Hearts on a Platter

My husband and I don’t recognize Valentine’s day – we rebel against most major holidays in general to be honest. That being said, we do have two small children who I feel should not be cheated out of a holiday just because mom and dad don’t do anything special for each other. So every year I spend the day before making valentines with the kids out of anything pink, red or white that I can dig up, and on the morning of I make them pink heart pancakes. Currently both children have colds, and so this morning I decided that I would up their vitamin c intake all around and and make orange pancakes with strawberry orange sauce. You will definitely want to start your sauce before doing anything with the pancakes especially if you are starting with frozen berries.img_0790

Strawberry Orange Sauce

3 1/2 c. Whole strawberries (if using frozen like I did, don’t thaw them, just throw them in straight from the bag.)

1/2 c. Water

1/4 c. Orange Juice

1/2 c. Sugar

Combine and stir together all ingredients in a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a low boil and simmer until reduced by half stirring frequently (I want to say mine took about 15-20 min from the first boil to reduce). Once reduced, remove from heat – it will thicken up a bit as it stands. This makes quite a bit, and I ended up with 1 1/2 half pint jars going into the fridge when everyone had gotten their fill. You could probably cut this in half or can the extra (I was too lazy this morning) in a boiling water bath with a 10 minute processing time.

Orange Pancakes – I start these as soon as I have my sauce stirred up and on the heat – I only have the one cookie cutter though, so the pancakes take me longer than if I was doing multiples. img_0791

1 Egg

1 c. Flour

1/4 c. Orange Juice

3/4 c. Milk

1 Tbsp. Sugar

2 Tbsp. Oil

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking sodaimg_0792

1/2 tsp. vanilla

dash salt

Red Food coloring

Oil for pan/cookie cutter

Pour some oil into a shallow dish and plop your cookie cutter in. Heat griddle/skillet. I put my orange juice and milk together in a liquid measuring cup at this point to make something of a weak buttermilk. Beat egg well. Add and beat in all remaining ingredients. I pour my batter into my

The cutter should not stick at all when you go to remove it - it should slide right off leaving this result.

The cutter should not stick at all when you go to remove it – it should slide right off leaving this result.

measuring cup that I used for my milk and orange juice to make pouring easier.  Add oil to griddle/skillet to heat – once heated place your cookie cutter into skillet (make sure it isn’t plastic!!) to allow it to heat up slightly. After about a minute (if that) pour batter into your cookie cutter – I basically just thinly trace along the inside of the cutter – just enough so that it will all coalesce into the center and fill the shape out – if you make them too thick and pour too fast they will not cook well. Let batter cook within the cookie cutter for a minute until the sides are bubbly/formed. Remove cookie cutter with tongs and place back into your dish with oil to slick it up for your next pancake. Flip pancake and cook through.

*A note on the flavor – these pancakes don’t actually have a real orange flavor – I just wanted the vitamin boost. To get a better orange flavor reduce the milk and make up for it with more juice (I would not go beyond a half and half mixture), or/and throw in some orange zest.

Top your pancakes with sauce and dig in!

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All Tied Up

So, this post really doesn’t have anything to do with saving money or being frugal, but rather is a really nifty little craft idea that will benefit both camping families, and those who lean towards being more of a movie buff crowd. My kids are always demanding “camp spots” at movie and down time during the day, meaning they want their blankets laid out just so and their pillows put exactly where their precious heads will land. Once they lay down and find themselves comfortable, the realization hits – “now that we’re laying ON our blankets, we aren’t covered up!!” And so begins the dragging out of every blanket we own. It would be cute if mom weren’t left folding queen size comforters every night of her life for an hour. While cruising pinterest once again, I spotted a no sew sleeping bag post (same idea behind a tie blanket), so of course I immediately pinned it and went back during nap to see how this fabulous item was made – the link led to a picture. That’s it. There was a url on the bottom of the photo that I followed to a site that makes doll bedding and clothing, but still, could not find instructions or even the image. Apparently I’m competitive, because I came to the point that I said the hell with that! I’ll make a better one! And thus the genuine camp spot was born! We will be using ours on movie nights, stargazing on the deck, camping and for sleepovers in mom and dad’s room on stormy/scary nights. So here’s how we made this wonderful item!
You will need –img_0768

