Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years' Resolutions, 2012

Happy New Year!

I really cannot believe that an entire year has gone by. This year has been crazy for us out here in the backwoods. We bought a house, we moved, we acquired way too many cats, two dogs, and spent much of August and September dealing with bear issues.

This whole moving experience has been fairly rough on me. While we were moving, I injured my ankle, and it took months to heal. Some days, early on, I could barely walk. Needless to say, I still have boxes all over the place, and the house is not nearly as organized as I would like. So it's no surprise that my first New Years' Resolution is to get more organized.

It's not so much that we're poorly organized, even. It's that the organizing tools that worked well in our old house, don't work as well here. Spaces are different, decor is evolving, and even things like shelf and closet space creates issues. We have less closet space here, and less shelf space, so we're needing to find new ways to keep things organized. Having an Organized Home will be an ongoing theme here at Backwoods Housewife.

Not only do I need to get the house itself better organized, but many other areas of my life as well. Like most of you, I wear many hats. I have the kids' schedules to juggle, with sports and school programs, and volunteering in the classroom. I am (reluctantly) the President of our local PTA. I'm planning a baby shower for a friend, at least one huge get together this summer, and of course the various birthday parties and other events that may come up. While I didn't miss any major events this year, I do need to have a better calendar method this year.

My other New Years' Resolution is to keep a better eye on our spending. We are doing a fairly good job, but I need to do better. This is especially pressing as Mr. Sullivan's work contract is up at the end of January, and we have yet to have word as to whether or not it will be renewed. He has another job lined up, but the pay would be dramatically less. So we will be doing a firm budget this year, including some much needed home repairs. I've already started working on my end of this, and will be talking about it more tomorrow when I post about this week in the Backwoods Kitchen.

What are your New Years' Resolutions?

Photo Credit, Sarah_Ackerman, DafneCholet

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Something Smells about Extreme Couponing All Stars

Last night after dinner the big kids and I had a Big Bang Theory marathon.  We snorted and laughed and had a great time.  Then I started looking for a show to fall asleep to, and found Extreme Couponing:  All Stars.  I completely forgot that I had wanted to watch this show, and, really, there's no question when debating what to watch with your children.  We had much more fun watching BBT than we would have watching Extreme Couponing:  All Stars, together.  So thankfully the late replay was on and I could watch the show.

The first episode I watched featured Faatima and Carla.  I remember both of their episodes from the original Extreme Couponing show.  The second episode featured Chris and Michelle.  I remember Chris' original episode, but not Michelle's.  From the beginning of the show, I saw some red flags that caused me to slowly grow more and more angry.

From its inception, the show has talked about how the average shopper can become an extreme couponer.  In fact, that seems the entire premise of the show-to teach "average shoppers" these methods of saving huge amounts of money.  As much as I don't want to, I'll give them that.  All four participants in last night's two episodes of Extreme Coupining:  All Stars saved over 97%.  However, their methods cause me to question the legitimacy of the idea that the average shopper can duplicate their efforts.

For the contest portion of Extreme Couponing:  All Stars, the contestants compete to see who has the largest savings percentage.  They must spend at least $500 at retail, and all products are donated to a local food bank.  They must buy 15 unique items, and they can only pre-order three types of items.  Also, no one item can make up more than 50% of their total purchase.  They also compete against the clock.  Each contestant has 30 minutes to complete his or her shop.

Here's where I first began to call BS.  While they only have 30 minutes to shop, they get to go in the store and do a pre-shop scout.  So in addition to the sales ads for the store, they can take notes on any unannounced sales.  They can, and did, map out their shop to make for the most efficient use of time.  In fact, Michelle completed her shop in less than 10 minutes, erroneously believing that she only had seven minutes remaining when her husband yelled out "seven minutes"-by which he meant seven minutes of the thirty had been used.  Also, for three out of four contestants, there appeared to be no other shoppers in the store, both for the scout and the shop.  Most couponers I know do not have the time to do pre-shop scouts, and I have never had the luxury of shopping in an empty store.

