September 6, 2014

The Village Mercantile—Knoxville

vill merc A friend of mine recently asked me if I shop at salvage stores as a way to save money on groceries and household supplies.  When I said yes, she told me that I needed to make a trip to a local store in the Fountain City part of town called The Village Mercantile.  She raved about some of the deals she had scored, and she was especially happy to find organic and natural food products available at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. 

I phoned and spoke with one of the owners, Monica, about their store.  She told me a little about their place and welcomed me to stop in when I was in the area.   I did just that last week and, in spite of our 18 month old cutting the trip shorter than I would have liked, I enjoyed my experience. 
candy

What you’ll find—

  • Great prices.  Yes, couponers can score deodorant and toothpaste for free, but I have been finding those deals fewer and farther between lately.  I’m not sure if it is that my shopping habits and purchases have changed or that couponing itself has made a shift or a little of both, but my stockpile of freebies is smaller than it once was.  Couponing is only one part of the grocery shopping equation, and places like The Village Mercantile help to reduce costs when coupons aren’t cutting it.  Baby food for 50cts each, organic cereal for around $1, canned goods for half the price of mainstream grocery stores—I’m in!

photo (6)

  • Excellent customer service.  Monica and Amy were so helpful.  Since I’ve been finding myself more and more frustrated by the service I’ve been receiving at larger grocery stores, their kindness was refreshing.  Bonus—they never once scowled at me for the baby being super fussy and into everything.  ;)
  • Since the store sells salvage and surplus items, you never know exactly what gems you might find while there.  It pays to visit frequently to see what they offer from week to week.  
  • Some items are slightly past the expiration date, but as many of us who preserve food know, those dates are not hard and fast rules.  If you are picky about expiration and sell by dates, you might want to check products before purchasing.  Things like soap and toilet paper aren’t a problem, and there are plenty of non-food items from which to choose.  If you would like to learn more about sell by and use by dates, ask the owners.  When I spoke with Monica, she was very well versed in the literature about the topic. 
  • You won’t find refrigerated, frozen, or fresh vegetable/fruit items at the store.
  • Their Beanstalk Soy Candles are for sale, and they are a nice addition to your next gift or hostess basket.

owners

To learn more, I encourage you to check out their Facebook page and stop in when you are next in Fountain City.  Happy Shopping!

September 1, 2014

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

muffins

I tried a few recipes before I came up with this one for pumpkin muffins.  Most of the recipes I found in my cookbooks or on the internet came out heavy or tasteless, so I tweaked them and came up with the one listed below.  This one uses mostly wholesome ingredients and was still light and yummy.   I hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour (I use soft whole wheat)
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
½ t. ground ginger
¼ t. ground cloves
¼ t. ground nutmeg
¾ c. packed brown sugar
¼ c. molasses
¼ c. coconut oil
2 eggs
1 c. canned pumpkin
¾ c. buttermilk (I use Cruze Farm buttermilk)

Mix dry ingredients together in one bowl. Mix wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Mix dry and wet together. Fill greased muffin cups about ¾ full and bake at 400 degrees for approx 15 minutes.

August 24, 2014

Whole Wheat Muffins with Natural Sweetener

I have been trying to make a double batch of muffins each weekend since school started.  We enjoy a few hot out of the oven, save some for breakfasts early in the week, and freeze the rest for mornings when we need a fast meal.  Last night I came up with this recipe that was a big hit with the family. 

muffin photo 4 cups whole wheat flour (I prefer soft whole wheat)
2 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
½ t. cinnamon
1 stick butter, softened (1/2 cup)
2 c. whole milk (room temp is preferred)
3 eggs (room temp is preferred)
1 c. maple syrup (room temp is preferred)
1-2 cups blueberries (if frozen, defrost first)—you can substitute other berries

Mix dry ingredients and set ¼ cup of mixture to the side. Mix wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Defrost berries if using frozen and mix the ¼ c of the flour mixture with the berries. This step helps to keep the berries from sinking to the bottom of the muffins. Mix all ingredients together and fill greased muffin cups. Bake at 325 for approx 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from center.

February 20, 2014

What a plumbing crisis reminded me about life

Our home has been faced with a major plumbing crisis recently.  It has been a heck of an experience—costly, stressful, poorly timed, and lengthy.  As I was awake at about 2am thinking about all that has happened and will happen this week with the plumbing, I came back to the life lessons that I mention below. 

1.  God is in charge.  Sometimes when I’m helping people through crisis, I find it important to divide out the parts of the struggle that we can control and what we can’t.  I believe that what we can’t control, what we can’t do anything about, is best to leave in God’s hands. 

Earlier this week our daughter was having a very difficult time with teething.  I was barely functioning with limited sleep and the stress of a fussy, crying baby most hours of the day.  On top of that, we were faced with not having access to water in half of our home (the half that controls the kitchen, dishwasher, and laundry).  I wasn’t in check of my emotions and allowed myself to slip into that hopeless place—the one where you begin to think that there is no way that things will get any better and you become frustrated, anxious, angry, and sad.  After making the rest of our family miserable with my rotten mood, I went to bed and prayed and prayed and prayed.  I turned over the teething, the lack of sleep, the emotions, the plumbing issues all over to God.  Yes, the baby still woke up a few times, but I managed to get more sleep that night.  She had a much better day the next day, and I was better able to put the plumbing experience in context and think logically about it. 

God has a plan, even when we do not think that he does.  There is a song by one of my favorite artists, J.J. Heller that says, “I don’t know what you are doing, but I know who you are.”  I think that applies in almost every problem area of our lives.  We may not be able to see the plan in all of it, but if we believe, we know that God is working in all of it.  Remember Romans 8:28.

