Monday, October 19, 2009

Pepper Steak Stew

Yesterday, I decided to make a batch of leftovers stew. Leftovers stew is a stew (or soup) my husband and I will make when we want to use up the food about to go bad. Leftovers can come from previous meals or produce/dairy waiting to be used. Nothing edible is excluded from leftovers stew. Well, I generally don't add sweets, but I'm not sure if my husband ever has.

On this lovely Sunday, Pepper Steak Stew was born.

1 lb thinly sliced steak, sliced and diced into bite sized pieces
1/2 cup flour
2 tbs olive oil
3 small green peppers, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
2 large tomatoes diced
8 cups water
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp pepper
1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped, (dry will work too)
2 large potatoes, diced (I used red potatoes, but any will do)

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan. Combine flour and salt/pepper into a small mixing bowl. Toss in steak pieces and coat with flour mixture. Brown the steak. Add onions, garlic and tomatoes into pan and brown a few minutes (about 4). Add the water, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and pepper. Let simmer about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, add the parsley and diced potatoes. Let simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Serve.

The best part about this soup is that the amounts of each ingredient is purely up to the cook. The cook can also add or subtract from the recipe with good results.

I managed to use up the steak, green peppers, onion, garlic, parsley and potatoes that were about to go to waste. I'd say mission accomplished!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mission 1: Moving the Master Bedroom

Our first order of business is to move our bedroom from downstairs to upstairs. However, a few things must occur before said move takes place.

1. We must clear out the spare room which is acting as an office/storage room right now.

2. Paint the walls and baseboard heating cabinets.

3. Shampoo the rugs.

Oh, and we have to do this with very little money.

Let the game begin. I forgot to take a pic of the mess we started with. Crap. Oh, well. We started Monday night around 5:00 pm. Husband and I started clearing the room of stuff. After that, I did a quick clean-up consisting of vacuuming and wiping off everything with a damp cloth.

Next, I found some leftover green and white paint from our recent bathroom remodel and kitchen repaint. The green matched our new patchwork blanket perfectly, so it was a go. So, I put the first coat of edging. At that point, I realized we were out of paint rollers and I was out of energy, so I washed up the brushes and called it a night.

Tuesday morning rolled around and I went to my day job. Husband went to the store to pick up a pack of paint rollers. Cost was approximately $5.00. He proceeded to roll on the first coat of paint. When I came home, I put coat two on the wall and edging. Then, fell into bed exhausted.

Wednesday, I came home and immediately painted two coats of white paint to the baseboard heating cabinet. While the paint was drying, I shampooed the carpets and begged my husband to help me start moving furniture. After much grumbling, hubby and I moved up the dresser and bed and set up the room.

Next, I decided to work on the room decore. I searched through the house looking for some decorative touches to add to our new room. I found a wonderful Beatrix Potter print, some family photos and a few other miscellaneous items that work perfectly for the room. After inventoring my finds, I determined I need only two more items to complete the room. The first is a new mirror for our dresser. The second is a clothes hamper. I plan to search out the Goodwill Stores and craigslist for these items.

So, I give you Mission 1 completed:

That's all for now. I'm practicing patience finding just the right pieces to finish the room.

Onto mission 2 and 3-the family room and home gym.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Just Refinishing Furniture?

Eleven years ago, my grandmother bought my finance (now husband) and me this beautiful solid maple table and chair set from an antique auction. I'm going to guess that the set is at least 50 years old, so it's more retro than antique. I'm not an antique nut, but I do appreciate well crafted furniture. While not exactly my taste, It's a sturdy piece of furniture with a classic design. After about 10 years of marriage, 2 kids, multiple dinner parties, craft projects, homework assignments and 3 moves later, the table set is looking a little shabby. It's a very nice piece of furniture, so I doubt I'll ever get rid of it. However, it needs to be refinished.

At this time, I considered doing something I've always wanted to do-paint the chairs and table base black and leave the tabletop stained/varnished. I love that look. It looks "farmhouse style" to me. And I know it'll look great in our kitchen painted black. I just know it.

So, I pulled out my trusty sander and went to work sanding a chair. Sanding the chair took only a few hours. When I came to the priming step, I just couldn't do it. This chair has such a nice grain that I couldn't bring myself to cover any of it up with primer. I left the chair in this unfinished stage for about 2 days. Then, I decided to see how it would look just stained. I figured if I didn't like it, I could still just prime and paint it. Again, the wood grain was just so pretty, I couldn't do it. I know that a coat or three of polyurethane will only make it look better. So, I gave up the paint idea (this time) and went on to start the polyurethane coats.

Surprisingly, this simple project has taught me something new about myself. Turns out, I'm a wood purist. There has been hints of this, but I ignored it. For example, all our mouldings are stained wood, not white. It's one of the few things in our house my husband and I loved when we bought it. Even when people suggest we paint the mouldings and interior doors white, I quickly reject the idea. Another example was my niece's toy chest. I was tasked to paint it white. I couldn't bring myself to paint it white. I compromised and white washed it. Years later, my sister painted it which is fine. I just couldn't do it. Oddly enough, I love the look of painted wood. It's the painted wood tables and cabinets at the home stores that I admire. So what is my problem?

