Nov 23, 2014

Awkward & Awesome {& Bump Photo}

Awkward:

  • Realizing that almost no clothes fit nicely anymore.  :/
  • Pregnancy forums.  Especially when they are constantly full of people posting their ultrasound photos and asking everyone else to help them figure out if they're having a boy or girl.  So.  Much.  Fail.
  • The photo above.  I have a hard time looking happy for the camera when I have to set the 10 second timer, run across the room, and pose in what I hope is the right angle and position, only to repeat the process when I don't care for the result.  Grrr.
  • Grumpy cashiers.  I'm just trying to buy stuff, don't bite me!

Awesome:

  • Getting and ultrasound and seeing baby.  Technology is wonderful.
  • Itty-bitty baby clothing.  There's something about it that makes it irressitable. 
  • Searching online and finding a recipe which I'd thought lost forever.  Once again, yay for technology!
  • Thanksgiving being just around the corner.  
  • The fact that Dylan only works for a few days next week.
  • Chilly weather!  I'm glad it's not quite so cold as it was last week, but after living in Alabama for years it is really nice to have fall feel like fall.

Nov 19, 2014

Recommended Resource: Evernote

I love lists.  Without them I'd get far less done, feel less organized, and stress out much easier at the idea that I have or am going to forget something vital.

While I understand that some people find lists to be less-than helpful or restrictive, I'm the type of person who would end up making lists inside my head anyway, but then get stressed at the idea of trying to remember everything.  When I write it out I can relax and visualize things much, much better.

Perhaps it's partly because I can understand things better when I can see them in front of me.  It's far easier for me to plan when all the needed elements are listed right in front of me.

So I use lists daily.  Often hourly.  I list menu plans, items to buy, crafts to make, gifts to give, things to do... and on, and on.

I used to use paper for almost everything I listed.  Sometimes I'd use a planner, sometimes a calender.... but more often than not, I 'd grab a sheet of paper and create a new list there.  While I love the satisfaction I get from using a pen and paper, there were drawbacks to this.  Unfortunately, having random sheets of paper all over can create tons of clutter, besides the fact that it is far too easy to lose one or more lists.

I've also tried to use text documents on the computer, but that meant that I had to remember which computer or device each specific list was on, as well as keep track of where I stored the lists on each device.  It worked, but was inconvenient during those times when I couldn't access the computer I needed.

Then a few weeks ago I remembered my Evernote account.  It's an online service which can be downloaded as an app, and it can be used to create documents and take notes and such.  As long as you're signed into your account, you don't have to worry about what computer or device you're using.  I'd originally used Evernote several years ago when I briefly tried to do NaNoWriMo (a venture which failed miserably) because I wanted to be able to work on whichever computer I wanted.

Mobile Screenshot - Viewing a Notebook

Because Evernote offers "notebooks" to categorize each individual "note", as well as tags which can be added to each note, I don't have to worry about my notes being disorganized or hard to access.  Furthermore, if I'm ever having trouble finding a specific note I can use the handy search function.

Mobile Screenshot - Viewing a Note

One little detail I love about Evernote is the ability to add and use check marks.  Something about clicking that little button makes me happy, and seems to much more satisfying than deleting the item entirely or otherwise denoting it "done" in some other fashion.

Computer Screenshot

While Evernote offers a premium version which you have to pay for, I've been more than pleased with what I can do on their free version.  The only benefit of a premium membership I'd really love to have would be the ability to use Evernote while offline, which would be handy at times.

Another Computer Sceenshot
Evernote also handles photos very well, another feature I love.  For instance, it's very handy to be able to include my recipe photos with the recipe - both so that I can remember which recipe is which, and simply because I'm more likely to want to bake something if I can see the photo.

Is Evernote perfect?  No.  The fact that the free version is chained to the Internet isn't always convenient, and once in a while the program has some hiccups.  However, these complaints are small and rarely affect me.

