Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Year-End Reflections: Cooking

This week I've been stopping to reflect on the year and share some tips or lessons learned.  The kitchen has been my favorite place lately.  I have become very comfortable with trying new recipes.  I even have made up some of my own, which I am so proud that they actually taste good.  One reason that I have had to be a little more bold in cooking is because of my daughter's food allergies to milk.  Talk about a big challenge.  I don't really like to buy lots of expensive ingredients to substitute, and my husband and I still eat dairy.  So the challenge became to not only make healthy and tasty meals that were dairy free, but to make her meals look like ours if our meal had dairy in it.

I also learned a lot about making recipes from scratch and saving money along the way.  My favorite, favorite new thing to make is chicken stock.  It costs pennies to make and the taste is so much cleaner than from a can.  I also like making casseroles without (yes without) cream soups.  I used to use cream soups a couple times a week.  Now I will substitute a milk-based (for us) sauce or simply use a homemade stock.  Again a much cleaner taste.  Yes, I still use a can of tomato soup here and there.  And we aren't completely free of processed foods.  But I have found that it really isn't that much more work to make from scratch (or near scratch).

Another lesson I am proud to have learned is freezing meals.  I absolutely love making a couple extra batches of food and freezing them for later.  Even browning a couple extra pounds of ground beef and freezing it makes meal prep much easier.  I feel that once I do go back to work (whenever that is) that I will have a good strategy in place for easy meals during the week that can be quickly unthawed and cooked.  I use our Foodsaver and it preserves the food really well.  I even learned how to freeze corn on the cob and other fresh fruits and vegetables.  This saves us a lot of money, as well.  I will often save the little bit of roast and use it to make a soup or fried rice.  It's amazing how just a little bit of meat can be stretched with different fillers.

It's been a tasty year for us and I really look forward to cooking up new dishes and making trusty favorites.

To check out my recipes go here!

To read my reflection on organizing go here and my reflection on lessons from a toddler go here!

Year-End Reflections: Lessons learned from a toddler

As I continue my reflections of this year, I move on to some of the lessons learned with raising a toddler.

With all our moving this year, there were pockets of time when Dora or Elmo occupied my daughter.  But in-between those moments of packing and unpacking, I made sure to set some goals with my daughter.  One goal from early spring on was to spend as much time outside as possible.  We took daily walks and played in the yard.  I loved taking her to the park.  Sometimes it was really hard to stop and just let her play outside or walk for an hour.  But it was so worth it to see the enjoyment in her eyes.  Another goal this summer was to take her to do something special each week.  By special I mean, in addition to the daily walks or trips to the park.  Some of our favorite places were the splash park, the zoo and the botanical gardens -- all which were free!  As the winter has fallen upon us, we are still trying to do some special projects and trips to the new library are really fun.  I have some other activiites lined up starting in Janurary that we will rotate.

My daughter has taught me this year that she likes to be challenged.  I realize that if I think an activity or project might be too hard for her that I know I should give it a try.  She surprises me daily of her ability to predict and comprehend.  I love reading stories and watching her reactions as she reads it for the first time.  I learned that challenges are what she strives for.

Here are some of my activities and projects listed on my blog geared toward little learners!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Year-End Reflections: Organizing

Each day this week, I'm going to take a little time to reflect on the year.  Today I'm going to reflect on some of the organizing (and reorganization) that I encountered this year.

We moved twice this year.  We moved into our rental home in January and our new home that we built in October.  These last two years have been a big transition for us as we had our daughter and have moved a grand total of four times.  In that chaos and disorganization I found myself frustrated not having a place to put my things.  I was frustrated when I would have to open six bins to find a ball of yarn.  We gained a lot of items over the years and found ourselves in a continuous purge this year.  We donated thousands of dollars of items to Goodwill and had a garage sale earlier in the year.  We made whatever space we had work, but it was a challenge.  There's something about having your own home that makes it so much easier to organize.  When we designed the kitchen we put in lots of cabinets, a pantry and lots of work space.  I love the island we put in. I lowered it because I am short, so I don't feel like I'm having to stand on my tip toes to work (slight exageration).  I also like having the lowered island so that my daughter can stand on her stool and help.  It's so important to include her in helping whether it's in the kitchen or folding washcloths.

Here are some tips that I learned this year in keeping myself and our household organized:

