Friday, February 29, 2008

Cookie Taste Test - Whole Wheat Flour vs White Flour


OK - since I am on my let's-try-using-more-whole-wheat and less-sugar journey, I decided to bake two identical batches of M&M cookies. Well identical in that the basic ingredients were the same.

One recipe followed the instructions to a T with the exception of cutting out 1 T of butter (due to necessity). The other recipe used 1/2 whole-wheat and 1/2 white flour AND 1/2 the amount of sugar.

Better than just tasting myself - I had two "professional" taste-testers...my dd aged 8.5 and ds almost 6. I did not tell them how I had altered the recipe b/c I didn't want to prejudice their decision.

The cookie on the left is fatter (hard to tell in the picture) and that is the whole-wheat mix one.

Here are the results on the whole-wheat less sugar cookies:

Dd - "Really powdery...soft and flaky...I like them best."
Ds - "Too powdery!"
Moi - "Very light...floury...dry."

Here are the results on the regular recipe:

Dd - "A little peanut buttery (no peanuts in recipe!)...and flat, more chewy."
Ds - "Good and chewy."
Moi - "More chewy and crisp."

The overwhelming majority (however overwhelming a majority of two can be) liked the regular recipe best. After all was said and done - the boy did say he liked them both. Even though I'm not crazy about the whole-wheat ones (which is actually good b/c if I make them I'll be less likely to consume them myself) - I'm glad the kids liked them enough w/half the sugar and some whole-wheat thrown in for good measure.

Cutting out 1 T of butter on the white flour recipe with no negative results, encourages me to want to experiment with how much butter I could leave out, without altering the flavor or consistency.

Recipe Websites

"We may live without poetry, music and art;
We may live without conscience, and live without heart;
We may live without friends; we may live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.
He may live without books, --what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope, --what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love, --what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?"

-Lord Lytton

Thanks to all who commented on their favorite recipe websites. Here they are:

kraftfoods.com

tastespotting.com

tasteofhome.com

epicurious.com

Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project - this one is particularly interesting..."The Feeding America project has created an online collection of some of the most important and influential American cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century. The digital archive includes page images of 76 cookbooks from the MSU Library's collection as well as searchable full-text transcriptions."

recipezaar.com

I'm sure there are more out there that would be a benefit to us all - so if you have one, let me know and I'll add it to the list.

Frugal Friday - Fix It Yourself

Your clothes dryer won't dry. Your washing machine won't wash. Your furnace won't turn on. What should you do? Call a repairman or just buy a new one?

You're frugal so you decide to call a repairman to come out and fix it...maybe he'll charge you $150 to fix said appliance or only charge you $75 to come out and tell you it can't be fixed, and now that $75 can be added to the cost of a new whatever machine.

My Frugal Friday Tip this week is to try and fix it yourself. Or if you are like my family, have your husband try and fix it first.

Most women are probably not married to a major appliance repairmen (if you are - consider yourself blessed!) - but if it means saving $100 or hundreds of dollars, isn't it worth a try?

With the internet, there isn't a whole lot you CAN'T find out about. Let's take the dryer not working. Just Google "How to fix your dryer" or "Dryer won't work" and tons of hits come up. In less than 5 min I came up with a website for the "Virtual Repairman" - a website that details how to fix various household appliances along with illustrations. I think they sell the parts also - but before you buy a part from him or someone else - check the prices on eBay first, you'll probably find it for pretty cheap.

I know when a machine breaks down - it's one you use regularly and can't wait a month to fix (usually). But it might be worth waiting a week, to see if you can fix it yourself. Like my dryer. It had stopped spinning one day last month. By using the internet (free) my dh was able to diagnose the problem, order a part and figure out how to replace the part. It was fixed within a week - the down time mostly from waiting for the part to arrive.

Total cost to fix the dryer ourself - $16.55 (Whirlpool Dryer Belt Idler Maintenance Kit (NEW).

Go here to check out some more Frugal Friday Tips.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Witchie Poo

"I'm going out to smoke my pipe I won't be back til Saturday night and don't let the witch in!"

Sound familiar?? I haven't ever heard of anyone else playing this game - I don't know if someone in our neighborhood made it up or if it was a "Canada" thing or a "Manitoba" thing or something more local.

From what I can remember this is how it was played.

You need a large group of kids. We grew up in a neighborhood where every 2nd house or so had young kids our age, so this worked great for us.

Characters:

Witch
Pipe Smoking Mama
Babysitter
Plethora of Children

The mom is going out (to smoke her pipe as said above...I guess if you are a mom with lots of young kids you don't want to be smokin' that pipe around home) and she hires a babysitter. When the babysitter arrives mom gives her famous speech and leaves.

A couple of minutes later someone rings the doorbell and the babysitter answers the door. The witch, in disguise asks to borrow something like "a cup of sugar" (you know neighbors actually did that in the old days). The babysitter says "sure" - goes off to get it and when she is gone, the witch nabs one of the kids.

For some odd reason, just at the moment that the babysitter realizes one of the children is missing - mom arrives back on the scene. Babysitter explains what has happened, mom could care less (b/c there is a bunch of kids) and goes back out - after again repeating the line "I'm going out to smoke my pipe I won't be back til Saturday night and don't let the witch in!"

Mom leaves (doesn't even bother to call the cops - makes you kind of wonder what was in the pipe mom was smoking!) and awhile later, the doorbell rings. Again it's the witch in disguise (a different disguise of course) and asks to borrow something like some cream of tartar. Babysitter goes to fetch it, witch steals another child.

Ok so this goes on and on until all the kids have been stolen. Finally mom realizes they are ALL gone and decides to go and get them. She hunts down the witch - the witch agrees to give up the children but only if mom guesses the child's favorite color (which the witch has told the children each color). Mom calls out a color and (and this is where my memory gets tricky) then the child has to run to home base before mom (or is it the witch??) catches the child. Maybe the child that gets caught gets to be the witch the next time.

Seems like we'd play a few rounds of the game. If just one of the kids made up the game it was pretty good b/c we played it enough that it's ingrained in my memory!

So what outdoor games did you play as a kid?? Any game that that might be "local" to your town or neighborhood or family??

Also - if you have heard of Witchie Poo or a similar variation to it - I'd sure like to hear about it!

Bissli Pizza Flavor Wheat Party Snack - Israel

I chose the snack - the kids chose the flavor. I was hoping for a flavor that was a bit more "exotic" but this is what the kids wanted, and believe it or not, I sometimes give in to them.

The packaged reads "Cholesterol free wheat party snack." And it's Kosher! Might be cholesterol free and made with wheat but this small bag contains 2.5 servings and if you ate the whole bag (which it would not be hard to do) that would be 350 calories (180 from fat). First ingredient is wheat four the second is palm oil.

The little "crackers" were very hard crunchy little nuggets - with little pizza flavor, and not very salty.

Dd said, "Hint of pizza, hard, not much flavor...yummy." Ds "Yummy." Other than the few crumbs they let me have - they finished off the bag pretty quickly.

The little package (2.5 oz) cost about $1.50.

Best Ever Cranberry Muffins


I have had a recipe for cranberry muffins ever since we got married. I cut it out of a magazine and have used it pretty much every year for the past 12 years. I buy a bunch of cranberries in Nov/Dec - make some muffins and freeze cranberries to use the rest of the year. The recipe has been missing for a month or so.

I know cranberry anythings are considered seasonal and it's maybe totally irrelevant to you to have a cranberry muffin recipe at the end of February - but in case you are one of those freezer cranberry stashers - this recipe is for you.

