Sunday, December 4, 2016

Chicken stew and cheddar dumplings

So, I grew up eating sauerkraut with pork and dumplings.  My mom always made them with bisquick.  I haven't made dumplings in years and years.  Probably the last time I made them was with sauerkraut - and my husband was not a fan.

Last year, he got me a "One Pot of the Day" cookbook from Williams Sonoma for Christmas, I think.  Today I used it for the first time, in my attempt to try recipes from all of my cookbooks.  (See the Cookbook tab for my tally!)

The stew was quite delish, and it came with homemade dumplings!  Hubby decided that they were pretty good, probably the addition of the cheddar.  My opinion of the stew:
1.  It didn't make enough.  Only dinner for four and a tiny bit leftover for lunch.  This is despite chopping a million vegetables (carrots, celery, onion).
2.  It was heavy on the chicken - 1.5 lbs for the dish.  My own personal preference would have been about half that much, and more vegetables.  Something to tweak next time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Green chili egg puff recipe

This was delish!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

It's NOvember!

You know what that means folks!  Okay, maybe you don't.

Two years ago (2014) I was in the throes of losing the baby weight (yeah, the baby was 2, but who is counting).  I'd lost the same 15 pounds 3 times.  I was steady at losing 2 lbs a month.  For NOvember, I decided to do the following:

1.  Maintain my calories and macros.  For you 21-day fixers, that means the lowest 21-day fix category, aka 2 "yellows" (carbs a day).

2.  Substitute the carbs...NO CHEATS.  It's important to know that I wasn't cheating much (and for the record, you are allowed 3 cheats a week).  I eliminated: wheat, alcohol (wine), sugar, and fried foods.  So no swapping a yellow for wine, chocolate, or tortilla chips.

It's important to note that I wasn't eating MUCH of these already - no more than 4-5 servings a WEEK.  And wheat, while allowed, I got rid of that too.

3.  I didn't sweat the small stuff.  If flour or sugar was an ingredient (to make a roux, or in a dressing or sauce), I didn't sweat it.  I just avoided major sources of it all.  So, no dessert, no pasta, no bread, no flour tortillas, no tortilla chips.

Instead I stuck to potatoes, oats, corn, beans, corn tortillas, sweet potatoes, popcorn, rice, quinoa.

4.  I did allow Stevia in my coffee.

2014 November: down 7 pounds!!
2015 November: down 12 pounds!! (well, actually more like 5, then we all got the stomach flu.  I looked like a deflated balloon).

Fast forward a year later, and I'm about 2 pounds down from 2015 November 1.  So, it looks like while my goal weight might be a few pounds lower than I am right now (2, to be exact), it's MUCH easier to maintain with those extra 2 pounds.

These days, I'm quite happy with my weight, size, and health.  But I'm still doing NOvember because honestly - it makes me feel great.  It gets me out of my eating rut (yes, I do miss pizza!)  It makes me a cheap date for December holiday parties.  And it prevents holiday weight gain.  Let's face it, from mid-October to early-Jan, it's one big eat fest with Halloween candy, fudge,  holiday parties, Thanksgiving, etc.

Some of my friends suggest that maybe I should give myself a "day off" (like Thanksgiving).  Meh, sure I guess, but honestly - I can live without stuffing and rolls if I have mashed potatoes.  It works better for me to just not cheat.  It's ONLY 30 days.  (Truth be told, in 2015 the last month I lived on saltines and applesauce and plain pasta. So technically I didn't make it 30 days.)

ONE MORE THING! I'm giving up some electronics too!  No more games on my tablet, and I'm actively avoiding facebook after I get home.  This whole election is driving me BAT SHIT CRAZY.  I don't want to hear about it.  I don't want to talk about.  No conversation is going to change my mind (I already voted!), and I'm not going to change anyone else's.  I want to go to sleep on November 8 and wake up when it's ALL OVER.

A girl's gotta do what it takes to maintain her sanity.

Today's menu for NOvember 1: (so I can find ideas later!!)
Breakfast: a leftover sausage on a corn tortilla.  A smoothie.
Lunch: salad (lettuce, cucumber, peppers, radishes, feta, olives, sunflower seeds, sun dried tomatoes, dressing), and a sausage.
Snack: veggies and hummus
Dinner: Meatballs, roast cherry tomatoes with white beans, roasted Indian cauliflower

Peace out.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Soup and Bread!

Soup and Bread: a very frugal meal.  Not so easy to pull off in 100 degree weather.

Well, this week a few things happened.

It cooled down a bit, all the way to the 80s.
My little guy and my husband got a tummy bug (new rule, NO MORE PIZZA NIGHTS for FUNDRAISERS - from now on I'm donating $10 and eating at home.  This is not the first time.)

So soup and bread are easy on the tummy.

Getting sick is hard and easy on the budget at the same time.  Hard because some of the food you have goes to waste.  I tossed a pound of turkey that went uneaten, and 32 oz of yogurt that expired before we even opened it.  Also hard because I end up buying special foods, like gatorade and applesauce.

On the other hand, plain pasta, homemade bread, and saltines are cheap.

So, can I take credit for using a recipe in a book if I just sort of used it?  I started with the recipe for minestrone from American Wholefoods Cuisine by Nikki and David Goldbeck.  Great book.

But I used it as a general jumping off point.  My soup had some spinach (because we had it in the box), tomato sauce, water, a bouillon cube, carrots, onions, and pasta.  I left out the beans because of the tummies.  I added dried basil, extra garlic, and fresh parsley (because we had it in the box).

It was so good!  I made rosemary olive oil bread to go with it.

I have no pics!  But it is soup.

So this week, assuming the other two members of the family -ahem- dodge the tummy bug bullet - we have a lot of veggies to eat.  I have two pounds of roma tomatoes.  I have a roasted tomato and white bean soup in one of my cookbooks...that might have to be where we put those.  The last few times I've made the Prudent Homemaker's tomato basil soup, it's been too acidic.  I must have changed the type of canned tomato.