  • If you don't use it toss it or donate it.  Sometimes it's really easy to get emotionally attached to things.  But if it's taking up space to never be looked at again then it's not worth having.
  • Plastic bins that are the size of shoebox have been my lifesaver this year.  I organized our junk drawers into bins.  Examples of bins: crayons, tape, glue, batteries, mounting strips, glitter.  We still have one junk drawer, but it's not messy. You can usually find these for $1 each -- I've even found two packs for $1 each.
  • We are slowly transitioning everything to big bins for storage.  We label the outside of each so that it's showing when stored away.  I use packaging tape and then a permanent marker for labeling. These bins stack well.
  • My husband bought me a desk for my birthday.  It's the first time in more than two years that I have a place to go.  I have all the address information, mailing information, coupons, other money saving strategies and the bills all in one place now.  Before I had some stuff in piles in the kitchen and couldn't ever seem to be organized.  It helps to have your own space.  I think as a stay-at-home mom I was feeling like I had no where to go and was just floating wherever the messy clutter was. 
  • Go through the mail and toss what you aren't going to need right away.  I have a file for bills that need attention (on my desk).  I make sure the mail is cleaned up every night.  I just go through everything unless it's for my husband and make decisions whether it's something to keep or not.  If I get a magazine that I'll read later, I put in a basket that is in the kitchen.  That basket I use for those moments I have to quickly clean up and have no where to put it at the time.  Kind of a catch all basket.  Actually, not too much lands in there anymore.
  • This falls into what I'll talk about more on Wednesday, however it crosses into organization because cooking is a big part of my day.  I have learned that browning a couple extra pounds of hamburger or making double batches and freezing them saves lots of time.  And keeps me organized and a little less stressed.  If there is a day where we are behind, I always have something in the freezer I can make.  
  • Keep a running grocery list.  I'll put things on the list that I know I'm going to need soon, such as syrup.  That way when I make the list I'm taking to the store I can look for the sales.  Then I just update the running grocery list.
  • I also make a running list of ideas to do with my daughter.  There are so many activities and games to do that when I write them down we actually get to them.
  • Have a plan for the day.  I try to keep it the same week to week, but leave room for flexibility.  For example, I typically do laundry either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday.  But some weeks it might be Monday and Friday.  I usually reserve mornings for errands and activities with my daughter.  Afternoons run late for us as she starts her nap between 1 and 2 p.m.  By the time she wakes up it's time to start supper.
  • In order for me to be motivated and organized, I keep learning and trying new things.  My favorite thing to do right now is making new recipes.  When my husband and I married three years ago I had about eight recipes I made regularly.  I was unexperienced in the kitchen.  Now I will tackle any recipe that comes my way and try several new ones each month.  Staying home has allowed me to experiment a little more. 
  • Just get to it.  We all have those projects that need to get done.  Just pick a day and get to it.  I really feel good when I get something that's been hanging over my head done.
  • Don't over think it.  Just do what works best for you.  I find that being organized makes life much more relaxed.
Read more of my organizng tips from my blog here, here, here and here!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I'll be taking a short break from blogging for the next few days.  Have a safe and happy holiday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Marble Painting with a bell

I found this idea here.  Instead of using a marble to paint with use a jingle bell.  I taped a coloring sheet in the top of a box top.  We rolled the bell in paint and then rolled it around on the paper.  We sang Jingle Bells and Jingle Bell Rock when we did this project.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What's Cookin' -- Cream Cheese Sausage Dip

I know I've had this before, but my sister-in-law brought it over last weekend and it tastes so good.  WE made it again this weekend.  It's a perfect football snack. After a quick Internet search it appears there are lots of different variations of this recipe.  Here's what we did and it worked out good.

Cream Cheese Sausage Dip

1 lb hot or regular breakfast sausage (Jimmy Dean or Johnsonville are best)
2 packages of cream cheese (8 oz each)
1 can Rotel original diced tomatoes and green chilies (10 oz)
Tortilla chips

1. Brown sausage. Drain.
2. Add browned sausage, cream cheese and tomatoes in small crockpot (or regular size if you don't have a small one). Mix together and heat through.
3. Serve with tortilla chips for dipping

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Clay Ornaments

Be sure to check out my other blog on how to make these fun clay ornaments here!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

High Value Coupon for Paper Towels

Go here for additional coupons not found on coupons.com.  There is one for .45/1 C&H sugar and $2/1 two pack of Viva paper towels.  If link doesn't work, let me know.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fun Dramatic play idea

This morning my daughter was playing with her Fisher Price Little People (a almost everyday occurrence here).  A couple years ago I bought a Little People train that had a Santa, Mrs. Claus and a reindeer.  This is the first year she really has been enjoying the Christmas characters.

I thought she should have some presents to play with and wrapped up some small blocks.  We put them in the bin with the rest of the Little People.  I used some scrap paper that I've been saving year after year and little bows.  Now Santa has some presents to deliver.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Olay Rebate Form

I received this rebate form  for Olay Lotion in my e-mail today.  I called the company to clarify and it is pretty simple.  Purchase Olay Quench Body Lotion and send the rebate form in.  You can submit 2 forms per household, but the total rebate is maximum of $12.  Sounds good to me!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's Cookin' -- Nachos

Here's a really good recipe for nachos.  I took the base recipe from Stolen Moments Menu Planning  (see sidebar) and added a few changes to make it to our taste.  I got a "yum" from my husband after he took his first bite.


