Sunday, May 29, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Chelsea Market Makers

Chelsea Market Makers by Michael Phillips and Cree LeFavour gives readers a peek inside Chelsea Market.  The book is divided into topics arranged alphabetically and even includes a section on gifts. This book is best suited for people with a specific interest in Chelsea Market or those interested in a very wide variety of cooking topics/techniques.  The recipes seemed to fall on one of two sides. On one side the dishes were too far out there as far as ingredients for a very rural cook like myself  - like the squid ink linguine that calls for fresh sea urchins.  The other side had dishes that I already make all of the time - like chow chow.  For the record I prefer to stick with my southern version of chow chow.  I did note some middle of the line recipes but not enough to warrant actually keeping the book in my library.

This is not necessarily a bad cookbook.  It simply is not for me.  If you are looking for a broad cookbook that covers a bit of everything, check out Chelsea Market Makers from the library and see if it is for you.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Pantry Challenge Week 4

I think I have at least two more weeks at least of the pantry challenge.  I ended up being a bit over this week but hope it will balance out next week.  Part of the problem is that I needed some items to test a recipe for a book review.  We also added a couple of junk food items to the cart again this week.  With last week's uneaten junk food purchases, I should be able to stick better to the budget next week.

I spent $29.49.  I dug out $1.49 in change from my wallet and will consider myself $3 over for the week.  Here is I purchased:

Penne Pasta
Crushed Tomatoes
Plain Yogurt
Whipping Cream
Sour Cream

What we ate:

Pasta with Vegetables & Bread sticks:  Gardens here are starting to produce.  My aunt gifted me some zucchini & yellow squash.  I sauteed both with chopped onion, dried tomatoes (last year's garden), and some of the mushrooms.  I added in cooked penne, Parmesan cheese (left from last week), and garlic.  It was a made up recipe, but we both loved how it turned out.  I will definitely make it again.  The bread sticks were homemade, and I put two portions in the freezer for future meals.

Grilled Cheese:  I was aching from moving boxes of tile, and W was feeling better so he took care of this meal.

Homemade Corn Dogs with Zucchini Tots:  I was trying to make good use of the squash we were gifted.  Honestly I was a bit surprised at how much W liked them.  These will definitely be on the menu again.

Pizza & Salad:  Nothing spectacular, but I was able to add peppers and cucumbers from the garden to the salad.

Burrito Bowls:  I had extra filling left from making burritos.  I served that with chopped lettuce, salad, sour cream, and corn chips.

Hamburgers and Chips:  This was an easy quick meal one evening.

Pizza:  W had been asking for homemade pizza.  I had two portions of dough in the freezer.  I topped it with cheese (already on hand), mushrooms (also on hand), pepperoni (from the freezer), and banana pepper (garden).

Baked Chicken Tenders and Oven Fries:  I coat the chicken tenders in homemade breadcrumbs to make them crunchy even though they are not fried.  The oven fries are simply potatoes sliced into strips and soaked in water to remove some of the starch.  I then toss them with olive oil and salt/pepper before baking them.  They turn out crisp and are cheaper and healthier than purchasing frozen fries.

Big Salads:  We had two chicken tenders left over.  I served these in a big salad of lettuce and vegetables from the fridge/garden and homemade salad dressings.

Egg Salad and Chips:  I am never lacking for eggs.  This made an easy after church meal.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Garden Update

I spent some time weeding the garden earlier this week so it was a good time to take some pictures.

This bed has very tiny lettuces, hibiscus, two volunteer tomato plants, two eggplants, zinnias, cosmos, and yarrow.

I have basil, blue hyssop, and chamomile.  The chickens love the chamomile which is the reason for the white wire shelf.  Hopefully now the chamomile can have a chance to grow.  I plan to add in more basil and some radishes to this bed.

The potted herbs are doing well.  I want to move them to a pallet saved from having our tile delivered.

The lemongrass has continued to grow like crazy.  I need to cut it back and dry some of it.

