them homemade and with the bonus of being able to stash some away in the freezer for later. It's a win/win situation!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Turning Around

So it seems like it has been forever since I posted to this blog, and guess what? It has.

I have been trying to decide what the focus of this blog is going to be and how it will have relevance to my life lately. I had considered focusing on frugal stuff, but seriously, while important, it is not enough to get me excited about showing up to the page. I am going to change the focus to include my craft, art and all my creative pursuits. There will be frugal and cooking mixed in, but the main focus is going to be the creative act and the end result.

2010 is the year I will participate in the Craft or Bust 2010 challenge. Each week I will work on an ongoing project and record the progress with pictures, or I will do something that can be completed during the week and write a little about that. I intend to use this to help me jump start my creative process and keep me accountable for actually showing up to do the work.. Tomorrow will be the first post of the year, although for everyone else in the challenge it has been going on for a few weeks longer. My formal goal is to craft at least one new piece of jewelry or adornment each month whether in metal, fiber or any other medium, including painting and drawing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Lately I have been writing out menu plans for two week periods in an effort to help my house run a little smoother at meal times. There are several bloggers out there that are part of Meal Plan Monday web ring and the idea has appealed to me for quite some time. I will post my meal plans on Monday, although I usually make out menus that run Sunday to Saturday. For some reason this cycle of days just works better for me. Plus I make up menus for two weeks at a time, which covers from pay period to pay period.

The advantages of meal planning are many:
1. The kids know what is going to be served by looking at the list on the bulletin board.
2. I know what is going to be served so there is no standing in front of the freezer and trying to put together combinations that sound good.
3. It helps immensely when grocery shopping. I have my list of meals and write the grocery list from there. It also allows me to shop the sales and plan menus based on what is on sale. Big $$$$ saver!
4. It saves money. Since I shop for the ingredients of each menu, I know I have them on hand and will not have to run to the store. Running to the store for one items usually ends with 20 in the cart when it is time to checkout.
5. I have time to think out the menu, find recipes and try new recipes as desired. For example, this month I am cooking from the Once A Month Cooking book and have found 3 recipes that sound good. I've had this book for a while but am finally getting around to making dinners from it. I will try one recipe and if it is a success with the men in the house, I will double it for freezing.

So what is on the menu this week?

Sunday October 18 Roast chicken, mashed potatoes (real potatoes! cheaper and better for you than instant), corn

Strawberry shortcake for dessert using a butter cake recipe that I made and froze to use instead of those weird preservative laden pucks you get at the store.

Monday October 19 Pork Spare ribs (on sale this week) salad and deviled eggs. The original menu was for butter/herb noodles and broccoli. We have a lot of salad that needs to be eaten plus deviled eggs sounded good. dessert is a really easy chocolate peanut butter chip pan cookie I pulled off the Hershey's website.

Even though I had other things planned, I am flexible to a point with the sides. If you have something that needs to be used up like salad greens, you should use them first. Wasted food is wasted money.

Tuesday October 20 Chicken burritos, refried beans, carrot sticks w/ salad dressing to dip.

Wednesday October 21 12 Boy curry (from Once a Month Cooking), rice, canned fruit

Thursday October 22 Baked Jambalya (from Once a Month Cooking), sliced apples

Friday October 23 Homemade Pizza

Saturday October 24 Breakfast : Homemade cinnamon rolls

Lunch: Soup and Sandwiches

Dinner: Leftovers with cookies or canned fruit

Sunday October 25 Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage (whatever the boys decide they want)

Lunch: Hot dogs and chips

Dinner: Hamburgers and French Fries. Hubby makes killer homemade french fries using real potatoes. There is no comparison! Carrot sticks and apple pie round out the menu.

I have made a big effort to cook from scratch lately since I am able to plan out meals and decide how much time I have. On days there is a lot of activity, the meal is an easy one. I use the crockpot a lot and will be using it more in the future. The chicken that we cooked last night had a lot of meat left, so it will be picked clean and the meat will go into the chicken burritos we are having later. I did buy bagged chicken breasts since they were on sale for a really good price, and will add to the burrito meat, but the carcass will be frozen for bones to make chicken stock later down the line.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Theme for the week...

is saving money and getting a handle on a little impulse spending that has been a downfall of mine. That said, I have to confess right out of the gate that I blew it today when I got on and ordered 2 books that REALLY sounded good.

Do I already have a house full of books and many of them either unread or partially read? The answer to that would be a definite yes.

So my goal for the next two weeks is to stay off and read at least one book from the pile that is around my house. Is this going to be easy?

Probably not.

As a matter of fact, it is going to be damn hard! However given the fact the economy is in the tank, I feel it is really important to start getting my priorities in line and put money in savings. Experts say you should have 6 months pay in savings for a rainy day, However, lately I have seen experts changing that number to 10-12 months since the job market has tanked.

Here are some things I am working towards making a habit:

1. Staying off It's just too tempting.

2. Actually planning --and sticking to--planned meals that are made at home from my MANY cookbooks.

3. Only grocery shopping once every two weeks from my meal plans. If I have to have an ingredient, I'll send hubby. He is much better at being able to leave the grocery store with only the items he came in for. If I "run in for one thing", I end up coming out with $50 extra junk minimum. We burn money with that foolishness! '

4. Trying to resist buying new yarn until I have made a sizable dent in my yarn stash. I tend to buy way to much yarn for future projects and should learn to use that up first. Considering I help out at 2 wonderful yarn shops, this is going to be really hard. However, I am going to really make an extra effort to make this work!

