Monthly Archives: February 2011

Guest Posting Today

My blogging friend Alea, who writes Premeditated Leftovers, is taking some time off right now due to a death in the family, and honored me by asking if I would provide a guest post. You can read “Ethnic Markets: Fascinating Foods, Fantastic Bargains” at her blog today. Alea’s interesting and useful posts, and great recipes are always well worth reading, and she’s also featured some other great guest writers this past week – definitely worth checking out!

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Menu Plan Monday: A Nothing-Special Sort of Week

For the first time in a long while, we don’t have any holidays or birthdays or any other special occasions to celebrate, and this week’s menu reflects that. I’ve filled the menu primarily with dishes that use up what’s on hand, and I’m only trying out one new dish this week, Monastery Lentils, which I read about a while ago at The Saved Quarter and have been wanting to try. Other items are on the menu just because we haven’t had them in a long time (hamburgers) or because I want an easy evening (grilled cheese and soup). I have very little to pick up at the store this week – just some bread, salad greens, milk and eggs.

Monday will be a very relaxed day (no school – President’s Day) with the girls fixing their own breakfasts and lunches, again using what’s in the pantry or fridge. We’ll probably do some baking that day, maybe brownies or oatmeal shortbread.

I’ve added italics to show what we already have in the pantry, fridge or freezer. No days have been assigned for flexibility. Be sure to check out all the other great menus and recipes at I’m An Organizing Junkie.

School lunches will be soup & crackers, mini tacos, cheese ravioli with marinara sauce, and cup noodles. Breakfasts (on school mornings) will be potstickers, pizza, scrambled eggs and hash browns, and bagels with cream cheese.

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Filed under Menu Plan Monday, Menu Planning

Sunday Mornings: Perfect Pancakes

In his magnificent cookbook How To Cook Everything, Mark Bittman writes that “Americans must have been sadly alienated from the kitchen for pancake mixes to ever have gained a foothold in the market, for these are ridiculously easy to make.”

Ridiculously easy is an understatement when it comes to making his Basic Pancake recipe. I first put pancakes on the menu a few weeks ago for the girls’ before-school breakfast, and woke up one morning dreading that decision, thinking I was in for a long session in the kitchen, but I had buttermilk that needed to be used up and the girls had been asking for pancakes for a few weeks, so I decided to give it a go.

The batter for these pancakes was ready before the griddle was hot! I had planned to have the dry ingredients prepared the night before and sitting out, and the wet ingredients combined and waiting in the fridge ready to mix in, but I didn’t get it done and it still took only a very few minutes to pull the batter together. The pancakes that resulted were light and fluffy, and the girls said they were the best “regular” pancakes they’d ever had. Mr. Losing It made the pancakes again this morning (because we again had buttermilk to use up), and he agreed they were easy, easy, easy and the best regular pancakes he’d had (and I agree). We served them with just butter and maple syrup, and they disappeared quickly.

Bittman adds several ideas for variations: Polenta, blueberry, banana, buttermilk, sour milk or yogurt, and buckwheat pancakes all require just a few simple changes. The standard recipe calls for all-purpose flour, but we’ve used whole wheat pastry flour each time with great success, and also substitute vegetable oil for the melted butter. I’ve also made them substituting pumpkin puree for some of the liquid (I also added some cinnamon) and they also cooked up great as well. The batter can be made ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator for several days, until ready to use.

Perfect pancakes!

Don’t forget to link up one of your favorite breakfast recipes below!

BASIC PANCAKES

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 TBSP baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 TBSP sugar

1 or 2 eggs (we use 2)

1 1/2  to 2 cups milk (we use 2)

2 TBSP melted and cooled butter (or vegetable oil)

Preheat griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat while you make the batter. Mix together the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs into the milk, then stir in the melted butter or oil. Gently stir this into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten the flour (don’t worry about a few lumps). If the batter seems too thick, thin with a little milk.

If your skillet or griddle is non-stick, cook pancakes without any additional oil. Otherwise use a teaspoon or so every time you add batter. Pour the pancake batter onto the hot surface; the bottom should cook in 2 -4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Turn and cook until the bottom is browned as well and serve hot. If necessary, the pancakes can be held in a 200° oven for up to 15 minutes.

