Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Calling All Gardeners: Flower or Weed??

Once again, I am calling on my knowledgeable readers to help me figure out a gardening problem. I have no idea whether these plants are weeds or flowers. And if they are flowers, what kind of flowers are they?

This is at least the second year they have sprouted up, but I don't remember planting them. If they are flowers I probably got them them from a plant exchange and I just planted them to get them in the ground without any real plan where to put them. Who knows?? I don't remember a thing about them.

The first flower/weed is probably about 3-4 feet tall, and it has these pretty purple flowers on it.

The second flower/weed is also tall. The bottom reminds me of a chive plant and the flowers shoot out of the foliate into tall white globes.

Here is a close up of the flowers.

If you have any idea what these flowers/weeds are, please let me know in the comments. Thanks for your help!

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet. Click here if you would like to have FREE updates of FBS sent right to your email.

This post is linked to:

Monday, August 30, 2010

Zucchini Cakes or AKA, Vegetarian "Crab" Cakes

This is a great recipe for all of that extra zucchini that you might have. The recipe is from our CSA and was included in our weekly share of organic produce. The sandwich reminds me of a real crab cake, only the main ingredient is zucchini instead of crab.

Zucchini cakes or Vegetarian "Crab" Cakes
  • 4 C zucchini, grated with peel on
  • 1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 C Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, set aside additional breadcrumbs for coating
  • 2-3 teas. Old Bay seasoning - I only used 2 because I didn't want the cakes to be too spicy for my kids.
  • 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

1. Mix all of the ingredients together.

2. Form into patties. If the mixture isn't forming well, add more bread crumbs. Makes 7-8 patties.

3. Coat each side of cake with additional breadcrumbs.

4. Heat 1/4 Cup olive oil in large skillet. Carefully place cakes in skillet. Fry the cake and when it turns golden brown, flip and fry the other side until golden brown. Depending on the size of your pan, you will have to make the cakes in batches and you might need more olive oil.

5. I served the sandwiches the way we like real crab cakes, with tomatoes, lettuce, a little mayo and on our favorite buns. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet. Click here if you would like to have FREE updates of FBS sent right to your email.

This post is linked to:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lawn Care: To Treat or Not To Treat, That Is The Question?

Recently I heard a knock at my front door and when I answered the door the conversation went like this.

guy dressed in a uniform: "Hello ma'am, I am working in the neighborhood and I thought I would stop by and give you information about my company. I can help you with this clover patch in your front yard."

me: (I immediately recognize the uniform, they have stopped at my house many times before) "Thank you for noticing my yard, but we don't treat our lawn.(obviously) I have kids and a dog(well, we had a dog, but he doesn't need to know that) and I don't want the harmful chemicals in our yard. I also don't want the harmful chemicals running off into the water basin."

guy dressed in a uniform: "Our products are completely safe. We treat the lawns of some local day cares. We just ask that you wait about 1-2 hours after an application before you walk or play in the yard. Did you know that clover attracts bees?"

me: "Why no I didn't know that, but we are not interested. Thank you anyways."

guy in uniform: "Thank you and have a good day."

The above conversation was very polite and the lawn man was courteous and took my "no thanks" well and went on the the next house with a disastrous yard. These guys have stopped by before. They no doubt are in the neighborhood treating lawns, I see the trucks quite a bit and many of our neighbors have beautiful lawns without a single clover or bee. I know that some of the neighbors do the lawn care themselves too.

As much as I would love a beautiful, lush lawn, we decline these promotional offers for several reasons:
  1. Like I told the guy in the uniform, we have kids and at one time a dog and I don't like the chemicals on the yard. My kids are outside playing all summer long, I have a hard time believing that the chemicals aren't harmful.
  2. Water run off. After a rain, the water runs off the treated yard, down the street and into the water pipes, and, in our case, eventually reaching the Chesapeake.
  3. Bees are good for my garden.
  4. Finally...money. As much as I would love a beautiful, lush lawn devoid of weeds, I am not willing to pay for it. Some of our neighbors try to save money by treating the lawn themselves with products that can be bought in a store, but, for me, also see #1 and #2.

Our approach to lawn care has been:

  1. My husband mows when the lawn needs mowed. With all of the rain we have had in the northeast this summer, he has mowed about once a week.
  2. He usually lets the grass clippings lay, although I have read that is not a good idea when your yard is pretty weedy, regardless the clippings remain on the ground.
  3. ...........ahhh that's it.