One of the lemons.  I think I have about 10 this year.

This bed currently only has bee balm, but I plan to add in some blue salvia.

The cucamelons are growing very well.  I pushed the containers up against the fence to allow them to run along it.

My bed of peppers continues to be filled with marigolds.  I need to find somewhere else to move some.

Cherokee Purple Tomato

Yellow Pear Tomatoes - Definitely one of my favorites to grow

Jalapeno peppers on plants that regrew from last year's stalks

Pineapple Sage

This is a mixture of things.  On the left are some loquat trees that my uncle gave me.  In the middle is a piece of pineapple sage.  To the right are two pomegranate cuttings and one fig cutting that I am trying to root.

W's first avocado tree grown from seed.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Weekly Savings

W was sick for most of last week so I did not do much of anything.  I ended up having to take him to the doctor.  The visit was covered by insurance, and his medicine was around $12.  I also used some home remedies to help him recover and keep myself from getting sick.

I did laundry on days when it was sunny so the clothes could be hung on the line.

I harvested lemon balm, pineapple sage, mints, and chives from the garden. 

I baked two loaves of bread.

In anticipation of busy weeks ahead, I made burritos and cheesesteak sloppy joe filling for the freezer.  I had everything on hand for the burritos except tortillas which I purchased with extra grocery money earlier this month.  I bought mushrooms on sale and had all of the other ingredients for the sloppy joe filling.

My aunt gifted me with zucchini, yellow squash, and cucumbers from her garden.

My uncle gifted me with a bucket full of blueberries.  I kept some for fresh eating and froze the rest.

Those are the highlights from here.  I hope everyone had a thrifty week!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Weekend Book Reviews

This weekend's post is a mix of genres.  I have been enjoying reading books that I would not normally choose.

Painting Water by Teresa Waugh was originally released as a hardback book in 1985.  It has recently been re-released as an e-book.  I was very interested to read the book as it was described as  woman looking back over her life as she lay dying.  This is not exactly true.  It is simply the story of a woman (Alice) and her family/friends.  She only looks back over her life at the very end.  I was disappointed in the story line.  To me it was nothing more than people complaining about their own lives as well as the choices those around them made.  The whining seemed endless.  I lean toward the side of finding contentment in life, and none of the characters were content at all.  At the same time they did nothing to change the situations.  As much as I wanted to like the book, I just hated it.

I have mixed feelings about My Holiday in North Korea by Wendy E Simmons.  I thought this would be an interesting look into a country that I will never visit.  While I did find some of the stories and descriptions in the book compelling, I was put off by the writer.  She goes on and on with how empathetic she is.  Considering actions speak louder than words, I am not convinced she possesses that character trait.  Ms. Simmons did choose to travel to North Korea for 10 days.  Her handlers/guides live in North Korea.  I was also put off by the author's unnecessary use of profanity.  In the end I found this book to be just average.

Morgue by Dr. Vincent DiMaio and Ron Franscell is not for everyone.  While not overly gory, some of the descriptions may be upsetting to readers as they are true stories.  I enjoyed reading about Dr. DiMaio's process.  The cases cover a wide time frame.  It also brings to light how the smallest detail can be the difference between an innocent person being free and going to prison.  This book was easily my favorite of the three books I read this week.  I stayed up much too late reading as it was so hard to put down.

disclosure:  I received these e-books from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for these reviews.  All opinions are my own!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Pantry Challenge Week 3

My spending was a bit over this week from the $25.  I had money from the gift category and my mom's contribution toward the food for the bridal shower(*).  I also had some money left from the previous week.  Finally I totaled up all the change in my wallet to give me the amount I spent with a bit of change leftover.

This week's spending was $43.43.  Here is what I purchased:
Whole Wheat Tortillas
Dry Vegetable Soup Mix*
Fresh Corn
Parmesan Cheese*
Plain Yogurt*
Frozen Spinach*
Frozen Pizza

What we ate:

Frozen Pizzas and Salads:  We spent way to much time at the home improvement store, and I needed something quick.  The pizzas were much cheaper than take out.  We had all of the salad fixings at home.

