Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eating out of the pantry - empanadas!

Okay, I was pretty proud of this one:

Eyeing the random stuff in the fridge yesterday I realized I had a bit of a theme going: leftover chili, shredded cheddar, guacamole, and salsa. I wanted to do something fun with it and rememebered a recipe from Real Simple for Fake-it-don't-make-it Empanadas. I dug out some frozen pizza dough from Trader Joes (1 pound).

Defrost pizza dough and separate into 6 portions. Flour and roll each into an 8-inch circle (I find that the Trader Joes dough really retracts and won't easily roll thin. I rolled each into a small circle, let them rest, and then stretched them when I was ready to fill them.)



Add the filling of your choice - I obviously used the veggie chili. Make sure not to get the topping too close to the edge so it won't interfere with a tight seal:



Add the toppings of your choice - I used up the rest of the defrosted shredded cheddar:



Stretch the dough over the top and press it to seal it. Brush the top with some oil and put onto a greased cookie sheet.



Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes (until lightly browned):



Serve with guacamole and salsa. Eat. Yum.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Jack update

A short Jack update:

Not too much movement on the talking front. My Mom swears he said "leaf" four times yesterday, and he may have said "hi" a few times last week. Today he ran up to me with a plastic crocdile and said "rrrrrrrrr" in his low little growl. That's definitely something.

DC Department of Disability is sending an occupational therapist and a speech pathologist out for an assessment on Friday, and we have a similar appointment at Children's Hospital on April 22nd. I'll see what they have to say - an outside perspective would definitely help me figure out what's what.

He's been entirely weaned off of the bottle onto the sippy cup and his Highness accepts non-microwaved cold milk without sobbing anymore. He's walking quickly enough that it's almost running and still finds great delight in crawling up and down any sets of stairs. He's sleeping through the night almost regularly - last night he went straight from 8 to 7:45 am. I slept like a rock.

Other than that, he's still awfully cute and sweet and I adore him immensely. Obviously.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Eating out of the pantry

This week's been going great. I love working my way through the stuff we have on-hand!

I made a big batch of quinoa with black beans - the only thing I had to purchase was the cilantro (it's just not worth making without the cilantro flavor).



The kids are working their way through some junky snacks that I don't want to buy again, but can't bear to just throw out. Mini pringles, Chex mix...a bunch of crap that I got for free at Shoppers Food Warehouse a few weeks ago.

I also made another batch of frozen yogurt pops with the rest of the blueberry yogurt from SFW and 2 bags of frozen blueberries I dug out of the freezer. Nate loves them and it was a great, healthy way to use up some stuff that's been sitting around for too long.

I also found some bagged-up soup frozen from a big batch I made a few months ago and ate that for lunch for several days instead of using new cans of soup, and I've been throwing frozen organic veggies from the SFW trip into just about everything I feed the kiddos. I'm definitely making headway on the storage items we have!

Last night we had friends for dinner and I decided to stick with the plan of using mostly items from the pantry. Whenever we have people over I try to do a totally vegetarian night without saying anything about it - it's part of my "eat less meat" campaign to show people, without being pushy, how delicious and complete a meal can be without meat. I took a look at what we had around to come up with a meal: I had tons of Wholly Guacamole in the downstairs freezer that I got for more than 50% off, shredded cheddar from Safeway for more than 50% off, salsa from Giant that was more than 70% off. I had tons of half-sized boxes of Wheat Thins I got free at CVS, organic diced tomatoes from Harris Teeter for 90% off, and tons of cans of beans. So...

Munchies: Wheat thins and baby carrots with dips: guacamole, salsa, and homemade hummus.

Main course: veggie chili made with frozen diced onions and other frozen veggies, canned beans, and canned tomatoes. Toppings: shredded cheddar, guacamole, salsa.

Voila! I didn't have to buy a single item, I used up tons of things I already had in the house, and I cooked a healthy delicious vegetarian meal. Very happy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pantry challenge!

Thanks to some great grocery deals the last few weeks, my freezer and pantry are overflowing. So my challenge for a few weeks is to make meals with the random odds-and-ends (one lonely box of tomato soup?) plus all of the food stored up. Produce and a few good grocery deals are the only reasons to set foot in the stores. I'll try to blog meals as I can!