I rate Evernote:
9 out of 10 stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Nov 18, 2014

Grocery Shopping Trip and Menu Plan - 11/17/14

While I technically could have made this trip very small and still gotten by with plenty of food for the week, I decided that I wanted to stock up the pantry more instead.  A lot of the items on here, therefore, aren't included in this week's menu plan.  The raisin bran was a splurge, as I'd stopped myself from getting it last time I was at Aldi, only to crave it all week long.  :P

I rather wish I had photos to go along with this post, as mere items and prices are quite boring... but by the time I got home it was dinnertime and we were hungry, so the groceries were quickly put in their places rather than photographed.

 

Dillons:

Lunch meat, turkey - $3.49
  +$3.49 Friday freebie coupon
  +$.50 Jingit rebate
Dillons Total - $.50 moneymaker


Aldi:

Tortilla chips - $1.19
Raisin bran - $1.79
Potatoes, 10lb - $1.49
Sweet potatoes -$.99
Onions - $.99
Rice - $1.49
Black beans - $2.49
Scalloped potatoes - $.79
Spaghetti noodles - $.89
Spaghetti sauce - $.99
Canned broth, x2 - $.98
Canned corn, x2 - $.98
Cream of mushroom soup - $.49
Cottage cheese - $2.29
Cheese, 8oz block, x2 - $3.78
Butter - $2.29
  +$.25 Checkout51 rebate
Tilapia fillets - $3.99
Italian sausage - $3.49
12-grain bread - $1.79
  +$1.00 Snap rebate
Aldi Total (+tax) - $34.77


Walmart:

Water, 32 bottles - $2.96
Cornmeal - $1.58
Assorted (*ahem*junkfood*ahem*) foodstuffs for Dylan to take to work - @$9

Walmart Total (+tax) - $14.79


Trip Total: $49.06

Dinner Menu:
Monday: Chicken pot pie
Tuesday: White chili w/ cornbread
Wednesday: Leftovers
Thursday: Ham & cheese sandwiches, sweet potato, salad
Friday: Pizza
Saturday: Chicken enchiladas, peas
Sunday: Leftovers

Nov 16, 2014

Awkward & Awesome {+Bump Photo}

Awkward:

  • Using the timer on a camera to take a selfie and the inevitable racing back and forth between posing and setting up camera.  'Nough said.
  • Craving - and drinking - smoothies and milkshakes everyday when the temperature is below freezing and you're already cold.
  • Bought spray paint for hubby yesterday and had the following conversation...  Cashier: "Are you 18?"  Me: "Actually, I'm 20..." Cashier: "I need to see I.D., you don't look it." Me: *hands license to cashier* Cashier: "mmm.... 1994... I guess you are..." Me: *grumpy cat face*
  • My phone randomly deciding to receive certain text messages 24+ hours AFTER they were sent.
  • Not really fitting in regular clothes anymore, but also not filling out maternity clothing enough to wear most of it.

Awesome:

  • Starting to feel the baby kick.  I can't even begin to describe how mind-bogglingly incredible this is.
  • Receiving the gift of a baby seat from a friend who didn't need it for her babies.  
  • Intense, stimulating discussions with Dylan.  I find it very fun to probe deeply into a subject with my best friend and come away feeling energized and excited.  Just this past Sunday the sermon we heard began a lengthy conversation touching on libertarianism, Machiavelli, and education.
  • Getting gift cards on Swagbucks (aff).  If I'm diligent about it I can earn a $5 Amazon gift card in a little more than a week, which is totally worth it given how little effort it actually takes.
  • Having in-laws nearby.  My family moved fairly often when I was growing up and I generally only got to see grandparents and cousins once per year.  Having family nearby is a novel and wonderful experience for me.

Nov 14, 2014

Chicken Tortilla Soup (With THM Modifications)

Several months ago I had the opportunity to eat at The Cheesecake Factory and ordered their tortilla soup.  As soon as I tasted it I knew it would be something that I'd have to recreate somehow, and so I spent quite a bit of time analyzing the ingredients as I ate.  It took me several tries to get the soup just right, but here's my sort-of kind-of copycat recipe.