Good news about my clover mess, in my search on-line, apparently clover is not a weed and is actually good for your lawn, so THERE, mister guy in uniform!

Do you treat your lawn chemically, organically or not at all?

Thanks for reading. If you would like to receive FREE updates of FBS, there are four ways to do so:

Follow Me on Pinterest

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perform Your Own Home Energy Audit To Help Trim Your Utility Expenses

This post was originally published in July 2009.

Our utility bills account for about 10% of our total household budget. I'm not sure how that compares to everyone else, but there has got to be some room to reduce those expenses.

With clipboard in hand, I recently did a walk-thru of our house and performed my own home energy and utility audit. I was looking for things that needed repaired, replaced, and reduced, hoping that I would also find some savings as well. This is what I found, in no particular order.

1. Replace more bulbs with CFLs that are energy-star rated.

2. Unplug the old refrigerator in our basement.

This fridge came with the house and our house was built in 1969. Who knows how old it is, but I'm thinking that it does not have an energy-star rating, LOL. Not only is the fridge in the basement, but it is in my husband's workshop in the basement, so I honestly forgot about it. We used it in the past as a second fridge for beer, drinks, perishable stock-pile, but we acquired another fridge from my parents that I put in the garage for the same use. That fridge in newer, more efficient and in a more convenient location. We DO use it, otherwise I would not have accepted it. BUT I forgot about this lonely old fridge and it has been running, unused and empty for about a year...OUCH.

This can be checked off the list as complete!

3. Reduce the water flow in the toilet in our half bath. It is an old toilet and the water level seems so full compared to our new toilet in our full bath.

4. Schedule a service appointment for the central air conditioner & Replace air filter. It has been several years and we have a very old unit. It has only been turned on twice this summer for about two days each time, but when it has been on it seems to run A LOT. Thankfully, it has been a mild summer in the northeast so far. (Fast forward to 2010 and it has been running all summer with the temperature firmly planted at 95, but it is still working. The service guy told me the unit was at least 15 years old and probably has 2-3 years left in it.)

5. What temperature should our water heater be at? I have no idea. I will have to research and look for the dish washer manual. (2010 - Still have no idea. I forgot about this one and will look into.)

6. Unplug the televisions in our living room and basement. We hardly ever use them, so it shouldn't be difficult to keep them unplugged.

Have you done a walk-thru lately of your home? What have you found?

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet. Click here to receive FREE email updates of FBS.

This post is linked to:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cantaloupe Salsa

This is the second year in a row I have had great success with growing cantaloupe. Homegrown cantaloupe is delicious.

My knife sliced through the melon like it was butter. And the taste is sweet and juicy. I may never buy a cantaloupe from a store again. And I will certainly be growing them again next year!

Usually I just chop the melon up and we eat with our fingers like it's candy.

On this day, a bag of tortilla chips was screaming my name. So I added a few ingredients to the melon and the salsa was fresh, delicious and totally addicting.

Cantaloupe Salsa
  • 1 cantaloupe, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into small bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 - 1/2 of a red onion, chopped fine
  • 1 yellow or red pepper, chopped fine - I used my one and only yellow pepper that grew this year.
  • 1-2 Tbsp pineapple sage herb, chopped fine - You could use mint or parsley.
  • juice from 1 lime
  • jalapeno, chopped fine - this is optional, depending on your heat tolerance.

Combine all of the ingredients and mix together.

This would go well on top of grilled chicken , or grilled salmon, or grilled shrimp.

But on this day we ate the salsa with tortilla chips.

However you decide to eat Cantaloupe Salsa, please Enjoy!

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet.

If you would like to receive FREE updates of FBS through your RSS Feed, please click here to sign up. Or Subscribe by Email.

This post is linked to:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

If You Want To Save Money, Step Away From The Stores.

This post was originally published in June 2009. I can honestly say that I am doing a better job of staying away from the stores, especially Target, in 2010.

I found myself with some time to kill yesterday morning. My oldest daughter was attending vacation bible school from 9am - noon. I could have gone home to do some housework, but nobody twisted my arm, so I went shopping instead.

I had every intention of going shopping yesterday; the VBS is less than a mile from Target. When my car senses a close proximity to Target, it is programmed to turn into the parking lot.

