Sunday, January 31, 2010

New Poll - What the Readers Want

I have a new poll on the left side of my blog and would appreciate it if all of you would take a second and answer it.  I'm working on a new posting schedule and would love some input from my readers.  If you have any other ideas you would like to see on my blog, please leave me a comment.  Also, if anyone is interested in guest posting, please let me know.

If you are reading this in a reader, please click on the post title to go directly to my blog.  Poll is on the left side, below the BlogHer ad.

Live Giveaways from Thrifty & Chic Mom

Remember last week when I wrote about using Twitter to win prizes? I recently learned of a great giveaway opportunity I wanted to let you in on.

I've been following Ellen, aka Thrifty and Chic Mom, for awhile now and she offers some great giveaways. I've even won a few myself. A few months back she decided to offer live giveaways on her blog every Monday night. It is fun to join in but gets a little crazy towards the end so she is moving the giveaways to Twitter every Monday night. For details on how to enter Monday Night Live Giveaways head over to her blog. This week she is giving away a Britax car seat, along with a few other great prizes.

While you are on Twitter, go ahead and follow me - @LifeWithLess. I'm having a blast getting to know some of you even better through Twitter.

Friday, January 29, 2010

OAMC On The Fly

This weekend, Money Saving Mom and Life as Mom are hosting freezer cooking days. I've watched the past few months as these moms have learned how to do this within their schedule and I always sit there with a bit of envy at what they can accomplish. I find cooking relaxing and would love to spend an entire day or two in my kitchen but it isn't really possible at this time in my life. However, I do stock my freezer by making double batches of items when I cook dinner.

My husband wound up not working today (more on that next week) and we are in the middle of a snow "storm" (predicted 6-12"but so far just a few have fallen) so I've decided to cook a few things. I've used all of my grocery budget for this week though and did not plan on participating so I'm not going to do a ton but every little bit helps.

This morning I threw some banana bread in the oven while my oldest was at preschool. The first batch I made as actual bread. I decided I wanted some as muffins though so I decided to make another batch. I should have double checked my recipe though as I forgot to add the sugar to the second batch. Luckily, I was using some extremely ripe bananas from my freezer so they helped sweeten the muffins. They aren't as good as usual but definitely still edible.

Later this afternoon I'm hoping to make a few more batches of pancake mix and possibly some muffin mixes.

Tomorrow for dinner I'm going to make a double recipe of something using ground beef. Not sure yet what I'm making but I hope to check out several of the other bloggers who are participating and using one of their yummy recipes.

If I find time or inspiration to make anything else I will let you know. Good luck to everyone participating!

Food Friday: Cinnamon-Spiced Bananas

My oldest has developed his mommy's bad habit of wanting something sweet after dinner every night. Since I'm trying to lose weight, I'm constantly looking for things that will satisfy this sweet tooth without packing on the pounds. I found this recipe in the current issue (Feb/March 2010) of Healthy Cooking Magazine. This is a delicious way to add fruit to my diet and still feel like I'm eating something unhealthy.

Cinnamon-Spiced Bananas
Serves 4

3 large bananas, sliced
3 tsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup reduced-fat vanilla ice cream

1. Place bananas in a small microwave-safe bowl. Top with brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon; dot with butter.

2. Cover and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes or until sugar is melted, stirring once. Spoon banana mixture into bowls; top with ice cream. Serve immediately.

1/2 cup mixture with 1/4 cup ice cream equals 211 calories, 5 g fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 42 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 3 g protein

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Soup

I've seen many blog posts recently from those participating in the Eat from the Pantry Challenge stating they are just about out of food and it is becoming hard to come up with meals. Times like this is when I make soup using all the odds and ends I can find in my house.

The basic concept is protein, liquid, veggies, and starch. This week I made soup using leftover spaghetti sauce, sloppy joes, beef burrito filling, a can of beef broth, random bits and pieces of veggies and beans from my freezer, and some noodles. It was delicious and helped me use up some of the leftovers that I was getting tired of. Also, the beef burritos turned out a bit too spicy for our liking but in soup it was just right.

