Tuesday, June 2, 2015


So, it's become very clear that we just don't have time to write much these days.  Our last post was almost a year ago and that was after not writing for about a year-and-a-half.  When it comes down to it, our families and other responsibilities take priority.  But now it's summer!!  That means I am off work until August!  Woohoo!  I just finished my first year teaching full time, and was it a challenge.  I taught three history classes, one English class, spelling, SOAR (our version of GATE), Yearbook, and PE.  It is only by God's grace that I survived.  And now it's summer!!  I get to spend a ton of time with my family.

Another bonus of summer is the great produce.  Prices come down and flavor goes up.  Although, here in California, prices aren't going to be so great this year with the drought we're experiencing.  Last week I was at Costco without a list....I know, I broke rule number 1.  But we had just returned from out of town and just needed to get something healthy in the house.  I was really excited when I saw watermelons for $3.99 each.  Not the little personal watermelons; HUGE watermelons!  I snatched up two of them.

I like to listen to other shoppers pick out watermelons.  There are so many theories about how to pick a good one--tap on it, push on the end, feel it.  I choose to follow Alton Brown's advice and have never been disappointed.  It's so easy that I usually let my kids pick them out.

What makes it so difficult is that watermelons are green.  We usually look for the absence of green to tell if fruit is ripe.  That's exactly what you do with watermelons.  Every one has a spot on it where it was sitting on the ground.  That spot will be a different color than the rest of the melon.  You want to find a melon that has a ground spot that has no green in it.  Ideally, the spot will be creamy whitish/yellowish.

The next challenge is how to cut and serve the watermelon.  The easy way is to wedge it and let the consumers discard the rinds after they have eaten the good part.  The downside to this is that my kids waste a lot of good watermelon because they don't want to get too close to the rind.  I prefer to cube it.  Such a daunting task!  I know, I know.  We've all seen the YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FggvRvL_NDM).  I've tried it.  I didn't like it.  I have settled on the following procedure for cutting watermelon quickly and cleanly.

1.  Lay a large towel on the counter.  Really.  No matter how careful you are, it's going to juice everywhere.  Use the largest cutting board you have and an appropriately large knife.  Cut off both ends.  At this point, you can proceed as is, or you can cut it in half crossways for easier handling.

2.  I chose to cut this one in half because it was so huge.  Next, go around the edge, cutting off the rind...

...until you have only the good fruit left.

3.  Slice through in one direction--watermelon steaks!

4.  Push half aside.  Lay other half down.

5.  Cut through--watermelon fries!!  You can choose to stop right here.  This is a good way to eat it.

6.  Cut at a 90 degree angle to your previous cuts to make bite-sized cubes.

7.  Serve.  My kids like to eat theirs with toothpicks.

This was from one watermelon.  The large bowl is 5 qts.  And this doesn't include what we ate before I took the picture, about the same amount that is in the small bowl.

And since I put the towel down, clean up was quick and easy!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Weekly Meal Plan and Shopping Trip (A little late!)

This post is a few weeks late, but here it is!  Hopefully I'll have this week's up in a more timely manner, as well as some new recipes!

Monday: Manicotti, Salad, Garlic Bread
Tuesday: BBQ Chicken Salad
Wednesday: Leftovers
Thursday: Chicken Spaghetti Casserole (I had made this a couple weeks ago and stuck half in the freezer)
Friday: Chicken Tikka Masala, rice, broccoli
Saturday: Leftovers
Sunday: Breakfast (pancakes, eggs, fruit, etc.)

You'll notice I bought a lot of veggies to use for baby food.  My baby definitely cannot eat all this in one week, but I'm preparing for an upcoming trip, so I'll be making it and freezing it.  I'll write about that process another time.

