Would love to know your thoughts on This Granola Mama. Follow me or comment on a post to let me know.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cleaners -- A Dirty Topic

Part of this blog is about moving my family into a healthier lifestyle, and it's not just about how we're eating.  It also has to do with what I bring into my home.  Over the past year or so, I've looked much more closely at the chemicals that I have been bringing into my home in the form of cleaners, detergents, air fresheners, disenfectants, etc.  Yikes...Yikes...and more Yikes.

Have you read the labels on your cleaners?  Ingredients you can't pronounce with warnings that are terrifying.  I have heard so many horror stories over this past year of what those unintelligible ingredients have done to children who've managed to slip past all of the childproof doors and caps.  Granted, some of those ingredients are innocuous, but there are enough that aren't.  We were having issues as well.  I was diagnosed with asthma about 10 years ago and so many of the brands I was using (Lysol, Clorox, etc.) really irritated and exacerbated any issues I was having.  Both munchkins have had sensitive skin issues, and J&J baby stuff, Aveeno, and the like just made things worse.

I could go old school...Old School.  We're talking vinegar and baking soda and salt -- Old School.  I have a sweet friend of mine who mixes all her own cleaners...I think she even makes her own soap, just so that she knows exactly what's in it all.  My sister cleans pretty exclusively with vinegar.  I don't want to go that far.  Really.  I'm lazy when it comes to that.  I want to be able to pull out a nice spray bottle designed for a specific purpose that has cleaner that smells good and does the job safely.  I didn't think that was a choice, however, until a dear friend contacted me with something new she had gotten into -- a wellness company that was making just what I was looking for!

I have just about converted my household over -- glass cleaner; furniture polish; laundry pre-spot (the best I've ever used!!!), detergent, & brightener; dishwashing detergent for the dishwasher and for hand-washing; disenfectant (It uses thyme oil and makes it smell like I've been doing some serious poultry cooking.  Ha!), bathroom cleaners, and the list goes on.  None of these cleaners requires child safety caps.  Really.  That's one of the biggest selling points for me -- products that work, that don't need terrifying warnings on the labels, aren't harmful for the environment, and aren't much more expensive than I was already purchasing.  (So the environment thing is way down the list, but it is on the list.)  The cleaners don't mess with my asthma, and my kids' skin is sooo much better than it was.  In all respects, it has been very worth it and has put us several "steps" further on our journey.

Menu Monday -- January 24, 2011

*Sigh*  I'm bored.  Perhaps I should go back to planning a month at a time instead of a week...I like getting a global perspective then getting down to specifics.  Hmmm...I think I'm going to make a spreadsheet...yes, really!  That way I can see what we've had the last month or two at a glance and keep things better spread out.  I'll get back to you when it's all finished.  :-) 

Ok, spreadsheet's finished, and it's been confirmed, I'm in a rut.  *sigh*  I would LOVE for you to post in a comment some of your easy favorite dinner recipes for no other reason that my brain needs a jump start.  I thank you with great gratitude in advance!

Here's what we're doing, and yes, there are duplicates from last week.  However, keep in mind, that if it's on this week's menu again, we probably didn't have it last week.  :-)  There's a bit of a difference this week -- I'm putting in all meals this week.  Yep, you read it right -- all.  It's for me -- I was getting to breakfast & lunch and saying, "What in the world are we going to eat???"  Not a good place to be.  This will help me stay on track.

Happy Week!
  • Monday -- Toad in the Hole
  • Tuesday -- Spaghetti & Breadsticks (Artisan Bread in 5!)
    • Breakfast -- Breakfast Cookies
      • I've made the changes that are listed in the recipe.  I really like them!  I think this time we'll put Craisins in -- W likes Craisins!
    • Lunch -- Leftover Layered Enchiladas
  • Wednesday -- Burritos
  • Thursday -- Shepherd's Pie
    • Breakfast -- Breakfast Cookies
    • Lunch -- Leftover Calzone
  • Friday -- Cheeseburger Potato Soup
    • Breakfast -- Breakfast cookies
    • Lunch -- Leftover Shepherd's Pie
  • Saturday -- Dinner with Extended Family.  Happy Birthday, Mama!  I miss you so!
    • Breakfast -- Oatmeal
      • I make my oatmeal a little different, ok, a lot different from most people.  I'm not a fan of traditional oatmeal, and I wanted to make it without sugar, so here's how I do it. 
        • 1/4 c. rolled oats, 1T of wheat germ, pinch of salt, cinnamon & cloves to taste -- stir this all together
        • Add in raisins or craisins (or both if you're feeling wild & crazy) and about 1/3 c. of applesauce.  (I like mine pretty stiff, add more if you like.)
        • Nuke for 1 minute, then stir in 1T of peanut butter (and chopped walnuts, if you're so inclined).  Yummy! 
        • For the munchkins, I use quick cook oats and add enough milk to cover the top of their oatmeal after it's cooked to stir in and help it cool.
    • Lunch -- Tortilla Pizzas
  • Sunday -- Waffles, Bacon & Eggs
    • Breakfast -- Breakfast Cookies
    • Lunch -- Red Beans & Rice with Kielbasa

