Meal Plan and the 4th of July Menu

I sat down to plan the menu and shopping list with three things in mind. First, this week’s the Fourth of July. Second, we’ll be pulling a 4 day work weekend on a major building project around here. And third, I’ve got to make my grocery dollars STRETCH.

This means I want to serve some fun, summer food. But it needs to be easy, filling (for all those hard working souls I’m feeding) and frugal. So, I’m not going for anything too elaborate. But as always, opting for the less expensive meal choices means a little extra prep work for me. You’ll see that especially in the bean category. It’s just an overnight soak, though. No biggie.

Here’s the run down:

  • Sunday–Bacon Spinach Quiche, salad
  • Monday–Asian Chicken Salad
  • Tuesday–Refried pinto beans and beef, homemade tortillas, salsa and guacamole, spanish rice
  • Wednesday–Leftovers
  • 4th of July–Burgers, homemade baked beans, veggies and dip, berries with lemon curd for dessert
  • Friday–Spatchcock grilled chicken (cause the weather prevented me from grilling last week) grilled veggies
  • Saturday–Red beans and rice

I’ve mapped out what night I’ll need to soak beans and if there is anything I can do in advance (like the baked beans, lemon curd and dip) of the long weekend. I’ll also need to make a couple loaves of bread on Monday for lunches. Plus I’m planning on making a batch of the chocolate chip cookies I posted last week and possibly having some s’more fixings on hand as well. Gotta make the holiday/work weekend a little fun!

I’m hoping that with a little extra planning and working ahead earlier in the week, we’ll have plenty of ready or easy food and I’ll be able to turn my attention to helping out with painting and laying floors and such. Last weekend we worked really hard and the menu plan went out the window because everyone was too tired and too hungry to make anything. Which meant take-out. Which also meant upset tummies and empty wallets.

Now. What are your plans for the 4th of July?

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Garden Wars

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Oh, how I love nature. And then she betrays me. We’ve had 3 days of hard rain. HARD RAIN. Today was especially bad, complete with flash flood warnings. This picture is from the creek at the back of the property. Now it has a tree island. Very exciting.

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This is the border of the lower garden patch which has the cucumbers and butternut squash plants. The creek is usually MUCH farther away. The cucumbers are currently under assault from deer and we think a ground hog. Extra string has been added to the fence. Traps have been set. Hubby has already stalked the ground hog once. WE MUST SAVE THE PICKLES! At least a couple of the plants are leaf-less but none-the-less have a couple flowers. I fear for their well being.

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We went out to check out the waters a few times in the evening. Better than TV.

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Now this would be a refreshing swing set.

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The weeds have plotted to take over. If you look very closely, you’ll see new lettuce plants fighting for a spot.

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The beets are being threatened by invaders taller than they are.

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And the poor lettuce has been beat into submission.

In the morning, come you-know-what or high water (most likely high water) I’ve got to get out there and attempt to nurse my dear plants back to health and extricate the weed invaders. Hopefully, the rain will relent and things can dry out.

Oh, isn’t the gardening/outdoor life an exciting one?

Wouldn’t have it any other way!


Toll-House Style Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies (Dairy Free Option)

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I’m becoming a convert–to almond flour, that is. I had resisted it’s tempting call for a while. Well, sort of resisted. I’ve got a ton of almond flour recipes bookmarked in my files. I’ve bought a few small bags to use here and there. And I had to admit it. It’s good stuff.

It’s not that I didn’t like almond flour. But it’s rather pricey compared to other gluten free flours. Even more so than coconut flour. But if you’ve done much gluten free baking, you know that some gf baked goods come out a little gritty. Crumbly. Dry. But not almond flour. I’m finding that subbing out a bit of my regular gf flour blend in a recipe yields remarkable results. Chewy. Moist. Crisp on the outside. Like these cookies.

These are by far the closest thing I’ve ever tasted to the much loved Toll House cookies of my childhood. Gluten and dairy free to boot.

I will warn you though, other than the fact that these are gluten free, I wouldn’t exactly call them a “healthy” cookie. But I’m alright with that. For heaven’s sake, it’s a cookie. Eat a salad for lunch and indulge without fear. (I did, however, cut back on the original amount of sugar.)

