Monday, October 31, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Cook This! Chocolate Chip Cookies


These are the best chocolate chip cookies Jess and I have found. We have been making them for years now and they are delicious. One should make them immediately and try them. This recipe was originally printed in the Cook This Not That: Kitchen Survival Guide.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 cup not brown sugar (not-packed)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
Directions
  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Mix together butter and sugars.
  • Add egg and vanilla and mix again.
  • Add in baking soda, salt and flour.
  • Mix one more time but only until flour is just mixed in, do not over mix.
  • Fold in the dark chocolate chips.
  • Drop into 12 balls on a cookie sheet or two (this makes huge cookies, if you want a smaller cookie you can do 24 instead).
  • Bake for about 15 minutes (12 min if you make little ones), until the edges begin to brown.
The cookies may not spread when you bake them, cooking in the shape you dropped them. This is how it usually happens for us and they are delicious regardless. Please remember that though only 190 calories each (95 cal each if you make the little ones) they will ruin your diet anyway, because you will find yourself with 2 on a plate with a glass of cold milk to go with and realize that your mid afternoon snack had more calories than your lunch. (don't say I didn't warn you.)

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Classic beef stew
Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Bagels
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
Peanut butter banana oatmeal muffins

Lunch
Choice of:
Soup and rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
Leftovers

Dinner
Classic beef stew
Taco bowl
Swedish meatballs and noodles, carrots
Hot dogs, skillet potatoes, mac and cheese
Fettuccine with broccoli
Chicken and sausage jambalaya
Lasagna rolls with homemade garlic bread

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Apples
Carrots
Bananas

Recipes coming soon:
Chicken and sausage jambalaya
Lasagna rolls

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This Book Room

The legendary Eat That Frog! (more than 450,000 copies sold and translated into 23 languages) provides the 21 most effective methods for conquering procrastination and accomplishing more. This new edition is revised and updated throughout, and includes brand new information on how to keep technology from dominating our time.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I didn't so much as learn anything new, but the concept of doing your most difficult or loathed task first was something I've been trying to incorporate into both my work and home life. I've noticed a difference for sure. This book is one I would recommend.

A perfect Christmas for Lela Edwards this year would include the presence of her husband, her three daughters, and her favorite granddaughter, Darcie. They would each be happy, healthy, and properly married. But life doesn't always unfold in a perfect way, even for God-loving, churchgoing people like these. Lela's husband of fifty years, Walter, has recently passed, and the daughters now live in towns and states far from the Chicago neighborhood where they were raised. Darcie is traveling to Missouri City, Texas, to be with her mother, not to Chicago to be with her grandmother, whom she expects to come down hard on her for deciding to divorce her husband and the father of her unborn child. Lela is upset and annoyed with Darcie and herself for breaking her own time-honored tradition of making a quilt to celebrate each family wedding. The quilt is still in separate pieces, and apparently so is the marriage of Doug and Darcie. The Christmas season is about celebrating the birth and meaning of Christ; about the hope and inspiration that the story we revisit each year offers. So, as the days of the season progress, Lela participates in a Bible study group that focuses on the Virgin Mary. This is the cold season in Chicago and rough weather, literally and figuratively, is ahead for Lela, her family, neighbors, and fellow church members, but in the Scriptures are messages and guidance. If they heed the lessons of the Virgin Mary, they will learn from their mistakes and misjudgments of each other and find favor with God.

My thoughts: I didn't like this book so much. The story line wasn't very well developed. I didn't end up having any sympathy whatsoever for the main character - she just reminded me of a few people in my life whom I'm not so fond of. She's cranky and doesn't care about others. Who wants to read a book about people like that?!?! Skip this one.

From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed. This classic series tells the story of the world's most beloved nanny, who brings enchantment and excitement with her everywhere she goes. Featuring the charming original cover art by Mary Shepard, these new editions are sure to delight readers of all ages. It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

Additional notes: There is a Mary Poppins series, and this is the first book in that series. This series is finished.

My thoughts: Okay, so we all love the Disney version of this book and rightfully so. Julie Andrews is a master. This book... I have mixed thoughts on. I liked the first half well enough, but the second half, not so much. I'm not going to continue reading the series, though I am glad I read the first book and would recommend this to others (I also think it would help if you read the book first instead of watching the movie, but that advice is too late for most of us, I would think).

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ann Brashares comes the welcome return of the characters whose friendship became a touchstone for a generation. Now Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget have grown up, starting their lives on their own. And though the jeans they shared are long gone, the sisterhood is everlasting. Despite having jobs and men that they love, each knows that something is missing: the closeness that once sustained them. Carmen is a successful actress in New York, engaged to be married, but misses her friends. Lena finds solace in her art, teaching in Rhode Island, but still thinks of Kostos and the road she didn’t take. Bridget lives with her longtime boyfriend, Eric, in San Francisco, and though a part of her wants to settle down, a bigger part can’t seem to shed her old restlessness. Then Tibby reaches out to bridge the distance, sending the others plane tickets for a reunion that they all breathlessly await. And indeed, it will change their lives forever—but in ways that none of them could ever have expected. As moving and life-changing as an encounter with long-lost best friends, Sisterhood Everlasting is a powerful story about growing up, losing your way, and finding the courage to create a new one.

Additional notes: This is the fifth book in the Sisterhood series. So far as I know, this is the last book in the series.

