Friday, 27 February 2015

The Truth Is....

The truth is...

I spent more on groceries in February than I did in January, in spite of my attempts to reduce by at least 10%. The truth is...

I justified some "special" purchases as they were for O's 3rd birthday and Easter, all a good deal, all sensible purchases. But if we were in a situation where Husband was out of work and we were living on a very fixed amount/month, the truth is I would not have been able to buy extra chocolate and some story books for my kids.

The truth is, I haven't gotten around to doing a menu plan for this week. There have been several deaths in our community and the truth is...I haven't felt motivated or that my little organizing and budgeting adventures matter, at all, in the grand scheme of things.

The truth is, a childhood friend--we grew up together and were roommates when she was pregnant and had her first baby--has said goodbye to her daughter this week. Cystic Fibrosis, killer of the young--I remember being told that diagnosis shortly after getting my own place to live. Through tears, 18 years ago, my friend and I agreed that so many advances would be made in research and treatment in her daughter's lifetime that surely it would not be the life sentence it seemed. We had health problems ourselves last year, a scary time and one where I allowed my imagination to run wild and I felt fear--paralyzing fear--for the first time in my life. The truth is, that is what that family lived with for 18 years...every milestone bittersweet, plans for the future always overshadowed by reality. The truth is, nobody can know what that is like unless they have lived it. And now that her short life is over, no one can know what it is like to keep going until they have had to do it.

But you know what? The truth is, no one knows their future. There are simply no guarantees. If anything can be learned from my friend's daughter's short but wonderful existence...take nothing for granted. Dance while you can. Laugh. Laugh loud. Marvel at the sunset. Hold your children tight, so tight, and be gentle while they grow. Appreciate your family. Be there for your friends when they need you, for you will need them too. Savour the moments when you feel good. When you do not feel good and when there is worry or negativity or drama or fear...STOP...and ask yourself what is really important? How can you I best use the time that I have? What is the best use of my energy? If I knew there was limited time, how would I be reacting? Most of life's trivialities would not matter. The things that really matter become very clear: people over things, relationships that make us happy--move beyond the ones that don't, experiences and joy and laughter--none of which need to cost money--time, sweet time together. These are the things that matter. If we knew our time was up, wouldn't we all wish for more of these things? Wouldn't we wish we had never wasted time worrying about what people think?

The truth is, it has taken me a few days to get my game face on. It can be hard to visit the grieving, but it is always the right thing to do. I want to be the friend that I would need if the situation was reversed. I'll get back to budgeting and menu-planning soon (finally jotted down a quick plan for the next couple days) but for now, I have a couple cute little boys that are playing with sleeping bags on the living room floor. I must go camping. And try very hard to remember this moment in time forever.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Menu Plan February 16-22

We had a lovely day sleigh riding with family and new acquaintances yesterday. My brother is training a different horse to pull the sleigh. It was just the break we needed from being cooped up at home!

I seem to be over the hump of my February blues. Motivation has returned, and what feels like a busy week lies ahead. There are chores that I have left too long and swimming lessons start tomorrow. I want to have some quick easy meals to take the stress out of arriving home from swimming and having to make supper. Here's my tentative plan for the week:


Husband lunch: pb and j sandwiches (he actually likes them, but I do feel bad resorting to peanut butter and jam). The fresh food is getting low but I refuse to go to town until we have to go for swimming (Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next month) cans of fruit, all bran bars, puddings
Kids lunch: stirfry with left over rice
Supper: Pizza and tossed salad
major chores to do: clean ashes out of stove, haul wood to basement from garage and replenish supply in garage, all laundry, all toys tidied, vacuum, compost and garbage out, tidy front porch, tidy entryways, bake cookies and prepare a double recipe of new-york style pizza dough/ refrigerate half

Tuesday: (swim 4-4:30)

major chores: deep cleaning of all bathrooms, haul wood, prepare and refrigerate quinoa salad, get water and groceries before swimming lessons
H lunch: leftover pizza, veggies and dip, last of the fruit
kids lunch: grilled cheese, canned fruit, carrots and dip
kids snacks and drinks packed for town/swimming
Supper: chili I made last week thawed and put in slow cooker before we leave, buns, quinoa salad