Ham Sandwiches and Corn on the Cob:  The ham was from the freezer.  I wanted to make use of some rolls so I turned them into mini sandwiches.  The corn was on sale again.  This is probably my last purchase from the grocery store as the corn is getting too old (mature) to be good as corn on the cob, which is our favorite way to eat it.

Ham and French Toast:  I used the rest of the ham to round out a breakfast for supper meal of French toast.

W ended up catching a stomach bug that is circulating around.  He only ate a baked potato and some bananas over the rest of the week.  I ate whatever I could round up from the freezer and used some home remedies to keep myself healthy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Yearly Goal: 52 Small Changes - Update

Anyone remember back at the first of the year I planned to work through the book 52 Small Changes?  Things started off well, but as work on the new house progressed I spent less time on the small changes.  Not one to just give in I decided to start all over at the end of April.

Week One:  I found that drinking more water was much easier this time around.  I start my day with one cup of water before I allow myself any coffee.  I find myself actually craving water first thing in the morning now.

Week Two:  A set sleeping schedule has been much harder.  Many days after I finished chores in the old house, working on the new house, and feeding up I still needed to work in the garden.  I am going to continue to work on this.  As long as I am getting enough sleep, I will not stress over it.

Week Three:  This week I have worked on moving more.  I bought myself a pedometer to keep track of my steps.  This was a much more economical purchase for me.  I also wanted something simple. I hope to gradually start increasing the amount of walking I do each day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Spinach Dip Recipe

I volunteered to take a spinach dip to a bridal shower over the weekend.  I tested one recipe last month and the results were mixed.  One of the complaints was the overwhelming mayonnaise taste.  I searched for a mayo free recipe, but it was still not quite what I wanted.  I did use it as a basis for my own recipe.

Spinach Dip  (Printable Recipe)
Adapted from What Matters Most Now

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 package (16 oz) frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup Parmesan cheese
2 envelopes dry vegetable soup mix

Beat cream cheese in large mixing bowl until smooth.  Add all other ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined.  Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to combine.  Makes about 5 cups.

I served this in a homemade bread bowl with crackers.  It was a big hit with most everyone going back for seconds or thirds.  This will be my go to spinach dip recipe from here on out.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Weekly Savings

This past week was a bit hectic as W was working on orders/repairs in his rod & reel shop.  I was trying to keep up with everything else around the house.

I started some seeds in peat pellets.  These are about 10 cents each when purchased in bulk, and I find I have much better luck with seeds germinating in them.  It is worth the small added expense since it is still cheaper than purchasing plants.

I brought home the bread bowl to feed to the chickens as a treat.

I froze the pieces scooped out of the bread bowl to turn into breadcrumbs later.

I divided lemongrass I purchased earlier this spring.  It grew much more than I expected and was overfilling the top.

I planted two pineapple tops that I had rooted.

I harvested pineapple sage, lemon balm, and mints to use in my herbal teas.

I picked more strawberries from the garden as well as some blackberries.

The tile we wanted for the new house finally went back on sale.  I was waiting for the drop in price to order.  Our patience meant a savings of over $800.  We did opt to have the tile and supplies shipped.  The shipping charges were lower than the wear/tear and cost of us pulling a trailer four hours round trip to pick up everything.

I attended a wedding shower over the weekend.  My mom and I went in together on a gift which was a cake carrier (purchased with a 40% off coupon) which I decorated with vinyl shapes cut out with my Cricut.  I used some leftover pieces of tulle to wrap it.  I also included a scrubbie and dish cloth crocheted with yarn I had on hand.  I took spinach dip (recipe tomorrow) served in a homemade bread bowl.  I used this recipe minus the Parmesan cheese and divided the dough into two pieces.  I baked them for about 30 minutes in two 6 inch cake pans.  It was served with crackers.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Make It Easy

Stacie Billis comes to the rescue of home cooks with her new book, Make It Easy:  120 Mix-and-Match Recipes to Cook from Scratch with Smart Store-Bought Shortcuts When You Need Them.  Let's just call it Make It Easy from here on out.

