Thursday, December 31, 2015

My 5 Favorite Changes of 2015

     As we close out the last day of 2015, I want to take a few moments to look back at the changes I made this year.  I entered the year determined to overhaul my approach to food and to make changes in my life that would lead back to a simpler, more basic way of living.  My primary focus was on the kitchen.  I never dreamed that choosing to put an emphasis on using good old fashioned common sense in my cooking would lead me where I am today.

     I feel better.  I enjoy my time in the kitchen.  My home runs much more smoothly.  The changes in the kitchen have led to changes in my housekeeping, an interest in fitness, and eventually to this blog.  If someone had told me on December 31, 2014 that this is what I would be doing today, I would have never believed it.  It never ceases to amaze me, the paths our lives will take when we trust in the Lord and follow the path he sets before us.  

     So, I’ve been thinking this week about some of the new things I’ve been doing in the kitchen during 2015, and I decided to share my favorites with you.  These are in no particular order.  

     #1 - French Fries - In my quest to make things from scratch, I have found french fries to be one of the most challenging recipes to tackle.  During the last year I have put them in the oven, on the stovetop, and in a fryer.  I have served my family piles of mushy fries, greasy fries, seriously overcooked fries, and some that were just plain icky.  It has been quite the process.  But the reason french fries make my list is because earlier this week my family informed me "These are the best french fries ever!"  I finally did it.  And I feel terrific.  I found that the secret to amazing french fries is that they need a triple process.  Parboil them and then follow with two dunks in the fryer.  It sounds like a lot of work, but I have a system and it's actually very simple now.

     #2 - Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes - This is a recipe that was given to me by a lovely woman at a homeschool group this year.  We were talking about simple and inexpensive meals to throw together when you don't have a lot in the house.  Caroline introduced me to something my family now calls Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes.  Toss some ground beef and diced onions in a pan with a little salt and pepper and cook until the ground beef is browned.  Drain.  Pour in some beef broth and let it simmer until the broth is cooked down some.  Spoon the mixture on buns, top with a slice of provolone, and pop them under the broiler just long enough to get the cheese melted.  They are quick, simple, cheap, and really taste like Philly Cheesesteak.  And it's so easy to add some nice french fries on the side!  My boys feel like they got some grand trip to a favorite sandwich shop while I save tons of money and have 100% control over what gets added into their food.

     #3 - Loose Tea - Let me change gears for a moment.  I know this isn't something I have talked about yet, but I adore tea.  Some day I'm going to dedicate an entire post to the joys of tea.  Earlier this year, my husband took me to an adorable little tea shop where I was introduced to hundreds of wonderful teas.  The assortment was overwhelming and I could have brought home enough tea to keep me brewing for years.  I opted to try small bags of a few different teas.  Having never used loose tea before, I began with a simple strainer and some flavors I found especially interesting.  It turned out to be one of my favorite kitchen experiences of the year.  Again, I got away from the pre-packaged convenient little boxes that line the grocery store shelf, and returned to the basic old process for preparing a simple food.  If you are a tea drinker and haven't yet experienced the pleasure of brewing a cup of loose leaf tea, be sure to add this to your list of things to try. 

     #4 - Yogurt & Granola - This isn't anything especially new or exciting.  If you are like me, you have picked up yogurt parfaits in the past for a quick breakfast or snack when you are on the run.  A few months ago I was perusing the yogurt section in the grocery store and wondered why it was all starting to look alike.  Some of the high end grocery stores sell fancier yogurt parfaits in the produce section, but they generally start at $3 and go up.  I suddenly realized that I could do that.  Why not?  If the guy in the produce department can pile yogurt, fruit and granola in a cup, then so can I.  It turns out that the large tubs of yogurt are much more economical than the individual sizes.  Big surprise, right?  And the cereal aisle has a nice selection of granola available at very reasonable prices.  I left the store having spent less than $10 on yogurt, granola and fruit.  That one trip yielded eight delicious, filling breakfast meals.  Plus, it turns out that the combination makes an excellent meal before my daily walks.  During 2016 I plan to experiment with making my own granola, and perhaps even look into homemade yogurt.

     #5 - Coupon Programs - Coupons are things that I have used on an "as interested" basis in the past.  I've lived in places where certain stores offer terrific deals with coupons or I've had a friend pass along a tidy little pile of coupons that she couldn't use.  But I haven't really put any effort into couponing before.  (By the way, when did "couponing" even become a word?)  This year I realized that I was missing out on a terrific income stream and started to dabble in the various programs that are available.  I am currently using Ibotta and Receipt Hog for rebates.  I have also begun to investigate the printed coupons that are offered through Swagbucks and MyPoints.  I am finding that by doing a little bit of research, having a good plan (Have I mentioned that I love a good plan?), and simply being organized, I can save my family a LOT of money.  So, you will find that income programs and coupons may become a part of this blog in 2016.  I'm very excited by the potential I am seeing so far.

     It's been fun looking back to see the changes that have happened over the past year.  I'm excited to realize that one small goal blossomed into such a life changing approach to my entire home.  And I'm excited to find myself here, sharing all of it with other people.  In 2016 I hope to explore new changes in my kitchen including trying to bake more breads from scratch, and working with preparing freezer meals for easy crockpot cooking nights.

     I hope that you have all had an incredibly blessed year.  Take a moment to look back at what you have accomplished.  You may see that some small changes turned into more than you expected.  And may God bless you with much peace and many joys in the coming year.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Spot Deals Like a Pro!

     So, you've been wondering about the various badges down the side of my blog, right?  What are all of these fascinating places that I love enough to place badges on my page?  Well, let me tell you... these are places where I save money and earn rewards.  Common Sense Housekeepers all know that one of the most important things we do is to save our family money!  And I plan to focus more on saving money and earning rewards in the coming year.

     The easiest and most reliable way to save money is to have friends who share all the great deals that they find.  So, our first stop is a fabulous site where tons of terrific people gather to share all of the best deals they find with each other.  Dealspotr!  There are so many ways to save and earn at it's amazing.  I hardly know where to start.

