Thursday, September 22, 2011

Menu Planning

 My Weekly Menu Spreadsheet

I hate grocery shopping. I hate it.

Therefore, I often don't feel like cooking. Why? Because I don't have any good ingredients.  When I don't (even loosely) plan a weekly menu, I fall into buying the same stuff at the store.  And when it comes time to cook, I'm bored rather than inspired.

Lately, I've been using a spreadsheet to plan weekly menus.  I like this idea because I used to save online recipes in my bookmarks folder, but it quickly became an unorganized list of random recipes.  By using this spreadsheet I can see what I've made, where the recipe comes from (if there is one), and I get excited about trying new menu ideas.

The spreadsheet is pretty simple--on the x-axis I put the days of the week, and on the y-axis, the week dates. Easy. Simple. Boom.

After a while, I can track our eating habits.  Are we eating out too much?  Am I sticking with the menu? What did we and didn't we like.  And, if I change my mind I can drag and drop recipes to other dates.

I try to make one vegetarian meal per week and one slow cooker meal per week, and I plan for leftovers at least once a week, perhaps twice.  We are so bad at eating leftovers, so I've tried to perfect the art of cooking for two.  Menu planning is a lot easier when three or four days are practically planned already.

The best part about menu planning is having a shopping list! I can go to the store and get exactly what I need for dinner all week!  When planning out the weekly menu, I can work within my budget--a couple of fancy-ish meals and some cheapo ones.

We'll see how the menu planning spreadsheet works out in the long run. Hopefully, I'll stick with it.  I've been keeping tabs on Stephanie at Keeper of the Home and her Plan It--Don't Panic Meal Planning Challenge that is just starting.  She has a lot of great resources to keep people planning.

Do you plan your weekly meals? If so, what works best for you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dave Ramsey is Gonna Kill Me, Or Why We Bought a New Car

Dave is going to be very angry with me.  We broke one of his rules.  We bought. . .gasp. . . a new car.  You may remember my post, Trying to Live Frugally, where I explained how and why we are trying to get out of debt. We are, still, attempting to get out of debt as quickly as possible.  And, hopefully never to incur credit card debt again.

We had a plan--a la Dave--to save up enough cash to buy a used car outright.  We thought we'd be living with my mom for a little while.  Then, my husband got a job, then I got a job.  So, now we really need two cars (unfortunately we live in a two car city).

We figured instead of saving cash, we'd get a cheap-ish used car and finance it.  This way we could still pay it off pretty fast. My husband really wanted a small suv--so he can tote his music equipment around and it would be a good future family car. Plus, he's a tall guy and cars aren't as comfy as a suv or truck.

So we go look. Most of the suvs in our first price range were, well, crappy.  So then we looked at ones a little nicer--which were much more expensive.  There wasn't much of a in-between.

Then we got to thinking: Why buy a used car that will only last us a few years when we could spend 6-7 grand more for a new one that would last ten years?  We both have decent salaries now, and my car is paid off, so really, we can afford it.

We didn't want more debt, but our goal is to pay the loan of super early and not have another car payment for several years after--or ever!  After looking around, we got a great deal on a 2011 Nissan Rogue crossover--it an suv style with a car's gas mileage.  We got a base model with no bells and whistles, got great financing, and a lifetime warranty on the engine and transmission!

Yes, we have more debt to add to the pile, but we do have a car that will last us ten years.  And, we know it doesn't have any problems versus a used car that may windup having serious issues.

We prayed a lot about our decision and consulted with our parents. And, we feel like we made the right choice!

Do you buy used cars or new ones?

Monday, September 19, 2011

No Time For Breakfast? Hello Breakfast Burritos!

I sometimes forget to eat breakfast, but since I love breakfast I make an effort to eat something.  More importantly, my husband won't eat breakfast unless I put something in front of him.

We've both wanted to slim down and tone up (the exercise part is yet to come), and eating breakfast is one of the best things you can do to shed some pounds.  It gets your metabolism going and gives you some energy to start off your day.

Lately, I've been making a poached egg on whole wheat toast (egg-poaching post coming soon).  The hubs likes it and it doesn't take very long to make.  But, we've had enough poached eggs for a while.

