Wednesday, December 30, 2009

January Spending Diet & Eat From The Pantry Challenge

Whew, another holiday season under our belts. I don't think that we over-spent, but I need to let the dust settle a bit and I am proposing that we go on another Spending Diet in January.

We were on a Spending Diet in October and it was successful as we reduced our spending by $500. Although that $500 was quickly eaten up by sudden car and household repairs.

From our experience in October, I learned that the best way to be successful at a Spending Diet is to AVOID THE STORES. Not surprisingly, avoiding the big box stores is a goal of mine for 2010. I will write more about that on January 1st.

Another key to our success in October was reducing our grocery expense. In October, we reduced our grocery spending by $125 by planning our menus and using food in the freezer and pantry.

This leads me to our next challenge in January. I am going to participate in the Eat From The Pantry Challenge that Money Saving Mom and Life As Mom are hosting.

I will buy our basics, like dairy, eggs, oj, fresh fruit and veggies, but I want to really stir up those creative juices and see what kind of menu I can come up with from items in my pantry and freezer. I don't know how long my pantry/freezer will last me. I don't think my stockpile is as extensive as other people taking the challenge, but I will go as long as I can. My goal will be to reduce our grocery bill down to $300 for January. Our grocery budget was $500 back in October, but because of the success we had that month, I reduced our grocery budget going forward to $400. Can I reduce it even more to $300 for January?...we'll see!! This will definitely be a challenge and take some planning. The difference of what I reduce my spending to and my budget of $400 will be divided in half. I will give half to a local food bank and put the other half in our emergency savings account.

Would you like to join me on a Spending Diet in January? Are you participating in the Eat From The Pantry Challenge? Are you up for a challenge? Good Luck!!


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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Help...I Have House Envy

A few weeks ago, I dropped my daughter off for a play date in a neighborhood very different from ours. I was in awe of the size of the homes as soon as we pulled into the development. These homes were monstrous, at least two times the size of our 1800 square foot home. I wasn't so much inspired by the aesthetics of the homes as much as the size of them.

I've been feeling a little cramped lately. Recently, all 4 of us were trying to brush our teeth at the same time in our one and only full bathroom. As we were elbowing each other for spitting room, I realized that with the kids at 4 and almost 2, it is easy now, but what will happen when they are older. How cramped will I/we feel then?

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of reasons for me to love our home.


  • We love our neighborhood. The homes in it are over 40 years old and many of the existing homeowners still reside in them. The neighbors are very friendly and everyone looks out for each other.

  • Our home is also just minutes from my husband's office and makes it easier on us when he works a lot of hours.

  • We love the size of our mortgage. We refinanced a year ago and we now have about 7 years left on our mortgage.

But there are some things that I would change if I could.

  • We only have a one car garage and we haven 't been able to put a car in it for years. It is full of our stuff, like bikes, scooters, and outdoor toys.

  • Also as I stated above, we only have one full bathroom that is becoming more and more cramped.

As I was driving away from the play date, I started dreaming about what I could do with all of that space. No more elbowing at the bathroom sink. I could have my own office. The kids could have their own play room. With a three car garage, there would be room for both vehicles and all of our bikes and outdoor toys. I bet they don't have to shovel their cars out of the snow. Those cars are probably nice and toasty during a snow storm.

AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Okay, back to my reality. We genuinely love our home. We are on track to pay off our mortgage early. My utilities are probably half of that big home's bills. Our quarter acre lot is very easy to take care of. And we love our cozy, little neighborhood. I also know that the size of one's home doesn't always equate to the size of one's balance sheet.

I am trying to make myself feel better, but I still have house envy. Somehow I have to get over it. I think I will go work through my feelings with a big plate of Christmas cookies and a big glass of milk.

Do you ever get house envy? Please tell us how you cope!!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday E-Cards - Tuck This Idea Away For Next Year

Every year in the middle of December, we scramble to order our Christmas photo cards, address the envelopes and mail them to our family and friends. Of course this year is no different and once again we found ourselves on December 15 without any photo cards ordered.

Quite honestly, I was the one dragging my feet this year. Every year we spend between $80-$100 on cards and postage. I missed the great deals on the photo cards that other bloggers had written about and I just didn't want to spend the money this year. Don't get me wrong, I want to send photos of my adorable kids to friends and family and I enjoy receiving them too, but they do seem wasteful...there I said it. Do you hold onto all of those photo cards that you receive in the mail? I'm ashamed to say that I don't.

My husband did an online search and he found the perfect e-card for us at SmileBox.com. He created an e-card using photos that we took this past weekend after the snow storm. He added music and a video of our family singing, "We Wish you a Merry Christmas". It turned out very cute and we were able to send it out to more people than we would if we mailed cards. The response from our friends and family so far has been very good.

And the good news was that it only cost us $2.99. We could have done it for FREE, but we paid the $2.99 to avoid advertising on the e-card.

I know I am coming late to the party, but we just hit the send button last night. So tuck this idea away in the back of your mind for next year. Unless of course you haven't sent your cards out yet.

BTW - this is not a sponsored post and FBS is not an affiliate for SmileBox.

What kind of holiday card did you send out this year?

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Is Your Favorite Holiday Tradition?

