cinnamon rolls

No-Dine-Out February Okay I Ate Out

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Yummy yummy cinnamon rolls!

Okay, I have a confession: I went out on Sunday. For a snack. That was sushi. I had a birthday party at a brewpub that I had already planned to attend (before coming up with my brilliant no-dine-out February plan), so I fed the family and headed out. My compromise: to use my personal weekly allowance to buy something small, so I wasn’t technically eating into (HA! I am a genius) our food budget, and I could still be social and not viewed as a cheapskate (my personal albatross from years of waitressing).

And then. When I got to the brewpub? The party had ended early! And me, with no dinner. And, more importantly: my husband was home with the kids and putting our toddler to bed for me. I suddenly had an extra hour and a half, out and about, on my own, with a couple of twenties in my pocket! Reader, what would you have done?!? I was hungry! I eschewed the brewpub and got a mocktail (don’t snicker) and a small plate at a nearby restaurant (okay it was Yakuza).

So . . . yes, I already cheated. But I don’t feel (too) badly about it. And the rest of the week has been going very well. I’ve been meticulous in outlining our various social activities in our monthly meal plan–for example, since I knew I had the birthday party that night, and a Super Bowl party during the day, I planned to make grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for the family. Quick, cheap, and universally beloved! Yes, that also describes me.

Here are some recipes that have helped me out this week–all from the Pioneer Woman:

  • Seven-Can Soup: Open seven cans, pour them in (no draining), heat it up–boom, boom, boom, you’ve got some pretty tasty soup! I added tortilla chips and avocado.
  • Cinnamon Rolls: I made a huge batch of cinnamon rolls this morning (this recipe makes at last 60). I’m going to freeze them in packs of six and dole them out over the next month or two. Note: I actually use the dough recipe for her Parker House Rolls (it has butter instead of oil), and instead of the coffee glaze, I use the glaze from her Orange Marmalade Rolls.
  • Best Breakfast Potatoes Ever: I also made these for the month–it makes a ton! I’m going to freeze them in portions and thaw as needed!

I served my family (and Sid’s best friend Ernie) fresh cinnamon rolls and breakfast potatoes this morning and they lost their minds! I am actually really good about making breakfasts during the week (we need to eat, and we’re not going out before Scott goes to work and Sid to school), but it is nice to be prepared, and I’m hoping this makes us less tempted to go out on the weekends. I do love going out to brunch.

That’s my update thus far! Feel free to throw tomatoes–I need a couple for next week anyway.

sushi

No-Dine-Out February?!?

sushi

Farewell, sweet sushi! Picture from Haru Sushi.

Reader, I swear this seemed like a great idea right after Christmas. Like most Americans, we had spent too much money. I (specifically) had eaten too much candy. I was feeling undisciplined. And wasteful! What better way to get back on track, I thought, than to pledge to not go out to eat for an entire month? February seemed like a good pick–the shortest month of the year, I don’t need to be a hero–but also, it seemed so far away, back in January! Now it’s here, and I need a plan.

Crunching the Numbers

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it would be too much of a change–looking at our spending on Mint over the past six months, we go out to eat an average of 12 times per month. This usually includes:

  • 4-5 brunches (I admit, I love not cooking breakfast on the weekends)
  • 3-4 lunches (usually my husband, on those days I don’t pack him a lunch)
  • 3-4 dinners (either sushi, Burgerville, or pizza delivery)

Currently, eating out comprises about 33% of our monthly food bill, with groceries totaling 61.5% and coffee shops about 5%.

The Goal

My goal for this month: to virtually eliminate our restaurant expenses without increasing our overall food budget by more than 10%.

The Exceptions

One: we are going to Great Wolf Lodge for a night this month. While we’ll bring food for breakfast/snacks, we’ll most likely eat dinner there. Two: getting a coffee and a pastry at a coffee shop is allowed, but I’m going to try to limit that to once a week at the most. Three: if I go completely crazy and cannot bear to cook one night, we can go get Burgerville.

The Plan

This is where I’ll put my monthly meal plan to the ultimate test. I’ve been using it for a year, so I just need to make sure to populate it with food I’ll be excited to eat–and cook–all month long!

Looking at when and where we typically eat, I can clearly see my weak spots. First up: I honestly dislike making breakfast and enjoy going out on the weekends. The solution? I’ll add things like cinnamon rolls, bread pudding muffins, and individual egg breakfast cups to our monthly meal plan and freeze them–then I can put breakfast on the counter to thaw at night and warm it up in the morning!

