Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Salt Shaker Solution

I have three kids--one in middle school and two in elementary school.  The salt shaker has been a tough problem for us to solve over the years.  Invariably, the salt shaker will pour out too much or too little salt on the kids food.  My mom showed them the solution of first pouring the salt into their hands and then sprinkling it over their food.  The problem is what to do with the left over salt if you take too much.  Pour it over the floor?  Pour it on your napkin?  What you're left with is a mess either way you cut it.  I love my mom and her solution was a great start, but here's where we've taken that idea and found a good solution.  

I was recently sent a little bamboo jar for review.  We are using it filled with salt on our dining room table.  

It sits on our lazy susan in the middle of our table. My husband absolutely loves it.  This jar allows us (and our kids) to take a pinch and then sprinkle it over our food and mix it in. It gives us all more control over our salt intake because we can see how much we're putting on before we do it.  But, the bonus is that you only take what you need and you're not left with salt in your hand and nowhere to put it but on your food without making a larger mess.
I do realize that this method of putting salt on your food does presume that the users have clean hands. Each night before dinner, my children, my husband, and I do make a habit of washing our hands.The jar itself is very pretty and opens and closes easily. The magnetic feature helps the jar to rest closed. We love that Bamboo is a plentiful and renewable resource. No guilt there.  You can find it on Amazon here: http://amzn.com/B00NETJGZE

Please note that I received a complimentary jar for review from The San Francisco Salt Company for review.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mashed Potatoes and Chicken with mushrooms and cream gravy

Last night I made a dinner my family all loved.  Steamed green beans, cranberry sauce (from a can), mashed potatoes, and chicken with mushrooms and cream gravy.

My mashed potatoes were better than usual, but I did something different.  I usually just throw things in, but I thought I'd actually try and put in measurements.  So, here's what I put in.

Mashed Potatoes

Peeled, chopped, and cooked 2 1/2-3 lbs. of potatoes
3/4-1 tsp. minced garlic.
2 large spoonfuls of sour cream (probably 3-4 Tbsp.)
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 large splashes of half and half on the pile of potatoes in my kitchen aid bowl (again probably 3-4 Tbsp.)

I mixed everything till smooth in my kitchen aid (as smooth as your family likes them).  My kids were very happy with them.  Yay!  I'm going to try and be more exact on the sour cream and half and half next time ;) and then I'll come back and revise this.

I also tried a new recipe today from the Betty Crocker site for Chicken Breasts with Creamy Mushroom Gravy, but I modified it so much that it turned out very differently.  The recipe on the site got only 3 1/2 stars, but my family would have given dinner tonight 5 stars!  But... I changed it a ton.

So, here's what I made last night:

Chicken with Mushrooms and Gravy

2 very large chicken breasts = 1 1/4- 1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts defrosted
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
3 Tbsp. diced white onions
3/4 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp butter

butter and canola oil

1.  Cut the chicken breasts into pieces that you'd normally use for making breaded chicken sandwiches on a normal size hamburger bun.  Then cut these pieces in half or thirds horizontally if they're really thick.  Some I cut in half and some in thirds--to about 1/2 inch thickness.  Place pieces flat (with room to spare) in gallon size ziploc bag.  Use a mallet to pound the pieces to 1/4 inch thickness.  I have a mallet like this one:
I've read that people can even use the rubber mallet you use for working around your house--just be sure to disinfect it with white vinegar afterwards because invariably, the chicken breaks through the bag.  After I've pounded the chicken, I cut it into the size pieces I want to be a serving size of 1-2 pieces per person.  Then, I place the chicken in a bowl next to my stove and move on to the next step.

* After pounding the chicken and setting it aside, I use white vinegar and a paper towel to disinfect my countertop where I was working by pouring a little vinegar on the counter and then rubbing it all over.  

2.  Beat the egg and milk in a bowl together and place next to the chicken.

3.  Place flour, baking powder, salt, and 1 Tbsp butter in a bowl.  But the butter into the mixture until it disappears and you don't even know it's there.  I don't use a pastry blender for this. I just use my fingers and squish over and over until it's all mixed in.  Place flour in a bowl next to the egg.  Set 1/4 cup aside in a measuring cup for the gravy later.