5. Be more consistent about the goals and the frequency of posting to this blog. I have been a little chaotic about posting to this blog and a little unclear of it's mission statement. I am going to work towards clarify the theme over the next couple months to reflect my interest in budgeting, cooking and book interests.

I have several really interesting cookbooks that I am going to utilize over the next couple weeks while I am doing all this home cooking. Two that are sitting next to me right now are Quick Fixes with Mixes by Lia Roessner Wilson -- and Make a Mix by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward and Madeline Westover. I have had both of these for quite some time and figure it is time to use them. The first book uses mixes like cake mix, cookie mix etc. as the base for recipes. In the morning I am trying a cinnamon roll recipe from the book.

The Make A Mix book contains recipes that utilize base mixes that you make from scratch in bulk. For example, tomorrow I am going to make the brownie mix that is the base for brownies, cookies, Texas sheet cake and a Mississippi mud cake. This is a completely from scratch mix, which I find appealing.

However, using convenience products might prove to be useful too. I will let you know what I try and what I think of these recipes as I bake the goodies. As a matter of fact, as I read through the books on my bookshelf, I will be giving my reviews of them. There will be books from all genres since my reading is pretty eclectic.

So those are my goals for now. Check back tomorrow for the recipe reviews. I will not be printing the recipes since they are in the books and the authors need to be able to fairly profit from them if they are good--I will just be giving my opinion of the recipes that I actually make. I'll spend all of October and part of November on these two cookbooks, then move on to the others in my collection and review other types of books as I read them.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Stretching the budget calzones...

Since it is football season and both my boys play--time is precious here at Animalhaus. Both the boys are on the Junior Varsity and are backup for the Varsity, so that means we have two games a week. That can lead to both a schedule clusterbuff and a menu disaster. If I don't have something prepared when they walk in the door, we sometime opt for fast food. That is OK, but can really bust the budget if we aren't careful. So this month I am going back to the drawing board and trying to get meals prepared ahead of time or at least meals that don't require a lot of prep. For this, I have relied on using up what's in the fridge and cooking out of my community cookbooks. I have a huge collection of cookbooks, but cherish my community cookbooks because they are slices of life from real people across the nation. Tonight I am cooking "Nameless Sweet and Sour Chicken". It uses an 8 oz bottle of Russian dressing (I didn't have a full 8 oz, so I added some Catalina. They do taste slightly different, so I'll have to see), 10 oz jar of Apricot preserves and a packet of dried onion soup mix. I might see if adding half a packet would be better.I did add a squeeze of lime juice since I had lime slices I haven't used up, but that is my twist....the recipe says to pour this over 6 chicken breasts or one whole 2 pound chicken cut up. I used 2 pounds of frozen chicken thighs that I cooked until they thawed out. I them dumped the juices and covered them with the sauce, then cooked completely. I'll serve this with rice rolls and a salad mix that we found marked down at the supermarket.

This weekend I was looking for ways to use up some leftover baked chicken breast, pepperoni and mozzarella cheese that we needed to consume or lose. I figured a calzone would be an interesting twist. So I found my go to pizza dough recipe--you can find them online or I can email you mine if you leave me a comment--and rolled the dough into a circle. After laying out the ingredients on half the circle, I folded the other half over and crimped the edged. After baking, it was well received by the hungry males in my house. Bellies full and budget saved--GOOD STUFF!

I had enough to make 2 of these. They were really large-you just can't tell it in the picture. Four of us ate well, and there were leftovers for two lunches.
Tonight I am making cinnamon rolls for breakfast tomorrow morning. I'll bake them right before bed and icing them when they come out so the gooey icing melts a little...YUM.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cleaning House

As you can see, our back patio has been severely ignored this year. We have a wonderful new deck and potential place to hang out, but nothing has been done with it. So for the next 2 weeks, the boys and I are going to do severe cleaning and I am going to work on making this an outdoor sanctuary. In the picture above, you see the result of dogs that refuse to remember that they are not supposed to use the old rock stairs to get in and out of the yard. The new deck has a much safer landing and solid stairs, but they continue to knock my potted plants down in their attempts to scale the rock steps. So, Wednesday I am going to look for fencing to block their attempts. JoAnn's Crafts store has several really pretty options.

More junk that is slated to be removed. I'll paint pots and put some decorative plants in there. Not sure what else I'll do to the landing, possibly paint a "carpet" on it. What do you think?

More mess. However, there you see the perfect components of a small seating area.

Again, seating and eating area waiting to be unearthed and decorated. Definitely a place for more painted pots and all kinds of goodies waiting to be staged.

This area is a major problem area for us. When it rains, the dirt washes out from between the rocks and end up on our patio, clogging the drains and flooding the whole patio. After it subsides, we end up with a couple inches of sludge on the patio. This is getting old quickly! Any suggestions? I am avoiding filling in the rocks since numerous really cute toads make their home there. We might end up having to make a cement shelf over the top rocks. I'll have to think about this.