Second: While I’m pretty good at packing lunches for my husband, I’ll need to be extra vigilant this month. Making them the night before is best–I’ll need to get back in the habit.

Third: It’s a little eerie how we almost only go out for (or get delivered) three things: sushi, Burgerville (a regional fast food restaurant here in the Pacific Northwest), and pizza (although we do get Thai occasionally). This is because if I’m going to go out, I’m going to get things I either can’t or don’t want to make myself (homemade pizza is a paaaaainnnn). So I’ll be experimenting with oshizushi (pressed sushi) this month. As for burgers, we’re already covered–I received the Bob’s Burgers Burger Book for Christmas, and we’ve pledged to try a new burger every other week (so Sid doesn’t miss out). As far as pizza, there’s always Totino’s. Aw yeah!

But What About Burnout?

Yes, I love to cook. But even I have nights I just don’t feel like cooking. To combat burnout, I’ll be stocking up on go-to convenience foods like Kraft macaroni and cheese, Campbell’s tomato soup (with grilled cheese, of course), fish sticks and tater tots, and Seven-Can Soup. But I’ll also be making big batches of soup and freezing them for last-minute dinners.

Valentine’s Day

Actually, I think it’s been years since I’ve gone out to dinner on Valentine’s Day. As a former server, I think that’s for suckers anyway–too busy, too expensive, etc. Instead, I’m going to follow a Valentine’s Day menu from Martha Stewart (although I’ll probably do cherry pie for dessert).

So . . . wish me luck! I promise I’ll come clean if I fail miserably. And if you have any tips for me, post them below!

I Think My Brain Is Broken

“What time are you going to Sequential Art tonight?” my husband asked this morning. I gave him a blank look. “I . . . don’t know.” I said.

He looked a little confused. “Really? Because you usually have this all figured out.”

And it’s true! I am the lady with the plan, the girl with all the answers (and the spreadsheets to prove it) and I just. Can’t. Get it together this week! I feel like I’m running in 50 different directions (with a baby crawling all over me at the same time) and I cannot focus.

This is how bad it is: I have a mostly blank Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheet in front of me and . . . I can’t think of what to put in it, because I definitely can’t think of cooking everything. What is happening to me? It is already May 5!

Fortunately, my lovely husband talked me through a plan that will get me to Trophy Room at Sequential Art Gallery, an exhibit of “real life” costume and props inspired by comics (that I helped put together), while he gets the kids fed and taken care of. So that’s taken care of.

But it’s clear I need to both 1) create a better, more workable schedule for myself (kids, blog, GeekCraft Expo PDX, other side project) and 2) relax. These two things might seem like complete opposites, but I actually relax when I start making schedules.

Right now? I’m going to get Sarah and me dressed and go get a cup of coffee. Because we’re out of coffee, because I haven’t been grocery shopping.

In the meantime: any suggestions for breakfast and dinner ideas? I could really use them before I throw my laptop across the room! Haallllp!

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

I Cut Our Food Bill By 44%–Can America’s Cheapest Family Get It Lower?

Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

Lots of good tips, although I may have to work my way up to buying chubs of ham and asking the meat counter to slice it for me (their solution for expensive lunch meat).

So I’ve been making a Monthly Meal Plan menu and grocery lists for four months now–yay! I stopped posting my spreadsheets every month because I figured you’ve got the gist of them, but you can find past examples here.

Overall, planning out our menu has been very successful. We’ve averaged a monthly savings of 29.4% on groceries compared to our previous six-month average, plus we’ve saved 32.7% on restaurants. That means our average monthly food savings is 44%–which is insane!

But you know me: I figure I just cut the waste I should have had under control long ago. Surely there’s a way I can peel another 11% off our groceries, right? So I went to my beloved library and checked out Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family, by Steve and Annette Economides, which had a lot of tips–some useful (create a price list), and some ridiculous (go out to eat at hospital cafeterias, I kid you not).

