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Fun Friday: “The Cowarts take Manhattan” and what was for dinner

5 May

April was incredibly busy, and here is the rest of why!

Last week in my What’s for Dinner Wednesday post, I promised you that I would share more of what had been keeping me from posting recently and I also promised you some weekly meal inspiration with a twist. Today’s Fun Friday post is all of those things wrapped in one.

As you’ll see in this week’s Cranston Herald feature article, we took a whirlwind trip to New York City and the surrounding areas, including Jersey City, Hoboken and Brooklyn, just to name a few. It started out as a college tours trip primarily, but because we had never taken any of the kids to NYC, and because they all wanted to visit so badly, we decided to try to make it a mini family vacation, on the cheap rather than one adult taking one child to New York and everyone else staying home.

Super cheap.

We accomplished that goal by using our camper, although very early in the camping season, and despite the fact that we wouldn’t have a ton of time for prepping for the trip due to work obligations and the Easter weekend. One of the ways that we made it work was by eating many of our meals in and only eating a few special things out, as we visited the city. We had extra money and we could’ve spent it all on eating out, but we didn’t want to. We opted instead to choose a couple of extra-special eating adventures and to choose a couple of extra-special sightseeing adventures too, giving ourselves the best of both worlds.

Our camper has a full kitchen with a microwave, oven and stove as well as a refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Therefore, we could plan meals as extensive or as simple as we wished. We decided to go simple. We knew we’d be out a great deal of the time and the last thing we wanted to do was come home and spend an hour and a half cooking. We also knew that simple meant cheap, and if our meals were inexpensive, that was more money we could throw into our travel budget from our normal grocery budget.

Because the weekend before the trip was Easter (an expensive, busy weekend in itself), we did have some leeway in our meals leading up to the trip and we were not eating at home on Easter Sunday. Therefore, my list of meals starts with Monday, the first night we arrived at Liberty Harbor RV Park and Marina. Here’s what we ate while we were away:

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

Monday: Quesadillas (extras became lunch the next day) with Spanish rice and corn. We also had chips and salsa for appetizers when we arrived because it had been a five hour ride and we’d eaten lunch in the car earlier in the day.

Tuesday: Chicken burgers and hot dogs, fresh sugar snap peas, sauteed.

Wednesday: Macaroni with Chicken Parmesan, (chicken cooked in the cast iron skillet). Today we also used some of our spending money to have treats at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, the original bake shop featured on the TV show, “Cake Boss.”

Breakfast on Wednesday morning: Carlo’s Bakery sweet treats

 

Very inexpensive, delicious and a fun end to our trip to NYC!

Thursday: We opted to eat out that night, experiencing NY Style Pizza, $1 a slice, in Times Square at 2 Bros. Pizza. DELICIOUS.

Friday: We were home again by Friday night and we had French Toast for dinner. Breakfast for dinner is fast and easy and a good meal to make when you get home. It was a breakfast option we never used on the trip so we had all the ingredients ready to go.

For the second week of our two week cycle, we tried to choose meals that were still inexpensive and that used some things we had at home already

Saturday: Homemade chicken and rice soup (perfect for what ended up being a cold, rainy, raw day)

Sunday: Pork Chops and homemade applesauce (I brought applesauce to dinner on Easter Sunday, so I made a triple batch that day, freezing one batch for our trip. We never used that meal on the trip, so we had it Sunday night instead.)

Monday: Zucchini shrimp Scampi (recently featured in this blog post)

Tuesday: Taco Bake (recipe here)

Wednesday: Chicken, Broccoli and Pasta

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: Pizza

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What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Tomato Salad with a Twist

25 May
Doesn't it look delicious?

Doesn’t it look delicious?

It’s been a little while since I have posted a new recipe and I’ve been wanting to share this one since last month when we first tried it. The recipe is one that one of my daughters found on the back of a Whole Grain Wheat Reduced Fat Triscuit box. Our family loves these Triscuits and we keep them on hand regularly, so once we saw this recipe, we continued to see it on every box of Triscuits we bought. Each time we’d buy a new box, my daughter would say, “Mom, we have to make this!”