Store 1: Food4Less

Baby oatmeal: $1.25 each (She refuses to eat homemade baby oatmeal, due to the texture)
Applesauce (for baby): $1.69 each
Cake mix: $1.25 each
Tomato paste: $0.49
Powdered sugar: $1.49
Peanut butter: $4.49
Diced tomatoes: $0.89
Sweet potatoes (for baby): $2.17
Acorn squash (for baby): $1.27
Canola oil: $1.99
Pinto beans (bulk): $2.15
Butternut squash (for baby): $1.94
Grapes: $1.84
Bell pepper: $0.50
Parsley: $0.50
Yogurt: $1.67
Green onions: $0.33
Celery: $0.69
Frozen green beans (for baby): $1.99 each
Frozen peas: $1.00
Kale: $0.99
Tortilla chips: $1.89
Garlic: $1.29
French bread: $1.50
Jalapeno: $0.13
Total: $44.07

Store 2: Sprouts

Apples: $2.41
Pork chops: $3.28
Pork roast: $4.08
Total: $9.77

Store 3: Sam's Club
Sorry, I don't have a picture, but we got 1 gallon of skim milk and 1 gallon of 1% milk for a total of $6.03.

Grand Total: $59.87

I came in about $2 over budget this week, but was under about $17 last week, so the $2 is still covered by our budget.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sweet Sandwich Bar--Easy Kid-Friendly Lunch!

I have four kids.  Making sandwiches is a chore.  Usually, Lukas and Keanna like peanut butter and jelly, Koda likes peanut butter and honey, April likes just honey.  Then all of a sudden Keanna doesn't want a sandwich, Koda wants just peanut butter, and April wants whatever *insert sibling name here* is having.  They eventually revert back to the usual, but I never know.  During the school year, you eat what Mom packs.  You can make requests, but there are no guarantees.  So I've been trying to mix it up this summer to make lunches more fun.

Last week I had a brilliant epiphany:  a kid-friendly sandwich bar!  I got out a variety of sandwich ingredients and let the kids decide what they wanted.  I then put the ingredients on their plates and let them construct the sandwiches themselves.  They loved it!  Lukas came back for a second sandwich and asked for a third (which I didn't let him have, but he did eat more fruit).

Lukas's plate:  peanut butter, apricot jelly, bananas, apple,
strawberries, and honey.

I put out peanut butter, strawberry preserves, apricot preserves, honey, apple slices, banana slices, strawberry slices, and pecans.  That's just what I happened to have that day, but there are many more possibilities:  raisins, dried cranberries, peach slices, cut grapes, granola, maple syrup, blueberries, raspberries, apple butter, pear slices...

Mommy's sandwich:  peanut butter, apple slice,
strawberries, and apricot jelly.  Super yummy!!

Everyone is happy.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Grilled Veggie Sandwiches with Garlic Spread

grilled veggie sandwich with garlic spread

With summer here, it means I actually have time to cook.  And not just frozen chicken nuggets.  Real cooking.  With real food.  Summer also means a lot of great produce.  Sadly, I was too busy this spring to get my garden going, so I'm relying on neighbor Jerry's generosity and the WinCo produce section.

This week I loaded up on vegetables.  Thursday's dinner was grilled veggie sandwiches with homemade garlic spread.  Last night we had my dad over for dinner and threw some hot dogs (ok, that's not real food, but it was fun) and veggies on the grill.  Afterward, we let the kids roast marshmallows.

I don't really have a recipe for grilled veggie sandwiches.  I buy whatever vegetables are reasonably priced.  This time I ended up with onions, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes.  I really like red bell peppers, but at over $1 each, I can do without.  The eggplant cost more than I like to pay for produce, but I knew it would be so good.

The veggies would be best cooked on the grill, but I usually stick them under the broiler.

Kimiko made a similar sandwich a few years ago.  You can find it here.

Roasted Veggie Sandwiches
Veggies (onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, etc.)
Oil for brushing (I use vegetable)
Salt and pepper
Garlic spread

Slice veggies and place on broiler pans.