I haven't actually found the recipe itself - but I found one that sounds exactly like the one I used (at least what I can remember of the ingredients).

The kids love these muffins and so do I. I like to make them whenever we have a big snow and have them ready for the kids when they come in from playing outside. Serve with hot cocoa.

Cranberry Muffins

● 2 cups flour
● 1 cup sugar
● 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
● 1/2 tsp baking soda
● 1 tsp nutmeg
● 1 tsp cinnamon
● 1/2 tsp ginger
● zest of one orange
● 1/2 cup shortening
● 3/4 cup orange juice
● 1 tbsp vanilla
● 2 eggs, beaten
● 1 1/2 cup cranberries (cut in half)
Directions:

In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients and orange zest. Cut in shortening with pastry blender (you can use two knives). Stir in juice, vanilla and eggs. Fold in cranberries. Spoon into 18-24 foil muffin cups in the tin.

Bake at 350℉ for 25 minutes or until golden.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lemon Plum


The girl spotted the lemon plum, weighed it and tried to figure out how much it would cost. She loves plums. It cost 66 cents for one lonely yellow plum - so I let her buy it.

Being that it was called a lemon plum we would have thought it was MORE sour than a regular plum but it wasn't. I love the bright yellow color.

Dd said "Tastes like a really sweet plum...but tangy."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Works For Me Wednesday - Free Cookbook

I have a few old cookbooks around the house but I rarely use them. I find that most of the recipes call for ingredients I don't have (hair of a werewolf) or combine odd things together (steak burgers with banana-spinach topping) or feature recipes that undoubtedly are WONDERFUL but would take up my calorie allotment for the next 3 days (2 sticks of butter, 1 cup of heavy cream, 2 cups of sugar, 15 egg yolks) - well you get the picture.

So most of the time I get my recipes FREE from online sites. If I want to bake some whole-wheat bread - I just search for whole-wheat bread recipes. Sometimes they turn out good, sometimes not so good. Sometimes I combine one or two recipes when I like some things in one of them and some things in the other.

Once I find a recipe I like I print it off, make it and if it's a winner it goes in my 3-ring binder. The recipes in my binder are loosely sorted by desserts/main courses/side dishes etc. Not only are they loosely sorted but sometimes just loose. I'm a bit lazy with the filing (never did like filing in my once-along-time-ago job before I was married and worked in an office) so sometimes the recipes just get "deposited" into the binder until someone is ready to file a batch.

If I think of it at the time, I'll write the date I tried the recipe and any alterations I made and a little review of it like "tasted great!" - which most would have to say b/c otherwise they would have just been filed in the trash can.

I also include in the binder recipes I've torn out of magazines and hope to try "some day" and recipes that have been given to me. My mom's handwritten recipe for "No Cholesterol Bread" that she gave me, and showed me how to make just before I got married. Or a recipe that my maternal grandma used to have in her cookbook (a similar binder type deal) - also cut out from a magazine or newspaper, for Lefse which I've never tried and I don't know if I'll ever try, but it's special b/c it was grandma's and she probably made if before.

A couple of specific sites I like for searching out recipes are:

allrecipes.com

cooks.com

I really like the allrecipes site b/c it includes a rating on the recipe and you can read what others thought of the recipe and any alterations they made or thought should have been made to the dish.

Let me know what your great online recipe source is...

This binder system is convenient for me b/c all my regular recipes are in one book - if I'm making the "Upside-Down Berry Cornmeal Cake" - I don't need to hunt through a 1/2 dozen books trying to find the right one.

Check out "Rocks in My Dryer" for more Works For Me Wednesday" tips.

Just Wanted to Tell You...


The boy just came up to me to tell me something he figured I didn't already know.

"Just wanted to tell you that when someone says they are bored that does not mean they want to do laundry." Tell me about it!

Fifteen minutes ago he was telling me how bored he was b/c he had already played with his usual toys and was looking for a bit of excitement. Thankfully I had an answer to his boredom. A laundry room filled with baskets of clothes waiting to be folded, sorted and put away.

I brought out a basket of socks, underwear and cloths...perfect folding/put away stuff for an almost 6 yr old boy who is BORED.

You could've fooled me that he is isn't happy about it...he's doing the job while happily humming. So I guess the solution to boredom is a little bit of work.

Durian - "The King of Fruit" ....FINALLY!

Yesterday my daughter's wish came true. Probably way back in November we read about durian "King of the Fruit" - and ever since she has wanted to taste it. I've never been brave enough. A month or so we found some dried durian "chips" and I thought that would satisfy her. It didn't. She still wanted to taste one fresh (well as fresh as you can get it in the USA - which means frozen fresh).

So whenever we'd walk past the frozen whole durians at the store she'd comment how she'd still like to taste one. A frozen whole durian costs about $1.60 a lb and they are quite heavy. A hard spiky shell on the outside, a seed on the inside - and you end up paying for a lot that will go to waste. So it was partly the cost that kept me from buying one for us to try.

Today we were looking at the durians as usual when dd piped up excitedly "Look!" It was a package of frozen fresh durian out of it's shell. One pound packages cost $3.89. I decided we could buy one.

When we got home - I left the durian in the garage to unthaw (and to keep the odor from penetrating the entire house). I noticed the cashier put the packaged durian in a sep. bag from the rest of the groceries and triple bagged it. She knew.

The durian came in a hard plastic lidded container that was wrapped in plastic. Inside were 2 "rolls" of durian wrapped in plastic wrap. Even with all the wrappings and inside the container, you could smell it. Not a nasty bathroom smell (as some folks claim) - but rather it smelled like onions. Strong onions.


After supper tonight I reminded the girl about the durian and we, along with little brother, went out to the garage. I brought my camera, notebook and 3 spoons. Dd was so eager for the "unveiling". She takes a whiff, "Smells terrible!" But she bravely takes some into her mouth. Her verdict was, "Tastes like onion pudding...not all that great but still glad I tasted it!" "Yuck". That was the verdict of her doll Rosie, who also had a taste. The boy disappeared inside - he was not brave enough to take a chance on "onion pudding."

I was scared too. But I tried it. It was sweet and fruity but oniony at the same time. It wasn't nasty - unless you think onions are nasty. Not my idea of a fruit flavor - but I've definitely tasted worse things in my life. The consistency was very creamy and it still had some ice particles in it - so it was almost like durian ice-cream, albeit with stringy bits inside.

So now it's done. No more requests for a whole durian. No more wondering how bad it smells or tastes. The mystery is solved. I'm glad we did it. It might sound wasteful, but it's all in the name of science and education you see, but the rest of it ended up in the garbage can. It's not something you can really keep in the fridge to eat later in the week, and even if it could - who would eat it?

Fast Food For Less Than 700 Calories???


I need to watch my fast food consumption and cut back on it. I'm pretty sure I won't ever totally give up on fast food, but I do need to modify it. I know it's not just the calories that are bad in fast food...the fat...the sodium etc., but even I have my limits. Everything in moderation.

The daily recommended amount of calories I should eat per day is about 2000, if I want to maintain my weight. If I want to lose weight - I need to eat less than 2000 calories per day.

At first 2000 calories sounds like a lot - but if you write down every little thing you eat in a day, you'll find that 2000 ain't a whole lot. And if you eat at a fast food place - you'll probably consume close to 1000 calories in one shot...leaving you with only 1000 calories to cover 2 more meals and any snacks.

Can I eat at a fast food restaurant for less than 700 calories?? I checked out the nutritional information on a few fast food places that I frequent or might frequent in the future - just to get an idea of whether or not I could eat there for around 700 calories - and leave feeling full. I can always cut some calories by ordering diet soda instead of regular or just having water. So based on the kind of stuff I typically like to have at the below places, I've run some numbers.