2.  Rely on your spouse.  I am forever grateful that God gave me the husband that he did.  He is kind, patient, understanding, strong, competent, funny, intelligent—I could go on and on.  Stressful situations in marriage can either pull you apart or draw you into one another.  I confess that with all the stress I mentioned above I wasn’t as patient and kind with him as he was with me.  He was strong enough for the both of us, and at that point I knew that things would be ok.  Sometimes marriage is like that—sometimes one partner carries the load when the other can’t.  He is unwavering, and I’m so grateful that I have him as my partner for life.

3.  Build an emergency fund.  Even if all you can save is $5 a week, do that.  Put money in reserve for a rainy day. Believe me, it will eventually rain.  Sure, you can spend that $5 on a nice latte or magazine, but I bet when you are faced with an emergency dental procedure, need of car repairs, or plumbing problem you will be very glad that you put that money into savings instead.  Build your emergency fund by using coupons, earning money through consignment sales, taking a part time job, or bartering for services or goods with friends.

We will not choose to tackle a few projects and goals this year because of this plumbing problem.  Yes, we could put them on credit, or even take the money out of our savings—we choose to not have debt and to have enough of a cushion in our savings that when emergencies like this come up we can address them. 

4.  When faced with problems, consider it an opportunity for learning.  I often encourage people who have recently been through a crisis to reflect on what they learned from the experience.  Sometimes they learn that they are a lot more resilient and strong than they ever knew.  Sometimes they learn something about the people in their lives or the world around them. 

As I mentioned, we have not had use of our kitchen sink or dishwasher.  Unfortunately, we had some unwashed dishes at the time of the plumbing problem.  Even with using paper products this week, there have also been other dishes that needed washing.  I have taken the dishes and washed them in that bathroom sink.  Each time I do, I think of other mothers and wives across the world.  I think of those in areas of Africa who must walk miles each day to get water for their families.  I think of the homeless women I pass who sometimes sleep under bridges with no running water.  I think of women escaping domestic violence and living in a motel with their children until they can find housing.  I think of my great grandmothers and great, great grandmothers who fed, bathed, and cleaned for their families with limited or no access to plumbing. 

What I have learned is that most women will do anything for the good of their family.  I happily clean the dishes in my bathroom sink (yes, I use hot water and lots of soap to get them sanitary!) because it means that my family is fed and cared for.  I am humbled and grateful because I at least have that as an option and reflect on so many who do not have even that. 

5.  Let gratitude take over.  The day after the long prayer session I found my gratitude rock on my bathroom counter. It is a rock (or any symbol) that you put somewhere that you will come across it multiple times a day.  Each time you do reflect on the blessings and positives in your life.  I realized when I saw the rock that gratitude is a choice.  I chose to look at all of the blessings that we have and to remind myself that “This too shall pass.”  The way we look at situations in our lives is a choice.  I fail. I stumble.  I make a fool out of myself plenty of times.  I don’t always choose wisely.  Instead of giving up, I try better the next day and the next.  I make those choices “One day at a time” and eventually the crisis has passed, the problem is solved, and life continues.

November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!—Tips, Tricks and Recipes

turkey Thanksgiving is almost here, and I thought I would post some of the links for related blog posts that I’ve written over the years. 

For a general post on ways to save for Thanksgiving, go here.  You might want to read this post on holiday stress busters to begin stress management now.

If you are traveling, look at this post for tips on saving money on gasoline.  (When I wrote this, I was amazed to see gas prices going above $3.  Now I’m glad to see them at $3!)  Check out this one for keeping your sanity while traveling with kiddos.

For some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes:

  • Yum, Yum Sweet Potato Casserole—a Southern favorite.  Might as well be on the dessert table!  Be sure to read my post on sweet potatoes, here.
  • Squash casserole—see the recipe in my mother’s handwriting.  Love this one! 
  • Sausage Dressing—While I love oyster dressing, mirliton dressing, and crab dressing, this is much less expensive with easier to find ingredients. 
  • Serving a soup course?  This is Butternut Squash Soup is a seasonal favorite of ours.
  • Buttermilk Chess Pie—another Southern delicacy.  I am salivating thinking of it.
  • Make up a pot of this Cinnamon Coffee to serve with your desserts.  It will be a crowd pleaser!

If you are daring to go Black Friday shopping (or on Thanksgiving, since apparently nothing is sacred anymore), you might want to make a shopping survival kit.  Below are some ideas to pack with you that I gleaned from a friend who shops the Black Friday sales every year:

  • Waters and drinks
  • Snacks such as granola or protein bars
  • Coupons for area restaurants and stores and any shopper loyalty cards or discount cards like AAA
  • Baby wipes and hand sanitizer
  • Wear comfy shoes and bring an extra pair to stash in the car
  • Cloth bags so that you don’t have to use plastic. 
  • A map of the area so that you can bi-pass high trafficked areas
  • Sunglasses
  • Lotion and chapstick to reduce the affects of cold winds or dry heated air
  • Wear layered clothing and bring a coat, gloves and hat.  My friend said that she starts shopping at 2:30am (if you start at midnight you’ll be stuck in all sorts of traffic and lines), and the temperature at that time is very cold.  Mid-day, though, you might be ready to strip off a few layers.
  • First aid kit—you never know when you’ll be needing band-aids or pain reliever
  • Caffeine—bring your reusable cup so that you can pack a drink with you after leaving a restaurant
  • The newspaper—you might be surprised at how many sales ads include coupons and other discounts
  • Your Christmas list and budget—keep track of what you spend and on whom so that you don’t overspend or overbuy.  It is easy to get caught up in the thrill of the hunt and spend more than you’ve budgeted. 
  • A few candy-canes and a good mood.  I saw a shopper pass out candy-canes to others in line at Gymboree years ago at a Black Friday sale.  I was so impressed.  Bring the spirit of Christmas with you and share it with others.  Since you know you’ll be waiting in line, why not boost others up instead of passing on a grumpy mood?  Be especially kind to the sales clerks—by the time you reach them, they’ve probably dealt with all sorts of rudeness.  Be sure to say, “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!” or even just a “Please” and “Thank you” will do.