Pinterest, besides being a black hole for productivity, gave me the idea of breakfast burritos, made in advance, and then frozen.  What a great idea!  Grab one, put it in the microwave, and you're good to go!

A great thing about breakfast burritos is that you can pretty much put whatever you want in them.  Mine are classic breakfasty goodness.

The ingredients:
  • eggs--I used 5
  • sausage--I used half the pack and had some left over
  • a potato--also had some left
  • half an onion
  • shredded cheese
  • tortillas
I cooked the potatoes and onion in a skillet, until soft (with some Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning, of course).  Then, browned the sausage. And, scrambled the eggs.  

Make sure you warm up the tortillas before assembling the burritos--it makes them more pliable.  I got the fajita size tortillas which proved to be a little smaller than I wanted, and I kept over-stuffing them.  Apparently, I'm not too good at folding the burrito closed on one end, either. 

For each burrito I put a spoon of each ingredient, with shredded cheese sprinkled on top.  I got 10 burritos, with some potatoes and sausage left over. 

Then, I individually wrapped each burrito in plastic wrap and placed them all in a freezer bag. 

How easy! Breakfast for the week is done! Next time I may try to make them a little healthier--maybe with some beans and some spinach.  The important thing is to get us eating breakfast every day.  We'll progressively get healthier.

What is your favorite quick breakfast?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Confessions About Budgeting. . .

I have a confession.  We have done a horrible job of budgeting this month. Its a good thing God saved our butts with me getting this job!

I suppose because the husband got a job we felt like we finally had some dough.  He gets paid once a month which isn't ideal because you have to make sure it lasts through the month (although I'm trying to see it as a motivation to keep up the budget).  I did the responsible thing and paid all the bills first.  But then we got a puppy. . . we went to Target. . .we went to dinner.  Our lump sum quickly dwindled.

Part of the reason we got Lucille and went to Target (I bought work clothes) was we were pretty sure I was going to get the job I interviewed for.  But then we had to wait on my background check to come back, and that took a while.  So I got nervous, thinking I may not get the job after all, causing me to freak out about our lack of budgeting.

Luckily (well, thanks to God's provision), I got the job and will start on Tuesday.  Whew! Checking account saved!

But--if the job would've fallen through, we would have been in a tight spot and would've had to eat ramen noodles for every meal (okay, it wouldn't have been quite that bad).  And I did get a bit nervous about everything going sour.

So, here is some encouragement if you have been or are thinking about budgeting:
  • Everyone splurges sometimes--even when they shouldn't (don't beat yourself up about it)
  • Getting used to a budget takes time, and sometimes you'll mess it all up
  • Society tells us to spend, spend, spend--so pat yourself on the back for just trying to budget
  • Even seasoned budgeters struggle!
While I do have a list of things I can't wait to get once I start getting paid, landing this job has encouraged me even more to get out of debt!  We're getting closer and closer!  Being debt free seems even more important now that both of us are bringing in a paycheck--if we stick with our budget plan, we just might attain some financial peace.  

Budget on my friends! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Slow Cooker Recipe: Mrs. Susan's Pot Roast with Mushroom Gravy

I hope that you have discovered the wonders of the crock pot. The slow cooker. The magical dinner that cooks itself.

While the hubs is a great sport and eats my healthy menu experiments, he still loves meat-and-potato type meals.  Of course, I must indulge him once and a while. 

One of his favorite meals is something his mom used to make: crock pot roast with mushroom gravy.  This recipe is delicious and incredibly easy.  I highly recommend it!

  • Roast--whichever kind you prefer
  • Button mushrooms, cut in half--I usually get a tub of them
  • A handful or so of coarsely chopped onion
  • 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 cans of french onion soup
I usually half this recipe since I'm normally cooking for two.  


Put all ingredients in slow cooker and turn on low.  In 6 or so hours, done!  I usually chop up the roast (or sometimes steak) into bite sized pieces--per request of the husband.

I like to serve the roast with brown rice (gotta make it a little healthy).  But, you could also serve it with some mashed potatoes or pasta.  I probably should've served it with a salad, but I forgot lettuce at the store (man, I wish I had a garden!).