My daughter's first Christmas was in 2005 and we took on the daunting task of hosting a Christmas breakfast for my family. Except it wasn't daunting and it wasn't a task. My husband and I enjoyed it and have made it a family tradition. This will be our fifth year hosting a Christmas breakfast for our immediate family and my parents, grandparents and sibling.

It takes a little planning, but we have it down to a science. Christmas day can be somewhat hectic for us because we leave at noon to drive 4 hours to my husband's family. So we meticulously plan out the morning so the two of us and our kids don't feel rushed or stressed. If that were the case, I wouldn't put us through it.

I keep the menu simple with a breakfast casserole, fresh fruit and baked goods. Two days before Christmas I make the baked goods usually muffins or coffee cake or both. On Christmas Eve, I cut up the fruit and set the table. I also prepare the breakfast casserole to be put in the fridge overnight. We also pack up the van for our trip.

On Christmas morning, I wake up by 7 to get ready, make coffee and put the casserole in the oven.

We then enjoy the morning with our kids to see what Santa has brought us. My family starts to arrive around 9:30. We eat at 10. I load the dishwasher up, turn it on and everyone is out the door at noon. We exchange gifts with my family on Christmas Eve after our church service.

I grew up with my extended family all around me. My mother always had a very delicious, yet casual breakfast on Christmas morning for our family and my grandparents. I use the word 'casual' because there wasn't a rush to get out the door to drive 4 hours when I grew up. Both sets of my grandparents lived near me. That is not the case for my kids and my husband only gets to his hometown 2-3 times a year.

So we pack as much into Christmas day as we can. So far it has worked, but our kids are very young and flexible and if we need to do things differently in the years to come, we will.

For now, though, Christmas breakfast is my favorite tradition. I enjoy planning it, making it and seeing my family together that morning. I feel very blessed.

What is your favorite holiday tradition? Please let us know in the comments.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

It has been a few weeks since I have posted a sweet recipe on Make It Yourself Monday. I have been baking more than usual with the holidays and this is a family favorite. This is my mom's recipe and she makes Chocolate Whoopie Pies quite a bit. I'm not sure where the name comes from, but these sandwich cookie/cakes have different names in other parts of the country.


Whoopie Pies

Cookies

  • 1 Cup shortening
  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 cup sour milk - simply add 1 tsp white vinegar to the 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 1/2 Cups flour
  • 2/3 cup Cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Combine the baking soda, baking powder, flour, cocoa, salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the Crisco, sugar and eggs together. Slowly add the hot water and sour milk and mix until just combined. Slowly add the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

I use an ice cream scoop to make cookies of a consistent size. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Filling

  • 3 egg whites
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 6 Tbsp. milk
  • 6 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 Cups shortening
  • 5 1/2 Cups confectioners sugar

Using the wire whisk attachment, beat egg whites until stiff. Add other ingredients and mix until well combined.

At this point, try to avoid diving into the bowl of filling, you will need it for the pies.

Once the chocolate cookies are cool, spread the filling between two cookies. This recipe will make about 30 Whoopie pies, depending on the size of your cookies. The Whoopie Pies freeze well. I have about 2 dozen ready to go for Christmas Eve.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Chunky Potato & Leek Soup

How does a mother know when something she makes is delicious? When her four year old says, "more please".

I made this soup on a cold rainy day and it hit the spot. Creamy, chunky, easy and delicious.


Chunky Potato & Leek Soup
  • 5-6 Cups of cubed, unpeeled potatoes - I used Yukon Gold from my CSA.
  • 2 leeks - cleaned and chopped into small pieces. I ran through the food processor to chop.
  • 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • water
  • 2 Cups whole milk
  • 2 Cups shredded cheddar cheese

Saute leeks in the olive oil until soft.

Add potatoes, salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.

Use a hand masher and mash potatoes until desired consistency.

Add milk and cheese and stir until well-blended.

Easy peasy and very yummy!

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Oh Thrift Store, Why Do I Doubt Thee!

Right when I doubt that I will ever find any gems in the thrift store, my luck changes...

I was running errands today, while my daughter was at preschool. Those two and half hours that she is at preschool can some times wreck havoc on our balance sheet. But I had a list of things that I needed to accomplish. Besides going to the bank, I also needed to look for some Christmas presents and stop by the office supply store. As I was heading to the next place on my list, I drove past the Salvation Army.

Every Wednesday, our Salvation Army thrift store, promotes an extra 50% off of merchandise except for the color of the week. All the price tickets have colors and every week a different color is excluded from the sale. I venture in occasionally, when I am in the area, but usually I have two kids in tow and my visit is cut short by some sort of disaster that mostly entails a fixture being pulled to the ground. I also end up leaving, feeling like I wasted my time, because I never seem to find anything worthwhile.

Today, I only had one child and I strapped her into her stroller, with snacks and her baby doll to keep her hands occupied.

I was cruising down the first aisle which is home goods when I saw it. I have been looking for it all summer at yard sales. A large blue Tupperware storage container. This container was quite grungy, but nothing that a run through the dishwasher didn't fix. The price was .99 after the 50% off sale. I was thrilled...I know you are probably saying, "get a life, it's Tupperware", but I have been looking for one of these containers.