I don’t want to lay out all of their tips here, but there were a couple that struck a chord:

  1. Create a price list. I was bragging to Sid last week that I bought avocados on sale at five for $5, and he asked, “What do they normally cost?” Yup. Grocery stores advertise lots of “deals,” but if you don’t know the relative price of, say, a gallon of milk, how do you know you’re really getting a discount? The Economides (yes that’s their real name) have a “buy price” for almost anything–they won’t buy, say, chuck steak for more than a certain price, and if they find it at a deep discount, they stock up. I realized I shop at WinCo because the total bill is cheaper, but I really had no idea how much things generally cost off the top of my head. It’s going to be tedious, but I’ll be using my receipts to build a price list of all the things we buy regularly.
  2. Shop around. I really disliked the idea of this–I like to make grocery shopping simple, and usually just go to WinCo once a month (to stock up) and to Fred Meyer weekly for produce and dairy (because it’s close and I like it). I didn’t want to be slave to the weekly ads! But the book pointed out that every store has “loss leaders,” aka attractive items at rock-bottom prices, to get people in the door. Why not read the ads and see what I could find?
  3. Plan your monthly meal plan around grocery deals. This is so simple and obvious I should have been doing this before. Instead of making menus off the top of my head, I will definitely at least check our stores’ online ads and see what’s on sale.

I kept these ideas in mind this month and realized that Safeway (not my favorite store) was having a special on boneless, skinless chicken breasts (something we eat every month) at $1.69 a pound, compared to $3.29 a pound at Fred Meyer.

Because I’ve been keeping track with my monthly spreadsheets, I knew we ate four pounds of chicken breast per month. So I went and bought eight pounds, and separated and froze them all (note: I didn’t just buy chicken breasts–I did all my weekly shopping there, concentrating on loss leaders). The next time I was at WinCo, I checked out their prices: $2.69 per pound! So I saved eight dollars.

Of course, saving eight dollars over two months is not terribly exciting–gee, what’s that, a dollar a week? But that’s also only one item on my list. I’m hoping that by shopping a little smarter and using my freezer more efficiently, the savings will add up.

So . . . am I crazy? Just a little crazier than normal? I’ll keep you updated (on both our savings and my tenuous mental health). Got any tips? Post them below. And be honest: who among you have eaten at a hospital cafeteria . . . to save money?

Make-A-Mix Cookery Authors

Monthly Meal Planning: Making Mixes

Make-A-Mix Cookery Authors

Cookbook authors or . . . Stepford Wives? Actually, I would totally use a Stepford Wives cookbook. Image from the Make-A-Mix Cookery book: Nevada Harward, Madeline Westover, and Karine Eliason.

So I’ve been on a roll! I just made my third Monthly Meal Planning spreadsheet last weekend: you can download it here.

This month is different for two reasons: one, we’re going on a trip to visit my husband’s parents in Massachusetts for a week, and two, I pulled out my Mom’s 1978 copy of Make-A-Mix-Cookery.

What’s Make-A-Mix-Cookery? It’s a book dedicated to saving time and money–huge during the 1970s, when gas was expensive and more women were entering the workforce. There’s the Quick Mix (a Bisquick-type mix), which literally makes 32 different recipes in the book (from Super-Duper Doughnuts to Sunday Shortcake), a Hot Roll Mix (for breads and sweet rolls, etc.), a Cornmeal Mix, etc. However, there’s also meat mixes (Mexican Meat Mix, Chicken Mix), where you can cook up/spice up meat and then freeze it, as well as rice mixes, drink mixes (Hot Cocoa!), cookie and cake mixes, camping and gift mixes–the books goes on and on.

This month I aim to make the following:

  • Hot Roll Mix (to make Swedish Cinnamon Twists and Big Soft Pretzels)
  • Cornmeal Mix (I finally ran out of Jiffy Mixes)
  • Muffin Mix (to make Blueberry Muffins and Molasses-Bran Muffins)
  • Oatmeal Cookie Mix (to make . . . Oatmeal Cookies)
  • Dill-Lemon Rice Mix (it’s been years since I’ve bought Rice-A-Roni)

I was a little concerned, since most of the baking mixes either call for shortening or dry milk, because they’re shelf stable. But I’ve already tested out the cookie and muffin mixes, and they are actually pretty stellar!

Even though we’ll be on vacation, I’m still planning on cooking at my in-laws’ house: easy things like spaghetti sauce and tuna casserole. I’ll be blogging from the road (and posting pics of my 10-item wardrobe), so stay tuned!

Who else cooks on vacation? Have you ever made your own mixes? Who else has an original Make-A-Mix Cookery book? Post below!

Happy Tuesday! International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

It’s International Women’s Day! Image from International Women’s Day!