Last night I made simple "mexican eggrolls."



Easy peasey.



Start with eggroll skins, refried beans, some cheese if you're not vegan, and salsa. If you have the energy (I did not), sautee up any vegetables in the fridge and add them in. What I get a thrill about is that I got every item I used, except the eggroll skins, for more than 50% off with sales and coupons. Fun.



Mix everything up in a bowl.

Follow the eggroll skin packaging for directions on wrapping them up (remember: less is more when it comes to filling eggrolls).







Fry 'em up in a pan and voila!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Money saving yummy hummus

So we eat a lot of hummus in this house.

Since we stay mostly vegetarian at home, I'm always conscious of the kids getting enough protein (I recently did a check, and they should be getting 12 grams a day. They get that by lunch!)

We eat hummus once a day on average. Jack eats it in celery and on small pieces of whole wheat tortilla. Nate eats hummus wraps and does a lot of dipping of carrots & other veggies.

As I picked up yet another five dollar family container of hummus, I took a look at the ingredients and decided to try making the darn stuff myself. It just didn't look that complicated. And guess what? It's really not complicated. And my favorite part is that it's yet another recipe where you can throw in whatever you have laying around that sounds yummy.

To start, you need a big can of chickpeas (you can save money by buying dried or on sale, but it'll be $2 at most), olive oil (probably about $.30 worth), lemon juice (about $.25 worth), and tahini if you want (about $.75 worth if you're using the urber organic fancy kind from Whole Foods. Probably cheaper elsewhere). In this recipe, I also roasted a few heads of garlic and used some chives from last year that I discovered growing in the backyard. Tough little guys!



I've tried this in a blender. Don't do it. It doesn't have enough force. Finally gave the food processor a whirl (get it?) after a recommendation from a neighbor and it turned out beautifully. Best hummus ever.



Put in the big can of chickpeas, some squeezes of lemon juice, and about 6 tablespoons of tahini. Put the lid on and start it up. Through the top chute, slowly add olive oil until it gets to the consistency you want. Don't flinch when you're adding in the olive oil - it's so good for you! Once it's all blended, add in any herbs you want, give it one last mix and start eating!

Jack actually said "mmmmmmm" at his first taste. That's as good as it gets.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spending like there's no tomorrow

The last few weeks have been a spendfest here, and I couldn't be more happy about it.

I know this goes against the grain of most frugal blogs out there, but I hope I'm not like most frugal bloggers I read. I take a lot to use, but I leave behind the idea of frugality as the main goal. Living well is my main goal, and while most of the time that means eschewing the expensive side of life to keep our long-term goals in mind, sometimes that means spending money on the things that make us happy and healthy.

Stewart discovered a great organization called Meetup, where people can start local groups to meet up (get it?) with people with shared interests. There are biking, sewing, knitting, philantrophy, singles, travel group and more. The best one we've found is our local Adventure group. So far we've done an orienteering course and we're doing an Easter Egg scavenger hunt/orienteering course on April 11th. Being Jewish means having fun on Easter, right?

Another one I'm so excited about is in May when my sister and I are going to "sleepaway camp" for a weekend! I didn't do this as a child, and she did, so it'll be nice to experience it together.

Now that Jack is getting older, and I feel comfortable leaving everyone behind for a weekend, I feel like I'm getting my life back. But I'm getting it back better than it was before - I feel so motivated to experience as much of life as I can. I was rather lazy before these kiddos came along, and I have so much time to make up for!

I'm planning a weekend in New Orleans with my friend Dave in July (free hotel and meals, just have to pay for the flight) and a girls weekend with some friends in August.

I've also enrolled Nate in some fairly pricey classes - gymnastics and swimming. Living in DC means a lot of great things, but there's not much in the way of cheap "community center" classes so we're left signing up for classes with private organizations. He had his first gymnastics class last week, and we did his first swim class together today. Pure joy on his face the whole time.

I know none of these things are "necessary." I know we can do without them. But I don't think I'll ever regret spending the money on them, and I know for sure I'd regret skipping them in favor of saving the money. I'm happy to cut coupons, skip some meals out, bring lunches on our outings, buy used items on eBay, and keep a constant eye on Freecycle. I'm happy to buy used cars, shop at Payless, dress my kids in hand-me-down, and get books from the library. But unless things get really bad, I'm not willing to skip the fun things in life when we're so careful in other areas.

