Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cooking with Costco

Occasionally, I like to browse the Costco website just to see what's new (long-stemmed red roses), what I'd like (a seven-person spa), and what I can't afford (a $9200, two-story children's playhouse--it's pretty awesome).  Today I was looking at their optical services because Quincy needs glasses.  Somehow I navigated my way to the Costco Connection (their in-house magazine) page and found a wonderful collection of Costco-produced online cookbooks (seven in all!).  They are each about 200 pages and filled with gorgeous pictures and simple recipes.  And the pages load, zoom, and print quickly.

Here are just some of the recipes I found:

Breakfast Bruschetta with spiced ricotta, grapes and walnuts
Salmon Patties with cucumber yogurt sauce
Harvest Apple Slaw with cranberries and pine nuts
Pistachio and White Bean Chili (this will be a hard sell for Nathan who's a chili traditionalist)
Butternut Squash Risotto
Catfish with basil lemon sauce
Nectarine Pound Cake

I can't wait to dig in.  Maybe I'll add some of the recipes to my Strange Dish Party menu.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Huh? Dinner? What dinner?

Since January 1st, we've been on a pretty strict budget and eating almost all of our meals at home.  There's just one problem.  I hate meal planning.  I love having planned meals, but I hate planning them.  My family is tough to please.  We keep going back to the old (boring and often unhealthy) standards--spaghetti, pizza, mac and cheese. Occasionally, I'll try something new, but that usually ends in disaster (ask me about the African Peanut Stew).  So I've been looking for an easier way to plan meals.

List Plan It, a site that sells lists for everything from grocery planning to family planning has a list for organizing the 21 meals that you keep in regular rotation.  Of course I'm not going to pay for the list, but I'll gladly take the idea.  If I can come up with 21 meals, with some new stuff thrown in for variety, hopefully we won't get bored and fall back on our evil Baja Fresh ways.  Here what I have so far:

Grilled Chicken
Skillet Burgers
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Beanie Weenies
Smoked Sausage with Potatoes and Green Beans

And now I'll rely on my vast readership to help me fill out the rest... anyone who submits five meals that I know my family will eat (veggie-heavy meals and Mexican are almost always shunned) will be invited over for dinner.  And I promise it won't be Eggos in baggies.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reverend Strange

Sometimes people ask me what I'm going to do when the kids grow up ("Uh, rejoice?  Take a shower?  Sit down and eat a full meal without interruptions?  Throw away the sippy cups?  Be responsible for wiping only my own butt?").  And I don't really know.  Maybe law school, maybe teaching, or maybe I'll realize that running a household of six is a pretty busy job and I'll stick to that.  Meantime, I've become an ordained minister.  Yep, an ordained minister.

I thought long and hard about it.  I dug deep... and then I clicked the "Continue with Ordination" button.  I was warned that I was about to change my life and that I would be set apart from my peers, but I got my free online Universal Ministries ordination anyway.  While I can't rule out a life of religious service (heck, I lived in West L.A. and I had put that just above "sex change" on the scale of improbability), I only became ordained to save my sister some cash.

Courtney is getting married in March and, after much discussion (arm-twisting and heavy pressure from Mom), has agreed to have a small wedding.  I haven't been asked to preside over the ceremony, but if I am asked, I'll be ready.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

And Now, a Little about Me...

One of my friends on Facebook asked me to complete a list of 25 random facts about myself, and here they are:

1. I want to be able to park in my garage someday.
2. I was a nanny for six months (the kid wiped boogers on my car seat--he was 9!)
3. I bite my cuticles until they bleed (I've done it since I was three).
4. I love parentheses.
5. I went to UCLA because it was close and cheap (I have no Bruin pride).
6. I love office supplies (when I was a kid, I bought "While You Were Out" pads with my allowance).
7. I've had plastic surgery (hint: my ears used to be perpendicular to my head).
8. I'm afraid of large bodies of water (even the Shamu tank at Sea World kinda creeps me out).
9. I drink Nesquik almost everyday.
10. I don't care about body hair (mine or anyone else's).
11. If anyone ever tried to prank me with a snake, I'd never speak to the person again (this includes my husband).
12. I taught my kids to call breasts "boobs" because that's what I call them.
13. If I am ever terminally ill, I'm going to buy the biggest tank of a car, outfit it with paintball guns, and shoot at all bad drivers (it will scare the hell out of them, damage their cars, but inflict no injuries).
14. I never go barefoot.
15. I would like to write a screenplay.
16. I think I am good at roulette (I know, it's a game of chance, but trust me, I'm good).
17. I talk to myself--a lot.
18. I love London and would move there in a heartbeat.
19. I often and rudely pressure other people to have children because I enjoy mine so much.
20. I dream of taking on "the man" (City of Glendale, Just Tires, etc.) in a court of law and winning.
21. I've been to a World Series game and an NBA finals game.
22. Bad grammar really bothers me.
23. I hate dusting, but love vacuuming.
24. I met my husband at a "Bring a Stranger" party.
25. I played "Stairway to Heaven" and "People Are Strange" at my wedding.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Lazy Parent's Breakfast

Awhile back, the kids and I had to drive Nathan to the airport very fast (dude thought he could make his 9:00a flight, including parking in Lot C, leaving our house at 7:45a during rush hour... wasn't gonna happen) and we didn't have time for a proper breakfast.  Of course the kids wouldn't starve, but I would have to listen to 90 minutes of complaining in stereo.  Boom, Eggos in baggies, done!  They loved it, and thanks to my, uh, assertive driving, Nathan made it (driveway to skyway in 50 minutes).

