Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mongolian BBQ Asian Sauce Recipe

Last month, we went to Pei Wei with our kids.  We are so glad Pei Wei finally came to an area even close to us.  When one of our orders was brought out after everyone else was done, they brought out an extra Teriyaki Chicken.  Or what I thought was teriyaki chicken.

The next time we went to Pei Wei we ordered Teriyaki Chicken expecting what we got the time before.  Nope!  It was good, but different.  I asked one of the servers and tried to describe the chicken we'd had the time before.  She identified that chicken as probably the Mongolian chicken and gave us a sample of the sauce.  

Yes!  It was Mongolian sauce.  It was so good!

So, last night as I made salmon, rice, asparagus, and cauliflower for our dinner, I decided to try and make some Mongolian BBQ sauce for our dinner.  I found a super-easy and quick recipe HERE.  

I modified the recipe (of course, since I can't seem to leave recipes alone) by putting the oil, ginger, and garlic in a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup.  I needed my burners and didn't want to have to watch the sauce too.
1 1/2 - 2 tsp. canola oil--I actually think that sesame oil would be a good substitution if you wanted to give the sauce more kick.
1/2 tsp ginger powder (next time I'm going to mince ginger and see how it changes the sauce)
2 - 2 1/2 tsp. minced garlic (add more to taste up to 3 tsp.)  Garlic can make things spicy for kids and I didn't want to make it too garlicky, which is difficult to fix once done.  
I microwaved it for 30 seconds and then stirred.  Then, I added the remaining ingredients.  

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
I stirred everything together with a fork and then I microwaved it for intervals of 3 minutes at a time, checking after each interval until the sauce got to the thickness I wanted it to be.  I have to admit that I ran out of time and had to accept it at the thickness it got too because the rest of the dinner was ready. But, I'm sure it would have thickened with just a few more minutes.  

Once on the table and on my children's plates, it was love at first bite. 

Autumn: Mommy, this is so good!

Yes, I agree.  It was so good, unexpectedly good...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Panko vs. bread crumbs

A few weeks ago as I was cooking, I considered the panko bread crumbs I was using.  My food budget had been a lot higher than I'd wanted the month before.  It didn't feel like I bought anything too crazy that month, but I could see some of the changes I should make and one of them was the Panko crumbs.

Here's what I've noticed about myself...

1.  Trips to Trader Joe's throw everything out of whack.  When I walk into the store, I walk out with an expensive trip (even if my cart wasn't full).  Costco (and BJs)... another expensive trip. I'm trying to minimize these trips.  Even if I don't use them that often, I find that the memberships are still worth it.

2.  Little things can add up.  Saying no to my kids and myself is a habit I do have, but I have to remind myself not to let go of.

3.  Aldi makes life simpler.  It just does.  I don't have to clip coupons to get a good price.  There's less selection, but it's enough.  My trips are shorter and more profitable.  I focus on staples, dairy, and fruit and veggies when I go there.  I don't get my meat there, but instead make bi-weekly trips to Wegmans for meat.

4.  Little trips to the grocery store do add up.  It's easier to add on one or two items here or there which ends up adding up!

1.  Shop coffee sales online at World Market (used to be called Cost Plus).  The closest store to us is an hour and a half away, but they carry a decaf dark roast whole bean coffee and several caffeinated whole bean coffees.  They regularly run coupons if you get on their email list.  Between my birthday coupon for $10 off a purchase and a 10% off coupon I had (usually you can only use 1 code per purchase, with the exception of the birthday code or a $10 coupon you earn with their World Explorer program).  The coffee was on sale that week for $8 for 24 oz. (1 1/2 lb.) and the shipping to my house was $8.  Considering the gas for me to get to Costco costs me $10 per trip, I came out ahead.  I bought 4 bags = 6 lb. of coffee for $24 with all of my coupons and I saved by not heading into Costco and making any other big purchases.

2.  I don't have to feel guilty about my Costco membership (where we get our dog food) and our BJs membership (which is 20 miles closer and I can get the bulk things I need when I can't get to Costco).  On Tuesday, my kids and I headed to BJ's because my husband ran out of his generic zyrtec. I headed to Target to fill in the gap until I could get to BJ's, but discovered that 14 tablets cost $5.  At BJ's, 365 tablets cost $15.  I couldn't bring myself to do it.  30 tablets were $13 at Target, so at that rate, 365 tablets would have cost us $166.  Wow!  We didn't buy any, but instead made a spur of the moment trip to BJs.

