My GPS is Stupid

Recently I had to make a 4.5 – 5 hour trip to a funeral. The location was a little town center of nowhere, USA, that I had actually lived in once for 3 years when my hubby was first appointed to the Methodist church. So even though I knew my way around the general area, I did not know the best way to get there from such a distance as my current hometown. In comes the GPS. I’ve had this device for many years and have relied heavily on it. However, I noticed from the very beginning of our relationship that I have a tendency to argue with it.

The first time I used it was maybe 4 years ago when I was making my annual trip up to Chicago. I go every year for a week of “me” time to spend with all my peeps of childhood. Some years I fly, others I drive. Initially I used Map Quest and a road atlas, but eventually after eyeballing my husbands GPS for a year or two, I said, “I want one of those!” So the hubby bought me one and I was on my way to Chicago to witness a wedding and partake in the festivities.

I’ve lived all over Eastern NC, thanks to the Church, and am fairly familiar with most of the major highways and many, many other roads. So when I plugged my destination into the GPS I was immediately told to start off in a direction that I knew was going to add about an hour to my driving time. I’m already traveling 16+ hours- please don’t add to it, GPS, and make me angry. Now I know that you can switch the GPS to direct you two different ways. There’s the faster, less mileage way, or you can opt for the less time way. I still don’t understand how less mileage does not equal less time, but apparently it doesn’t.

So here I am on my debut road trip with my GPS and I’m audibly arguing with it. I have to turn off the voice. Even the nice british accent gets on my nerves after a while of hearing “Make a legal u-turn” or something like that over and over again. Now after 4 years I still don’t use the voice. This makes following the GPS hard for my hubby when driving my vehicle, as he is attuned to that squawking voice box of his GPS. By the time I’m even close to Illinois I have no idea if I’ve added time to the drive, or if it’s my GPS that’s responsible for the delay.

Over the years I’ve plugged in the GPS and loaded up an address just on the off-chance that it might actually take me somewhere I want to go in a timely fashion. I often use it even when I know where I’m going to see how long it will take me (I’m one of those people who just has to know what to expect. So I’m ok with a 5 hour trip as long as I arrive exactly when the GPS told me I would.) Other times I use it to see if in fact I am right and the GPS is wrong, which it usually is. Example: I go to visit my parents in a town I once lived in and know most of the back roads, etc. Over the past 15 years stores have been added, roads have changed, etc. and I will use the GPS to help me find a location with ease, and it never fails, the GPS wants to take me off on a route that is completely wonky.

So I updated it. It was sadly overdue, as it was 4 years old and it kept telling me every time I turned it on that it needed an update. The process of downloading updated maps was not as user-friendly as I would have liked, so after a frustrating 48 hours, I opted for the 1 year update at a much less economical price than the life-time update would have been, because I wasn’t willing to risk the extra $50 on the chance that it wouldn’t work. The download finally commenced, but I honestly can’t tell a difference in the performance of my GPS. It still tells me to go on routes that are just…crazy.

Another example: we went on vacation at Thanksgiving. Driving to the island from Charleston, SC was about an 8 hour trip. Just to make sure we were going the right direction we turned on the GPS. As soon as we neared Myrtle Beach we knew exactly how to get home, but like I said I keep it on for that neurotic gotta-beat-the-clock part in me. Driving through New Bern, which was hubby’s old stomping grounds of childhood, the GPS insisted on taking us a way that did not suit at all. Not to mention a new cut-through highway had been built within that last 2 years that apparently did not come with my update!

See the frustration here?

Case in point: I’m driving home recently from the funeral, using the GPS as usual. The route it led me to the town the day before was crazy. I followed it anyway because I didn’t know any better. I mean, I knew there had to be a more efficient way to go, I just didn’t know what it was. Hence, the GPS. So I argue with it because I know it’s wrong, even when I don’t know the way. But when it takes me through downtown Greenville…yeah, it’s not taking me the best way. So I have it on while coming home, but I’m following Hubby because he travels so much and I know he’s got the skinny on the best route. And I’m watching my GPS tell me to turn here, and then there, and TURN HERE! and Hubby just keeps going his own way. And every time I miss a turn the GPS re-figures the route. Here’s the kicker…as the GPS is re-figuring, I see the time of arrival drop from 6:56 to 6:48 and finally until it lands on 6:30. Hubby, in his infinite wisdom of Eastern NC roads, has just saved us almost 30 minutes where my GPS could not. And believe me, when you’re trying to get home on a school night after a long drive, pick up the dog, figure out dinner, etc. 30 minutes is a long time. It’s precious time.

