Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pantry Challenge Day 3

Breakfast for W was cereal again.  You will see a pattern of than as the next few weeks progress.  I ended up skipping breakfast.  I am not a big breakfast eater normally which is something I hope to work on over the coming month.

Dinner was the rest of the cornbread from day two and Brunswick stew from the freezer.  Every fall I make a huge pot of Brunswick stew and divide into meal sized portion.  It normally lasts us through the winter. 

Supper was snacks since neither of us was very hungry.  W ate pizza rolls.  I ate pizza rolls, chips, and veggies with homemade ranch dressing.

Not a very exciting meal day but some days are like that.  We have too much junk food in the house.  This pantry challenge will be an opportunity to use it up to make room for healthier foods.

Weekend Book Reviews

It may be winter here but 100 Plants to Feed the Bees by The Xerces Society is the perfect book for anyone dreaming of spring gardens.  The color photographs are wonderful.  Each plant is featured in several photographs with a description and map showing where the plant grows.  Also included are lists of the flower visitors and uses for each.  This book is a valuable reference for anyone who wishes to attract not only bees but wasps, butterflies, and hummingbirds to the garden.  With 100 plants there is something for every garden!

Skeleton Keys:  Workplace Hauntings by John Klaan is a book of ten ghost stories related to people's workplaces.  The stories were creepy but will not keep you up at night.  They were retold well by the author.  The black and white photographs added to the book.  If you are interested in ghost stories, this is a good one to read.  They ghostly encounters are shared with seriousness rather than being silly.

Philip Gulley's A Gathering in Hope is book three in a series about a Quaker pastor in a town called Hope.  I have not read any of the prior books.  This particular book had a few good points, but those were far outweighed by the bad.  I felt that the book was targeted toward Christian readers even though it is listed in the humor category.  Many things in the book go against Biblical teachings and even basic human decency.  I was disgusted by the animal cruelty in particular.  I had hoped this would be a fun new series for me to read, but I want nothing more to do with it.

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

Friday, December 30, 2016

Frugal Fridays

I decided to change things up a bit and start doing Frugal Friday posts.  Here are the highlights from the past week.

The pantry challenge is off to a decent start.  I had hoped for a weekly budget of $25 and managed to spend just $19 while stocking up on milk.

The weather was damp and dreary most of the week, but I waited until the sun returned to wash clothes that required more than drying racks.

I avoided purchasing anything during the after Christmas sales.  I did not need anything so it was easy to say No.

My cell phone was missing part of the key pad.  It still worked fine so I planned to use it as long as it lasted.  W found his old phone which was identical to my current one.  He swapped key pads for me.  That should help my phone last longer.  It is a basic phone that only does calls/texts.  It is all I need though so I refuse to upgrade.

I made several thank you cards using items that I had on hand.

We hosted my family's Christmas party.  We always have a light meal of sandwiches, snacks, and desserts.  We were given leftovers and snacked on them for a few days afterwards.

I started back doing Microsoft Rewards and earned a $5 Amazon gift card.  I plan to use the earned gift cards from there and Swagbucks to fund some of my wants over the coming year.

I have been rotating through some of my parents' garden plots to feed the rabbits.  They have been enjoying extra kale, spinach, and mustard as well as some clover.  It prevents having to buy something green for the bunnies.

The weather has been warm so there was very little need for the heat over the past week.  It was quite warm Christmas night.  Turning on the large ceiling fan in the living room eliminated the need for the air conditioner.

Pantry Challenge Day 2

Day two went much smoother.  I stayed home for the most part so it was easier to stick to the pantry for our food.  I apologize for the poor lighting in the pictures.  The sun has been hiding here all week.

Breakfast - W ate cereal.  I had a piece of toast with Nutella, grapes, and coffee.

Dinner was pineapple sandwiches and chips.  I think pineapple sandwiches are a southern thing.  I had cut up a fresh pineapple which we will snack on for several days.  It was delicious on slices of homemade bread with mayonnaise though.

Supper was stew beef with potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery cooked in the slow cooker.  I made corn bread to go with it.  W like the Jiffy Mix style cornbread.  I prefer to make it from scratch.  A few simple ingredients yield the same sweet cornbread.

