Uh, Oh. I broke the bank.

The expenses of August can be staggering if you have kids.
Convenience meals
Spontaneous Vacation
School supplies
Fall clothes
Fall sports registration
Don’t even get me started on the obscene amounts of money I spend on my classroom that Man may or may not know the extent of.
Those are in addition to the normal monthly expenses. What’s a girl to do when she knows she’s breaking the bank?

Well, she comes up with this money saving menu, digs around in the freezer and pantry, and sees how long she can make it on:
Pre-paid activities like gym, the local museum, and the zoo
Free activities like weekly library time
Creates some at home fun with play dates
Avoids Target and Michaels like the plague (we all have that cart stuffing, money sucking, love to roam store)
Zero dining out

How long do you think we can go?
Let’s chat: What do you do to keep some change in your piggy bank?

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Pimpin Joy

We have seasons of life in which we witness people going through insurmountable troubles or we have seasons of life in which our troubles seem to pour down upon us.  I love Walker Hayes song Pimpin’ Joy.  It was inspired by an incredible story, and it reminds me of a sweet fellow teacher in my school every time I hear it.  The song reminds us that each of us have a voice and a choice daily.  We can choose to be bitter, or we can choose to make a joyful noise.  I think the best line, “we’ll be pimpin’ love like it’s our duty” may just be today’s version of what would Jesus do? – WWJD.

 

 

I need an Italian to adopt me

I’m not Italian. I don’t make traditional Italian food. No little grandma to show me about marinara here, but I do love to tinker with the fare at home. Like a lot. Like when the holidays come around, and movie nights, and vacation fantasies, and pretty much every cookbook I browse at the bookstore. So, behold some of my tinkering: a mix of Rachael, Ina, Alton, and Giada’s versions (yes, at home I pretend we are all on a first name basis) – A muddled reinvention of their recipes all combined into something my husband and kids devour with delight. If you are Italian, just shake your head and grin….or feel free to adopt me and set me straight.

Caprese
My favorite part of tomatoes and basil coming back in season.  My favorite salad. Drizzle with a syrup like balsamic….mmmmmmm.
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Marinara
Sauces are one of those times when making from scratch really pays off. They are one of the first things you learn in cooking school and well, tomato is a mother. Take that any way you want.
Gather:

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow or sweet onion, small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup drink worthy red wine (on the dry side)
  • 28 oz can of high quality crushed tomatoes ( you can use peeled and crush yourself. Many say they are better quality)
  • 28 oz can of high quality tomato puree
  • 14 oz can of high quality diced tomatoes, rinsed & drained
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon dried Italian seasoning (sometimes I use ½ dried basil & ½ dried oregano) – in the summer, chop up some fresh herbs and sprinkle in the last few minutes of cooking
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (can omit if you want)
  • ½ -1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes ( depending on how spicy you like it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

To make:  Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or skillet. Sometimes I toss in a small pad of butter for good measure (and to keep my cholesterol up). Add onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Then add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more. Add the wine and increase the heat so the mixture is boiling away. Scrape up all the brown bits in the pan and cook until almost all the liquid evaporates. Add the tomatoes, herbs, salt, sugar, and peppers. Cover, and simmer on low for about twenty minutes. If you are braising the meatballs, add them in before you cover it.

Meatballs
I’ve made these with lean sirloin, ground turkey, and a mix of beef and pork; with spinach and without. They are delightful any way.
source:  Men’s Health via Alton Brown many years ago
Gather:

  • 1 1/2 pound ground meat (I usually go for half pork/half sirloin)
  • 5 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained thoroughly (make sure it’s super dry) – if Man’s not home…he’s not a fan of greens
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • ¼- 1/3 cup bread crumbs (depending on chosen meat)
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil (if there’s fresh in the garden, I use 2T fresh)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley (if there’s fresh in the garden, I use 2T fresh)
  • 1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tablespoons grated onion – if I have some on hand

To make:  Be gentle with the meat and mix it just until everything is well combined. If you make large meatballs for a sub, cook 20 minutes at 400 and lower the oven to 300 until cooked through. If they are medium for pasta, bake 20 minutes at 400.

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Man likes me to sear them on the stove and braise them in sauce until finished. This probably takes an hour or better.

Now what to do with all this awesomeness???

    • Make some spaghetti and play old school Italian dinner by inviting the family.
    • Pull up some TV trays and watch a mob movie, or if you need G-rated Lady & The Tramp.
    • Grab some hoagies and provolone, put those meatballs on display and make subs!
    • Sauté up some Italian sweet peppers and onions, grab a bun and some good Italian sausage & make Italian dogs.
    • Freeze the leftover sauce and throw together a quick penne with peppers for meatless Monday.