So after all this time I have maintained the conclusion that….my GPS is stupid.

 

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Baked Chimichangas

Go back if you missed my first post today and see my LAST Pantry Challenge Journal (Week 4) for January ~ Whew!

Now, who loves Mexican food?? Get ready for…

Baked Chimichangas! 

I love Mexican food and I am eternally trying to be a better ethnic cook. This recipe was sooo good. Another from the Better Homes and Gardens New Dieter’s Cookbook, this baked version of the chimichanga is less fattening than the ones in the restaurants but still full of flavor.

Baked Chimichangas

Use leftover roasted chicken or turkey or roast beef for this Mexican favorite.

8 ounces cooked meat (1 1/2 cups)

One 8-oz. jar salsa

One 16-oz. can fat-free refried beans

One 4 1/2-oz. can diced green chili peppers, drained

3 T. thinly sliced green onions

4-oz. reduced-fat Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded (1 cup)

Eight 8-to-9-inch flour tortillas

Additional:

Fat-free dairy sour cream (optional)

Salsa (optional)

Thinly sliced green onion (optional)

1. Using 2 forks, shred cooked meat. In a large skillet combine shredded meat, salsa, beans, chili peppers, and the green onions. Cook and stir over medium heat until heated through. Stir in cheese.

2. Meanwhile, wrap tortillas in foil; warm in a 350* oven for 10 minutes. For each chimichanga, spoon about 1/2 cup meat mixture on a tortilla, near 1 edge. Fold in sides; roll up.

3. Place in a 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake, uncovered, in a 350* oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until heated through and tortillas are crisp and brown. If desired, serve with sour cream, additional salsa, and/or green onion. Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: 258 calories, 9 g total fat (3 g saturated fat), 37 mg cholesterol, 685 mg sodium, 28 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 18 g protein.

Exchanges: 1 1/2 Starch, 2 Lean Meat, 1 Vegetable

Cost Per Serving:  $ 1.04

2 chicken breasts: $2.73

8 tortillas $1.43

8 oz. Salsa $ .85

16 oz. Refried beans $ .99

 4 1/2 oz. Green Chilis $1.59

4 oz. Shredded Cheese $ .49

1 Tbsp. Sour Cream $ .12

(1) Green onion $ .14

 * I rolled up and baked 4 out of the 8 chimichangas and baked in an 8×8 pan because I was only feeding myself and the boys. I put the remaining meat mixture into a freezer bag, labeled it, and laid it flat to freeze in my deep freezer to make more at a later date.

Great Storage Tip # 49: ( <– haha. I just made that number up.) When freezing leftover chili, or in this case chimichanga mixture, fill quart or gallon bags, close tightly, then flatten out and lay flat in freezer to take up minimal space. Frozen food also defrosts faster when frozen and stored this way. Flattened bags of food stack easily in freezer, allowing for more space.

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The Pantry Challenge Journal ~ Week 4

Week 4 of my Pantry Challenge was quite easy. I only had to plan for 4 out of my normal 6 or 7 meals. Unfortunately the reason for this was because we had to travel a 5 hour distance to attend a funeral.

The week started off as most do, with me pouring over my recipe options and coupons and creating a shopping list. I’ll admit it, my head was not in the game at all and I only half-heartedly planned for 2 meals. The budget also came into question because I had to purchase many items for Brandon to take with him on his annual youth ski trip. Every year I make a huge pot of chili, freeze it in gallon-sized bags, and then send it off to feed the hungry kids after two days of skiing. This year the number of kids has dwindled (or rather supporting parents) and I’ve been asked to supply much more in the way of food items. Aside from the chili ingredients I also bought sliced cheese, 4 packages of hamburger buns, 1 lb. shredded cheese, 1 lb. block cheese, and 1 gallon milk. The total was $33.31. That’s half of my weekly budget. The good news is that I got a chili meal for myself and the boys out of it, so that was one night covered.

