Friday, May 30, 2014

My New Favorite Snack (Or Dessert)

My dessert the other night - YUM!
In my recent quest to eat more healthy and exercise in attempts to lose weight for my upcoming wedding, I found a new love.  I mean we've all heard of apples and peanut butter right?! Well...I like peanut butter, but not enough to eat it outright.  So I've found a new semi-source of protein (And sweetness!)....Drumroll please....Nutella! Yes, I have become slightly addicted to the sweet, hazelnutty flavor that is Nutella.  So, what have I tried it on?

  • Bananas - ok, but not as good as the ole' bananas and peanut butter.  You can't beat an oldie but goodie!
  • Bread - again, just ok...but straight up Nutella on gluten-free bread ain't all that hot.
  • Apples - good (better than bananas), but still not what I was searching for. 
  • Strawberries - yes ma'am! This was by far the BEST combination I tried! Just think: sweet, wonderful strawberries and thick, hazelnut Nutella.  It's a match literally made in heaven.
I've gotten so bad about eating it for an after-work snack and then again for dessert! J laughs at me constantly because we have started going through Nutella like some people go through water! But, seriously, look at the picture below and tell me that doesn't look good! Now, run out to the store and get you some strawberries and Nutella (and wine...always some wine!).  Start enjoying!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What's In Your Bag?

The following post is written by guest blogger, Maisy...I met Maisy in a group for people obsessed with Erin Condren (a life planner we both happen to have and love to decorate).  When I started asking for volunteers for my first "What's In Your Bag" post, Maisy generously volunteered.  She is a fellow blogger, but she blogs on sexual wellness.  Her blog is The Momfia.  I will warn you - I was a little surprised at what I saw at first, BUT it IS a sexual health and wellness blog, so keep your mind open. Maisy was kind enough to open up her life-on-the-go (aka her purse!) to us. So everyone, say hello to Maisy...and her bag!!!

1: My bag. I got it on sale from Target for $12.99. I'm very thrifty.
2: My May monthly overview of my Erin Condren LP. I think the Erin Condren company is very shady, but they make a product that can't be competed with. So I'm kinda stuck.

3: How I use it: errands, water intake, Bible study, tracking meds (I have lupus). I'm very organized, and I'd be lost without my Erin Condren Life Planner. Even just decorating it calms my anxiety.

4: Inside the purple bag (which I got from Etsy): Lupus medications that I often need while on the go, Garnier hand lotion, my reading glasses (Guess), and my wallet clutch. And yes, I really DO carry redbull everywhere - it's an addiction.

5: Inside the pink bag is all my makeup, tissues, and hand sanitizer. I'm a mother, so a First Aid Kit is always a necessity! Ear plugs because my better half lives 500 miles away, and I fly to him a lot. A prayer journal and my current read (The Christian Homemakers Handbook by Pat Ennis). The small phone: I've found, personally, it's worth the $10 a month to have a burner line that I can keep my main cell number to myself. So business calls or calls from my gym all go to the one in the photos

6: The blue small bag is full of feminine products of all types. The pink bag is full of random things you never know you may need (toothbrush, floss, inhaler, liquid bandaid, and a Schick on the go razor!).

7: My tablet (it's very very very old - 2011. If anyone is selling a cheap one, feel free to holla), notepad, and ear buds.

Maisy was also kind enough to show how she utilizes her Erin Condren Life Planner in more detail!

Below are her journal dashboards.

Below are the clear zip pouches that come with EC Life Planners and Take Note! Notebooks. Look how Maisy has utilized them to store her various planner accessories!

So - now that you've seen Maisy's bag. What's in YOUR bag?!

Throw Something Together

My "thrown together" meal: made on the fly
with convenience in mind, and turned out
DELICIOUS! Bon appétit!
You know those nights when nothing you have on your menu plan sounds appealing? Or when you have several things that you need to get out of your fridge or freezer? What to do when confronted with this dilemma?! Combine them and make them one amazing dinner, of course!  Obviously, this doesn't work for everything.  However, we were lucky enough the other evening that this combination did work together - and amazingly so! You know those nights that you had something planned for dinner but ended up meeting friends for dinner that night instead? Yeah...we had a few of those nights recently.  We had a meal planned for Monday night, but went to my parents' home for dinner instead.  Naturally, dinner for Tuesday was already planned, as well...what to do now?! Because Italian-marinaded grilled chicken sounds great...but so does organic spinach and cheese ravioli with homemade marinara sauce!

