Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dinner-In-A-Can Transformations

You DO NOT have to make everything from scratch for it to be "homemade".  With a number of family activities on any given day, it can be difficult to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare meals from scratch.  However, it's surprisingly easy to give your family a home cooked meal....warming their hearts as well as their bellies. 

The trick?  Use the canned/boxed food as a base to build on rather than the main theme.

Here are some simple ideas:

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  • Mac n cheese:  toss the dried cheese mix (I actually store it in spice jars to use as a topping for steamed veggies) and substitute freshly shredded cheese blend of choice.  Add 1/3 to 1/2 pkg of cream cheese for a rich, creamy homemade meal.  Optional: add vegetables or top with bacon bits.

    Broccoli Cheese Soup
  • Soups:  My husband was not feeling well last night and decided he'd like some soup.  No problem!  I used a can of cream of broccoli cheese soup as my base, tossed in some frozen broccoli, frozen corn,  milk, and fresh shredded cheese.  I also added some spices (garlic is a favorite).   Top with more shredded cheese.  He never even suspected canned soup and was very appreciative of having a nice meal:)  There are so many delicious recipes you can make with soup mixes such as pork chops & gravy, chicken cordon bleu or savory roasted sweet potatoes but I'll stick to the soup theme here. Other good soup bases:

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    • Cream of Potato: can add same ingredients from above or any other veg of choice; or add sausage or ham

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    • Cream of Mushroom: Add more fresh mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. Top with croutons

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    • Cream of Tomato: add fresh veggies and egg noodles for minestrone

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    • Clam Chowder: although from scratch is super easy and divine, you could add canned baby clams, bacon and serve in a bread bowl

  • Chili:  I've acquired bulk cases of canned chili from couponing but we don't ever have plain old chili from a can.  Several options:
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    • Chili Surprise: My pal, Rachel, gave me the idea to add canned black beans, chili beans, or any other favorite along with cubed beef chunks (canned or fresh).  Season with favorite spices such as cumin or garlic.  Top your bowl with a dollop of sour cream and shredded cheese.

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    • Chili Con Carne: A simple favorite is to  add chopped link sausage to the chili.  Or use any leftover meats.

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    • Chili-mac: add some cooked mac n cheese to the chili (I know a teenager who wins a chili cook off every year with this simple recipe...beating out many gourmet blends:)

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    • Frito Pie:  add tomato sauce and pour over Frito's

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    • Cornbread Chili: spread chili in a casserole dish, top with a cornbread batter mix and bake. Option: add canned green chilies to cornbread batter.
Useful Tips:

Recipes are never set in stone:  If you're like me, you come across a recipe you'd LOVE to try except the recipe is too tedious or time consuming.  However, there is usually alternative ingredients and/or cooking methods that will make it doable for you and delicious just the same.  Take my meat and potato pie recipe---I altered an 8 hour recipe that called for ingredients I've never heard of into an easy 1 hour meal using tasty ingredients on hand.

Spices are our Friends:  I have a handful of spices that go on most all my dishes (i.e. garlic).  Even the blandest canned food can be transformed with a sprinkle or two.

Mix and Match for your perfect blend:  I mentioned this trick in an earlier post for creating one of a kind gifts but it's just as useful to cooking too.  Make a recipe yours by adding your family favorite spices or ingredients.  It can become your own signature dish (but don't forget to write it you will remember for the next time)

Keep A Recipe Binder:  It's a good idea to put your tried and true family favorites together in a recipe binder or box. You may be thinking it's not really necessary since you know those recipes by heart... but what if you're running late and you want your husband or kids to start dinner?  It's no problem if they know where to find the recipe.  Plus, you will want to note how you alter recipes for future reference (it's quite the headache to forget and then have to figure it out all over again).

    Saturday, November 26, 2011

    From Assembly Line to One Of A Kind

    Your personal touch can make anything a one of a kind.  

    My homemade flower arrangement
    A short Story:
    My mom was in the hospital recently (if you're wondering where I've been lately).  She had emergency surgery after a sudden onset of symptoms.  I'm happy to report all is well.  The point I'm getting at is that my dad wanted to send her some flowers.  But instead of spending big bucks, I purchased a bundle of flowers wrapped in plastic ($10-15) and arranged them myself in a spare vase.

    For an eye popping kick, I added delicate wood limbs from a spindly little tree hiding in the corner of my parent's yard.

    Yep, this is the pitiful it almost blends into the fence.  But what a difference when added to a flower arrangement don't ya think?