What is your favorite crock pot recipe?

We Got A Puppy: Meet Lucille

We got a boxer puppy.  She's adorable.  And a handful.  But she's a lot of fun.  Minus the fact that she pees and poops a lot.  Potty training is exhausting!

My husband grew up with a boston terrier.  It died when he was in college.  Ever since we got married, he has wanted a dog.  I'm more of a cat person--and we already have two.  We decided to get a dog when we got a yard.  And, as you may know, we have a yard now.

Enter Lucille.

A ball of energy and a cuddler.  I'm a fan of our little gal, but I'm also exhausted!  I haven't been working, so I've been puppy-sitting all day.  I try to take her out every 30-45 minutes, but she still has accidents.

I haven't gotten much done lately (except blogging and endless pages of pinterest) because she falls asleep on the couch--but only when I'm on the couch too.  If I get up, she wakes up and follows me.  I can get stuff done in short bursts--if she wanders for too long, she either has an accident in the house or gets into the kitty's litter box.  So, I think I'll have to kennel her for a little while every now and again.

I can't imagine what having a kid will be like!  But at least babies poop in diapers!

What is your favorite and least favorite thing about puppies, or any pet for that matter?

Update on the Job

I got it! How the Lord provides! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

O My, Lord! How God (Suddenly) Provides, Part II

Oh. My. Lord.  If you remember my post, O My, Lord! How God (Suddenly) Provides, my husband's job and a house fell into our laps.  Well, God has done it once again.  I pretty much have a job.  A good one--and one I didn't even know existed a month ago.

My stepmom is a legislative auditor--a CPA.  She did a presentation at work with a few other colleagues, and part of her presentation was on performance auditing.  She thought, "This would be great for Kristen."  So, she had me forward her my resume and she sent it to some people she knew in the performance department.  They said they didn't have any openings but would "keep me in mind."

So, I forgot about it.  And, honestly, I wasn't that interested either.  Auditing--sounds boring!  I had been thinking about getting certified to teach english and was prepared to go in that direction.

A week later HR called me wanting to set up an interview.  I was a bit shocked--still uninterested--but set up the interview anyway.

My stepmom offered to talk to me about performance auditing and help me prep for the interview.  We got together to look over some reports and whatnot.

After she explained the basics of performance auditing, I thought, this is perfect for me.  An audit is pretty much a giant research paper--only about a government organization.  You're on a team, conduct field research as well as "library" research, so to speak, and you write a report.  The goal is to find areas within the organization that could be more efficient and make recommendations to them.  So, in 6 months to a year, you become an expert on your assigned organization.

This allows for a great diversity in the job--from medicare to the prison system.  And, you aren't always doing the same work for each audit.  And, and, they are actually excited to have someone with and English background.  That's right! I'll be using my English MA after all!

Back to the interview.  I go in and have the most stress-free, easy going interview ever--and they all knew my stepmom.  After I leave, before I even get to my car, HR calls to set up a second interview for the next day. Sweet!

The second interview wasn't really an interview at all.  I met with some senior auditors and they talked to me about the job.  Then, I did a case study writing exercise, where I had to write about a hypothetical audit.   Nailed it.

But so now, here I am waiting.  The director has unofficially offered me a position--and even knows what audit he'll be putting me on--but we're waiting on my background check to come back.  We're still waiting.

I did a little research and discovered that the office that sends my background check (in PA) is flooded. Seriously flooded.  So, I'm hoping and praying that my paperwork can come through by the end of this week--so I can start next week.  And, of course, I'm praying for the people affected by the flooding.

So--here I am, thanking God for a job (one that I didn't even apply for) and waiting for all the formalities to go through.  And, I'm trying my hardest not to freak out and be afraid that all of this is going to fall through (which is quite characteristic of me).

Say a little prayer for my paperwork and the people in PA! And, hopefully, I'll be working next week!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Vegetarian Recipe: Eqyptian Edamame Stew with Cous Cous

This week I tried my hand at a recipe I adapted from Eating Well.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, Going Vegetarian Once A Week, I've been experimenting with all kinds of fun veggie meals.  I love Middle Eastern flavors, so I was excited to try their Egyptian Edamame Stew with Cous Cous.