Taco Bell...Kids' meal at Taco Bell (2 beef soft tacos, cinnamon twists and a 12 oz soda) - approx. 730 calories (picture above).

or I could have

A Gordita Baja Chicken and a Chalupa Baja Chicken and a 12 oz DIET soda for 720 calories

McDonalds...Hamburger Happy Meal - hamburger, small fries, child size soda, 3 pkgs ketchup 645 calories (not sure I'd feel full after that)

Pizza Hut...Personal pan pizza (pepperoni) and DIET soda 640 calories

Dairy Queen...Strawberry Cheesequake Medium Blizzard - 710 calories (and yes I've had that as a meal before)

Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken...2 wings, potato wedges, 12 oz soda – 729 calories

Hardees...Medium fries and hamburger, 3 pkg ketchup and DIET soda – 770 calories

Arby’s...Regular popcorn chicken, medium home fries, 3 pkgs ketchup , DIET soda – 772 calories

Jack in the Box...Hamburger, medium fries, 3 pkgs ketchup, DIET soda - 760 calories

Bandana's Bar-B-Q...not fast food but I love going there...60z BBQ pork, side of baked beans, side of fries, DIET soda - 765 calories

By being choosy and going with diet soda more often I can come in close to my goal of 700 calories for eating out. One thing to remember is the ketchup or bbq sauce - which I just realized I didn't include in the Bandana's meal...a little pkg of ketchup can contain 10-17 calories (varied on different websites) and those all can add up pretty quickly if you are a big ketchup user.

In my purse I'll keep a spreadsheet with the nutritional information of the fast food places we like to go to. That way we can check the spreadsheet ahead of time and figure out what we want to eat before going inside.

Most fast food and chain restaurants have websites that include links to the nutritional content of their main dishes. It's actually pretty shocking to see some of the numbers.

Capt Ds... 2 pc fish and fries, 3 pkgs of ketchup, 2 containers of tartar sauce and 2 of cocktail sauce is 1,415 calories!!!!! I love Capt Ds but after seeing that the basic meal that I like getting contains almost an entire day's worth of calories - it's hard to justify going. Sure one time isn't going to kill me...but those "one time" times, add up.

Dairy Queen...Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Medium Blizzard - 1,030 calories. I can't believe that it has over 300 more calories than the Strawberry Cheesequake Blizzard (the kids usually get that flavor - but no more!)

Of course there is always Subway. Remember Jared?? And I do like it - but sometimes I'm just craving some fries and a sandwich just won't work.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Konnyaku (Yam Cake)


This block of Konnyaku has been sitting in the fridge for quite some time. Dd kept asking when are we going to try it - but I had a hard time figuring out if you can eat it raw...never did find out but we taste tested it raw anyway.

It looks very unappetizing and using the name cake in it is deceiving - it's like calling a bar of soap a cake of soap (which I've heard)...but it's nothing like cake at all.

Konnayku is marketed as a weight loss food (not the reason I purchased it) - for a 3 oz serving is has 10 calories.

One article I read said that it expands like 500 times in your innards filling you up and therefore keeping your from eating more fun - thus losing weight. The idea of something expanding any amount of time in my innards was not appealing. I think the whole expansion idea might be more myth than medical. Other articles claim that it is totally tasteless and very chewy and glutinous (a horrid word when describing food!).

Ingredients are "purified water", yam flour and hydrated lime.

I opened the bag and took a sniff. Kind of fishy smelling - totally unexpected. I was ready to hurl it into the trash (rather than risk hurling). I told dd to smell it and she said, "It smells like the area in the zoo where the penguins live." Good I thought - we can toss it. So I said "I guess you don't want to taste it then?" "No - I do want to taste it!" She added enthusiastically.



Dd tried it bravely. "Tastes like NOTHING...chewy and no flavor at all."

Ds also eager to try it, "Same thing (tastes like nothing) but also like bamboo shoots." "Yeah that's what it tastes like," the girl agreed.

I was very hesitant to taste it. It looked like a clearish white block of cheesey rubber. I don't like jello as a rule - and it had that appearance - but firmer and cloudy. I tasted it.

It did indeed taste like "nothing". I know some people just add it to a stir fry - some say it takes on the flavor of other stuff - some says - it remains flavorless.

I threw the rest away. Dd was upset. She wanted more. "Whenever I don't like something you want me to try another bite and now I like this and you threw it away." She unhappily commented.

This tasteless block was about $2.00.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

You've Come A Long Way Baby!

I’m getting old. I will be 40 this October. I know it’s all relative – but to me, 40 sounds old. Just those two numbers next to each other a 4 and a 0 – just looks like an old number.

If I live to be 80 (a reasonable expectation – though no guarantee) – that means that I am about to step into the 2nd half of my life.

I have been relatively healthy these past 40 years. No diseases or major ailments that I can remember. I did get my tonsils out when I was about 5. I did have two miscarriages and related surgeries. Other than those things – no broken bones, no major surgeries.

For the first 27 or so years of my life I lived by the adage of “let sleeping dogs lie”. I didn’t need to lose weight – so why bother exercising. I never officially exercised (too painful and you sweat and it’s uncomfortable). I say officially b/c I did do a ton of walking, which is exercise. I didn’t drive a car – I lived in the city and a lot of my lunch hours at work were spent walking around the malls. I walked to and from the bus stops – and sometimes walked to the grocery store or to my sister’s house. So my unofficial exercise was walking. A lot.

I ate what I wanted when I wanted – at least during the time I lived alone. I didn’t eat very healthily. Sometimes I’d bring 4 slices of toast w/cheez whiz on it – wrapped in tin foil to work in the morning (got the idea from a co-worker). I’d eat it at my desk with a Coke. Not diet. Not caffeine free. Or I’d stop at McDonalds and pick up a hashbrown or two. Delicious. If I skipped breakfast that was ok b/c a “coffee truck” would pull into the garage of our building and I could buy stuff like pizza pops or muffins or chicken fingers (around 10 am). If I were too busy to leave my desk for lunch – which was often the case – I’d have a bag of Old Dutch Potato Chips (Salt n Vinegar variety of course) and a Coke. Even to this day – there isn’t a snack much better than that – unless it was a Slurpee instead of a Coke.

If I ate out for lunch it was either at the Hudson Bay Paddlewheel restaurant or at McDonalds or some other fast food place. Whatever it was – the one constant item was french fries. Another one of my most favorite in the world foods

Once I got married my eating improved – somewhat. Less eating out and less junk food…and I switched from regular soda to diet soda. Over the years I have become more “health conscious” and began exercising regularly about 5 years ago. It’s hard to believe I began exercising and hard to believe that I have continued to do it for so long.

I feel like I am becoming one of those people I used to mock. The ones concerned with exercising, eating healthy, eating whole grains, vitamin-ites, etc.

Even though I’d say “You’ve Come A Long Way Baby!” (as the Virginia Slims ads would say) – I’ve still a ways to go.

It’s not about being skinny as opposed to being overweight (though that will probably be a natural result) – but rather about striving to be healthy…being a good steward of the bodies we have. As I wrote here…diet and exercise are linked to good health. I hate being sick. I don’t like the idea of being old and frail and weak. I don’t want the latter half of my life to be a time of sitting at home without the strength to do the things I want to do.

We’ve all heard of the mysterious “fountain of youth” – where one drink gives you eternal or long life. If you knew of such a fountain, but it required an arduous journey with self-sacrifice and physical endurance – would you try to find it?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Southwestern Chicken Barley Soup

I rarely use recipe books. I have a few that I reference from time to time, but for the most part, if I'm looking for a recipe I search online.