Filled with excitement, I continued on and headed to children's clothing, because just this morning it occurred to me that our 4 year old has had a growth spurt and many of her shirts have become belly shirts. She is also heavily into Disney Princess stuff. It seems this year's theme for her for Christmas is Princess. I am very picky about used clothing. The clothes have to look very new for me to buy and wear them. I know I can wash the clothes, but I can't get past the ick factor. The first shirt I found was this beauty from the Disney store. It looks brand new and it's final cost was $1.99.


I then headed to children's toys. My youngest daughter loves Elmo and Sesame Street. I spotted this Sesame Street toy that also looked brand new, very clean, and the final cost was $1.99. Another Christmas gift for $1.99.


I am thrilled that I found two Christmas gifts for my kids for $4.00. My kids will be thrilled when they open their gifts. I can't wait to see their smiling faces.

I am going to give thrift stores a second chance. Keeping my eyes open for gems like the ones I found today.

How often do you shop in thrift stores? Are you doing any of your holiday shopping in thrift stores?

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Pasta with Fall Squash and Leeks

This dish can be cooked with butternut squash.


or acorn squash.



Pasta with Fall Squash and Leeks

  • 3-4 lbs butternut or acorn squash - I had 2 small acorn and 1 medium acorn.
  • 1 lb penne
  • 1/2 Cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 large leeks, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 small onion
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 dry white wine. I used Pinot Grigio. Use a wine that you like.
  • 1/2 water. If you don't like wine or have any on hand. Use 1 cup water.
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

As a side note: How do you clean leeks? For some reason, leeks are very dirty. I slice mine and then soak in water. Drain and then I rinse again while the leeks are still in the colander.




You will need to roast the squash. A few weeks ago I wrote, How to Roast a Butternut Squash. You can follow the same steps to roast an acorn squash.

When the squash is cool enough to handle after roasting, scoop out and toss the seeds in your trash or compost. Take the pulp and puree in a food processor until silky smooth.

Cook the pasta for about 2 minutes less than the box instructions.

While pasta is cooking, heat the oil and butter in a large pot over low heat. Add the leeks, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and saute until the onions are translucent.

Add the squash, wine and water and stir as the sauce thickens.


Add the cooked pasta to the squash sauce and mix together. Pour the pasta into a 13 X 9 baking dish that has been prepared with cooking spray or butter.

Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven until the cheese browns.

Enjoy!!


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Thursday, November 19, 2009

I cashed in my old gold jewelry and made a fast $150.

I ran this post last December 2008 and since the price of gold is still high, over $1100 an ounce as of yesterday, and the holidays right around the corner, I am re-posting it.

Back in November (2008), I posted about a local jewelry store that advertised "Holiday Cash-Fast!". They were holding a special gold buying event just in time for the holidays. I never made it to the store back in November, but when they ran the ad again in yesterday's paper I decided to head over and check it out.

I loaded the kids in the car, dialed the address in the GPS and set out for some fast cash. I really didn't have alot of jewelry: two broken 14kt herringbone necklaces, a matching 14kt necklace and bracelet set, a couple of pairs of 14kt earrings, a 14kt charm and a 10kt necklace. As I was driving over to the store I thought to myself that if I walked out of the store with $40 in my hand I would be happy. I didn't have anything to base that amount on it was just a number that I pulled out of the air.

My jewelry has been sitting unworn in my dresser since the early - mid 90's. I was excited to cash in on my clutter.When I arrived at the store it was empty so the owner was able to help me right away. As she was looking over my stuff a camera crew from a local station walked into the store. I noticed that the reporter was holding a copy of the ad in her hands and the first thing that came to my mind was, "Thank goodness I showered and put a little make-up on this morning", LOL!!

The reporter asked if she could ask me a few questions while the owner went to weigh my loot. Since I looked somewhat presentable, I was happy to oblige. She asked me how I heard about cashing in on gold. I told her about the ad that I saw and the pile of jewelry sitting in my bedroom for over 13 years and I figured "why not, it was worth a try".

The owner came back to me with a big smile on her face. She said that she would give me $150 for the jewelry. Honestly I about fell over. That was beyond what I expected. It turns out those broken chains came in handy. I was very excited, because this really was Fast Cash!!

A few things to consider if you decide to cash in your gold:

  • If you are thinking about cashing in on your gold, look for a reputable jeweler. The owner of the store I went to has been in the business for over 30 years and has a good reputation in the area.
  • I could have tried to sell the unbroken pieces online, on ebay or craigs list, but this was definitely instant gratification. You may decide it is worth it to try to sell online.

  • I also could have taken the pieces to several jewelers and gotten the best price, but I was happy with the $150 and quite honestly I didn't have the time to comparison shop.

  • The pieces I had were 10K and 14K, but mostly 14K. There is more gold in 14K and even more gold in 18K. The money you get back will be based on the actual gold in you pieces, but you will NOT get $1100 an ounce for your gold. I didn't get into the details of the weight of the jewelry I had and the price she was giving me. I could have, but quite honestly $150 is beyond what I expected and my kids were losing their patience. If those details of weight and price are important to you, ask the jewelers what price per ounce they are giving you.