I guess you could say that it’s a good thing we had to go out of town for 2 days for a funeral (yes, I realize how horrible that sounds), at least when it came to meal planning and grocery budgeting. For the week  I spent $41.76, which when you add up the two totals you will see that I went way over my $60 budget ($15.07 to be exact) but as it happened I had $10 in my pocket, which rarely ever happens, and I applied that to the total due, leaving me with only a $5.07 overage. See how I rationalized that? Next week all I have to do is cut my budget by $5 to make up the difference.

MONDAY, January 23rd: Rice and Beans with Cheese. I posted this recipe last week. You can link to it here. We also had banana pudding for dessert ;)

TUESDAY, January 24th: Chili. This is my standby recipe from Betty Crocker. I have had many chili’s but when I make it this is my preferred recipe. The key is to get the onion and green peppers small so little people don’t see or taste them. Personally I like the taste and texture of the vegetables left in strings, but it’s easier to not beg my kids to eat.

WEDNESDAY, January 25th: Out of town for the funeral.

THURSDAY, January 26th: We headed back home today but had to eat on the road.

FRIDAY, January 27th: I love Mexican food and have been wanting to make this healthy baked chimichanga. The boys have been asking for weeks where their Friday night pizza is at, but I think they were pacified with this yummy dish. (This recipe is post #2 today!)

SATURDAY, January 28th: We cheated tonight and ordered a pizza :) Jadon has been asking all month long “Where’s my pizza?” I guess those Friday Pizza Nights got a little too reliable. So it was nice to be able to call in a large thin cheese on wheat crust from our local pizza guru place and have Cory pick it up on his way home from a meeting. Add a salad and viola! dinner is served.

SUNDAY, January 29th: Most Sundays I prepare rather large, traditional meals such as pot roast or turkey with all the fixins (veggies, biscuits, taters, etc) but Cory specifically asked for a homemade veggie soup with “some kind of meat”. He didn’t want a stew; he wanted a soup, so I browned some ground turkey with garlic powder and onions and placed in a pot of chicken stock with cut up veggies and barley. I used whatever I had in the house: carrot, cabbage, canned peas, frozen corn, onion, canned diced tomatoes, and lots of herbs such as marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, tarragon, and salt & pepper.

If you missed any of my previous Journal posts and want to see what meals I made all month long, just click on each week. Most weeks I included purchases made outside of what I already had in order to make certian meals or desserts.

Pantry Challenge Journals:

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

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How I stretch a dollar

The fact that my blog was in part created to help other busy moms out there budget, organize, and cook healthy meals, it makes sense that I would share my own little tips on how I stretch a dollar around here. I do most of the same things that you do, I’m sure, such as coupon clipping, buying in bulk and stocking up on sale items. But I also have a few other gems, none of which are original thoughts, I will own, but still worth a post of their own in the case that there is one reader out there who can benefit.

Most people would agree that we’re in a recession and have been for a long time. When it started, I am not politically savvy enough to know. 2008? 2001? But the truth is (they say) the recession kinda ended in 2009. Does that sound ridiculous to you? Probably because it kinda is.

Fact is, we’re in a bit of a depression pickle here, folks. Now, I know this is not a political blog, and yes, I have gotten on a soapbox or two recently, but I think it’s worth pointing out because even if we weren’t in a  recession or a depression, we should be budgeting and acting as if we are. Regardless.

It’s just my personal opinion, you see, but us Americans have to stop spending money just because we have it. I’m just as much to blame. When money was flowing I loved to shop at Harris Teeter. It made me feel as if I had really accomplished something to be able to afford to shop there exclusively. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Harris Teeter and I still shop there because when they have good deals they have GREAT deals. They are the only place that doubles coupons every day, and at least quarterly they will triple coupons or take super-doubles. Combine that with a sale and you’re stock-piling.

But I also shop at other places for the price comparison factor, as I suppose all you savvy moms do. If I had more stores to choose from I would also be doing some of my shopping at Big Lots ( I love that store) and Wal-Mart (Alas, our Walmart is not a super store) and Target. Back in the day when I lived in a town that offered more in the way of savvy shopping I did just that. I knew exactly where to go to get the best price on the things I needed.