H lunch: leftover chili and buns, fruit and veg, cookies
Kids lunch: play date here with little friends, fruit and veggie tray with grilled cheese sandwiches
Supper: taco night (roasted broccoli and chickpeas, spanish rice, enchiladas, guacamole)
major chores: clean my sittin' porch (dog and cats have made it a disaster this winter), garbage and compost out, laundry/washed and put away, wash kitchen and basement floors


H lunch: wraps/ leftovers, fruit and veg, etc
kids lunch: leftovers
snacks and drinks packed for swimming lessons
Supper: meatballs I prepared and froze last week put in slowcooker before we leave, fried rice and stir fry
major chores: cut veggies and cook rice before we leave for town, bake bread and cookies
Weather permitting we will spend the morning outside playing and/or at my mom's visiting and playing

Friday: (hopefully the first of Husband's 4 days off)
we may or may not spend the day running errands in town, doing things with the truck that I have not been able to accomplish. There are several light bulbs that need replaced in the garage, a honey-do list as you can imagine after a 24 day shift of work. I hate to bombard Husband on his first day off, but it is nice to get some of the list accomplished quickly and treat the kids to dinner out--then spend the weekend playing and relaxing)
Supper: pub grub (stuffed potatoes, caesar salads, wings, garlic fingers using the premade pizza dough)

Supper: pasta night

Supper: roast and all the fixin's

Saturday, 14 February 2015

February, you get me every time...

Ah, the winter blues...the grouchies....the blahs, the mama-hasn't-left-the-house-in-a-week-rants! February, you have done it again.

But it's not your fault, really. February, you have given me much to be grateful for:

  • My parents' anniversary, a nice gathering of family, 45 years survived and lived to tell about it. 
  • I have developed a real love of baking. I've always loved to cook but was not into baking. These days, the kids and I are enjoying turning out delicious breads and treats and sharing them with our friends. It is a pastime and a hobby and I'm grateful to be able to spend my days baking with my kids. 
  • A runny nose and cough for my littlest, which did NOT get my biggest sick and therefore did NOT result in a flare up of childhood nephrotic syndrome. My gratitude for that alone should make the winter fly. And in many ways, it does. 

I feel ashamed and disgraced that with much to be grateful for, I have still fallen into a wee winter slump and have been short-tempered and frustrated, particularly with my kids. In turn, they are short-tempered with each other and with me, and the whole thing can get disheartening. It is not what I wanted for my kids or myself. We do pretty good all winter but February seems to be the month where I let myself slip. So February? If you are listening, here is what I have planned to get us through the rest of your windy, cold house-bound days:

  • more exercise. I need to stop complaining about being stuck in the house and move my body. It always makes me feel better.
  • clean the house. If I'm stuck here, I should be cleaning one room every few days. No excuse that I "haven't gotten around to it"
  • in-house adventures for the kids. Play Play Play!
  • more self-care. At home spa-time: mani/pedi, facial, sunless tanner, and yes a little pruning never hurts. It makes a world of difference to take care of one's appearance such as it is!
  • more outside time. We have had a run of cold/wind, but on days where it is possible to be outside I need to come up with ideas to keep us out longer. Less time in the house=less time fighting!
  • returning J to play school, Tuesdays only. O will have time with gramma and I will help at school. J doesn't want me to leave him there, and I won't force the issue!
  • I'm investigating taking on some sort of a volunteer capacity that I can include my kids in. They are young to help at the soup kitchen, but I have been letting them each pick on item on special to donate to the food bank every week when we get groceries. I thought of us writing a letter/drawing pictures to send to a Canadian soldier. Then I read some negative feedback about women having strange motives for doing so and was left feeling disappointed with the whole idea. But I'm still thinking of ways to make it a sort of writing assignment for my 5 year old. At any rate, some sort of meaningful, community-minded activity would perk us up.
  • The kids start swimming lessons next week. I'm going to have to don a bathing suit and join my 2 year old in the water...those who know me will remember that I feel water is for showering in and THAT IS IT. It's important to me that my kids don't grow up to hate the water as I do. So...I won't put my bull on their fun. A friend told me this past summer not to let my body issues ruin their summer memories, and she was right, and I am trying. 
As of today there are only 2 more weeks in this dreaded month. We are getting dumped on with fresh snow today. When it warms up that will be lots of fun. Tomorrow my brother is having us over for a sleigh ride, our favorite winter pastime. Before I know it we will be into March and, whatever the weather might bring, I can handle it as spring comes near. Does February (or any particular time of year) get you down in the dumps? If so, have you any frugal suggestions for a pick-me-up?

