August Reflections

As part of my 2015 resolutions, I post my status each month to keep myself accountable for the goals I set for myself!

1. Design 2015 budget goals with husband to reflect past spending and current saving goals.

My goal for August was to evaluate our car situation. I feel like I am way behind the curve, but I recently discovered Dave Ramsey and have been learning more about his methods for getting out of debt. My darling sweetie graduated from med school this year. This translates into an amount of student loans that …well there are just no nice words for it. We really want to eliminate all of our debt as soon as we can. One of our cars is completely paid off, but the other was under a lease. My husband and I both agreed that this would be our last lease.

So, we bought a new-to-us car and are working towards paying that off. Although we are not at the point we could comfortably buy the car outright, we are at a point where we can pay it off quicker than the terms of our loan. I am (weirdly) excited about the prospect of finally being able to eliminate car debt. It may take us years to get there, but we have a plan and I know we can do it.

My goal for September is to really understand what Dave Ramsey’s philosophy is all about. I plan on checking out one of his books from the library and really reading it, as opposed to just gathering bits and pieces from online. I know enough people that have benefitted from his books that I am willing to give it a try! I love reading, so this is my favorite “budget” goal of the year!
2. Go to the gym (or workout at home) a minimum of four days a week.

For August, my goal was to work out a total of 12 times (or an average of three times a week). I was almost thwarted from my goals when our jogging stroller broke a few days into the month! It is hard enough to find time to work out, but without my jogging stroller I was forced to look for new ways to work out. I really tried to do whatever I could, but Miss Cupcake thought it was fun to crawl over and under me while I did pushups or crunches or she tried to pick up my weights. We decided to start looking for a new jogging stroller and were blessed to find a used one for only $55! I was doubly blessed when my dear sweet Dad decided to buy it for us. I am one lucky lady! With that, I immediately got back into my running groove. This was a success!

3. Reduce my PR of a 9 min mile pace to an 8 minute mile.

I completed a 7:57 mile in April. This goal is complete!

4. Try one new recipe a week and blog about it.

I am absolutely loving cooking and baking so much from scratch lately. This month’s delicious recipes included:

Homemade Granola Bars

Homemade Bread Crumbs

Easy Breaded Chicken

Crockpot Lasagna

5. I want to continue nursing Cupcake through 2015, unless she chooses to wean earlier.

CHECK!

My little girl just turned 17 months old and has just started sleeping through the night regularly. Holy moly has that been a game-changer. It took me weeks to adjust to being able to sleep through the night. I’d wake with a start at 2 am thinking I heard a cry, or wake up because my bladder no longer was used to go all night, or wake up because I missed my baby. Such a complicated feeling! However, we are mostly all sleeping through the night these days.

Cupcake has always been a big fan of nursing to sleep. This rarely happens now. She asks to be put in her crib for nap or bedtime and just wants to hold my hand until she drops off. I find it adorable 99% of the time. It makes me realize what a big girl she is becoming! Her favorite is nursing to wake. She would nurse all morning if I let her- and unless we have to be somewhere, I do! Pretty much from when she wakes up at 5 or 6 until we go out for the morning at 9, she is nursing on and off. I find it a great time for us to connect and set us up for the day ahead.

6. Visit my grandma every week before our move. Call her every week after we move.

My grandma turned 93 this month. When my grandfather passed away, she moved back to Connecticut to be with our family. For the first time in over 20 years, I missed her birthday party. I was so sad. So sad. It just wasn’t feasible for me to visit. I am hoping and praying for a visit in September, because I miss her.

7. Text/call/email a different friend every day to keep communication open.

Check!

8. I will cut my monthly consumption of soda.

My goal for August was to have no more than eight 8-ounce servings. A weird thing happened this month. I am not sure of the exact number of servings, because I couldn’t keep track. You know that amazingly refreshing moment when you open a cold Coca-Cola on a hot summer day? I took one sip and noticed I didn’t like it at all. I passed the can to my husband and got a seltzer water.

A few days later, my sweetie opened a Coke and I asked for a sip. Yuck.

