Saturday, February 22, 2014

Disney Movie Night: Planes

Planes is one of my youngest's favorite movies.  He has been begging for a Planes movie night for a while now, so I thought, why not?

What do you make that goes with Planes?  I was stumped.  I did some searching on the internet, and while the idea of plane shaped sandwiches is cute, it doesn't really live up to my expectations for movie night.  So, I had to do some thinking.

If you've seen the movie, you know that Dusty Crophopper is racing in the Wings Around the Globe. This race stops in various countries around the world...which gave me my inspiration for tonight's menu!

For our dinner this evening we had:

- Pork Potstickers, representing China.  I love dumplings, wontons, anything like that.  I'd never made potstickers before, and these got a little dark on the bottom, but they were super tasty!

- Apple Halwa, representing India.  India was hard.  I needed something the kids would actually eat.  Plus, I seem to have a curry allergy (I've only made curry once, and I broke out in a horrible itchy rash - I'd rather not risk that again!).  So, when I came across a recipe for apple halwa, I thought it sounded like a winner.  It was!  The kids loved it!

- Pretzel Rolls, representing Germany.  I considered sauerkraut, but the kids won't touch it.  Pretzel rolls sounded fun, and boy were they tasty!  I dipped mine in some Boetje's mustard...mmmm!

- Root Beer, representing the United States.  I know, there were probably better choices, but it sounded good!  We went local and got Millstream, made right here in Iowa.

- Flan, representing Mexico.  I've never made a flan before, but we really like flan, so I gave it a try.  It turned out OK, but not great.

All in all, just like Dusty Crophopper, this meal was a winner!

Friday, February 7, 2014

An Olympic Meal

With the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on TV tonight, I decided to skip the Disney movie night and watch the Games with the family.  Of course, that required planning an Olympic themed menu.

My first thought was Russian food.  But, I couldn't imagine my kids eater perogies or borscht.  And I don't know any other Russian foods off the top of my head!

So, I decided to use the Olympic rings as inspiration.  Our menu ended up including:

  • Burger Rings (Yes...rings made out of burger!  We made hamburger patties, and cut the center out with a cookie cutter before grilling.  We had enough meat left to make a "gold medal" topped with cheese, too!)
  • Onion Rings (These were baked and used whole wheat bread crumbs for the breading.  So, actually not too bad for you, and really tasted good!)
  • Pineapple Rings
  • Drink: Powerade Zero ('s a sports drink!)

  • Dessert: DONUTS!  (I take no credit for making these.  They came from the store.  I was hoping to find ones with red, white, and blue sprinkles in honor of the Olympics, but the closest I could get were red and white valentines sprinkles.  Oh, well!)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mission: Spice Organization

Those of you have been reading my blog posts (and thanks to the one or two of you who are!) know that I've been working my way through the Organized Home Challenge.

The most recent area I tackled (this was last Thursday's challenge, but I got busy, so I did it today when there isn't a challenge listed!) was the spice area in my kitchen.  The challenge actually reads "Discard expired and old spices".  I did that...and more.  Here was the area in the kitchen where I kept my spices (and cookbooks, but they weren't officially part of the challenge):

What is in that bread box, you might ask?  Bread would be the logical answer, but no.  

More spices.  It really seemed like a good idea at first.  But, it just wasn't big enough, and I could never find anything.  So I had some duplicates.  Nothing as bad as the kosher salt from a few days ago, but a couple of containers of cumin, and two unopened jars of cardamom.

I had a drawer in my kitchen that contained a sifter and two power cords.  Really wasted space, if you ask me.  I moved the power cords (which I think are for the griddle and maybe the wok??) to the drawer with the pot holders and the sifter to the utensil drawer.  Now I have an empty drawer to make into my spice drawer!  I also threw out anything old or expired.  I put a few things in nicer containers (I love the containers that Penzey's spices come in.  I actually would buy all my spices there if we had one close by.  But when I need something and have run out, I have to go with the cheap-o stuff.  But I put it in the Penzey's jar to make myself feel better.)  The lids are smooth and black, which made it really easy to label the lids with a white paint pen.  Then I just lined them up alphabetically in the drawer.