1 lb bag of frozen shelled edamame
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, diced
2 tbsp pressed garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4-ish tsp cayenne pepper
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint


Cook edamame according to package directions (add edamame to 1/2 cup of boiling water and simmer for about 5 minutes). Drain.

Then, sauté the onion in oil over medium heat for about 3 minutes.  Once the onion begins to brown, add zucchini, cover for 3 more minutes.  

Then, stir in the garlic and seasonings (cumin, coriander, and red pepper). Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes. 

At this point I started the cous cous, which only took about 7 minutes--it was just the plain boxed kind. 

Stir in the edamame and cook for a few more minutes. Before serving add chopped mint. 

And, voila! A delicious, healthy vegetarian dinner! (Well, I did use chicken broth in the cous cous, so it wasn't 100% vegetarian.)

We really liked this recipe, and it only took about a half hour to make.  The cous cous absorbs a lot of the flavor of the sauce.  Plus, edamame is very good for you!

What is your favorite edamame recipe?

Going Vegetarian Once a Week

One of my goals in my quest for a healthier, more frugal lifestyle is eating less meat.  Now that I'm not waiting tables (ever again!), I have been cooking dinner regularly.  I love to cook, so I'm pretty excited. 

I've been planning out our weekly menu on a spreadsheet--with links to online recipes, if applicable (a post coming soon).  At least once a week I cook a vegetarian meal.  

There are two main reasons for going veggie once a week:

1. For health.  Americans eat way too much meat.  Its not always a bad thing, but by cutting out meat, I can integrate nutritious ingredients that I don't use as regularly.  Plus, I'm learning a lot about where to find protein--in beans, veggies, and grains.  And, by focusing on veggies, we can get a lot of vitamins and minerals that we often miss in other meals.  Some good info about vegetarian basics can be found at Vegetarians in Paradise

2. For the budget.  Lately, I've been trying to buy higher quality meat--less chemicals, hormones, and fillers. The only problem is that good meat is expensive.  So, by cutting out meat at least once a week, it saves quite a bit of money. 

So far I've developed quite a love for quinoa and bulghur wheat. Not to mention beans. We never ate a lot of beans, minus red beans and rice.  And, one of my goals is to cook more with greens--like collard greens and mustard greens.  

I've been on the search for some good vegetarian cookbooks, and have found some great websites with vegetarian recipes.  Everyday Vegetarian and Eating Well are just two sites that have some good ideas. I'm excited, too, about experimenting with Indian, Middle Eastern, and Thai recipes. 

I'll be posting some recipes soon!

What's your favorite vegetarian recipe?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Oil Cleansing Method

For about a month now, I've been using the Oil Cleansing Method to wash my face.  I had read about before and was intrigued.  So, while I was unemployed I figured I might as well try it.

My face hadn't been looking to good up until this point.  I bought some of those face wipe things when I was waiting tables because they were quick to use when I got off late.  They did not work.  In fact, they may have caused me to break out more.

On top of the faulty wipes, I went off the pill (not trying to have babies yet, though!).  So, my skin went crazy.  It was like puberty all over again.

Cue the Oil Cleansing Method.  Why the hell not, right?

What is the Oil Cleansing Method you ask?  It sounds crazy, but it really makes sense.  Instead of using harsh facial cleansers, you clean your face with oil.  Yes, oil!  The thought process is that oil dissolves oil.  So, when you massage oil into your skin, the fresh oil purges the dirty oil.

What I do is mix one part castor oil, one and 1/2 parts olive oil.  You can use a variety of oils in place of olive oil, but the castor oil is a must.  It is really good at dissolving dirt and the like.  If you have dry skin, up the olive oil.  If you have oily skin, up the castor oil.

I massage the oil into my (dry) skin for about 5 minutes, focusing on the bad areas.  Then I run the hot water, getting it as hot as I can.  I wet a clean wash rag, wring it out, and put it over my face.  The steam opens your pores.  I repeat with the wash rag about five times.  Then, I wipe my face with the rag to get off the excess oil.  Voila!

Your face shouldn't be oily--if it is you used too much.  Nor should it be tight or dry.  You shouldn't even need moisturizer.

