Thursday, July 29, 2010

Challenge: Pantry Party Week

It's the end of the week, and you get out a piece of paper. On it you write down menu items that sound like a good idea for the week ahead. Maybe you write...

....Lasagna
....Hamburgers
....Buttered chicken
....Taco salad
....Tuna & noodles

You carefully write out the ingredients you'll need, double check your pantry and head to the store. Coming out with food for the week ahead, your cart is PACKED. Maybe you splurge and buy meat when it's on sale. Maybe you load up on whatever you need for the week ahead. As you stand in the check out line waiting with your coupons, you can't help but smile, knowing that unlike the other very disorganized parents, you are saving money by being pro-active and scheduled.

Of course, maybe you're like me and soon realize at the end of the next week that you only made two of those meals and fruit flies are gathering on those delicate peaches your kids just had to have. Or maybe you cooked so far ahead that now the thought of reheating yet ANOTHER frozen container of whatever makes you want to...well...you know.

Well, I have a challenge for you. You can plan all you want, but next week (or whatever week you want to use), I dare you to only go to the store for essentials. Now, essentials don't mean you send your spouse to the store for a hurried run because you're out of salt. It means only getting the things you NEED.

For us that included: Milk, Eggs & Bread

That's it. Basics here!

The challenge itself sounds easy. Use what's in your pantry, fridge and freezer? Bring. It. On. However, as you may discover, it's not that easy.

For example, I found a pound of chicken breasts in the freezer. Upon thawing them, I was stumped. I found a nearly empty bottle of marinade (why did we keep it at that stage anyway?) and used it for the dish. Unfortunately, I really wanted to put it over rice but only had the long-wait variety. You know - the rice that takes about an hour to cook.

I don't have an hour to cook like that on weekdays.

Anyway, we just put it over some of last week's spinach and it was really good!

Or...I also found ground beef in the freezer (I think I have a freezer addiction). I thawed IT out and combined it with breadcrumbs, egg, minced onion and some spices to make meatballs! Currently I'm making a sauce to cover them - of course, I had to get creative sometimes. I don't carry chili sauce on hand, so I had to make my own. Of course, the substitution required tomato sauce which I didn't have. You see where this is going. Honestly, it's not bad!

Here are a bunch of substitutes in case you were wondering:



Ketchup Substitute: For 1 cup ketchup substitute 1 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons vinegar (and a pinch of ground cloves if you have them).


Chili Sauce Substitute: For 1 cup chili sauce substitute 1 cup tomato sauce, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, dash of ground cloves and dash of allspice and a dash of cayenne pepper.


Tomato Juice Substitute: For 1 cup tomato juice substitute 1/2 cup tomato sauce and 1/2 cup water.


Tomato Soup Substitute: For 1 10-3/4 ounce can tomato soup, substitute 1 cup tomato sauce plus 1/4 cup water.


Rum Substitute: For 1/4 cup rum, substitute 1 tablespoon rum extract plus enough liquid to make 1/4 cup, or substitute vanilla extract or Kentucky Bourbon.


Marshmallow Substitute: For 1 cup miniature marshmallows, substitute 10 large marshmallows.


Dry Mustard Substitute: For 1 teaspoon dry mustard, substitute 1 tablespoon prepared mustard.


Onion fresh/dry equivalent: For 2 tablespoons fresh onion, chopped, substitute 1 tablespoon instant minced onion.


Garlic fresh/dry equivalents: For 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced, substitute 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (do not use garlic salt).


Dry Herbs Substitutions: To replace 1 tablespoon finely cut fresh herbs with dry, substitute 1 teaspoon dried herbs.


Cornstarch Substitution: For 1 tablespoon cornstarch (for thickening), substitute 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.


Substitute for chocolate: For 1 square (1 ounce unsweetened chocolate), substitute 3 tablespoons cocoa and 1 tablespoon fat (vegetable or coconut oil, etc).


Substitute for 1 egg: 1 tablespoon corn or potato starch, 1 tablespoon pectin, 1/2 teaspoon oil, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 2 tablespoons liquid - use applesauce or mashed banana for the liquid portion.


Vanilla extract substitute: Use an equal portion of dark rum (such as Myer's) or as a second choice, Kentucky Bourbon.


Baking powder substitute: For 1 teaspoon (single acting) baking powder, combine well 2 tablespoon cream of tartar, 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and measure out 1 teaspoon. Store remainder in airtight bag. Bakewell cream may be substituted for cream of tartar.


