What’s for dinner Wednesday: two weeks of meals and a new recipe

3 Oct

Tis’ the season!

As they say… Happy Fall Y’all!

It’s fall in New England and that means two things: apples and pumpkins. We’ve been doing the apple thing in September, saving the pumpkins for October. Therefore, today’s post will be all apple, all day long.

It’s been a while since I posted a two-week menu, so I thought I’d do that today as well as share a new recipe that we tried and liked, apple-related, of course.

Where I have them, I have included the links to the recipes I have shared before so that hopefully makes it easier for you.

When you come home with so many apples, it’s time to get cooking.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

Sunday: Shepherd’s Pie (Although we’ve been having this for years with the recipe I’ve linked here, we now make it a new way, courtesy of a trip last spring to visit my mother in-law, MaryLou. Our meat now contains both creamed corn and cut green beans and has tomato sauce mixed in. We also took the cheese out of the mashed potatoes on top, since we can’t all eat it. This new recipe is a little bit healthier and it combines the recipes of both our mothers. It has been a hit with our whole family.)

Monday: Tacos

If you’ve never made homemade applesauce, it’s so delicious and makes your house smell wonderful.

Tuesday: Pork tenderloin (pre-marinated in the package), homemade applesauce

Wednesday: Marinated steaks

Thursday: BBQ Ribs (prepackaged, pre-bbq’d, just cook and eat)

Friday: Cast iron skillet fajitas- both chicken and steak (homemade fajita seasoning recipe from Allrecipes.com)

This was a delicious new way to have kielbasa and very fall-ish. Thanks to A Spicy Perspective for the recipe!

Saturday: Light apple onion kielbasa skillet from A Spicy Perspective

Sunday: Eggplant Parmesan

Monday: Cranberry Chicken

Tuesday: Hot Dogs/Hamburgers

Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie (sometimes homemade using this recipe, but this time not and we have one that is a separate gluten free, dairy free pie which we buy pre-made and pre-frozen at our local bakery.)

Thursday: Homemade Pizzas

Friday: Chicken/Broccoli/Pasta

A great new meal to add to our fall menu!

 

 

 

Fun Friday: Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding (dairy and gluten-free)

21 Sep

We’ve been working with some new ingredients most recently, but we’re still turning out some delicious meals and desserts!

Since the spring, we’ve been working with a new set of dietary restrictions, adding in dairy-free to the gluten-free mix. Although it’s been a bit of a challenge (understatement), it’s been an education and it’s been a success overall. We’ve found many good substitutions for the ingredients we used to use, and we’ve been experimenting for many months now and we have found that it’s still very do-able to bake and cook great recipes.

During the summertime, my oldest daughter was having a craving for bread pudding. We had an amazing bread pudding dessert in 2015 at the Grand Canyon that hadn’t been beat in the years since. I have a great cookbook, called “Gluten-Free Bible” which had two different bread pudding recipes in it, and she decided to give one of them a try. We had all of the ingredients for it and when I list the original recipe, I will list our substitutions, but you can see them here in the picture as well.

The funny thing about this particular recipe is that we originally started out thinking it was going to be dessert, but ended up making it for our breakfast because we broke one of the golden rules of recipes and didn’t read it all the way through before starting. Partway through our preparations we got to the “refrigerate for two hours” part and suddenly we were looking at bread pudding for breakfast. I was able to justify this because I felt that the recipe wasn’t much different than an overnight baked french toast recipe. We weren’t eating it every day of the week, so just this once (and the next day with leftovers) it would be just fine for breakfast.

Caroline had been craving a good bread pudding since the Grand Canyon in 2015.

This recipe was quick, easy and delicious, and those are three things we love in a recipe. Other than the prep of the apples and the bread, neither of which took very long, the rest was super-easy, and we definitely would make this recipe again. We used whipped cream on top (both the dairy and the non-dairy kinds) and it was a really fun dessert for breakfast meal.