I had 3 hours to blow, so I cruised the perimeter for any good clearance deals. I found dd#1 some stretch pants for $1.24 for the fall. I bought 3 different colors. That was the best deal of the day and I can justify that purchase. Some of the other things in my cart, not so much. I left spending $20.19 on things that weren't essential, but things that I will use. I found a pair of plastic baskets on the perimeter to store toys under my kids' beds. I also bought a 10 inch turntable for my spice cabinet. That wasn't on clearance, but I have been wanting one and I had 3 hours to kill so why not.

I left Target and headed to Marshall's, the bane of my existence. I usually have two kids in tow, so shopping there is never pleasant for me. Marshall's is a store where you need to take your time, because the merchandise is always different and you never know what gems you might find. Yesterday I only had one child and I was armed with snacks. You see this shopping trip was pre-meditated. I had it all planned out. I brought her favorite snacks and water and I just fed her all through the stores so that I could peruse the aisles a little better. Unfortunately it worked and I left Marshall's with a cute Adidas yoga outfit for $26. It wasn't a clearance deal, but it is really cute.

From Marshall's, we went to Lowe's to pick up one last tomato stake. After Lowe's I still had about 30 minutes to blow, so we went to the library where I SHOULD HAVE BEEN the entire time. No money spent there.

Saving money, by not spending money is still a struggle for me. I know what our financial goals are, I have them posted above my desk. Yet I still have moments of weakness where the thrill of a purchase becomes almost like a high. There was nothing that I bought yesterday that was so essential that I couldn't live without, but I shopped anyway. Had I gone home and done housework yesterday, would I have an extra $46. to put towards our goals? I guess I could take the stuff back, but my spice cabinet is already organized and my kids' toys are put away. Now that yoga outfit is still in the bag...that one I'll have to think about.

Have you shopped recently and regretted it? How do you fight the urge to shop?

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet.

If you would like to receive FREE updates of FBS through your RSS Feed, please click here to sign up. Or Subscribe by Email.

This post is linked to:

Monday, August 16, 2010

How To Make Iced Coffee

This post was originally published in July 2009.

No, I don't have a tobacco-chewing habit, like my husband thought when he first saw my cold-brewed coffee jar. I have a different habit...iced coffee.

I drink hot coffee in the mornings, but in the summer I love iced coffee. I came across this recipe by accident when surfing the web one night and it hit me, "why am I not making my own iced coffee?". I was buying iced coffees as a treat for myself occasionally when we were out and about running errands. Now I don't have to because I am making them at home and they are delicious, just like the coffee shops.

It is very easy:

In a mason jar, I stir together 1/3 cup ground coffee and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight or 12 hours. The next morning, I strain through a coffee filter and a fine-mesh strainer. The recipe says to strain twice, but I haven't needed to.

I clean out my mason jar and then mix equal parts coffee concentrate and water, or to taste. The coffee concentrate measures to about 8-9 ounces, so I add about the same in water. I also add about 2-3 ounces 2% milk.

I shake together and pour into a glass filled with ice. Love, Love, Love it!!

Cold-brewed iced coffee recipe found at The New York Times website.

What kind of special coffee drinks do you make? Let us know along with the recipe in the comments.

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet. If you don't already receive FBS free updates, please click here to sign up.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Calling All Gardeners ~ Please Help Me Identify This Plant

A few weeks ago, I was being impatient with my garden. My zucchini plant was huge and had a ton of flowers, but not one single zucchini. The plant had grown so big that it was taking over the garden and yard.

But what I assumed was a zucchini plant is actually not a zucchini at all. The plant was a volunteer from my compost and to me it looked like a zucchini especially since the flowers were yellow. I had never grown a zucchini, but we receive tons of them from our CSA and all of the vegetable scraps get composted.

This past weekend, I had to cut back some of the plant. It had grown to at least 8 feet in circumference and I couldn't get to the compost bin. It was blocking the way. That is when I noticed these guys.

And I haven't a clue what they are. Pumpkins? Watermelon? Fall squash?
So, I am calling all of the experts. So many of my readers are so knowledgeable about gardening and I'm hoping somebody can tell me what this is.

Have you ever gotten a surprise in your garden? Volunteers are fun, but it would be nice to know what this is.

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet.

If you would like to receive FREE updates of FBS through your RSS Feed, please click here to sign up. Or Subscribe by Email.

This post is linked to:

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer Vegetable Pasta

Take advantage of all that summer garden goodness with this quick pasta dish. Serve with grilled chicken and your meal is complete.