Back to the matter at hand though:

Thus far in our week, we have:

1) Cleaned out the left overs. Finally.
2) Made hashbrown casserole, using the hashbrowns that were in the freezer for about 2 months, sour cream that was to expire in a week, 2 packages of cheese I purchased about a month ago and one of the many bottles of Ranch we always haveo n hand
3) Made quiche using the last of our dozen eggs, the last of our mayo and the pie shell I found in the freezer from about 9 weeks ago
4) Made BBQ drumsticks, using frozen drumsticks (no idea how old), two partially-used bottles of BBQ sauce (The JackStack one was so old, it actually exploded on me when I opened it!) and orange marmalade. The sauce was great! It's a shame the drumsticks were not the best quality at that point!
5) FINALLY used our Tuna helper!!

Basically, you get the point. You have to get creative and sometimes smudge a recipe. I think I've made this meatball and sauce recipe BETTER, if that's possible.

By doing the Pantry Party Challenge, you'll do three things:

1) Save major $$. Do you know how much you spend a week on food? Yeah - it's scary. Food is just too expensive. Just a few years ago, our weekly grocery bills were around $50. Now? Yeah right.

2) Get out of the box/rut. I have those go-to recipes too. Spaghetti is our favorite. However, we don't have pasta and there is NO way I'm going to make pasta on my schedule. It's nice to be forced to get out of my comfort zone and try new things.

Yes, sometimes it will taste bad. Like those drumsticks? Ick. No way. I can't be spoiled with smoked chicken and then given freezer-burned drumsticks.

3) Clean out the pantry, fridge AND freezer! It's amazing to see what you "just had to have" a few months ago! Plus, as an added bonus, you get to see what staples you should really keep around. Like...pasta. Or tomato sauce. Those were two things I REALLY could have used this week.

So next time you feel like pinching pennies and cleaning house at the same time, try the Pantry Party Challenge! Just one week - that's all! We're going to try to do it once every few months. Once a month at this point may be pushing it! I think when crockpot season starts and we start to hoard frozen veggies and broth, we may try it monthly!

Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

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Monday, July 26, 2010

The Last Lunch

Last weekend was the last weekend we will see my sister and bro-in-law until at least February, so we celebrated! We trekked all the way to the Elephant Bar, a good 20 minute drive.

The kids were in pleasant moods though:
Jack just didn't want his picture taken! 

At the restaurant, we were all happy, happy, happy! 

Northing really beats spending time as a family! 


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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Introducing: Christopher Rhys!

Our new nephew has arrived!!

Christopher Rhys. 

7 pounds.

20 inches. 

Born at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2010.

Oh wait - you want to see his cute little face with his little button nose? 

Of course I took some! 

I just wanted to make you work to see them! ;-) 

Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of his wonderful light brown hair. I will say this though: he's one cute little peanut, and I can't wait to spend more time with him!

I'll also say this: April looked too good this evening to be a woman who just spent all night in labor. Seriously - you're making the rest of us look bad! ;-) 


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Friday, July 23, 2010

Confessions

Dear Blog, it's been two days since my last update. Forgive me.

In those two days, I have to admit that I have gone crazy and neglected everything that must be done by tomorrow. At 11:00. In the morning.

I need to wash my kitchen floor.
>>>>Instead I baked cookies. For the heck of it.

I need to start planning for birthday parties/invites/etc.
>>>>Instead I decided to rearrange the living room.

I need to sanitize the bathrooms.
>>>>Instead I decided to plan for a garage sale.

I need to wash and put away dishes.
>>>>>Instead I decided to watch a movie with the kiddos.

I need to fold and put away laundry.
>>>>>Instead I decided to play around on the Internet.

I need to actually get on with the evening.
>>>>>INSTEAD I DECIDED TO WRITE THIS BLOG POST!

Seriously - my brain is wiped. Did you know it's 8:30 and I'm already ready to head to bed? Oy. This isn't a good sign. I'm doomed to procrastinate.

Forgive me.

Please.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Just A Normal Day

If you recall, Monday we had a brown-out (i.e. lost our electricity due to overuse of the power - it happens when we get to 98 degrees!). We ended up having a blast doing watercolors together.

Now, yesterday you would think we would have done something different.

BUT

It stormed. As in, pitch-black and violent for a full 3 hours. We didn't lose power (yeah!), but we were still stuck inside.

What did we do?

We pulled out our paints again!

Once again, they proved that they love art. 

Zoey took a little while to get into though. 

But seriously - this panda rocks! 

Her attitude lately does NOT rock! 

Is this not the face of Trav? 

