Friday, July 31, 2009

Use up that zucchini with this yummy treat: Chocolate chip zucchini muffins

Is zucchini multiplying in your garden? I don't grow it personally, but we get a lot of it in our CSA box. One of my favorite recipes is Chocolate chip zucchini muffins. The recipe is actually for bread, but to cut down on oven time in the summer, I pour the batter into muffin tins instead. The muffins take about 25-30 minutes to bake versus the hour for the bread and the recipe makes 12-18 muffins .

Chocolate chip zucchini muffins from Cooking Light magazine.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Garden gone wild...or...attack of the killer melon plants

For the first time ever, I planted one watermelon plant and one cantaloupe plant this year. It was a last minute decision at the nursery and when I brought them home I realized that I didn't really have a lot of space for them, so I just kind of stuck them where I could find a spot. I had some open space around my two new blueberry bushes, so that is where they went.

These photos were taken on June 29, 09, probably about a month and a half after they were planted.

My cantaloupe:

My watermelon. You can see the blueberry bushes on both sides of the plant.

So I guess I was a bit naive, but I really didn't understand how invasive the plants were going to be, especially the has practically swallowed up my blueberry bush and I am having a hard time getting to my square compost bin.

The next three photos were taken on July 28, 09.

My husband can't even mow around them anymore because they have grown into the grass.It also doesn't help that I haven't pulled any weeds lately.

My very first melon...I'm not sure how much longer until I can pick it, but I am growing impatient. I don't have a lot of patience during the summer gardening season. I want to munch on it RIGHT NOW.

I have figured out the reason for the mammoth cantaloupe plant. Look closely at the photo below of my two compost bins. It was taken on April 20, 09, for a post I did for Earth day. I have since moved the round compost bin to the other side of the square bin so that I could expand the garden against the house to make room for some blueberry bushes. I planted the cantaloupe right on top of where the compost was originally. No wonder it is so huge, the roots are probably having a feast on the earth where compost used to be.

I have got quite a mess, but if the melons turn out to be delicious it will all be worth it.

How is your garden growing?

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Financial To-Do List Update

Back in June I wrote about our financial to-do list and all of the things that we need to take care of.

Our number one priority was to get a will. We started working on it this week. We are using Suze Orman's Will & Trust kit that I purchased from her website. Once purchased, you log into your account and build your will and other important documents with her guidance. I have found it to be relatively easy to follow. Although, she highly stresses the importance of a revocable trust and I had never heard of this before. After I plugged in some of our data, the program recommended that we seek a lawyer based on the personal data that I entered. Now I need to read up on the revocable trusts to understand them fully. If we have to use a lawyer, so be it, but I want to check all of our options. I hear ka-ching, ka-ching in the background.

Some other things on our list were: reviewing our IRA asset allocation, updating our household to-do list, increase payments to my husband's student loan, start college funds for our girls and lastly increase our emergency fund. All of these things are important, but we have moved the emergency fund up in priority.

If you remember a few months ago, I wrote about the difficult time my husband's business was going through. He has worked extremely hard over the last few months to get it back on track and we are finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. But we had to dip into our emergency savings every month from March through June.

Thank goodness for emergency funds...can I hear an AMEN?!!

We now must rebuild the coffers. This has been the second time we have dipped into our emergency fund since 2006, so we realize the importance of having a fund. We try to live responsibly and frugally, but there isn't a lot of money at the end of the month to shift to our emergency fund. At least, at first glance. We need to review our budget categories and challenge ourselves to make some cuts. We have two budgets to review: our business and household.

I have some work to do, as usual, but this is the job that I have taken on in our family and business: money manager. I love my job and the challenges that are before me.

How are you doing on your financial to-do list? Are you making progress?

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Please note that this post is not an endorsement for Suze Orman's Will & Trust.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Grocery essentials: Do you have a "buy" price?

Do you pay attention to the price per unit when shopping for groceries? Do you have a price book or list that you keep with you to track your "buy" prices? The price you are willing to purchase a product at because you know it is at it's lowest price. I am always intrigued when I occasionally see someone in a grocery store with a binder that looks like a price book. I am usually overwhelmed with my coupon organizer, shopping list and 2 restless kids to consider toting an additional book.