Make It Easy is loaded with from scratch recipes for everything from breakfasts to snacks to dinner ideas and even special occasion desserts.  I especially liked seeing the homemade salad dressings.  I truly believe this is something everyone should do and Ms. Billis' recipes make it easy.  I am inspired to try her recipe for fresh ricotta cheese.  The recipes stick to the title and are truly easy to make.  Each recipe begins with a mix-and-match section.

While I got the idea that this book is geared toward beginners, I think it offers something for every home cook.  While I do make my own salad dressings, I have never made ricotta cheese.  I am excited to add a few new from scratch recipes to my cooking.  Make It Easy is perfect for the home cook who wants to get away from packaged/processed foods without spending hours in the kitchen.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Food Swap

I was anxious to read Food Swap by Emily Paster.  The book cover states "Specialty Recipes for Bartering, Sharing, & Giving".  I did discover that the main focus of the book is how to start a food swap.  If this is something you are interested in, this is the perfect book for you.  It covers everything you need to know to have a successful food swap and even discusses some of the cons.  Various types of food swaps and explained including soup swaps, meal swaps, and even harvest swaps.

The second focus of the book is on recipes for items that can be swapped or given as gifts.  From candies to flavored salts and canned items, a variety of recipes are available for every skill level.  Even if you are not interested in hosting or taking part in a food swap, home cooks will be inspired by the recipes.

Keep in mind that a community food swap really means you will be swapping food with strangers.  If this does not bother you, I highly recommend this book for hosts or participants.  I fall in to the category of those who are picky about who prepares what I eat.  I was still pleased with the variety of recipes for making things for myself.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Furry Friday: House Building Helpers

When we work one the new house, we are never lacking for helpers of the furry variety.  Thea, who will not come in the old house, happily hangs out in the new one.

Of course, Leo is always nearby to keep us company.

Occasionally, Leo's friend, Shadow, will stop by to visit.

Those two can never stay still very long.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pantry Challenge Week 2

I am continuing to stick to a much smaller than normal grocery budget.  Last week was good where spending was concerned.

My total spending for the week was $19.52.  Here is what I bought:

4 avocados
2 lemons
baby carrots
almond milk
2 cream cheese
cheese for pizza
2 boxes of cereal

Meals are another story.  We did eat but with working on the house most days we grabbed a sandwich or something else quick.  W ate egg sandwiches a couple of times.  I had a grilled cheese one day and peanut butter sandwich another.

Meals I can remember:

Pizza & Salad:  I made a pizza using the dough and tips I learned from the Craftsy class.  It turned out really well.

Pork Sandwiches with Chips & Salsa:  I cooked a Boston butt a few weeks ago and froze it in meal size portions.

Stew Beef with Potatoes & Carrots, Rolls, and Ooey Gooey Cake:  This was for my dad's birthday dinner.

Hopefully next week will be a bit calmer so that I can keep up with meals.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Free Craftsy Mini-Class

Did you know Craftsy offers free mini-classes?  Signing up is easy.  Once you have a Craftsy account, choose "Online Classes".  On the left side of your screen are the broad topics, choose one that interests you.  Scroll down until you see the "Price" section and then select "Free Mini-Classes".  Then enroll in any that interest you.  Each class has lesson videos and printable items.

Last week I finished the Perfect Pizza at Home class.  I went through the videos and downloaded the dough recipes.  I make pizza, but this technique was different than what I had done in the past.  The results were great.  (I tried to take pictures, but it was so late in the evening that the lighting was horrible.)  W raved about the crust.  I got helpful tips on toppings including varieties of cheese to use.  It was well worth my time, and I am looking forward to other Craftsy mini-classes.

