Monthly Archives: October 2011

Monday Menu Plan: 10/31-11/6

Happy Halloween everyone! All the snow that fell in New England on Saturday must’ve triggered my winter cooking habits, because there seems to be a lot of comfort food on the menu this week. Time to break out the elastic-waist pants and shamelessly enjoy those hearty meals =) We’ll also be eating a lot of halloween candy this week, so yeah, hooray for elastic-waist pants.

Breakfasts: waffles, baked oatmeal, eggs & toast, fresh fruit, homemade yogurt

Lunches: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fresh fruit and veggies, leftovers

Snacks: fresh fruit and veggies, pumpkin muffins, popcorn, CANDY!!!!

Dinner:

Monday
  • chicken noodle soup
  • homemade rolls
Tuesday
  • bean burgers
  • sweet potato fries
Wednesday
  • roasted spaghetti squash
  • salad
  • rolls
Thursday
  • grilled cheese sandwiches
  • tomato soup
Friday
  • scrambled eggs
  • green beans
  • toast
Saturday
  • baked ziti
  • salad
  • rolls
Sunday
  • crock pot roast
  • roasted cauliflower
  • garlicky green beans
  • rolls
What’s on your menu plan this week? Share in the comments below!  And if you want  information on how to plan a weekly menu, click HERE.
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It’s Christmas in Halloween Town

It absolutely amazes me how small children bask in the comfort of repetition; able to read the same bedtime story every night for a year, play the same board game 5 times in a row, watch the same movie over and over and over… and over… and over again. It really started to get under my skin when Finding Nemo became a quasi-permanent fixture in our DVD player. I will forever grit my teeth at the sound of Ellen DeGeneres’s voice. Slowly and methodically, my children have instigated a sense of perpetual annoyance towards a growing number of my favorite childhood movies.

But the month of October always seems to bring forth my nerves of steel, impervious to the drone of familiar dialogue and film scores emanating from our television set. Last year, I relished watching Little Shop of Horrors every day for a month. This October, despite watching it a million times in 29 days, The Nightmare Before Christmas has managed to hold its position at the top of my list for favored kid’s films (And before you go ripping into me for letting my preschool-age children watch too much television, you don’t have to waste your breath because I already know it. I welcome the distraction when I need a shower, have twenty loads of laundry to fold, or am on the cusp on consuming an entire bottle of wine to numb the headache from my daughter meowing like a cat for twelve hours straight).

I’ve never been able to figure out if The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie or Christmas movie. In the true spirit of my confusion it happened to snow today here in New England, two days before Halloween (hence the film homage in the post title).

Apparently the "land of four seasons" is now the "land of three and a half seasons".

Despite all the snow, I’m still in a Halloweenie kind of mood, so here’s a little sneak peak into our October festivities.

Apple carving:

"Hey Larry, you think they'll recognize us at the costume party?"

Jack O’ Lantern Craft:

Five little pumpkins, hanging above the door. One got annihilated, and then there were four.

Handprint Ghosts:

Quite possibly the cutest craft project ever.

Sparkly Spiders:

Painting and Glitterizing Gourds:

First the painting...

...then the glitterizing.

And finally, Halloween Costumes:

Me: “What do you want to be for Halloween this year?

Chris: “An Optimus Prime big rig truck!

Emma: “Stormcloud!

Me: “What’s a stormcloud?

Emma: “She’s an X-Man, silly goose!

Me: (combination deep breath/long sigh/eye roll) “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.

not yo' mama's homemade halloween costumes.

In your opinion is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or Christmas movie? Aaaaaaand I’m curious, if you have kids do they have a certain movie that they love to watch over and over again? Let us know in the comments section below!

 

 

 

Plan Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Part 1): The Budget

"Hey old man, who the heck are you?"

As I write this, there are 8 weeks left until Christmas. I know I know, how dare I mention Christmas when we haven’t even made it past Halloween! It’s getting pretty hard to ignore when my weekly trip to Costco gives me front row viewing to the giant wall o’ wrapping paper and inflatable Santa-themed yard decorations. A quick run to Walmart with the kids was instantly detoured so that the goobers could check out strings of blinking lights and artificial Christmas trees. My cashier at the grocery store was humming Jingle Bells the other day. Whether you want to hear it or not, Christmas is 8 weeks away.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve fallen privy to the Christmas mad dash: last-minute gift shopping, excessive baking, wrapping until the sun comes up… and then there’s the subsequent credit card bill that always seems to hit the mailbox by December 26th. Just the thought of it all gives me heart palpitations. With a little planning though, you can bypass that holiday anxiety and give yourself the gift of a peaceful Christmas.