And I count my blessings that I'm able to make these choices for my family. We are so lucky.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

And did I mention?

Jack has been sleep-trained, no more milk at night, and he's slept through the night the last four nights! He usually wakes up around 6:30, but two nights ago he slept until 8. That was lovely.

Thanks buddy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Grocery trip today

A fun, easy trip to Giant today. I've instituted a new "sanity policy" in my life and I just can't put as much effort into the details of the trips, so no photos and no specific breakdown. It was nice to shop only one store this week - they had everything I wanted and needed, so no Safeway, Harris Teeter, or Shoppers Food Warehouse for me. It's very sad when you're relieved that the inserts don't show any great deals coming up - less pressure to take advantage of them!

Total before Bonus Card and coupons: $295 and change
Total after Bonus Card and coupons: $122 and change

It's nice to provide healthy, sometimes organic, food for my family and get such huge savings at the same time. I bought veggies, strawberries, a watermelon, organic soymilk, organic frozen waffles, soup, and tons of other good stuff. I also got another 15 boxes of Electrasol / Finish dishwasher detergent with the expired $2.50/off coupons - the boxes were on sale for $3.50, so a net cost of a buck a box! I don't think we'll need dishwasher detergent for at least two years. Seriously.

Jack's Monthly Newsletter, One Year Four Months

Dear Jack,

I was worried about coming up with the words for this newsletter, but I took a look at one of the photos Daddy took of you this month and realized I didn't need to talk at all.

This photo is all Jack.



That is just you. Sweet face, sturdy little chewable body, covered in mud, standing on a sewer grate.

You are less obvious about it than Nate was, but you're just as determined once you set your mind at something. Maybe more determined. If you decide you want to walk somewhere, it doesn't matter how many times I turn you away, point you in another direction, heck I can carry you half a mile away and the minute I set you down you just start walking back to where you wanted to go.

The day Daddy took that picture was at a soccer game we got to see Connor play; you found this one muddy slope that led down to the drain and you walked up and down and up and down. You love to negotiate new terrain - you just joyfully toddle around and around and around. I took you and Nate to Kennedy Rec a few days ago and you just stalked around the big field with a huge grin the whole time.



You and Nate are still so incredibly happy with each other. Sometimes you drive him a little crazy when you take his legos, but yesterday when you dropped a can on your foot and sobbed with pain Nate raced in from the living room to kiss you over and over again. After lunch I let you two watch a show together before naps, and Nate's very happy to let you share his big chair. He doesn't even let me share that chair and I own the darn thing.



You're still not talking but you're making more sounds: woah and nuh-nuh-nuh are your favorites. I spent the night at Grandma's house last week and talked to you on the phone the next morning. I said "Hi Jack! Hi!" and this tiny breathy voice said "hi" right back to me. Three times. I cried after I hung up the phone, and then spent the next week making Daddy promise that he hadn't actually been the one saying "hi" and pretending it was you. You haven't done it since, but I'm keeping the faith. You're waving "hi" and "bye" now, and clap for yourself all the time, which is a relief and super-cute to boot.

You love books, and it's such a joy to come in the room to see you looking through a book. I think most of what you love is the process of turning the pages, but I'll take it where I can get it.



You are still the cutest, happiest kid I've ever known. At the grocery store this morning one of our favorite employees was cooing over you and telling another employee "Even when this baby is sick, he's sweet. He's always like this!" You were grinning at her the whole time, laughing, soaking up the attention.

We get to walk around together now - I don't take the stroller when we pick Nate up at school anymore. You absolutely love walking down the sidewwalks, looking around, stepping on and off everything in your path. If I pick you up to cross a street, or hurry you along a little, you squirm like mad trying to get your feet back on the floor. Sometimes you'll hold my hand when we walk, but mostly you want to go it alone. I usually end up walking in front of you a bit, keeping up with Nate or just moving faster than you, and every single time I turn around and catch your eye you just grin wildly at me. I absolutely cannot get over you.



