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Budget-friendly camping tips from The Penny Hoarder

24 May

Camping on a budget can make you a very happy camper!

It’s the end of May, Memorial Day weekend is just days away. I can almost taste the summertime…if it would just stop raining! We had some hot, 100 degree days last week, and the flip flops and tank tops were out, the sun shining, kids playing in the yard, I could see the lazy days of summer just ahead.

If summertime includes camping for you, as it does for us, you’ll be happy to read the most recent post from The Penny Hoarder’s site, “Get the Vacation You’ve Been Craving on a Budget: Go Camping.” The post contains six tips for budget-friendly travel through camping.

If you’ve been a fan of The Whole Bag of Chips recently, then you know that we purchased a new-to-us camper in 2015 and used it to travel in a budget-friendly manner over the past couple of years, touring the country in 2015 and touring NYC this past spring. We also traveled to Mystic, CT and to Meredith, NH as well as hanging out by the beaches here in the Ocean State in 2015, 2016 and again this coming summer in 2017. Having our own camper is thousands of dollars cheaper than renting a beach house in New England for a week every summer.

I was so thrilled when Lisa Rowan, writer for The Penny Hoarder, reached out to me for some tips to include in their camping post. The only thing that makes me happier than being able to do things because of the fact that we budget, is to be able to help others achieve their own goals by doing things on a budget as well. Stretching a dollar has helped us to achieve so many things, including all of the recent travel that we’ve been doing.

So if you are wishing you could do more traveling, but just don’t have the means, be sure to read the above post, or check out my travel pages #crosscountryadventure2015 and #thecowartstakemanhattan2017 for some tips and tricks for traveling and camping on a budget.

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

Happy Birthday Don and Alexandra!

23 Mar

So what’s the best birthday gift *you* ever gave someone?

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 23, 2012

Today is a very special day.

Today is Alexandra’s birthday.

Today is also Don’s birthday.

That makes me the best wife ever because seven years ago for Don’s birthday at 1:22 am I gave him our third daughter.

I know, I know, best gift ever, right?! It’s hard to top that one though, so I don’t really try. I’m back to t-shirts, pajama pants and stuff like that for his birthday gifts.

Alexandra’s First Birthday 2006

Since sharing his birthday with his daughter, Don has been blessed with getting to have a Snoopy party, a My Little Pony party, a Dora party, a Purple party and this year…Hello Kitty. Technically they’re not his parties obviously, but you see what I mean.

Birthday crowns all around on Alex’s second birthday.

Thankfully, my parents have this neat tradition that they started with us where we celebrate the adult birthday parties at their house each year and we “kids” get to choose our meal and our cake. I choose….well I won’t tell you what I choose until it’s my birthday this summer. But Don chooses a totally opposite type of meal and cake than I would choose, so I guess it’s good that we each get a chance to choose our own, to choose what we like. Don chooses meatball sandwiches (made with my mom’s homemade meatballs and gravy) with lemon cake for dessert. It’s probably the only time all year we have it and he really enjoys it.

Therefore, today I thought I’d share with you the recipe for Don’s birthday cake of choice each year, the lemon cake. It’s really yummy, I particularly love the corners.

***********************************************************************************

LEMON CAKE

A cake *just* for Daddy!

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup water

2 beaten eggs

Duncan Hines Lemon Cake Mix

1 can lemon pie filling (divided)

DIRECTIONS

In bowl by hand, mix together oil, water, eggs, cake mix.

Add 1/4 can of lemon pie filling into the mix.

Put into greased 9×13 dish.

On top, distribute the rest of the pie filling.

Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

When cool, glaze with:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. Add a little hot water if necessary.

THE BIRTHDAY TWINS CELEBRATING THEIR SPECIAL DAY IN 2016

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and a new recipe for you

8 Feb
This was a recipe we tried out a couple months back and loved, so we put it on the list again this menu cycle.

This was a recipe we tried out a couple months back and loved, so we put it on the list again this menu cycle.

The weeks are flying by! Today I have a two week menu for you, and a new recipe that we recently tried, loved for Loaded Baked Potato Soup, and therefore, just made again. In fact, it is my lunch today, left over from last night’s dinner, as I write. I know that I mentioned last time that I love the Skinnytaste blog, and although I don’t usually share from the same spot so many times in a row, I’m going to have to make an exception in today’s post, which really shares more than one new recipe with you. Thanks to Gina for making such delicious healthy recipes!