My thoughts: This was a fitting book for the end of the series, although I felt there was a little too much emphasis on boys in this book. I'd really like to read a book, in fact, that didn't center on "do you have a man" and "do you have a job." Maybe this is because I have both, so I'm looking for something else to read about. Maybe it's because I know there's more to life than these two items (namely: God), but the book felt a little too contrite for me in that aspect. But maybe because Ann is so great of an author, I just wanted more. Anyway, read this series. It's good for your soul.

From bestselling author Gordon Korman, a second heart-stopping adventure aboard the unluckiest ship of all. The Titanic has hit the high seas--and moves steadily toward its doom. Within the luxury of the cabins and the dark underbelly of the ship, mysteries unfold--a secret killer who may be on board, a legacy that may be jeopardized, and a vital truth that will soon be revealed. For Paddy, Sophie, Juliana, and Alfie, life on the Titanic brings both hiding and seeking, as their lives become irrevocably intertwined. And then, of course, an iceberg appears, and the stage is set for the final scene.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Titanic series. You can read my review of the first book here. This series has three books, and all have been released.

My thoughts: Love this series! Quick reads and perfect for middle-school-aged children. I think this would be a great read-aloud with children.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Crafty Christmas: Purrfect Pet Presents

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 8 weeks away!

Most parents of human children prefer to be given gifts that can be used with their children, for their children, on their children - I think you're starting to get the idea. But most parents of pet children are the same way. Gifts for pets, whether you're gifting the actual pet him/herself or the parents of said pet, are rampant at pet stores and regular stores everywhere, but with all things, I tend to find a gift of the homemade variety not only says "I woof you" but "I'm really thinking of you and caring for you."

Here are my best homemade pet gift ideas:
  • Treats
  • A bed or soft place to land
  • Toys
Preston has one toy that he's nuts about, but he enjoys all his other toys, too, on a rotational basis. He particularly enjoys catnip - whether in a toy or just on the ground. We had a lot of catnip, and I got it into my head that I could make a catnip-filled toy for him. Here are simple instructions for my "Carrot Catnip Toy."


Here's what you need:
*a note: if you are a regular crafter, you should have most, if not, all of these items on hand - I didn't have to buy anything for this project, which is one reason why it's so great!
  • Orange felt
  • Green felt
  • Orange embroidery floss
  • Green embroidery floss
  • Needle
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Sharpie marker
  • Fiberfill
  • Catnip
  • A knitting needle (or other object in which to stuff the toy with fiberfill and catnip)
  • Scissors
  • Pinking shears
Directions:
  • Create your design on a piece of paper, just to give yourself an idea of the size you would like to make the carrot (or any other fruit, vegetable, shape, object, etc.).
  • On the felt, eyeballing it, draw the design (I drew the triangle part of the carrot). Be sure to draw this bigger, using the Sharpie marker, than you plan to make it so the black Sharpie marker lines aren't on the actual toy itself.
  • Take two pieces of orange felt and lay them on top of each other. Sew the two pieces together, using the embroidery hoop, in the design you desire. Be sure to leave an opening so you can stuff the toy with fiberfill and catnip.
  • Once most of it is sewed, take the fiberfill, catnip, and the stick-like object (such as a knitting needle), and stuff the toy.
  • Then, sew the opening closed.
  • Cut the carrot to size and pinking shear the edges.
  • With the green felt, cut two pieces that will fit at the top of the carrot toy. Sew the green bit to the orange carrot. Pinking shear the edges and the green lengthwise at the top a bit so it looks like the green top of a carrot.
  • Give toy to cat and watch him/her go bananas (or should I say carrots!).
You can find most anything and everything on Pinterest so that would be a great place to canvass for loads of ideas and specific projects. I particularly enjoy the following ideas:

Yummy cat treats!
That looks like a good resting spot.
Share with us: What great pet presents are you gifting this year?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Homemade: Garlic Bread, Version 2.0

We had shared one way of making garlic bread using a loaf of regular garlic bread here. While we still maintain that this garlic bread recipe works, we found it to be too much work for not a lot of taste. Upon making our own croutons (learn how to make croutons by clicking here), we came upon a new way of making garlic bread. I can personally testify that this garlic bread is so good, we sometimes make it just to eat for snacks!!! The taste is fantastic, and it's actually less work to make it this way than the original recipe we shared. Are you ready? I almost can't stand how excited I am to share this with all of you!

Ingredients
  • 2 slices of bread
  • EVOO
  • Pepper
  • Parsley
  • Garlic powder
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spread EVOO on one side of bread.
  • Sprinkle spices on bread.
  • Flip bread; repeat with EVOO and spices.
  • Bake for 10 minutes; flipping at five minutes.
Please note: this recipe is for frozen bread. If your bread is already thawed, please adjust the timing accordingly. I would suggest a total of 5 minutes to start.

Read this if you want to learn how to get bread for 60 cents a loaf. And if you find you're having trouble eating your bread before it's expired, I would highly encourage you to store it in your freezer and pull out bread as needed. Jason and I do this and have found this saves us time, money and waste.

Please enjoy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Gaming Corner: Old Maid

Jess and I actually don't play this game correctly at all. We play it much more like Concentration than Old Maid (I'll include the rules for both). One would think that a couple of twenty-somethings could find funner things to do than sit around and play little kid's card games, but they would be wrong. Jess and I love this game and play it all the time.

How We Play:
  • Lay all cards face down in as close to a rectangle shape as you can.
  • On your turn, you turn two cards face up, without moving them from their relation with the other cards.
    • If both cards match, then remove them from play and place them in front of you in a pile and repeat your turn.
    • If both cards do not match, turn the cards back down, and play passes to the next player.
  • Play continues until the only card remaining is the Old Maid card (which doesn't have a match).
  • Players then count up the number of pairs that they have and the player with the most pairs wins.