April helped me cut the zucchini and squash.  Otherwise,
I would have cut it lengthwise to fit better on the

Brush both sides with oil; season with salt and pepper.  Place under broiler until veggies start to turn golden.  Turn; brush with more oil.  Return to broiler until second side is cooked as desired.

Meanwhile, toast sandwich bread and make Garlic Spread.  When veggies are done, spread garlic spread on toasted bread and top with veggies.

Garlic Spread
2 ounces Neufchatel cheese, softened (softened cream cheese will work)
1 clove garlic (more or less as desired)
Pinch kosher salt
2-3 Tbsp. mayonnaise

In a small bowl, cream Neufchatel; set aside.  On cutting board, finely chop garlic.  Add a pinch of kosher salt.  Using side of chef's knife, press down and drag knife toward you over garlic to pulverize.  Run knife blade through garlic.  Wipe off knife and pulverize again.  Repeat process until garlic is a smooth paste.

Mix into creamed Neufchatel.  Mix in mayonnaise until smooth.  Yield:  makes about 3 sandwiches with spread on both pieces of bread.

Friday, June 20, 2014

I'm Back!

Wow!  It's been a long time since I've sat down to write a blog post!  I have been busy and a lot has changed in my life.  I will be back tomorrow with a recipe, but I just wanted to take a moment today to update you on what's going on.

Two years ago, we decided that we needed to increase our household income.  It wasn't working out financially for me to stay home full time.  And it's not because we're big spenders or irresponsible.  We just live in a high cost-of-living area and there are six of us.  Within a week, I had two job prospects:  part-time nanny and part-time office lady for our school.  But before either of those panned out, Robbie was approached by the principal at our school.  One of our part-time junior high teachers was not able to return due to health problems.  The principal asked Robbie if I would be willing to go back to teaching part time.  While this was definitely not a job I sought out, God threw it into our laps.  I accepted the job and haven't looked back since!

Yes, I would much rather be at home---that's where my heart is.  But if I have to work outside my home, I cannot think of any better situation than to work with my husband at the school where all four of our children go.  And I really enjoy teaching and interacting with the junior highers, especially the girls.

This coming school year is going to bring additional changes in that I will be full time.  I am really going to have to work on organization and time management!

In the time since I last wrote, my kids have all grown so much!  Keanna is now 10, getting ready to go into 5th grade.  Lukas and Koda turned 6 this spring and will be in 1st grade.  One of them will get to have my 1st grade teacher!  April will turn 4 next month and is looking forward to being in prekindergarten in the fall.

In addition to taking care of my family and getting ready for school next year (teachers don't really take the whole summer off), I will also be starting an online class in a few weeks.  All that to say, my posting definitely will not be as regular as it was before our 18 month hiatus, but I am determined to keep at it as I get immense joy out of it, and I want to be able to help others who are looking to feed their family frugally.

Thanks to all of you who have been asking us about the blog during our silence.  We appreciate your loyalty and are excited to be a continued part of your lives.

By the way, the gorgeous pictures of my family were taken by the amazing Hannah.  If you are in the East Bay and looking for a photographer, you can find her at Hannah Rose Photography:  hannah.rose_photography@yahoo.com

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Weekly Menu and Shopping Trip

Monday: Chicken pot pie (using broth from last week's chicken) and salad
Tuesday: Breakfast (pancakes, eggs, and fruit)
Wednesday: Red beans and rice, salad
Thursday: Left-overs
Friday: Bean burritos (made with homemade refried beans), Mexican rice, chips, salsa
Saturday: Manicotti, garlic bread, Caesar salad
Sunday: Left-overs

This was a pretty uneventful shopping week for me.  I bought what I needed for our meals, plus I did stock up on a few things.  The tomato sauce was a little more than I normally pay for it, but I was running low and the price was decent, so I bought a few.  I also stocked up a little on cheese.  I typically prefer to buy blocks of cheese, but it's hard finding cheese for under $4/lb these days, and that's what these were ($2/8 oz), so I bought a few to throw in the freezer.  I came in quite a bit under budget, so I'll have a little extra to use in the future, whether it's to stock up on ingredients or to buy some more expensive items that normally don't fit into our budget.

