Archives for December 2009

Links worth checking out

Good, Evil, and the Ring of Power is a thoughtful commentary by Tim Challies on the Lord of the Rings. The more I read Tim’s blog, the more I appreciate it.

If you shop online as much as I do, you’ll appreciate CouponChief.com.  CouponChief.com invited me to peruse their vast supply of coupons last month.  A few examples of what I found there:  a $5 Target coupon, a 20% off Wal-Mart coupon, and a deal where you can get a set of Vibe i-phone headphones for $1.99.  Definitely looks like a place to visit when you’re contemplating an on-line purchase.

Money Saving Mom is doing an Eat-From-the-Pantry Challenge in January. I’ve got some up-in-the-air plans for January– more on that soon, I hope– so I’m still trying to decide if I’ll participate. But I’ll definitely be checking in on the challenge over at her place. Looks like a great way to clean out the freezer!

And because I can’t seem to do a link-up without sharing at least one recipe, here’s one for bacon-wrapped pineapple bits that I’m considering doing for our church New Year’s Eve party. If I have pineapple in the pantry, that is….

Unplanned field trip

This evening I found myself chuckling over this post from Big Mama. If you don’t read her blog, you really should– she is one of the funniest bloggers I know. And my story will make more sense if you go read that post. (Go, OK? I’ll be here when you get back!)

In the post her 6 year old daughter Caroline posed the question, “Would you want to go on a field trip with him?” and suggested that might be a good indicator for young ladies considering who they might marry. She’s young to fully understand the ramifications of that question, but she makes an excellent point. How’s the guy when life isn’t going his way?

That question was especially meaningful to me today.

This morning while eating hot cereal sprinkled with almonds, my throat decided to be ill-behaved– VERY ill-behaved– and go into spasms, leaving a sharp shard of almond trapped not-quite-in and not-quite-out of my esophagus. After 15 minutes of misery, the spasm went away and I stopped feeling like I was going to die of almond poisoning. But the throat pain that lingered had me imagining I’d torn a hole someplace.

After an hour of waiting for the pain to subside, I broke down and called my hubby at work, begging him to come home. He is a respiratory therapist at a local hospital, and was doubtless up to his ears in people sicker than me. But he sensed the distress in my voice, and came. (My stress was not helped by my obsession with google. When you have just nearly choked on sharp food, do NOT google ‘esophageal tear’. It will do nothing to lessen your anxiety. Trust me.)

My hubby came home and whisked me right back to where he’d come from– the hospital ER. Yay. There, firmly clutching my cozy bathrobe which I’d brought just in case I had to spend the night (optimistic, huh?)– I experienced a perk of his job: when a medical caregiver says his wife needs attention, she gets it. Rapidly.

In no time at all I had an x-ray and an IV and pain medicine to go with it. The meds did a dandy job of making my head spin and my hands and feet numb, and a less-than-dandy job of getting rid of my pain. But they did make it easier to tolerate the wait for the next activity on the agenda: a barium swallow.

Since the morning’s difficulty with swallowing, I’d had exactly one swallow of water and nothing else. So I approached the barium with some trepidation. Swallowing ANYTHING didn’t sound good. However, all went well. It didn’t taste as bad as I feared. It didn’t make me sick. My swallow mechanism wasn’t broken after all. And several hours later we got the welcome news that my throat is fine. It is just roughed up, and after a couple days of pampering I should be all better.

Whew.

As odd as it sounds, amid unexpected pain and trauma and tests and medications this afternoon, John and I actually did have a sweet time together. He sat patiently with me, fussing over my blankets and watching my IV and talking to staff as they came in and out. He hugged me –just enough to reassure me, but not so much that I burst into tears– and spoke up on my behalf and held my hand.

Definitely the kind of guy you’d want with you. On any kind of field trip.

(Thanks, hon! And let’s plan something more fun for the next field trip, OK?)

Snippets from Christmas

ChrBest (22)This year’s Christmas was jam-packed.  As has been our habit for the past several years, we did gifts just with our kids on Christmas Eve morning. We had a leisurely day of gifts, video games, and playing with new goodies.  Then in the evening we went to my mom’s and dad’s to celebrate with my siblings. Christmas Day was church in the morning, John’s family’s Christmas dinner in the afternoon, and a celebration with my mom’s extended family in the evening. We finished the partying with brunch at my mom’s the day after Christmas.  What a busy 3 days!

Sunday

You are infinite worth
When we’ve not the words
Our hearts will sing
We are here on the earth
And somehow we ‘re heard
When our hearts sing to You

It’s You we engage
It’s You we embrace
When our hearts sing

Parents TV: Blueberry Breakfast Strata

Back in October, I was invited to New York to film a cooking segment for Parents.tv (a Comcast TV channel). On the segment I cooked our favorite Christmas breakfast, Blueberry French Toast Strata. That segment is now available to Comcast subscribers, but it’s also here on youtube for people like me who don’t have Comcast in their area. I had a great time doing the segment, although it was also one of the more terrifying 5 minute segments of my life!

Breakfast Strata Recipe (I added blueberries for TV!)

Joy to the World

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

~Luke 2~

Homemade Eggnog

This time of year in the grocery store I’m often tempted by eggnog, but it’s so darned expensive! Here’s an easy way to make your own.

Prep time: 10 minutes, plus time for chilling
Makes: 1/2 gallon

1 3-ounce package instant French vanilla pudding mix
1/2 gallon milk (2% or whole is best)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Whisk together puddling mix and about 1 cup of milk. Combine sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl. When the puddling is blended and dissolved, add sugar, vanilla, and spices to the pudding/milk mixture. Pour into a 2-quart pitcher, add remaining milk, and stir well. Let chill overnight, or at least one hour. Just before serving, stir again to recombine spices.