So far so good.  My face is not blemish free yet, but my skin does look radiant.  My problem is that its a bit time consuming, so sometimes I forget to do it.  I try to do it once a day.  This past weekend, I forgot for like 3 days straight and I broke out again.  Gasp! But now that I'm regularly cleansing my face its looking a lot better!  Hopefully pretty soon I'll be blemish free!

For some more info check out: Crunchy Betty, The Oil Cleansing Method, and Simple Mom.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Greatness of Giving

Giving money away? That doesn't sound like frugal spending, does it?

But really, the whole point of living frugally is to be able to give money away.  There is something powerful in being a generous giver.

As you may know, my husband and I are working to be debt free, and hopefully we'll be there in six months. Once we are debt free we can start saving for the down payment for the house, pad our savings, and accumulate money for giving.  Without a car note or credit card debt, we should be able to do some serious saving!

About two or so years ago, we started giving half our tithe to church and saving the other half (I have a whole spreadsheet outlining our savings account!)  Eventually we amassed a nice bit of money. We weren't sure what we were going to do with it--we were waiting until God led us to give.

We even tried to give it away twice, but the potential recipients said they didn't really need it.  So, we continued waiting.  Recently, we happened to be talking to someone about what we had been doing with our tithes (I don't remember how it came up), and I mentioned how much we had saved.  A day or two later, the same person called my husband.  He said he felt weird asking this, but he and his wife wanted to ask us to pray about giving them the money.  They had some medical bills that equalled the exact amount that we mentioned having.

How amazing!  People don't like talking about money, much less asking someone for financial help.  And, honestly, in our economic climate there is no shame in needing help.  Life happens and sometimes it happens hard!  We are on earth not for ourselves, but for the people around us.  We are made to go through life together.  Isn't that what the body of Christ all about?

Our financial plan is not just about being able to provide for our family, but to be generous givers.  We feel like God has put that on our hearts and minds.  There is something amazing that happens when you open yourself up to being generous.  And, it opens you up for God's provision.

If there is one thing we have learned about finances it is that when you give, God provides for you.  We used to be on again, off again tithers, but for the past few years we have been trying to tithe regularly.  And let me tell you, tithing is not about legalism--giving because you're supposed to.  Tithing is about acknowledging that God is the source of your money, and that you are going to be good stewards of what he has given you.  And since we have been tithing we have always always been able to pay our bills--even when we didn't think we would!

If you haven't been giving, or have never thought about it, I urge you to think and pray about it.  Its pretty spectacular! 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Well Crap! Taking a Break from No 'Poo

I caved.  I said I wouldn't but I did. I used shampoo. 6 1/2 weeks without using shampoo--ruined!

Honestly, it wasn't as simple as that.  Unfortunately, my dandruff came roaring back.  For the first month or so my scalp was itch free and dandruff free.  I had a few greasy, my-hair-is-getting-used-to-this days, but overall I was pretty happy with my no 'poo results.  My hair was looking good for about two to three days before needing a wash.

I was even getting ready to get some essential oils to add to the mix and make my hair smell like lavender or something.  But then. . . itchy, flaky scalp. Boo.

I didn't even miss the lather of shampoo or the flowery smell of shampooed hair.  I was good. Ready to keep marching forward.

Eventually, I got so frustrated that I caved.  And, boy, the first shampoo was magical.  Six weeks with no lather.  Although the lather of shampoo has no real purpose (besides convincing us that it is, in fact, cleaner), it was luxurious and exciting.  I felt a little girly.

Now that I am shampooing again, I have found that I need to wash my hair more often. Which means I have to buy more and more shampoo.  Hopefully, though, not for long.

I am on a no 'poo break, but I am looking into chemical-free dandruff "shampoos" so I can basically be shampoo free.  I'd like to get away from the chemicals and whatnot in Head and Shoulders and the like.  I've seen some natural shampoo bars specifically for dandruff that I may try.  Apparently, rosemary and nettle are good for dandruff.  I could make my own shampoo bar too.  Unfortunatley, I was too desperate  to try to figure out how to make my own shampoo bar.

Until I reach a solution, I'm reveling in the lather.