Monday, September 26, 2011

The Wedding Countdown Begins

Right now I am firmly enmeshed in Wedding Planning. It seems every day is another detail to be researched, thought out, and decided on. I have spent endless hours looking at potential centerpieces, veils, wedding dresses, flowers, and catering menus. The problem isn't making a decision. The problem is sticking with a decision. Just last week, we picked out a cake-decided on the bakery, the flavor, we picked out a design we both loved and I was happy with the end result. I could clearly envision that cake at our wedding reception. Then, today at church, I got into a conversation with a lady whos mother is a professional cake baker and decorator. She told me about her mothers famed white chocolate velvet cake, and her award winning cake decorating skills. So, curious me, as soon as I got home I hopped on the internet and looked her up.

Damn. Sucked in again.

Yesterday, I was perfectly happy with the nice little bakery cake we picked out. Now, all I can think about is this super deluxe, tasty, gorgeous wedding creation this Cake Baking Savant makes. Grrrr......
Right now we have settled on our venue, on our colors, and the flowers, we have met with a caterer for the food and have narrowed down choices, but still working on that. I have a vague idea about decorations, and am trying to get projects done, as money and time allow. We are 7 months away from our wedding, and I have to admit there are days when I feel a little out of my depth. OK-yes, this is my second (and last!!!) time down the aisle, I was married before, about a bazillion years ago. But the truth is, my Mom pretty much planned that entire wedding. I think my input amounted to picking out a wedding color, and showing up for a dress fitting. My mom did it all, she arranged the flowers, arranged the food. The did the invitations, she even made the cake. I was a 20 year old college student and perfectly happy to let her run the show back then. Sadly, Mom is no longer with us, and there are times when I would love to talk to her about wedding planning things. I am very lucky, my sister is good about dealing with my bouts of wedding detail mania. It is probably very lucky for her, that she lives 300 miles away. She has already dealt with my real vs silk flower freak out, and my alcohol vs non-alcohol reception debate. This week it is Glazed Ham and Roasted Turkey, vs Mediterranean Chicken and Pork Loin Medallions decision. My dear, darling Doug, bless his heart, tells me, whatever I want, is OK with him. Which is Man-speak for "Leave me out of this." I am aware that these are not life altering decisions, but I don't want to decide wrong, then wish I had done it differently, later. I am beginning to see why wedding planners make so much money.

Rationally, I know at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter. A wedding is only one day. The marriage, and the love are what lasts forever. Some days, I wish I could just fast forward to the day after the wedding, and finally enjoy the Happily Ever After part.

Only 7 months to go. The countdown begins.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Flower Power Wedding Planning

I am undertaking the ultimate frugal challenge, to end all challenges. Planning a wedding.  The other day, Doug and I were driving home, from Des Moines, and discussing our wedding budget.  Specifically, how much we could or should pay on various things. The subject of flowers came up. We went back and forth on what we felt was reasonable. We decided $300.00 for flowers was more than enough, and based on what we were intending to pay for the rest of the wedding, it fit our budget limitations.  The first thing I did was check various florists in the area, to see how much I could get for my $300.00 budget. Sadly, not much. It was enough to pay for a bridal bouquet and maybe one or two bridesmaids bouquets, but that was it. So this week I have been studying flowers. I feel that I now qualify for a degree from the University of YouTube, in flower arranging. You would be surprised at how many flower bouquet tutorials exist. Some are very informative, some are just awful. I watched many of them, and took notes and feel competent that I may be able to do my own flowers. Whether I can do them for under $300.00, remains to be seen.  At last count, I have to do a bridal bouquet, 3 bridesmaids bouquets, 7 boutonnieres, 3 corsages, 22 pew decorations, 2 alter arrangements, and 12 centerpieces, and 2 flower girl baskets.  $300.00? Sure, no problem. 

I already put the word out to my peeps to keep their eyes open for milk glass compotes and vases for my arrangements and centerpieces. I have formulated a vision of a pink/ivory/mauve palette of flowers. Basically it is soft, romantic meets shabby chic, with lace and pearl accents, here and there. I intend to use copious amounts of baby’s breath, as it fits the vision, and is cheap filler. I think that the majority of the flowers we will be doing, will have to be silk, mainly so I can do them ahead of time. I would ideally like to do the bouquets in real flowers but I think the only way that will happen is if I sneak into peoples gardens the night before our wedding and steal all their peonies and roses. Oh well, a lot can happen between now and May 5, so we will see what happens along the way, with the flowers, and everything else.  Now, the real planning begins. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Pens, Pencils and Paper, Oh My!