4.  Heat 1 Tbsp butter and 1-2 Tbsp canola oil in large skillet (I use my cast iron one) over medium heat .  When butter is melted, dip the chicken first in the egg mixture and then coat in flour mixture and place in pan.  Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side--this depends on your stove and your pan.  Watch it.  It should be a nice golden brown on each side after 5 minutes.  It took me two rounds to cook all of my chicken.  Set aside chicken on a plate.  

5.  While my chicken was cooking, I threw my mushrooms and onions with 1 Tbsp butter in a nonstick fry pan and cooked over med-high heat so that they would cook quickly and nicely.  Medium-high lets them cook through but not get soggy, just watch them so they don't burn.  If you think they're cooking too fast, just turn it down to medium for a few minutes.  This probably takes about 8 minutes or so.  Once cooked, set aside in a small dish with a lid to keep them warm.

6.  When the chicken is done, add 1 1/2 Tbsp of butter to the pan and let it melt, then stir in the 4 Tbsp of flour mixture that you'd set aside until it absorbs the butter.  Then, add the chicken broth little by little.  Whisk as you go so that it's all absorbed.  Pour in about a quarter cup at a time.  There are lumps at first, so keep stirring till all absorbed and add 2 Tbsp at a time if that makes it easier.  If you add too much, you will need to let your gravy come to a low boil/simmer so that it can thicken up.  It will thicken, but it will take time.  After finishing adding all the chicken broth, add the soy sauce. Then, add the milk a few Tbsp at a time until you've added about 3/4 cup.  You can add less if you want it thicker or don't need as much gravy.  

7.  I served steamed green beans and cranberry sauce on the side.  I placed a mound of mashed potatoes on each plate along with a piece or two of chicken.  We topped the chicken with some mushrooms/onions for those in our family who liked them and then put some gravy over top.  My middle daughter doesn't like gravy, so having the elements of this meal separate makes things more edible for her.  

So, that's my recipe... My husband has declared that it's a keep and is one that we'll definitely make for company soon!

Friday, January 9, 2015

One thing each day...

My goal lately has been to do one thing each day on my house--to clean or organize one thing.  Sometimes it's small, sometimes big (mostly small).  The small things have made such a difference to how I feel about the space I live in.

I put all of our kitchen medicines in a basket one day.
I cleaned the shower one day.
I put the extra dishes in bags in the basement one day.
I moved the fish food to a different drawer so they weren't so in the way-- one day.

A friend of mine told me a few years ago that the Fly Lady said to start each day by clearing off your kitchen counters.  I do that.  It gives me a less cluttered feeling as I start each morning.

I'm finding that organizing a husband, children, dog, and house doesn't become a smaller job as the kids get bigger.  Rather, the job gets bigger.  More stuff to keep track of.  More school assignments.  More books (speaking of which--one library book has gone mia right now :( ).

Recently, my oldest daughter admired a larger home that one of her friend's lives in.  I agreed with her.  I love their house.  But, I shared with her that it's also more to take care of.  She realized that if more people were living in that house, there would also be more to take care of than there is now. Comparing apples to oranges always makes the oranges look like something's not right with them.  

So for now, I'll stick to my one thing a day and continually make little steps that will hopefully make my home more comfortable for everyone living in it!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Unorganized Organized

The other day I was walking into Walmart with my children when I said with a smile to my oldest daughter, "Guess what? I have a list!  And it has everything on it!"  My children smiled and laughed with me.  You see, I don't often have a list with me.  I keep it in my head--or at least try my best to.  I do have a smart phone and I put some notes on it, but not as many as I should.

As I walked into Walmart, I looked at Autumn and told her that many people think I'm very organized.  She burst into laughter and my other two children smiled.  I laughed along with her.  I knew what she would think when I told her.

Often our family sees us very differently than our friends and strangers do.  Autumn sees me every day.  She sees that I struggle to stay on time and that I always have so much to do and so much that I want to do.  She sees my piles of papers and the pressure I put on myself.