Also have lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, corn...probably some other stuff that isn't coming to me right now.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

This week's new recipes

See the "Goal" tab.  Last week I made a new carrot salad (a lot like some prior salads that I've made), and I also made a brown rice and broccoli casserole with a cashew/ parmesan topping.

The carrot salad was from Still  Life with Menu by Mollie Katzen

The casserole was from The Glycemic Index Diet for Dummies by  Meri Raffetto, RD.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Goal: use my cookbooks

I have a ton of cookbooks.  I like to sit and read them for fun.  So, inspired by 100 Dollars a Month and her crazy year long goals, here is one of my goals:

Make at least one recipe from every cookbook that I own.

No time limit.

I'll be tallying on the "Goal" page above.

Wish me luck.

(I reserve the right to alter the recipes based on what I have on hand, natch.)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Instant Pot Baked Beans

So...I got an Instant Pot.  I need another kitchen gadget like I need a hole in the head. But it's a rice cooker!  A slow cooker! A pressure cooker!  A yogurt maker! (Um, yeah I already have all of those two, including TWO pressure cookers).  But it was the Amazon Prime deal and I *had* been thinking about it before it was on sale half price.

So now it lives on my counter.  So far, it's been great. First weekend, I made:
Spanish rice (which I've done on the stove and in the rice cooker also).  It's much faster in the instant pot.  Word of warning, most recipes call for 1-to-1 liquid to rice.  I generally do closer to 2-to-1.  So in this case, I think I did 1.25 to 1.5 to 1.  And it was soupy.  Listen to the manual!!

Salsa chicken.  Frozen solid large chicken breast.  Water.  Salsa.  Done in 30 minutes.  (Well, 30 minutes at pressure, took a little longer total).  If I can get my shit together, it might be a mid-week game changer.

At some point in the last two weeks I was perusing one of my cookbooks from a vegetarian author, and saw a recipe for barbecued baked pinto beans.  What??  All baked beans recipes I see call for northern white beans.  But you see, the 10 lb bags of pinto are only $6.  So how do I use up the pintos, aside from refried beans and bean burgers!!  I've been searching for other recipes.

Sunday morning after my run I put on the beans to soak for 4 hours.  I still hadn't quite decided what to do with them.  I looked through the cookbook that I was SURE had the recipe.  No luck.  Then went through the next two candidates.  Nope.  By #4 I realized that I'm getting old, and maybe it was on the web?

So I googled.  I got nothing.  By then I gave up and decided to wing it.  I googled some more. Here's what I wanted:
1. Information about cooking pintos in the Instant Pot (how long)
2. How to make baked beans (what flavors to add)
3. Information about which spices you can add to the pot (will you get sticking, etc with the sugar?)

So I found this pressure cooker recipe for baked beans and this pressure cooker recipe for pinto beans and this recipe for sweet and spicy pintos on the stovetop.  And I combo'd.

Instant Pot Baked Beans
3 cups dried pinto beans (I only used 3 cups because I felt like it.  Most recipes call for 2)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 c ketchup (It was the last of the bottle and I didn't feel like opening another)
2 Tbsp molasses
1/4 c unpacked brown sugar
3.5 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp soy sauce
cider vinegar (I didn't measure!  Maybe 1/4 cup)

Soak the beans in enough water to cover by an inch, for about 4 hours.
Drain and rinse the beans

In the instant pot, turn to saute.  Add the oil.  Saute the onions until soft and beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and stir.  Cook until fragrant.  (This will only take about 30 seconds to a minute).

Add the 3.5 cups of water and stir.  Add in everything else (chili powder, mustard, molasses, brown sugar, ketchup, salt, soy sauce).  Add in the beans and stir.

Turn instant pot to off.  Put on the lid and lock.  Turn on cooker to "beans".  Set at 30 minutes.

Let it run.  After 30 minutes let it do natural pressure release.  I have no idea how long this takes.  The beauty of this thing is that you can walk away from it.  It was surely done by 45 minutes.

Check the beans.  Mine were cooked but were a little soupy.  So I turned it on to saute for about 10 minutes, stirring, because that stuff will boil like crazy.  Then I let it sit to thicken.  It was delicious and very easy.  We took the beans to our potluck in the park.

I was tempted to add some pork fat...because of course.  Pork fat and beans!  I have pork fat in the freezer.  But there's a lone vegetarian teenager at our pot luck and his mom doesn't really do pork.  So I left it out.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Road Tripping and Plane Tripping and thoughts on Country Life

Oh my poor little neglected  blog.  How life gets in the way.  These days, I still love to read a few blogs, and follow some bloggers on IG, but aside from that, I'm just living life.

What makes me want to come back today and write?  A little time, and some inspiration.  This year we opted to head to the east coast again to visit family.  It was to be only a week in upstate NY.  Birthdays, graduation, fun time swimming in the lake, family time.  Indeed, we all had fun and it was go go go.  I indulged in a stop at a farmstand, where I kept my purchases to salsa and strawberries.

On the way  home, there was a detour - with my first solo road trip since the 1990s.  (Does a 6 hour drive count as a road trip, if it takes 8.5 hours?)  It was a beautiful trip, rolling green hills abounded through southern NY state, and then lots of forest in my home state of PA.  I even got to stop and have coffee with a high school friend, whom I hadn't seen in -ahem- 28 years.  Her son was there too, and he was excited to tell me about Minecraft.  (What is it with kids and Minecraft? My boys are the same.)

The detour was just for me though - my stepfather was having a difficult recovery from surgery.  I thought "why  not?"  I have the money, I had my computer so that I could work from wherever, and my husband was completely willing to head home with the little guy on his own (big boy was staying with cousins for another 1.5 weeks).  Working "from anywhere" is easier without the little ones.  I didn't turn the computer on once in NY.

Part of his recovery requires him to take short walks during the day.  For him, this means feeding and watering the critters (literally, the chipmunks, bunnies, and squirrels).  And from there, surveying the yard, fruit trees, and garden.  Do you see where I am going?