I have a binder that I keep any recipe that I try online and like. I also include in there any recipes that I have tried or would like to try, that I have torn out of a magazine.

I like using an online "cookbook" b/c I can alter my search requests based on what I have on hand. For instance if I am looking for a carrot cake that is low fat and uses applesauce to replace some of the oil - I can type it in just like that. I don't have to weed through a million other carrot cake recipes looking for one that uses appleasauce.

On Friday I decided I wanted to make a soup using two main ingredients I had on hand and wanted to use - chicken and barley. I googled my search words and Voila! A recipe popped up on the Allrecipes.com website that sounded delicious - "Southwestern Chicken Barley Soup". We like spicy foods - so I took a quick gander at the ingredients and decided it would work.

It tasted great! The alterations I made were: skipping the 1 can of chopped green chilies, using the quick cooking variety of barley (and used double the amount) and instead of a combo of water and chicken broth - I just added about 3 or 4 cans of chicken broth

So if you are looking for a yummy soup recipe this weekend - give Southwestern Chicken Barley Soup a try!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lychee Drink - Beverage from Thailand

This lychee beverage, a product of Thailand, cost about a dollar.

Lychee is a fruit grown on trees in parts of Asia. "The lychee fruit is about 1½ to 2 inches in size, oval to rounded heart shaped and the bumpy skin is red in color. Once you peel the skin off, the crisp juicy flesh of a lychee fruit is white or pinkish, translucent and glossy like the consistency of a grape, but the taste is sweeter. Lychees have a sub acid sweet taste and have a wonderful freshness to them."

I didn't bother to get the kids to try it b/c I pretty much know what they would say - "I don't like it." They may or may not take a sip before determining the taste - they just know in their soul that an unusual fruit drink will taste nasty.

I liked it. It was very fragrant and fruity and didn't have a nectar-ish consistency.

Frugal Friday - Reduce Medical Costs

My Frugal Friday tip is to reduce medical costs (now and/or in the future) by striving towards a healthier lifestyle.

I am thankful to be living in a country where medical care is easily accessible, where medical technology is advanced and where some of the best doctors and medical experts reside.

But...I do not like the high cost of medical insurance (I lived most of my life in Canada where medical care was "free" - but then again, you got what you paid for).

I do not like being sick. I do not like visiting the doctor. Ditto visiting the dentist. It can be an unpleasant experience, it can be painful, it can be stressful and it costs money! I don't mind spending money on pleasurable pursuits - but paying for pain isn't my idea of money well spent!

How can you and I potentially reduce our medical costs? Two words - diet and exercise. Sure we all know that we ought to eat better and exercise more for the benefit of good health - but for all you Frugalites out there - maybe it's time to think of it from a financial perspective too.

When I say "diet" I don't mean going on a diet - but having healthy eating habits. By "exercise" I don't mean the things you hear or read in books like, "When you are at the mall, park your car far away from the entrance so that you have to walk a bit further and get some exercise - or take the stairs instead of the elevator." Sure those things are good - but if that's all you are going to do - it's not going to make a lick of difference. By "exercise" I mean doing something daily or even every other day - that makes you sweat, that makes your heart race, that makes you tired out, that makes you feel fit!

Being sick can be expensive... a trip to the doctor...a trip to the pharmacy...a trip to see a specialist recommended by your doctor - it adds up pretty quickly. But the cost is nothing in comparison to surgery to clean out clogged arteries. Or the cost of being on daily medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol etc.

Diet and exercise isn't always the answer - you can eat well, exercise daily, run marathons and still end up with cancer. You can eat well, exercise daily, run marathons and still end up falling down the stairs, breaking your neck and ending up paralyzed. You can eat well, exercise daily, run marathons and then visit a 3rd World Country, get bit by an insect and contract a fatal illness. You can eat well, exercise daily, run marathons and die in a car crash.

Those are all things we cannot control and we are not responsible for things we cannot control.

But if there is something we can control, that would considerably decrease our chances of heart disease, or high blood pressure or diabetes - shouldn't we do it? The rewards are two-fold...a healthier body and money saved.

From The American Heart Association website, "Better food habits can help you reduce your risk for heart attack." They also say, "Physical inactivity, along with cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, is one of the major modifiable risk factors for heart attack. There is no guarantee that you won't get heart disease, but you'll reduce your chance of heart disease if you avoid the risk factors."

For more Frugal Friday tips - visit Crystal at Biblical Womanhood.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Biscrem Cookies - Turkey


Cookies with cocoa cream filling have got to be good!

This little roll of cookies is from Turkey - produced by a company called Ulker. They cost less than $1.o0. One problem is the print for ingredients, and other pertinent information is in minute gold print on a black background making it almost impossible for my soon to be 40 yr old eyes, to read. Actually I think too small for anyone even with eagle sharp vision, to read. We ate them anyway.

I thought the cookies were yummy...they had a buttery/coconutty flavor with just a hint of chocolate. The cookie looks "Plain Jane" on the outside - but once you bite into it there is a very thin layer of chocolate. Not really enough to satisfy a chocolate lover I must say.

Dd liked them, "very hard and a little chocolatey". Ds said, "I don't like it - one of the worst things I tasted in my life!" An odd reaction from the boy - it must have been the buttery flavor he was tasting and not liking. That's fine - all the more for the girl and I!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Anchovies


Anchovies are little fish. The only time I've heard of anchovies is in relation to pizza - and I've never been brave enough to try any on my pizza (who wants to ruin a perfectly good pizza??).


My dd wanted to try the anchovies yesterday at "snack time" - so I opened up the tin. Well opened it part way, it got stuck and I wasn't going to risk slicing up my fingers to try and open it further.

I hadn't a clue what the anchovies would look like...I imagined them to be kind of little and round like capers...which is kind of silly, since they are fish - they ought to look like fish and not look like capers. Sure enough - they looked like little fishies. They reminded me of thinner looking sardines with a lot of bones as thin as hair, poking out all over the place.

As I read that they can be super salty and strong flavored - I decided to soak and rinse them in cold water for a bit before doing our taste test.

Could almost imagine these are alive...

I gave the kids a taste...ds said "Tastes like salty tuna" and the girl adds "That's exactly what I was gonna say." Even though we all just ate a tiny bit at a time - they were very salty and indeed tuna like. The girl kept wanting more "I'm getting addicted to it" she said.

The girl popping a big piece in her mouth.

I think the anchovies were a couple of dollars - don't remember the country of origin and the tin is thrown away, at the curb waiting for the garbage truck so we'll never know.

I made pizza for the kids at lunch and dd had some little anchovies sprinkled on hers. She liked it.

Works For Me Wednesday - Kids Painting

I bought some washable "poster board" paints for the kids. They are not the typical little disc shaped water color paints, but they are already in liquid form and come in little bottles. They are very messy.

Usually I like the kids to paint outside when using these paints - so I set up a space for them on the picnic table or I bring the paint easel outside. When they are finished painting themselves and their pictures - I can hose everything and everyone off with the garden hose. The pictures can be hung from the clothesline or clipped onto the fence until they are dry enough to bring in the house.

Well I had left the paints outside over the winter and the kids decided to do some painting out there one day when playing. The paints got very messy w/out mom around to supervise and clean up afterwards. I brought everything down into the laundry room to try and salvage the paints. I was cleaning everything up in the laundry room sink - rinsing off bottles and trying to find their matching lids - and suddenly I thought of something. It's not an idea that I came up with on my own - I'm sure I've read it somewhere at sometime.

