Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

Have you ever looked at the ingredients in the classic can of cream of mushroom soup? It's a pretty long list, so I decided to experiment with making my own. Tonight's attempt was pretty good, so I thought I'd share what I did:

Cream of Mushroom Soup

2 Tbsp. cooking oil (any kind)
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
1Tbsp. dried minced onion (more or less to taste)
2 veggie bouillon cubes (I use a health food brand that's all "real" food. It's called Edward and Sons. But you can use whatever brand you want, or even chicken bouillon cubes instead.)
1 6 oz. jar sliced mushrooms, drained.
Parsley for color

In a medium saucepan, heat oil. Add flour, stir for a few minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking to avoid lumps. Add onion and bouillon cubes. Cook over medium heat until thickened, bubbly, and bouillon cubes are dissolved. Add the mushrooms. At this point you need to slightly blend the soup so the mushrooms are chopped. You can either use a stick blender right in the pot (what I used) or carefully pour the hot soup into a blender, give it a few pulses, then transfer back to the pot. Add in some parsley for color. Allow to heat through so the mushrooms are hot.

I used this soup for my tuna noodle casserole, and everyone in my family liked it. It's got a milder, less intense flavor than the canned kind, and definitely a lot less sodium. I made more than I needed though, so I've got a little bit of leftovers:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Kindness of Neighbors

My neighbor, who I've written about (see Get Your Final Affairs In Order) just blessed us in a mighty way.

He called to say that he had food in his freezer that he didn't think he'd ever use. He'd give it us on the condition that we give him ONE helping of any leftovers we might have when we cook it.

I left his house with two grocery bags stuffed! He gave us sweet potatoes, frozen and fresh collard greens, garlic breadsticks, jalapeno poppers, frozen bread dough, green beans, carrots, zipper peas, frozen strawberries, grits, and biscuit mix. Wow!!

After my previous post (er...rant) about my grocery bill, this gift was very timely and humbling.

PS. He even brought some dog treats for Stella!

The cost of feeding a family of 5

The USDA has put out its Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home for December 2011.


I knew my grocery bill had gone up, but this just makes if official, in a not-so-nice way.

On the "thrifty plan", the USDA says it should cost $691.00 to feed my family for one month, if we didn't go out to eat. On the "low-cost plan", it should cost $881.60. On the "moderate-cost plan", $1072.50.

I used to budget $800 per month to feed my family and buy toiletries/paper goods/household cleaning products/etc. This month, however, I've spent $822.64 so far. I haven't really done any meat shopping, either. January is always a tight month money-wise for my family, so I've been trying to use the foods I've stocked up on in my pantry and freezer.

I anticipate I'll need to go shopping one more time, mostly for milk or baking supplies (I'm out of aluminum-free baking powder, and I've been making it from scratch using this recipe: How to Make Your Own Baking Powder. I used to never buy baking powder, because my favorite Rumford Baking Powder was hard to find in my area. Stores have since started stocking it regularly, so I've been buying it more frequently.)

So back to my point--the cost of groceries. I'm feeling better about my predicted $850 grocery/toiletry/etc. bill, given that I'm probably feeding my family on less than the USDA thrifty plan. But I'm still squeezed pretty tight in my budget.

Milk here is about $3.69/gallon. Eggs run about $1.39/dozen. Whole-grain bread is at least $2.69/loaf. 10 oz. of Greek yogurt is more than $1.20!

I've been baking my own bread and buns lately. I make my own yogurt, too, using this method: Homemade Yogurt, Regular and Greek Style. We don't eat any "boxed" meals like Hamburger Helper. I don't buy condensed soups in cans, I make it from scratch. (I spend a LOT of time in the kitchen these days!)

I think I need to start gardening more intensively this year to help with produce costs. I love to garden, but little boys tend to take up more of my time lately. Hopefully I'll figure something out so I can do more this year.

Honey used to keep a hunting and fishing license, but schoolwork takes up too much time. That often kept our grocery bill lower, too.