Fabric  – 4 yd total for these kid sized units

Foam Pad – I bought the 24″ x 76″ roll and cut it in half to make two

Pillow – I got mine at Walmart for $2.50 a piece for this project

A decent pair of scissors

Total cost of materials seems to be $35 for non-licensed fleece – if you’re getting characters or licensed stuff you’re looking at around $40-$50

img_0769Lay out the fabric you want for the outside of img_0771your bag/camp spot and lay on your pad and pillow so you have your desired length left over for ties around three edges. Make sure however you choose to lay it out that you have enough fabric to do the top as well.  Once you feel satisfied that everything is just so go ahead and put down the fabric for the inside of your bag over the whole thing and cut the side that will become the top of your bag, making sure to leave enough on the side of your pad so that you can still tie it all up.img_0773

img_0772Lay the top over your bag base nice and even so all edges line up – I don’t know why I pulled this back for the picture. It makes no sense to me now. You will probably have to trim some edges, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Once you have it pretty well aligned, just go around cutting the edges into strips. You will end up cutting squares out of all of the corners, but it happens naturally as you go along if you don’t want to worry about it.

Once you have your strips go ahead and start tying double knots all the way around.  I opened my strips and tied white to blue and blue to white for each strip (if that makes sense)tying a double for each pair – one knot ends up on top of another for every strip. Just make sure at some point you decide where you want the “flap” of your bag and don’t make it so the poor kid is tied down! (That’s why I folded it down!!!) Once you get to this point just tie front to back on the single layer of blanket or pad. I found it was easier to fold back my top when I got to a point that I liked and tie up the pad first before going back and tying together the blanket portion. And that’s it!! Here’s the finished product!img_0780

img_0778You can see Thing 2’s camp spot in the back there – I just rolled it up and tied a long scrap around it. They store great! They are both behind this rocking chair in their little rolls! You’d never know unless you sat there (and it’s my spot, so it’s totally off limits!!) Happy camping!

Update 11/14/13

Since this post was published I have begun to sew velcro into the bottom of these so that they can be put through the wash without the pad or pillow – they wash fine with it, but it takes up the WHOLE washer. I also have since done a couple sewn versions. I will be posting a tutorial on that in the near future hopefully!

Orange You Glad I Cranned These Together?

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If you aren’t, just try them and you’ll be forever grateful. After turkey Wednesday, it occurred to me that I still had my left over cranberries just sitting in my freezer waiting to be used. I am not a fan of cranberry sauce at all, and actually buy them for the sole purpose of making cranberry ice. Trouble is, once again, I was left with 6 1/2 cups and no real good ideas. Until! It dawned on me how delicious would cranberry orange jam be? So I set off on my hunt to find a recipe for this dreamed of jam, and found many Christmas jams including strawberries, nutmeg and other Christmas-y ingredients that are all fine and good during the holidays, but I really wanted JUST cranberries and oranges in this one.  Fortunately for me there was a recipe out there that covered my criteria, and as a perk had vanilla in it (unfortunately it asks for a bean, which is ridiculously expensive, so I subbed extract).  While on my original hunt I had to think just what exactly I would do with this elusive jam once I made it and again, a stroke of brilliance – I’ll stuff it into orange muffins!!

Links to original recipes will be included at the bottom of this post.

img_0762To Make The Jam

(This is my exact process which is about double the original)

6 1/2 c. Frozen (or fresh) Cranberries

zest of 2 Oranges

1 c. Orange Juice

3 c. Sugar

2 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 c. Water

I threw everything except 1/2 tsp of the vanilla into a large pot and brought it all to a steady boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until reduced – I added in the 1/2 tsp vanilla here. In retrospect, I think I could have probably saved a bit and used less had I waited until the end to add vanilla and just done it by taste to be honest. I waited for my jam to gel before I started putting it in jars, and it came out pretty solid when I opened it up to make the muffins, so I don’t think it really needs anything more than the 20 minute simmer that the original asked for. When it reached the consistency I was looking for, I just put it through my baby food processor and loaded the jars from that. The jars were processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes and all came out sealed and ruby red beautiful!

To Make The Muffins img_0765

2 c. All Purpose Flour

2 tsp. Baking Powder

1/4 tsp.  Baking Soda

1 tsp. Salt

1/2 c. Sugar

zest of 2 Oranges (comes out a little over the recommended 1 Tbsp)

2/3 c. Orange Juice

1/2 c. Melted Butter (one whole stick)

2 Eggs

Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and orange zest in large bowl. Stir in juice, butter and eggs until batter is evenly moist. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups only filling them half (if that) full. Make a well in the middle of your batter to spoon in jam. Cover jam with another spoonful of batter.  Bake at 350 for 30 min. Let cool and enjoy!