Here’s the recipe…

In a medium bowl, whisk together:
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup potato or tapioca starch
tsp. xanthan gum
tsp. salt
tsp. baking soda
 
In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl…
Cream together:
1 cup palm shortening or butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar (could substitute sucanat for all the sugar, or evaporated cane juice for the white)
Mix in:
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
 
Slowly add in the dry ingredients into the wet. Mix well. Add in 2 cups chocolate chips and mix on low until evenly distributed. Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment or baking stone. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. (It depends on the size of your cookies.) 
 

Now go find your self control. Cause these are addictive.


Summer Learning (Homeschool Light)

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School may be out, but the learning never stops!

We turned all our work in and submitted our evaluations earlier in June. And while our more structured school days are on hold until fall, I still like to keep my kids’ skills sharp and their minds engaged. So I thought I’d share a little of what we’re doing to keep learning this summer.

Math

The math never really ends at our house. I’ve found that if I give my kids more than a couple weeks off, they tend to slide backwards in this skill. We still had a few pages left in our math books from the school year. So most mornings, they’re doing one or two pages until they finish up. I’ll probably go ahead and buy next year’s books and just slide into those when they finish what they’re working on.

Reading

I had intentions of getting the kids to the library more often this summer. So far, it hasn’t happened. But that doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned our reading. I try to get Abby and Wyatt to spend about 20 minutes or so reading independently on a daily basis. Of course, some days we’re out, or we just can’t seem to make ourselves come in from playing outside. I’m okay with that. Winter was long and time outside is important.

Wyatt is still working on the Lord of the Rings series and Abby is finishing up The Secret Garden.

Ella and I sit down after she works on a little math and read one of her little reader books together. And I decided to go ahead and start on the copywork that I’ll have her do this school year. After reading the book, she picks one sentence to copy in her handwriting book. We talk about who the sentence is about (subject), what they did (verb), why the first word is capitalized and what comes at the end (punctuation). It only takes a couple minutes, but she’s getting a very gentle introduction to sentence structure, mechanics and grammar.

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Other Learning Opportunities

Summer is easily filled with lots of fun learning–no workbook required!

  • Camps. My girls spent last week at a day camp that was a combo of music education and VBS. Abby will be attending another mission focused day camp in a couple weeks, while her best friend spends that time at 4-H camp.
  • Gardening. If you spend any time on this blog at all, you know how I love my garden. But it’s also a great chance to teach kids about botany, food preservation, and a host of other important skills as they learn to provide for themselves.
  • Library Programs. Yes, I haven’t made it there yet. But we will. Maybe today, actually, since it’s rainy here and the library is a great place to be on rainy days. But if you’re not like me, and you actually get to the library more often in the summer, check out the children’s summer programs. I know ours is having a garden oriented theme this summer. Totally free!
  • Stargazing. This school year, my older two got to go on a field trip to the National Radio Observatory here in West Virginia. Ever since then, they’ve been in love with the night sky. Abby has a star chart and my husband is great at helping them find the Big Dipper and North Star and all that. We hope to take the telescope outside once the moon isn’t so bright.

 

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Plus there’s rock collecting/identifying, bug catching, museums, hiking, bird watching, leaf identification and SO MUCH MORE that summer offers! So grab a brochure of local attractions, find the parks, pick up a few field guides and have some fun (and sneak in a little learning at the same time.)

 

What are you doing to keep the learning going all summer long?


Meal Plan and the Story of the Persistent Shopper

I’m geeking out over this week’s grocery shopping trip. First, I spent quite a while that morning going over the sale circular, my coupons, downloading digital coupons to my shoppers card and printing a few off the internet. I used to do that about every week and had gotten away from it. The truth is, there aren’t too many coupons out there for whole foods. Never seen coupons for carrots.

But last week, my Kroger store had sent me a whole boatload of coupons for things I buy all the time, and they were having a pretty good sale on other things as well.

Which brings me to my story.  

Earlier in the week, I was in Kroger to pick up a couple things. I always check the natural and organic chicken section to see if anything is on clearance. I noticed that they had several organic chickens that were near expiration date–the 22nd. I did my regular shopping on Friday the 21st and I had planned to check those chickens again. But they were all gone. Replaced by a new batch. Curiosity forced me to ask the butcher if someone had already snagged them.