Store 1: Food4Less

Tomato sauce: $0.25 each
Natural peanut butter: $2.99
Cake mix: $0.99 each
Cantaloupe: $1.07
Cheese: $2.00 each
Dried garbanzo beans: $1.50
Croutons: $1.19
Tortilla chips: $1.50
Cottage cheese: $1.79
Eggs: $2.79
Total: $23.81

Store 2: Sam's Club 

Milk: $2.75
Baby carrots: $3.98
Romaine: $2.58
Total: $9.31

Store 3: Valley Produce Market

Broccoli: $1.52
Pitas: $0.79
Red onion: $0.26
Iceberg: $0.69
Red bell pepper: $0.87
Cucumbers: $0.39 each
Carrots: $0.50
Nectarines: $1.41
Onions: $0.58
Total: 7.40

Grand Total: $40.52

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Weekly Meal Plan and Shopping Trip

Last week was a very unusual shopping trip, but this week was more of a normal week.  Even though I plan out my meals for the week, I don't always follow my plans exactly.  For example, we were supposed to have left-overs last Tuesday, which normally would have worked out, because my husband had a meeting and wasn't going to be home for dinner.  What I forgot, however, was that he actually was going to be home for dinner because I needed him to watch the kids while I went to an appointment before his meeting.  We didn't have enough leftovers for all of us, so I resorted to plan B.  Thankfully, I had some quick, easy meal options on hand so we didn't have to spend money eating out.  I'll have to post about some things I keep on hand at another time, but this time we had noodles and a jar of marinara sauce in the pantry. These ingredients make for a super easy and quick meal whenever I'm in a pinch, saving us from having to eat out.  Another change to our menu was that Saturday's meal provided enough leftovers for Sunday, so I was able to move the quiche to this week.

Monday: Ham and Potato Quiche, English muffins, pineapple
Tuesday: Chicken Tortilla Soup, salad
Wednesday: Leftovers
Thursday: Chicken Spaghetti Casserole (make half/freeze half), broccoli
Friday: Southwest Chicken Roll-ups, Spanish rice (recipe to come!)
Saturday: Date night!
Sunday: Left-overs or breakfast

Whole chickens were on sale this week, so my menu is largely based off of that.  I'm hoping to use the meat from a chicken for the soup, casserole, and southwest roll-ups.  I may not have quite enough, but I will supplement with boneless, skinless chicken breasts as needed.

Store 1: Valley Produce Market

Broccoli: $1.34
10 lbs potatoes: $1.19
Romaine hearts: $1.99
Pineapple: $1.69
Grapes: $1.58
Cucumber: $0.33
Acorn squash (for baby food): $0.70
Gala apples: $1.21
Pitas: $0.79
Total: $10.82

Store 2: Ralphs

Sour cream: $1.50
Tortilla chips: $1.79
Whole chicken: $4.25
Total: $7.54

Store 3: Food4Less

Diced green chilies: $0.79
Enchilada sauce: $1.00 (I was planning on making my own enchilada sauce, but this was cheaper than            the ingredients I was going to use for homemade)
Baby oatmeal (I would prefer to make my own, but baby is picky about texture): $1.25/box
Pinto beans (bulk): $2.01
Red beans: $1.79
Sweet potato (for baby food): $1.29
Baby carrots: $0.99
Red bell pepper: $0.79
Frozen corn: $1.99
Frozen green beans (for baby food): $1.00
Total: $14.15

Store 4: Sam's Club

1% milk: $3.28
Skim milk: $2.75
6 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts: $11.98
Heavy whipping cream: $4.17
Tortillas: $3.68
Total: $25.86

Grand Total: $58.37

I came in $0.68 cents above budget, and I still have to buy one more ingredient for a special (secret) Father's Day treat, but I was $4 under last week, so I'll be using that excess to cover this week's overage.

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