Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mac N Cheese with Hidden Cauliflower

I'm REALLY pregnant and my ankles  cankles are very pronounced these days.  Yet, I still wanted to make some homemade macaroni and cheese along with dinner last night.  I always serve a vegetable with the meal, and maybe one teeny tiny top of a broccoli floret will get consumed by my kids.  Last night I had an idea -- a brilliant idea.  I made my cheese sauce with 2 full cups of cauliflower.  Much Vitamin C was consumed last night.  My husband, who tends to hate cauliflower, was even fooled!  I cannot believe how well this meal both tasted and hid the veggies!

Cauliflower Mac N Cheese

One 16 oz bag of frozen cauliflower, steamed
One stick of butter
2 7oz bags of shredded cheese (I used mac n cheese blend)
One box of pasta (we used macaroni, but I've used rotini with good results too)
1/3 cup of heavy cream
1 tsp of garlic
salt to taste
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs, divided
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning, divided
Parmesan cheese (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cook pasta according to directions and drain.

In a food processor, chop the stick of butter and the steamed/drained cauliflower to a fine consistency.  Add the cheese, cream, garlic, and salt and use the chopper to mix.

In a baking dish add half the pasta and half the cheesy cauliflower mixture.  Then, sprinkle the top with half the Panko crumbs and half the Italian seasoning.  Repeat with the second half of the pasta, cheesy cauliflower mixture, Panko crumbs and Italian seasoning.  Finally, sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese if desired.  Bake about 30 minutes until cheese is melted and edges are slightly brown.  Deliciousness!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Newcomer's Guide to Creation Northeast

Last summer I attended a day at Creation NorthEast in Shirleysburg, PA.  Although I've lived only 30 miles from the largest Christian music festival for the past 12 years, I had never made the trek with my youth group.  (They went, but I didn't.)  The night before I scoured the internet for some good FAQ, but found little.  So, I am creating one.

What can I bring?
You can bring just about anything into Creation, except fireworks/sparklers, alcohol and drugs.  Coolers are completely fine.  You'll see them everywhere.  Umbrellas are also fine.  I left mine home assuming they were a No-No, but there were tons of people with them and they didn't really obstruct views.  (I'm referring to umbrellas that one normally uses for rain, NOT beach umbrellas). No pets.

What should I wear?
Since Creation is at the end of June, it will likely be hot.  Modest attire is required (no crop tops) so shorts and T-shirt is the norm.  Half the crowd seemed to be wearing a shirt from the many Christian colleges given them out for free.  In the evening it does get cooler, so be sure to pack a sweatshirt or jacket. Shoes were a question for me and a debate about our youth staff.  I chose hiking sandals because they could just rinse off if they got muddy.  I mentioned how next time I'd wear old sneakers as there were speakers in the woods and sticks and sandals don't mesh.  Our youth pastor mentioned how miserable that would be if it rained, which is why he chose sandals.  Be prepared though--it is very dusty and muddy.

What should I bring?

  • WATER.  LOTS OF WATER.  It is hot, and unless you want to spend a day's wages on water alone, you'll want to bring some.  I drank 6 bottles of water, 2 iced coffees, and one can of soda during my one day there.  Our group brought two coolers with water and soda (I'd go heavy on the water side of this) and just left them at our tarp all day.
  • A tarp.  At Creation it appears your territory is marked with a tarp.  You can place your tarp as early as 5:30am.  We got there at 10am and still got fairly good seats, but off to the side.  Then, we placed camping chairs on the tarp.
  • Camping chairs.  We left ours at our spot at the main stage, but others would carry them to the fringe/indie stages or speakers.
  • Water.  It's that important.
  • Snacks.  There are tons of food trucks there.  Think county fair.  But I brought along some crackers and a cereal bar so I didn't spend too much on food.  The food prices were fair for event pricing.  For lunch I had a chicken gyro for $8.  An ice cream cone was $3. For dinner I had a "gourmet" chicken salad sandwich on a pretzel roll for $5.  My iced coffees (two different stands) were $2 and $2.50.  Milkshakes were $3-$4.  There was also Chinese, pizza, burgers, pretzels, hot dogs, sausages and more I can't recall.
  • Hand Sanitizer.  The restrooms are either portopotties or outhouses. The portopotties had hand sanitizer inside, but by the end of the day many had run out.  I brought both hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes for before I ate.
  • Ziploc bags.  We were fortunate it didn't rain, but if it had, these would have been helpful to protect expensive things like cell phones.
  • Emergency ponchos.  You can find these at dollar stores or mass merchandisers for about $1.  These would be nice in the event of rain and they are small and light.
  • A towel or paper towels.  We had a spill on our tarp.  Glad I had a towel.
  • A small blanket.  Not a necessity, but it was nice to have when our group was eating lunch near the food area.  Plus when it got chilly in the evening.
  • SUNSCREEN.  Wow, this should've been mentioned before.  You are in the sun all day.  This is a must.  Apply liberally and more than once.
  • Sunglasses.  It's sunny.  The main stage must face east, because as we looked at it in the evening, we were staring right at the setting sun.  Sunglasses.
What is the day like?