What about you? Where does your family fall in the USDA Food Plans? How are you fighting inflation?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Superman Cake!

My three year old son is going through his obligatory boyhood Superman phase. That kid can spot the Superman logo from a mile away!

I decided to try to make him a Superman cake for his birthday. I searched online for tips on how to make one, but the best one I could find was a video where the decorator FREEHANDED it! (Uhmmm....I'm not that artistic!)

So I decided that I would try to figure out how to make one on my own. Here's what I did, because I hope it helps someone else who is as un-talented as me make a decent-looking Superman cake.

First, I decided to just make a basic 9 x 13 cake. Let's keep it simple. I mean really, the kid is three years old. Anything that remotely resembles Superman will make me the superhero of cake decorating. (Superhero, get it?? he he he)

Then I printed out a right-sized Superman logo and cut it out with a utility knife.

Then I laid the stencil in the center of the cake.

Then I etched/poked the outline of the logo onto the cake.

The etched cake, ready to be decorated.

You'll need red, yellow, and blue frosting. The brighter and more artificially colored, the better. Hey, we can eat healthy on the non-birthday days in my family!

You'll notice that the blue frosting is "glittered." That was the only royal blue icing that was in the store. (TMI alert: that might be interesting in the digestive tract, if you catch my drift.)

Then you outline the red first, and fill it in. Once it's filled in, you can smooth it out with the frosting tip.

Then add the yellow. (Note: do the red first, so the yellow doesn't smear.)

Start filling in the rest with blue. If I were to do this again, I might get two tubes of blue. I quickly discovered that one tube wouldn't be enough to do a fancy scroll-type border.

So I ended up smoothing it out with a knife.

Finish it off with a squiggly yellow border, and you're done!

Please note: DC Comics owns the copyrights to the Superman logo, as far as my research can tell. I do not wish to infringe upon their copyrights in any way, and I want to give full credit where they are due. I am not making any money at all from this blog, and I am only posting this as an idea for decorating a cake.

Happy Birthday!

Guess who turned 3 yesterday? The best little 3-year old boy I know, that's who!

We took a fun trip to the aquarium and had a BLAST! Here are a few pix. Be warned, though...Many of the pix are of the backs of my kids' heads!

The birthday boy (who INSISTED on wearing his Superman shirt over his sweatshirt) found a cozy spot to relax and watch some fish:

Little brother pointing to an interesting frog:

Viewing some fish from a kid-sized window:

At the ocean exhibit. The tank was HUGE! That's the birthday boy at the bottom.

A gi-normous manta ray:

 Looking at some fish in the tropical saltwater exhibit:

Little brother had to hold my hand, because he wanted to run up to say "hi!" to EVERYONE, whether they wanted to chat with him or not!

Some sea dragons:

At the river exhibit:

At the touching tank. We touched sting rays! There was a small hammerhead shark in the tank too, but he never got close enough for us to touch:

What's around the corner?

A giant grouper:

A massive, 25 ft. whale shark:

These penguins LOVED the boys. They are too cute, too. (The boys AND the penguins!) The penguins have beaded arm bands, kind of like what a little girl uses to make friendship bracelets. I think that's how the aquarium staff can tell them apart. The birthday boy saw the penguins, then he asked where were the polar bears? He was disappointed when I told him they didn't live at the aquarium.

Something really funny:

After the aquarium, the boys took naps on the way home. Then dinner, and Superman cake! Here he is again, blowing out the candles:

I'm pleased with the way the cake turned out. I'll post next about how I made it. I looked all over the Net for how to make a Superman cake. In the end, I didn't like any of them, so I improvised on my own.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Heavenly Haircuts

My husband gave the boys haircuts a couple of weeks ago. They've both gotten many haircuts. But for some unknown reason, this time the 19-month-old fought and screamed during the whole experience. Eventually Honey had to put that kid in a headlock and hold him between his legs.