Here is the recipe as written in my “Gluten-Free Bible” cookbook.

OLD FASHIONED BREAD PUDDING
Makes 6-8 servings

INGREDIENTS

10 slices gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (We used Rudy’s bread.)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted (We used Earth’s Balance sticks, vegan)
2 cups whole milk (We used unsweetend almond milk)
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apples
(We almost added dairy-free chocolate chips to this recipe, but we were ultimately glad we didn’t as it would’ve been more of a stretch to call that a breakfast item once we added chocolate into the mix.)

Lesson learned (again and again): always read the recipe all the way through first.

DIRECTIONS

1: Grease 9-inch baking dish.

2: Combine bread cubes and butter in prepared baking dish; toss to coat.

3: Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in medium bowl. Stir in raisins and dried apples. Pour over bread cubes. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.

4: Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Bake 50-55 minutes or until golden brown and center is set. Let stand ten minutes before serving.

The whipped cream that we buy which is dairy-free is the Reddi-Wip almond cream, but they also sell a coconut cream for those who can’t do almond. I’ve found it at our local Stop and Shop and at our PriceRite.

This was a very, very close second to the bread pudding which we had at the Grand Canyon in 2015. I think that part of that dessert experience was the Grand Canyon itself, and part of it was that it was topped in hot caramel topping, whereas ours was not (but could be!) I was also happy that our daughter who doesn’t like raisins, and hence hadn’t eaten this bread up to this point in time, ended up liking them in the bread pudding recipe. I felt like we’d managed to hide an extra serving of fruit in this meal, the way I used to do when they were all little. I don’t know if it matters that I was hiding it in a dessert. She ate raisins. Mission accomplished.

If you’re looking for a great recipe for fall that is easy, gluten and dairy-free, good for breakfast or dessert, and rivals that which is served at the Grand Canyon, I recommend you give this one a try.

This was so delicious, and great for any time of day or night!

Monday Musings: Did you cry?

17 Sep

 

Around midnight that night before, I looked at the pile, and gave a little shudder. At that moment, it all seemed surreal.

All through the years, as our kids were growing up, they seemed fascinated by our reactions and emotions, especially for sad events. We would return from a wake or a funeral or talk about something sad that had happened, and the kids would peer closely at our faces.

“Did you cry??” they’d inevitably always ask, waiting for our answer and the explanation that followed, yes we did or no we didn’t, and a discussion would ensue about how much or little we cried.

We recently broke the news to them of an unexpected death of a family member they were extremely close to, this past summer.

“It’s okay to cry,” I told them then, as they sat, stunned and not sure what to do next. And they did. We all did.

I was reminded of this interest in our emotions and how we handle them, as we began the process of packing up our oldest to move into her college dorm room, one hour, one state away. After I’d survived graduation day itself, and tried to navigate through the summer months to help her get herself ready to go, people would always come up to me, looking at me closely, and they’d ask how I was doing, and how I thought I’d do the day of move-in.

“Do you think you’ll cry?”

I was intrigued by people’s fascination with the coming day and its emotions, and I know that for some, it was because they’d been through it themselves before, and for others it was because they hadn’t, but at some point in the future, they would be at the very place in time that I now was at. With so many situations in life, people aren’t sure what the “right” thing to do is. Truth be told, there is no one right way to do these things.

“I don’t think I’ll cry,” I said. I explained that we were lucky, our daughter had chosen an out-of-state school, but with our own state being so tiny, we could get to her state in an hour. She would be gone, but not far away and we could get to her easily. Additionally, over the past two years, especially since getting her license and her job, she had been gone a lot. She worked a lot, she was at school all day and even for many of the nights between sports and activities, and on the weekends if she wasn’t working, she was often out with friends, making the most of her time before they all went their separate ways. I felt like we’d been slowly adjusting to life without her at home, for two years. Since January alone, she had traveled out-of-state with school twice, and with a friend for a week in the summer. She was independent, confident, knowledgeable and ready to go, and yet she wanted to be close enough to home to be back in a heartbeat if she wanted to be at an event, or needed to be home for an obligation, which we also thought was a good decision. I felt like we had done our job as parents, and we had done it as well as we could. She was ready.