3. Although Panko bread crumbs are much less expensive when you buy them in the big double box that Wegmans and BJs both carry now, it is still cheaper for me to use real bread crumbs for when I bread chicken, because I use the ends of my breads and bread that we aren't able to eat up for the bread crumbs.  It's an ingredient that isn't that expensive, but the almost free ones I make with my food processor are even less expensive.

Being wise with my food budget is something I think about a lot, but I know that I have to figure out what is doable for me and what isn't.  I've found that at different times in my life, I have been able to tackle different things than I can now.  My solutions to our food budget have been different... shopping by ads, farmers markets, different times given my family's life circumstances.  I find that there is no one right answer that has worked for me over the course of the past ten years.

On a final note, though, the one strategy for saving money on food that I have shied away from that is very popular right now is using apps on one's phone.  I am skittish about it because whenever anyone installs an app on their smart phone, they give the company providing that app access to information on that phone.  This may seem benign, but as the victim of identity theft, I get very concerned about who I give access to what on my smart phone.  In the case of ShopRite, there is an app.  But, you can also go to their website and load the electronic coupons on your shoppers club card instead.  With other stores, I know this option isn't available.  The value of these electronic apps is different for everyone and I have a lot of friends who have saved a lot of money using them.  Frankly, I'm just scared, so for now I'm going to watch and see how they turn out.  Here's a link to an article I heard online last week on NPR: LINK.  It gave me some food for thought.

Friday, June 6, 2014

One window at a time...

This morning I woke up and opened up the windows in the living room, kitchen, and school room.  Then, I made my way back to my bedroom and opened up a window there as well.  It may seem like a little thing to open up a window, but we didn't realize that we couldn't open the windows when we bought this house 2 1/2 years ago.  They wouldn't open.  (Our home inspector somehow missed that.)

A year ago, I found the screens for the windows in the kitchen and figured out how to open them.  Then, last fall, we replaced the windows in our school room and then the bedroom windows this spring.  

Fresh air may seem like a little thing, but it isn't to me anymore.  I am thankful for it.  So thankful.  

But, I fear that sometime I may not be as thankful for the fresh air.  What I find is that when I can't have something or when it is missing, I appreciate it more when it returns...

...whether it is my health after being sick.

...or time with my kids after a very busy period.

...or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving since I haven't eaten one since the celebration a year before.

...or the warmth of spring after the deep cold of winter.

I hope the Lord will always help me remember the blessing of fresh air.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Shopping for Eyeglasses... again

I think I am thankful that my kids only have to get eyeglasses once a year.  Last year, I purchased two pairs for one of my daughters and one pair for my son at Walmart.  I have taken them to the eye doctor at the local Walmart for five years.  It's covered by our insurance and he's very knowledgeable.  So, the eye exam part of it is very simple.  Picking out eyeglasses, though, can be much more frustrating.

Last year, I looked at Walmart and Costco for glasses for my children.  I started at Walmart and looked around.  Then, I headed down to Costco with three children in tow.  The lady at the counter was so unhelpful and I was frazzled, so I quickly left.  I headed back to Walmart and picked out glasses--two pairs for my middle daughter and 1 pair for my son.  Walmart doesn't carry many really small glasses.  So, I only got one pair and resolved to find another pair somewhere else.

I bought a second pair from JCPenny Optical and that was a horrible experience.  The price was as low as it could be--$25.  But, even the smallest pair was bigger than the pair I'd found for him at Walmart.  Still, the reason it was a horrible experience was because we didn't get any help.  They also put the glasses in a soft case (so you'd have to spend extra money on a hard case anyways).  I didn't mind when Eli ended up losing the glasses from Penney's withing a month.  But, that did mean that I needed another spare pair for Eli, so I headed to a Walmart that was closer to where I lived.

I ended up with a more expensive frame and the price climbed for his glasses from $39 to $78.  Surprisingly, it was the $78 glasses that came apart four times this year.  But, because it was a screw, I simply had to go back in over and over to get it fixed.  Time.  The store workers gave my son as the cause for the problem, though, the screws in his other glasses never came out.

At the end of it all, I did not look forward to trying to find new glasses again this year.  I knew I needed to do it differently.

We started with the exams.  I have found that my children's eyesight has changed every year.  I start getting their eyes checked at 4 years old.  Children's eyesight does continue to develop until they are 8 years old, so optometrists expect changes during this time and won't (shouldn't) automatically prescribe glasses even if a child doesn't have 20/20 vision.  This year, I found that my oldest daughter needed glasses to wear all the time.  She's the same age that I was when I started  wearing glasses all day, every day.  Additionally, my middle daughter's eyes changed and she needed new glasses, but my son's stayed the same.  So, we needed to make the rounds and find new eyeglasses...