A just started game
The first turn
A game in progress
THE OLD MAID!!!
Included Instructions:
  • Deal the cards as evenly as possible between all players.
  • All pairs are removed from your hand and placed in front of you.
  • Players take turns drawing one card from the player to their left, laying down pairs as they get them.
  • Play ends when only one player has a card left, the Old Maid (which has no match).
  • Players then count up their pairs and the winner is the one with the most.
We think that the official rules are much too reliant on luck and would rather play Go Fish, which we do, than play the game this way.

-Gamer Jason

In My Mailbox


This past week, we received the following freebies in the mail:
  • Family Fun's November issue
  • Popular Science's November issue
  • Ski's magazine Ski Resort issue
  • Ski's November issue
  • Post It Super Sticky Post Its
Share with us: What awesome freebies did you get in the mail?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Bagels
Toast and eggs
Chocolate chip pancakes
French toast muffins

Lunch
Choice of:
Soup and rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
Leftovers

Dinner
Turkey chili
Pasta surprise
Fancy broccoli and rice casserole
Swedish meatballs and noodles, carrots
Fettucine with broccoli
Hot dogs, skillet potatoes, mac and cheese
Fancy grilled cheese samiches and tomato soup

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Apples
Carrots
Peanut butter no-bake cookies

Recipes coming soon:
Fancy broccoli and rice casserole
Swedish meatballs and noodles
Skillet potatoes
Fancy grilled cheese samiches

Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Book Room: Princess Diaries Edition, Part 2

The books below include regular Princess Diaries books as well as some companion books. I'm reading the books in a chronological order and usually, this means the order in which Meg Cabot wrote and published them.

You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here. You can read Part 1 of This Book Room: Princess Diaries here.

Each book is like a little gift, just waiting to be opened. Mia is such a typical teenager - she's paranoid, she's full of angst, and of course, there is a boy. I really feel these books should be read by a teenager (not only for emphasis on the fact that some of the content is a bit mature), but also because I wish I would've read these books when I was a teenager - I think I would've realized I'm not the only one who feels certain things (like, at times, craziness). Enjoy the summaries below!

Student body president, that is—nominated by her power-mad best friend, Lilly. This is not how Mia imagined kicking off her sophomore year, but as usual, she has bigger problems to worry about, like Geometry. And now that Mia's one true love, Michael, is uptown at college, what's the point of even getting up for school in the morning? But the last straw is what Lana whispers to her on the lunch line about what college boys expect of their girlfriends. . . . Really, it's almost more than a princess in training can bear!

Mia would give all the jewels in Genovia for the perfect present. Every year, Princess Mia spends the holidays in Genovia with Grandmère. This year, she's looking forward to the most perfect Christmas ever: her boyfriend, Michael, and her best friend, Lilly, are coming to Genovia, too. But even a princess's plans can go awry. Lilly has a lot to learn about palace protocol, and with all the state holiday functions Mia must attend, there's no time to linger under the mistletoe with Michael. Worst of all, Mia hasn't been able to find him the perfect gift. Can Mia stop her (bah-hum) bugging long enough to see that the perfect present has nothing to do with international express courier -- and everything to do with real love? (Though some shiny silver ribbon never hurts ...)


Every royal's must-have guide to the holidays. A princess always knows how to celebrate the holidays. There's Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Chinese New Year, Saturnalia . . . to name just a few. Then there's gift giving, the royal Genovian Fabergé Advent calendar, hot chocolate with marshmallows—oh, and all those fabulous holiday movies. How will you celebrate this holiday season? Mia and her subjects have a few ideas.

Sixteen is the magic number. Mia doesn't always have the best luck with parties, so even though it's her sweet sixteenth, she doesn't want a birthday bash. As usual, Grandmère has other ideas, and thinks a reality TV special is just the thing in order to celebrate royally. The whole scheme smacks of Lilly's doing -- Lilly, whose own TV show is still only limited to local cable viewers. Will Mia be able to stop Grandmère's plan? Will her friends ever forgive her if she does stop it, since it involves all of them taking the royal jet to Genovia for an extravaganza the likes of which would turn even Paris Hilton green with envy? Why can't Mia get what she really wants: an evening alone with Michael? With a little luck, this sweet sixteen princess might just get her wish -- a birthday that's royally romantic.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Life & Style: how to update a living room look for $100 or less

When Jason and I had settled on our new apartment, the planning frenzy began. What key pieces did we need for our new living arrangement? What colors did we want to use? Whether you're moving to a new place or just want to update your living room space, there are three key ideas to incorporate into your living room for $100 or less each.

We keep our basic pieces... basic! Our couch, chair, lamps, and tables are in neutral tones. This makes it easy to move them from apartment to apartment, no matter what the apartment's "colors" may be.

This is the color of our living room walls.
Because I love color and can't stand white walls, we have painted two of three apartments we've lived in. Painting is such a great DIY project! It's by no means easy - we have utilized my dad every time we've painted to teach us good painting techniques and to help us with the edges. You don't even need to paint all four walls - we painted three in this apartment, but I think the look of just one wall painted in a color is great, too. My favorite kind of paint for the living room is Benjamin Moore Aura - there's very, very little smell and there's no VOCs. This paint is very good for you, and you won't want to die from lack of fresh air while painting! The colors are fantastic, and most places will create a paint in a color of your choice on request. We've created paint to match a towel and to match curtains. I've been really impressed with this service at paint stores. Be sure to check coupons.com before you buy your paint - there have been coupons in the past for $5 off a gallon of premium Benjamin Moore paint. Perfect!