     First, check out the deals!  People constantly post terrific deals on this site.  There is everything from coupon codes to storewide sales to category sales.  Some people even find awesome savings on an item and post it here to let everyone know.  Before shopping, you can always stop at dealspotr and see if there are savings to be had at the website you are about to visit.  Lots of deals work in store too!

Screenshot of deals at

     But there is so much more to this website than just finding great deals.  Don't forget about the great people!  When you notice that someone on the site always seems to post great deals from stores that you like, just add them to your follow list and you will easily be able to see all the deals they post.  Plus, everyone is super friendly and helpful.  I just love when someone posts a terrific tip about how to maximize my savings in the comments below a deal.

     What's really neat about dealspotr is that while you are searching for great deals to save yourself money, you can also earn Karma points that will earn you free gift cards to Amazon.  I have already earned two gift cards and I'm here to tell you that it is super easy to do.  If you like sharing deals that you find with other people, you will be racking up the Karma points in no time.

     Give this site a chance and see if you aren't saving money and earning gift cards speedy quick.  In fact, click through my referral link here (Dealspotr Sign Up) and you will start off with an extra 200 Karma right from the very beginning.  In case you were wondering, you will get your own referral link once you are a member.  And we all know what that means... you can offer your own friends bonus Karma for signing up, plus get an extra little Karma bonus for yourself, too.  This site is really a win / win for everyone involved.  Go check it out ASAP.  Who knows what's on sale right now!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Journey is Almost Over

     I've never given much thought to Christmas Eve. It's the day before Christmas, right? I know that there are a lot of people out there rushing around to finish up their shopping. My family always has a big gathering in the evening to enjoy our Christmas meal together. I might wrap the last couple of presents before bed. But, overall, it's the end of a month long journey I have spent in preparation and expectation. I feel as if there is a pause on this day... like holding my breath for the final moment. In this beautiful stillness, I find myself thinking of Mary.

      Have you ever wondered how Mary must have felt on the day before Jesus was born? She was traveling to Bethlehem. Pregnant and riding on the back of a donkey. Can you imagine how sore she must have been? The exhaustion, aches and pains must have all been so overwhelming. And then to be told that there was no room at the inn. Imagine her frustration. Her fear. Of course there is no room at the inn! It must have seemed like every person in the world was right there in this one town trying to be registered for the census. How could there possibly be space for all of them? And if things weren't already difficult enough, she goes into labor.

     When my son was born, the world seemed to stop. There was nothing else on the planet that mattered, except having that baby. Anyone who has children knows exactly what I am talking about. The long journey is almost over. Months of planning and preparing, leading up to this single moment in time when absolutely nothing else matters. And then...

     It's Christmas Day! Jesus is born and, finally, Mary is able to hold him in her arms. Imagine how she felt. So grateful. A beautiful, healthy baby boy - just as the Lord had promised. What difference does it make where they are? In that moment, that manger was the most beautiful place on the entire planet. And it still is a beautiful image - probably why nativity scenes are still popular today.

     Let's take a moment on this day to pause. Consider the journey. All of the things that have gone wrong during the last month. The aches and pains and discomforts we have experienced during our preparation for tomorrow. Think of everything that isn't "right" in our lives. You know... that inn that is full... Consider for just a moment that, like Mary, everything in your life is working out according to God's perfect plan. What seems like a run down, smelly manger in your life could turn out to be the backdrop for the most beautiful and amazing miracle that the Lord has ever performed for you. Trust Him. Be patient. And, most importantly, remember to take a moment and be grateful for that one ugly looking gift. It might turn out to be the best present you ever receive.

     Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Exercise Simple & Organized - Fit Clip

     Between cooking, cleaning, and chasing the kids, many of us don't take care of ourselves the way we should - especially this time of year.  We should.  Let's face it - A fitness routine is vital to being healthy and happy.  I don't know about you, but happy is definitely not the word I think of when I look at a gym.  I can't help but admire people who have gym memberships and use them.  That takes a level of discipline and determination that I simply don't possess.  But just because I don't want to join a gym doesn't mean I don't want to exercise.

     My mantra is simple, organized, peaceful, happy!  So, why can't we make fitness work the same way?  There is nothing simpler than walking.  It's free.  It's easy.  It's good exercise.  And most everyone can do it.  Actually, you are probably already doing it and don't realize how much!

     I got this cool little fitness tracker recently.  It's called a Cel-Lab Fit Clip.  It's not a wrist band, so I don't have to worry about it when I am doing dishes, laundry and all the other chores that keep my hands in water all the time.  I clip it onto my waistband and forget about it.  It can also be clipped onto your shoelaces, bra, collar or wherever is comfortable for you.  Wanna know what I found out in the first week?  I walk roughly 2 miles per day doing absolutely nothing beyond my daily housework and chores.  That is absolutely inspiring.  It makes me want to get out and walk more!  So, I am.  I've been out on the walking trails around my house almost everyday.  And I feel better than I have in years.  Seriously - just walking.  Talk about putting the simple back into life.  Wow.

     And I wouldn't be me if I wasn't immediately going after the organized part, right?  So, this Fit Clip...  I can press the button on it and see how many steps I've walked, how many calories I've burned, how many miles, how much time I've been active, and what percent of my goal I have reached for the day.  Seeing those numbers makes me want to walk more to see how much better I can do.  It's very motivational.

     There's also this computer software that goes with it.  The clip is plugged into the computer where the data is uploaded.  Once it's there, you can see charts and graphs that will show you what you have done.  There's even a sleep mode to show how well you are resting at night.

     The software is in BETA mode right now and I got it for free so that I could test it out and tell people about it.  It's also available on Amazon at a super discounted price right now.  Fitness Clip Activity Tracker and Calorie Counter  If you go to that link, there is also a coupon code that you can use.  IVYAF8C5  When you add this code to your shopping cart, you can get an additional 30% off the price.  The price changes, but right now that code would make this fitness tracker only $13.99 - and shipping is free if you are an Amazon Prime member.