When I think about it, my tendencies toward the unpainted wood make sense. I like my life and all the things in it to be simple. Stained furniture is simpler for me because I don't have to worry about paint chipping and it's easier to re stain or repair than painted furniture. Often, I can repair using some Old English Polish. Lastly, I think, deep down, that I cannot possibly complete artistically with woods natural beauty. So, I just don't.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Decorating with Patience

Before I start blogging,  I want apologize for the crappy pics.  The lighting has just been wrong several days in a row and I'm really not very good at editing pics.

Like so many people, I enjoy decorating my home without spending a fortune. Unlike many, I'm willing to wait as long as it takes to find what I'm looking for at second hand shops. I can handle bare walls. 

So far, I've been pretty successful find exactly what I wanted. All I need is a little patience. I routinely scrounge through our local Goodwill, or browse Craigslist postings for inexpensive items. Thankfully, my decor taste is pretty casual. I like cozy, comfy and little country. All of which is easily found at second-hand shops given enough time and elbow grease.

Take our dinning room for example. Almost everything in this room is second-hand. The table and chairs belonged to my grandmother. The gorgeous dresser I use for linens is another family heirloom. The colorful quilt came from a vintage dealer found on Oh, how I love Etsy. I searched high and low for an old quilt until I found this funky, colorful quilt that is just right. After I found the quilt, I was stuck. Do you have any idea how much a quilt rack costs? Well, let's just say it's more than I paid for for the quilt. So, the quilt was displayed on the table for a few months while I searched Goodwill, Ebay and Craigslist. In the mean time, my wall remained blank. It had been blank since we moved into the house-so no big deal.

On my trip to Goodwill last Saturday, I came across a wooden shelf with dowel. The shelf looked abused and dull. It also had a heart shape cut out of the top of the shelf. I'm not a fan of hearts. However, I quickly realized that the shelf was also a plate rack. Any plate displayed would cover up the heart cutout. And the shelf was the perfect size. And it was only $5.00. All it needed was a little paint, so I bought the shelf.

Once home, I wiped off the shelf. Hmmm. It wasn't as dull and ugly as I originally thought-just dusty. So, I grabbed some dark wood furniture polish and polished the shelf. Wow! What a difference! The shelf look great. After that, I just screwed it into the well, added plates and quilt and stood back to admire the decor. I love it! And it only took 4.5 years to do!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ten Years Later

Friday, July 17th marked my 10 year wedding anniversary. Wow, did the time pass quickly! With my wonderful husband still deployed, I had to celebrate with just the kids. Here's how I spent my day.
1. I went to work and left an hour early-Woo Hoo!
2. Went to the market
3. Received a gorgous boquet of orange roses and a thoughtful card from my husband
3. Made The Best Chocolate Cake EVER with my son
4. Picked a bunch of veggies and herbs out of the garden to make this yummy ratatouille recipe
5. Took a walk with the kids
6. Straighted the house
7. Started my new crochet project from the alpaca yarn my sis gave me for Christmas

We've come a long way in 10 years. From a day of partying with 80 of our family and friends to a quiet evening at home with the kids and Hubby on the other side of the world. I sure hope the next ten years brings us as much joy as the first. Hopefully, we'll get to see each other more too.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Family Who Gardens Together

Almost daily, the kids and I pick a small bucket of produce from our back yard. The kids love it.

To the right, you'll see my kids' wheel barrel full of our harvest from today. Gardening had been such a great learning experience for them. I believe it's one of the best life lessons and experiences we have given them so far.

Lessons the kids have learned from our family garden:
1. So, that's where our food comes from! Whenever I need a smoothie or salad ingredient, I send the kids into the back yard to grab a handful of food. They actually see how the food gets to our family dinner table.
2. Patience and hard work yields rewards! My son has his own strawberry garden. He is responsible for planting, weeding, watering and eating of his garden. He also helps with our larger family garden. And he does a great job! Unfortunately, he also learned that sometimes, our best efforts aren't always enough. His strawberry plants produced very few berried this year.
3. Families work well together. At least one evening a week, the kids and I weed the vegetable garden beds. By combining our efforts, not only is the task done quicker, but it's more fun!

I really hope that I have instilled the appreciation, if not love of growing things in each of my children.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Also commonly called snowball bushes, hydrangeas are gorgeous flowering bushes that produce blue, pink, purple, white and/or green flowers. Furthermore, one can often change the color of the flower by changing the ph balance of the soil. These bushes grow quickly and can tolerate my less than sunny front yard. My only problem with them is that they are just plain ugly in the winter. By November, all that is left of the bush is dried twigs. I prefer to plant evergreen bushes in the garden so the garden looks good even in the winter. Hydrangeas are my one exception.