During the first episode, Carla buys 26 bagged salads.  Now, with all products from these shops going to a food bank, 26 salads was a great purchase-and certainly better than the hundreds of two liters of soda that Chris ended up donating.  But the average shopper generally can't use 26 bags of a very perishable item.  The one exception I can think of is pre-bagged spinach, which can be chopped up and frozen.

The prices for some items also really threw me off.  One of the ladies in the first episode bought a lot of name brand pasta for $.50 per package.  I realize, that, living rurally, the prices for many foods in my area are higher than those near a major distribution hub, but I haven't seen name brand pasta on sale for less than $.99 per package in years.  My stock up price for name brand pasta, with coupon is $.99 per package.

There was blatant product placement in both episodes.  Of course, in a show about couponing for groceries, you should expect that.  However, one of the items in Faatima's shop was Comet cleanser.  Comet is a Proctor and Gamble product, and every P&G coupon that I have seen in the past several months comes with the new corporate policy that no more than four like coupons may be used in a single transaction.  Faatima bought at least 2 cases with what appeared to be 24 cans of comet per case.  I could not find a production date for the Extreme Couponing:  All Stars episodes, but I did find this post, which mentions the newly discovered wording on the P&G coupons, from June of 2011.  So while I will concede that the show may have been shot prior to June, 2011, the days of the average shopper getting two cases of Comet cleanser, or any Proctor and Gamble product, for almost free are long gone.

One of  my issues with the original Extreme Couponing show was the encouragement of using multiple transactions to circumvent either manufacturer's corporate policies on coupon usage, or store limits.  In one episode of Extreme Couponing, one shopper had twenty eight separate transactions.  First of all, the store where I heavily coupon, Safeway, has a limit on many items.  In fact, the best deals I find there are usually on what are called Super Coupons (SQ)-store coupons issued in their weekly sales flier, that can be combined with Manufacturer Coupons (MQ) for the most extreme deals.  The vast majority of these coupons have limits, and, according to Safeway's policy, which is printed on their sales flier, these limits are per household, per day.  So while going back to the store the next day is in keeping with corporate policy, stacking multiple transactions in a single day to circumvent store limits is not, at least not at Safeway.  Also, stacking multiple transactions in a single trip is rude to other shoppers.  I always notify someone behind me in line if I'm couponing-so they know that my transaction will take awhile longer and they may want to choose another line.  Using multiple transactions all at the same time, lengthens the check out process even more.  So I just don't do it.

In fact, while we're on the subject of of corporate policy, let's go into the policies of the stores that were featured on Extreme Couponing: All Stars.  I did not catch the shows in the first episode, but in the second episode, Chris shopped at Shop 'n Save, and Michelle shopped at Patricia's.  I found some unique notes in Shop 'n Save's coupon policy:
  • Internet Printed Coupons cannot be doubled
  • Any shopper may redeem a maximum of three Internet Printed Coupons per day
  • One coupon per item purchased, with a maximum of six coupons per same six items purchased

In other words, the "average shopper" will never duplicate Chris' results at Shop 'n Save.

