Monday, December 31, 2012

Menu Plan: Winter (Dec. 30-Jan. 5)

     We didn't get to a few meals that were planned last week, so we're having them this week instead. It actually worked out well because that reduces our shopping for this week considering that we have extras for a couple of celebrations coming up (New Years & my husband's birthday). As you can see in the photo, we've stuck to the basics with produce, dairy, meat, dry beans, grains, and flour. Beyond that, we're utilizing the items we already have stocked in our freezer and pantry. By maintaining a basic pantry (and freezer stock), we're able to keep the grocery shopping affordable while still striving for real foods (ie not packaged/processed/convenience foods). Here is our menu plan for this week:

-Oat Bran Banana Muffins (Adjusted baking time and temperature to be appropriate for muffins instead of a loaf)
-Eggs, bacon, biscuits, and fresh orange juice/oranges (Hubby's favorite breakfast meal for his b-day)
-Oatmeal cooked with apples and then topped with some toasted walnuts, cinnamon, flaxseed meal and drizzle of maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
-Quinoa cooked with cranberries & pear and then topped with some toasted pecans, cinnamon, flaxseed meal and drizzle of honey

-Split Pea and Barley Soup (leftover from Sunday)
-Pork steak, collard greens, blackeye peas, cornbread (Doing a take on the traditional New Years foods. Read more ideas on Epicurious or Readers Digest)
-Repeat Pork meal
-Sweet Potato Fritters and pinto beans  (I'll probably add some kind of a green veggie to this)

-Eating out with friends
-Spaghetti squash with sauce
-Meaty Broccoli Manicotti (I'll use whatever type of ground meat I have in the freezer)
-Repeat tacos
-Fish with yellow rice and vegetables 
-Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, zipper cream peas, biscuits (Hubby's favorite dinner meal for his birthday)
-Hubby's birthday cake
-Hummus with carrots and celery
-Chi Spice People Cookies (holiday cookies still lingering about)
-Cheese fondue and bread (Fondue is our little New Years Eve tradition)

Linked up at: A Mama's Story

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!


Monday, December 24, 2012

Menu Plan: Winter (Dec. 23-29)

     This week we've got a lot of tasty recipes planned! We also have some special Christmas treats and activities planned for this week ('tis the season!). A few strategies we used this week to maintain our goal of having real food on a real budget include:

  • We're utilizing meats we purchased in larger quantities and froze previous weeks. Purchasing meat in larger cuts or as a whole bird is often much more affordable than the precut packages (not to mention a bit more fresh since less is exposed). So, this week we just had to purchase the ground chicken even though we'll also be using sausage, ham, and bacon.
  • Out of our grocery shopping only three items are processed/packaged (Tortellini, Pasta Sauce, and Tomato Paste). In the future, we intend to can our own tomato products, but  we'll continue to purchase those items until then. I love tortellini, and will have to do some searching at another time for a more cleaned up version. For now, only three processed/packaged products isn't too shabby.
  • We prefer to buy cheese in the blocks instead of pre-shredded. Cheese in the bags are pricier, less fresh, and coated with more preservatives, colorings, and anti-caking agents. Shredding cheese myself is way more worthwhile. 
  • We're trying to incorporate more meals that utilize in season produce. This week we're having a meal with roasted winter vegetables (acorn squash pictured & butternut squash we already had in our pantry). We're also taking advantage of the availability of fresh cranberries this time of year. We'll be using some to make homemade cranberry sauce and the rest will join the other bags in our freezer. 
*Note: The items at the top right (candy, marshmallows, and cereal) aren't part of our normal grocery list. These items will be used to make some fun Christmas treats and a gingerbread house!)
    Our goal is to maintain a well stocked basic dry goods pantry, and then obtain fresh items each week. Learning how to work with the food items themselves versus a processed/packaged versions does take some time and practice, but it is absolutely worth the effort! Real food is more affordable, healthier, and well...tastes so much better. With this said, it doesn't have to be an all or nothing endeavor. Do what you can and start slow. We still buy processed/packaged foods and accept less than the absolute best. It's a matter of making progress not perfection! :)

     When I originally started the menu plan posts, I did it mostly for me to keep up with things and have a quick reference. Very quickly these posts became one of the most viewed subjects on the blog! I am still so pleasantly surprised at how much attention these posts receive! Thank you! My hope is that they will encourage and inspire you to rediscover food in it's natural form and believe that real food on a real budget is possible. 