     Don't stress the fact that the software is in BETA mode.  I say grab it while it is cheap.  The company is fantastic and will help you with absolutely anything you need. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Best Part of Christmas

     What is the most wonderful thing about Christmas?  The season!  You know... the whole package leading up to Christmas.  Christians call it Advent.

     I love picking out just the right tree.  This year, mine is kinda short, but very full and fat.  It doesn't look like it belongs in a magazine.  Instead it has an assortment of ornaments that my family and I have collected over the years.  It smells fresh and it makes me smile when I walk into the room and see it standing there in it's decorated glory.  And don't forget the wreath on the door made from the tree trimmings.  Every time I open the door it smells like Christmas.

      Next are the lovely little trinkets scattered throughout the house that let me know it's that time of year.  It's a mish-mosh of candles, cookie plates, figurines and jingle bells.  And I love every bit of it.  As I unwrap each piece and search for a place to display it, I remember which of my loved ones gave it to me as a gift.  Some of them have fun stories of after Christmas shopping with a friend when we found the kooky item for a ridiculously low price and laughed while we waited in line to make our purchase.

     How about the holiday cookies and candies!  I could spend the entire month in my kitchen baking.  All those treats that I only make once a year calling my name.  But, what is the best treat of all?  My absolute favorite of all my Christmas kitchen treats...  When my son informs me on the day after Thanksgiving that it's time to make the egg nog!  There's a tradition in my house to never, ever make egg nog before Thanksgiving.  It started out as a rule when Sebastian was little.  It was absolutely forbidden to make egg nog before Thanksgiving.  If not for this rule, the child would have pestered me to make egg nog in the middle of July.  As a teenager, instead of viewing the egg nog ban as some form of great deprivation, he sees it as an exciting event that we get to begin on a very specific day - which he loudly announces to me the moment the leftover turkey is safely stashed away in the fridge.

     There's also music and movies.  I wait like an overly anxious child each year for my month long marathon of Christmas movies.  I watch everything from It's a Wonderful Life, to The Santa Clause, to Christmas Vacation.  It doesn't matter how old the movie or how irreverent, just so long as it puts me in the Christmas spirit.  And when I'm not doing that, there should definitely be Christmas music in the background.  Some Trans-Siberian Orchestra is ideal.

     You see, Christmas is a single day.  In most homes, the presents are opened and the space under the tree looks like a barren wasteland before lunch.  The children have wandered off to play while the adults finally relax for the first time in an entire month.  It was all such a blur and too many people lived though it in a stressed out, exhausted daze.  But it doesn't have to be that way.

     Today I heard two women discussing how much work it was going to be to get the "stupid tree" out of the attic and set it up downstairs.  Unfortunately, so many of us view the weeks before Christmas as a time of extra work.  We are so focused on finding just the right present to make a single morning perfect that we forget there's a whole month out there to enjoy.

     Please take a moment to stop and smell the Christmas tree.  Look around you and enjoy the beauty of all the Christmas decorations in your neighborhood.  Save the worries about your diet for January and enjoy some of those cookies that you just baked for your friends.  Appreciate the season.  And maybe your Merry Christmas can be a wonderful month instead of a wonderful day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Buzzing the O.J.

     Have I mentioned that I grew up in Florida?  It's true.  Born and raised.  And we all know what Florida is great for, right?  Yes, I mean besides the beaches... and the sunshine... and Disney.  Cmon!  It's the Orange Juice!  I think there may be some kind of state law or something that prohibits people from drinking bad orange juice once they cross the state line.  You would have to look that one up, though.

     I spent a few years living in Orlando where Disney World was just a way of life.  They have these magical fairies (or maybe they are called Sous Chefs) that actually squeeze fresh orange juice right there in the restaurants.  When I tell you that I know good orange juice, I am not exaggerating.  I can talk your ear off about it.  But, alas, I live in North Carolina now.  And as much as I love my new home, I admit that I miss the fresh Florida orange juice yumminess.

     You're probably wondering what brought on this sudden O.J. nostalgia.  Well, last week an icy cold bottle of Tropicana Vitamin C & Zinc showed up on my doorstep courtesy of BzzAgent and Tropicana.  They actually wanted to know what I thought about the new orange juice with triple the Vitamin C & Zinc. What they weren't aware of was how this campaign would make me homesick and drive me to orange juice nuttiness.

     If you have followed my blog this far, you know I'm a big proponent of taking your kitchen back to basics.  You can probably guess that while I am advocating scratch cooking, I also believe that it's best to get your vitamins from your food, not little pills.  Now, that's not medical advice or anything.  Definitely listen to your doctor about these things.  But, like I've said before, does logic tell you it's better to get your Vitamin C out of a dry little tablet, or a glass of real orange juice with no water or sugar added?  Everyone who knows me knows that I am jumping up and down right now pointing at the orange juice.  Triple the Vitamin C & Zinc in Tropicana orange juice (one of my favorite brands anyway) is just a super food bonus to me.

     So, they sent me this bottle of yummy juice for free so I could tell you all about it.  Unfortunately, the magical fairies that squeeze their juice also like to strain it - so no pulp.  Awwww man.  Bummer.  Love my pulp in my O.J.  But I know tons of people who disagree with me on that subject, so I figure Tropicana took a vote or something and the pulp people lost.  That's alright.  As long as it's good juice, I can go with it.

     Now, one great thing about living in Florida where there is such an abundant supply of great orange juice is that we find really interesting things to do with it.  I could go on about all the wonderful drinks that we used to mix with orange juice, but since they are all icy cold and it's 37 degrees out right now, I would rather tell you about Cinnamon Orange Juice Cake.  I found this recipe at All Recipes.  It's really more of a coffee cake.  But the real trick is that the cake batter uses orange juice for the liquid component.  I recommend checking out the recipe.  Just be prepared for it to take longer in the oven than the recipe says.  Mine took 40 minutes.

     Anyway, I saved the last 16oz of my orange juice to make this recipe.  I am glad I did.  It is a nice recipe.  Something different for a coffee cake.  You get a nice orange flavor from it that I doubt you would get from a lesser quality, watered down juice.  It's definitely worth a try.