This, has always been my biggest pet peeve with the Extreme Couponing shows, and the All Stars series is no different.  We won't even talk about the disrespectful shelf clearing behavior it teaches, or the allegations of coupon fraud.  The "average shopper" will never be able to duplicate the stock piles shown on Extreme Couponing, and here's why:
  • Do you have time to go to a particular store more than once a week?  I don't-and wouldn't even if we lived in a big city where stores are closer, because I would probably have to work outside of the home due to the higher cost of living.  When I did live in the city, I did manage to hit multiple stores, but even that was time consuming.  Most of us can't do that every day.
  • The Extreme Couponing:  All Stars episode showed Carla at her newspaper distribution area.  I cannot, with any good conscience, subscribe to 1000 papers to get the distribution rate, knowing that any paper with colored ink, which I cannot use in my fireplace, is going to end up in a landfill somewhere.  
  • Many of the stockpiles, as shown, were probably built using Walgreens' and CVS' customer rewards programs, not by shopping at grocery stores.  As I have neither of those stores within 100 miles of me, my stockpile will never look like that.
  • Most couponers I know have families, and, as such, want to get in and out of the store in the least amount of time possible.  When you have four carts of merchandise, checking out quickly is not an option.
  • I do coupon, a lot.  I write about my savings each week, or at least, I try to.  However, I'm not buying a ton of candy, crappy food full of additives, or harsh chemical cleaners, even if they are free.  I find a lot of coupons for items like canned tomatoes, rice, and yeast that I would be buying anyway, but I'm not feeding my family a steady diet of microwaveable pseudo meals just because they are cheap.  While we do use some products such as Rice A Roni and some cereals, I try to make the healthiest meal choices possible.  No, our meals aren't perfect 100% of the time, and we do have an occasional pizza night, but it's not a steady diet of junk.  It does me no good to build a stockpile of items we won't use.  And if I won't use them, why would I donate them to the needy?
  • What is rarely shown on the Extreme Couponing programs are families buying meat, milk and produce, items that there are rarely coupons for.  If I were getting $500 worth of food for $100, you better believe I'm going to spend the $25 left in my budget on fresh produce.  Those items are going to reduce your overall savings amount, though, and that's probably not sexy enough for the show's ratings.
  • I spend about ten to twelve hours per week doing meal planning, coupon clipping and filing, and planning my shopping trip.  I'm guessing that many average shoppers spend less time than that.  I see it as part of my job as a home maker.  In last night's episode, it was mentioned that Faatima spends 30 hours per week with her coupons.  The only way I could do that, was if I had a housekeeper, and a nanny.
I guess, in the end, I believe that TLC could have used their power for good instead of evil.  PBS was planning to air a show titled How to Shop for Free, which was intended to be a teaching show, rather than a bright, sexy show looking for huge ratings.  It was supposed to air in November, but I never saw it on the schedule (not that I spent a lot of time looking), and I don't see it on their program list for my area.  The Extreme Couponing show could have been so much more than what it is.  I feel that it is misleading a lot of shoppers regarding how get the most out of your grocery budget.

I'll be starting a series in January about getting the most out of your grocery budget.  While I will talk about couponing, I will also talk about meal planning, cooking from scratch, and where to shop to get the most bang for your buck.  Truly, feeding your family healthy meals within a budget takes work.  If you'd like to be notified when I add those posts, please feel free to sign up for the RSS feed, email notifications or Google Friend Connect over there in my sidebar.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In The Backwoods Kitchen: 12/27/11

I'm guessing your kitchen was just as busy as mine last week, with holiday preparations in full swing.  This week I am giving the kitchen a bit of a break.  Here's what we have going this week in the Backwoods Kitchen
Photo Credit: Joelk75

  • Chopping and freezing celery.  I bought more than I needed for the holiday, so the extra will get chopped and thrown into the freezer for soups and broths.
  • Slicing and freezing carrots, also for soups and broths.  I prefer dehydrating both the celery and the carrots for this, but I'm still looking for a new dehydrator.
  • Putting up the Christmas ham and turkey leftovers.  Just like I did after Thanksgiving, I made extra stuffing and will cook the turkey carcass for broth, to make gravy for the stuffing meals.  It's nice to have a few easy meals in the freezer again!

I don't have a meal plan for this week yet!  With the last minute shopping and wrapping and Christmas dinner I just haven't had the chance.  We've been living on leftovers.  I will work on one though.  I probably won't go shopping for much this week, though.  We'll need potatoes and milk, but that should be about it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Practical Homemaking: Organized Christmas 2012

Happy Day After Christmas.  Or Boxing Day, if you live just about anywhere but America!

I hope your Christmas was filled with peace and happiness.  Ours was fantastic!  Oh, sure, it was crazy and chaotic and unpredictable, but that's how these things go, no matter how well you plan them.  And the planning-that's what really saved my butt this Christmas!