Delano curtains from BBB
Curtains are the next best way to update a living room look for less. Bed, Bath and Beyond is the one retail store where we have regularly found curtains of all kinds that we have been attracted to, but JCPenney's, we have found, is better at stocking odd sizes, which came in handy for our last apartment's windows. Opt for a pattern in the curtains to zing up your living room, and of course, decorative rods are a good way to have the look pulled together (no pun intended!). Also, if you're handy with a sewing machine, hit up a fabric store and sew the curtains yourself.

SureFit Logan slipcover in camel
Sadly, the last option, I cannot utilize myself. Slipcovers on a couch are such a good way to not only update your living room look but also to hide stains on the couch's original fabric! I was devastated when I discovered that my couch has extra wide arms and slipcovers are not made to accommodate this. When we buy our next couch, I'm going to be sure the couch can have slipcovers. I wish I could have a slipcover for our couch right now - it's looking a little ratty. My favorite slipcovers are those by SureFit. I researched all slipcovers when I thought I was going to purchase one - SureFit slipcovers look the nicest and are surprisingly affordable. Some even come in patterns!

Share with us: In what ways do you update your living room look?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Classic Beef Stew


Ingredients
  • 3 Tbsp EVOO
  • 4 lbs. boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 Cups diced onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Cup water
  • 4 Cups beef broth (divided)
  • Rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lb. parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut
  • 1 bag (16 oz) frozen pearl onions
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 lb. cooked potatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups frozen green peas
Directions
  • Heat a large pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add EVOO to pot.
  • Brown the beef in batches, 6 minutes per batch, and set the beef to the side.
  • Reduce heat to medium.
  • Add onion and garlic to the pot and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Stir in flour, tomato paste, water, and 1 cup beef broth.
  • Cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Return beef to pot.
  • Add remaining broth, rosemary, and bay leaves to the pot.
  • Bring the pot to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 2 hours.
  • Add parsnips, carrots, pearl onions, and celery to the pot.
  • Cook for another 45 minutes.
  • Stir in potatoes and peas.
  • Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
  • Discard bay leaves.
This recipe was found in the Comfort Food magazine, which had got it from Redbook magazine. Have you ever noticed that the majority of our magazines get their recipes from other magazines? But regardless, this was the first, and one of the best, magazines we purchased.

This beef stew is so tasty and well worth the prep time. It easily makes at least 8 hefty servings.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In My Mailbox


What a great week in freebies! Here's what we received in our mailbox:
  • Samples of Post-It products with coupons
  • Nogii granola bar
  • Yogurt starter boxes that I ordered with free amazon.com gift cards from SwagBucks
  • November's Whole Living magazine
  • November's Every Day Food magazine (fantastic recipes in this one!!)
  • And strangely, the Buyer's Guide to skiing - I have no clue why I was sent this, but it was free so yay, I guess!
Share with us: What awesome, or odd, freebies have you received recently?

Monday, October 17, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Tuna Noodle Casserole


Ingredients
  • 1 box (1 lb) cavatappi noodles
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp EVOO (Divided)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 2 1/2 Cups chicken broth
  • 7 Tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp (1.2 oz) dry milk
  • 1 1/2 Cups water
  • 1 can (12 oz) dolphin safe tuna
  • 1/2 bag (from a 16 oz bag) frozen peas
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Cook noodles 2 minutes less than packaged directions, drain and set aside.
  • In a small bowl mix panko, Parmesan, and 2 tsp EVOO.
  • In a pot heated over medium-high heat, add remaining EVOO and onion.
  • Cook until softened, about 8 minutes.
  • Add flour and stir to coat the onions.
  • Slowly whisk in broth, then water, then dry milk.
  • Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes stirring regularly.
  • Combine noodles, tuna, peas, and sauce and mix well.
  • Pour mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and to with the panko mixture.
  • Cook for 20 minutes, and let stand for 10 before serving.
  • Makes 6 servings.
We found the basis of this recipe in October's Every Day FOOD. Foolishly, the original calls for regular boring macaroni noodles, which should never be cooked with. Replace them with the cavatappi noodles whenever allowed. Also the recipe didn't call for nearly enough peas, which has been amended above. The magazine started that it produced 8 servings, but we only got 6 out of it, and didn't feel like little piggies afterward. You may also enjoy a simpler tuna noodle casserole here.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Bagels
Toast and eggs
Breakfast cake
Chocolate chip pancakes
French toast muffins

Lunch
Choice of:
Soup and rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
Leftovers

Dinner
Cheddar chicken pasta
Macaroni and beef with cheese
Beef stew
Chinese ready-to-eat from the freezer
Turkey chili
Baked ziti with spinach
Creamy tortellini soup

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Apples
Carrots
Peanut butter cup brownies

Recipes coming soon:
Beef stew
Turkey chili

Saturday, October 15, 2011

This Book Room

New York Times bestselling author Kimberla Lawson Roby returns with this delightful sequel to The Best of Everything, in which the infamous Reverend Curtis Black's beautiful daughter, Alicia, is all grown up—and headed for trouble of her own. Her first marriage didn't work out, but that isn't going to stop Alicia Black, the privileged daughter of the charismatic Reverend Curtis Black, from getting what she wants. One month after her wedding to her second husband, she can't believe her good fortune. God has heeded her prayers, blessing her with Pastor JT Valentine, a handsome, dynamic man of the cloth with his own large congregation, just like her father.  Unfortunately, Alicia doesn't understand just how much like Curtis her new husband truly is. She doesn't know that JT has been sneaking around town with other women—or that he only married her to get close to her father's money and fame. But while Alicia is blinded by love, her dad certainly isn't. He warned his little girl that JT simply can't be trusted. After all, it takes one to know one, and who better to see into the darkness of a sinner's heart than Curtis? It will take a miracle to save the day. But God acts in mysterious ways, and soon a host of lies, longtime secrets, and acts of betrayal comes to light, and Alicia must face some very crucial and life-changing decisions. This time, she's got to be careful what she prays for. . . .