I can tell that the pantry challenge is getting me back into the habit of meal planning as well.  This weekend I plan to go digging into the refrigerator freezer to see what needs to be used up from there.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Pantry Challenge - Day 1

The best way to start off a pantry challenge is probably not with a trip to the grocery store, but that is how I am starting.  W needed milk and cereal, and we were low on half & half.  Coffee is high priority here.  We got lucky and found milk on markdown.  While the picture shows one gallon, I actually purchased six at $1.25 each.  That will have us set for the remainder of the challenge.

Spending first:  I spent $19.  That bought me six gallons of milk, two boxes of cereal, baby carrots, mushrooms, half & half, soy sauce, tomato paste and Italian seasoned tomatoes.  The items were not absolutely necessary but are helpful for some meal plans.

In keeping things honest and real - today found us out running errands much longer than I anticipated. I used some of my personal money to buy us a light dinner.  Since it was not grocery money, I am going to give myself a pass.  I do not plan to make a habit of it.  This just happened to occur on the first day of the pantry challenge.  

I made up for it by cooking an early supper of ham fried rice and rolls.  I used some rice I had a frozen a couple of weeks ago, frozen mixed vegetables, and some of the leftover holiday ham.  The rolls were homemade and also from the freezer.

I am off to an okay start.  I will not let a minor slip up discourage me.  Check back tomorrow to see how day two goes!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Pantry Challenge

Now that the holidays are pretty much over, I feel the need to do a winter pantry challenge.  The extra push might have came Christmas night.  My cousin came out of my pantry and announced that in the event of a zombie apocalypse he was coming to my house.  I am all for being prepared, but even I am willing to admit we need to eat what we have rather than buy more.

My goal will be to plan meals and snacks based mostly on what is on hand (pantry and freezers).  W will still want his milk and cereal.  I do plan to make a few batches of homemade granola as a cereal substitute.  I will purchase dairy and produce as needed to round out meals.

Today would be my normal grocery day so I am choosing now to start.  My plan is to go through January 31 which will be five weeks.  Half of the savings will go toward paying off the small amount of debt accrued from building our new house.  The other half will go toward future grocery purchases - mainly stocking up on sale items.

Anyone else on board?  Feel free to make up your own rules and timeline.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Healing Herbal Teas

I was excited to review Healing Herbal Teas by Sarah Farr.  I love herbal teas.  I enjoy making my own blends and have expanded my herb garden to include herbs to dry for my teas.  The herbal spotlights included throughout the book were helpful giving a brief overview of each herb.  I was slightly disappointed with the tea recipes included in the book.  This book is for more advanced herbal tea drinkers who are looking to purchase ingredients for blending.  I was more interested in herbal teas that I could make from herbs I grow.

While Healing Herbal Teas was not what I was interested in, it might be just what you want.  If you love herbal teas and are looking to branch out, definitely consider this book.  Be prepared to search a bit for some of the herbs used.  Otherwise you will find the book to be an excellent resource.

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

Weekly Savings

I have kept to a fairly low Christmas shopping budget.  Poor planning meant a few last minute purchases.  I did shop around for my mother's last gift and found a better price with a coupon code and in store pickup.  Shopping around saved me $8!

I used an Amazon gift card and reward points to order peat pellets for free.  I will use these to start my spring garden seeds.  Believe it or not it is time to plant pepper and tomato seeds indoors for my area. 

I stuck close to my grocery budget.  I only have one holiday party to go.  My family party is laid back with sandwiches and snacks.  I expect to start a pantry challenge after Christmas since my pantry is overflowing.

I have started back doing Swagbucks to earn gift cards for extras.

I called the phone company after our phone bill with the new internet upgrade was higher than expected.  The customer service representative discovered a monthly credit was not applied to our bill.  He fixed it and the bill will be closer to what we were expecting.

I am getting an early start on next year's Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes by crocheting wash cloths with donated yarn.  I will be on a much tighter budget this coming year but feel this is an important ministry project. 