Finally over the school break in April, I made sure we had all the necessary ingredients, and we finally made it. I truly enjoy cooking with fresh veggies and it makes me so excited for summertime, when we have our own garden. Tomatoes are a favorite of almost everyone here, and we especially love the more unusually colored varieties along with the typical reds. This time around I bought a large container that had a mixture of several types of tomatoes in it, and it made for such a beautiful salad.

Since one of the girls eats a gluten free diet, I chose to make hers separately with no Triscuits and no red onions, since she doesn’t like those either. Tomatoes are one of her favorite snacks though, so she was just as excited as everyone else for this new recipe.

Each time we bought a new box of Triscuits, we'd be reminded of this recipe that we just had to try!

Each time we bought a new box of Triscuits, we’d be reminded of this recipe that we just had to try!

This was a simple recipe to follow. It is called a Panzanella Salad, but it’s very much like our usual Caprese salads, just with a bit of a twist, provided by the added Triscuits. There is no cooking involved, just chopping, slicing, dicing and assembling, so the preparation was quick. We just had to keep stopping ourselves from snacking as I was prepping.

While I cut up the tomatoes and the cheese, I had my daughter prep the Triscuits, counting out the amount the recipe asked for, and breaking them into bite-sized pieces. That was definitely a “one for me, one for the bowl” activity as well.

We served this with a dinner of hot dogs and hamburgers, and it was the perfect side dish. It’s going to make a great addition to our sides for this upcoming summer. We loved the added crunch to the salad that the Triscuits provided, and my younger daughter enjoyed her gluten free version just as much as we enjoyed ours.

Here is the recipe according to the Triscuit box:

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup slivered red onions
  • 18 Triscuit Reduced Fat Crackers, coarsely broken
  • 3 Tbsp. reduced-fat balsamic dressing
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper

 

Directions:

Combine  first 3 ingredients in medium bowl.

Mix  dressing and garlic until blended.

Add to cracker mixture; mix lightly. Let stand 30 min.

Tear  basil into small pieces. Add to tomato mixture along with the pepper; mix lightly.

 

Even when made gluten free, this is a delicious side dish!

Even when made gluten free, this is a delicious side dish!

 

 

 

What We’re Doing for Fun This Summer: Letterboxing

30 Jun

Look, we found a letterbox!

ORIGINALLY POSTED JULY 30, 2012

Have you ever heard of letterboxing?

It’s so much fun, it’s free, and it’s great for a family activity during any season that’s not freezing cold. For us, that’s 3/4 of the year, but we really only get to do it in the summer for the most part because that’s when we have time to do things.

Things that aren’t school and work things.

Fun things.

Like letterboxing.

I first heard of letterboxing so long ago, I don’t even know if we had all three kids yet. I read about it in Family Fun Magazine. I don’t get that magazine any longer and I can only imagine all the amazing ideas I’ve missed, but I used to love it. I credit all our letterboxing fun to the article I read in Family Fun.

I remember reading the article and saying to Don, “When our kids are bigger, I want to do this,” and I never forgot it. In 2008 we began our letterboxing adventures. Alexandra, our youngest, was three.

You’re probably saying, “Get to the point! What IS letterboxing???” I take the long way around sometimes, when I tell a story.

Okay. Here’s what it is and here’s how you do it:

All around the world people are hiding, and finding letterboxes!

All around the world, literally, people are hiding these little boxes in secret places and uploading the clues to help you find them, online.

I kid you not.

It’s like a giant treasure hunt, really.

Here’s what you need to get started:

*A notebook of some kind (Mine is super fancy because I’m crafty and I actually have notebooks like this just hanging around in my office. However, it can be a simple composition book.)

*A pen

*A rubber stamp (some people make their own. I used a Stampin’ Up! stamp of a globe. I thought it appropriate.)

*An ink pad

*Something in which to store all those things. I used to use a gallon ziploc bag. Then I used a big manilla folder. Now they’re in an expandable file I found in my office. That’s the most durable thing I’ve used so far.