Sometimes I will freeze similar ingredient leftovers just for times like this. It makes a quick, warm meal and hardly costs a thing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Birthday Presents Without Breaking the Bank

Now that my son is in preschool, we are getting more and more birthday party invitations. This could easily break the bank but I'm trying to be smart about it so today I'm going to share a few tips on how to buy presents without going broke.

Set a budget. It is way too easy to try to "keep up with the Joneses" so avoid this by setting a budget early. For kids gifts, I try not to spend more than $10.

Shop sales. The end of the season is the best time to buy gifts. You can pick up items for next to nothing and it will look like you spent way more than you really did. Right now, Target has clearance toys 75% off.

Swagbucks. An easy way to shop for free is with Swagbucks. You earn bucks for performing online searches and can redeem these for gifts. My favorite ones are for Amazon or Starbucks gift cards. I always keep a decent amount of Amazon in my account so I can snag a good deal for free when I see it. Starbucks cards make great gifts for adults too and they will never know you didn't pay a penny for it.

Reuse gift bags. I save all the decent gift bags from every occasion and reuse them. Very rarely do I need to buy wrapping or gift bags due to this. If I do need a bag though, the dollar store has some great ones.

Designate a gift area.
It does little good to buy ahead and reuse items if you cannot find it when you need it. I have an area in a basement closet where I keep gifts and wrapping.

Feel free to share other ideas on how you save on buying gifts.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tweet Your Way to Prizes

I have gone back and forth with using Twitter for awhile now. I used it often when I was working but I was tweeting for my clients (social media was the majority of my job) so I didn't always want to come home and feel like I was going back to work. Recently though, I've participated in a few Twitter parties and have had a blast. I now have Tweet Deck on my desktop and I'm starting to participate more. What I'm learning is that a lot of great companies give out prizes throughout the day or through Twitter parties. I suggest you look up your favorite companies and follow them in order to earn great prizes and learn about their new products. You will also meet some great people online and form some fun friendships. While you are at it, follow me at @LifeWithLess.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Food Friday: Tortilla Swirls

Every New Year's Eve, we get together with the same people each year. I brought this once and was told I had to bring it every year or I would be sent home until I had it. This year I made it and had several of the ingredients left over except for tortillas. I wound up needing to bring something to an event and since I'm participating in the Eat from the Pantry challenge I turned to this recipe. Since I didn't have tortillas, I simply made the filling and served it with crackers as a dip. Several people asked me for the recipe so I think it was a good choice.

Tortilla Swirls
from Weight Watchers Simply the Best Cookbook

3/4 cup nonfat cream cheese
1/2 cup nonfat sour cream
1 cup shredded nonfat sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
8 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tsp fresh lime juice
Nine 6" fat free flour tortillas

1. In a small bowl, with an electric mixer at medium speed, beat the cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. With the mixer at low speed, blend in the cheddar cheese, pepper, scallions, and lime juice.

2. Place the tortillas on a work surface. Spread about 1/4 cup of the cheese mixture on each tortilla; roll up and place, seam-side down, on a plate. Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.

3. With a serrated knife, cut each tortilla roll into 6 equal slices; arrange, cut-side up, on a serving platter.

Baby Food Discovery

Last week you heard me mention our baby only wants baby food, not homemade food. Last night I discovered Big Lots sells stage 2 jars for thirty cents each. This is a significant discount. They didn't have a lot of choices but every little bit helps.

Then, this morning I ran to the dollar store for something and found an even wider variety 3 for $1. I checked at both places and the expiration dates were still good - some even had a year to go.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Takeout Tonight: Crispy Beef with Broccoli

Since we are eating from the pantry, I was excited when I saw this recipe because I had all of the ingredients on hand and it is fairly healthy. I've tried to make several Chinese recipes over the past few years and none tasted as good as take out but this one makes the cut. As a plus, it showed me a way to use up the bottle of oyster sauce that has been taunting me in my fridge the past few months. I bought it for a recipe that I wound up not liking and then had no idea what to do with it.

This recipe comes courtesy of the current (Feb. 2010) issue of Parents Magazine.