I’m SO glad I asked!

 

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They were in the back..getting a giant markdown :). So I bought all six of them, at $1.29/lb–for ORGANIC chickens! Plus they had sent me a coupon for $1. This week, I plan on learning how to grill a spatchcocked chicken(Removing the backbone and laying out flat on the grill.) I’m thinking a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice and herbs would be nice. 

And once again, Aldi had strawberries for $.99/lb. I didn’t buy as many this time–just eight. They were so yummy that we kept out three pounds to eat and washed and froze the other five. I really want to find a honey or juice sweetened jam recipe that will can well. If you’ve got a good one, let me know. I think Abby and I will try a small batch first and then go from there.

 

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The moral of this story…Don’t be afraid to ask when it comes to sales and discounts. It’s not the first time I’ve tracked someone down at my Kroger and walked away with a great deal. The worst they can say is no. Be a persistent shopper!

And now for the menu…

  • Grilled boneless pork chops with sage, grilled potatoes, salad (we still have lots of lettuce :))
  • Crusted Flounder, quinoa salad with tomato, cucumber, red onion, feta and balsamic vinaigrette
  • Spinach fritatta, biscuits, salad
  • Grilled spatchcock chicken, herbed rice, grilled veggies
  • Pizza, salad

It’s grilling season–can you tell?. I just don’t want to go inside. So I think I’ll cook outside.

 

What are you grilling this week?


How We Spent The Summer Solstice

Summer is officially here! I know we’ve all been doing the summer thing for a few weeks already, but yesterday was the Summer Solstice–the longest day of the year. This year, we decided to start a little tradition. 

I told the girls if they took a little nap in the afternoon, they could stay up late and catch lightning bugs. They had been going to music camp every morning (like a combo of VBS and music education) and they were pretty worn out anyway. So after their little program that night, we headed outside.

 

Catching lightning bugs!

Catching lightning bugs!

 

I SO very much wanted to get a picture of the lightning bugs all lit up in their little bug catcher house. But the little boogers wouldn’t light up for me in that thing.

 

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And there was a campfire. My husband is a bit of a campfire nut. He had about 5 different fire starter implements out with us and he was giving the kids a lesson in fire starting, primitive and otherwise. So he broke out the flint and steel kit we got him for Christmas, a magnesium bar, a metal match, and his homemade fire starters he makes with paper egg cartons, dryer lint and candle wax.

The older two took turns trying to get a spark with the flint and steel.

 

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And where there is fire…there are marshmallows!

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And where there are marshmallows…there MUST be s’mores!

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Mmm. S’mores. I have a little addiction to s’mores. Perfect way to cap off a great evening!

 

How did you spend the longest day? Have any summer traditions with your family?

 

 


Herbed Lentils and Rice–Real, Fast, Frugal Food

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Last week we had that crazy summer storm that blew through a great portion of the country. Ours came through overnight. Non-stop lightning, thunder, sheets of rain and wind ALL NIGHT LONG. Nice. So needless to say, we were all feeling a little lethargic the next day. Plus the storm lasted well into the next day.

Perfect weather for easy comfort food.

You can find a lentils and rice dish in probably a hundred different forms. Lentils are very inexpensive, quick cooking and loaded with protein, fiber, and a decent amount of iron. Add some rice, a little veg, some herbs and nourishing homemade stock, and you probably can’t find a faster, more inexpensive healthy meal.

This is a simple one pot dish. And it’s super flexible. If you’ve got leftover chicken in the frig, add it in. If you’d like to change up the herbs, go ahead. This is just what I usually have on hand.

Herbed Lentils and Rice

1 cup uncooked rice (I used long grain basmati. If you want to use brown rice, you’ll have to cook it about half way before adding the lentils.)
1 cup lentils, rinsed
4 cups chicken stock
half a medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 tsp or heavy pinch each of dried thyme and rosemary (could also use TB fresh)
1/2 tsp salt
few grinds of black pepper
chopped fresh parsley, optional
 
Add lentils and stock to a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil, covered,  for about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, stir, cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the lid on and allow it to sit for at least 5 minutes. Remove lid, stir and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle fresh parsley and serve!
 

What’s your favorite frugal comfort food?