Photo Credit: Jon Curnow
Despite having to go last minute Christmas shopping (planning gifts will be added to my 2012 plans), overall my Christmas holiday was stress free and fun, instead of a day spent with me in the kitchen all day and worried about this, that, or the other that still wasn't done.

I began planning for this Christmas on the same day that I will begin planning for next Christmas-the day after Christmas.  I do this because planning for an organized Christmas, and then following through on those plans, means so much less stress next year-and I'm all about less stress.  So while I'd love to be sitting around on the couch today, I'm going to spend an hour doing a bit of planning-and then go hang out with the kids.  This hour will save me several hours come next Christmas, and I'm very excited by that prospect!

Here's what I'm doing to insure an Organized Christmas 2012
  • Adding a tab to my Household Notebook for Christmas, 2012.  This way I'll have a space to file all the lists and ideas I have for Christmas.  If you don't use a Household Notebook, start a file on your computer, or get a file folder.
  • Making an inventory of wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, tape and other Christmas wrapping goodies.  You can either make a list for Clearance shopping now, or file the list in your Christmas, 2012 folder.  I'm good on paper, although I will probably budget about $5.00 to spend on paper this year on Clearance.  I definitely need ribbons and bows, and I have some coupons for tape that will be expiring soon, so I'll do some stocking up there.  I always seem to lose tape, so really, there is never enough!
  • Do you need a new gift wrap container/organizer, or a container to keep your Christmas ornaments in?  I do need a new gift wrap container.  Ours came with a lid that was lost years ago, but in our old house, we stored the wrapping paper in the house.  Here, we need to store it in the shed, so I need a new one with a lid so the mice won't get to it.  I'll probably pick up two, so I can have one just for birthday wrapping paper, too.  I keep my ornaments in those sturdy file boxes from Office Supply Stores.  The boxes that the glass ornaments come in fit perfectly in there, and then I can fill it up with the other ornaments I have, including the ones that come home yearly from school.
  • Think about your meal plan for the days leading up to Christmas.  Did what you planned for dinner Christmas Eve work with your busy day?  What about Christmas dinner?  Did you start cooking early enough?  What could you have pre-prepared several days or even a few weeks in advance?  For me, I could have chopped my celery and onions for the stuffing at least a month in advance, and then froze them.  I could have cubed and toasted the bread a week earlier.  I will be putting together a daily to do list and adding it to my Christmas 2012 tab in my Household Notebook.
  • Do you need to replace ornaments, wreaths, or any other Christmas decorations?  Add those to your list as well.  I really want to make a wreath this year, so I will add that to my Christmas file.  We also need to get new stockings.  I love for all the kids to have matching stockings, and the old ones are looking a little ragged.  Plus we lost one in the move, somehow.
  • Did you find great ideas on the web for decorations or gifts from StumbleUpon or Pinterest?  Either print out the pages, or make a list of the links, and include those in your Christmas file.  If you think "That would be perfect for Aunt Sue," include that information with the list.
  • Were there any events in your community that you really wanted to attend, but that you found out about too late?  Add those to your calendar now.  If a date for 2012 hasn't been set yet, follow the event on Facebook or Twitter, or make a note in your calendar to get more information two to four weeks before you expect the event to be.

Photo Credit: chatchavan
It's my hope each year that starting to plan right away will make for a holiday I can actually enjoy, instead of feeling like I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off!  Each year, I am able to retool my Organized Christmas plan to make it just a little bit better.  And I hope I can help you, too!
Would you like to stay focused and organized for Christmas 2012?  Each month I'll be sending out a newsletter to help you get and stay organized for the busiest time of the year.  Then, on September 4, 2012, I'll start the 112 Days to Christmas Countdown, with daily posts and reminders to keep you on track and focused, for a beautiful, happy, stress free holiday!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas Eve is, hands down and without a doubt, my favorite day of the year.  I wake up on Christmas Eve morning, and I can feel the magic.  The kids are wide eyed in anticipation.  Santa is coming!
Photo Credit:  Vanessa Pike-Russell

We'll be cooking for the big feast tomorrow-boiling eggs for deviled eggs, toasting bread for stuffing, and peeling yams to boil for candied yams.