A few notes:  the soup at The Cheesecake Factory contained a good amount of rice.  After making this soup several times with the rice, I've decided that I prefer it without and omitted it in favor of extra beans.  If you like rice or want this to be a more accurate copycat recipe, feel free to add it back in.  I would highly recommend making it separately from the soup and combining them in your bowl, since the rice does tend to get overly soft and soggy-ish if it sits in the soup too long.  This is especially true if you make the soup ahead of time or have leftovers.




Chicken Tortilla Soup

serves 4
Ingredients:
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1/2 onion
  • oil, about 1 Tbsp
  • 1 (10oz) can rotel
  • 1 (10oz) can enchilada sauce
  • 1-2 cups water (or chicken stock, if you cook the chicken in water)
  • 1 (scant) Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 (15oz) can black beans, partially drained
  • 3 Tbsp flour or masa harina
  • 1/2 cup milk or half & half
  • Toppings: grated cheese, tortilla chips, cilantro, sour cream, avocado - as desired

Directions:

Start by cooking your chicken.  I've found that one chicken breast is generally enough meat, but if you like extra protein you can feel free to use two.  I like to poach the chicken, but you can cook it any way you like. After that's done, set it aside.

Chop up half of an onion.

In a medium-large pot, drizzle a little puddle of oil.

Throw in your onion.  Saute until onion caramelizes, stirring occasionally.

While the onion is cooking, pour a can of Rotel (or the store brand equivalent) into a blender or food processor.  Blend until fairly smooth.

Pour the Rotel into the pan with the onions, along with a can of enchilada sauce.

I'm going to pause for a minute to comment about these two ingredients.  They provide the flavor for the base of the soup, and the level of heat in the soup depends on them almost completely.  I generally use mild or medium enchilada sauce with original or mild Rotel, and this combination is very flavorful but still fairly mellow.  If you really like heat, you could use hot enchilada sauce, hot rotel, or even add some chili powder to the mix.

Anyway.  Back to the soup.

Plop a scant tablespoon of brown sugar in with the sauce mixture. (This is to combat the acidic undertones.)

Now, add a can of black beans... (you can substitute another type of bean if you want)

...chop up the chicken you cooked before and add it to the soup.

Bring the soup to a boil.  In the meantime, whisk together three tablespoons flour (or masa harina) and a third cup milk or half & half. 

Spoon a bit of the hot soup into the flour mixture to make sure it isn't too thick, then pour the flour mixture into the soup and stir until everything is nice and smooth.  Add any extra seasonings you might want and let soup simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Serve and top with crushed tortilla chips, cheese, cilantro, and whatever else sounds delicious.

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Price Breakdown:

Price estimates are based on Walmart prices
Chicken (based on $1.20/lb, 1/2 lb breast) = 50¢
Onion (very rough estimate) = 25¢
Oil (rough estimate) = 5¢ 
(Store-brand equivalent of) Rotel = 68¢
Enchilada sauce = 68¢
Brown sugar = 2¢
Black beans = 68¢
Flour = 2¢
Half & Half = 20¢
Toppings = prices vary depending on toppings and amount used.

Price for entire recipe = $3.08 + toppings
Price per person =  $0.77 + toppings

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To make this soup THM (E), replace the brown sugar with stevia, truvia, or another plan approved sweetener (to taste), use skim or almond milk instead of whole milk or half and half, and top with a small amount of mozzarella cheese. The small amount of oil in the soup should be fine, but omit any toppings with fat in them unless you want a crossover meal.

Nov 12, 2014

Grocery Shopping Trip and Menu Plan - 11/11/14

I'm hoping to make this a weekly post on this blog, as I know that sharing it will help me stay within my set budget for each week.  My current goal is to stay under $50 each week, if possible.

This week's trip was a rather small one, as the fridge and cupboards were still quite well stocked from last week's trip and there were quite a few leftovers already in the fridge.  My goal this week was to stay under $30, which I did manage to do.