I grew up here, just a few miles down the road.  We had a garden, and a large yard.  We canned during the summer.  We picked apples from the tree in the back.  We picked strawberries at a local farm.  We wandered through the woods and fields to find fields and fields of tiny, wild blueberries.  Every year we picked for hours until we were tired, and still only got enough for one pie and a few handfuls.

But I left all that.  College, military, jobs out in sunny California.  My land is 1/12 of an acre.  Most of it house, parking, and driveway.  We have "gardened" - a tangerine tree, a few tomato plants.  At one point, we had two 3x3 square foot garden plots, until the gophers got them.  The weather is fantastic, the rain - not so much (literally).  I have friends who garden, but I don't.  Why is that?  Time I suppose.  A full time job, two children, activities - it doesn't leave much time.

As I wandered today, my mind was racing with thoughts.  Jams or smoothies from the wild raspberries or blackberries (too soon to tell which), growing along the path - former "rail", now "trail".  The blueberries growing along side the property.  The six different apple trees, of different types (apple sauce, apple pie, apple butter...)  The grapes (wine?) The garden plot itself is actually small this year.  Corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins.  Rarely has my mind had such time to wander.  I guess because I have time.  A little walking (to the post office, or with my sister). Cooking and dishes.  Work.  The occasional nap.

The trail to the post office (0.6 miles away)

Occasionally I think about hanging it up and moving.  Back to the North East, where houses and life is cheaper.  Upstate NY, PA.  The ability to have a garden and relax a bit.  But then winter hits, or the humidity and mosquitoes of the summer hit.  It seems like a great idea, but in many ways I've become a California girl.  The lifestyle, the fitness, the food, the politics.  It's so much harder in this area of the country.  It's not that you cannot live a fit and healthy life.  Many people do. But it's not the norm.  So you are swimming upstream. It makes me appreciate so much more my friends who manage it.  The ones who do crossfit, or the ones who do races and 1/2 Ironman Triathlons.

It's hard here though.  Small town life is hard life.  The jobs are scarce.  The towns are shrinking.  The schools are broke  (just like in CA). Meth is becoming a big problem, on top of the alcohol and smoking problems that have been around for ages.  When I come home, I feel like I straddle two worlds.  In my home town, I don't belong anymore.  I'm a CA girl now.  But in CA, sometimes I feel like I'm faking it.  I'm still that poor  country girl in many many ways.

One of the funniest parts of the trip this far is about a cantaloupe.   My stepfather's sister brought him groceries (he cannot drive after the surgery).  I cut it up when I came.  It's delicious.  Every person who has come by (my sister, my aunt) has asked "where did you get it?  I haven't been able to get a good one."  Finally we asked the sis, and she said "the farmstand at the corner of route X and route Y".  Of course, a farm stand!

It makes me appreciate my CSA and farm delivery box that much more.  On the trip out, I'd packed a fresh cucumber/ tomato salad (the first tomato of the season).  It was glorious! And the woman next to me on the plane was jealous.  On the drive down, my lunch was carrots and peppers and hummus (and  KIND bar).

Well, I have a couple more days here.  Despite the garden, it's still early in the season.  My vegetables are from Walmart, my beer from Latrobe (when in Rome...)

Wild berries along the trail


More wild berries along the forest edge


Here's one almost ready to pick!


Early girl tomatoes





Monday, May 16, 2016

Menu Planning Monday

One of my very favorite bloggers has a menu planning Monday post series, and I *love* reading it and getting ideas, even if I rarely use the ideas.

As I spent hours this weekend (and every weekend, really), cooking and doing dishes, I decided - maybe I should start posting what I am cooking and eating.  So I can look back on it.  Yesterday, and this weekend, I swear I made no fewer than 8 different things...and kept doing dishes all. day. long.

So here's a little taste of what we are...tasting.

FIRST - what I cooked & prepped this weekend:
Rice.  That I mixed with crockpot pinto beans, and scooped into individual containers (burrito bowls)
Tofu and roasted vegetables
Salad dressing: lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, parsley, garlic
Cheesy rice and vegetables
Roasted beets
Chard, onion, and goat cheese frittata (we got such a huge bunch of chard this weekend)
Cheese quesadillas and tacos

On to the menu plan

- Chocolate banana peanut butter smoothie, coffee (for me).
- Husband: raisin bran.
- Kids: peanut butter toast (big boy), jam on bread (little boy).
- tofu with roasted mixed vegetables (me).
- Husband: beans and rice.
- Big kid: pb&j, carrots.  Little boy: carrots and hummus.
- at a birthday party, some pizza.
Dinner: (potluck in the park):
-I made the rice/ cheese/ veggie casserole: sauteed mushrooms and onions, and added microwaved mixed broccoli/ cauliflower/ carrots.  Made a white sauce and added cheese.  Baked, with cheese on top.  It was good, with plenty of leftovers.  I also took the steamed beets, and a nice bottle of merlot.

- Chocolate cherry smoothie.  Is it terrible that I like this one because I don't have to share?  Boys don't like the cherry version.
- Hubby: raisin bran.
- Kids: strawberries and yogurt.

Lunch: (kids eat at school/daycare)
- Salad with beets, goat cheese, sunflower seeds.  Piece of the chard frittata. Slice of veggie pizza (free from someone else's meeting).
- Husband - bean/rice bowl, frittata

Snack: apple and cottage cheese

- Steamed broccoli, leftover rice, last of the tofu
- Rest of the family gets the same, except they get chicken

Breakfast &Lunch &Snack: see Monday
Dinner: Fish, roasted potatoes, stir-fried green beans

Breakfast &Lunch &Snack: see Monday
Dinner: Sauteed polenta rounds with meatballs and marinara

Breakfast &Lunch &Snack: see Monday. If there is frittata left!!
- Me: dunno. I have a school function
- Husband/ kids: frozen pizza.  They have a playoff baseball game

I don't think I've gotten that far in my planning.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Two New Recipes! Zucchini Fritters and Egg roll in a bowl

I was on fire this week!  Well, we got zucchini in the produce box, and with it came a recipe for 5-ingredient zucchini fritters.  So I decided to give it a try.  I realized that while I planned to make them for dinner Wednesday, I'd forgotten that I had a PTA meeting.