Photo Credit:  justinbaeder

We'll be baking cookies, too!  Santa has to have his treats!

Photo Credit: seelensturm

Tonight, we'll read the story of Jesus' birth, and Twas the Night before Christmas.  Then we'll tuck the kids into bed, all warm and snuggly.  And mom and dad will bust their butts to get the rest of the presents wrapped, before falling into bed, exhausted, to await Santa's arrival!

Photo Credit:  Tom Purves
I wish you all a joyously happy, blissfully stress free, and wonderful Christmas Eve and Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Things Not To Do When Last Minute Christmas Shopping

I am a seasoned veteran of Last Minute Christmas Shopping.  It's not that I'm unorganized about Christmas.  I use a list to make sure everyone gets a fairly close to equal number of presents, and I start buying months in advance.  However, we always have to go out and get some last minute stuff because I either didn't have the opportunity to shop without the kids, or because we didn't have the money.

I can tell you, I have seen some crazy stuff from last minute Christmas shoppers.  No one got tasered or arrested, like recent Black Friday craziness, but still.

Here's my list of Things Not To Do When Last Minute Christmas Shopping

Don't blame the store staff when they are out of "that one thing" your child must have for Christmas.  If you would have come last week, it would have been here.

Don't be ugly to the store staff because you're stressed out.  You haven't seen stress until you've worked a Christmas season in retail.

Don't stack your cart so high with stuff that you can't see around it.  That nice short lady in front of you that you hit with your cart because you couldn't see her is plotting your death right now.

When shopping with your wife, don't get so distracted by the woman showing off what God (or a plastic surgeon) gave her that you run into her with the cart.  She can forgive the looking, but not at her expense.

Woman showing off what God (or a plastic surgeon) gave you:  This is Walmart, in the boonies.  The only men here don't have enough money to shop further away for their families gifts, or are here with their wives because their babysitter charges by the hour and they don't have time to drive to the big city.  Even my husband, the king of procrastination, bought my gift online, and then accidentally had the shipping email sent to my email address.  Also, it's December, and it's cold.  Put some damn clothes on.

Do not think of "1 or 2 more" items you need while you're in the checkout line and leave your cart there.  I will just push it out of the way if you're not back by the time the line moves up.  If you forgot to get the butter, take your cart with you and start over in the line, because you're also going to remember that you forgot chocolate chips, toilet paper and mouthwash.

Do not leave your cart unattended in the middle of an aisle.  If it's there, all alone, and I have to touch it to move it, I reserve the right to pilfer it, especially if you took the last bag of Christmas candy.

Do not expect any of the following to be on the store shelves:  Christmas stockings, tape, pretty wrapping paper, salted butter, dried bread cubes and yeast.  Last minute shoppers who got up earlier than you beat you to it.

Do not bring your family issues into Walmart.  I don't care how mad you are at your sister, mother, husband, niece or whatever.  Nobody wants to hear the two of you shouting things out in the middle of the produce aisle.  We'll get enough that at the Christmas dinner table, thank you very much!

I hope everyone who has to do some last minute Christmas shopping survives it with their sanity intact!

Happy Christmas to you!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

In The Backwoods Kitchen: Christmas Dinner Menu

I'm really looking forward to our first Christmas in the Backwoods.  A frenzy of present unwrapping and squeals of delight, followed by a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate.  A morning spent playing with toys and watching new movies and mom and dad enjoying some reading time by the fire.

The rush and the craziness will be over, and it will be a time for giggles and tickling and lots of hugs and kisses.

Well, that's what I hope happens.  It will, more likely, be a morning of refereeing fights over new toys and trying to find lost pieces and stepping on itty bitty legos.  Deciding whose movies get watched first and remembering that I didn't get the eggs boiled for dinner.  At least I know what we're having for dinner.