Additional notes: This is the seventh book in the Reverend Curtis Black series. There are currently eight books in this series, and so far as I know, this series is ongoing. You can read my review of the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here, the fifth book here and the sixth book here.

My thoughts: This book was so, so much better than the sixth book. This book is one of the best in the series. I felt it tackled more serious issues of relationships, money, and living your truest life.

Miriam Raber enjoys life in her Old Order Amish community, and she is hopeful that Saul Fisher will propose to her soon. But when Saul starts talking about leaving the only world either of them has ever known, Miriam imagines what her life might look like as an Englischer. One thing she knows for certain, she loves Saul and feels he's the one God has chosen for her. But Saul's indecision has come at an inconvenient time as Miriam is noticing advances from Jesse Dienner, a man she went to school with, who is committed to marry and live his life in the Old Order community. Complicating matters is the arrival of Miriam's cousin, Shelby, a worldly Englisch girl sent to live with Miriam's family following trouble back home. Who will Miriam choose a life with, and who will choose to stay in the Old Order Amish community?

Additional notes: This is the fifth book in the Plain, or Daughters of the Promise, series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here and the fourth book here. This is the latest release from Beth for this series.

My thoughts: I liked that this book was more about Miriam and Shelby and less about Miriam and Saul. But I didn't like that the first book in Beth's new series technically occurred between book four and five of this series, so I learned information that kind of ruined book one of the new series for me. So as a heads up, if you're going to read both, read book number four, then book number one of the Land of Canaan series.

Things are looking up at last for Lizzie Nichols. She has a career she loves in the field of her choice (wedding gown restoration), and the love of her life, Jean-Luc, has finally proposed. Life's become a dizzying whirl of wedding gown fittings—not necessarily her own—as Lizzie prepares for her dream wedding at her fiancé's château in the south of France. But the dream soon becomes a nightmare as the best man—whom Lizzie might once have accidentally slept with . . . no, really, just slept—announces his total lack of support for the couple, a sentiment the maid of honor happens to second; Lizzie's Midwestern family can't understand why she doesn't want to have her wedding in the family backyard; her future, oh-so-proper French in-laws seem to be slowly trying to lure the groom away from medical school and back into investment banking; and Lizzie finds herself wondering if her Prince Charming really is as charming as she once believed. Is Lizzie really ready to embrace her new role as wife and mistress of Château Mirac? Or is she destined to fall into another man's arms . . . and into the trap of becoming a Bad Girl instead?

Additional notes: This is the third and final book in the Queen of Babble series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here.

My thoughts: Such a great ending to this series! I loved it. Now if only Meg would write another series I could fall in love with...

When Eddie was twelve years old, all he wanted for Christmas was a bike. Although his life had gotten harder -- and money tighter -- since his father died and the family bakery closed...Eddie dreamed that somehow his mother would find a way to have his dream bike gleaming beside their modest Christmas tree that magical morning. What he got from her instead was a sweater. "A stupid, handmade, ugly sweater"The Christmas Sweater is a warm and poignant tale of family, faith and forgiveness that offers us a glimpse of our own lives -- while also making us question if we really know what's most important in them.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. A fantastic ending, but I was sad to learn that the story this story was based off didn't end the same way. This was a good story to remind myself to live each day the best that I can because I don't get any do-overs.

Emily Detweiler's family abruptly moved to Colorado after tragedy struck in Ohio. But Emily can't get far enough to escape what happened there. David Stoltzfus is not happy when his family relocates from Pennsylvania to Colorado. Never mind that they haven't told him why. David struggles not only with this unwelcome move, but also with the fear that a health condition could keep him from living his life in full.Emily and David each struggle with a past that follows them, testing their faith and resolve. Then they make a shocking discovering that draws them together and allows them to see past their own worries. Will they step onto the path God has chosen for them?

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Land of Canaan series. A second book has been released, and this series is ongoing so far as I know.

My thoughts: This book was just okay for me. I'm kind of over the whole boy-meets-girl plot. So if you are too, skip this one.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Easy Ravioli Bake

Ingredients
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 6 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 Cup water
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 package (24 oz) ravioli
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Heat a large sauce pan over medium-high heat.
  • Coat the pan with cooking spray.
  • Add onion, bell pepper, oregano, and garlic.
  • Saute until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add tomato paste, water, basil, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and tomatoes.
  • Stir to combine and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Stir in ravioli.
  • Pour into a 9x13 baking dish.
  • Sprinkle evenly with cheese.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Makes 6 servings.
We got this recipe from Cooking Light Complete Cookbook. Though it did get modified a little to fit our personal tastes (and the larger bag of ravioli, which is the only type of ravioli sold in either Wal-Mart or Meijer in Flint).