I have a confession. I have a secret obsession with pens. I am a perpetual  note taker. I think it is the writer in me that likes to record everything. I have notebooks and bits of paper all over the place with my jottings. Most of which, only make sense to me.  Despite living in the technical age, and having every computer resource not to mention phone ap,  available for note taking, I still prefer pen and paper.  So this time of year is sort of like Christmas to me, because this is when all the school supplies go on sale.  

August is one of my favorite months, not only because of my birthday, but during this month  I can stock up on notebooks, sticky notes, gel roller-ball pens, markers, paper for the printer, art supplies, envelopes, and pencils.  For no more than $10.00 I can keep myself supplied for the rest of the year, and know that there is always a pen within reach and a notebook handy to scribble in.  Something about a brand new, smooth writing pen, and a fresh notebook makes me all happy inside. Now, I can throw out last years used up, dried out pens without guilt, knowing that I have new pens to take their place, at way below cost.  

Even without kids, this is a great time of year to take advantage of back-to-school savings in other areas, as well. Underwear and socks are at a bargain price right now, not to mention shoes and jeans. August is the one month where it really is ok to splurge now, to save money later.  Summer items are also on clearance, so it is a good time to stock up on shorts, tank tops and swimsuits for next year. 

Yeah, I do love August. :-)

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Chicken Shortcut, 5 Ways

One of the staples that we use in our household are the frozen boneless chicken breasts. We go through a 3 lb bag every two weeks and have several meals that feature this item. Over time I realized that many of my recipes started the same way, so I have developed a few short cuts to speed up the nightly dinner cooking process. Once every few weeks, I will take the time to do some prep work.  I cut and chop my items and divide them into 5 individual quart size bags for the freezer. I call these my Chicken Shortcut Packets. The dishes that these make, should feed a family of four. For Doug and myself, this is dinner, and leftovers for lunch the next day. Here are the prep items: 

3 medium onion
2 bell peppers
1 lb of sliced smoked bacon
1 3 lb bag of frozen boneless chicken breasts

I start by chopping my onions and bell peppers into small  quarter inch pieces.  While I am doing this, I set the bacon into the freezer. You don’t want the bacon frozen, but  10-15 minutes in the freezer will make it easier to chop up, later. I divide the onions and peppers equally between five quart size freezer bags. Next I take out the chicken breasts. I want these still frozen, as they will be easier to cut up, and easier to cook this way. I microwave the bag about 45 seconds, which is just enough to make the chicken breasts easier to cut up, but not enough to thaw them out. I then chop up the contents of the entire bag of chicken breasts into bite size pieces. I divide these equally into each bag. By now the bacon is slightly frozen, so I unwrapped it and chop the entire lb of bacon into quarter to half inch pieces and divide that into each bag. Now all 5 bags go into the freezer for future meals.  Utilizing my pre-made chicken packets I  can now make the following recipes.

Recipe 1

Chicken Mac and Cheese

1 Chicken Shortcut Packet
1 lb box of pasta (I prefer shells or macaroni)
1 can of evaporated milk
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1-2 cup (8 oz) pkg of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or 1 pkg of mild cheddar and 2 oz of shredded Asiago Cheese)

Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta, according to the box directions for the pasta.  As soon as the pasta goes in, start to sauté the frozen chicken mix in a skillet. When the chicken, bacon and vegetables are cooked through, add the evaporated milk and the cream of chicken soup. Bring to a low boil, and then
add the shredded cheese and turn off the heat, stir until all cheese is melted. Add your cooked and drained pasta. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Recipe 2

Barbeque Chicken Pizza

1 Chicken Shortcut Packet
1 can of Pillsbury pizza crust dough (or dough of your choice for a 13X9 or 15 inch round pan)
3/4 cup of Barbeque sauce (Sweet Baby Rays  is my favorite, but use what you like)
1 ½ cups of shredded Monterrey Jack Cheese

Preheat oven to 425. Saute the chicken mix in a skillet, drain off any additional fat. Roll out the pizza dough, and spread with the barbeque sauce. Spoon your sautéed chicken mix over the barbeque sauce and top with  the cheese.  Bake for 15-18 minutes. 