Now, for this week's plan:

-Gingerbread Scones (Tis the Season! :) )
-Eggs, bacon, biscuits, orange/juice
-Warm Pear & Grains Cereal
-Oatmeal with Maple Apples and Walnuts
-(Repeat dishes above for remainder of week)

-Italian Wedding Soup (Thanks for the idea, Angela!)
-Meaty Broccoli Manicotti (I may use sausage if I have enough, but if not then I may use whatever ground meat I have in the freezer already)

-BBQ Portobello Quesadillas, Cole Slaw (Homemade BBQ sauce, tortillas, and mayo)
-Ham, Asparagus, Potatoes, Cranberry sauce, Rolls {Christmas Day dinner}
-Split Pea and Barley Soup (leaving out the meat in the recipe to make this a meatless meal this week)
-Repeat Christmas Day dinner

-Cookies (Snickerdoodles, Salted Caramel Cookies)
-Rice Krispy Treats
-Hummus with flatbread, carrots, celery

Linked up at: A Mama's Story

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Five Question Friday (12/21/12)

 Vlog Format:

Text Format:
 This week there aren't any new questions, so I thought we'd go back to the questions from last week since I didn't do a 5QF post last week. Either way, it's five questions! If you enjoy these posts, then join in! Leave your responses in the comment section on the blog page or the Facebook page. Just have fun with it. :)

1. If you bake during the holidays, what is your favorite thing to make?
     I love baking during the holidays. This year I want to make every cookie there is! I could probably eat them all too! I found a new cookie recipe that I'm excited to try. It's a shortbread cookie that is topped with caramel, sprinkled with salt and drizzled with chocolate. We've learned how to make homemade caramel and chocolate sauce, and expect that they will only make the cookies so much better. I'm sure we'll make a bunch of other ones as well. We'll probably end up with way more than we can should eat, but we'll give it our best. ;)

2. Present giving: gift bag or wrapped box?
     I really enjoy gift wrapped presents. To me it's so much more exciting to tear open the wrapping and getting into the box versus simply lifting out tissue from a bag. 
     Side story that makes me smile- Growing up my mother would use any box she could find and repurpose it for gift wrapping. We'd tear open the paper to discover a box of...cereal. Inside the box, of course, was the actual gift (not cereal). We'd give her a hard time and joke around when we unwrapped the box to find it was from the pantry. (Mom- yeah, secretly we enjoyed it. It was those kinds of fun and simple things that made Christmas "good.")

3. What do you keep your thermostat on during the summer and winter?
     We keep ours set at 80˚F in the summer and 70˚F. Those are the limits that we can still be comfortable and save on energy costs.

4. When thinking of your Christmas To Do list what percentage done are you?
      The biggest item on my To Do list was getting all the gifts completed and shipped in time. Since we'll be away from family now during the holidays, I had to make sure I had everything done sooner than I usually do. Now that the gift aspect of the holiday is finished for us, I'm relaxed and enjoying the Christmas Countdown that my husband and I have been doing this year. Although some of the countdown activities have required some planning and preparation, they've been so fun and so haven't felt like a To Do list task to complete. 

5. Do you do the "Elf on the Shelf?" If so, is your Elf naughty and what shenanigans has he gotten into?
     Well, considering it is just my husband and I currently it would probably be crossing a line for me to do Elf on the Shelf for him. haha! I've seen so many creative and fun ideas for the activity, and would probably want to incorporate that into our Christmas celebration in the future when there are kiddos. I probably wouldn't want to use it in a disciplinary manner though (ex: Santa- be good or else there won't be presents & Elf- he's watching and will report back to Santa so be good). Somewhere there is a balance in blending fantasy and fun. I imagine that's a tricky thing to do with Christmas elements like Santa and Elf on the Shelf. We'll see what happens when I actually get to that point in life. haha. I do think it's cute though. 