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day Update -- What else can I do with it???

I've made the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day with my tweaks and decreasing the salt to a little more than 1T a couple of times now.  I am still amazed!  You would not believe the variety of things that you can make with this Master Recipe.  Let me share just a couple with you.  I am loving this!

  • Cinnamon Rolls-ish
    • Once the dough's been refrigerated over night, you can do most anything with it.  Pull out whatever amount of dough you want.  I still don't have pulling about a pound of dough out, so I just work with whatever "looks right."  Gotta love that!  Make sure that you have plenty of flour on your hands and your board -- this is some seriously sticky dough.  For cinnamon rolls-ish, you need to roll it into as close to a rectangle as possible...about a quarter of an inch thick.  Once again, I just eyeball it.  Slather on softened butter then sprinkle with a generous amount of cinnamon sugar and whatever else you like it yours -- nuts, raisins, brown sugar, whatever.  Roll it up from the narrow end then pinch it all together and put the seam on the bottom.  Let it sit for about an hour, hour and a half then follow the "normal" baking instructions in the Master Recipe.  Don't forget your slices in the top before you bake it!
    • I do need to let you know that when I made this, I used the excess from some lovely spiced walnuts my sister made for Christmas.  There was a lot of the butter/spice/brown sugar mixture leftover from the nuts, so I just scraped out the pan, and smeared it on the rolled dough.  It tasted super duper yummy, but there was a LOT of butter...more than I realized, and it melted out all over my overturned cookie sheet!  It was a bit of a mess.  Next time I'll have more control over how much butter I use.  :-)
  • Calzone
    • I rolled out the dough like I did for the Cinnamon Rolls-ish, but the first time around, baby brain took over, and I totally lost my memory on what goes into a calzone.  Silly me put sauce in it!  What in the world?  Since I goofed on the first one (It wasn't bad, but wasn't great.), let me share with you how I did the second.
    • For the filling, I used about a half cup of yogurt (I know, I know, my baby sister is giving me a seriously rough time for all the things I'm substituting yogurt for!) and mixed in an egg, parmesan cheese, and a cheese blend.  I spread that on the left half of the dough and then sprinkled a great mound of mozzarella cheese and spices over the top.  (My favorite spice blend to use is the Spice Islands garlic bread dipping spices.  Yummy!  For those of you in Siloam Springs, you can get this for a song at the Allen's Outlet.  I think it cost me $0.70 the last time I was there.  I got six!)  Fold the other half over and seal the edges with a fork and make three slices in the top.
    • I will repeat -- the dough is STICKY.  The first time I made the calzone, I did it on a flexible cutting board and had to put the parchment paper on the calzone then the cookie sheet and flip it all over.  It was a bit of a juggling act.  I'm so very glad there was no one here with a camera!  The second time I made it, I did it on parchment paper thinking that would take care of it...it was still pretty sticky and peeling the dough that I was trying to fold over was quite a messy trick.  I don't have the answers on this.  If you have any suggestions (aside from just more flour), let me know!  :-)
    • Bake it according to the Master Recipe.  Depending on how big you make it, you'll have to adjust your baking time.  My second calzone was bigger than a pound, so I baked it about 5 minutes longer. 
I haven't made the breadsticks yet, but I'm looking forward to trying those out!  Pretty much anything that you're wanting to make with bread dough, it appears you can make it with this Master Recipe.  Any suggestions for what to try next with it?  I'll take suggestions and see how I can work them in with the menu for the week.  :-) 

Happy Easy Bread Making!