     That's it for today's post.  Go grab yourself some Tropicana Vitamin C & Zinc, and whip up a nice coffee cake for yourself.  While you are waiting for it in the oven, pour yourself a glass of juice and plop down at the computer to check out BzzAgent.  Who knows what cool stuff they might send to your doorstep for free?  You can follow my link here to sign up.  BzzAgent


Friday, December 4, 2015

Mary, Martha and Elaine

     Sometimes there is a great book that comes into your life from an unexpected place and it just speaks to you.  I love when this happens to me, and I especially love when it happens with a book that has to do with Jesus. 

     Over the summer, I came across Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, by Joanna Weaver.  It was a wonderful read.  I learned a lot and I'm sure I will read it more than once.  It was one of those books that spoke to me.

This picture comes from website where they did a review of the book.
     When I was only a few chapters into the book, I recommended it to a friend of mine and she purchased a copy almost immediately.  Truth be told, because she isn't much for online purchases, Elaine visited multiple stores in her town searching for a copy of this book.  And then it sat, unread, for months.  We talked about it numerous times and she was always looking for a chance to start reading, but that chance never seemed to come for her. 

     Since this summer, she moved, and dealt with numerous other large personal distractions in her life.  All the while, this book stayed in the top of the moving box, on her dresser, in the living room - everywhere within her sight because she hoped to find the time to start reading it.  She even told another friend of ours all about the book after church one Sunday.  The pastor's sermon had included the famous story of Martha and Mary from Luke 10:38-42.  She promised to loan the book to this friend as soon as she finished reading it herself.  Of course, she needed to start.  And that was months ago.

     Last week, Elaine was praying.  She mentioned to God how much she wanted to read this book and how distressed she was that she just couldn't seem to fit it into her life anywhere.  She promised to start the book over the weekend - and failed.  Then, on Monday, she took the book to work with her for the first time since she had purchased it so many months ago.  Her intention was to read during her lunch hour.  Unfortunately, she was called away to deal with other issues, and again, failed to start reading the book.

     At 3:18pm, the computer system in her office crashed.  The internet went down and all work came to a screeching halt.  Nothing could be accomplished and all of the employees were left sitting at their desks shuffling files and staring blankly at each other.  That was when Elaine remembered the book that was waiting in her bag.  She pulled the book out and began to read.  As she finished reading the last sentence of the first chapter, the computers in her office miraculously sprang to life and everyone was able to return to work.

     My friend called me that same evening and shared this story with me.  She was amazed at how the Lord had responded to her prayers about her desire to read this book.  It's amazing what he will do to help us if we simply ask him.  As we have spoken this week, Elaine has continued reading the book.  All it took was that first chapter and now she makes the time in her life.  She loves the book.  She feels inspired by it.  And she feels a personal connection to it because God himself helped her to make this book a part of her life.

     Her story inspired me.  I always love to hear about the small ways that the Lord works in our lives.  Too many people dismiss the gifts that he brings to us because they are busy waiting for the parting of the Red Sea or some other spectacular show.  Jesus didn't come to put on a show for us.  His miracles weren't meant to entertain us.  They were meant to help us and to bring us to him.  And his small miracles - like a brief computer outage at exactly the right moment - will have the same effect in your life.  All you have to do is ask him.  God loves you and he loves to be there for you.  Give him the chance to show you.

     If you are interested in the book that inspired all of this fuss, below is a link to it via my Amazon Associate account.  Please check it out.  It is a wonderful book.  You can even find it in your local book store like my friend did.  God bless you.

Monday, November 30, 2015

My Dollar Store Real Christmas Wreath

     We bought our Christmas tree this weekend and when my husband was finished trimming the branches he didn't want, I started to wonder if I could use those trimmings to make a Christmas wreath.  I figured it was worth a try and so I headed to the Dollar Store.  (Don't you just love that place?)

     First, I needed a metal wreath ring.  That was easy to find, and it was a terrific size.  I already had some thin hemp twine in my craft supplies, so I figured I would use that.  I realize that florists wire will be easier, but I opt for the twine because after Christmas I can cut the trimmings off and save the frame for next year.  So, I start by tying my trimmings on the frame, working my way around with each bunch covering the bottom of the last bunch.

The trimmings are being tied to the frame.

     Once the trimmings have all been attached, I can bring out the decorations I found.  I got a package of LED battery operated lights, bows, small red and gold jingle bells, and an over the door hanger the put my wreath up.  My total cost for the project was $5.  Not too shabby considering wreaths tend to sell at the craft stores for $30+ (and they don't smell so lovely).  I went to work decorating my wreath.  Unfortunately, the jingle bells that I thought were individual ornaments were a string of them.  No problem.  I just cut them apart and found creative ways to tie them onto the wreath.

My Dollar Store Supplies ready to decorate my wreath.

     Finally I hung my wreath and admired my work.  If you prefer a more even look, it's super easy to trim the greenery around the edges.  I prefer the more uneven, natural look myself.  Whichever way you make your wreath, I'm sure you will be as thrilled as I am with the results.   And I'll bet not a single person in the neighborhood would guess it was a Dollar Store craft!

My finished wreath hanging on the door.

     After my wreath was done, I had leftover trimmings that I decided to add to my table centerpiece.  My usual centerpiece is an ordinary vase filled with mixed nuts.  Rather than store it in the closet during the holidays, I decided to turn it into a Christmas centerpiece.  I purchased a box of large red jingle bells at the Dollar Store.  Next, I emptied the nuts out of my vase and refilled it, strategically placing the red jingle bells in with the nuts.  Surround it with my leftover tree trimmings, add a few more small jingle bells, some lights and Voila!  My Christmas centerpiece for the dining room table.  It's a $3 spruce up to my regular table. 

My Christmas Centerpiece

Friday, November 27, 2015

Save That Turkey Carcass!

     Have you gone off shopping for the day and know that the remnants of your beautiful turkey wait in the refrigerator to be stripped down for delicious turkey sandwiches?  Mmmmmm...   Turkey sandwiches...  Sounds wonderful.  But, now that that is done, what do you plan to do with the carcass once it is stripped?  I know so many people who simply throw it away.  In fact, I used to be one of them.  Not any more!