Summer Vegetable Pasta
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 yellow squash, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups sliced grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs like basil and/or oregano, chopped fine
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Parmesan
  • fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • 1 lb pasta such as penne, spaghetti, angel hair, bowtie

1. Cook pasta following the box instructions.

2. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini, squash, onion and garlic and stir to soften

3. Add tomatoes, herbs, pepper, salt and cook for 5 minutes. Stirring occasionally.

4. Combine the vegetable mixture with the cooked pasta.

5. Top with Parmesan and fresh parsley if desired.

6. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet.

If you would like to receive FREE updates of FBS through your RSS Feed, please click here to sign up. Or Subscribe by Email.

This post is linked to:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Road to Simplicity Starts With Cleaning the Refrigerator

In a quest to declutter and hopefully simplify our home, I wrote a series this past winter called "Tackle That Tough Spot". I decluttered and reorganized our home office, the garage/mudroom/pantry, the foyer closet and the kids' toys. Aside from our constant struggle with wrangling the toys, these areas have remained organized all of these months later.

I have gotten away from my mission, so I have decided to tackle another area of agitation. Every time I walk into my kitchen, this mess was causing me frustration. And the only person to blame for it was me. I attach everything to the refrigerator with a magnet thinking that I won't forget about it if it is on the fridge. But the fridge eventually looks like this and not much gets noticed. A refrigerator adorned with my kids' artwork can be cute at first, but this had gotten out of hand and much of the artwork was from this past school year.

And the inside was packed with too many condiments, old inedible leftovers, and freezer burned Christmas cookies.

One morning this week, I walked past that refrigerator one too many times. It was time to conquer it and take control.

So with my babe napping and my oldest coloring, I started on a project that took up an afternoon. I eventually enlisted my oldest to help clean.

I removed everything.

And I mean everything.

I scrubbed, sorted, organized and tossed. In the refrigerator, I found lots of old condiments, some from 2008, and leftovers from last week that were not too appealing. In the freezer, I found a few bags of bread ends that nobody will eat, some Christmas cookies, muffins from the winter and bags of half eaten, freezer burned, mixed vegetables that all needed to be tossed.

When my 2 year old woke up from her nap, she let me know in a way that only a 2 year old can (read: tantrum) that Elmo and her letter magnets were staying on the door. My 4 year old also wanted to keep a few of her favorite magnets too.

The side of the fridge will remain our family's command central with a calendar, coupons, invitations and other important information.

I sorted through my kids' art work and moved the pieces that I want to keep to a plastic container where I am storing art work. There is a wall in the play area of our basement where the kids can tape as much artwork as they want to display.

There is so much room on the inside now that leftovers won't get lost, although I can't promise that they won't get ignored. And I'm not buying another condiment until I am positive we don't already have one.

It feels so much better to walk by the fridge now. I feel lighter. My kitchen feels lighter. And now I have to keep it this way. And hopefully, we will waste less food from now on too.

Now that I have taken control of the refrigerator, I am going to find another tough spot to tackle in my quest to declutter, reorganize and simplify our home.

Are you on the road to simplicity? Is there an area in your home that needs tackled? What is it? Let us know in the comments.

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet.

If you would like to receive FREE updates of FBS through your RSS Feed, please click here to sign up. Or Subscribe by Email.

This post is linked to:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

When Automatic Billing Isn't So Green.

Over the winter, I reviewed our budget and to try to reduce any unnecessary spending. One glaring unnecessary expense in my mind was our cable bill. When I approached my husband about reducing or even canceling cable, he replied, "what would you do without Bravo TV?". He always knows how to throw it back at me as he knows Bravo TV is my vice.

He suggested that I call the cable company to review our bill and inquire about smaller cable packages.

I made the phone call and after a 30 minute conversation with a customer service rep, my brain was mush from all of the talk about bundling, broadband and Internet speeds. We bundle our cell phone, Internet and cable and because of that we receive a discount. If we reduce or cancel cable, we will pay more for Internet and our speed will slow down. GRRRRRR.

Sensing my frustration, the customer service rep dangled free 3 months of HBO in front of me to appease me. I bit and hung up the phone.

I was glazed over and hubby was going to have to figure this out. After all, electronics are his domain. If it were up to me, cable would be gone, but it's not so easy for us to cancel cable as it will affect our Internet speed which we have grown accustomed to. The bundling makes each service attractable.