This car which had recently taken our family on a five-week, cross-country adventure all together, was now packed up and ready for the next adventure.as we sent one of our own, off on her own

And truly, I wasn’t as sad as I was just so excited for her. My husband and I are both college graduates and we had both lived at school, both on-campus and off. We both knew how great these next four years ahead would be for her, and how lucky she was to be able to have these experiences. We were so excited that she’d picked the school she’d picked, as it seemed to be everything she wanted. It felt like home to her after the first day she visited, and it felt comfortable for us as well. We were incredibly happy for her.

During the parent orientation day in June, we were asked to write a letter to our student which would be given to her during her first week of college classes. I wrote that as our first child going off to school, we were all so excited for her, and that we couldn’t wait to hear all of the things that she got to do. I reminded her to try new things and to do new things, that this was going to be an exciting time her life, and in ours, as we all waited to hear about her new adventures. We’d tried to create that sense of adventure in our own family all through the years, and this was the next step: now go, and create your own new adventures. Be safe, but get involved. Try new things. If you don’t do it now, you may never get to.

As The Day drew closer, the posts and memes shared on social media were more and more sad. I didn’t open them. I couldn’t read them. I couldn’t let myself go down that rabbit hole. I had to stay focused and organized in order to best help her, and I wanted to remain excited for her.

She was worried.

“Are you going to cry?” she asked, looking at me closely.

“I don’t think I am,” I answered.

“I don’t think I am either,” she said, relieved.

I didn’t want her to. This was a happy time, and my mom had always said this about the times in my life that were transition times as well, when she wasn’t sad either, but happy instead. I didn’t want my other girls to be sad either. They were very excited for their sister, proud of her, and the months and years ahead were going to be exciting for them as well, as they made their way along the rest of their own educational journeys. Things were going to be a little bit different at home, but not a lot, but I also wanted them to look ahead at their own future adventures excitedly too, not worrying from now until then that it would be sad. I knew that ultimately, it was okay for any of us to cry, but I didn’t want to turn this into something sad if we weren’t already feeling that way. I knew too, that if I started to cry and started thinking backwards instead of forwards, I might start to cry and never stop, all those moments of babyhood and beyond flashing before my eyes.

I will tell you though, the night before, as the hours got closer to midnight and her stuff was piled up everywhere, ready to go, her room cleaner and emptier than it’s ever been in recent years, it suddenly got real.

Surreal.

It was dark outside, quiet in the house as just she and I were the only ones up. We were marking bags, closing up containers, checking off lists, and I suddenly thought to myself, “I just did this. I just unloaded all of these clothes into drawers and closets, gift bags filled with baby clothes for her before she was born.”

And, in a life that is often so filled with routines, doing the same thing, day after day after day, for kid after kid after kid, it struck me: I’ve never, ever done this very thing before. I’ve never yet, packed up a kid to move out of our house. I’ve brought one home, three times, and done it the same way every time: the baby girl flag flying outside the house, baby car seat with a new baby girl and new parents standing on the front steps for a photo, but never yet, had I done the reverse, packing one up to leave.

It felt like nothing I’d experienced before, because I hadn’t ever experienced it before, and I never would experience that very first, so new, again.

At that very moment I took a deep breath, I swallowed a big lump in my throat, and I kept packing, closing, labeling.

We had a short amount of time and a big job ahead.

On the morning of move-in day we were all business, and as my husband later described to all who asked, you almost don’t have any time to cry, any time to feel anything (but tired). We had to be at the dorm by her designated time slot, and we worked backwards from that time, finishing packing up the car so we could leave on time and be there on time. Once we got there, we had just a few hours to make magic happen in that empty room, now filled with all her stuff, and soon after, all her roommate’s stuff. There was furniture to move, things to be put together, bags and crates and bins to unpack, items to help hang on the wall in the spots she designated, and the time flew by. Our younger two went off to explore the area. Don went off to get us all some food and to buy a fan, since I’d broken the one we brought with us within the first five minutes we’d arrived.