     To get every last scrap off goodness out of your wonderful Thanksgiving meal, may I suggest using that carcass before you throw it out?  I put mine in my largest stock pot - aromatic vegetables still inside the cavity - along with any drippings and scraps from the carving plate.  Next I covered it with water and put it on my stovetop to simmer for a few hours.

The turkey carcass in the pot ready to become delicious soup for my freezer.

     Four hours later, the bones came apart and lifted right out of the pot leaving an incredibly rich turkey stock with scraps of turkey meat and vegetables.  I will take this "soup" and divide it into Tupperware containers for my deep freezer.  I expect to get 4-5 meal containers from this pot.  (We had a 20 lb turkey.)  And there is so much you can do with all this wonderful leftover Thanksgiving yumminess.

See how dark and rich that stock turned out?  You can't buy that in the grocery store.

     I plan to add some chunks of my leftover turkey because we have so much of it.  Later, when it is time to use these for meals, I will defrost them enough to get them in the crockpot and let it do most of the work.  I can add leftover meats, potatoes, more vegetables, pasta (I love using alphabet pasta in this), potatoes...  whatever you can think of.

     Remember my previous mention of stews and soups waiting in the freezer for cold nights when I don't want to do any work?  This is an ideal way to add to that supply.  Fresh hot bread or grilled cheese sandwiches can be added to make this a hearty and satisfying meal.  And look how much money it saves!

     I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving.  I look forward to preparing for Christmas with you.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

     My tip for the day is pretty simple.  Count your blessings.  Thank the LORD for every single one of them.  Enjoy your turkey.  Enjoy your family.  God bless you.  Happy Thanksgiving.

This picture and many other free images can be found at

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Week Meals

     It's the week of Thanksgiving and everyone is busy talking Turkey.  As understandable as that is, we have to eat Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, too.

     Last week I picked up a pork loin marked down to around $4.  It was about 2 1/2 lbs and going out of date.  I cut it into chunks and tossed it in the deep freezer to use later.  Well, later turned out to be yesterday.  With the help of this fabulous recipe for Porkolt (Hungarian Stew) I was able to throw together a lovely dinner in about a half hour.  I cut the recipe in half and instead of putting everything in a stock pot, I used my crockpot.

     It turned out to be a delicious meal on a cold night.  My teenage son even raved about how much he loved it and asked if I would please add it to my cookbook.  Score!

     Tonight we are having leftover Beef Stew with Barley.  I always make far more than I need and store 1 or 2 tupperware in the deep freezer for days like this.  Just pull one out and pop it in the crockpot.  (I plan to do the same with the Porkolt in the future.)

     Wednesday will be a soup and grilled cheese night.  I will bring out a tupperware of one of my premade stews and toss it in the crockpot.  Grilled cheese is a snap on the griddle - and easy clean up too.

     Three nights of simple dinners to beat the cold weather and allow me plenty of time for Thanksgiving prep.  Yay!  I hope your week is going as smoothly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My 5 Best Thanksgiving Tips

     I don't know about you, but I am tired of reading post after post about how to handle Thanksgiving or extensive lists of great new recipes.  I have my family favorites and a plan of action to make it all work.  And I am willing to bet that you do, too.  I thought I would share a quick rundown of some quick and easy tips that might help make Thanksgiving just a tiny bit easier.

1 - Defrost the turkey in the refrigerator.  This requires a little bit of planning ahead, but it's totally worth it to avoid the crazy styrofoam cooler and ice water madness that you will encounter next week.  Simply be sure that your refrigerator is set to 40 degress or less and give the bird one day for every four pounds.  My turkey is 20 lbs, so he will be going in the refrigerator on Saturday afternoon. 

2 - Create a time schedule for Thanksgiving Day in the kitchen and post it prominently on your refrigerator or note board.  We eat in the afternoon, so my schedule reads something like this:
  • 8:30am Preheat Oven
  • 9:00am Turkey in Oven
  • 10:30am Side Dish place in crockpot and turned on
  • 1:00 pm Start Mac & Cheese and place dressing in Oven
  • 1:30 pm Turkey Out of Oven
  • 1:30 pm Mac & Cheese in Oven
This will give you a nice schedule to follow and make sure nothing is accidentally running late.  It also helps you to find possible conflicts between dishes that need oven time early so you can  find a solution.

3 - Use your other kitchen appliances to free up the oven as much as possible.  There are fantastic recipes online to make mashed potatoes and other side dishes ahead of time and then cook them in the crockpot.

4 - Do absolutely everything that you can possibly do before Thanksgiving.  My family loves a recipe for spicy creole dressing.  Unfortunately, it involves making cornbread from scratch, chopping a mountain of vegetables and peppers, assembly work, plus an hour of oven time.  Instead of stressing myself out about it, I chop the vegetables days in advance and freeze them.  I also make a mini tupperware filled with all of the seasonings used in this dish, pre-measured and ready to go.  I make the cornbread on Wednesday and use all of the prepared ingredients to assemble the dressing quickly and painlessly where it can be stored in the refrigerator until time for the oven.  This works great for things like pie crust, which can be prepped and stored in the freezer until you are ready to roll it out.  The mashed potatoes are prepared on Wednesday and placed in the crockpot dish to await time to be pulled from the fridge and heated on Thanksgiving.

5 - Relax.  Don't stress yourself out with unreasonable expectations.  This is the real world and things are going to go wrong.  Last year I burnt the bottom of the dressing because I was cooking in a new oven and found out that the location of my shelves needed to be adjusted from what I was used to.  These things happen.  Don't let them ruin your day.  Just remember to thank the LORD for all of the things that do go right. 

     Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope everyone has a wonderful and blessed day.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Modern Conveniences in and Old-Fashioned Kitchen

     Just because I am advocating returning to basic ingredients in cooking, it doesn't mean that I want my kitchen to function like it belongs in a pioneer cabin.  There is a big difference between advocating for scratch cooking over pre-packaged foods, and thinking it's a good idea to whisk a meringue by hand when there is a perfectly good kitchen aid sitting two feet away.  In fact, I think that the modern appliances that we enjoy in today's world give us even more reason to get back to basics.