Please enjoy.

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In My Mailbox


This past week, we received:
  • Martha Stewart Living (November '11 issue)
  • Woman's Day (November '11 issue)
  • A coupon for a free small smoothie from McDonald's (I redeemed RecycleBank points to get this for Jason)
Share with us: What awesome freebies did you get in the mail this past week?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Bagels
Toast and eggs
Breakfast cake
Inside out carrot muffins
Chocolate chip pancakes

Lunch
Choice of:
Soup and rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
Loaded turkey sandwiches

Dinner
Meatball samiches
Easy Ravioli Bake
Creamy farmhouse chicken and garden soup
Cheesy Chicken and Rice
Cheddar chicken pasta
Tomato soup and grilled cheese samiches
Macaroni and beef with cheese

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Apples
Carrots
Mexican layer dip and chips
Oatmeal chocolate cookies
Chocolate chip cookies

Recipes coming soon:
Chocolate chip cookies

Saturday, October 8, 2011

This Book Room

Josephine Dronberger was a scared teenager when she left her baby in the care of an Old Order Amish couple. But seventeen years have passed and Josie longs to reconnect with her daughter. Linda -- as the couple named the child -- is promised to Stephen Ebersol, the bishop's grandson. They plan to marry in the fall. But when her birth mother comes to Paradise, Linda is drawn to a world she's never known.

Additional notes: This is the fourth book in the Plain, or Daughters of the Promise, series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here. This series has five books and is, so far as I know, ongoing.

My thoughts: I really like Amish Christian books, but I'm not such a huge fan that all of them are the sort-of classic boy meets girl, boy likes girl, conflict ensues, then boy and girl live happily ever after. Most of Beth's books are like this, but this one stands out because it's more about the mother-daughter relationship than a boy-girl relationship.

Alicia Black Sullivan swore to never repeat her father's mistakes: she would never break any promises, she would never be unfaithful. And most important of all, when she got married, it would be for good. And she really does love Phillip, the assistant pastor of her father's church. She just happends to love money and the things it can buy as well. Alicia was born to the good life, she's entitled to the best, and she'll do anything to get it. Even if it means denying to everyone even herself that her love of shopping has gotten way out of control. Before long, Phillip begins to wonder if marrying the woman of his dreams was a huge mistake. Alicia has similar thoughts. Deep down, though, she knows a whopper of an emotional bill is coming due. And all the regrets in the world won't change the fact that she may be more like her infamous father than she could have imagined or feared.

Additional notes: This is the sixth book in the Reverend Curtis Black series. You can read my review of the second book here, third book here, the fourth book here and the fifth book here. This series currently has eight books and is, so far as I know, ongoing.

My thoughts: The plot centering around Alicia was a nice surprise! Although, I have to say that it seems all the women are the same and the men are the same. Not a lot of character development, but still, the series is interesting!

The average American family spends 10 to 15 percent of its take-home pay on groceries. Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half gives them a sure-fire opportunity to reduce that number forever. With the proven plan in this book, the average family can save more than $3,000 a year on its grocery bill. "Can cutting coupons do that?" a consumer might ask. Of course, these money-saving experts teach coupon-clipping strategies, but they don't stop there. Readers learn how to plan their shopping to save big bucks, effectively store food and save cash, identify products that save time and money, beat the grocer at pricing games, and more! The Economides learned to deliver healthy, tasty food to their family of seven on $350 a month. In this authoritative manual, the average family can follow their lead and fill its grocery cart without emptying its wallet.

Additional notes: The Economides family has a first book, The America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money. You can read my review of that book here.

My thoughts: The best tip I gained from this book was to start a sales binder. Record when items you regularly buy go on sale, so you can somewhat anticipate when they will be on sale again. This will help you to buy appropriately during the sale so you have enough until the next sale. I will definitely be doing this for Suave shampoo (it is the cheapest shampoo I have found when it's 11 bottles for $10 at Meijer). Overall, I knew everything in this book, but I find these sorts of books are worth the time to read even if I learn only one new thing, plus the information reinforces what I know and encourages me to keep doing what I'm already doing.

In A Promise of Hope, the second book in the Kauffman Amish Bakery series by Amy Clipston, an Amish widow with newborn twins discovers her deceased husband had disturbing secrets. As she tries to come to grips with the past, she considers a loveless marriage to ensure stability for her young family … with her faith in God hanging in the balance.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Amish Bakery series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are currently three books in the series with the fourth slated to release this year. This series is scheduled for six full-length novels and two Christmas novellas, which are both out now.

My thoughts: If you read my review of the first book, you know how much I loved the first book. This book was still good, but more about the classic boy-girl relationship (see my review of Beth's book above). I hope the others are about other things and not just this...

The horrors of the Tribulation are over, and Jesus Christ has set up his perfect kingdom on earth. Believers all around the world enjoy a newly perfected relationship with their Lord, and the earth itself is transformed. Yet evil still lurks in the hearts of the unbelieving. As the Millennium draws to a close, the final generation of the unrepentant prepares to mount a new offensive against the Lord Himself--sparking the final and ultimate conflict from which only one side will emerge the eternal victor.

Additional notes: This is the final and last book in the Left Behind series. You can read my review of the tenth book here, the eleventh book here and the twelvth book here.