My daughter directed me in what she wanted where, doing it as she’d planned it out in her mind (and on Pinterest) for so many months. This was her time, she had everything she needed, and it came together beautifully, just as she’d hoped it would.

Before we knew it, the sun was setting on move-in day and we were ready to go home.

Before we knew it, it was time to go. We’d hung the last picture on the wall, plugged in the last extension cord. Whatever was left to do, she could do on her own, and she could continue to make the final details the way she wanted them to be. It was now time for her to begin her new adventure without us there. It was time for her to explore the hallway of her dorm and see who her neighbors were. Time for her to bond with new friends, figure out what was what on campus. Friends she’d met at orientation who’d moved in earlier that day, were texting her, “Are you done yet? Let’s go!”

She was ready. It was truly the first day of the rest of her life, and I remember beaming a big smile across the room to her just before we left.

“I’m so excited for you,” I said. “Are you excited?”

“I am,” she smiled back.

She was ready. And so were we.

When the time came to give a hug goodbye, we were happy for her, excited for her days ahead.

And so we all gave hugs and said goodbye, and off we went. No tears, and really, no sadness, just excitement and exhaustion from the day and from the past whirlwind weeks of preparation.

The next day and in the days to follow, people would ask us, “Did you cry?” Many would look closely at me to see how I was doing, how I did, just as my kids always had when we’d return from something sad.

“I really didn’t, and we’re really doing okay,” I’d say.

We didn’t cry, at least so far, not yet anyway, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing for those who did, or do. Everyone’s emotions are different and their situations are different. Some cry for other reasons, some kids move further away and aren’t as accessible as ours will be. There are no two families, no two situations, no two kids alike. We didn’t cry for this one, but who knows what will happen for the next one. Or the next, the last.

No matter what happens when it’s your own turn, do remember that no matter what, it’s okay to cry.

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: A grab-and-go meal for any time of day

12 Sep

A new grab-and-go idea from my friend Gina!

I love social media and the ability to find new ideas from people who’ve either thought of them first, or tried them out first, and been successful.

Recently, our friend Gina had shared that she has successfully made ahead and frozen egg sandwiches as a quick grab-and-go breakfast either for school days or camping trips or whenever they’re most needed. She uses Bagel Thins and her family loves them.

I decided that this school year, as soon as I had some time, I’d try out her idea for my family. I always have great intentions, and I can’t always do something like this all the time, but I figure that any time I can be prepared ahead of time, is better than not.

Eight bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches were ready to go.

This past weekend, I was able to get the Bagel Thins and give this a try, and I was so happy when my daughter was able to grab a quick egg sandwich for her breakfast later on in the week, deeming the meal a success.

Gina’s instructions were simple: be sure each part of the sandwich is fully cooled, and wrap in paper towels for reheating. The Bagel Thins bag makes for great storage in and of itself, so I just cooked, cooled, wrapped, labeled and froze.

As I was cooking, my daughter Liz was so excited and before even trying one out, she requested sausage patties for the next time around, so I knew she had high expectations for this trial. I used precooked bacon to cut down on some of the prep time (one slice cut in half per sandwich), and I used my counter-top griddle to cook the eggs all at once. I was able to cook six and then two. I cooled them all on a cookie sheet, which I’d popped in the oven for a couple of minutes first, just to fully melt the cheese.

I hope that I can continue this meal prep idea as it gives us an additional breakfast or on-the-go meal for those times when we want something filling and don’t have a lot of time to make anything.

Storing these right in the bag was super convenient.

I appreciate the sharing of ideas from all of my family and friends, and I love this idea from Gina. I hope that we can continue to make these throughout the school year, along with other grab-and-go ideas for those busy days and nights. I encourage you to give it a try too, if you’re looking for something new for your own family’s busy schedule.