So I made them Weds morning before work and after my workout.  But I made the mistake of getting dressed for work first.  So then, I smelled like fritters (oil) all day.  Hm.

Apparently the kids (big one especially) thought they were delicious!  I did too.  Pretty easy and great.

The other recipe I'd been reading about is "Egg Roll in a Bowl".  I found many versions, and started with this one.  I decided to try it because we got green cabbage from the box. It was a definite hit!

I used sliced steak for the meat, because I had it.  I think the key to this recipe (and a good stir fry), is getting the balance right of the spices - in this case, green onion, garlic, and fresh ginger.

For the Zucchini fritters, I used the recipe that came with the box - they have a newsletter. I don't have a picture of the actual fritters, because we ate them.  But maybe I'll take a picture later this week.

5-Ingredient Zucchini Fritters
4 cups shredded zucchini (the food processor is your friend!!)
2/3 c. flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sliced scallions (green & white parts) - I will have to sub regular onion this week
Vegetable oil (I used olive oil)

Put shredded zucchini in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes.  Or in my case, the length of a shower + getting dressed.  Using your hands, squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Put zucchini in a large bowl and mix with flour and eggs and scallions, plus 1/4 tsp and 1/8 tsp pepper (you know I eyeballed that).  Stir until combined.

Line a plate with paper towel.

In a non-stick skillet, heat a generous amount of oil.  Put over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, scoop a 3-Tbsp mound of the mixture into the pan, pressing lightly into rounds and spacing 2 inches apart.

Cook 2-3 minutes and flip, and cook 2 more minutes until golden brown.  Transfer to paper towel lined plate.  Repeat until done.  I think I made 15 of them.

They are delicious with sour cream, or just plain.

Marcia's Famous Salad

Next up!  Not a recipe.  It's not a surprise if you know me, but I eat a lot of salad.  Like every day.  I get a free lunch at work tomorrow (sandwiches) so I get a break from making a salad.

My husband is getting tired of sandwiches.  So I offered to make him one of my salads.  He used to eat sandwiches for lunch (for decades), then he started taking leftovers (and was competing with me for them).  I used to work that into my meal plan - however lately I've been giving him sandwiches. (because if he eats leftovers, then I have to cook dinner more often, KWIM?  And: baseball.  So many nights away from home.)

The risk here, though, is that he wants me to make him salad more often.  Hmm...

Monday, April 4, 2016

On Traveling with Children

So I'm on vacation and I have time to think and relax and think some more.  So I was thinking today about traveling, and about how traveling with children is different than traveling alone.

Now, you will always find people who swear that having kids won't change their travel habits.  Maybe they lie, maybe it really happens.  I dunno. But I do have to say that traveling with kids is different for us.  Let's examine that.

- Air travel

Shortly after we had our first child, we continued with our travel habits.  We were flying to visit family 2x a year (once to each family), and once on a real vacation (like Hawaii, or New Mexico, or DC).  We continued this schedule for a couple of years, so that our older son had flown 5x by the time he was 1.5.

Air travel changed for sure.  Instead of a single bag and a backpack filled with a book, my iPod, a few snacks to eat - it was now filled with many  more snacks, kids books, coloring items, diapers, a change of clothing for the kiddo.  Traveling with a single bag was definitely more of a challenge, but was do-able when he was small.

As time went on and he got bigger, it just got more expensive.  3 trips x 2 plane tickets was now 3 trips x 3 plane tickets.  We started cutting back - our trips to visit family were cut back to every other year, and we combined them together with a rental car in between.  The advantage was two-fold:
1.  cheaper (less airfare)
2.  longer trip (2 weeks).  I realized, for the first time, how much more relaxing long trips are - even with kids.

Plus, traveling with kids kinds of sucks.

- Car travel

The vast majority of our travel these days is by car.  This has additional challenges:
1. My older child gets car sick. While he's never actually barfed in the car, we have to drug him.  (Dramamine.)
2. My younger child has a small bladder.  An 8.5 hour drive can easily take 11 hours.  For this reason, we've set a limit of about 6 hours (with the exception of the trip between families, which is 8).  An 11-12 hour drive is torture!
3.  I'm old.  Sitting is hard.
4.  Driving hours are limited (time of day).

Contrast this to the "old days".  Pre-kid we took a driving tour of the Southwest over 9 days, with stops in Kingman, AZ, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Santa Fe, White Sands NM, Tucson, Joshua Tree National park.  Single day drives of 8-10 were not uncommon, and almost every day was packed with an activity.  Camping was pretty easy - put up the tent, heat up some dinner, explore, go to sleep.

Now, some folks will recommend driving with kids overnight, or early in the morning.  With our sleep schedules, we cannot do that - even if it would work for the kids.  We arrived home by plane after a long bout of weather, with a 2 hour drive, and had to pay $179 for 5 hours in a hotel room to sleep. Because we didn't want to die.  Overnight may work if your kids sleep in the car, and if they are the type to need to run every 1.5 hours.  And if you are a night owl.

Our method is to break up longer trips into multiple days.

- Miscellaneous travel

When we visit family, we have an 8 hour trip between the two places.  We often rent a car and drive.  However, twice we have taken the train.  The advantages:
1.  We aren't driving and can nap
2.  The kids can move around.  They are much happier
3.  It's a shorter trip (6 hours)
4.  It's about the same price as renting a car

1.  The train leaves at 7 am.  So we have to go up the night before and stay in a hotel

Pre-kid days, we would just drive, no question.

- Camping

So, I started getting into camping when my husband was getting over it.  Of course, he bears the brunt of packing it, so I understand.  Pre-kid we would pop up our tent, roll out our pads and sleeping bags.