With all that said we still need to stretch our dollars as far as they will go while NOT sacrificing our standards at the same time. My standards are simply this: good, quality products that I trust in, and high quality, health foods and ingredients. I will not buy cleaning supplies at the dollar store just because it’s cheap. I have been anti-chemical since I was pregnant with Number Two when Hubby and I were introduced to Melaleuca by some friends. We stayed in for many years until we just couldn’t afford it anymore, but we learned an awful lot during that time about toxins and chemicals in the home. I’d still use Melaleuca products if I had the extra money and I am likely to go back when and if I ever can.

The good news is since 2001 there has been a lot of all-natural products introduced into the mainstream and offered in stores. I myself like the GreenWorks line, Seventh Generation and others are just as good. We can still afford quality and safe products even while on a budget. Some things are worth the extra dollar. I even found some coupons for Green Works recently. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that a sale will happen before those coupons expire :)

Here are some of my favorite ways to stretch a dollar:

1. Cut dryer sheets in half. Trust me, your clothes won’t be any less softened. I PROMISE.

2. If you like to drink tea, do what I do. I call it “Recession Tea” because I only let the bag steep for half the time so I can get 2 cups :) I used to be a tea bag whore (oops, did I just type that out loud?) Meaning I would use 1 bag for a whole cup, leaving it in the whole time, making it nice and STRONG. Oh yeah, I love my tea. And then I’d throw it away and start all over again with a fresh bag.

3. I also invested in a Food Saver. Not the big, pricey one – just a small one. And I don’t buy the bags that go with it either. I buy a less expensive brand that works just as well. I’ve been doing this for at least a dozen years and I’ve never regretted the initial $80 investment. I go to Sams Club, buy ground beef or turkey, steaks, huge roasts, etc. and then separate everything into amounts that will feed my family of 4, and then use the food saver to bag and freeze it all. Super easy and a great money saver.

Did you know that you’re using too much detergent in your washers? Those little pre-packaged pods of dishwasher detergent that you pop into the dispenser are more than you need, (I use them- I’m guilty. We all love convenience!) and can actually clog up your washers gears. BTW pre-rinsing your dishes is not completely necessary. I found this out the hard way. I don’t mean you should put gunky-covered dishes and whatnot into the washer. I’m talking about all that pre-cleaning you do before you put them into the washer. It’s what I’ve always done. And then my washer clogged up and went kaput, and the repairman said “you’ve got to give the washer something to do or else the detergent builds up.” But as far as detergents go in both dishwashers and clothing washers, you’s be surprised at how little you actually need to do the job.

Truth: clothes can and will wash just as effectively with virtually NO detergent. In fact, years ago when my hubby and I went über toxic and chemical free, we even stopped buying clothing detergent all together and instead invested in these weird plastic-covered magnets that stick to the inside of your washer and pretty much do the same job that the detergent does. This is not sans a stain remover when necessary. I have been back to using detergent for quite some time but the message is the same: you really only need 1/8 cup or less. Just try it, then decide.

What are some of your best dollar-stretching tips?

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Not your typical Rice & Beans

I love rice and beans. I wasn’t a big bean eater growing up, but as an adult I’ve learned to appreciate the health benefits, as well as the taste, of all kinds of beans.

There are so many ways to prepare rice and beans that I wouldn’t even know how to define this dish in a traditional sense. I suppose many people think of New Orleans and their famous version. You can even buy mixes to make quick work of it, with the spices added and everything, but I never liked them much.

One simple and tasty way is to simmer the beans (I use black beans for this version) in a pan with chopped onion, garlic, and even a little finely diced green pepper if you want. Add a little salt and get a good flavor going, Mix with the rice of your choice and top with some chopped tomato. This is very good.

On Monday night I made a different version that came from a cookbook that had been collecting dust on my shelf for years. Why I’d been neglecting this cookbook I’ll never know. It’s called the Better Homes and Gardens New Dieter’s Cookbook. Don’t let the name fool you. The recipes are full of flavor and easy on the fat and calories.

This particular beans and rice recipe called for shredded carrot, chopped green onion, canned navy or pinto beans, cottage cheese, and shredded cheddar. Can you say comfort food?