Azure Standard Order -- ordering healthy in bulk :-)

I had a "sort of" request for an Azure Standard post.  (Thanks, Holly!)  So here we go!

I was introduced to Azure Standard via the Heavenly Homemakers website.  I've been looking for inexpensive wheat berries because I'd like to grind my own whole wheat.  (I know, can you believe it?)  It's much healthier and less expensive than buying pre-ground whole wheat.  I had found wheat berries for $0.25 a pound...woohoo!  Then I checked the shipping costs -- it was going to cost at least $1 a pound for shipping...whoa hoa!  Azure Standard had 50 pound bags of hard white wheat berries (the recommended type of wheat berry to grind "to make my bread;" and yes, being 7 months preggers, I do feel like a giant!) for about $25 with FREE shipping on orders over $50.  They also give you the choice of COD or credit card to pay for your order.  I do believe I can handle that.  :-)

Azure Standard has a HUGE inventory to offer.  If you are looking for organic products and/or gluten free products, they should have you covered.  I do need to offer the disclaimers that
  1. I don't usually use organic, and I, thankfully, have no need for gluten free products, so I can't say if their prices are competitive or not.
  2. Aside from being a customer, Azure Standard has no idea who I am or that I'm blogging about them.  :-)
Their website is a little difficult to just peruse because they have so very much product.  When you place your first order, though, be sure to order a catalog, for the catalog is a lovely experience!  Not only to they showcase their product, there are some recipes and great descriptions of a lot of the produce.  Granted, I may be a bit of a freak for getting a smile out of reading catalogs....

What was I looking for besides hard white wheat berries? 
  • Apples in bulk -- most of the organic varieties they offer (and they have a whole assortment) are about $1 a pound.  They do offer a 3# bag of organic apples for $1.90.  You don't get to choose your variety, so as long as you're not picky (& as far as this is concerned, I'm really not), this, is a great deal!  I'd like to try and make homemade applesauce as well as apple butter, and my munchkins ask for apples as a snack multiple times a day.  Just snacking on apples, we finish a 3# bag in just a few days.  Whew!  A buck ninety is pretty good for several days worth of healthy snacks.
  • Non-fat Milk Powder that's RBGH free -- oh yes, it IS real.  I use milk powder in my yogurt, in my breakfast cookies, and, I'm sure, there will be other uses as well.  With it being just a little over $2 a pound, it's something worth investing in for our health.  I'm really trying to stay away from RGBH as much as possible, and for cooking/baking this is a great option. 
  • Beans & Lentils -- good assortment for decent prices
Azure Standard has recently added "drop points" in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri.  I'm so thankful that they just started one in our town this month!  The cut off day for ordering is two days before the truck rolls out, and they recommend ordering your produce no earlier than a couple of days before the deadline to make sure that they have it.  If you sign up for an account on their website and you can't find your drop point, give them a call.  Their customer service is very helpful.  I think, if I understand correctly, if you (or a group of you) has an order totalling $550 or more, they will deliver to you.  You'll have to check on that to be sure.

One thing to be aware of -- you may not get everything you order.  Our milk powder was not on the truck.  This wasn't an issue for us as we ordered things we wanted, not anything that we desperately needed.  All in all, it was a really good experience, and I've already started on our order for February.  :-)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Menu Monday

Good Monday to y'all!  This week, my goal is to NOT get any groceries besides milk and fruit.  Let's see how I do.  Y'all have a great week! 
  • Monday -- Stroganoff
  • Tuesday -- Twice Baked Potatoes
  • Wednesday -- Toad in the Hole
    • This is a fun little breakfast meal that we use for dinner.  Hubby requested it, so it will be nice to have it again! 
    • You will need bacon, eggs, and bread.  Fry up however much bacon your family will eat, then leave some of the bacon grease in the skillet.  For each toad in the hole, you will use a biscuit cutter/cup/sharp knife/whatever to make a large hole in the center of the bread.  Place the slice of hole-y bread in the skillet and break an egg into the hole.  When the egg has cooked as long as you like, flip it to finish the job.  Toast the bread rounds in the skillet as well.  Serve with butter & jelly.  Yummy, yummy!  :-)
  • Thursday -- Eating with Extended Family, so must confer...
  • Friday -- Chili (didn't happen last week because the Potato Soup lasted longer than I expected.  Woohoo!)
  • Saturday -- Chili for lunch & Apples and Popcorn for dinner
  • Sunday -- Crockpot Enchilada Bake for lunch & Waffles for dinner

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day? -- Oh, Yummy, Yummy Yes!