Now, we are older and have kids.  We have a small car.  So, in order to pack, we use a Thule box on top of the car.  It has to be carefully packed (stuffed).  The kids get the sleeping mats, and we have cots.  Because we are old, and the ground is  hard.

Setting up takes longer. Only one of us can set up (maybe with help from the older kid), and the other one (me) has to chase the toddler.  Cooking is reverse - I can cook while husband chases toddler.  Camping trips have to be at least 2 nights to make it worth it.  But a maximum of 3, because it gets old.  And then you have the difficulty in getting the kids to sleep, and my own insomnia.

- International Travel

We haven't done it with kids.  Enough said

- Timing

Pre-kid, you can go when you want.  This can save buckets!  Spouse and I traveled to Hawaii 4 times.  Maui in October and Feb. Kauai in Jan and April (or thereabouts).  Some of times we just randomly decided to go one month out, and got killer deals! One Kauai trip we traveled with one of our friends - three of us got a 2 bedroom, newly renovated condo overlooking the ocean.  $180 a night.  (Normal price: $450/nt).

Once you are on the school schedule, be prepared to open your wallet.  Hotels, air fare, gas prices - all can easily be double due to increased demand.  (Just ask my aunt how hard it is to get her daughter, SIL, and grand babies over from England in summer.)

Likewise, there is "peak pricing" in places like Disneyland.  Summers, weekends, and spring break simply cost more.  We went to Disney 2 years ago and lucked out - our Spring Break did not coincide with most of So Cal, so the peak pricing did not take effect until the following week.

You also have to be prepared for crowds. (See Disney, above.) We were recently visiting National parks in Utah.  I did my research and found that it was best to get there before 10 in order to find parking.  While Bryce wasn't terribly busy (got there at 10, found parking just fine), Zion was PACKED.  Zion is very close to Springdale and therefore gets more visitors.  We arrived at around 9:30 and found parking pretty easily.  The shuttles were running within the park, but from noon until 4 (when we left), they were standing room only.  We were lucky that someone was always willing to give up a seat to whichever one of us was carrying the 3-year old.

All of the hikes had hordes of people.  If your desire is to be one with nature, and avoid people - spring break is not the time to go.  And spring break is about 6 weeks long, as different school
systems have different schedules.

For the record, I don't mind hordes of people while hiking.

- Activities

I have found that I simply cannot pack our days full like I did pre-kid.  You know, drive 6 hours, see place A.  Stay overnight.  Drive 6 hours, see place B, stay overnight.  You can see SO MUCH this way!  I know people who do this still - they tend to have campers that don't require setup.  Your home is with you!

For one thing - I prefer to cook instead of eat out.  In this case, an endless string of hotels or camping will not work.  See above on how much harder it is to tent camp with kids - one night stays are impractical.  And cooking in a hotel is work.  One night in a hotel is sometimes necessary.  A string of them is a pain.  You are paying $100 to $200 for only 21 hours, really.  If the hotel has amenities like a pool, you probably won't get to enjoy them.  If you check in too late, you cannot go. Then check out can be early morning if you want to get on the road.

For this reason, I like condos/ houses.  I recently had my first experience with Air-BNB, and I really liked it.  Until now, we rented condos that were vacation condos - so sort of "hotel-like".  These are nice too.  The issue with condos or houses is that many have a minimum stay of 2-3 days.  The owner does not want to pay a cleaning fee daily, and they don't have a staff like a larger vacation condo place.

Thus, we try to stay in a particular place at least 2 days, longer if possible.  Our recent Utah trip was 5 nights in Utah (plus one night hotel stay in each direction due to the long drive).  With 5 nights, we could have theoretically seen four things: Bryce, Zion, Lake Powell, Grand Canyon.  And then we could have swung by Death Valley on the way home.

Um, that's too much "on the go" with the kids and us. We need down time.  For our five days, we checked the weather to determine our "big days" and just relaxed at home and "winged it" on the other days.
Day 1: Bryce.  Not ideal after the "should have been 5.5 but was really 8 hours" drive the day before. (It's 1.5 hour drive one way.) But weather dictated it because...
Day 2: Snow.  We hung out at the townhouse, played with snow, ran errands, did a little work, watched TV, hiked behind the house.
Day 3: Zion (45 minute gorgeous nail-biter drive)
Day 4: Hang out near the townhouse, and saw a close-by park (Coral Pink Sand Dunes).  Start packing.
Day 5: Check out and drive to Barstow.  Leave early enough to grab a quick dinner and go see a movie.  Vacation is not a vacation for my husband without a movie.

Have your vacation methods changed with time or with kids?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Vacation Eats - and What Budget?

A sticking point for me while on vacation, is how to maintain my grocery budget.  Inevitably, it's more expensive to eat on vacation.  Why is that?

- If you are camping, then you generally are purchasing more "shelf stable" foods like canned chili, oatmeal packages, etc.  Or at least, I do.  Because otherwise, you have to pack ALLL your own food, pre-made.  I know some people can do this, but our car + Thule box barely fits our camping gear.

- If you are on a driving vacation, then food planning stems around things that are easy to eat on the run and can be eaten cold. For us, this means sandwiches, veggies and hummus, string cheese, apples, instead of salads or stir-fries.

- If you are flying, then your food choices are limited even more, though my niece over at Mrs. Petri Dish travels with all her food pre-frozen.  That becomes a lot more difficult when you have a family of four.

- If you are staying at hotels, then cooking options are limited to: nothing, or microwave/fridge, or whatever you brought with you (hot pot?)  I have been known to feed my family noodle bowls where we heated the water in the hot pot. With raw veggies.  I have to tell you, while the resort on the Big Island of Hawaii was fabulous, that was the world's smallest refrigerator.  And cooking for three in a hotel room is hard, and expensive.

- If you are staying at a house/ condo/ Air-BnB, then you might lack staples.  Some of them may have coffee filters, cooking oil, ketchup. Some will not.  There's a bit of a start up cost.