Crispy Beef With Broccoli

Beef Marinade:
1 1/2 tsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp cornstarch
freshly ground black pepper to season the beef

Stir-fry Sauce:
3 Tbs oyster sauce
2 tsp water
2 tsp balsamic vinegar

To prepare:
1 lb beef top sirloin or flank steak, thinly sliced into 1/8"-thick strips
1 1/2 lbs broccoli, cut into bite size florets (about 4 cups) (I used frozen)
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic (6 cloves)

1. In a medium bowl, combine the ingredients for the marinade. Add the beef and let marinate for 10 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate for a couple of hours.

2. In a small bowl, using a fork, mix together the ingredients for the stir-fry sauce. Set aside.

3. In a wok or large saute pan, add 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Add broccoli and cover to cook for 3 minutes. The broccoli should be bright green and crisp-tender; you should be able to pierce the stem with a fork. Using a slotted spoon, remove broccoli and pat it dry.

4. Discard the water in the pan and dry it well. Place over high heat and when hot, add the canola oil and swirl to coat. Add the garlic and fry for 15-30 seconds, until fragrant. Toss in the steak strips, keeping them in one layer and fry 30 seconds. Flip the strips and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes more or until done.

5. Pour in the stir-fry sauce and stir to combine. Add the cooked broccoli back into the pan and toss to coat well. Serves 4 as part of a multicourse meal.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Food Friday: Mini Frittatas

I originally saw this recipe on the Food Network and put it in the back of my mind as something to make for MOPS one day. It is a Giada De Laurentis recipe and is super easy. A few days after watching this episode, I received a frantic email that we wouldn't have enough food for MOPS the next day and could I bring more. I immediately found this recipe online and am glad I tried it. It is a wonderful way to clean out the pantry as you can vary the ingredients for what you have on hand. I used leftover ham from Christmas (from my freezer) and shredded Mozzarella cheese.

Mini Frittatas

8 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz thinly sliced ham, chopped
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I used dried as it as all I had)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 mini muffin tins (each with 24 cups) with nonstick spray. Whisk the eggs, milk, pepper, and salt in a large bowl to blend well. Stir in the ham, cheese, and parsley. Fill prepared muffin cups almost to the top with the egg mixture. Bake until the egg mixture puffs and is just set in the center, about 8-10 minutes. Using the rubber spatula, loosen the frittatas from the muffin cups and slide the frittatas onto a platter. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Organizing with Modular Mates

With this month's Eat from the Pantry Challenge I've been going through my kitchen cabinets to see what I have. I'm finding them horribly disorganized despite the fact that my husband organizes them several times a year. There is a lot of odds and ends food that I forgot were in there. It just so happens that Tupperware is having their annual Modular Mates sale right now. These are wonderful at organizing your cabinets and helping you find space you had no idea was there. It also helps you waste less as you can easily see how much of a product you have.

Last year when they went on sale, I was still pretty new to Tupperware and not really sure this product was for me. I bought a few samples though so I could display them at my parties and figured I would try them
for awhile in my kitchen and see how I liked them. Once they made them into my cabinet, I was quickly sold. My husband and I decided to save up some money and buy more when the sale came along this year. We plan to add a few each year as finances allow.

This is a picture of our snack cabinet before my husband and I attacked it. I was taking pictures with a crazy kid running around so I didn't get a picture of the whole cabinet - the other side has spices and cooking supplies. The multiple boxes of brownies are thanks to Nana - she spoils our oldest with them but once a new box arrives he just "has" to open it instead of finishing the old one. I usually combine them when there is enough room in the new box but I hadn't in awhile.

This is the after picture. The majority of the items on the bottom shelf were in other cabinets or on the counter because there was no room. The sugars were in my baking cabinet and way up high where they were hard to get too. There is still room for more in this cabinet which excites me. We would like a few more Modular Mates in there too but have to wait until finances allow.

