Monday, January 31, 2011

I've Been Published (Pt 2)

Part 2 of my article about Frugal Allergen-Free Shopping is now available over at FM Cheapskate. If you want to catch Part 1 - here's the link for the first 5 tips on frugal allergen-free shopping .

Thanks to Sheila for sharing my article and encouraging me along the way.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

One Year In The Making

This week we are celebrating 1 year since we arrived in North Dakota. Our moving truck/car caravan crossed over the state line to our "new home" on Tuesday afternoon, February 2, 2010. We were weary from our long adventure to get here, but had stuff to unpack and kiddos to get acclimated.

In some ways, that day seems so long ago and in other ways it seems like we just arrived. I'm not the same person who made a new home in ND a year ago. The roaring waters of change and challenge have streamed over my rough edges and resistance. I've emerged a bit smoother along the edges. My clouded eyes have begun to seem some of God's reasoning for bringing us to what I thought was wilderness. I now see these great plains as fertile soil for growing as God has for me once my hardened heart let go of what I thought was the best plan for my life.

It has been a year of ups and downs. I've had plenty of tears and laughter, joy and pain. I've learned what it feels like to feel utterly alone and isolated, an outsider. I've made some wonderful friends that are a true gift. I've experienced true friendship from those who still care even though some 1000 miles separate us. I've experienced generosity and what it means to be pursued.

So what do I think of North Dakota now?
  • That dang Red River of the North keeps flooding. However, there are hard working people who genuinely care about others - ready to sandbag and save each other's homes. Glad we didn't move into the flood plain. 
  • The winters are long and cold. I'm from Michigan. I grew up on cold, long winters... but this is a whole new level. I can't say that I'll be sad to see winter go. However, that 20' snow drift that the plow guys created is going to take a while to melt.
  • Summers are warm (and sometimes downright HOT) and sunny. The really clean air here and cloudless skins means our fair skinned family works hard not to be lobsters.
  • This is the flattest place I've ever been. My boys think traveling the overpass on the interstate is a big hill. Lord help us. I can't wait to show them what a mountain is.
  • We now talk a little funny. I don't say dollar as DAH-LAR anymore, it's DOE-LAR. Things aren't expensive they are "spendy" and you say "ish" for gross stuff. Uffda really is a word, and you use it to say "really?" or "I'm sorry" or "I can't imagine" or if you don't know what to say.
  • Life is a little slower here and people seem to have more time for you. It's not a "how are you?" as a greeting to pass on by without waiting for a reply.
  • We love our church and small group. That has really made this place livable and enjoyable for us.
  • My husband loves and thrives in his job that brought us here. I haven't seen him this content professionally in the 11+ years we've been married.
There are little pieces of the "Why ND?" puzzle starting to come together. Yet we still don't know for how long God has us here. All I know is that for now, we are staying put until he shows us otherwise...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ham & Cheese Breakfast Burritos

Breakfast has become a struggle in our world. Getting all of us ready and out the door in time to get the bus and to work on time AND eat a decent breakfast is a stretch. I manage to get the kids fed, but I've been surviving on granola bars. BUT NO LONGER.

I spent the night cooking breakfast for all of us for the next week. I have pumpkin pancakes, millet Belgian waffles (more like waffle shreds - but that's an epic failure story for later), chopped up ham bits, along with ham & cheese burritos in the fridge and freezer.

I've posted before about the breakfast burritos I made for my husband, but those were egg based. I am NOT a fan eggs. So I had to find another filling to keep me happy for breakfast. I had a whole bunch of leftovers and odds and ends around to use up so in they go. Think of it as a breakfast skillet in a tortilla. Eat it on your way (safely of course), for a quick snack, or just because.

4 med Potatoes, diced *
1/2 c Bell pepper, diced
1 c Ham, diced
1/3 c Cheese, shredded (omit if dairy free, but you might need to increase oil to 3 T)
2 T Oil (Olive, Sunflower, or Safflower)
1 t Salt
1/4 t Garlic powder
1/4 t Black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add potatoes and cook over medium-high heat until slightly softened and browned. Add peppers and continue to cook 2-3 minutes. Add spices and ham and continue to saute for another 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat (if freezing allow to cool completely and then) and add cheese and portion out onto slightly warmed tortillas. Fold tortillas burrito style and wrap in plastic wrap and place in freezer bags for later use.

WARNING: if you add hot contents to the tortilla and wrap them up, the steam will cause your burrito to become very soggy in the storage process. Only fill with warm contents if eating immediately.