How would you answer today's Five Question Friday? Share in the comment section below!

Have a great weekend! :)


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Delicious Pot Roast

     It may not look too pretty, but it tastes delicious. A good pot roast with potatoes, carrots and onions is one of my favorite beef meals. It serves as a great economical, one dish, real food meal option! Plus, leftovers can be reworked for additional meals during the week. 

Pot Roast

  • Beef chuck pot roast (2 1/2 lbs)
  • 3 baking potatoes, peeled & chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled & chopped
  • 1/2 onion, sliced or chopped
  • 2 c. beef broth
  • 3-4 tbsp. onion soup mix* (It's super easy to make, so skip buying a packet!)
*Onion soup mix: 2/3 c. dry minced onions, 3 t. parsley, 2 t. onion powder, 1 t. celery salt, 1 t. salt, 1 t. sugar, 1/2 t. ground black pepper,  1/4-1/2 t. tumeric. Store in air tight container. Use approximately 3-4 tbsp. per purchased packet of onion soup mix. 


(Whoops! I apparently left out taking a picture of this step). 
3. Add 2 c. beef broth to pan. Put meat back in pan and cook over medium heat until broth comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low. 


     One way to use the leftovers is to make a pot roast pocket. These were mighty tasty as well! Make one recipe of whole wheat pie crust, and keep it in the refrigerator until needed again. Meanwhile, make a gravy using the liquid remaining in the pan once everything has finished by adding flour and slowly heat while stirring (about 1 T flour per c. liquid). Next, chop the remaining veggies and meat into small pieces. Roll out dough into a circle (about 5-6 in. diameter). Spoon a small portion of the veggies, meat, and veggies into the center of the dough. (Be careful to not get too much gravy so that it won't leak out when cooking!) Fold over one side onto the other and press the seams. Using a fork, press the seams and poke some holes on top to allow it to remain sealed and vent. Place in 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. 

     Linked up at: 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Celebrating the Holidays Without Family

     This holiday season is different for us because for the first time we will be without both sides of our families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. These two holidays in particular have a heavy emphasis on family, and the lack of physical presence of these individuals could result in a rather blue holiday season. However, it can still be a time of joy! Not only do you have the incredible presence of setting the tone in your home on a daily basis, but you also set the tone for celebrating the holidays. Although I miss gathering with family on these holidays, I refuse to spend my time (and life) sullen over what is absent; but, instead, choose to be joyful of what is present. Simply stated- don't. give. up!

       One of my concerns in regard to holidays being just my husband and I is that the days would become just like any other. I still want to have Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day to be special. If I thought about it practically, then I could easily excuse myself from decorating, cooking, and reaching out or giving to others. Why put up a tree when only I would enjoy it? Without a family gathering, especially one with children, why bother with shopping or creating gifts? Why cook a big meal or treats for the food to go to waste (or waist)? Because these activities are ones that bring you joy and shouldn't be contingent on someone else. Consider for a moment what it is about the holiday or activity that you wish to celebrate. Then, determine how you will go about it this year. Perhaps conditions have changed, and so you need to alter the pathway to achieving that particular celebration. Congratulations- it's another opportunity for an experience through which to grow in life. 

     So, what will you do this year to celebrate the holidays? The following are a few ideas for brightening and sharing your holiday with or without family:

      For some, the gift shopping list gets shorter as children become adults or as fewer people are able to gather together. You could either consider the activity unnecessary now, or you could seize the opportunity to gift beyond your family. There are many children and families in need, and you could be the one to extend kindness and a helping hand. Select children from an Angel Tree or ask your church for a name of a child/family that might be in need of assistance for Christmas gifts. If you focused more on your family and their gift lists previously than giving to others, then now is your time to flip it around.