  1. Hashbrowns with Sausage and Peppers (Premeditated Leftovers)
  2. Best Pancakes Ever (Premeditated Leftovers)

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Filed under Recipes, Sunday Mornings

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

That’s the dance I feel like we’re doing these days with our efforts to pay off our debt. We’re making progress, we’re moving forward, but every time I find a little extra in the budget to apply toward our debt it either feels like it’s not enough, or it needs to be applied to something else. I learned the water filter in our refrigerator needs to be changed at the end of the month, and there goes $50. We’ve also got to squeeze in an additional $140 a month into the budget for WenYu’s braces. Our house payment goes up next month just as the withholding increases again in Mr. Losing It’s navy retirement check. For the first time his retirement pay will no longer cover the house payment so we’ve got to send some additional funds to that account every month. We’ve also got to fit some shopping money into the next couple of months’ budgets, for gifts to take over to Japan for our grandson and his mom and dad. Two steps forward, one step back.

I’ve learned though that effective debt repayment isn’t always about paying off the lowest balance first, or applying extra to the account with the lowest balance. This morning, as I worked on our budget for the next six months (yes, we budget that far ahead) I discovered that if I make an extra payment each month to our adoption loan balance we can have that debt repaid by the end of June versus just making the regular monthly payment and finishing it in October. I had originally thought we should pay off  a smaller credit card balance first, but discovered if we got rid of the adoption loan first we could actually pay off the credit card by September, a full month ahead of schedule!

A couple of weeks ago I posted our debt balances on front page of the blog. They’re there for me to have to look at, so I can see how far we still have to go, but also as a reminder of how much progress we’ve made and are continuing to make. When I’m feeling discouraged, it helps to see that we’ve paid off two car loans, and one overdraft account (the second will be paid off this month when our tax refund arrives). We have an ambitious goal for this year, to pay off four more accounts: the second overdraft, the adoption loan, credit card #3, and Mr. Losing It’s student loan. It’s going to take a great deal of hard work and focus, but we also have something else motivating us these days: Mr. Losing It’s retirement. Plans for that, for where we want to be and what we want to do, are falling into place and are providing real motivation to stay on task with debt repayment. That and we’re just sick to death of debt.

The two-step continues, but I’m enjoying the music more these days.

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Filed under Budgets, Debt Elimination

Food Waste Friday: The Salsa Didn’t Make It

No one (me included) wanted this last little bit of salsa, so it got tossed out a couple of days ago. It was probably OK but just didn’t look appealing any more, if you know what I mean.

Otherwise, another week with no food waste! Yeah! I’m a little surprised as this past week’s schedule has been crazier than usual and we’ve seemed to end each day with several containers of leftovers. However, Meiling and YaYu have been perpetually hungry all week (another growth spurt?) so the leftovers disappeared fairly quickly.

How did you do with food waste this week?

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Frugal Recipe of the Week: Asian Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Since we love pulled pork here, and also love Asian flavors, this recipe was a no brainer for our family. It comes from the Better Homes & Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes, a book I’ve had for years. I somehow missed this recipe, though I’m not sure why as it’s everything I like in a recipe: easy, low cost, and delicious (Note: In the book it’s called “Oriental Pork Sandwiches.” With three Asians living in our home, the only way the word oriental gets used around here is as an adjective for a rug.)

Since it’s made in a slow cooker it’s incredibly easy to put together. I buy pork from our local Asian supermarket, and paid less than $5.00 for the roast used in this recipe. It also uses hoisin sauce, a thick sweet sauce used in Chinese cooking, and five-spice powder for the seasoning. Both can be found in the Asian foods section of the supermarket. Hoisin sauce will keep for a very long time in the fridge after being opened, and there are lots of recipes out there that call for it so you can use it up. Five-spice powder can be purchased ready-made, or you can make your own (the recipe is below). The pork filling for these sandwiches turns out very juicy and delicious, and the Asian flavors are not overpowering. In fact, next time I plan to add a bit more of the five-spice powder to add just a bit more flavor, which we prefer.