There is only one item that I diligently track the per unit price of and that is diapers. I still have one child in diapers and we have gone the disposable route. I did cloth diapers when both of my girls were infants. I was given a set of infant cloth diapers as a gift, but when they outgrew the cloth I switched to disposable.

To save myself time and money, I have found that buying Luvs diapers at BJ's (a warehouse club) has been the cheapest for me. I tried BJ's brand diapers and I did not like them. I liked the price, but did not like the diaper. They smelled terribly of plastic and they bunched up. So I stick with Luvs, because they are cheaper than Pampers or Huggies and BJ's usually offers a $5.00 coupon off of a box. That brings the price down to $24.99 a box and my baby wears size 4. With 180 diapers in a size 4 box that makes the price per unit of .139 per diaper. I use that price as my gauge and if I find them cheaper elsewhere I will buy, but BJ's is where I usually shop for diapers. That box will last me a little over a month.

I was thrilled when I read at Common Sense with Money about a Huggies diaper deal at Rite-Aid. I followed her instructions and I bought 5 packages of Huggies for a total of 150 diapers and a price of $57.45. I used 5/$1.50 Huggies coupons. I made 2 separate purchases and used a $5/$25 purchase coupon on each purchase. That brought my out-of-pocket expense to $39.95, but through Rite-Aid's Single Check Rebate program, I earned a $25 gift card for Rite-Aid and a FREE voucher for a package of Huggies diapers.

My final per-unit price will be .08 per diaper. I was thrilled.

Outside of diapers, I don't really track the per unit price of other grocery items. When shopping, I will look at the best price per unit on the items that I need on that particular trip, but I don't keep a price book. There are other items where I think a price book would be helpful, like coffee, toilet paper, chicken, turkey or cereal, to name just a few. These are constantly on my shopping list, so figuring out a "buy" price would help me know when I find a sale if it is a good time to stock up.

I have been working hard trying to reduce our grocery expense. Instead of a binder or book, I am going to write my "buy" price for our main grocery staples or essentials on a 3 X 5 card and keep it in my coupon file. I won't feel so overwhelmed and I think it will help me save some money by knowing when to stock up.

Do you track the price per unit when buying your groceries? Do you have a price book to manage your "buy" prices?

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Monday, July 6, 2009

My baking disaster turned into a sweet reward

A couple of weeks ago, I had a craving for homemade cookies. The summer days had cooled down a bit around here, so I didn't feel bad about turning on the oven. I opened my cupboards and found some butterscotch morsels with a recipe on the back for "Oatmeal Scotchies". SOLD!

The recipe was fairly straightforward, so I enlisted the help of my 3 1/2 year old. She was getting bored and I thought baking cookies would be fun for her. She eagerly helped me mix the ingredients and in a few minutes the batter was made and the first batch went into the oven.

Not sure what happened to the first batch...

So I tried a second batch...

I was mortified. I consider myself fairly competent home cook, but this was the worst batch of cookies that has ever been made in my kitchen. They really flattened out in the oven and when I tried to remove them from the pan they fell apart.

My daughter didn't really notice the disaster, all she wanted to do was eat one when they cooled down. So I poured us both big glasses of milk and we tried them. They tasted good, but I was planning on taking some of the cookies to a family picnic and they were by no means...presentable.

Frustrated and bummed, I called the 800 number on the back of the package. "What did I do wrong?", I asked the customer service person, Randy. I re-read the ingredients and I didn't miss anything. My oven was set at the correct temp of 375 degrees. He suggested that maybe I over-beat the batter or maybe the "softened" butter was too soft or maybe it was too humid in my kitchen. He offered to send me some baking tips and a coupon for a FREE bag of morsels so that I can try again.

I took the cookie crumbs to the picnic anyway and my family thought they tasted great. My brother even asked me to make them again.

I will definitely try the Oatmeal Scotchies again especially since Nestle sent me a FREE coupon. Although I probably would have baked them again anyway, but the coupon was a nice surprise.

Have you had a kitchen disaster lately?

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