Happy Tuesday everyone! I was unable to blog yesterday because Sarah has been 1) sick and 2) teething, and the combination left her inconsolable unless I was physically holding her. Sigh. I invited a friend over for lunch and she ended up making the sandwiches. But hey! Sarah might have eight whole teeth by the time she turns 18 months (she’s been a real slow teether).

On to links!

International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day, a day celebrating the achievements of women and calling for increased gender equality and an end to discrimination and violence towards women. As a woman and a mother, I approve.

Check out UN Women’s interactive timeline about notable women in history–it’s really interesting, and visually stimulating for kids, too.

Speaking of notable women, Kelly Sue DeConnick is a fantastic comic book writer (Bitch Planet, Ms. Marvel), force of nature, and inspirational kick-ass woman. She used her fame and social media prowess for good yesterday, retweeting the names and portfolio links of hundreds of female comic book creators yesterday using the #VisibleWomen hashtag. Go check ’em out!

Another woman I love is Jennifer L. Scott, author of the Madame Chic books. She posts weekly video blogs over at the Daily Connoisseur, and just posted one that especially speaks to me about dealing with exhaustion. Plus she gave my latest 10-item wardrobe post a shout out, and I want to return the favor!

Of course, my favorite fictional woman is Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote. One day I will write in length why, but in the meantime, Bitch Media’s Jessica Fletcher of “Murder, She Wrote” Is My Anti-Ageism Heroine is well worth the read!

Cooking

As part of this month’s meal planning, I brought out my Mom’s 1970s copy of Make-A-Mix-Cookery. It’s all about creating your own mixes–for baking, casseroles, soups, etc.–to save time and money. And I’m all about creating my own entertainment by trying out retro recipes. So far I’ve made two of the mixes, so keep an eye out for reviews!

Speaking of Kelly Sue, she posted this recipe for a Buckeye Bundt Cake and I want. To. Make. It. And I will.

Okay, I’ve got to give Sarah a bath now (I will spare you the details why). Post your favorite women below!

Avengers Sons of Serpent Trump

Happy Monday! #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain & Xena Cosplay

Avengers Sons of Serpent Trump

Donald’s totally under that mask, isn’t he? Avengers image via Comic Book Resources.

Happy Monday! How was your weekend? I went through about 10 pounds of sugar. I am not kidding even a little bit. Fortunately, all of the resulting chocolate cake is out of my house, except for four chocolate cupcakes.

Links!

Politics

Politics? Elisabeth, you don’t post about politics! It’s true. I think most of the yelling about politics on the Internet and via the media is counterproductive. Plus I don’t want to get into any fights with people I love.

But mostly, I honestly thought this wave of Trump jingoism would blow over. I mean, it was a joke, right? I didn’t believe Trump even really wanted to be president–I thought it was all for publicity for his “brand.” But here we are. A lying, racist, grandiose piece of crap has a very good chance of being the GOP candidate for president. Even the GOP doesn’t want this!

So, on one hand, John Oliver’s take down of Trump and his #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain hashtag makes me feel a little better. But mostly it’s just depressing, because it probably won’t change anything. But you should watch it!

I’m currently reading the Avengers Omnibus Volume 2 to Sid at bedtime, and we just finished a story arc where the Sons of the Serpent decide to spread racism, nationalism, and fear to control the American public because they’re so easily led. This was written in the 1963, but feels entirely relevant to today. Think about that.

Food

I haven’t written a full update on this month’s meal planning, but I’m happy to say it looks like we’ve saved 37.5% over our average pre-planning monthly grocery bill! Last month, we saved 25%. While I did plan this month’s menu around a lot of bulk staples I already had in the house, I was also able to do the following on a budget:

  • Have house guests for two days
  • Host two dinner parties
  • Make a giant cake and 84 chocolate cupcakes for various events

Speaking of dinner parties, I’m having a small one tomorrow. One of our guests is vegetarian. I’m a little tired of pasta (for once) so I came up with the following menu: Sour Cream Enchiladas, Mexican Couscous Express, and Crazy for Coconut Bundt Cake.

Fashion

My sweater came! My sweater came! And it’s everything I hoped it would be. I can finally post my 10-item wardrobe! Err, once I take pictures.

Geeky Stuff

I’ve been thinking more and more about making a Xena costume. Yes, I’m 15 years too old and six inches too short. I don’t care! Plus, I found this incredible tutorial for a Xena Warrior Princess Dress. Hmm!

That’s what I’ve got for today! Post a comment to cheer me up!