 

Chicken Marsala Recipe
An easy but elegant chicken dish!
source: Savory Sweet Life w/ my own modifications
Gather:

  • 4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts 
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour or corn starch for gluten-free 
  • Salt & pepper and herb de Provence to season flour 
  • up to 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil + 2T butter to sauté chicken 
  • 1/4 sweet onion or shallot, minced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 8 ounces container of mushroom, sliced and cleaned (baby Bella) 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine 
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock 
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (be generous) 
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Sprinkle 1/8-1/4 cup cheap powdered Parmesan cheese 
  • Salt & pepper to taste 
  • Garnish with chopped parsley or oregano 
  • Italian blend cheese 
  • 1 head garlic, roasted in foil w/ EVOO for an hour on 375 

To Make:

Split each chicken breast through the middle to make 2 pieces. Place plastic wrap over them and pound each one flat using a meat tenderizer/mallet until they are about a quarter inch thick. Season a good amount of salt and pepper on both sides of each piece. Place seasoned flour on a plate and and dredge each piece of chicken in it.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat and when the oil is hot fry each piece of chicken for 5 minutes on each side until they are golden brown (this may require you to do this in 2 batches).
Remove chicken from pan and arrange in a single layer in shallow ovenproof pan carefully soak up any remaining oil with paper towels and discard.. Put in low oven (275-300 degrees) to stay warm.
In same pan:
Add 2 tablespoons butter onion and garlic to skillet and saute (do not brown) for a few minutes until soft. Add mushrooms and saute about 5 minutes making sure to season them with salt and pepper lightly. Add marsala wine & chicken stock about halfway through. Use slotted spoon to lift mushrooms out of skillet and arrange on top of chicken breasts. Sprinkle with cheese and put back in oven until you finish next step.
Add cream & parmesan w/ 4 T butter allowing the liquid to boil rapidly until reduced by half. Remove chicken from oven and pour wine mixture over the chicken and serve.

Served with rosemary mashed potatoes. 4-6 russets, 1/4c cream, 1/4c butter, 1/4c whole milk. Steep with 1 sprig rosemary. When drain potatoes-add cream mixture and 1 sprig minced rosemary.

How does your family celebrate the cuisine de Italia?

Emerson

I really enjoy the work of author Melanie Shankle.  She’s a Texas girl and I find her very relatable. She has made me laugh out loud, had tears streaming down my face, and made flights go by faster.  Then today, in Church of the Small Things this quote – love it!

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Inspiration and Wisdom from the Pen of Ralph Waldo Emerson

What goes through a mom’s head while she’s doing the dishes…

The house is finally quiet and still.  There’s the sloshing of the dishrag, soft popping of the bubbles, and occasional running of water.  The gentle clanking of pans.  Many would find it therapeutic.  I find it mundane, but a chore a cook never escapes, so my mind wanders.  Then it wonders.

Are we messing up our kids?

Are We Messing Up Our Kids? seemed like a good summer study book.  I downloaded it and read the intro and first chapter…and there it has sat, unfinished.  The title alone raises more concerns and questions over what my children will face than I can answer in a lifetime.  Worry and doubt over how they will be treated, opportunities denied to them, persecutions against them, and restrictions imposed on them stir.

Over the past few years, I have found myself questioning things I thought I had hashed out long before I ever “grew-up” and got married.  But, as you raise small children day in and day out, you discover they observe you.  They are little sponges that study every decision and action with surprising astuteness.  They question, prod, revolt, and desire to understand the how and why behind all of their little world.  It makes me examine my choices.  A lot.

They reflect you.  They are tiny mirrors catching your flaws, projecting your blind spots, and highlighting your vices.  If you raise your voice; they do, if you don’t wear your seatbelt, they catch it; Nothing in the world makes a person feel like a bigger hypocrite than when that inevitable parenting question comes, “You do it, so why can’t I?”.  It makes me examine my attitude and actions.  A lot.

Are we teaching our children to be hypocritical when we tell them not to be sneaky, but they watch us be secretive and evasive?  Are we confusing them when we buy from companies that aren’t responsible to their consumers or to our planet?  What does it say when we gripe about a corporation’s lack of quality but still buy their products?  When we grumble about lack of compassion, but won’t lend aid to others? What are we telling them when we get mad about lack of customer service or politeness, but are rude to wait staff?  What lesson do they take away when we don’t live a healthy lifestyle but then complain about our standards of healthcare?  What message does it portray when we don’t take time to know where our food is grown, what that term pink slime means, or how fair trade operates but we can update our Facebook 50 times a day, retell the highlights from E News, and give a play by play of the latest reality TV episode?