But, she is a child.  That night I told my husband the story.  His response was a smile with the acknowledgement that I am organized by that I have a lot going on that I'm keeping track of.  I'm not a perfectly organized person who lives by a calendar and is always on time.  But, I would describe myself as "organized".  I think I'm not as organized as people think I am, but I think I'm also a bit more organized than Autumn thinks I am, you see...

My daughter is a child and so she doesn't see my planner with my monthly menu that is my own way of organizing.  She doesn't realize that I can always find things in my home when my family needs them.  She doesn't realize that all of their school books and folders are organized.  She has seen me organize bit by bit, but doesn't know yet that organization is a process.  I take one step at a time.  Last summer, I organized and labeled the bins in my school room and our school supply drawers.  A few years ago, I made my mom notebook.  This fall, I made a medical notebook with pages of information for my husband, myself, and our children.  And yesterday... I was given a drawer organizer by a friend and I took everything out of my desk drawers.  It's finally organized.

I've realized that organizing my home and my life is a process.  To do everything in a day would be overwhelming because it would make me feel like such a failure!  But, tackling one thing at a time makes it doable.  Because life keeps on going.  You can't just take a week and stop everything to organize things.  But, the biggest thing that I've learned about organization is to compensate for my weaknesses.

When I see a weakness in my organization that I'm not able to manage, I consider how to cope with it.  Can I change my weakness?  Usually not, I've found.  Can I put a routine in place or make something that will help?  Do I just need to simplify and get rid of something?  This is how I cope with my life.

This is why we have laminated checklists for setting the table and cleaning the house.
This is why my oldest daughter helps me by getting up in the morning (she's highly motivated).  Once she's going, she helps the rest of us get on track.  The Lord blessed me with her!
My middle daughter loves to organize her room.  She's also my child that leaves everything everywhere.  But, I can count on her to redo her room when it's needed--she has a knack.
My children help me get out the door by helping and taking responsibility for what they need wherever we are going.  I prep them as we're getting home about what we need to do and about what we need when we go certain places each week.
If I need to take something to church on Sunday or another place during the week, I put it in my church bag by the door or straight into the trunk of my car.
The music bag sits by the piano and gets filled every Wednesday morning and then put in the car so we won't forget it for lessons in the afternoon.  (I've found myself two blocks away from my house several times without the bag...)

But, that's my life.  We each have families that need different things from us.  We're all wired differently.  I am amazed at how much some of my friends tackle and keep track of.  I realize that we're all in the trenches together.  In the end, we love our families and our friends and we just do the best we can.

I just watched a movie titled Paradise Recovered and it was interesting.  It was about a young woman who was in a cult-like church and two young men who try to help her see her way out of it.  The main character has a very skewed sense of grace and what it means to be a Christian.  The theology of the church is very twisted.  Being a Christian doesn't mean that we are perfect or that we can be perfect.  It means that we are forgiven.  We try to glorify God in our lives because we love him, not out of obligation and guilt, but out of love.

I get excited when God helps me see a different way to be organized or keep track of things.  I'm thankful for the times when I get to purge my home and pass things on.  But most of all, I'm thankful that I'm a work in progress who knows God's grace.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ah... the complications of computers!

A few days ago, an app asked for permission to be added to my computer.  It looked genuine and seemed to come from Chrome... Well, it didn't.  All of a sudden, I had pop-ups all over the place.  Ugh!

I looked all over and did a little google searching (amidst pop-ups) to try and figure out how to get rid of them. I checked my chrome settings, my internet settings, and ran an anti-virus scan.

Nada.  Still Pop-Ups!

So, I went into Norton AntiVirus and went to support.  On the Norton website, I was prompted to download the Norton Power Eraser and uninstall unwanted programs.  It found it!  It was an adware/malware program called Stormwatch.  Nope.  I don't want it.  I really don't want it!  A click of a button and it was gone.  Yay!  No more pop-ups.  It was the stormwatch ad that was able to override google Chrome's setting to block pop-up ads.

Then, today...