Links to Original Recipes:

Jam –http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Cranberry-Jam-Epicurious_1?columns=undefined

Muffins – http://allrecipes.com/recipe/orange-muffins/detail.aspx

Turkey Day (Wednesday)

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Yes, turkey day happened on a Wednesday  – in February – at our house. As a family of four on a very tight budget, I have found some tricks to keep all bellies, including the bottomless pits that are Thing 1 and 2, full and happy. Every year the week of Thanksgiving you will probably notice ridiculously good deals on huge frozen turkeys. They need to move them, and no one has time to thaw them before the big event, and unless you have a huge brood, it can be really intimidating to take on that much meat. I always try to buy two 20+ pounders on top of the bird I make for the event. I throw them in our chest freezer and they are good up to a year so long as you don’t let them thaw out – don’t worry it takes at least a week for the big guys. When we fall into a food drought , or I merely have a craving I pull the bad boy out and plan out a weeks worth of food. I stuff my bird because I was taught that it is sacrilegious not to. This also benefits you later on down the line.

If you’ve never made a turkey, fear not, it is the easiest thing you will ever do. Take it out a few days (a week in the case of the monster seen here) before you plan on making it. Rinse off and out, making sure you pull out the neck and gizzards. Throw away disgusting chemical gravy packet, but bag up and save the rest in the fridge for later. Lay it down tits up in your roasting pan and pat it dry – I don’t use paper towels, so I use a kitchen towel (a flour sack cloth to be more accurate) that I throw in the sink, pour boiling water over and wash immediately.  Pour a melted stick of butter over it and rub it all over.  Melt another stick of butter in a small bowl and throw a piece of cheesecloth large enough to cover the bird into it, allowing it to soak all the butter up.  In the mean time stuff your bird. I would give you my recipe, but I fear the fearless German women of my family might kill me if I did. I will seek approval and update at a later time if permission is granted.  Tie the legs up and sew the cavity shut – this is not a neatness contest, just make sure she’s closed up. Grab your butter soaked cheesecloth and tuck her in. Let her rest for a while, she’s been through a lot, and preheat your oven to 325. Plan on about 15 minutes per pound – this beast took 5 1/2 hours. Once preheated throw it in the oven and plan on basting it roughly every 30 – 45 minutes. If your skin doesn’t seem to be browning enough for you near the end just remove the cheesecloth and throw it back in. After the bird is done allow it to rest (I do 30 minutes) as it   helps to keep it moist.

So, make up your Thanksgiving on your appointed day (if you work choose Saturday, because you’re going to need to spend another day using up/ storing the rest). Enjoy your Thanksgiving in (insert month). I carve both breasts off the bird for lunch meat. Freeze this! I didn’t do it this time and I had to mourn losing at least 2 pounds of meat.  Save any drippings you didn’t use for gravy and store everything in the fridge.  On the next day make yourself some stock and soup. I left out the noodles and pressure canned 10 quarts that will be good in my cupboard for up to a year.

To make the stock you’ll want to grab your carcass and any other meat you haven’t reserved for sandwiches or other purposes and your neck and gizzards. Throw these into the largest stock pot you have and cover with water. (I had to do 2 batches this time around using the legs and thighs for one and the main part of the carcass for the other).I throw in 2 carrots that I scrub (I don’t peel these) and either halve or cut into three depending on the size of the carrot, 2 stalks of celery cut the same, one onion quartered, a few sprigs of parsley, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and skim the foam. Reduce heat, cover and simmer an hour or until it is to your liking potency wise.  When your stock is how you like it remove the meat to a cutting board to cool. Strain through a cheesecloth lined sieve and toss your veggies and wilty parsley. You can jar up and store your stock for a couple of days in the fridge or allow it to cool and then freeze it. I virtually always opt to just make soup, and so I strain my stock directly into another stock pot. For soup I repeat the same ingredients, but chop them finer and increase them just a bit – 3 carrots, 3 stalks of  celery, one onion, minced parsley.  I always add in a tablespoon of my drippings in the place of bouillon here. Bring your stock and veggies to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the carrots begin to be tender. While waiting for the carrots I clean the carcass and get all the meat I can off of it – be careful you get all the little bones!  Once the carrots are tender, add in the meat and if desired or not canning, the noodles. Heat to boiling again until your noodles are to your liking and enjoy!  If you are canning, leave out the noodles and have your pressure canner and heated jars ready to fill and process with 50/50 mix of solids and liquids. I process this for 90 minutes at 10 pounds.