We are in an era with more information and more access to information than ever before.  If the Devil is in the details, then he should be doing a happy dance right now because we are inundated with details.  Obsessed with lives of people we will never meet or know.  Showcasing details of our lives that were contained to our homes just decades before.  Overwhelmed with news and world events we cannot predict, change or control.  I could do a whole posts just listing the details.  However, the average person is less educated at the root of their values than ever before.  They forward information, but don’t stop to check its accuracy.  They watch an entertainer, but don’t stop to listen to the lyrics or understand the message.  They support a political figure, but can only explain where they stand on one issue.  As a whole, we don’t question, don’t prod, don’t revolt or take the time to desire understanding.  We can list details, but lack the thesis.  The populous strives to affect change and set precedents, but fails to play out the repercussions of that change for years to come.

How will our children place value on honesty, integrity, and hard work if we are in massive debt, spend more time at work than home, and seldom are committed to a conversation with them?   Are we becoming so concerned with political correctness that we are screaming at our youth, have standards, have values, but have them in secret.  Have a sense of right and wrong, but don’t dare to stand up for what you believe in.  Have faith, but be sure that faith doesn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers.  Have convictions, but don’t share them with anyone lest you be called bigots, racist, sexist, or worse.

If we don’t take time to talk through issues that are pressing our country like the definition of marriage, women’s rights, gun control, drug use, genetically modified organisms….I could go on.  Then who is shaping their and beliefs on these issues?  At what point as adults do we examine our core values and compare them with what we have been taught, how we’ve been brought up, or what our parents believe?

I fear that with overbearing parents, micromanaging school systems, and mundane workplaces we will teach generations to stop being thinkers.  To stop questioning.  Our legal system has even introduced the defense of “affluenza” and it made me nauseous.

If we continue down this path of no expectations, no losers, no thinkers, no independence…Then what?

What will happen when we teach people not to think?  Not to question?  Just to oil the squeakiest wheel?  Maintain the popular?  I always thought what was popular is not always right.

What happens when we, as parents, are so ambivalent to the world around it that we leave the difficult lessons of life up to someone else?  Will their views be in line with our own, or are we just too lazy to decide what we stand for?  If it’s not laziness, how about complacency?  If not complacency, how about fear for how others will treat us when we take a stand?  Have previous generations spawned hypocrites by declaring lofty aspirations not backed by example?  Did we push one envelope too far and decide to let the others fall where they may?

How in this age do we balance respect for oneself, others, and authority with recognizing when those in positions of power are leading us astray? How do we help our youth navigate which institutions and traditions should be protected and when change should be demanded?

When we are forced to accept definitions, ordinances, laws, and ways of living that infringe on those unalienable rights we grew up believing in, then what?  How do we teach them patriotism, responsible citizenship, and functional adult roles when those ideas are being changed and redefined daily?

I don’t know all of the answers.  The best plan I have for not messing up my kids is this:  Be intentional.  I know who holds all the answers, that’s not for me to worry about or know.  I can be intentional.  I can go to bed and get some rest.  I can choose to unplug from the information reel, reduce the clutter and excess, and get around to finishing that study.  I can buy paper plates every once in awhile and forget about the dishes.

Married single parent

Most of us had 9-5 Monday-Friday in mind when we got married and envisioned having children. The truth is a lot of our families throw the schedule right out the window. Military families, the fire service, law enforcement, the oil field… the list goes on. I may as well be speaking Greek to some of the parents at school or practice – a lot of people don’t get not having a full conversation with your spouse over the course of the week, being unable to commit months in advance to holiday plans, or juggling a rotating schedule.  Forget trying to explain how one week Wednesday night is a great night to attend a meeting, but the next week the same night same time is a no-go.

As one sweet friend said to me after a particularly draining week, “Welcome to being a married single-parent.”

I had never really thought of it that way, but it does make a little sense. I honestly don’t know how people do the 9-5 weekday box schedule because the firefighter schedule allows our family to have a lot of freedom, but I also cannot fathom being a true single-parent. I can tell you, it takes one amazing superhero of a Man, the best family anyone could be blessed with, and some ridiculously cool friends to keep this mama from losing it when work takes Man away and the home starts to get the best of me.