We arrived fairly early in the morning for a bunch of teenagers and their leaders: about 9am.  We paid for admission and were kindly directed to a parking spot.  It was muddy.  We had to walk quite a bit to the area of the main stage where we sought out a spot that was not already claimed by blankets or chairs.  We were fortunate to still find a great spot near an aisle on the right side.  We set up our chairs, cooler, and blankets and headed out to look around.  There were other stages (such as fringe), a leader's oasis room (air conditioning!) and lots of food carts.  What surprised me was the food was pretty reasonably priced for food stands.  I enjoyed iced coffee from two different stands.  We looked at a schedule and marked out what bands and speakers we wanted to see.  We split between Main Stage, Fringe Stage and a speaker that was in an area in the woods.  (Note: if you want to see the speaker in the woods, bring something to sit on or bugs will find you!)  The day was very relaxed and we had plenty of time to enjoy some awesome music.  The teens in our group enjoyed visiting the vendor and getting lots of giveaways as well.  After the last band, we headed back to our car and had no trouble exiting the venue (maybe a few minutes of traffic) and back on to the road toward civilization.

Even though I don't have too many questions here, Creation is in a less than 4 months (June 24-27, 2015), so I'm going to post this.  If you have ideas for other questions, please comment below and I will address them from my experience!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Kleenex Brand Review

I’m a member of the Crowdtap Kleenex Brand® rewards program, and Kleenex® Brand sent me their tissues with lotion and their anti-viral tissues to review.
Prior to receiving this sample I thought there was just one brand of tissues with lotion. I didn't realize Kleenex also made lotion tissues! Two of my children came down with colds and having lotion tissues in the house was great to sooth sore noses.
These lotion tissues were a big hit.
With so many illnesses going around the country presently, this product gave me piece of mind that illnesses one child brings might not be spread to other children in the home. Kleenex Anti-Viral helps insure that germs in the tissue won't necessarily be transferred to other surfaces on the way to the trash. #crowdtap #sponsored #KleenexBrandBelievers
I didn't receive any monetary compensation for these reviews, but I did receive the products for free.
Kleenex also wanted me to share a $1.50 off coupon with my blog readers, but it doesn't seem to be working right now.  If the link is repaired, I will update this post to reflect it!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ten Ways to Save Money on Groceries

Shopping Cart Return
This past spring I did a calm grocery run while my youngest was at preschool.  I was on a "savings high" as I waited in the lobby for class to finish.

"I'm so excited! I just spent $78 on groceries this week AND earned enough to save $30 in gas," I excitedly told the parents and grandparents waiting with me.

"How do you do that?  I spend $250 a week on our family of 5," one mom said.

"I spend $250 a week and it's just the two of us!" a grandmother added.

"Uh...we eat a lot of chicken," I clumsily responded.  Really, I was just trying to internally figure out HOW someone could spend $250 a week on groceries.

Yesterday I stopped by a friend's house and the same conversation came up.  Her grocery budget is $500 a month, but she regularly finds herself spending $650.  She has separate budgets for paper products/household and eating out, so the grocery money is truly just spent on groceries.  I tried to give her some ideas, but it's hard with kids running around and tangent after tangent entering our conversation.  I think I started somewhere with "we eat a lot of chicken."

Now that I have a chance to sit and think, I thought I'd come up with a list of how to keep the budget under control.
  • Have a Plan, but be flexible.
    • Go into the grocery store with a list.  If you are short on time, then stick to the list.  Do not be tempted by the delicious looking Wavy Lays. 
    • If you are not short on time, go up and down the aisles looking at discontinued and sale items you may have missed in the flyer.  I've been fortunate to notice some great deals on soup for my husband's lunch last week. Unfortunately they are discontinued so I hope he doesn't like them too much!  This week I noticed pre-packaged snacks on sale for $3.99 (normally $6.49).  This didn't really phase me, as I usually just buy bigger bags and pre-pack myself. However, there was a $1 coupon on each pack.  This made each snack pack only 25 cents (a good value in my opinion).  We rarely buy these, but they make for a quick grab for snack time at school.

  • Don't Buy Junk (all the time).
    • A little hypocritical considering my last post about snacks, but I don't regularly buy chips, soda, cookies, candy, or ice cream for the kids to eat at home.  We drink milk or water, and occasionally juice or lemonade.  The fridge is always stocked with fruit, yogurt, cheese and veggies.  (We do buy goldfish crackers in bulk). I will occasionally bake cookies or muffins for a yummy treat but when I hear "I'm hungry," the children are directed first to fruit.

