Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup (Oh, and a cute kid too)

I promised a while back to show you the soup I've been making for lunches.  I bought a magazine called "Hearty Soups" on a whim from Target, and it's turned out to be a surprisingly good buy.  I won't reprint the recipe here because I'm afraid of the copyright police, but I'll give you a general idea of what's in the soup.  You could probably figure it out just from the ingredients.  It's similar to this soup but without the potatoes.

Tear up some kale into bite sized pieces.  You will want to cut off the "ribs" of the kale, as they are bitter and won't taste great in the soup.
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I bought mild italian sausage and removed the skin.  You could use hot sausage in this soup too, and it would probably be delicious.  Saute the sausage with some garlic and onions.  Throw it in a pot with some chicken broth, then add diced tomatoes (get the kind with garlic, basil, and oregano) and cannellini beans,  and simmer for a while.
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Add the kale at the end and keep simmering just until the kale is wilted.
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It is super delicious, and it freezes really well.  I ate it for lunch every day last week.
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Another cooking discovery I made last weekend:  You can cook a whole chicken in the crock pot.
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It was amazingly delicious.  I used this recipe and it was so simple.   Plus, I got the chicken on sale for around $2.50 (for the whole chicken!!) so it was even cheaper than buying the $5.99 cooked rotisserie chicken from the store.
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Speaking of cheap, I've been doing more couponing lately.
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I've gotten into a habit of going really early on Saturday mornings.  Harris Teeter has special "Saturday only" deals, and I figure I'm up anyway, may as well get our shopping out of the way. :)  This week, my best deals were sour cream for nine cents, free yogurts, and banana chips for $0.19 a package.  I'll be eating the banana chips by myself, since Steven is not a fan.

TOTAL: $42.65 (I left out about $27 of non-sale items we bought that we needed but I lacked coupons for, like milk, OJ, strawberries and meat.  And I splurged on a $10 chuck roast that was DELICIOUS... so my real total was closer to $70)
TOTAL before sales and coupons: $141.26
SAVINGS: 70%  (Still haven't broken out of the 70 percentile mark.  My goal is 95% savings, but that's hard to do with larger shopping trips.  I think most folks who save that much are doing many small trips, and are also doing the CVS deals. I'm not ready for it yet....)
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And finally, because you were so patient to read this far, here are some adorable baby pictures.
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Very focused on her blankie.
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She loves Sophie the Giraffe!
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Bumbo seat!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cupcakes!

For Christmas this year, Steven got me a trip to Cookology at the Dulles Town Center Mall for a "cupcake workshop"!   I took Erica with me and made her wear a big paper chef's hat! Awesome.
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We learned how to make three types of cupcakes: vanilla, chocolate, and red velvet.  The class was more about baking the cupcakes from scratch than it was about decorating them, although we did pipe some fantastic icing at the end.
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The funniest part was discovering that we wouldn't be using any mixers or spoons or anything -- we hand-mixed these cupcakes.  With our own two (four?) hands.   Messy, but fun!  I somehow roped Erica into mixing the first batch for us (mwah-haha), but then I ended up mixing the red velvet batter, so in the end I got my just desserts.  Har-dee-har-har.  My fingers are still pink from the red food coloring!
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They gave us a website where we could go get the recipes to make our own batch of cupcakes at home (I probably would use my stand mixer for a batch of 24 cakes.  Just sayin.)  We are still waiting to hear back from Cookology on whether they will post the icing recipes -- during the class, they told us that the icing recipe would be available online, but unfortunately it wasn't there when I checked last.
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I'm really hoping we can get the icing recipe, because the chef instructing our class mentioned that he whisked the chocolate mousse icing for THREE HOURS and I have to know if that's really what he meant to say.
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My finished cupcakes! Don't make fun of the icing on my red velvet cupcake - it was supposed to be a "homey-looking shmear."
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Erica's cupcakes!  I think we totally rocked it.  We're ready to go open a cupcakery now.  You know, in our "free time."
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I felt sort of like the Pope in this hat.  Sacrilege?
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Erica wins the prize for being able to hold all three of her cupcakes at once.

When I got home, Steven and I split the red velvet cupcake immediately.  It was delicious - the cake was not as sweet as I anticipated, so it was a good balance against the cream cheese icing (which was insanely delicious).   I fully intend to eat BOTH of the remaining cupcakes after dinner.  And if I had whole milk handy (and the icing recipe, come to think of it), I'd strongly consider making a whole batch for myself tonight.  Mmmm, cupcakes.

Erica and I decided we need to take another class.  Knife skills? Cupcake decorating? Asian fusion? The possibilities are endless...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Christmas Redux and a Couponing Trip

You may remember that I mentioned wanting to do Christmas over again, since we were so sick during the week of Christmas.  Well, I finally dressed up our little elf and pretended it was December 25 again.

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Hey. Who you calling little?