Christmas Dinner Menu
Mashed Potatoes
Cheesy Cauliflower
Candied Yams
Deviled Eggs
Green Bean Casserole

Chocolate Cream Pie
Cream Cheese Pie
Peach Pie

Have yourselves a Merry Little Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Guest Post-Being Christmas by Ashley

Today's guest post is by Ashley at  Ashley is a mommy of two, with a son and daughter who keep her pretty busy.  When she's not learning new life lessons or teaching her children, she is a freelance writer, photographer, coffee addict, and book nerd!  Thanks, Ashley!

Being Christmas
You may be wondering what exactly I’m talking about. We celebrate, enjoy, love, tolerate, and splurge at Christmas. But I think we should be Christmas. Imagine the impact if you lived the Christmas spirit and showed it to others? If you have never read “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens I suggest you do. And if you have, do you understand the point?

Not trying to get deep with you. It’s actually quite simple, we are employed to help our fellow man. That is what Christmas is all about, one man coming to the aide of the entire human race. As long as we are able, we should do what we can to help others. Don’t wait until it is too late and look back on your life wishing you had done more.

Now if you are like me, your finances might be a little tight. We live off one income so I know how you feel. However, being Christmas doesn’t necessarily mean a monetary gift. Spending time with an elderly person or shut-in can show them the love of Christmas. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter, angel tree, or any other charity can reach a lot of people.  Sort through your old clothes, toys, even your pantry, I’m sure you can find something to give to those in need.  Most importantly, get your kids involved! Children have the largest capacity for love and mercy out of all of us. I believe if we teach our children how to help others in need, they grow up being less selfish, greedy, and spoiled.  Just think how our world would be if everyone cared about each other instead of trying to destroy one another, sounds nice right?

What are you waiting for? Go out there and start being Christmas!

John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry. -Luke 3:11

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Practical Homemaking: Groceries on a Shoestring

I'm not doing my normal wrap up today, because it's late, and I haven't had time to go through my receipts.  Mostly because I left my receipts in the van and it's been gone for more than 24 hours because the highways are closed and my husband can't get home from work.

Photo Credit:  s58y
Sunday we shopped, as usual, and came home and made a birthday dinner and had birthday cake and presents and then we all watched a movie together.  Then on Monday we had to get my daughter ready to go back to where she's living for college.  She had come down and spent the week celebrating the birthdays that we had, but couldn't stay through Christmas due to work.  It kind of sucks when your kids get so big they can't be with you for Christmas.  Her and my husband left, so he could take her to the bus before he went to work, and that's when I realized my receipts were in the van.  Normally, that would not be such a big deal, but then it started snowing.  And snowing.  And snowing.  They closed the highway at 3 pm, and my husband, and my receipts, were stuck in town.

Without going into specifics, since I don't have said receipts, I can say that I saved about $100 between sales and coupons.  That's FREE STUFF, people!  And if you're not looking at coupon shopping that way, you should be.  $100 in free stuff is a LOT for any family.

Best deal of the week:
The kids have been bugging me to buy dog treats for the dogs.  In truth, I know that training Bellatrix the puppy is easier with dog treats.  So when Milk Bones went on sale at Safeway, I decided to go ahead and get some, since I had coupons.

The Milk Bones were on sale at Safeway for $3.00.  As I usually do, I compared the price at Walmart, and found that they were cheaper.  In fact, the bonus packages were even cheaper than the other packages, at $2.50/box.  My coupon was for $1.50 off two boxes, so using it at Safeway, which doubles coupons up to $1.00, wouldn't be better.  Additionally, the bonus packages had peelie coupons on them for $2.00 off a Milo's Kitchen dog treat, when purchased with the Milk Bones.  I looked at the Milo's Kitchen dog treats, and the smallest packages were $2.48 each.  So for slightly less than I had already committed to spend at Safeway, I was able to get the bonus sized Milk Bone treats, plus the Milo's Kitchen Treats.  Total cost for 62 ounces of dog treats was $4.46, or $.07 per ounce of name brand dog treats.