You are the light of my life.
Love,
Mama

Monday, March 16, 2009

Almost there

Nate has been just desperate to play with Jack, trying to instigate games and ask him questions. It's painful to watch because I so want to encourage his attempts to play nicely with Jack, but Jack's just too young to understand what Nate wants of him.

Sometimes, though, it all comes together. Jack is finally of service to Nate.

video

My favorite part is the end where it looks like Jack has run out of patience and grabbed a nearby stick to brain Nate with. In reality he just handed the stick to him; a loyal servant to the end.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Creativity

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Gretchen from Notes from the CocktailMoms and her sweet son Zane. The boys are almost exactly the same age and I think they got along well; I don't really remember because I spent most of the time babbling at Gretchen.

She's everything I want to be when I grow up: gentle, practical, idealistic, and, crucially, clean: she's definitely showered and changed her clothes recently. Cute clothes. Most importantly she's truly creative. The gift and craft ideas on her blog blow me away with their cuteness and practicality all combined up.

I love doing creative things, but I lack any creativity to come up with the projects in the first place. Anything fun or witty I've cooked or created I found trolling around on the internet or in cookbooks.

A perfect example is the rainbow jello I finally got a chance to make:





I totally stole it from here. I love making things happen, I just never have a single idea about WHAT to make happen.

So if you see any projects or crafts or recipes you think might be up my alley, point them out to me! I'm always on the prowl for something fun to do.

And definitely check out Gretchen's blog and her store. You'll be impressed. target=blank

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Blooming

The "babies" are doing beautifully. It is truly amazing how fast they're sprouting and growing. These photos are taken five days apart:





and





and



Friday, March 6, 2009

Snacktime - easy, healthy and fun

I had to make snack for preschool, and I still have a ton of yogurt in the fridge from the Great SFW Trip, so I dug up this cute recipe:





Take 16 ounces of peach yogurt, 16 ounces of partially-defrosted frozen peaches, and 1/4 cup honey. You can obviously use any flavors of yogurt and frozen fruit that suits your fancy. Blend it up however you like, divvy it up into 24 small cups, and stick a Popsicle stick 3/4 of the way in. After they've frozen you can pop them out and roll them in sugar sprinkles - I just did the tops. Both boys are loving them and think they're getting a treat!

They're alive!

The seedlings are sprouting! I hooked up the grow lights now that they've broken through and now our bedroom's like a disco.





Thursday, March 5, 2009

Good Harris Teeter trip - without coupons!

Had a nice trip to HT this morning with only 3 coupons in my wallet! These deals are good through March 10th.



  • The gallons of organic milk are on sale from $5.50 to $5 (savings of 10%). They freeze great, so it keeps me out of the store every few days. The savings is even greater (41%) when you figure that my local store (Giant) only carries half-gallons and they're always at least $4.29 each ($8.58/gallon!)
  • The ketchups were on sale for $2 each (down from $2.99) and we're a Heinz family here. The dearth of coupons wasn't keeping me from my beloved Heinz!
  • The grapes were on sale for $.99/pound, and all of you with kids know how many grapes two small boys can go through.
  • The Palermo's pizzas were back on the fantastic Buy 2, Get 3 Free special! The price went up from $5.99 to $6.99 per pizza, but it still works out to just $2.80 per pizza after buying 5! The pizza is great, plus they have some fantastic vegetarian options (usually "Cheese" is the best a vegetarian can do, flavor-wise). Our favorites are The Napoli (pesto, fresh mozzarella) and The Messina (spinach and goat cheese). I bought a few Margharitas for the days when we have picky kids over as guests.
  • The Steamfresh bags (selected bags only; I think it was peas, corn, broccoli, green beans, and the bags of rice) were on sale from $3 to $2, plus they were also Buy 2, Get 3 Free! I happened to have coupons for $1 off 3.

  • Scenario 1 (without Steamfresh coupons): Buy 5 and pay just $4! That works out to just 80 cents a bag (savings of 66%)

    Scenario 2 (with Steamfresh coupons): Buy 10 and use 3 coupons - you'll pay just $5, which works out to just 50 cents a bag (savings of 83%)

Between this trip, my Safeway trip, and last week's trip to Shoppers Food Warehouse, our freezer is full. I love that feeling.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

$36K Challenge - February update

Well it came right down to the wire, but it looks like we will make our $3,000 payment against debt for February!