I almost always aim to stay at a condo or house for any vacation longer than 2 days.  Eating out is expensive, not healthy, and a PITA with a toddler who cannot sit still.

This means that you will likely be grocery shopping wherever you are staying.  In a resort town, prices are more expensive.  You also cannot take advantage of bulk buying.

Which brings me to the question: do you count grocery stops on vacation as vacation budget or grocery budget??

On our recent/ current vacation to the beautiful state of Utah - here's a sample of our eats for the week:

Day 1: travel.  We ate dinner at home and drove 3 hours to the wonderful town of Victorville, CA.  Sadly, we booked the hotel too fast and didn't realize that it didn't come with breakfast (a must with our family).  The purpose of traveling a bit the first day is to break up the 8.5 hour drive.  Honestly, with a toddler's small bladder, the 8.5 drive would take 11.  That's too long.

Also sadly, there's no place "half way".  Victorville is 3 hours from home and 5.5 from Utah.  Las Vegas is 5.5 hours from home and 3 hours from Utah.

Speaking of small bladders, we stopped at McD's to pee and for fries and burgers.  Because my 10 year old needed a second dinner.

Day 2: travel day from hell.  I mean, just a long day.  This was Easter.  We ate bagels and smoothies in the hotel room (see: no free breakfast).  We headed out at 10 am and probably didn't get in until 5:30 pm.  In lieu of lunch, we snacked in the car - veggies, fruit, cheese, chips.  We stopped at a Walmart and got mac and cheese for that 10 year old with the hollow leg (and some hummus).

Dinner was stuff that we brought, figuring that grocery stores in a small town in Utah would not be open (we were right).  We had Madras lentils, chicken tikka masala with rice (from TJs), and sliced cucumbers.  And chips and guacamole.

Day 3: Bryce Canyon national park:
Breakfast: bagels and eggs
Lunch/snacks: apples, veggies and hummus, string cheese, sandwiches, water, granola bars
Dinner: rotisserie chicken and stir-fried asparagus

Day 4: Errands, hanging our near the townhome:
Breakfast: bagels and eggs and smoothies
Lunch: Sandwiches, hummus and veggies, salami
Dinner: leftover chicken and stir-fried broccoli
- but then the 10 year old kept, eggs, chips...

Day 5: Zion national park
Breakfast: bagels and smoothies
Lunch/snacks: Sandwiches, hummus and veggies, apples, chips, granola bars
Pre-dinner, we hiked a lot snack: yogurt
Dinner: pizza and stir-fried zucchini (Bought 2 "take and bake" pizzas. Had to slice them in half to fit on the baking pans.  Ice cream for dessert!

Day 6: Coral Sand Dunes state park:
Breakfast: scrambled eggs with leftover broccoli and zucchini and cheese, bagels, apple
Snack: yogurt and smoothies

Future plans:

Lunch: Lunch out, veggies and hummus
Dinner: Leftover pizza, leftover broccoli and zucchini

Day 7: Long travel day
Breakfast: cinnamon rolls, smoothies
Lunch: sandwiches, veggies, apples (on the road)
Dinner: In-n-out in Barstow

Day 8: short travel day
Breakfast: at the hotel (free! Didn't make that mistake again)
Lunch: ??
Dinner: HOME!!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

February's grocery totals

I'm a little late on this, but hey, better late than never!!

We came in Feb a little under January, including a vacation and a guest!  But it was a shorter month.


I think we will be a little higher the next months.  Our produce box will now be $40.00 a week.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Delicious Eats from the Box

Well, here's a sampling of what we ate this week.

Brunch: Mushroom, feta, spinach frittata
Dinner:  Tamales (from Costco) with enchilada sauce, salad

Breakfasts were toast, homemade raisin bread, and cereal
Lunches were a combo of leftovers, sandwiches (dad) and salads (mom).

Monday: Chicken tikka masala ( office had an anniversary catered lunch Friday.  I missed it because I was off running the school jog-a-thon.  There were leftovers in the fridge. I took some home.  It was delish.  The kids had chicken fingers.)  Red cabbage and apple slaw.

Tuesday: Leftover tamales, red cabbage and apple slaw

Wednesday:  Refried bean and chicken tacos (bean recipe from 100 days of real food, done in crockpot on Monday), cabbage slaw.  Chicken is Costco roasted chicken.

Thursday: Bean and chicken burritos, salad (I had the slaw for lunch, by now I'm sick of the cabbage)

Friday: Red cabbage fried rice.  I'd made the fried rice last weekend and froze it, without the cabbage.  I cooked up the last 1/4 head of cabbage with garlic, mixed in the fried rice, and added leftover chopped chicken.

My basic fried rice recipe is from Weight Watchers, and I adjust it based on what I have. The kids LOVED it.  It was great.  I had sriracha of course.

This particular version included white rice, cauliflower rice, peas, carrots, chicken, sesame oil, Bragg's liquid aminos, garlic, and of course the cabbage.  And maybe ginger?  I don't remember.

Funny story, last night was the kiddo's first baseball game of the season.  My husband took him there, then watched him bat (he walked, but then scored!) then went to go get the little one.  After he got the little one, he met me for a free glass of wine at our wine club winery.  It's not exactly free when you buy a $15 bottle while you are there.  Then he took the little one back to the game, and I came home and cooked.

Now it's Saturday morning.  I took the last of the spinach, washed it, and cooked it up with some eggs and some red Leicester cheese (spicy peppers and roasted peppers).

The rest of today is chores...some groceries (it's raining, I'm feeling like split pea soup), swim lessons, and science fair project.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Produce Box

So, we are trying a new thing this year!  Our CSA has been suffering because of the drought. They ended early last year, and haven't started up yet this year.  Our neighbors have been getting a local produce delivery for awhile now.  When they are out of town, they have us go over and put it in their fridge.  Bonus: it's still local (farmer's market, including our CSA farm), AND they deliver it.