And is this face not the face of a girl who was on the verge of being cranky? 

Anyway, we're also in the process of re-doing our house. First step: living room. Now, I think this cat statue does wonders in place of books! 

Now, at this point in the evening we all were bathed and ready to go to bed. Zoey looked at me and asked me to take her picture. I figured...sure! 

So Jack hopped on up too. 

Unfortunately, he wasn't as gung-ho for the photo event! 

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Power OUT

Do you know what a brown out is?

It's...

A brown-out is a condition of lower than normal power line voltage being supplied by your local utility or generating equipment. This condition may be short term (minutes to hours) or long term (1/2 day or more). A power line voltage reduction of 8 - 12% is usually considered a brown-out. 

A black-out is a complete loss of power for whatever reason and is usually short term, as it is so serious that the generating company will classify the situation as an emergency. However, just occasionally a catastrophe may cause a longer term black-out. 


In other words: everyone returned home from work yesterday, zapping all of the power and knocking out power to us. Being it was 95 degrees outside, it was rather uncomfortable on many fronts. 

Even the cat was uncomfortably hot. 

So what did we do?

We brought out the paints and went to work! 

We didn't know how long we wouldn't have power, but we knew we had about three hours of light left. 

Painting takes a lot of concentration.

And dedication. 

Really, they worked well together. 

Well, except for this little girl. Her mood left much to be desired. 

"Mommy, I paint!"

This would eventually become The KING from Cars. 

Overhead shot! 

Zoey is showing some amazing artistic abilities. I'm really impressed! 

Amazingly, there wasn't a lot of fighting. 

Everyone just painted. 

and I can't complain.


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Monday, July 19, 2010

Soccer Videos

In case you didn't hear (coughYEAHRIGHTcough), Jack went to soccer camp last week! I was at work, so Trav took both kids and eventually ended up taking my little video camera.

If you're looking for a little video cam, this one is awesome:
Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera
It's $100 (actually $104.99, according to Amazon - just click on the image to find out all the info), and it's pretty just the basic camera everyone always wants. There are no bells. No whistles. It's not good in low-light, but you know what? It's only $100.

 I bought it a few years ago and love it. We don't use very often, but that's fine. It didn't cost us an arm and a leg! Plus it takes an SD card, so transferring images is a cinch.

Anyway, so Trav took it with him to a few practices. If case you wanted to know what the Challenger soccer program is like, here's your chance.

Let me apologize in advance for two things:

1) It's pretty boring. I'll admit that I get kind of bored by it. I'm proud of Jack, but I get hot just looking at it.

2) Trav wasn't paying attention to the camera. You can tell. Most of the time the camera is pointed DOWN. Oops.

Here you go:












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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Adventures On The Slip-And-Slide

Yesterday it was hot.

Oh, who am I kidding? It's been hot and humid for the last few weeks. Excessive heat warning? Pssh. Nothing new there!

Do you remember the Fourth of July weekend? We had purchased a slip-n-slide to use down in Wichita. Unfortunately, Hurricane Alex made it our way and dumped quite a bit of rain on our parade. No slipping or sliding was had.

Well, this weekend was the perfect weekend to give it a whirl! We hooked it up and thought that the kids would know INSTANTLY how to use it!

Wrong.
It started out well. They both seemed to show interest in it...

And yes, it looks like Jack is sliding. 

But that's not the whole truth. 

His slides were more an army crawl. 

He had a blast, but it wasn't exactly a slip AND slide. Just a...wet piece of plastic. 

Zoey was a little put off by the thought of cold water at first. 

And no, she never crawled like Jack did. She walked. And slid. Come to think of it, she probably was the closest either of them came to actually slipping! 

I do give 'em credit for trying though! 

They still got soaked...and cooled down! 

And I also give Uncle Nate props for trying to get Zoey involved. She just did it her way! 

And yes, she did sometimes slip and land in the water! 

Eventually we got to the point where Jack would be scooted by Uncle Nate and land backwards. 

Hilarious! 

High-five, guys! 

Jack loves his slip-n-slide, even if he doesn't really know how to use it. 

Zoey...well...I don't think we'll ever be able to convince Zoey to use it correctly. 

She'll always be Zoey!!

Now, we also had a pool party/BBQ and had a blast! We had smoked chicken, chicken & steak skewers, bacon burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, salad, deviled eggs, baked beans, plenty of desserts...and no photos. 

Sorry.

I'm still recovering from last week. On the plus side though, we had a great time! Thanks to everyone who made it such a successful event! 
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