I lost my taste for Coke and Pepsi and anything like that. I just couldn’t get into it. It was weird. It was nice.

I did have one delicious can of orange soda because Kel, I mean I, love orange soda. (Please tell me you get that reference!)  

I don’t know what made the switch in my taste buds, but I am happy about it! I have no cravings for the sodas that I most loved before. My goal wasn’t to completely give up soda, just to reduce my monthly consumption. However, I am definitely okay with the idea of eventually not wanting any sodas at all!

My goal for September is to have no more than six 8-oz servings.

9. Subscribe to FlyLady Emails. Complete tasks to maintain clean and decluttered home.

My goal for August was to organize our pantry so that I can ensure we are using the oldest food items first. This was awesome. I realized I have entirely too many boxes of macaroni and cheese! I just kept buying it and apparently didn’t realize we already had some. I discovered items I had forgotten about, like a green tea with jasmine. It has become my new favorite beverage to turn into iced tea! We were able to use up some lasagna noodles that were close to expiring to make a new family favorite. I am SO happy I did this (and so is our food budget!).

10. Reduce time spent watching TV

My goal for August was to limit my TV to the following items:

  • News (no more than 30 minutes a day)
  • Sesame Street or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (an episode if its a rainy day for Cupcake)
  • No more than two movies

Ugh. Okay. I had a rough time this month. My dad came to visit and he enjoyed a LOT of screen time with Cupcake. So, that was a fail. Also, Chris had an “easier” rotation this month, so we got back into watching The Wire. We binge watched Season 4 (SO GOOD!). I did not make the progress I was hoping to make this month. I am most disappointed about the screen time that Cupcake had. I found myself resorting to a quick TV show or youtube video so I could shower after my workouts or make dinner because it worked. I am not anti-TV by any means, but I also do not want to develop it into too much of a crutch. It is still August. If I am doing this now,  I will definitely overdo it come the cold winter months.

How do you do it parents that don’t show television? My LO will play independently and read to herself, but at the end of a long day, there is no way she won’t be all over me while I cook. I have tried including her in the food prep, but that isn’t working either. Suggestions, please!

11. Post progress each month on the above goals.

Check!

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Homemade Egg McMuffins

It doesn’t matter who you are, it seems like a common thread is that mornings are crazy. Now that we’ve hit the autumn, kids (and teachers) are back to school, adding to the flurry of excitement that is morning time.

We don’t always have time to make a full breakfast. With my husband in residency, he needs a good solid breakfast to get him started. It also needs to be fast. And healthy because I’d like to keep him forever.
Although people frequently slam McDonalds, their Egg McMuffin actually is a really decent breakfast. However, as a chain, their food uses who knows what ingredients to preserve their products. It’s also more expensive to purchase one than it is to make one!

However, it also takes some time. Time we do not have in our morning. So, I decided I’d create an egg sandwich that we could keep in the freezer and quickly warm up in the morning. In less than a minute, my sweetie has a wholesome complete breakfast.
You can just get your eggs, or even bake them. I wanted them approximately the size of an English muffin, so I used a greased cookie cutter in the pan to form my egg patties. I couldn’t find my circle shape anywhere, so Christmas ornament eggs it was! I also didn’t want to take the time to dirty up another bowl, so I just cracked the egg directly into the pan and stirred it briefly. You can alternatively mix your eggs ahead of time and pour them into a cookie cutter if you prefer!

Easy Egg McMuffins

Ingredients (yield 6)

Six Eggs

Six English Muffins

Six slices of Cheese

12 slices of bacon (or 6 sausage patties)

Directions

  1. Coat a circle-shaped cookie cutter with Pam or butter. Place into warm pan.
  2. Crack egg into cookie cutter. Stir with fork until mixed. Cook on medium-high heat until set.
  3. Use heat-safe tongs to flip egg in cookie cutter. Cook egg throughout. When cooked, turn egg into wax paper.
  4. Repeat with remaining eggs, coating cookie cutter each time.
  5. While eggs are cooking, slice and toast English muffins until preferred doneness.
  6. In a separate pan (or in the microwave) cook bacon according to package directions.
  7. When all items are cooked, assemble sandwiches. Let cool to room temperature and wrap each in tin foil. Place in freezer-safe ziplock bag.

