Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Days 5 through 7 — Feasting with Friends September 10, 2009

I was pleased on Day 5 because I fought my baser “run to the store” instincts in the face of impending company and after a day at the beach that went about two hours longer than I’d intended. In addition, I suddenly realized I’d be feeding more than I’d planned on when shopping and going through my stores of supplies earlier in the week. My menu for 3 adults and 1 child was now being faced with 7 adults and 1 child in a growth spurt.

“I’ll just have to run to the store and get more pork butt…!” I told myself frantically. This is what I love about this challenge, though: The thought of spending more money before even a week was up just killed me. I took a deep breath and took stock. On the menu was carnitas and salad. But that wasn’t going to feed 8. What to do?

(You know, I’m suddenly feeling a bit better about my $300.00 spending choice. While we’re only 3, my husband sweetly allows me to have guests over quite often. I’d say at least once a week we feed at least one extra adult, usually one of our many single friends, and send them home with some leftovers. More often it’s more people and more frequent than that. I am so very, very thankful that Ryan enjoys this, too, and let’s me give little gifts to our friends this way! And this is perhaps one of the bigger side effects of having started to work on my food budget — as we steward our gifts better we are able to be so much more generous with our resources and it is a source of real fun and glee in our home.)

So, our Day 5 menu was:
Carnitas (from FF$75, truly delicious recipe and stunningly easy)
Grilled chicken tacos
Spanish rice (ill-fated, it didn’t cook through that night)
Tomatillo salsa
Fresh guacamole
Sweet corn casserole (brought by a friend)
My one accrued cost for today was $4.50 for a pitcher with a lid that will hold a gallon of liquid. We have one for tea. This one is for lemonade. We can make a gallon of each and it lasts us for days at only about $1.25 (based on price of mix and tea bags purchased in bulk) as opposed to the cost of soda, which my husband loves. He’s finding homemade iced coffee and iced sweet tea (sometimes mixed with the lemonade) to be his preferred alternatives, though! Hooray!

Sent a hungry seminarian friend home with leftovers, to boot. I love that.

Day 6:
My failed spanish rice was re-cooked as a crock-pot casserole with corn and beans added. This was taken to church for community meal and every last bit was gone when I picked it up after the meal!
That night we made one exception to our eating at home and had tacos with friend who were leaving town the next day. After 6 hours at the beach and and having worked our way through all the snacks (fruit, my spiced nuts, boiled eggs for protein after surfing, etc). we succumbed to the siren call of cheap mexican food with friends, who all had decided to go as well.

$18 for the family with leftovers that my son ate the next day. He literally fell asleep chewing a bite of quesadilla, poor guy! “Furfin'” four days in a row will do that to you! We had 5 tacos, beans and rice, a UFO-sized quesadilla, and a California burrito the size of my husband’s head.

I’m not sure what to do with my $18 expense. We normally have an eating out budget. This is the ONLY eating out we’ve done and we’re way under. So I guess I’ll keep those pots separate and figure out how much lower my eating out budget will be this month. I guess I’ll just list that expense in a separate category for accountability purposes for now.

Day 7:
For lunch we had chicken quesadillas while my E finished off his food from the night before. We shared the leftover rice and beans that came with his meal. I sliced up a cantaloupe to go with them. We added leftover salsa and guac to the quesadillas and all of us were loving lunch!

Dinner was my new recipe for “California Tacos”. If you’ve never had a California Burrito this name might not make much sense to you. But it’s a carne asada burrito with added fried potatoes (sometimes french fries). My husband LOVES California burritos possibly more than any food save sushi. So I was curious to know how he’d take to the tacos. If we weren’t already married, I think he would’ve proposed after eating those. So here’s my easy-peasy recipe for California tacos. They took about 20 minutes.

California Tacos:

Pre-heat oven to 450 F

4 or 5 potatoes (any kind, honest!)

  • Dice and boil until just cooked through in salted water
  • Drain and toss with vegetable or olive oil, pepper and seasoning salt
  • Bake in oven until outsides crisp and brown slightly while you make the other filling.

While potatoes cook, in a small pot combine and heat:
1 14 oz. can black beans, with juice
2 C cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
2 Tbsp. bacon crumbles (optional, for flavoring. this time i used the very last of our carnitas meat.)
1 tsp cumin, coriander and oregano each
1 Tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Combine chicken and potatoes in corn tortillas with salsa, sour cream and fresh cilantro.