Using egg cartons to limit the amount of mess from liquid paint and to avoid contaminating one color with another.

When the kids would use the poster paints I'd worry about them dipping a paint brush covered in black paint into the white bottle and permanently ruining the white paint. Or I was concerned that someone would knock over the bottle of paint and all would be lost. So here is a solution.

The next time you use up your last egg, save the styrofoam container. Wash and rinse it out if there are any bits of egg inside. When painting time begins - pour a small amount of paint into each "cavity". If they need more paint later you can always fill it up again - but you don't want a lot going to waste. Leave a few "cavities" empty - the kids can use those spaces for mixing paints to create whatever color their heart desires.

For more Works For Me Wednesday tips - head on over to Rocks in My Dryer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Mexican" Cinnamon Apple Burritos

You know how good the baked apple pies taste at McDonalds? Well actually they don't taste nearly as great as they used to when they fixed them the "old fashioned" way (were they deep fat fried???) - but my kids love them just the way they are.

Here is a low fat, quick and easy, healthier alternative to McDonalds' apple pie...or any apple pie. You don't need to fix a crust (which I've never succeeded at anyway) and the kids can help you prepare the treat.

A couple of years ago I found a recipe in a "Family Fun" magazine - the topic was "Desserts from Around the World". Cinnamon Apple Burritos. Don't know if they actually fix these in Mexico - but if they don't, they are missing out.

Ds asked first if he could be my helper...sometimes both help (which gets tricky)

This recipe, like most recipes I choose - is super simple. Both kids think not only are these delicious, but that they are fun to make ...especially if mom lets them "lick the pot" afterwards (don't worry we actually cleaned out the pot with spoons - I'm not completely lacking in decorum...though my mom might disagree).

I do deviate from the recipe a bit to make these a bit more "healthy".

Apple mixture placed in the middle of the tortilla.

When we made them for supper last night - I used whole wheat tortillas, and instead of "brush each tortilla generously with melted butter, then sprinkle on sugar"...I sprayed with fat free cooking spray and skipped the sprinkle of sugar on the outside - I still added the sugar to the apple mixture (someone emailed me and asked if they were not sour w/o the sugar). Sometimes we include the nuts - sometimes we skip them.

Folding it up and making it stay can be tricky - I had fears the whole wheat tortillas would break apart (since they sometimes do when we use them for tacos) - but they turned out fine (pop them in the microwave for about 15 seconds before beginning work on the tortilla to make them more malleable.

So if you are craving the taste of homemade apple pie - but don't have much time, give these a try. The apple mixture is delicious all by itself...a chunky version of applesauce.



Monday, February 18, 2008

Milk Chocolate Bars - Product of Croatia

These little Kras candy bars (or chocolate bars if you are from Canada...which makes a whole lot more sense to me - they are bars and they are chocolate so why not call them what they are??!!) were too cute to pass by. This little chocolate/candy bar cost 99 cents.

They are super thin and lightweight. Reminds me of the little packages of hockey or baseball cards that come with a stick of gum inside...I was hoping this would be something similar but along the chocolate vein.

There are about 4 different looking packages...all different colors with various exotic animals on the fronts - very cute.

The chocolate was wonderful. I am a fan of milk chocolate (as opposed to nasty dark chocolate) - but not an expert on what makes the difference between a 99 cent mini chocolate bar and a $5.00 chocolate bar. I have had some "bad" chocolate before (if there is such a thing) and it's been waxy or chalky - this wasn't either. So in my small area of milk chocolate experience - this little bar was not only cute but delicious.

The kids agreed, of course.

Inside was a little surprise - a little animal sticker.


I think these bars would make a nice little treat for a child - not a whole lot of chocolate involved, a very cute package and a bonus sticker.

Here is a picture of the factory where the chocolate is produced.

Incidentally - do you say candy bar or chocolate bar???

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kitchen Window View (or lack thereof)

Lulu's Bay has asked readers to post a picture of the view from their kitchen window. Our view is not the greatest during this time of year...the grass looks dead, the trees are leafless and portions of our neighbors' yards are no longer hidden.

Actually this fall I kind of did an Edward Scissorhands thing and went crazy with a handsaw, hedge clippers and some physical labor (with a little slave labor thrown in - actually 2 little slave labors thrown in). I removed dead branches, tree choking vines and general scraggly messes at the back and side of the yard. Hopefully it will grow back nicely in the spring.

Speaking of going crazy with scissors and getting rid of scraggly messes, just reminded me of the time one of my older sisters (not the one that is a professional hairdresser) cut my hair (with my permission). What I remember is her laughing as she cut and viewed. Not a good sign at all.

Charlie Bit Me!

I love this video clip!

I love big brother's expression on his forehead when he realizes it's no longer a game. I love his British accent! I love his self control...I'd say if it was my 2 kids - the bitten would clobber the biter.

Sweet little kids.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pizza Buns

Pizza buns are like cinnamon buns (or rolls as some may say) - but instead of using a lethal sweet concoction of sugar, cinnamon and butter inside - you add some savory goodness.

The recipe is pretty simple - b/c you just use whatever regular bread recipe you use. I used a combo of whole wheat and white flour on these ones.

You prepare your dough as if you are making cinnamon buns - all the same steps except what you put inside.


Once you've rolled out the dough - spread on a thin layer of pizza sauce, sprinkle with shredded cheese and pepperoni (as much or as little as you want). Roll it up - slice and put in a pan to rise the second time.


Bake for about 25 min at about 375 degrees...

It's a little more healthy than a slice of pizza (well guess depends on how "healthy" your bread recipe is) and less messy - so it's something that is easy to take along in a lunch or in the car. They are best a little warm - but they are good at room temperature also.

Ds loves them...dd isn't as crazy about them...I think partly due to the fact that there isn't a whole lot of cheese and pepperoni inside...but again - you can add as much or as little as you desire.

The Joy of Reading

He has his Nerf gun close at hand, should it be needed in the night.

In a couple of months he will be six.

It was about a yr ago that we began the journey to teach him how to read. We used “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.” I had tried it once before, maybe 6 months prior, and gave up after about a week, as he was not "getting it".

His sister pretty much taught herself to read when she was 3 years old, so I had never really had to teach anyone how to read and I was pretty apprehensive. Seems like half the battle of learning is won, once the child learns how to read - and I just didn't know how it was gonna go with little brother.

When we tried the reading lesson book the second time around, he caught on. What a relief! As we neared the end of the 100 easy lessons – I was getting so tired of the lame stories and so we moved on to "real" books. His reading kept improving and he was excited about reading. He would come to me and ask for "reading lessons".

Even though he had been reading for months, one day he asked me to read him a book. I told him he could read it himself. He was surprised. He said he didn’t realize that he knew how to read. He thought that since he was still having “reading lessons” (what I called his reading out loud to me practice) he still couldn't really read. I informed he was already reading. Well since then he has ventured more and more to read on his own. It has been so fun to see him scrunched up on the couch with a book that he is actually reading.

Shortly before bed tonight he was reading and didn't want to put away his book. As he went downstairs to stay goodnight to dad, he was carrying his book and reading it (thankfully he managed to not fall down the stairs). He was still reading it as he came upstairs and a few minutes later I found him laying on his tummy on his bed - still reading.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Keeping a Handle on Clutter

Practicing hospitality has an added bonus - "forcing" me to do a thorough cleaning of the kids' bedrooms.