We like to take out our sandwiches the night before and then we need just 30 seconds to the perfect breakfast. Enjoy!


 
  
  
  
  

Cuddle Fairy

The Simplest Crockpot Lasagna

My dad recently came to visit our little family. I have never gone so long without seeing my dad before, so I was very excited to have him over. Growing up, my dad was the main chef in the family. I wanted to show him all the yummy things I had been making recently. I know that he absolutely LOVES lasagna, so I decided to give it a go.

I am not sure about where you are, but in August it gets mighty hot where I live! The idea of a lasagna cooking away in the oven seemed like a bad idea. So I turned to my favorite kitchen appliance-my crockpot. The idea of a lasagna cooking away all day without heating up my kitchen sounded GREAT! This would also allow me to take my dad to the zoo with Cupcake. She has recently become super interested in animals and I figured that’d be a heck of a lot more enjoyable than him watching me cook.

My dad is a great many things. He is brilliant, witty and always supportive. He also can be a bit particular. I was nervous to say the least. If he didn’t like it, I’d know. And then I’d be sad. Thankfully he LOVED it! He ate it and then started inquiring into how much we really wanted to have for leftovers. Cupcake devoured her portion. It was delicious and I am looking forward to making it again.

This recipe is very basic and simple. There aren’t a whole lot of veggies in it, but you could easily add a layer of that in! I am planning on making it later this week with a layer of sautéed spinach and onions. Yummy!

Ingredients

1 lb lean ground beef or turkey

29 oz can of tomato sauce

8 oz uncooked lasagna noodles (I use the no-bake kind, but any kind works)

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1.5 cups cottage cheese

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese for top layer

Directions

  1. Brown meat in a skillet and drain off fat
  2. Stir in tomato sauce and mix well
  3. Spread 1/4 meat sauce on bottom of crockpot
  4. Arrange 1/3 uncooked noodles over sauce (Break them to make them fit)
  5. Combine 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese with cottage cheese is a bowl. Spoon 1/3 cheese mixture over noodles.
  6. Repeat sauce-noodle-cheese layers twice.
  7. Top lasagna with remaining sauce. Cover with 1 c shredded mozzarella cheese.
  8. Cook 4 hours over low. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

 Let me know what you think!

Easy Breaded Chicken 

Yesterday I posted my “recipe” for homemade bread crumbs. Since realizing that I could make a healthy, clean bread crumb filled with only ingredients I can pronounce- I have been on a quest for all things breaded! After months of setting aside some of my favorite recipes, the floodgates have opened. I have since breaded chicken multiple times, made my own fish sticks, and I am already trying to figure out how to get away with another day or two of breaded meals this week.

This recipe is insanely easy. It requires almost no prep time. I was able to do it all while Cupcake colored. If you know anything about 16 month old attention spans, you know that that is quite an accomplishment!

So without further ado..

Easy Breaded Chicken

Ingredients

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs

2 eggs

1 T mayonaise

1.5 cups bread crumbs (you can use a store bought kind, or use my “recipe” for clean and healthy bread crumbs!)

If using unseasoned bread crumbs- add 1 t garlic powder, 1 t Italian seasoning and salt/pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Trim any excess fat off your chicken. Set aside.
  2. Turn broiler to high.
  3. In a bowl, mix together the eggs and mayo.
  4. In a separate bowl, add bread crumbs (and optional seasoning)
  5. Dip chicken first into egg/mayo mixture and then into bread crumbs. Be sure to coat entire piece. Place on foil-lined pan.
  6. Put pan in oven. Cook for approx. 8 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest for five minutes before serving.


 

    

Homemade Bread Crumbs

In the life of a blogger, there comes a moment when you are about to hit “publish” on a post and you wonder if what you are writing is sincerely foolish. I mean, a recipe for bread crumbs? I don’t even know if I can call it that in good faith! However, I once had to look up a “recipe” for bread crumbs and I wanted to share it with you all. Maybe it’s not so much of a recipe, but rather a method. Either way you put it, it seems crazy because it is so SO simple.