I have a few random items in the back (Saltine seasoning - this was a gift and I haven't tried it yet, bags of cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, and a couple of nutmegs rolling around).  But it's so much easier to see what is in there!

And the counter space!!!

The only things I left out on the counter are the sugar dispenser, my salt container for cooking, and my bottle of Slim & Sassy.  I'm thinking about getting a new fruit bowl (my old one broke) or a banana tree to put here, but I like that I have a work space that is available.   I may also leave my cutting mats out here as well, since I always need them and they are so thin and easy to lose in the cabinet.

So, how do you organize your spices?  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Disney Movie Night: Emperor's New Groove

It's an oldie, but a...well, an oldie.

Can you believe I've never seen Emperor's New Groove?  Or, I hadn't.  Until tonight.  In a search for movies we haven't seen yet, I decided we needed to give this one a try.  For our dining pleasure this evening, I decided to try my hand at Peruvian cuisine.  I've never eaten Peruvian food, let alone cooked it, so I had to do some research.

For dinner, we had Sweet & Spicy Beef Empanadas, Arroz Chauffa (rice with salami and pineapple), and Roasted Root Vegetables (beets, carrots, and turnips).  They were pretty good.  I was concerned about the rice.  I mean, salami and pineapple?  But it was yummy!  The empanadas were pretty spicy, so the kids didn't really like them, and I've never been a big fan of beef and cinnamon.  But they were OK.  The vegetables were good.

For dessert, I made Picarones.  These are sweet potato and pumpkin donuts.  Again, I was skeptical.  But they were actually good!  The donuts weren't overly sweet, but the powdered sugar on top was a nice complement.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why we have 3 BOXES of Kosher Salt. (OR Why you need an organized pantry!)

I admit it.  I am guilty.

I am one of those people who goes to the grocery store and then just shoves things in the pantry without taking time to organize them.  This is especially bad on co-op nights when I get home at 9:00 (or later!) and am tired.  It's a bad habit.  I'll try to stop.  Especially after today.

Why today?  Well on the Organized Home Challenge for this week, today is Declutter Pantry Shelves.  I've actually been meaning to do this for a while.  My pantry was a mess.  I couldn't even shut the door all the way.  And the bag from January co-op with pantry items was just piled in front.  See?

And good luck finding anything in there! 

Now, in all honesty, it didn't take long to get this in shape.  Just going through, shelf by shelf, and putting things where they should have been originally.  I did get rid of a grocery bag of expired, half used items.   I also pulled out another bag of stuff for the food pantry.  Most of that was canned items I'd bought for a recipe and then either never used, or ended up substituting something non-canned instead.  Hopefully I'll be able to cut down on that with my new meal planning process that gives me time to make home-made substitutes.  

The biggest problem I ran into was duplicates.  I mean, who really needs three almost full boxes of Kosher Salt!?!?  I kept two in the pantry.  I mean, we will use it eventually.  The third I pulled out to go with my supplies for making household/beauty supplies.  I put kosher salt in my laundry detergent.  Helps make the clothes nice and soft.  I pulled all of those supplies (washing soda, baking soda, castile soap, essential oils, etc.) out and moved them down to the bathroom off the playroom.  Plenty of cupboard space there, and it leaves the pantry free for just food items.  I also moved the blender down to the cupboard where I keep rarely used appliances.  That let me slide the dehydrator farther back so the rice cooker would actually fit.

See the improvement!?  And the door closes now, too!  Here are a few close-ups of some of my tips for a cleaner looking pantry:

1.  On my "liquids" shelf (which also has my salt...), I have a metal cookie sheet.  See it on the left?  I put all of my oils, vinegars, honey, agave nectar, and cooking wines on this.  That way, if they leak, it's easy to pull out and wash off.