They are responsible for picking up their toys and keeping their rooms (somewhat) tidy - but from time to time I go in there and "really" clean things up. Knowing that someone is coming over in the next day or so gives me the inspiration to do it sooner rather than later.

When I go in and clean things up, means that I also clean some things up permanently. Books or toys that are not being read or played with go into the donation box in the basement. Sometimes I have the kids assist me in this project - sometimes I do it without them knowing.

The Taco Bell kid's meal toy my son rec'd a week ago probably hasn't been touched since it landed on his dresser, upon arriving home the day he got it. I don't bother to ask him if he wants to keep it. He got his money's worth of fun out of it within the first 10 minutes or so of opening it up in TBell. Broken toys, broken crayons and anything else I feel isn't worth keeping - is removed from the room. Almost never have the kids asked about any missing items - which proves my point....whatever that may be.

In his toybox of all places, I found a pair of his sister's gloves that have been missing for some time, a pair of winter mittens and a friend's sock!

My ds has his own collection of books on the topic of America, Frontier Living, Soldiers, War, Weaponry, American Heroes etc. I did ask for his help in determining whether they were to stay or go. A large stack is now in the donation pile. To further encourage his willingness to part with some of his books - I agreed that he could have a bit of money for each book (5 cents) that he got rid of (it was his request). "I'm going to be rich!" he exclaimed. I explained that I did not want him to get rid of stuff just for the $ - that if he really liked a book I wanted him to keep it. Sometimes there was a disagreement on whether a book should be given away - usually he wanted to give it and I wanted to keep it. I of course won every time.

My dd has her door shut, her music on and is cleaning her room herself. I will go in there when she is finished and go through some of her stuff.

Toys and books that have sentimental meaning or were given by someone special, I don't get rid of arbitrarily. Also, dd has a collection of "Littlest Petshop" toys and those stay, for the time. She has paid for a bunch of them herself, and I don't plan on getting rid of any without her consent. Eventually she will tire of them as she gets older and when the time comes, those will be out the door.

When ds wanted to buy ANOTHER Nerf gun and a book on soldiers from the thrift store the other day - I told him he could (using his own "fridge" money) but we'd have to get rid of some other toy and book he already had.

We have a small house and don't like clutter (some of us like it less than others) and don't have room for holding onto things that are not needed or being used or things that have been outgrown.

It feels great to have one room under control...for the moment.

Papaya

Well the papaya did not go over very well.

Dd tasted it and said "It tastes like cantaloupe so I don't like it." Ds took one tiny nibble and said it was awful. Sigh. I'd like to take them beyond the tiny taste that they automatically reject.

I liked the papaya - it wasn't overly sweet and had the texture of cantaloupe. You can eat the black seeds and I wish I had tried them - but I didn't.

One papaya cost $2 and once all the seeds were removed, there wasn't a whole lot left for eating.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Frugal Friday Tip - Homeschooling the Early Years

We've been homeschooling for about 4 years now and I am by no means an expert on the subject, but one thing I've learned is that you can do the first few years of homeschooling for basically free.

Preschool, kindergarten and first grade does not require a whole lot of time or money.

There are many websites with free worksheets, activities and crafts that you can do with young children. Enchanted Learning is one that I like. Some of their materials are free, other materials you need to pay a registration type fee of about $20 for the year (less than $2 per month). DLTK is another site I visit from time to time.

What children need for the first couple of years are parents (or a parent) that will read to them a lot, be around to answer their millions of questions, and be willing to teach whenever the opportunity arises. Take the kids to the grocery store with you and talk about the foods you see. Talk about how the cost of produce is calculated and how a scale works. If the car is broken - let them poke around while dad works on it. Cooking in the kitchen - let the kids be involved.

Provide them with the materials they need to be creative and give them their own space to work on their projects to their heart's delight.

Some libraries let you check out free DVDs and videos - search out the educational ones and bring them home.

When visiting the zoo, science center, museums etc. check first to see if there is a "free day" each week. Some of those organizations also have available on their websites free downloadable "teacher guides" or student activities.

For more Frugal Friday tips - visit Crystal over at Biblical Womanhood.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Yes, they are still in their pajamas...not proper cookie decorating attire and definitely not our usual routine to wear pjs til noon.

In honor of Valentine's Day - the kids and I baked sugar cookies and decorated them yesterday.

I've never thought of VDay as being one of the greatest holidays...I am of course all for receiving gifts at any time - but it's not a holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving, that you can really get yourself worked up about.

Unless you are 5.5 and 8 years old.

Dd told me she made a "Valentine's Day Tree". She decorated a footstool with red wrapping paper and put some handmade, wrapped in red paper, presents under it. I think she also got her brother to make something and put it under there too.

I didn't/don't want Valentine's Day to be a time that they are expecting presents - but I think it's good that they have a day every few months or so to get "worked up" about. Ds was already asking me today what holiday comes after Valentine's Day.

Anywhooo - we skipped school this morning (I'm the teacher so I can make decisions like that) and baked sugar cookies and decorated them. Eating bits of the decorations along the way.


We brought the cookies to church last night (we have Wed. night supper at church) to share with everyone. Unfortunately not many people were there - so there was a lot of dessert and not many eaters (except dd...she claims she ate 6 cookies and part of a cupcake). I asked her which cookies were better, ours or the store-bought ones that were there. We agreed that while the store-bought ones might have tasted better, ours were more "decorative" (so said the boy). Then the girl added, "I usually like to try to say something that is nice, but that also isn't a lie" (so as not to hurt anyone's feelings). I'm glad she's learning the skill of being diplomatic.

Barquiron - Wafer Cookie from the Philippines


Barquiron with Cashew Nuts - a product of the Philippines. These colorful cellophane wrapped tubes looked interesting and a bit mysterious. A package of 10 sells for 99 cents.

The ingredients were printed right on the front so I figured they might be a type of candy or cookie - but I wasn't quite sure. Wheat flour, butter milk, cane sugar, cashew nuts & butter.

Unwrapping the paper I found a little wafer-ish tube that was filled with a powder. I crunched it. Very messy. Don't eat while wearing dark clothing.

It has a pleasant taste - a bit sweet and nutty. I don't really like getting a mouthful of powder - unless it's one of those pixie-sticks candy paper tubes filled with crushed sweet/sour candy powder.

Dd said "powdery...very fragile...sweet and tastes powdery."

Ds said "sweet and yummy - just great...like icing sugar."

I guess these are considered a type of cookie - I found this "Essentially a thin batter is poured onto a wafer iron (barquillera) and the wafer cooked to a light brown then immediately rolled while still hot. Once it cools, a crisp cylindrical cookie is formed."

Since the kids have asked me numerous times for more of the "cookies", I take that to mean it's a winner with them.

My picture of one of the little individual cookies didn't turn out...so I'll describe them...they look kind of like a little cigarillo, or a like a piece of chalk. Not that I have personal experience with cigarillos. But speaking of such - these cookies do remind me of the "forbidden" candy cigarettes and gum cigarettes that us kids used to enjoy purchasing on the sly...I don't think my mom would have approved that candy purchase. You could take out one of those gum cigarettes and actually blow on it and a little dust would come out just like real cigarette smoke...or at least we enjoyed thinking it looked real.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What Came Home From the Store


Here is our latest bunch of goods from the world food store. We'll be trying these and blogging about them in the days ahead.

I'm happy how, little by little, we are adding new foods to our "permanent eating repertoire".

Works For Me Wednesday WFMW - Planning for Spontaneity

With spring fast approaching (well at least I'm hoping it is!) - my Works for me Wednesday (WFMW) tip is to be prepared for unplanned outdoor events.