Food, Food, Food
      Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are typically centered around a nice big meal. (Well, in my family we always had a bigger dessert table than meal table each Christmas!). You can choose to make a meal yourself, and share it with others by inviting a few friends to join you. Or, if you choose to skip the feast, then perhaps consider serving others' theirs. Missions and shelters are typically open and serving a holiday meal on these days, and you could call and request to be a part of serving. 
      One food highlight of the Christmas time is all the many tasty desserts! Baking cookies each Christmas season is one of my favorite activities! Yet, I don't think it wise for us to make and eat so many sweets (but if challenged, I'd win). So, why not give some away? Most people love homemade cookies and treats, but perhaps not the process of making and baking. Christmas cookies are such a personal and simple way to share kindness and warmth with friends, coworkers, and..dare I say, the neighbor we haven't met yet.

     Decorate regardless of who is present to see them. They're primarily for your enjoyment and if someone else enjoys them too then that's a bonus. It isn't wise to decorate your home (non-holiday time) with the intention of impressing others, and so holiday decorations follow suit.

Connect  With Others
     Don't be afraid to reach out to others. The greatest injury you could cause yourself is to believe that everyone is too busy for you. If the night you chose was busy for most people, then try again. In the end, at least you can say you tried! It doesn't have to be anything fussy (doesn't television and magazine really blow the holiday entertaining aspect of things out of proportion?!). What is important is simply being together. And, don't forget the holiday cards. Yes, I know stamps are expensive and ecards/phone messages are easier, but there remains something so special about receiving a card in the mail. Perhaps, even take a moment to write a letter of reflection on the past year or a personal message to the recipient.

       Whatever way you've enjoyed celebrating the season in the past, I encourage you to press on in perhaps exploring a different avenues and maintaining those traditions. If you find yourself overcome with the blues, then perhaps take a walk outside. Sitting in the house (even if watching a holiday movie/show) will intensify that feeling of loss or loneliness. I would also recommend having a plan in mind for Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day. You don't want to overwhelm the day, but again sitting around with so much unproductive time will not add anything special to the day(s). Bake a pie or cookies, or create a gingerbread house. Play a game together. Go drive around to look at lights one last time. This is your holiday season, and it's your decision to embrace it as it is and make the most of it. 

     Linked up at: Raising Homemakers, Growing Home, Time-Warp Wife, Womanhood with Purpose



Monday, December 10, 2012

Menu Plan: Fall (Dec. 9-15)

-Gingerbread Scones (Tis the Season! :) )
-Eggs, Muffin, Orange
-Warm Pear & Grains Cereal
-(Repeat dishes above for remainder of week)

-Avocado Egg Salad
-Hotdogs, Zucchini Chips
-Zucchini & Sweet Potato Latkes
-Fish Packets
-Maple-Carrot Couscous Salad, Flatbread with Hummus

-Steak, Baked Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans
-Eggplant Parmesan, Green Salad
-Chicken Gumbo
-(Two dishes above will also serve as leftover meals)

Linked up at: 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dismissing the Necessity of Car Debt.....Almost

     If you want a vehicle, then you must also accept being in debt for it. Right? Common practice suggests that debt for a vehicle is simply part of life. Does this necessarily have to be the case? Everyone has his/her own reasons for his/her decisions on this matter, but as for my husband and I we've decided to buck convention and dismiss the idea of car debt being a necessity in life...well, almost. I'll explain a little more on that later, but for now let's take a closer look at the real cost of purchasing a vehicle through a loan.

      There are two factors against you when you purchase a vehicle through a loan: 1) vehicles depreciate rapidly and 2) interest charges add to the amount owed. In other words, in a very short amount of time you'll owe more than the vehicle is worth. Even more gut-wrenching is the amount you will have paid over the purchase price when you complete repayment (and keep in mind the vehicle is worth far less now than the purchase price). What's the real worth of this common practice and is there another way to owning a vehicle?

      A month after we married one of our cars died and had to be replaced. With such a sort time frame to work with we hadn't even begun to be able to save for a replacement. We had to pay what little we could in a down payment and then the remainder came in the form of a bank loan. The original length of the loan was three years. We determined, however, that we would try to pay it off as soon as we could. We lived below our means, did without what everyone else had, and put every extra money we could towards the loan. Two years later, we've written the last check and saved ourselves a significant amount of money that would've gone towards interest! 