 Walmart:

Milk, 1 gal - $2.99, -.25 Jingit rebate, total $2.74
Peanut Butter, 28 oz. - $2.98
Water bottles, 32 pack - $2.96

Walmart Total (+tax): $9.41

Aldi:

Pepperoni Slices - $1.99
Colby Jack Cheese, 8 oz. - $1.89
Butter - $3.49
Almond Milk - $2.49
Flour - $1.29
Steel-Cut Oats - $2.29
Cottage Cheese - $2.29
Cranberries - $1.59
Grapefruit, x2 - $0.98
Aldi Total (+tax): $19.79
Trip Total: $29.20

Menu:

Meals where Dylan is home are better planned, since I tend to just snack or get creative with whatever I find when I'm alone.

Dinners:
Monday - Leftovers
Tuesday - Chicken Cordon Bleu, Mashed Potatoes, and Salad
Wednesday - Leftovers
Thursday - Pizza
Friday - Taco Soup
Saturday - Chicken Pot Pie
Sunday - Baked Chicken, Mixed Veggies, Baked Potatoes

Lunches:
Ham & Cheese Sandwiches, Leftover Falafels, Salad, Chicken Sandwiches, and whatever else I feel like.  (Pregnancy has me eating smaller meals and larger snacks...the cottage cheese and almond milk I bought are specifically for the purpose of snacking on Thin Mint Milkshakes.)

Breakfasts: 
Oatmeal, Eggs & Sausage, Cereal, Pancakes, Oatmeal, Omelet, Eggs & Cranberry Coffee Cake.  (Subject to change depending on what I feel like eating that morning.)

Nov 11, 2014

Berry Cheesecake Fluff {THM - S}

For those of you who don't know and may be wondering: THM stands for Trim Healthy Mama, a method of eating based on the book by the same name.  The trick is to keep fats and carbs separate, and the "S" denotes the fact that this is a high-fat, low-carb recipe.  While I don't regularly follow this eating plan, I've been using it more often during pregnancy to help make sure I'm avoiding white sugar and getting a lot of healthy fats and such into my diet.

I was feeling hungry for something sweet this morning, and since we're out of cottage cheese until I head to the store this afternoon I wasn't able to make my usual snack, the Thin Mint Milkshake.  After scouting the house for ingredients, I came up with this concoction.  If you're like me and always enjoyed licking the bowl after mixing up cheesecake batter, you're sure to love this, and since it doesn't have raw eggs in it it's even safe.  :P

I can imagine many possible variations for this recipe other than berries, so feel free to get creative.  Perhaps you'd like to omit the berries and add liquid skinny chocolate.  Maybe swirls of peanut butter are your thing... the options are only limited by your imagination.


(I'm not terribly thrilled with this photo, but I was too impatient and hungry to snap another, better photo before I started eating.)

Berry Cheesecake Fluff (S)

makes 1 very satisfying serving
Ingredients:
  • 2 Tbsp berries (I used frozen raspberries)
  • 2 oz cream cheese (low fat preferred)
  • 2 Tbsp almond milk
  • 2-3 tsp. Truvia
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/16 tsp. almond extract (I used an 1/8 tsp measuring spoon and filled it roughly half-way)
  • 1 Tbsp mini chocolate chips or small chunks of skinny chocolate, optional
Directions:

Briefly heat berries in microwave or on stove until they are soft, then mash them with a fork.  You may need to add a tiny bit of water while heating them.

In a small bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients except for the chocolate, then beat on high until very smooth and creamy.

Fold in berries until mixture is marbled, then serve with chocolate chips/chunks on top, if desired.

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Frugal tip: Driscoll's is currently offering a 50¢ coupon for berries when you join their community.  They'll also reward you with a coupon every time you purchase berries and take a survey on their site. If you take 16+ surveys those coupons will be worth an entire dollar!

Nov 7, 2014

Cloth Diapering - the Logic and Math

I've always been curious (in a skeptical way) about the world of cloth diapering, but never had reason to really look into the matter.  Until now, that is.  Several weeks ago I plunged into the study, finding that I was quite confused at first by the multitude of terms and types.  Apparently cloth diapering peeps have their own language.