Rice and Beans with Cheese

1 1/3 cup water

1 cup shredded carrot

2/3 cup long grain rice (I used brown rice)

1/2 cup sliced green onions

1/2 tsp instant chicken or vegetable bouillon

1/2 tsp ground coriander

Dash bottled hor pepper sauce

One 15-oz. can pinto or navy beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup low-fat cottage cheese

One 8-oz. carton plain low-fat yogurt

1 tbsp snipped fresh parsely

1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese (2 oz)

1. In large saucepan combine water, shredded carrot, rice, green onions, bouillon, coriander, and hot sauce. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed.

2. Stir in the beans, cottage cheese, yogurt, and parsley. Spoon into a 2 qt. baking dish. Bake, covered, in a 350* oven for 20 to 25 minuyes or until heated through. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar and bake, uncovered, 3 to 5 minutes more until cheese melts.

** I did not have coriander or yogurt and the dish came out fine. I also used single sized casserole crocks instead of one large baking dish. Bake time was reduced to about 10 minutes. I served this with fresh salad and little cheese toasts I made from slicing up a few whole wheat dinner rolls.

At 276 calories a serving, this was an incredibly filling and yummy meal. You can see how easy it is to make healthy beans and rice from (nearly) scratch, without using those mixes that are full of preservatives and other additives.

Nutrition facts per serving: 276 calories, 4 g total fat (2 g saturated fat), 15 mg cholesterol, 704 mg sodium, 41 g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 18 g protein.

Exchanges: 2 Starch, 1 Lean Meat, 1 Vegetable, 1/2 Milk

Cost per serving: $.95

2/3 cup rice $1.17

1 cup shredded carrot $.46

1/2 cup green onion $.79

1 15-oz can pinto beans $.89

1 cup cottage cheese $.83

1/2 cup shredded cheddar $.63

Total Cost for meal $4.77

Basilmomma’s Budget and Freezer Meal Linky Party

 

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Banana Pudding

 Here in the South Banana Pudding is a food group. I was not aware of this until I moved down here from Chicago in 1993. Now that I’ve been in North Carolina longer than I’ve been anywhere else, I am a southern-fried-city girl. Actually, I’ll take that grilled, boneless and skinless, please.

Learning to make a good ‘nanner pudding isn’t hard. In fact I’m a pro at the cheating way, and this Southern staple still tastes just as good. It’s a perfect covered dish dessert, and you can even portion it up into single servings to avoid that whole everyone’s-been-digging-around-the-pudding-mess. Plus, who wants to take home the leftovers from a buffet?

Traditional banana pudding uses Nilla Wafers. There are lots of ways to construct a good banana pudding, but overall it requires just a few simple ingredients. As I said, I cheat because I use banana flavored pudding. I suspect most people do these days.

A typical banana pudding, whether small or large, begins with a few nilla wafers at the bottom. Nothing tastes quite as good as a pudding soaked wafer. Add sliced banana to the dish either by mixing it into the pudding, or layering it, alternating between fruit, pudding, and wafers. Some people like to top the whole thing with Cool Whip or meringue.

Monday night was dessert night. Usually I save the s”real” desserts for Thursday, but this week we won’t be here and I had 2 bananas that were on their very last legs. I am a green banana-eating kind of girl. Once they start to get a deep yellow color I know it’s going to be too soft and mealy for me. It’s just me. All my boys can eat a perfectly ripe banana. But these were brown. Definitely past that perfectly ripened stage.

As usual I am using what I’ve got in the house, though I did buy banana flavored pudding for $1.09. I did have vanilla pudding in the house, but I really just wanted this to be simple without having to doctor it up right. Also, I didn’t see the point of buying a box of vanilla wafers (as yummy as they are) only to let it go to waste. We are not big eaters of processed cookies and crackers. So I used something that had been in my cabinet for some time: mini graham crusts.

I had a package of 6 mini graham crusts, and this recipe (1 regular sized box of pudding) made 7 servings. I cut up 1 banana between the 6 cups and put some in each at the bottom. Then I spooned pudding over it and placed in the fridge to set. When we were ready to eat our dessert I added a dollop of Cool Whip and another slice of banana.

It’s so easy to make banana pudding and there are many ways to put one together. Graham crackers works as well, or if you don’t have any type of cookie at all, just enjoy the pudding! It makes a sweet, simple, and portion-controlled dessert.

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Just one last bite…

Apparently I put too much food on my kids’ plates. It doesn’t matter how little or how much, it’s always too much. Usually by one bite.