This was where the problem started. Dear Cupcake had a milk protein intolerance that she has thankfully outgrown. As a nursing mama, however, I had to completely eliminate any sources of this protein from my diet for the first year of her life. I went on a rampage! I read every label. I called and contacted many companies and restaurants. I talked up every waiter I could and wrote in special requests at weddings. I was that person, but I was willing to do anything to ensure that my baby girl wasn’t in pain from me consuming any delicious, wonderful, magical dairy.

I had to seriously alter the way I cooked. I am half-Italian, so cheese was a pretty favorite food of mine. It was easy enough to cut that out of recipes. What wasn’t easy? Realizing how many foods have dairy hidden in them! My favorite bread crumbs was one such item that I had to eliminate. I remembering sitting in my kitchen with the canister in my hand. I looked at the ingredient list, found the offending dairy, and realized we had an even bigger problem than I thought. If you ever want to make yourself sad (and waste about five minutes trying to decode unusual words), look at the ingredient label of your favorite bread crumbs.

So, I gave up bread crumbs. I gave up making breaded chicken. We no longer had fish sticks. We no longer made my favorite pork chop recipe. I was sad. Even after I could have dairy again, I couldn’t fully accept my old bread crumbs anymore. I mean, if I don’t know what’s in it, do I want to put it in my body? In Cupcake’s body?

It wasn’t until last Tuesday that a silly idea hit me. As a family, we were now exclusively relying on bread I made from scratch. It definitely doesn’t last as long as the store bought kind in the fridge. By day 5, it starts losing some of it’s softness, but we just couldn’t always eat it fast enough. I wondered what I could do with the three slices we had leftover before they went stale.

Bread crumbs. 

I could make bread crumbs. I could make breaded chicken with homemade bread crumbs! But, how on earth do you do that? It seems silly to just use bread, right? There has to be some magical list of ingredients or some special process, right?

I sent my hubby to play with Cupcake while I started my experiment in the kitchen. A few websites suggested baking it, but it was 95 degrees outside and I did not want to turn my oven on! I decided I would toast my bread. In order to avoid it burning, I did three cycles on a low setting.

Then, I laid out the toast on a cookie rack to allow any extra steam to escape. Once the bread had cooled, I added it to my food processor and voila! Bread crumbs. Three slices of my homemade bread yielded about 1.5 c of bread crumbs. It was that easy. I used them just the way I would use the store-bought kind. Being made from my homemade bread, they were pretty simple on flavor. When cooking, I decided to add Italian seasoning and salt.

So, again, I feel silly even writing this. Maybe the thought that bread crumbs should only really have bread in it has already crossed your mind. However, if you are like me and have taken nearly 30 years to come to this realization, I hope this helps! I used this first batch to make a super simple breaded chicken (recipe to come!) and it tasted so much better than I could have hoped!

Since I have rediscovered my ability to make all things breaded, what are your favorite recipes that require bread crumbs? Comment below with your links!

Stretching the Budget

I have always been someone who thinks frugally. I started keeping a budget at 15! I have no idea what prompted me to do so, but I thought it’d be smart saving for the future. It is times like now that I am so appreciative of this.

If you’re a frequent reader, you know that I am a SAHM to my favorite little girl, Cupcake. My husband just started his medical residency. A common misconception is that because my husband is a doctor, we are rolling in the money. This could not be further from the truth! To put it in comparison, I made more as an elementary school teacher.

So our family has had to look at things from all angles. I grew up with a working mom and always saw her as strong and motivated. I was proud of her for working. However, this did not seem like the right fit for me. Prior to having Cupcake, my students were my “babies.” I stayed late at work and arrived early. One of my favorite custodians used to always tease me that I was “still here.” He had to walk me out to my car on numerous occasions.

I am positive that there is a teacher out there who has a spouse completing residency, all the while raising a family. If you are that person, I bow down to you. I literally could not figure out how to make it work. The cost of childcare alone would eat into essentially my whole paycheck. When we factored in all the variables, we decided that the best fit for our family was for me to stay home with Cupcake.

