Monday, July 30, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Amazing Peanut Butter Cookies

These cookies taste great, have very few ingredients, are easy to make, and each cookie is only 80 calories. Yup, we are still going strong with the "watching what we eat to get healthier" plan and finding delicious cookies like this help a ton in keeping us in sweets while under in calories.

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated no calorie sweetener (Splenda)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
    • Do not use a medium egg or an extra large egg as this will cause bad things to happen.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine the peanut butter, sweetener, brown sugar, baking soda, and vanilla in a bowl and stir until everything is mixed together.
  • Add the egg and stir some more until it is fully incorporated.
  • Divide evenly into 24 separate 1 inch balls.
    • One level tablespoon is the perfect amount for each ball. You will just need to round it out with your hands once you scoop it out.
  • Place each cookie on an un-greased cookie sheet.
  • Flatten each cookie with a fork, making a checkered pattern.
  • Bake the cookies for 10 minutes.
  • Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.
    • This actually finishes cooking the cookies so don't skip this step or your cookies will be a little underdone.
  • This recipe makes 24 cookies.
  • Each cookie is a single serving.
    • Yup, you are only supposed to eat one at a time... good luck with this.
  • Each serving (cookie) has only 80 calories.
  • This recipe was originally found in the Eat What You Love cookbook.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Choice of:
Toast and eggs
English muffins

Choice of:
Sandwiches with cheese sticks
Chicken nuggets/tenders and carrots

Herb chicken with root vegetables
Canned soup and grilled cheese samiches
Eat-from-the-freezer night
Hard-boiled eggs, bread and butter, fruit
BBQ chicken quesadillas
Tuna rice casserole
Baked potato night

Special snacks
Coconut peach crisp

Recipes {possibly} coming soon:
Tuna rice casserole
Coconut peach crisp

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saving the Moola: live simply so others can simply live

I follow several blogs, one of them being Money Saving Mom's blog. This blog is the first blog I checked out last year that really convinced Jason and I that not only could we do a financial plan, but that we could pay in cash for a house.

Crystal, the Money Saving Mom, write this in a post (I'm paraphrasing):
"I'm living simply so others can simply live."
That struck me. Right in the chest.

It just sums up exactly how Jason and I feel. We have people and animals that God has placed on our hearts. We have charities and organizations that God has brought to our attention.

It doesn't matter whether you also desire to give back to these same exact things. It just matters that you give.

Give of your time, give of your resources, give of yourself.

What brought all of this to mind: our healthcare costs for our healthcare plan recently increased. No big surprise there, but in trying to account for that increase, we were examining our budget to see what we could decrease.

The next day, after our budget meeting, I was in the shower and thought, giddily, to myself, "I love that we didn't once think to cut out Juan and Jhonny."

Juan and Jhonny are two little boys we sponsor through Compassion International. Juan lives in Colombia and Jhonny lives in Bolivia. I hope we're changing their lives, but I know they're changing ours.

What's sad (and is probably better for another post, but I can't help but mention it here) is that other people criticize us for helping those out of our country. God placed these two children on our hearts. We desire to help them, we have the means to help them. We do not feel a move to help children in our country, at this time. We feel a move to help these two little boys.

We always also feel a move to help animals. We regularly donate goods and money to our local humane society. Preston is a rescue cat, albeit not from a humane society but from a local rescue group, and we know these organizations are literally starving for goods and money to keep their doors open and keep the babies fed.

What's most important, beyond who we're giving our resources to, is that we're giving it. Freely, happily and with no reserves.

How can we do this? By living simply. Coupons, driving one car, no cable, no landline, one cell phone, shopping at Aldi, borrowing books from the library, having a simple wardrobe, making gifts we give, the list goes on and on.

We are so blessed. We have a roof over our heads. Can you imagine? That's so wondrous! Here's one I never, ever get over: I turn on the faucet, and clean water comes out. Where does it come from? I still don't understand! How does it get here? It just comes out, all clean and yummy to drink. I have a warm blanket. I have windows to let in the air and screens to keep out the bugs (well, mostly, some still find their way in :)).

I have life. God gave me life. God gave me this life.

We live simply so others can simply live. Others can have life if I take this life and these resources and manage them appropriately. God told my heart, Give to the children. Give to that boy. Later, He told my heart, Your husband desires to give of himself. He wants to have the joy I have given you. All year, He says, Remember the creatures I placed on this Earth. Remember the creatures who bring you joy and give to others who desire to give joy, too.

These are the things I hear in my heart. That still, small voice speaks to me, and I listen. I drop what I'm doing to serve the One who has given me a job, who has given me housing, who has given me life.

Listen to that still small voice. Live simply. Give.

