Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Hello! It's been a while.

Well, it's the first official week of the holiday season, and that means overeating and overindulging, right? Wrong.
I absolutely adore coming around the table with family and friends and enjoying a tasty meal and each others' company. Matt & I are hosting Thanksgiving this year, with some of my family hitting the road and moving across the country (Be careful, guys!). That said, Turkey Day will be a little smaller this year, with just five of us. Of course, we will be cooking for 15 because that's how we roll (and we tend to give a lot away). The menu is shaping up, and here's the draft:

Okay, I can't help but laugh at the overabundance of food for 5 people. But it will be fun...and we will have lots of leftovers to eat while packing!

This Thanksgiving is more special than others for several reasons. One, it will be two years ago to the day on Thursday when my grandmother passed away. We still miss her terribly, but I think she would be proud of our family and how we are trying to pick things up without her. Two, this is Matt and my last month in Waco. What an adventure these last 3 1/2 years have been! We have learned so much and gotten so much closer in this time. We look back at fondness on these last few years, although they've been challenging, and we're excited to move to Dallas for a bit, and then on to who knows what?

As you go through your week, take time out to remember your many blessings and really ponder the wonder of life and breathing in and out. Life can be really difficult, and we have made it one more year. Blessings to you and yours.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A $35 Weekly Grocery Bill? Really?

I'm really proud of Matt and myself.
Oatmeal--inexpensive, tasty, filling, healthy
You see, we love food and we are on a pretty super-squished-tight budget while in school, so most all of any extra dollars we have goes to food. Where else? We were spending more and more on food, not realizing how those $10 or $25 transactions at the grocery store add up. In addition, we have more space in our home than 2 people need, and our stuff is getting out of hand. Something's gotta change.
Not only will our budget be tight again all year, but we're getting ready to move in December...into a place 1/3 the size of our current townhouse. One-third! Instead of panic (like all of you shopaholics out there), we're actually SO EXCITED. I'm living the simplest I ever have, and cleaning out our closets (oh, so many glorious closets) forces us (okay, me) to prioritize what to keep and what to give away. I say it's a personal challenge because Matt has mastered the art of decluttering his life. I'm not quite there, but it's a work in progress. (smile)
Frittata--cheap, delicious, quick, full of veggies
We have dreams of lifelong health and travel and exploring new places and people. I finally realize that, if I am serious about opening my heart to new people and new places, I have to be serious about not letting my physical belongings get in the way of that. It sounds silly, but my 50 pairs of shoes (now 15) and 100 shirts (now 40) get in the way of such freedom. If you tend to clutter like me, you know what I'm sayin'.
Homemade spaghetti--inexpensive, delicious, tastes better the 2nd night
With every pair of jeans I give away, every drawer I clean out, comes a little more freedom. Note: I didn't say opportunity for more shopping to replace those items. The irony in it all (and the value) is that we won't be replacing 99% of the things we're giving away. Our budget doesn't allow that. But the true value is in knowing what you really need for a joyful, happy, fulfilling life.
"Fried" rice and stir fry--two great options to use what you already have at home
I've said it before and I'm sticking with it...4 years of grad school would have been 500% less stressful if finances were not part of the equation. Dare I say it, grad school would not have been stressful much at all if tight budgets and difficulty in getting jobs weren't issues in our time here. Matt & I have learned so much, and we've done it together. Of course, we've had cheerleaders in our corner, but we still had to get out there and figure things out.
So, on to a $35 weekly grocery bill. It's possible because we do it each week. Matt & I eat all of our meals at/from home and allow ourselves one cheap date night a week (if we have the same free night together, which doesn't always happen). It takes planning, but no coupon cutting at all. It feels good to leave a grocery store with a half full cart and a full menu of meals. We use what we already have and merely supplement it. We don't eat many processed foods (granola bars and tortilla chips are the main ones), and we seek any window of opportunity to add produce into a meal. We cook for more than 2 people to always have leftovers, and we've gotten so much better at actually eating the leftovers. It works.
Working at a pharmacy attached to a grocery store, I see customers with carts full of frozen, processed, and fried meats and snacks wobbling over to the pharmacy to pick up their diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol medications. Not everyone of course, but many of these individuals have small children who are picking up on those bad habits--eating poorly and spending way too much on that processed, low nutrient, expensive, low quality food. I am convinced that a family can eat healthily, economically, and prepare meals quickly. Matt and I have committed to figuring out how to do that for our own family, as well as others who might not obsess over cooking as much as we do. :)

I encourage you to take the $35 grocery challenge! 
1. Check your fridge, freezer, and cupboards before even starting a grocery list--you'll be surprised by what you already have.
2. Think of 6 evening meals you can make with what you already have, and add the needed supplements (like parmesan cheese for your lasagna) onto your grocery list.
3. Then fill in the list with needed items that you regularly purchase each week for breakfast and lunch (yogurt, bread, cheese, etc.). Add in ONE treat item to make it more fun. Try to stay under $ can do it!
A recent grocery store splurge, Mint Aero bar.
 Matt & I are buying for 2 (very well-fed) adults, but we easily buy enough for 4 adults or 2 adults + 2 kids. (My point? You and your fam can definitely do this.)

Good luck! Enjoy the extra money in your wallet!

Happy eating.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mashed potato-stuffed peppers

This was a grand idea on Matt's part, stuffing raw red peppers with homemade mashed potatoes. The sweet and crunchy pepper makes a healthy bowl to hold the creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. Pretty healthy side, too.

Mashed Potato-Stuffed Peppers
Makes 4 servings

2 red peppers, sliced in half lengthwise (remove stem and seeds)
4 red potatoes (I call them new potatoes)
Salt and pepper
Garlic and onion powder
1-2 TB margarine/butter
1/3 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy)
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1/4 cup mushrooms, chopped

In a pot of salted water, boil the potatoes until tender. In a pan, saute mushrooms in 1 TB of butter/margarine for a few minutes, until tender.

Drain water from the pot. Using a potato masher or a wooden spoon (or mixer), mash potatoes.

Add salt and pepper, seasonings, margarine/butter, and milk. Stir. Fold in mushrooms and chives. Stuff peppers and serve soon after.

This can easily be made ahead of time for a dinner party (big or small) by preparing the potatoes and putting them in a large, covered bowl to keep warm. This was tasty, delicious, and I can't wait to see what other varieties of mashed potatoes we can come up with. Great job, Matt. Perfect with salmon and crab cakes!

Hope your Tuesday is looking sunny. Happy eating!