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We invited some friends over for a "pretend Christmas dinner," and we made turkey, stuffing, and the works.
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Michael and Sophie played together in their Christmas gear.
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I wonder if, twenty years from now, we will remember that this wasn't actually on Christmas day, or even in the month of December...
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Michael is about two months older than Sophie, and its fun to watch where he is in the developmental stages, because I know Sophie is right behind him.
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He's such a funny little guy - he's got a big personality already!
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They watch each other so intently when they are together, and I swear Sophie learns stuff from him.
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She was in such a fun mood today - she laughed for the first time, and she had lots of "awake and playing" time during our "Christmas Re-do."
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Look ma, I'm walking!
Of course, lots of playing will usually lead to....
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...being totally zonked out at 6 pm.  Sweet baby.  Playtime is exhausting.
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In other fun news, I had my second official couponing trip today.
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I think I did pretty well.  Here are the stats:

Before sales and coupons: $142.77
After sales and coupons, I paid: $37.88!

I got:
10 Healthy Orchard juices = FREE
4 Ziploc Container sets = $0.46 each
2 Seventh Generation Dish Liquid = FREE
4 boxes Finish Dishwasher Tabs = $0.49 each
4 Oral Pulsar toothbrushes = $3.00 each (These are normally like seven bucks. And we needed new ones since we got sick.)
10 cans Campbells Chunky soup = $0.56 each
2 jars Prego sauce = $2.89 each (These weren't on sale but they were part of the "meal deal")
HT Fettuccine, Garlic Texas Toast, Parmesan Cheese, and 2-liter Pepsi = FREE (the rest of the "meal deal")

Not half bad!  I think some of my coupons might not have rung up completely right, because I think my total "out of pocket" should have been closer to $25, but I'm not going to complain.  I'm still getting the hang of the couponing, and I can't yet do the instant math at the register to make sure everything's ringing up exactly right.  But I'm getting there!

Merry Second Christmas In January, everyone!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I'm Back Baby!

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Okay, so maybe not 100% back.  Maybe more like 70 to 85% back.  But still, that's an improvement!
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Mommy keeps dressing me in Christmas outfits because she says Christmas ain't over till Mommy says its over!  So Merry More Christmas everybody!
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Sophie and I went over to a friend's house for a playdate today.  Her first playdate, actually!  She seemed to like it.  She liked his toys, at least.  She mostly frowned and looked grumpy, which is a look she's very good at, but it was an "I'm engaged by these playthings" type of grumpy face.  (She looks like daddy but has mommy's consternation. :) Go figure.)
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I'm drooling like a champ these days - could I be teething already?  Holy grown up baby, Batman.
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In other news, everything tastes great these days.
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The purpose for the playdate was two fold - (a) get the kids together and (b) make a big batch of soup for our families for this week.  I didn't manage to get any pictures of the soup, but it was so good, I'll probably make another batch this week, so you'll get pictures eventually.  I bought a Better Homes and Gardens "Soups" recipe magazine from Target on a whim, and its actually full of a lot of good quick meal ideas.
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I see a lot of soup in our future...
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Just getting a chance to cook something has made me feel more human, more like myself again.  (Come to find out, eating things out of a greasy paper bag does not do much for my mental or physical health.)
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Happy gurgling babies also help tremendously, of course.
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I have missed so much work and it's been so frustrating -- I had only been back to work for two weeks when we all came down with [what felt like] the Bubonic Plague on about December 15 or so.  One of the days that I was working from home, I opened a Word document on my work laptop to write a blog entry about my New Year's Resolutions.  I got about three paragraphs in, and my entire work laptop went on the fritz and died.  While it will be moderately embarrassing when the laptop is restored and up pops my navel-gazing half-written blog entry, it was sort of a blessing in disguise.  There went my long-winded and overly ambitious resolutions, snuffed out like an overused candle.  Probably for the best.  The universe can do without my ramblings about how I'm going to get in shape! and lose that baby weight! and read War and Peace! and run a marathon!
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Marathon, Mom? Seriously?  Am I not enough of a challenge for you?
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Perhaps 2011 needed a slower start.  It's taken me a while to realize that Mommyhood has a different time table than my life previously had -- I'm nothing if not stubborn about these things.  So for this year, no grandiose resolutions.  Well, okay, maybe just one or two.
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(1) I'd like to have people over to our house for dinner.  Once every weekend seems like a lot, so maybe once a month for starters.  And the words "dinner party" are overwhelming, so we're just not calling it that.  I've got plans for dinner with friends next weekend, so that counts for January.  12 meals with friends in 2011.  I think that's doable.
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(2) I'd like to have a routine.  Something to rely on, where I know what's happening when.  First of all, Sophie needs an established bedtime routine, which we are going to work on this week.  But secondly, I need my own routine -- one that involves meal planning, grocery shopping, a specific wake-up-and-get-out-the-door routine, and another for coming home at night.  I used to thrive on spontaneity, with each day different than the last, but right now a routine would be so comforting.
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So those are my two goals for 2011.  Eat with friends and establish a routine.  I think we can do it.
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Sophie's resolutions involve lots of full tummies and full diapers.  2011's looking great for her, so far.