I received a protein bar that I won in an online instant win game. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Pot Luck

Pot Luck by Kendel Lynn is book four in the Elliot Lisbon Mystery series.  I had not read any of the previous books.  After reading this one, the other three are on my wish list.  Elliot is a great southern character with a touch of OCD and a start on her PI license.  This book is set around St. Patrick's Day and the Pot of Gold cook-off.  A chef turns up dead, and it is up to Elliot to solve the mystery.  At the same time she is the temporary caretaker for two rambunctious pugs - Colonel Mustard and Mrs. White.  This is a fun book.  I enjoyed the bit of humor along with the mystery.  It was also nice to see both sides of a coastal beach town from million dollar condos to the trailer park.  I enjoyed the honesty in both the characters and the setting.

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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Weekend Book Reviews

Mistletoe Mysteries:  Tales of Yuletide Murder is a collection of Christmas themed short mysteries.  The mysteries are light and provide quick reads. The subtitle is a bit misleading as not at all of the stories involve murder.  Each of the stories revolves around the holiday season.  My favorite was a Christmas themed ghost story, "The Live Tree" by John Lutz.  With tales from Mary Higgins Clark, Eric Wright, and Susan Dunlap, this book offers something for everyone.

Detox Delish:  Your Guide to Clean Eating by Jennifer Mac has a Biblical side focus for plant based  eating.   As the title suggests the book has a main focus on detox.  The first portion of the book explains about the author's life and her reasons for a raw, plant based diet.  The second half focuses on the detox plan and the raw food recipes.  While the idea is good, I am not convinced it is for everyone. The idea of a multiple day fast will work for some but not all.  Many of the ideas and recipes can be incorporated into anyone's diet though.

The Seven-Course Christmas Killer by Rosie Genova is a holiday themed short mystery from the Italian Kitchen Mystery series.  I have not read anything else in the series, but I was easily able to follow this short story.  This is a fast paced mystery that takes place during a traditional Italian Christmas Eve celebration.  Victoria and her sister have to find out who is trying to kill the mayor before the seventh course is served.  I found this to be a wonderful little taste of the series and definitely made me want to read more.  It is a fun, short, holiday mystery

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Furry Friday

I needed some pictures of the grandpets for my mother's Christmas calendar gift.  I thought I would share those today.

Lucy is very prim and proper

Paris' favorite napping spot in the new house

Leo loves his big beds and his cozy nook

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

My Latest Favorite Cookbook

When I was searching for a cake to make for Thanksgiving, I stumbled across a recipe for a Maple Streusel Pumpkin cake.  It looked beautiful and seemed simple enough.  I knew when I mixed the batter that the cake was going to be good.  I had no idea just how good.  It was moist, sweet but not too sweet, and delicious.

The recipe is from the book Simply Beautiful Homemade Cakes by Lindsay Conchar of the blog Life, Love and Sugar.  I knew when I made the cake that I wanted the cookbook.  Now that I have the cookbook, I want to bake my way through the entire thing.

I also made a banana pudding cake that seems to be all the rage right now.  The problem is that the cake layers are awful.  I turned to Live, Love, and Sugar for a banana cake recipe.  I made it into three layers filled with a whipped cream/vanilla pudding mixture and sliced bananas.  I covered the outside with stabilized whipped cream and vanilla wafer.  The revised cake was so much better than the first.

I highly recommend both the blog and the cookbook for great dessert recipes (disclosure:  I purchased the cookbook myself.  Lindsay has no idea who I am.  I just love her recipes.)  My only problem is deciding what to bake next!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Weekly Savings

I did my grocery shopping earlier in the week when I had an errand to run and did not go back into town.  I stuck to my budget.

I finished crocheting two more infinity scarves for gifts.  I decided to make matching hair bows since I already had plenty of yarn and the alligator clips.

I worked on gifts for friends.  I am not sharing what those are since several friends do read the blog.

I hand delivered a few Christmas cards rather than mail them out.

I did minimal post-Thanksgiving shopping.  I used gift cards to get some free magazines.  I used another gift card to get myself a very nice pair of fingerless gloves for shipping only.  I ordered W a reusable water bottle for free with a promotional code.

I bought some clothing for W and myself from during their Cyber Monday sale.  W and I both wear hard to find sizes so I try to stock up on items when I find a great deal.