     Of course, this car isn't going to last forever (though we're pushing it to give us it's best!). We've got to think ahead to the next vehicle. Conventional practice would advise us to go ahead to purchase another vehicle through a loan again. After all, why continue to put up with a car that seems to need constant attention? And isn't it sometimes it's best to cut your losses and move on (ie plunge ahead into another full car loan)? Maybe, or maybe not.

      While I agree that the reliance on loans to purchase a vehicle is a costly option, I also acknowledge that our current vehicle will likely not last long enough for us to save the full amount for a purchase. (Dave Ramsey's advice is to drive the junker until you have cash to purchase. However, this is assuming that the vehicle doesn't have any issues or repairs that impede it's ability to run properly). Our plan is a middle road between convention's all-loan and Ramsey's all-cash plan. We've already demonstrated the monthly payment amount and total purchase amount that are manageable for our lifestyle. Our goal is to save for enough of a down payment that would, in turn, cause the loan necessary to be taken to be no more than what was previously taken. We intend for the  next car to be an upgrade from our current one, but purchased without expanding our decided loan limit. Through that method, we can either  slowly make progress in purchasing newer or nicer vehicles. Or, we could choose at some point to not upgrade, continue to drive what we have longer (nicer, newer vehicles should be able to do this better), and save for complete payment in purchasing a vehicle. The third option would be to choose not to upgrade, continue to drive what we have, and begin working towards purchasing a second vehicle in a similar fashion. 

       That's three options, when common practice only offers one! When we consider why we're making difference choices and living differently, we consider what we'd have to give up to do otherwise. To purchase a vehicle mostly through loan we'd have to concede that homemaking isn't a reality and that it is necessary for both individuals to work outside the home. That situation wouldn't be due to a necessity but due to wants. Though unconventional, our basic need for transportation is currently met and will continue to be met through our own process of making future purchases. It's the want for nicer, newer or two means of transportation that would urge us to take in more debt and force us to give up the home and family life we've devoted ourselves to create. We wouldn't for a moment trade for a car our life of being so fully present and committed in our home and marriage. It just isn't a good deal for us.

       In making the decision to incorporate homemaking into our lives, we also made the decision to find ways to make it work. When it came to our vehicles, we first determined to share a vehicle and then work towards an alternate path for purchasing future vehicles. So, yes we go against the grain of what is "normal." (I like Dave Ramsey's opinion of normal- "normal is broke." So why wish to be come that?). So, if your heart and calling is for homemaking then be encouraged that it is possible! This is just another means of making it so. 

Here is a video from the Dave Ramsey team. I disagree with the assumption of a purchase price being $26,000 (?!) and monthly payments of $464 (?!). Those numbers don't seem realistic to me for a vehicle, but that could be because we strive to keep ours much lower. Nonetheless, I find the premise of saving money for purchasing a vehicle inspirational and highly recommendable. 



Monday, December 3, 2012

Menu Plan: Fall (Dec. 2-8)

-Chocolate Gravy with homemade whole wheat and flaxseed meal biscuits
-Eggs, smoothie cubes (fresh smoothies/juice make in the summer and stored frozen)
-Oatmeal with raisins, orange
-Cereal, orange

-Barley casserole
-[Acorn squash] ravioli (I already have an acorn squash on hand, so I'm substituting it for the butternut squash called for in the recipe)
-Pork steaks, homemade applesauce, steamed broccoli
-Pork quesadillas

-Barley casserole leftovers
-Salmon cakes, zipper cream peas, potatoes
-Chicken legs with orange and honey glaze, stir fried veggies and rice
-Steak, baked sweet potatoes, green beans

Linked up at: 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Five Question Friday

1. What do you give teachers for gifts?
   Teacher gifts aren't really apart of my gift list in my current season of life since we don't have children, much less children in school. I can't recall what gifts were given to my teachers when I was a kid. I've seen some fantastic ideas online though. I'm sure teachers really appreciate the little gifts from their students (or parents).