Flash Player opened a tab on me asking for me to update the outdated of their player on my program... hmmm...  So, first, I googled what they were asking to include...  It was something by conduit that would change my homepage.  Didn't sound good.  So, I declined it.  Then, another app that was being included came up... Stormwatch... Stormwatch!!!  Nope.  Definitely don't want it.  Then two more came up after I declined the others.  I closed the whole tab and didn't do the update.  Hopefully, if my flash player really needs to be updated down the line, the company will actually just sent out an update for-- flash player!

I wanted to share this story to let everyone know about what these updates are trying to sneak onto your computer.  I knew that a lot of programs try to sneak McAfee onto your computer (Adobe being one of them) which is bad.  If you download a second anti-virus program onto your computer and you already have one, they will fight against each other, slow down your computer and potentially cause it to freeze up.

I am no longer going to just say yes to a program update.  I always opt for the notify me option before my computer updates itself or programs update themselves instead of giving blanket permission..

Post Script...

It's been a few weeks since this has happened and I've had to be vigilant.  I learned that what looked like the flash player update was not from them.  It was just a very good imitation.  It has popped up again since then and I've had to erase unwanted programs.  I have to be very careful about where I search and click on the internet.  My husband and I've made the decision to switch me to a mac the next time my computer breaks.  We had such a horrible experience with my children's Dell laptop and my Dell desktop is finicky.  For now, I'm thankful we have computers that work, but I'm very aware that technology does not just make our lives easier.  It also makes it more stressful in many ways.  I prefer tangible books.  I'm going to stick with them as much and as long as I can!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and Kitchen Counters

This morning as I watched a television program online, I saw two commercials for Clorox Disinfecting Wipes.  Both commercials were focused on cleaning up from raw fish or chicken.

Save money!  Don't buy them.  Just use white vinegar.  Pour a bit of it on your counter and wipe it all over the contaminated area with a paper towel.

Much, much cheaper option! :)

Thoughts on Coffee, Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts

We like Starbucks.  We've gone there many times over the past ten years.  So, of course years ago, we got "gold cards".  The refillable cards that turn into gold cards with your name on them when you've earned a certain number of points in a year.  

This past week, I realized that my account wouldn't tell me how many points I had.  I contacted customer service so that I could access the card online and sort things out... No help.  Then, I tried to call and ended up on hold for over half an hour.  I left the phone on speakerphone while doing other things.  Then, I hung up.  My time is compressed these days and I knew I didn't have the energy or time to figure this out beyond what I'd tried.  I'd tried.  

I talked with my husband about it and we thought about the pros and cons of the Starbucks rewards system.  The question we found ourselves asking was, is it worth it?  How does it benefit us?  What affect do the cards have on us?

Really, these cards are a genius marketing ploy that get people (including us) to spend more money at Starbucks.  You load your card.  Then, you spend from your card and it doesn't feel like you're spending as much.  It's easier to justify stopping and getting a cup of coffee.  There's lots of psychological effects, I'm sure.  

When we took a closer look, we realized that the benefits weren't really that much for us.  What it did was make us feel like we should choose Starbucks over going somewhere else that we would have enjoyed too--that may have been closer to home (save money on gas) or different (local ice cream for a snack).  

Credit cards do that too--when someone has a Kohl's card or JCPenney's card, we're more tempted to shop at that store. See this article HERE.  Interestingly, the article focuses very little on that con, but on others instead.  I realize that the idea to not have store cards is very counter-cultural right now.

It's also counter cultural not to have a store rewards card/refillable debit card. Although, I found this great post HERE that summarized the conclusions I came to.  The gold card is really a gold cage.  So, my husband and I've decided to use up what's left on our cards and move on--without regret.  We'll still go there when we want to, but that's the key--when we want to.  When we want to go to Dunkin Donuts or an ice cream spot, that's what we're going to do instead!

As a side note, the one tip I have for Starbucks users who have kids--- I order a Venti frappuccino for my kids and ask them to split it 3 ways (which they've never minded doing).  It saves us a lot!  1 large drink instead of 3 talls saves about $5.50.