Have a great week!

College Ready: sharing what I’ve already learned (part two)

17 Aug

We spent one full day and shopped til we dropped, hitting three major stores to get the bulk of what we needed. We scored deal after deal.

Earlier this week I shared Part One of my College Ready posts. I don’t know it all, I don’t even know as much as other people know, but in a short time, I’ve learned a lot that I can at least share out. Those who need to know can add it to what they’ve learned, save it for later when they need it, or toss it.

Here’s what I’ve learned: college is expensive, and college needs are expensive. We hear a lot about tuition, room and board, and books all being expensive, but what people don’t really talk much about is the huge expense of getting a student ready to live on campus. Not everyone lives on campus, but if your student is going to, start early saving some money for dorm expenses if you can, and start saving coupons and watching for deals. Get those deals when you can and put them aside if you have to. Shopping for something big like this is like a sport. You need a strategy. Here is our strategy.

Many people know that Bed Bath & Beyond prides themselves in being a go-to for college dorm shopping. (And no, I don’t make any commission off of these posts from them.) When you tour dorms there are often BB&B advertisements in the rooms which have been outfitted by the local store, and you see their ads often on social media, television and in print. Their coupons arrive in the mail regularly: 20% off one item, $5 off your total purchase over $15 and $10 off your total purchase over $30. You can even order all of your dorm room supplies online and have them shipped to the local BB&B near your school so that you can pick them up when you arrive for move-in day.

My advice is simple: save every single coupon. Don’t ever throw them away. They have expiration dates on them but they don’t actually expire. They  will accept them forever, and they let you use more than one per shopping trip. Take every single one of them with you if you choose to shop at BB&B for college dorm needs. More importantly, save every coupon to every store that you get during this shopping time and make the most of the deals that pop up as you see them. You may not realize you need something and you don’t want to throw away a good deal.

We opted to first use any store gift cards our daughter had received as graduation gifts towards her college shopping needs. We advised her to save any visa gift cards for books, since we had a little bit of money put away for shopping already, and to save any Amazon gift cards as well, unless we found something cheaper on Amazon (which we didn’t).  We would combine any gift cards with coupons and then after exhausting that option, we’d use the money I’d put aside from January to June with coupons next. This would not touch the money in her savings account at all, which would be saved for when she was living at school.

She had the most in gift cards at BB&B, then at Target, and although we did not have a gift card to At Home, it was my birthday in August and I’d received a “15% off your whole purchase” coupon. She signed up for their loyalty program and received a “10% off your whole purchase” coupon too, but we didn’t need it. Additionally, we visited Five Below, where everything is $5 or less, and looked to see what we could get there since she had a small gift card there and they have some cute dorm decor items. We planned to save our trip to Walmart for last because although it’s slightly cheaper than Target or BB&B, we would be paying entirely out of pocket with no coupons or gift cards at all, and it ended up being cheaper for us to shop with gift cards and coupons first, exhausting all of those before Walmart.

You can make money-saving magic happen with your coupons if you’re strategic.

Just in our BB&B shopping alone, we saved $100 in coupons (we used a total of 14 coupons in two visits, six one time and eight the next time, and we have some left if we need them) and we used $150 in gift cards, only paying $165 out of pocket total-and only on the second trip-the first trip was totally free. We got the bulk of what we needed there, from a comforter set to all of the under the bed, next to the bed and above the bed storage items. We also got a few decorative items there. We saved $21 at the At Home Store with my birthday coupon, and used $30 in Target gift cards before paying anything out of pocket at either store.