Grocery bag of healthy foods

  • Only Buy Items On Sale at a Good Price.
    • This is a huge tip.  Of course there are exceptions, since milk is unlikely to go on sale, and sometimes store brand cheese will be cheaper than name brand on sale.  You'll want to learn (maybe keep track in a notebook) what good prices are, and stock up (see below) when you know it's a good sale.  But don't allow yourself to buy 5 boxes of Red Beans & Rice simply because you want them.  If you must have it, buy one box, and wait until they are on sale to stock up. Also pay attention to what the sale is.  A savings of 20 cents on a $5 item isn't really that great.

  • Plan Your Meals Around What You Have and What's On Sale.
    • Every Saturday or Sunday I will look at the weekly flier, take inventory of my freezer, and decide what we are having that week.  If chicken breasts are on sale for $1.99, I know this is a good week to stock up and make some freezer meals.  Likewise, if nothing good is on sale, it's a good time to pull out some of those freezer meals.
    • When money is extra tight, try eating only what you have and get creative with it!  A couple I know ate for a month and a half just out of their pantry!  Of course milk, eggs, and fruit/vegetables (unless you have canned) will need added to this, but think of the savings if that is all you are buying!
Milk Aisle

  • Keep It Simple.
    • A simple marinade can be made with a bottle of italian dressing.  $2 of chicken plus $1 marinade, plus $1 for a rice side and $1 for veggies makes a meal of $5.  A recipe which requires you to buy 10 new ingredients may be nice for special occasions, but very expensive for daily use.  Most of the recipes on this site are simple and inexpensive.  I like simple.

  • Know Good Prices and Where to Buy Them.
    • I think I already said this, but let's reitterate.  Take butter for example.  I remember when butter was $2 a pound all the time! Now, I think the store brand runs $3.50 regular price.  I know that if I ever see butter for less than $2.50 a pound that it is a good buy and to stock up.
    • Milk at the small fruit market across the street is 50 cents a gallon cheaper than the grocery store we normally shop at.  They have other items that are less expensive as well.  And many items that are more expensive (that I don't buy there!).
    • Be sure to account for gas when price comparing.  I walk to the small market across the street.  Even though the potatoes I needed for dinner might cost 50 cents more at the small market, it would cost me 1.80 in gas (8 miles there and 8 miles back) to drive to the grocery store and back.  Paying more for the local market saves in this case!
    • Finally, don't forget about that kale you have growing in your garden exponentially or the farmer's stand down the street.

  • Stock Up Only When You Know It Will Be Eaten.
    • Per above, butter is something that we will use before it goes bad.  Cheese as well.  However, stocking up on something that you aren't certain you will use, will result in stuff getting thrown away once its out of date.

  • Use Your Freezer.
    • When you see a good deal on meats, buy and freeze.  I find it best to put all my ingredients in a bag first so that all I have to do is thaw and cook/bake the meal. I've also made casserole type meals in disposable metal tins.  I find the best prices on these at a paper supply company instead of a grocery store. I also stock up on store-made stromboli when it is buy one get one free.

  • Check the coupon fliers/online ads/swagbucks/store promotions.  
    • I have friends that are extreme couponers.  They make off with amazing stashes of deodorant, pet food, and side items that they pay next to nothing for.  I'm impressed, but it is not my forte'. I check the coupons each week, and only cut out those items I normally buy. For example, saving $1 on Frozen Yogurt when you don't normally buy it, means you are actually spending $3 more than you would've in the first place. This means I cut very few coupons, since most coupons are for processed items I try to avoid.  However, it is also great when I can save an extra couple of dollars at the end of my order because of clipped coupons.

  • Try to Shop Alone.
    • Today I took the whole family shopping.  We stuck to the list.  Really, all we needed was milk and black trash bags.  My teen asked for Oreo minis to pack in her lunch this week.  Not something I normally buy, but they were on sale for $1.99 so I allowed it.  We also got her some sandwich food. My husband wanted to buy artisan hamburger buns for dinner this week.  I was planning to bake them myself, but laziness got the best of me and I agreed.  He also wanted to buy bacon to put on our burgers.  We buy only nitrate free bacon so I hesitated due to the cost, but agreed because I figured I could use some of the pack for another meal, too.  As we were checking out I noticed the bacon rang up at the wrong price.  I notice this kind of thing all the time.  Our grocery store used to have a great policy where if the item rang up incorrectly, you got it free.  I got a lot of free stuff this way.  Now, if it rings up incorrectly, you get the item at the correct price.  Ha!  That's how it should have been in the first place.  I left the children and husband continuing to check out while I ran back to double check and take a photo of the shelf tag.  I was right and the cashier adjusted the price.  When we got home I unpacked the groceries.  Somehow I missed a 2 liter of soda (see my second point) and a 5.99 pack of premium cheese.  I just laughed.  Hubby knew I'd say 'no' so he snuck them through the check out when I wasn't looking. It also explains while our small order cost more than I thought!
I hope these tips will give you a good start to saving some more money on groceries.  It does take time to plan ahead, study the sale flier and work it all together so that you can save, but it all adds up.  I figure taking the time to plan ahead saves us about $75 a week (at least that's what my store receipt tells me).  I'd much rather take the 30 minutes to study my flier and plan, than to have to work extra hours to cover that, wouldn't you?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Today Only! Free Jamocha Shake at Arby's!