Now here’s what you have to do:

1) Visit this website for Letterboxing North America (assuming that’s where you live).

2) Click on the state you want to explore. Click on the area of the state. Ours is set up by counties.

3) Check out the list of letterboxes in that area and pick some to print out. I read the clues first to see if it says the last time the box was found or if it’s missing, or if the terrain is notable in any way, such as rough or rocky or easy.

4) Print out the clues for the boxes you want to look for. We started with boxes right in our own city to get the hang of it, and then expanded to nearby cities and now we do them even if we’re traveling on vacation and think we’ll have a chance to look for a letterbox.

Now you take your clues and go.

1) You park your car where they tell you to, and start following the clues until you reach the hiding spot where they say the box is. We told our kids right off the bat that sometimes the boxes are missing or we won’t find them, just so they wouldn’t be so disappointed if that happened, but it’s not been the norm for us.. Usually we find them.

2) When you get to the hiding place you find the box. It’s usually a tupperware type of plastic box. Open the box. Find their stamp, ink and notebook.

3) You stamp your stamp into their notebook and we like to leave a little note with the date and our last name, so they know at least when the most recent one was found. We sometimes will look back to see how long the boxes have been hidden in that spot.

4) Then you take their stamp and their ink (or use your ink if needbe) and stamp their stamp into your notebook. Put the date and where you are so that you too, can look back in the future and see all the places you’ve explored and found letterboxes, and how long you’ve been doing it.

5) Put all their stuff back in their box and REHIDE the box. Don’t just leave it out there in the open. Put it back where you found it and cover it back up as it was so that the next person can find it.

That’s it! Done! Fun times!!

We never even knew this spot existed until we followed the letterboxing clues. The box ended up not being there, but the stunning location we found instead made up for it.

We have not only found some neat letterboxes, but we’ve found some incredible spots, gorgeous places that we never knew existed in our own state. We’ve also explored some neat historic places both in our state and in other states, where we’ve found letterboxes.

Letterboxing makes a day trip double the fun.

Some state parks have a series of letterboxes in them, sometimes three or four of them. You can spend the day hiking through the park and finding them.

A few things to keep in mind:

Dress appropriately. Sneakers work better than flip flops, for example.

Sunscreen, snacks, water, tissues and band-aids are all good things to bring with you. You never know what you’ll need but those basics have served us well.

Next time you’re looking for a fun, active way to spend the day together with your family, give letterboxing a try!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Egg and Sausage Casserole

30 Apr
This was a great last minute save for our dinner a few weeks back!

This was a great last minute save for our dinner a few weeks back!

Ever have one of those nights where you’ve counted on leftovers for dinner but yet when you open the fridge, there aren’t any?

Yup. It really stinks when that happens, doesn’t it?

We must’ve had a very hungry week the week prior to our spring break because when we made our menu for the week, knowing we’d be going away for the break week, we tried hard to use what we had and we worked in leftovers on the menu for a particularly busy night where we’d have to eat and run. But, we did an extra good job of using what we had because when I looked, I realized I needed a new plan for dinner that night.

Coincidentally, because I get so many meal ideas and recipes in my inbox each day, one happened to catch my eye and spark my interest for dinner that night. It was an egg and sausage casserole which was supposed to be cooked in the slow cooker, most likely for an Easter brunch type of meal, but it gave me an idea for my last minute Wednesday-before-the-chorus- concert-and-dance-class night type of meal instead.

I began looking on the internet and Pinterest for egg casserole ideas. I wanted to make a good-sized one so that I could also use it for the remaining week’s breakfasts and lunches too. I am a big fan of the “Cook Once, Eat Twice” philosophy.

The recipe I came up with was well-received by my family and I even served it with an English Muffin bread, which I made in the bread maker while I was gone for the afternoon. I did not need to slow cook my casserole, so I baked it in the oven instead. It was a perfect meal.

Here is the recipe I somewhat created, based on all the recipes I saw that day.