Starting to plan your Christmas get togethers? Check out this post for some frugal entertaining ideas.

I hope you have safe travels, yummy meals, drama free time with your families, and grab some good deals when shopping!  Gobble, Gobble!

June 25, 2013

Five Frugal Tips My Father Taught Me—Part 5

Today is the last day of the series.

Frugality Tip #5

My father taught me to give freely.  Yes, I guess that probably sounds funny as a frugality tip. However, my father taught me that giving to and helping others and sharing what you have is sort of the point of being on this earth.  One of the best parts about couponing for me is that I’m able to give so much to our church food pantry.  One of the most fun parts of getting a good deal on something is being able to buy an extra and giving it to someone who would like it. 

In my experience some of the most giving people are also the most thrifty.  Note that there is a very big difference in being frugal or thrifty and in being a miser or cheap.  Frugal people realize the value in things and know that stuff is just stuff. 

Take away--

  • The next time you see a matchup with a free or cheap item on the list buy extras and give them away to someone who might need them.
  • Clean out your stockpile and donate extras to your local food pantry, senior center or homeless shelter.
  • Share the bounty of your garden with friends, relatives or neighbors.

These five frugality lessons are only a fraction of what my father taught me throughout my lifetime.  He was one of the best people I have ever known, and I will always miss him.  If even one tip that I’ve provided here inspires you to try something new or pass on a learning to someone else, I am proud because it means that in some way he lives on. 

Thanks for reading!

June 24, 2013

Five Frugal Tips My Father Taught Me—Part 4

Today is Part 4 in the series.

Frugality Tip #4

My father taught me to not be scared of hard work.  While Daddy enjoyed leisure and fun, he also knew how to work.  He once told me that he could push himself to do just about anything that was necessary for him to do.  Sometimes I think of that when I’m faced with a job that seems insurmountable.  I can accomplish it.  I can do it—he taught me that I was capable and that a little hard work never hurt anyone. 

I think that my dad learned not to be afraid of work from his father and his father’s family.  When I go to the family reunion and look around, the older generation isn’t sitting around—they are doing.  No one seems put out or frustrated to be engaged in work.  These are ways that they show love and care, by doing for others. 

When I learned more about the Montessori method of teaching when our oldest daughter was young, I liked the idea of work as being a way to bring purpose and meaning to a person.  Work is a way of being involved in the family unit, to build self esteem, and to learn about the world around you. 

Being willing to work, can not only earn you a salary, but it can also save you money.  I can pay someone else to clean our house (and goodness knows I sometimes want to!!), but it is much more economical for us to do it.  I can pay someone to paint a wall that needs it, but it is a lot cheaper to do it myself.  When I think of the idea of work, I often reflect on Proverbs 31—that lady doesn’t have a lazy bone in her body!  

Take away--

  • If you are in debt or need to reduce your family expenses, look at services that you have hired out.  Try to make an effort to do those tasks yourself.  You can include dining out in this category, too!
  • One thing that I have noticed with retirees, in particular men, is that there can sometimes be a reduced sense of purpose when leaving the work force.  Try volunteering or mentoring as a stopgap.
  • Make a game out of work.  One of the fondest memories I have is of baling hay with my father, sister, and friends.  It was very hard work, but somehow we enjoyed it.  Instead of mumbling and complaining about things you have to do, try and find ways to make them more enjoyable.  Crank up some music you like or reward yourself with something small when you have done a job. 
  • Have a job you need done but aren’t able to accomplish?  Barter or swap out jobs with a friend.

June 23, 2013

Five Frugal Tips My Father Taught Me—Part 3

Today I continue the series about lessons learned from my dad on being thrifty.

Frugality Tip #3

My father taught me basic life skills and then some.  I’m not sure if it was because he was left to be both father and mother and he wanted to prepare us in the event that were to ever happen to us, or perhaps he was simply teaching us what we knew.  Or, it could just be because he was an excellent father—whatever the reason, Daddy taught my sister and me how to do a lot of different kinds of things.  He knew a lot about building and fixing things, and he tried to pass on that knowledge to us.  One day we might be installing new toilets, another we might be with him on a job site talking about blueprints, another we might be repairing the lawn mower.  Whatever he was doing, he tried to involve us.  I joke that I know how to bat my eyelashes at someone else and coax them into changing a flat tire for me, but thanks to my father, I am perfectly capable of doing so myself if the need ever arises. 

When he couldn’t teach us something himself, he would enlist the help of others.  Because we have such a large family, there was always an aunt, uncle or cousin who could help with instruction.  I have memories of my Aunt Sibyl teaching me to crochet, my Aunt Elma teaching me to smock, my Aunt Bessie teaching me to shoot hoops. 

My dad loved to learn, and he didn’t “dumb down” to us.  On family vacations we would be forced encouraged to do complex math problems in our heads.  Sunday lunch conversation often involved discussions about world history and current events.  We watched more documentaries than we did sitcoms.  When I would come home and talk about what I had learned in school, he would make sure I knew the rest of the story—what the history books didn’t cover and the complexities behind why things worked the way that they did. 

Because he gave me the gift of loving to learn, I not only have some fancy book learning and a nice masters degree on the wall, but I also have something more important--an interest in the world around me.  This has spawned my love of gardening (one of the best money saving hobbies around) and food preservation.  It has also given me the blessing of a career in which I am able to make money for our family while helping others. 

Take away--

  • Don’t ever stop learning.  Read.  Take a class.  Ask a friend to teach you something that he or she knows.  Knowledge is power. 
  • Teach.  Share your skills with others.
  • Don’t dumb down your kids.  Children are much more capable than we make them out to be.  Use big words around them.  Talk to them about concepts and ideas.  Make everyday experiences opportunities for growth and development.  Don’t just teach the boys “boy things” and the girls “girl things”.  It is just as important to know how to prepare a meal as it is to turn a screwdriver. 

