Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Last Friday, April 25th, was National Zucchini Bread Day. I kept trying, all weekend in fact, to make these zucchini cupcakes, a recipe I found while checking out Vanilla Garlic. Finally, last night I had a few hours while Chris was off coaching ice hockey. Now don't go turning up your nose at the thought of zucchini in cupcakes. Think of a carrot cake type cupcake, but with a green tint instead of orange. Even Chris, who won't even entertain the idea of eating zucchini, said they passed his taste test!

3 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 c. turbinado sugar (substitute with brown sugar if necessary)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs at room temperature
1 1/4 c. vegetable oil
3 c. grated zucchini (about 2 zucchini)
3/4 c. raisins, currants, dates, etc.
1 stick butter at room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
2 c. powdered sugar

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl or stand mixer. Add eggs, oil, and vanilla extract. Mix all ingredients. At this batter will be very thick. Add the zucchini and raisins, currants, or what you have. Note that I used dates for my recipe. The batter will gain more moisture and will become more of a cake batter consistency. Scoop batter into cupcake papers until each is a little over half full.

Bake for 18 minutes. If a toothpick comes out clean when testing the cupcakes, they are done. Place on a wire rack to cool. While cupcakes are cooling, make the cream cheese frosting.

Cream the butter and cream cheese together, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and bottom. Slowly add powdered sugar. Add vanilla to taste. When cupcakes have completely cooled, spread or pipe frosting onto them.


Earth Day Follow Up

I reached my goal and bought reusable bags! After making the promise, I did a lot of research on reusable bags. You won't believe how many different choices are out there. Local grocery stores sell them, but being me, I didn't want to show allegiance to one store, and then show up with them in other stores. Instead I decided to buy from Get Hip Get Green. I purchased a pack of 5 bags (1 more than my goal) and they arrived last night. Of course the first thing Chris said was how they were pricy for reusable bags, but I didn't mind paying a little extra money for the cute design, and the fact that each sale also means a donation to the children’s environmental group, The Green Ambassadors, which provides high school students with experiences that foster personal growth, community service, cross-culture and global exchange and leadership skills to tackle the most critical environmental issues facing our planet. I suggest doing some research of your own and deciding what type of bags you want. I chose these based on their design, and the fact that they were larger, and have a hard bottom, which means that stuff will stay in place and not shift around like plastic or canvas bags. I do have to run to Trader Joes today, so I can test out my new bags there.
Side Note: When you bring reusable bags, or even just your own grocery bag to Trader Joes, they put your name in for a weekly $10 gift card to the store. I haven't won yet, but I'll let you know if I do!


The Great (Lunch) Debate

Are you one of those people who can't decide whether its better to bring your lunch to work, or simply eat out? I think that I am one of the few people who brings their lunch to work every day, or at least most days. When I was preparing my taxes this year, I was reviewing my bills from last year, and noticed quite a few restaurant charges. I can't believe how much I actually spent going out to lunch! Bringing your lunch doesn't have that dorky stigma that some might think. There are tons of great recipes for lunch items, its much healthier, and you save money. If time is an issue, pack it the night before and stick it in the fridge.

I want to challenge everyone to bring their lunch to work for one week, and see how you do. You should end up saving money, a typical lunch costs at least $8.00 unless you are eating off the dollar menu. That leads me to the next point, you will be eating healthier. Plus, bringing snacks from home will limit trips to vending machines or employee kitchens where lots of unhealthy items might be lingering. Here are a few ideas for bringing your own grub to work.
  • Cut up fresh fruit for the week, then bring a portion every day. Fruit is healthy, and can help to curb your cravings for sweets. Melon is a good choice, as well as berries.
  • Bring fresh salads. You can put anything you like on a salad, lean meats, nuts, and veggies are a good start. Don't forget to bring your own dressing. You will most likely be using less dressings than most lunchtime spots.
  • Don't forget the snacks. Both a morning and afternoon snack will help you in your fight against boredom (sometimes disguised as hunger). I suggest trail mix, veggies, or healthy crackers in the morning, and a snack bar in the afternoon. Be careful of protein bars, some contain large amounts of calories and fat, and should be used as a meal replacement, not a snack.