     My granny made delightful biscuits.  Everyone raved about her biscuits and, though she's been gone for over 20 years now, we still talk about how we wish someone could duplicate the recipe.  Sadly, it hasn't happened yet.  Her "biscuit bowl" is in my kitchen cabinet.  It's a heavy ceramic mixing bowl that has obviously been well used and well loved.  I've made more biscuits in that bowl than I care to remember, and not a single one of them tasted like Granny's.  One day I stumbled across a tip to make various types of dough in a food processor.  I thought it sounded like an interesting idea, and so I gave it a try.  It works great.  Super fast and easy, with tasty results.  Now that's how I make my biscuits - the food processor.  They still don't taste like Granny's biscuits, but they are good.  They are also quick and low stress.  In fact, they are easy enough to make that it seems absolutely silly to even consider buying canned biscuits.

     It turns out that I can also make fabulous pie crust in the food processor.  That was a game changer because I always hated making pie crust and it never turned out very well.  Now I have the best pies at Thanksgiving dinner.

     A deep fryer can change the way you look at things, too.  If you buy one that is easy to use and easy to clean, it's a great appliance to have.  My mandolin and deep fryer combine to make better french fries and pub chips than you could ever hope to find on the frozen food aisle.  (Are pub chips even a thing in the freezer section yet?)  I also whip up hush puppies as a treat on pork chop night sometimes - just because my fryer is there and it's so easy to do.  My country fried steak and fried chicken have improved exponentially since using the deep fryer. 

     I could babble on indefinitely about the joys of baking when you have a kitchen aid for prepping your cookies, bread and pizza crust.  Pancakes are the easiest breakfast in the world when you own a griddle.  Who needs cold cereal when you have that?  Well, I do.  Sorry.  I do love my cheerios.  But still...

     My point is that with all of these wonderful appliances at our fingertips today, why wouldn't we make everything from scratch?  Aunt Bea slaved away in the kitchen for days to bake all of the treats to sell at the church bazaar in Mayberry.  You and I can make those same treats with half the time and effort that she used and they can taste just as good.  Probably better since our modern ovens cook much more evenly.  Yet we choose to purchase cake mix in a box?  Personally, I think we are crazy if we do.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Motivated Moms

     I grew up in one of those houses that always looked perfect.  Anyone could drop in at a moment's notice and the house looked as if it had just been freshly cleaned.  When I moved out on my own, well... not so much.  I needed two hours notice that guests were coming just to make the place presentable.  I never understood how my mother and my grandmother had kept their houses looking so neat and tidy all the time.  This was a problem I struggled with for many years.

     A few years ago I found the Motivated Moms app for my smart phone and my house has never been the same.  It's neat, orderly, clean, and stress-free (at least as far as the cleaning schedule is concerned).  This app hasn't just helped me to get organized, it has actually changed my life.  Now I am the woman who has guests drop in with no notice and compliment my home.  It sure does feel good.

     In the interest of full disclosure, let me tell you that I am an affiliate for the Motivated Moms program.  However, I only receive compensation when people purchase the e-book.  I receive nothing if you purchase this app, but I really do recommend the app.  I suppose that if you are one of those people who really likes paper to-do lists that the printable e-book would be more appealing.  But I feel like the app offers so much more because you can change things on the fly when you need to - plus I just love my tablet and that's where I keep all my organizers together in one place.

     I know, I know...  You are dying to know what this miracle app is and how it works.  The app comes pre-loaded with lists of chores that you do each day.  These chores include the mundane sweeping and running the dishwasher, as well as extensive annual chores like flushing out the hot water heater.  The refrigerator is constantly cycled through as a chore worked in small increments instead of a two hour cleaning marathon every month.  On Tuesday of this week I had to clean the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.  Easy.  It took me about 5 minutes.  Tomorrow I will have to clean the refrigerator drawers.  And next Thursday I will clean the refrigerator door shelves.  It's just there - a plan!  Have I mentioned before that I love a good plan?  I do!

This is a screen shot of my app.
     Every morning I get up and start on my lists.  I open my Motivated Moms app and start checking off the chores as I go along.  I can personalize this app in so many different ways.  Turn the daily Bible reading on and you have a plan to read the Bible in a year.  Add your own chores to customize the list for your life.  As a homeschooling mom, I have added lesson plans and grading into my lists.  I added my own pet bathing schedule and reminders to give my pets their medications.  I've even used this app to break apart huge knitting projects and give myself the chore of adding a single square to an afghan every day.  The possibilities are endless.

     The various printable chore planners can be purchased here for $8 each.  There are also some available for the final months of 2015 for $2.  A one year subscription to the app costs $7.99, or you can purchase a two month version of the app for $1.99 and purchase additional time using in app purchases.  There is also a Lite version of this app that allows you to try it out for two weeks absolutely free.  (That's how I started.)  Give it a try.  And make sure to let me know in the comments if it helps you as much as it has helped me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cleaning the LORD's House

     How do you view your housekeeping?  Tedious chore?  Necessary evil?  A blessing from God?  I'm guessing that last choice probably sounds crazy to some people.  I can understand feeling that way.  I used to feel that way.  Two things completely changed how I feel about housework.  The Bible and a wonderful app that keeps me organized.  (I will share the app on Friday.)  Oh, I know... yawn, snooze, snore.  Please not another sermon about the Proverbs 31 woman!  I get it.  But that's really not where I am going here.

     It is so easy to focus on what we don't want to do in this world, or what we would rather being doing than what we have to do.  Today is my ironing day.  Definitely not my favorite chore.  I also need to get my son out of bed in just a little while to start the daily ritual.  It's also trash day.  The pets need to be fed.  The beds need to be made.  And all I really want to do today is sort through Ravelry to find a knitting pattern - or six - and then maybe go for a long walk through the woods to enjoy the lovely autumn weather.  Except I just remembered that I also need to catch up on the reading for my son's literature class.  See how easy it is to get bogged down in thinking about what we want vs. what we don't want?