I do not have pictures of the other cabinets as they are not done but I do have a few Modular Mates in them as well. Through a sales challenge last month, I won the Large Carry-All Container. I was excited for it and was thinking it might be good for toys but really had no idea how I would use it. While organizing the kitchen I realized I had coffee supplies tucked here and there all over my kitchen. I rounded up the filters, different coffees, and creamers and put them in this container. It now sits in an unused cabinet just below the coffee maker. I love knowing where everything is now and I'm more likely to actually use all of those samples I have as I can see them. Plus, the lid is too hard for my kids to take off but easy enough for me. This cabinet is not used much simply because the kids take everything out of it.

This little project has me excited to work on other parts of the kitchen and I will as time allows this week.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eat from the Pantry Update

I'm happy to say that I'm clearing some things out of my freezer thanks to this challenge, but I'm not happy to say I'm going to have to up the budget a bit - there is no way we are going to make it this month on $100. This is due to three things I didn't account for:

1. One of our dogs has been sick for about 6 months. Her blood work finally came back normal last week but she is still having problems maintaining weight. In order to help her, we are to soften her food with whole milk. Between the kids and the dog, we went through 3 gallons of milk last week (and that doesn't count my soy milk). At $3 a gallon, that adds up quickly.

2. Our baby is having problems gaining weight also and we were told at his 6 month appointment to feed him as much as he would eat - starting with a min. of 3 jars of food a day (he was already eating 2 at this point). My goal the entire time with feeding was to grind up what we eat and let him have that for each meal. Think again. He loves baby food but he only loves it from a jar. I did a mix of jar and homemade food with our first but this one will only eat the jar kind. It adds up quickly but I will do anything to help this one maintain his weight.

3. My husband would decide out of the blue on the coldest day of the year that he suddenly needed to go to the store. He came home with about $10 of junk. That isn't a lot but when you are trying to only spend $100 for the month, that is 10% of the budget.

I'm still working on using up what is in our freezer and finding ways to utilize the random items I find in our pantry so the challenge is helpful. It is also helpful in that I still plan on spending less overall this month than normal so that extra can be moved to next month's budget as some of these expenses will not be going away for awhile.

How are all of you doing? Stay tuned this week as I plan to post some of the recipes I've been using with to help me with cleaning out the freezer and pantry.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Weightloss with Wii

For Christmas, my husband saved his money up and blew the budget by buying me a Wii,Wii Fit Plus, and My Fitness Coach. He found a fabulous deal on Amazon which helped a little. I've been asking for months for his encouragement with weight loss and have received very little encouragement but he thought the Wii might be just the thing that would help me. I've wanted a Wii and Wii Fit for awhile now but did not think I had time to add one more thing to my already busy day. It turns out it was a great investment.

My oldest loves to "exercise" with me. He usually stands next to me and mimics what I am doing. When he is full of energy and driving me crazy, we turn on the running game, put the remote in his pocket, and tell him to run around the couch. The first time, he ran 2 miles! Keep in mind he is just under 4 years old - now you know why I'm exhausted keeping up with him. At his preschool, they have Jazzercise once a month. He always dreads this day and usually spends part of the time in trouble. Jazzercise was this week and he came home all excited because he liked it now. When I asked what changed he said it was because he likes exercising with mommy. I thought that was precious and then realized what an influence I have on his level of activity throughout life.

I've even caught my husband trying out the Wii Fit games and he always jokes that he doesn't believe in exercise. We are both very competitive so we work towards beating each others score on all of the games. I'm praying the excitement continues once the newness wears off because I am enjoying seeing my whole family get into exercising and seeing them realize that exercise can be fun.

I also enjoy My Fitness Coach because it tells me which days to exercise and I can set up workouts according to the time I have available - as little as 15 minutes. When kids are underfoot and time is of the essence, it is great to know I can get a quick workout in.

Stay tuned as I continue through this journey of losing the baby weight. I feel I'm making a turn in this journey as I've been exercising 5 days a week now for two weeks and I'm actually starting to look forward to it each day. Next up, food challenges.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goals for the New Year

I'm a big believer on setting goals and I know I'm much more likely to accomplish them if I share them so I'm going to share a few of my goals for this year with you all. First of all, I'm not a huge New Year's resolution fan but I am a fan of attainable goals. I'm not one to set new goals at the beginning of the year, rather I sit down a few times a year and review my current goals, then add or subtract from there. I won't bore you with all the steps I've set out to accomplish these goals but I need a few of these to be out there in the public so that I have the motivation to not give up half way through.