I’m not a staunch eat-everything-on-your-plate kind of mom. I think that teaches kids the wrong mentality about eating, and well, we’ve got enough eating disorders in this country as it is. I am all about teaching my kids good, healthy eating habits. Such as:

1. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.

2. Don’t mindlessly shove chips or ice cream into your mouth while watching the TV.

3. If you want a snack then eat a snack, but be mindful of what you are eating and how much.

4. Balance out your  meals with grains, proteins, and vegetables.

5. Use portion control at all times.

Even on dessert nights I don’t allow them more than a good-sized scoop of ice cream or a reasonable slice of cake. And the only time we eat while watching TV is when I make popcorn and then everyone gets their own bowl with a certain amount and no more, or occasionally we have a pizza party, which is when we eat our pizza while watching a movie.

Do you realize that mindless eating while watching TV can increase your calorie intake anywhere from 300 to 1500!? And if you’re already eating your regular three meals aka 2500 calories a day then you really, really don’t need extra. Plus you’re not burning those extra calories either while watching TV so it’s all going straight to your blood (watch out diabetes) and to your fat cells. I myself don’t even have to eat anything calorie-ladden. All I have to do is look at it and imagine the taste and the calories have been added. I might as well just tape that donut to my thighs.

Obviously, I avoid donuts…

So when it comes to my kids I really try to stress healthy eating. Not because I personally fear an eating disorder, but because I want them to be healthy and to make healthy choices when they grow up. When I serve up a plate of food in my house, I generally ladle up portions that fit the child. Number One is a growing, hungry soon-to-be 15 year old boy. He will eat more in a sitting than even his father. I know to give One the bigger serving.

Number Two is a smaller eater. Because he takes medication for his SPD/ADHD I know he isn’t likely to eat lunch, so I give him very small helpings and urge him to take at least a few bites of each. Some meals he really enjoys and will eat most of it, others he will not. Since my goal is to feed him up at breakfast and dinner it doesn’t really bother me what he does or doesn’t finish at lunch. But it never fails how he always leaves one bite on his plate.

This morning was a perfect example. Number One asked for a fried egg. Number Two doesn’t like eggs as much so instead I gave him a small serving of cottage cheese. Both boys got 2 pieces of turkey bacon and 1 slice of cinnamon toast. As usual when Number Two got up from the table to put on his shoes and coat, there was one little bite of cottage cheese and one little piece of bacon left. He does this every time. Occasionally Number One does, too. What does this mean?

Being a budgeting mom, food and money come dear. I was a stockpiler before stock-piling became cool, and I actually had to put that into a much healthier perspective over the years. Hubby would wonder at my need for an over-flowing pantry or a refrigerator so full that you could barely maneuver around the contents. But honestly I couldn’t articulate where it was coming from or why I needed it to feel so secure. And it was hard to justify spending so much on a weekly basis at the grocery store on things that ended up in the garbage bin. I still stock pile when I have the coupons to match the sale. That’s just smart shopping. I still think having a full pantry is a good idea. I am not knocking the practice. I just realized that I need to re-evaluate why I was doing it and also to find a healthier, less expensive way to do it.

The single bites of food baffle me; to always become too full to finish your food right at the point of leaving one tiny bite left. My kids are a delight in so many ways- even those ways which twang my every last nerve. And it never fails to amaze me either how Two will forever try to negotiate eating only half of what’s on his plate, no matter how much I put on there. Obviously I serve him portions which are reasonable and would prefer little to no waste, and yet he still says, “How much of this do I have to eat?”

And then I have to say, “How about just one last bite?”

And then one more?

And maybe just one more?

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Yellow Butter Cake with Homemade Maple Frosting

If you missed post #1 today: click here to see my Pantry Journal from last week.

~*~ Yellow Butter Cake with Maple Frosting!! ~*~

On Friday I baked a cake for my hubby’s 40th birthday. Whenever a birthday comes around I bake a favorite cake of the birthday person. How we celebrate the day is also the choice of the birthday boy or girl as well as what to have for dinner. For the boys, I usually cook their favorite meals, but Cory and I usually choose to GO OUT. We had dinner this time at our favorite Thai restaurant and then went to see a movie: Mission Impossible-Ghost Protocol. It was very good and the whole family enjoyed it.