    I also purchased some of those Christmas scented pine cones and hid several in the arrangement.  Let's just say my mom's hospital room smelled quite delicious:)

    One of a Kind Gift Idea:

    With the Christmas season upon us, most stores carry an array of gift baskets ranging from candy & beverages to bath soaps & lotions. 

    It is super easy make them beautiful and unique.  Simply add extra items (homemade, home cooked or store bought) and then re-wrap in cellophane with a beautiful ribbon, flowers, greenery, etc.  Your imagination is your only limit. 

    photo source
    Some Ideas: using gifts boxes available at the local retailer. 
    • Take them out of those hideous boxes.  People toss  beautiful baskets all the time (tag sale/garage sale). 
    • Hot Sauce: arrange in a Condiment Caddy or basket; provide a roast recipe, or beter yet, bake the roast!
    • Hot Chocolate: add personalized photo mugs (look for free online offers); replace cocoa with your own gourmet blend.
    • Smores: add more chocolate, include smore party invitation, swap out mugs from hot chocolate box.
    • Snowman/Penguin: attach winter gloves or woolly hat 
    Useful Tips:
    • you don't have to use everything in a store-bought gift basket.  Add and take away until you get a perfect combination and a one of a kind piece.
    • If you have a small item that needs to be spruced up, add it to a gift basket. Instead of giving makeup in a plain box, I bought a gift basket that looked like a Christmas sleigh, filled it with makeup and candy and wrapped it in cellophane with a cute bow.
    • take advantage of black friday & after Christmas sales to stock up on clearance items to re-package for birthday, hostess, or housewarming gifts.
    Be on the lookout for a future post where I will use this same strategy to offer easy ideas on how to transform a pre-packaged dinner into a "practically homemade" meal that is sure to please.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Seminary Attendance Sheet (CSTAR Friendly)

    I searched high and low for a seminary attendance roll sheet that would work well for us LDS seminary teachers.  I found some cute ones but needed something that would make it less of a chore come time to enter attendance into CSTAR.  Thus, here is my creation:

    Why all the different colors?  It's actually not for looks at all...some of my students had problems keeping to their own attendance line which made for a huge mess (shading every other line 1 color did not help).  My answer is to assign students their own uniquely colored line.

    You will find places to quickly add up total scripture reads, absents(A) and tardies (T).

    If you list students in alphabetical order, it will be a breeze to transfer into CSTAR.

    Finally, it's an Excel spreadsheet so you can change it to meet your needs.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    The Ten Commandments (Team Activity)

    Here's a fun family activity.  I actually did it this morning in seminary and proved to be a huge success so I thought I'd pass it on.

    The goal is to remember the 10 commandments in order (fairly quickly) and is based off an article I read here.

    So here it is:

    1. Divide into 2-3 teams providing each with a sheet of paper and pen. 
    2. Have teams number their paper from 1 to 10 three times (for three sets of questions). 
    3. Tell them this is a race and the fastest team will get a prize (I used seminary bucks which will be used at the end of the year for an auction but pieces of candy will work nicely too)
    4. You will ask each question separately meaning the fastest group for each question gets a prize.  You can swap the first two questions for whatever you'd like (i.e. sports teams, car models, universities, book names)
      • Question 1: Name 10 movie stars (living or dead)
      • Question 2: Name 10 music groups, bands, or musicians
      • Question 3: Name the 10 commandments (they don't even have to be in order or verbatim)
    Results: If your class is like mine, no one will get all 10 commandments correct which is a point in and of itself (does it say something about us as Christians or society as a whole that we can easily answer the other questions but not the 10 commandments...only 10!?). 

    Next, I console them with the fact that most folks can't even guess half correctly.  I also offer other interesting and down right hilarious poll results from the above article (i.e. some people think the right to bear arms is one of the 10:))

    Give everyone a copy of this handout
    Print Instructions: click link above --
    press download button at bottom of screen--
    click "open" as PDF doc---
    PDF doc will open in a new window--

     Recite the mnemonics aloud together several times to get it into the brain.  You may want to use these use these flashcards.

    Next, go over the explanation of  each mnemonic (which is written to the side of each) as well as its accompanying commandment.

    Now have people pair up and practice or teach each other (it's easier to remember it if you teach it).  Suggest that they should learn the mnemonic phrase first before learning the accompanying commandment (encourage it by offering candy/prizes to those who can recite all 10...most of my class learned them quickly).

    Grand Prize: Offer a significant prize (like a large bag of candy) to the first person who can recite all ten commandments verbatim and in order.

    Praise and Kudos:  Now you are one of a very small minority who literally has God's law written on your heart.

    Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as
    the apple of thine eye.  Bind them upon thy fingers,
    write them upon the table of thine heart.
                                                                                                       Proverbs 7:2-3

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    Who Else Wants Cheap Groceries?