June 22, 2013

Five Frugal Tips My Father Taught Me—Part 2

If you read the blog yesterday, you know that I’m publishing a series about frugal tips I learned from my dad.  I hope that you are able to use some of the information to help your family.  If even a small piece helps someone, it will mean that his memory lives on.

Frugal Tip #2

My father taught me how to shop.  Being the oldest of two daughters with my mother deceased, I filled in as the homemaker of the family.  My father taught me how to go to the grocery store and make our dollars stretch.  He taught me to buy foods in season, to watch the price per unit, and to compare quality vs quantity.  When shopping for shoes, he would raise an eyebrow if I chose shoes that were plastic or poorly made.  Just like his father’s generation would talk about walking to school uphill both ways in the snow, he would talk about having shoes older than me and note that you sometimes get what you pay for. 

When I was a teenager, we had some lean times financially.  It was then that I really started learning how to be thrifty, and I learned about these amazing things called coupons.  Having had a time in my life when we were scraping by helped me to realize that stuff is just that—stuff.  My dad told me just a few weeks before he died that he was talking to a relative and reminded him that “money isn’t everything”.  He knew that.  Sure, he liked to have a little money in his pockets and nice things, but he knew that relationships and time with those you love were much more important.

Take away—

  • If you haven’t already started, try coupons.  My father never really got into the whole couponing thing, but God love him, he tried.  He liked that I used coupons, and whenever he received any in the paper or mail, he would save them for me. Coupon with your family, and ask family and friends to save coupons that they are not using for you.  Share your bounty with them.  Daddy loved the time that I filled his pantry full of free pasta, saying, “Gabrielle, what on earth am I going to do with all of this pasta?  We’ll have to start cooking!” 
  • Review my “Saving Money with or without Coupons” section of the blog for other shopping tips.
  • Shop with your children.  Yes, I know it is harder.  Yes, I know sometimes you want to pull your hair out by the end of the trip.  Yes, I know that people without kids sometimes give snide looks at people with who are trying to wrangle theirs into a cart…but, do it anyway.  Pick a time of day and week that tends to be easier and shop.  Give older children tasks—making the list, picking a vegetable for the meal, executing a supper for the week, etc.  Give younger children games to play—“I spy something yellow”, “Find something that begins with a B”, “Draw a picture of what you would like for supper for me.”

June 21, 2013

Five Frugal Tips My Father Taught Me—Part 1

As many of you who follow on Facebook know, my father passed away late last month.  The hole he left is enormous, and I miss him terribly. 

When I was young, my mother passed away, and my dad took over parenting full time.  He served as both a mother and a father, but not only that, he was my friend.  He taught me most of what I know, and a lot of what I have shared on the blog came from lessons I learned from him.  As a way of honoring him, I’d like to share five of the best tips on frugality he taught me.  I’ll be dividing this up into parts that will be published over the next few days.

Frugality Tip #1

The first and probably the most important frugality lesson that my father taught me was how to cook.  Learning all you can about food combinations, cooking techniques, spices and herbs, and preservation and storage will give you an upper hand in making a delicious, low cost meal for your family. 

Daddy loved to talk about food, and I guess I take that from him.  Before he passed, if I hadn’t seen him, I would call him each day to check and make sure he was all right.  Inevitably, we would talk about what we had cooked or eaten that day.  He liked to tell me about a new recipe he had tried or a different way of cooking something he had made for years.  He taught me how to “taste” a recipe in my mind.  You know how when you are reading a book how you can see the imagery from the book in your mind’s eye?  He taught me how to do the same thing with my taste palette when reading a recipe, and for the life of me I have no idea how to explain how to do that to anyone else.  I think that part of what he taught me was to know and recognize the tastes of ingredients—to try and pick them out in a dish we had eaten and to appreciate the combinations and how they would marry together. 

At an early age, my father had me in the kitchen cooking everything from Sauce Picante to Split Pea Soup.  We loved to share food with others and for that reason I only know how to make gumbo in a batch that will feed about 20.  As a child we would have friends and relatives over often to enjoy good food and fellowship.

Take away—

  • If you don’t already know how to cook, check your local newspaper or agricultural agency for cooking and technique classes.  Locally, many of our farmers markets offer free demonstrations.  Williams-Sonoma stores regularly offer short demos.  Many senior centers have cooking classes for low costs. 
  • Get out your spices and herbs and get to tasting.  Knowing what curry powder, rosemary, and cinnamon actually taste like will help you to know how to use them in recipes. 
  • Learn from a family member.  Older relatives in particular can be experts at taking low cost ingredients and making them taste wonderful.  The added bonus is that a little time in the kitchen with a relative will help to make memories for you and your children.
  • If you already know how to cook, teach your children.  Start young and don’t stop. 

April 29, 2013

Kroger Instant Win Game—I won $50!!

banner_logo_header I'm so excited!  I just won $50 in Kroger’s newest instant win game.  Sign in and give it a try, and be sure to let me know if you win.

April 24, 2013

Tip of the day--want a discount?

Want a discount? Check with your employer. Hubby and I have gotten discounts on things like campsite rental, theme park admission, local business purchases, and even gym membership because of our employers. If you work with a larger organization, call your human resource office to see what perks you might be eligible to receive. You might be surprised at how many are available to you.

February 13, 2013

"An Affair to Remember”—Fun Night for Knoxville

Final Draft with Ruffles (1) I saw this poster at Renaissance Terrace, a local assisted living, and thought some of you local folks might be interested.  It sounds like a fun night!