Recipe 3

Chicken Tortellini

1 lb bag of frozen cheese tortellini
1 Chicken Shortcut Packet
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 TBSP of jarred pesto
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 TBSP butter
Salt and pepper

Cook the tortellini according to the directions on the package.  While that is cooking, sauté the chicken mix, with the garlic. As soon as that is cooked through, add the pesto, olive oil and butter.  As soon as it starts to sizzle, take off heat. Add the cooked tortellini and toss until all is coated.  This is great served with salad. You can also substitute any pasta for the tortellini, and it is just as good. 

Recipe 4

Chicken  Enchilada Casserole

1 chicken Shortcut Packet
1 can of enchilada sauce (mild or hot, your choice)
1 can cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup
1 can of Ro*Tel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chiles
4 cups of crushed/broken tortilla chips
2 cups of Cheddar or Monterrey Jack Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Saute the Chicken Mix, add the enchilada sauce, Ro*tel, and the soup, stir until all is incorporated.  Oil a 9X13 baking pan and add the cover with the crushed tortilla chips. Pour the chicken/sauce mixture over it and just stir around until all the chip pieces are covered.  Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then take the foil off and bake for another 10 minutes.  This is excellent served with a dollop of sour cream.  Serves  4-6. 

Recipe 5 

Quick Chicken Soup

1 Chicken Shortcut Packet
2 cloves of Garlic
2 tsp of Italian seasoning
10 cups of water
2 TBSP of Chicken Soup Base (available in the soup aisle of the grocery store)
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup of box pasta, such as penne, rotini or bowties
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the water to a boil and add the frozen chicken mix, garlic and chicken base. Let boil on medium for about 10 minutes. Add the frozen vegetables, and the pasta and bring back up to a boil and cook for another 10 minutes or until the pasta is done. Serve. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-Angelfood Ministries

A few years ago, when I lived in Omaha, a church that I belonged to, became a host site for an organization called Angelfood Ministries.  As a volunteer, I would help pack up boxes of food and distribute them to people who had pre-ordered and paid for the boxes. I decided to look up Angelfood Ministries, to see if they were in the Quad Cities. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that there are, not one, but seven host sites, or distribution centers in the area!  For those of you not aware of this, let me explain the benefit of Angelfood.
Angelfood Ministries is a non-profit organization, dedicated to providing nutritious, good food at an affordable price.  This is not a government program. No financial criteria. If you eat, you qualify. No questions asked.  Angelfood purchases their food from first rate suppliers at substantial volume discounts. A box of food, should feed a family of four for a week, or one person for a month and costs between $30.00-40.00 and is about $75.00-80.00 worth of food. I recall being very surprised at the quality of the food. It is really good stuff! The downside is that you have to place and pay for your order at least a week ahead of time. The upside is that when you go to pick it up, it is already boxed and ready to go. It’s a two minute transaction, which is saving an hour of grocery shopping time!  I see that for August, the current cut-off date for ordering is Aug 21, and the pick-up date is Aug 27.
Here is the $35.00 box contents for August:
4 lbs Chicken Leg Quarters, 1 ½ lbs Steakburgers, 1 ½ lbs of boneless chicken breasts, 1 lb Deli Sliced Ham, 1 lb Sausage Hot Dogs, 1 lb Ground Turkey, 1 lb Ground Beef, 2 lbs frozen Mac and Beef Casserole, 2 lbs Cheesy Broccoli Soup,  a bag of frozen Steak Fries, and 1 lb each of Carrots, Spinach, Green Beans, Broccoli, Sugar Snap Peas, Corn, California Blend Vegetables, and Triple Blend Vegetables.

This would easily feed Doug and me for two weeks!  Angelfood Ministries also has other boxes that you can add on, which include items like fruit, pantry staples or snack foods that are at the same value pricing.  Anyone can purchase a box (or many boxes!) of food. This is also a great way to help those less fortunate in the community. I recall one couple that came to our distribution center in Omaha who would buy one box for themselves, and a second box to give away to a needy family. I always thought that was such a generous thing to do.  One of the great boxes that the Angelfood Ministries now sells is their Golden Cuisine Package which is $29.00 and includes 9 pre-cooked, portioned meals, for senior citizens or for people who just don’t have the time or talent to cook. I think for people who have a senior in their life, that they worry about, this is a great  option. 