    You DO NOT have to clip coupons to get cheap groceries.  Having said that, I extreme coupon (time permitting) and will save an average of 70%...but it takes at least 10 hrs/week of preparation.  Even if you don't have the time or gumption to coupon, you can still save up to 50% with minimal planning and without couponing. And let's face it, costs are rising so every bit helps.

    Don't underestimate the value of planning:

    The more you are willing to pre-plan the more you will save.  I like to think that my savings are directly proportional to the time spent planning beforehand. 

    Where to begin:

    1.  Know what's on sale and where the best deals are.    Sale Ads come in the mail or in your newspaper and are the key to finding the best deals.  Quite often, several stores will have the same exact item on sale but their prices are drastically different.
      This week's Avocado Sales ~ $0.44 difference!
    2.  Know the Weekly Sale Cycle: The old saying "a day late and a dollar short" applies.  It does you no good to shop a sale that ended yesterday.  In my area, grocery store ads run from Wednesday to Tuesday.  Most other national retail store ads run from Sunday to Saturday (Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Office supply, Best Buy, etc). 

    3.  Shop from a list.  This will keep you from making spontaneous purchases which add up quickly.  In my 'pre-savvy' shopping days, I'd use this strategy when money was tight (and also keep a running tally while shopping so I wouldn't go over my budget).  I was amazed at how much money I saved.  Conscientious shopping pays huge dividends!

    Now it's time to shop---there are 3 ways to do it:
    1. Go to multiple stores to get the best deal at each. This will yield the highest savings.
    2. Choose the one store that has the best deals.  You won't save as much but every little bit helps, right?
    3. Shop at one store that offers price matching (i.e. Wal-mart).  Enjoy the savings of all the stores without having to drive to them all.  The one hitch? It takes a little more time because the cashier must manually change the price but, hey, rushing doesn't lend itself to savings anyways. Furthermore, most cashiers are quite competent at using the register and can price match fairly quickly.  Lastly, it's worth the savings to take a little extra time.

    Other Tips:
    • It's worth saying again...Planning = Savings
    • Plan your meals by what's on sale
    • Stock up when prices are low.  Most items will reach their rock-bottom price every 12 weeks.  Buy as much as you can afford to get you through till the next sale cycle (12 weeks) or, for perishable goods, as long as they will last (if it rots before you can use it, you've lost the savings).  Buy on price rather than brand when possible.  I agree that some name brands are worth holding out for (and yes, they go on sale too), but brand snobbery as a rule will yield less savings overall.

     Finally, You can save on everything you consume.  I've acquired all my copy paper FREE for 2 years running.  Last month I bought  10,000 sheets of copy paper   for $, that's not a typo; I mean 2 pennies!

    6 reams left over from 2 yrs ago                           10,000 sheets

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Meat & Potato Pie

    Not only is this quick and easy ~ it's pretty too! 
    (your family may think you spent hours)

    They say nothing spells love like a home cooked meal.  I say, presentation exudes love.  I basically took meat and a potato and arranged or decorated them to please the eye.  

    Yea, I could have nuked a potato and slapped meat on the plate.  It would have tasted the same.  Yet I like to think my extra effort says "hey family; I love you; come sit, relax, and enjoy this beautiful meal I made especially for you".

    • 4 med-large pork chops (or meat of choice, approx 1 lb)
    • 3 med potatoes
    • (optional ) 1/2 lb. vegetables of choice i.e. sliced mushrooms, onions
    • (optional) 1 cup or can of cooked brown gravy
    • olive oil
    • Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

    Useful effecient kitchen tools
    make all the difference!

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Sear meat in a pan on high heat and then cube (you do not need to cook meat through, it will finish in the oven)
    3. Thinly slice potatoes into rounds (I use food slicer for nice even slices)
    4. Mix gravy, meat and vegetable in a bowl then pour into your baking dish (I used an 11" round baking stone).  Top the dish with potato slices laying in a concentric circle and overlapping each slice by about 2/3).
    5. Brush top of potato with olive oil.  Then spice with salt, pepper, and garlic to taste.
    6. Bake for 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown.
    7. Serve and enjoy!
    Alternative Prep Options:
    • you don't have to cook it in gravy, instead you can spoon gravy over your dish at the table (this is what I do because I don't eat gravy). 
    • You may also leave veggies out of the dish completely and serve on the side; I've done both and it works great either way.  This recipe is super easy to work with and very forgiving.
    veg & gravy served separetely

    Side Veggie options:
    • Whole Kernel Corn (I like frozen) cooked in a skillet with butter, seasoning salt and garlic until slightly caramelized
    • Canned Green Beans with spaghetti sauce poured over the top (nuked)

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    A Park Safari Adventure

    Who says your third trip to the park this week has to be a bore?  On our last outing, my munchkin forgot all about the swings as we embarked on a safari advanture.  You'd be surprised at what we found at a little park in the middle of the city.