Did you get to go to the prom with your spouse, or significant other? Would you like to create that experience for memories to come? Well this is the event for you! This is a formal event with men wearing tuxedos or suits and the ladies wearing formal dresses or prom dresses. The tickets are $75.00 a couple and $40.00 for an individual. This will include all food, non-alcohol drinks, and entertainment. A photographer and other drinks will be available at an additional charge.
If you have additional questions or if you would like to attend please call 865-523-2920.

February 3, 2013

Lasagna

P1250114(Photo—Lasagna shown near the top of the photo.  Not super pretty, but it is yum!)

I’m a little like Garfield in that my favorite dish is lasagna.  When family members were in town for a recent funeral, I made a big batch of lasagna to have for people visiting from out of town. 

This isn’t exactly a low cal casserole.  Consider using lean ground beef and whole wheat lasagna to help make it a little healthier. 

There are lots of options on this recipe with the amount of seasoning, addition of olives, and types and amounts of herbs that you use.  Feel free to adjust according to your taste buds and what you have on hand. 

Ingredients

1 lb ground beef
1 onion (if you like onion, chop a large one, if you don’t, go with a smaller one)
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
Cooking spray or oil
1/4 c-1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (again, add more if you like it and less if you don’t)
Tony’s seasoning, salt and pepper to taste
2 small containers (6 oz) tomato paste
2 c. water
1/2 c-1 c. chopped and drained black olives (this is completely optional.  I didn’t add them to the batch I recently made because I wasn’t sure if people would like olives or not)
Dried or fresh oregano and basil (to taste, again optional).  I added approximately 1/2 t.dried of each
1 large bay leaf or 2 small ones
Lasagna noodles, cooked by package directions
10 oz cottage cheese or ricotta
1 small package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained/squeezed to remove most of the liquid
2 eggs
Mozzarella cheese (at least a 4 cup package but more if you like it really cheesy)
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese (not the powdered stuff)

Directions--

1.  Cook the ground beef with the onion and garlic in a bit of oil or cooking spray.  Drain completely.

2.  Add the parsley, tomato paste, water, olives (if using), and bay leaf, and stir together.  Begin adding your seasonings and dried herbs, tasting as you add a little to get the mixture right for your liking.  Let simmer 1 hour or longer. Remove bay leaves.  You can always stop at this point and either refrigerate or freeze the sauce to be used at another time if you choose. 

3.  Mix the cottage cheese or ricotta with the drained frozen spinach and egg. 

4.  Cook lasagna to al dente according to package directions.  There are many people who choose to use their pasta raw, but I never find that the texture is right when it is completed. 

5.  To a deep casserole dish that has been oiled or sprayed with cooking spray, add about 1/2 cups of the sauce as the base layer.  Then top with lasagna noodles and layer with the spinach mixture, mozzarella cheese, more sauce and another layer of noodles.  When you get near the top, finish the layers with lasagna noodles, sauce, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese. 

6.  If desired, cover well and freeze for another time.  Be sure to pull out the night before you need it so that it thaws before cooking.  Otherwise spray some foil with cooking spray to prevent the cheese from sticking and loosely cover the casserole.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45min-1 hour (depending on the size of the dish).  In the last 10 minutes of baking, remove the foil so that the cheese is allowed to become a nice golden color.  Enjoy!

February 2, 2013

Focaccia

 P1250114(Photo—a slice of focaccia is shown on the bottom right.  I’ll post the lasagna recipe soon!  We took this photo in haste, right before devouring the meal with family and out of town guests.  Sorry it isn’t a better shot for y’all.)

One of the easiest breads to make is focaccia.  It pairs perfectly with almost any Italian dish, and it always seems to impress guests.  Start to finish, it takes a little less than an hour, and it is well worth the little effort you will need to put into it.  I also find it to be cost effective—compared to store bought Italian bread at about $2 a loaf, you’ll cut your bill more than in half if you opt to make this bread instead, especially if you use coupons. 

Ingredients

1 pack dried active yeast
1 t. white sugar
1/3 c. warm water (110-115 degrees)—you’ll need more as you start to mix the flour into the yeast mixture
2 c. all purpose flour

Topping—good quality olive oil, fresh rosemary, and freshly milled or flaked salt or Italian seasoning

Directions

1.  Mix the yeast, sugar, and 1/3 c. water together and let sit about 10 minutes.  The mixture will foam a bit. 

2.  Mix the yeast mixture into the flour and then slowly start to add warm water until the flour is no longer raggy-looking, thoroughly wet but without being super sticky. 

Note—mixing the right amount of water and flour together when making bread takes a little practice.  If in doubt, err on the side of making it a little wet.  When you knead the mixture (next step), you can add more flour back in to get it right.  It is difficult to say how much water to add because so much depends on how humid your home is when you are making the dough. 

3.  Knead the dough on a floured surface for 1-3 minutes.  This step helps to start the gluten working. 

4.  Place the dough in an oiled bowl, flip over so that both sides are covered in a bit of oil, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm part of your kitchen.  Let sit for about 30 minutes or until the dough has doubled.

5.  Punch out dough and knead on a floured surface for about 5 minutes.  Roll to about 1 1/2 inches-2 inches thick and place on a greased jelly roll pan.  You can make it into an oval, rectangle or simply loosely form it on the pan.  Take your fingertips and press them into the surface of the dough to dimple it.

6.  Brush or drizzle olive oil on the surface and don’t be super stingy.  You want there to be nice little pools of oil in the dimples without it being so runny that you have a mess all over your pan.  Use a salt mill to sprinkle the surface with salt.  If you do not have a salt mill, try using flaked sea salt or an Italian seasoning.  While you can use regular salt, the effect isn’t the same.  If you like, add little sprigs of rosemary to the top by gently pushing the tips of the leaves into the dough.