I also had one of my best weeks at Walmart for coupon use.  I prefer to use coupons at Safeway because of their policy on doubling coupons up to $1.00.  But my latest order from The Coupon Clippers included a lot of high value coupons, and with Walmart's overall lower prices (in my limited shopping area), it was really beneficial to use them there.  I saved over $16.00 at Walmart this week, with coupons alone.

I do have to say that I was disappointed that my local Walmart does not carry the Glen Muir line of tomato products.  As I'm making spaghetti this week, I bought a lot of canned tomato products, and I had a great printable coupon for the Glen Muir line of organic tomato product.  Organic products are really hard to get here, and really expensive, so I was delighted with this coupon.  But no Glen Muir at my local Walmart.

One of my New Year's Resolutions is not only to spend our money more wisely, but to help you do so, too.  I have been getting a lot of questions, through Twitter, email and even a comment here, about how I manage to feed the whole family on such a tight budget.  So I will be starting a Series about Groceries on a Shoestring.  Because in this economy, we all need all the help we can get, and a lot of that cooking knowledge and skills to provide for our families on a shoestring has been lost.  If you're like me, your mom worked, and so relied on convenience dinners.  While she had a few weekend feasts she would spend several hours preparing, most of her meals were not from scratch-and she sure didn't have a lot of time to teach me to cook.  In our family, cooking from scratch has been both an object of necessity, because early on we couldn't afford convenience food, and continued out of a desire to feed healthier food to my family.  So in addition to the basics of couponing and sale shopping, I'll be talking about the lost arts of meal planning and cooking from scratch.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In The Backwoods Kitchen: 12/19/11

During the Christmas Season, it's tough to get much done in the kitchen.  You're entertaining guests, or being entertained.  You're baking cookies and making goodies, and, most of all, you are out of the kitchen, sharing time with friends and family during this special season.  Or, you are frantically last minute Christmas shopping, wrapping gifts, trying to keep the puppy from chewing on the bottom levels of the Christmas tree, and refereeing fights about the X-Box.

Photo Credit:  La Grande Farmers' Market
This week, however, there were a few things I had to get done in the kitchen.  You may have noticed that eggs have been on sale quite often lately.  For awhile there, it seemed they were going on sale every two weeks.  Not only did I have a fridge full of eggs, I have several rain checks for eggs that I need to cash in soon.  So, I decided to freeze them.  I have done it before, but I needed to check the measurements for the fixative that you need to use for freezing eggs-there are several fixatives you can use, and they help keep the eggs from getting gummy while frozen.  I use salt.  I found this helpful link that explains the freezing process very well.

Not only do I use the ice cube method that they mention, I also will put three eggs into one slot in a muffin tin, and freeze them that way, since many baking recipes call for three eggs.  I will also put a dozen or so eggs together in a quart jar and freeze them.  These are used for scrambled egg breakfasts or making French Toast.  I froze about four dozen eggs, and bought two more 18 egg packages with a rain check this weekend.  This will be very helpful to us once we get our own layer chickens and need to keep the bounty of eggs I'm hoping we will end up with.

Photo Credit: theogeo
I also bought two extra hams, since they are on sale at such a great price, and did some prep on those for future meals.  I'll be writing the specifics of that one later, as it's a fairly long post by itself.  Last, I did a deep clean (again) on the kitchen, so it will be all shiny before I start the in depth holiday treat making.  I'll post more on that later, too!

Here's my dinner menu for the week:

Sunday:  Meatloaf, Creamy Potatoes, Corn
Monday:  Ham and Potato Soup, Sourdough bread (Ham bone from Thanksgiving)-was in menu earlier, but I didn't feel well so we had pizza, or something
Tuesday:  Cheeseburger Pie, Fried Potatoes, Tomato Salad-Double the recipe for Pie, make in 9x13 dish
Wednesday:  Sour Cream Pork Chops, Corn Bread Stuffing, Carrots-Also previously in the menu
Thursday:  Spaghetti, Italian bread, Green Beans-Recipe for my not so chunky but veggie filled sauce coming soon
Friday:  Pasties, Fries
Saturday:  Whole Roasted Chicken with Traditional Rub, Cheesy Rice with Broccoli, Carrots, Corn Bread