EGG AND SAUSAGE CASSEROLE

INGREDIENTS

Olive oil

12 package cooked sausage (I used a combination of cut up low fat turkey sausage links (8) and what I had left of my Jimmy Dean low fat Turkey sausage crumbles.)

14 eggs beaten

1/2 cup milk

1 small onion, chopped

Several small potatoes, chopped into bite sized pieces (I used six potatoes, I could’ve done with five. Six was just a bit much, even for a large casserole.)

1-2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (we use low fat)

DIRECTIONS

I precooked my potatoes and my onions and sausage in olive oil on the stove top first. I put them into two cast iron skillets since I had such a large amount, and cooked them before putting them in the bottom of my casserole dish. I poured my eggs on top of them once in the dish, and topped with the shredded cheese.

I baked my casserole for one hour at 350 degrees. Be sure to check it by putting a knife through. The casserole looks done about halfway before it is done. Halfway through, I covered it with foil because the top was golden brown but the inside was still loose.

 

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Bookworms and Books

22 Apr
Having a place to show off what they've read adds to the feeling of accomplishment that kids get when they finish a book.

Having a place to show off what they’ve read adds to the feeling of accomplishment that kids get when they finish a book.

When my oldest daughter Caroline was in the first grade, her teacher started a classroom bookworm on the wall. She used construction paper circles and each time a student finished a book, the bookworm got a new circle added to his body.

At the end of the school year the circles got sent home with the students. My daughter came home and put them on her bedroom wall, starting a bookworm at our house. Every so often, she’d add to it.

When my second daughter was in the first grade we had the same teacher and her circles came home with her too. This time our bedroom set up was now with bunk beds and Elizabeth’s circles wrapped around the room, up near the ceiling.

My youngest…same story! Same teacher, same circles, and our bookworm got longer and longer. Last year at her seventh birthday party Alex’s friends even added circles to it of books they had read. It was so cute to see the handmade circles and the little kid handwriting on them, showing off the books they’d read.

This week however, the bedroom underwent major renovations, getting a new paint job and a new floor plan. In preparation for that, we had to take down the old bookworm. My kids were heartbroken, especially Alex. I felt bad, but it couldn’t really be helped. The circles had to come down and they were old and worn out so they didn’t even come down in one piece.

Coincidentally, last month I came across some vinyl decals for walls at Walmart. They came three to a pack and they were even dry erase and came with a marker! As soon as I saw them, I knew I had to have them. I had to make a new bookworm! So I bought the circles. They were $2 for the three pack and I loved the bright colors they came in. They brightened up the kids’ playroom/office and gave anyone who wanted it, a place to show off what they’ve been reading lately.

To that end, I thought Id’ share part of a list I came across last week. You can see the list in its entirety by clicking on the link and see the book covers of each book on the list as well. It’s a list of “The 25 Books Every Kid Should Have on Their Bookshelf.” How many of them do you have on your bookshelf? Although we’ve read a lot of them, there were many we have not. Maybe they will become part of our bookworm in the future.

Top Ten: The 25 Books Every Kid Should Have on Their Bookshelf

1. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

2. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

3. The Pushcart War, Jean Merrill

4. The Sweetest Fig, Chris Van Allsburg

5. Matilda, Roald Dahl

6. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

7. Dealing With Dragons, Patricia C. Wrede

8. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

9. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

10. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

Movie Review: “Chimpanzee”

24 Apr

This movie got two thumbs up from all of us!

Last week we got the chance to see the new Disney movie, “Chimpanzee,” on the very first day it came out. I was excited because I personally haven’t seen the last few Disney movies that come out around Earth Day each year. The commercials I’d seen for the movie looked wonderful and we couldn’t wait to surprise the kids with this particular Staycation activity.

We were not disappointed. The movie was rated G, which took a huge weight off of my shoulders. Whenever we see a movie, even if it’s PG, I spend the entire time worrying about what might pop up in terms of language or violence, especially having a child on the younger end of the age range. A rated G movie takes those fears right off my radar. It’s not often you can find a G movie that’s good for the older kids too, keeping their attention throughout. This one definitely did that.