Remember making marinara sauce with me in one of my original blog posts? No? I'll pause while you check it out.  It's amazing, if I do say so myself!  Remember when I bought the spinach ravioli at Sam's? I highly suggest you run out and buy some if you live near one, too!  We originally planned to make spinach ravioli with marinara sauce for dinner one night, but ended up eating at my parent's that evening instead, so we postponed this particular meal. We had dropped chicken thighs into a plastic bag and drenched them with Italian dressing (easiest, best, and fairly low fat marinade!), allowing them to marinate about 48 hours before in preparation for grilling some marinated chicken thighs.

Now what's a girl to do? Because both those sounded amazing to me! Well, we just combined them into one fabulous dinner!  We boiled the ravioli up, and we thawed out some of the frozen marinara sauce in a small pot on top of the stove.  Meanwhile, J went outside and dropped the marinated chicken onto the grill.  We put one thigh in a bowl, accompanied with 4 ravioli (which were topped with the marinara sauce).  Dinner, completely ready, in less than a half hour!

I mean, doesn't this look amazing?!
On your left, you will see Spinach ravioli with
marinara sauce. On your right - grilled chicken
marinated in Italian dressing! Can you say Yum?!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Stocking Up! (Making the Most Out of Your Warehouse Membership)

Costco? Sam's? BJ's? You know - those HUGE warehouse stores that make your budget-spidey-senses tingle and the electric thrill go up your spine! Where ELSE can you get a flat-screen TV at an unbeatable rate (oftentimes with an additional concierge service for minimal to no charge) AND filets of fresh tilapia or prime cuts of steak??  Places like these can be extremely overwhelming if you charge in without a plan! Trust me, I walked out with things I didn't even KNOW existed or that I needed...which turned into things that I never used and eventually gave away. So...I learned my lesson a LONG time ago, and I hope to pass on some tips, wisdom, and advice that will help you minimize your trips to your local warehouse store, but also that will help you make the most out of your trips!

1. RESEARCH:  Sometimes, the membership cost isn't worth it! I have a Sam's membership.  Sam's is literally 15 minutes MAX down the road from me.  Costco is 30 minutes (minimum) away from me, and subsequently, I never go there.  Even the least expensive membership of $50 isn't worth it if I never go!  Find which warehouse stores are closest to you, and which ones you will use the most!

2. PLAN AHEAD: I look in my freezer and fridge before I leave - like any normal grocery store trip.  Why buy what you already have, right?! I make a master list of things I am running low on or out of.  We generally eat a LOT of chicken, so purchasing it in bulk is cheaper for me than buying it at my local supermarket. BUT if the local supermarket has chicken on Manager's Special - you best believe I am buying them out instead! It's much cheaper that way! But I rarely get lucky enough to find enough chicken and subsequently buy from Sam's instead.  Plus, there's so much that it lasts forever!!!

3. That Includes a Menu Plan: Well, sort of....I know that if I buy one "pack" of Italian Sausage at Sam's it will last me close to a year if I freeze it.  You know those packs of Italian Sausage at the grocery store? Double it - that's one layer.  2 layers are included in one Sam's "pack" of this sausage. Chicken breasts are conveniently pre-packaged into packages of 2 breasts (boneless, skinless).  Chicken thighs - don't hold your breath.  I am WAY off topic. My apologies.  I know about how much meat we go through per month...LOTS of chicken, 1-2 steaks, 1-2 packs of stew beef, LOTS of bacon, 4-6 pounds of ground beef (spaghetti, burgers, etc.), 4-8 fish filets...You get the drift.  Write down how much you use per meal (And document if there are any left overs you can freeze/take for lunch/etc. It may cut down on what you buy for lunch!) for one month. Then use that as your gauge.  We have enough meat in our fridge for probably close to 6 months (yes - you read that right). Just this past weekend, we bought 3 pounds of ground bison (I'm a ground meat snob, sorry!), 1 fillet of salmon (it was the entire body in a "fillet"), 1 "pack" Italian sausage, 1 pack of 8-10 tilapia filets, 1 pack chicken breasts, 1 pack chicken thighs, 1 package (which equals 3 grocery store packs) of see?! We took a fairly big hit to our budget, BUT it will help us keep things in line for the next 6-8 months!