* You could substitute southern-style frozen hashbrowns (the square cut) for potatoes for a short cut. I prefer the larger potato chunks and organic potatoes are far less expensive than organic frozen hashbrowns.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Butterless Potato

Looking for ways to cut back on calories and not lose flavor? Can't eat dairy? Watching your pennies? Want the simplest side dish ever? I'm guessing you might fall into one of those categories.

I survived on these potatoes when I was in college and working close to full time. I had no money, no time, and a microwave to eat from. The good thing is they taste just as good now as they did then.

4 baby redskins/person
Lightly coat in olive oil
sprinkle liberally (1/2 - 1 tsp) of kosher or sea salt

In a microwave safe dish add your potatoes, drizzle with olive oil and make sure skin is coated, and sprinkle with salt. Cover potatoes with paper towel and cook for 4-6 minutes until potatoes are tender.
Cover lightly with tin foil and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until tender.

You really can use any type of potato, but the best flavor comes from a baby redskin potato. They have a buttery texture/taste to begin with.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Week, New Attitude, New Menu

I don't know how full-time working moms manage to fit everything in. After one full week, I am a full week behind on everything else. It doesn't help that I had a bad cold too. So this week I am headed into work and life with a different attitude. Life is much more planned for the week so that more gets accomplished. I hope that makes like a bit easier for all of us and help us get into a new routine. I know once we get into a rhythm it will feel much like second nature - but until then, I am on list overload starting with our menu:

B - Impossible Pie or Buckwheat Waffles
L - Sandwiches, fruit
D - Stir Fry, Rice, Peaches

B - Pancakes or Impossible Pie
L - Grilled Cheese, Applesauce
D - Ham, Baked Potato, Green Beans

B - Pancakes
L - Quesadillas, Salsa
D - Packed lunches for dinner on the run

B - Ham bits, eggs, toast
L - Hot dogs, Carrots, Applesauce
D - Chicken Noodle Soup, Grilled Cheese

B - Breakfast cookies, Bananas
L - Leftovers
D - Pizza, Carrot Sticks, Applesauce


B - Donut Muffins, Smoothies
L - Muffin tin lunch
D - Spaghetti with Loaded Tomato Sauce, Garlic Toast Sticks

B -  Cereal bars or Breakfast cookies
L - Sesame Garlic Chicken, Rice, Carrots
D - Beef Stroganoff, Rice, Salad

I'm going to try a bit of experimenting this week and next with a few allergen-free versions of some of our favorite foods. Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pizza Sticks & Bowling

My husband and I took our boys bowling today for the first time. They had the time of their life and made quite a few people around us smile and laugh. The sad part is my 4-year-old almost beat me. I pulled off a strike in the last frame just in time to save my pride. God bless whoever created bumper bowling.

I was looking for something pizza like to make for my son tonight since we were out of crust mix so I came up with a trick that we will definitely be trying out again. I took a few slices of bread (in his case it was a millet/flax), buttered it and sprinkled it with garlic salt like we would for making garlic toast. I took the pizza cutter and cut it into thin strips and then sprinkled on some cheese (Daiya shreds) and broiled it until nice and toasty. I served it with a side of our loaded spaghetti sauce that we use for pizza sauce. It was a huge hit and very easy to make. I'll be putting this one in the snack file for later too.

Not a bad day.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I've Been Published

I wrote an article recently for FM Cheapskate about eating and shopping allergen-free on a budget. I love this site and it has helped me tremendously as I look to make the most of our money. If you are interested pop on over for the article. Part 2 will be posted some time next week.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Menu - A Little Late

Better late than never right?

I started the new job, got a cold, and got really behind on everything. So as I sit amid tons of baskets of laundry waiting to be put away (only because my husband folded them) I offer you our menu for the week as we work on eating through our pantry/freezer.

My husband has helped take on some of the cooking, so you'll note an increase in wild game in the menu. Feel free to substitute a meat of your choice if you don't have any on hand...

B = Cereal Bars, Yogurt, Juice
L = Leftovers
D = Spaghetti with Loaded Tomato Sauce, Garlic Bread (recipe coming soon)

B =  Pumpkin Pancakes
L = Sandwiches
D = Venison Fajitas (recipe coming soon), corn, applesauce

B = Apple Juice Oatmeal, Toast
L = Quesadillas, Salsa
D =Bacon Roasted Pheasant, Mashed Potatoes, Carrots

B = Leftover Pancakes
L = Leftovers
D = Sauteed Spaghetti

B = Buckwheat Waffles, Bananas
L = Hot dogs, apple slices
D = Ham, Baked Potato, Corn, Broccoli

B = Ham bits, Eggs
L = Loaded Baked Potato, Oranges
D =  Pheasant Enchiladas(variation of the Fiesta Chicken), Rice, Corn

B = Sausage & Toast
L = Leftovers
D = Turkey Brats, Salad, Peaches

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I Survived - Thanks to the 80/20 Rule

I started my new job today, the kind where you have to wear corporate casual clothing, do your hair and make up kind of job. It went well and I've got lots to learn. My head is whirling trying to figure everything out and remember what I've been told... but I enjoyed it.

