Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Make a Difference: Shopping for Shoeboxes

Hi Friends! Is it just me or is July the fastest month of the year? We are already stocking up for school. When I was checking out at Walmart, the checker said that now is the time to buy school supplies, because closer to the start of school, they raise all the prices. 
While you are out getting deals for school, don't forget that now is also the best time to stock up for your Operation Christmas Child boxes. Pencils, sharpeners, crayons, colored pencils, and markers are all great items to put in your shoeboxes. 

This year I also got several pencil bags, because I saw an idea on Pinterest that suggested putting puzzles in a pencil pouch instead of the bulky box. The pouch will likely hold up better over time than a flimsy cardboard box too. Just make sure to cut out and include the cover photo, so the kids know what the puzzle looks like! The Dollar Store has tons of puzzles and coloring books to go with all the art supplies on sale right now. 

The end of the summer season is also a great time to find super clothing deals for kids. This year, for the first time, we are including some clothing in our Operation Christmas Child boxes. I found some awesome, very lightweight athletic shirts and sundresses, (brand new) for just a few dollars. These will fit easily in the shoeboxes, and still leave plenty of room for other fun stuff. 

Buying things at the right time is so important because it means you can pack more and spend less. Win! Win! Happy shopping!

You are loved!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Easiest Smoothies Ever

Hi Friends! How's your summer going? We've been melting here some days, and we are looking forward to free Slurpees this Friday, 7/11! Did you hear that 7-11 is doing a week of freebies after Friday if you get their app? (check it out here)  
Speaking of free, this Friday is also Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-a (dress like a cow, get a free meal--read details here and print your own costume). So yeah, we have lots of Friday plans! I LOVE free things!! 

Now on to healthy things... This is my favorite way to make smoothies for my kiddos. I know I said this before, but whenever strawberries, blueberries or raspberries are on sale, we stock up and freeze them. I use regular sandwich-size zipper lock bags. 

To make the world's easiest smoothies just combine:

2 cups frozen berries
2 1/4 cups vanilla almond milk

Makes two large smoothies or three-four small ones.

Almond milk is also something that's easy to buy on sale if you are paying attention. It has a longer shelf-life than cow's milk, and some brands don't need to be refrigerated until you open them; so it's easy to stock up without taking up room in the fridge.

Blend on high. Enjoy!

By using the vanilla almond milk you don't need to add any sweetener. Almond milk has 50% more calcium than cow's milk, and strawberries are high in vitamin C. It's our perfect summer cool-off treat   --for those days when free Slurpees are not available. True Story: when I was a kid I used to dream of winning the Lottery. The first thing I planned to buy was my own Slurpee machine. I've always had noble goals.

I hope you are staying cool and healthy and that you get to enjoy some summer freebies this week!

You are loved!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Chillin' and Grillin'

Is it me or is it hot out there? In the summer I do not will not heat up my oven, unless we get an occasional, cooler than normal day. It just takes too long to cool off the house. So, we grill. Like every day. To some people that might sound boring, or restrictive, but if you're creative there's almost nothing you can't cook on the grill. Here's a few grill tips and my favorite things to grill: 

I just found this tip I'd never heard before. If you rub a piece of raw onion on the grill, meat doesn't stick to it! This is me trying it, and it totally worked. I just rubbed down the grate while the grill was warming up, so it wasn't too hot (you want it a little warm to bring out the juice in the onion). 

I love sweet potato fries, but like I said--oven is not happening. If you had a grill pan you could probably just grill your hand-cut fries. We don't have a pan or anything special, just a basic grill with a basic grate, so I've been grilling them as rounds. I just cut them into 1/4" slices and either boil for 10 min or  stick them in a microwave dish with a little water for 3 minutes. Then I toss them with olive oil and some thyme from the garden and grill for about 5 minutes on each side. 

Grilled pineapple melts in your mouth (but let it cool a bit first or it will actually melt your mouth!). Fresh is the best, but even if you don't have a fresh pineapple, you can skewer a can of pineapple chunks and give it a try.