1/2 ground beef
1/2 can refried black beans (about 7.5 oz)
1/4 cup taco sauce
1 cup tomatoes
1/4 cup onion
1 tsp dried cilantro (1 Tbsp fresh)
1/2 to 1 cup cheese (depends how much you want.)
12 taco shells
 2 to 4 Tbsp Veg. oil

1. Heat vegetable oil on medium in small skillet.  Add taco shells for 20 seconds each side. Set aside to cool.
2. Ground beef. Drain.
3. Break taco shells off and place on platter or casserole dish.
4. Mix together ground beef with black beans and taco sauce.
5. Mix together tomatoes, onion and cilantro.
6. Place ground beef/bean mixture on top of broken taco shells. Pile toward middle.
7.  Place tomato mixture on top of beef/bean mixture.
8. Sprinkle cheese over all.
9. Bake on 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.

**To make dairy-free use vegan cheese.**

Snack idea

Be sure to check out my other blog for a great snack idea!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ornament idea -- Glitter shells

I was working on this game for my daughter a couple weeks ago and happened to watch a Martha Stewart segment on glittering sea shells.  Of course it really was just a segment on her selling a hot glue gun (which she didn't even use to make these ornaments), glitter, glue and Macy's ornaments.  I digress. But after watching the tutorial of how to glitter shells, I thought we could do that.  So, I took the concept and tweaked it a little for my toddler so she could help.

I did go and buy Martha's glue and glitter at Michaels.  There was a pack that had three different colored glitters and the glitter glue for a fairly reasonable price (and if you have a coupon it helps).  The night before I did these with my daughter I did a practice run.  I actually started by using some glitter I had.  It was craft glitter (not the kind kids usually use) that I had picked up on sale a long time ago.  I used Martha's glitter glue and glittered a small shell.  It didn't work.  For some reason that glitter just didn't glitter right.  Go figure.  I tried again using Martha's glue and glitter and sure enough it looked like it did on TV.   She showed drilling a hole in the top for the string, but I decided to hot glue string instead.

The next day I had everything ready because if you are going glitter with a two-year-old you have to be ready.  My toddler helped glue and glitter eight shells, which was more than I thought she would have patience for.  I debated about going back and re-glittering the empty spaces, but I don't think I will unless she helps.  It really is meant to be "her" project and gift.  Kid's ornaments should look like they made them.  I would have taken pictures during the project, but it was a glittery, gluey mess.

Sea shells (we used small ones)
Hot glue gun

(to see Martha's directions go here.  She actually has a really cool technique)
1. Hot glue string to each shell. Allow to cool down before glittering.
2. Use a paint brush to brush glue on a shell.
3. Sprinkle glitter on glue. Allow to dry.  Repeat with other shells
4. Glue and glitter other side if desired.

**I actually had my daughter sprinkle the glitter from the containers and used the muffin tins to put the extra - you get a lot of extra with a 2-year-old**

Monday, December 7, 2009

Surprise Box -- Gingerbread Boy

Here's a really easy and fun surprise box.  I just love all the different choices I get when it's this time of year for making games and reading stories.  There is just so much to choose from.  And you can get really creative.

Here are contents of this week's surprise box:

  • Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
  • Gingerbread Boy by  (any version works -- I don't mind this one even though the fox eats the cookie at the end because it ends with that's what we do with cookies -- Eat them)
  • Stuffed gingerbread boy toy
  • Gingerbread Boy matching game -- I made 11 gingerbread boys and decorated them differently.  I made some have two matches and some have three matches and one has no match.  Then I laminated them.

Of course, we had to make dairy-free gingerbread boy cookies (and we didn't peek).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Another repost -- Snicker Salad

Here's a salad that will give your guests a surprise.

Snicker Salad
6 apples ( I use golden delicious)
6 snicker bars (I freeze them for a half hour)
1 tub Cool Whip

1. Cut apples and snickers into bite size pieces.
2. Mix with Cool Whip.

**To preserve the apples use a little lemon juice after cutting them. This will stop them from browning, but doesn't affect their taste.**

Check out more side dishes and salads at here!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Toddler Holiday Game

Here's a really easy game that you can make and switch out different skills.  Find a christmas tree pattern, such as this one.  Cut the trees in half.  Tape or laminate lower half to file folder.  Laminate top half -- I used scrapbook paper on the back, just to give it a little distinction between front and back. You can use velcro or magnetic tape on the back of the tops of the trees.  Then, create a matching skill, such as number recognition, upper to lower case letter, letters, adding or subtracting solutions, shapes -- the list is endless.

Here's a tip:  Write on top of the lamination with a permanent marker (yes, I said permanent).  To erase the permanent maker use hairspray and wipe with a paper towel.  You can use the pieces over and over again.  I plan to give my daughter a different challenge each week.

What's Cookin' --Avocado Feta Salsa

Here's a really tasty salsa that has a little different kick.  I adapted this recipe from here.

For more great appetizer ideas check here!

Avocado Feta Salsa
1 avocado
1 cup cherry tomatoes (I think any kind of tomato will taste good)
2 oz to 3 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1 green onion, chopped (any type of onion will work)
1 clove garlic, minced or chopped
1 to 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano (1 Tbsp fresh)
1 tsp dried parsley (1 Tbsp fresh)
1 to 2 Tbsp lime or lemon (fresh is best)

1. Mix all ingredients together.  Be sure to put the lime or lemon juice directly on the avocado to prevent browning.
2. Let sit in fridge for 1 to 2 hours.


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