7.  Bake at 475 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until your desired crunchiness.  You’ll want the bread to be a golden color and no longer spongy.  Some people like their focaccia to be almost like a cracker and others like it to keep the bread texture.  You be the judge.

8.  Serve plain or with olive oil and freshly cracked pepper as a dipping sauce.  This is also really nice with Caprese salad or an antipasto platter.

January 30, 2013

Knoxville Community--The Mobile Meals Program Needs Your Help!


I received the following from a social worker friend and thought that those of you living in the Knoxville community might want to help:

Dear Knoxville Community,
In a recent visit Barbara Monty at the CAC/Office on Aging she revealed that there is presently a WAITING LIST for Mobile Meals.
This means there are homebound elders in our community who are hungry and in need of our help.
I have always believed that supporting the Mobile Meals Program provides a huge “BANG” for your buck, as 100% of monies donated go directly to providing meals for folks. No fluff, no parties, no t-shirts, no mega salaries or hoards of employees.
Just basic food. Delivered by an army of dedicated volunteers.
So many in our network focus on long term care in assisted living and nursing home facilities, and may forget about the huge population of elders who are NOT receiving care in such facilities. They depend on Mobile Meals in order to remain at home. Please help.

Just $65 provides Mobile Meals
(Monday through Friday)
for one senior citizen in Knoxville or Knox County for an entire month.
When you give $780, you provide Mobile Meals for a year! 

One hundred percent !
of every dollar
you give goes directly to providing
meals for Knox County seniors!!!!!

Give a lil…give a lot!
EVERY SINGLE DOLLAR HELPS.
Honor a loved one, or a boss, an employee or a friend! Honor a business! A pet!
Why not Make a donation for a truly loving valentine “statement”?
Knoxville-Knox County CAC Office on Aging Mobile Meals Program
Mailing address: P.O. Box 51650-1650
Street address: 2247 Western Avenue, Knoxville TN 37921
fax: (865) 546-0832, e-mail: Alison Taylor; Alison.Taylor@knoxseniors.org
PH: (865) 524-2786
_________________________________________________________________________________
Thank you in advance for supporting this very worthwhile program!
Susie Stiles, LCSW

Perfection?

Food inflation © Tetra Images/Corbis “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”~Voltaire

Recently I’ve been reading more about clean foods, our nation’s crazy food supply, agribusiness, and balancing family budgets with the goal of eating healthy foods.  I don’t think that I’m alone in the sense of desperation when it comes to wanting to feed my family healthy, wholesome foods.  Not only must I look at the grocery budget, but I’m also faced with the external pressures of media and marketing that make it seem so much easier to just pick up packaged foods.  (99cts a box taquitos and frozen pizzas at $3.50, anyone?)  At school our daughter eats limited foods because she doesn’t want to be made fun of—even what I consider to be foods that are somewhat mainstream now compared to when I was a child, like sushi and hummus, she won’t eat if I send them for fear of ridicule.  Peer pressure abounds, no matter what age.  Then, there are the demands of daily life to balance.  Almost nine months pregnant now, I’m more fatigued at the end of the day when I would normally be preparing meals for our family.  I have a flexible work schedule, which is the saving grace on most days that allows me time to squeeze in a little meal prep and shopping here and there.  Then there are all of the labels.  We can’t trust the word “natural” on a product to mean something from nature.  GMOs are creeping into most of the foods that aren’t organic.  The basics are no longer basics—sour cream might have 5 or 6 ingredients and fillers in it.  Food fraud is becoming a hot topic with companies using other ingredients to keep their costs down—olive oil might also contain canola oil, pomegranate juice might be mostly grape. 

Just when I found myself ready to rip out my hair and run screaming for the hills, I came across this quote by Voltaire, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  I consider myself to be a fairly well read person, but I had never come across this quote before now.  It was the splash of cold water in my face that brought me back to reality and calmed my nerves.  Yes, all those problems I mentioned above exist.  Yes, we live in an age where it is more difficult than ever to feed our family wholesome foods.  However, if I strive for good instead of perfection, it takes away a lot of pressure. 

So what does “the good” look like?  I think that it is a work in progress.  It involves incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our diet so that we eat less junk.  It involves choosing local and organic whenever possible to make our foods cleaner.  It involves doubling recipes and freezing extras so that we don’t rely on packaged foods.  For a girl who likes to go “all in”, it involves finding some peace of mind in seeking balance instead of perfection. 

What about you?  One of the main complaints I hear from couponers is that the packaged and less healthy options are such bargains that they find themselves eating differently than they once did.  What do you do to keep healthier choices on the dinner table? 

January 28, 2013

Ways to Save on Maternity Clothes

As many of you know, we are expecting our second child in early March.  We were thrilled when we learned that we were pregnant, and of course as things usually go, it was right after we had given away, sold, and consigned almost all of the baby and maternity gear that we had from our first daughter.  I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch, though.  I had learned a great deal from our first pregnancy on what to buy and how to save money on purchases: 

1.  Buy discriminately.  The first tip is to not rush out and buy a bunch of maternity clothes in your first trimester.  When you do decide to make purchases, think about clothes that will mix and match well, are basic colors that can be easily accessorized, and will work for the seasons of the year when you will be later in your pregnancy.  This might seem surprising, but I have only bought the following new—1 pair black dress pants, 1 pair gray dress pants, 1 pair dark navy jeans, 2 maternity shirts.  I had been given a gift card by my dad and have only spent about $20 out of pocket on maternity clothes for this pregnancy. 

2.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  My birthday fell right after we told people about the pregnancy.  When people would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, I wasn’t too shy to tell them that a gift card or some maternity clothes would be greatly appreciated.  I was given a few more maternity shirts, a pair of blue jeans, and a belly band.  The belly band is a handy-dandy little strip of fabric that looks a little like a big belt.  It helps to extend the wear of your non-maternity shirts by covering your lower belly.  They sell at Target for a little less than $20 and are well worth the expense.  I’ve heard that some people wear them post birth to hide a muffin top or to keep from showing their tushie when bending down and wearing low cut jeans. 