Since we don’t know if we’re 100% correct in everything we’re getting, we are saving every receipt. At BB&B they also told us to save all the packaging for returns as well. A good friend once said to me, “You know, it is possible to over-shop,” and I can totally see how that can happen. There is SO MUCH out there and there are so many suggestions of “must haves.” I tried to look at several lists and compare them to each other, and to listen to other people’s advice as well as knowing what we already had or didn’t have before we shopped. If I saw something come up on every single list and it matched up with what other people told me we’d need, it definitely went on to our list as well. If it was something we already had at home and could spare, we tried not to duplicate. We looked at her room layout to see what we thought would fit, and where. Some things just seemed over the top, or extra. We tried to balance having some cute decor items with having the more functional items first and foremost. Some nice-to-haves are okay, but the must-haves had to come first. We were lucky too, that a friend gave us her daughter’s memory foam mattress pad, which everyone now calls a “must have,” but which is very expensive. (Those didn’t exist when I went to school, I had a foam egg crate topper.) I found this type of shopping to be very similar to when we outfitted our RV for the first time. Function was first and foremost, space-saving was key, and money-saving was of the utmost importance.

So now, we wrap up, picking up the last few little things over the next week or so and then start to pack up and move on out. We’ll see how well we did once she moves in; how on the mark we were, what we still might need or what needs to be returned. Keeping our fingers crossed that we are more on the mark than off!

Fingers crossed…

 

 

College Ready: sharing what I’ve already learned (part one)

15 Aug

What exactly do they need?

They say you don’t know what you don’t know, and that is so true for so many situations throughout life. As a mom to a new, soon-to-be-on-campus college freshman, that saying could not be more true. As an educator to the core, I feel the need to share with others what I’ve learned so far along the way so that I can help other parents the way that others who’ve gone down this path first, have also helped me. Last fall, I wrote an article called Navigating a family’s first senior year. I feel like I am now ready to write the next article in that series.

So, here goes. I’m separating this information into two blog posts so that it’s not too long or too overwhelming.

Here is what I’ve learned so far, that I think is worthy enough to pass along to you.

First and foremost: ask around. This process is all new since we parents went to college, if in fact we parents went to college, as not everyone does. Social media is new, technology is new, online ordering is new, memory foam is new, HIPPA is new, it’s all new. Everything. So other than remembering what my dorm looked like and my basic needs, lots of other stuff isn’t the same. Ask those who have done it before, and research. Read blog posts, read other people’s experiences-good or bad-and then take from them what you wish, and discard the rest. That’s the same advice I always have for new moms: Everyone will give you a ton of information, so listen and use some and politely ignore the rest. We are parents who are starting all over again at the new mom and dad thing, just in a different way. Beginning I’m not sure when, but really focusing this past school year, I did just that. I read, I researched, I asked and I listened, and I made lists.

I also began to put a little bit of money aside after Christmas. This sounds obvious, and it’s way easier said than done, believe me, I know. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was putting money aside for yet either, but I knew we’d be needing it, and I was right. It wasn’t for the college fund, and it wasn’t her savings account money for living on during college, it was different money. Each time I got paid, I’d put some random amount into her checking account from mine, whatever I thought we could spare at the time, and she’d move it over into her savings account. I’m sure that it made me lacking some other money somewhere else for something else, but it allowed me to have a stash ready, designated for expenses for whenever we needed it.

“What is this money for?” she’d ask.

“I don’t know yet,” I’d answer. “But I know it’s going to be for something.”

In the spring, the college deposit was due. Some of the money went to that. In July a small registration fee was due for a September activity, so some of the money went to that. The rest would be spent on dorm supplies when we shopped. (That will be in my next post.) These were things a college loan wouldn’t necessarily cover, they didn’t fall under tuition or room and board, but they were needed, and they were costly, and they had to be done. I wish now that I’d put more money aside, starting sooner, as I found the last month of senior year to be extremely expensive with all of the graduation events (she had three different ceremonies) and clothes/shoes/jewelry needed for each, as well as for her prom, and even things like the meals we hosted for family after the graduation events and the party itself, so keep all that in mind as you go forward.

