Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Big Fat Greek Dinner

As I have briefly mentioned before, I spent a summer studying in Greece while in law school. At the time, I pretty much hated Athens. I had planned on being in Cairo for the summer, loved everything Arab, and was just not impressed with the Greeks or their attitudes one bit. I had traveled to quite a few other countries in the region in the years prior, but Greece was completely different than any country I'd visited. But these days I'm quite nostalgic and thankful for the experience.

Tonight I tried my hand at Chicken Souvlaki. Souvlaki in Greece is usually pork and is slow cooked over a rotiesserie for hours, shaved off, and then served in a warm pita (pretty much what we call a Gyro, but I never saw them called that nor did I ever see lamb). It is the Greek version of fast food and it is delicious. There really is no way to replicate the souvlaki, but I figured I could get close and I did! It wasn't anything like the souvlaki I remember, but it was really, really good! We cooked the meat on the grill and it was superb.

I also made tzatziki, a cucumber yogurt sauce, using my homemade yogurt. I thickened the yogurt by straining it through a coffee filter for a few hours. My goodness! This stuff was just as good as the tzatziki I ate in Greece.

We topped off the meal with homemade pitas. Rather than heating up the house by using the stove, we tossed the pitas on the already hot grill. They cooked for about 2 minutes on each side. Just as good as any authentic pita I've ever had!

This was a seriously simple (albeit a bit time consuming), easy, and delicious meal to put together. I highly recommend any of the recipes linked above!

Homemade Bagels

I've been on this "make it from scratch" kick lately. I prefer to make everything I possibly can from scratch, but sometimes time and energy win out and I just buy it instead. Bagels are a favorite breakfast food around here, but they can get really expensive. Unless I find them on clearance or we make it to Harry's Bagelmania on Tuesday for buy one get on free dozens, we don't eat many bagels. I made bagels once about 10 years ago (way before "love and marriage") and really enjoyed the process. I decided to try again this past weekend following Laura's recipe. They aren't pretty, but they're pretty good (I prefer an everything or salt bagel myself). I figure that if my bagel-loving, Jewish, New Yorker husband will eat them, they can't be that bad. He also informed me that a 2 inch hole is uncalled for. The goal is to make the bagel with the tiniest hole possible. Duly noted.

The bagels are not hard to make, they are just a tad time consuming. Bagels are broiled, boiled, and baked! But these are a FABULOUS kid project. Three year old Ella helped and it was one recipe where she really could help me quite a bit.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

I have been wanting to make some homemade yogurt for a long time. Lately Ella has showed a renewed interest in eating vanilla yogurt so I finally made it a priority on my "to make" list. My sister has a yogurt maker she said she'd lend me, but I decided to try out Erin's Crock Pot method first. It worked and it was super easy!

This recipe makes A LOT of yogurt. I ended up with 80 ounces of yogurt and according to the recipe, it's only "good" for 7 days. We'll see. I may have to make every recipe I own that calls for yogurt! I will probably halve it next time I make it.

I am not a fan of yogurt at all so I can't really tell you if it is good or not (it's all icky to me!). When Ella wanted some, I added a dab of honey and a touch of vanilla and she gobbled it up. I did taste a teeny bit and it tasted sweet to me (instead of bitter and gross).

The cool thing about this recipe is the low, low cost to make yogurt, which I hate buying because it gets so expensive. I used 1/2 gallon of milk ($.90) and a small container of yogurt ($.30). That works out to less than $.02/ounce or $.08 for a 4 oz serving (the size of the small container we bought for $.30!). You can easily make homemade organic yogurt for about $.04/ounce ($3.5 for a half-gallon of milk and $.80 for the organic yogurt). That is a great deal for an easy snack, as a substitute for sour cream, or to make in to a yummy fruit dip!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Eight Months Old!

Miles turned the big 8 months old this week. His front two teeth are working on making an appearance and he is handling it pretty well. He is also starting to sit on his own, but boy does he get MAD when he topples over! He is up on all fours and rocking back and forth so I'm sure the crawling will start soon. His new favorite toy is his Jumaproo. He goes nuts in that thing -- giggling away the entire time! I'm so thankful for good friends who lent it to us!

Miles is not much of a fan of baby food, not that I'm pushing it. I offer it every once in a while and he gives a half-hearted attempt to like it. He prefers to eat tiny pieces of whatever we're eating. He has yet to refuse a food and very much enjoyed some salmon this evening.