It's a nice company and good people to work with. The two ladies in the office took me out to lunch today because they are so excited not to have to answer phones anymore.

I'm tired though and it was a drive through dinner on the way to church tonight. Not something I wanted to do, but that's the way it went today. 

I personally subscribe to the 80/20 food rule. If you eat healthy and nutritious 80% of the time, then you don't have to feel guilty about the 20% of the time when life happens. Someday I'd like to subscribe to the 90/10 rule, but we aren't there yet. Happy Monday to you all.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Challenges and New Menu

I start my new joy this week so I'm going to be taking it easy on the menu side while we transition into life as we are about to know it.

Breakfasts - Pancakes, Waffles, Sausage & Fruit, Cereal Bar & Fruit, Bagels & Bacon

Lunches - Leftovers, Sandwiches, Hotdogs, Quesadillas

Monday - Ham, Eggs, Toast, Fruit
Tuesday - Golden Chicken & Autumn Veggies (take 2 from last week)
Wednesday - Out
Thursday - Spaghetti with Loaded Tomato Sauce & Ground Turkey
Friday - Pizza, Carrot Sticks
Saturday - Sesame Garlic Chicken, Rice, Carrots

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Skillet Potatoes

This is a super quick fix side dish that has a rich taste for little work.

6-8 med Russet Potatoes
1 T Garlic, minced
1 T Olive Oil
1/2 t Salt
1 1/2 c Chicken Stock
1-2 c Green Beans (optional)

Wash and cut the potatoes into rounds about 1/2 inch thick. Add oil to a skillet over medium high. Add garlic and potatoes and turn to coat in the oil. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Allow potatoes to brown slightly and then add chicken stock. If desired you can add green beans at this stage. Cover and cook until potatoes are cooked through and chicken stock is absorbed (about 15-20 minutes)

The flavor is rich and the potatoes melt in your mouth.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Frugal Quick Fixes

Okay, so I had planned to make pizza tonight, but never made it to the health food store to get the cheese alternative (Daiya Shreds) for my son's allergen-free pizza... so, needed a quick fix dinner with whatever I have on hand.

I keep 2-3 meals that I don't usually schedule during the same week that I usually have all the components for. My husband knows them by heart because they appear frequently on the kitchen table for dinner. They may be ordinary, but it saves us a lot of money in takeout, fast food, or other dining out alternatives.

Ground beef tacos (or whatever meat I have on hand - ground turkey, shredded chicken/pork, etc)

What's your go-to emergency meal idea?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Life Changes

So just about the time I start to think that I've got things into a rhythm, the music changes. It seems that I'll be dancing to a new tune starting next week.

I'm heading back to work, full-time.

I haven't been employed full-time outside of the home in about 7 years - when my oldest son was born. I stepped down to part-time after son #1 and stayed at home after son #2 was born. The last couple of years have been a series of part-time and freelance jobs trying to make ends meet as Andy returned to school and searched for employment.

I wasn't looking for full-time work, but everything part-time that I had applied for (outside of being a substitute lunch lady) has fallen through. This job literally fell into my lap. My new employer is a well respected man that many people we know speak highly of. He has seemed kind and flexible so far.

That being said... I'm a bit uncertain. It's like the feeling before starting everything new. A bit of the pit in the stomach and a feeling like you have NO idea about what you are about to start. Yet added to that I now have the challenge of quickly finding quality childcare for the few hours of which my work and Andy's will overlap.

So, all that being said... I'd appreciate your prayers. This job is the answer to ours as we searched for the best way to financially get our families re-established after a couple of years of chaos. I'm anxious to see what God has for us in the new adventure.

What does this all mean for Frugal Family Feasts/Domestic Artistry??? Probably more crockpot experimentation, quick meals, maybe a return to eating out a bit. Let the fun begin.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Apple Au Jus

So, Monday was suppose to be pork roast on our Pantry Challenge menu. Slight problem. The package I thought was roast wasn't. Opps. So I found some pork country style ribs and concocted my own brine style braising juice. When the pork was done cooking, I strained the liquid  and then cooked it down a little bit. Served as a dipping liquid for the meat, it turned out wonderful. My 4-year-old thought dipping anything (including his hands) in the au jus was fun.