There’s so much to do during the holiday season; shopping, decorating, baking, traveling, parties… the list goes on. But none of that is possible without a budget. Ideally you’ve socked away money here and there throughout the year to put towards your holiday spending, but fear not if that minor detail slipped your mind over the past 10 months. Regardless of how much (or how little) you have, the goal is to spend less than what you’ve got.

1. Make a list. 

In this case, Santa knows best. Make your list and check it twice, but don’t limit yourself to the gift-giving kind. Grab a pen and write down all of the expenses you anticipate this holiday season: gift giving, decorations, food, new outfits, travel costs, correspondence (i.e. cards and long distance phone calls), charitable giving and whatever else might suit your holiday needs. Try to be as thorough as possible so you aren’t caught off guard by unexpected spending.

2. Figure out how much you can afford.

How much you can afford to spend on Christmas  should not be dictated by the spending limit on your credit card. Unless you have the money saved up to pay off your holiday spending at the end of the month, don’t put yourself into debt buying gifts with borrowed money. And don’t dip into your emergency savings to fund your Christmas; a holiday that you’ve known about for the past 365 days is NOT an emergency. Be honest with yourself over how much you can afford to spend. Just like in everyday life, if your holiday expenses exceed your income then you either must trim back your expenses or find an additional income to finance your spending. If your wallet is feeling a little light this year, don’t worry; there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday on a tight budget (stay tuned, I’ll get into more detail on that in upcoming posts). Once you’ve figured out what you need to buy and how much you can afford, take that list from step 1 and assign spending limits to fit your financial needs.

3. Track your holiday spending.

Hold onto your spending to-do list and use it to keep track of how much you spend on your seasonal purchases. You can jot it all down right on your list, or if you really want to be organized scribble up a simple worksheet containing 3 columns: your expenses, your projected budget for each expense, and what you actually spend. If you end up spending a little extra on Grandpa Pete’s gift than you anticipated, no worries, you can cut back somewhere else in your budget to compensate. Keep yourself updated on where you stand financially through the holiday season, and don’t be afraid to tweak your budget to accommodate any changes

4. Pay with cash.

One of the best ways to spend within your limits is to only pay with cash. It’s simple really, you spend what you have on hand and when it’s gone, it’s gone. You can incorporate a cash-envelope system for the holidays, labeling envelopes with each category you spend in (such as gifts, food, decorations, etc.) and placing the designated amount of cash in each envelope. When you need to shop you take along the appropriate envelopes in lieu of credit cards, effectively avoiding the post-holiday debt hangover. The cash-envelope system comes in particularly handy for receipt organization also, as you can keep your receipts in those same designated envelopes just in case you need them for returns.

5. Don’t wait until the last minute!

We’ve all been there before: aimlessly wandering the stores at 5pm on Christmas Eve, grabbing gifts now and figuring out who to give them to later. Christmas Eve impulse shopping might just be the biggest holiday debt offender, sending us over our budgets as we grab frivolous gifts off the shelf with no particular recipient in mind. Planning out your shopping and doing it well before December 24th will help you save money and your sanity.

Do you create a Christmas budget or just wing it? Let us know how you plan to handle your holiday spending season in the comments section below!

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on frugal holiday gift giving, decorating and celebrating ideas. Don’t forget to sign up to follow the blog and receive new post notifications via email.

In the Kitchen: Mulligatawny Soup (I think?)

Liquid gold.

Confession: I am a serious recipe tweaker. I cannot leave a recipe alone for the life of me. Case in point, my inner monologue while baking: “Just a teaspoon of cinnamon, you say? Well then I think I’ll use 2 teaspoons… and a dash of nutmeg… and ginger… and cloves… hmmm, what else goes with cinnamon?”.

Now for the most part tampering with recipes doesn’t damage the outcome of my dishes. I’m no culinary expert, but as far as cooking and baking goes I’m pretty confident in the kitchen. I won’t lie, every once in a blue moon I make an adjustment that sends a dish straight to the trash (BT dubs, blue moons typically occur once every three years. You can file that under random trivia facts, thankyouverymuch). But that’s more likely to happen as a result of my not paying attention and accidentally adding chili powder to the oatmeal instead of the cinnamon (true story).

The only thing that truly falters my confidence is preparing a dish that is completely foreign to me, such as my recent mulligatawny soup venture.  I happened across an article that mentioned the soup, and after googling it to find out what the heck it is I decided that it sounded like something I’d like to try. I found THIS recipe on allrecipes.com and figured that if 573 people felt compelled to write raving reviews it must be a safe bet. I printed it out, sat down with my pen, and went to work on editing the entire thing. First, double the entire recipe. Second, add things that I assume would be complimentary to the existing ingredient list. Third, think up substitutes for half of the ingredients, just because. Fourth, change the process. Fifth, cross my fingers.