4. Take Time to Browse But Be Careful: We found organic spinach & cheese ravioli...uh, yes please! Was it on our "official" list?! Nope.  But it is delicious (my mom used to serve this 1-2 times per month!), and you can add your own sauce or eat it plain - it's great either way.  What else did we get?! A family pack of greek yogurt.  J loves the stuff, and it cost us a LOT less to buy it there than at Publix, Kroger, OR Ingle's! Pesto - we found a huge jar (triple the size of the grocery store jars) for only $4-5 more. We use pesto a lot, so it made sense for us to get it. My point?! Stick to your list but be open minded! Just not TOO opened minded.  When I find something that I want to get, I just try to remember how often I actually eat/use said it fairly frequently?! Then I might buy it for a trial run. I eat it or use it once a month? Put it back.

5. Know Your Limits: We go through fruit by the pound-ful, particularly in the summer. J can put away fruit like a garbage disposal. So purchasing fruit at Sam's is totally worth my while.  Keeping that in mind, I know that we aren't going to go through 6 heads of Romaine lettuce in a reasonable amount of it would go bad more than likely.  So, to me, the few extra dollars I might save aren't worth it to watch the lettuce rot in the fridge.

6. Have Fun! I love going to Sam's! It's so amazing to see all the incredible new wonders there. I could spend hours in there...sometimes, J and I do! Expect to find plenty of what you need, and then some things you didn't know you wanted/needed! Enjoy some samples (particularly on Saturdays) or a $1 slice of pizza. It's even great for lunch time when you have little munchkins with you! Enough of the samples equals lunch for them!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Stepping Into Stepmom-Dom: The Right Stuff

If you're of the correct age bracket and you started singing the NKOTB song...I won't judge. I'll even admit that I did it, too! ;)

On a different note, Little T's birthday is today.  Unfortunately, we don't get him on his "real" birthday, but we did get to have him this past weekend.  We talked extensively about what we wanted to get Little T for his birthday.  He's gotten so many nice toys, fun action figures, Fisher Price life-sized toys (grill, work bench, etc.)...and what does he want to play with?! The happy meal toys, the boxes the toys come in, my hair clips, things from the Dollar Store.  You get my drift.  He never plays with the "nice toys" while visiting us.  It's always the cheap-o crap.  We've even started disappearing some toys ... he hasn't noticed. (SHOCKER!)

When it came to his birthday, we wanted to give him something he would enjoy.  BUT we didn't want to add to the crap and clutter that is clearly sitting in an array of some semblance of organized chaos in his room (and all over the house for that matter).  SO - what to give a little soon-to-be four-year-old that doesn't need any more CRAP and certainly doesn't play with the nice toys he has?! We decided that quite possibly the best thing to do was give him the gift of TIME.  Usually when T is here, we are running 90 miles an hour in different directions.  This visit, we decided to slow down and give him a little extra attention.  So what did we do?! We headed off to the Georgia Aquarium for the morning! And the afternoon? We picnicked at a local park (Stone Mountain Park), where he could throw rocks, sticks, and pinecones into the lake/pond.
T checking out some of the fish. NOTE: that is the
actual size of that fish!!!

Broken down into a few more specifics: We met J's sister (who sweetly road tripped in from Birmingham, AL for the day) at the aquarium as the doors opened.  We purchased our tickets ahead of time so that we didn't have to wait in line (I HATE lines).  We headed on in, having our picture taken on the way in in front of a green screen, which would then be transformed into a super-awesome underwater adventure background.  Spoiler Alert: we didn't buy the photo.

Watching the fish with Daddy!
We wandered on in and started looking at all the animals! We got there early enough to see the trainers feeding the animals and having them do tricks for the crowd. My favorites were definitely the otters! T was enamored with the largest tank, which had a moving sidewalk underneath (typical kid: he was more enamored with the moving sidewalk than the fish above his head). We took time to sit in a darkened room, where one wall was entirely acrylic instead of glass (And 10 feet thick!) so you could watch all sorts of sea life swim by: manta rays, stingrays, whale sharks, bottom-feeding sharks, HUGE fish (fish bigger than T!) get it!