2.  Clear plastic bins for staples.  I have my most used pastas, sugars, baking soda, arrowroot powder, cocoa, breadcrumbs, etc. in these.  I also have ones for my flours, oats, cereals, and protein powder on the top shelf.  I do have a few boxes of special pastas that I've bought for a recipe: angel hair for sesame noodles, rotini for a soup.

At the bottom of the picture, you can also see my snack bins.  I have one for me and one for my husband.  I keep things like bagel sticks and pretzels in mine.  He has trail mix and Clif bars.

3.  Baskets to collect like items.  I have 4.  One basket holds snacks for the kids (mostly dried fruits right now).  That one is on the shelf with canned items.  I'm also using it to separate cans that I've bought for recipes or are just random fruits or soups from items needed for co-op recipes.  I'm really hoping to be able to cut down on the amount of stuff on this shelf.  But it's not bad.  A couple of cans of pineapple, some tomato paste, tomatoes with chiles, enchilada sauce, and stir-fry veggies (water chestnuts and baby corn).  The enchilada sauce and tomato paste I can probably make.  The tomatoes with chiles I might be able to can this summer.

I have another basket for crackers, taco shells, and croutons.  I also stuck my gigantic bag of dried chiles in there.  I didn't know where else to put it.

The small basket has mixes (ranch dressing and onion soup), yeast, and sprinkles.

The last basket is all baking supplies - nuts, coconut, marshmallows, and chocolate chips

I'm happy with it.  Now, how long do you think I can keep it cleaned up? :)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Meal Planning week 3: Planning ahead pays off!

When I started this new system of planning 4 weeks of meals and then shopping sales, I thought it would take a long time to pay off.   Turns out, it didn't!  My grocery list this week, once I take out all of the things I already have on hand, is only 23 items!  For a family of 5, that's awesome!  And most of it is fresh "stuff", which is my real goal.  I love that we are eating better, and a lot less canned and processed food.

Here is the menu for the next 4 weeks:

And here is the grocery list.  See if you have as much success as I did! :)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Organized Home Challenge: Week 1-1.5

It's time to get organized!  Check out the Organized Home Challenge over at Home Storage Solutions 101.  I'm excited to get my house all put in order this year.  It's part of trying to get my life put back in order.  I've felt just all discombobulated lately, and I want to change that!  (How often do you get to use the word "discombobulated"?  I love it!)

Weeks 1-2 of the Organized Home Challenge had to do with kitchens.  Surprisingly, this may be the most organized area of my whole house.  Probably because we have a pretty small kitchen, so everything has to have it's place or the whole room becomes a disaster very quickly.  That actually gave me an out the last week, because a lot of this was already done!

January 7 - Declutter small kitchen appliances.  Mine all have homes.  Most of them live in the pantry, on the bottom shelf: food processor, blender, rice cooker, dehydrator, and slow cooker.  The toaster and the mixer have cupboard space.  Done!

January 8 - Clear off kitchen counters.  This is a daily chore!  It seems like every time I go in the kitchen, there is a toy, the mail, or some random object sitting on the counter!  So, I'm just having to make myself more aware of picking things up as I walk through.  Done!

January 9 - Clear off the kitchen table.  We don't have a table in our kitchen, just in the dining room.  And it's usually cleared off so we can eat.  Occasionally the kids leave coloring books or something on it, so again, just being more aware and picking things up! Done!

January 10 - Declutter everyday tablecloths, napkins, placemats.  Do people actually use these everyday?  I can't remember where my holiday ones even are.  Maybe someday when I don't have little people who spill things...Done!

January 11 - Declutter excess plastic cups and water bottles.  OK.  This one I had to do.  How do we accumulate so many water bottles??  I didn't take pictures (OOPS!), but I think we threw out or donated something like 15 water bottles.  I kept the ones the kids got at summer camp - they are really good bottles.  Plus we have 3 large ones that we keep for camping - they went down to the camping tub.  The only cups I kept were the mugs (with lids) that we got from Walt Disney World last year.  They are awesome mugs, and souvenirs.  Done!

January 12 - Declutter ziplock bags, foil, plastic wrap, etc.  These already have a drawer that stays pretty neat.  Done!