  • Get to the store right when it opens, before a crowd comes in. I was there right when it opened and several people filed in after me to also cash in their gold. There is some time involved as the jeweler needs to look over the jewelry, make sure it is gold and weigh the pieces.

It was a fun morning for me and my girls and my oldest daughter got a kick out of seeing us on local evening news. I was grateful for the extra cash for the holidays and that I decided to put some make-up on that morning!

Do you have unworn and unused gold pieces laying around? Have you ever cashed in your gold?


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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Use Your Frugal Skills and 'Adopt' a Family This Holiday Season

For the past 5 years, my husband and I have 'adopted' a family for the holidays through the Salvation Army. I first heard of their 'Adopt-A-Family' program 5 years ago, when the local newspaper wrote a story about the Salvation Army and this particular program. I had just given birth to my first child. I was holding this precious baby and I felt so blessed and I felt led to help another family in our community.

The Salvation Army accepts applications for families and seniors in need during the holidays. They then match up these families with sponsors. Once you sign up to be a sponsor for the program, the Salvation Army gives you information about the family. We receive their contact information, their address to deliver to and information about the children, such as sex, age, size, and a toy suggestion.

As a sponsor, we are asked to provide the family with a holiday meal. The suggested meal includes: turkey or ham, potatoes, noodles, vegetables, canned gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, pie filling, pie crust. Along with a meal we are also asked to provide a toy, an outfit, a hat, and gloves for each child in the family. We usually adopt a family with 1-3 children. We also provide the family with food items to make a holiday breakfast. This is not required by the Salvation Army, but Christmas morning breakfast has always been a tradition for our family and we wanted to include this in their box. I usually include eggs, bacon, breakfast rolls, and orange juice.

I look forward every year to receiving the information about the children, because I find it so much fun to shop for them. I do the majority of the food shopping in these two weeks before Thanksgiving, because the grocery stores have such incredible deals on the holiday meal items. Although the holiday food specials at the store usually run through Christmas. My grocery store has a FREE turkey program that runs for about 4 weeks in October and November where you can earn a FREE turkey by spending a certain amount of money during the time frame. I buy the perishables, like the potatoes, right before I deliver to the family. We are asked to deliver the gift box to the family by December 22.


I scout the best deals on the toys and clothes starting Black Friday. I don't get out on that morning, but my husband thrives on that activity and I just hand him my list.


After the first year, we were so moved by the program that we now also 'Adopt-A-Senior'. The only requirement with this program is supplying the above list of ingredients to make a holiday meal. I also include breakfast items for the senior as well.

I keep all of my correspondence from the Salvation Army and all of my receipts for tax deduction purposes. The Salvation Army is a non-profit organization. Check with your tax preparer to see if the deduction makes sense for you. Please note, that we don't participate with this program just for the tax deduction.


This is the first year that our oldest will probably understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. She has watched us buy and deliver the goods in the past, but I am hoping this year will have a greater impact on her. We want our children to understand just how blessed we are as a family. We take our meals, clothes and toys for granted. There are so many families in need. Unfortunately the need is year round.

I have kept the thank you cards that I have received over the years. The sponsored families do not receive any information about our family. All correspondence from them comes through the Salvation Army. I am touched by these families and I am so glad that we are able to provide them with a meal and hopefully some wonderful holiday memories.



Do you use your frugal skills to help others in need during the holidays?

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Butternut Squash and Cranberry Muffins

This squash family that was living in my kitchen was roasted last week and is now in my freezer for future use. Butternut squash is one of my favorite fall foods and makes its way to our table a couple times a week during the season. If you haven't tried butternut squash, it is extremely versatile and very healthy. Loaded with fiber, Vitamin A and beta carotene. Butternut squash can be used as a substitute in any recipe that calls for pumpkin.



That is what I did in this recipe. I found it in one of my Cooking Light magazines several years ago and have adapted the recipe a little.



Butternut Squash and Cranberry Muffins
adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light


Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (could also use raisins)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup roasted butternut squash
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 large eggs

Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, ginger and salt in a bowl. Mix well and stir in cranberries.

In a separate bowl, combine brown sugar, butternut squash, buttermilk, veg. oil, molasses, vanilla and eggs. Stir well with a wisk.

Add the squash mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just moist.

Coat muffin pans with baking spray and spoon batter into pan. Makes about 12-18 muffins.

Bake in 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pan immediately and cool on a rack.

If there are any left, these do freeze well. They make a great grab-n-go breakfast.

Some of my previous fall squash posts:

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How to Roast Butternut Squash

My daughter said to me, "Look Mommy, a squash family." Out of the mouth of a four year old.

Recently I found myself with a butternut squash family living in my kitchen. We received some with our regular weekly CSA share. And I picked up a few at the "extra" day our CSA held a few weeks ago. Once a month during the season, the organic farm that supplies our weekly CSA share holds an "extra" day for members to drive up to the farm and pick up FREE extra produce. It is wonderful and makes the CSA even more valuable.

Butternut squash is packed with Vitamin A, beta carotene and is a source of fiber. It can be used as a substitute in any recipe that calls for pumpkin.

Even though butternut squashes keep fairly well, I decided to roast them to put in the freezer for future use. It is very easy.

Slice the squash in half lengthwise and place downward on baking sheets.



Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. You should be able to pierce the squash all the way through with a fork when it is done.


When cool enough to handle, flip the squash over and scoop out the seeds. I discard seeds into my compost.


Scope out the pulp and put into containers for freezing or use right away in your favorite recipes.

I was able to freeze five 2-cup containers of the roasted squash. I will post some of my favorite butternut squash recipes in the next few weeks.

Butternut squash makes great baby food. Last year, when my toddler was a baby, I pureed the roasted squash until I got the desired consistency for her and put into ice cube trays to freeze. I stored the frozen squash cubes in a freezer bag. It was wonderful to have homemade organic baby food and it was so much cheaper, healthier and tastier than store-bought.



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Monday, November 9, 2009

Turkey Sausage, Arugula and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta

It was Monday. I had planned the week's menu. I made a grocery list and pulled some coupons together. I was ready to start my week and head to the store. My daughter woke up that morning with a fever and grocery shopping was going to have to wait.

I had to regroup. There was plenty of food in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry, but my grocery list was stuff that I needed to pull my planned meals together. So I turned to the web and I went to MyRecipes.com and searched a few ingredients that I had on hand to see what I could find.

This recipe is a good find. I had all of the ingredients and it is an easy, quick, delicious dish.

Turkey Sausage, Arugula, and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta
adapted from Food & Wine

  • 1 lb turkey sausage, casings removed
  • 12 reconstituted sun-dried tomato halves - it is cheaper to buy the non-oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, simply re-hydrate by soaking the tomatoes in warm water for about a minute
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2/3 C olive oil
  • 1 large bunch of arugula - cut into thin strips. My arugula was from my CSA. It is one of the ingredients that I searched. I wasn't in the mood for a salad. You could easily substitute spinach.
  • 1 lb pasta - I had rigatoni on hand

Boil water in a large pot and cook pasta. Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, combine the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper in a food processor. Blend until well combined. Stream the olive oil into the processor while the machine is running.

At this point your kitchen will smell absolutely divine.

Heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan and add the turkey sausage. Break into tiny pieces and brown until it is cooked through.

When sausage is done cooking, add chopped arugula and mix together.


In a very large bowl, toss the turkey and arugula mixture, cooked pasta and the sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Serve warm.

If desired, sprinkle with Parmesan and prepare to be knocked out!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Ethics of Clearance Merchandise

I received this email from a reader after my post last week, After Holiday Clearance Sales Aren't Just About Gift Wrap.

"I am also a coupon clipper and home economist, and I would have loved to score a deal like that. I realize this was an unadvertised sale and you just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but I do think it's a bit selfish to buy all of the items off the shelf keeping others from scoring a great deal.

On a similar note, it is also discouraging to shop the sales with coupons only to find the shelf completely bare. True home economists should also be looking out for the welfare of others who want to save money for their families. Many times when I have been shopping if I see someone take an item off of the shelf and I know I have an extra coupon, I will offer it to them.

Pass it on, don't take it all, please."

Ouch, I touched a nerve and certainly didn't mean to. It isn't pleasant to see that someone might think that you are selfish and not a true home economist. If I offended or upset anyone I am truly sorry.

My intent that day was not to take a deal from others when my eye came across some unsigned clearance dish washer detergent. Quite honestly, my first thought was, 'WOW, I'm not going to have to buy detergent for awhile.' Scanning the shelves for unmarked holiday clearance merchandise at Target is a game I enjoy playing. I don't need or want gift wrap or candy, but dish washer detergent is a product that I use very often and that sale was too hard to pass by, so I purchased all of the boxes.

As I stated in the original post, the purchase was uncharacteristic of me. I don't have an extensive 'stock-pile', however I do keep a well-stocked pantry of our family basics and staples.

I do see the reader's point and I will think twice before buying all of a clearance item next time, especially when there is that much. My integrity is very important to me and if purchasing all of the Electrasol is perceived as being selfish than it just isn't worth it. It is dish washer detergent, for heaven's sake, I do see the ridiculousness of 18 boxes. I will be sure to leave some next time.

On a separate note, I, too, pass along coupons to other shoppers while I am shopping. And I have received coupons from other shoppers while shopping. A coupon fairy must have been in my grocery store today, because there were extra coupons laying all over the place.

So, without starting a fire, what are your thoughts? If you stumbled on a great clearance deal of a product that you use regularly, how much would you purchase? Civility please.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Apple Crumb Pots

It all started one day when I was hungry for apple pie. But I was being lazy and I didn't feel like making the pie crust and I didn't feel like making a trip to the store to buy crust.

What is a girl to do...Apple Crumb Pots were born.

The ingredients are simple. Slice 6-7 of your favorite baking apples. I love Ginger Gold for baking. The apple slicer is a well used gadget at our house.
Use non-stick spray or butter to cover the bottom of 6 ramekin cups. Place the ramekin cups on a baking sheet. Fill the cups up with your favorite baking apples. This is a great job for helpful little hands.

Combine 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Sprinkle about 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of mixture per cup over the apples, depending on the type of apple that you like. Ginger Gold is on the tart side, so I sprinkle a teaspoon on each cup. Set aside the balance of this mixture to make the crumb topping.