The thing I love about the aquarium is that there are so many things for KIDS to do! I mean, yes - they have a play center (which we swiftly avoided...), but they have a lot of interactive exhibits and exhibits were the kids can actually PET animals. T pet a stingray, a small shark, sea anemones, and starfish!  I was so proud of him! He's usually very skittish around things that are new and different to him.  He has been to the aquarium before, but I know that touching weird, icky-looking things isn't on the top of his to-do list.  He'll look at it, but don't make him touch it!
T petting the sea anemones!!!
T was EVERYWHERE and LOVING every minute of it! He had mine, J's, and his aunt's undivided attention the whole time! I wish I could just post an entire photo album from our trip to the aquarium, but that would be the longest blog ever! But since that wouldn't be all that thrilling, I'll leave you with this parting shot from our time in the tunnel under a fish tank:
Once we were done in the aquarium, we headed over to the nearest Publix! After grabbing some subs, chips, and drinks, we were off to a park out near where I grew up: Stone Mountain Park.  Yes, if you look it up, it's a Confederate Memorial, BUT it's a huge park with so much to do: putt-putt, walking trails, hiking the mountain, plantation homes to tour, a water mill to get the drift.  It also has plenty of covered pavilions for picnics! We chowed down on our subs before diving into the delicious cookies that J's sister brought!
T eating lunch with J and Aunt V.
Once we were done with lunch, we walked down to the Grist Mill to check it out.  T enjoyed throwing things into the cascading water (Oh, little boys), and we enjoyed being outside. His personality is so fun to watch (especially as it has really developed in the past year!).  He is becoming more and more like his daddy, which is SO fun as they are both so silly and goofy (See end of blog post for proof!)
T throwing things into the water and
watching them float away.
We had a blast giving him our time, and he definitely had a fun, but exhausting day! He crashed on the way home! We definitely feel like we gave him "the right stuff" for his birthday this year. Next year: I have no clue.  I'm not sure how we are going to top this year's birthday funday. I am SURE I will keep you posted!  I will leave you with just a couple more pictures from our afternoon at the park! 
Being goofy with Daddy on the way to the car.
FINALLY taking a break from throwing things to smile for a pic!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A "Pinteresting" Life: Tilapia Fish Tacos

We made a trip to Sam's last weekend to stock up on seafood.  I love seafood.  It's a problem.  Actually, it'd be a problem if I was allergic to seafood - tragic, even! I would probably eat it and just have an epi pen handy (terrible, I know)...We found some amazing-looking tilapia and so I grabbed some (in addition to some gorgeous salmon and darling little shrimp - see?! I do have a problem...I describe seafood as gorgeous and darling...).

Of course, I raided my Pinterest account looking for some new ways to cook up said seafood.  We decided to throw in some tilapia into our weekly meal plan, and incorporate it in a way that Little Man would like, which limits us to: mexican-style food and something with the word "nugget" in it.  Tilapia nuggets didn't sound all that delicious, so I searched for some fish taco recipes.  Boy did I hit the jackpot! I found this recipe on Right @ Home. We tweaked some things a bit, as we knew that certain items/ingredients wouldn't be appreciated by the finer palettes that reside in the house...The tacos are supposed to be served with strawberry-tomato salsa, but to me regular salsa is a perfectly good "taco topping," so why switch it up? Especially with a picky 3 year old on board?

I must admit, I wasn't thrilled about the idea of chowing down on fish tacos tonight.  It just wasn't appealing to my inner diva at the moment. I am most certainly glad that J ignored my childish diva moment and proceeded with the menu as planned.  These were BY FAR some of the best tacos I've ever had, let alone one of the best meals I've had in a while!

Little Man chowing down on taco #2!
We didn't tell Little Man what exactly we were eating at first. He dove right in and promptly chowed down on his first fish taco, then proceeded to ask for a SECOND! When we asked him if he liked the Tilapia (Or the Till-a-peel-a, as he says it), he nodded vigorously! VICTORY! He dipped his second taco into some regular salsa, while J and I enjoyed ours with avocado slices, cole slaw, lime juice, and some cilantro (Yum!).  The recipe was rather simple to make when there's someone to keep the 3 year old from clinging to your leg!

Below is OUR version of the recipe.  For the original version (including the strawberry-tomato salsa recipe) see the link above, included earlier in the blog!