Top Money-Saving Tips of 2009

Check out Good Morning America Food Editor Sarah Moulton’s Best Cookbooks of 2009 (video!) Notice a certain orange-covered book on that list?   To celebrate, I’m giving away 5 copies of  Family Feasts for $75 a Week.  To enter, comment and share a money saving tip of your own.

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You know the drill. You walk into the grocery store with a long list and a finite budget. The last thing you want to do is spend two weeks’ worth of grocery money on one week of food. But prices these days make it ever more challenging to stay within a budget. What’s a smart shopper to do?

1. Make a list and check it twice

Lists are tremendous money savers. Begin by thinking in terms of meals. Before I head to the store, I scribble out ideas for two weeks of dinners. Half the meals are family favorites: cheesy chicken enchiladas, creamy potato soup, and pasta carbonera are regulars. I then thumb through cookbooks and fill the rest of the two weeks with new and interesting-sounding recipes.

Once I’ve decided what we’ll be eating for the next couple weeks, next I write down the ingredients that I lack for those recipes. I skim recipes, check the pantry, dig through the freezer, and check my cupboards, making sure that everything I’ll need is either in my kitchen or on my grocery list.   Once I have all the dinner ingredients written down, I add the items we typically use for breakfast and lunch, as well as goodies to make baking possible.

2. Go to the store less often

When you run out of something, write it on your grocery list.   But don’t race to the store the instant your list gets an item or two on it.  Every trip to the store is a  temptation to impulse-buy. So I challenge myself to go just a day or two longer between shopping trips. We live 20 minutes from the store.  The other day when I didn’t want to run to the store just for hamburger buns, I made my own fresh homemade rolls.

3. Expand the list of things you can make yourself

Did you know that you can easily make your own granola? Homemade white sauce takes 5 minutes to make and costs a fraction of a can of cream soup.  Homemade salad dressing is equally fast and will save you a cool $2. Not bad for a 5 minute time investment.  Even better if it saves you a trip to the store where you would potentially spend much more on impulse buys.  Learning to make just one item per week will consistently give you more money in your pocket.  Remember, it’s not only this week’s new recipe that will save you money.  Gradually learning to make a variety of things for yourself will make your savings snowball.

4. Stock up when prices hit rock bottom

And I mean REALLY stock up.  In October I bought enough ground beef on sale to last til February, which effectively extended that October sale for months, for me anyway.  This month I put lots of $1.50/lb butter in the freezer, enough to make baking more affordable all winter for us.

5. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes

To earn a repeat appearance in my kitchen, a recipe needs to be tasty, easy to cook, and have ingredients that are affordable and easy to find.  Don’t overlook ethnic food. I’ve found Chinese, Mexican and Ethiopian food to be both affordable and delicious. This West African Peanut Chicken is a good example. And here’s another bonus:  ethnic grocery stores often have great prices on things like spices, sesame oil, coconut milk, and specialty pasta.

6. Remember WHY you want to save money

I developed my money-saving strategies so that I could stay home with my kids.   You may be dreaming  of finding enough extra cash to pay off a car or take a cruise or have another baby.   Keeping your goals clearly in mind will make it easier to do the little daily things that will move you towards that goal!

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Peppermint Bark

I used red and green candyPeppermint Bark

Here’s a recipe so ridiculously easy that it’s barely a recipe.  But, boy, is it yummy!  I love the way the vanilla bark mellows out the mints, and the mints add a breezy freshness to the vanilla bark.

Preparation time: 10 minutesMy double boiler

  • 2 cups mints
  • 2  20-ounce packages of vanilla bark

Long ingredient list, eh?Melt the vanilla bark in a double boiler, or in a metal bowl over a pot containing a few inches of boiling water.  While bark is melting, put peppermints into a ziplock, then put that bag into another ziplock.  (Or do like I did and use old bread bags.)  Pound mints with a rolling pin until most of the mints are broken.  Pour broken mints into a strainer that you’ve set over a bowl.   Let the powdered candy sift down through the strainer into the bowl.

When vanilla bark is melted, mix candy dust  and half of the larger mint pieces into the bark.  Set aside the rest of the pieces.  Put wax paper on two cookie sheets, and butter the wax paper.  Pour the melted bark/candy combination onto the cookie sheets, dividing equally between the two trays.

Spread on a cookie sheet covered with buttered wax paperSpread with a rubber spatula so that the bottom of each cookie sheet is fairly evenly covered.  Don’t spread it too thin–the melted bark should be around 1/4 to 1/2  inch deep, though obviously the chunks of candy will prevent you from making it super even.

Pretty candy!Once it is spread fairly well, sprinkle the remaining candy over the top of the bark, pressing candy gently into the surface of the soft bark.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, until bark has cooled and hardened.  Break into chunks and enjoy!

Easy Homemade Granola

This easy granola can be mixed up and tossed into the oven in less than ten minutes and is a great holiday gift for teachers and coaches.

Total prep time: 30 minutes

Makes: 16 cups of cereal

In a very large bowl combine:

  • 12 c. oats
  • 1 T. cinnamon
  • 4 c. “goodies”– nuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, coconut, and dried fruit all work well.

Mix well.

In glass measuring cup pour:

  • 1 c. oil
  • 1 c. honey

Be sure to pour the oil in first.  This will allow the honey to easily release from the cup. Heat oil and honey in microwave on high for a 2-4 minutes, until hot.  Pour honey and oil over dry ingredients. Mix well.Spread onto 2 or 3 large greased cookie sheets and bake at 325 degrees till light to medium brown, 15-25 minutes. Cool and store in sealed plastic containers or ziplocks.  It rarely lasts more than 3 days at our house.  If your family doesn’t eat it that fast, you can store half in the freezer until you need it.