3.  Don’t be too good for hand-me-downs.  We love hand-me-downs in our family.  Our daughter gets more of a kick out of wearing something that her super cool older cousins or friends from church gave her than something brand new.  Like her, I really appreciated friends and family who shared their maternity clothes with me.  While some sizes didn’t work and some were a different season, the pieces that I was able to add to my wardrobe really helped to expand it.  If someone offers, accept graciously, and then do the same for someone else after you give birth. 

4.  Consider what you already have.  Use little tricks to make your existing wardrobe work for you while pregnant.  Dress jackets, cardigans, and button up shirts look great when paired with a stretchy t-shirt that fits over your belly.  Stretchy waistbands on skirts and pants you already have may work for you for the duration of your pregnancy.   Don’t forget that belly band I mentioned earlier—it helps to make your non-maternity tops work throughout your pregnancy.  Wear longer shirts—my friend Honor always looked so elegant in long Indian style tunics that a friend had given to her.  They weren’t maternity, but they looked good over her growing belly with a pair of leggings, jeans, or slacks.  Don’t forget to accessorize to make the same clothes look a little different week after week.  Use a rubber band to help you extend the wear on your regular pants and skirts.

5.  Plus sizes and pulling from your partner’s wardrobe.  During my first pregnancy, I found that there were a few plus sized options at Target that had options of extending the waistbands.  These worked better for me than many of the traditional maternity clothes because I could expand them as I needed and they sort of grew with me.  When I need something to work outside in the yard, I have pulled from Hubby’s pile of work clothes instead of risking ruining my maternity clothes with stains or grime. 

6.  Shop garage sales, thrift stores and consignment sales.  Probably the most cost effective option will be to shop garage sales and thrift stores.  Watch for the words “maternity clothes” in advertisements or shop bigger group sales that might be at churches.  Don’t shy away from consignment shops and sales, though.  Bargains can be had, especially on the 50% off days.

7.  Use coupons and shop sales wisely.  There have been some great Target coupons for maternity clothes lately, and if you pair them with sales, you can snag a deal.  At the same time, I warn you not to be solely driven by price.  If it is an item you might only be able to wear for a few more weeks before the weather shifts into a new season, it isn’t worth making the purchase.  Also, if it doesn’t look great on you and it doesn’t make you feel good, DON’T buy it!  Many pregnant women, myself included, feel a little self conscious about their girth.  If you are wearing something that makes you look more like you are wearing a tent than wearing clothing or if the color doesn’t work with your complexion or if the pattern is something you wouldn’t dare wear if not pregnant, don’t waste your money. 

8.  Treat stains quickly.  I’m a clumsy person; I always have been.  I tend to spill things on myself when eating, but now that I have a large belly bumping up against things, I am even more prone to making messes.  The worst thing about this tendency is realizing that I might have ruined one of the few pieces of clothing that fits on my body right now.  Play both defense and offense when it comes to stains.  Use an apron when cooking and wear the apron when eating if you are just with your family.  Always put a napkin in your lap.  Don’t eat in the car.  Use splatter guards and lids when making messy sauces.  Then, if you do spill something on yourself, treat it as quickly as possible. 

9.  Shoes.  I so enjoy a beautiful high heel.  There is something that feels elegant about a nice dress shoe, something so feminine about a gorgeous pair of heels.  While there are plenty of women who are able to wear swanky shoes while pregnant, I am not one of them.  I found myself coming home early in the second trimester after a day of being in heels almost cringing as I took each step.   If you are anything like me, switch to a basic pair or two of flats that match most of your wardrobe at least mid-way through your pregnancy.  I invested in a pair of black ballet flats that were so comfortable and matched everything that I very literally wore them out.  If you are pregnant in the summer months, this should be fairly easy for you since sandals, low sling-backs, and flip flops are in season. 

10.  Underclothes.  Watch in the lingerie aisles for bra extenders that will help to lengthen the amount of time you can wear your pre-pregnancy bras.  Later in pregnancy, many women switch over to wearing nursing bras without an underwire.  Yes, they make plenty of nursing bras with good support that do not have underwire so if you have a bigger bust size speak with someone at a maternity shop about fitting you.  While maternity underwear are fine to have, they aren’t necessary.  If you have bikinis or brief undies, you will probably find that you can wear them during most of your pregnancy.  I wouldn’t, however, recommend thongs—maybe there are some folks who can pull that off, but…well, I’ll not comment further.

I hope that you find these tips helpful when shopping for maternity clothes.  As always, if you have any additional tips or tricks under this category, please include them in the comments section so that all might benefit. 

Happy Babying!

December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas Everyone!

DSC_4944 Today we celebrate Christ’s birth, and as part of doing so, I’m keenly aware of how blessed I am.  Thanks in part to coupons, we are able to eat well and have a full pantry—many will be hungry today.  We have a warm and loving family and sweet group of friends—many will be alone today.  We were able to talk to family as far away as India and the Czech Republic today because of technology—many do not have clean water, heat sources, or electricity.  We have a ridiculous amount of gifts that we have opened today—many will not be able to provide for their families.  We work in fields that matter, making a difference to those we serve, and are able to provide for our growing family as a result—many are homeless or without work…. I could go on and on with this list, reflecting on the many, many ways we are blessed.  Maybe even more than at Thanksgiving, Christmas always fills me with a feeling of overwhelming gratefulness.  It inspires me to do better, be better, help more, give more freely, love more deeply, and while I know this sounds cheesy to some who are reading this, it will hit home for others of you. If so, I hope you’ll join me in finding ways now and in the upcoming year to be a blessing in the lives of others, whether it be through couponing, volunteering, teaching, or in some other way.  