4 tilapia filets, approximately ¼ pound each
1 teaspoon of your favorite taco seasoning
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 6-8-inch flour or corn tortillas, heated according to the package directions
1 avocado, sliced
1 cup shredded lettuce or green cabbage
1 lime, cut into small wedges

1. Prepare coleslaw. Set in fridge to chill.
2. Dry the filets with a paper towel.  Sprinkle with taco seasoning and set on a plate.  Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Pour in olive oil.  when the oil is hot, gently add the fish to the pan, cooking for approximately 5 minutes and turning once.
3. Remove fish from the pan and break each filet into 2 pieces. Serve in tortilla, topped with coleslaw and avocado slices. Drizzle lime juice and sprinkle cilantro on top!

I hope you and your family enjoy this as much as ours did! This was a great recipe and didn't taste extremely and/or overwhelmingly "fishy." Give it a try, and let me know what you think! 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Budget Heaven, Part 2

So, I started Part 1 by introducing my favorite blog (A Bowl Full of Lemons) and my gorgeous aqua malden Filofax, which has quickly become my favorite "child."  She is a personal size aqua malden Filofax, furnished to act as a wallet.  Oh, you missed it? Never fear! Check it out here! I am slightly budget obsessed, but I have a really hard time keeping track of my expenses and bill payments.  Enter this handy little darling, which allows me to track payments, bill due dates, pay days, expenses, notes/ideas from my favorite budget books or pieces of advise from my fave: Dave Ramsey.

I have finally received all items that I have anxiously been awaiting, and I cannot wait to show you how I have everything set up! Let's start from the beginning in case you only skimmed Part 1.

Here's my lovely malden...her former owner named her Miss Tiffany.  I think it suits her.  ;)
So when you open up this adorable darling, you will find a built-in card holder.  It's like this was destined to be a wallet! I use the zip pocket for any spare change that I happen to have on me (which is rare).  I purchased this dashboard with Dave Ramsey quote from TweetiePie Collage.  It provides me a reminder to keep track of my money and budget it right! Best part of the placement: it's right next to my credit/debit cards, so it's a great reminder to plan ahead!!
Flip this adorable little dashboard over and you have a Filofax credit card holder, which contains the cards I need to access quickest and most frequently: Sam's card, Starbuck's card, and my license. 

Start flipping through some more.  Next stop on our tour is my adorable top-tab dividers made and labelled by CuteOrganizing on etsy. I love how the top tabs make it so simple and easy to find what section I need, particularly because the monthly spreads have side tabs.  This makes for easy differentiation! How adorable are these? AND - the best part is that the actual divider is labelled, too (not just the tab!).  She even included a bookmark, too! It's the pink with white polka dot tab you see.  I labelled the following sections: Pay Days, Expenses, Receipts, Bills Due, Notes.  Next Up: exploring each of these sections!

Pay Days:
I used the horizontal annual calendar from Filofax to track pay days.  This way, I can see a general pattern of when I get paid.  This is particularly helpful in a household where there are 2 incomes, which are coming in on different dates each month.
Expenses: I utilize the Filofax expense tracker to keep track of my expenses, bills paid, etc.  When I am at the grocery store, post office, etc., I go ahead and write in the total while waiting on my payment to be processed.  That way, I can't forget and miss a large amount being spent.  This simplifies my life greatly when I am balancing the checkbook because I don't have to dig through my online account and try to find expenses. Oh - and my cute bookmark helps hold my spot!
Receipts: I utilize the clear pouch that came with the Filofax to hold all receipts until I can verify that I have written down expenses.  It also helps divvy up what each expense at the store was spent on (i.e., groceries, cleaning supplies, etc.)
Bills Due: I utilize a Filofax item for this, as well.  It is the month on 2 pages with side tabs.  This enables me to quickly flip to a particular month to write down a bill due date OR to mark a bill as paid. I highlight the days of the month that are pay days.  All bills due are written down.  A check is placed next to the item when it is paid off for the month.
Notes: The final section of my wallet/budget notebook is the notes section.  I use this for various things: to make notes from a good budget book I read, write down a Dave Ramsey quote or piece of advice, reminders, errands to run, grocery lists, sales, BOGO deals, etc.  Essentially it is a hodge-podge of things that I write down because my everyday planner is a *little* too heavy to carry around when running 19 errands while carrying a 3 year old.  How adorable is this paper?! Check out Linky's shop on etsy! I love her stuff!  You can find absolutely anything fun for your filofax here!