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Menu Plan Feb 9-15, 2015

 The purpose of my planning a weekly menu is threefold:
  1. Use up what is potentially going to go to waste from my freezer, purchased groceries, home preserves or garden
  2. Become better organized in order to squeak out more time for hobbies/ a deep cleaning of the house/ kids activities (translation: less cooking=more living!)
  3. Attempt to reduce the amount I am spending on food by using in-store coupons, points card at grocery store, doing without, and reducing waste
I'm enjoying following the blog Mortgage Free In Three. It gives wonderful inspiration to pay off debt faster, and recently provided a printable menu planning document. As Elaine suggests, it makes sense to menu plan starting on the day you get groceries--it works well for me as I am a once/week shopper. This week my grocery day fell on a Monday because there were a few things I wanted to do in town and we never drive to town without trying to complete all our errands. NOTE: this is being posted late as hauling wood/mopping floors/laundry and some serious teenage mutant ninja turtle play time had priority. Such is life!

This week's list:

  • fill 2 water jugs (forgot the jugs at home, but should make it til next week)
  • pick up parcel new cookbook, woohoo! Perhaps a post on that later :)
  • weather stripping for the garage door since the kitties have pulled a piece of it completely off and made a draft. Wouldn't you know it, the day after I buy weather stripping I open a closet and find the weather stripping that I thought we had used up in our old house. So I can return what I bought and save ten bucks! 
For my menu plan this week, I have consulted the freezer: some bits of pork chops, enough for a meal, still some roasts and a package of steak to use up, a package of hamburger, some chicken wings, bacon, a package of deer sausage given to me by a friend, perogies, green beans, spinach. Also there are some chicken breasts and shrimp.

In the fridge: lettuce needing used today or ASAP, peppers, some crushed tomato sauce, part of a cucumber, carrots, celery, red onion. We also have some asiago cheese and a bit of mozzarella, some cheese slices (Husband likes them but I try not to buy them!).

On special at grocery store: I got 2000 extra points (when you redeem 20,000 points you save $20) buying things I needed anyways, and I resisted buying anything that wasn't on my list. Normally I don't buy much juice but both kids are getting sore throats so I bought calcium and vit D added oj, and a 5 pack of juice boxes because by then both kids were thirsty and had already drank the juice I brought from home. Altogether, this week's grocery bill was $115.52. It helped that I avoided the meat aisle altogether so I couldn't impulse-buy. I don't go near the bakery because I make all our bread and sweets at home. I've also stopped buying more almond milk until I see if the kids are going to continue drinking it. At $4/2L jug it won't hurt my feelings if they go off it :)

OK, enough stalling. This week's grocery plan:

Monday Feb 9:

  • H lunch: leftovers and buns
  • kids lunch: popcorn shrimp and homemade fries
  • supper: pizza using leftover taco meat, cold cuts, crushed tomatoes (all of which were needing used up in the fridge)
Tuesday Feb 10:
  • H lunch: pizza and fruit
  • kids lunch: buns, fruit and veggies, can of chicken noodle soup, smoothies
  • supper: lasagna, focaccia, caesar salad
Wednesday Feb 11:
  • H lunch: beef buns, fruit and veggies
  • kids lunch: leftovers
  • supper: pulled beef, buns, whipped potatoes, brussels sprouts, salad
Thursday Feb 12: ,boil eggs for Friday)
  • H lunch: beef buns, fruit and veggies
  • kids lunch: grilled cheese sandwiches, smoothies, fruit and veggies
  • supper: slow-cooker pork chops in sauce with rice, green beans
Friday Feb 13:
  • H: egg salad sandwiches, fruit, veg, pudding
  • kids: curly pasta and toast, apple sauce and veggies
  • supper: deer sausage with perogies, layered salad, green peas, fried onions
Saturday Feb 14:
  • H: running out of inspiration, but by then something will come to me ;)
  • kids: likewise!
  • supper: butter chicken, rice, roasted veggies
Sunday Feb 15:
  • H: Chicken salad sandwiches, fruit etc
  • kids: leftovers
  • supper: steak bites, stuffed potatoes, garlic toast, salad
I may not stick entirely to the plan, but now that I know what I have available I hope to thaw/prepare in advance to give myself more time for other things. The weather is supposed to warm up by Thursday so I plan to be outside rather than in the kitchen--a good thing since the wood supply is running low!