January 13 (Reading Day)

January 14 - Declutter kitchen cabinet shelves/drawers.  This goes with...

January 15 - Declutter kitchen junk drawer.  Alright, this is where I had work to do.  I am constantly getting new kitchen gadgets.  I love gadgets!  But sometimes a good purge of the utensil drawer is necessary.  I have 2 drawers and a canister for utensils.  Here is what they looked like before:

Try finding something in that mess.  And who needs three ladles and 5 sets of measuring cups, anyway?  I went through and got rid of a bunch of junk.  Anything broken, stained, or starting to melt went in the garbage.  The rest of the stuff I got rid of went to Goodwill.  It made a huge difference just cleaning out those drawers!  Here are the after shots:

Up next is finishing the kitchen cabinets and then it's on to the pantry...probably the scariest part of my house! :)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Meal Planning Week 2 - a great week for sales

This week is a great week for sales for my grocery list!  Wow!  Almost everything I don't have is on sale, mostly on Cartwheel at Target.  I love weeks like this!

Here is the menu I created for the next 4 weeks:

And here is the grocery list to go with it.

Happy shopping!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Disney Movie Night: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins has been on my mind a lot lately.  I've been wanting to go see Saving Mr. Banks; I just haven't had time yet.  And the Walt Disney exhibit is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago right now.  I'm trying to figure out when we can go see that as well.  Plus, I'm working on early plans for our next Disney World trip and one of the meals I've been contemplating is breakfast at 1900 Park Fare, which includes Mary Poppins as one of the characters.  So, naturally, Mary Poppins was our movie for tonight!

When I was trying to come up with a menu for tonight, there were only a few obvious choices from the movie.  Cakes and tea?  Not really supper food.  Fish (that is what they were going to buy when they got sidetracked to Uncle Albert's)...I'm allergic.  Hmmm...what to do?

So, I decided to go with a menu based more on the location of the movie than movie references itself.     I found a recipe for the Guinness Stew they serve at the Rose and Crown at the UK Pavilion in Epcot, so I went with that.  I know...Irish.  But, it's close.  And delicious!!  I decided on scones for a side.

For dessert, I went back to the Rose and Crown.  Sticky toffee pudding.  The kids response?  "That's not pudding!  It's cake!"  My response?  "Heaven on a plate!"  I'm a sucker for toffee.

This was a great movie night, and one of my all-time favorite Disney classics!

Monday, January 6, 2014

A New Take on Meal Planning: Week 1

So I decided to try something new for my grocery shopping and meal planning this year.  Instead of doing one month at a time like I used to do, I'm starting the year by planning 4 weeks.  Each week, I'll plan one week to add on the end.  So, I'll always have 4 weeks of planned meals.

Why?  First, this gives me some flexibility.  If I just don't have time on the day I want to plan, it's not a huge deal.  I can put it off a day or two.  Second, sales!  If I have more than this week's groceries planned out, I can shop sales, coupons, etc. in advance.

So, how do I do this?  I have a monthly meal calendar in my planner (missed that post?  Find it here.) I use that to write out my dinner plans.

I don't really plan breakfast or lunch.  I have things I keep on hand for both.  Breakfast: eggs, bacon, cereal, bread, milk.  Lunch: salad mix, chicken that I've grilled, celery, dressings, soup (either canned or leftover and frozen), crackers, fresh fruit, and sometimes Hormel Compleats for a treat.  So here are my steps for creating my meal plans:

1.  Fill in Church Dinner on Wednesdays.  Our church has a community dinner every Wednesday before the kids' programs.  It's a great way to meet new people and fellowship with friends.  Plus the food is good!  If you don't have a night where you have a church or community meal, you could always have a pizza night or McDonald's night or just generic eating out night.  That makes one night a week really simple.

2.  Fill in special meals.  This month is J's birthday, so we'll go out that night.  We also have a pizza party for cub scouts.  Plus, on Saturday's when we have nothing going on, we like to do our Disney movie nights.