I got back to basic cooking.  I made hamburger buns, rolls, and ranch dressing this week.  I also made cornbread from scratch rather than purchase a boxed mix.  I made chili without the use of a seasoning packet.  I find cooking from scratch to be cheaper and much healthier.

W and I processed a deer he killed.  We eat mainly venison.  The cost of having a deer processed where we live is crazy.  The equipment was worth the investment and has paid for itself many times over.  We vacuum seal the meat so that it lasts longer in the freezer.

W picked several baskets of lemons from the neighbor's tree.  We have slowly been juicing them and freezing the juice to use throughout the year.  He also had permission to dig up a few young trees that had sprouted to add to our little orchard.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Classic German Baking

When I saw that Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss contained an authentic recipe for Black Forest Cake, I knew I wanted to add it to my collection.  Unfortunately I have yet to actually try that recipe since no one else in my family eats that cake.  Let's look at the positives of the book first.  The hardcover version has a lovely binding.  The cover of the book is beautiful.  A wide variety of recipes are included ranging from cookies to tortes to breads/rolls.

This book definitely had some drawbacks for me. First is the obscure ingredients.  Many of the recipes call for high-fat, European-style butter which I will never every find in any grocery store near me.  I appreciate that it might be needed for authentic German results.  I do wish the author had considered her American audience.  A lengthy process is given for making your own quark, but some research (not the author) told me that Greek Yogurt is an acceptable substitute at least for my purposes.  The second drawback is the lack of pictures of the food.  The book includes plenty of pictures of Germany which would be better suited to a travel book rather than a cookbook.  Some pictures could truly have been taken at any location and added nothing to appeal of the book.

Those negatives aside I did throw caution to the wind and baked the Schwarz-Weiss Geback (Checkerboard Cookies) with regular American butter.  Neither my husband nor I have tasted the true German version.  We both agreed that the cookies were quite good.  Despite the author's stern warning that non-European butter would not work at all, I will be trying more of the recipes with regular butter.

In spite of the negatives I do like this cookbook.  It will not be one that I use everyday.  I do expect to experiment with more recipes.  I am determined to make that black forest cake too!

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

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Weekend Book Reviews

Shades of Wrath by Karen Rose Smith is book six in the Caprice De Luca Mystery series.  I had not read any of the previous books but had no problem jumping right into this one.  Caprice is a home stager and is asked to make over some areas of a mansion for a women's shelter.  Things are going well until the director of the shelter is found murdered.  Caprice gets drawn into the mystery.  The characters are interesting, and I liked the spotlight on domestic issues.  The writing was good but not great.  I felt that some aspects of the book (the reality tv show) added little to it.  I was looking for a bit more.  While not a bad book, Shades of Wrath is not one of my favorites.

Haunted is Always in Fashion by Rose Pressey is book three in the Haunted Vintage Mystery series.  This cozy mystery leans far to the fantasy side.  The main character, Cookie, owns a vintage clothing store and has a ghost following her around.  I like a good ghost story, but I am not sure this qualifies.  While the mystery was interesting, most of the book focused on what Cookie was wearing that day.  I felt that the book lacked depth and was lighter than what I prefer to read.  If what you enjoy is a fluffy, fantasy book, this will be perfect.

Queen of the Cookbooks by Ashton Lee is part of the Cherry Cola Book Club series.  It is marketed as women's fiction.   Overall I was very disappointed.  I kept reading thinking eventually something interesting would happen.  Spoiler alert:  The Queen of the Cookbooks is crowned about halfway through the book.  Things were too syrupy sweet and perfect.  I do not mind a feel good, fictional novel, but I do want the book to be sightly believable.  I have not read any of the previous books.  If there was any character development it happened prior to this book.  I think with a bit of adjustment it would be better for teens/young adults.

First Degree Mudder by Kate Dyer-Seeley is book four in the Pacific Northwest series.  This is the first book I have read in the series.  It features two mysteries.  The main mystery takes place when main character, Meg, signs up for Mind Over Mudder to help her train for a mud run.  She finds trainer and former drill sergeant Billy dead.  The side mystery involves Meg looking into the death of her father which happened years before.  The book also features a bit of romance.  I enjoyed the main mystery and also how the series has room for development over time.

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