Everyone in my family has different favorites. Both of my boys love anything chocolate (I raised them right!) but Cory is a maple or caramel-loving kind of guy. He loves coconut cake, apple cake or pear cake (a recipe given to me by a friend and awesome cook. I will have to share that some day.) with caramel icing. But when I introduced him to my love of maple frosted donuts many, many moons ago, he has ever since been a maple fan. The recipe I used is old and printed off the internet. Basically, I don’t know the source, but here is my official disclaimer that it is not my original recipe nor am I trying to claim it as mine.

I used a Betty Crocker Yellow Butter Cake Mix and baked the cake according to package directions.

Two rounds fresh out of the oven, making the kitchen smell super yummy!

This icing is not as thick as store-bought, so icing the sides doesn’t really work. It has great flavor but is messy. Basically I ice between cake layers and then pour over the top, allowing it to ooze down the sides. Leftover icing can be served separately for those who want to pour more on their slice of cake. It is very sweet, though, and for those who don’t like a lot of frosting should like this.

Maple Icing

1/4 c. Crisco (I use regular butter)

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 c. maple blend syrup

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 c. confectioners sugar (I used about 4)

1/4 c. milk

Combine Crisco, salt, syrup and 1 cup of sugar. Add milk and remaining sugar alternately. Mix until smooth and creamy. Add more sugar to thicken or milk to thin, if needed for good spreading consistency. Frosts 2 (8″ or 9″) layers or a 13×9 cake.

* I refrigerated the icing for 2 hours before applying it to the cake, just to see if it would stay thickened. It is something you need to play with to get it right the way you like it. I have never been very successful with homemade icing they always drip like this. I also keep the frosted cake in the fridge. I also sprinkled coconut on the top of the cake for a little something extra.

Hmm...what's in here?

For the coffee lover.

Happy 40th, hubby-o-mine!

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The Pantry Challenge Journal ~ Week 3

I’ve completed week 3 of my Pantry Challenge and I realize that I’ve definitely got more than a months worth of food here. I will keep going until I can go no further, but in the meantime I will confess that I still make weekly trips to the grocery store. Although I use coupons when I can, I am only buying necessities and I’ve given myself a much smaller budget. Because my unemployment was extended (thank the Lord) I still have some money to work with, but eventually that will run out for good and I have no expectations of another extension, nor will I ask for one.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to stretch the money twice as far by cutting my weekly food budget in half, aka $60 a week. Can I do it? I’m sure there will be difficult weeks ahead, but last week when I did my shopping for the week, buying milk, olive oil, cat food, apples and bananas, and a few other items needed for meals this week, I spent $60.66. Not bad.

So here’s what we had for dinner last week, including anything I purchased separately from what I already had in inventory on Jan. 5th.

MONDAY, January 16th: Homemade Chicken Chili. I used all the leftover chicken from Sunday’s Roasted Chicken dinner to make a white bean chili. I wasn’t following a recipe. I put in about 2 1/2 cups of navy and pinto beans, chicken stock, garlic, onion, shredded chicken, 1 can navy beans- mashed, about 1/2 cup leftover hummus, cumin, and salt. It was pretty good but a bit brothy for a chili, so I added 1/2 cup brown rice and the rest of the kale I had.

TUESDAY, January 7th: Fish Tacos. I love ordering fish tacos from a good restaurant that does them right. In the past I have tried in vain to make them and this time I think I actually did a pretty good job. Now I did use some of the fresh tuna, which isn’t normally the kind of fish used for this dish, but it really turned out quite well. The trick I’ve learned it to use a lot of seasoning when cooking the fish. I’ ve always gone too light, thinking it was enough because I could smell it. It was a hit- all my boys ate it up!

Chop up the tuna (if using tilapia or a lighter fish chopping isn’t necessary) and place in pan heated with olive oil. Sprinkle on seasonings liberally and toss. I used a lime pepper mix with some added fresh lime juice, cumin, and dried cilantro. I served this with warm corn tortillas, diced tomatoes, shredded cabbage and shredded lettuce (for the non-cabbage-loving kids), shredded cheese, salsa, and black beans. Sour cream, guacamole, and black olives would all have been a great addition.