Hydrangeas make gorgeous bouquets. I love fresh cut flowers in the house. However, fresh flowers are expensive, so I often go without. Since we have such a nice hydrangea bush, I get fresh cut flowers for almost 6 weeks for the house. The best part? They're FREE!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Strawberry Freezer Jam

I made some super yummy strawberry freezer jam this week. Strawberries are in season. Consequently, strawberry jam is cheap to make right now. And it's simple too! I mixed 1 packet of freezer jam pectin, 4 cups of crushed strawberries and 1.5 cups of sugar and poured them into freezer jars. Then, I waited 30 minutes for the jam to set. We left one out to eat with homemade bread and put the other jar in the freezer. I highly recommend anyone try this easy, delicious recipe.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

First Harvest of 2009

Last Saturday marked the first day I pulled something out of our vegetable garden.  It's not a lot, two zucchinis, 5 peppers and a handful of raspberries, but that very first harvest of the season, is always so thrilling.  This is the first year I planned, planted, and cared for the garden without my hubby.  My kids occasionally pitched in and helped weed.  Well, as much as a 6 and 2 year old could anyway.  I can't help but be proud.  Proud of what I grew using my own two hands.  Of what I was able to show my children.      

I have picked vegetables and/or berries every day this week  since.  But, unlike so many people who plant vegetable gardens now days, I don't do it to save money on groceries, or even for health reasons.    Heck, I usually give half of our produce away to friends, family and neighbors.  Don't get me wrong, I do like that we save money and I make a conscience effort to eat healthy.  However, these are not my reasons for planting a vegetable garden.  I find gardening both fulfilling and peaceful.  Gardening meets my urge to create something useful with my own two hands.    The slow and steadiness required to plan and maintain a garden teaches me patience and to enjoy the rich soil and green plants.  For me, gardening is meditative.  

Monday, June 15, 2009

My "Victory" Garden

I love to garden. LOVE it. There is just something about digging in the soil and watching the plants grow that gives me an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and contentment. I've found the more I work in my gardens, the less attention they need. There's a life lesson in there somewhere.  I'll just leave it at that for now.

We have a few different gardens. We have our flower garden (front of the house). We have an herb garden-my first attempt at edible plants. We have a veggie garden and we also have fruit trees and berry vines. All this on less than 1/4 of an acre.

My husband and I have put in over 50 bushes/shrubs in our yard since we moved in 4 years ago. When we bought the house, there wasn't one tree, bush or flower to behold. There was barely grass since we bought the house in January. Our first order of business was putting in a flower garden with some really nice bushes and trees. Since we didn't have a lot of money, we bought very small, inexpensive evergreen/cold weather hardy shrubs as a base for our front flower garden. Bushes that started out as 12" tall are now 60" tall.
Within a year, I wanted to grow edible plants.  So, I baby stepped into an herb garden. This was the easiest garden I have ever started. Right now, we have camomile, oregano, parsley, thyme, stevia, chives, lemon balm (a lot of lemon balm), sage, rosemary, St. John's wort and calendula. This is our third season of herbs.  I give herbs away to poor unsuspecting family and friends.  I get weird looks.

Last year, we added a trail of lavender. It's really growing nicely this year. I even managed to dry a few bunches. I sitll don't know what I'll use the buds for yet

Also last year, we added a vegetable garden.  Here's what I planted in early May.
As of mid-July, this garden has completely filled out and producing.  Right now, I think I'm being overtaken by zucchini and squash.  Fear not. I have lots of zucchini and squash recipes!  I also have poor unsuspecting friends and neighbors.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and what's that last one?

Oh yeah. Refuse.

I have spent the last 30+ years living pretty modestly. Well, modestly in my opinion anyway. My parents lived modestly and taught me the value of good planning and saving. My husband and I certainly live within our means. We have a modest home with a not so modest mortgage, two cars that we own outright, a credit card we pay off monthly, and money in the bank. We even have money left over for vacations and special treats. I keep track of our budget in spreadsheets.

Sounds good, right?

Well, it looked good to me until I really started to analyze our budget. Not that husband and I are doing poorly. Far from it in fact. I just happen to notice that we have been very wasteful with our income. We are wasting a whopping $800.00/month on junk or miscellaneous gifts. I really have no clue where the $$ went. Ouch! I have secretly prided myself on my lack of waste. We recycle, compost, reuse or buy used all the time. But, I forgot a very key point-Refuse. So, I am going to look into this black hole and find out not only where the $$ are going, but also reduce my spending.

Goal: To reduce spending by 50% over next 3 months

How I plan to accomplish that goal
1. Stop shopping online-oh how I love Etsy.
2. Stop buying things I do not need-used, or not if I don't need it, I don't need it.3. Keep a spending journal. I'll do this online.
4. Use cash only-my allowance.

Obsticals to goal
1. DH's spending cannot really be contolled as he is currently deployed with the US Military overseas. He really cannot get a lot of free entertainment.
2. Shopping for gifts for others puts in front of temptation. I have a lot of birthdays coming up too.3. Laziness

I plan to blog about my daily spending as well as some of my challenges. Maybe this will keep me accountable? Let's hope so.