I have no idea what mulligatawny soup is supposed to taste like. I don’t know if what I made even vaguely resembles mulligatawny soup. But it was GOOD. So good that we had to say no when Emma (my three year old mini-foodie) asked for a fourth helping. Perhaps one day I’ll come across it on a restaurant menu and order it just out of curiosity. In the meantime, I have what I think is mulligatawny soup and I like it.

I’m looking to beef up my soup repertoire this season so I’m curious, what’s your favorite soup? Tell us yours in the comments section below!

Mulligatawny Soup (adapted from THIS recipe)

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, shredded

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

3 teaspoons curry powder

1.5 teaspoons garam masala

8 cups water

2 tablespoons bouillon

2 apples, cored, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup uncooked white rice

2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces

salt and black pepper to taste

2 pinches dried thyme

1 cup milk (I used 1%, you can use any)

1 tablespoon butter

1 heaping teaspoon all purpose flour

1. In a large soup pot over medium heat, saute onion, celery, carrot and garlic in 3 tablespoons butter and olive oil. In a small bowl combine the 3 tablespoons of flour, curry powder and garam masala. Add spice mix to pot and sautee for 3 more minutes. Add water and bouillon to pot, mix well. Bring to a boil and simmer about 1/2 hour. Remove from heat and puree soup with a stick blender.

2. Add apples, rice, chicken, salt, pepper and thyme. Simmer over medium-low heat 15-20 minutes, or until rice is done.

3. While the soup is simmering to cook the rice, prepare white sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and stir until the butter and flour are well combined and fragrant (it should smell kind of nutty, be careful not to burn the butter). Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly until it thickens.

4. When the rice is done, whisk the white sauce into the soup to combine and serve. Makes 6-8 servings

A few tips and tricks:

* I use bouillon, but you can use chicken stock or broth instead. I just happen to buy the ginormous jar o’ bouillon at Costco so that’s what I have on hand. I don’t add any extra salt when I use my hella salty bouillon, but salt to taste if you use chicken stock or broth.

*Garam masala is an indian spice mix that I just recently discovered and I’m obsessed with it. It can be tricky to find, I had to trek to Whole Foods to find it after striking out at three local grocers, but you can get it on Amazon.com if you can’t find it locally or make your own (try THIS recipe).

*For the saute you can do all butter or all olive oil instead of the combination of the two.

*I pureed my soup because my kids have an aversion to vegetables floating around in their bowls (they love veggies, just not “soup” veggies). You can leave it un-pureed if you want to skip that step, or you can also add the apples to the saute and puree those also if you think fruit in your soup is weird. I dared NOT puree the apples because my kids are all like “fruit soup? hells yeah!” (they don’t really say “hells yeah”, they’re three and four, but you get the point).

*I made a white sauce for that uber creamy factor, but you can skip that step and do a simple substitute. The original recipe called for heavy cream but you could do half and half, regular milk, a dollop of sour cream, whatever floats your boat. Or if you’re waist-watching, skip that altogether. Pureeing the soup initially gives it a creamy quality that can compensate for the lack of additions.


Monday Menu Plan – 10/24

I’m a little late with the Monday menu, but we inherited a nasty computer virus this past weekend. Luckily my dad is a computer genius and managed to get us back up and running just in time, hooray for awesome dads! We’ve got a pretty busy week getting ready for Halloween, so you’ll see a lot of easy meals on the menu. Want to know how to make a particular meal on the menu plan? Let me know in the comments below and if you’re lucky I’ll make it a recipe post later in the week!

Breakfasts: waffles, baked oatmeal, eggs & toast, fresh fruit, homemade yogurt

Lunches: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, fresh fruit and veggies, leftovers

Snacks: fresh fruit and veggies, kale chips, popcorn, oatmeal raisin cookies

Dinner:

Monday
  • tailgating leftovers @ my dad’s house (the Jets won yesterday, woohoo!)
Tuesday
  • mulligatawny soup
  • salad
  • homemade rolls
Wednesday
  • braised red cabbage and apples
  • egg noodles
Thursday
  • baked ziti
  • homemade rolls
Friday
  • vegetarian cocoa chili post trick-or-treating dinner @ my dad’s
  • cornbread
Saturday
  • takeout, probably pizza
Sunday
  • baked chicken
  • broccoli
  • pasta with garlic and olive oil
What’s on your menu plan this week? Share in the comments below!  And if you want  information on how to plan a weekly menu, click HERE.

In the Kitchen: Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins

zucchini chocolate chip muffins fresh from the oven... yummmmmmmmm.