Miles continues to be a laid back and happy lad. We are very blessed to have him in our family!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to Have A Princess Party From Scratch And On A Budget

My daughter turned three years old yesterday and we have a new home so we decided to give our friends an excuse to come over by throwing a party for her birthday. I didn't really set a budget because I bought items over a few months time and I was a bit worried that I hadn't really saved any money by having the party at home. But when I sat down to do the math, I was pleased that even though I felt I had "splurged" on a few items, the cost of the party was way less than having it elsewhere (and just as much fun!).

Here is what I did:

1) Planned Ahead: Ella loves the Disney movie "Enchanted" so when I saw that Hallmark was discontinuing their "Enchanted" line of party ware, I snatched it up. That said, Ella was more enamored by the balloons than all the Giselle gear! I picked up cake mixes and frosting on sale with coupons months ahead of time. I planned my menu weeks in advance as items went on sale and adjusted as needed.

2) Decorations and Tableware: I ordered the "Enchanted" decorations (a sign, some dangling things, plates, napkins and a table cloth) at a huge discount, but the first thing Ella noticed were the balloons from Wal-Mart! Usually, I stick with one package of themed napkins and plates for cake only and mix in a matching color, like pink for this party. But this year I got Chinet for about $.15 a pack thanks to a coupon so I just used those. I bought a gigantic pack of colored cups at Sam's a few months ago. I knew I could use the pink for Ella and the blue/green/orange for my son's first birthday in November.

3) Food: Our menu consisted of two pizza braids and one chicken braid. The dough was made from scratch. The cheese and chicken were purchased and frozen when they were on sale. I also served raw veggies with homemade Ranch-style dip (a bunch of spices mixed together then stirred in to a container of sour cream) and a big bowl of fruit. I just bought whatever was on sale this week for the fruit and veggies! Drinks were water, sweet tea and lemonade.

4) Party Bags: Wal-Mart has a GREAT new aisle of party bag treats! I bought magic wands (for the girls), sun glasses, and bouncy balls (for the boys) for CHEAP. I found glow sticks at Michaels -- 15 in a canister for $1.00. I threw in some extra stickers and tattoos I had around from previous crafting expenditures. That was it! I try to stay away from candy in the bags.

5) Activities: I used a Michaels 50% off coupon to get a package of paper crowns half-off. I picked up some princess/prince stickers for $1. I did spend some money for stick on gems through Oriental Trading, but I have a ton left that I'll use for other things. Some kids made crowns, others did not. They were really too busy playing! After Easter I picked up a huge canister of princess themed eggs and we had a "Dragon Egg" hunt. The kids LOVED it!

6) The Cake: I made a rainbow cake using a Duncan Hines cake mix. Instead of using the diet soda/cake mix concoction, I doctored up the cake mixes. To each box of the mix I added 1 package of vanilla pudding, 1 small container of vanilla yogurt, one extra egg and substituted milk for the water. I let the cakes cool, covered. The cake was beyond moist and the flavor was much more intense than a normal box cake mix. I also purchased a crown and some toy rings as decorations.

In total, it looks like I spent about a quarter of the cost of party at Chuck E. Cheese or the children museum and I have items "left over" for later (the extra cups, the extra stick on gems, etc). Looking at my list, I think I could easily have shaved off even more money (like sticking to just balloons and streamers!) and Ella would not have noticed. I had some issues with my pizza and chicken braids (tried to bake them all at once in a gas oven that I am not friends with yet -- OY!), but thankfully our friends are very kind and gracious people!! I'm really looking forward to more entertaining in our new home and to doing it from scratch and on a budget!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Happy 3rd Birthday, Princess

She was too excited to sit still for a photo, but she had an absolutely fantastic princess birthday!

Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Make the Most of Museums

I had heard from a friend that our local children's museum had just finished some renovations. We haven't been in a few years. We took Sarah once when she was 5 and it was great for her, but the museum itself was looking worn. We took Ella two years ago when she was just over one year and she really wasn't quite old enough. We decided to give it a whirl again, but I went in to shock at the admission prices! YIKES! On a whim I investigated the membership options and found that a year membership (which includes free admission all year) is the same price as two trips to the museum for our entire family.

When we got to the museum they allowed us to pay for the day admission, but we could come back on our way out and apply the admission towards the membership if we wanted. This way I could see how the kids did and if we would be coming back.