My thoughts: While I loved this series, I'm certainly glad it is now over! That took me many years to read the series. I really enjoyed this book, although I didn't really like that the book basically covered one year of the 1,000-year reign, then just sort of skipped to the end. I felt the plot, in that sense, wasn't well thought out. However, I credit this series with my love for Jesus as an adult. I really recommend this series to everyone and will always keep this series in my permanent library (which is kind of saying a lot - my permanent library mostly consists of cookbooks and craft books).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Hot Cocoa


This is our favorite hot hot cocoa recipe. It can be found on the side of any Hershey's Cocoa container that you can purchase just about anywhere. You will be surprised at how delicious it is.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup Hershey's Cocoa
  • 1 1/3 cups dry milk
  • 3 3/4 cups water
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
Directions
  • Mix sugar, hot water, and cocoa in a sauce pan.
  • Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring regularly, until it boils.
  • Continue to boil and stir for 2 minutes.
  • Add dry milk and water and stir.
  • Heat to serving temperature.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Add vanilla.
  • Serve in fun mugs that you got while on vacation.
    • Or any other fun mugs that you might have.
      • Or boring mugs if you don't have any fun ones.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Homemade: Body Wash

Body wash is my preferred cleansing agent, and here's why: 1. A bar of soap often doesn't last as long as it should, on account of the water hitting it while it's in the shower and not necessarily in use. 2. A bar of soap in a container often develops an ucky film on the bottom of it.

But body wash, store-bought, can be expensive. My favorite brand is Nivea and for about 18 oz., the cost is $4 (not on sale). Usually, I have a coupon for this that at least halves the price, but we're still talking $2 for 18 oz. The cost is 11 cents per ounce.

With this homemade body wash, for 36 oz, the cost is about $1. Per ounce, the cost is about 3 cents. That's a huge savings! This homemade solution is super easy, too. Here's what you need to make homemade body wash:


  • 2 cups grated soap (I used 1.5 bars of soap)
  • 2 Tbsp. glycerin
Directions
  • Grate soap.
  • In a pot with 64 oz. of water, melt the soap.
  • While still on the burner, add glycerin. Stir.
  • Pour mixture into Mason jars or other containers.
  • Let the containers sit, without moving them, for about 24 hours. The mixture will thicken up considerably.
Here's what the finished product looks like:



You can use any bar of soap you like. I used Dial soap that I purchased in bulk for Sam's Club. The cost per bar was about 40 cents. You can also add essential oil to this homemade solution if your bar is fragrance free and you would prefer a fragrance or to create your own fragrance. I did not add any oil to mine, though - the Dial soap smells really good! You can refill old body wash containers with this body wash.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In My Mailbox


We received the latest issue of Thriving Family magazine as part of our one-year free subscription we signed up for through Focus on the Family. We also received:
  • $2/1 coupons for Tidy Cats litter (click here to read more about these coupons)
  • Dove body fragrance sample and coupon
  • Shout Wipes sample and coupon
The Dove and Shout coupons will be donated to Coupon2Give.

Share with us: What awesome freebies did you get in your mailbox recently?

Monday, October 3, 2011

In the Kitchen With Jason: Crock Pot Chicken Chili


When Jess and I made this, it didn't turn out as a eat-on-its-own chili. What it did turn out as was an amazing dip for tortilla chips. You'll need your crock pot ready for this one.

Ingredients
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 16 oz can black beans
  • 16 oz can kidney beans
  • 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 10 oz package frozen corn kernels
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Directions
  • Combine all ingredients other than chicken breasts in a slow cooker.
  • Place chicken on top of the other ingredients.
  • Cover and cook on low for 9 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Remove chicken from crock pot and shred with 2 forks.
  • Return shredded chicken to pot, stir, and cook for another 30 minutes.
  • Serve in a bowl with corn chips.
    • For added yummyness, shred some cheese over it or a dab of sour cream.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Bagels
Toast and eggs
Breakfast cake

Lunch
Choice of:
Soup and rolls
PB and J sandwiches with cheese stick
Loaded turkey sandwiches

Dinner
Dinner at extended family's house
Hot dogs, homemade french fries, mac and cheese
Tuna Casserole
Fettucini Alfredo with Broccoli
Cheesy Chicken and Rice
Easy Ravioli Bake
Roast Chicken with veggies

Snacks
Cheese sticks
Apples
Carrots
Pizza Muffins
Whole wheat oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Recipes coming soon:
Tuna Casserole
Fettucini Alfredo with Broccoli
Easy Ravioli Bake
Roast Chicken with veggies

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saving the Moola: calculating the cost of time


Last week's Life & Style showed how to max out your time each day, and one of the tips I shared was creating a goals list (you can view this week's goals list here). I have so many things I'd like to achieve each day and not only do I have to prioritize in terms of what matters most to me, but with all the DIY, homemade and money-saving ideas available, it's crucial to figure out the wages for these chores. For instance, making my own croutons is great, but what is the cost savings? Or, in other words, what wage am I making by doing this?

This reminds me a lot of how Ms. Suze Orman views money. During the "Can I Afford It?" segment on her show, she often asks callers (once they have divulged the amount of whatever it is they want to buy and their take-home monthly pay): "So you want to work 3 months just to afford this?"

The same concept can be applied to chores. Do I want to spend, in total, 10 minutes making croutons? Here's how I can figure my wage:

Making My Own
Supply cost = $0.65
Time cost = 10 minutes

Store-Bought
Supply cost = $2

In one hour, if all I did was make croutons, my hourly wage would be $6.90 ($2 - $0.65 = $1.15 x 6). That's pretty good for just making croutons (trust me - you'll find other chores have a much lower wage per hour!).