Recipe: Ham and Potato Soup

Ham and Potato Soup Recipe

1 Ham Bone
2 tsp salt
3 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp parsley
1 small onion, minced
2 pounds potatoes, cubed
1 c. cut up ham (you can add more if you want)
1 c. chopped broccoli (optional)
1 c. chopped cauliflower (optional)
2 c sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Place ham bone in stock pot.  Add enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil, and skim off any “scum” that forms.  Add salt, pepper, parsley, and onion.  Turn down heat to continue a low simmer, and let simmer for three hours, watching water level.  Taste to adjust salt.  Remove ham bone.  Add potatoes, ham, broccoli and cauliflower, return to boil, then turn down heat and let simmer until potatoes are fork tender.  Add cheddar cheese and turn off heat.  Let rest for five minutes so cheese will melt, then serve.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Hogwarts Day!

Today, one of my children turns 11.

As was done for him, the sibling just older than she will craft an acceptance letter to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Photo Credit:  osseous
Yes, we are card carrying members of the "Harry Potter Cult".  We actually left a church because the pastor did an entire sermon on the evils of Harry Potter and the Harry Potter Cult, and hadn't read the books.  It was obvious.  I can understand that you may have a different opinion of Harry Potter, or any number of books, than we do, but at least read the books before you extol an entire group of people not to.  It was the only day I was grateful that my oldest daughter hadn't come to church with us.  It's moments like that, that ruin church for young adults.

This is a tradition we've had for several years at our house.  Eleven is usually that age where kids are "in the middle".  For my daughter, she's not quite a tween, because she doesn't follow every little trend that comes up, and she's not yet entered that "girly" phase where she is more concerned about clothes and make up and boys.  She's pretty mature, just not there yet.  Because she is mature, she doesn't enjoy kids' shows or activities, but we still want to keep whatever innocence she may still have.  Frankly, she's full of awesome, and those awkward teen years where I know we will yell at each other and disagree eleventy billion times can stay far away.

Photo Credit f_shields
The letter from Hogwarts helps, I think, keep a tiny bit of that innocence alive.  We've yet to have a kiddo get upset when we didn't take them to Platform 9 3/4 in September.  But the letter always brings giggles and smiles, and they are usually treasured childhood memories, and I'm all for those!

Happy birthday, GiggleGooseGooberButt.  Mama loves you!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Recipe: Meatloaf

Meatloaf Recipe

3 lbs ground beef (or ground turkey-when we have ground turkey I like to do half and half)
2, 16 oz cans tomato sauce
1 ½ cups crushed saltine crackers
½ onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 egg (use three eggs if using all ground turkey)
2 Tbsp mustard, divided
8 sandwich sized slices of cheese*

In a large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, one can tomato sauce, saltines, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and egg.  Divide meat mixture into four even portions.  In a 9x13 pan, place two portions at least an inch apart, and flatten into two separate rectangles, about 1 inch tall, 4 inches wide, and 9 inches long.  Put one Tbsp of mustard on each rectangle, and spread out to cover.  Layer four slices of cheese on each rectangle, to cover the whole area.  Place one of each remaining meat portions on top of the cheese, and spread out, rounding the tops to form a “loaf” shape.  Pinch the seams together to prevent the cheese from running everywhere (it will still run a bit though).  Divide the remaining can of tomato sauce equally over the two loaves, spreading it over to cover the top and the sides with a thin layer of tomato sauce.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  Let rest for ten minutes before serving.  It’s a bit of a gooey mess, but it’s very tasty, and it does hold it's shape as long as you give it the time to rest!

* A note about the cheese:  Regular, plain sandwich cheese is fine in this recipe, but I know many people are trying to get away from using that type of cheese.  I buy the sandwich slices of sharp cheddar or provolone for this recipe.  Either are wonderful!  If using block cheese, slice about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thin and use enough slices to cover the first layer of meat mixture completely. Any harder cheese will work.
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