So now that you have met Miss Tiffany, my budget/wallet Filofax, I hope that you have been inspired! Please note that "building" this dream wallet was a process, not an overnight event.  Since it's about sticking to my budget, I couldn't very well just buy everything all at once and blow my budget (could I?)! Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed Budget Heaven!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Switching It Up: Not-So-Average Burgers

Who doesn't love a good burger?  I LOVE burgers.  To me, there is nothing better than hanging out outside on the patio with a glass of wine (or beer) in hand, watching J grill some burgers.  And boy, does he make some GOOD burgers!  He has this magical touch when he's cooking - he's one of those irritating people that doesn't measure ingredients.  He just adds ingredients until "it looks right."  Frustrating, right?! (Side Note: I guess I can't complain too much. I do the same thing. Whoops!)  ANYWAYS...I finally pinned him down tonight when we were making burgers and had him measure each ingredient until it "looked right."  So below, you will find his amazing way of seasoning burgers.  But don't worry, this post is going to get even more creative before I'm done!

Burgers & Seasoning:
1 pound ground beef (or turkey or pork get the picture)
1 tablespoon Worchestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon Tony's Creole Seasoning
Equivalent of one clove of garlic, minced

Combine all ingredients and mix with hands (I know -gross!) until well mixed.

NOW...we have our fantastic burgers grilling.  What are we going to do with these tasty creatures?  We can't just slap cheese and ketchup on them and call it dinner.  Let's just say that J and I have become connoisseurs of burgers, so we'll give you some fresh ideas on what to do (patience is a virtue, right??).  Many times, we take inspiration from other restaurants (BGR) or shows (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives).  Other times, we take something we both love (Reuben, anyone?!) and making it into a one-of-a-kind burger! Listed below are some not-so-average burgers.

1.  Clemson Burger (aka our attempt at replicating BGR's Clemson Burger)
What It Contains: J's amazing burger seasoning
How to Top It: Lettuce, tomato, bacon, and spicy pimento cheese (ketchup and other toppings as preferred)
Pimento Cheese: 
1 bag shredded, sharp cheddar cheese.
Red Pepper (spices)
1 small jar pimentos
Mix cheese, pimentos, and mayo (amount of may varies depending on person. Mix to your taste.)
Add red pepper to taste.  Slather generously onto bottom bun of burger.

2. Bar-B-Que Burger (aka we love BBQ!)
What It Contains: everything in J's burger seasoning WITH your favorite BBQ sauce (about 1 tablespoon) instead of hot sauce.
How to Top It: coleslaw, extra BBQ sauce to taste

3. The Reuben Burger (aka we saw the ultimate Reuben on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives before making dinner and got inspired)
What It Contains: J's amazing burger seasoning
How to Top It: swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut

Want to get even more Reuben-esque? Make flatter patties and serve on Rye bread!

4. The Black & Bleu Burger (aka we love bleu cheese and bacon)
What It Contains: J's amazing burger seasoning - each burger stuffed with bleu cheese.
How to Top It: bacon and any other burger toppings you like
**This is called the "black and bleu" burger.  We've discussed the "bleu" part of it.  But the black?  Make sure you have the flames going for some extra chargrill on the burger to get the "blackened" part down!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A "Pinterest"-ing Life: Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps

I am absolutely in LOVE with Asian foods: Thai food, Chinese food, Japanese food (Sushi, anyone?!), Korean food, Vietnamese get the picture!  My stomach is just growling thinking about all the amazing different types of amazing Asian-style and Asian-inspired foods! I recently went on a Food Network kick and discovered Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman! Most of her recipes are delicious, even if they do contain some ingredients I'm not so thrilled about (Whipping cream, anyone?!).  BUT her recipes are wholesome, good ole' fashioned, down-home, delicious meals!  One of my favorite parts is that her recipes are simple, require few (if any) complicated ingredients, and taste amazing!

Recently, I have been struggling to find a delicious, inexpensive, gluten-free meal/recipe that I could make. I was actually browsing pinterest, while watching the Pioneer Woman on The Food Network.  I watched her make an amazing, simple meal of Asian Lettuce Wraps.  I was unable to write down the recipe fast enough, but I found what I believed was a VERY similar recipe on the  Food Network, by Sunny Anderson.  Fortunately for me, this recipe contains ingredients that I generally keep in stock in my pantry!  The only thing I had to purchase was the hoisin sauce (YAY for budget friendly!).