We ended up eating this two nights in a row because it was so good and very filling, so they lasted well!

There you have Days 5-7.

We’re at 149.08.

I’ve run out of a lot of my more expensive things all of a sudden.  The end of this month is going to be interesting to say the least.  Especially because my in-laws are coming for 10 days.

I’ll up date with Days 8-10 tonight, Lord willing. What a busy week this has been!


Snacks — The Budget Buster August 31, 2009

I once wept to my husband, “Could you PLEASE keep your cravings to something that DOESN’T cost us $11.00 a lb.??” when thwarted in the process of making pesto one night. I reached for my bag of pine nuts only to find 8 or 10 measly little kernels remaining in the bottom of what had been a huge, full Costco-sized bag the week before.

This is one of the biggest problems for me with frugal cooking and household budgeting: My husband is a rabid snacker. He willingly and appreciatively takes leftovers to work for his lunches (I only occassionally get them back uneaten and that’s usually when a hankering for rolled tacos just cannot be avoided…totally understandable!) But he is a big man, an extremely active surfer, and has a big appetite. When Ry comes home from work or surfing and when he’s up late doing freelance or 3-D modeling, he wants handy snacks that are easily accessible and he wants them in huge proportions. If I don’t have them around then things like this happen:

An entire box of granola bars disappears in one night
An entire 1.2 lbs bag of pine nuts goes missing
A large box of cereal disappears in one night
Half a bag of string cheese vaporizes when I’ve left the house for an hour

To put this in perspective, he’s about 6ft 3 or 4, wears a 3X wet suit to accommodate the breadth of his shoulders and chest, and will surf for 6 or 7 hours in the course of a day quite easily when the swell is good. He burns through calories like other people burn through….uh…well, I can’t come up with a good comparison — but something that burns quickly and people use a lot of! Anything else I can think of falls short when it comes to his appetite when it hits.

So, here are some things I already do:
Buy whatever fruit he likes that’s on sale and keep it handy as consistently as I can
To cut cost on cereal I use coupons and combine them with sales to keep cereal costs low
I also make homemade granola (TY to Mary at Owlhaven’s Granola Recipe in Family Feasts for $75 a Week) to lighten the cereal costs
Buy block cheese on sale and slice it myself so it’s easily accessible for snacks
Keep cookie dough on hand so I can easily bake up a batch of cookies on a whim

Two things that Ryan LOVES and I haven’t figured out are:
Spiced nuts

Microwave popcorn is expensive and not all that healthy. I make popcorn in a pot but sometimes I’m asleep when the craving hits or I’m just exhausted. Does anyone know of a way to keep popcorn fresh? Does anyone make seasoned popcorn? How does it keep?

Spiced nuts I’m going to look in to today at the store. I’d like to see about finding recipes for spiced nuts so that, when raw nuts are on sale in bulk I can buy them, season them and roast them myself, and then keep them handy to fulfill some of his needs for protein.

So what do you do for easy snacks? Do any of you have men/sons like mine with big appetites and for whom meals or leftovers won’t always do? I’d love to hear suggestions!


Dinner August 19, 2009

Filed under: cooking,frugal cooking,tips — Mary @ 11:14 pm

Is there honestly much tastier than a BLT?

Tonight Ryan and I feasted on BLTA’s (avocado being the addition to the mix) and they were just ridiculously good.  I felt bad about a slackerly dinner but after 3 hours in the garden with languishing tomato plants and soil needing to be turned and another 4 at the grocery store, it was all I had in me.  Ryan was gracious about it and so was the Lord because those things were delicious!  Have you ever added lemon pepper to a BLT with some avo?  I highly recommend it on a night when you’re fit for bed and not much else.

More to report on our exploints tomorrow.


Ten Widdow Mon-teys, Yumpin’onna Bed August 18, 2009

Today I had a blast with Eamonn.  Do you know what we were doing?  We were cleaning.