We started with Walmart.  But, the girls didn't find ones they liked.  Both my husband I remembered times when we were kids when we felt very self-conscious about our glasses.  We want them to have glasses that are flattering and that they like.  After we left Walmart, I realized that I needed to talk with my daughters before we looked any farther.  What I said to my oldest daughter was that I wanted to find glasses that both she liked and I liked.  I wanted glasses for her that would flatter her face.  When I was a kid, knowing what looked nice on me didn't naturally occur to me.  And my daughters are the same way.  I try to give them broad guidelines and then freedom within those guidelines.

After Walmart, we checked out America's Best Value, since a friend had recommended it to me last year.  I discovered that they have a good selection of really small frames for children under 5 who need glasses at really cheap prices.  But, when we walked into the store near us, three employees were sitting gabbing away and they never offered to help us.  Whether I am willing to purchase glasses from a store is now dependent on whether someone is willing to help us (after our experience with Penney's last year).  There also weren't many frames in my ten year old's size which is what we were primarily looking for.  So, we moved on.

For Autumn, we ended up at a small optical boutique near our home, Holloway, that had some girl frames that weren't too young, nor too tweenish.  They were more expensive, but my oldest daughter loves them.  We did spend the money to get her good lenses that don't distort your eyes when someone looks at you.  There isn't a reflection or a rainbow effect.

One pair down, two to go (one pair of sunglasses for my oldest daughter and one pair of distance glasses for my middle daughter).  

Next, we tried our local mall and Visionworks.  Their glasses are ready in a few hours (or up to a day later in the case of polarized sunglasses).  The saleslady was helpful and patient with us, but didn't know a lot about what constituted a proper fit of glasses on a child.  I realized that for my own sanity, I needed to help one daughter at a time, so I started with Sami.  We found her a cute pair of glasses and that was done.  Then, I turned my attention to Autumn's sunglasses.  That was tough.  After a long search, we settled on some plastic purple frames.  Looking for glasses may take a short time if you're lucky, but I'm realizing that I need to always make sure to allow for time when shopping for glasses with my children so that I don't get stressed and impatient with my children.  I tend to squeeze things into my schedule and when it comes to glasses... it's wise for my kids and me if I allow more time for such shopping trips!

(On a side note, Visionworks does carry the flexon frames for boys with bendy arms.  So, if you're looking for them, you can find them there.  They don't make them in girl colors, though.)

Buying glasses for kids just isn't easy.  I find that as a parent, I'm constantly figuring out how to make things manageable for myself.  I managed things better this year than last.  I am hoping that next year will be easier than this one!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Thoughts on HGTV

It's very interesting to me that HGTV shows and others in that "home improvement" genre have been super popular in the last few years.  These shows make everything look so... so... well, doable!  

But, are they really??

We don't have cable television, so I don't watch a lot of shows on HGTV, but it is always on at the doctor's office where I had my lasik surgery done.  So, before one of my pre-op appointments I had the opportunity to watch one of the shows in which a man and woman team up to help a couple do some updates that will essentially redecorate their home and sell it.  

I watched as they recommended repainting the living room and removing some very obnoxious plaster sculptures that were permanently adhered to the walls (which had been there when they purchased the home).  Then, I watched as the woman brought the wife out on the patio to refinish a table with a dark stain.  
This was where the show and me did not see eye to eye and where the light bulb went on in my head.  

When I've watched these shows in the past, I've always known that the shows want you to buy into the story they're telling you.  I have no idea how much truth is actually in the stories.  But, on this particular day, there was a big glaring problem with the story the show was telling.

The wife, who was helping stain the table was in a black shirt--and perfectly white shorts... he he he.  Who stains anything in good clothes?  NO ONE!  Who stains something without getting something on them?  Almost no one.  Who would ever, ever stain something with white shorts on?  NO ONE!  

At this point in the show, I just burst out laughing.  I pointed out the problem with the show and she completely agreed with me.  

I don't think I'll ever look at these shows the same way again.  

Are many of the projects doable?  Yes.  I've done a lot of the remodeling I often see on these shows.  Does it always come out as perfectly as it does on the shows?  Of course not!  

Why am I even writing all of this down?  

Because this show reminded me to have realistic expectations of myself and projects that I tackle.  I know things may not come out perfectly the first time.  I know I may have to start over.  But, that's okay.  Because unlike the shows where everything looks easy to do and perfect the first try, life doesn't really work that way.