The only downside is that it's more expensive.  Oh, and I have to prep and figure out what to do with it.  Our grocery budget is about $100 a week, give or take, and this is $40.

Well, we got our first box yesterday, and here's the haul.
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch celery
3 lbs oranges
1.5 lbs apples
1 head red cabbage (it's huge)
1.5 lbs spinach
1 head lettuce
1 bunch cilantro
2 lemons
1 pound broccoli
1 head garlic

So, what to do, what to do?  I have to tell you, I am NOT feeling the food prep today.  I know it's how we survive the week. But I am super duper tired from lack of sleep.  I've had a chest cold/ bronchitis.  And this week was the school move-a-thon, which I was in charge of running.

And other stresses are that I was at our potluck today, half way through eating, when one of the guys talked about how sick he was with food poisoning 2 days ago.  Ugh, it better be food poisoning.  We've had the stomach flu 3 times this winter already.  I've had contact with too many people with stomach flu!  It's been a gnarly season.

So here's the plan:
Red cabbage slaw with carrots and apples and blue cheese and walnuts (need to buy blue cheese)
Celery and carrots raw with PB or hummus
Lots of salad with lettuce and spinach and diced oranges
Steamed broccoli
Lemon herb salad dressing
Raisin bread

I've already made some fried rice and put it in the freezer.  I will toss the cilantro in there later. I don't have much meat right now - or what I do have is frozen solid.  I really need to plan better, and take stuff out of the freezer on Thursday night.  I have to go get the blue cheese, so I think I'll get some frozen chicken tenders and some sort of sauce from Trader Joe's.  Maybe chicken curry, or BBQ chicken, or something like that.  Tonight might be a good night for salad and nachos.

Monday, February 8, 2016

This week's menu

No pictures, I know - boring -

Friday: Shithi's curried chickpeas, over brown rice/ quinoa, with Indian roasted cauliflower
Saturday: see Friday
Sunday brunch: Roasted pepper, broccoli, and shallot frittata (with cheddar and mozzarella). Note to self: MUST buy goat cheese
Sunday dinner: Spaghetti squash gratin, Pizza (Costco frozen)
Monday: leftover pizza and frittata, Roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup
Tuesday: chicken fingers and veggies and hummus
Wednesday: Fish (Costco salmon portions, and Trader Joe's fish sticks) and broccoflower
Thursday: Tacos & salad

(whenever the mood strikes us)
Rosemary olive-oil bread 
Roasted pepper hummus
Garlic and herb salad dressing (uh, yeah, it's super garlicky, no vampires here!)

Monday, February 1, 2016

January Budget Results - $429.42

Well folks, I've been slacking on the listing of exactly what I'm buying, but that's okay, right?

Here's a summary of our grocery totals for January.  Pretty good and frugal (for us), but you'll note that I shop at many different stores to get these deals.

And wow, look at those Costco trips!  $51.83 and $51.93??  How did I do that?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Food prep and meal plan

Well, this is another week of husband travels.  Here's a little snippet of what I cooked and what we ate:

Salad (radishes, cashews, lettuce, carrots)

Stir-fry vegetables (coconut oil, Bragg's liquid aminos, sesame oil) - I used a mix of Costco frozen mixed cauliflower/broccoli/carrot, and some mixed Italian veg.  I ate this over quinoa

quinoa, chickpea, cucumber, olive salad

deviled eggs

homemade Macaroni & Cheese with pureed pumpkin - homemade bread crumbs on top - loosely based on this recipe

Roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup

Chilled zucchini and cashew soup

Pressure cooker Moroccan lentil soup (search this blog!)

Homemade focaccia

My plan is to rotate eating all these things!! Until we run out, then wing it!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Grocery expenditures, ending January 17, 2016

Food expenses for the week: $107.57
Costco: $75.46
Whole peppercorns: 7.79
Sliced ham: 8.35
Pink lady apples (14): 7.49
2 gal milk: 4.69
Frozen mixed veg (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower), 5 lb: 6.49
Frozen organic blueberries, 3lb: 9.99
Tortilla chips: 4.49
2 loaves bread: 4.59
Guacamole minis: 11.59
6 pk Madras Lentils (impulse buy): 9.99

99 cent only store: 17.06
2 heads cauliflower: 2.00
1 bag radishes: 1.00
Frozen broccoli, 1lb: 1.00
Frozen Italian veggies, 1lb: 1.00
Frozen strawberries and blackberries: 1.00
Bacon: 1.99
1.5 lb sweet potatoes: 1.00
2 dark chocolate bars: 2.00 (I have PMS)
4 bananas: 0.88
5 oz mushrooms: 1.00
4 pk bagels: 1.00
4 pk baby artisan lettuce: 1.00 (smoking deal)
4 oz blueberries: 1.00

Farmer’s Market: 3.25
2 lemons and an avocado

Ralph’s: 11.80
2 lb cheese: 5.98
1 head lettuce: 1.00
1 bunch celery: 1.00
1 eggplant: 0.99
Zucchini, 3: 1.35
Onions: 1.50

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What we ate this week

Welcome to my list: what we ate this week. Where I attempt to remember what we had to eat for dinner and some lunches during the week.  Because I don't write stuff down.

What we ate this week:
Saturday dinner: potato and kale soup, homemade rosemary bread
Sunday breakfast: smoothie, ½ bagel.  Bread, cereal, applesauce.
Sunday lunch: canned salmon salad (me), lettuce with homemade vinaigrette. PB&J (hubs), smoothie (kid), bagel (other kid)
Sunday snacks: cashews, chocolate, orange, homemade bread, wine
Sunday dinner: pinto bean, corn, and pepper enchilada casserole, carrots and cucumber
Monday dinner: more enchiladas!
Tuesday dinner: veggie burgers and ??? I don't remember what the boys ate
Wednesday dinner: frozen pizza
Thursday dinner: crockpot chicken with Island soyaki sauce, broccoli, cashews and rice
Friday dinner: leftover chicken with peas and carrots

Saturday lunch: ham sandwiches, celery, raspberries, apple, tortilla chips

Other random lunches:
Leftover soup
Costco samples (on salad day, I was still hungry!)
Bean tacos

Monday, January 11, 2016

Grocery Expenditures This Week

Okay, well I've decided to start tracking my grocery expenditures each week. I already do that in an excel sheet, but now I'm thinking I should track individual items.  So, for now, I'm going to try that.