The cinematography in this movie was amazing. The scenery was stunning and the camera crew did an amazing job capturing it all. I loved the out takes at the end because you really see what the camera crew went through to get some of the shots you were awed by throughout the movie.

Tim Allen was the narrator and he did a fabulous job with it. He had the difficult task of narrating a true story where the characters themselves do not speak–nature at it’s best–and he pulled it off without a hitch. He guided the viewer through all the emotions. There were funny parts, sad parts, scary parts (but not so scary) and parts where you were on the edge of your seat.

I wasn’t sure how my kids would like the movie. It was non-fiction which they generally prefer to read, but as far as movies go it wasn’t typical of some of the movie plots out there right now that I know they’ve also been dying to see.  However, everyone loved it! They’d been wanting to see it, and they really enjoyed it. We all did, and I’m so glad we splurged on this activity for our Staycation.

If you get the chance to see the “Chimpanzee” movie, I highly recommend it!

Five Days, One Hundred Dollars

23 Apr

Staycation on the cheap. Can it be done?

There used to be a show on TLC (I think) that was called Trading Spaces. I loved that show. Two families would renovate their homes and they’d have just two days and $1000 to do it.

Well this week was April Vacation here and we were having a Staycation, not traveling anywhere, but we didn’t have much extra money in our budget for the week’s activities either. (Technically we were home for nine days if you count the weekend before and after the vacation week but as far as days we wouldn’t normally be home already, it was five days.)

We had approximately $100. Five people, five days, $100. Twenty bucks a day divided by five people, $4 per person per day.

That’s a Staycation on the Cheap for sure.

So did we do it? Of course we did. Not a whole lot of choice in that regard, since there’s no overspending when you don’t use credit cards. If the money’s not in the account, you don’t do it.

Chinese take out: Big Splurge.

First off, we had some work we needed to do around the house which took up a couple of days at the start of the week. To reward ourselves for a job well done, and since we were too tired to cook, we decided to splurge on take out. 

Chinese take-out:  $30.

Who doesn't love lemonade on a hot day?

My kids were dying to have a Lemonade Stand at our house. They spent part of the weekend making their posters and getting their business plan in place. They worked out what hours they’d be selling, how much they’d be charging and got everything ready to go. The weather was gorgeous on their chosen day and they were outside all day long. They worked together and even stayed open an extra hour because business was so good.

Lemonade Stand: Free

The first of many dinners at the beach took place this week.

The start of the week was very hot, like summertime hot, so we opted to cook dinner at home and pack it up to eat down by the beach. We’d take a walk along the ocean and watch the sun go down. We can do that here, we’re very lucky. We even saw a wedding that night in the gazebo by the ocean.

Dinner and walk along the beach: Free

Mystery Ride to a new-to-us zoo!

Although it was vacation week, I still had to work on and off periodically throughout the week whether it was covering stories for the two papers or typing them, so we worked that into our schedule and later in the week we tried out a new zoo that was in the direction of a story I was covering. It was the Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Tickets to the Buttonwoods Zoo for a family of five : $21.

Redbox is the greatest invention. You can rent movies for just over $1 per night. There were some movies we wanted to see so over the week’s time we rented three movies.

Family Movie Night times three, complete with popcorn: $3.75.

Even though we like Family Movie Night, there’s also nothing like seeing a “real” movie in a “real” theater, something we never, ever do since five people at a first run movie is expensive. Again, we decided to splurge. 

Matinee movie for five with five Entertainment Book Coupons: $38.

Last day on training wheels!

There were other things we did throughout the week like bike rides, scooter rides, eating dinner on the deck for the first time this season, watching the sunset from our own back yard, night hikes with flashlights (my favorite) and things like that, all free, all outdoors, all time spent together. Of course we ate our way through the week too, having “weekend” breakfasts every day, like waffles and crepes, muffins and pancakes, french toast. That in itself is a vacation in my book! And really, all of those things you just can’t put a price tag on.

Priceless.

Sometimes you don't even need to leave home to enjoy the simple magic of life.