Honey, becoming visibly frustrated, said firmly, "Boy, you WILL get a haircut today. So get over it and quit fighting me!" By the time the haircut was finished, that kid had hair in his eyes and a hoarse voice from screaming. All of it could have been avoided if he would have just sat still and let his father give him a much-needed haircut. He's gotten haircuts many times before, and survived every single one of them.

That was a spiritual lesson for me.

I wonder how often God has to put me in a headlock. How many times has God, my good and gracious Heavenly Father, tried to teach me an important life lesson, only to have me kick and scream and throw a temper tantrum like a toddler?

God's Word tells us in Philippians 1:6-- "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." [my emphasis.]

I've always read that verse in a promising and reassuring context, where God is telling me that He won't give up on me. Ever since that unecessarily traumatic haircut, though, that verse has had more of a heavy-handed, authoritarian tone in my heart. God is saying to me, "Child, I WILL do My work on you, whether you like it or not. Now, we can do this the easy way or the hard way, but you WILL get my heavenly haircut."

God is a good Heavenly Father. So good, He's perfect! Why do I resist His good plans for me? Why do I throw spiritual temper tantrums at God? Why do I shake my fist at His divine face?

Is it because His plans for me don't mesh with the agenda I've set out for my own life? Haven't I learned yet that His plans are so much more exciting than mine?

Heavenly Father, it's obvious that You've got more work to do on me. I'm ashamed to even consider how much work you still need to do on me. Please help for me to learn Your lessons obediently, "the easy way."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Watching your kids face rejection

My 18 year old daughter has been job hunting since the first of the year. She has "pounded pavement", searched online, and asked for referrals like crazy. So far, nothing.

It's heartbreaking for me to see. No one around here wants to give her a chance. They don't realize what a kind young lady she is, how badly she wants to please those in charge of her. She has an inner motivation to succeed and do the right thing. She learns quickly and has a great work ethic.

She applied for Michael's craft store earlier this week. It was an online application. The VERY FIRST question was, "Do you have any experience working in a retail environment?" She honestly answered No. A pop-up appeared that said something like, "We cannot process your application, as you do not meet our minimum job requirements." WHAT?! How can she get any experience if no one will ever hire her?

She hasn't been picky about where she applies, either. Restaurants, grocery stores, Wal-Mart, strip-mall type stores, you name it. That girl is actively searching for any type of gainful employment. She is not being picky about the hours she's available to work, either. She is available on all evenings and weekends. She has given up all her extracurricular activities just so she can be available to a potential employer.

I understand the job market in our area is really in bad shape. But if the gangsta-type, jeans-down-around-their-ankles hip-hop wannabes, tattooed hoochie mamas, and pierced-all-over skinheads can find work, why can't my daughter?

We've practiced how she is supposed to ask for job applications, Friendly, with a smile, wearing nice clothes, yadda yadda. We've practiced mock interviews with her. She's had ONE interview. Just ONE!! And no result.

Please pray for the Lord to open up the right job for her at the right time. I don't know how much more rejection I (errrrr, she) can take.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Trying to get back on track

The last few weeks have made everyone in my family off-kilter.

First we had a nasty stomach bug run its course. I suspect it was Norovirus, because a local news article mentioned it was going through our community. The baby threw up for a solid week. But, PTL, we are all better. In fact, the boys are eating like teenagers. I think they're either going through a growth spurt or trying to recoup the calories they lost when they were sick.

Then we took a long LONG road trip out of state to see my family for Christmas. Now everyone in my family has officially met everyone else! It was good to see everyone, but a 14-hour road trip isn't one I'd like to repeat any time soon. (Honey and I agreed that maybe we could do it every other year.)

My daily routine has been out of whack since Honey and our daughter have both been on Christmas break. I have a certain time of day when I do my chores and such, but it just isn't happening since all five of us have been home with our own agenda for what we want to do each day.

Everyone goes back to school next week, with a whole new schedule of classes. I'll try to set a new routine then. In the meantime, I'm just trying to go with the flow.

Toby the cat is back to his old self. I am patiently waiting for the day he officially becomes a lazy, adult cat. Right now though, he is frisky, almost obnoxious.