Without further ado, here is two weeks of menu inspiration for you.

Sunday (Superbowl): Don’s Chili, Teriyaki Wings, Buffalo Chicken Dip, and Baked Zucchini Rounds with Marinara (her recipe calls for sticks) Here is an alternate recipe for Baked Zucchini Fries from our lunch at the White House that we also love.

Sticks or rounds, using gluten free bread crumbs, these are a favorite treat at our house.

Sticks or rounds, using gluten free bread crumbs, these are a favorite treat at our house.

Monday: Baked Potato Soup from the Skinnytaste Blog. You can see her recipe here, which also calls for the addition of sour cream as a topping option. We did use turkey bacon on ours.

Tuesday: Hot Dogs and Potato Puffs (Mom’s out on this night, this is NOT my favorite dinner. At least the hot dogs are turkey hot dogs! And there is at least one of my kids who is of the belief that Potato Puffs aka Tater Tots, are a root vegetable. That’s another issue for another day.)

Wednesday: Paninis

Thursday: Steak Lettuce Tacos I shared this recipe on my last two weeks of meals post. I won’t say whose recipe this is…any guesses? Click the link and see!

Friday: Homemade pizzas (This and Nachos are often our go-to Friday night meals.)

Saturday: Chicken nuggets and mac and cheese (all gluten free) not homemade, tonight is a kids’ night in, parents’ night out for a 7:30 theater show, something we very rarely ever get to do, and we have a final end of season basketball game until 5:30, so desperate times call for desperate measures! This is probably one of their favorite meals when it comes to the not-good-for-you kind of meals, but this is real life. It’s not all good for us all the time. The mac and cheese is a white cheese, organic kind, and the nuggets are better than some we have found, as good as we can get in a frozen, breaded, gluten free tenderloin. And to boot, I have no idea what or where we parents are even are eating, given our time crunch. So there’s that.

Sunday: Baked chicken dinner, a Sunday favorite of ours which uses one of my favorite Pampered Chef  bakeware items.

Monday: Chicken, veggie and rice soup (homemade, gluten free with white rice)

Tuesday: Tacos

Wednesday: Pasta with meatballs

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: First night of school vacation week, so dinner is currently TBA

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Skinnytaste Grilled Steak Lettuce Tacos

1 Feb
Another all thumbs-up meal at our house!

Another all thumbs-up meal at our house!

Recently, we tried out a new dinner meal and I wanted to share it with you today. It was not difficult to make, and everyone liked it, which doesn’t always happen, and I’m about to put it into the rotation again when we do our next two weeks of meals.

The Skinnytaste blog is one of my go-to sites. I love her recipes, I love that they’re healthy and delicious, they have nutrition facts and  Weight Watchers points attached to them for those who need them, and I get lots and lots of menu ideas from her. I have sworn off getting any new cookbooks because of space constraints, but if I were to break my own promise to myself, her cookbook would be the first one I’d buy.

Our family of five does really well when we can pick and choose what we'd like on our plates, all from one meal option.

Our family of five does really well when we can pick and choose what we’d like on our plates, all from one meal option.

This recipe came across someone’s radar, I can’t remember whose, but we put it on the list of recipes to try, and one of the reasons that I liked it is that we do well with meals and recipes where people can choose what they like or don’t like, but there is something for everyone at the table. This was one of those meals. We have one person who doesn’t love the steak, but loaded up her lettuce wrap with all the veggies. We have another person who doesn’t love the veggies but ate the steak, and we threw a bowl of cucumbers into the a la carte options because she likes them, and she ate those on the side. Everyone had something to love on their plate, and some of us just loved it all.

For our purposes, we used sandwich steaks for the meal, which are budget-friendly, but you can see Gina’s recipe here, and use the grilled sirloin steaks she recommends as well. I hope you’ll give this recipe a try, and while you’re on the Skinnytaste site, be sure to check out Gina’s other recipes. I’m sure you’ll find them as wonderful as I always do!

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and a new recipe

25 Jan
Last time around, we utilized our crock pot three times in one week!

Last time around, we utilized our crock pot three times in one week!

It’s hard to believe another whole month has passed! It seems like I was just posting Christmas cookie recipes, but yet here we are in the final stretch of January!

It’s been a couple of weeks, and I have our Two Weeks of Meals for you, but I also have a new crock pot recipe for you that we tried out in the last round of meals. It was new, so I didn’t post the recipe last time, until we tried it. I promised to post it if it was good, and sure enough, it got all thumbs up from all five of us. It’s rare to find one thing that all of us like, especially with a picky eater and another eater who will eat very little meat, and this was beef to boot, so that’s a feat in itself.