Have you ever taken a Craftsy class?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Weekly Savings

This was an especially quiet week.  I did not anything extra special to save money, but even the ordinary things are good.

I listened to Pandora for free while cleaning the house.  I love that I can create my own music station.

We ate mainly from the freezer, and I was actually under budget on groceries this week.  I am putting a small dent in the freezer.

I picked herbs, strawberries, and a few blueberries from the garden this week.

Laundry was dried on the line.

I planted more seeds in the garden.  Although it takes longer, this is the less expensive way to grow a garden.

I took time to pay bills and go over the budget.  Not paying late fees is always a money saver.  While I handle the finances, W and I do have budget meetings to discuss things so he is still involved.

I read a few back issues of Molly Green magazine thanks to my purchase of the Ultimate Homemakers Bundle.

I took a free Craftsy class.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Forgiving My Daughter's Killer

Kate and Andy Grosmaire lived every parents' worst nightmare when their daughter was murdered by her boyfriend.  Rather than focus on the tragedy, Kate Grosmaire's book, Forgiving My Daughter's Killer, is truly about forgiveness.

The book is easy to read.  I finished it in just two evenings.  Early parts of the Grosmaries' lives are discussed along with the loss of their daughter, Ann.  Forgiveness seemed to come very easy for the family, and Kate Grosmaire credits her Catholic faith for this.  The book also introduced me to the concept of restorative justice.  This connects the victims (or victims' families) and the offenders.  

I did enjoy this book, and I have found myself thinking more about forgiveness of small, everyday occurrences.  Not everyone will need to find forgiveness in a situation like the Grosmaire family did, but everyone needs to forgive.  

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Weekend Book Review: The Big Five

I was recently able to read The Big Five:  Five Simple Things You Can Do to Live a Longer, Healthier Life by Dr. Sanjiv Chopra with David Fisher.  The title is not at all misleading.  The five things discussed in the book are simple and can be done by anyone.

While some health books can easily bog the reader down with technical details, The Big Five is easy to read.  Detailed supporting evidence is included for each of the five items.  It is presented in an easy to read format.  A few of the things I already incorporate into my daily routine.  The others are simple to add each day.

No special equipment is needed, and each of the suggestions can be done by anyone, anywhere.  It seems simple to say that I really enjoyed this book and the information provided, but it is true.  I highly recommend you read this book if you get the chance.  The studies and trials that back up each of the items are hard to dismiss.  I was inspired to make sure these five very simple things become part of my daily life.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Pantry Challenge Week 1: Sticking to a Grocery Budget

At the beginning of the year, my plan was to stick to a smaller grocery budget.  I did okay for a few months, but I gradually got less serious about watching my spending.  This past month ended up with me going over my old budget by quite a bit.  I am sticking to a $25 per week spending limit for at least the next month until we get things under control.

Here is what I bought last week followed by what we ate.

Canned frosting*
Crackers (W's lunch)
Grapes (W's lunch - on sale)
Fresh Corn on the Cob (first of the season)
Sour Cream
Half & Half

My total was $25.55.  I had the change in my wallet so did not count it as going over.

*These items were for a birthday party for one of my Bible class children.

Breakfasts here are always "whatever".  W's usually eats cereal or eggs.  I have a muffin, smoothie, or leftover pancakes from the freezer.

Corn Dogs and French Fries:  I did homemade corn dogs.  I used to buy the beef ones but everything I saw at the grocery store started with "mechanically separated...".  That is beyond wrong.  W gave these a high rating so this recipe is a keeper.

Lima Beans and Rice:  This was a cheap meal.  I cooked dried lima beans with a ham bone I saved from a spiral ham.  This gets served over rice with or without onions.

Chicken Tenders and Corn on the Cob:  I baked the chicken tenders and boiled the corn on the cob.  The first corn of the year is always so good.  It is best served dripping with butter and topped with salt and pepper.