We’re in week two of no channels on the TV and a lovely thing has happened — he’s started not to miss TV.  This morning he asked me, “Mom — would you play music on the TV?”  We don’t have a stereo and my iPod really only plays through headphones or in the car.  But we have a game console that will let me stream music from my computer or play off of a CD.  So we listened to worship music while he played with Legos and I put dinner into the crock pot.  Later in the day when we got home from running various errands around town neither of us even paused at the TV as we came through the door.  Rather, we lugged a toy cubby that I’d gotten from my sister-in-law in trade for a trike Eamonn never rode into Eamonn’s room and began sorting his toys into the various cubby holes.  He loved it.

“I have a ball!  This is an instrument, Mom!  Here is another train piece!”  We sorted through his toys which were in a big jumble in his wagon and gave them all homes.  As we rifled through his things we began to find monkey from a long-forgotten barrel of monkeys and started singing the “10 Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed” song together.  When Eamonn sings it, it goes, “10 widdow mon-teys, yumpin’onna bed…”  My heart nearly exploded with love several times and I kept thinking, “How did I miss the nuances of how much fun all of this could be?”  I’d fallen into this bad habbit of rushing through every aspect of the day and using TV to babysit while I did things quickly that, given a little more time, we could have done slowly and joyfully together while we talked and laughed and played.

I am not looking for reassurances that I’m a good mom or that everyone makes mistakes like this and gets caught up in the hurry and bustle.  I do know those things are true.  But here’s the other thing that’s true:  My hustle and bustle was a sign of some grave sin that has needed to be dealt with for quite a while now, and the Lord has gently and graciously let me see this as He’s also gently and graciously shown me some ways I could change the pattern.  I know we don’t like that word, “sin”.  But let’s call it what it is in my case.  Waste is a woeful category into which I so often and so easily fall.

The overall message that’s been ringing loud and clear in both my heart and my ears the last few months is that I have much to learn about stewardship of my time, my monetary and material resources, and the gift of a child.  This has come in various ways: realizing how much food waste was going on in my own home at my own hands without my realizing it; the natural progression from that realization to a hard look at the rest of my money flow; struggling to find time to sort these things then causing me to realize how much time waste there is, as well.  I want to learn to use my time and resources more effectively so that I am able to accommodate Eamonn’s pace rather than setting him aside in order to accommodate mine.

There are several resources I’m considering that I’d like to go through over the next few months as I work on getting some of my life in better order:

C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries did a series on time management earlier this year and I guess I should have raised the white flag immediately when I starred all of the posts in my Google Reader for reading later and then could never find the time to go through them.  However, in searching around and thinking about stewardship, I was reminded that he took the entire series and compiled it in a PDF for free download.  I’ve been praying for a study to do because I’m much more consistent with my quiet times when I’m working through something and I think this may be it.

In addition, my friend Beth and I have agreed to work together on our household budgets.  Amidst kicking, moaning, a few tears and some grumbling, I’m sure, we are going to be working through Budgeting for Dummies and Managing the Money Maze.  I think it will really help to have a friend with whom I’m totally honest about our finances and who will ask me how I’m doing with the budgets my husband and I agree on as I do the same for her.

Last, a natural categorizing of my son’s activities and interests began to emerge as we sorted toys today.  He has so many different kinds of activities that he’s interested in.  Previously when they were all jumbled together I think it was hard for him to figure out what to play with or what to do with his things.  But as we sorted things (I asked for his input on how he thought we should group some of his things and was delighted with some of his decisions) a post from Owlhaven that I read just yesterday on Homeschooling with Preschoolers came to mind.  In it, Mary shared an idea for play stations for kiddos my son’s age (3-and-a-half-but-almost-4-thankyouverymuch) and even younger.  In my jumbled mental store of notes I thought, “okay, must buy different kinds of things for him to play with…oh but the money…think about it later…”  But no.  We have everything we need already between puzzles, train tracks, building blocks, activity books, and art supplies.  I just didn’t know it because it was all jumbled together.  Already ideas for how we could play together and work together through our days at home has begun to emerge and I’m really excited at the time I’m anticipating spending with him.

This seems like a long laundry list and I think I’d easily panic if not for this thought that keeps threading itself through my mind and other considerations today, “You can’t do it.  But I can make it possible.”  And I trust Him, and He will.  I want to honor my Lord and I know He will help me to do it.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.


Zucchini (Again) and a Camping Idea August 12, 2009

Just a thought for those of you drowning in zucchini again this year:  it shreds beautifully and freezes well, too.  I just got through the last of my frozen zucchini in May.  I shredded all of it up in a food processor and bagged two-cup portions and froze them flat so that they’d stack well later.  You can use them for any cooked zucchini dish you’d normally made with fresh and only have a negligible difference in taste.