I was just about to post that we were only going to be able to send around $1400 when a check came, via UPS Overnight AM delivery, for a huge 2-day job that Stewart did in September 2008. He told me about it at the end of January, and I have harangued and pestered this woman for a month about payment. She gave me a thousand promises and excuses and yesterday I left her a message that said "This is my last call on the matter. If we don't have payment by COB on Tuesday, I'll simply turn this account over to collects."

Voila - $1,650 in the mail today!

So, by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins, we made February's goal. Extra work had been very light this month, and not much is scheduled for March either so I'd be surprised if we make next month's, but I do have a few sales in the works on eBay and we'll keep our fingers crossed!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cheap Morningstar Farms, finally!



I didn't have the energy to take a picture before throwing all of my finds in the freezer, but here's a quick rundown.

We eat a lot of veggie burgers and "fake" chicken-strips, but they're very expensive. Morningstar Farms is $4.50 a box (4 veggie burgers, 4 "chicken" burgers, or 7 "chicken" tenders in a box). I always check around online but can never find coupons for these!

So thank goodness for a great deal at Safeway this week. They're running a "Buy $25 in selected frozen foods, get a coupon for $10 off your next frozen food purchase" promotion. Plus the Morningstar Farms items were on sale from $4.50 to $3.50.

First transaction I bought 8 items at $3.50 each ($28) and got my $10/off coupon.
Next transaction I bought another 8 items at $3.50 each, minus the $10 coupon, minus the $1.50 coupon that spit out on my first transaction ($16.60) and got another $10/off coupon.
Last transaction I bought 3 items at $3.50 each, minus the $10 coupon ($.50).

Total before sale and coupons: $85.50
Total after sales and coupons: $45.00 - savings of 47%

These kinds of sales really help with items that don't normally have coupons in the Sunday papers. The boys already ate the "chicken" fingers for dinner last night and had a burger each for lunch today!

Forgot to add that the inserts had a coupon for a free 2-liter of Pepsi with any $10 purchase - I was able to use the coupon 3 times since I did 3 transactions. Any faithful reader knows about my Diet Caffeine Free Pepsi addiction so three free 2-liters is a nice little bonus!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rare sweetness

A rare moment of emotional sweetness from Nate tonight.

After bathtime, Stewart delivered to me a burrito baby. I put him on our bed to play with him and Nate joined us to jump around and laugh. Naked play is the best.

Jack came over for a cuddle and Nate decided to join him. He lay down on me and realized how warm I was, so he tucked in to stay for a little while. I almost missed it, but he whispered "Mama, you're my best friend."

Argh.

Starting the garden

It's amazing that it took a full week of putting "Start seedlings" on my to-do list to finally get around to it. We had a tough week after some scary news from the pediatrician, but I also went real-estate hunting, put in a bid on an investment property (didn't get it) and I'm tying up some loose legal ends with our current rental houses as well. So poor seedlings didn't get started until about a week after I wanted them to but I think we'll be okay.

I bought two of these APS seed-starting systems to provide the seedlings with a constant water supply from below. I used the 40-block one for plants that will need to be transplanted at least once before putting in the ground (regular tomatoes, grape tomatoes, hot peppers, bell peppers, and eggplant) and used the 24-block one for the herbs and broccoli that will stay there until being put outside.





I went to Home Depot to spend my free $500 gift card on supplies and planned on buying a small shelving unit to put my seedlings and grow lights on. But as I was picking out the one that cost $104, I realized that I've sold off a lot of my eBay inventory and haven't filled it back in yet, and that I have plenty of space on the shelving in our bedroom (yes, shelving in the bedroom. Romantic, yes?)

So, I consolidated my inventory and cleared off two shelves. I put down a cheap shower curtain liner and positioned it to wrap up and over the seedling shelf. I'm not supplying any heat to the seedlings so I hope wrapping it in the liner will help keep some moisture and warmth in there. I put down a towel to catch drips and then lined the whole thing in free aluminum foil to reflect as much light as possible back onto the bottoms and sides of the seedlings. Voila!







Now let's just hope it works!