Give it a try, you might be surprised how easy it is!


Creating Home Decor Out Of Vacation Memories

As beach season grows near, I have the perfect home decor item to make out of those precious beach memories. I have always enjoyed collecting sea shells while at the beach. Most families, especially kids, do as well. However, once the shells make it home, they often get shut away in a drawer or cabinet, never to see daylight again. Its time to rescue them! Not only this project a nice centerpiece or display item, it allows you to actually showcase your beach memories. The best part of this project is that shells can be added from each beach you visit. My shown masterpiece includes memories from Mexico, California, Florida, and Panama!

Materials Needed
Beach Memories (shells, sea glass, etc.)
Glass or plastic vase

Place shells in colander and let water run over them to clean off any remaining sand. Lay shells on towel to dry completely. While shells dry, fill vase with sand to desired level. Use glass cleaner to clean the inside of the vase, the sand may cause some dust to settle on the inside of the vase. Once your memories are dry, place in vase in desired locations. I suggest putting any larger shells you have at the bottom so they don't cover the smaller ones. And viola, you have an instant decor piece out of practically nothing!

Beach Memories ($0) + Vase ($9.99) + Sand ($0) = $10.71 TOTAL ( including tax)


Celebrate Spring With Backyard Furniture

As I have previously mentioned, we are in the process of "remodeling" our backyard. I'm sure that we aren't the only ones happy to have spring upon us (although for us, it will be in the 100's in a matter of weeks). While Chris was busy determining the new landscaping, I was busy figuring out how to replace my cheap plastic chaise lounge with some "real" furniture, two chaise lounges to be exact. As I was doing research, I was shocked by the price of outdoor furniture. We are talking $600+ for a table and chairs, and $200+ for each chaise lounge. If it was going to be inside my house, fine, but the fact that it will be taking a beating from the sun and heat, well that's just ridiculous.

LUCKILY, my parents came to the rescue! My mom found some wonderful chaise lounges at Linens n Things. Not only were they inexpensive, but sturdy and made of rust-free metal. You can use a 20% off coupon, and they also accept competitors coupons, specifically from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Be smart and get two, then its 20% off each chair. This is why they are my Item of the Week! What exactly is that you might ask? It's a new thing I'm starting to showcase one new (or not new) home item that tops my favorites list for the week. This week its my new patio furniture. It's a stylish edition to any backyard and is perfect for that twenty something who doesn't want to break the bank to spend a little more time outdoors. Thanks Mom and Dad!

P.S. Actual photos of the furniture in my backyard will be coming shortly.


Difficulty Level: Easy

Today's inspiration comes from my childhood. Since I was about 7, my family has had a house in Strawberry, Arizona. Yes, that's really the name of the town. It's a very small town, literally a bend in the road, but one thing they do have is the Strawberry Lodge. And in the summertime, they have pie, all kinds, but strawberry has always been my favorite. I would cry every time we would go and they wouldn't have the delectable strawberry version. This weekend, strawberries were on sale, so I decided to make my own. Please let me know if you try this recipe, and how it turned out.

4 c. fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and halved
1 pkg. cream cheese
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 t. cornstarch
1 t. water
pie shell - either graham cracker or dough

Begin with baking the pie shell. Either graham cracker or dough will do. I will be giving my recipe for homemade pie crust in another post, so stay tuned. If time is a concern, use pre-made shells. They taste almost as good, and save a lot of time and energy. Bake the shell according to recipe or package instructions. Place on cooling rack and let cool completely.

Place strawberries, water, cornstarch, and remaining sugar into a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir frequently until mixtures comes to a boil. Once mixtures boils, continue to stir until it thickens. Pour filling into bowl and place in refrigerator until cool.

While shell and filling are cooling, put cream cheese and 1/2 c. sugar in microwaveable bowl. Warm in microwave in 30 sec. intervals until the mixture is soft enough to spread. When shell is completely cool, spread in bottom of pie shell.