3.  Go through the freezer.  I look at what meat I have on hand and what meals from my cooking co-op I have.  Right now I have a lot from co-op.  I got a lot in November, and with the car accident, we didn't do a lot of cooking.  So, I have those to use up, plus we meet tonight so I'll get all of January's. I fill these in where I want to use them.

4.  Fill in the remaining nights with tried-and-true recipes or things I've found online that look good.  I have a huge recipe board on Pinterest that I've hardly cracked! ;)

So here is my meal plan for the next 4 weeks.  Meals with * are co-op meals.  You can either fill in a different main dish, find a similar recipe, or if you ask I might share! :)

5.  Make a grocery list.  This may be the long way, but I like to write down EVERYTHING I need so I can double check my pantry.  All spices, everything.  I use a printable shopping list I found on Pinterest from  I print off a new one each week, write the dates at the top and fill out the groceries for week #4.  So I'm actually working from 4 lists at a time...but more on that later.

6.  For the current week (week 1), go through the pantry/fridge/freezer and cross off what I already have.

7.  Once I have my list of things I need, I go through adds and coupons.  I usually go through the weekly adds for the 3 stores I do my shopping at first and look for good sales (Target, Fareway, and HyVee).  I also look for Fuel Saver items at HyVee.

8.  Coupons!  I use,, and digital coupons from the Target app and HyVee site.

9.  Apps.  I use both Cartwheel by Target and Ibotta.

10.  Once I've marked everything that has a sale, coupon, cartwheel, Ibotta, or Fuel Saver, I sort things by store in Shopper on my phone and I'm ready to go.  Anything not marked goes on the Fareway list, since things tend to be a little less expensive there.

And that's it!  Here is the grocery list this week's trip.  I've marked the coupons and such that I've found.  Hope it helps!  Once I take off the things I have on hand, I'm left with a pretty short list!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Planner System

Have you checked out the Organized Home Challenge yet?  The challenge doesn't technically start until Monday, but the first 4 days of January have been little things to help get ready.  Here's my progress so far.

Jan. 1 - "Set up a donation and selling collection station".  I admit, I don't really do this.  I have a large garbage bag for donation items and once it's full, off it goes.  Or if I'm heading to my chiropractor which is right next to the Goodwill drop off.   I do keep track of donations for tax purposes, but I'll talk about that in a minute.  As for stuff to sell...I don't bother.  I hate having garage sales!  It's just too much work, and I don't have enough to sell to make it worth all the time to me.  So, I donate everything instead.  If I decide to get rid of something actually worth much, I might try ebay or craigslist, but so far that hasn't happened.  I have sold some old text books on amazon, and that's been pretty easy.

Jan. 2 - "Create binder for household notebook".  I didn't really create a binder...and it's not really a household notebook.  But I do have a new planner system I absolutely LOVE.  After years and years of trying different things (Franklin planners, cheap calendars from the store, several different online things), I finally found something that actually works for me!

Have you seen these disc binders?  I love them!  First, they are so much easier to move things around than a regular three ring binder.  But best of all, THEY LAY FLAT!  Just like a spiral notebook.  Yes, you have to have a special paper punch for them.  But, it's a one-time, fairly small expense that is definitely worth it.  I bought this really cute binder, along with some tabs for it, at Staples.  I bought the hole punch off of amazon for a total of about $25.  That may seem a little much, but remember, all of that is reusable year after year!  It's just the pages that have to be replaced.

Ahh...the pages!  Where do those come from?  Most of them I ordered off of easy from a site called  I love the layout, the fun colors, everything about them.  And all for only $10.  I could probably make my own, but this was so much easier.

The pages I really use are the calendar:

And the monthly meal plan:

I also have tabs for a to-do list (which I just do on the paper that came in the binder), plain paper, and for organizing.  The organizing section is new - this is my answer to this part of the organized home challenge.  I printed off the January calendar from the challenge so I have it in front of me.  I also will put any printoffs I get from the challenge that I find useful in this section.