Additionally, throughout the year, I started picking up random things and putting them aside in her college laundry bag that we’d given her already for her 18th birthday, filled with a few college-ready gifts. Soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry and dish detergent etc., all went into the bag during the year, even more frequently as the spring approached. At my CVS, any time I saw a “buy one, get one half off” deal, I’d buy one for us and throw the “get one half off” item into her bag. If I saw something on clearance she’d need, I’d grab it and throw it into her bag. By the summertime, her bag was full, having started off half-full at her birthday.

This is a great gift for recent high school grads who are going to be living on campus.

Before the summer even hit though, I asked people whose kids had “been there” already, what she’d really need. I got two great tips that I want to pass along to you. I used them both as graduation gifts for her and for others.

The first is a gift they need to have, but you hope they won’t actually need. The mom of student finishing her freshman year recommended a well-stocked first aid kit. She listed off a bunch of items kids need that they don’t necessarily want to go to the health services building for, like a band aid or a cough drop, but that they don’t always think to have. I loved this idea. We get sick all the time over here, and have a ton of bumps along the way too, so I decided to definitely do this as a gift for my own daughter, as well as some close family members. I bought $3 buckets at Target that I found in the “under $5” bins, and I filled them. I did generic things everyone needs, like a digital thermometer and band aids and cough drops, cotton balls, ice packs, etc., much of which can be found at a Dollar Store, for just $1 each. Several things came in multi-packs of individual items, like a three-pack of hand sanitizer, which I’d break up into three individuals for three gifts. For my own daughter I added in additional items, or full-sized items, some more costly, like the certain sunscreen she uses, or a big tube of stain stick, and bug spray. I filled the bins and wrapped them in cellophane with a ribbon (all found at the Dollar Store too) and gave them out.

My daughter took off on that idea, and for her own friends, she gave them buckets as well, but filled them with school supplies (markers, pens, pencils, paper clips, ruler, white out, etc.,) and threw in some band aids and cough drops as well, all for under $20 a bucket, including the bucket. We wrapped them the same way and they made great gifts.

This reminded me that she also needed her own school/desk supplies, so we later made her a bin of those as well. Everything we always have here, on hand throughout the school year, she’ll need there.

This was a fun gift to make and to give.

The next great gift idea, I received from a co-worker whose son was about to graduate college as my daughter was graduating high school. I was stumped as to what to give her for gifts at the time we spoke. Her son had also attended an out of state school, so she had given him gift cards for places that were in the city where he’d be attending school. I thought that was a fun idea, and since our daughter’s school was out of state, but not too far away, one of my best friends and I took a day’s ride up and back, grabbing a bunch of little gift cards to places that were near her school. Some were to places that we don’t have here, but we also spotted some places that we do have here, so I continued to shop for gift cards even after that day trip. Some spots were less expensive, so we got $10 gift cards and some were more so we got $15. One place was a sit-down restaurant she likes, so I got a $25 gift card there.

I filled out the front sections for our gift cards, and she filled out the rest for others she’d received.

Once I had them all, I decided to get a cute organizer from Target for her to keep all her gift cards in, as I knew she’d be getting more from other people and she had been saving a bunch at home as well. I added in restaurant menus if they had them, and figured she could throw in coupons to the places she had gift cards for, if she had any.

This was a great gift, a fun day trip for me, and it made me more familiar with the area in which she’d be spending her time. My friend was my co-pilot that day and she kept a running list of local places we saw so that as time goes on, if someone were to ask me what she needs for a birthday gift or a holiday gift, I can say, “There’s a CVS right next to her campus, get her a gift card there,” or to any other place I now know is up there. If we want to add to her collection ourselves for gifts in the future, we can.