     Colossians 3:23 tells us "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for human masters".   The simple truth is that God cares.  And this is His house.  He is just allowing me to live in it.  And my family are His children.  He is just allowing me to take care of them for Him.  And suddenly...

     My husband's crisply ironed shirts might help him make a good impression on his boss and make his day just a tiny bit easier.  I remember that God blessed me with the ability to homeschool my son and share with him knowledge that he might not otherwise receive, and getting him out of bed starts that experience.  The trash is an opportunity for my son to learn responsibility and improve his work ethic.  The pets are a blessing that God placed in my life, and I remember that they will be happy and healthy because of those fresh vegetables.  Tonight, the bed will feel extra good when I slide between the smooth sheets and get comfy instead of wrestling with a tangled mess of covers.  The book I have to read is actually very exciting.  And I'll just bet that I still get a lovely walk and some time to knit even after all of my chores are done.  And maybe, just maybe God will look down and smile when he sees one of His children happily hard at work as He meant for us to be.

Monday, November 9, 2015

No More Instant Potatoes

     I promised to share with you how I am simplifying my kitchen.  I realize that I touched on the "why" of the whole thing last week, but I want to take just a minute to expand upon that.  I don't want anyone to get the mistaken idea that this began as some grand quest to be a better person or find the perfect solution to humanity's questions about what is really healthy.  I'm just an ordinary housewife who is trying to do the best that I can with what the good Lord has provided.  It really is just as simple as that.

     First, I found a recipe for potato pancakes on All Recipes.  I had tried making potato pancakes in the past and failed miserably.  This particular recipe used instant potatoes and approached them rather differently.  I tried them.  My family liked them.  They were cheap.  Score.  So, I used this recipe for about a year.  Then, a new brand of instant mashed potatoes showed up in my grocery store and it was a tidy little bit cheaper.  Naturally, being on an incredibly tight budget, I decided to save the $.60 on my three bags of instant potatoes.  And that $2.40 purchase changed how I will look at my kitchen forever.

     You have probably guessed already that the potato pancakes were awful.  It made me start thinking about the difference between spending $2.40 or $3.00 on the foundation of the meal I was cooking.  And then it hit me... 8 lb bags of potatoes had been on sale that week for $2.77.  I could make the same meal - fresh from scratch - for the same money and still have 6 lbs of potatoes to spare for the rest of my cooking!  And this is where my quest to simplify my kitchen began. 

     I found the perfect recipe for potato pancakes from scratch.  It turns out that this delightful recipe was right there on All Recipes the whole time.  The joke was on me.  And that was when I started the work of taking my kitchen back to basics.  First stop - potatoes!

     Potatoes are hearty, nutritious, and cheap.  My granny kept her family alive for an entire year feeding them nothing but potatoes during the Great Depression.  True story.  Time for me to take another look-see at potatoes.

     Recently Kroger ran russet potatoes on sale for $.99 for a 5 lb bag.  Wanna see what I can do with these potatoes?

  • First, I made Cheesy Potato Pancakes.  I really dislike when recipes call for a certain number of potatoes - as if they are all the same size.  So, I doubled this recipe and used 2 lbs of potatoes.  This made enough to feed my family of three two meals.  I freeze half of the pancakes and they are delicious leftover another night.  Defrost them in the microwave and then heat the in the oven to get a nice crisp texture on the outside.
Photo from Cheesy Potato Pancakes recipe at

  • Next, I prepared an enormous crockpot of rich, Creamy Potato Soup.  Again with the potato counting.  I counted and eyeballed this one.  Served with grilled cheese sandwiches sounds too simple to be a good meal, but my family loves this on cool autumn nights.  And, again, half of the soup went into a freezer container.  I love keeping leftover soups and stews in the freezer for quick meals.
Photo from Slow Cooker Creamy Potato Soup recipe found at

  • The tricky part with my potato transformation was the french fries.  At Walmart I used to purchase their 32 oz bags of store brand frozen french fries for $1.78.  Now I make my own french fries for so much less.  They are fresh, delicious, and I know exactly what is in them.  The french fry transition was the most difficult for me.  They are difficult to get right.  I finally added a deep fryer to my kitchen appliances and that changed everything.  Now I make my own french fries and pub chips to go with burgers, pork sandwiches, chicken sandwiches and the like.  

  • I make my mashed potatoes from scratch now.  I even tried scalloped potatoes from scratch, but I haven't found that I am exceptionally crazy about them.  When I'm cooking a big breakfast, I toss a couple potatoes in my food processor with a shred blade and whip up some simple hashbrowns to go along with the meal.  

     So, what doesn't work with potatoes?  My personal weakness is tater tots.  I haven't figured out how to replace those yet.  And I have one casserole recipe that calls for tater tots.  My husband and son just love it, so I still cook it.  We aren't starting a kitchen militia here.  No one says we have to be perfect.  I replace with the basics where it makes sense, and I use what I need to use for other recipes.  That's just how it works.  One day I may learn to make fabulous tater tots.  Then again, I may just not bother.  Who knows?

     If potatoes aren't your thing, then look around your kitchen and choose something else that works for you.  I still purchase my pasta in a box.  Maybe someone out there has a pasta maker and wants to learn how to dry their own pasta.  Maybe you don't need to dry it.  I don't know.  I haven't reached that place yet.  I still buy hot dogs from the grocery store.  And I can't justify making my own white bread when I can buy it for $1 per loaf.  This is a personal journey and I would never presume to tell anyone how they should approach it.  I'm just here to share my experience with you.  Please add your own comments about what you have taken (or want to take) back to basics in your kitchen.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Food Planner App

     All my talk about simplifying my life included being organized.  I wanted to share a quick app that I absolutely love.  It is one of my two favorite apps for keeping my house and family organized.  It's Food Planner App.  Pretty straight forward, huh?    It's available on both android and iphone. 

     Your first step is to load all of your recipes into the app.  You can import your recipes from just about anywhere on the internet, or you can add your own recipes.  After you have a few recipes to choose from, you start planning your menu.  You can plan a day, a week, or more.  It's totally up to you.