Merry Christmas to each of you, and many blessings now and always!

December 1, 2012

Homemade Gifts—Give them a try

DSC_6957 This year a few of my friends and I decided to make each other’s gifts instead of purchasing them at stores.  We’ve done this a few times through the years, and it is always fun to see what each of us decide to make.  The only downside is that I’m the least crafty of all of my friends.  Yes, I know that I talk a lot on this blog about gardening, baking and preserving, but when it comes to making crafts, I am afraid that I lack that gene.  I try—I really do.  I know how to quilt and sew, but my finished pieces aren’t as delicate as what others might make.  I know how to crochet, but I distinctly remembering the strong urge to throw the needles and thread across the room when I was learning.  And as for making jewelry, the tiny beads and needle nosed pliers always make my fingers feel like that of a giant—dumb, awkward, and way too big.

I guess it runs in my family.  Out of 8 sisters, my paternal grandmother was the only one who didn’t have sewing as a hobby.  She did sew throughout her life, but I wouldn’t say she really embraced it until she started doing some embroidery work later in her life.  Then, there is the famous story of my mother throwing away a perfectly good sewing machine because she was fed up with trying to sew.  Now, these women had many, many other talents and skills and taught me a great deal, but sewing wasn’t something that they passed down to me.

My aunts tried.  My friends have tried.  I’ve even taken a few classes, voluntarily picking Home Ec as a high school course because I knew that if I didn’t take it I would never know how to sew.  I took quilting with a friend, and I do enjoy it but again, my pieces aren’t what I would call heirloom quality.  Sigh…

Now at this point in the story, you are thinking two things (I can’t read your mind, but I’m taking a guess here).  You’re thinking, “She’s being too hard on herself” or “too modest”.  Yet, you would be wrong.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are skills that just don’t come naturally to me.  I’m capable at finishing projects, but I don’t excel. 

Then, I’m guessing the next thought is, “Why on earth is this lady writing a blog post to encourage us to craft when she is telling us clearly and plainly that she isn’t any good at it?”  Well, the answer to that is that even I can come up with homemade gifts for people I love that turn out great, even with all of my ineptitude for crafting, even with my lack of patience for needlework and knitting…even me. 

In what areas do you excel?

So, what do I do?  I decide what I can do well and go from there.  One thing that I do that  many of my friends do not is preserve foods at home.  Because they don’t, those little jars of goodies feel special to them (or at least they are good liars when they tell me as such).  Even with my friends who do preserve foods, when I offer them something different from what they normally put up, it makes them smile.  If home canning is one of your hobbies, why not try making a few extra jars and adding them to gift baskets this year?

Some of my favorite home canned foods to add to gift baskets are:

All of the ingredients for these three recipes can be found at the market right now (the wine you’ll have to pick up at a market that sells wine).  All are fairly easy to make if you have some basic understanding of canning (see my “food preservation” tab if you don’t).  The pomegranate jelly, for instance, takes only a few minutes to make once you have all of your ingredients and canning items out and ready to go. 

Giving the gift of time

DSC_5450 The next idea I have is to give others the gift of time this holiday season.  We’ve all seen the homemade certificates for free baby-sitting or a date night courtesy of a friend or family member.  Those ideas are great, but you don’t have to go that far if you don’t want to.  One year, I decided to make a few of my friends who had toddler aged and newborn children some meals that could easily be frozen and pulled out to use whenever they were having a hectic day.  You would have thought I was giving them gold bullion.  I didn’t fully understand the looks of appreciation on their faces until our daughter was that age and I realized how tired a momma can be by the end of the day. 

If cooking is a talent of yours, why not make up a few of your favorite recipes and bring them to friends a week or so before Christmas as a gift of time?  Present them in a nice basket or wrapped in a pretty kitchen towel with a note that tells them the purpose of your gift. 

Some of my favorite foods to make and give others are:

  • Whole Wheat Banana Bread
  • Quiche
  • Granola
  • Cream Cheese Pound Cake
  • Any soup recipe
  • Any cookie recipe
  • Vanilla sugar—take a quart jar and fill it with white sugar or “Sugar in the Raw”, take a vanilla bean and put in the jar (you can split it half way, but it isn’t necessary, and I find it neater if you do not), let it sit for a few weeks.  Give with some nice tea and pretty cookies.

Figure out what types of crafts you are better at making

DSC_6948 I’ve found that the best crafts for me to tackle are no brainers.  I’ll spend an hour or so with our daughter working on something she can give to grandparents, aunts and uncles.  Or I find an easy-to-do craft on Pinterest, and I give it a shot.  The ones that I have the most luck with involve some sort of cooking or art and don’t have anything to do with fine motor skills. 

Some of my favorite easy to make crafts are:

  • Christmas tree handprints
  • Christmas tree fingerprint lights
  • Paint swirl globe ornaments
  • Muffin tin crayons—take all of the broken crayons you can find in your house and clean the paper off of them.  Add a few of the same colors to an old muffin tin that you never want to use for food again.  I happened to have had one that had become a bit rusty, and it worked great.  Fill the crayons about half way full in each tin and place in a low oven (175-200F) until the crayons melt.  This will take about 10+ minutes.  Set on a trivet to cool and once they have solidified, dip the bottom of the tin in ice cold water.  They will pop out and are perfect gifts to add with colorful paper for the young artist in your family.  Last year we added these to an index card, drew around them to make them look like they were ornaments, and gave one to each person in our daughter’s class.

Want something a little more sophisticated?  This year I’m going to try these two crafts and see how they go.  Note that I haven’t yet made them to give any advice on them, but I have my fingers crossed that they will work out.

I hope you’ll carve out a little time this holiday season to make a few gifts for those you love.  Not only are they less expensive, they offer the recipient something more than just a gift.  You are giving them a part of you.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!