Just because I'm only using the grill doesn't mean I'm actually grilling every night. At the beginning of the week I like to grill up a bunch of chicken so we have lots left over to work into a couple other meals. I marinate a gallons size bag of chicken usually in some italian dressing or a variation of that (there's lots of kinds of italian dressing now). This gives it some flavor, but not overpowering, so you can still make different flavors with the left overs. I also always cut breasts in half, so more surface gets to marinate and you get smaller portions, which works out well for leftovers. 

So what do I make with all this chicken? The night I grill it, we usually just eat it as is: 
1. Grilled Chicken

2. BBQ Chicken Pizza
        Use chopped grilled chicken to make BBQ Chicken Pizza on the grill. The key to making pizza on the grill is flouring surfaces with corn meal to keep the dough from sticking once you've rolled it out, and bringing the cheese to room temperature before you add it to the pizza. I've just used an instant crust mix (like Jiffy) for the dough. Once your crust is mixed and rolled out,  lay the dough on the grill and grill until firm enough to flip, about five minutes. Have all your toppings chopped and ready, once you flip the crust you quickly slather on the BBQ sauce, cheese, chopped chicken, fresh basil, red peppers onions or anything else you want. Be sure not to overload with toppings, though. Then quickly close the grill lid, and let your pizza bake until cheese bubbles. Use two spatulas to remove from the grill and enjoy!

3. Chicken Salad
         Sometimes I feel lazy, or just hot, and I just chop grilled chicken and throw it in a salad. I don't like a traditional salad with just carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. I love to add fruits and veggies with more flavor and texture  corn, avocados, peas, beets, goat cheese, and anything fresh from the garden. Here's a patriotic salad I made last year: garden greens, shoestring beets, blueberries, corn, goat cheese, pepitas, and chicken. It's great with a balsamic or  poppyseed dressing. 

4.  Chicken & Potato Salad
             There's salad with chicken on it, and then there's chicken salad. This recipe I found in Sunset Magazine for New Potato and Chicken Salad with Yogurt Chive dressing is the best of both worlds. Find the recipe here. It's a great way to use grilled chicken on a hot summer night.

 5. Chicken Alfredo
                A quick pot of pasta with alfredo sauce is great with some sliced grilled chicken on top. Just warm the chicken in the alfredo sauce or in the microwave. 

The salads and the pasta are all great with our favorite Caprese bread, which you can also make on the grill!

Once in a while I do grill something other than chicken : ) Here's my favorite recipe for basting 
Pork Chops

Find the full recipe for Five Spice Grilled Pork Chops here. To cheat, keep reading ; )

Mix 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce, with 2 tbsp honey, and 1/4 tsp five-spice powder. 
Divide into two small cups.
Season boneless pork chops with a little salt and pepper. 
Grill on medium heat for about 5 min. Using half the mixture, baste the chops then turn over and baste the grilled side. Grill for 5 more minutes. Once you remove the pork from the grill you can drizzle the other half of the soy sauce mixture over them, or let each person add more sauce as they choose. 

I usually try to make extra pork chops too, with the left overs we make:

Pork Tacos
Just chop the chops, and stuff into a tortilla with lettuce, avocado, green salsa, sour cream, and cilantro. 

Warm Pork & Sweet Potato Salad
Grill and chop five-spice pork and grilled sweet potato rounds.  Chop grilled or fresh pineapple and fresh snow peas. 

Toss everything together and divide into individual plastic containers for a quick and easy picnic in the park meal.  Or serve over couscous or rice or quinoa. We have lots of free concerts in the park over the summer and I'm always looking for meals that are easy to make, pack and clean up. This was a great, one dish, mess-free meal.

Ok, those are my most used, and most recent grilling ideas, friends. I hope you are having a great summer and staying cool. The grill is your friend, and so am I : )
You are loved!

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