1. Weightloss. You've heard me talk about my struggle to lose the baby weight over the past six months. Expect a few more posts regarding this as I have a new resolve to get it off. I have 20-25 pounds to lose and my goal is to get it off by my birthday which is June 5. Of course, I'm still breastfeeding and if my weightloss interferes any with that, I will move the date but I'm determined I'm not going to be this size for forever.

2. Clutter Control. My house is a perpetual mess. I know what it takes to keep it clean but I would rather play with my boys than keep up with the clutter. My husband and I have spent many hours over the Christmas break cleaning up the house and I want to keep it this way. If you ever visit, please do not expect a perfect house but hopefully it will be a bit cleaner than in the past.

3. Blogging. I enjoy blogging but struggle with time management with it. My head is constantly spinning with post ideas but I sit down to write and get distracted. My goal is at least 3 fresh posts a week and I plan on accomplishing that by setting "office hours" each week.

4. Tupperware. I mentioned before that I actually have an office for my Tupperware business now. I'm treating this as an actual job, not just a hobby so my goal is to have "office hours" each week instead of grabbing a few minutes here and a few minutes there. My husband is very supportive of this as he sees the potential I have in this business. My other Tupperware goal is to move up two levels by the end of the year. I became a Manager at the end of the year and I want to keep climbing up the ladder as I feel my real calling is in motivating others to achieve their dreams.

These are my main goals for 2010. I have a few smaller goals but these are the ones weighing heavy on my heart at this time. I encourage you to sit down and create goals, then break them down into more manageable goals.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back from a Break & Pantry Challenge

I had no intentions of being gone so long from this blog but life got in the way. Thanks to numerous holiday events and then a sick baby, there was little computer time left. During the break I cleaned out our office though so I now have a place to work on my Tupperware and blog. I'm still not sure how things will work out once my husband starts back to school in a few weeks but this is his last semester so the end is in sight!

I'm going to start off the year participating in the Eat from the Pantry Challenge that Money Saving Mom and Life as Mom are hosting. I actually was planning on doing something similar before I saw them post the challenge so this was the boost I needed to follow through. My challenge will be to eat from the freezer though. For my long time readers, you will remember that we receive a quarter of a beef every year for Christmas from my in laws. For the past few months I've been trying to eat more from the freezer in order to have space for the beef. Thanks to my husband emptying out the freezer and our other two smaller freezer spaces (more on that in a minute) we had plenty of room but we came across several bits and pieces of meals and random items that really need to be used up.

Back to the extra freezer space - A year and a half ago, we had a flood in our house when the water line broke on our fridge. Insurance did not cover the cost of the fridge and we did not have the money to fix it or buy a new one at the time. Fast forward to November 2009. We had decided we wanted to replace the fridge rather than fix it because there is no lock on the ice/water area and our oldest thinks it is fun to play with. We had been saving money towards this when an appliance store in town sent us a flyer advertising a one day sale. We went on a whim and wound up with a fabulous deal on a new fridge. We put the broken one in the garage as there have been many times we wanted an extra fridge. So, when we cleaned out the deep freeze, I put all the random items I want to use up in the garage fridge/freezer. Having it all in one space makes it a ton easier to find what needs to be used and motivates me to do something with it.

I will have to go to the store for fresh produce, milk and some pantry items this month as my pantry is only well stocked with barbecue sauce and beef broth. Somehow I don't think those two things will get me very far. My plan is to only shop the sales though and make do with what I have in my pantry. My goal is to only spend $100 this month. My normal budget is $200-250 so we will see how it goes.

We ran to the store for milk on New Year's Day and I spent $16 but I do not anticipate needing anything else this week so I'm off to a good start. I will keep you updated on how we do this month, as well as share tips and recipes using our pantry items.

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