Sometimes after a time of running errands we realize it is too beautiful of a day to go home for lunch and be stuck inside. Or we’ll have headed out to the library and the kids will want to go to the park afterwards. I don’t like going home between stops, so I try to make sure we have what we need on hand for those spontaneous moments.

As well, if you are starting from home - it's easier to get out the door and go the park or some activity, with half the work already done. If you wait until 15 min before you leave to get everything together it'll take longer to get out the door and you might sometimes just not feel like doing it all, and decide to stay home.

So, especially once the more pleasant outdoor weather begins, I like to make sure my car trunk is ready for just about anything.

Sure there is a spare tire in there, some jumper cables – but I’m talking about keeping things in there for fun.

I like my trunk to contain:

Picnic basket – there are plastic cups and plates, napkins, a trash bag and some type of non-perishable edibles

Picnic blanket

Magazines for me - if we happen to stop at the park, it gives me something to keep busy with while keeping an eye on the kids

Sunscreen and bug spray - nothing puts a halt to the fun like being eaten alive or being burned alive

Change of clothes for the kids – one of our favorite parks has a water fountain that you play in and also a lake you can wade in…so we’re prepared. As well, you never know when someone is going to fall and get dirty or spill their drink on their clothes just before you need to go some place.

First Aid Kit – rarely ever use it…but I do also keep a small amount of money in there in case of an emergency (like we are at the park and someone is in desperate need of a soda!)

Hand Wipes - I like to keep these in the car all the time

Bottled Water - Can't do this in the winter b/c the bottles will freeze...and actually in the hot summer it'll probably be too warm to drink - but it's there and can be used to clean dirty hands or a cut, or to drink if we're real thirsty and haven't brought something else along.

A lot of this stuff I carry around in the trunk year round. I don't use it all in the winter but it's handy to have what I need when I need it.

With the trunk geared up, then I usually just need to make sure we all have our hats (summer) or jackets (winter) on...and maybe I'll add some perishable food to the picnic basket, grab my camera and some thing one of the kids will want. We are out the door much faster and without much "stress" from hunting for all the little things we need.

For more WFMW tips, head on over to Don't Try This at Home.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Katjes - Kinder Black Licorice Cats From Germany

I have never been a big fan of black licorice. If there is a choice of jelly beans - I will not pick the black ones. Having said that...if all the jelly beans are gone EXCEPT the black ones - I will eat them.

My favorite licorice is red licorice and it has to be the "name brand" variety - not some waxy, cheapy knock-off variety (shudder). The pull apart licorice will do in a pinch. I enjoy shoestring licorice b/c it's fun to play with and tie it in knots before eating it. When we were kids there was a store/gas station called "Husky" or "Husky's" - husky as in the northern dog not as in the polite way of referring to a fat little boy. Anywhoo - that store, along with 7-11, and "Night Owl" had a nice selection of candy and licorice... It's amazing how as a kid/teen, candy was such a BIG DEAL! Sure I like it now - but if I had a dollar there would be something other than candy I'd rather spend it on (like a Slurpee). But back then it was fun to look through all the candy - ponder a purchase, make a decision and then put it back and take something else.

I remember the store owner of "Night Owl" was an old, grouchy man. Maybe rightly so. It would bug me if I had a candy counter and a bunch of little kids came in and pawed through it all and took 1/2 hour to buy something. Sometimes he'd give one of my sisters or me some money to buy him coffee or some thing from the restaurant a couple of doors down (guess he couldn't leave the shop or he'd be cleaned out of candy pretty fast!). Don't know what we got for it - maybe he gave us a free gumball.

Enough reminiscing about candy purchases of yester-year...and back to the present.

I know there are all types of black licorice - some can be very salty. When I bought the little cats I didn't know what they would be like - but was willing to try it out. The fact that the licorice was in the shape of black cats - encouraged me to buy that variety. The 75 gram bag cost $1.00.



The black cats had a very mild licorice flavor with just a hint of a menthol aftertaste. The candy is quite hard to start with but becomes a bit softer after awhile.

Dd didn't like the cats (but doesn't like black licorice any way)...ds who LOVES black licorice - of course liked the cats.

Here is a great website for licorice lovers...they have licorice from lots of different countries. I have ordered from them before, and was happy with the purchase and service. If I had to choose my "favorite" black licorice - it would be the black licorice pipes.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mangosteen Juice Drink


What is a mangosteen??? Why it's the "Queen of Fruit!" How could you not know of this wonderful tasting, wonderful smelling, royal fruit? How could I not know?

I am amazed at how many fruits and vegetables I have never heard of. I see how limited we are growing up in North America, shopping at the typical grocery stores.

I know I do not eat as many fruits/vegetables as I should, and it has helped me to find access and information to a wider variety of produce from around the world. If I don't want to each spinach I can now eat bok choy. Not only does it taste great - but it has a very cool sounding name.

The CDC has a website with some interesting features...recipe cards for children, recipe cards for adults and for each month of the year they feature a fruit and vegetable of the month. Go ahead and print out a recipe or two and try them this week with your children or just try them yourself.

Well now back to the old mangosteen....

In spite of it's name - it is not a type of mango. It is a tropical fruit from Asia, about the size of a small orange - with a thick rind. The inside is white and creamy.

Here is a great picture of a mangosteen. Additional information about mangosteens are found here.

I read an article about someone purchasing mangosteens in Brooklyn for $11 a piece! At a price like that I'll have to settle for the juice drink.

The Mangosteen Juice Drink - 11.8 fl oz for under $2.00, is a product of Thailand.

The smell and flavor reminds me of Passionfruit. It is a cloudy, whitish liquid and it is the consistency of nectar.

This juice drink lists the ingredients as follows: water, mangosteen juice (30% sugar, citric acid). Even though I typed it as written - I'm thinking they mean that it contains 30% juice - not 30% sugar.

I like the flavor - but I don't like the consistency.

The kids didn't like it. Dd dislikes all juice except apple juice (which is fine by me b/c she is a big fruit eater and I'd rather have her eat her fruit than drink it). Ds loves juice - but isn't crazy about fruit. My dd thought it tasted like a mango, but then added "well not exactly." Ds said "Kind of sweet...don't like it...kind of a vegetably strange flavor in it."

I think this beverage would be better mixed into some type of punch. As is, it is overly sweet.

Spot the Deer

You will need to click on the picture to enlarge it or you won't see much more than some leafless trees.

We decided to go on a hike Saturday afternoon. The weather was mild and we had not been on a hike for some time. There are numerous parks and wildlife type preserves within about a 1/2 hr drive for us - so lots of places we can choose from.

I, being the overprotective mother that I am, usually make sure to bring along hats and gloves for the children, even when they probably won't be needed. This time I didn't. I know I put them on the table or brought them outside and then changed my mind or forgot. I figured the kids and I all had hoods on our jackets and could use those if need be.

When we got to the parking lot of our hike destination - we saw a man in the parking lot putting another pair of sweats overtop of his sweats. That was not a good sign. I wasn't expecting it to be so beastly windy so close to the lake. I figured we'd be "in the woods" which usually isn't very windy - but a lot of the trail was through unprotected areas and the wind just kept a blowing.

My hood was the only one with a drawstring. I'm not sure why they bother to put hoods on kids' jackets that won't even stay up! The boy's jacket had velcro that should have made the hood snug up tightly under his chin but the velcro was defective. The girl's jacket just had a sort of gathered type hood that probably would have stayed on her head if she was sitting still watching tv inside the house - but didn't stand a chance in the gale outdoors. Actually the kid's didn't mind a bit that they had no hat or workable hood - it was me that kept fiddling with their hoods trying to make them stay up.