This Book Room

Dave Ramsey knows what it's like to have it all. By age twenty-six, he had established a four-million-dollar real estate portfolio, only to lose it by age thirty. He has since rebuilt his financial life and, through his workshops and his New York Times business bestsellers Financial Peace and More than Enough, he has helped hundreds of thousands of people to understand the forces behind their financial distress and how to set things right-financially, emotionally, and spiritually. In this new edition of Financial Peace, Ramsey has updated his tactics and philosophy to show even more readers:  how to get out of debt and stay out the KISS rule of investing—"Keep It Simple, Stupid" and how to use the principle of contentment to guide financial decision making how the flow of money can revolutionize relationships. With practical and easy to follow methods and personal anecdotes, Financial Peace is the road map to personal control, financial security, a new, vital family dynamic, and lifetime peace.

My thoughts: Dave's books are very similar and much of the same, but if you're on a financial journey (and really, who isn't?), reading all of his books are super helpful in reminding me that there's a reason I'm on this journey. His books motivate and uplift me and keep me going. This book did not disappoint!

The star of The Bachelor, Dancing With The Stars, and special correspondent for Good Morning America shares her story with warmth, enthusiasm, and humor. Best known as the girl who was proposed to by The Bachelor star Jason Mesnick and then dumped on national TV six weeks later, Melissa Rycroft immediately turned her life around. Now married to her original love, Tye Strickland, and expecting her first child, Melissa shares her “Cinderella” story of overcoming heartbreak and finding happiness. Melissa Rycroft got her start on the CMT reality TV series Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team and was selected for the 2006-2007 NFL Season. That’s when her personal life first fell apart, and the man that she was in love with broke up with her. To help her get over her heartbreak and overcome depression, her friends nominated her to participate as a contestant on The Bachelor. When Mesnick revealed that he was breaking his engagement off with her because he chose the wrong girl, she garnered a lot of respect for handling the shock with such grace and decorum even though she was angry and heartbroken. Two days later, Melissa clinched a spot on Dancing With The Stars, placing third in the competition, and reconciled with her true love. In a “girlfriend to girlfriend” voice readers love, Melissa shares entertaining stories and valuable survival tips from a woman who has “been there and back!”

My thoughts: I could write pages and pages on this book and my thoughts. I would just say first off that I no longer watch any of the Bachelor shows. I stopped watching at the end of Jake's season. No one ever picked who I thought they should! But Jason Mesnick did during his season. He picked Melissa, who I thought he should pick! But then, they broke up six weeks later. So I guess what the heck do I know, right? Here's what I know: I knew Melissa was a star when I first saw her years before Bachelor on Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. When I realized I knew of her when she appeared on the Bachelor, I was so excited! She is seriously the girl next door (or at least, that's her persona on TV, in this book, etc.). It was really fun to read her take on her life. I read this book in one afternoon. Super easy and light read! Perfect to take to the beach this summer.

Greg Heffley has always been in a hurry to grow up. But is getting older really all it’s cracked up to be? Greg suddenly finds himself dealing with the pressures of boy-girl parties, increased responsibilities, and even the awkward changes that come with getting older—all without his best friend, Rowley, at his side. Can Greg make it through on his own? Or will he have to face the “ugly truth”?

Additional notes: This is the fifth book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here and the fourth book here. There are six books currently in this series, and the seventh book will be released later this year.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I remember being in a time where I was growing up as a young lady in terms of physicality. It was really fun to read a boy's experience during that time of life!

Catherine O'Conner has a knack for writing Christmas letters for other people. When she meets psychologist Dr. Wynn Jeffries, she begins to fall in love, despite their opposing opinions on Christmas.

Additional notes: This is a holiday special book that is part of the Blossom Street series. You can read my review of the first book in the series here, the second book here and the third book here. There are nine books in this series currently.

My thoughts: I was really not wowed by this story at all. It just seemed super predictable and odd. I would've expected more from the one and only Blossom Street holiday novel. Oh well, I guess.

Deirdre Griffin has a great life; it’s just not her own. She’s the around-the-clock personal assistant to her charismatic, high-maintenance, New Age guru brother, Tag. As the family wallflower, her only worth seems to be as gatekeeper to Tag at his New England seaside compound. Then Deirdre’s sometime boyfriend informs her that he is marrying another woman, who just happens to be having the baby he told Deirdre he never wanted. While drowning her sorrows in Tag’s expensive vodka, Deirdre decides to use his massive online following to get herself voted on as a last-minute Dancing with the Stars replacement. It’ll get her back in shape, mentally and physically. It might even get her a life of her own. Deirdre’s fifteen minutes of fame have begun. Irresistible and offbeat, Wallflower in Bloom is an original and deeply satisfying story of having the courage to take a leap into the spotlight, no matter where you land.

My thoughts: Claire's writing is very much hit or miss for me. This book is three out of five stars for me. I liked it. I wasn't wowed, but I read it all the way through, so that's good! I enjoyed reading Deirdre's journey to be independent and live for herself. The DWTS bits were the best ones. If you watch that show ever, you'll like this book.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Crafty Christmas: Darling Felt Bird Ornament

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is 22 weeks away!

I found the pattern and idea for this ornament on Pinterest here. I loved this idea so much, I knew I just had to make a few of my own...

Here's what you'll need to make this ornament:
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Paper
  • Felt
  • A button
  • Embroidery thread
  • Needle
  • Knitting needle or other such object in which to stuff the bird
  • Fiberfill stuffing
  • Ribbon
  • Templates
The pattern indicates to enlarge the pattern 200%. I have to tell you that I did not believe 200% would be big enough (once I printed it out and saw what 200% looked like). After a bit of testing on my own, I decided on an enlargement of 350% and after making one of the ornaments, I felt this was the perfect size for what I envisioned.

You can find the original template for the bird and his wing here. I would recommend using 350% enlargement, as noted above; otherwise, this template is perfect.

  • Cut the template pieces out.
  • Cut out a piece of felt and fold it in half. Pin the template pieces to the felt, keeping the felt folded in half.
  • Cut out the felt, using the pattern as a guide as to where you should cut (don't forget to cut out the wing too! you'll need just one wing).
  • After all the pieces are cut out, pin the wing to the bird however you desire (I did it multiple ways - it looked good each time!). Thread your needle with the color of thread of your choice (I enjoy the look of contrast trim so I used a color different than the color of felt).
  • Sew the wing to the bird's body.
  • After the wing is sewn, sew the button onto the bird's body for the bird's eye.

  • After the button is sewn, sew the ribbon onto the other piece of the bird's body, so the bird will hang as an ornament. You can do this a variety of ways. The easiest way for me to do it is to loop the ribbon, then sew it on like that. I use pins to hold the ribbon in place while I sew.
  • After the ribbon is sewed on, pin the two pieces of the bird's body together. Sew the pieces together, leaving an inch or so of an opening.
  • Stuff the fiberbill through the opening. I prefer to use a knitting needle to get the fiberfill evenly spread out and in places like the bird's tail and head.
  • Sew the opening closed.

I found this craft to be super easy and so much fun! One bird took me about an hour, but I am a super slow sewer, so if you are anything above a novice, I'm sure this will go faster for you.

Happy crafting!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Chicken Asparagus Gratin

This recipe was delicious. I'm not kidding - it was so good that we ate the whole thing rather quickly. It doesn't hurt our fondness for this recipe that we have a huge bag of asparagus in our freezer we picked for free at a relative's house and we redeemed SwagBucks to get noodles for free.

  • 2 1/2 cups uncooked pasta
    • We recomend the cavatappi noodles, but you already knew that, didn't you?
  • 1 making of homemade cream of something soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked asparagus, chopped up into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped up into small pieces
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • Cook pasta according to packaged directions
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Mix together the pasta, all non-cheese ingredients, and 1/2 of the cheese in a bowl.
  • Put into a 9x13 baking dish and cook for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and stir.
  • Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.
  • Return to oven for 5 minutes.
  • Servings: 4
  • Serving size: About 1 1/2 cup
  • Calories per serving: 520
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

In My Mailbox

We had a great couple of weeks in freebies! Here's what we received:
  • American Reunion DVD
  • Eat More of What You Love cookbook
  • Two OK magazine issues
  • Better Homes and Gardens magazine issue
  • Family Fun magazine issue
  • Poise sampler pack
We redeemed points we earned through SwagBucks to get gift cards. We used those gift cards to get the DVD and cookbook. The movie was super funny and one we would definitely watch again and again. The cookbook looks great!

We signed up somewhere online to get OK and Family Fun magazine subscriptions for free for one year. We won a free year-long subscription to Better Homes and Gardens from a Purex sweepstakes.

We signed up online to receive a free Poise sampler pack. Three feminine care products came in the sampler pack. We love freebies!

Monday, July 23, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

We are suckers for a good chocolate/banana muffin. It was with much happiness that we found this recipe, as it is much healthier than other recipes we have found in the past.

You lose a lot of chocolate chips when they are sprinkled on top like this so we changed the recipe a bit to have them mixed in on the inside. We don't have a pic of that, but this is how we made them the first time, with the chips on top.

  • 1 cup (about 2) mashed bananas
  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Splenda granulated sweetener
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg white
  • 3 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
    • If you do not have mini chips, you can use normal-sized chips chopped up.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Lightly spray muffin pan with cooking spray.
  • In a bowl, whisk together the banana, yogurt, Splenda, egg, egg white, butter, and vanilla extract.
  • In a different large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
  • Leave a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.
  • Stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  • Add in the chocolate chips and stir as little as possible to incorporate them.
  • Spoon batter equally into the muffin cups.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Cool for 5 minutes and then remove to a wire rack.
  • Serving size: 1 muffin
  • Servings per recipe: 12
  • Calories per serving: 155
  • This recipe was found in the Eat What You Love cookbook.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Choice of:
Toast and eggs
English muffins

Choice of:
Sandwiches with cheese sticks
Chicken nuggets/tenders and carrots

Chili mac
Canned soup and grilled cheese samiches
Eat-from-the-freezer night
Hard-boiled eggs, bread and butter, fruit
Creamy chicken and dumpling soup
Lemon-rosemary roasted tilapia, baked potato, broccoli
Baked potato night

Special snacks
Amazing peanut butter cookies

Recipes {possibly} coming soon:
Chili mac
Creamy chicken and dumpling soup
Amazing peanut butter cookies

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saving the Moola: do you drive? you need to read this post!

photo credit
Most Americans have vehicles. And if you have a vehicle that you want to drive, guess what? It needs fuel!

If you have a car and drive it and have a warehouse store near you, I cannot encourage you enough to go out literally right now and purchase a membership.

Despite the fact that you can save on certain groceries and household items, the fuel savings alone is worth the cost of membership. In fact, if you make it a point to always, or most of the time, get gas from a warehouse store, you will earn back your membership fee and save on top of it!

Jason and I have been Sam's Club members for several years now. Until recently, we did not even think to get gas there. Big mistake! We went to Sam's Club for our monthly grocery shopping trip and on the way, we passed by several gas stations where gas was $3.19. On a whim, I said we should check at Sam's Club since we were going there anyway.

We were beyond thrilled when the cost of gas at Sam's Club was just $3.04 with a Sam's Club membership card! We saved about $1.50 that day, and we get gas about once per week. If we used Sam's Club each week {and we have been getting gas there fairly regularly since that first time}, we would save about $78 over the course of the year. The membership fee is $40, so we save a true amount of $38!

And if you shop inside the store, making sure to price items out carefully to ensure you are getting the best price anywhere {we have a price book for this}, you could save more on top of the $38, after taking into account the membership fee.

The fuel savings may not always be 15 cents per gallon. The last time we went, we saved a total of 10 cents per gallon. But if a Sam's Club is near your house or place of employment, so you'd be passing by the store anyway, you absolutely should have a Sam's Club card and get your gas there.

The best news is that you do not even have to be a member to get savings on your fuel! You will receive extra savings if you do have a Sam's Club membership card, but if you decide you really don't want a membership card, check out their gas anyway. The last time we went, the gas was 5 cents cheaper per gallon than all the other gas stations on the same street. We saved an additional 5 cents per gallon with our card, but you can still save pennies per gallon without a card! It just makes sense {and cents! haha} to go to Sam's Club to fill up your tank.

While we only know of and have personally experienced the savings at Sam's Club, which is our local warehouse store, if you have a BJ's, Costco or other warehouse store in your area, absolutely check them out!

This Book Room: Love Finds You... in Mackinac Island

As the Gilded Age comes to a close, Elena Bissette's once-wealthy family has nearly lost its fortune. The Bissettes still own a home on fashionable Mackinac Island, where they will spend one last summer in the hope of introducing Elena to a wealthy suitor. But Elena is repulsed by the idea of marrying for money.
Quickly tiring of the extravagant balls, Elena spends most evenings escaping back into Mackinac's rugged forest. There she meets Chase, a handsome laborer who shares her love for the night sky. The two begin to meet in secret at an abandoned lighthouse, where they work together to solve a mystery buried in the pages of a tattered diary.
As Elena falls in love with Chase, her mother relentlessly contrives to introduce her to Chester Darrington, the island's most eligible bachelor. Marriage to the elusive millionaire would solve the Bissettes' financial woes, and Elena is torn between duty and love.
My thoughts: I truly enjoyed this book... but possibly what I most enjoyed is that the book took place in my home state of Michigan on wonderful and exotic Mackinac Island. The letters dispersed throughout the book were a little confusing and distracting at first. I loved the development of the characters, though, and I especially loved that Elena and Chase didn't even meet until about halfway through the book. This added a lot of suspense and intrigue for me.
Chase is a really neat character, and his occupation, as an investor for inventors, doubly so. All of the characters were truly unique. That is rare and fresh for me, as a reader.
If you live in Michigan, definitely read this book. If you like stories with intrigue, you'll also enjoy this book!

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Gram's Chicken Pot Pie

Welcome to our great pot pie search. This is the third recipe that we have put on the blog, and if I am not mistaken, we have made one other pot pie recipe that didn't make the cut and didn't get posted. And the good news: this is the best one yet! We have made a few adjustments to make it a little healthier and a little tastier (more veggies, less puff pastry, etc.). I have no idea where this recipe comes from as it is hand written by Jess on a recipe card.

  • 2 Tbsp italian dressing
  • 1 lb raw bonless skinless chicken breast, cut into little cubes
  • 1 serving of cream of something soup mix
  • 3 cups frozen mixed veggies
  • 2 oz shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Heat the Italian dressing in a large skillet over medium high heat.
  • Add the chicken and cook, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes.
    • While the chicken cooks, this the perfect amount of time to make up the cream of something soup.
  • Add the veggies, soup and cheese to the chicken.
  • Stir until everything is all melted together and delicious looking.
  • Pour into a 9x9 pan sprayed with cooking spray.
  • Unfold the puff pastry and place over the pan.
  • Trim the excess puff pastry from around the corners.
  • Push the edges of the puff pastry into the rim of the pan to seal.
  • Brush the puff pastry with egg white.
  • Cut a few slits into the pastry.
  • Place on a baking sheet and cook for 30 minutes.
  • Let stand 5 minutes before serving. 
Statistics (The calorie count is our best guess)
  • Servings: 6
  • Calories per serving: 450
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Beauty Fix: who doesn't love a good bubble bath?

Bubble baths are one of my favorite things. If I could, I would take one every night, purely for relaxation purposes. That's not very feasible - I just have other things that need doing more than I need a bubble bath each night!

When I do take a bubble bath then, I want it to be an experience. I want to feel transported to some other place - a place where no responsibilities lie, a place where my mind doesn't have to going to a mile a second, a place where I can just chill and read a good book.

Bubble bath can be expensive. But I recently tried out a bubble bath that was both not atrocious in price and it was amazing in smell, which is key to a good bubble bath, too.

Sonoma Soap Company's bubble bath creates a mountain of bubbles with just one tablespoon of solution. I used gift cards I earned through Swagbucks to get a bottle of First Crush. It's made with certified organic grape seed, red raspberry extract and honey extract.
The best part - it's not drying. Usually, after I take a bubble bath, especially if I'm just doing a foot bath, my skin is very dry. I made myself a little foot bath with this and my feet were so moisturized. I couldn't believe it. I've never had a bubble bath that moisturized.

The cost isn't fantastical, but it's not insane either. Depending on where you purchase it, the cost will vary, but if you use and use the Subscribe + Save option, the cost will be $7.59 for 12 ounces. I was a tad upset when it arrived, and it wasn't completely full (but had seemingly not leaked during the shipping process). If you prefer to shop at a brick and mortar store, it looks like you may be able to find Sonoma Soap Company products at Sears or the Vitamin Shoppe.

I'm pretty excited, to say the least, to try the other scents. The other scents include Lavender Reserve and Citrus Medley - I think I'll try Citrus Medley next!

Sonoma Soap Company has other products for sale that I may try in the future, such as soap bars, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hand soap and shower gel. I would definitely not mind smelling like First Crush all over my body. The scent is delicious.

Share with me! Do you have a favorite bubble bath brand you could recommend? Any scents you love that you just have to have when you find them?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In My Mailbox

Here's what we received last week:
  • OK magazine issue
  • Good Housekeeping magazine issue
  • Woman's Day magazine issue
We signed up for all three magazine subscriptions somewhere online for free. In addition to signing up for magazines for ourselves, we've also sent free magazines to family members - my dad received Newsweek for a month free, and a car magazine is also being sent to his home for a year for free. He likes it so much, he said he wants to pay to keep the subscription going once it runs out!

Monday, July 9, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Beef Barley Vegetable Soup

Wow! This hearty soup was very good. Lots of veggies and a broth with some flavor. Top that all off with only about 15 to 20 minutes of actual work to get it cooking and you have yourself a winner.

  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (12 ounce) can beef with gravy
  • 4 beef bouillon cubes
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 10 oz frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce
  • In a soup pot, heat the EVOO over medium heat.
  • Add in the onion and celery and cook for 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times.
  • Add in the garlic powder and thyme and cook for another 1 minte.
  • Add all the remaining ingredients.
    • I recommend that you use a little bit of the water to rinse out the gravy that sticks to the side of the can. Just dump in about 1/8 of a cup, swish it around and pour the whole thing into the pot.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Cover, lower heat to medium low and cook for 40 to 50 more mintes
  • This recipe makes six servings.
  • Each serving is 1 1/2 cups.
  • Each serving is only 180 calories.
  • This recipe was originally found in the Eat What You Love cookbook.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's for Eats for Two Weeks!

Jason and I will be taking a break from A New Leaf Sunday, July 15 through Saturday, July 21 as we will be on vacation for most of that week. The hotel we will be staying at has a built-in cafe open from early in the morning until late at night with breakfast food, soups, salads, fruit, veggies, etc. so we will be eating most of our meals there while on vacation. Here's what's on our menu for the next two weeks, not including when we will be out of town:

Choice of:
Toast and eggs
English muffins

Choice of:
Sandwiches with cheese sticks
Chicken nuggets/tenders and carrots

Canned soup and grilled cheese samiches
Deli sandwiches, fruit, veggies (x3)
Hard-boiled eggs, bread and butter, fruit
Stovetop macaroni and cheese
Lemon-rosemary roasted tilapia, oven-roased green beans, baked potato
Baked potato night (x2) 
South Philly cheesesteak mac and cheese
Chicken caesar salad, grilled ham and cheese with tomato sandwiches

Special snacks/desserts
5-minute blackberry crisp
Banana chocolate chip muffins

Recipes {possibly} coming soon:
South Philly cheesesteak mac and cheese
Chicken caesar salad
Grilled ham and cheese with tomato sandwiches
5-minute blackberry crisp
Banana chocolate chip muffins

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Saving the Moola: June in review

More than any other month this year, June forced us to re-evaluate our priorities and pray... a lot. It's hard to stay true to ourselves when we allow others into our minds, but we really pulled this month off. We feel really good about the fact that half of the year is over! We're looking forward to what we can accomplish in the next six months.

Jason worked many hours at his job this month which allowed us to throw a lot of money at our debt. In fact, this month marks the point where we have, to date since March 25th, paid off more than 50% of our debt! We are pretty excited about the progress we've made. Our end date is to be debt free of student loans by December 31, but I have a feeling we might, we just might, reach our goal a bit sooner. YAY!

Paying off our debt sooner rather than later will be particularly joyful as there are a few items we really, really want to purchase. We're holding off on purchasing these until we're debt free, so when we are debt free, it will be that much more fun to be able to go out and pay cash for the wants we have and have no debt at home.

This month, we shared Suze Orman's motto and what it really means and Dave Ramsey's motto and how it applies to your life. These are key posts for standing in your truth and learning to say no to others {and yes to yourself}.

We also shared our realizations that in true busy seasons of life, our budget needs leniency and grace. This doesn't just save the budget from seriously imploding on itself, but it also saves one's sanity. Because we're predicting our lives will remain busier for the rest of the year than we had predicted at the beginning of the year, we've started saying no to some things when necessary to allow ourselves to live our truest lives.

We make it a point to have a time budget each and every day. This ensures we're not only maximizing the time we do have, but it also ensures we get rest time each day. Our bodies, souls and brains need time to rest and refresh, and if we were just going, going, going all day, we would just burn out. We want to make sure we're living our lives truthfully, and that sometimes means we can't be available for everyone.

Our mission is to first and foremost be available to God. Our minds and hearts are alert and open to God for whenever He speaks truth and encouragement and love to us. Our family, which is ourselves and our cat, are next important. We plan to focus more on making sure we have a family movie night each Saturday night in July and family game night each Sunday night in July. These absolutely fell off the radar in June, and we noticed it.

After that, our goals are to continue bringing the best of what we have to offer to this blog and to spend time with extended family and friends. We also like to give back to our local community in terms of our time and goods. We plan to keep these at the forefront of each day to ensure we're living our lives for God.

Without a time budget, we would waste time and money. June helped us to realize this even more, and it helped us to re-evaluate our priorities. Combine all of that with the fact that we paid off far, far more in debt than we imagined due to Jason's OT, June was one spectacular, surprising month.

Share with us! How are your financial goals coming along? Can you believe the year is half over?!?!

This Book Room

It’s summer vacation, the weather’s great, and all the kids are having fun outside. So where’s Greg Heffley? Inside his house, playing video games with the shades drawn.

Greg, a self-confessed "indoor person,” is living out his ultimate summer fantasy: no responsibilities and no rules. But Greg’s mom has a different vision for an ideal summer . . . one packed with outdoor activities and "family togetherness.”

Whose vision will win out? Or will a new addition to the Heffley family change everything?

Additional notes: This is the fourth book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here. There are currently six books in this series, and a seventh book is due out later this year.

My thoughts: Okay, I think this series is starting to grow on me. Greg is just a really self-absorbed person, and it does tend to get to me {even though I know well and good that I was exactly the same as a young lady}. This book, in particular, was very funny to me. I remember when my dad would get outraged that I would be in bed, still sleeping, and I would complain he was mowing the lawn because it would wake me up. Hahaha!
Before her mother died, Shelby promised three things: to listen to her father, to love as much as possible, and to live without restraint. Those Promises become harder to keep when Shelby's father joins the planning committee for the Princess Ball, an annual dance that ends with a ceremonial vow to live pure lives -- in other words, no "bad behavior," no breaking the rules, and definitely no sex.

Torn between Promises One and Three, Shelby makes a decision -- to exploit a loophole and lose her virginity before taking the vow. But somewhere between failed hookup attempts and helping her dad plan the ball, Shelby starts to understand what her mother really meant, what her father really needs, and who really has the right to her purity.


My thoughts: This book really, really, really bothered me on so many levels, I cannot even tell you. Basically, Shelby ends up having sex with a guy she doesn't even care for, on any level, so she can have sex later with guys. But really, she could've just told her father she didn't want to participate in a ceremony that involves pledging her purity and skipped losing her virginity before she was really ready and before she was in love {and in an ideal world that lives mostly only in my head, before she was married}. I really do not recommend this book for anyone, especially for the young adults this book is geared toward. You're going to do something you don't even really want to do just because you have communication problems? That's ridiculous.

A "saintly" old candy-store owner is on the lam-and bounty hunter extraordinaire Stephanie Plum is on the case. As the body count rises, Stephanie finds herself dealing with dead drug dealers and slippery fugitives on the chase of her life. And with the help of eccentric friends and family, Steph must see to it that this case doesn't end up being her last...

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Stephanie Plum series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here. There are currently 18 books in this series with a few between-the-numbers books as well. The nineteenth book is expected to be released later this year.

My thoughts: This is my absolute favorite Stephanie Plum book so far! I loved it. The characters seriously crack me up. The plot was well developed and surprising, too. Can't wait to read the next one!

Clark and Marty Davis, the pioneer couple thrown together after the death of their first spouses, now preside over a growing number of youngsters in their prairie home. Together they face the joys and trials of life on a homesteader's farm. Will they be able to find a suitable teacher for the long-awaited new school? Is the "very learned" Eastern preacher going to be able to communicate with the simple people of the West? And how do Clark and Marty guide their lovely daughter, now grown to womanhood, in her choice of a partner?

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Love Comes Softly series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are eight books in this series and all have been released.

My thoughts: I am seriously enjoying this series, but this second book was a bit fast-paced. It spans the time from when Missie was about five or six to when Missie is about 16 or 17. So it covers a lot of years, but it was really interesting. At the time I am writing this review, I just started reading the third book. It is focused on Missie's story, so I'm pretty excited about that.

When Susannah Nelson turned eighteen, she said goodbye to her boyfriend, Jake--and never saw him again. She never saw her brother, Doug, again, either. He died unexpectedly that same year.
Now, at fifty, Susannah finds herself regretting the paths not taken. Long married, a mother and a teacher, she "should" be happy. But she feels there's something missing in her life. Not only that, she's balancing the demands of an aging mother and a temperamental twenty-year-old daughter. Her mother, Vivian, a recent widow, is having difficulty coping and living alone, so Susannah goes home to Colville, Washington. In returning to her parents' house, her girlhood friends and the garden she's always loved, she also returns to the past--and the choices she made back then. What she discovers is that things are not always as they once seemed. Some paths are dead ends. But some gardens remain beautiful....

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Blossom Street series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here. There are currently nine books in this series.

My thoughts: I love the Blossom Street series, but I have to tell you, I really did not like this book. In fact, I only kept reading it because it's part of this series and I'm hoping the other books in the series are as good as the first two. I would say the ending is super surprising and shocked me. It was something I didn't expect at ALL. But I don't like the premise of the book and Susannah was annoying.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Gaming Corner: Clue Suspect

If you haven't noticed, there are a lot of card game adaptions of our favorite board games from when we were younger. And it goes to figure that Clue would be among them. Sad to say, but it would have been better for them to not have done it, as this game is not at the same level of fun and entertainment of the board game.

There is an assumption that Clue has been played before, as there is no reason given for figuring out anything, but as in the regular Clue game, you will be trying to figure out which of six individuals committed a crime, with one of six weapons, in one of five rooms. I know what you are thinking: there were six weapons and nine rooms in the board game. They needed to cut some things out so a player wouldn't be holding too many cards.

The card game comes with a selection of cards (go figure) and they are divided up as follows: Case File cards, Evidence cards, Reminder Cards, the Crime card, and not-used-in-the-game-at-all cards.

Mr. Green, the Rope, the Living Room - brings back memories of when I was young
Case File cards - there are four sets of case file cards. They are exactly identical and each player is given one set when the game starts. Each set contains a card for each suspect, weapon, and room. They are what you will be using to determine who did it, much like the checklist you would use in the actual Clue game.

Mr. Green, the Rope, the Living Room - brings back memories of the last picture
The Evidence cards are similar to the Case File cards in that there is one card for each suspect, weapon, and room but they have a slightly different purpose in the game. During the set up of the game, one suspect, one weapon, and one room card are randomly removed from the Evidence cards. The remainder of the evidence cards are then shuffled and dealt evenly to the players. If there are any extra cards, instead of one or more players getting extra, they are placed face up where all can see them.

The first of the un-needed cards. This one is the most useful.
But how useful is a reminder of rules to an incredibly simple game?
The Reminder cards actually can be used as rule cards if you know how to set up the game. We will cover the rules a little more later.

Maybe it is lined with lead to keep Superman from cheating with his x-ray vision.
The Crime card is placed over the three Evidence cards that are removed at the beginning of the game. Though there is very little point to this card, it stays out of the next category by just a hair.

If you have a shredder, you can shred these cards to make colorful confetti.
The cards that are not used in the game are just that. There is a description card for each of the six suspects and four blank cards. I don't know why they are included as they are totally pointless.

Game play consists of one player asking about any two cards. It could be a suspect and a room, or a weapon and a room, or two weapons, or any other combination of cards. Then, if the player on their left has an Evidence card for either of the two cards, they have to discreetly show that player one matching Evidence card. If no card is shown, the question is then posed to the next player, with the process being repeated until a card is shown or every player has been questioned. Players arrange all of their Case File cards in their hands in such a way as to know which cards are not right, which cards may be right, and which cards are definitely under the crime card. Once you know all three, you need to wait until the start of your turn to make an accusation. Place the three Case file cards that you think are under the crime card face down in front of you. Then, look at the three cards under the crime card. If right, you win. If wrong, you can no longer ask questions, but you still can answer them. Play continues until someone wins.

With all the cards in your hand, matched with the fact that the game only takes about ten minutes to play (and half of that is setting it up), something feels missing when you finish. Like I said earlier, this one should have stayed only a board game.

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, July 5, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Slow Cooker Beef & Mushroom Stew

Though this is by far the longest slow cooker recipe that we have ever made, that doesn't make it not worth it at all. Since it takes 1/2 a day to cook, you may want to get the non-liquid ingredients ready the day before so you can quickly get this going early (I actually had to get up early just to get this started on time).
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless beef roast, chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1/3 of a cup of homemade cream of something soup mix
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup burgundy (or any other dry red wine)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp crushed basil
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 3 cups mushrooms, chopped in quarters
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen pearl onions
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • In a plastic bag, put in the beef and 2 Tbsp flour and a couple shakes of pepper and give it a good shake.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add floured beef and cook until browned, stirring often.
  • Transfer beef to slow cooker.
  • Add wine, soup, water, garlic, oregano, garlic powder, basil, pepper, mushrooms, carrots and onions in the slow cooker.
  • Cover and cook on low heat for 10 to 12 hours.
  • Mix 2 Tbsp flour and water.
  • Mix flour mixture in with the beef.
  • Turn slow cooker to high and cook for another 15 minutes. 
  • This recipe makes about 4 servings.
  • Each serving is about 450 calories.
  • The original recipe was found in a Campbell's recipe box.
  • The next time I make this, I will be adding frozen peas to the recipe when I add the flour mixture.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

In My Mailbox

Here's what we received last week:
  • Shape magazine issue
  • Every Day Food magazine issue
We picked up a free year-long subscription to Shape magazine somewhere online. We redeemed RecycleBank points to get a year-long subscription to Every Day Food magazine for free.

We like to show what we receive each week for free to encourage you to request freebies. You may have thought requesting freebies isn't worth it - we think it definitely is! Maybe the items you receive for free will bless you with a new favorite recipe or a day's worth of free shampoo. Or maybe you can bless someone else with the free items you receive.

State of Our House Address: June in review

I'm so excited because I took pictures of us throughout the month so I can share, photo-journal style, what we did this month! Yay!

While we strayed from our family movie nights and family game nights due to work and other factors, we're committed to bringing these back in full force for July and onward. We were crankier without our rest time with each other, so we'll be making a serious effort to have these each once a week in July.

With that said, though, we did a lot of fun things in June!

June is strawberry season in Michigan. We canned four batches of strawberry jam this year. It is delicious!

We went swimming in my parents' pool. It seems whenever we go, our niece and nephew are there. They sure love Jason because he's always ready to jump in the pool. Our nephew, in particular, very much loves his Uncle Jason. He even called Jason the night before to make sure he was bringing his swimming gear. Haha!

We made it a point to be sure we spent a lot of time with Preston, especially near the end of the month. He was getting so antsy due to lack of attention. Our poor baby! Here's an especially adorable picture of Preston after getting a little workout with his favorite toy.

We enjoy crafting and typically spend Sundays watching cooking shows or listening to music or podcasts while crafting. I had been working on knitting a very basic shawl (using just the knit stitch - I haven't quite learned purl yet!) for warmth in the winter. I started it in January and finally finished it this month. I'm actually quite in love with it and excited to wear it this fall and winter.

Our favorite activities are typically very quiet ones, and I have to say we sure do enjoy our quiet time! One of Jason's favorite pasttimes is puzzles. He likes to listen to an audiobook while he figures out a puzzle, and you know Preston just has be in on the action, too.

That's our June. We pray our and your coming month is filled with grace + love.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

-Ecclesiates 3

Monday, July 2, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Wholesome Banana Bread

There is nothing better to do with a couple of overripe bananas than to make some banana bread. We were eating this by the plate full and it almost is low enough in calories that I didn't mind.

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup Splenda granulated sweetener
  • 3 medium ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup boring white flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with cooking spray
  • In a bowl, beat the eggs and Spenda together with an electric mixer on medium until the eggs have tripled in volume.
  • Reduce the spead of the mixer to low and mix in the bananas, oil, molasses, and vanilla extract.
  • Mix until well blended.
  • In a separate bowl, mix remaining ingredients.
  • Using a spatula, add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients.
  • Using the same spatula, mix together the dough just until everything is mixed.
    • Don't over mix as this is very bad.
  • Scrape the batter (with the same spatula again) into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.
  • Put the banana bread into the prepared oven and let it sit there for 45 to 50 minutes.
  • Use the toothpick trick to see if the bread is done.
    • The toothpick trick involves sticking a toothpick in the thickest part of the banana bread. If it comes out with wet batter on it, you need to cook the bread longer.
  • Let the bread sit in its pan in a wire cooling rack for 15 minutes.
  • Remove the bread from the pan and let it finish cooling, or serve it right away.
This recipe came from the Eat What You Love cookbook.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Choice of:
Toast and eggs
English muffins

Choice of:
Sandwiches with cheese sticks
Chicken nuggets/tenders and carrots

Canned soup and grilled cheese samiches
Dinner at extended family's house
Gram's chicken pot pie
Chicken asparagus gratin
Stovetop macaroni and cheese
Lemon-rosemary roasted tilapia, honey roasted carrots, baked potato
Baked potato night

Special snacks
Apple-honey tea

Recipes {possibly} coming soon:
Apple-honey tea
Gram's chicken pot pie
Chicken asparagus gratin