The recipe we tried out is called Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef, and you can find it on the Recipe Critic’s site by clicking here. It was quick to prepare, easy because it was cooking while we were gone, and delicious! We used stew meat instead of flank steak and it was delicious.

Be sure to visit the Recipe Critic's site to try out her slow cooker Mongolian Beef recipe!

Be sure to visit the Recipe Critic’s site to try out her slow cooker Mongolian Beef recipe!

Without further ado, here is our two weeks of meals for you and links to the recipes I have posted in years past. I hope it helps you to plan your own budget-friendly meals for the next couple of weeks!

Saturday: Marinated London Broil with mushrooms and onions, with vegetables and red potatoes with fresh rosemary and olive oil

Sunday: Chicken stuffed with herbed cream cheese and broccoli with rice pilaf

Monday: Chicken Marsala over white rice

Tuesday: Pasta with tuna sauce

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Pork chops and homemade applesauce with broccoli and cauliflower

Friday: Homemade Pizzas (Hawaiian, Margherita, and BBQ chicken) and salad

Saturday: BBQ chicken breasts on the bone, on the grill and sugar snap peas

Sunday: Chicken Parmesan and pasta with salad

Monday: Beef Stir Fry with sweet and sour sauce and Asian vegetable mix

Tuesday: Ravioli with shrimp and tomatoes in a garlic and oil sauce

Wednesday: Pastena Soup and salad

Thursday: Breakfast for dinner

Friday: Nachos

Pumpkin Palooza…My grand finale: Here’s to friends and pumpkin pie cupcakes

24 Nov

I’m thankful for being able to stay connected to friends from “way back when” who are both near and far.

ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 16, 2012

I went to a high school outside of my hometown, with kids from all over my state and a neighboring state. Therefore, I met people there I would not normally have had a chance to meet, had I attended my local high school. Upon graduation we all went our separate ways, but we always tried to keep in touch.

At first we kept in touch by letters and the occasional phone call, but today with technology the way it is, we keep in touch by email and things like Facebook as well.

We’ve attended and/or been in each others weddings, we’ve visited each other when new babies were born, and gotten together when one or another of us were in town, visiting from wherever we had now settled, and even bumped into each other at the occasional swim lesson or scouting events. Each year though, at Thanksgiving, we try to get together to share a meal, whether it’s breakfast or dinner, just to catch up before another year goes by.

The photo here is last year’s picture after our Friday after Thanksgiving breakfast. We have another one scheduled for this year. Pictured here are high school friends Lia, Jenn, Nicole and I. We missed Bethany that year but she’ll be there this year!

A delicious treat!

My friend Nicole is in the fushia sweater, and today’s recipe was posted on Facebook by her, a couple of weeks back. I printed it right away but I only just got the chance to make it this week. She wrote that she’d made these pumpkin cupcakes by Baker Chick for all of the teachers at her school where she is the school librarian. I bet they loved them! I know I did! They got thumbs up from almost everyone here at our house, and I thought they were even better the second day; just like a slice of pumpkin pie in a cupcake wrapper!

The recipe states that these cupcakes puff up when cooked and then shrink back down, which is exactly what they did. Baker Chick also says that the fact that they shrink down is great because it gives you the perfect place to squirt some whipped cream, and she was right about that as well.

This was an easy recipe and didn’t take too long. I found my cook time to be slightly longer than the 20 minutes stated, but I just kept checking them every 2-3 minutes til they were done.

I hope you get a chance to try these out this week! Thanks to Nicole for sharing, I’ll see you soon! Thanks to Baker Chick for a great recipe!

Two bowls, simple ingredients.

PUMPKIN CUPCAKES
INGREDIENTS

2/3 cup all purpose flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 15-oz can pumpkin puree

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup half and half

 

Cupcakes puff up when they’re first cooked….

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or silicone liners. *If using paper liners, lightly coat them with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice.

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and half and half until well combined.

Add in dry ingredients and whisk until no streaks of flour remain and batter is smooth.

Distribute batter evenly in the muffin tin. (they should be about 3/4 of the way full.)

Bake for 20 minutes. Cool cupcakes in pan. (They will sink as they are cooling.)

Chill cupcakes before serving. Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

…..and shrink down when cooled.

Makes 12