Pork Ribs, country style
2 c Apple juice
8-12 c Water
1 T Sea salt

I put the pork ribs in a large dutch oven pot. I added the apple juice, salt, and then enough water to just cover the meat. Cooked at 325 degrees for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, the meat was moist and flavorful. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Pour the juices through a fine stainer or cheesecloth (my preferred method) and return to heat and boil for 5-10 minutes to reduce a bit.

Good news, enough left for leftovers to make BBQ pork and Mexican pork salad.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Caramel Corn

 This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas treats that really is an anytime treat. WARNING: once you start eating this you may curse the day that you read this post and decided that it was a good one to try. This is like the crack of popcorn. Best if eaten with others to reduce the likelihood that you eat the whole thing.

I was also excited to find that I could make this for my son by using a soy-free vegan spread (butter substitute). It was still really good.

7 qt  (28 c) Plain popped popcorn
2 c  Dry roasted peanuts (optional)
2 c  Brown sugar
1/2 c Light corn syrup
1 t  Salt
1 c  Butter
1/2 t  Baking soda
1 t Vanilla extract

Put the popped popcorn into two greased baking pans (I like to use disposable foil pans or roaster pans). Add nuts to the popcorn if you would like.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 250. In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt. Stir to mix over medium heat, bringing to a boil. Then boil for 5 minutes while stirring constantly.

Once you've removed from the pan from heat, add the vanilla and baking soda. This will cause the liquid to bubble and expand. While hot, pour the mixture on the popcorn and toss to coat.

Bake for a total of 60 minutes while stirring every 15 minutes which will make the caramel distribute more evenly. Put parchment or wax paper on the counter and spread out the hot caramel corn on it to cool. Immediately use a spatula or spoon to break up the caramel corn into bite-sized pieces. Let it cool and then store in airtight containers or resealable bags. Wrap it up and it makes a great gift for teachers, bus drivers, or friends.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sesame Garlic Chicken

I've been experimenting with new recipes again. I love the flavors of Chinese, but I can't use soy if my oldest is going to eat it... That posses a bit of a problem. So I'm working with the flavors I can use - garlic and sesame.

1 lb. Boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 t Garlic, minced
1-2 T Oil (sunflower, safflower, other)
1 T Sesame seeds
1/2 t Sea Salt

I sliced the chicken into very thin slices and added it to the oil I had pre-heated in a large fry pan. I browned the chicken over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes and added the garlic, sesame seeds, salt and pepper to the chicken and finished cooking until the chicken was cooked through (being careful not to burn the garlic).

I served this over basmati rice (any type will do) and leftover chopped carrots. The oil from the sauce lightly coated the rice and it wasn't dry at all. I tried a bit with sweet and sour sauce and that worked well too.

We'll definitely be making this one again. It was super fast and easy.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

January's Pantry Challenge

I'm starting the process of eating through what we have in our freezer/pantry. My intent is to try to eat through our stockpile for the month January. Think of it as a challenge in menu creativity.

What this does NOT mean is that I won't be grocery shopping, just shopping less. I'll be buying produce, allergen-free food for my son, and a few great deals when I find them. I intend to use the money I'm saving from our grocery budget to put toward some bulk food purchases - which should over time reduce our grocery budget all together.

That being said, here is week #1 of our stockpile menu

B - Buckwheat Waffles, Banana
L - Leftovers
D - Pork Roast, Salad, Roasted Potatoes, Carrots

B - Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pancakes, Clementines
L - Grilled Cheese, Applesauce
D - BBQ Ribs, Mashed Potato, Frozen Corn

B - Sausage, Apple Slices
L - Leftovers & Hot Dogs
D - Pasta & Loaded Spaghetti Sauce, Garlic toast, Green Beans

B - Fried Ham Bits, Grapes
L - Biscuit Ham & Cheese, Pirate's Booty
D - Mexican Pork Salad

B - Bagels, Bacon
L - Quesadillas, Salsa
D - Homemade Pizza, Carrot Sticks

B - Donut Muffins, Sausage
L - Sunbutter Sandwiches, Pretzels, Apple Slices
D - Golden Chicken & Veggies replaced with Grilled Sausage &Skillet Potatoes

B - Impossible Pie, Smoothies
L - Hamburgers, Frozen Corn, Chips, Applesauce
D - Leftovers