Rainy days are perfect for baking with kids. It makes being stuck inside more tolerable (unless you’re one of those people who says “screw the rain, let’s jump in puddles!”… but I’m not one of those people. I have beige rental carpets that beg to stained with mud, so that’s not how we roll around here). It gives my children something fun to do besides bash each other’s heads into the radiators (true story, we spent an hour at the doctor this morning because Chris was bored and thought body slamming Emma was an awesome idea). It makes the house smell amazing (unless you burn something). Enough said.

Today it rained so we chose to make muffins. Muffins are easy, forgiving and budget friendly – perfect for an impromptu rainy day baking session. I’m a blueberry muffin girl all the way, but we had an abundance of zucchini in the fridge so I figured I’d put it to good use.  Although I have a trusted standby recipe from my Joy of Cooking cookbook, I decided instead to take a gamble with one I found on allrecipes.com.  I’m glad I did. For about two hours our kitchen was total muffin mayhem: we had batter on the floor, flour in our hair and shredded zucchini on the kitchen window (don’t ask).  Despite the utter chaos, the final product was nothing short of awesome.

What is your favorite kind of muffin? Tell us in the comments section below!

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins (adapted from THIS recipe)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour                                                                                                        3/4 cup brown sugar                                                                                                                          1 teaspoon baking soda                                                                                                                      1 teaspoon ground cinnamon                                                                                                          1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg                                                                                                        1/2 teaspoon salt                                                                                                                                1 egg, lightly beaten                                                                                                                        1/2 cup applesauce                                                                                                                              1/4 cup yogurt                                                                                                                                      1 tablespoon lemon juice                                                                                                                  2 teaspoons vanilla extract                                                                                                              1 1/2 cup shredded zucchini                                                                                                          a handful of semi sweet chocolate chips (about 1/3 cup-ish? I just eyeball it)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin or line with cupcake paper cups.

2. In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a separate bowl combine the egg, applesauce, brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice and vanilla, mix well. Stir wet mixture into dry ingredients until just moistened. Lightly fold in zucchini and chocolate chips with a spatula.

3. Fill muffin cups three-quarters full. Bake for 20-25 minutes for mini muffins, 30-35 minutes for regular muffins, or until muffins test done. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan before moving to a cooling rack.

A few tips and tricks:

* If you feel compelled, you can use whole wheat flour in this recipe. I usually do 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 all purpose flour to keep my muffins from being too dense.

* I used yogurt because I have a ton of it in my fridge, but the original recipe calls for milk if you don’t have any yogurt on hand.

* Using room temperature ingredients makes for the best muffins ever. We’re impatient here and used them straight from the fridge, but if you’re savvy enough to plan your baking endeavors ahead of time feel free to follow the room-temp rule.

* If you weren’t born with the ability to inhale an entire batch of freshly baked muffins in one sitting (like someone I know… cough cough me cough cough), you can rest assured that leftover muffins freeze beautifully. When you want one just pop it in the microwave (or foil wrap that sucker and put it in the oven) to thaw it and relive the freshly baked muffin experience. OOOOOOOR if you’re adventurous you can prepare the batter ahead of time and freeze it in an oiled muffin pan overnight. In the morning pop out the frozen batter “discs” into a ziplock bag to store in the freezer. When you’re ready for fresh muffins just stick them back in an oiled muffin pan, allow for time to thaw and then follow the baking directions for your recipe.

Oh hey! Zucchini makes me happy. (side note: I have no shame in being a dork, get used to it)

Monday Menu Plan – 10/17

Menu Planning

Tsk tsk tsk, I'm already recycling images! Emma ran down the camera battery taking pictures of her foot (riveting, I know!), so I couldn't get a yummy food shot this morning.

Breakfasts: waffles, baked oatmeal, eggs & toast, fresh fruit

Lunches: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, raw veggies, fresh fruit, leftovers

Snacks: raw veggies, fresh fruit, fruit, popcorn, zucchini muffins

Dinner:

Monday
  • chopped salad with honey mustard dressing
  • homemade dinner rolls
Tuesday
  • chicken tikka masala (this was on last week’s menu but we went to my dad’s for dinner instead)
  • basmati rice
  • naan
Wednesday
  • egg salad sandwiches
  • apple slices and baby carrots
Thursday
  • whole roasted chicken
  • garlicky green beans
  • homemade dinner rolls
Friday
  • baked ziti
  • salad
Saturday
  • chicken nuggets
  • broccoli
Sunday
  • Probably takeout or leftovers (we’re going to the Jets football game so we’ll be getting home later and I may just order a pizza if I’m feeling particularly lazy!)
What’s on your menu plan this week? Share in the comments below!  And if you want  information on how to plan a weekly menu, click HERE.