We've already discussed my fear and trepidation in making yeast bread.  It has hung over me like a dark, damp cloud forEVER.  I was so excited to be successful in making the cinnamon swirl bread, and then last week, I made homemade soft pretzels!  Woo hoo!  Both turned out really well.  It was all well and good, but the time and stress involved was a bit much.  I really wanted to find something that I could be successful baking without spending all the time that traditional bread requires.  I've found it!!!

If you recall, on Menu Monday this week I mentioned trying to find the Artisan Bread recipe from Backwoods Home.  Couldn't find it.  So, Google was my friend.  :-)  I came across a website -- http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/.  At first, I couldn't find any recipes on the site and figured it was just for selling their books -- Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day -- as well as a forum for questions for people who bought their books.  Not so.  Nope.  The Master Recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day can be found here (you will have to scroll down the page to find it).  Of course, I didn't do it quite like they said.  Of course not.  I couldn't leave well enough alone.  So, here's what I did, and I'll apologize now that the only photo (YES, there's a photo!) that I have to share is of the finished product.  My husband laughed that I was taking pictures of my loaves, but they were so beautiful, if I do say so myself!

One of my lovely loaves!

Back to the point -- how did I do it?  You have to start with a 5 quart bowl/container or larger.  I used a flour storage bin that I think was considerably larger than 5 quarts, but it's what I have.  It dwarfed the gallon pitcher that I measured my flour into.
  • 5+ quart container
  •  3.5 c of lukewarm water (Mine was about 105 F -- gotta love instant read thermometers.  Make sure it's not over 110 F so you don't kill your yeast.  Apparently, it will even work with cool water, it just increases the rising time.)
  • 1.5 T of yeast
  • 1.5 T of salt
  • 5 c UNBLEACHED All-purpose flour (It will not work with bleached all-purpose flour because of the different protein content.)
  • 1.5 c Whole Wheat flour
Put your water, salt & yeast in your container, then dump in all your flour.  Stir it all together using a wooden spoon.  Put a lid (not air tight, don't want your container to explode!) or saran wrap on your container.  Let it sit out for 2-ish hours (mine actually sat out for about 4), then put it, as-is, in the refrigerator overnight.  Your dough is good for about 2 weeks.  Granted, the longer you wait the more yeasty/sour it's going to get. 

Tuesday, I did all of the combining...the dough is supposed to rise on the counter and the fridge. Mine didn't.  It was about the same size when I pulled it out of the refrigerator yesterday.  I was afraid that was going to be the case -- I had pushed the envelope with my yeast.  The package said, "For faster rising, use by..."  It was out of date, and I knew it.  I was ok with a slower rise, but there was no rise.  *sigh*  I was just too impatient.  I wanted to make the dough Tuesday so that I could make bread bowls for leftover potato soup Wednesday, and I couldn't go to the store to get fresh yeast because Andrew had the car. 
Silly, impatient me.

I was determined, though, to soldier ahead.  So what if my bread turned out ridiculously dense?  I tend to like dense bread, especially for bread bowls.  Mid-afternoon yesterday, I pulled my dough out of the fridge.  The top was dry.  I probably should have added some water to the top and let it soak in, but I didn't.  Here are the next steps to finishing out your Artisan bread...at least the way I did it.  :-)
  • Throw some flour on top of your dough -- enough so that it's not going to stick to your hands.
  • Grab a glob and pull out about a pounds worth and cut it off with a knife or kitchen shears.  (I used a knife, 'cause my hubby moved my shears.  He'd better not touch my cheese!  hee hee)
  • In 40 seconds or less, flatten it a bit, fold it over on itself and then form it into a boule ("ball" for the who's who at home).
  • Set your dough on parchment paper, flour your hands and make sure the dough is lightly floured all around.
  • I made four loaves.  The dough is supposed to make four one pound loaves.  My loaves were much smaller than the ones they show on their website, but they had some serious heft going on!  That's what happens when the silly stuff doesn't rise!
  • Now the dough needs to rest, uncovered, on the parchment paper.  At 30 minutes of resting, I turned on my oven to preheat to 450 with my empty broiler pan on the bottom rack (set on the bottom rung) and an upside down cookie sheet on a rack set 4-5 inches above the broiler pan.
  • At about 1 hour of resting...or when my oven told me it was at 450, but not before my oven was preheated to 450 (Sorry!) I put all four loves on their individual pieces of parchment on the cookie sheet and carefully poured 1 cup of water into the broiler pan.  (Yes, you must do the water, it provides a time of flash steaming which makes the crust the way it should be.)  I did cover the glass on my oven door with a towel just in case any water splashed -- I didn't want an accident that would cause the glass to crack/break/shatter!
  • *NOTE*  Do this step before putting your bread into the oven -- I remembered just after I put them in and had to hastily do this!  Using a sharp bread knife, make several long(4-6 inches), quarter inch deep cuts in the top of the bread.  (I only did two because my loaves were small.)
  • Let the bread bake for 20 minutes.  At 20 minutes, slide the parchment paper out from under the loaves and then let them bake for 10 more minutes.  Mine probably could have used another 5 minutes or so, but I thought they were lovely, so I took them out.
  • The hard part -- leave them alone for 1 hour!
Once the hour had elapsed, I cut off the tops and dug out the insides so that we could use the base for bowls.  The guts were DENSE.  Oh my.  I jokingly refer to it as Black Hole Bread, it was so very, very dense...but it tasted super yummy!  The kids ate it with jam for a good portion of their dinner.  My favorite part was the crust.  Step aside, Panera, I now have the power!  :-)