Fast forward to July 2010 and my husband asks to see a copy of our cable bill to review. He was finally going to help me figure out how we can reduce our cable bill. Because I signed up for paperless billing, I needed to go online to print a copy of the recent bill. Our monthly bill is automatically paid via a credit card.

I printed the bill and without even glancing at it I handed it to my husband.

"Why are we paying for HBO?", he asked.

"What did you say?", I replied.

"$22.99 for HBO", he said.

Until that very minute, I completely forgot about the free HBO that we were given several months ago. We might have watched a few movies initially, but we forgot all about it.

He called the company to talk about our bill and found out that the free HBO ended two and half months ago and we were now being charged $22.99 a month. He told the customer service rep about the free offer and that we weren't interested in paying for the HBO. The rep refunded our account $71.82.

The new paperless billing that I signed up for is great, because I don't have to worry about missing a payment. But I don't see a bill unless I take the time to look at it online to check for inconsistencies. And obviously I have not done so. Lesson learned.

"You owe me", my husband said with a wink.

My husband just saved us $71.82 because I was asleep at the wheel. I might be the Family Office Manager, but it goes to show that 2 minds are still better than one.

How many of your bills are paperless? Do you still review them regularly?

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet.

If you would like to receive FREE updates of FBS through your RSS Feed, please click here to sign up. Or Subscribe by Email.

This post is linked to:

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, August 2, 2010

Grilled Garlic Rosemary Red Potatoes

Have I told you how much I love our CSA? Well, I am going to say it again. I LOVE our CSA. Not only do we receive our share of organic, local produce every Tuesday from May through November, but once a month they invite the members to the farm for free extra produce. The farm is about 45 minutes away, but it is so beautiful there that we try to go to as many 'farm days' as possible. And we usually come home with a week's worth of organic produce or maybe more, so the trip is usually worthwhile.

On a recent trip, we were allowed to dig for potatoes. The kids thought that was fun, but mom probably had more fun.

We came home with 2 meals worth of baby red potatoes. Normally, I would roast baby potatoes, but I'm not turning the oven on in 95 degree heat, so I grilled them.

I used this handy grill pan. I really liked how the potatoes turned out with the grill pan. They were nice and crispy, just how we like potatoes.

I would never tell you to go buy a new pan, so I tried the potatoes the second time using a foil pack. They turned out good as well, but the grill pan made them better. I found with the foil pack that some of the potatoes didn't get as crispy.

Grilled Garlic Rosemary Red Potatoes
  • baby or new potatoes - as many as you need, I grilled enough for my family of 4
  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped, fresh rosemary - from my garden
  • 1 tsp salt

1. Cut potatoes into bite sized pieces.

2. Cook the potatoes in boiling water on the stove top until softened.

3. Drain the potatoes.

4. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, rosemary, garlic.

5. Place in grill pan. Set the grill to high and carefully set pan in a grill.

6. Grill 8 minutes. Stir. Grill another 8 minutes or until your desired crispiness.

7. If using a foil packet, after you drizzle with the oil and seasonings, place potatoes in foil. Fold up the 2 long sides and fold up the ends. Like the picture. Place in a grill at high. Grill 8 minutes. Flip the packet. Grill another 8 minutes or until your desired crispiness.

8. Enjoy!

The potatoes in the picture are from the grill pan. Don't they look yummy? I served them with Grilled Lime Chicken with Mango Red Pepper Salsa and some homegrown grape tomatoes tossed with feta.

Do you have a favorite summer recipe that you'd like to share? I have been hosting a Summer Grilling Recipe Exchange specifically for grilling recipes, but I have decided open it up to all recipes.

A few Mr. Linky guidelines:
  • Please link a favorite recipe to Mr. Linky. If you are not a blogger, please let us know your favorite grill recipe in the comment section.
  • Please post the link to your recipe, NOT to your homepage. To do this, click on your update post, copy and paste the whole url address into the Mr. Linky.
  • I also ask that you post a link back to Family Balance Sheet in your article or grab the badge that is in the top left of the site.
  • If you are reading this post via a reader or email, you will need to click through to post your link and to visit others who have linked up.

Thanks for reading FamilyBalanceSheet.

If you would like to receive FREE updates of FBS through your RSS Feed, please click here to sign up. Or Subscribe by Email.

This post is linked to: