Monday, April 30, 2012

In the Kitchen With Jason: Coconut Shrimp

So, shrimp isn't my favorite type of food. Actually I usually avoid anything that lives in the water unless it has been lathered in a batter and dropped in a vat of hot grease. But when the wife says she wants shrimp, arguing with her isn't worth the energy. Plus I have learned that she picks good recipes. So with a little trepidation, I turned to page 68 of Cook This Not That Easy & Awesome 350-Calorie Meals and made the following recipe.

This is what yummy shrimp looks like.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 12 oz large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Sweet Asian chili sauce
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Mix together bread crumbs, coconut, salt, and pepper in a pie pan.
  • Put flour in a second pie pan, and egg in a third.
  • Coat each shrimp in flour.
  • Dip each floured shrimp in the egg.
  • Dip each egged and floured shrimp in the coconut/bread crumb mixture.
  • Bake on a nonstick baking sheet for 10 minutes.
  • Serve with chili sauce for dipping.
The cookbook also imparts that this coconut shrimp recipe is better than the Red Lobster Jumbo Shrimp by $11.10 and 780 calories per serving, just in case you wanted to know. I will also let you know that I, not so surprisingly, liked them.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Oatmeal banana muffins

Lunch
Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese sticks
Canned soup
Leftovers

Dinner
Baked potato bar
Barbecue roast beef samiches, carrots, chips
Creamy potato soup, bread, carrots
Crispy parmesan fish, carrots, baked potatoes
Taco bowl
Leftovers
Dinner out

Special Snacks/Desserts/Beverages
Double fudge brownies
No-bake healthy granola bars

Recipes {possibly} coming soon:
Double fudge brownies
Crispy parmesan fish
Creamy potato soup
Barbecue roast beef samiches

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saving the Moola: eliminate bills you don't really need or want

Jason and I live pretty simply. Our monthly cost to live is far less than what we earn in a month, so we're on track with the whole "live below your means" idea. But lately, particularly this year when we've really cracked down on everything, it has seemed we're just paying too much!

Last year, it was our cell phone bill. We had a contract with Verizon. The contract included two phones and their most basic plan. We had no texting and limited calls each month, and our bill was more than $80! Since we also had a landline, this seemed crazy. Why do two people need three phones? The second our contract was up, we canceled and switched to Metro PCS and one cell phone.

Yes, one cell phone. We don't have a data plan - that's right, no internet on our phone. For those of you who have it and love it, that's great, but we will probably never understand the lure of having the internet on you 24/7. In fact, we don't even see the lure of having a cell phone on one's person 24/7.

Our phone bill is less than half the cost now, and it's a flat fee each month. We can text all we want, and we often text/email back and forth. We have unlimited calls per month, and that's been the best part of all! We use this phone both for work and personal uses, and it's very handy to know we can talk as much as we'd like or need to, any time of the day.

This year, one cost we eliminated was a second car. This happened in February, and we're so glad we don't have to worry about maintaining a second car, especially since we never used it.

In March, we really got crazy. Our DVR sat filled with shows. The TV was never on. Why in the world, we thought to ourselves, are we paying for cable? Our bill was steep. We called and canceled the cable, once our contract with AT&T was up. The shows we love are available for free online: Last Man Standing, Make It or Break It, The Sing-Off, the Suze Orman Show, Cougar Town.

We even considered selling our TV, but we decided to keep it for family movie nights. But since we watch it only once per week for that purpose, it's currently stored in the office closet. When we need it, we pull it out and hook it up. It seemed silly to keep the TV as the focal point in our living room when the TV is not a focal point of our lives.

When we canceled cable, our AT&T bill still had two components to it: a landline and internet. Because we work from home, we can't cancel the internet (otherwise, I really think we would). We kept debating the landline issue back and forth: one of us wanted to cancel right away, and the other thought we should still keep it (to protect the crazy-minded, I won't tell you which one of us wanted to keep it... hehe, I think I just gave it away!). After a lot of prayer, we both came to the same conclusion: the landline needs to go. Not just for money sake. The landline drives us bananas. Besides the fact that the only real human who calls us on it is my mother, as she was the only other human to know that number (and she knows she really should call us on our cell), we received tons of calls from solicitors.

We canceled our landline and haven't looked back since. Now, our AT&T bill is much smaller and much more easy to swallow. We could afford to keep all those other things - landline, cable TV - but we weren't using them! We were paying for services that not only did not we need, but we didn't want them either. We have one phone between the two of us now, and so far, it hasn't been an issue.

And we'll proudly admit and share: part of our decision in canceling our cable service involved God (most of our decisions do). Most of the shows on TV do not honor God. And by most, we mean 99.99999% of them. God doesn't say to love Him with 99.99999% of your heart. He says, if you do that, you are not honoring Him. Either you give your whole life to Him, or you don't give it at all. When we realized we weren't giving our whole lives to Him, in terms of our money management, our time, etc., and one reason was a television, we got our act together real quick. We're not going to let something like a television, a television, people, get in the way of loving God.

Whether or not your goal is to honor God, you should still eliminate bills in your home you don't want or need. And you should evaluate each item in your home, whether it's a TV, a computer, etc., to determine if that item is really bringing value to your life. Our goal is not to just do everything everyone else does but if everyone else is doing it, then surely we must, too. As of this writing, we own nothing made by Apple. We have a simple cell phone. We do not have a TV set up in our home.

We're going to live like no one us now and forever because we don't care what anyone else is doing. We care what we're doing. We care about what we're teaching ourselves. We care about what we're teaching whatever future children we may have (if we have any). We care about being responsible to the planet and to God. We care about cherishing ourselves and our family.

We hope you feel encouraged to break out of the mold of normalcy and join us in being weird. And share with us! What bill have you cut from your life? Do other people think you are weird, and how much do you love that?

This Book Room

Fourteen-year-old Johnny Trott, a bellboy at London's Savoy Hotel in 1912, becomes caregiver to Kaspar Kandinsky, the Prince of Cats, and soon the two are stowing away on the "Titanic," where they are befriended by the Stanton family of New York.

My thoughts: I loved this book - quick, easy to read, light. This book is perfect for middle-grade level or even elementary-grade level students! It's not too scary, I promise (Jason was worried - he knows how I get when an animal is featured in a story and the story is sad...).

The fabulous foursome readers embraced as The Mysterious Benedict Society is back with a new mission, significantly closer to home. After reuniting for a celebratory scavenger hunt, Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance are forced to go on an unexpected search--a search to find Mr. Benedict. It seems that while he was preparing the kids' adventure, he stepped right into a trap orchestrated by his evil twin Mr. Curtain.

With only one week to find a captured Mr. Benedict, the gifted foursome faces their greatest challenge of all--a challenge that will reinforce the reasons they were brought together in the first place and will require them to fight for the very namesake that united them.


Additional notes: This is the second book in the Mysterious Benedict Society series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are currently four books in this series that have been released.

My thoughts: This book caught me from the first page and really didn't let up until the very ending. There was so much action and adventure in this book and quite a few surprises. If you're a fan of Roald Dahl-type writing, you'll enjoy this series immensely. This series is also highly appropriate for middle-school students and up.

In this irresistible romantic comedy from award-winning author Beth Kendrick, three wildly different women form an unlikely friendship as they try to decide whether they'd do it all again.

They've had the white dresses and the fancy receptions. But now that the honeymoon's over, Stella, Casey, and Erin have each had to face some hard truths about the men they've married and the lives they've chosen. So when the news breaks that the pastor who presided over their weddings failed to file a few critical pieces of paper, none of these newlyweds are rushing down to the courthouse to legalize their vows. Instead, the brides share their hopes, disappointments, and secrets while grappling with that pivotal question: Should they stay or should they go?

My thoughts: I feel like I should first say that I had never read anything by Beth Kendrick before, and none of her other books and their ratings look tempting. But this book was awesome! I laughed out loud in several places. This book was so engaging - I was reading it whilst taking a bath one night and overflowed the tub! Whoops.

Central Operator Katie Russell's inquisitive ways have just uncovered her parents' plan for her marriage to wealthy bachelor Bartholomew Foster. Then Katie overhears a phone conversation that makes her uneasy and asks authorities to investigate. But the caller is nowhere to be found.

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

My thoughts: The summary above is horrible, I have to say. It's not a very description of the book. This is a historical Christian fiction book with a bit of suspense, mystery and romance. I didn't like how Katie's mum turned out to be - we got to know these characters a bit in the first book, and Inez turned out to not be that awesome, as she is somewhat portrayed in the first book. Katie was also annoying at times, but I enjoyed the book nevertheless.


These stories-like your favorite Christmas ornaments-come in all shapes and sizes. They unfold in a variety of settings, from ancient Bethlehem to rural England. From a small Texas town to the heavenly realms. Some are short. Others many chapters long. Some offer reflections. Others imagine Christmas through the eyes of a burnt-out candle maker, a lonely business man, or heavenly angels. "Yet all are vintage Lucado, and all resonate with the wonder of the season." "In the mystery of Christmas," Max writes, "we find its majesty. The mystery of how God became flesh, why he chose to come, and how much he must love his people. Such mysteries can never be solved, just as love can never be diagrammed. Christmas is best pondered, not with logic, but imagination." That's what each of these unique Christmas stories help us do. In the midst of the bustle and hurry that often distracts us this time of year, these stories free us to explore the ways in which Christ's coming has forever changed history-and us.

My thoughts: If you love Christmas, this book is a must read. Some of the Christmas stories shared here are in Max Lucado's other Christmas book, but there are new ones included in this collection that make the entire book a worthwhile read. It's also a quick read - I finished the book in a few hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Life & Style: Pantry + Freezer Challenge, Part 4

For all of April, we're doing a Pantry + Freezer challenge! Join us as we cook up dishes using ingredients on hand. We'll be sharing our experiences with our challenge throughout the month in a special Life & Style series. You can read Part 1 of this series here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here. Check back every Friday for new posts, and check out what our menu plan is each week in our What's for Eats This Week posts on Sundays.

I have to say that I don't feel like we did a great job with this challenge. We made minimal new meals, we ate up a lot of our inventory and we ate out minimally, but after the first week, I think it lost some of its fun.

I guess that's kind of the point, though, right? Not everything in life is going to be fun, but it will be what you make of it, and I could have made more of this than I did.

Declaring a Pantry + Freezer Challenge definitely has its benefits, and we'll have to do this again in the future otherwise our pantry and freezer would be overrun with food. Hopefully, we can eat meals from the pantry and freezer each week throughout the year while making new recipes so maybe we'll just do a challenge for a week instead of a whole month.

Either way, I'm definitely looking forward to trying new recipes in May!

The Gaming Corner: The Game of Life

This game only bears a slight resemblance to the Game of Life I played as a kid, but it's a fun game no matter which board you are playing on.

The Game of Life set up and ready to play
 The premise behind the game is simple. You start out by yourself in a car. As you spin the spinner and move your car along the track (representing your life), each space you end your turn on represents different things that happen in your life. At the start of the game, you have to decide if you are going to go to college or get a jump on life. Going to college nets you $100,000 in game debt but gets you a job that pays more, while getting a jump on life gets you a few spaces ahead of the college goers and no debt. After choosing your career, you will get hitched, buy a starter house, sue other players, go back to college (or to college for the first time), buy a bigger home, and eventually retire. Once every player has retired, the player with the most money wins.

The bright yellow spaces somehow make the game seem a little more silly than the black spaces on the board I grew up with. The cartoon people drawn all over the board make the game a little more silly, but in a fun way. The game still plays much the same. Stock market spaces have been replaced with Spin it to Win it spaces and Revenge spaces have been replaced with Lawsuit spaces.

The end game is different, as in the old game, you chose either go on to the Millionaire Acres or the Poor Farm. They have been replaced with Millionaire Estates and Countryside Acres, and players going to the countryside acres actually have a chance to win.

The game does require some assembly (the box warns you that adult assembly is required) but it isn't too hard. Also, this game doesn't do a good job of pointing out any good values, more along the lines of the person with the best job who sues everyone else wins (which some people may actually agree with, but we do not). It's probably best if you play this game with children old enough to truly understand that debt and suing people are not the answer to life (no pun intended!).

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, April 26, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Oven Roasted Green Beans

This is an amazing side dish. Easy, quick, and tasty. As the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook states, you will use this as a go-to side.


Ingredients
  • 1 lb green beans, trimmed
  • 2 tsp EVOO
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  • Combine green beans with EVOO and pepper.
  • Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  • Arrange beans on the cookie sheet in a single layer.
  • Bake the beans for 10 minutes, flipping them halfway through.
  • Once done cooking, toss with lemon juice and serve.
If you didn't believe me when I said easy, you have to admit I was right. The hardest part of this recipe is trimming the green beans (and one pound can be done in less than five minutes).

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Homemade: Hand Soap

There are a lot of different ways to make homemade liquid hand soap if you don't prefer using a bar. I don't mind using a bar, but liquid hand soap is a great item to have on hand. We use liquid hand soap in our master bathroom and our kitchen and sometimes in our guest bathroom as well.

This homemade solution originally came from Savvy Housekeeping. This is what I would say to you - if you are looking for a homemade hand soap that is exactly like what you buy at the store, you should skip this solution. Personally, I don't really care if it looks or feels differently. The goal is to wash my hands, not to have an experience some corporation decided I should have, thus I believe I should as well.

If you want the same exact experience as Savvy Housekeeping originally had, use Yardley soap in particular. I used a nice bar I had around the house that I had purchased a long time ago. I'm okay with how it came out, but I will likely use Yardley in the future as Yardley is cheaper than the fancy bar I used, plus I can get Yardley through amazon.com for free using gift cards I earned through SwagBucks.

So if you're into trying new things and are open to new experiences, definitely try this solution. It's super quick and easy and very easy on the wallet. It is a bit watery, but it does lather up nicely and my hands feel clean after using it. The more I use it, the more I like it.


Here's what you need to make homemade hand soap:
  • 1 cup soap flakes
  • 10 cups of water
  • 1 Tbsp. glycerin
Here's how you make it:
  1. Measure 10 cups of water into a large pot.
  2. Add in 1 cup of grated soap flakes. One bar of soap makes about two cups; store the other cup in a bowl for future use.
  3. Add 1 Tbsp. of glycerin.
  4. On about medium heat, heat the mixture until the soap is dissolved.
  5. Remove the pot from the burner and let the mixture completely cool.
  6. Funnel the mixture into a container to store. I used three quart jars, and they were completely full.

Beauty Fix: a wash cloth just doesn't cut it

If you read this blog regularly, you know we're pretty frugal. This doesn't mean we don't splurge on certain items, though. One example, not beauty-related, is that we lo-ove our Bose in-ear headphones. We recently bought a second pair of these so that Jason and I could each have our own pair. These are pretty pricey at $100 each, but they are the best in-ear headphones ever. You can literally hear a difference in the sound, and they fit so comfortably in the ear.

Anyway, that's just to show that if you live simply, you can splurge here and there. And one item I definitely splurged on, and never regretted, is my Clarisonic.


And actually, I just lied. Technically, I somewhat regret it. I regret purchasing a Clarisonic Plus (pictured above) because I never, ever have used it on my body. The Clarisonic Plus can be used on your face and your body - there are separate brush heads for each. I don't really regret it, though, as I really do mean to try it in the shower - I just haven't gotten around to it yet!

The Clarisonic Plus is the most expensive model and ranges in price depending on where you shop (hint: QVC often has lower prices on Clarisonic than other stores, including clarisonic.com). I purchased my Clarisonic in a kit with philosophy products for less than $200, but this model, with Clarisonic products, sells for $225 on clarisonic.com. So definitely shop around!

Besides this model, there is the Classic Clarisonic face model and the Mia 1 and 2 models, which are travel Clarisonic models. There is also an Acne Clarisonic and a Professional Clarisonic. I prefer plain white, and that is what I purchased a year or so ago, but the models came in a wide range of colors and patterns now.

So why spend so much on something that cleans your face? Why not just use a wash cloth, right? Here's why: your wash cloth isn't really cleaning your face as well as you think it is. When I bought the Clarisonic, I made it a point to wear make up as soon as I got it. That night, I used my favorite cleanser, philosophy purity made simple, and a wash cloth. Then, I used the same cleanser with my Clarisonic without reapplying the make up. When I pulled the brush away from my face, the brush was colored with my foundation!

Clearly, wash cloths do not get all the uck off your face. Granted, I rarely wear make up. Most days, I use my Clarisonic just once, right after I shower, and I use philosophy's microdelivery exfoliating wash. My face feels cleaner after using the Clarisonic than when I use a wash cloth.

And it's not really just me who thinks this. Visit clarisonic.com - there are pictures to prove the Clarisonic cleans more effectively than traditional methods.

The brush heads do have to be replaced every now and then, so there are maintenance costs involved. However, I've only changed my brush head once in the past year, and the kit I ordered came with two brush heads in addition to the one that came on it (I have one brush head left that is completely unused).

The Clarisonic is super easy to use and really takes all the thought out of washing one's face. There's a timer for each section of your face, so you just move the Clarisonic from one section when it makes a beeping noise.

I don't recommend the Clarisonic to everyone - if you don't really care about how clean your face is, definitely don't buy this. I am a germ-phobe (even of my own!), and I love the fact that I can count on my Clarisonic to keep my face clean. Jason doesn't use it regularly (which I kind of like because it's kind of like sharing a toothbrush in my mind, and that's gross), but he has used it quite a few times and loves it. When I asked why he doesn't use it every day, he said it was just easier to throw soap on his face in the shower (mind you, I don't think Jason ever is clean enough - did I mention I'm a germ-phobe? - so I really don't think this should be anyone's way of cleansing oneself).

While the price is steep, the benefits are too. The price tag is well worth it for this, and I would buy mine all over again if I didn't yet own one, or if mine broke. If you have a hefty Christmas budget set aside, I think this is a great gift for anyone.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In My Mailbox


This was a great week for freebies! Here's what we received:
  • Women's Health magazine issue
  • Better Homes and Gardens magazine issue
  • Whole Living magazine issue
  • Popular Science magazine issue
  • 12 boxes of Back to Nature Organic Shells and Cheese
I signed up for Women's Health and Popular Science magazine subscriptions somewhere. I redeemed RecycleBank points for a free subscription to Whole Living. I won a free Better Homes and Garden magazine subscription from Purex.

I redeemed amazon.com gift cards I earned through SwagBucks to get 12 free boxes of macaroni and cheese. I love the Back to Nature brand, and I love, love, love that I can get organic groceries for free. Jason and I had a box for lunch the day these arrived, and we're definitely fans.

Monday, April 23, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole

We like chicken, rice and broccoli meals. We also like everything that we have ever put our cream of something soup in. On top of that, we love meals where after 15 minutes of prep, you are all done working on it. Put all that together and you have this delicious meal that we found in the Fix-It and Forget-It Christmas Cookbook.
Please ignore the spoon sticking out of the left side of the bowl.
I almost started eating before I took the picture.
Ingredients
  • 3 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup (or 1 serving of cream of something soup)
  • 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 3 cups cooked white rice (1 cup uncooked white rice to start with)
  • 3 cups (1 bag) frozen broccoli cuts, thawed and chopped into smaller pieces.
  • A couple dashes of pepper
  • 4 oz. can mushrooms, drained.
Directions
  • Heat oil in a large skillet.
  • Add chicken and cook until it starts to brown on the outside.
  • Mix everything in a 4 quart crock pot.
  • Cover and cook on low for 2 to 3 hours.
We loved this recipe. Jess actually raced to the kitchen so she could scoop out her seconds before I got there. You will like this recipe a lot if you try it.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

For all of April, we're doing a Pantry + Freezer challenge! Join us as we cook up dishes using ingredients on hand. We'll be sharing our experiences with our challenge throughout the month in a special Life & Style series every Friday. As always, check back on Sundays to read about what we're cooking up each week.

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
Donuts

Lunch
Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese sticks
Canned soup
Leftovers

Dinner
Chicken tenders, corn, baked beans
Pasta, garlic bread
Canned soup and grilled cheese
Hamburgers, corn, homemade french fries
Steak, baked potatoes, broccoli
Taco bowl
Dinner out to celebrate the end of our pantry + freezer challenge!

Special Snacks/Desserts/Beverages
No-bake healthy granola bars
Frozen banana bites

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saving the Moola: financial planning

There are lots of ways to save money, but saving money, whether by couponing, shopping at thrift stores, being a one-car family, etc., doesn't really do or mean anything unless you have a plan. You have to tell your money where to go instead of wonder where it went - Dave Ramsey talks about this frequently on his radio show.

Ya'll know Jason and I are both fans of Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey. Jason is also currently reading Jim Sammon's Financial Freedom book and watching the accompanying DVDs. There are other financial gurus out there as well, we're sure.

Whether you choose to follow one of their plans or not, you need a plan. Jason and I actually don't follow Suze's plan or Dave's plan. We've taken what we feel is best for ourselves from their plans and created our own plan.

Here's the short versions of their plans:
  • Suze advises that you have an 8-month emergency fund and build that while paying down debt.
  • Dave has baby steps. Baby step 1 is a $1,000 emergency fund. Baby step 2 is pay off all debt except a mortgage. Baby step 3 is build a 3- to 6-month emergency fund. Check out his book, The Total Money Makeover, for all the steps. 
  • Suze advises that you max out your ROTH IRA each year.
  • Dave says to commit 15% of your bring-home pay to retirement.
Right now, we have an emergency fund bigger than $1,000 but smaller than eight months of expenses. We wanted something bigger than $1,000 because we are driving a very old car who really could die at any time. We wanted to be able to buy something right away if our car does die (praying constantly to God that our car lasts a long, long time!).

Our right-now emergency fund is done. I have two student loans, and that's all the debt we have. We're currently paying the smallest one as fast as we can. Dave says to pay off the smallest loans first, regardless of interest, to get your momentum going. Suze says to pay off the loan with the highest interest rate first. We chose the smallest just to get it out of the way, then we could focus all our attention on the big loan.

While we're paying down our debt, we're not really living on rice and beans, beans and rice, as Dave recommends. We are taking a vacation this year, and we do set aside money each month for entertainment, clothing and crafts. We're making sacrifices, but we're not sacrificing everything. We don't want to get burned out, and we thought if we preserved some fun, it would motivate us enough to keep going.

Once our debt is paid off, we're going to build our 8-month emergency fund. Dave just recommends 3 to 6 months, but we figure the more we have in there in case of an emergency, the better.

After that, we plan to save to buy a condo/house in cash. If our car should officially die before we buy real estate (and our car likely will die before then), we will use our emergency fund to pay for a new-to-us car in cash. Our goal is to purchase a condo/home in 2020 or before, as we both fully believe that in the mid '20s and beyond, the real estate market will recover. We don't think it's going anywhere really until then, so we're in no rush to buy.

We likely are going to buy a condo rather than a house - this is what I personally want, but Jason is still split on whether he wants a house or a condo. And really, this kind of just depends on what we can afford in cash. I think a condo is more likely and more sensible for us, but if we have the funds to buy a house and we find a house that fits what we want, we could buy a house. We'll just have to see!

Once we have a new-to-us car and a new home, we'll make sure our 8-month emergency fund is still in place. Since we'll use cash from the emergency fund for a new-to-us car, we'll have to replenish it.

After that, we're going to max out our ROTH IRA each year until we retire. The nitty gritty details of our plan tends to change often, but the big picture we just outlined doesn't really change.

Again, the point of this is not necessarily that we follow a specific plan, point by point, but that we have a plan and we have goals and dreams we're striving for. It's more exciting to have one car and reap the benefits of that if we know why we're doing it. Are we doing it because we're broke? No. Are we doing it to buy a new TV? No (because that wouldn't motivate us). We're doing this to be debt free, we're doing this to get a newer car, we're doing this to buy a house, etc.

Whatever your financial plan is, be on the same page with your spouse/partner. If you're single, share your goals with others. Make yourself be accountable to your dreams. We're not shy about sharing our plans. We love to tell others of the joy we're finding in living simply and meeting goals!

Share with us! Are you on a financial plan? What goals are you striving for?

This Book Room: Farm Fresh Southern Cooking

Farm Fresh Southern Cooking: Straight from the Garden to Your Dinner Table

This is a post like no other! Jason and I are both here to tell you our thoughts on this book, provided to us in exchange for our honest review by booksneeze.com. To make things easier, his comments will be all be italicized, while mine will be not {unless I'm putting emphasis on a specific word, but the majority of my words will be just regular, boring words like these words here).

I thought, I can't review a book and not have Chef Jason join with us with his thoughts! He was a very willing participant. If he could, he would spend all day reading cookbooks. Seriously.

"You mean, you cannot review a cookbook."

"Ba-abe." (mad because I'm typing what he's saying)

"Do you have any more thoughts so far?"

*Shakes his head*

Okay, so usually, we start with a summary. Here's a summary of the book courtesy of goodreads.com:

Is there anything better than a kitchen countertop spread with the spoils of a Saturday morning at the farmers' market? Every trip yields some new assortment of old favorites and newfound treasures. One week, you're tempted by the sun-warmed heirloom tomatoes and the Mason jars brimming with orange blossom honey. Another week, it's the slabs of milky Havarti cheese and the Red Haven peaches heavy with juice, enticing you to spend just a little more than you planned. Kentucky pole beans, silky ears of sweet corn, and sacks of stone-ground buckwheat flour may find their way into your basket on another visit.

Whether you shop with a list or purely on impulse, you'll always find the truest taste of home at the local farms, roadside stands, and produce markets in your community. These are the places that offer up the native flavors of the South and all its seasons. They are your portal to the fields, the waters, and the vines where your food is cultivated. Get to know the origins of what you eat and the people who produce it. Tammy Algood's Farm Fresh Southern Cooking celebrates this experience with delicious recipes that will enhance the natural flavors of your latest market haul and stories of the South's most dedicated growers and culinary producers.


Our thoughts
Whilst skipping the appetizer page that just lists all the appetizer recipes....

"You're not going to read them all?"

Jeez, he's testy today.

"You like this recipe, huh, babe?"

"Hmm."

I slap a Post-It note on the opposite page, since the opposite page is the right-hand page, which is where Post-Its go. We Post-It note cookbook pages with recipes we like, so they're easy to access later.

"You Post-Ited the wrong page."

Anyway...

"This recipe looks yummy, too."

I read the title: Pea Picking Salsa. The title doesn't thrill me, and neither does the picture.

"No."

After reading a few more pages, very sloooowly, I start flipping the pages (previously Jason was the page-flipper).

"If we keep going at this rate, it's going to take forever," I say while flipping quickly.

"You don't know how to read a cookbook."

Likely not... at least not the way Chef Jason does.

The cold summer peach soup catches my attention, but Jason makes a face, then once again criticizes where I place the Post-It note.

"I'm honestly going to think you Post-It noted the spotlight on peaches."

"You're fine, honey."

Preston decides he wants in on all the action and starts trying to bite us. This is his way of playing. It's not very nice of him, and he gets shoved unceremoniously off the ottoman.

Jason is enamored by the garden vegetable soup recipe and says, "Oh my goodness." He grabs the Post-It note and says, "Look, I'm Post-It noting the right side of the book."

Noticing what I'm writing, he says, "This review is about how I think you Post-It note the wrong page."

Possibly.

Preston has re-joined the party, apparently in a better mood.

"Preston's licking my toes."

"I feel like this cookbook is very... adventurous."

"It's very Southern. Where would we find crawfish?"

"Yeah, I don't think I want to eat crawfish though."

"Holy mother of sides!" I say when seeing the list of sides. There's a lot. That's probably good as we're always in need of a few good sides.

Jason spots a sweet and sour coleslaw recipe that he promptly Post-It notes. We love coleslaws.

The names of the recipes are a bit interesting, too. There's one called Freckle-Faced Carrot Casserole. We don't Post-It note that one, but we do Post-It note Orange Hugged Carrots. Just like with coleslaw, we're obsessed with carrots. We also like the parsnips and turnip recipes. These are such good veggies, but it can be difficult to find top-notch recipes featuring them.

Jason gives me a kiss. Awwww.

"Tomatoes with cornbread stuffing." He says it happily, then proceeds to read the entire recipe. He shifts his body to get more comfortable. (Do you all enjoy this play by play? I find it fascinating myself, although this may be the longest review ever and not entirely about the book).

Jason spots a hash brown recipe that intrigues him. "They're diced, not shredded," he says, referring to the potatoes. He does not Post-It note the page, though. Possibly, he's just too caught up in his reading.

I give him a kiss. It just makes me so happy when he's so happy. And he's very happy when reading a cookbook.

Fearful now because I'm clearly typing everything he's doing and saying, he now just points to pictures and recipes he likes.

"Oooo." The basil biscuits do look delicious and are worthy of the Post-It note he places on the page.

The cheddar muffin pan biscuits catch my eye, particularly because of how few ingredients are needed. I love a recipe with not a lot of ingredients. It just seems easier to make, then.

The breads section is so far our favorite. Hot cheddar cornbread looks delish as does hot water ham cornbread.

Clearly, we like our cornbread.

I do have to tell ya'll that it's really the conversations that I'm not typing that are hi-larious. But all would not be appropriate for this blog.

"Look at these pictures," Jason says in glee. He's very excited about the grilled cheese recipe. We really just love our simple, comfort foods.

"Lots of fishies. 'Cause there's lots of fishies in the South." I'm so eloquent. But really, there's many fish recipes in this book.

"Ooo, desserts, that's the best part," I say, after skipping rapidly through the entree section.

"Now type that."

Jason gives me a look after seeing that I typed, "Now type that." I keep telling him he doesn't need to see what I'm typing. He clearly disagrees.

We come to the end of the book.

"I like it." Jason says of the whole book, then leaves.

Okily-dokily.

The book is now peppered with Post-It notes. Heavily peppered. And while the book does focus on food easily found in the South, really, any food is found pretty easily within the US. And clearly, we really think we should live in the South. We found more cornbread recipes in the breakfast section and went nuts over them.

Readers, definitely be on the lookout for recipes from this book to be featured in "In the Kitchen with Jason."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Life & Style: Pantry + Freezer Challenge, Part 3

For all of April, we're doing a Pantry + Freezer challenge! Join us as we cook up dishes using ingredients on hand. We'll be sharing our experiences with our challenge throughout the month in a special Life & Style series. You can read Part 1 of this series here and Part 2 here. Check back every Friday for new posts, and check out what our menu plan is each week in our What's for Eats This Week posts on Sundays.

In Part 1, we talked about reasons why one might choose to complete a Pantry + Freezer challenge. Last week, I detailed how completing this challenge for a specific period of time could help your grocery budget. And this week, we're going to talk about something that I know will appeal to you: time.

Time is money. And even if it wasn't (since I don't believe time is always money), time is precious.

Creating a simple menu plan saves you time in the kitchen. If you grill hamburgers and cook baked potatoes and broccoli, there's minimal prep and cook time involved in the kitchen. If you, in the past, had cooked up a big pan of lasagna and froze half, the time involved in preparing a meal from the frozen lasagna is small. Make some homemade garlic bread and toss a salad, and you're good to go.

By completing a pantry + freezer challenge, you could easily free up one and a half hours of kitchen time. Chef Jason often spends at least this long, and scarily, usually much longer to prep, cook and clean up from a dinner meal. He's completed many side projects already this month and has been working on Sudoku puzzles and reading many, many books in his spare time since he's been spending less time in the kitchen.

Having simple meals also means I can help out without setting fire to something in the kitchen. I've been able to cook a few meals so Jason can have the night off. If the woman of your house is head chef and the man is like me (and usually shies from the kitchen), then the man can step up and cook a few meals so the woman can enjoy a night free.

It's so much fun and joyful to us when Jason creates a masterpiece dish, but it's not practical to do that every night. Jason loves the kitchen and food, but I don't think he loves them that much!

The Gaming Corner: In a Pickle

Jess and I picked up In A Pickle because it looked interesting, and boy was it. Let's start at the beginning and work our way through.

The Box

The box is very fun. It is also made of a high quality hard cardboard which will last through at least two more accidents than the boxes of many other games we have in our closet. It clearly states that it is a family game for people age 10 and up and that rules for solitaire play will not be included (it isn't lying either).

Inside the box

Other than the paper instructions, you get a nice black plastic cardholder and four packs of cards, which you will promptly open and shuffle together and separate into two piles so they will fit nicely into the card holder. This brings up the first oddity of the game, two draw piles, but we will get more into that later.

The Cards
At the start of the game, each player is dealt five cards. Here are an example of what a hand could be. Each card has noun and a downward arrow. Both of these will come into play when it is your turn and you wish to play a card. Again, I am getting ahead of myself.

The playing area

Play starts with four cards being dealt into a plus like shape with their arrows pointing out. From here we get into the fun of playing the game.

Game Play
When you play a card it must either "fit inside" the card you play it under, or "fit around" the card you play it over. This may make no sense right now but pay attention and I will try to clean the window of understanding for you.
Let's start with a card:


The next card played will either have to fit around a shoe (the shoe fits in it) or fit in a shoe. Take a bedroom for example. A shoe obviously fits in a bedroom, though some of you parents out there may wish that they didn't.

I put the bedroom card crooked on purpose. Normally, the cards are lined up.
You could have played a card labeled food and slid the arrow portion of that under the shoe instead.
Note: You cannot add a card between two played cards as shown below. That is cheating and may get you tossed out of the house.

Now the fun part of the game - if you ever get a row of four cards, a pickle round begins. Pickle rounds are special for a few reasons. Once a pickle round starts, play continues with each player playing a card only on the arrow of the pickle. Then, when every player has played all the cards they can or will play, the player whom started the pickle has a chance to take it back. If he or she doesn't, the player whom played the last card collects all the cards from the pickle and starts a new pile from the draw pile in its place. Each player then fills their hands and play continues.

This game gets very fun and a little argumentative when someone plays that universe fits in a book but since it can be found in a dictionary and a dictionary is a book... I think you see what I mean.

Please enjoy!

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, April 19, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Potato Salad

I normally shy from potato salads due to the fact that there are pieces of egg in them and I have a great aversion to egg. But then one day, Jess decided that we were going to make one and just leave the egg out. What resulted from that is this delicious potato salad.

It may look a little like slop but it tastes delicious.
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs red potatoes
  • 3 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp sweet pickle relish, drained
  • 3/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp mustard
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
Directions
  • Wash potatoes.
  • Put potatoes in a sauce pan and cover with water.
  • Bring the water to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to a low and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Drain the water and peel the potatoes.
  • Cut the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes.
  • Put the potatoes in a large bowl and cover them with the vinegar and EVOO.
  • Add celery, onion, and pickle relish to the potatoes and mix them together.
  • In a small bowl mix together the remaining ingredients.
  • Mix the mayo mixture in with the potatoes.
  • Put the potatoes in a covered container and refrigerate for an hour before serving.
The original recipe can be found in the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook. I do have to say that potato salad is much better when I don't have to worry about getting a mouthful of egg.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

This Book Room: Baroness

Lily and Rose, daughters of an empire coming of age in the roaring twenties, can have anything they want ... except freedom.

Expected to marry well and to take the reins of the empire, they have their lives planned out for them. But, Lily, Esme's daughter longs to return home to Montana, to adventure outside the confines of New York City. And Jinx's daughter Rosie dreams of the bright lights of the newly emerging silver screen. But following their dreams - from avant garde France, to Broadway, to the skies in the world of barnstormers and wing-walkers will take all their courage.

And if they find love, will they choose freedom or happily ever after?

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Daughters of Fortune series. You can read my review of the first book here. A third book will be released in the future for this series.

My thoughts: Lily's and Rosie's stories were just as captivating as Emse's and Jinx's. There are so many twists and turns to these stories - it's really like being on a roller coaster! Rosie is a bit annoying as a character, but it's clearly on purpose. She reminds me a lot of Jinx - the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, eh?

Lily is a firecracker and so brave. I loved hearing about her adventures in the sky, and her love story was awesome. There's the exact right mix of romance in this series. It's not overwhelming, and it takes a back seat to the adventurous aspects of the story.

I can't wait to read the third book and see where Susan's taking her readers next. She has knocked this series out of the park. If you enjoy saga-type stories (like North and South, Marta's Legacy, etc.), you will beyond enjoy this series.

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

You can view other reviews and tour stops here. You can buy a copy of the book here.

Baroness Roaring 20s Kindle Fire Giveaway from @SusanMayWarren!

Find out what the reviewers are saying here!



Expected to marry well and to take the reins of the family empire, they have their lives planned out for them. But following their dreams -- from avant garde France, to Broadway, to the skies in the world of barnstormers and wing-walkers -- will take all their courage.  And if they find love, will they choose freedom or happily ever after?



Celebrate with Susan by entering her Roaring 20s Giveaway!











One grand prize winner will receive:




  • A Kindle Fire
  • Signed copies of Baroness and Heiress by Susan May Warren



But hurry, the giveaway ends on 5/7/12. The winner will be announced on 5/9/12 on Susan’s blog, Scribbles!



Just click one of the icons below to enter! Tell your friends about Susan's giveaway on FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning.



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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Beauty Fix: an everyday exfoliator changed my skin + my life

A couple of weeks ago, I shared my love for Japonesque's eyelash curler tool, which is quite pricey for a tool of this kind at $19. As I was thinking about writing this post, I realized something and wanted to share my thoughts.

First - who doesn't wish they could go back and change everything? But, then, the problem with changing everything is: would I still have ended up here? I love my past because it brought me here, to this moment, writing for all of you, writing to all of you, writing for me.

Perhaps, I digress.

Whether anyone other than I knew it doesn't matter, but my teen years were hard. Yes, I had a place to sleep each night and my tummy never stayed hungry for too long, but I think there's all kinds of difficulties we can face and they can take a toll on our emotions. When I think back to my teen years, I seriously cringe. I never, ever want to be a teen again.

One thing I remember as being a source of contention with myself is my look. I had acne everywhere. I don't know if I had poor hygiene or not (I certainly remember showering and brushing my teeth each day, but I couldn't tell you for sure what else I did), but acne was everywhere, and it was both embarrassing and painful.

It seemed to clear up on its own a bit when I graduated - to the point where when I would see someone I graduated with, they would comment on my skin and how good it looked (also embarrassing).

But now, my skin is great. It will never be polished and all one color on its own without the use of foundation (but really, whose skin IS?). I will always have blemishes. But acne? I kicked acne out of my life.

If you know me at all, you know I'm frugal. You also know I wasn't always this way. I love everything about my past because it brought me to here, to this moment, writing to all of you, and I have to love it because my spendthrift days brought the discovery of philosophy's microdelivery exfoliating wash.



If you've tried an exfoliating wash before and discarded it before you even finished cleaning your face, stick with me here. This is a seriously revolutionary product. You can use this every day - it's that gentle! I use it every morning. Every. single. morning. My skin is so clear and fresh after using this cleanser. I suffer from the odd bit of acne here and there (but completely and totally blame my womanly cycle), but my face remains steadfastly clear day in and day out, thanks to this exfoliating wash.

As I mentioned with eyelash curlers, there was a bout in my life where I attempted to frugalize my beauty regime. My eyelash curler experiment failed. And I have no better news for you regarding my exfoliating experiment. When I last ran out of philosophy's exfoliater, I thought I'd head to Target and try the St. Ives facial scrub that so many people use and have said they loved.

One word: OWWWWWWWW!

That stuff hurts. It is not gentle in the least. I tried repeatedly to use it, but my face hurt so bad, I just threw it away and promptly re-ordered philosophy's exfoliating wash.

This product can be found anywhere philosophy products are sold, in varying sizes. If you want to be a true frugalista and pay the least amount per ounce, head over to QVC.com which stocks special value sizes that can't be found in stores (this is where I personally shop for philosophy products so I can take advantage of the huge sizes of beauty products). The value size is 32 oz (pictured above), comes with a pump and costs $65.22 (without tax). I do not use a full pump when I wash, and a 32 oz bottle lasts me anywhere from nine months to a year. I do not "budget" for this item, in terms of having a line item in the budget that says "exfoliating wash" - I take money from our clothing envelope to pay for this (our clothing needs are very low, so no one is being deprived of clothing so I can buy a beauty product).

To try the product out, I would recommend buying a smaller size first - I did this myself years and years ago before committing to a vat of the cleanser. You can purchase at Macy's, Ulta, Sephora, etc. or online at philosophy.com.

There is one other exfoliating product I am actually kind of dying to get my hands on: Exfolikate by Kate Sommerville. The problem? This stuff is even more expensive than my current cleanser! If anyone's tried this and can attest to its glory, please feel free to share with me. I would love to know!

Share with me! Have you tried an everyday exfoliater? Which one? Do you use philosophy products?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

In My Mailbox


I have to tell ya'll, I really think our cat, Preston, enjoys our freebies even more than we do! Do ya'll spot him in the corner, coming to sniff out what we received? He loves laying on magazines, books, anything lumpy in the slightest!

Here's what we received that Preston was very interested in:
  • Good Housekeeping magazine issue
  • Woman's Day magazine issue
  • Martha Stewart Living magazine issue
  • Worship by John MacArthur
I do not remember anymore where I signed up for Good Housekeeping and Woman's Day. I signed up for Martha Stewart Living through RewardsGold. We receive things in the mail from John MacArthur's church for free... randomly. I don't know why, but that's okay! Jason really enjoys listening to his audio CDs and is planning to read this book.

Monday, April 16, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Herb Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

This recipe is a very simple one that makes a delicious chicken very good for eating. You can find it in Cook This Not That: Kitchen Survival Guide on page 248 (with a picture on 249). It only takes a couple of minutes before it gets into the oven and then you just get to sit back and wait.

The picture cannot tell you how delicious the chicken really is.
Ingredients
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 zested lemon
  • 3 tsp EVOO, divided
  • 1 chicken (about 4 lbs.)
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 4 russet potatoes, sliced into 1/8th inch slices
  • 2 onions, cut into eighths
  • 4 large carrots, chopped into large chunks
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Mix the garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1 tsp EVOO.
  • Rub the rosemary mixture over the top and the bottom of the chicken.
  • Season the top of the chicken with a bit of salt and pepper as well.
  • Mix the potatoes, onions, carrots, remaining EVOO, and a pinch of salt and pepper as well.
  • Put the vegetable mixture in the bottom of the roasting pan.
  • Put the chicken on top of the veggies, breasts side up.
  • Put the roasting pan into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
  • After that, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and cook for another 30 minutes.
    • Regardless of the amount of time that you have cooked the chicken, make sure that it reaches 155 degrees before removing it from the oven.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving.
According to the cookbook, this recipe costs only $15.60 total. I would actually argue that it was cheaper but Jess and I may be a little more frugal than the cookbook chefs.

Trust me when I tell you that we are going to make this recipe multiple times in the future, especially since we ordered 12 chickens from Becker Farms.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What's for Eats This Week

For all of April, we're doing a Pantry + Freezer challenge! Join us as we cook up dishes using ingredients on hand. We'll be sharing our experiences with our challenge throughout the month in a special Life & Style series every Friday. As always, check back on Sundays to read about what we're cooking up each week.

Breakfast
Choice of:
Cereal
Oatmeal
Toast and eggs
English muffins with cheese and other toppings
Hash browns and sausage {special Sunday breakfast}

Lunch
Choice of:
PB and J sandwiches with cheese sticks
Canned soup
Leftovers

Dinner
Chicken tenders, corn, baked beans
Pasta, garlic bread
Tater-tot casserole, corn
Hot dogs, mac and cheese, homemade french fries
Steak, baked potatoes, broccoli
Creamy turkey noodle soup
Lotsa scalloped potatoes

Special Snacks/Desserts/Beverages
Peanut butter blossoms
No-bake healthy granola bars
Frozen banana bites

Recipes {possibly} coming soon:
Lotsa scalloped potatoes

Saturday, April 14, 2012

This Book Room: a week of books I love that are also in a series

Things are finally going Holly Denham's way: she's in love, she's getting the recognition she deserves at work, and her friends and family have graciously opted to avoid disaster for the moment. Just when Holly is starting to settle into her new life, scandal erupts and Holly finds herself-and her in box-at the center of a gossip whirlwind that threatens everything she's worked so hard for. Written entirely in emails, this follow-up to the UK smash hit "Holly's Inbox "will keep you glued to its pages as the scandal running rampant in the city threatens to ruin Holly's hard-earned and long-awaited happiness.

Additional notes: This is the sequel to Holly's Inbox. You can read my review of that book here.

My thoughts: This is a perfect beach read or cold winter's night read. It's just a fun, sweet book. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a bit of chick lit.

In 2036 New Jersey, when teens are expected to become fanatically religious wives and mothers or high-priced Surrogettes for couples made infertile by a widespread virus, 16-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony find in one another the courage to believe they have choices.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Bumped series. The second book is coming out this year.

My thoughts: This book was really easy to read and very captive of my attention. The story line really drew me in right away. Melody and Harmony surprised me, and the supporting characters in this book are awesome. Highly recommend this one!

Dozens of children respond to this peculiar ad in the newspaper and are then put through a series of mind-bending tests, which readers take along with them. Only four children-two boys and two girls-succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and inventive children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. But what they'll find in the hidden underground tunnels of the school is more than your average school supplies. So, if you're gifted, creative, or happen to know Morse Code, they could probably use your help.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Mysterious Benedict Society series. There are four books in this series and all have been released. I do not know, as of this time, if this series is continuing.

My thoughts: I cannot say enough about this book. I have told so many people about this, and Jason's working his way through the series with him. Trenton's writing reminds us both a lot of Roald Dahl, so if you liked his books, you'll thoroughly enjoy this series.

In her quest to discover the truth about her family, Addie finds danger and quite possibly the love of her life. If Addie realizes her dream, she'll deprive the man she loves of his right to the wealth and power of the Eaton name. She must come to realize that God is sufficient even in the hard times, and no familial approval is worth her integrity.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Mercy Falls series. There are three books in this series, and all have been released.

My thoughts: I first was introduced to Colleen's writing through a publicity group I review for, and I liked that book so much, I wanted to read other books by her. If you like historical fiction, you will really enjoy this book. I loved the mysterious elements to it.

When the world’s most famous feline hits the three-decade milestone it’s time to celebrate! 30 Years of Laughs & Lasagna is a tribute to this tremendous achievement. Organized by decade, each with an introduction by Jim Davis, this lavishly illustrated volume features more than four hundred strips, including thirty of Jim Davis’s all-time favorites–with informative remarks from Jim on why they made the grade. Packed with early sketches, enlightening quotes, and fun facts (did you know that the Garfield comic was originally titled Jon?), this book shows how Garfield evolved from a witty kitty to a world-renowned fat cat.

Of Jim Davis’s “little hobby,” Blondie cartoonist Dean Young writes: “Every one of [these] little treasures is an exquisite menagerie of comic timing, writing, and cartoon art. It’s easy to see why his strip is continually voted one of the best on our planet by readers everywhere.”

So if you appreciate the unparalleled splendors of layered pasta, need something to ward off those nap attacks, or have a healthy appetite for humor, 30 Years of Laughs & Lasagna is just the ticket. Perhaps Jim Davis puts it best: “This whole line of work is to make people happy and smile.” Garfield’s millions of fans couldn’t agree more.

Additional notes: This is a companion book to the Garfield series. You can read about my take on the entire series and the first 50 books here, the 51st book here, the 52nd book here, the 53rd book here, the Christmas companion book here, and Odie's companion book here. There are several other companion books released with more coming. The 54th comic strip book will be released later this year.

My thoughts: If you want to own any of the Garfield books, this is one to own. There are four sections to this book. The first one is dedicated to the best comics published in the first decade, the second one to the best comics of the second decade, and the third section is for the best from the third decade. The last section is Jim Davis' most favorite 30 comics he wrote and drew.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Life & Style: Pantry + Freezer Challenge, Part 2

For all of April, we're doing a Pantry + Freezer challenge! Join us as we cook up dishes using ingredients on hand. We'll be sharing our experiences with our challenge throughout the month in a special Life & Style series. You can view part 1 here. Check back every Friday for new posts, and check out what our menu plan is each week in our What's for Eats This Week posts on Sundays.

This week, we did better with not eating out unless it was planned. We ate out one time unplanned. This is progress, but we hope to do better next week!

There are many, many reasons one could declare a pantry + freezer challenge. One reason, which we talked about last week, was that we just had too many items in our freezer and pantry - muffins, cupcakes, breakfast items. They need to get eaten sometime!

Another reason could be to save money. I don't care how many times you hear that it's cheaper to get take out than to make your own - it's just not! Since eating out often means you're not getting very good nutrition, you can cook a simple dinner at home of pasta. While it's not very nutritious, you wouldn't get a lot of nutrition from a dinner eaten out, so it's all the same - just less cost. You could boil pasta, boil jarred sauce and eat bread. It would cost about 30 cents per serving. There is no restaurant I know of that serves dinner for 30 cents a person!

In a pantry + freezer month, you're mostly just eating items you have on hand, which means you can spend less at the grocery store. If you're on a financial plan, you could do a pantry + freezer period (be it a month, a week, whatever) to throw some extra money toward your goals - pay down debt, save for a car in cash, get an 8-month emergency fund in place, etc.

This month, Jason's turning 30. We don't celebrate many special occasions, and the ways we celebrate are definitely different than most other peoples'. I am so grateful Jason was born, that God gave him life, that he is here and with me. And what better way to celebrate than to spend the day together, playing games and taking a nap? To us, that's a pretty incredible way to celebrate. One goal of our pantry + freezer month is to have enough money in our grocery budget to eat lunch out on Jason's birthday. Since we also don't eat out often, this will be doubly special.

All year long, I've been saving money that I receive unexpectedly or money I've sacrificed from other areas in our budget (such as entertainment) to save for big-ticket items we've had our eyes on. If you have been wanting a big-ticket item that will bless you, make your life easier, etc., a pantry + freezer period may be a good way to get some extra cash in your special savings envelope.

We went to Walmart last week after a particularly raucous game of badminton and we were both starving. We spent so much money, my eyes bulged out of my head. We were just going to pick up fun food for a family movie night. We went grocery shopping the next day for our regular weekly produce trip, and somehow, through God's grace alone, we stayed on budget, even with the money we had spent at Walmart (let's just say our snack area is well stocked now!).

This week, our grocery list is rather small, so I'm rather sure we'll have loads of money stashed away in our grocery budget. It'll be nice to have a little bit of a build up to compensate for weeks later on, in May or June, when we go over slightly. We rarely do, though - especially now that I've improved my skills at menu planning and creating grocery lists!

The Gaming Corner: Taboo

This game is great for a crowd, and the game states that it is for four or more players, but Jess and I find it very entertaining with just the two of us.

The word that the clue-giver needs to get his teammates to say is confetti.
He cannot say paper, scraps, throw, wedding, and celebration.

It's a simple game that almost anyone can play. I will cover the rules that are provided with the box. The players are divided into two teams. The first team picks one of their players to be a clue-giver. This isn't too important as each player will get a chance to do this. The other team picks one of their players to be the buzzer. The clue giver then draws a card and tries to get his team to guess the word at the top of the card without saying that word or any of the other five taboo words on the card. The buzzer player's job is to use a buzzer (included with the game) if the clue-giver says any of the taboo words or the guess word, causing the clue-giver to discard the card and start on a new one. Each time that the clue-giver gets his team to say the guess word, he also draws another card and repeats the process. The clue-giver only has one minute to do all of this and this causes rushing. Scoring is simple: one point for the clue-giver's team for each word they got right and one point for the other team for each card that got buzzed. Each player gets to be the clue-giver one time, and once everyone had a chance, then the game is over and the scores are totaled to see who wins.

The buzzer

Jess and I still have fun playing this game, even though the game calls for four players and we are only two. We just take turns being the clue-giver for the other person, buzzing ourselves when we mess up. We don't actually keep score, but Jess seems to guess more of my words than I do of hers. I recommend that you give this game a play even if you don't have enough players.

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, April 12, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Chicken Tetrazzini

We found the original recipe in an Every Day Food magazine {the recipe we're sharing today has been adapted to fit our family's tastes}. It was listed as a meal that could be made for less than $10. The magazine claimed $2.49 a serving.

Ingredients
  • 16 oz. uncooked linguine pasta, broken in half
  • 1 skinless, boneless, chicken breast, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 6 Tbsp butter
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, quartered
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups frozen peas and carrots
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Cook the linguine according to the package directions.
  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
  • In a large oven safe skillet, heat 1 Tbsp butter over medium-high heat.
  • Add the chicken and cook for about 3 minutes until cocked through.
  • Transfer the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
  • In the same skillet, add 2 Tbsp butter, stirring constantly.
  • Once the butter is melted add the mushrooms and thyme.
  • Cook for about 4 minutes and transfer the mushrooms to the same bowl as the chicken and set aside again.
  • Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet.
  • Whisk in the flour and continue whisking for 1 minute.
  • Add the milk and chicken broth to the butter and flour mixture.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for another 4 minutes.
  • Stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese and the frozen vegetables.
  • Return the chicken, mushrooms to the skillet and mix in the pasta as well.
  • Mix it all together and sprinkle the remaining cheese over it.
  • Put the skillet into the oven and bake for 12 minutes.
There looks like a lot of stuff to do, but the recipe is actually really easy to make. The recipe suggested that you can freeze it instead of eating it right away. You just need to wrap it in plastic or in foil. It can stay frozen for two weeks. When you reheat it, put it back into the pan you made it in, cover it with foil and bake it for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove the foil and bake it for 15 more minutes.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beauty Fix: flossing really shouldn't be so difficult

In my late teens, I had a couple of cavities, and that really ticked me off! I liked to think I took good care of my teeth, but back in the day, I wasn't so great about flossing. My orthodontist had done a great job with my teeth... perhaps too great of a job. My teeth, besides my most front teeth, are very close together - so close together that it's difficult to get floss between the teeth and to get floss out from between the teeth (my current dental hygienist agrees, she always says she doesn't know if she's going to get the floss back once it gets in there).

There are a lot of different DenTek floss picks
available. Check out their website, dentek.com, to view
them all and pick which one you like. The Comfort
Clean picks are the ones I'm currently using.
My dad didn't always take great care of his teeth, but now he's definitely a role model for great teeth care. One item that a dentist had recommended to him were floss picks. I thought they were so weird when I first saw them years ago, but last Thanksgiving weekend, when I started playing the drugstore game, I was able to get DenTek floss picks for minimal cost. I also picked up a bag of CVS brand floss picks that same weekend. I put a bag in each bathroom, so they'd be easy to grab.

I tell you what - floss picks are slightly more expensive, if you're comparing yardage of floss, but floss picks are so easy and quick to use. I floss more because it really takes just a second to grab a pick while in the bathroom and floss my teeth. I still don't floss every day, but I do it multiple times a week and am getting better at remembering and forming a new habit of it.

Between the two, DenTek brand and CVS brand, I would recommend DenTek. The floss used in the DenTek picks is softer on my gums; I've noticed I bleed more often with CVS brand and not just because of sensitive gums. The CVS brand picks actually hurt sometimes when I use them.

We still keep floss in the house, especially since we can often get it for free with a sale and coupon. And my husband still isn't convinced floss picks are the best thing since sliced bread. I'm working on him, though!

I went to the dentist just the other week and once again, the dentist proclaimed I had perfect teeth. I know part of that perfection is because of DenTek floss picks. DenTek floss picks are now a staple item in my house. By the way, DenTek is the same brand my dad uses. The apple doesn't fall so far from the tree after all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In My Mailbox


Yay for freebies! Here's what we received this week:
  • BabyTalk magazine issue
  • Shape magazine issue
  • Two coupons for Tidy Cats litter
  • The Beautiful Wife by Sandy Ralya
I signed up to receive free year-long subscriptions to Shape and BabyTalk. I called Purina to receive Tidy Cats coupons - please note that these have recently changed! I confirmed with a customer service representative that $2 off any size coupons are no longer available. Only $1 off a 7 lb. pound or bigger coupons are available. We checked out the prices at Walmart and with a coupon, the Tidy Cats 10 lb. bags are still less per ounce than any other brand (including generics).

I won a copy of Sandy's book by participating in a Facebook chat party - I am really, really excited to read this book!