I also thought it would be cool to track what we ate each week (menu) in a separate post, but that may be a bit too much.  In any event, this past week, my husband was out of town.  So, I had smoothies for breakfast.  The kids had bagels.  I had salad or leftovers for lunch, the kids ate at school and daycare.  I ate barley stew from a "survival kit" (from a pouch, just add water) that we bought 7 years ago, with homemade bread.  The kids ate pasta with butter and cheese.  Our veggies this week were carrots and hummus, peppers and hummus, broccoli, and green beans.  Varied each night.

Food expenses for the week: $83.45
1/7: Smart & Final – $18.60
32 oz vanilla yogurt: $2.99
Large container basil: $2.99
4 apples @0.59/ lb: $0.93
4 oranges @0.39/ lb: $0.71
2 lb sharp cheddar: $4.99
2 lb mozzarella: $4.99
2 bunches kale: $1.00

1/9: 99 cent only store - $16.99
Instant pumpkin spice oatmeal: $1.00
Frozen sliced peppers, 1lb: $1.00
Frozen broccoli cuts, 1lb: $1.00
4 pk bagels: $1.00
3 pcs Ghirardelli candy: $1.00
6pk organic bell peppers (green/orange): $1.99
2 lb carrots: $1.00
30 corn tortillas: $1.00
1 bunch broccoli: $1.00
1 box cereal: $1.00
1 box hard taco shells: $1.00
2 Romaine hearts: $1.00
7 oz tortilla chips: $1.00
2 boxes blueberries (4.4 oz each): $2.00

1/9: Trader Joe’s - $42.37
Red wine vinegar: $1.99
1L olive oil: $6.99
Blueberry cereal bars: $1.99
Pickles:  $3.49
Sour cream: $1.69
Kalamatas: $2.99
String cheese: $2.99
Chocolate chips: $1.99
Grated parmesan: $4.09
English cucumber, organic: $2.29
Stevia: $6.99
Bananas, 7: $1.33
5 lb whole wheat flour: $2.99

1/10 Ralph’s: $5.49
1 gal milk: $2.49

2 pkg raspberries:  $3.00

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Tips for Reaching your goals

What are your goals for 2016?  Let's not call them resolutions.

No matter what your goals are, there are things we can do to make them happen.  To set yourself up for success, as it were.

I recently watched "In Defense of Food" - a Michael Pollan documentary (based on the book) on PBS.  Apparently many of my friends watched it too, and it made them feel bad.

Well, as someone who read the book awhile ago (as well as many of his others), I've already implemented his suggestions in most areas.  There are things you can do to make it easier.

What is your goal?
1.  Get your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Well, assuming that they don't hate them (in which case, you have more work to do), the answer is: serve them.
- And serve them when they are hungry.  "I want a snack" - the response to this is not "do you want...?"  The response to this is to hand them a bowl of carrots and hummus, or sliced up apple.  This can be snack time, after school, or right before dinner as you are prepping.  And while you are cutting and peeling carrots, just go ahead and do the whole bag, okay?
- It's amazing how much easier it is to get your kids to eat vegetables and fruit when you have them.  I admit, it can mess with my meal plan.  Often my kids mow through all the bananas in 3 days, leaving me wondering what I am going to put in my morning smoothie.

2.  Lose weight
- If you are like me, some sort of calorie counting or portion control is going to be needed.  Those "make little changes" do nothing for me.  Figure out what you need to eat ahead of time and stick to it.
- Set rules. "Only 2 cups of coffee and then water".  "Wine only on Friday". "No sweets". "3 vegetables a day".  Simple rules can help.
- Prep ahead.  If you are washing lettuce for a salad, for crying out loud FILL that salad spinner.  You'll be ready for the next 3 days.
- Keep the bad foods out of the house!!
- Don't be "all or nothing".  Any bit of exercise or healthy eating is a positive move.

3. Be healthier - This is the area that small changes really work!
- Go to sleep half an hour earlier
- Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up.  And a glass of water between your 2 cups of coffee.
- Eat one cup of fruit or one cup of vegetable for every meal.
- Take a 30 minute walk on your lunch break
- Do some squats and pushups and crunches
- Cut out processed food

4.  Simplify!
- Buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables, or use frozen
- Prepare meals in bulk and freeze
- Consider a fruit/ veg delivery service, vs. a CSA that you have to go pick up (I am considering this)
- One pot meals!  (Fewer dishes)

5.  Save money
- Give up on pre-cut fruits and veg ;)
- Shop around and make a price book
- Use up EVERYTHING, even if you are tired of it
- Eat in season
- Plan meals so that you don't waste food OR get creative with leftovers
- Increase the frequency in the rotation of cheaper meals

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Grocery Round up

Well folks, the total is in:

2014 Grocery expenditures: $10,261
2015 Grocery expenditures: $5706

Savings: $4555

In 2014, I was predominantly focused on losing baby weight.  And I did.  26 pounds of it.
In 2015, I was focused on saving money.  And I did.  But I still lost 10 pounds.

My year end weight is around 132 pounds (honestly I did not get on the scale yesterday!)  So in two years that is 36 pounds down.

What did I do?
In 2014, I did mostly 21-Day Fix to lose the weight, with a little bit of Chris Powell's Choose to Lose
In 2015, I did a LOT of food prep.  I started shopping at the 99 cent only store for discount produce (they even sometimes have organics!)

Goals for 2016:
Maintain the weight loss and keep exercising!
Keep the same grocery budget, give or take.  Let's just set a goal of $6000, because the boys are growing.