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.

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