Once filling has cooled, pour into pie shell and place pie back in the refrigerator until completely set, approximately 3 hours.

Happy Earth Day AND National Jelly Bean Day

Today is Earth Day. To be honest, I don't really see the point of this. I know that sounds horrible, and that environmentalists probably can't wait to get their hands around my neck, but one day isn't going to do anything. Trust me, I'm all for making our earth a better place, but in the end, it's lifestyle changes that will make a difference, not a one day celebration. For the past few months, I've been wanting to buy cute reusable grocery bags for two reasons, one because it will help the planet with waste and such, and two because we have plastic grocery bags coming out of our ears at home. Luckily our local grocery store has a recycle center for these bags, so I try every so often to take a large bag of them and stick them in the bin when I go to do my weekly shopping. So my goal for the week is to buy 4 reusable grocery bags! I encourage everyone else who hasn't done this yet to do it as well. It's a simple lifestyle change that can make a difference.

On a fun note, its also National Jelly Bean Day. For those who know me, I LOVE jelly beans. When I was three, I got to pick wallpaper for my new room, and I chose jelly bean wallpaper. It was rows of beans with jelly beans in jars for the border. My favorite jelly bean at the moment is pear. Buttered popcorn comes in a close second, as well as margarita. Yum, I could go for some right now.


Grocery Shopping 101

This weekend was crazy busy. We are in the process of "remodeling" our backyard, as I like to call it. Let's just say that it doesn't look like it did when we moved in back in September '06. We are now missing 3 palm trees, some prickly plants and cactus-like things, and all of our landscaping rocks, as well as some grass and stepping stones. At least we still have our pool!

All that explains why I didn't get to the grocery store until Sunday at 8:00 PM!!! I try to do all of my grocery shopping on the weekends. I hate going to the grocery store more than once per week to pick up a few things each time. Plus, I'm a big planner. Anyone who knows me know that I like to plan everything in advance. This leads me to some grocery shopping tips to save both time and money...
  1. Plan what you are going to eat for the week. I have a great template that lets you use Excel to create a meal plan for the week. After I finish, I post it on the front of the fridge so we can easily see what's to eat for the week. Click here to download the template and fill in your weekly meals.
  2. See what's already in your kitchen. Before I finalize my menu, I look around and see what I have in my kitchen. We have a large chest freezer in the garage that is full of things, mostly deer and elk meat, since Chris is a big game hunter. There is also fish, chicken, and a variety of desserts. I buy canned items and other non-perishables that we frequently use when they go on sale to keep in stock. Look around and try to use up things you have, instead of buying a bunch of new stuff.
  3. Check the ads. I shop at Fry's, which is part of the Kroger family, for those who aren't familiar with Fry's. Every Wednesday the ads come in the newspaper and I happily make sure it doesn't get stuck in the recycle with the rest of the papers. I pull it out when I'm making my list and look for ideas. If chicken is on sale, then I plan a chicken dish, etc. I notice things seem to be a rotation, so if its not on sale one week, most likely it will be in the next few weeks.
  4. Make enough for leftovers. Some people have issues eating leftovers, but not me! I am happy to bring the previous night's meal for lunch the next day. Making just a little more at dinner is more cost efficient in the end than a whole new meal. This week I'm making soup, and its enough for dinner and a few lunches.
  5. Use coupons. I know that some people think this is "uncool" but why? They save you money. I only clip coupons for items I use on a regular basis so I'm not tempted to buy things I don't need. They probably end up saving me a dollar or so, but hey, that's a small Frosty at Wendy's :)
  6. Keep to the list. I make a list from my menu, and buy only from the list. If it's not on the list, you don't need it right? Unless its something you realize you truly forgot to write down.

Hopefully this will help you the next time you go grocery shopping to save money. On a happy note, I spent $60 for the week! I usually aim for under $50, but I did by Chris 10 frozen entrees that were on sale for $1 each when you buy 10. Why not?!?


Under Construction

I'm still trying to get everything stay tuned for information on everything domestic ... cooking, baking, organization, shopping, etc. Oh, and of course, our house on Canary!