The crumb topping...my favorite part. Take the balance of the sugar/cinnamon mixture and add more sugar until you measure 1/2 cup. Combine with 3/4 cup flour and 1/3 cup butter. I use my clean hands to mix together until crumbly.

Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the apples. You can also see why you need to use a baking sheet.


Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes or until bubbly.


At this point, your next major decision in life will be what to top the Apple Crumb Pots with : Homemade Whipped Cream or your favorite ice cream.
On this day, we chose the homemade whipped cream.


For our anniversary I made the pots with blueberries, because my honey's favorite dessert is blueberry pie. I followed the same recipe, except we chose vanilla ice cream that night.

I've had apples on the brain lately:

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

After-Holiday Clearance Sales Aren't Just About Christmas Gift Wrap

If you think that it is a bit early for an article on After-Holiday sales, you are mistaken. After-Halloween clearance sales start the season of After-Holiday bargains. And the bargains aren't just holiday decorations and gift wrap. You can find everyday items in the stores, such as some of the items in the photos below.

While I do try to limit my paper product purchases, the deals I found about two years ago at Target in the first photo were just too good to ignore. I bought the Halloween Glad storage bags, press-n-seal and ovenware at 75% off. I bought the Christmas treat bags two years ago at 90% off. I use the ovenware for the meal ministry I participate in at our church. The storage & treat bags and press-n-seal will last me for years and I use them year round. Is there a rule that you can't use a bag with a snowman on it in April?

Last year as I was circling the perimeter in Target after Christmas, I found an end cap full of these Electrasol 32 count dishwasher tabs and the holiday pack of Dawn detergent. The end cap was not signed, but I noticed the penguins on the Electrasol and did a quick price scan. I about fell over when they scanned at $1.24 for a 32 box. They were 75% off and they were not signed. The Dawn was also priced at $1.24. I then did something very uncharacteristic of me...I bought every single box of Electrasol and bottle of Dawn. In all, 18 boxes of Electrasol and 7 two packs of Dawn. I didn't want to take a chance and try to score them at 90% off. I was afraid somebody else would find them. I also had a few coupons that I used to make the deal even sweeter. I still have boxes and bottles left over and it has been 10 months. I will easily be able to get through another 10 months with the dishwasher tabs and years with the Dawn. I also shared some of this bounty with my family.




I found these card-making and scrap booking holiday items in the stationery aisle and they were not marked. I bought it all for 90% off. I'm not much of a crafter, but at 90% off these are great art supplies for my pre-schooler. I also found similar items after Valentine's Day at 90%. My daughter used those supplies to make all of her Valentine cards this past year to exchange with her school friends.

Some things to remember with the after-holiday bargains:
  • Search all around the store, not just the holiday themed aisles and the end-caps. The paper products were found in the paper product aisle and they were unmarked. Keep those eyes open.
  • Look for seasonal or holiday packaging on everyday items, like the Halloween themed Glad bags or the penguins on the Electrasol. Many everyday items have holiday packaging: paper towels, crackers, hand soap are a few other examples.
  • Use the price scanner.
  • Target's clearance schedule is typically 50% off the day after the holiday for three days, 75% off the fourth day after the holiday for three days and 90% off the seventh day after holiday, for 1-2 days. This schedule isn't set in stone and it could vary by region. You could always call the store if you are angling for some 75% deals. Or look at the on-line forums, like A Full Cup.
  • The after-holiday bargains aren't limited to Target. Your favorite grocery stores, Rite-Aid, CVS, K-Mart, Wal-Mart, etc will all have after holiday bargains.
I know it is hard to think about after-holiday bargains, when the Christmas season hasn't even started yet, but Halloween is 4 days away and the after-holiday bargain hunting starts on November 1. Good Luck!

What awesome after-holiday deals have you scored in recent years? Be sure to come back and comment if you find any interesting deals next week.


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Monday, October 26, 2009

Sausage, Swiss Chard & Potatoes Casserole

This is an easy and delicious recipe that I make with the Swiss chard that we get from our CSA. It goes really well with some good bread, a garden salad and homemade applesauce.

Sausage, Swiss Chard and Potatoes Casserole
  • 2 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 lb sausage, removed from casings - I use turkey
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green or red sweet pepper, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves - minced
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, steams and ribs removed, chopped fine
  • about 5 medium potatoes, sliced thin and cooked
  • 1 - 2 cups cheddar cheese, depending on your preference

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the sausage, onion, pepper and garlic and cook through. Break up the sausage into fine pieces. When sausage and veggies are cooked through, add the chopped Swiss chard and cover the pan and cook about 5 minutes to allow the Swiss chard to wilt. While I am cooking all of this the potatoes are being boiled.

Cover the bottom of a 9 X 13 pan with non-stick spray or butter. Pour the sausage and Swiss chard mixture into the pan.

Layer the cooked, sliced potatoes on top of Swiss chard.

Next, layer the cheese on top of the potatoes. We love cheese, so I use about 1 1/2 to 2 cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

I cringe at this next photo, it turned out so yellow. (novice food photographer to blame). Don't be deterred. This is a delicious casserole and the leftovers taste even better the next day.