The new additions to the museum are fabulous and ALL of us had a fantastic time! I happily paid the balance for the yearly admission. Our membership also includes "Members Only" events and next Friday there is an ice cream social for members after the museum closes. Fun!

Sarah helping Ella paint in the Pre-school area of the museum

Sarah and Daddy in the hurricane simulator

We had drag them out of the kids' radio exhibit -- we definitely have some karaoke queens in the future!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Popover Perfection

Around two years ago I picked up some popover pans on super duper clearance at a Williams-Sonoma Outlet. I love popovers and had failed miserably at making them. I was sure it was a combination of my muffin tins and high altitude. Then I failed with popover pans at sea level. I put the pans away and haven't tried again since. I decided to give popovers a whirl when I unpacked the pans last week. Much to my surprise and delight -- I SUCCEEDED! And just to make sure it wasn't a fluke, I made them again this morning.

It turns out the trick is not to overbeat the batter. I basically mixed it enough to get it combined and left it nice and lumpy. Perfection!

Perfect Popovers
4 eggs
2 cups flour
2 cups milk
1 Tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and grease your baking dish (popover pan, muffin tin, ramekins, etc).

Beat eggs lightly. Add in rest of ingredients and just barely mix together -- leave it nice and lumpy! Fill popover containers half-full.

Bake popovers at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes (or so). (I'm just learning my new oven so I watched mine carefully!)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kicking the Diet Soda Habit

One of my "small" pleasures in life is diet soda. I love the stuff and drink way too much of it, especially in the summer. In the past year or so I've tried off and on to eschew my diet soda habit for a number of reasons, mostly dealing with what the aspartame in the stuff is doing to my bones. In the past few months I've flinched a bit at the cost of the stuff. I only buy the store brand (usually Sam's Choice from Wal-Mart) so I'm getting the "cheap" stuff, but still, I'm spending a lot of money on just plain junk.

In Mary Hunt's Everday Cheapskate e-newsletter, Mary discusses the positive affect switching from diet soda to iced tea had on her yearly check up. I can't find a link for the actual newsletter, but there is a post here on her blog on the subject.

So I'm going to do it -- I'm going to kick the diet soda out and replace it with water (which just gets boring) and iced tea. The major issue with the iced tea is simply the time it takes to make it and cool it so I'll be looking for ways to streamline that process. My husband happens to love iced tea and when the two of us are drinking it, it goes quickly!

My favorite iced tea recipe is this one. I double the water, use 9 iced tea bags, but keep the sugar at 3/4 cup and it's just lightly sweetened. Unfortunately, my library does not own the Fred Thompson Iced Tea book Mary recommends, but I'll keep my eyes open for it elsewhere. This recipe looks yummy, too!

I am sure that kicking the diet soda habit is NOT going to be easy (I've tried it a few times already and failed), but I'm also sure that it will be worth the struggle in the long run. And now I have some water to boil...!

You Have to Capture the Memories, Man!

I have some friends with a new baby who asked me where we go to get pictures taken. For the past few years we've gone to Target and been really happy. Lately, however, I've noticed that the sessions feel rushed and I feel the photographers really don't do well with toddlers. When you have a 2-3 year old, you can't pose them. You have to let them play and snap a TON of pictures! The Target photographers just weren't doing that.

So Tuesday we wrangled everyone down to Portrait Innovations, which is quite a hike for us. I've used Portrait Innovations in the past, but felt their prices were a bit much. This time, however, I wanted pictures of all 3 kids together and Ella and Sarah's yearly photos as well. The photographer was fantastic and I have a gazillion pictures for a very good price. Next time we'll make sure to get mom and dad in the pictures! If you are taking pictures of multiple kids, groups or the family, I would check out the package that includes photos from 6 different poses -- it's the best deal we found.

These are a few of my favorites from the 106 photos she took! The CD was included in the package, but just the raw pictures on there. My arm in Ella's photo did not show up on the printed pictures.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Chocolatey Good-ness

Last week sometime Sarah and I had a conversation about Nutella. We both love it, but I had to break the bad news to her that it is VERY unhealthy (might as well eat a stick of butter). Luckily, Cathy at Chief Family Officer posted a link to this high protein chocolate fruit dip. It was a huge hit. In fact, I finally just made a huge batch and threw it in the fridge. Like the original post, I didn't measure anything -- just dumped away until it tasted right. We ate it with strawberries and have been using it for a sandwich spread as well. Not exactly Nutella, but Sarah and I agree that it is a great alternative!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Fun Fourth!