I know I must have looked beyond crazy, as I was whooping and hollering and dancing around my kitchen in celebration at my dense success!  :-)  I did it, and it was easy to do, and it even worked when my yeast didn't!!!  I am super duper excited, and, from perusing the website, I know that the Artisan Bread in 5 authors have so many different kinds of recipes in their book -- soft wheat sandwich bread, for starters!  Lord willing, I will be purchasing this book with some birthday money.  Can't wait to try it all out!!!

If you try this out, I want to know!  Tell me all about it.  If you have any questions, the website, http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/, is a great resource and the book authors answer all the questions that are posted on it.

Now I must get back into the habit of Jazzercise so that this new found fun does not add any more to my ample hips & booty!  :-)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Menu Monday

Menu Monday again?  Whatever happened to last week?  :-)  I hope that someone was inspired to try something new or at least fill in a slot with an old favorite that they had forgotten about! 

In spite of it "already" being time for Menu Monday again, I must confess that things didn't completely go as planned last week.  Friday afternoon, my wonderful husband took the munchkins out on an errand giving me some quiet time alone.  Aaaahhh.  I do appreciate moments where I hear only the background sounds -- the heater coming on and going off, a car door slamming across the street, the idiot who has the bass turned up so loud in his car it rattles my windows....  Needless to say, I did not take that time to cook, clean, organize.  No, no, no.  I caught up online with a few things and grabbed a catnap while they were gone.  Lovely.  So...the kids had oatmeal ("eat"meal as W has called it since he first put a word with it.  *smile*), Hubby had leftovers, and I had popcorn and apple slices. 

Popcorn and apple slices -- that's a blast from the past!  We used to have that growing up when we watched movies on our blue and white TV with the VHS player we had rented along with the movie from the movie rental store.  The Man from Snowy River, Star Trek (could the docking and undocking scenes have taken any longer????), The North Avenue Irregulars (I must find this movie!  It's a classic Disney film that still makes me laugh out loud, and made my aunt wet her pants in the theater she was laughing so hard!  Sorry, Aunt Kathy -- you have been sold out!), The Apple Dumpling Gang...I believe I hear feint strains of Memories...I digress...again!  My most humble apologies.  Chalk it up to the late hour I'm "penning" this and pregger hormones!  :-)