Sorry for the late notice, but I just found out!  Today only, Arby's is giving away a FREE Jamocha shake 12 oz without any other purchase necessary!

And if you go to this link to print out a coupon: , you can type in your child's (okay, or yours because I know you want one too) for a neat personalized coupon. The kids are going to flip when I tell them we are getting milkshakes!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How to Make Those 2 Ingredient "Pancakes" Everyone is Talking About (Banana and Egg)

How to Make Those 2 Ingredient "Pancakes" Everyone is Talking About (Banana and Egg)
Pancakes without the added calories and simple to make. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it kind of is.
The banana ice cream trend (whipped up frozen bananas) really did seem amazing, so I had high hopes for this trend, especially after seeing a picture of the "pancakes" all fried up to look just like real pancakes. One morning I had some extra time before the kids left for school, so I tried it.
I took one overripe banana and 2 eggs. First I mashed the banana in one container and whipped the eggs with a fork in another. Then I mixed the two ingredients together, as coconut oil melted in my frying pan. From experience, the more you whip the ingredients, the fluffier they will be. My first batch seemed a bit like a crepe.
Simple scoop any size amount (silver dollar or larger) onto the hot pan, wait about a minute for it to solidify and flip for 30 seconds more.
I prefer to enjoy my pancakes plane and the warm coconut oil definitely added to the flavor. It was good, but DEFINITELY not like a pancake. My kids enjoyed their pancakes with real maple syrup on top.
Although this recipe served three, my children are small and don't eat much. I would say this makes 2 small portions or one hefty one.
Recipe for Banana Pancakes
2 large eggs
1 overripe banana
1 tbsp coconut oil (or butter) for pan
1. Melt coconut oil in a pan
2. Mash banana with a fork.
3. Whip eggs with a fork.
4. Mix ingredients together, whipping well.
5. Spoon a pancake size amount into hot pan, flipping when the batter solidifies (about 1 minute).
6. Enjoy.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Free Gas with Giant Food Stores (PA) Gas Rewards

I'm not sure how long gas rewards were out before I started paying attention to them.  I think it was at least a year.  A YEAR OF FREE GAS I MISSED!  It wasn't until I was running our soccer club's snack stand with another mom that she told me how they hadn't paid for gas in months that I started to pay attention.  I've never been one to stock up too much.  I save money on groceries by only buying things on sale (with exceptions like milk) so I wasn't too keen on buying things in a box in a circular just to save money on gas. I also only like to buy things that I'll use up in the next month or so, unless it was going in the freezer. After my fellow soccer mom pointed out my error in reasoning, I did the math.  This week, if I buy 9 boxes of brownie mixes at $1.39 a piece, I'll save 40 cents per gallon on gas.  Nine boxes of brownie mix cost $12.51.  Forty cents off 25 gallons saves me $10.  So, I'd essentially be getting the brownie mix for $2.51.  Adding in coupons to this mix would be super.  I still keep it to things I'd normally buy or are a substantial deal.  Last week I got Milk N Cereal bars (which we'll save for fall when we are running late for school) and Panko bread crumbs (which I buy regularly to make my own chicken fingers).

But it gets better.  This week there is also a 300 bonus points (30 cents) for a $50 purchase and 4x gas points on Visa gift cards.  If I put $500 (the max) on a visa gift card and pay the small fee (a few dollars), I'll now have 2700 gas points.  This is $2.70 off a gallon of gas and this was all in one shopping trip for a gas savings of  $67.50, more than the groceries I just spent. True, I just spent $50 in groceries and $500 on a gift card, but I'll use that card in place of a credit card until it is used up.

And here is the kicker that will probably not last too long:  not all gas stores use the same ratio for points.  Which means that my $2.70 I'll earn this week at my store, is actually worth $5.40 at another store nearby.  Yep, a free tank of gas and then some.  At current prices, this is a savings of $135 on gas - in one week!

My advice: pay attention to the gas rewards!