2. Do you text? One finger texter or total pro?

    I utilize text messaging quite a bit. To me, it's so much simpler when I need to communicate with someone but not a full conversation. With that said, I'm stuck on one style of composing a message. My current phone has a slide out full keyboard, and I need both thumbs to complete the message. I haven't quite gotten the hang of using the numerical buttons with alphabet options in texting. The idea of a touch screen keyboard is not even close to consideration. (I like things simple in life, even if that makes me a little behind in technology! haha)

3. Do you give back during the holidays? If so, in what way/which is your favorite charity?

    This year is our first year in which we actually get to enjoy the Christmas season (hooray, day shift scheduling!). So, I wanted to include activities that would highlight the season and not just the day. I also wanted the season to be one focused on giving and reaching out. My heart is for us to not just serve ourselves in attempting to create some kind of happy Christmas time or feeling, but to create that for others. The ideas I currently have include purchasing a gift for a child in need from an Angel Tree, doing some random acts of kindness activities, hosting a small gathering with friends we've met in our new town as well as hopefully our neighbors, and, of course, focusing more on each other than ourselves. 

4. If you would've been the sole winner of the 575+ million dollar Powerball jackpot, what would you have done with all that money?

     Donate it! Of course, there would be some basic needs that I would wish to take care of finally (debt, future modest home, car replacement etc). Beyond those concerns (which probably wouldn't make much of a dent in that kind of money), I'd donate it. I cannot fathom how I would require that kind of money to meet my living needs. My desire is to meet our basic needs in life and then use anything beyond that to blessing someone else. 

5. Will you please take just a moment to spread the word and pray about [this family]? There still is no news, and I can't imagine their pain and worry. Facebook prayer page: Prayers for Trista, Shy and Matt

     Clearly, this last question is more of a request by Five Crooked Halos. So, the links are included if you'd like to read about what has happened and include this family in your prayers.

How would you answer this week's Five Question Friday? Share your responses below! :)


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Veggie Pizza

     We love pizza in our home (who doesn't?!). Pizza, however, isn't the most nutritionally sound meal. Insert- whole wheat crust and vegetable toppings! This pizza recipe has become one of our favorite ways to make pizza. Enjoy! 

Adapted from Taste of Home

     I cut the dough recipe in half. The original amount was for two 12-in. pizzas, and trying to make that fit into one was just too much. Also, I redistributed the whole wheat to all purpose flour ratio to offer a little more of the nutritional value of the whole wheat. This crust will be a thin crust style when finished. If you like thicker crust, then simply double the recipe.

3/4 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
2 1/4 t. yeast
1/2 t. garlic powder (this is the secret to making this crust so delicious!)
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. warm water (120-130 degrees F)
1 T. olive oil

1. Combine dry ingredients into bowl. Slowly add water and oil, and mix until dough comes together. Continue mixing with dough hook (or knead on flour surface if not using a stand mixer) until dough becomes smooth and elastic. 

2. Grease a second bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat. Allow to rest until double (about 30 mins).

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 

4. Roll dough onto baking stone (or whatever round bakeware you have). Roll about 3/4-1 in. over the sides, and then tuck the excess under to form the outer edge of the crust. Pierce dough thoroughly with a fork. Bake in oven for 8-10 minutes. 

5. Remove from oven and add sauce, toppings and cheese of choice. 

     I didn't have much luck with the sauce recipe included in the original recipe. Ideally, I'd like to play with creating my own pizza sauce recipe from scratch. However, it is currently not tomato season and attempting such with out of season tomatoes would be equally bad. So, currently the pizza sauce I'm using is from a jar. 

     I like my pizzas to be loaded with toppings, so I didn't cut the toppings portion of the original recipe in half. Actually, I don't care much to measure toppings. I simply put however many I think would suit our taste. We like the suggested zucchini, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms. We also added olives the last time we made it. The possibilities are limitless, and that's the great thing about making your own pizza! If you'd like the specific measurements, then visit Taste of Home. One important step in preparing the toppings is to cook them a bit before you place them on the pizza. The zucchini, especially, needs to be the first item into the pan to cook down a bit or else you'll have crunchy zucchini pieces on the finished pizza. 

Final Steps
 6. Bake pizza for about 12 minutes or until crust is brown and cheese is melted. 

 Linked up at: 


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