What have you got planned for the week?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Make Your Own Gravy Mix

When I was growing up, we made all our gravy using the drippings from roast meat with some salt and pepper for flavour, the water from boiled potatoes/vegetables and some flour and water to thicken. At some point (enter Husband) I started trying to make a more restaurant-style brown gravy. Admittedly, it sure is good on fries and when there are no drippings provided by the cooking process (ie fish and chips) or just wanting to spruce up a bland au jus. Is it just me? I started buying those darned little packages of gravy mix back when they were around 65 cents each. The trouble is, they are now $1.65 on a good day and usually don't thicken. To add $1.65 to the cost of a meal when one is trying to cut expenses is counterproductive, particularly when it adds zero nutritional value and is exceptionally salty. Although we reduce salt in many areas of our diet, our kids don't like gravy so I haven't been as strict with it. However, I think that we are becoming sensitive to how salt affects our bodies and I have no desire to have swollen hands and feet at night! Basically, I would like to make a nice, tasty gravy for less, always have it on hand (soooo tired of not having the mixes!), and have some control over what is added.

Bless the world wide web! There were many recipes that were a variation of bouillon and flour, to which butter and water were added. But I also came across a site claiming to have hacked the KFC 11 herbs and spices recipe. Oh, I was all over it!

So thank you to Ron Douglas, said to have broke the code on the recipe, and "WonderHowTo" Food Hacks for making the intel available to "brilliantly lazy" home cooks like myself ;)

I happened to have both beef and chicken OXO on hand, and while I know there is nothing gourmet about it we are talking restaurant-burger-and-fries type gravy here. You can also adjust your salt content by adding less, which I might once I've had a chance to taste this a few times and tinker with it. But for anyone interested, here is how I combined a few different recipes to make a thick gravy without the use of drippings. 

Homemade Gravy Mix

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp bouillon (I used 1 part beef, 2 parts chicken for more colour)
1 tsp each: oregano, chili powder, sage, basil, marjoram, pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder
1/2 tsp each: mustard powder, celery seed

I actually didn't have basil and I ran out of paprika when I made a second batch to give away. What I like about this is I can adapt the spices and amount of bouillon over time. NOTE: I ground the herbs in my mortar and pestle for a smoother gravy. 

To Make The Gravy

In a saucepan, brown 2 Tbsp butter over low heat
Whisk in 2 Tbsp gravy mix to make a thick paste
Add one cup of water slowly, whisking out any lumps as gravy thickens

We liked this gravy with homemade fries, and I used the gravy mix with extra flour and cornstarch to season and coat the chicken that I fried. We enjoyed it, and I hope that you do too! Have you ever tried  making your own sauces and seasonings?

How I Did: February 1-7

I enjoyed having a menu plan much more than I thought I would. I felt able to plan a day or two in advance, which left me with a bit of extra time for blogging and sewing (two of my goals this year). We are very flexible, which helps when you have children and live in the country--trips to town pop up and/or get delayed and it is best to just roll with it :) It is easy for me to say that because my kids are not in any extra activities, but that will change when they start swimming lessons in town on February 17. I may be whistling a different tune by then ;)

So how did last week's plan go?

Off the top, I posted the plan without consulting a calendar, so ended up with the wrong dates for the days of the week--off to a great start as usual! 