The wraps ARE a bit spicy, but they are delicious! The coolness of the lettuce also helps to counteract the spiciness of the meat.  I will warn you: if you are gluten-intolerant, like I am, you may need to browse the Asian section (or sometimes the "gourmet" section) of your grocery store fairly carefully to find gluten-free soy sauce or gluten-free hoisin sauce.

Josh and I finished off the entire pan of meat in one sitting the first time we made this!  The other few times we made it, we saved some for lunch/dinner leftovers the next day.

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground beef
2-inch piece ginger (we used ground)
2 cloves garlic,
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1 head Boston lettuce, leaves separated, cleaned and dried (we sometimes use Romaine Lettuce)

1. In skillet over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil and saute beef until brown.
2. Stir in ginger, garlic, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and hoisin sauce.  Cook for 1 minute.
3. Remove from heat and stir in peanuts.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Serve warm, wrapped in lettuce!

Want a vegetarian option?? Check out the Pioneer Woman's vegetarian recipe with tofu HERE!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Stepping In To Stepmom-Dom: Small Victories

Another weekend with T, another lesson learned.  This lesson is rather small, but sometimes it's the
Little T rockin' a Clemson Tigers ski hat for my
sister, his "Aunt T."
small things that add up to be the biggest parts of life, right?!

We are constantly struggling to make sure that T gets balanced nutrition while he is with us.  While we cannot control what he eats at his mom's house, we can certainly control what we let him eat when he is with us.  He is certainly one of the pickiest children I've ever met.  He'll eat chicken, but doesn't like red meat (or likes it less than chicken), or pork.  He'll eat his body weight in bacon or sausage, but don't even attempt to give him pork tenderloin.  He (until recently) refused to let new food items sit on his plate, particularly if they were green.  If it was "new," it was taken off his plate and placed onto the (cringe!) glass-top kitchen table.  He'll eat carrots (raw only), but don't give him any green veggies.  *Sigh*  I think you get my drift.  While I'm all for a multi-vitamin (Flinstone's, anyone?!), I am a big proponent of getting the majority of your nutrition through your meals!  I've even pureed cauliflower into "mashed potatoes."

We have gotten into the habit of placing all food items we are eating for dinner on T's plate.  We do not offer him an alternative meal - what we eat is what he eats.  I spoke with a pediatrician at length about the best "plan of attack" for getting kids to try new things.  His response was simple, but oh-so-brilliant:  "Do not force him to try anything new or to eat anything in particular. Do not fix him an alternative meal. Simply feed him what you are eating for that particular meal. Do not introduce many things at one meal. Simply add one new item each dinner time. If he is hungry, he will eat. Kids have a wonderfully ingrained mechanism that won't let them starve. If he is hungry enough, he will try something new."

So while it has been extremely hard, we have followed his advice.  Low and behold, Thomas has been (slowly) adapting and even asking to try new things.  Recently, he has asked to try green beans (which promptly received a disgusted face), cantaloupe (which he promptly spit out after a few chews), hummus (which he devoured like it was his last meal), and mango (which he ate a few bites of but didn't seem too thrilled)...While it seems like a small thing (and to some it may be. Aren't you lucky to have a child that will eat whatever you put in front of them?! I envy you!), these moments have been a huge victory for us!  T has been not only willing to try new foods, but he's also been ASKING to try new foods!

Small Victory this weekend: T asking to try new foods! HUGE success for us! And a GREAT reminder that it's the smallest parts of life that make it so great!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A "Pinterest"-ing Life: Slow-Cooker Salsa Chicken

We have T, J's son, here with us this weekend.  We have discovered, quite by accident, that T LOVES Mexican food. Particularly, Mexican-style chicken.  I am addicted to Pinterest.  Well, let me correct that.  I WAS addicted to Pinterest until I found a fabulous group of like-minded, fun-loving, hilarious, organized women on Facebook (Hello again, ladies!).  Now, Pinterest has taken a back seat.  MOVING ON...Ahem...