Although I am not earning a paycheck, I am greatly helping our family by finding ways to save us money. I have the time to research coupons and plan my shopping trips better. I can cook from scratch, saving us the expense of having to pick up prepared meals. And all of this is still pushing it.

So, part of my “job” is looking for ways to reduce our grocery bill. I almost wish I didn’t care about preparing healthy meals so much. One of our biggest expenses is our food budget. Recently, I have been looking for more ways to cut down. I update our budget weekly, and with the numbers staring me in the face, I knew I had to find more ways to cut back. Thank goodness we live in the modern day, where finding more budget-conscious recipes are just a Google search away!

I have several websites that I use, but you all know my love for Ms. Andrea at Pennies and Pancakes. If you haven’t checked her out, please do! She has amazing recipes that not only taste great, they are very affordable. Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on bread? Yea. Look for upcoming posts with some of my favorites from her website!

How about you? What are some of your favorite money-saving ideas? Please pass them along in the comments section below!

Homemade Granola Bars 

I think I’m a little bit obsessed. Ever since I made the commitment to start making more homemade food items, I find that I can’t stop! Everything just tastes so good. As a bonus, it is also way more affordable to be preparing food this way. I cannot afford to give Cupcake everything I would like, so this is my way.

In our family, we love granola bars. When my husband started residency just three weeks ago, we had a grand total of six different types of granola bars JUST FOR HIM. That does not count what we had for Cupcake and I. Kind of crazy. Also, kind of expensive! Even with buying most of our granola bars as Aldi’s, it was a significant part of our “snack budget.” Since I am really working to be more thrifty, I realized I could help by learning how to make my own granola bars. I had seen many recipes online that seemed quite involved. I was looking for something simple, because Mama wants to enjoy nap time by relaxing,not by running around like a crazy person!

An easy granola bar recipe is what originally led me to Andrea . Her recipe for granola bars seemed super easy, and I was excited to try. The recipe that follows is hers, with a few notes from me! Dear Andrea, if you are reading this, I might have a bit of a momming crush on you!

Ingredients

1/2 c honey

1/3 c packed brown sugar

1/4 c peanut butter or nut-butter of your choosing (I used crunchy peanut butter as recommended by Ms. Andrea)

1/4 c unsalted butter

4 c quick oats

2 c crispy rice cereal

3 t vanilla

Directions

In a large bowl, stir crispy rice cereal, quick oats together.

In a medium saucepan, combine honey, butter, peanut butter, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat then bring the temperature down to low, and simmer till sugar dissolves.

*thejoyofmomming note- let it boil for a minute or so, and then simmer. Your granola bars WILL fall apart if this mixture does not heat enough because my first few tries definitely did this  I’ve heard.

Remove from heat. Pour in vanilla and stir.

Pour the hot mixture over dry ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are moistened. Press into a parchment-lined 13×9 pan.

Pack the granola bar mixture as closely and as tightly together as you possibly can into one end of the pan at about 1/2-3/4 inch thickness. Any thinner, and the bars will not hold together. *See pictures below for trick I used!*

Let cool on the counter till they reach room temperature.

Cut into bars. Wrap in plastic or store in a ziplock bag.

*You may add chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, coconut, etc. if desired. If adding chocolate chip, press them into the top of the bars after you’ve packed the very warm granola mixture into the pan. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a melted chocolate-swirled mess.

Here are some photos from my adventure. I did not have any parchment paper, so I used tinfoil and it worked just fine.
  Look how pretty!   Okay, here’s where I went a little crazy. As I mentioned before, I may have some people had trouble with the granola not sticking together. So, I folded my tinfoil around the granola.
  And I found the cutest 21 pound weight to pack it down (I put a clean baking pan over the tin foil first!) I’m glad this kid isn’t in school yet, because I could just imagine her sitting around the snack table. “My mommy has me stand on my granola bars before I eat them.” Thank goodness she is only 16 months old!
I prefer a harder granola bar, so we store these in the fridge, but you can store them on the counter-top as well.