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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Four Money Saving Swap Ideas for the Winter and Holidays

The holiday season is not that far away, most of our heaters have been turned on and the cold weather is here...brrrrr. Swap meets are a great way to socialize with your friends and save some time, money and resources this time of year. Here are four swaps to try with your friends, neighbors and family:

  1. Soup swap - Depending on how many people involved, simply make enough soup to go around. Last winter, I participated in a soup swap with four other moms and we each made 4 1-quart containers to swap. I came home with four different soups. I promptly put them in the freezer and I had some new dinner ideas. I just added a side salad and some homemade bread and dinner was served. We chose to make quart containers because we all have families with small kids, but you could increase the size. Make sure to set guidelines in case there are food allergies or issues.

  2. Cookie swap - I just received my invitation for this year's cookie swap with a mom's group that I belong to. We are each making a dozen cookies and there are about 6-8 mommies involved. If a dozen is too much, make it a half-dozen. I'm going to stick all of the cookies in my freezer and take an assortment of the cookies to a family holiday party. Again make sure to set guidelines in case there are food allergies or issues.

  3. Babysitting swap - Wouldn't it be nice to get some holiday shopping done alone, without the kiddos? Or how about just going to the grocery store or maybe a trip to your gym or a date night with your spouse? I would love it. Do you have a good friend that you trust with your kids? She might be looking for a sitter too? Set up an arrangement and take turns watching the kids. This gives you some free time without paying a sitter and the kids get some social time with friends.

  4. Clothing/Toy swap - Speaking of holiday shopping, presents and winter clothing don't have to be brand-spanking new. How about gently used or maybe even never used? Gather your friends and have everyone bring children's and/or adult clothes, toys, books and other items that are laying around our houses and taking up too much room in our closets. Have everyone "merchandise" their items and then everyone picks a number from a hat. Starting with number 1, everyone gets a turn to pick one item. Keep going through the numbers until everyone is done picking what they want.
Do you have any swaps planned in the near future? Please comment and tell us about it.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Apple Gingerbread Cake with Homemade Whipped Cream

Two words...oh my.

No I'm sorry, three words...oh my my.

No wait, four words...oh my my my.

I am loving the flavors of the fall season. Quite frankly fall foods are getting me through the cold wet October we are having in the northeast. This weekend I was craving Gingerbread, so I made it and now it could be my most favorite cake ever.


Apple Gingerbread Cake

  • 1/2 Cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 Cup butter
  • 1 tsp. Ginger
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Cup Molasses
  • 1 Cup Sour Milk - 1 cup milk with 1 Tbsp of white vinegar added to it. It will bubble and curdle, but that is okay.
  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 of your favorite baking apples. Peeled and cut into 8-10 slices. I used a apple slicer.
Mix the sugar, butter, ginger, cinnamon and salt until creamy. Add 1 large egg and beat until fluffy. Add molasses and sour milk. Mix well. Add flour and baking soda and mix until combined.

Prepare a 9 x 9 glass pan with non-stick baking spray. Layer the pan with the apples.


Pour the cake batter over the apples. Apples will float in the batter. Bake at 325 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.


This cake smells so good. You want to dig in as soon as it comes out of the oven, but WAIT, something is not right.



That's it. Much better.

DO NOT eat this cake without the HOMEMADE WHIPPED CREAM. Well, I guess you could, but why.

Homemade whipped cream
  • 1 Cup cold heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tbsp. Confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
With the wire attachment or beaters, gradually increase speed to high and whip the cream, sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. It only takes a minute or two.

Enjoy!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spending Diet Update

Have you ever declared yourself on a spending diet? We needed to in the past, but never followed through. Back in September, I wrote about how we needed to put the brakes on our spending and starting October 1, we started our Spending Diet. We had a few guidelines:

(Our allowable expenses for the month are in bold and our current situation is in italics)

  • Groceries - I am making an effort to eat more from the pantry and freezer to try to reduce this expense.

  • The sign up for swim lessons for our oldest daughter is in October. We decided to also signed her up for tumbling and to get tickets for the girls to see Disney on Ice. These were definitely an unplanned expenses, but we made the choices together. We'll see at the end of the month if that was a smart decision or not.

  • Our oldest daughter's birthday is early in November. We are planning a small party with a few of her friends and cousins. I am going to keep it simple, but fun. Her birthday is around Halloween, so I am encouraging the kids to wear their costumes. I am searching online for some party game ideas. She told me she wants a pink cake, I might try to talk her into strawberry cupcakes that I can make with the strawberries I picked back in June. I still have a few weeks left for this to come together at a realistic price, but still be very fun for my girl.

  • Dine out using only gift cards. Like I said back on Oct. 1st, this is the most challenging guideline for us. At the end of a long week, we like to go out to dinner. We still went out to dinner and we used our gift cards, but we did spend over the amount of the gift card.

  • We will still get our cash allowance for the month. Trust me it isn't much. I have about 20% of my cash allowance left...yikes and there is still half a month to get through. I might be digging under the sofa cushions and in pockets soon...LOL!

  • Our oldest will need a winter coat and I will keep my eye out for a good sale. It was pretty chilly this morning as we were getting ready for school, so I pulled out last year's coat and she tried it own. It still fits. I don't know if it will make it through the winter though because she is growing like a weed, but it gives me some time to find a good bargain.