Angelfood Ministries is a nationwide program, and currently in 45 states. The box contents are different every month. Angelfood Ministries is great about serving a variety of fresh, frozen and packaged food, that is seasonal, and desirable. To find your nearest host site, or to order your Angelfood Box, go to

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally-For the Chocolate Lovers

If there is one thing that Doug and I have in common, it is that we both have a weakness for chocolate.  Recently I came across a recipe for Chocolate Syrup that I just had to try. To say it was great, would be an understatement.  Doug has dubbed this the “Better Than Hershey’s Syrup” Syrup It is very good on ice cream, and in milk, and a little dollop in my morning coffee makes it mocha-licious! Here is the the recipe:

Better Than Hershey’s Syrup

½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix the cocoa powder and the water in a saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve the cocoa. Add the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Boil for 3 minutes over medium heat, whisking constantly. Add the salt and the vanilla. Let cool. Pour into a clean glass jar, and store in the refrigerator. Keeps for several months, but trust me it will be gone before then.  Yields two cups. The result is very rich, so I only use a teaspoon for a glass of chocolate milk.
Another recipe that I have made a few times this summer was one my mother called "No-Bake Cookies." These were always a favorite when I was growing up, and you can whip up a batch in about 10 minutes. The best part, is that you don’t have to turn on the oven, so they are perfect for summertime!  

Mom’s No-Bake Cookies

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
2 cup Sugar                      
1/2 cup milk  
1/2 cup cocoa powder 

1/2 cup peanut butter (if you use crunchy, make it 3/4 cup)
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups of uncooked oatmeal
Bring the first 4 ingredients to a boil, stirring constantly and boil for 1 full minute, and take off heat. Immediately add the peanut butter and the vanilla, and whisk in until it is all incorporated. Finally, add 3 cups of oatmeal, and stir until all is mixed in, now drop by spoonful onto wax paper. Do this quickly, as it will harden up rather fast. Let cool.  You can store these in a covered container.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Year of Living Frugally- Our Farmer's Market Haul

One thing that I love about the summer, is going to the weekly Farmer's Market. My hometown of Omaha had a great one located in the Old Market area of downtown, on Saturdays and I was thrilled to find that the Quad Cities had an even bigger one on the riverfront in Davenport, also on Saturdays. We try to hit it a few times a month and I stock up on as much fresh produce as I can carry. This week we have been feasting on our recent treasure trove of goodies. Here are a few recipes I've made this week from our weekend haul-with phenomenal results!

Pasta and Summer Squash

1 lb box of whole wheat pasta of your choice (I love Ronzoni Healthy Harvest or Smart Taste Penne)
1 chicken breast diced
1 onion
1 green pepper
1 yellow squash diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 zucchini diced into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic
1 TBSP of prepared jar pesto
1/2 cup of olive oil
2 TBSP butter
salt and pepper to taste
feta cheese to top

Cook your pasta according to the directions on the box. While that is cooking, stir fry your onions and chicken in the butter and a little of the olive oil until the chicken is opaque. Add in the rest of the vegetables, when the vegetables are al dente add pesto and the rest of the olive oil.  Add the cooked and drained pasta and toss together until all pasta is well coated. sprinkle the top of the hot pasta dish generously with crumbled Feta cheese, or a cheese of your choice like Asiago or Parmesan. You can make this dish vegetarian by omitting the chicken, or you can substitute bacon, pancetta or ham for the chicken as well.

                  Zucchini Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 TBSP vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini (do not drain the juice from the grated zucchini!)

Sift the first five ingredients together and set aside. Mix the eggs, oil, sugars and vanilla together for about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture a little at a time until all is incorporated. It will be very thick. Stir in the grated zucchini. Divide the batter between two bread pans. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees.

     Honey Cinnamon Bread Topping (EXCELLENT on Zucchini Bread or toast)

1/2 cup of margarine or butter (I like country crock in the stick form)
2 TBSP of honey (I buy mine local at the farmers market
2 TBSP of brown sugar
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1 TBSP of ice water)

Whip the margarine or butter, with the ice water, until it is light and fluffy, add the brown sugar while it is still mixing then the honey and cinnamon. Refrigerate. Spread as you like