Here we go -- let's see if I get any wild hairs and expound on any menu choices for the week!  :-)
  • Monday -- BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches (Finally!)
  • Tuesday -- Potato Soup & Cornbread (because other things got moved, this did, too.)
    • The high here is only supposed to be in the 20s (yikes!) -- perfect day for potato soup!
  • Wednesday -- Chili & Crackers
  • Thursday -- Chili & Crackers
    • I'm tempted to try & make homemade crackers, but don't hold your breath on that one.  :-)  I did, however, make homemade soft pretzels last week!  Funny thing?  So did my sister!  Great minds....
  • Friday -- Spaghetti & Homemade Artisan Bread
    • You had to know that spaghetti was on the menu for this week!  We didn't have it last week, and I don't think Hubby could handle it if I made him go another week without it.  :-)
    • I really want to try my hand at homemade artisan bread, and this seems like the perfect day for it.  Hubby gets Backwoods Home magazine, and a while back they had an article on making it from scratch.  I just have to find the magazine now.  Oh, boy.  At least I have a few days since I'm writing this on Sunday/Monday and not Thursday!  I'll see if it's on their website, and if I can share it.  You know I love y'all, but I'm not sure I'm up to typing up a full bread recipe in here! 
  • Saturday -- Leftover Lunch, & Dinner Waffles
  • Sunday -- Leftover Lunch & Breakfast Casserole  (I use that term loosely...maybe Breakfast Hash would be more appropriate.) 
    • Cook up a skillet full of hashbrowns til they're crisp and pull them out of the skillet to drain. 
    • Cook 1 cup(-ish) of chopped ham in the leftover oil with some garlic powder & onion powder (to taste).
    • To the ham add about 8 eggs beaten with about 1/4 c of water & scramble it all together. 
    • Just before the eggs are finished, add the hashbrowns back in and mix them together.
    • Once the eggs are fully cooked, top with shredded cheddar cheese or American cheese slices.  Cover & cook til the cheese is bubbly.
    • Serve with salsa or ketchup (my preference & favorite!).
    • Enjoy!
Happy week!  Stay warm!   :-)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Lesson Learned for Crockpot Bean Soup

Crockpot Bean Soup was on the menu for this week.  It was my first foray into all that alone.  Growing up, beans & cornbread were a staple food during the winter.  I don't remember Mama doing them in the crockpot, though.  They were always in a pot on the stove or even, a few times, on our wood stove!  They were so very creamy and yummy.

Not being able to call Mama to ask how she did things or her opinion on how to cook things is so frustrating sometimes!  So, I googled it, of course.  One of the lessons that I learned was that even if the recipe has great reviews, it's not necessarily going to work.  Oh yeah. 

Thankfully, one of the reviews on the recipe mentioned soaking the beans overnight.  Ding!  That was a memory jogger.  I remember soaking the beans overnight before we cooked them.  Well, that knocked the beans back a day.  Ok.  I can be flexible.  Really.

The beans soaked, and then I put them in the crockpot, covered them with chicken stock, threw in a couple of bay leaves and turned them on high for two hours.  That's what the recipe said to do.  At two hours, I checked on them, added water to cover the beans, and turned the crockpot down to low for three hours.  That's what the recipe said to do.  I'm really good at following directions...not as good as I used to be, but still pretty good.  :-)

It didn't cross my mind to check on the status of the beans before I started my rice and got my kielbasa in the skillet.  Rice was ready, kielbasa nicely browned, taste the beans.  You know, crunchy beans are NOT a pleasant experience for the palate!  All of that to say, the bean soup was knocked back another day, and we had kielbasa and rice for dinner that night. 

I turned the crockpot on low and cooked the bean soup until lunch the next day.  It worked!  Granted, the darn things cooked for nearly 24 hours.  If they hadn't been done by then, I think they would have gone in the compost, and I would have chalked it all up to an interesting experience and moved onward and forward!  (After thinking about it, I had received the bean soup mix from Luke for Christmas when I had him in Kindergarten Children's Choir at church...He just became an Eagle Scout this fall.  Wow.  Beans do last forever!)

My next hurdle was W.  AB had already had lentil soup that my sister made and loved it.  I wasn't worried about her.  She still eats just about anything.  W, on the other hand, is nearly three and particular about what he eats.  Bless. his. heart.  (Yes, I am from the South, and I can say that with the full weight that goes behind it.)  I was so very pleasantly surprised when he took his first bite...and subsequent ones thereafter!  Here's what I heard repeatedly as he ate three bowls of the bean soup:  "I LIKE beans, Mommy!  Thank you for putting them in my soup!"  I about fell out of my chair.  Woohoo! 

I'll do bean soup again this winter.  Really, I will...but probably not every week.  :-)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Stepping Forward, Without a Doubt

Frugal -- "requiring few resources"    

Thank you, Dictionary.com, for providing a myriad of phrases for me to choose from to find the one that best applies to this particular circumstance.

We are now, officially, a one-car family once again.