Aside from food, I made absolutely no plans for the 4th of July yet it turned out to be a wonderful day!

Sarah and Daddy headed out to Home Depot for the Kids Workshop this morning. Isn't she cute?!?! I think she took the apron off for about 10 minutes total today. My husband was very, very impressed with Home Depot, the employees and the workshop.

(Ella holding the caddy Daddy made -- she HAD to have her picture taken, too! And wearing a pink dress she won't take off... sigh.)

I've been planning a shrimp boil for today since shrimp was on sale a month ago. It was delicious! We made way too much food, but it was our first time so now we know! Sarah told me she hopes they have shrimp boils in heaven. Yeah, she liked it! You are supposed to put newspaper on the table and just throw all the goodies on the table, but someone around here has some minor OCD issues. It took major convincing just to get the food all mixed together in one bowl!

Sarah and I also made the Buster Bar Dessert last night and it is to die for! My husband literally exclaimed, "OH MY GOSH" after he took his first bite.

And now I'm home blogging watching really terrible television while the little kids sleep and the older kids went out in search of fireworks.

Hope your celebration was as wonderful as ours!

Friday, July 3, 2009

I LOVE Sushi!

My almost-3 year old screamed this from the top of her lungs at the Chinese Buffet that had sushi...as she ate rice WITH CHOP STICKS!!

Tea Party

Growing up, it was a normal occurrence to attend county Republican party picnics and fundraisers for various politicians (our favorites were the ones held at a water park!). To this day I am thankful for the exposure and education my parents' activism provided me.

My husband and I agree that we would like our kids to have the same exposure I did. Today we took the kids to their very first political function -- the Las Vegas Tea Party. Whether or not you agree with my politics, I wholeheartedly believe that the more involved you get your kids, the more knowledgeable they will be when they are old enough to get involved (or not) themselves. I have good friends who have photos of their daughter with Joe Biden. My youngest daughter can and will tell you when President Obama is on TV at the age of 2. I had the opportunity to explain to our 9 year old about the Boston Tea party, the Constitution, and Thomas Paine. Hopefully it won't just be facts to memorize in school some day, but she will remember what we showed her today. Hands on education is priceless and I was thrilled to be able to share a bit of that today with my kids!

Success in the Kitchen

I posted a really along time ago about the challenges of feeding a kid who doesn't live with you full time and thus is not used to my style of cooking. Sarah is with us for 4 weeks during the summer and this year she and I sat down together and made the menus at least most of the time. The past week or so I've been winging our meals just because we've been moving and unpacking.

I'm planning to try some once a month cooking this month and I ran across this recipe for Monterrey Jack Quesedillas. One thing Sarah truly loves to eat are McDonalds chicken snack wraps with honey barbecue sauce so I was pretty sure these would be a hit -- and they were! In fact she was so excited that she jumped in and cooked them up for me (and asked if we had leftover for tonight for dinner!). I had planned to freeze half the batch, but they were all devoured.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


We hosted our very first sleepover in Las Vegas last night. One of my good friends has a daughter around Sarah's age so yesterday she went with us to the movies (FREE at the Regal Cinemas Family Movies!) and decided to hang around for a day or two. It was her first time sleeping away from home and I think it was harder on her mom than on her!

The girls were obsessed with playing the trumpet after my husband let them play around on his yesterday evening. So he took them up to his "office" and introduced them to a bunch of instruments this afternoon. They had a great time and came home in full band regalia!

Home Sweet Home

We are slowly, but surely, unpacking in between family "events"/activities. My husband and I continue to pinch ourselves -- we feel so blessed by this new home! We went back to the old apartment yesterday to clean and I was shocked at how small it is. I was willing to live there as long as need be to keep our housing expenses down even if that meant. I still can't believe we can afford our 4 year old condo instead of that 20 year old apartment.

It really is the small things in life that are delightful:

An entire drawer for storage bags and wraps (these used to be on a shelf in my laundry room that was hard to reach).

Another drawer just for kitchen towels and dishrags (these used to be housed on a wire shelving unit that is for the bathroom, but was in our bedroom!).

A HUGE freezer (all that food FILLED my old freezer PLUS I added in a half-gallon of ice cream, the ice cream bowl for the maker and 2 whole chickens and I STILL have room! Ok, this looks full, but there is tons of room in there. Trust me.).

I realize the newness will wear off and eventually this will be the place where we live, but I hope it isn't for a long, long time.

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