We figured we walked about 3.5 miles along the trail. Nearing the end of our walk we noticed a couple of people standing around looking up at the very steep, rocky area beside us. Then we saw about 3 deer dash across the trail...there were maybe 3 or 4 more who seemed afraid to take the plunge and kind of hung out at the top with "mom".

I decided to try and take a photo but due to the camouflage nature of the deer - I had a hard time even knowing if I had them in the view finder. I finally got this picture. See if you can spot the deer.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

My Favorite Granola Recipe

I love granola! I don't particularly enjoy the hard, dry variety - but give me some chewy, soft granola and I'll happily consume a couple of bowls.

The first time I remember ever tasting some granola, was when I was a child, having breakfast with my grandparents out at the lake. Seems like it was a joke - my grandpa offered to trade cereals with me or asked if I wanted some of his cereal. I was told it was an "adult" cereal. I think it was called "Harvest Crunch". "You only need a little b/c it fills you up," I was told. I had some - and sure enough, enjoyed it.

Quite a few years ago I had my first taste of homemade granola, made by my MIL. I loved it so much - she gave me the recipe. I don't make homemade granola too often b/c the planets need to be lined up just right so that I happen to have all the necessary ingredients on hand at the same time. I love that this recipe is made in the microwave so the amount of time from start to finish is pretty quick. You can roll out of bed and make some for your breakfast this morning.

Almond Crunch Granola

1 c sliced almonds
2 1/2 c rolled oats
1 c flaked coconut
3/4 t cinnamon
1/2 c honey
1/4 c oil

Combine in a glass baking dish - microwave on HIGH for 8 min - stirring after EVERY 2 min.

After cooking add:

sunflower seeds, pecans or raisins - as desired. You can also add some wheat bran or 1/3 c Grape Nuts cereal after cooking. I don't add Grape Nuts b/c I have rather weak teeth and prefer to retain them for the remainder of my life.

After it is cool, fluff gain with a fork. Store in a tight container.

Now you may want to follow this recipe pretty closely the first time - but after that, just play around with it to see if there is too much honey or not enough coconut or almonds or whatever. I usually double the recipe, increase the cinnamon and decrease the amount of oil and honey. I also skip the sunflower seeds.

Try substituting other dried fruits such as cranberries or apples, for the raisins.

My dd likes the cereal but she hates raisins - so she'll usually pick them out. Ds loves the cereal just the way it is.

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For some strange reason (well maybe it's not so strange, but rather due to my recipe organization) this favorite recipe, along with my favorite recipe for Cran-apple Pie and my most favorite recipe for my Cranberry Muffins - have all disappeared recently! Thankfully the granola recipe turned up during a "cleaning bee".

The cranberry muffin recipe - I have had since about the first year we were married...we all love them and I traditionally make them in the fall and winter. Same with the cran-apple recipe.

I don't use recipe books very much. I have a few that I go to once in awhile - but most of my recipes are gleaned from the 'net or from magazines. I print or tear out the recipe and then put it in a 3 ring binder. Sometimes they don't get put back into the binder for "some time" and I imagine that is why I can't find them now.

I'm sure I could find another similiar cran-apple recipe...and actually I did find one for a delicious French Cran-Apple pie. It's not totally the same as the old one - actually I might like it better - so that is a bonus. But I'm sentimentally attached to my little baking-spattered muffin card. I do remember the main ingredients - though not the amounts...and it just wouldn't be the same muffin without knowing that I used the old recipe.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Frugal Friday - Monitoring Electricity Usage

Here is my Frugal Friday tip - buy, beg, borrow or steal a "Kill A Watt".

About a year ago we purchased a little device called a "Kill a Watt" (KAW). "Simply connect any appliance to the Kill A Watt™, and it will assess how efficient they really are. A display will count consumption by the Killowatt-hour, same as your local utility. You can calculate your electrical expenses by the day, week, month, even an entire year. Also check the quality of your power by monitoring Voltage, Line Frequency, and Power Factor. Now you´ll know if it is time for a new refrigerator or if that old air conditioner is still saving you money."

Having this little device can let you know in seconds how efficient your appliances are. For instance - the little heater living beneath my desk in the basement - sucks up a-lot-O-watts. If it were not for the fact that the basement borders on sub-arctic temperatures in the winter, and my computer lives in the basement...I might have to give it up.

But since I'd prefer to advert the danger of hypothermia - I'm gonna keep it, but I'll monitor the use of it. If I leave my desk, even for a few minutes - I (usually) turn it off.

The KAW costs about $23 on Amazon or you can find them on eBay for various prices. I don't like the idea of spending money to save money, but it might end up saving you a lot more money than the amount you spent for the KAW in the first place.

Better yet - after you've used your KAW to test all your appliances etc. - sell it on eBay. You probably won't get back what you paid for it - but something is better than nothing. Or get together with a sibling or friend and divvy up the cost.

For more Frugal Friday tips - please head on over to Crystal at Biblical Womanhood.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chinese Brocolli

It didn't look much like broccoli and it didn't taste much like broccoli. It was actually much better than "regular" broccoli.

Chinese broccoli a.k.a. Gai Lan, Kai Lan, and Chinese Kale, is a leafy vegetable with tiny flowers. You can eat the stems, the leaves and the flowers.

I prepared the CB by just chopping it all finely - didn't use the thick trunkish parts or the small flowers.

I fried it in a small amount of olive oil and added a sauce made of soy sauce, rice vinegar and I think some beef broth (similar to what I used when I cooked up some bok choy). It cooked up looking very much like bok choy or cooked spinach.

I liked it a lot and would definitely buy it again. It cost $1.83 for the amount showed in the picture.

Dd didn't like it, Ds said "I like it but wouldn't eat a whole lot."

Chinese broccoli is high in Vitamins A & C.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Georgian Khachapuri - Cheese Filled Buns/Rolls

This recipe comes from my recipe book "World Encyclopedia of Bread Making". The picture shows a bun sliced open with lots of melted/gooey cheese pouring out.

The book says, "These savory buns are sold from street stalls as warm snacks. The sealed bread parcels envelop a meltingly delicious cheese filling; goat cheese is typically used in Georgia."

It looks wonderful and sounds wonderful, so I decided to give it a go.

The cheese mixture is a combination of cheeses (cheddar, and Munster or Taleggio), plus a beaten egg, some butter and salt/pepper. I did not have the required cheeses of Munster or Taleggio so I threw in some feta and Havarti (?) with the cheddar.

Adding the cheese filling

The dough is rolled out into flat disks and placed into Yorkshire pudding tins (I used an XL muffin tin) and a scoop of the cheesy goodness is placed in each one.

I know it's not probably true to the real "Georgian Khachapuri" but I used a combo of whole wheat flour and white, and did not use as much cheese as called for, in an effort to make these a bit less fat-ful.

I could not get the knack of "gather the overhanging dough into the center and twist to form a topknot," so my tops didn't look as good as in the picture.

Baked and looking lumpy

I could barely wait for them to cool before I tried one! They were wonderful! I'm sure it was due to using less cheese and the wrong cheese that caused all the cheese to just clump down at the bottom and was not oozy gooey. I didn't care - they were still great.

The kids did not like them! Of course dd LOVES cheese and these were all cheeses she liked. The boy did not want any of the cheesy part - so they happily ate the tops off of the buns - which was fine with me, b/c I got more of the good part.

Sliced in half - you can see the cheese mix clumped at the bottom

If you understand Japanese - here is a demonstration of an alternative way of making the Georgian Khachapuri in a frying pan.