"Again?"  You may ask.  Yes, again.  :-)

When Andrew and I made the move from Orlando, FL to Norman, OK in 2006, we decided that we didn't need to have two cars...probably a good call since neither of us had a job lined up once we got there, and since we owned both cars outright, we could sell one and make a little cash.  We stayed a one-car family until just after Annabelle was born in 2009.  It wasn't easy, but we made it work. 

Going to two cars seemed like such an amazing luxury when it happened!  And here we are, choosing to go back to one vehicle...for a few months, anyway.  (Peanut coming along this Spring will either require new carseats or a van.  We'll see how the Lord provides.)  Are we crazy?  Nope.  Really.  We've just had to prioritize, and looking at our budget, there's no wiggle room for the tires that the Mitsubishi needs, or the registration fee that's come due.  Normally, we're really good about staying on top of things, but the past year I've not been able to focus on much outside of my kids....  No excuses, just stating the way things are.

So...this past weekend we decided  that the best thing to do was to park the Mitsubishi until we sell it.  (A side note -- we don't owe any on either of our cars.  If we had a car payment, things might be different.)  I called Monday and got the insurance switched to just comprehensive.  (If we'd had a garage to put it in, we probably would have canceled the insurance altogether.)  Yeah!  A little bit to add to the pot!  :-)  Little by little, this choice is adding up the dollars...and gas will be less, too.  Wahoo!

Today was the first day that we had to get the kids around so that we could take Andrew to work.  (Wednesdays and Thursdays I need the car, regardless.)  Oh, me.  I'm a bit out of practice getting the munchkins going!  Sorry, Hubby, that you were a bit on the late side this morning!  We'll do better tomorrow, I promise!

While it's a bit inconvenient to have only one car, it's worth it.  I'm excited about feeling like I am making a choice that makes a difference in our financial health!  For those of you who feel that it's absolutely impossible to live life with only one vehicle, take a second look -- is it truly impossible (& I know families where it really wouldn't work) or is it just irritatingly inconvenient?  For us, it is definitely a step forward...without a doubt!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Menu Monday

I know!  Three posts in one day!  Really, this is more for me than for anything else -- it's a written place I can come back to and say, "Oh yes!  That's how I did it!"  :-)  And...it's Monday, and I'm posting the Menu.  Yeah me!  *smile*

I've already written myself out this morning, so on to the menu!
  • Monday -- Shepherd's pie
  • Tuesday -- Crockpot 10 Bean Soup with Kielbasa
  • Wednesday -- Baked Burritos with Chips & Salsa
  • Thursday -- Potato Soup with Homemade Cornbread
  • Friday -- Crockpot Pork Loin with Potatoes, Onions & Carrots
  • Saturday -- Shredded Pork Loin BBQ Sandwiches
  • Sunday -- Pancakes & Eggs 
I'm tuckered out, so I won't be writing any explanations or anything like that.  If you have a question about something, make a comment and I'll get back with you!  Y'all have a wonderful week!!!

Yogurt Update

I am loving making my own yogurt!  In making it these last few times, I have discovered just a couple of things that make it closer to "right" for me.  I like my yogurt thick...if I could have it sliceable, more like flan, I probably would go that route.  In making it according to the everyday yogurt directions, it was just too thin for me. 

So...the last time I made yogurt it got left to sit about 24 hours instead of overnight.  It was the holidays, and things were crazy.  It happens.  When I pulled the lid off my crock pot, though, it was looking closer to "right" for me!  Glossy, smoother, thicker -- these were things I could get used to!  I didn't even strain it, and it was pretty good!  In doing more research, I found that one of the suggestions for thicker yogurt was to add dry milk powder to your milk. 

Hubby & I cleaned out and re-organized our pantry in the kitchen over the holidays (Thank you, Love!!!!) and I found some dry milk packets that I had forgotten about.  When I put my yogurt together Sunday, I added a non-fat packet, enough to make a quart of milk, to my two quarts of milk (1 quart skim, 1 quart whole) in the crock pot.  (Side note -- there was no skin on the milk when I went to add the yogurt this time!  I think that they dry milk took care of that for me.  Yippee!)  Normally, I would have let it sit til yesterday morning, but since I'd had such success with it sitting 24 hours instead, I left it, intending to put it in the fridge before bed last night. 

Have I mentioned that this child that I'm carrying has eaten my brain, and that I used to be intelligent and remember things? 