The leggo-my-baggie trick saved my butt again on a preschool morning. Quincy was taking his sweet time with breakfast (by "sweet time" I mean at least 45 minutes of talking, whining, and  smearing--there's nothing sweet about it) and I'd already promised him waffles after he finished whatever other nutritionally-deficient carb he was eating. When I told him that it was too late for waffles, he lost it.  Boom, Eggos in baggies, done!  He cheerfully ate his waffles in the car, totally forgetting that he was going to preschool (his personal hell).  

Those are worthy uses of Eggos in baggies.  But what if Mom was too tired (or lazy) to clean off the table after dinner and then too tired (or lazy) to do it before breakfast?  Boom, Eggos in baggies, done!  For the kids, it's like camping in the family room.  And for me, it's a super easy (or lazy), minimally messy solution, provided the hot waffles don't melt the Big Lots baggies (hey, I breastfed--they can ingest a little plastic occasionally).

Hmm... maybe I'll try MREs for dinner.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Strange Bucks

Many personal finance blogs I read say that kids should get an allowance even at a young age so they can learn how to manage money. Some suggest $0.25 per chore, others say $1 per week per year of age, and a few just write that the amount should be small, but meaningful. Even giving my three kids (the baby would just eat the money or hide it under the couch) $1 per week per year of age would have me handing over $60 per month.  That's real money!  That's DirecTV money!  And while my children's financial future is probably more important than Mythbusters, Dexter, and Designed to Sell, I knew there had to be a cheaper solution.

So, after many failed attempts at motivational tools (from sticker charts to "if you behave, maybe I won't yell at you") and a discussion with the kids, we've started printing our own money.  Each Strange Buck features a family member's picture; we have 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s, 20s, 50s, and 100s (because we have a big family and we couldn't leave anyone out).  Sure, Phoebe's cute face won't fool the cashier at Albertson's (the lady looked at me like I was a total idiot), but it will get Ian to put away his folded laundry and unload the dishwasher.  

Here are the basics:
Each chore is worth one Strange Buck (gotta keep it simple).  Strange Bucks are redeemable for rewards (trips to the library, 30 minutes of computer time, a dance party--it was Ian's suggestion, etc.).  Strange Bucks can be awarded randomly for good citizenship or revoked for violence against siblings.  Stealing others' bucks is bad news.  Lost bucks are just lost (too bad, so sad).  Kids may combine bucks for rewards or give each other bucks out of kindness.

We'll see how it goes.  We may have to refine our monetary policy or abandon it entirely and go back to trading in whiskey and puka shells.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Bring a Strange Dish Party

My husband and I met eight years ago at a "Bring a Stranger" party.  All invited guests had to bring a stranger.  Nathan and I didn't know anyone (heck, I didn't even know the guy who brought me).  He noticed me right away, but didn't talk to me until I was sitting on the beer cooler and he was thirsty.  It's a great story, and we would like to give other people the chance to meet their soul-mates at our house, but probably not this year.  However, I have an idea for a similar party.

I would like to host a "Bring a Strange Dish" party.  I've been amassing interesting recipes for awhile with no way to use them (I can't see making red lentil and bulgur balls with green onions and cumin for my family on a weeknight), so why not have a party?  Anyone interested?

I would make four or five dishes that sound good, but that I've never made, and each of you would bring one untested dish.  It could be fun. It could be a disaster.  It will be memorable.  And who knows, maybe you'll meet your soul-food.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I don't take a hard stand on New Years resolutions.  Sometimes I make them, sometimes I don't; this year I decided to take a stab at a few.  I have come across many philosophies on resolution making: only make one; make several, but expect to let a few go; be easy on yourself; stick to them or you'll fail; be specific; be general... I'm just going to throw 'em out there and hope a couple stick.

My 2009 Resolutions:

1. This year I am going to try (sorry, Yoda) to start running again with the hope of running a 10k or even a half marathon (Disneyland has one that sounds fun) by the end of the year. 

2. I am going to organize our finances (budget, goals, inventory for insurance purposes, will, etc.) and pay off debt (except mortgage and student loans).

3. I am going to get better organized with homeschooling (creating a defined area in our house for my materials, planning curriculum purchases, making long-term goals, joining clubs, etc.) because this year I've just been winging it and next year will be tougher with Lily in the mix.

4. I want to entertain more in 2009.  We always make excuses about why we can't have people over (most excuses involve the sorry state of our house) and as a result, we've become pretty insular.  And we aren't invited to others' houses very much anymore (we've fallen off the social radar).  I'd like to have one theme dinner party, two regular dinner parties (can be BBQs), and start an annual party tradition (our house could be THE place to be for National One-Hit Wonder Day, September 25).

5. I'd like to use more parentheses, semi-colons, ellipses, and m-dashes.  They really are a great way to show that you have a healthy respect for good grammar, but don't care enough to edit your freewheeling thoughts.