This was the most expensive meal this week, as most of the ingredients were purchased this week. I had a coupon for .50 cent off 2 pkgs of Kraft shredded cheese, plus they were on sale so I got them at $2.25 each, which was a better price than store brand. We only used 1/2 of one package, allowing for potentially 3 more meals. That’s about .28 cents per serving. I also purchased Roma tomatoes at $1.40, used one for a cost of .28 cents, as well as a bottle of taco sauce for $1.69. I would guesstimate we used about a third of the sauce, costing .56 cents for the meal. 2 limes at .25 each- used only one.  Total cost for a family of 4 to eat their fill on fish tacos = $2.23!

WEDNESDAY, January 18th: Jumbo Meatball Cups and Butternut Squash Bake.

THURSDAY, January 19th: Grilled Tuna Steaks. This was the easiest meal prepared in our house this week. Cory grilled the tuna with olive oil, salt & pepper, and I warmed up all the leftovers in the fridge :) We’ve only gotten through half of our tuna in the deep freeze, but at least we are finding great ways to make it.

FRIDAY, January 2oth: Cory’s 40th Birthday! I made his favorite cake ~ Butter cake with homemade Maple frosting. We had dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant and saw a movie.

SATURDAY, January 21st: Beef Stroganoff. I love this dish. It’s a bit fattening, I know, but I love the tangy creaminess with the mushrooms. I substitute ground turkey or ground chicken and whole wheat noodles. Alas, this picture is not mine as my stroganoff was NOT picture worthy. My standby recipe is Betty Crocker’s Beef Stroganoff.

Image borrowed from Photobucket: AKBerryPrincess

SUNDAY, January 22nd: Dijon Dill Chicken with bulgur and green beans. This chicken dish is another standby. Everyone in my house loves it. I noticed as I got closer to the end of the week I was running out of steam for cooking much. It’s my fault for not finishing the menu for the week, but most times I’m just glad to make through the week nights! I can’t believe I haven’t shared this recipe with you yet. I was pretty sure I had but looking back through my archives I couldn’t locate it- so that must mean I didn’t tag it properly. Anyway, here it is again. Definitely worth a repost. My mom gave me this recipe. She found it printed in a Chicago newspaper years ago.

4 boneless chicken breast halves, patted dry with paper towels

3 T. butter, divided

1.2 cup chicken stock (broth works as well though I’d usually add a roux to thicken the sauce)

1 T. Dijon mustard

3 Tbsp fresh minced dill weed (or 1 to 2 Tbsp dried)

In large skillet heat 2 T. butter over medium heat until foam subsides. Saute chicken halves for 3 or 4 minutes on each side until golden. Remove chicken and cover to keep warm. Pour off excess butter and discard.

Deglaze pan with chicken stock (pour in and cook until reduced and browned bits are loosened from bottom of pan). Whisk in rest of ingredients. Add chicken back to pan, cover and cook over low heat until chicken is cooked through- about 5 minutes. Spoon sauce over chicken to serve.

Look for post #2 today: Yellow Butter Cake with Homemade Maple Frosting :)

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It’s like Christmas all over again

I didn’t have a chance to make a dessert last night for Dessert Night. The boys had to eat up the last of the ice cream (I’m sure that was very hard). Today I will be making a cake for Cory’s 40th birthday- so it all works out fine in the sugar department :)

We had a visitor this week for a few days as Cory’s mother came to the island to see all the boys and bring them their long-awaited Christmas gifts from her side of the family. I had to share because Brandon got a suit- something he’d been wanting, and WOW did he look good!

Are you taking a picture of me?

Cool- ties!

We're diggin' the sports jacket :)

Jadon finally got his own tri-pod for his video camera.

New speakers for the computer and ...

the coolest digital doodle pad ever!

We’re still trying to figure out how to install it. Apparently Jadon’s computer just isn’t up to par. This has caused some big tears but as usual we will find a way. Isn’t patience a virtue? I think I’ve heard that somewhere….. (Hmph! Try telling that to a 10-year-old!)

So, remember this?

Well, check this out.

Stylin' and Profilin'

BOOM!

That kid is lookin’ sharp!

It’s time for me to go bake a cake (I promise I will share). See you on Monday. Have a GREAT weekdend. Blessings!

And remember, you can vote EVERY DAY :) Thanks!

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