I did add one other thing.  I found this donation record on (thanks to seeing it on the Today show), and it is really useful!  You just write everything down and add up the value.  Underneath that, I printed out the Valuation Guide from Goodwill, and stuck that in as well.

All put together, it makes a great binder!  I love having everything I need in one place.  I'll probably find more things to add to it over time, but I've been using it since July and so far it's been exactly what I needed.

Jan. 3 - "Create template for daily to-do list that works".  I'm still working on this one.  Right now I just use a piece of paper.  If you have any suggestions for what works for you, I'd love to hear them!

Jan. 4 - "Declutter or make place to store old Christmas cards".  I don't keep old Christmas cards.  Picture cards go on the refrigerator for a while, but regular cards I just get rid of.  I appreciate them, I do.  I just don't understand why I need to keep them.

So, I'm all caught up!  How about you?

Disney Movie Night: The Little Mermaid

Disney Movie nights have become a highlight of our family time over the last year.  We were doing one about every 3-4 weeks before our car accident in October.  Then I just didn't feel up to being very creative.  But, now that I'm doing better, we are getting back to it!

So, tonight's movie was The Little Mermaid, which Grace got for her Christmas movie.  She's always said Ariel was her favorite Disney princess, but she hadn't seen the movie!  She did love meeting Ariel at Walt Disney World, though!

Along with watching the movie, Disney Movie Night has to have a special thematic dinner.  I have to admit, I can't get many health points for my movie night dinners.  But, the kids have fun with them, and they go with the movie!

Tonight's dinner consisted of:

  • Ursula Dogs - hot dogs with one end cut into 8 sections.  When you boil them, the sections curl up and they look like octopi...just like Ursula!
  • Goldfish crackers - to
  • Berry Blue Jell-o - for the ocean
And for dessert:

Oyster cookies with a marshmallow pearl!  These were made from Pepperidge Farms Coconut cookies, a little blue frosting, and a mini marshmallow.

Next up on our movie night watching list...Mary Poppins!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy New Year!

Well...I kind of fell off the blogging band wagon last year, didn't I?  SORRY!!

I'm back, though, with some New Year's Resolutions that will hopefully have me blogging more often!  Did you make some resolutions?  Here are mine:

1.  Eat healthier - in reality, it should be lose weight.  But, I don't feel like that is something I can control as easily, so I'll stick to what I can control and that is what I put in my mouth.  I have some specific goals as part of this, too:
  • Eat less pre-packaged and processed foods
  • Drink less soda
  • Eat out less
To do this, I'm trying a new way of grocery shopping and meal planning.  I'm planning suppers for 4 weeks at a time.  Each week, I'll add a new week at the end.  This allows me to shop sales 4 weeks out.  If something is on sale, I'll buy it.  Otherwise, I'll buy it as I need it.  Hopefully, this will keep me from getting too bored with our meals, and help me keep interested in cooking.  I'm still doing my co-op, which gives me lots of freezer meals each month.  I do my grocery shopping on Tuesdays, so be on the lookout next Monday for my grocery plan.

2.  Exercise - I can't say "more" because I haven't really been doing any.  I was in a bad car accident on October 1, and am just now being released by my chiropractor.  So, I'll have to start slow.  I'm thinking I'll start with some yoga and using my FitBit to get my step count up.  

3.  Get Organized! - I used to be super organized.  But the car accident totally messed me up.  So, I need to get back on track.  I've found this great 52 week organizing challenge that I've used in the past at Home Storage Solutions 101.  I'll be following this and posting my results.  It should be a fun, easy way to get all organized again.

I'm sure I could add more: spend more time with the kids, read more books, etc.  But, I don't want to get overwhelmed.  I do have other fun things to do this year, though.  I'm starting a pyrography (wood burning) hobby, so I'll share some of my projects.  I have some fun ideas for teacher appreciation week.  And I'll (hopefully) be planning another Disney World trip later this year, so I'll have lots of crafts and shirts to make for that! 

I don't know if anyone actually reads this, but hopefully putting my organizing and meal plans up here will at least keep me accountable and maybe someone will come along for the journey!