It didn't take me long to decide that if I was going to venture into these realms, I wanted the simplest, closest-to-disposable cloth diapers I could get.  Furthermore, for the sake of keeping the cost down I wanted them to last as long as possible, which meant I needed to get something with adjustable sizing so that they wouldn't have to be replaced every few months.

With this criteria in mind, I figured out that this meant I wanted a OS (One-Size) AIO (All-In-One) set of diapers.

Enter the shopping stage.

First observation: there are a LOT of options to choose from.  And they all seem to have multiple diaper choices.

I finally started sorting through the seemingly endless amount of choices by way of going with what had the best reviews.  And then I started adding diapers and products to my virtual cart - and cringing.  The types of diapers I was looking at were about $20/diaper, and the cheapest bundles - 24 packs - were between $400 and $500.  Since the recommended amount of diapers for a decent stash is generally about 25 diapers, this would create a good stash - but would cost more than I wanted to pay up front.

Now, one of the things that got me hooked onto the idea of cloth diapering was the savings.  Especially when I calculated them on this calculator and saw just how much I would otherwise be spending on disposables.  $400 - $500 would still definitely save a great chunk of money in the long run, but I didn't feel like shelling out that much money up front when I've never tried cloth diapering before.

Furthermore, since I plan to supplement with disposables (especially during the first several weeks, when I won't want to make any extra efforts, and then when going out and about) I decided that I wanted to find some way to cut that cost way down.

There are numerous posts online about how to save on cloth diapering, so I started reading those.  They offered several options, generally along the lines of:

  • Buy diapers secondhand. Um, sorry, no.  I'd have no qualms about passing down diapers from one child to another in the same family, but I'm not going to buy some stranger's used diapers, no matter how many times I could wash them.  I'm totally aware of the fact that this is probably a perfectly safe and viable option, but at the moment I feel too squeamish about the idea to be totally comfortable with it.
  •  Use simple prefolds and covers.  I don't want to deal with the confusion complicated-ness that prefolds involve, especially since I don't want to commit to being the only one to change baby's diaper.  Furthermore, the photos I've seen of prefolds with covers look far bulkier than I like. 
  •  Enter diaper giveaways and such.  Definitely going to do this, but I don't think I could build up a sufficient supply this way.
  • Sew your own.  Hmm... how complicated could a diaper be?

 *ahem*

Turns out there are just about as many diaper patterns out there as there are diaper manufacturers.  I eventually realized that my original idea of getting all OS AIO diapers might not be feasible, but started realizing that other diaper types really weren't all that complicated after all.

After some amount of searching, I found this pattern, which has good reviews and looks quite straightforward, along with this modification to make it into an AIO-style pocket diaper, since I didn't want to deal with adding a cover.  When I looked at amazon and figured out that I could get a decent supply of most of the more obscure diaper-making fabrics for under $50, I decided it was worth a try.

So far I have 10 diapers cut out, with enough fabric left for a couple more.

A little while after this I ran across this extremely helpful post, which finally enlightened me as to what exactly AI2 diapers were.  The revelation that only 4-8 covers + inserts would create a full diaper stash was very good to know, and I plan to get 3 covers, spending roughly another $50, to complete my stash.  (I have enough diaper fabrics left that I ought to be able to sew inserts myself.)  I really could just buy a bit more fabric and make enough diapers to complete my stash for less money, but I in the event that I don't love the one type I'd like to have more than one variety of diaper to choose from.

So, hopefully I'm going to be able to make myself a decent stash for roughly $100.

I'm quite sure I'll get *some* use out of them, even if I don't use them all of the time.  This means that I'm basically certain to at least break even, cost-wise.  Even if I don't use them much at all the up-front cost is far less than it would be with store-boughten cloth diapers, and I won't feel horribly guilty if I end up using mostly disposables.

If, on the other hand, this whole cloth diapering thing works... then according to my (very rough) calculations, the cloth diapers will pay for themselves in a matter of about 5 weeks and save us nearly $1,000 in a year and a half of use. 

So.  Seems like this whole thing is more than worth a try...