Grilled Chipotle Chicken and Cheese Sandwiches with Chips/Dip:  The shredded chicken was meant for tacos, but at the last minute I decided sandwiches would be better.  I made dip using a homemade spice mix and a mixture of sour cream and Greek yogurt.

Fish Sandwiches and French Fries:  I am loving my new toaster oven.  It is large enough to cook two trays of items so I need the big oven less and less.  That is a good thing when it is already near 90 degrees.

Ribs, Potato Salad, Green Beans:  I started digging around in the freezer and discovered we had a pile of food that needed to be eaten.  These ribs were one of the items I found.  I added a homemade barbecue sauce and put them in the slow cooker.

Tomato Soup & Salad:  Fortunately we had one more cool day this week as I had discovered a container of homemade tomato basil soup in the freezer.  We ate it and salads one evening for supper.

Leftovers:  These nights are buffet style.  We have a choice of anything leftover.  Anything not eaten, gets put in the freezer as homemade frozen dinners to be eater later.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Few of My Favorite Things

I wanted to share a few of my favorite internet finds from the past week.

How to Store Chipotle Chilies in the Refrigerator from The Frugal Girl:  I had never bought chipotle chilies mainly because I had no idea what to do with an entire can of them.  This post was all the push I needed to purchase a can.  Now I am obsessed with chipotles.  They are so yummy - a bit of heat with lots of smokiness.

Hummus from Gimme Some Oven: I think this is the week for things I have never tried before.  I had never eaten hummus before and that includes store bought.  Since everything homemade is better, I thought homemade hummus would be better too.  I wanted a basic recipe to get me started.  This one is great with fresh vegetables.  I was surprised that even W ate some.  I am looking to experiment, but this recipe will be included.

Christmas Ornament for Vacation Bible School:  Once I know the theme for our church's VBS, I start searching for craft ideas.  I often mark a bunch of things and then go back to narrow down the list.  Our VBS is in July so I am going with a Christmas in July theme for one day.  I thought this would be a nice keepsake.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Weekly Savings

My grocery spending has been a bit out of control for the past month so I put myself on a budget to get things to balance back out.  More details on that later in the week.  The good thing is that I stuck to the budget.

We closed our safe deposit box at the bank.  It was a bit silly to see the things we had been storing in there.  Nothing was irreplaceable.  We received a 98 cents refund but will save $45 a year from here on out.

We ate strawberries from my parents' garden and four blueberries from ours.  This is the first year for our blueberry plants so I was not expecting much.  I cannot begin to describe how delicious my two organic, fresh picked blueberries were.

All of our laundry was dried either outside or on drying racks inside.  I also used a sample of detergent to wash two loads.

Meals were all cooked at home, and we made an effort to eat leftovers.

I cooked dried beans in the slow cooker twice this week.  It is cheaper than buying canned beans and also healthier.  I can control the amount of salt when I cook them myself.

I did no extra shopping this week.  I did not let myself get tempted by any Amazon deals or in store sales on things I did not need.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Having a Martha Home the Mary Way

Sarah Mae's book, Having a Martha Home the Mary Way, is a 31 day religious based approach to getting your home in order.  With this book I noted pros as well as some cons.  The book offers tasks over 31 days.  Each day readers are given a Mary challenge (daily Bible reading and journaling) and a Martha challenge (cleaning).

The book focuses on hospitality and creating a home that welcomes people in.  I have been in "perfect" homes where I was scared to even breathe for fear of ruining something.  A welcoming home is my goal.  The reading/challenges are fairly simple to complete.

This book seems geared toward households with children.  If this does not apply to you as it did not apply to me, you will find yourself having over a week of no relevant cleaning tasks.  While the cleaning challenges would be helpful to a home in crisis mode, I personally found them lacking.  Readers have no way to build a solid routine, and several of the challenges were too vague.  I was looking for a way to have a long term "Martha" home.

Overall this book was just okay.  I did not find it helpful for my life.  If you are a mom to younger children, you would most likely benefit much more.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!