I served the sandwiches with Sweet-Sour Coleslaw. Some of us ate the coleslaw on the side, but one of the girls and I put it right on the sandwich with the shredded pork. It would also be delicious made with broccoli slaw versus cabbage, and plain shredded cabbage would work as well.  Two of the girls also topped their pork with sriracha sauce, but they like everything spicy.

ASIAN PULLED PORK SANDWICHES

1 2 1/2 – 3 pound boneless pork shoulder roast

1 cup apple juice or apple cider

2 TBSP soy sauce

2 TBSP hoisin sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder

6 – 8 kaiser rolls

1 1/2 – 2 cups shredded Chinese cabbage, coleslaw mix, or broccoli slaw

Trim the fat from the pork roast. Place pork in slow cooker. In a small bowl combine apple juice or cider, soy sauce hoisin sauce and five-spice powder. Pour over the roast. Cover and cook on low setting for 10-12 hours, or on high setting for 5 1/2 – 6 hours.

Remove meat from cooker, reserving juices. Using two forks, shred the meat, then put back in the cooker and mix with the reserved juices. Place shredded meat on the roll and top with shredded cabbage or coleslaw.

You can also skim the fat from the juices left in the slow cooker and serve it on the side for dipping the sandwiches.

FIVE-SPICE POWDER

Grind together into a fine powder:

3 TBSP ground cinnamon

6 star anise

1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1 1/2 tsp whole Szechwan peppercorns OR black peppercorns

1/4 tsp ground cloves

Store in a tightly covered container. Makes 1/2 cup.

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Ticket Madness

I’m currently going through the insanity of having to check five or six travel websites three and four times a day to try and find a good deal on flights to Japan. It seems that flights and their prices change hourly if not more rapidly, and I’m having trouble finding something that fits both our price limits and scheduling needs. If I find a good price, it seems I can count on the flight making three stops, taking over 27 hours total and arriving in Narita at night (where we still have to clear customs and take at least a 60-minute train ride into the city). If I find something that costs a little more, but with a great schedule, it turns out the airline is currently in bankruptcy, which means the schedule could change before we leave, or the route eliminated altogether. Or, if I find a flight that seems to have it all: a price that’s a little high but one we can live with and a schedule that’s doable, half an hour later when I get ready to book the flight, the price has gone up to something we can’t live with. Aaarrrgghhhh! I have read every frugal travel tip I can lay my hands on, and all the ways for finding the best price on airline tickets, but this is absolute madness.

I really shouldn’t be complaining at all though because a couple of weeks ago it looked like Mr. Losing It would be traveling to Japan on his own to meet our grandson. Ticket prices have soared since last fall, and with all of last year’s emergencies we just haven’t been able to save as much as we hoped. One ticket is all we can afford without adding to our debt, so after a long discussion and some tears we decided that Mr. Losing It should go now and I would go on my own later in the fall after saving some more. However, when we told our son and daughter-in-law our plan, they were disappointed with our decision and have stepped in to buy the second plane ticket so that both of us can come in May.

Taking money from our child is not easy, even though his and our daughter-in-law’s incomes are considerably larger than ours, and it took us over a week to decide whether or not to accept their generous offer. Mr. Losing It admitted though that he was dreading traveling alone, especially since I can still read and speak a little Japanese and he can’t. Our son and daughter-in-law also let us know again that they preferred us to come together and in the spring while our son is on paternity leave, rather than waiting until the fall. So we finally said yes, and here I am looking for fares.

This is one of those hidden costs of debt, something you don’t think about as the bills pile up. No, most people don’t usually have to fly to Tokyo to meet their first grandchild, but without our debt we would have easily been able to afford the tickets. It’s very humbling, but also has me more determined than ever to rid ourselves of this burden forever because I know this isn’t the only trip to Japan we’re going to make. And next time, besides paying my own way, I’d like to be able to take the girls along as well.

(Photo credit: http://thecomingcrowd.blogspot.com/)

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Filed under Debt, Frugal Travel