Our Disallowed expenses:

  • Everything else - I am really avoiding the stores, because they are too tempting. We did go to K-mart for a Halloween costume and I used a gift card that I earned in the spring and the costume was on sale. As I look at our receipts from the first half of the month, we have done a good job at avoiding other purchases.

As I mentioned in my initial Spending Diet post, we are trying to achieve self-control. It is not always easy and sometimes my husband and I can be easily swayed. Although, the Spending Diet hasn't really dominated our discussions this month and we really haven't needed to remind each other about it. We both know that we are trying to save money and without any tension we are spending less. I will be curious to see how much more we will have in our account at the end of October. As far as what we will do with any overage, we have not decided. There is a long list of things that we could use it on. My vote is for the item that will best affect affect our bottom line.

Are you on a Spending Diet? How is it going for you?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nine paper products to cross off of your grocery list.

Are you looking for more ways to trim your grocery bill? Try replacing those paper products on your list with cloth and re-usable products and you will not only reduce your grocery spending, but you will also reduce your waste.

  1. Switch from paper towels to old bath towels - Do you have old towels in the back of your bathroom closet that your aren't using anymore? When you have really big spills, grab the old bath towels instead of a massive amount of paper towels and then just toss the towels in your laundry.

  2. Switch from paper napkins to cloth napkins - All of our cloth napkins have been found in the clearance section of TJ Maxx or some other store. I also use them to clean up smaller spills in the kitchen and wipe messy little hands and faces.

  3. Switch from paper tissues to flannel cloth hankies - Flannel is so much softer on my babies' little noses. I have some flannel hankies that I bought a long time ago, but with sniffle season upon us I am going to make some more by cutting up old flannel receiving blankets that are no longer being used. A quick stitch around the edges should hopefully prevent fraying.
  4. Use plastic store bags for trash bags. Even though we try to use cloth grocery bags, we still end up with some plastic. Use them for your garbage.

  5. Skip the sandwich bags and use re-usable containers in your lunch tote.

  6. Switch from parchment paper to silicone baking mats. I have been using these for years. There is an initial investment, I've seen them priced at $14-$20, but parchment paper is pricey too and your investment will eventually pay for itself. Use a coupon from Bed, Bath & Beyond if you decide to purchase a baking mat.

  7. Switch from disposable cleaning cloths and mops and use old t-shirts, towels, flannel or micro-fiber instead.

  8. Save the paper plates for your really BIG parties.

  9. Instead of using aluminum foil or plastic wrap to cover casseroles and leftovers, store the food in re-usable containers. I really like my Pyrex glass bowls with the blue plastic lids. I have 4 different sizes. My Corning Ware lidded casserole dishes come in handy as well.

Sometimes reaching for disposable paper products seems easier, but it doesn't take much more effort to use products that are re-usable or recycled. You save money and resources.



What paper products do you avoid and what did you substitute them with?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

How to Make Homemade Sugar-Free Applesauce

Home-made applesauce is family favorite. I don't mind making it because it is very easy to make, especially when you use a mix of fall apples the only ingredient that you need is ... Apples. On a recent trip to a local apple and pumpkin farm I bought two 1/2 bushel bags of seconds for $8.00 a bag. A 1/2 bushel bag of regular apples was $12, but when I saw that the seconds were in really good condition, it was a no-brainer. So I sorted through the bins and my kids helped me fill the bags full with Ginger Gold, Yellow Delicious, Honey Crisp, Gala, McIntosh, Fuji, Jonagold.

I brought them home and got started on the applesauce right away. I also made a pie, but it was gobbled up before I thought about taking a picture.

I have to admit my way of making applesauce is made easier because of this handy gadget, a food strainer and sauce maker. It is a hand-me-down from my mom and it makes the job easy and fast. If you see one at a yard sale or thrift store, it might be worth your investment, as the price sticker is still on this box at $47.95.



Because of my food strainer, all I have to do is wash the apples and cut them into quarters. I don't have to peel or worry about the seeds...you'll see why below. I put a tiny bit of water in the bottom of the pans so that the apples don't scorch and then I cover and cook on medium until they are mushy. Stir often to also avoid scorching.


You can still see some of the slices, but most of what I was putting into the funnel was mushy.



I didn't get a great shot of the whole contraption, but I put apples in the funnel that is in above picture and then I turn the handle (on the right) and applesauce just slides through a screen and right down into the bowl.

The funnel on the right of the picture is the waste funnel. All of the skin and seeds are pushed through that funnel and into my garbage bowl.


This is a picture of the peels and I put them through the strainer one more time and reduced this waste even more as I squeeze out more applesauce.


My finished applesauce. I let it cool and then put into freezer containers. We eat it all year long. I also use it in baking. I went back to the farm and I bought another 1/2 bushel bag and made more sauce. My daughter was invited to a birthday party next weekend at the same farm and I'm sure I'll get another bag or 2 to make even more.

I think the secret to making delicious applesauce is using a blend of your favorite apples. This sauce didn't need an ounce of sugar because I used a blend of 7 apples that range from sweet to tart. In the past I always used Ginger Gold, because that is my favorite apple for pies, but when using them for applesauce I felt it needed a little sugar in to sweeten a bit.

Do you make your own applesauce? What are your favorite apples to use?

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