I forgot to put the yogurt in the fridge last night...and didn't remember until 6:15 this morning. 
Joy.  Bliss.  Wondrous rapture.  STINK.  When I timidly removed the crock pot lid, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but beautiful, fragrant yogurt!  I think it's the best batch so far.  I know it's the best batch this year!  :-) 

Apparently, the longer it sits, the tangier it gets.  Good thing I like tangy yogurt.

Breakfast Cookies!

My kids have been Nutrigrain (or Walmart generic) bars since W was at least 9 months old...that's a long time considering he'll be 3 next month!  At $0.25 a bar, that wasn't too bad when I was just feeding him.  But, AB came along, and that girl was an EATER.  She would eat TWO (count them -- 1, 2) bars each morning.  That bumped it up to $0.75 for breakfast...plus milk.  The darn things are sooooo sweet on top of the fact that there are lots of ingredients that I scratch my head as I read them wondering what in the world they truly are and why was it necessary to put them in my babies' breakfast?  With my challenge to myself, I decided that I would NOT buy any more "bars."  Unfortunately, I forgot to mention it to hubby, and he came home one day with a couple of boxes because the kids were out.  What a sweet, thoughtful man!  At that point, I shared with him, in the finest Christian fashion of course, -- Don't buy any more bars. 

We had a variety of things for breakfast to fill the void of the bars -- oatmeal...lots of oatmeal, cheese & crackers, fruit with peanut butter toast, bagels....  What I wanted was something that would be easy to make, I could make ahead and would be quick to eat that AB could eat independently.  We have to leave for Jazzercise or to take W to "school" by 8:15 at the earliest.  (I know.  That really sounds late to me, but getting the kids up at 7:15 so that they can see Daddy before he goes to work leaves us 45 minutes to get three of us ready.  Sometimes it's super easy, other times I'm running around like the proverbial decapitated chicken.  *sigh*)  Ease and independence were necessities.

My first thought was baked oatmeal.  "Aunt" Jane in Papua New Guinea made the best baked oatmeal.  Oh my gravy...that was almost more like cake, lightly sweet, super fluffy, could be eaten in squares by hand...my mouth is watering now...I think I'll have to email her for the recipe....  My concern was the kids squeezing too hard and it falling apart and being more mess than breakfast.  In talking with my middle sis, I discovered that she makes a breakfast cookie.  This, I could handle, so I had her email me the recipe.  I've included the recipe as she sent it to me below.  I made it the first time according to her recipe, but it was WAAAAAAY too sweet for me.  I put notes in purple showing how I changed them up when I made them this morning.  The notes in green are for how I plan to do it next time.  I really enjoyed them this morning -- needed a glass of milk to go with them, though.  They're not dry, but very dense.

I was trying to figure out how much this recipe costs to make.  I'll have to look up some prices to find out, but today it made 16 cookies -- enough for five breakfasts for the kids and me.  So...I am confident that they're much less expensive than "bars," and I know exactly what's going into them! 

If you try these out, let me know.  I'm curious to know your thoughts and if you made any adjustments to what's below.

The recipe my sis sent me was a single recipe, but since we always make it doubled, the quantities listed below are for a doubled recipe and will make 16-18 cookies.

Breakfast Cookies
2 large bananas smashed up
1 c peanut butter
1 c honey (1/4 c honey)
2 Tbsp molasses
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c applesauce next time

mix all that together

separately mix up
2 c oats (1 c quick cook oats and 1 c old fashioned rolled oats)
1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c dry milk
4 tsp cinnamon  (2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp allspice & 1/2 tsp cloves)
1/2 c wheat germ next time
1/2 tsp baking soda

it doesn't call for salt, but I add l 1/2 tsp to a doubled recipe (with decreasing the sweetness, next time I'll cut the salt back to 1 tsp)

add the dry to the wet and get everything wet, then stir in about 1 c cranberries (or whatever else you want to add -- I use raisins in 2/3 of the batter and keep 1/3 plain.  W's in an anti-raisin phase.  :)

cook on a buttered pan (I use my unbuttered baking stones) - use 1/4 cup scoops, then flatten with a wet spatula (I haven't had to have my spatula wet.)

350 14 - 16 minutes

They do keep, but it's pretty easy to mix them up in the a.m.  (If you're storing them, I highly recommend putting a square of wax paper between the cookies so that they don't stick together.)

I'm looking forward to hearing about your foray into breakfast cookies, or yogurt, or whatever else you might be venturing forth to try!  :-)