    I couldn't believe the numer of squirrels we found.  Some were foraging for food, others posing as statues, and of course those daring tightrope (phoneline) walkers.  I must admit, these little critters are hilarious to watch.  My little 2 yr old was perplexed that they wouldn't come to her beck and call yet they would allow her to run up menacingly close before scurrying up a tree just barely out of arms length (such a tease:)  And have you ever noticed just how acrobatic these little fellows are?  They'd leap from tree to tree without breaking a teenie squirrel sweat!  They were definately our favorite of the day.

    To our next surprise, in a tiny creek bed, we found turtles.  They blended in so well against the dark rocks and rustic wood that only a safari hunter on the look out would have even noticed their stealth position.  Whoever coined the term "slow as a turtle" should have seen how these critters disappeared in a blink (literally) when we stepped too close for their liking.  I peered into the water trying to find their new position and all I saw were tiny minnows (our next find of the day)!  If I see them on a future trip, I'll inquire into their magic disappearing act.

    I don't know what I like more about birds---their beauty, their variety, or their songs
    It was fun to see them hop from limb to limb or chase each other (the big birds like to bully & chase the small ones). Once again, my little one was quite indignant when they refused to stand still as she charged them full speed ahead.  There were no ducks or geese to feed on this trip (another favorite activity) which was a relief because I forgot the bread.

    So go ahead, I double dog dare you! 
    Make your next park day a magical safari adventure.

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Fun with Balloons Activity

    This balloon activity was a roaring success with the kiddos at our weekly mommy preschool group.  The original idea, which I tweaked, came from Margaret Read MacDonald's book entitled Bookplay: 101 Creative Themes to Share with Young Children ( link). 

     Supplies Needed:
    1. Balloons (minimum of 2 per child---1 for play &1 for balloon craft below)
    2. Mirror
    3. 3 Storybooks about balloons such as these (more Amazon links):
    4. Balloon Person Craft
      • construction or printer paper to make eyes & feet
      • crayons or markers to color eyes & feet
      • permanent markers to draw balloon features
      • tape
    5. Snacks & drinks
    The Activity

    Have children sit "criss-cross applesauce" in a circle. 
    Do not give out any balloons yet, just hold one up for kids to see
    • Ask what sort of things you can do with a balloon (blow it up, pop, toss it, bump it, etc)
    • Read Story #1
    • Take 1 balloon and have kids pass it around the circle while singing the following words (to the tune "The Farmer in the Dell")
      • We're passing the balloon, we're passing the balloon. Hi Ho the Merry O, We're passing the balloon.
      • We're bumping the balloon (bump the balloon lightly to each other)
      • We're kissing the balloon
    • Read Story #2
    • Balloon Races (blow up balloons but do not tie; on count of 3 everyone let's go of their balloon)
    • Balloon Orchestra (blow up balloon but do not tie; on count of 3 everyone makes music with balloon by pulling/stretching apart the rubber just below opening)
    Now give each child their own blown-up & tied balloon
    • See who can bump their balloon in the air the longest without it touching the ground
    • Balloon Static:  have children rub balloon on their heads to create static electricity.   Use a mirror to show the children how their hair is drawn toward the balloon.
    • Read Story #3
    • Craft: Make a balloon person.  I provided feet templates which the children decorated (see the work of my 2 yr old below); the moms drew the eyes which children stuck on with tape; moms drew mouth/nose if children desired with a permanent marker.  Be creative, there are lots of ways to do this activity and many more balloon crafts besides this (you can Google "balloon crafts for kids" to find lots of ideas and pictures)
    • Snack Time

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Repent Every Single Day---For Real?! (Part 2 of 2)