When I discovered this recipe on Pinterest, little did I know what a gem it truly was! The original source was Mostly Homemade Mom, but I was lucky enough to stumble upon it through Pinterest - like most good things I find.  I was trying to build up my recipe stockpile of Crockpot (Slow cooker for those of you that aren't Southern...and we will most certainly forgive you for that! Hehe.) recipes.  When we have T here on the weekends, I try to minimize the time in the kitchen preparing, cooking, stirring, etc..  I pick things (well, try to) that you can just throw together and walk away, increasing the amount of quality time we get with T.  Unfortunately, finding a gluten-free, not-super-fattening crockpot recipe is NEARLY impossible.  Enter Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken.
Please forgive me for my rather un-artistic picture.  By the time I realized
I needed to take a picture, we had all cleaned our plates (except Little T)!
Without further ado, the recipe you've all been waiting for: Crockpot Salsa Chicken!
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup salsa (I used mild simply because T hates anything super hot. This is where you can have some fun!)
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup (my least favorite thing about this recipe, but hey - at least it's only one can!
1 packet taco seasoning
1/2 cup sour cream
6 tortillas (J & T like the extra fluffy, and I'm all over here like "I'll have a corn one, please.")
1. Place the chicken in the bottom of the crock pot (The beauty of this - we dumped in the chicken still completely frozen). 
2. Sprinkle taco seasoning on chicken breasts. 
3. In a separate bowl, combine soup and salsa.  Pour over chicken.  
4. Cook on high for 4 hours.  
5. Shred chicken (I use the 2 fork method) and stir in sour cream. Serve on tortillas.

I asked Little T what he thought of dinner. Here's the response I got:

Coming from the world's pickiest little man, I'll take it!  I love how customizable/modifiable (are those even real words?!) this recipe is! We added some shredded "Mexican Cheese," and beans (The Musical Fruit, anyone?!).  J and I watched this little munchkin shovel away TWO full helpings of chicken! We even watched him "double fist" with the fork and his hand! He couldn't eat it fast enough, which is confirmation for me that this recipe is as good as I thought it was.

Oh - and adult reviews are just as high as T's. J & I loved the recipe, and we especially love how good it tastes with so little effort! J literally spent 15-20 minutes in the kitchen for dinner. In my opinion, the 4 hours the chicken was cooking, without babysitting, and allowing J to play with T was totally worth it!

I hope you and your family enjoy as much as we did! Oh - and it makes a TON!  We all had our fill - J and T BOTH had seconds - and there was still PLENTY left!  We had enough left overs to put some in the fridge and some in the freezer! For when we have one of those nights we don't want to cook - at all!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Budget Heaven, Part 1

I am obsessed with A Bowl Full of Lemons.  No, no – not LITERALLY a bowl full of lemons as décor, but the blog.  Check it out! It’s full of amazing organizing ideas, tips, and is a great source if you are looking for inspiration for your home!  I got my idea for a budget Filofax planner from her amazing blog!  I first became aware of what a Filofax actually WAS a few months ago.  (You’re clueless, too?! Great! Check out the FilofaxUSA site! You can thank me later.).  Mine is currently still a work in progress as I am trying to space out my purchases.  You know - stay within my budget and all that. Womp womp.  Budgeting can be FUN though, like when you are planning a vacation (another blog, another day)!

ANYWAYS....I got this ADORABLE aqua personal-sized malden filofax from a sweet friend I met on a Facebook group for other Filofax-obsessed people such as myself (Hi Ladies!).  I am slightly obsessed.  Isn't my planner charm cute?! Oh, you need one, too?  Check out CraftersRetreat on Etsy!

I also HIGHLY recommend an adorable budget-themed, Dave Ramsey-inspired dashboard made by Nancy at TweetiePieCollage on etsy.

I started looking through the blog post on A Bowl Full of Lemons, and began a LIST of things I needed to get to create such a wonderful budgeting/wallet/expense tracker masterpiece! Once I had my list, I started shopping amazon and ebay first.  A lot of times, you can get some amazing deals on Filofax inserts on ebay (Who knew?!).  I have posted the items on my list and links to where you can purchase each item.

Credit Card Holder:

Horizontal 2014 Calendar (where I track PayDays!):

Clear Pocket: Used for receipt holding until I have time to write down expenses on my expense tracker.  This came with my FF.

Month on 2 Pages with TABS:

Expense Tracker Pages:  

I am still awaiting some items in order to make this the BEST wallet/portable budget manager I can! Hence, "Part 1" in the title! 

On a bright note, Sweet J's little son will be with us this weekend, which will provide me more inspiration for some blog posts next week.  Look for Part 2 of "Budget Heaven" AND another "Stepping Into Step-Mom-Dom" post!