There are so many great gift ideas out there, and I know that there are different philosophies on gifts. Some feel that helping to pay for college IS the gift and that’s what they give. Others take a big trip as a gift or send their child off on a trip with someone else as their gift. For us, this worked out well and it made for a fun afternoon after graduation when she opened her gifts. They weren’t expensive to pull off, and during a super-expensive time of year, that was a blessing in itself. It was just enough and will last her throughout her school year(s). They were fun, but they were functional too. Even the gift card holder can be re-purposed in the future. The labels can be labeled over, and the hashtag sign is on there with removable tape. I really tried to think ahead and be practical. (By the way, in case you’re not sure, HANGRY is a combination of Hungry and Angry, which is a popular word with kids now, but also didn’t exist before. I’ve also witnessed Hangry with my own kids, and it’s real and a perfect description.)

Stay tuned for my next post, and I’ll pass along anything I can about dorm room shopping that I’ve learned so far. I’m not a pro, and we’re not even to the point of moving her in yet, but I’ve already learned a ton and I will pass it on.

What’s for dinner Wednesday: A new recipe and a new Cave Tools cooking tool

8 Aug

This was a favorite new meal of ours, thanks to our new Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan, and I can’t wait to have it again.

Happy August!

This summer seems to just be flying by. We had just finished the whirlwind couple of weeks surrounding graduation when I last wrote a blog post, and that was followed by two weeks of vacation. We came back from that and went right into the final days of planning and then hosting our second daughter’s 16th birthday party here, a sunflower-themed Sweet Sixteen on a beautifully sunny day. Now that we’re back into a regular routine again, albeit a summer routine, we’ve been trying out some new recipes and even a brand new Cave Tools product.

We were asked to try out a newly launched product, the Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan in July, around the same time that I kept seeing a recipe go by on social media for Sheet Pan Chicken, which consisted of oven-roasted veggies and chicken all tossed together in a homemade marinade and cooked in the oven. When we agreed to try out the BBQ Grill Pan, we opted to use the inspiration from the recipe we’d seen online, but to do it our own way, utilizing our new pan. It seemed to be made for such a meal because it had a slotted side and a flat side, with the slotted side designed to allow the BBQ flavors and smoke to come up through the grill pan while excess grease falls through, keeping our grill grates clean.

One pan cooking is my favorite, especially for clean up.

We tossed our chicken in some bottled Italian dressing for a quick marinade, and sliced up our veggies: asparagus, zucchini, squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots. We weren’t sure if we had more veggies and chicken than space, but it was a perfect fit, with the veggies on the flat side and the chicken on the slotted side.  We also liked that the stainless steel pan had grips on three sides so that it was easy to handle.

The new Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan is designed to cook more than just chicken and veggies, though. It’s perfect for other types of meals, including breakfast, which we’d like to try out next. Cave Tools suggests using the griddle side for sautéing peppers, onions, eggs, bacon, cheesesteaks and any other food that would typically fall through the grill grates, but the idea of eggs and bacon really appeals to us, having never cooked like that on the grill before.

Cave Tools 3

This stainless steel grill pan features a flat side and a slotted side, with grips on three sides.

I’m sure you’d like to know how you can get this great new product!

To order your own Cave Tools BBQ Grill Pan, you have two options:

  1. You can order from Amazon
  2. You can order directly from Cave Tools and use the code GRILLPAN15 to receive an additional 15% off your purchase.

As I always say, the Cave Tools products have a 100% money back guarantee, but I’d be surprised if you ever needed it. Their products are second to none. We also saw this post in the information on the grill pan’s website that we thought was worth noting, and that also speaks to the value that Cave Tools puts on the quality of their products for their customers:

A Note From The Manufacturer

We specifically designed this grill pan after seeing the popularity of PTFE (Teflon) Grill Mats. At normal grilling temperatures we concluded that the grill mats were in fact extremely toxic and potentially cancerous. Your health is more important us than the money we could make selling grill mats which is why we designed this safe stainless steel grill mat alternative.

As always, I encourage you to try out this great new product and to enjoy the fun of cooking outdoors. The cleanup is easy, especially with the Cave Tools products, and the food is flavorful.

Have a great rest of your week and keep enjoying this beautiful summer!

*I was given a free product in exchange for my review.

However, as always, my thoughts and opinions are honest and my own.*