    Here's the personal inventory from part 1 but this time, it becomes an intimate conversation with God:
    Blessings / Character AssetsSins  / Character Defects
    Patient & loving with grumpy child (thank you for my beautiful child, thank you for helping me love first)Woke up late (Please help me wake up on time so that I can be a blessing to my family i.e. avoiding the stress of the rush)
    attentive & took notes in church (Thank you for the gospel and for all I learn at church.  Bishop taught that if I prepare to partake of the sacrament, I will feel Thy spirit abundantly; please help me to fully apply this counselForgot morning prayer (I don't want a prayerless home or prayerless heart.  Please forgive me.  I will set a reminder alarm; please help me learn diligence)
    complimented child for reverence in church (I'm thankful that my child understands reverence / why we are reverent in Your house)Snapped at husband for forgetting to bring diaper bag  ( Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth.  Keep watch over the doors of my lips (Psalms 141:3)
    Lord brought to my mind a blessing I received yesterday (Thank You so much for reminding me of (that) blessing.  It has helped me to ___.  May I always see & acknowledge thine hand in my life)was late to a meeting (I see a trend of tardiness.  I don't want to be late for my life or late to answer your call to serve.  Help me improve now so that when it matters, I'll show up)
    realized judging Susie was unfair; silently asked God for forgiveness & to allow me to see her through His eyes (thank you for pricking my heart to see my unfair judgement of Susie so that I could repent immediately and treat her fairly.)judged Susie for a comment she made  (Help me to see Susie as you see her, to love her as you do.  Forgive me for judging her and help me to love first and judge last)
    made family a nice lunch even though I didn't feel like it (service is not always easy or convenient.  I'm thankful for my  family &  pray I will always always have a servant's heart)My mind was wondering when Frank spoke to me today (Love seeketh not her own.  Forgive me for placing myself above Frank.)
    had personal and family scripture study & prayer (thank you for scriptures that teach me how to follow Christ.  I read this passage on judging others  "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous (Ps. 19:9). The mortal problem, My problem, is  I don't judge righteously & perfectly.  Help me relinquish all judgement to Thee, the perfect judge.

    This prayer is very specific.  Sometimes we underestimate the power of being specific in prayer (often steering toward generalities)…but think about it, if you want a specific answer, you must ask a specific question.

    This prayer is personal and intimate.  It's a genuine conversation about my real problems...a heartfelt communication between Father and child.

     This prayer gets to the heart of the matter.   Who I am from day to day.  I get necessarily uncomfortable listing the same defect over and over.   I can't hide from the truth.  It's there in black & white and has a way of spurring on change.

    With a new, keen awareness of our comings and goings, we can "continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear" as AA's Big Book. "When these crop up we:
    1. Ask God at once to remove them.
    2. Discuss them with someone immediately (when appropriate).
    3. Make direct amends quickly if we have harmed anyone (if to do so would not further injure them or others).
    4. Resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help".
     I can testify that your prayers will be more sincere, you will be more open to hear God’s whisperings, and your relationship to God and the Savior will abound.


    My Peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you.
    (John 14:27)

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Repent Every Single Day---For Real?! (Part 1 of 2)

    My life is pretty normal. I mean, I'm not a thug! And to think back on my day, nothing earth shaking comes to mind.  Yet, the scriptures instruct me to "retain a remission of my sins from day to day" (Mosiah 4:26). 
    Religious instructor, Frank S. Gonzalez said "The right time to be...concerned about our sins is every day. Once a week is not enough. Once a month or once a year could prove spiritually fatal".*

    My recovery from food addiction using a 12-step program resulted in a 100 lb weight loss and a new blessed life; However, it also taught me a simple yet effective method  to repent daily. 
    The 10th step says to continually take a personal inventory and when I'm wrong promptly admit it.  It's amazing what happens when you write down your day---getting it out of your head and onto paper, you really see things more clearly.  It allows you "bring into captivity on paper every thought or deed to the obedience or disobedience of Christ " (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Spencer W. Kimball said:

    Friday, October 7, 2011

    Adventures With The Word Of God ~Daily Devotionals

    I love this idea. I love this book!

    How do you engage a rambunctious 1 year old in family scripture study? I knew I needed a fun activity to win her attention and LDS author, Rebecca Irvine's, book  Adventures with the Word of God was my manna from heaven.

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    No more Snatching Please!?

    If your child likes to grab or snatch things from you--listen up--she may have learned it from you.  I know you think I'm nuts to suggest such a thing, but just come and let us reason together...IOW hear me out.

    Monday, September 26, 2011

    Hearing...LIVING the word of the Lord

    Too many times I have walked away from a divinely inspired meeting, such as church General Conference, a sunday school class, or even a personal scripture read with pages of notes and ideas only to sadly find 6 months later that I didn't actually do much to incorporate those ideas into my life. I usually didn't take the time to re-read my notes nor make any goals.  Thus I'm left to wonder what became of my intent? Why didn't the fire of inspiration carry me forward to action?

    My big breakthrough came a few years ago when I attended a Face to Face with Greatness Seminar and heard Dr. Shannon Brooks give some unbelievably simple advice

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    Our Deepest Fear... not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

    I love this speech given by Nelson Mandela and I’ll give you more of it in a moment.