On another note, I did something today that I’m pretty tickled about with regard to preparing for a church/family camping trip:

I pre-packaged coffee beans, oatmeal and etc in small packets so that we’d have them handy while we’re camping at the beach the next three days.  I was concerned, though, that I wouldn’t remember the right measurements for all of the things we’ve brought with us.  To fix this and not have to do any extra packing of papers or things we’d lose, I wrote the measurements for our most common camping recipes on the inside of the lid of our camping box with a Sharpie so I never run the risk of leaving them behind.

Do you have a camping box?  Ours is a large rubber-maid bin and we have camping pots and pans that nest, metal plates and bowls, a set of metal mugs, and silverware that rolls up in a mat to keep it all together.  I also keep a sponge, old rags, a bottle of dish detergent, a metal coffee percolator, and a roll of paper towels in there.  When we camp, the bin serves as a wash bin which ensures that it stays clean, too.

We’ll be camping at the beach at a popular surf and camp spot with our church and I’m really quite excited about it.  So is my son.  And so is my husband!


Rocking the Grocery Store July 25, 2009

I wanted to mention something that has been happening over the last few continued weeks since reviewing Mary Ostyn’s book, “Family Feasts for $75 a Week” and that is that it has just gotten more useful.  This week in reviewing my pantry (HA!  Really, it’s two cupboards because our apartment is wonderful but small), I found that I had nearly every ingredient for everything I wanted to make this week.  Aside from a few things we’d run out of and a couple of special fresh things (more salsa, for one) I wanted to make for a special occasion, we were set.  This meant that, even though I’d cut such a drastic amount off my budget the first month, it’s gone even lower this second month without my really trying simply because Mary’s way of thinking about feeding a family is just really practical and smart.

In saying this I want to assure everyone that I get NO monetary gain or gain of any other kind (save the savings from reading it) out of this book.  I know that such a whole-hearted and completely one-sided review might start to sound suspicious.  I’ve started to even feel a little self conscious about my excitement over it.  But it’s genuine and I think for really good reason.

That being said, today at the grocery store on my weekly run I saved over 50% total on my groceries between two stores: 58% at the first and 46% at the second.  Though I did use a couple of coupons that I had on hand, the bulk of this was due to a little bit of pre-planning before we left for the store so that I had a strategy for exactly what I needed from where when I got out there.

Hmm…perhaps breathing out, “Ohhh SNAP!” at the checkout when I heard how much I’d actually saved was a bit much.  But come on.  Let a girl celebrate.  You know what I mean?!


Thrown Together Dinner: Chicken in Tomato Caper Sauce July 20, 2009

My eyes are open all the way again. Thank heaven! I don’t know what on earth I got into, but I was seriously considering asking my husband to take me to the ER at one point on Saturday night. Good grief! And never mind the fact that we had his company picnic with his brand new job (not even a month old) on Saturday. Luckily, the damage could be hidden by sunglasses.

As a result I’ve been a little off kilter and we’ve been eating out some and off our game. But tonight I had a bag of potatoes, some tomatoes ready to go bad, some cooked chicken in the fridge and some wonderful green beans I scored at Henry’s for $.77 a lb. So I got creative. This is what we ate:

Baked the potatoes and then mashed em up in their skins with butter and salt.

Steamed the green beans and then sauted them in olive oil til slightly caramelized and then sprinkled with just a dash of kosher salt.

I built the base of my plate with those two things and then made the pan sauce and used it to heat up the chicken. For the pan sauce:

2 Tbsp of butter
2 cloves of garlic, softened into the butter
1 small tomato diced and added to the pan to cook down with
Juice of 1 lime
1 or 2 tsp of capers
salt and lots of pepper to taste

I reduced the broth until it was just slightly thickened and then added in the shredded chicken until it was cooked through. I served the chicken over the potatoes and green beans and then used the sauce to dump over the whole top.

Our family, including the three-year-old, purred their whole way through.

The sauce took about 7 minutes from start to finish. And we made some more to take to lunch tomorrow. If I’d had parsley on hand I would’ve added some. And canned tomatoes — a small can — would’ve likely worked just fine, too.

Double yum.


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