     My plan for this app is to first go on my monthly clearance meat shopping trip.  After I take my meat home and re-package it for the freezer, I start using Food Planner.  I put meals using the meat I just bought into the calendar and then start filling in the blanks with what else I want to cook.  Before I know it, my menus are planned for the coming month.  It takes away so much pressure when my family asks "what's for dinner tonight?"  I no longer have that panicked feeling where my mind races quickly through my freezer inventory and recipe book.

This is the bottom of my home screen.  You can see in an instant what my plan is for tonight and tomorrow.

     There are a ton of great features on this app.  A widget is available that shows what you have planned for today and tomorrow.  My family knows they can pick up my tablet anytime and tonight's dinner is listed right there on the main screen.  You can actually purchase pre-made meal plans that give you everything you need including the recipes.  Just tell it to add to your week that you are planning.  Create a grocery list from this program.  Access everything online.  This is all available on the free version of the app!  I haven't upgraded to pro yet, but have been thinking about it.  The pro version is ad free, it allows you to create family groups so that you can sync the information across family member's devices, and it also allows you to sync with Google calendar.

     Give it a try!  That feeling I get everyday that I don't stress out deciding what I am cooking for dinner is amazing.  It definitely adds to the peace and happiness I am searching for in life.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Back to Basics

     Simple.  Organized.  Peaceful.  Happy.  Those are the words that I want to describe my life.  The news media tells us that all we have to do is elect the right people to political office, embrace political correctness, and pass gun control laws to get there.  Modern culture tells us that we need degrees and careers instead of men.  The "experts" tell us to just listen to them - while they change their minds week after week about what is healthy and what isn't.  I don't know about you, but I am exhausted.  And I am about as far from simple, organized, peaceful, and happy as a person can possibly be.

     Have you ever watched Little House on the Prairie?  Carolyn Ingalls sure had those things down pat.  What did she have that I don't? On the surface, I have everything compared to her.  Electricity, running water, a hot water heater, and modern appliances.  Yet, her life had what mine is missing.  Sure, maybe that is because she isn't a real person and it was all written that way.  I admit that is probably the most logical explanation.  Then again... I think of my great grandmother.  Granny's life was a lot more like Carolyn Ingalls than it was like the women of today.  Even with our shiny, modern kitchens, maybe they had something that we are missing.  Maybe it's not "something" at all.  Maybe it was just their lives.  Could it be that life is actually better without all of the extravagant extras that make up today's world?  I think it might be, and I have decided to start my quest in the kitchen.
     I remember watching television where an exceptionally elderly person (like 110 years old) was being interviewed and the interviewer was asking "So, what would you say is the secret to your exceptionally long life?"  I have never heard a single one of those people respond by talking about how they took a multi-vitamin every day, ate a vegetarian diet, and avoided gluten.  So, what did they eat?  Hey!  We have Google!  We can research that information.  Except that I would rather use my common sense to figure this out.  Why?  Because I am not stupid and I don't trust the "experts".  I am perfectly capable of doing this myself - and so are you.

This is a photo of some items taken from my personal pantry.  At one time this photo would have been filled with boxes of seasoned rice, instant potato dishes, meal starter kits, and tubes of cookie dough.

     My great grandmother lived from 1904-1993.  Granny stocked her kitchen with flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk, vegetable shortening, dried beans, rice...  Never in my life did I see that woman bust open a box of Hamburger Helper.  There weren't any shortcuts.  But we knew exactly what we were eating.  There were no unpronounceable chemicals in her canned vegetables.  That's because her canned vegetables were in glass canning jars processed in a pressure cooker.  Yes!  It's true.  Once upon a time pressure cookers were used for cooking food and not for murdering innocent people.  Shocking, I'm sure, but stay with me here.

     What if the problem isn't the fat, the carbs, the gluten, the caffeine, the sugar, the artificial sweetener?  What if it's as simple as the idea that our food shouldn't be half cooked, processed, treated with chemicals, packaged, and then set on shelves for months before we prepare and eat it?   The answer to everything could be as simple as using common sense and gong back to basics.

     Experts tell us that we shouldn't eat cookies.  They are bad for us.  Duh!  Of course they are.  They are also delicious and I don't know a single solitary person who doesn't love a good cookie.  So, instead of setting an unrealistic standard here and saying "No Cookies!" - which is a rule I will personally never follow - why don't we take a moment to look at the cookies we are eating.

     My cookies: Butter, Sugar, Brown Sugar, Eggs, Vanilla Extract, Flour, Baking Powder, Salt and Cornstarch.  (Yes, my secret ingredient is cornstarch in cookies.  We will talk about that in another post.)  Then I pop in different things.  I have done everything from chocolate chips to caramel pieces to pretzels.
     My cookies are good for about 5 days after they come out of the oven.  Oreos, however, can be safely eaten for roughly 2-3 weeks past the expiration date on the package.  And that expiration date seems to be a few months out when I used to buy them in the store. 

     This is Common Sense Housekeeping, so let's use a little common sense here.  With the barest information in front of us, which cookie seems like the better choice here?  I'm thinking the one made with fresh ingredients that I recognize and that I personally made.  And for the record... I am not disparaging oreo cookies here. Oreos are delightful, yummy treats that make terrific pie crusts and perfect dirt in cute desserts for little kids.  I am not suggesting that Oreos be banished from the planet or that every woman in the world be forced to bake cookies from scratch from here on out. 

     I'm saying that I believe I can find the things that are missing in my life by focusing on a much simpler, more basic life and I have to start somewhere.  Why not with my food?  I can't climb this mountain in a day.  A total overhaul of my kitchen where I throw out every possible item that wasn't in Granny's kitchen is out of the question.  I would be completely overwhelmed and frustrated.  The truth is, I started this process approximately 10 months ago and I want to share it with you.  For now, if you are interested in what I am doing, look at your kitchen and see what one thing you can choose to do for yourself from now on.  I started with potatoes.

     Until next time, be good and be smart.