I also make a hot dish of sorts out of all left overs – throw everything in a 9×9 making sure your turkey is in the middle of moist stuff (potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, whatever) pour gravy over the top, cover with tin foil, bake at 350 for 45 minutes, uncover and throw it back in for another 15. My kids totally don’t realize they’re eating the same thing. I love a good hot dish! (Did I mention I’m Minnesotan?)  If you have a massive surplus of breast meat like I did this time is to make mini pot pies. Just a simple pie crust used to line a muffin tin for however many you want, fill them, cook them, allow them to cool and throw the whole pan in the freezer. Once they’re all frozen nice and solid, pull them from the pan and transfer them into a ziplock and throw them back in the freezer for when you need one. I will have to post the whole process some other time as like I said, I lost my pot pie meat this time around *expletive here*.  As far as those drippings you saved goes, anything you haven’t used for your hot dish or pot pies  I freeze. I also do this with my chicken and beef drippings  – I substitute a tablespoon of it any where that I would normally use bouillon and I have yet to have a problem with it and I think I enjoy the end result of my dishes much better.

Even if you don’t do anything but make it and freeze everything to pull out for single meals later on, who doesn’t like this?!

Ignore the table cloth please. My children had already started eating when I got around to taking this picture..

Ignore the table cloth please. My children had already started eating when I got around to taking this picture..

Waste Not Want Not

Super old saying right? So why does everyone think that the “green movement” is this awesome new idea? It baffles me when I go shopping and I see all kinds of “green” items that are disposable. You name it, they’ve greened it – paper towels, garbage bags, all purpose cleaners (hydrogen peroxide is new!), detergents – pretty much everything. While I think it’s great that companies are responding to the demand and trying to clean up their act a little bit, I still don’t see why certain environmental wastes are necessary. I’m glad that our paper goods are coming from sustainable sources, and for every tree they cut down a new one is planted blah blah blah.. but how many toxins are being pumped out by plants and factories to process all of this? I don’t think we’re fixing a problem or moving toward a better tomorrow environmentally, I think we’re just putting a band aid on the problem and affixing our blinders firmly to our faces so we don’t have to give anything up.

Now that I’ve gotten my little rant out of the way, I will happily announce that I do not know much about the environmental movement, and this blog is not for asserting any stance on anything environmental or political. This blog is simply what it states itself to be – the way that I have found to subsist in suburbia.  My finding the joy in all of this was of course out of necessity  – I think a vast number of us have found ourselves falling on hard times lately, and I think it’s time to remember to “waste not want not.” I think we as a society have really skewed the idea of “need” around convenience items that we all grew up having in our homes, and just don’t think about life without them. While these things are great, they are primarily disposable things that are a waste of our money and resources – we simply don’t need them.  The big ones that really baffle me are the things that we literally purchase just to throw away. Let’s make a list!!

Garbage bags – DOH! Just go put your money in a dumpster now. Keep a smaller garbage can that will accommodate having a plastic shopping bag in it. You’re saving money, doing nature a favor, and you have to take your garbage out more – you will never have to deodorize that again because you’re taking it out too often for it to get stinky! And you just saved money on not buying chemical spray or extra baking soda too!

Paper Towels – I think a lot of people are baffled when they hear that it has been a year since I purchased paper towels, and I think some are even grossed out, but no one in my home is ever sick, and we run a very tidy ship over here. I use wash cloths – I have a huge stash of them, and I just go ahead and keep one out on my spray bottle everyday for messes – it gets rinsed and used with cleaning stuff all throughout the day, and I use a separate one just for things like raw meat and poultry ooze – those I only use once. I do laundry everyday, so I just toss them in with everything else and they come out white as snow and clean as a whistle.

Napkins – Again, why?! Upscale restaurants have fancy cloth napkins (that suck and are totally non-absorbent when you spill your drink) so why on earth do we insist on buying disposables in our homes where we most certainly have better food? At every meal I pull out one clean wash cloth, dampen it, and set it in the middle of the table for when my kids have finished eating. We wipe them down nice and clean – no little paper sticking to jam spots mind you, and they’re on their merry way with much less fuss and practically no waste when compared to napkins. My husband and I do the sensible thing, and go over to the sink and wash our damn hands like you’re supposed to anyway! Napkins don’t get anything clean! They just dab stuff off the surface and smear it into your pores!

So, on this mission, we’ve saved money, helped out mother nature, and the only extra work we have to do is put 5 (our max is 8 in a day) little old wash cloths in with everything else you probably have to wash anyway. I will have more oh so fun save you money and quit buying crap posts for you in the future, but these three just were too self explanatory in my mind to get their own displays. Happy Saving!