Amy Dacyczyn, author of the Tightwad Gazette, talks a lot about this in her book. She says there are many different factors one should consider in homemade projects: enjoyment factor, environment factor, time factor, and wage factor. Something that may only have a wage of $1 per hour isn't really worth it in terms of the cents you're saving, but if it's something you enjoy, that makes it worth it.

A good example of this is knitting scarves. I can knit a scarf usually in a few hours, if I'm using big knitting needles and it's a skinny scarf in terms of its width. The material for a scarf is usually pretty low - a big skein of yarn from Joann's can cost, with a coupon, about $7, and I can get two scarves out of that yarn. My cost is $3.50 in supplies, and my time cost is 3 hours. These days, you can find scarves at the dollar store. So not only am I spending more in supplies, but it's also taking me three hours. I'm technically losing money. Maybe this isn't the best example, then, but the point is is that I enjoy knitting scarves and they're more special to me, and I'm sure the wearer, when it's hand knit instead of dollar-store-bought. But, for someone who may not enjoy knitting and was just doing it to try to save money, I would say that isn't saving you money and you should let this homemade project die.

Here's a better example: Jason and I recycle plastic baggies. This, I have to tell you, is the most un-fun thing we do (that I can think of in this moment). I can wash and rinse one baggie about every three minutes. In one hour, I could wash and rinse 20 baggies. The little baggies from WalMart cost about $2 for a box of 40 baggies. Truly, my wage per hour is $1. That is atrocious, but even more atrocious than that is throwing away something that can be reused. We don't enjoy washing the baggies and the per-hour wage sucks, but the environment factor makes us want to wash and reuse baggies (but that doesn't I won't grumble when it's my turn to wash them!).

In any case, it's always good to know the value of what you're doing homemade in terms of real dollars and cents. If you have loads of other projects you'd like to do that earn a higher wage per hour, you can drop the lower wage projects for now and just purchase the goods. In those cases, you'll not only be saving the most money, but you'll also get the most enjoyment. I would strive for a balance between the two - try to keep all the highest wage earning jobs, even if you don't like them all, and keep around some of the small wage earning jobs that you truly enjoy.

For extra silliness, knowing the wage of the job you completed is good because then you can walk around and say, "I just made croutons and 'made' $1.15!"

Share with us: What is your highest wage earning job around your house? What jobs do you enjoy even if they don't save a lot (or any) money?

This Book Room: Princess Diaries Edition, Part 1

The books below include regular Princess Diaries books as well as some companion books. I'm reading the books in a chronological order and usually, this means the order in which Meg Cabot wrote and published them.

You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here.

As you can read here, when I first began this series, I wasn't too sure of it as it differs quite a bit from the movies. I loved the movies so much, but these books not only have grown on me, but this series is quickly becoming a favorite. One reviewer wrote that reading these books is like reading a note from your best friend, and that is exactly what it feels like! These books remind me of the best parts of being a teen, and I enjoy reliving the moments of being a teen where I wasn't being an idiot (which to be honest, were few and far in between - but I was a teen. I hope I'm allowed some idiocy!). One word of caution: the first three books and the books below are fairly innocent, but in the book I just finished (Princess in Training), there is talk of, as Mia would call it, "Doing It." Most of these books would be suitable for 10-year-old young ladies and up, but some may not be.

Please enjoy these summaries from a combination of bn.com and goodreads.com:
Princess Mia from "The Princess Diaries" offers advice on inner and outer beauty, character development, etiquette, and dating. 

Never before has the world seen such a Princess. Nor have her own subjects, for that matter. But Genovian politics are nothing next to Mia's real troubles. Between canceled dates with her long-sought-after royal consort, a second semester of the dreaded Algebra, more princess lessons from Grandmère, and the inability to stop gnawing on her fingernails, isn't there anything Mia is good at besides inheriting an unwanted royal title?

When you're Princess Mia, nothing happens the way it's supposed to. For one thing, Grandmère seems determined to prove that boy (or Michael, as he is commonly known) isn't the right one for the crown princess of Genovia. And Mia isn't having much luck proving otherwise, since Michael has a history of being decidedly against any kind of exploitative commercialization (Valentine's Day, as it is commonly known). Boris can declare his love openly to Lilly, and even Kenny comes through with a paltry Whitman's Sampler. So why can't Michael give in to Cupid and tell Mia he loves her—preferably with something wrapped in red or pink and accompanied by roses—in time to prove he's Mia's true prince?

What on earth is that princess up to now? Hammer in hand, Princess Mia embarks on an epic adventure for one so admittedly unhandy: Along with her cohorts from school, she's off to build houses for the less fortunate. It doesn't take Mia long to realize that helping others -- while an unimpeachably noble pastime -- is very hard work. Will her giving spirit prevail? Will the house collapse due to royally clumsy construction? And most importantly, will Michael stop working long enough to kiss her?

In her heart of hearts, Mia has but one wish: an evening spent with Michael in a tux and a corsage on her wrist—in other words, the prom. Michael, however, does not seem to share the dream that is the prom. Worse still, a service workers' strike (with Grandmère and Lilly at the heart of it and on opposite sides) threatens the very existence of this year's prom. Will the strike end in time? Can Mia talk Michael out of his anti-prom views? Most importantly, will Mia get to wear her pink prom dress?

Sleeping Beauty,
Victoria,
Cleopatra,
Snow White,
Elizabeth,
Pocahontas,
Mia Thermopolis:
all princesses
Do YOU have what it takes to be a princess?
 Princess Mia will help you find out.