Sunday: I made 2 loaves of bread (froze 1). Made 2 dozen buns (froze 1 doz). I got company and forgot to make the pear crisp, so I made it Monday night instead. Used up the remainder of a bag of pears that would have been composted.

Monday: All went according to plan.

Tuesday: All went according to plan.

Wednesday: We made an unscheduled trip to town. I improvised a new recipe for fish cakes and used up leftovers from the fridge. I thawed the roast that I had planned to have Thursday, but because I bought some reduced avocados that needed eaten I switched to...

Thursday: Taco night. Also pre-roasted Friday night's roast and made buns for...

Friday: Pulled beef on homemade buns. Seriously, how have I never made this before? As the daughter of cattle ranchers, with limitless beef roasts over my lifetime...I shall be making up for lost time with this one. Really, really good. An upcoming post on this, I'm sure!

Saturday: While I had planned to use up some frozen drumsticks, I ended up adding some chicken breasts and hosting my parents' 45th anniversary supper. It was only 4 extra adults, and I did make too much, but homemade fries and pasta salad, plus a green salad, peas, and buns made for a finger lickin' good time ;)

I have found a new recipe for dinner rolls. I confess to being inept at rolling them into nice balls, hence the misshapen and odd-sized buns that we have been eating all these years. My stand mixer has made such a difference in my bread making endeavors. I stubbornly resisted buying one (cost and I really wanted to make the food my granny did with just her bare hands). Alas, they don't make 'em like they used to and I could never get it right. The mixer gets it right, though. Now to figure out how to make the rolls look purty....I'm getting better, but still a ways to go ;)

Most pictures of the food in my kitchen are from directly above--less clearing of counter tops necessary that way!

Good bye store-bought, expensive, disappointing gravy mixes! Growing up, flour and water was sufficient to thicken roast drippings into gravy. At some point we became hooked on adding a package of gravy mix, or to making gravy when there are no drippings (ie. fries, dressing and gravy mmmmm). A little digging around on the internet and I am now in business making my own self-thickening gravy mix. I'll post on it soon!

When I planned Saturday's meal, I meant to use up the cream cheese that is in my fridge in some kind of wonderful dessert. I forgot, but cream cheese never goes to waste (in fact, I can't believe it has survived til February...WTH?) This is a great recipe from America's Test Kitchen, a fluffy yellow cake with chocolate icing. I made it because the brother that came loves it; he ate so much supper he skipped dessert in spite of my encouragement...really, you better have a piece!

So that was the week. I feel happy with my results. I don't pressure myself to stick too rigidly to any kind of schedule. While my kids are young and free, we just roll with whatever is happening. At the same time, it is easy to have the day-to-day chores take up all of my day and I don't find the time for my own interests. I felt that the meal plan helped me accomplish extra baking/cooking on certain days which freed up time for some sewing and blogging, and of course more time playing with my kids. Have you tried anything new in the kitchen lately?

Friday, 6 February 2015

On Not Getting Derailed

I love to host gatherings. If we can manage as a family to tidy the house, subdue the dust bunnies and clear the clutter, I do love to cook a big meal and enjoy it with family or friends. I fear, though, that I tend to go overboard and throw in a fancier  more labor-intensive menu from time to time and it tends to take the fun out of it for me. I spend my time frantic in the kitchen rather than visiting, and beyond that it usually ends up being more expensive.

Last year my mom didn't want an anniversary supper-we had enjoyed several family gatherings in a row and it felt unnecessary. This year I suggested a meal, she has agreed, and besides my parents there will be two of my brothers. Nothing fancy, and I'm resisting the urge to make it a bigger deal than it needs to be.

Right away I was inclined to run to town for ribs for a special meal. But I have taken inventory and there are chicken breasts in my freezer, so I plan to do something with those. I also want to use up the lettuce and vegetables that I bought the other day so they don't go to waste, so there will be a couple salads. Potatoes or rice? Also I have cream cheese left from my Christmas groceries. We will do something with that for a nice dessert. I will have a think on it and post what I came up with--on hosting a dinner without buying anything special. By not getting derailed this week, I hope that sticking to a grocery budget is becoming second nature. Do you normally get special groceries when you are hosting a dinner?